Outlook.com is the online replacement for Hotmail. It’s unrelated to Microsoft’s Office Outlook email program.
Outlook.com attempts to provide a clean, easy-to-use interface for managing not only your email, but your contacts, calendar, and (with the addition of SkyDrive) your data files as well.
Unfortunately, cleanliness or simplicity only goes so far. You’re not the only one who finds the displayed contacts and email addresses confusing when you compose a new email.
Let’s look at how it all works.
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People: Your Outlook.com contacts and address book
People is the Outlook.com term for your contacts and/or address book.
Click the array of squares next to Outlook in the upper left, and the result is a menu of services to select from.
Click People and your contact list (also known as your address book) appears. This is where you can create, delete, edit, and otherwise manage the entries that you want to save.
I’ll simply refer to People as “contacts” throughout the rest of the article.
Sending email to someone in your contacts
Sending email to someone who’s already in your contacts is actually pretty simple. Start by clicking the New button at the top of Outlook.com to compose a new message:
When the compose window appears, click either the To, Cc, or Bcc items:
That opens a list of everyone in your address book. You can scroll through and select from it:
Just click their name and their email address appears in the To, Cc, or Bcc lines of your message. Repeat this step to add your contacts, compose your subject and message, and then, click Send.
Auto-complete: Your contacts and more
Another common approach is to simply start typing in the email address field. When you do so, Outlook.com will dynamically suggest email addresses that match what you’ve typed so far:
When you see the email address that you want, simply click it to place it into the address field.
What surprises many people is that the suggestions come from both your address book and other email addresses that you may have sent or received email from in the past.
The logic is simple: clicking To, Cc, and Bcc gives you only your contacts, but if you start typing them, Outlook.com figures that perhaps you know that the email address that you’re typing isn’t in your contacts.
So, Outlook.com attempts to be helpful by providing similar email addresses that you may have used in the past.
Frequent contacts: Outlook.com trying to be more helpful
Outlook appears to keep an eye on who you email frequently and recently. Simply clicking in the address box displays a Frequent contacts list of suggestions:
Once again, this is a list of email addresses from which you can choose your intended recipient without having to type anything.
Unlike normal suggestions, if you hover over entries in this list, you’ll see an X on the right side. Click that X to remove them from the Frequent contacts list. Note that this only removes them from the Frequent contacts list; it does not appear to remove them from the suggestions that appear when you type.
Limiting auto-complete suggestions
Many people appreciate the suggestions that Outlook.com displays as you type. For these people, it’s a quick way to avoid typing (or mistyping) complete email addresses. If they type enough characters to display the correct email address, they can click it to complete the entry.
Other people are confused and concerned when they see email addresses that are not part of their contacts appearing in the suggestions. The good news is that we can turn that off.
Click the gear icon at the top right of the Outlook.com window and then click More mail settings:
In the Customizing Outlook section, click Advanced privacy settings:
Make sure that Only suggest people in my contact list is selected:
Click Save. From here on out, the only suggestions that Outlook.com makes will be those email addresses found in your contacts.
Removing auto-complete suggestions
At this time, I’m not aware of a way to remove individual suggestions that are not in your contacts. But it appears that you can remove them all.
Change the setting described above – Only suggest people in my contact list – and then change it back. That discards the entire saved list of other email addresses. If you turn it back on in this fashion, Outlook.com builds the list anew as you move forward sending and receiving email.
And of course, if you see suggestions from your contacts that you don’t like, simply go into your contacts list (via that People selection that we started with) and delete them from your contacts.
Caveat: Everything changes
One of the risks of writing about Outlook.com or Hotmail… or let’s face it, anything on the internet … is that things change. Nowhere is that more common than with online email offerings.
So if you don’t see exactly what I’ve described here, start exploring. Rarely are features like this actually removed. The concepts that I’ve outlined should still apply. You may just need to hunt around a little for the links and interfaces to control them.
If change isn’t your thing, then you should probably avoid online email services, like Outlook.com, Gmail, Yahoo, and others completely. The one thing that I can guarantee is that things will change if not sooner, then later. You can insulate yourself to some degree by using a desktop email program whose updates and changes you can control.