Text Messaging from Your Inbox with OMS

As any teenager with a cell phone knows, text messaging can be a great way to quickly exchange information when email isn't available. I've found text messaging—or SMS (Short Message Service), as we say in Europe—to be very helpful in business situations for scheduling quick appointments with colleagues or getting information when I'm not online. Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 introduced Outlook Mobile Service (OMS) to help you integrate Outlook's mobile capabilities with your mobile devices. Last month, I explained how OMS works and how to set it up ("Investigating Outlook 2007's Mobile Service," March 28, 2008); now, let's take a look at some OMS features as well as some of its limitations.

After you configure OMS, you'll find additional features available in Outlook 2007: You can create text messages; you can forward email messages as text messages; and you can set notifications to be sent to you as text messages. To compose a text message, select New, Text Message, which opens a window that's optimized for text messages. There's no subject line (you don't have a subject line in text messages), and there's a preview pane that shows you how messages will look on a mobile device. Outlook's text message window also includes an emoticon string pane that lets you select emoticons to send; unfortunately, my personal mobile phone doesn't render them correctly, and other phones might not either—something you should be aware of if you choose to use them.

You can also define the maximum number of parts that Outlook can split the message into. Individual text messages are limited to 160 characters as a result of the SMS protocol. If your text exceeds this amount, Outlook automatically splits the message into parts of the appropriate number of characters, up to the maximum number of parts you specify. Any additional characters are omitted. For example, if you set Maximum Messages to 2, then try to send a message with 500 characters, Outlook sends the first 160 characters in the first message, the second 160 characters in a second message, and ignores the final 180 characters. For most text messages, setting this limit to 1 or 2 should work fine. The text message window is fully integrated with Outlook, of course, so you can use your Address Book to select recipients. Finally, if you don't want to send the message immediately, you can schedule it to send later.

To forward an email message as a text message, you can either select Actions, Forward as Text Message while you have the message selected in the mail list, or within the mail message click the down arrow on the Forward button and select Forward as Text Message. When you use this feature, you'll also get the text message version of the mail window. When forwarding email messages, it's especially important to set a Maximum Messages limit because you probably don't want to send 20 pages of email messages to your mobile phone, which is limited to 160 characters per text message.

When you click Tools, Options, and access the Preferences tab, you'll find two buttons in the Mobile section that let you configure additional OMS features. Using the Notification button, you can configure Message Notifications, which lets you automatically forward incoming email messages as text messages based on specified criteria such as Marked as high importance. You can redirect calendar reminders as text messages, and you can choose to receive a text message summary of your next day's schedule.

The other preference button, Mobile Options, lets you configure your default message format (text or multimedia). For text messages, you can set the Truncate at value, which works much like the Maximum Messages feature. And, if you use the multimedia message format, you can set the quality of those messages here.

All in all, OMS works fairly well, but I've found certain features are missing that would be really useful. For instance, I can't send myself a summary of my current Inbox with the number of read and unread items; I can only choose to forward messages or not. A second limitation is that you must have Outlook 2007 running in order to forward any messages. If you close Outlook, no text message or scheduled text message will be sent; however, they'll be sent the next time you start Outlook.

Using OMS provides you with some excellent benefits: You can stay connected with your mailbox even if you don't have a high-tech mobile phone that syncs with Exchange. Any cheap mobile phone is capable of receiving text messages. However, don't forget that OMS Web service providers won't forward all messages for free; you have to pay for their services. Now that you've got the details about OMS, it's up to you to decide to use it or not.

Sigi's Outlook Internet Site of the Month
This month I found a very useful tool—especially if you run a lot of self-developed add-ons with Outlook and you want to get rid of those annoying security alerts. The tool is Advanced Security for Outlook from MAPILab. It not only informs you with details about an alert, but it also lets you configure how the security system reacts in the future (e.g., allow access, block access). It's available in English, German, and Russian and runs on Outlook 2000 or later. You can download the add-on from MAPILab's Web site.

As always, if you find a link for an interesting new freeware tool or add-on for Outlook, let me know! Send me a message at [email protected].

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