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Chapter 4. Outlook's Navigation Tools > Adaptive Menus and Toolbars

4.1. Adaptive Menus and Toolbars

All Office 2000 programs default to what Microsoft has termed "adaptive" menus and toolbars. When you first begin using Outlook, each of these navigational aids display only a subset of their items. The thinking behind this "feature" is to narrow the array of commands displayed to the basics to prevent confusion and make finding the commands you need easier. As you work with the program, it learns the commands you use most often and those that you do not use. The program will then display the most frequently used commands and toolbar buttons at first glance, and hide the less frequently applied tools. As your usage habits change over time, your menus will follow suit. A menu or button command that gets promoted can disappear if it is not used for a specified period.

Outlook uses a complex formula for determining what commands are shown on adaptive menus and toolbars. The computation involves the number of times the application is launched and for how many successive launches a given feature goes unused. As you use commands, the ones you use more frequently appear on the menu, and the ones you don't are suppressed.

While this feature is built on good intentions, three immediate problems arise with adaptive menus and toolbars (the latter, perhaps, to a lesser extent):

  • What is a basic command for one user may not be a basic command for another. For example, a developer would consider Publish As, Run Form, and Script Debugger commands as basic; someone using Outlook to simply send and receive mail would not.

  • Some users rely entirely on quickly scanning through all the menus when uncertain about which command to use—with adaptive menus active they will see only a (small) subset of what is available.

  • It can be enormously confusing, even for a moderately advanced user, to reach for a command that was on menu or toolbar "A" yesterday, but is gone today. (Now where did that command go ... I was sure it was right here somewhere.)

To access the hidden commands, Microsoft added a small double-caret (>>) graphic in both toolbars and menus indicating the presence of hidden commands. Clicking this graphic expands a menu to show all the items it contains. Alternatively, if you activate a menu and wait about five seconds before selecting a command, Outlook will assume you have not found what you are looking for and will fully expand the menu selections.

Adaptive menus are guaranteed to provoke love or hate, but never indifference. Thankfully, this controversial feature can be turned off from the menu and toolbar Customize dialog, which we cover in the next section.

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