On March 26, Microsoft’s Windows Store will start to offer major updates to three apps — Mail, Calendar, and People — which are designed to run on Windows 8 PCs and RT tablets across multiple accounts such as Outlook.com and Exchange.
“We know our customers typically have two or more email accounts for personal use and work use, they use these accounts throughout the day, and they have a large volume of mail they’re continuously managing,” contended Brandon LeBlanc, Microsoft’s commmunications manager.
“So this update will bring improvements to your Windows experience across your whole life — your personal communication and your work,” he wrote in a blog post.
The first round of these “unified communications” apps, released about six months ago, drew lots of criticism from users who found the apps to be far less than polished and complete.
“Mail 8 was obviously written by the lowest-level junior programmers at Microsoft. You’ll continue to experience problems with it. Just switch to something else,” complained one user on February 13, on Microsoft’s own Social.Technet forum.
The newly updated apps, though, will show “big improvements to performance and additional new features to make it easier to connect with friends and colleagues, manage your inboxes, create and send email, and manage your calendar,” LeBlanc promised this week.
To download the apps once they are available, you can tap or click on an “Updates” link which will show in the top right-hand corner of the Windows store.
The Mail app gets the lion’s share of enhancements with improvements to folder management, filtering, and search, for example. You can now create, rename and delete folders from directly within Mail, filter for unread messages, and choose when messages are marked as unread.
“Flagged emails will show in your inbox (or any other folder in the account) and in a ‘Flagged’ folder within the Mail app so you can see all flagged email messages. Quick power user tip: the insert key toggles the flag on a selected email message,” according to LeBlanc.
The update also makes it easier to compose a message, with a better algorithm for suggesting frequent contacts as well as improvements around editing bulleted or numbered lists, pasting in formatted content, and adding, editing and deleting links.
The new search function searches for mail in the local store first before automatically going on to search for mail on the server.
The Mail app will also provide contact info from Microsoft Exchange if you click on the person’s name in an email.
Yet on the down side, by default, the Mail app will only keep email messages for a paltry two weeks in the local store, although you can change this setting.
Calendar & People Also Overhauled
The Calendar and People apps have also been overhauled in the interests of greater ease of use. The Calendar app gets a new “Work Week” view. It also accommodates the use of scheduling assistants for businesss accounts that use Exchange. You can now see a person’s availability in Calendar just as you are able to do in Outlook.
“Gone are the solid blocks of colors – instead, those colors are reflected in a small bar on the left of each appointment,” LeBlanc said.
The updated People app is aimed at making in simpler to connect with people across services such as Outlook.com, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Exchange.
Through a new navigation feature, you can move smoothly between your profile — for posting Status updates and Tweets — and “What’s new” to view what friends are posting.
In other refinements to People, you can filter your What’s new feed by social network, and you can now post messages to friends’ Facebook walls.
In somewhat related news this week, unofficial estimates by MetroStore Scanner show that the Windows Store now offers over 50,000 apps, or more than double the number of apps as last November.