Outlook 2016 And The Mysterious Disappearing Folder Pane

Outlook 2016

Here’s the story of an odd Outlook 2016 bug that you might run into.

Microsoft has been urging everyone with an Office 365 license for the Office programs to update to Office 2016. It’s a modest upgrade at best, as the programs are virtually identical to the 2013 versions, but it feels good to get the latest version for free, right? When you click “Update Office” in the banner that appears in the Office programs, you’ll start a process that takes 10-30 minutes and is usually painless. (Except when Outlook throws a fit and requires a rebuild of the mail profile, which seems to happen about 10% of the time.)

Office 2016 - upgrade banner

Some Outlook 2016 users have been running into a bug that was apparently introduced by an update in April. Outlook starts up normally but something doesn’t seem right. It’s like all the folders have disappeared.

This is what Outlook looks like normally. Notice the left column with Inbox and the subfolders. That’s called the “Folder Pane.”

Outlook 2016 inbox - normal view with folder pane

This is what Outlook looks like when the Folder Pane isn’t visible on the left. Outlook has been randomly starting like this for some people. There’s nothing to click on for Inbox or Sent Items or Favorites. They’re gone! Clients make choking noises and reach for the phone to call me.

Outlook 2016 inbox - folder pane turned off

It’s a bug. Microsoft announced this week that it has tracked down the bug and will fix it in a patch soon.

Outlook 2016 - folder pane fix

In the meantime, it’s easy to fix as long as you remember that this is an issue and you don’t panic because you’re afraid that all your folders are missing.

If the folder pane disappears, click on View / Folder Pane and check “Normal.”

Outlook 2016 - turn on folder pane

Outlook 2016 - folder pane settings

The Folder Panel will immediately appear. It may disappear again the next time Outlook is started, until Microsoft releases the patch that fixes it permanently.

It’s one of those problems that only affects a few people on a few computers, and only some of the time. There’s a ten-page forum thread here where people have been complaining about this since the April update that apparently introduced the problem. There are anecdotes claiming that this problem has appeared on a few of ten identical Surface laptops lined up next to each other – but only a few. I’m telling you, it’s a tough time to be using a computer!