Outlook Rules – STOP!

I cannot remember exactly when I started using Microsoft Office Outlook over the free Outlook Express product, but I do remember preferring it over OE, at least when I got used to it… and when I really started using it.

I do remember that when I installed my original Small Business Server 2003 server at home – with Exchange Server 2003 included and integral to that experience – I was an independent consultant, and spent several hours (days?) collating the information I had in several sources – Outlook Express, PDA, and especially my DayTimer – into Outlook.  That meant that every appointment going forward, every contact, every e-mail, and every task would be in Outlook, and has been ever since (probably mid-2003).

So all of a sudden I had this single repository of information where everything went… and quickly understood the concept of drinking from a fire hose.  At first dozens and eventually hundreds of e-mails would come in every day.

When I discovered Outlook Rules I fell in love, and have been using them ever since.  Admittedly I do not use them to their fullest extent… mostly to just sort e-mail into folders (and I have nearly a hundred of those, if not more).

At some point I noticed that a lot of e-mails would fall under a number of rules… for example, I have a rule that any e-mail from someone whose address includes the text @microsoft.com is sorted into a file called Microsoft;  however I also have several rules for people or groups at Microsoft… so an e-mail from Richard Claus would be delivered to two locations.  Never mind that this would take extra storage space, it would also look like I have two (or often THREE) unread messages for a single message.

imageThere is a simple solution for that… there is a rule called ‘Stop Processing More Rules’.  On the Select Actions window you can select Move it to the specified folder, which will do just that.  However you can select multiple actions here, and the Stop Processing More Rules action will do just that, rather than letting the engine process the next rule… thus preventing other rules from being applied to it.

Of course you may ask why isn’t this the default action for all rules?  I did mention that I, like most of the people in the world who use Outlook, do not use it to its fullest extent.  However there are rules that apply only within Outlook, and cannot be ported over to Exchange Server, such as assign it to a category.  By applying this action to a rule it is automatically converted to a ‘Client Only’ rule, and will be removed from the Exchange Server.  If a user only checks his e-mail from the single Microsoft Office Outlook client where the rule is configured then there is no problem… but imagine a user who uses Outlook Web Access as well as Outlook Mobile Access… rules would not be processed on the fly, and the whole benefit to the organization would be lost.  Instead of doing that, we can create two rules… one that files the incoming e-mail into the proper folder (Server-side rule), and then one that assigns a category to the same e-mail (client-side rule).  The e-mail would be filed properly on the fly, and as soon as the user connected to his Outlook client it would then be categorized.

Bill Jowett of Exclaimer Inc. (http://www.exclaimer.com) has given me a sneak preview of a new product that they are currently beta-testing a new product that will extend the functionality of Outlook (beyond what their current Exclaimer Mail Utilities offering does, which only works with a back-end Exchange Server) with some great new features.  As their previous offering used a powerful rules engine as the core back-end tool, I look forward to seeing what the new Outlook product will offer… but for now the standard Outlook rules does what I need, and with a little ingenuity helps me to keep my mailbox clean!  He will be presenting his session ‘Outlook 2007: What’s NOT in the Box’ tomorrow evening (Tuesday, December 9th, 2008) at the IT Professionals Community of Greater Toronto where he will be demonstrating the new tool… come on out and get a sneak peak before it is actually launched!

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