on 30 June 2012
If you are after a straightforward introductory 'how-to' book that takes you through Outlook's various setting and menus, then Step By Step could be for you. Equally, if you are wedded to doing follow-me exercises then this book is definitely for you. The author's style is clear and readable and, (apart from the tacky front cover), the layout is straightforward and pleasant on the eye. And that's basically it. It's a Help menu, only printed and bound.
And there's the rub. If you want more bang for your buck, if you want a book that explores and gets under the hood, that adds interesting little quirks and has an opinion, this book is definitely NOT for you. Given that most people coming to an all-bells-and-whistles high-end suite like Office already have some knowledge of email applications and probably have a stack of email already, (either in Entourage or Apple's Mail programme), waiting to make the jump to Outlook, it's puzzling to know just who this book is aimed at. The book wants you to download additional files to compliment its exercises, yet I wonder how many people have the time for this or want to clutter up Outlook with additional files, preferring a book that is a ready-reference, with tips and words of wisdom from a knowledgeable author on the various pitfalls of making the transition from a different email application.
It's a Microsoft publication, so you could say that they are to be congratulated for commissioning a physically printed manual in an age where most software makers don't bother, yet the best 'How-to' books have moved on. Nowadays the good ones, (David Pogue's Missing Manual series comes to mind), are stacked with additional or allied topics that demonstrate the author's passion for the subject. Want to know about importing all those legacy emails? Perhaps you're moving from Entourage and have been using Multiple Identities to archive email over many years. How will Outlook cope? Step By Step takes you through the basics, yet on all the important issues of multiple Identities - the pros and cons - how to deal with subsequent imports, whether it's worth keeping separate Identities at all, and how Outlook is now discouraging them etc, not a peep. Step By Step devotes one page to Identities. Microsoft's own Help menu - accessed for free on your computer - devotes a whole lot more.
And then there's the lack of passion. In fairness to the author, this is not the book she has been asked to write, yet it should have been. Want to know what's missing in Outlook? All that functionality that you've been used to? You won't find the answers here. Want to know why, say, you can't find the 'Outbox' folder in Outlook? Yes, Microsoft took it away! You won't find the author ranting about the stupidity of this omission and citing examples of why it's needed and (more importantly) how to get it back.
The missing Outbox; let's just stop for a moment while I award a Microsoft Outlook a gold star for the least intuitive, most irritating step backwards in 'ease of use' ever applied to an application.
Want to know why 'text wrapping' in Plain Text has vanished, or why you can no longer interrogate your ISP's server in an Outlook window-pane? (In Entourage and wonderful for general email housekeeping, tidying and deleting etc), but reduced to a single 'delete from server' button on individual emails in Outlook? (extremely tedious). Again, this book does not have the answers. Worse, it doesn't hold an opinion. Don't misunderstand, whether this is a criticism of Outlook is immaterial. These days all software seems to take one step forward in evolution while taking three steps back, but it is a limitation for the book.
Bottom line; if you want a limited version of the Help menu in printed form, and if you like completing lots of exercises, (the book, including Index, runs to 413 pages, of which approximately 200 pages are given over to step-by-step exercises), then this book is for you. However, if you lead a busy life and want someone else to have torn their hair out and given the cat a good kicking in search of a function that will get you back up and running - if you want an author who can demonstrate passion and continuity by putting Outlook in context and add some welcome grit to your diet - then you need to look elsewhere.