Outlook for Web

Recently I was somewhat shocked to learn that Microsoft Outlook for web has awesome features like pinning and the notion of important messages.  I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, since awesome open source web mail clients exist like RainLoop, but I was living under the rock of “nothing-compares-to-gmail.”

Outlook for Web with a GMail-style message list. The top message is showing Quick Actions including pinning and archiving.

The history of email web clients is a bit fuzzy to me, but I had Hotmail in the late 90s before switching to Outlook Express desktop from around 2000-2006.  Then in the Spring of 2006 I started using GMail and the “wow” moments began.  Wow, 1GB of storage; wow, conversation view; wow, spam filtering; wow, labels; wow, search; wow; chat.  Over the years, the “wows” kept coming with priority inbox, undo send, keyboard shortcuts, avatars, offline, Drive integration and more.  Then came Inbox, which is also amazing adding bundles, snooze, highlights, reminders and pins.

When I joined Nanigans, I was extremely disappointed to be advised to use Outlook 2011 Mac desktop for email.  I thought: what is this, 2005?  But after a brief period of grumbling, I discovered Outlook for Web and all of it’s awesome features including: conversations, keyboard shortcuts, desktop notifications, pinning, archiving, avatars, “clutter(/focused inbox,)” OneDrive integration, sweep, “likes,” @mentions, list view, undo, link previews and more.  On top of that, they seem to steadily roll out new features and respond to feedback.  Ironically, most people have already gravitated towards GSuite and don’t use a vast majority of these features.  One guy even forwards his messages to a Google account just so he can use Inbox!

I believe the most compelling features are:

  • Table Stakes Microsoft gets this right, with a slick UI, conversations, keyboard shortcuts and notifications (etc)
  • Automation Per-folder archive and per-sender sweep policies to automatically clean up the inbox; “Clutter” to keep unimportant messages out the inbox (and soon “focused inbox” to do the same;) “Action Items” attempts to find action items and allows the user to create a flag; When all else fails, almost anything can be accomplished with an Advanced Rule
  • Organization Conversations group threaded messages; flags to associate dates with messages; “Pinned” to put messages pinned to the top; folders/categories
  • Collaboration OneDrive integration for file sharing; @mentions for calling out specific people in a message; “Likes” to indicate agreement; profile pictures to give email a human feel
  • Everything else Smaller features include templates, :emoji_support: (e.g. type a colon) and more!
  • Mobile App Microsoft released a native app that appears to be a simple wrapper around webviews of OWA, which I think is great.

For my personal email, I’m not ready to give up Inbox because bundles, highlights and snooze and reminders are so compelling.  But I was still shocked to see many awesome features in Outlook.

Note: I haven’t been able to get desktop notifications to work, so I wrote my own work-in-progress UserScript on GitHub at owa-notifications.user.js