Outlook’s Navigation Bar Finds a New Home

Video Outlook navigation bar moved to left

Outlook users may have noticed a major change recently – the navigation bar has been moved to the left side of the screen. While this adjustment brings some new options, it also elicits a range of mixed emotions. This shift to the left has become the standard for the Current Channel since Version 2207, gradually rolling out since the second week of August 2022. Eventually, this update will extend to other channels according to their respective release schedules.

Navigation & App Bar on the left of the Folder List in Outlook
The new Navigation & App Bar on the left of the Folder List in Outlook.

Shifting the Navigation & App Bar – What’s Coming Soon

To move the Navigation & App Bar, you can no longer rely on the Coming Soon toggle in the top right corner of Outlook. As this feature has become the new default, the Coming Soon toggle now controls different functions or may no longer be available. Until Microsoft decides to make further adjustments, the Navigation & App Bar will remain on the left.

Coming Soon / Try it Now toggle in Outlook

For those who can’t find the Coming Soon button but still have the Navigation & App Bar on the left, restarting Outlook multiple times within a few hours usually resolves the issue. Alternatively, starting Outlook in Safe Mode resets the rollout flags and forces the Navigation buttons back into the Folder List temporarily.

A noteworthy update: now that this feature is the default, the previously published workarounds are no longer applicable.

Fresh Behavior and Keyboard Shortcuts

In this new location, users can no longer move or unpin the Mail and Calendar Modules, but they can add, remove, or rearrange all other listed modules. Simply right-click on any of the icons and select the desired action from the context menu, such as moving up, moving down, unpinning, or pinning.

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Context menu of the Navigation & App Bar
Context menu of the Navigation & App Bar flyout
The context menu of the Navigation & App Bar and its flyout allows you to unpin and pin modules and apps.

The modules’ keyboard shortcuts now depend on their order in the “App Bar.” While the Mail and Calendar Modules maintain CTRL+1 and CTRL+2, respectively, other modules no longer follow a consistent pattern, such as CTRL+6 leading to the Folder List Navigation.

Additionally, this update integrates Microsoft To Do with Outlook when using an Outlook.com or Exchange Online account. If you use an Exchange Online account, you’ll also find a link to the Org Explorer in the Navigation & App Bar, freeing up space on the Ribbon.

However, the inclusion of links to the desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, as well as Yammer and Bookings, has sparked some controversy. While Yammer and Bookings now open within the Outlook window, offering an integrated experience, they are essentially web application versions. Unfortunately, users cannot add links to other applications or websites themselves, not even Microsoft Teams.

For those who frequently click on the flyout of the Calendar, People, or Tasks module, you can disable this feature by right-clicking on the module, accessing the context menu, and unchecking “Show the Peek on Hover.”

The Change: Design Harmony and Convenience

This relocation of the navigation bar aims to align Outlook’s design more closely to other Office platforms, such as Office.com, Outlook on the Web, and Microsoft Teams, all of which feature an “App Rail” on the left side. The previous design, with the “module switcher” at the bottom, proved to have its drawbacks:

  • The most important features and interactions occur near the top of the screen, including Favorite Folders, the Ribbon, and email messages.
  • To switch to the Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and other modules, users had to travel to the bottom of the screen for a “precision click.”
  • Often, users had to return to the top of the screen immediately after to interact with folder items or create new ones.
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Interestingly, before Outlook 2002/XP, users could enable the Outlook Shortcuts Bar, which placed a similar style of navigation on the left side of the Folder List. This full-circle moment brings us back to a familiar layout.

Personal Reflections

At first, I found the new design of Outlook quite awkward, but it has grown on me over time. While I still occasionally click on the File screen (Backstage) instead of the Mail module due to its location in the top-left corner (a common convention across Windows applications), I now believe that placing the navigation bar below the Ribbon, at the same height as the Folder List, might improve both the appearance and functionality.

Concept with the Navigation & App Bar below the Ribbon

If you share this preference for the Navigation & App Bar to reside below the Ribbon, click on the “Coming Soon” button in the top right corner to open the Coming Soon Pane. At the bottom of this pane, you’ll find a Yes/No button that invites you to provide additional feedback.

While this change offers limited immediate benefits for me, I can’t help but think it might transform into a space for advertising lesser-known Microsoft 365 apps. In that case, it would be wasted space. Alternatively, this design change lays the groundwork for future extensibility. For example, it’s now easy to replace or enhance the Tasks module with Microsoft To Do. The new Org Explorer also finds its place in the Navigation & App Bar, eliminating yet another button tucked away in the Ribbon.

Furthermore, this update may open avenues for adding more enterprise apps or allowing admin controls for publishing them, much like Microsoft Teams. Speaking of Teams, why isn’t there a link to it?

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Overall, the “App Bar” concept seems most fitting for Office and Outlook on the web, acting as a web-based Start Menu for Microsoft 365 apps. On the desktop, applications already appear in the Windows Start Menu, and links to web-only apps can be conveniently added to the Start Menu or Taskbar by installing them as an app via your preferred web browser.

In summary, this change elicits mixed feelings and raises more questions than answers. It also introduces an additional vertical pane in Outlook:

  • App Bar
  • Folder List
  • Message List
  • Reading Pane
  • To-Do Bar

Let’s hope this is the last addition!

Feel free to share your thoughts on this transformation – and don’t forget to click on the “Coming Soon” button to make your voice heard. You may find the new design growing on you, or you might have your own suggestions for further improvements. Either way, Outlook’s navigation bar has embarked on a new journey, leaving users to adapt to its new home.