Friday, June 10, 2005

Microsoft Outlook for the Whole Family

Families often share things—meals, cars, computers. But even if you don't mind sharing a computer, you probably don't want to share your e-mail accounts. With a few simple tweaks, you can easily share a copy of Microsoft Outlook while keeping your e-mail separate.

Outlook's junior sibling, Outlook Express, includes an Identities feature for managing e-mail for several people. Unfortunately, OE can't deal with the calendar, contact, and task information that Outlook handles so well.

The simplest way to share a copy of Outlook 2003 is to set up separate user accounts in Windows XP. Go to the Control Panel and click on the Users icon, then create a new login name. When you view Outlook within a particular Windows user account, you see only the collection of information particular to that account. By design, Outlook stores its information in a different Personal Folders file (.PST) for each user.

But what if you want to share some of the information you store in Outlook? For example, many families like to share a calendar of group activities. In that case, you should create a second Personal Folders file by choosing File | New | Outlook Data File. Since Outlook's default behavior is to create and store its data files several folders deep in the file system, it's best to create a folder at a location that's available to everyone, such as C:\Outlook, and put the shared data file there.

Personal Folders

Once you've created this data file, you'll need to add folders for each type of data you plan to enter. Right-click on the top folder in the new set of Personal Folders, select New Folder, and choose the data type (Calendar Items, Task Items, or the like) from the box labeled "Folder Contains." At this point, you may want to give each folder a distinct name, such as "Shared Calendar" or "Shared Tasks," to avoid confusion.

To make the new folders available to each user, you'll need to log in to each account and open the new folder by choosing File | Open | Outlook Data File. When you do, you'll see two sets of folders in the Outlook Navigation Pane. Click on the name of a folder to view its contents.— Continue reading

When your shared folders are open, you can use them just the way you would use any other Outlook folder. You can drag a contact from a shared folder to your Inbox to create an e-mail message, or drag a message to the shared Contacts folder to capture the sender's e-mail address. You'll still need to use your default folders to receive e-mail messages, so you should expect to have two sets of folders open when you're using shared folders. You could tell Outlook to use the shared folders as your default folders, but then you'd have to share e-mail services too, in which case you might as well just share a single instance of Outlook.

If you use a Palm handheld device, you won't be able to HotSync the shared folders by using the software that's included with your Palm. But you can buy third-party apps, such as Intellisync or one of the PocketMirror upgrades, to synchronize your Palm device with extra sets of personal folders. Most recent Pocket PCs include the ability to sync with any Outlook folder, and if yours can't, Intellisync also works with a Pocket PC. Bear in mind, though, that you can create problems for yourself if you have several people synchronizing different handheld units to the same set of folders. The chances of creating errors and duplicate records increase dramatically under those circumstances.

The Contacts folder in your shared Outlook folder can be used as a source of mail-merge addresses by following the same steps you'd use with the contacts in your default folders: Just go to the folder, choose Tools | Letters and Mailings | Mail Merge, and follow the prompts. If you want to pull up Outlook addresses in Microsoft Word, you'll need to enable Word to see the folder. To do that, right-click on the Contacts folder, choose Properties, click on the Outlook Address Book tab, and then click on the checkbox labeled "Show this folder as an e-mail address book."

Then you can pull an address directly from your shared Outlook folder into a document by clicking on Word's Insert Address button and choosing the folder from the drop-down list at the top of the Select Name dialog box. (If you haven't already added the Insert Address button to Word, here's how. Choose Tools | Customize, click on the Commands tab, click on Insert from the left hand column of the Customize dialog, and then drag Address Book from the right column up to a toolbar.)

Do bear in mind that Outlook wasn't designed for simultaneous access to its data files by multiple users. You should plan on allowing only one person at a time to access an Outlook data file, to avoid corrupting it.

1 comment:

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