- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

Fighting hegemony wherever it may surface is a noble pursuit, especially when it comes to combating the global ambitions of certain current and formerly communist states.

However, I've come to drop my antipathy to hegemony when it comes to software, specifically a "personal information manager," or PIM. Here, there is no question or doubt in my mind: Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook 2002, due in stores along with the rest of Microsoft Office XP at the end of May, is that into which we should all assimilate. Resistance, frankly, is futile.

Voicing (or writing) such views may be politically incorrect, but I can back up my assertions. As do many users, I basically "live" inside of my PIM, which has been Outlook 2000 and is now Outlook 2002. The program is where I begin and end my work day, checking a schedule, reading e-mail, eyeing tasks to be done, looking up people I need to contact.

I've made rather extensive (perhaps too extensive) use of Outlook's "Notes" feature to store quips and quotes, such as "We think in generalities, but we live in detail," from Alfred North Whitehead. In short and after a long time of usage, some three years at least Outlook has become the center of my daily universe.

The new version of Outlook, list price $109 as a standalone product, or sold with the full Office XP suite, is a boon to heavy e-mail users. E-mails are sent, by default, in HTML format, which allows for a bit more fancy design in terms of "stationery" fonts and other features. The program also has a bit more "smarts" in that it can automatically address an e-mail by recognizing what you type as a frequently used address.

As a user enters an e-mail address, Outlook automatically recognizes it and completes the name based on previously sent e-mail to the recipient. This enables users to quickly send e-mail to others without spending time searching for e-mail addresses; if an address that's being typed seems to match more than one name, a tiny pop-up menu lets you select the correct recipient.

There's a handy "mail cleanup" option on the "Tools" menu that lets users ride herd on unwieldy inboxes. With this feature, users can view the size of their mailbox, search for files by size or by age, and then delete, move, or archive those files to clear up space. The auto-archive feature also seems to work a bit better than in earlier versions, keeping the inbox to a manageable size.

The "find" feature does a better job of searching a given inbox or sub-folder, offering its options clearly at the top of the screen. Some features are new to this version: users can now specify which folders they want to search for on their computer or on a network, something previously available only on the "Advance Find" menu. Also, both Find and Advance Find features enable users to stop a search that's in progress and restart where it left off. A pop-up menu lets you invoke a "search entire text of message" option if one truly wants to be "granular" about their searching. It should be noted that while this feature was available in the last version of Outlook, it seems more accessible and comprehensible in this new version.

Accessibility and comprehensibility are, in fact, two key features of the new version of Outlook. I can click on an e-mail sender's name in various places, including the "preview pane" that shows messages without opening them, and copy the information for a reply message, or I can right-click and add that name to my contact list.

There is one area where Outlook 2002 may perform too well: the security features in the program reject any attached program files, including those that are ".EXE," or executable, ones, or those that are Visual Basic Script files, known as ".VBS" files. The idea is to block worms such as "ILOVEYOU" and "Melissa" from wreaking havoc, but sometimes you want to accept an executable from someone you know, such as two friends who each tried (and failed) to send party invites that way. Microsoft is, reportedly, working on a way to modify the now-iron-clad feature.

A pleasant surprise is how well Outlook 2002 worked with the conduits for my Handspring Visor as well as with the Scout service that updates addresses via the Internet. Such integration will likely be welcomed by users who value their present-day Outlook add-ons.

Overall, Outlook represents a smoother, faster, more intuitive way to handle personal and business information. It's the only PIM of which I know that works with both Palm-based devices and Microsoft's Pocket PCs. And there's tons of logic in this software that makes it an ideal choice for those who want their ducks or contacts, appointments or e-mail in order. Information on ordering a trial version of the Microsoft Office XP suite can be found at www.microsoft.com/office/trial/ FAQ.htm.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenalineradio.com.

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