Minimize Outlook 2003 to the system tray (er, taskbar notification area)

I've noticed that a bunch of the referrers I get from
google/msn/yahoo search to this blog are interested in terms such as "Email Notification
Icon". So in response to that, today's blog entry is about two tricks related to the
system tray, one of which is about the email notification icon.

Tip #1: How to
minimize Outlook 2003 so that it doesn't appear on the taskbar:

1. Click on the Outlook icon in the system tray
2. Check "Hide when minimized"
3. Minimize Outlook

And voila, Outlook will not show up on the taskbar.
To maximize Outlook, click on the system tray icon again and choose "Open Outlook."

Note: If reminders fire, they will still show up on
the taskbar.

Tip #2: Turn off the envelope icon the system tray

The new mail icon in the system tray tends to be one
of those features that you either hate or love. If you are in the hate camp, just
turn it off (Outlook 2002/2003):

1. Tools | Options | E-mail Options | Advanced E-mail
2. Uncheck "Show an envelope icon in the notification area"

Outlook 2003 contains a new message notification mechanism
that's much spiffier (at least in my humble opinion). This mechanism (known as "desktop
alert") displays a translucent box on your screen with the first few lines of the
message and gives you the option to delete it, flag it or open it while it's being
displayed. This is configured in the same dialog as the above checkbox, just click
"Desktop Alert Settings".

P.S. I love the idea of creating blog entries based
on the searches that already lead to this blog. It's such a warm-fuzzy-customer-feedback-loop.

Comments (48)

  1. Craig Berntson says:

    Tip #1 is good, but what if I want to do the opposite? I want to see Outlook minimized in the task bar, but I want to get rid of the stupid icon in the tray.

  2. Phil says:

    How do you go about finding searches that already lead to this blog ?

  3. KC Lemson says:

    Craig: You can use the tool at <a href=""></a&gt; to do that.

    Phil: Sorry, only the owner of the blog has access to that information.

  4. Craig Berntson says:


    How will adding another control to the tray solve my problem. There are FAR too many programs that put themselves in the tray when they don’t need to be there. I really wish dev teams would start reading Microsoft’s UI guidelines.

  5. Gordon says:

    Consider me a happy customer of your feedback loop! I’ve been looking for how to get rid of that little system tray icon – many thanks!!

  6. Magi says:

    Ok, so the desktop notification thingy is really cool but how do you get it to stay on the screen longer than 30 sec? Even the 3 sec is fine if I am sitting at my computer but what if I am constantly getting up and down? There’s the envelope sure, but I kinda like the desktop notification. Why such a constrictive time limit?

  7. KC Lemson says:

    The UI has to choose some reasonable default to please ‘most people most of the time’. You can customize this if you want it to be longer- see the blog entry from 11/26:

    There’s also the envelope icon in the system tray that will remain on the tray until you open a new mail or mark something as read. Tools | Options | Email Options | Advanced Email Options | Show an envelope icon…

  8. Chris Tibble says:

    Is there any way of getitng rid of the envelope icon in the system tray if you have Outlook 200 SP3? I hate having that thing sat on my dektop accusing me of not looking at my email when I have work to do…


  9. Brian says:

    I have an IMAP account as my default account – the new mail goes to the inbox of the IMAP account – Outlook will notify me with the envelope icon, however, becuase it doesn’t go to the "default Inbox" – the desktop notification doesn’t work. Any ideas?

  10. Ken Beal says:

    Thanks for the info. I was wondering if you could help me, I’m looking for a way to be alerted to messages I care about. I do not want the system tray icon to appear if the incoming email is a mailing list I belong to; those I stuff in a separate folder.

    I saw in the Rules Wizard that there’s an option "clear the message flag" but that’s the "followup" flag, not the system tray message indicator.

    I don’t want to just turn it completely off; I want to be interrupted when something work-related comes in, but I do *not* want to be interrupted when an email from a mailing list comes in, as those I can read at my leisure.

    I realize I can change my subscription options to "batched daily digest" mode instead of "one email per message" mode, but I prefer the latter for storage and review.

    Does anyone know how to do this? It’s okay if it flickers then turns off, but it’d of course be even better if it didn’t.


    Ken Beal

  11. KC Lemson says:

    Have you looked at the desktop alert feature in tools / options / email options / advanced email options, to see if that meets your needs?

  12. cyoav says:

    Craig asked you how to get rid of the stupid Outlook icon in the tray altogether, and you told him to use the knockout tool. BUT this tool has an icon of it’s own and the outlook icon is only disabled when this tool is runing so there is no gain there…

    Do you know of any other way to remove the Outlook icon? maybe by editing the registry?

  13. KC Lemson says:

    Yes, Yoav, that was discussed above. I am not aware of any registry key to change this. The way knockout works is by using win32 APIs, so if you were able to write something separately to do that, that’s one possibility.

    Another way just occurred to me… if you’re using windows XP, right click on the taskbar and go to properties, check "hide inactive icons" and click customize. From there you can choose to always hide the icon.

  14. cyoav says:

    Thanx KC. The "always hide" icon did the trick!

  15. felix says:

    I just installed Outlook 2003. I was using Outlook Epress before. In Express, I always got a new mail notification. In Outlook 2003, I don’t get any type of notification when new mail arrives. Does anyone know of how to correct this problem? All the notification items are checked. I’m using a hotmail account if that helps.

  16. AmOoOoR says:

    I agree, there is just no need for that Outlook 2003 tray icon, with 2003 Microsoft has forced users into more features than 2000. Even inside outlook 2003 the calendar and the stupid shortcut menu and even the bar under witch it has a link to "Folder Sizes" and "data File Management…" as if I need these things every second. If anyone can answer the original question of how to get rid of the try icon (or other annoying UI things with outlook) please post of email.

  17. KC Lemson says:

    Amoor, did you read my comment from 3/5 at 9:25 AM? I don’t remember if previous versions of Windows had that same capability.

  18. Kirk Munro says:

    Amoor, to get rid of the tray icon:

    Tools|Options|Email Options|Advanced Email Options…uncheck the 6th checkbox from the top (Show an envelope icon in the notification area).

    Hope this is what you are looking for.

  19. KC Lemson says:

    Kirk: actually no, this isn’t about the envelope icon, it’s about the outlook icon that’s new in outlook 2003, that sticks around in the system tray.

  20. Kirk Munro says:

    Er…um…ignore that last message. I misread what you wanted to hide.

  21. Rob says:

    To echo Yoav, thanks KC. "always hide" fixed something that has distracted me for a long time. Now I won’t have to turn off Outlook during the day any more and only start it when I’m ready to look at new messages.

  22. Darren Woodford says:

    I would like to be alerted to a new message even when Outlook is not running. Is this possible? Is there perhaps a separate program that could run in the tray to notify me. Ideally with the same features. ie click on the icon to load outlook and funky desktop alerts.

  23. Peter says:

    I’m using Office XP SP3 and it is my understanding that if I close Outlook and I do receive new mail that it should still display an envolope icon in the system tray… It does not… Is this normal?

  24. KC Lemson says:

    Peter: your expectation is incorrect, that is not part of the core Outlook product. There are third party products that do this, see for links to a few.

  25. grimm says:

    WOOOOHOOOO, thanks, about time i can leave it open

  26. frainbreeze says:

    does anyone know why the taskbar icon shows as outlook 2000 (the brown and white one) even though you’re running outlook 2003 (with an orange and yellowy icon)?

    anyone know how to change this?

  27. Mike Thiele says:

    I have the same problem, I think it has to do some thing with windows 2000. I have done a clean install of windows 2000 sp4 and then install Office 2003 and I get the same results.

    Are you having this problem with windows XPSP1?

  28. KC Lemson says:

    This just reminded me of an issue from a long time ago… but I think this was fixed after NT4. In those days, when the font cache in windows got overloaded, lots of funky display problems could happen. For some reason I remember the cache being around 40mb by default, and if you hit this problem you had to remove fonts from the fonts folder to get to under 40mb & reboot. I couldn’t find any more information on this with a quick googling, but just wanted to mention it.

  29. Tad says:

    Is it possible to have the new mail notification envelope when I receive e-mails in one of the subfolders of my inbox? I have folders setup for all my current projects, completed projects, etc, and rules setup to automatically move them to the correct folders. However, I dont get the envelope icon when new mail arrives. I dont want the desktop alert because many times i’m not at my computer when the new mail arrives, i just want the envelope to work like it did in previous versions!

  30. KC Lemson says:

    Tad: Not to my knowledge. But in Outlook 2003 you can configure a new mail alert or desktop alert based on a rule, see

  31. Tad says:

    Wow, thats seriously depressing. I can’t believe they would take that out.

  32. KC Lemson says:

    Sorry, what? Take it out? I don’t remember it ever being customizable like that, from what I recall it’s always been a global option.

  33. Tad says:

    In Outlook 2000/XP if I had rule setup to send incoming emails to a subfolder of my inbox based on words in the subject, I would still receive the mail notification envelope. In 2003, I don’t. I know it works on 2000/XP because I just tested it on some other boxes I have.

  34. KC Lemson says:

    Tad – ahh ok I know what you’re talking about. I do not know the details here, but I suspect the change was made on purpose, because I know I’ve heard many many people complain about the way it used to work – many folks didn’t like the envelope showing up unless it was for a new mail message in the inbox. But like I said, I wasn’t involved in the decision, so I may not have the full story.

  35. KC Lemson says:

    By the way, in outlook 2003, have you looked at the desktop alert functionality? It’s far more flexible than the icon. See the entry I linked to above, plus in the rule you can also create a desktop alert as well, it’s pretty powerful.

  36. Tad says:

    I liked the unobtrusive little envelope, but I guess I’ll have to live with that. Thanks for your help.

  37. Janice says:

    I’m trying to find information about possible security vulnerabilities by having the Desktop alert turned on. I keep auto-preview and and preview panes turned off for that reason, but the question was brought to me about the Desktop alerts feature as well. Any info? Thanks!

  38. guillermo says:

    I have Outlook 2000 SR-1. It does not have the "Show an envelope icon in the notification area" in the Advanced E-mail Options so I can’t turn off the envelope icon the system tray. Any idea ?

  39. KC Lemson says:

    Guillermo: I believe that option wasn’t added until Outlook 2002, sorry.

  40. Josh Rusak says:

    I have outlook 2003 running in cached exchange mode and the new message indicator (both the envelope icon and transapent notice) works fine when msgs come into the inbox…but when they come into one of my sub folders or another folder in my mailbox the indicator doesn’t appear…it doesn’t matter whether i am in cached exchange mode or not by the way…ive tested both…

    what do you think?

  41. Miron says:

    when outlook is open it places an icon in the system tray. whenever outlook is sync’ing its folders a baloon pops up with a message to that effect.

    if i right-click on the icon i can disable the showing of messages. however, this disables it for this session only. when i next reboot my pc it is on again.

    how can I turn these off permanently. i know how to do it if i re-install but there must be a way to manually change these settings

    thanks in advance

  42. Morris Okinawa says:

    Thanks for tip #2.

    I was looking for reenabling envelop icon about 2 weeks.

  43. sue says:

    I have outlook 2000 with Windows XP. I’m one of those that like the envelope icon in the desktop tray area. I can’t seem to find it tho’. Do I have to d/l an upgrade for it to work? I had it no problem before with Outlook Express.

  44. Mike O says:

    For anyone else who is as anal as I am about just how the desktop looks, I stumbled on a solution to both minimize outlook to the system tray (built into outlook see previous posts) & remove those "hide" arrows that make me feel like I need to see what
    is hidden, and are therefore a distraction. End result: outlook can be running and invisible completely (my preference), or just visible on the taskbar. the procedure is a little tricky, but not too hard, and is nearly identical to changing the start button
    color. First follow these instructions but skip the part about changing the start button (or not):

    basically, create a new folder for styles and remove windows protections. Now all you have to do is make the arrow bitmaps transparent. Use Reshacker and find the bitmaps that serve as the "hidden arrows" (for blue, homestead, and metallic which are the standard
    styles) the files are

    All you have to do now is save either bitmap (use the action menu) open it with any image editor (paint works wonderfully) and using an eyedropper tool, grab the pink coloring around the outside, (it is the transparent color) and then color over the arrows
    so you get a long pink rectangle. Then just follow the instructions given for replacing a bitmap, replace BOTH listed above with pink rectangles and switch your style to something else and when you switch back, the ‘hide’ arrows will be invisible (but you
    can still click there and see what is hidden) If you change the settings to always show everything EXCEPT outlook, then outlook is essentially eliminated from the system tray. I like to keep a very tidy tray, even if I am just fooling myself into believing
    it is empty 😉

  45. JWiginton says:

    Honestly, I would rather get rid of the system tray icon in Outlook 2003 completely. I don’t feel I should have to hide the icon (which is what I do now), there should be an option in Outlook to disable it. I am very nitpicky about what lies in my system tray. Usually it’s only my network connection icon and my Instant Messaging program, with my anti-virus software hidden. This is more crap that just annoys me. If I knew how to hack that annoying little icon out, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

  46. Ed says:

    Agreed that the Office system tray icon needs to be removed.

    You have an option to remove it from the Taskbar, why isn’t there an option to remove it from the system tray?

    You should have an option to remove it either location. Seems quite logical to me. A little ol program named Winamp has been able to do that for years.

  47. Bandir says:

    So i’ve read through the blogs

    Has anyone found a way to remove the Outlook System Tray icon (not just hidden) without installing and third party software.

    It’s very annoying and i’ve got much more important system tray icons (the new mail icon for example is much more useful – at least it is telling you something!)

  48. LanFear says:

    I agree, the permanent Office icon needs to be removed from the tray! 🙂 My desktop space is valuable!

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