Outlook 2013's Reading pane header

Last reviewed on September 26, 2014   —  30 comments

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), or higher.

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.

Please post long or more complicated questions at Outlookforums.

30 responses to “Outlook 2013's Reading pane header”

  1. K

    This is a really annoying feature. The cluttered header takes up more space than the actual message, and most of the content is redundant. Since upgrading to O365 I have to open emails to view them, when I could glance at them before.

    Mandatory changes to the viewing set up of the tasks folder also forces the user to have "My Tasks" as the default tasks folder - which in itself is now in a whole new tasks menu, from which I have to switch back and forth, compared to the integral folders list allowed before. This forces extra steps to dozens of processes each day and is so clumsy to use.

    These two un-customisable viewing settings (among several others) represent a step backwards for productivity. I feel like I have downgraded not up graded!

    Making default view layouts mandatory is really unhelpful to the user. Please allow the viewing options to be customisable Microsoft!

  2. rick hantz

    I'm a tester and developer, and often have emailed heartbeats and status from SQL or other processes. I need one long line for from, subject and long date. Preview pane needs to be at the bottom to occasionally glance at more logged info--no room on the side.

    To make it even worse, OWA 2013 no longer allows you to launch in 'Light' mode, unless you use unsupported browsers like Safari or Opera. 'Full' mode is really social media mode, and is really unsuitable for IT professionals, especially testers and programmers. For the first time in a long IT career, I now run Safari, just for OWA 2013.

  3. murphyw

    I would like to make the reading pane just a little taller by adding the contents of the "In Folder" Outlook Column when the Reading Pane is displaying a message from the Outlook search results window. Is there a web site that lists the process required to request this feature from Microsoft?

  4. r.d.

    I'm a bottom reader and Outlook 365 is horrible on this aspect. What were they thinking? My laptop is unusable with the bottom pane. Right pane really isn't any better on the laptop and it drives me crazy on my desktop...Bottom "should be" better on my laptop, if it wasn't for the huge wasted space in the header. I hope this fix this soon.

  5. RB

    I am also a bottom reader and hate the space the header takes up - I do not need to see a picture of the person ... I know what my boss looks like.
    Surely all MS needed to do was give an option to view or not the 'contact card' mini view.
    We all know we can get to the contact card by right clicking the persons name.

  6. Angry Man

    I can't believe how shockingly bad this is. Not only does the lack of colour make everything hard to see but when a blank picture of someone takes up all the space what is the f ing point.

  7. Daniel

    Header is awful!!! Why why why???

  8. anon4cec

    Any word if MS will ever add this feature back?

  9. Mark

    I tried the reading pane at the right, and now I can only see 3 letters of the title in my message list! Definitely not a viable solution. From reading other posts this issue is 2 years old and MS has done nothing to address the problem?

  10. Brian Manahan

    I too am a bottom reader, and hate the header! Unfortunately, Microsoft has know about this issue for 3 versions now and not only have they not attempted to fix it, but rather have gone the other direction to make it worse. I don't think there is any chance of Microsoft ever fixing this.

    I use to think Microsoft was a good company and produced good products. All the products for the PC in the last decade have gone in the wrong direction. Much less usable than before.

  11. Stephen Brantley

    It is now EArly/mid Dec. Are there any new answers to this? I have 55 users in my group and every single one of them have complained about this waste of space. fully 2/3 of them are using 14" screens and switching to right pane reduces other needed space too far. I have been using Outlook since it was first released for both MS-DOS and Win 3.x and this is by far the worst version to date.

  12. Wesley Wakeford

    It's STILL too big!

  13. Glen Schaefer

    Would be nice if MS offered the option to put the reading pane on the left, sometimes I wonder what these guys are smoking!

  14. Glen Schaefer

    well they should, it's the message you read not the list of messages. On a desktop PC with a wide screen my eyes are focused on the middle section which is where the list currently sits when you have folders on and reading pane on the right..surely this is not good for your neck or eyes straining to right all the time to read the messages?

    PS; This email client has a lot of cool features MS would be good to integrate
    http://www.getmailbird.com/

  15. Jerry Thorne

    Dianne,

    I got a new computer recently running Win 8.1 and Office 2013. I used Office 2003 and windows XP for many years. I compared the latest size of the header with the caret option for minimum size and the 2003 vs. 2013 size is now essentially the same size. However, the 2013 version can still make the header smaller by placing the "We removed extra line breaks" message to the right of the Reply, Reply All, Forward, and IM line of objects. To make things even better, remove all those items from the header in the reading pane since they can be accessed by a right click on the message in the INBOX list of files. At that point, the reading pane header would only have two lines of information. The top line would be FROM information for the email and the time stamp. The second line of text in the header would be the SUBJECT line. Nothing else is needed unless they want to put "Line breaks removed" as part of the information on the first line of the header.

  16. Alan

    It is a shame that no one picked up the joke that the developer who wrote the code for the header must have been trying for before it was released. Because it has to be a joke. It is the worst, most unproductive and inconvenient waste of screen space, that has been forced upon users that I have seen in my 35 years in the IT industry. How could MS have been so slack in its internal procedures to allow this firstly to get past Beta stage and secondly to remain unresolved? It is both appalling and Pathetic.

  17. Bob

    It's a shame the ability to reduce the size of the message header is only available to those who make use of a reading pane. The same wasted empty space is still there for those of us who don't.

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