Q: What's the best way to find answers to common Outlook problems?

A: This is going to sound silly, but I met a user at a training class who has used Microsoft Outlook since 2003 and didn't know it had its own Help content. It seems that whenever people have a question with Outlook, the first place they go is to their company Help desk, if they have one, or to a search engine. Outlook, like all other applications in the Office suite, has its own Help content. In Outlook 2007 and earlier, there's even a menu option called Help. In Outlook 2010, you can easily access Help by clicking the question mark (?) in a blue circle at the top right of every form in the application.

The Help system for Office has evolved over the years. It used to be simple help and how-to files included with the application. By the time Office 2007 was released, though, it was clear Microsoft recommended using Office Help online, where the content could be easily managed, edited, and updated, although much of the content was still available offline if needed. Help in Outlook 2007 is topic-based, trying to answer questions that you commonly come across, as Figure 1 shows.

Figure 1: Viewing topic-based Help in Outlook 2007

Outlook 2010 returns to more of a Table of Contents view, as a book might, but it still lets you search for a specific problem to solve. Figure 2 shows an Outlook 2010 Help page.
Figure 2: Help screen with Table of Contents in Outlook 2010 (click image for larger view)

Content for Office Help is stored in Microsoft compiled Help files with the extension .hxs. There are separate .hxs files for the different applications within Office, including OUTLOOK.HXS and OUTLOOK.DEV.HXS. Periodically, Microsoft updates the Help content through service packs, cumulative updates, or separate updates as they did for Office 2007 in November of 2008. You could download the Outlook 2007–specific content through the Microsoft Support article "Description of the update for Outlook 2007 Help: November 11, 2008." Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2007 can connect to Microsoft to ensure you're looking at the most up-to-date Help content. Offline content of Office Help is also updated through service packs and cumulative updates as needed.

With Outlook 2010 help, you can even print individual pages, which often contain step-by-step instructions with images to clarify the text. Outlook Help is a valuable, yet oft-neglected, option for you and your users in finding simple solutions to common tasks within Outlook.

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