Microsoft this week announced that it would soon be delivering an improved user interface and new features for what it is now calling Outlook on the web, the web-based version of Outlook in Office 365. First Release program members will begin seeing these updates immediately, while others will receive them in early September.
I know what you’re thinking. “Outlook on the web”? What the heck?
Unfortunately, Microsoft has over-used the Outlook brand and its often not clear which product or service they’re talking about. In this case, Microsoft is referring to what used to be called Outlook Web App (OWA), or “the web-based interface for your email, calendar, contacts and tasks in the business-oriented versions of Office 365.” In other words, Exchange Online. Not Outlook.com, the Outlook desktop application in Microsoft Office for Windows or Mac, Outlook Mail or Calendar in Windows 10, or any number of mobile Outlook apps.
Put another way, these changes probably don’t apply to the version of Outlook you’re using. But if they do, or if you or your employer is plotting a move to Office 365 (business, not consumer versions), then please do read on. This is all good news.
Here’s what coming.
A simplified and cleaner user interface. I’ve always found the Outlook.com web UI to be vastly superior to that in Outlook on the web—I will never get used to that name—but Microsoft looks to be closing the gap nicely with this update. There’s a new action bar that works consistently across the Mail, Calendar, People and Task experiences, plus “a number of tweaks and improvements throughout the UI for a cleaner look,” Microsoft notes. “The email subject line is larger and more prominent, and messages in the reading pane are now indented for easier reading. In Calendar, more prominent buttons make creating a new meeting request straightforward and navigation of your calendar simpler.”
New and improved inbox tools. Outlook on the web (sigh) picks up a number of email management tools that will be familiar to those using Outlook.com, including messaging pinning (which keeps important messages at the top) and Sweep, for automatic email management. The Outlook on the web Mail interface will also sport one-click Archive, a dedicated Undo button, an improved single line view (for those that don’t use the reading pane) and a more immersive reading pane (for those who do).
New message features. Those looking to craft cool-looking email messages can now take advantage of new abilities like resizing images, adding custom borders, applying shadow effects, rotating images, and use emojis.
Calendar improvements. The Calendar view has been improved with a five-day weather forecast, charms (no, not those charms, but rather “icons you can apply to Calendar items as visual cues that help you quickly identify specific types of events”; this has been in Outlook.com forever), email reminders, and Birthday and Holiday calendars (again, like Outlook.com and just about every other calendar ever made).
Improved mobile experience. If you need to reach Outlook on the web from a mobile web browser—instead of a mobile app—you can do so by visiting outlook.office365.com, which sports a new look and feel that is more consistent with the look of the Outlook apps on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android and numerous other improvements.
Outlook UserVoice. With this release, Microsoft is also opening its Outlook UserVoice, so customers can share feedback, recommend features and upvote others’ ideas and recommendations. You can join the UserVoice from within Outlook on the web: just select Feedback under Tools (gear icon).