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How to Change the Look of Outlook

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  ChrisGrover's Photo
Posted Jan 15 2011 02:15 AM

More than the other office tools, Outlook is a chameleon. You can show, hide, reposition and modify the different panes and tools that help you get a grip on the details of your life and business. As shown below, most of the views have three parts: a navigation pane, an items list, and a reading pane. As explained below, you can show and hide the navigation pane and the reading pane.

All the views except for the Calendar view have three parts: the navigation pane, the items list and the reading pane. Calendar view doesn’t have a reading pane. You can customize Outlook by showing, hiding, or repositioning these panes.

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  • To hide the navigation pane, go to View→Navigation Pane. You use the Navigation pane to select different folders or items that are then displayed in the list and the reading pane. In some cases, you may prefer to hide the navigation pane. For example, if you are only interested in your incoming mail, you can select your Inbox and then hide the navigation pane.

  • To hide or reposition the reading pane, go to View→Reading Pane and choose Right, Below, or Hidden. Click an email, task, or note in the middle list, and it’s immediately shown in the reading pane on the right. You can reduce Outlook’s native clutter by hiding the reading pane. Then when you want to read the details about an item, just double-click it. Another thing happens when you hide the reading pane, extra details show up on the list and, as explained below, you can choose which items the list displays. You can quickly toggle the reading pane on and off using the keyboard shortcut Option-⌘-\.

  • To sort items in the list pane, click the labels at the top of the list pane, as shown in Figure 12-2. Some of the labels, such as the “Arrange by” label in the Email list, provide several options. Often, on the right you’ll also see an Ascending and Descending option, which lets you reverse the sort order.

  • To add columns to the list pane, close the reading pane (Option-⌘-\) or position it Below (Shift-⌘-\). Then, right-click (Control-click) the bar above the listed items and choose the fields you want to show and hide (see Figure 12-2, bottom). It’s hard to tell what tidbit of information is most important at a given moment. Perhaps you want to sort your Notes by category or zero in on an email you sent a year ago September. Once a field is added to the list view, you can sort the list on that particular field.

    Figure 12-2. Top: The labels at the top of the list pane are menus. To change the order of the listed email messages, tasks, or notes, click the label and choose an option. Here in Email view, the “Arrange by” menu on the left is open while the menu on the right is set to Newest On Top.

    Bottom: With the reading pane hidden or in the Below position, right-click (Control-click) on the column label bar to display a menu like this. Then you can choose which columns are displayed in the item list.

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  • To rearrange columns in the list pane, just drag them to a new location.

  • To show and hide tools in the ribbon, click the tabs at the top of the ribbon. Unlike some of the other office tools, you can collapse the ribbon, but there is no way to hide it entirely.

  • To hide or modify the toolbar, choose View→Hide Toolbar or View→Customize Toolbar. There aren’t a lot of tools on Outlook’s toolbar, but that “email send and receive button” is probably a good reason to leave the entire toolbar visible. If you right-click (Control-click) the toolbar, you can choose to display tools as Text, Icons, or both. If you choose to Customize the toolbar, you’ll find that the only button Microsoft doesn’t already have displayed is the Customize button itself.

  • To open another Outlook window, choose File→New→Open New Main Window (see image below). Why would you want more than one window open at once? Perhaps you’d like to see both your calendar and your email messages at the same time as you’re composing a message. Or maybe you’d like to copy text from an email into a note. Today’s Macs have beautiful wide screens for working with multiple windows.


You can make Outlook work the way you like to work. For example, here’s a setup with two Outlook windows. One displays an uncluttered calendar and the other is a simple list showing the Email inbox. As always on your Mac, the ⌘-H command hides Outlook and both windows. ⌘-Tab lets you bring them back.

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Office 2011 for Macintosh: The Missing Manual

Learn more about this topic from Office 2011 for Macintosh: The Missing Manual.

Office 2011 for Mac is easy to use, but to unleash its full power, you need to go beyond the basics. This entertaining guide not only gets you started with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and the new Outlook for Mac, it also reveals useful lots of things you didn't know the software could do. Get crystal-clear explanations on the features you use most -- and plenty of power-user tips when you're ready for more.

See what you'll learn


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