Using Outlook's Forms Manager

Last week's Commentary explored Outlook items' MessageClass property and explained how Outlook uses the message class of an item to display that item in a matching form. We continue our exploration of Outlook forms this week with a look at the Forms Manager tool that Outlook provides to help you manage forms. (Users with Outlook 2000 or Outlook 98 configured in Internet Mail Only mode don't have access to Forms Manager.)

To launch Forms Manager, right-click any folder, then select Properties, Forms, Manage. Another way to launch Forms Manager is to select Tools, Options, Other, Advanced Options, Custom Forms, Manage Forms.

One good use for Forms Manager is to quickly back up forms to a Personal Folders (.pst) file. I've heard lately from several Exchange administrators who accidentally deleted a form from their Organizational Forms library. Fortunately, they were able to track down an existing item from which they could extract the original form definition and republish it, but that solution takes time. If they'd had a backup .pst file containing key forms, they could have restored the forms in just a few minutes.

To create a new .pst file for backing up forms, choose File, New, Outlook Data File (or Personal Folders file in Outlook 2000). Change the default display name from Personal Folders to Forms Backup. After Outlook opens the .pst file, choose File, New, Folder to create in the Forms Backup folder a subfolder named Forms. Then select Tools, Options to launch Forms Manager.

The top of Forms Manager has two Set buttons, which you use to set the source and destination forms libraries. Set the left library to Organizational Forms and the right library to the Forms folder you just created. Select all the items in the Organizational Forms library, then click Copy. Outlook will copy each form you selected to the library for the Forms folder.

After you finish copying, close Forms Manager and other dialog boxes and return to Outlook. To test whether your copying was successful, choose File, New, Choose Form to bring up the Choose Form dialog. In the Look In list, navigate to Outlook Folders, then click the Browse button to navigate to the Forms folder. You should see all the forms that you copied from the Organizational Forms library. You might want to run one or two of them to test them.

When you finish working with your Forms Backup .pst file, right-click it in the Folder List and choose Close. After you exit from Outlook, you'll be able to copy the .pst file to another location for safekeeping or even send it to another organization that wants to use the same forms. You could also send the file to users who need access to all the forms in the Organizational Forms library but who primarily work offline and thus don't have access to that library.

Another useful Forms Manager feature is a Clear Cache button for clearing the forms cache if you're having problems getting a specific form to load. Microsoft first added the Clear Cache button in Microsoft Office 2000 Service Release 1/1a (SR1/1a).

You can also select any form and click Properties to display a dialog box that you can use to categorize the form, add a comment or contact, or change the display name that users see when they browse the forms library. The Form Properties dialog box also has a Hidden check box that you can use to hide a form from users browsing the Choose Form dialog box. You can launch a hidden form programmatically or with a custom action set on a form's (Actions) page in design mode.

The Forms Manager might be a little difficult to find in Outlook, but when you know its capabilities, you'll find many ways in which it can help keep your personal or company forms better organized.

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