Thursday, February 6, 2003
Posted by Ed Hansberry in "ARTICLE" @ 12:01 AM
Many users of Outlook store contacts in a variety of folders. They have folders for business contacts, personal contacts, employees, etc. Why? Outlook encourages the use of folders. Email definitely goes in folders. It is your filing system. Outlook makes it drop dead simple to simply add another folder for another group.
Figure 1: Creating a new folder in Outlook
However, Outlook has always supported categories too, and categories can be far more powerful. For example, John Smith, an employee of Cisco Systems, may be a supplier and a customer. Do you put him in the Suppliers folder, the Customers folder or copy him to both folders? With categories, you simply check off Supplier and Customer and save the contact. Now when you filter contacts, if you filter by either Supplier or Customer, John Smith will be in both lists.
Desktop Outlook and Categories
How do you get Outlook on the desktop to do this? When you install Outlook, it defaults to an alphabetical card view for Contacts. Nice for a few contacts, but unwieldy when you have several hundred or several thousand contacts. In Outlook, select your Contacts folder. Select View|By Company from the Outlook menu. This is the method used by many people to sort contacts. You can also create custom views and group any way you like, but let's keep this simple. Now that you're looking at Contacts sorted by company, you need a Categories column. I don't recall if this is showing by default or not, so let's ensure it's there. Right-click on any column and select "Field Chooser". Now, grab Category and drag it to your column headings. If you don't see it listed, then it's already a heading and you just need to scroll left or right to see it. Finally, you want to group by Categories. We are already grouping by Company and don't want to lose that. To do this, right-click on Category in the column header and select "Group By This Field". You should see something similar to the box below in the upper left corner of your Contacts folder now.
Figure 2: Grouping by company and category
Now, to make this really useful, click and drag the "Category" box over to the left of Company. Now, look at all of your contacts. They are by Category then by Company. Click on Supplier. See Cisco Systems, John Smith? Now click on the Customers category. There he is again - Cisco Systems, John Smith. But it's only one contact entry, shown in two places. Very cool. 8)
Figure 3: Same Cisco Contact, shown in Customers and Suppliers!
Assigning Categories Fast
Now you see how cool it is to have these groupings in Outlook. How do you assign categories to the 800 contacts spread among three or four folders? Outlook makes this easy. Open one of the folders and press CTRL+A to select all of the contacts in that folder. Right-click on the contacts and select "Categories...". This could take a few seconds if you have a lot of contacts. When the category window pops up, select the category you want to assign them to. If it doesn't appear in the list, select the Master Category List button and create a new category. Repeat this for all of your folders then move everything to the main Contacts folder in Outlook by pressing CTRL+A in a folder and then dragging and dropping them.
When picking multiple contacts to assign categories, you need to be mindful of the state of the checkbox. There are three phases. If the checkbox is empty, it means no contacts in your current selection are assigned to it. If it's checked but grey, it means that some contacts in your selection are assigned to it. It could be one, all but one, or any number in between. If it's checked and white, it means every contact in your selection is assigned to it.
Figure 4: The three states of check-boxes
Getting it Onto the Pocket PC
Now we need to replicate all this cool functionality on the Pocket PC. First, sync your device. Ok, that's it. You're done! Your Pocket PC now has all of your contacts segregated by category. Open up Contacts. In the upper left it says "All Contacts". Tap that and you will see the category drop down. Select Customers and there's John Smith. Press "Customers" at the top to select a new category. Select Suppliers. There he is again - same contact.
Figure 5: Our contact in one category...
Figure 6: ...and our contact in a different cateogry
Advanced contact management applications like Pocket Informant and Agenda Fusion will put little icons next to the contacts if you desire. Here you can see I have selected "Customers", but I have that little shipping truck next to John Smith. That tells me he is also a supplier.
Figure 7: Pocket Informant filtering in action
Note that you can assign more than two categories to a contact. So John Smith could be Family, Customer, Supplier and Christmas Card if you like. Likewise, you can filter by more than one category. You could pull up all contacts that were Customer and Christmas Card to see what customers you have flagged to also receive a Christmas card.
Figure 8: Selecting multiple categories
What about public folders if you are in an Exchange environment? Well, this doesn't help much, or does it? You can't sync to a public folder, which is not a subfolder at all. You can sync Inbox subfolders with Pocket PC 2002 devices, but that doesn't let you sync to public email folders. So how can you get contacts from your public folders to your Pocket PC?
1. Create a new Contacts subfolder in Outlook
2. Copy all contacts from the public contacts folder to the new subfolder
3. Assign a category to all contacts in that subfolder - press CTRL+A, right-click and select Categories; I would recommend making a new category in the master list, "Employees Public" for example
4. Move these contacts to your main contacts folder and sync
Now, to update the contacts, simply go to your contacts folder, only show the "Employees Public" category and delete all of them and repeat the four steps above.
This is a good workaround, especially for public folders that tend to remain relatively stagnant. You could refresh it once a month or every few weeks. It's less useful if your public folders are updated daily or even several times a day. You could enlist a VBA expert to write a script for you to do this automatically.
Wrapping it up
If you are one who uses subfolders for contacts on your desktop, I hope you see how this can boost your productivity and offer more power in selecting contacts. I know there will be some circumstances where subfolders make sense, but I think you'll see that's pretty rare. I am sure contact subfolder sync is high on the list of things to look at for the Microsoft ActiveSync team, but I, for one, won't use it. :) Categories are just too powerful.