Designing Outlook Forms (Part 1)

If you would like to read the next article in this series then please read Designing Outlook Forms (Part 2)


Due to the hybrid and complex nature of Exchange, it houses more than one mechanism that allows for automation and programming of Exchange based workflow applications.

Outlook forms present a GUI-based mechanism that automatically creates, behind the scenes, VBA code that allows you to setup basic workflow mechanisms between Exchange recipients. On a basic level, such as presented in this article, they require no knowledge of scripting or programming whatsoever, though of course, there is no limit to what can be done with Outlook forms if you take the time to learn VBA.

This article will show how easy it is to set up a simple Outlook-based help desk. The system is flexible so you can easily change the example below to suit your company’s needs.

Creating a Public Folder

The first step is creating your help desk public folder where help desk calls will be stored and managed. Though this step is an Exchange management one, it can be done from Outlook using an account with the right permissions.

After the public folder is created you can setup appropriate permissions as shown below so that users will be able to open calls, Help Desk personnel edit them and the Administrator to manage the public folder.

Designing the Form

Forms are created using other existing forms. While this seems a bit constricting at first, it can save much of the work. For out sample help desk application I chose the “Post” form used by Outlook to post to public folders.

Forms, as show below, can contain multiple tabs and have two “Pages”, that is two forms of appearing, one when composing a new message, “Compose Page” and the other one for reading the message after it had been composed, the “Read Page”. Typically some attributes would become read-only in the “Read Page”.

The two major floating toolbars are the Toolbox, allowing you to place dialog components on the form and the Field Chooser where you can select existing fields or create new ones.

The tab names can be renamed (and a good thing too, since “Message” is way too general). The Form menu can also allow you to view the code behind the form, though for now, this is unnecessary.

For the Help Desk application we add a few fields, such as room and building so that the person opening the call can be located by the technical personnel. If you drag a field from the Field Chooser, a label and a textbox fields are automatically created in the dialog box.

If you required a drop-down listbox such as the one I used for the help desk call category you need to drag the label and then a drop down listbox manually from the Toolbox.

The “Value” property page of drop down listbox allows you to link it to the right field and enter possible values.

Now, after I quickly added a few more fields, the Compose Page is ready. We will need to copy these fields to the Read Page which does not contain these elements.

I specifically left the field editable because sometimes you might need to correct or add new information to an open call.

But I did find it necessary to add a “Call Status” field to the read page so that Help Desk personnel can update the status of the call.

To finish the form you press the publish button, highlighted above. You can use the browse button to find the right folder.

Opening a Help Desk Call

To open a Help Desk call from Outlook you need to go to the public folder and open the correct form.

The preview pane will show the major fields of the post.

Opening the item will show the contents of the help desk call.

This form can be updated to reflect changes to the call. However, the save button does not exist in the initial form so you have to use the keyboard Ctrl+S shortcut or the file menu in order to update the form.

You can also disable the “Post Reply” button during design of the form because in this case it is not required.

Unfortunately, the save button cannot be added in this manner during the design phase.


So, with no programming whatsoever, we were able to set up our own help desk application and make it available to the all of our Exchange users using an interface familiar to them. The application has its shortcoming. The form is not easy to find for the novice user and there is no mechanism for tracking call numbers. You might also notice that there is no web interface for this form when you go to Outlook Web Access,

These shortcomings can be overcome by using the power of scripting as I will show in the next part of the Outlook Forms article series.

If you would like to read the next article in this series then please read Designing Outlook Forms (Part 2)

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