Check your programming defaults. (And while you’re at it, your faults.)

Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Making high quality community journalism isn’t free — please consider supporting our journalism by subscribing to the News + Record today.

Unlimited Digital Access begins at $4.67/month

Print + Digital begins at $6.58/month


Software upgrades are a nuisance. They’re foisted on us through our tech devices at the most inopportune moments and force upon us changes that are, at least on occasion, unwanted — and sometimes ingratiatingly confusing and complex.

Essential? Yes. Upgrades are designed to de-bug and enhance the tools we use to make our lives easier, but if you’ve survived through enough of them, you’ve experienced the hassle they can also bring.

I’d been putting off one particular upgrade for some time on my email program of choice — Microsoft Outlook — in part because I’m stubborn. I’ve been using Outlook as my primary email program for more than 20 years. In computer and software terms, that’s about five lifetimes. The “new” Outlook, which Microsoft allows you to take for a test spin, didn’t appeal to me visually. So I quickly switched back after giving it a couple of brief tries.

Depending on the programs you use on your computer or phone, and your operating system, you can sometimes postpone or even indefinitely delay upgrades. But Outlook tends to be buggy and the “old” program (which I used) lacked some cool tools the “new” Outlook, which was awful-looking, offered.

I like the functionality and the way Outlook email integrates other elements within the program but I’m in the minority here. Most people I know use Gmail; Google’s email program incorporates all of that software behemoth’s tools — many of which I use — and has about 1.5 billion users, nearly four times the number of Outlook aficionados like me.

Outlook is buggy (did I mention that?) and probably more susceptible to viruses, but I’m loathe to sell my soul to Google by switching. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense, given that, as an Apple fan, I’ve pretty much sold my soul to Apple. Except for Apple’s mail program, which is, in fact, rotten.

So, not long ago, I made a commitment to the new Outlook — and, as these things tend to go, my leap of faith mostly paid off. Within a day or so I’d grown accustomed to the new look. And I made ample use of the new bells and whistles, one of which allows you to “pin” critical messages to the top of your inbox. I get about 500 email messages a day, so that’s helpful when your response time lags.

But there was one thing I hated about the new Outlook: when hitting “reply” to a message, the reply email didn’t automatically open up in a separate window.

That little inconvenience baffled me. Because I am an inveterate multi-tasker and have a short attention span, I realized that many replies I intended to send ended up stuck in a “drafts” folder. I’d hit “reply,” then in the middle of responding, jump to another task; if I clicked elsewhere in Outlook, then the unfinished “reply” would automatically end up as a draft and disappear — promptly forgotten. I discovered this little bug after chiding one too many people for not responding to messages I’d sent, only to find out (after they swore they’d not gotten a message) the replies were actually was still drafts — and thus never sent.

I lived with this for a few months, habitually checking my drafts folders every day for stray replies. Then it finally dawned on me: this may not be a bug, but a preference.

So I went to Outlook, clicked on “Preferences,” and looked hard. And there it was: a careful examination revealed a box — unchecked, unselected — with the option, “Open new messages and replies in a separate window.”

I checked it, went to my email program, clicked on a message and hit “reply.” Sure enough, it opened a new reply window.


As for the mystery of why this wasn’t the new Outlook’s “default” setting, I have no idea.

But what I’m really scratching my head about is why I waited so dang long to explore that question more fully. My right-brain tendencies — my own personal default settings — subvert logic and analytical thinking. When I slowed down to use my imagination and think about this “bug” intuitively, a solution came to me in about 17 seconds.

It makes me wonder what other unchecked boxes I have out there.

And it reminds me: sometimes the easiest “debug” is just taking a breath and asking yourself the right questions.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here