Published Aug 8, 2004

If you’re like me, you like to automatically have your e-mail and events and even contacts and tasks colored in Outlook. It just makes sense to have everything clear to you as soon as you glance at your inbox or your calendar; with everything colored, just a quick look lets you know what’s important, what’s trivial, and what’s urgent.

Outlook hides its color-coding ability. You might think that you apply colors through filters, but the colors are not, in fact, attributes of messages, appointments, etc; they’re merely temporary filters applied to messages. This is nice because it’s easy to re-color things, but it does mean that the controls for coloring are not where you’d expect, and that you can change your filter and accidentally lose your colors.

In Outlook, whatever task it is you’re doing, you can select “Organize” from the “Tools” menu. Click on “Using Views” (not “Using Colors”, as you might expect), then click “Customize Current View”. Click “Automatic Formatting”, “Add” a rule. You get color options here, and all the rules too. What you think of as filter rules are behind the “Advanced” tab.

To hide completed tasks, you need to click on “Filters” rather than “Automatic Formatting”, and click the “Advanced” tab. From “Frequently-used fields” choose “Complete” and set it “equal to” “No”. Easy as pie, right? Just don’t forget, the interface makes it incredibly difficult to add another filter category, so I hope you like this one!

The ability to color-code almost everything is built into a lot of applications; Microsoft Entourage, BareBones Mailsmith, Apple Mail, Apple iCal… wait, these are all Mac applications! Is it, maybe, that Mac users expect to be able to organize their items in a way that allows rapid visual perusal? My non-scientific investigation supports that assertion: my PC-loving power-user friend, who teases me incessantly about my switching stories here, looked at me like I’d just asked “who wants to drive rusty nails into their flesh?” when I mentioned to her that I was color-coding everything in Outlook; a Mac-loving roommate of a friend looked at me like I’d just asked “who likes to breathe air?” when I told him the same story. So, apparently, us Mac people like color.

So, for us Mac people, Outlook’s color-coding capabilities, to put it kindly, suck. The available colors are pre-set, and the same colors aren’t available in mail, calendar and contacts, so you can’t have categories correspond acrossthe different tasks for which you use Outlook. Also, the interface to do the coloring is obtuse and well-hidden. It’s sad, sad. But it works, and it looks like it’ll be good enough.

Oh, and that show and hide tasks thing? Yeah, that’s a menu item in Entourage. Microsoft could use to learn from itself.


You keep saying “us Mac people,” but if I’m not mistaken you aren’t one anymore. Love live Windows!

Mac at heart, baby, Mac at heart!

once you go mac you never go back!


well, that’s what it SHOULD be.

While I love my PC, I will admit that I covet the iPod.