Outlook's WordMail Bonus

Surprise! When you install Office XP and fire up Outlook 2002, you'll find that WordMail—the use of Word components to edit messages—is back as the default editor. WordMail got a bad reputation in previous Outlook versions because it added functionality but cost plenty in performance and stability. Office XP's WordMail seems leaner and more stable; it better integrates basic Outlook functions with Word's advanced editing and other features.

Why would you want to use WordMail rather than the Outlook editor? My top reasons are search-and-replace, automatic spell checking, and complex HTML. The regular editor has a Find command, but no Replace; WordMail gives you both. Spell checking in WordMail occurs as you type; it underlines misspelled words with red squiggles. (Note that WordMail doesn't check automatic email signatures for spelling errors.)

In WordMail, you can build tables and other complex formatting into your HTML messages. The regular editor doesn't let you do more than change fonts, indent and justify paragraphs, and insert pictures and lines.

With a couple of tricks, you can even edit the raw HTML source code for a WordMail message. The first trick is to add the HTML Source command to the toolbar. Choose View, Toolbars, Customize, then drag the HTML Source command from the list of View commands to the toolbar. If you are editing an HTML message and click HTML Source, Word opens the source in the Microsoft Script Editor. (You might be prompted for your Office CD-ROM the first time, so Office can install the Script Editor.) To save the changes from the Script Editor back to Outlook, click Save. When the Save As dialog box pops up, click Cancel to dismiss it. When you return to your message, you'll see some changes to the interface, but the message will show your edited HTML text.

Another good reason to use WordMail is Office XP's highly publicized Smart Tags feature, which provides related links for data in your documents but works only in WordMail, not in the regular editor. I don't use Smart Tags very much yet, but I bet that it will become one of users' favorite Office XP innovations as new tags are developed and add more functionality. At the Office XP launch, I talked with several developers who are building custom tags for corporate, in-house use. I can easily envision a report tag, for example, that recognizes the name of a commonly used company report and inserts the graph or spreadsheet with the latest data into your WordMail message for you.

The Office XP version of WordMail also has some key improvements that make it as functional as the regular Outlook editor. You can switch the message format between HTML, plain text, and rich text. You can insert Outlook items, not just file attachments. Office XP also makes it easier to get to your mail signature and stationery settings with a drop-down list next to the Options button on the toolbar.

WordMail shares font and automatic signature settings with the regular Outlook editor, so you don't need to maintain those settings in two places. Office XP WordMail, however, no longer stores signatures as AutoText entries. If you prefer to insert your signature on demand rather than automatically, you must create an AutoText entry. Type and format the signature in a WordMail message, then select it and choose Insert, AutoText, New to save it for later use. If you later get a prompt to save the Normal.dot template, choose Yes, because Normal.dot contains your signature and other AutoText entries.

Does using WordMail rather than the regular Outlook editor have any drawbacks? WordMail definitely uses more system resources. On my Windows 2000 Professional desktop, Task Manager showed Outlook using a bit less than 25MB of memory, while Word (loaded only for WordMail) used between 10 and 15MB. If you have plenty of RAM, give it a try and let me know if you like the new face of WordMail in Office XP.

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