From Hank Leukart:

Working at Microsoft is the most fun when we get to fulfill customers’ dreams – or at least their software needs.  Sometimes, we hear a feature request so often from so many different customers that it becomes clear that it’s a feature we need to deliver.  Nevertheless, some customers’ feature requests are so small and simple that they never seem to fit into our grand visions.  With every software version, we try to innovate with ground-breaking features, and occasionally, we forget about the simple features for which customers are clamoring.

When this happens, there’s usually a Microsoft Program Manager running around at the last minute trying to sneak in tiny features before we finish a product to make sure our customers are happy.

Sometimes, that Program Manager succeeds.  In my case, I am proud to announce that Outlook appointments and meetings now have time zone controls, allowing users to schedule appointments and meetings in the context of another time zone.

It’s a small thing – but it will help a lot of people.

For example, imagine that you work in Seattle but often schedule conference calls with co-workers in Kathmandu.  Your co-worker in Kathmandu sends you an e-mail asking you to schedule a conference call at 2 PM.  Of course, your co-worker wants the call to take place at 2 PM in his local Kathmandu time, but a meeting like this is difficult to schedule in Outlook 2003.  To schedule such a call in previous versions, you must create a new Meeting Request and then mentally calculate what time 2PM Kathmandu time is in Seattle – in this case, it’s especially hard because Kathmandu uses a time zone 5 hours and 45 minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, so the meeting should be scheduled at 2:45 AM Pacific Standard Time.

In Outlook 2007, it is much easier to schedule such a meeting.  A customer can simply create a new Meeting Request, click the Time Zones button, choose 2 PM for the meeting’s start time, and then select Kathmandu from the list of time zones.  That’s it!

We also know that business travelers like to add flight itineraries to their calendars.  This feature also helps that problem, because appointments can be created with a start time of 9 AM in Seattle and an end time of 5 PM in New York City.

Yes, it’s a simple feature – but sometimes, simple features that solve small problems are exactly the kind of features our customers want.  More importantly, this feature is only one building block toward better support for cross-time zone scheduling in Outlook.