The next version of Outlook, part of Office 15, is all about touch and unification: native Hotmail and social networking integration, a new feature called Peek, a Windows Phone-style "People" menu and touch optimisation.
That's my takeaway from Paul Thurrott's look at the Outlook 15 preview, as part of the Windows-focused blogger's sneak peek at the next version of Microsoft Office. While Outlook 15 is still a traditional desktop app, several changes appear to be preparing the way for users to access the program on a touch tablet.
Office 15 is still in private beta and so there may still be some changes before Outlook 15 is ready for prime time, but here's a look at some of the highlights.
It looks like Microsoft is doing away with Outlook's Social Connector addon, first introduced in Outlook 2010, that lets you integrate your Hotmail and social networking accounts, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Instead, you'll be able to add these accounts using the default configuration of the new Outlook.
Thurrott also highlighted a new feature called "Peeks" that sounds like a catch-all term for several different features. If you send an email in Outlook, for example, Peeks will include a People pane at the bottom of the window filled with information about the contact, including social networking information. That feature was available in previous versions of Outlook using the social connector addon.
A new addition from Peeks is the ability to see a small window preview of different modules inside Outlook. Hovering over the calendar icon with a mouse, for example, will show you a preview of a calendar. This feature achieves basically the same thing as taskbar thumbnail previews Microsoft introduced in Windows 7. It's not clear how, or whether, this feature would work on touch devices.
Outlook doesn't bother with popup windows anymore when you reply to an email message, instead the reply pane appears inline. Thurrott says this is consistent with the Outlook Web App in Office 365, but it also sounds like another nod to touch devices where managing multiple windows can be a pain, especially if you're dealing with a tablet screen.
Other features to look forward to in Outlook 15 include a new local Weather Bar for the Calendar view, and contacts has been renamed "People," just like Windows Phone and the Windows 8 Start Screen. As in the rest of Office 15, Microsoft has included a new touch mode that increases the size of menu items, making them easier to handle when navigating Outlook with your finger instead of a mouse.
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