Microsoft has announced the beta for the new Outlook for Windows, making the desktop email client much more similar to the web version. While screenshots and a full build of the app were recently leaked, Microsoft’s announcement gives us a good idea of what kind of features we can expect to see in our inboxes.
According to Microsoft’s Tuesday post, Outlook is getting some new features along with an updated design. For starters, it’ll be integrated with Loop, Microsoft’s system for collaborating on things like polls, to-do lists, and more across Office. There is also a new system for attaching files. If you have something stored in the cloud, you can type the “@” symbol and then the file name and you’ll be presented with a list of matching files to add to an email.
Microsoft also added some calendar and to-do features. Some of them are simple, like the ability to pin emails to the top of your inbox so they stay in your face until you edit them. You can drag emails into a panel and set them as tasks or as calendar events if you want to book time for replying – and after you’ve done that you can check out the new calendar view showing your to-do lists, notes and various other customizable information next to an actual calendar.
I don’t want to give the impression that Microsoft is reinventing email. The app is still decidedly Outlook, even if it looks like it’s only going to be one very nice web view. But some of these features remind me of what got me so excited about the now-defunct Mailbox app Dropbox bought back then. I’m also excited about an overhaul of the calendar interface; I always hated the ones in the current desktop version of Outlook.
Microsoft’s post also mentions tons of other features. For example, if you respond to a calendar invitation, you can indicate whether you are attending in person or virtually; the sweep function for cleaning the inbox is included in the app; and Outlook will pin messages it deems important when you seem to have missed them. You can see the full list of features along with screenshots and descriptions on Microsoft’s site.
As always with web technology based apps, I’m a little apprehensive about this future update, especially its performance. I also expect that longtime Outlook users will have to endure a hell of an adjustment period, especially if it’s the main app 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 desktop app, rather than having us use two vastly different UIs. Also, the features that Microsoft is demonstrating fit my view of email very well. So color me cautiously optimistic.
If you feel the same way, you might be able to try it yourself — although you’ll need a commercial or educational Microsoft account. If you check this box, you can sign up as 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, remember that it is one beta; Make sure you’re familiar with running your email through a program that’s a work in progress.