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The mail client Microsoft Outlook have the option to use “Reply All” in a mail conversation. When you hit the “Reply All”-button, your name sometimes turn up in the to-box, meaning you’ll also receive the e-mail you are currently writing – which is annoying.

Technically Microsoft MVPs' answers that this behavior depends on Outlook not knowing your e-mail address and adds “all” recipients as receivers. Without knowing much of Exchange server, there must be a way to remember that the mail I’m currently replying to, was the e-mail sent to me, and as a consequence not adding my e-mail address in the to-box.

Microsoft Outlook Reply to all-button

It must be possible to improve the behavior of the Reply All-button. Why haven’t Microsoft changed the behavior to improve the User Experience of Outlook?

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Have you considered that some people might like this functionality? This seems to be based on your personal opinion. –  dhmholley Oct 8 '12 at 14:02
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@dhmholley Among the people I've asked; developers, managers and operators - no one understands why you write an e-mail to yourself as well. But there might be - I havn't made a research study on the topic, yet :) –  Benny Skogberg Oct 8 '12 at 14:07
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Interestingly, if you send someone an email and then you want to send a follow-up on that, and you hit Reply on your sent email, you get just yourself in the To box. But if you hit Reply All, you get just the original recipient in the To box. I use this all the time. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Oct 8 '12 at 14:15
    
note that some email providers will let you create alt email addresses so outlook won't see an email matching your log-in details when one of those is used –  ratchet freak Oct 8 '12 at 15:01
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Well, e-mails aren't really suited for group-tasks... This is one of those "If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail"-situations. –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Oct 8 '12 at 17:42

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

That "Reply To All" is not the only annoyance of how Outlook handles replies. Another example: if you open an email you send to someone and want to follow up with that person, you hit "Reply", and instead of putting the other person's email in To:, Outlook puts your own.

Gmail acts differently though and I got spoiled by both how it handles "Reply To All" and "Reply" to your own email. And it did make very much sense to me back then when I first noticed these nice user experience considerations put into Gmail.

Now to answer your question of why MS hasn't changed:

Microsoft has been notorious for not focusing on UX until it starts hurting their bottom line. They build (or acquire) apps and then just sell them through their creative sales force. That's been until recently when the competition in the software space became aggressive with other vendors on the scene.

Only with Windows 7 when Microsoft noticed those like Ubuntu stepping on their toes with lightweight OS's, they really focused on the speed and UX of their OS. SharePoint has been clunky all this time and only the recent versions saw improvements once cloud-based content repositories started to tap into their share.

When it comes to Outlook there is not competition (unless you move entirely to cloud based email like Google Apps), so Microsoft devoted only some effort to improving it (although I admin to love many of the improvements that came with Office 2007 and 2010).

It's also one of those things when something that's implemented ages ago doesn't change, until someone at some point takes a fresh look at it (just like Gmail did). So if a button says "Reply To All" and it used to serve to reply to "..All", no questions asked, then it will continue doing that.

However it should be a fairly simple logic to get done:

  • If a "Reply To All" is hit, don't include myself. Quoted someone saying "behavior depends on Outlook not knowing your e-mail address" - this is simply not true: your email address is the one you have set up in your POP/IMAP configuration of Outlook, and the one which gets populated in the From: field.
  • Similarly, if "Reply" is hit, and if there was only one addressee in the original email, instead of myself (again) include original addressee.

Those MVPs who answer the forums are technical people (and they are not the team who builds Outlook, but third-party Microsoft partners), and technical people are rarely good UX people.

P.S.: Microsoft did take a fresh look at email with the new Outlook.com, which is a lot smarter and has been built with very many fresh looks put into it (it's almost like Microsoft hired or contracted some of the Google engineers). Something even tells me Reply To All and Reply work properly there.

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+1 Excellent answer, and Welcome to UX.SE! –  Benny Skogberg Oct 11 '12 at 13:52
    
+1 For this outstanding and complete answer. –  Bart Gijssens Oct 11 '12 at 14:08

I like the way it is, Reply to all will keep the conversation alive if it's in your inbox as well, as this would keep track of the previous mails of same subject with reply of others and your reply to it as well. Which would keep the conversation sequentially ordered, instead of going back to sent box see what you replied it saves all that trouble. :-)

Any ways if you don't want the mail to be sent to you, you can remove your name from receivers list. Hope this justifies the design to you.

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Microsoft products tend to suffer from trying to be too smart and to predict the users' wishes. Sometimes they manage to pull it off, but often they don't. Especially in MS Word this can get to really terrible proportions, making it an extremely frustrating program to use and driving users up the wall.

An action needs to be predictable. If a button says "Reply All", it's a great idea to have it do just that. Trying to be one step ahead and interpret the users' wishes for them is a dangerous game. It can be awesome when it works, but you feel positively helpless when it doesn't.

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