I make no apologies for my refusal to use Microsoft Outlook, but hundreds of millions of business users and consumers rely on this multi-functional solution every day. In fact, it's the center of many people's computing experience, period, the dashboard by which they manage their daily lives. For these folks, Outlook 15 will present a familiar experience, with familiar capabilities and a slightly revised user experience.

 

Let's see what's new and improved in Outlook 15.

 

Hotmail and social networking integration

 

Where Hotmail accounts previously required an add-on called the Outlook Connector and social networking integration--Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on--required a separate add-on called the Social Connector, these features are now built natively into Outlook 15. So Hotmail accounts can be added like any other account types, and a new social networking accounts interface helps you link up with your favorite social networking services.

 

accounts

 

Peeks

 

A new feature called Peeks lets you see more information about objects in Outlook without leaving the current window. I've seen two examples of this feature. First, the Outlook component links have moved from the sidebar to the bottom of the screen, and as you mouse over the module names--Mail, Calendar, People, Tasks--you will see a pop-up "peek" of that item.

 

peek

 

Some peeks are context-sensitive, too, and more useful. If you're emailing a particular contact, a People pane will appear in the bottom of the new message window, similar to the old Social Connector. Some information appears right in this page. But you can expand it to view more information about the contact, culled from the email service and various configured social networking services.

 

mail_peek

 

Similar peeks are available for calendars and tasks as well.

 

cal_peek

 

Inline replies

 

In previous versions of Outlook, a new window would pop-up when you replied to an email message. Now, replies happen inline by default, and in the area normally reserved for the reading pane. (This is now consistent with Outlook Web App.)

 

inlinereply

 

Weather bar

 

In what can only be described as the most eagerly-awaited upgrade to Outlook in years, Microsoft now provides a weather bar in the Calendar view.

 

weather
Look closely in the top center for the Weather bar

 

Other improvements

 

It's pretty clear that Outlook is being brought in line with Microsoft's other email and calendar clients, and with the mobile versions in Windows Phone in particular. The Contacts module has been renamed to the more consistent People, for example, and Outlook now connects natively to new calendar types.

 

Office-wide features

 

Like other Office 15 applications, Outlook 15 picks up some functionality that is common across the suite, including Touch Mode. However, Outlook retains the old-fashioned first-run experience, where you're prompted to sign into an email account, complete with the unnecessary requirement to enter your password twice, just like previous Outlook versions. It's an early hint that, for all the surface changes, not much has really changed.

 

And one thing I really don't like

 

I mentioned in my preview of Word 15 that a weird new animation made typing ponderous. This animation is present in Outlook 15 as well, which makes sense since this application uses Word as its email editor by default. But it's equally terrible in Outlook. I have no idea why this animation would even be made an option, let alone the default.