Customize email views in the new Outlook for Mac

Outlook for Mac is new, it is packed with features and it is free. What more could you want? This is a great email, calendar and contacts app. Let’s see how to customize the email view.

If you have not yet installed Microsoft Outlook for Mac, get it from the Mac App Store. It costs nothing to download, install and use, and you may prefer it to Apple Mail bundled with macOS.

Outlook app is designed for the Outlook email service, but it can be used for a wide range of different email accounts, not just Microsoft’s. It does not require a Microsoft 365 subscription and a free Microsoft account is fine.

Bear in mind that only 5 GB of storage space is free and these days that includes both email and files on OneDrive. However, long-time users like myself have up to 50 GB free. At one time you got 25 GB of free storage, and exra space was handed out for various things like installing OneDrive on your phone and uploading photos.

Outlook for Mac is a huge app that requires over a gigabyte of storage space, so make sure there is sufficient space before downloading it from the Mac App Store.

Run it for the first time and it will ask you a few things about the appearance, but there is so much more customization available if you know where to look. Let’s see how to configure it to work the way we want.

Hide the right sidebar

Hide the right-hand sidebar in Outlook for Mac
Hide the right-hand sidebars

At the right-hand side of the Outlook window is a tabbed sidebar. If you use a Mac with a big screen, there is space for it, but it gets in the way on MacBooks with small screens. Close the tabs by clicking the cross, or hide the sidebar by clicking the icon in the top right corner. This makes more space available for the reading pane.

Position the reading pane

Choose the location of the mail reading pane in Outlook for Mac
Set the reading pane position in Outlook

The reading pane shows the currently selected email. Double clicking an email in the inbox opens it in its own window, but it is more convenient to show the reading pane on the right or below the inbox. Select the reading pane position on the View > Reading Pane menu.

Open reading preferences

Settings for Outlook for Mac
Outlook preferences

Outlook Preferences? Someone should tell Microsoft that the latest version of macOS has replaced Preferences with Settings. Learn the keyboard shortcut to display Outlook Preferences, Command+comma, because there is no back button. If you want to jump from one section to another section, you must quit Outlook, reopen Preferences, and select the new section. That is odd, and irritating.

We want to customize the reading view, so go to Outlook > Preferences and click Reading.

Customize Outlook inbox views and actions

Customize the mail reading view in Outlook for Mac
Reading preferences in Outlook

There is a lot in this window and there is more than in the screenshot above. At the top is Message list, and this determines how the contents of the inbox are displayed. Show message preview shows the first few words of the email. Show sender image shows a circular image to the left of the message in the inbox. It shows the sender’s photo if available, or initials if not. Try these settings on and off to see the difference.

Focused inbox shows two inbox tabs, one for important emails and one for unimportant ones. Outlook decides which tab emails are shown on and mostly it gets it right, but not always. Some people like this feature, but some don’t. Try it and see if you prefer the tabs or just one inbox with everything. I like it.

Conversations is another feature you will love or hate. If you email someone, they reply and you reply to that reply and so on, all the emails appear as one conversation. In other words, grouped together. I like it.

Deal with email with swipes

In the Reading settings is Left swipe and Right swipe (see the screenshot above). Click each one and select the actions you want. When the mouse hovers over an email in the inbox, swipe left or right across the trackpad on a MacBook to perform the action. If you have an iPhone, you will be used to performing left and right swipes in apps to perform actions. Outlook has them too.

Use swipe actions in Outlook for Mac
Use swipe actions to deal with email in Outlook

It makes it quick and easy to deal with emails in the inbox and you can delete, archive, flag, snooze and perform other actions on emails very quickly.

Increase privacy in Outlook mail

Staying with the Reading preferences in Outlook for Mac, a little further down the list of settings is Mark email as read. You can choose to mark emails as read as soon as they are selected, or only after a certain number of seconds. Choose your favorite option.

Increase privacy in Outlook mail for Mac
More email reading settings in Outlook

Increase privacy with the Download external images setting. Images in emails can be used to track you, see whether you have opened an email, and gather information about your computer. Either choose Ask before downloading, which shows no images unless you click a button, or at least show images Only in messages from my contacts. Presumably, you contacts are trustworthy.

Show hidden images in emails in Outlook mail for Mac
Do not show images in emails unless you trust the sender

When an email is viewed, at the top of the message is To protect your privacy… and a button, Download external images. Images are hidden and your privacy is protected, but you can choose to show images if you need to see them.

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