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7: Restrictive Editing

It’s an unavoidable fact of life: People often send email with obtuse or blank subject lines, making it almost impossible to tell at a glance what a particular message is about. Unfortunately, Entourage’s editing capabilities do little to ease this common problem. Even if all you want to change is an email message’s subject line, you must first open the message by double-clicking it in the folder list. Then you must choose Message > Edit Message, place the cursor in the subject line, edit as desired, close the message window, and click OK to accept your changes (see Figure 7).

Figure 7

Figure 7 Editing email in Entourage requires entering a special mode.

Microsoft’s engineers would do well to heed the advice given by interface guru Alan Cooper in his outstanding book, About Face 2.0: The Essentials of Interaction Design (Wiley, 2003): Allow input where you output. In other words, let users directly edit information where it’s displayed; don’t force them to enter a specific editing mode. Why can’t I make changes to the subject line directly in the inbox, or in the preview pane?

This applies to almost all other areas of Entourage, not just email subject lines. For example, if you see a phone number that you’d like to edit in the preview pane of the Address Book, clicking the number highlights it as expected. You can then copy the number to the Clipboard, but you can’t cut, paste, or edit the number. Instead you must click the person icon next to the record’s name, choose Edit this Contact, and then click the tab that relates to where the phone number is stored. (It could be either Work or Home; good luck remembering which.) Only then can you click and edit the phone number. It’s ridiculous to require users to jump through so many hoops to perform basic actions such as editing.

Oh, by the way, altering an HTML message in any way converts the entire email contents into plain text, thereby destroying the HTML formatting. I don’t expect—nor do I want—Entourage to offer full-blown HTML editing, but I should be able to change a message’s subject line without losing the HTML formatting of the message body.

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