Today’s article concerns some changes coming to the Outlook desktop application’s User Interface.  These changes are designed to make Outlook desktop look and feel more like Outlook on the Web (OWA).  On the surface, they appear to be just cosmetic, however, if you’ve been using Outlook for a while and particularly if you use Outlook’s keyboard shortcuts, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Show and Tell

The issue of concern here is the “Navigation Bar” which has, for a good many years, been located at the bottom of the Navigation Pane on the left side of the window:

The Office folks have removed this bar and placed the icons it contains in a new window on the left side of the main window that they currently refer to as the “Left Rail”:

The first thing you notice is that it contains the same icons, plus, you have the ability to add a number of additional Office apps to the list.  According to a Microsoft Office Insider blog article on the subject:

  • “The main functions in Outlook, such as email, calendar, tasks, and people, are now displayed vertically to the left of the folder pane. Depending on which SKU and licenses you’ve been assigned by your IT administrator, you’ll also be able to quickly access apps such as To Do, Org Explorer, Yammer Communities, and Bookings from the same area. You can customize which apps you see there by right-clicking on your preferred Outlook functions and Microsoft 365 apps to pin them, so you can then launch popular apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint without leaving Outlook.
  • This experience may look familiar to you if you use Outlook for the web, as we recently launched similar functionality on that platform. Placing your apps vertically on the left side of the screen also offers a consistent user experience with and Teams.”

The Rub

While all this looks innocent enough, it breaks some Outlook conventions that have been around for over 20 years, specifically, Outlook’s Basic Navigation keyboard shortcuts:

To be sure, these shortcuts still work, but what they launch may very well not be what you expect.  With the exception of the first two shortcuts, the rest of the selectable icons can now be moved up and down in the list.  The Ctrl+number codes now launch whatever app or shortcut is located at the position in the list that the number represents.  For instance, let’s say you drag the Word icon up to position three in the list.  When you press Ctrl+3, you will launch Word instead of your Contacts.  If you’re a long-term Outlook user and have used these shortcuts regularly, getting Word instead of your Contacts can be highly disconcerting.  Mind you, the fix is simply moving the icons around until they’re in the old order.  Without knowing this, however, you can easily be left scratching your head wondering how it happened.  Note that the first two positions (Mail and Calendar in the list) are fixed in position, so those two shortcuts will continue to work as expected.

Several of the Outlook MVPs and I have suggested that it would be much less an issue for existing users if the first four positions were fixed; these are the most frequently used of the shortcuts.  I don’t know if this will come to fruition, but, in our view, it would certainly help.