Outlook Tips and Techniques - 28 Apr 2000

Where does Outlook store its view settings?

If you've poked around in the files that Outlook creates, you might have found views.dat and assumed that it contains the settings for your Outlook folder views. Views.dat contains information about views, but only views for system folders, not for Outlook folders.

Exchange Server's mdbvu32.exe tool reveals where Outlook stores its folder views. If you use mdbvu32.exe to open the root folder of the mailbox Information Store (IS), you see the IPM_COMMON_VIEWS folder. It contains two types of objects: IPM.Microsoft .FolderDesign.NamedView and IPM.Microsoft.FolderDesign.FormsDescription. In other words, these objects are folder views and Outlook forms—in particular, forms published to your Personal Forms library.

However, IPM_COMMON_VIEWS doesn't contain all folder views. The IPM_COMMON_VIEWS folder, which Screen 1 shows, contains any view that you create and designate for use on all folders of a certain item type or on This folder, visible only to me. If you designate a view for use on This folder, visible to everyone, Outlook stores the view not in IPM_
COMMON_VIEWS, but in the folder you're working with. You can see the view if you examine that folder's contents with mdbvu32.exe.

How can I back up my Outlook views?

Once you know where Outlook keeps the views, you can make a backup copy in a Personal Folders (.pst) file. I'll give you two methods, one quick and dirty, the other more thorough.

You can use the quick and dirty method if you've always created views for users to use on all folders or on This folder, visible only to me. (You need to use the second method if you've set views for This folder, visible to everyone.) Follow these steps:

  1. Choose File, New, Personal Folders File to create a new .pst file. Give it the filename Views Backup.pst and the display name Views Backup.
  2. Use Outlook to create a top-level folder called Common Views in the Views Backup file.
  3. Switch to the Common Views folder.
  4. Choose File, Folder, Copy Folder Design.
  5. In the Copy Design From dialog box, which Screen 2 shows, select the Mailbox root, select the Forms & Views check box, and click OK.

This method copies all the views and forms stored in the IPM_COMMON_VIEWS folder in the mailbox to the Common Views folder in the .pst file.

The more thorough method is to copy each view—both common and folder-specific views—to a folder in the .pst file created to hold views for that particular kind of folder. Here's how:

  1. In the Views Backup file, create top-level folders named Mail Views, Contact Views, Appointment Views, Task Views, Journal Views, and Note Views—in other words, one folder for each type of Outlook item.
  2. Start with mail folder views by switching to the Mail Views folder.
  3. Choose View, Current View, Define Views.
  4. In the Define Views dialog box, choose any custom view, click Copy, delete Copy of from the beginning of the name, and set the view to be used on This folder, visible to everyone, as Screen 3 shows. (Hint: You can easily tell custom views from the built-in views. The Delete button in the Define Views dialog box is visible only when you select a custom view.)
  5. Repeat step 4 for any other common Mail folder views.
  6. If you have any folder-specific private views, choose File, Folder, Copy Folder Design. In the Copy Design From dialog box, select the mail folder that has some specific private views, select the Forms & Views check box, and click OK.
  7. Repeat steps 2 through 7 with views for each other type of folder (e.g., Contact, Appointment).

This method gives you a library of views for each type of folder, each stored in a corresponding folder in the Views Backup.pst file.

How do I restore the views I backed up?

If you accidentally delete a view and want to restore it, you use the same process that you used for the more thorough method of backing up views.

  1. Switch to the folder containing the views—either the Common Views folder or one of the other Outlook item views folders (e.g., Mail Folder Views, Contact Folder Views).
  2. Choose View, Current View, Define Views.
  3. In the Define Views dialog box, choose a custom view, click Copy, delete Copy of from the beginning of the name, and set the view you want to use on either all folders or This folder, visible only to me.

These steps copy the view back to your mailbox's IPM_COMMON_VIEWS folder. You can also copy views to particular folders with the Copy Folder Design command.

Does Outlook provide any shortcut keys for switching between Outlook folders?

Outlook provides only two keyboard shortcuts to help you get to particular folders:

Inbox = Ctrl+Shift+I
Outbox = Ctrl+Shift+O

Outlook doesn't offer built-in shortcuts for the other folders, but in Outlook 2000 or Outlook 98 you can create shortcuts by customizing the toolbar. In this procedure, you copy the Calendar folder button from the Go To menu, then change the caption for the copied button to give it a unique shortcut key. Follow these steps:

  1. Choose View, Toolbars, Customize.
  2. On the Outlook 2000 menu bar, click View, then select the Go To submenu. In Outlook 98, click Go.
  3. Hold down the Ctrl key as you drag the Calendar command to your toolbar. Decide what letter (or number) you want to use for the shortcut key. Choose a character that isn't already in use for one of the top-level menus or toolbar buttons.
  4. Right-click the new Calendar toolbar button.
  5. Either rename the button or move the ampersand (&) until it precedes the letter or number you chose in step 3, as Screen 4 shows.
  6. Close the Customize dialog box.

These steps create a toolbar button for the Calendar folder with one character underlined. Press Alt plus that character to open the Calendar folder in the current Outlook window. Unfortunately, Outlook 97 provides no similar way to customize the toolbar.

I want to highlight messages in my Inbox in different colors. Can I customize Outlook's right-click context menu to highlight the messages?

Outlook lets you customize only the main menu bar and toolbars. Unlike Microsoft Word, it doesn't let you customize the context menu that pops up when you right-click.

Don't let that little limitation stop you, though! The Flag for Follow Up and Categories tools are always available on the pop-up menu. You can combine the Flag for Follow Up and the automatic formatting features in Outlook 2000 and Outlook 98 to build your own color-coding scheme. However, first I need to explain the automatic formatting feature.

How does automatic formatting work?

Automatic formatting is a feature in Outlook 2000 and Outlook 98 that formats a message's listing in a table-type view in a folder to show different colors, fonts, and other features when the message meets certain criteria. If you're in the Inbox folder and check the settings for the default Messages view by choosing View, Current View, Customize Current View, Automatic Formatting, you see that Outlook provides five default formatting rules (not to be confused with Rules Wizard rules, which are completely separate). If you've used the Organize tool to turn on automatic coloring of Junk or Adult Content messages, you might see two additional rules.

These rules work like conditional formatting in Microsoft Excel: You supply one or more conditions and the format you want to use when the conditions are met. For example, you've probably seen that Outlook turns messages red if they've been flagged with a due date and the due date passes. That behavior is a result of the built-in Overdue e-mail rule.

You can't delete a built-in rule, but you can disable it by clearing the rule's check box. In Screen 5, I've cleared the Overdue e-mail rule because I want to control the color-coding more precisely.

To create an automatic-formatting rule, follow these steps:

  1. In the Automatic Formatting dialog box, click Add.
  2. Give the rule a name.
  3. Click Font, and select the font, color, size, style, and other characteristics that you want to use. Click OK when you're finished with the Font dialog box.
  4. Click Condition; in the Filter dialog box, set up conditions, just as you would to filter a folder view.

If you want to add more conditions, repeat steps 1 through 4. When you have more than one custom-formatting rule, you can use the Move Up and Move Down buttons to rearrange them. Unlike Rules Wizard, which lets you apply a Stop processing more rules action, Outlook applies all active automatic-formatting rules to all messages. Therefore, make sure you don't have two rules that overlap.

What happens when automatic-formatting rules overlap?

Let me illustrate what happens when automatic-formatting rules overlap. Say that you create one rule to highlight a message in red if the Subject contains the word urgent and a second rule to turn it blue if the Subject contains the word announcement. What happens when a message with the Subject urgent announcement arrives in your Inbox? Outlook doesn't turn it purple (red plus blue). Instead, it applies your formatting rules sequentially. If the blue (announcement) rule is above the red (urgent) rule, then the message turns red because Outlook applies the red rule last (which overrides the blue rule that Outlook applied first). If the order is reversed, the message turns blue. A good rule of thumb is to put the most important rules at the bottom of the list so that Outlook will apply them last.

How can I combine Flag for Follow Up with automatic formatting?

Let's get back to the original question—providing a right-click method for color-coding Inbox messages. Because Flag for Follow Up appears on the right-click menu, you can use it to mark messages. Then, you create formatting rules to take those flags and turn them into color-coding.

Not everyone realizes that you can type whatever you want in the Flag to box in the Flag for Follow Up dialog box. The default is Follow up, and the drop-down list adds other choices, but you're not limited to those options. Let's say you want to mark some items as hot issues that need immediate attention. You can right-click each item, choose Flag for Follow Up, then type hot in the Flag to box.

A corresponding automatic-formatting rule would have the condition that Screen 6 shows: The Follow Up Flag property contains the value hot (the word isn't case sensitive). You can set the font to red or make the font larger to make these messages stand out.

After you create the hot formatting rule, try using Flag for Follow Up to flag an item with the value hot. The message will turn red or take on whatever formatting you set in your rule. To reset the message to its regular appearance, right-click it and choose Clear Flag.

As you use the Flag for Follow Up property to create more formatting rules, make sure you keep the flag text simple. Hot is easy to type. You could use me for messages that involve some assignment you need to carry out or response you need to make. Consider 0 for messages that are your lowest priority. Or use a simple numbering scheme of 0 to 5 for your flags to make it easy to prioritize your mail. (This scheme would also let you sort by the Flag for Follow Up field and get a prioritized list.)

I think automatic formatting is one of the really fun features in Outlook that most of us don't get enough time to play with. I'd love to hear about new uses that you find for it.

Can I send attachments to the people in the To box, but omit the attachments when the message is sent to the Cc and Bcc recipients?

No, Outlook always sends the same message to all recipients, attachments and all. If you want the different sets of recipients to get two different messages, you need to send two separate messages.

If you compose the original message in Rich Text Format (RTF), you can use an easy trick to stamp the filename on a second message. Create a reply to the original message that had the attachment, then remove the reply recipient from the To box and substitute recipients that you want to receive this copy of the original message. They'll see the original date and recipient information from the first message, plus the name of the original attached file in brackets, as Screen 7 shows. This trick doesn't work for HTML or plaintext format messages because those formats don't include the filename on replies to messages that had attachments.

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