More About Links

In last week's UPDATE, I wrote about the Links feature in Outlook that lets you associate any Outlook item with one or more contacts. Like most features, Links has limitations. I've often heard users complain that Outlook always displays the default Contacts folder. You can't require Outlook to display a more convenient folder when you click the Contacts button on an Outlook item to create a new link. Although you can navigate to any other Contacts folder, you can't make Outlook show, for example, a public contacts folder by default.

I've also noticed a quirk in the task and journal items, both of which have a Companies field. When you update the Contacts box to add a new link to a contact, Outlook automatically adds the contact's company name to the Companies field. If you later remove the contact, however, Outlook doesn't remove the company name. As a result, your task and journal items might contain up-to-date contacts but outdated company information.

Programmers who want to incorporate links into their Outlook application should look in Outlook VBA Help for topics about the Links collection and Link object. The collection provides standard Add, Item, and Remove methods that let you manage the links. The Link object's crucial Item property returns the actual ContactItem object that the Link represents. This makes it easy to retrieve information about linked contacts. I have posted an Outlook 2000 VBA code sample at http://www.slipstick.com/dev/code/linkcompany.htm that keeps the Companies field in journal items updated with the company name of just one contact—thus addressing the problem mentioned earlier.

A two-way connection exists between items and contacts. From within an item, you can double-click the underlined name in the Contacts box to see the related contact. With the contact open on your screen, you can switch to the Activities tab to see all the items related to the contact. The Show drop-down list on the Activities tab lists several types of related items, such as Upcoming Tasks/Appointments, as well as All Items. The user can configure these choices; Outlook calls them activity folder groups. To modify a group or add a new one, right-click the Contacts folder, choose Properties, and switch to the Activities tab. The Activities tab includes buttons to copy, modify, and reset the built-in groups. You can also create, modify, and delete new groups.

Activity groups have two significant limitations. You can't combine folders from two different information stores. In other words, you can't create a group that searches both the Sent Items folder in your Exchange mailbox and the Sent Items folder in a Personal Folders file containing archived messages.

The other activity-group limitation affects public folders and resembles the Exchange Server limitation: You can't search multiple folders in Public Folders. For a contacts folder in Public Folders, each activity group can contain only one folder. You can't configure an activity group to point to a public folder and also its subfolders. The first limitation also applies, of course. A group can't include both a public journal folder and the user's own Journal folder, for example.

Even with those limitations, activity groups are an easy, flexible way to find related information within Outlook. I hope you have fun exploring them and the Links feature.

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