When Will Outlook Suck Less

Outlook Outrage sign

When you stop to think about it, Microsoft Outlook should be a relatively straight forward piece of software to create. Outlook is an email, contact and calendaring client. It's supposed to be a productivity application. But I find more often than not, Outlook is the exact opposite -- Outlook itself inhibits productivity because of bad design, dumb user experience implementation, and slow performance.

There's a product design principle that's very appropriate for the Outlook situation. If you don't do the basic stuff well, no amount of fancy do-dads are gonna make up for it. Just as fundamentals like blocking and tackling differentiate the good from the bad football teams, the same is true in software.

Great software is that way because it accomplishes it's primary task very well, and stays out of the user's way as much as possible.

Today I came across a blog post from Stan James, CTO of Lijit, a blog search engine company. Stan, in amazing detail (including videos), details 67 flaws and annoyances in Outlook. Stan's blog post speaks for itself -- I won't replicate it here -- but these are the day to day constant nagging problems I find in Outlook.

Something always seems to be causing some problem with Outlook. I get more "Not Responding" messages from Outlook than I ever did from my two teenaged kids combined. Outlook just seems to check out and go into la-la-land while Windows thinks Outlook has locked up. Usually if you wait long enough, anywhere from a few seconds to half a minute or so, Outlook comes back to life and resurrects itself back to life. In my world of product development, we'd call that a SEV 1 bug, something that would cause software not to be released.

Outlook Plug-ins: Every piece of software seems to want to also install some kind of unneeded plug-in within Outlook. Acrobat, Snag It, this-and-that web conferencing system, etc., all think I need to access their features from Within Outlook. I don't -- I never use them. These plug-ins constantly crash Outlook. Many times when I restart Outlook after its crashed, Outlook tells me some plug-in which it thinks was the cause of the crash. That's when I uninstall the plug-in. Product creators - think twice before creating an Outlook plug-in, and then, don't.

Repairing the pst file. Why is the Outlook pst file always getting corrupted? Even when Vista shuts down the system, Outlook doesn't think it's pst file has been closed properly. Outlook 2007 is better about not making you sit through the entire repair process before letting you use Outlook, but why is this happening in the first place?

And just how do you get rid of an old email address that's no longer valid or in use, so it won't appear as you type in an email address in the To, CC or BCC fields? I'm sure there's some wacky key combination that will perform this basic bit of magic but it's lost users.

Messages get stuck in my Outbox folder. When one gets stuck, none of them will go. What makes emails get stuck. Heck if I know. Send basically stops working because one email is having a problem. I have to remove all of them from the Outbox folder, and redo the emails to get them flowing again.

Another major annoyance is when Outlook locks both the application and other Outlook windows when you send an email from within an Office application. Man is that frustrating. Start to email a document you are working on and then try to go look something else up in your Inbox, in the Contacts, or any of the open Outlook windows. Nah-da, not gonna happen, dude. You're stuck in that one window until the email is sent.

If all you ever did was type in a familiar email address or two, no problem. But try to actually type out an email that might require you to look at another relevant window, and you're outta luck. This has forced me to into the habit of first getting everything ready, including on occasion drafting the email in another email window, before being the Send Email process from within an Office application. Talk about the tail waging the dog -- this isn't how productivity software is supposed to work.

Like this? Here are some of Mitchell's recent posts.

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Check out Mitchell's Converging On Microsoft Podcast. Also visit Mitchell's personal blog The Converging Network and SSAATY Podcast. Visit Microsoft Subnet for more news, blogs, opinion from around the Web. Sign up for the bi-weekly Microsoft newsletter. (Click on News/Microsoft News Alert.)
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