Outlook 2013's Reading pane header

Last reviewed on February 17, 2014

Great news for users who hate the huge header at the top of messages in Outlook 2013's reading pane: the November 2013 updates for Outlook 2013 adds the ability to minimize the header block. It's not super tiny, but it is about 50 pixels smaller and is easily expanded or reduced.

This update is installed automatically when you are using a Click to Run subscription or Outlook RT. Check File, Office Account, Update Options to see if any updates are waiting to be installed. MSI installations, commonly used by Enterprises and also available to MSDN subscribers, may not be updated automatically. These users will need to download and install the update. Links to the download are at MS13-094: Description of the security update for Outlook 2013: November 12, 201

When the update is installed, your Outlook version is reported as 15.0.4551.1005 (for all versions, including Outlook RT).

Below is a screenshot of the minimized header overlaid on the original header:
The new, smaller header

To expand or reduce the header, click on the caret in the lower right corner of the header. With the smaller header, the To and date fields are moved to the right of the From field.

When there are too many names in the To or CC fields to list them all separately, a + number is displayed. Click on it to see the list of recipients. If the header is too narrow to list the names, a people icon is displayed along with the recipient count.

Outlook 2013 RTM

The second biggest complaint after Outlook 2013's lack of color, is the size of the header in the reading pane. Yes, it is huge, approx. 70 pixels taller than in Outlook 2010, which was taller than the header in Outlook 2007. To make matters worse, the header can't be minimized in the RTM build.

While it's not bad when the reading pane is on the right (where approx. 75% of users keep it), when the reading pane is on the bottom, users are lucky to see a line or two of a message with the pane's height about half the height of the window. Disabling Contact photos won't help and in fact, adds about 6 pixels to the height. Add attachments or the blocked external content warning, an Outlook App and the People Pane and you're lucky to see any part of the actual message when the reading pane is on the bottom.

Compare Outlook 2010 and 2013 reading pane headers

Part of the reason the header is so large is because of the reply and forwards buttons, photos are a little smaller than in Outlook 2007 and only account for half the increased height. The rest is taken up by more white space.

The App bar shown in the screenshot is available only with Exchange 2013 mailboxes. The apps are available in the Office App Store.

The obvious solution is to use the reading pane on the right. The reading pane works great on the right and there is plenty of room to read messages, even with the ribbon open. With the long list of messages visible onscreen, it's productive. Where it doesn't help is with portrait orientation - I like the reading pane on the bottom so I can keep the Folder list visible but the header takes up a huge chunk of screen real estate.

This could be time for third party reading panes to make a comeback. Microsoft is aware of the problem but whether they will properly fix it is left to be seen.

Written by

Diane Poremsky
A Microsoft Outlook Most Valuable Professional (MVP) since 1999, Diane is the author of several books, including Outlook 2013 Absolute Beginners Book. She also created video training CDs and online training classes for Microsoft Outlook. You can find her helping people online in Outlook Forums as well as in the Microsoft Answers and TechNet forums.

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