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Some Outlook Users Getting Focused Inbox E-Mail Sorting Feature at a Later Date

Microsoft clarified the staggered rollout of its Outlook client Focused Inbox feature.

New plans regarding its rollout for Mac, Web and Windows platforms were published this month in an update to a July 2016 blog post. The Focused Inbox e-mail-prioritization feature has been available since last year on the Android and iOS platforms, but Microsoft has been relatively quiet about its availability on other platforms, including its own Windows platforms.

Microsoft provided the following new details about Focused Inbox's expected arrival in an updated blog post.

Mac clients (running Mac OS 15.26 or greater) will be getting a very long rollout of the test version of Focused Inbox. The feature initially started rolling out to "first-release" testers back in November, but the "expected completion" date for that preview rollout is now listed as happening in April 2017. The production-ready version of Focused Inbox for Mac clients will get released "6-8 weeks after First Release completes," Microsoft's updated blog post explained, which perhaps translates to a June 2017 completion date.

The Web (Outlook.com) version of Focused Inbox will follow the same release schedule as the Mac client described above.

Windows 10 Mobile first-release testers will see the Focused Inbox feature as early as April 2017. The production-ready version will be available sometime "after First Release completes," Microsoft indicated.

Outlook 2016 for Windows users right now have no information about when Focused Inbox will be available, even for testing. Microsoft indicated in a footnote that it still has "some work to complete" on the Windows desktop version of Focused Inbox.

Microsoft also explained that the Focused Inbox feature is basically for Office 365 subscribers and won't be available for Outlook perpetual license buyers.

"Focused Inbox will not be delivered to Outlook for Mac 2011, or the perpetual versions of Outlook 2013 for Windows and Outlook 2016 for Windows," the footnote explained.

Tracking Focused Inbox's Progress
New details about Focused Update's progress will get added to the July 26, 2016 blog post, Microsoft promised. Microsoft also has a general Office 365 Roadmap page where users can search for details on specific features. However, typing "focused inbox" there just brings users back to that same old July 26 blog post.

Possibly, future details about Focused Inbox could show up in the Message Center of the Office 365 Admin Portal. In the meantime, though, Microsoft MVP Paul Cunningham has written a PowerShell script designed to alert IT pros by e-mail of any new Message Center notices. Microsoft appears to be building such an e-mail notification system, too, Cunningham noted, although details aren't yet available.

Focused Inbox is a replacement for an earlier Clutter feature that apparently didn't work too well for some organizations. Clutter was designed to push e-mails into a separate "Clutter" folder if they were deemed to be of lesser priority, based on a machine-learning algorithm. Focused Inbox instead will segregate e-mails under tabs, labeled "Focused" and "Other."

In July, Microsoft had announced that Clutter was on its way out as a feature, and that Focused Inbox would be its replacement. Office 365 first-release testers were supposed to have seen Focused Inbox in September of last year, but it apparently never arrived or distribution was limited.

Pinnable Taskpane
In other Outlook news, Microsoft announced this week that Office 365 Outlook 2016 for Windows clients now have a new "pinnable taskpane" feature. This feature is associated with Outlook's taskpane add-in. It allows the taskpane to persist, even when end users jump to different messages within Outlook.  

The pinnable taskpane feature is off by default for Office 365 users. IT pros have to enable it by making some schema changes to the taskpane add-in's "manifest." Details are described in Microsoft's documentation.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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