Make it look like Outlook…

I can't count the number of times I've heard lines like 'Can you make it look like explorer?' or 'Make it work like Outlook', or even proactively looking for ways I can make my web application work like a Microsoft windows application.

It makes me wonder if (a) MS just managed to get User Interface down pat or (b) everyone is so used to MS interfaces that even without thinking it has almost come across as a 'standard' for UI development.

I've yet to have someone ask me to develop a UI like Max OSX (although I'm sure it's happened to some people) – or worse yet, 'Can you develop a DOS prompt for the web please?' (Although, for those more technically minded, it a command prompt could be an efficient way of doing things).

I can never decide if this is actually really frustrating, as it's hard to be truly 'innovative' in terms of UI, or actually rather handy, in that I know that a user is going to have no trouble with a explorer like tree, or a drop down header, and icon displays that mimic Microsoft displays.

So maybe all in all, the more I work with what people already use (i.e. MS Apps), the less I need to worry about Users looking for that dreaded 'support' ;o).

Random thought for the day.


Leave a Comment


  • Scott Barnes | June 18, 2004

    Firstly, my reply would be NO!

    Simply due to the fact its not using the same code base as OutLook and we are talking web, which in itself is an "occassionaly connected" environment.

    Simply put, if you make an app look like Outlook, you now then inherit the Outlook UI requirements (ie short cut keys, tabbing, visually has to do the same, scrolling behaviours etc). I used to winge that flash components should have an XP skin, until the MM design team came back and said "no, and this is why"… to which they enlightened me on the fact that you do raise peoples expectations and if they aren’t meet its a cold hard failure. So best to shift away from it and keep it "web" unique, leverage some concepts but "Make it Look like Outlook?" tell em to invest in some .NET programming and make some Outlook addons 🙂 save you and them money/time.

  • Mark | June 18, 2004

    That’s a really good point.

    From a UI perspective, it woud make a certain amount of sense to mimic certain UI components, but still maintain that ‘web’ look and feel, so that the user will go ‘Oh yeah, I used that in outlook, I know what that is’, while still not feeling they should have all of XP capabilities, as it doesn’t look ‘exactly’ like XP.

    But yeah – very valid point, I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

  • Steve Onnis | June 19, 2004

    I love it. I love making something on the web that actually looks like an application, with the same sort of functionality. Although this is the case, I keep this to my admins so its in a controled environment so when clients say "but i use netscape" you can explain that for the functinality you require, you may have to stick with IE. I mean, companies move to completly new platforms just to use a peice of software, whats the diff with the web.

    I was recently showing someone my new system and as i was explaining that it was a web based application, they said "well where is the web side of it?" They were already looking at it!

    For me i think that users feel more comfotable using a new application if it feels like something they have already used, such as outlook or what ever.


  • barry.b | June 22, 2004

    wot? ASP driven Outlook Web Access (OWA) not good enough for yers? Sheesh!
    It gets funnier when someone on a CF list is looking for a contractor to make an "Outlook-like" web app – for a (totally) MacOSX establishment…
    (best-o-luck, I say!)

  • Cedric | August 31, 2004

    Even w/ local apps, it’s best not to emulate Windows design, because you run the risk of looking very dated when a new rev of that OS and/or Office product releases.

    My previous company recently invested the time/resources to make sure there was a unique style to all the typical Windows controls (e.g. dropdowns, checkboxes) for their next-gen app because once Windows jumped to XP, everything in our Wink2k-developed app looked plain old.

  • Info | February 10, 2007

    If I develop a web application that looks exactly the same than outlook (left navigation bar, colors, icons, etc) but that does something different (inventory) am I Infinging copyright? can I be sued?