Q: What does the File as option for Contacts do in Microsoft Outlook?

A: By default, Microsoft Outlook files contacts as last name, first name; however, you can choose to have Outlook sort contacts by a few different settings. When you create a new contact in Outlook, you can choose to file it by several different options. Outlook has five File as options for contacts:

  • last name, first name
  • first name last name
  • company
  • last name, first name (company)
  • company (last name, first name)

Figure 1 shows a new contact with the File as options exposed.

Figure 1: A new Outlook contact showing the File as options (click image for larger view)

File as isn't the same as Save as, which lets you save a contact in a portable format (outside of your message store). The File as value is reflected when that contact is accessed elsewhere in Outlook, such as when you're addressing a new email message or assigning a task. If you choose last name, first name (company) for the File as value, that's the information you'll be shown in Outlook when you address a message to that individual.

I maintain contacts using the default last name, first name format. I don't have a huge number of contacts, and not all of them include their employers. If you use your Outlook Contacts as a list of company contacts for vendors, clients, suppliers, and so forth, it might be beneficial for you to choose a File as setting that includes the company value.

You can change the default setting for how Outlook files contacts. In Outlook 2010, navigate to File, Options, Contacts. Under Names and Filing, you can select another option from the drop-down menu, as Figure 2 shows.

Figure 2: Changing the default Save as option for contacts in Outlook 2010 (click image for larger view)

This setting applies to all contacts created after the change. However, there's no GUI mechanism for changing the File as settings for existing contacts en mass. You can create a global change programmatically; for information about this option, see the Microsoft article "OL2002: How to Change the File As Field for All Contacts." You can also find Outlook-specific contact-management software from third-party vendors, such as Contact Genie.

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