Microsoft has announced the beta for the new Outlook for Windows, making the desktop email client much more like the web version. While screenshots and a full build of the app have been leaked recently, Microsoft’s announcement gives us a good idea of what kind of features to expect in our inboxes.
According to Tuesday’s message from Microsoft, Outlook is also getting quite a few new features in addition to an updated design. For starters, it integrates with Loop, Microsoft’s system for collaborating on things like polls, to-do lists, and more across Office. There is also a new system for attaching files. If you’ve saved something to the cloud, type the “@” symbol, then the file name, and you’ll get a list of matching files to attach to an email.
Microsoft has also added some calendar and task features. Some are simple, like the ability to pin emails to the top of your inbox so they stay in your face until you handle them. You can drag emails into a panel and set them as tasks or as calendar events if you want to set aside time to respond – and after you’ve done that, you can check out the new calendar view that shows your to-do lists, notes, and several other things. customizable bits of information alongside a real calendar.
I don’t want to give the impression here that Microsoft is reinventing email. The app is still unmistakably Outlook, even if it looks like it’s just a very nice web view† But a few of these features remind me of what got me so excited about the now defunct Mailbox app that Dropbox bought a long time ago. I’m also happy to see a revamp of the calendar interface; I’ve always hated the one that’s in the current desktop version of Outlook.
The post from Microsoft also mentions numerous other features. For example, if you respond to a calendar invitation, you can specify whether you will attend in person or virtually; the Sweep inbox cleaning feature is included in the app; and Outlook will pin messages it cares about if you seem to have missed them. You can see the full list of features along with screenshots and descriptions, on Microsoft’s page†
As always with apps based on web technology, I’m a little apprehensive about this future update, especially its performance. I also assume that long-time Outlook users have to go through quite a bit of adjustment, especially if it’s the main app they spend their days in. But at the same time, I like the idea that Outlook has the same functionality on the web and in the desktop app, rather than letting us use two essentially different user interfaces. Plus, the features Microsoft shows off are a great fit for how I view email. So color me cautiously optimistic.
If you feel the same, maybe you can try it yourself, although you will need a commercial or educational Microsoft account. Once you have checked that box, you can: Sign up as an Office Insider and join the beta channel† Once you’ve done that and updated to the latest version of Outlook, there should be a switch that allows you to switch to the new version. Of course, keep in mind that it’s a beta† make sure you are comfortable running your email through a program that is still in development.