Customizing the keyboard in Outlook 2007

Did you know that you can customize the keyboard in Outlook 2007 message editor windows? You won’t find it in the list of commands or otherwise in the interface. However, Outlook 2007 uses Word 2007, sort of, as the message editor. As a result, many things that work in Word, also work in Outlook’s message windows—even things that the interface doesn’t seem to know about otherwise.

Someone in a newsgroup wrote earlier today that Shift+Tab works to decrease the indent in Word 2003, but does not do so in Outlook 2003. That’s also true in Outlook 2007. Tab, by the way, increases the indent in both Word and Outlook 2003. Hence, the question: how can you decrease the indent using the keyboard in Outlook 2003. As far as I’ve been able to determine, you can’t unless you’re using Word as your message editor. The answer appears to be Ctrl+Shift+M. But, I don’t have access to Outlook 2003, so I can’t be sure.

However, the exercise of trying to find out led me to using my tried-and-true ToolsCustomizeKeyboardShortcut key assignment in Outlook 2007. It works in Outlook 2007 message windows! In fact, it works in any formatted Outlook 2007 window (such as the notes area in Tasks and Contacts).

Basically, it works like this (the same way it’s worked in every version of Word for Windows):

Press Ctrl+Alt+Plus Sign (on Number Pad).

This turns the mouse pointer into a cloverleaf shape:


When the mouse pointer is this shape, Word (and Outlook, too) will tell you the key assignment of the next command (keystroke, ribbon, QAT, menu) you exercise—if there is one. It will also let you make a key assignment in the process. So, for example, if I open an Outlook message window and I press Ctrl+Alt+Plus Sign (on Number Pad) and then click on the Decrease Indent tool, I see the following dialog box:


Then, I wondered: Can I use this to make key assignment? And, if I do, will they stick around for the next Outlook session?

The answer is Yes! The changes are saved in NormalEmail.dotm, which is the default template for email messages when using Outlook 2007.

So, if I want a keystroke for Decrease Indent, I just click in the Press new shortcut key: field, then tap the key combination I want to use (such as Ctrl+Shift+T), click Assign, and then click Close. Now, I can press Ctrl+Shift+T (which for me is kind of logical, since I used to use Ctrl+T for Tab).

What’s the catch? Well, thanks to my old friend Mike Shacter, I now know that this will not work with all keystrokes. Even some that are ostensibly “unassigned” according to the Customize Keyboard dialog box cannot be used. Why? I don’t know. Ctrl+Shift+T worked. Maybe I got lucky, because if I’d tried Alt+F12, I would have discovered that it didn’t work, and I might have given up, thinking that key assignment in Outlook didn’t really work.

Since receiving an email from Mike Shacter, I’ve discovered that you cannot successfully reassign keys that are already assigned. The dialog box will claim that you’ve succeeded. But, despite the dialog’s having told me that I successfully reassigned Ctrl+R to EditReplace, Ctrl+R continued to apply right alignment to the current paragraph. This was true of other already-assigned keystrokes as well.

But, I’ve also discovered that “unassigned” keystroke were not all created equal. Ctrl+Shift+4 claims to be unassigned. But, I was not able to use it. Ctrl+Shift+( also couldn’t be used. Ctrl+Shift+[, however, could. So, if you pursue this “trick” for Outlook 2007, keep in mind that you might need to experiment to find something that works.

PS Don’t be surprised if this works in Outlook 2010, too.

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