Microsoft has announced the beta version of the new Outlook for Windows, which will make the desktop email client much closer to the web version. While screenshots and a full version of the app were recently leaked, Microsoft’s announcement gives us a good look at the kind of features we can expect to see hitting our inboxes.
According to Microsoft’s post on Tuesday, Outlook will get several new features in addition to an updated design. For starters, it will integrate with Loop, Microsoft’s system for collaborating on things like polls, to-do lists, and more. in Office. There is also a new system for attaching files. If you have something stored in the cloud, you can type the “@” symbol, then the file name, and you’ll get a list of matching files ready to add to an email.
Microsoft also added some calendar and task features. Some of them are simple, like the ability to pin emails to the top of your inbox so they remain visible until you deal with them. You’ll be able to drag emails to a panel and set them as to-do items or calendar events if you want to set aside time to reply – and after doing that you can check out the new calendar view which displays your lists of tasks, your notes and various other customizable information alongside an actual calendar.
I don’t mean to give the impression that Microsoft is reinventing email here. The app is still resolutely Outlook, even though it looks like it will only be a very sophisticated web view. But a few of these features remind me of what got me so excited about the now-defunct Mailbox app that Dropbox bought back then. I’m also happy to see a redesign of the calendar interface; I’ve always hated the one in the current desktop version of Outlook.
Microsoft’s post also mentions a myriad of other features. For example, when responding to a calendar invitation, you can specify whether you will participate in person or virtually; the inbox cleaning Sweep function will be included in the application; and Outlook will pin messages it deems important if you seem to have missed them. You can see the full list of features, along with screenshots and descriptions, on Microsoft’s page.
As always with web-based apps, I’m a bit apprehensive about this future update, especially its performance. I also suspect that long-time Outlook users will have to endure quite a period of adjustment, especially if it’s the main application they spend their days in. But, at the same time, I really like the idea of Outlook having the same functionality on the web and in the desktop app, rather than making us use two significantly different user interfaces. Also, the features presented by Microsoft correspond very well to the way I view emails. So color me cautiously optimistic.
If you feel the same, you might be able to try it yourself, but you’ll need a business or education Microsoft account. If you checked this box, you can register to become an Office Insider and join the beta channel. Once you’ve done that and updated to the latest version of Outlook, there should be a toggle to switch to the new version. Of course, keep in mind that this is a beta; make sure you are comfortable with running your email through a program that is still in development.