Desktop alerts are messages that appear on your screen when certain things happen in Outlook. You’ve most likely seen them in the lower-right corner of the screen, popping up over whatever you happen to be doing when new mail arrives in Outlook. While the most common time to see desktop alerts is when new messages arrive, you can actually see them when any of the following things happen:

  • You receive email messages: An alert for an email message displays the name of the sender, the subject of the message, and a bit of the body of the message.
  • You receive a meeting request: An alert for a meeting request displays the name of the sender, the subject, and the date, time, and location of the meeting.
  • You receive a task request: An alert for a task request displays the name of the sender, the subject, and the starting date for the task.

As long as Outlook is running (even minimized) and desktop alerts are active (which is the default option), any of the above events will trigger an alert.

Desktop alerts appear over whatever else is visible on the screen at the time. By default, they’re partially transparent, and appear along with some sort of tone or other sound to alert you to their arrival. Alerts remain visible for a few seconds, then disappear. Each of these characteristics is customizable.

Working With Desktop Alerts

Desktop alerts do more than notify you about something important. They let you work with the item without messing with the Inbox. Next time you see a Desktop Alert, notice the little down arrow in the top-right corner. Click that down arrow and Outlook displays a menu of options you can click to take various actions.

How to Customize Desktop Alerts

What many people don’t realize is that you have complete control over the behavior of alerts, including the amount of time they stay on the screen or whether they appear at all. The easiest way to customize alerts is with the Desktop Alert Settings dialog box from the main Outlook window. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Click Tools > Options to open the Options dialog box.
  2. From the Preferences tab of the Options dialog box, click email Options.
  3. From the email Options dialog box, click Advanced email Options.
  4. From the Advanced email Options dialog box, click Desktop Alert Settings.

Once you get to the Desktop Alert Settings dialog box, you can adjust the amount of time that alerts appear on the screen along with the transparency of the alert box (visit Using Desktop Alerts at the Living With Outlook website for more information). Click the Preview button at the bottom of the dialog box to see what your changes would do. Click OK when you’re happy with the way things are adjusted.

Learning how to work with Desktop Alerts is just one of the topics covered in the second lesson of the 6-week online course, Introduction to Outlook 2007. If strengthening your skills with Outlook 2007 makes sense to you in these uncertain economic times, and you like the idea of a structured class with the ability to interact with your instructor, I urge you to visit to learn more.

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