The ins and outs of Outlook profiles

I use Outlook 2007 as my primary mail client, and for what I do it’s a good choice. I use it to manage mail from two different Exchange servers, plus Hotmail, Gmail and six different POP mail accounts. These accounts are, by necessity, divided into two profiles since you can only have one Exchange mail account per Outlook profile.

If you need to create Outlook profiles, here’s a step-by-step guide.

The majority of my accounts – including a rarely used Exchange account assigned to me by the company that finds some of our projects – are part of my first profile. An Exchange mail account that I use extensively for an ongoing client project is my second profile. The good thing about this configuration is that when I’m working, I am entirely focused on this client’s mail and there’s no risk of me sending out a mail from the wrong e-mail account.

The major downside is that when I’m locked into work, I cannot easily see what is going on with my other mail accounts. The best workaround I have found is to use my iPhone to browse my most important POP mail accounts throughout the day (it too can handle only one Exchange account at a time, and there’s no profile option – at least not yet). If I didn’t have an iPhone, I would use a secondary mail client such as Eudora. The important thing here is to tell Outlook (and any other mails clients) to leave your mail on the server, so you can check it with another client. For the secondary Exchange mail account, there’s Outlook Web Access available – so I leave that open in a Web browser and check it periodically.

The only other major issue is that when I make the Exchange server the primary account on a profile shared with POP mail accounts, it seems like Outlook gets confused and tries to send POP mail replies via Exchange. This can cause all sorts of problems including bounced mails. My workaround was to make one of the POP mail accounts primary, but now I have to be very careful or I’ll send mails to clients from the wrong account. 

I probably should create a third profile to completely separate personal mail from work mail accounts, but this would create a lot more daily effort to manage all of the various mail streams. It’s easier to just be careful when sending mails that I double-check that the account I’m sending from is correct. If you don’t have two Exchange servers, using profiles to separate personal from work mails would be much more efficient than it is for me, where I have all of my secondary work accounts (for The Writer’s Bloc) mixed with accounts used for personal mail and our gaming blog.

While Outlook is a good choice for managing multiple accounts, as you can see it’s far from perfect. Apart from the issues I’ve already mentioned, here are some of the things Outlook could do better:

Fast profile switching. It would be great if I didn’t have to quit and close all of my open mails and reminders to swap profiles. One of these days, they’ll figure out how to take a snapshot of Outlook’s work state and restore it when I switch back to that profile. At least, that’s my dream and I’m sticking to it.

Smart credential matching. When I sign in on profile A, why does it nearly always prompt me for the sign in credentials for my profile B Exchange server (and vice versa)? The profile should track this and prompt you appropriately. It’s not like I’m ever going to need to sign into the first server with the credentials for the second.

Overall, though, Outlook profiles are a powerful tool and pretty much required if you need to access more than one Exchange mail account. Here’s hoping these tips help you make the most of them.

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