In Outlook, categories are a means of organizing items into logical groups. They’re very much like Gmail’s labels, with the added benefit that you can assign each category a color. Being able to color code items is fantastic. With a quick glance you can tell what category an item belongs to. There’s one hitch though. The colors are specific to each individual. In a shared calendar that can be an issue. A category I see as green you might see as orange. Sometimes businesses and organizations, possibly even families, need everyone to see things in the same color. Imagine a business with a shared project calendar. Critical due dates all belong to the “critical” category and should appear in red. While Sally has “critical” items set to red, John has them set to blue, while Tom and Anita haven’t defined a color for “critical”, causing them to appear in white. While Outlook does propagate category names to each person’s list of categories, it does not propagate the color associated with each category.
The solution, as you might have guessed, is to use a script to synchronize a set of category names and colors to all users. The script could go in Outlook, where it would run each time Outlook starts, or it could be an external script that’s part of a login script or scheduled to run at regular intervals using Windows Task Scheduler. I’ve taken the external approach, though I’ll be glad to add a version that runs from inside Outlook if anyone is interested. The biggest advantage of an external script is that it doesn’t have to be installed on all computers if it’s called from a login script. A version that runs inside of Outlook would have to be installed on each computer.
As with many solutions, the script is actually very simple. It starts be deleting all the corporate categories (i.e. the category names and colors being enforced across all computers) from the computer. Next, it opens a file containing the corporate category definitions, reads and adds them to Outlook. The definitions are stored in a plain-text file that’s kept on a share accessible by all computers. Here’s a sample showing what the file will look like. Continue reading