Search in Outlook Has Never Been Great
On January 11, MC313286 brought the news that Outlook searches might return no result if messages are stored in PST and OST files. I’ve zero sympathy for those who store email in PST files, but the loss of search in OST files handicaps offline operation for those of us who keep email in Exchange Online mailboxes. I realize that some persist in using POP3 and IMAP4 to access mailboxes (hopefully, the loss of basic authentication in October 2022 will stop this), but it’s time to move on use more modern messaging protocols.
In any case, the problem affects people who upgrade PCs to Windows 11 because the upgrade removes the search index. Over time, Windows rebuilds the search index, and all is well. At least, it’s as well as Outlook searches ever are. Over the years, my expectation that Outlook delivers reliable search results has never been high, so my level of disappointment is never severe. To be fair, searches performed by latest version of Outlook desktop (click to run) are better than before, but force of habit makes me depend on OWA when I need to search for something.
New Search Capabilities Include Outlook and Teams
Behind the scenes, Microsoft Search powers the search facilities in Outlook and OWA. Microsoft Search indexes and can search the Microsoft 365 substrate, meaning that it can find documents, email, tasks, and the compliance items for Teams, Planner, and Yammer. Recently, Microsoft upgraded the search UI in Office.com and SharePoint Online to add a “Conversations” tab to search results. This tab reveals Teams and Exchange Online messages (Figure 1) while other tabs deal with news, people, sites, files, and so on. The change is documented in MC299210 (last updated December 8) and Microsoft 365 roadmap item 68779.
If you select an item, a deeplink takes you to the original message in the underlying workload. For example, if you find a Teams message you want to see, the deeplink offers to open the Teams browser client but will open the item in the desktop client if that client is available. Outlook items open in OWA.
According to the roadmap item, the new search became generally available in January 2022. It should therefore be available in all tenants now.
Microsoft 365 Search in Bing Now Covers Outlook
The roadmap item refers to Bing.com too, which covers the scenario when Microsoft 365 results are integrated with results from Bing searches. It’s long been possible to see Teams and Yammer messages in Bing results. Now Outlook messages are included (Figure 2). As in other features powered by Microsoft Search, filters make sure that the person performing the search only sees the information they can access. This means that a search covers the user’s own mailbox but won’t reveal items in shared mailboxes or other user mailboxes they have delegate access to.
The presentation of Outlook content differs in Bing. In the past, Bing had a Conversations tab covering Teams messages and Yammer. Now, Teams and Outlook show up under Messages and Yammer is moved out to its own tab. I’ve heard speculation that this is because Yammer messages are slower to index. Curiously, the search results available in neither SharePoint Online nor Office.com include Yammer content, so perhaps Microsoft is doing some work to integrate Yammer better.
Integrated View is Best
The obvious advantage of using Office.com or SharePoint Online for searching is access to integrated results. OWA delivers good results for Outlook messages. However, given that we live in a world where communications aren’t restricted to email, the integrated search across SharePoint, OneDrive, Teams, and Outlook is very attractive. It’s now my favorite way to look for Microsoft 365 content.
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