Hate Microsoft Outlook? How to fix top annoyances

Microsoft Outlook is big, slow and quirky. Here's how to make it work better for you.

Microsoft Outlook is a nearly ubiquitous presence in PC computing -- and, seemingly, a universally reviled one. Outlook has countless features, ranging from e-mail gathering to calendaring, contact tracking, to-do list creation and more -- yet its tendency toward bloat, sluggishness and unreliability can make it maddening to use.

The Internet is rife with people complaining about Outlook, and I admit that I've been mighty annoyed with the program myself over the years. But I'm ready to move beyond that -- I've found solutions for the problems that most bedevil Outlook users. So whether you hate Outlook, love it or fall somewhere in between, read on to find fixes to some of the most common problems that drive Outlook users (including me) off the deep end.

Note that I focus here on the most recent version of Outlook, Outlook 2007. Many of these fixes will work with earlier versions of Outlook, but not all of them, so be aware of that. Also, I focus here on using Outlook for POP3 mail; I don't cover Outlook used in an Exchange environment. There are simply too many variations with Exchange that are specific to enterprises for us to cover well. However, you should find that many of the fixes we offer below work in Exchange environments as well.

Ready for the roster? Here it is, in rough order from most to least annoying:

Annoyance No. 1

Outlook is too darn slow. How can I speed it up? Outlook sometimes seems to have three speeds: slow, slower and slowest. It takes too long to load, and it's sluggish when it sends or receives mail -- in short, it takes too long to do anything at all. There must be some way to goose this thing.

How to fix it: There's no single action you can take to speed up Outlook, but a combination of fixes should make Outlook zippier. We can't promise it will ever be a speed demon, but follow our advice and most likely you won't feel stuck in the slow lane.

First, slim down your Outlook .pst file, as we recommend in Annoyance No. 2. That by itself will do a world of good.

Then make sure that Outlook has the latest patches, via Windows Updates. There's one patch in particular that is important if you have sizable .pst files: Update for Outlook 2007 (KB933493). The patch is designed to speed up Outlook when using large .pst files, and many people have found it has made a significant difference in Outlook speed. In fact, they report that installing that patch alone solved their speed problems.

Next, kill any Outlook add-ins you don't need, as outlined in Annoyance No. 5.

Quite a few people have reported that iTunes installs an Outlook add-in -- though for what purpose is unclear -- and that deleting it speeds up Outlook.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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