Outlook 12 has fulfilled a few wishes off my Office features wish list! First, the To-Do bar is so obviously simple yet so handy. For the first time in my life, I seem to have started using the tasks pane as it was meant to be used! Of course the more advanced or regular users of tasks in Outlook seem to be ruffled about the absence of sub tasks, but as I said, I didn't even get as far as tasks! :) The mail in the follow up folder also shows up in the To-do bar. A cool feature is the ability to add names to each colour of flag. Just having colors was pretty cryptic earlier. I don't like the date navigator though, simply because I look at the system clock in the bottom right corner to see the date anyway. But of course it is just an easy flip of menu option to remove that ponderous calendar staring at me from the top right corner. The upcoming appointments are listed out in the To-Do bar and boy, did I love that feature! I have to confess I am pretty callous about looking at my calendar for the next day or even the same afternoon and when the reminder shows up, I am invariably groaning about having to go to a meeting in the middle of work. But this easy depiction stays in front of me each time I am reading mail and is so hard to overlook.
Logically, this should have come first, but the new mail configuration experience is awesome to say the least. When I installed Outlook 12 on my test machine, I had to enter ZERO information about myself, but it completed the mail setup automagically! I admit I was pretty annoyed to have to setup Outlook on my test machine each time I reimaged it since it would ask for the mail server and I had to look it up and fill up the server name. Configuring Outlook over RPC was a similar experience. Will has a great post on how the mail server names are guessed intelligently and the mail IDs derived from active directory.
Of course, the search feature was a much awaited one. I had already been using some tools like Desktop search that would look in my email archives and this feature built into Outlook is definitely a much needed one. It has a query builder that you can use to narrow your search as you wish to. The RSS feed feature is also a natural addition into the Outlook feature repertoire. Having dogfooded some internal RSS tools that integrate with Outlook, this feature is an obvious fit into the product. The RSS feed addition page is cool with a bunch of suggestions that are categorized into Technology, Sports, General News etc.
Interestingly, there is no ribbon for Outlook. I would think there isn't much complexity in the menus in the first place to warrant a simplification anyway. Tiny enhancements like a strikeout effect on the old date for an updated appointment, categorizing email in the navigation pane itself and similar improvements have lent Outlook 12 a nice overall effect.