When I set up a new computer these days, I spend almost no time describing new features in Windows Vista – people are generally able to start using it right away with a minimum of fuss. Outlook 2007 is so similar to Outlook 2003 that I don’t even mention that it’s a new version. The programs that get the most attention are Microsoft Word 2007 and Excel 2007, which got a complete overhaul that leaves people disoriented at first. (Most of them become big fans of the new design after a couple of weeks.)

Outlook 2007 is stable and fast but it has a few idiosyncrasies and no shortage of the kind of odd problems that promise to keep me employed for many years.

outlookrss When Outlook 2007 is started for the first time, it presents a dialog box asking if you’d like to combine and synchronize the lists of RSS feeds in Outlook and Internet Explorer. Say what? For most people, this dialog box might as well be written in Sanskrit. Virtually everyone should choose “No” and move on. Choosing “Yes” without consciously following up to configure Outlook’s support for RSS feeds can lead to slow performance, oversized mailboxes, crashes, sweating, drowsiness, and headaches.

(Although Outlook 2007 is not a very good RSS reader, it’s worth knowing about RSS feeds, a useful way to keep up with blogs and other frequently updated web sites! Here’s some basic information.)

Today I set up a new computer, installed all security updates and Vista Service Pack 1, then started Outlook for the first time. It refused to close, ignoring clicks on File / Exit and the upper right corner. It froze completely when I clicked on Tools / Trust Center – not just once, but repeatedly. After repeating the same steps five or six times, hoping that magic fairies would fix the problem if I just believed real hard, I finally convinced it to display a message that a dialog box was open. No box was anywhere in sight, but each time Outlook had started I had seen the dialog box appear and disappear in a flash that’s intended to collect the user name and initials. It was acting exactly like a program with a hidden dialog box.

A little Googling led to a bug introduced by a recent security update that prevents the name/initials window from displaying correctly if Outlook is started for the first time after it’s installed. Although it’s possible to uninstall the KB946983 update, all it took was opening another Office program and filling out the same window. Outlook then opened and behaved normally.

This made me grouchy.

After restarting a computer, many people see Outlook’s message that it must “check the data file for consistency because it was not closed down properly.” Outlook 2007 does its check in the background but the computer slows down and Outlook is not very usable until the check is complete. I take it personally, since I’m very fastidious about closing programs before I shut down or restart.

It happens when a program keeps some portion of Outlook running even after the main window closes – a search program, a security program, or some other addin. This blogger found it happened less if he did not close Outlook before restarting Windows – somehow that gave Windows a better opportunity to close the entire program gracefully. Heck, it might work – I’m going to try it.

Some people found that Google Desktop was the culprit. I’ve been uninstalling Google Desktop pretty freely and so far no one has missed it. Most people don’t even know it’s installed. Dell has been shipping it on new systems for quite a while and it sometimes turns up riding along when other programs are installed.

There’s a long list of suggestions on Slipstick Systems that might help troubleshoot the problem. It’s another reason to go prune the list of addins that run in Outlook, removing any third party addins that are clearly unnecessary.

One more thing. Did you know you can have multiple Outlook windows open? Try right-clicking on “Calendar” or “Contacts,” then clicking on “Open in new window.” Typically I’ll have Outlook running in three or four separate windows.

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