Windows Vista : Managing Your Contacts

12/24/2012 2:58:06 AM

Whether it’s working with clients, colleagues, or suppliers, contacting people is a big part of most people’s working day. It can also be a time-consuming part of your day if you’re constantly looking up information about people, whether it’s their phone numbers, physical addresses, email addresses, web addresses, and so on. Streamlining these tasks—a process known as contact management—can save you lots of time and make your work more efficient.

 Windows Vista’s calls its contact management feature, appropriately enough, Windows Contacts. In previous versions of Windows, you stored contact data in the Address Book, which was a single .wab file. Single files can get corrupted, of course, and if that happened with the Address Book, your contacts were toast unless you had a recent backup. Vista removes much of this risk by implementing Contacts as a subfolder that resides within your main user account folder (its location is %UserProfile%\Contacts). As you can see in Figure 1, inside the Contacts folder, Vista stores each contact as a separate file that uses the new Contact File (.contact) file type.

Figure 1. Windows Vista’s new Contacts folder.

The Contacts folder gives you a fair amount of flexibility for dealing with your ever-growing network of coworkers, customers, friends, and family. Yes, you can use Contacts to store mundane information such as phone numbers and addresses, but with more than three dozen predefined fields available, you can preserve the minutiae of other people’s lives: their birthdays and anniversaries, the names of their spouses and children, and even their web page addresses. Even better, Contacts enables you to reduce the number of steps it takes to perform many tasks. For example, if you want to send an email to someone in your Contacts folder, rather than firing up Windows Mail, creating the email message, and then adding the contact, you can perform all these actions at once by initiating the email directly from the Contacts folder.

The next few sections take you inside the Contacts folder and show you how to add and edit contacts; create contact groups; import and export contact data; and email and phone contacts. Before getting started, note that Vista gives you six (!) ways to display the Contacts folder:

  • Select Start, All Programs, Windows Contacts.

  • Select Start, click your username, and then double-click Contacts.

  • Press Windows Logo+R (or select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Run) to open the Run dialog box, type wab, and click OK.

  • In Windows Mail, select Tools, Windows Contacts (you can also press Ctrl+Shift+C or click the Contacts button in the toolbar).

  • In Windows Calendar, select View, Contacts.

  • In Windows Fax and Scan, select Tools, Contacts.

1. Creating a New Contact

As you’ll see a bit later, Vista starts you off with a single file in the Contacts folder: a Contact file based on your user account. To make the Contacts folder useful, you have to populate it with your own contacts. Vista gives you four ways to go about this: creating a contact from an email message; creating a contact from scratch; importing contacts from another program or file format; and creating a contact group. The next four sections discuss these methods in detail.

Creating a Contact from a Windows Mail Message

If you have a message in Windows Mail from a person that deserves a spot in your Contacts folder, you can use that message to create a bare-bones contact that stores just the sender’s name and email address. In Windows Mail, right-click a message from the sender, and then click Add Sender to Contacts. Windows Mail immediately creates a new Contact file for the sender.


Windows Mail is configured with a truly annoying default setting: Each person you reply to is automatically added to the Contacts folder. Dumb! It’s not unusual to have only a minimal connection with some or even most of the people who email us. Think how often an email “relationship” with someone consists of just an initial message and a reply. Putting these relative strangers into your Contacts folder is therefore a waste of space that will only slow you down. Tell Windows Mail to forgo this brain-dead behavior by selecting Tools, Options, displaying the Send tab, and then deactivating the Automatically Put People I Reply to In My Contacts List check box.


Some people automatically include with their email messages a version of their contact data in an attached file called a vCard (.vcf), which acts as a kind of electronic business card. If you receive such a message, you can add the person and their contact data to your Contacts. Click the vCard icon and then click Open to display the contact data. In the Summary tab, click Add to My Contacts to create a new Contact file for the person.

Creating a Contact from Scratch

If you need to perform your contact creation duties by hand, here are the steps to follow:

In the Contacts folder, click New Contact. (You can also right-click the folder and then click New, Contact.) Vista displays a blank contact properties sheet.

In the Name and E-mail tab, fill in at least the contact’s first name and last name.

Use the Full Name list to select how you want the contact’s full name displayed: First Last (for example, Paul McFedries); Last First (McFedries Paul); or Last, First (McFedries, Paul).

Type the contact’s email address and then click Add.

Repeat step 4 if the contact has other email addresses.

Use the Home, Work, Family, and Notes tabs to add other contact data, as required.

Click OK.

Importing Contacts

If you have a large number of contacts, adding them individually by hand is no one’s idea of a good time. Fortunately, if you have the contact data in the appropriate format (more on that in a second), Vista enables you to import that data in one operation. Which formats are “appropriate”? Fortunately, Vista supports four common contacts formats:

CSVThis is the Comma Separated Values format, and it consists of a text file with each contact on its own line, and each piece of contact data separated by a comma. In most cases, the first line in the CSV file lists the field names, separated by commas.
LDIFThis is the LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) Data Interchange Format. If your contacts reside on an LDAP server and you have client server to access that server, the client should have a feature that exports the contacts to an LDIF file.
vCardThis is the vCard format where the data for each contact resides in a .vcf file. A vCard is often used as a kind of electronic business card. Many contact management programs enable you to export contact data as a collection of vCard files.
WABThis the Windows Address Book File format, which is the format used by Outlook Express.

If you have contact data in one of these formats, follow these steps to import that data into Windows Contacts:

In Windows Contacts, click Import to display the Import to Windows Contacts dialog box, shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Use the Import to Windows Contacts dialog box to select a contact file format.

Select the contact file format you want to use.

Select Import. Vista prompts you to specify the file or files you want to import.

How you proceed from here depends on the file format you’re using:

  • For LDIF, vCard, and WAB, select the files and then click Open. Skip to step 6.

  • For CSV, type the file path and filename (or click Browse to select it) and then click Next. Proceed with step 5.

In the CSV Import dialog box, activate the check box beside each field you want to map, and then click Finish.


In the CSV Import dialog box, the Text Field column tells you the names of the fields in the CSV file, and the Contacts Field column tells you the corresponding field that Vista will use to create the contacts. If a field mapping is incorrect, click the field and then click Change Mapping. Use the Change Mapping dialog box to select the correct Contacts field (or deactivate Import This Field to skip it), and then click OK.

In the final dialog box, click Close.


If you need to use your Windows Contacts entries in another program, Vista enables you to export them. Click Export in the taskbar to open the Export Windows Contacts dialog box. Choose either the CSV or vCard file format, and then click Export. If you choose the CSV format, Vista will ask you to specify which fields you want to export.

Creating a Contact Group

As you probably know, if you need to send an email message to two or more people, you just add everyone’s address to the message window, in the To, Cc, or Bcc field (separate each address with a semicolon or comma). However, what if you find yourself emailing the same group of people over and over? It could be the team you work with at the office, a collection of people working on the same project, or a group of friends you share jokes and other e-tidbits with. 

A better way to go about the whole group email thing is to create a contact group: a Contact file that contains two or more contacts. When you create an email message and specify a contact group as the recipient, Windows Mail sends the message to everyone in the group. The members of the group can be either other Contacts or people that you add for the group only.

Follow these steps to create a contact group:

In the Contacts folder, select New Contact Group. A properties sheet for the contact group appears.

Type a group name.

Use any of the following three techniques to add members to the group (Figure 3 shows a group with a few members added):

  • To add an existing contact, click Add to Contact Group to display the Add Members to Contact Group dialog box. Hold down Ctrl and click each contact you want to add. When you’re done, click Add.

  • To add a new contact, click Create New Contact. Use the properties sheet that appears to enter the contact’s particulars, and then click OK. Vista creates a new contact for the person and adds the person to the contact group.

  • To add a member without creating a contact, type the contact name and email address, and then click Create for Group Only.

Figure 3. The properties sheet for a contact group gives you several ways to add members to the group.

Display the Contact Group Details tab.

In most cases, you won’t need to fill in data such as the address and phone number for a contact group. However, you might want to add text to the Notes field or specify a website address, if applicable.

Click OK.

2. Communicating with a Contact

The Contacts folder is useful as a repository for contact data that you can refer to as needed. However, Contacts is also useful as a shortcut method for communicating with your contacts (as opposed to using Windows Mail). The Contacts folder gives you three ways to communicate with a contact:

Emailing a Contact— Select the contact and then click either the E-Mail button in the taskbar or the link to the contact’s email address in the Preview pane. (You can also right-click the contact and then select Action, Send E-mail.) Vista displays a New Message window addressed to the contact.


If the contact has multiple email addresses, clicking the taskbar’s E-Mail button sends the message to the address that you have designated as Preferred. To change the Preferred address, open the contact’s properties sheet (select the contact and then click Edit), select the address you prefer to use, and then click Set Preferred. To send a message to a non-Preferred address, either click the address link in the Preview pane or right-click the contact, select Action, Send E-mail To, and then select the address you want to use.

Phoning a Contact— Right-click the contact and then select Action, Call This Contact to open the New Call dialog box, shown in Figure 4. Use the Phone Number list to select the number you want to call, and then click Call.

Figure 4. Use the New Call dialog box to initiate a phone call to a contact.

Visiting a Contact’s Web Site— If you’ve specified either a business or home website for a contact, you can visit that site by selecting the contact and then clicking the website’s link in the Preview pane. Alternatively, open the contact’s properties sheet, display the tab containing the website address (business or home), and then click Go.

3. Working with Contacts

If you need to make changes to an existing contact, you have to open the contact’s properties sheet, and Vista gives you three ways to do this:

  • Select the contact and then click the taskbar’s Edit button

  • Select the contact and then click the contact’s picture in the Preview pane

  • Double-click the contact

The next few sections take you through a few more useful techniques for working with contacts.


By default, Vista sorts the Contacts folder by the values in the Name field, which corresponds to the Full Name field in each contact’s properties sheet. If for each contact you selected either the Last, First or Last First format in the Full Name field, the Contacts list will be sorted as it should: by last name. However, if you selected the First Last format in the Full Name field, or if you’ve mixed up the formats, the Contacts folder will not sort properly. To work around this problem, right-click a field header and then click Last Name to add the Last Name field to the folder. Click the Last Name header to sort all your contacts by last name.

Changing a Contact’s Picture

By default, Vista supplies each new contact with a generic picture. If you have a picture of the contact, you can use that image instead of the generic one. Follow these steps:

Open the contact’s properties sheet.

In the Name and E-mail tab, click the contact’s picture and then click Change Picture. The Select a Picture for Contact dialog box appears.

Select the picture you want to use and then click Set. Vista adds the picture to the properties sheet, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. You can replace the generic contact image with a picture of the contact.

Filling In Your Own Contact Data

I mentioned earlier that Vista automatically creates a contact for your username. This is a bare-bones contact file that contains only your username in the First Name field and your user account picture as the contact picture. You’ll see in the next section that you can send your contact data to other people as an electronic business card. Before you do that, of course, you need to fill in your contact data with the data you want others to see:

Open the properties sheet for your contact.

Fill in the data that you want included in your electronic business card.

Click OK.

Right-click your contact file.

If you see This Is Me in the shortcut menu, it means Vista already knows this contact contains your data, so exit the shortcut menu. Otherwise, click Set As My Contact to tell Vista that the contact file contains your data.


Even if you don’t want to send your contact data electronically, it’s still useful to add at least your email address to your contact data. That way, you can easily include your address in an email message or in a contact group.

Sending Your Contact Data as an Electronic Business Card

You saw earlier that if you receive an electronic business card (.vcf) file as an attachment, it’s very easy to add that person’s data to your Contacts list. For that reason, many people set up a contact file for themselves and then routinely send the data as an electronic business card.

If you want to do this only occasionally, right-click your contact file and then click Send Contact. This opens the New Message window with your contact data attached as a .vcf file.

If you want to include your electronic business card on all outgoing messages, follow these steps to set this up in Windows Mail:

In Windows Mail, select Tools, Options to display the Options dialog box.

Display the Compose tab.

In the Business Cards section, activate the Mail check box.

Use the list beside the Mail check box to select your contact file. (Note that after you select the contact, you can click Edit to open its properties sheet and make changes.)

Click OK.

Now every message you send will include your contact data as a .vcf file attachment (although you don’t see this attachment as you work in the message window). If you don’t want Windows Mail to send the business card for a particular message, pull down the Insert menu and click the My Business Card command to deactivate it.

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