Outlook’s future has arrived, albeit with some caveats.
On Tuesday afternoon, Microsoft officially released the new Outlook for Windows, which includes features such as Microsoft’s futuristic Loop interface as well as more practical innovations such as quick document attachments, a “My Day” summary, and reminders to respond to important email. However, for the time being, the new features are only available to Office Insiders program members, specifically the Beta Channel.
We’ve seen the “future of Outlook” before, from 2015’s simple, effective Outlook apps for iOS and Android to 2017’s more cohesive approach to unifying Outlook across multiple platforms. We’re also seeing the first fruits of “Project Cortex,” with Microsoft (and its competitor, Google) blurring the lines between different applications. However, Microsoft has been working to consolidate the various versions (Web, Office 365, Web apps, and so on) and provide a unified version of Outlook for the PC. That was leaked earlier this month and is now available.
Outlook was designed by Microsoft to look familiar, and it does—especially if you’re used to using the Outlook web app. Unfortunately, it is not widely available. To participate in the Office Insider program, you must be a subscriber to Microsoft 365’s consumer edition or request that your corporate administrator enable it. Customers can easily enroll in the Insider program (from any Office app on Windows, go to File > Account > Office Insider > Join Office Insider, then check the box next to “Sign me up for early access to new releases of Office”). However, in order to test the new Outlook, you must also use a paid commercial or educational account as your primary email address, which can complicate the process.
Document “namechecking”: Within Outlook, you can quickly type a “at” symbol (“@”) followed by a person’s name, and it will be called out in their email. Using the same “@” symbol in front of files and documents, you can quickly “call out” files. They must, however, be stored in the cloud. Unfortunately, this means you’ll have to search for “SalesPresentationMarch2022final3really” to attach it in this way.
Respond to requests: We’ve seen Microsoft’s AI in Cortana and similar products “sniff” your inbox for important messages, such as a request to respond to a customer. If Outlook detects such an email, it will be pinned to the top of your inbox until it is dismissed. By clicking the “pin” icon, you can also manually pin an email message to the top of your inbox.
“My Day” and “To Do”: A more visible “To Do” column should appear to the right of your inbox. You can use this space, also known as “My Day,” to drag emails into, which will turn them into tasks that you can check off.
While the Calendar appears to remain largely unchanged, a new “Board” view appears to turn your Calendar into a bulletin board, where your work calendar can be added as a card, alongside tasks, important documents, and tips. You’ll also be able to reserve time on your calendar and notify others that you’ll be attending their meeting in person or virtually.
Clear the clutter: Microsoft also encourages you to use previously described tools, such as Rules, to automatically manage and control email as it enters your inbox. Microsoft refers to this as “Sweep.”
Loop and the future: The most important addition to the new Outlook client, according to Microsoft, is Loop, which turns documents into a kind of widget. It blurs the line between a document and a shared workspace, which will be anathema to some users and a natural extension of a close-knit team for others. We’ll have to wait and see how Loop evolves over the next few years and months.
For the time being, the new Outlook is only available to a select few as it fixes bugs and adds features. Unfortunately, some of the most basic features, such as offline support and multiple accounts, are missing. As Microsoft improves its new Outlook client, expect it to broaden its audience.