Microsoft levels up Web version of Outlook for business customers

The new online email service offers a variety of new features and a design refresh

The Outlook web user interface

The Outlook web user interface

Enterprise users who rely on the web interface for Microsoft Outlook email will be getting an upgrade thanks to new features.

The user interface for Outlook on the Web (previously known as the Outlook Web App) has been redesigned with a cleaner look and easier access to key features like archiving and moving messages through a new action toolbar. In addition, Microsoft improved the single line view, so users who prefer browsing a condensed version of their inbox will get a streamlined preview of incoming messages. When they click on a message in single line view, it will be displayed in the same window, without spawning a pop-up.

People who want to keep important messages at the top of their inbox can use Outlook's "pin" feature, which sticks a message to the top of all the messages you may have sitting around. The idea is to keep people from losing important messages in a tangled inbox -- unless they end up with a mess of pinned emails in addition to a pile of other missives.

A new Sweep feature helps users apply rules to emails from a single sender, choosing from a small set of simple tasks. By using Sweep, people can set Outlook to keep messages from a given address for a set amount of time, only keep the latest message or delete all of the messages from a single address. It's a feature that originated with Microsoft's Outlook.com email service for consumers that's now making a jump to Office 365 users.

The Outlook Web interface's calendar feature also got some love, adding a five-day weather forecast that shows a small icon predicting the day's weather that users can click on for more information. Calendar users can also now set charms for particular events, so that concerts can be tagged with musical notes and road trips can be tagged with a small car glyph.

All of those features and others will be rolling out this week to businesses that have an Office 365 plan with Exchange Online and have opted in to the First Release program. Other businesses will get the updated features during the first week of September.

It's not clear which improvements will make their way to the Outlook apps for desktop operating systems. Outlook for Mac and Windows already have a three-day forecast, so that's not missing, but other features like Sweep and pinning haven't made an appearance on the desktop yet. What's more, this update means that Outlook for Mac and Windows desktop appear to be the only Outlook apps that don't at least have planned support for a Gmail-esque archive button to file away email.

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Blair Hanley Frank

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