Outlook 2016 needs a unified inbox

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I get a lot of email. I cleared out my inbox from 10,000 messages down to zero a few months ago, and it has already skyrocketed north of 4,000 again–and that’s after I’ve deleted the crap I absolutely am not interested in.

One thing that makes managing email more complicated than it should be with Outlook 2013 is the fact that I have to manage and maintain not one–but SIX–different inboxes. I have a couple Exchange accounts through Office 365, a few Gmail accounts, and an iCloud account, and they’re all separate because Outlook 2013 doesn’t have a unified inbox.

I wrote a post about why the unified inbox is one of the most crucial features Microsoft needs to include when it rolls out Office 2016:

In my opinion, there’s one feature that absolutely must be included: a unified inbox for Outlook.

All new versions of Office in 2015

On Jan. 22, Microsoft announced the next version of its ubiquitous productivity suite: Office 2016 will appear in the second half of 2015. According to the announcement, the next standalone version of Office will be intended mostly for keyboard-and-mouse applications.

That announcement focused primarily on a native “Universal” Windows 10 version of Office. It’s the touch-friendly version of the suite, composed of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook. Microsoft’s Julia White stated that Office for Windows 10 will show up in Win10 Technical Previews “in the coming weeks” and be offered to everyone later this year. They’ll be preinstalled on Win10 phones and tablets but won’t, however, have the capabilities of Office 2016. We should soon see exactly what those limitations include.

A unified inbox is very nearly universal

Like millions of other Outlook users, I rely on Microsoft’s email client all day, every day. My primary email account is served by Office 365, and that account receives about 90 percent of my daily messages. But I also have a number of other accounts handled by Outlook: other Microsoft accounts, a handful of Gmail accounts, and an iCloud account.

Unfortunately, the way Outlook currently manages multiple accounts is cumbersome and clunky. I have to view each account separately. By default, Outlook displays only the primary inbox in the left panel’s Favorites section. I can, however, add inboxes for the other accounts. But I’ve ended up with six or seven entries called “Inbox” in my Favorites. Again, keeping on top of messages coming into those various inboxes is cumbersome — and time-consuming.

Oddly, it seems that Outlook is the last email client that doesn’t gracefully manage multiple accounts. Most others do.

Office for Apple’s OS X has a unified inbox

True confession: I spent a couple of years using a MacBook Air as my primary computer before switching to a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. On the Air, I used Office for Mac 2011. In many ways, Office on the Mac seemed less capable than the Office for Windows versions I’d been accustomed to using. But Office for Mac had one feature that stood out: a unified inbox — one inbox to rule all accounts.

I asked Microsoft why the Mac and Windows versions of Office were so different. But I mostly wanted to know why some features in Office for Mac 2011 weren’t available in Outlook 2013! Microsoft replied that the Office team for OS X is separate from the Office for Windows team — or at least it was.

Perhaps the two teams will share notes. One of the hardest things about transitioning from OS X to Windows was giving up that all-for-one inbox.

You can check out the rest on Windows Secrets. Note: you must be a paid subscriber to Windows Secrets to view the full story: What Microsoft needs to include in Outlook 2016.

I’m curious whether you agree that a unified inbox is important. How many different email accounts do you actively use? Is there some reason you’d prefer to manage them separately? Let me know in the comments below. 

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About Author

I have a passion for technology and gadgets--with a focus on Microsoft and security--and a desire to help others understand how technology can affect or improve their lives. I also love spending time with my wife, 7 kids, 2 dogs, 5 cats, 2 rabbits, 2 ferrets, a pot-bellied pig, and sulcata tortoise, and I like to think I enjoy reading and golf even though I never find time for either. You can contact me directly at tony@xpective.net. For more from me, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

17 Comments

  1. Hi Tony,

    Some great reasons for Unified Inbox indeed. I do believe that Microsoft will bring Outlook 2016 with such a feature cross platform. When you look at the recent M&A activities which Microsoft has done (from email apps to calendar apps etc.) – they clearly know that they have to up their game – so they’re doing something about that. What I’m not sure about is whether they realize the importance of social media and other types of messaging also coming into such a “Unified Inbox” system, similarly to what the Blackberry Hub represented to many users. Well, I guess we’ll have to see. BTW: Be great to have you onboard as a beta tester of our own suite of solutions (www.unifiedinbox.com) – your perspective could add a lot of value to our products.

      • @tonys3kur3:disqus
        I’d be very happy to give you a personal demo/tour myself. Particularly of the web app which is very feature rich and where I’d love your feedback on what you’d see missing to be a fully fledged (or more) Outlook style web based client for Unified Communications. Ping me any time: ceo@unifiedinbox.com

  2. This is what was nice about emclient and the Opera M2 email client. I was never more productive as when I used Opera M2 to read and reply to all emails quickly and with very little RAM usage, without ever touching the mouse.

  3. A unified inbox is on nearly every other major e-mail client program available for pc’s, macs, phones and tablets. The fact that Microsoft has not created one in outlook yet is just one of many stupefying mysteries that surrounds decision making at Microsoft. MS seems to make really obvious bad decisions like this on many of their products which is why they have been perceptibly falling behind other tech companies in innovation and being viewed as a technology leader any more. Frankly, they have a bad habit of flat out ignoring what their customers want in the products they create- IN SPITE of the fact that they continually seem to ask for customer feedback and suggestions ! Microsoft as a company has promised time and time again that through changes in management and leadership that they were going to reorganize the way they do business and yet over the span of a decade or more they seem to only have re-shuffled their employees in different ways only to continue to create software in what appears to be nearly the same bureaucratic and convoluted way! It really is jaw dropping to many that with all Microsoft’s budget, size and influence (albeit shrinking influence) they continue to repeat the same mistakes and never seem to evolve much or change the way they do business. It’s a culture of stagnation and/or stubborn refusal to evolve with the technology field that surrounds them. This flat out ignorant stance has not only brought Microsoft a lot of bad PR but also has continued a reputation to be absolutely blind, deaf and dumb to some really BASIC ideas and technologies that typically end up just passing Microsoft by. All the while, Microsoft will scream at the top of their lungs that their way is still the right way, even in the face of the entire tech world which has already made the shift. LOL, it really is astonishing to many people. Is Microsoft really that dumb? Or is it a kind of stuck in the past arrogance in thinking they are still the kings of technology? I think it is a combination of things really that unfortunately, until culturally changed completely at MS, will continue to cause them problems as a company. The corporate concept of “too big to fail” has already been a proven failure on so many levels, that many companies have literally trained this idea out of their philosophies and core ideals just to avoid falling into the same type of pitfalls. Microsoft has remained to this day, a hold out to letting go of this notion. And in many ways like the US government, continues to march in the opposite direction that the world has chosen to go leaving them last to the party on many major product directions and new technologies in general. No longer innovators and creators of the trends, they now appear to be followers, and the “johnny come lately” of the tech industry. All the while claiming in a complete state of denial that they are not late and are still leading the way! People and Businesses see through this utter nonsense however and when Microsoft gets caught and called out on it, it is a repeated embarrassment to them- especially in the press where they often take a beating. This is why Windows 10, has oft been described as Microsoft’s last chance to get it right or begin their final decline as competition begins to swallow them up in all areas. Sadly, all MS really needs to do is start listening and seeing what is going on around them outside of their giant Redmond bubble world and begin to truly reinvent themselves in accordance with changing times. A massive paradigm shift is paramount to Microsoft’s survival as a tech company leader. Honestly with all that capital and influence, they still have more chances than your average company to make the needed changes, but will they? So many of the most important things in Life are the little things that are taken for granted- time and time again, Microsoft has missed the boat on too many of these little (but eventual extremely important) things and details that it may take even more bad fortune for the company to finally “get it” and evolve as a tech company of 2015-2016 & into the future. I’m pulling for them, but my hope that they will change anytime soon has really gotten dim over the years as I gradually move to alternative products more and more every day now. Sometimes those little things that Microsoft misses out on from their customers’ preferences, really add up to a TON of grief for MS. One only has to look back at just a couple recent issues: the whole start menu Windows 8 fiasco, or the Xbox One “Deal With It” response fiasco as only two small examples of many of their blind stubbornness behaviors in sticking to a business as usual direction and a “we know what’s best for you” customer service philosophy. Now they are doing the unthinkable: releasing a new OS for “FREE” (GASP!) Micro$oft?! Free?! Does not compute! they have to. They have to start attempting at least to try to appear to play catch up at this point as over the years, Microsoft has bitten the hand that feeds them too many times- and their customer’s hands have become a bit distrustful now of Microsoft and rightfully so IMHO. It’s do or die time for MS… or rather Change or Die in their case. But can Microsoft humble itself enough to do this? We shall see. I have my doubts.

    • Quentin Feduchin on

      I have to agree with so much of what you say.
      I have stuck with Micfrosoft through thick and thin, yet so often they have let me down in small ways; which do become bigger.
      The Office Outlook 2016 debacle is a case in point, just waiting to be fixed. So many would switch to it if it actually worked!
      OneDrive, I believe, did actually work in Win 8.1, but then they changed it in Win 10. Why?
      And Office 365 as monthly paid-for online software also actually works, it seems to me, especially as one can use Word/Excel/Powerpoint etc online without using desktop versions if one wishes, together with 1gb of free cloud storage.
      Yet the Outlook component of Office 365 seems such a mess.
      My brother begs me to give up and move to Apple. I haven’t so far because I have so much invested in Microsoft; also because I never liked the way Macs worked.
      IF Apple hadn’t been so bloody-minded as to deny their API to other companies, there would now probably be no problem. Apple would now be so large that a move to them would be fairly easy and cheap. But the problem is that so many niche products; NinjaTrader is one; do not make an Apple alternative:
      And THAT is possibly the ONLY reason that Microsoft still has such a large influence!
      It really IS the fault of Steve Jobs, RIP.

  4. This 1000 times. I love me some Outlook, and I run Windows. It is ABSURD that every device / software combination on the mail client market has a unified inbox except Outlook on Windows. This makes me want to curse. A lot.

    • The sad part about all of this is that Windows Live Mail has it, but their pay to win editions don’t, like seriously.. Microsoft needs to get their shit together.

  5. The fact that 2016 doesn’t have a unified inbox throws up all sorts of signals of general incompetence.

    • It wasn’t exactly designed in such a way. In fact, it looks works exactly like 2013 on the surface. I hope Microsoft has learned a lesson and has stopped changing their interface every version – two examples being office2013 to office 2016 and windows 8 to windows 10.

      • When it wasn’t in 2010, I was confused. When it wasn’t in 2013, I called it “stupid”. Now I’m calling it incompetent.

        I’m not talking about a sub-quantum light-shear encapsulator. This is a component of a piece of software that’s become a requirement of the majority of users of that class of software.

        And it’s a requirement that’s incredibly easy to deliver on:
        savvy users can create a unified inbox using less than 10 lines of VBA. But
        admins would prefer having it be native and controllable via Group Policy.

        And this isn’t a policy of MS: Outlook for Android and iOS has a unified inbox.

        And frankly, if you’re a home user, that’s one thing…..but, if you’re in IT and you’re giving MS passes on crap like this, you’re not in IT. You might work IT….but you’re not in IT.

  6. You can create an approximation of a unified Inbox by creating a new Outlook Data File in C:UsersusernameAppDataMicrosotOutlook. Then create a rule that forwards all email with your name on it to that inbox. then peg that inbox to favorites in Outlook and open the application to that folder. it will contain all of your email from all of your accounts.

  7. Quentin Feduchin on

    I have large problems with emails. I have six current email addresses.

    I have two Gmail accounts, one Outlook, two Yahoo and one Bigfoot. I think one of the Yahoo and the Bigfoot are seldom or never used thank God. That stills leaves four..

    Google Chrome probably offers the best unified service in my experience. But it’s confusing. Are emails being ‘extracted’ from other email accounts, or are they being forwarded by those other accounts? And it has never been an entirely satisfactory situation since you have to take into account the other two ancillary, but important services, Contacts and Calendar.

    Somehow I have ended up with TWO accounts for both of those ancillary services, Gmail and Outlook! (Thank goodness I never started a Yahoo one for either.) And frankly it seems almost impossible to combine them. I have seriously considered using Office Outlook 2016 (since I pay for Office 365) but as you point out, that does not appear to fix the problem. Firstly, is Office Outlook 2016 a desktop service, or can one use it only as an online service?

    With Windows 8.1 I used OneDrive Desktop which automatically copied everything online. Then Windows 10 came along and queered that pitch by changing the way OneDrive worked (or so it seemed), anyhow I have ended up dispensing with OneDrive Desktop (apart from an empty desktop folder I can’t get rid of) and now use OneDrive Online only. I don’t mind that, and anyway I can copy everything to File History on the external HDD if I want to..

    But does, or can Office Outlook 2016 work online only, or must it be desktop? And how do I combine Contacts and Calendar?

    HELP!

    • There is no unified contact support, if you mean viewing all contacts in one view. You’re better off syncing your contacts together into one account with Funambol (now called onemediahub). Be care and backup and test first – you might end up with multiple contacts when using 3rd party syncing clients.

      For a unified calendar view, click view, overlay (or Alt+V+OL)

      Want a better email experience? Use anything but outlook. Emclient, foxmail, and mailbird have rave reviews.

      Even the good old Opera M2 still works better, if your exchange server has IMAP support. I am the most productive in Opera M2 (it’s now the standalone Opera mail program). The keyboard shortcuts are better than outlook’s use of ctrl and shift keys. Plus it’s way way more faster. Outlook is a lumbering, out of control beast with it’s easily corrupted pst format, and 64-bit support won’t fix it. It’s still a memory hog!

  8. I have Office 2016 and I never use if for precisely this reason. I have to keep up with my e-mail on an android tablet.

  9. Completely agreed, Good old Outlook Express managed to do this. Why not the ultra modern Outlook 2016?