As you may know, the latest installment of the Microsoft’s globally acclaimed office productivity solution – Office 2013 – has many differences from the previous one, and the list is increasing even as we speak owing to frequent updates. While most of the changes are quite expected: feature upgrades, fixes and new feature implementations; there are some that came as a surprise.
To improve the overall security measures regarding Office and Windows system stability, Microsoft decided to remove the possibility of implementing a so-called “custom action” Outlook rule configuration scenario. Basic Outlook rules, an all-powerful tool created to achieve the broadest of goals as far as scope and in terms of improving one’s Outlook and Office experience, were left intact. However, the removal of the “custom action” function naturally restricts some rule configuration scenarios.
In this article, we will not discuss any scenario that was dependent on the “custom action” feature, but rather will describe one which was responsible for automatically printing out messages and attachments by a tool of our own making: the third party add-in called the MAPILab Print Tools for Outlook. This product extends the way uses are able to print out messages in Outlook, while also allowing them to conveniently and seamlessly print out attachments of literally any kind and file format (rather than complicating things by managing each file type internally, the add-in calls for a “Print” command of the application which Windows system uses to process and print this or other file type; for example, Adobe Reader’s “Print” command is used to print a .PDF file, etc.), while doing so automatically with little or no input required from the user (depending on a task at hand).
Like many other third-party tools and a proficient user’s own scenarios, the add-in relied, on the “custom action” feature of the Outlook rules in previous installments of Microsoft Office. In its basic form, the custom action is a way for an external script to interact with an Outlook rule. Print Tools for Outlook was then specified as a custom action to be applied to messages meeting defined conditions. For example, when a message with a certain subject line or an attachment of a specified file type arrives in a certain folder, a custom action is performed which grants the add-in permission to monitor for a condition while residing in Outlook and eventually printing out the item, without the user’s further interaction. This, along with many other possibilities, is no longer possible in Outlook 2013 due to security matters (a malicious program could gain access to critical Outlook data via the custom action feature).
However, we at MAPILab have implemented a convenient workaround in order to make the automatic printing feature available in Outlook 2013 without relying on the custom action: we called it the Folders Watch. The Folders Watch is a new feature, unique to Outlook 2013 in terms of its user interface. While somewhat limited in comparison to the Print Tools for Outlook operation in the previous Microsoft Office editions (2003, 2007, 2010), it does allow a user to print his/her items just the same by specifying a folder from the user’s mailbox folder list, including Calendar, Contacts, Notes, and other item folders.
And here is the fun part: despite all the changes made to sacrifice the customizability for improved security, you can still use all the might of Outlook rules to produce any kind of auto-printing scenario for the add-in!
Using a standard set of the triggers you can, for example, reduce the criteria for incoming messages by sender type or by attachment file format. This is done by creating (or designating among the already existing ones) a folder that will be used for the filtered items which, in turn, will be used by the Folders Watch feature to collect the items for printing it via the add-in.
Let us imagine the following scenario. The main point of interest will be a folder (or a number of folders), where all the filtered items will end up being stored for automatic printing. This is the folder which we will later select as the one to be monitored by the Print Tools for Outlook Folders Watch feature.
For the sake of better demonstrating the scenario, we will create such a folder, although you can select one from the existing ones. Depending on the type of your preferences, you can create/select different kinds of folders, including the aforementioned Contact/Task/Note for the respective items to be later printed. But for this example we will demonstrate the filtering of e-mail messages and attachments, therefore we have created a folder named “To Printer”, which is a basic Outlook message folder with no special content attributes:
Now it is time to begin customizing your filtering scenario by applying some Outlook rules! Basically, these can make any message or message with an attachment appear in this new folder to be printed automatically. You can set the range of conforming messages as precise as you desire – the filtering rules are potent enough to even restrict the messages by just an internet domain, or by use of the sender’s name, full address, a message subject or an attached content type. You can even choose a particular attachment type to be sorted out and sent to the Folders Watch–designated folder, so you can be assured that only the messages and/or files that you are certain you want to be automatically printed will appear in this folder.
For our example, we have chosen to restrict the filtering to messages with an attachment, larger than 2 kilobytes in size, and sent from a specific user only:
When you have determined what messages you wish to print automatically and which you want to be left outside of the filtering scope, you can apply the rule and initiate testing procedures. In essence, you have established a fully-automated printing scenario for any messages and attachments that the Outlook rules send to the designated folder. They will be moved or copied to that folder and the Print Tools for Outlook add-in using its Folders Watch feature will simply print without any further user input, calling the application that is responsible for managing the given file type. That application is what sends the file to your main printer’s queue.
Note that the add-in itself also has a wide array of options and settings, as well as its own filtering rules. For example, since you have the ability to set multiple folders in the Folders Watch feature, a unique set of filters in the form of which item to print (a message, an attachment, or both) and to which printer to send the item could be applied to each selected folder – simply select it within the Folders Watch folder list and click “Settings…”:
There are also global settings that will be used by default if you do not change the unique folder settings in Folders Watch. These are set by clicking the “Options” button of the add-in’s Outlook ribbon interface.
Also note that this was just a basic scenario – the possibilities of filtering the messages and file attachments are virtually limitless with Outlook rules, and you can fine-tune which ones will be automatically printed, and which will not, to an extent limited only by your own desire and the task at hand.