Tip o’ the Week 491 – PowerPoint layout tips

clip_image002Microsoft people love PowerPoint. Even when using it for completely unsuitable purposes (writing reports using PPT instead of Word, OneNote etc – filling slides with very dense and small text) or simply putting too much stuff on a slide, so a presenter has to say “this is an eyechart but…”

There are many resources out there to try to help you make better slides – from how-to videos to sites puffing a mix of obvious things and a few obscure and never-used tricks (eg here or here), and PowerPoint itself is adding technology to try to guide you within the app.

clip_image004The PowerPoint Designer functionality uses AI technology to suggest better layouts for the content you’ve already put on your slide – drab text, even a few clip_image006Icons (a library of useful-looking, commonly-used symbols) or graphics from your favourite source of moody pics.

If you don’t see the Design Ideas pane on the right, look for the icon on the Design tab, under, er Designer.


The PowerPoint Designer team has recently announced that one billion slides have been created or massaged using this technology, and they have previewed some other exciting stuff to come – read more here.

A cool Presenter Coach function will soon let you practice your presentation to the machine – presumably there isn’t some poor soul listening in for real – and you’ll get feedback on pace, use of words and so on. Watch the preview. No need to imagine Presenter Coach is sitting in his or her undies either.

When it comes to laying out simple objects on a slide, though, you might not need advanced AI to guide you, rather a gentle helping hand. As well as using the Align functionality that will ensure shapes, boxes, charts etc, are lined up with each other, spread evenly and so on, when you’re dragging or resizing items you might see dotted lines indicating how the object is placed in relation to other shapes or to the slide itself…


In the diagram above, the blue box is now in the middle of the slide, and is as far from the orange box as the gap between the top of the orange box and the top of the grey one. There are lots of subtle clues like this when sizing and placing objects, and it’s even possible to set your own guides up if you’re customising a slide master.

Tip o’ the Week 487 – Who are you? Who, who?

clip_image002[4]Who are you? A simple question, but one that can be tinged with malice while taunted on the football terraces, or a classic and multi-layered song by a windmilling ‘70s rock god.

But how about finding info about who your colleagues are at work (what a segue …)?
If you’re a Teams user, there’s an app (one of many) called who. To use it, try typing /who in the search box at the top of the main Teams window.

Dr Who fans from overseas: did you know the TARDIS is real (ish), and was used by bobbies to keep in touch with the station, restock their notepad, or even temporarily incarcerate apprehended ne’er-do-wells? C’est magnifique!


clip_image006[4]After first trying to use /who, you may need to install the app, and you’ll be sent a message explaining what it can do…

clip_image008[4]Follow the /who command with the name of a colleague and will give you their contact details, org chart and so on, assuming they’ve been published in the directory appropriately.

clip_image010[4]Hat tip to Dom for suggesting this week’s tip!

Tip o’ the Week 486 – Cloud Storage Bonanza

clip_image002Microsoft’s OneDrive end-user cloud storage system was in the news this week, as plans were unveiled to allow people to buy more storage space than was previously available. The tl;dr version of this is that in addition to your free 5GB of storage when you sign up for OneDrive, you can opt in to buy an additional block of 50GB for $1.99 a month. Now, you’ll get 100GB for the same amount, and Office 365 users will soon be able to buy even more.

clip_image003If you visit the OneDrive.com site and sign in, you’ll see the total space being used in the lower left, and have the option of upgrading your service – but it’s pretty clear that Microsoft doesn’t want you to buy OneDrive storage on its own… in a Tarrantesque “We don’t want to give you that!” move, you’d need to click through

several “are you sure you don’t want Office 365 instead?” type dialogs.

The best way to get clip_image005additional OneDrive storage is indeed to get Office 365 Personal, if you only need one account – and for your $70 / £60 per year, you get 1TB of storage plus all the additional awesomeness of Office 365 for your home delight.

An even better solution would be to fork out an extra $30 / £20 per annum to get up to 6 accounts; even if you don’t plan on sharing O365 with your extended family, you could set up separate accounts for different purposes – eg if you want to backup all your movie files from a home NAS, that could be a separate login to your primary one, or if you store RAW format images you could keep them in one OneDrive login while enjoying your processed photos in your regular account.

If you really need more than 1TB per login, Office 365 will soon let you buy addon storage, so for $2 per month more, you can add storage in 200GB blocks, all the way up to an additional 1TB for an extra $9.99 per month.

Online commenters have already pointed out that you could buy 2TB of storage outright from Google for $10/month without first needing to have an Office 365 subscription, but let’s get distracted by that.

Tip o’ the Week 485 – Excel and the Web

clip_image002For decades, it’s been possible to import data into spreadsheets from elsewhere. Excel supports many data sources, from basic stuff like CSV, ODBC and OLE DB, to more specific and advanced knowledge of particular data sources and types.

A recent tweet from @msexcel showed a simple video  on how to grab data from a website – highlighting a capability that’s been in Excel for years but has been refreshed and made a lot easier to use.
Try this as an example:

  • clip_image004In a new Excel workbook, go to the Data tab and choose From Web
  • Try a web site that has data tables – eg
  • clip_image006After confirming the authentication method to connect, Excel will retrieve the page and try to make sense of its layout – and let you choose the table you want to retrieve data from.
    This is part of a new “Get & Transform Data” set of functionality that’s available to Office 365 subscribers, that uses Power Query to retrieve data from a variety of sources, and can include some advanced transformation and editing of the query too. See here for a more detailed tutorial.

clip_image008If you want to revert to using the old data import methods, you can either enable the Legacy import wizards in Options (File > Options > Data > Show legacy data import wizards), or just type Legacy into the Search / Tell Me box in Excel, and see the available actions from there.
You can jump to the Search box quickly by pressing ALT+Q and jump straight to any Excel function, or get help on how to do many tasks.

clip_image010Another cool Office 365 data feature is to use Data clip_image012Types. Enter your data in a column, select it and choose the appropriate Data Type – let’s use Stocks as an example.

Once you’ve tagged the source data, clicking on the icon to the left of the data point will show a pop up with the background detail, or you can reference the fields within formulae to display or manipulate the data values.

clip_image014Each data source presents a number of fields that can be discovered and selected through autocomplete in a formula, and the values can be refreshed easily.

See more detail on using the Stock quotes functionality, here.

Tip o’ the Week 484 – Saving Office 365 profile pics

clip_image002Office 365 users will be familiar with the Profile Picture that appears in multiple places, most visibly in Outlook and Teams. Just like their picture on LinkedIn, many users will help people understand what they look like by posting an actual photo of themselves, whereas some will insist on posting a photo of their dog, or their kids, or themselves wearing a hat and shades while standing very far away.

There’s supposedly a lot that your choice of profile picture says about you. There’s a tabloid version (akin to the “What Your Horoscope Says About Your Pet” style nonsense more often to be found on the Edge browser homepage). There are some more scientific resources with views on what people think when they see your picture, and some hints on how to choose the right one. Some fun examples of what not to do could be illuminating.

Facing left-to-right is supposedly best – maybe it makes you look more powerful, or simply, when your photo is on the left side of a load of content (like the details of your LinkedIn profile), then it’s better to be looking toward it rather than away to the left… Similarly, good advice is to stick to a head-and-shoulders shot, or at least waist-up – if your profile pic is your visible brand on LinkedIn and Office 365, then there’s no point in using a photo that shows your face as too small for anyone to recognise you.

How to save photos from Office 365

This tip will probably become obsolete at some future update on O365, such is the march of innovation, but it deals with how you can get to the profile photo that someone else in your organisation has published. The inspiration came from a departmental admin who was trying to build a nice org chart, and had to repeatedly nag members of the team to share a photo of themselves. It can also prove handy when someone has posted a photo of themselves that’s too small to see – if you can open the photo up in a browser, it can show you the original full-resolution image, and you can always use the browser to zoom in, too.

clip_image004Start by going to the Office home page and sign in; you can then search for someone’s name and click on the People tab for the detailed results.

An even quicker way might be to go to https://www.office.com/search/people?auth=2&q=<name> and follow the q= with the name you want to search for.

When you have the results of the search, hover over the thumbnail of the person’s profile pic, and in the pop-up that appears, right-click on the slightly larger image.

If you’re using classic Edge, then you’ll be able to save the image locally, but if you’re on Chrome or the new Edge Dev browser, then you’ll easily be able to copy a link to it – paste that into a new browser tab, and you’ll get the full-size version of the profile pic so you can zoom in, save it, draw moustaches on it with your Surface Pen and so on.

Tip o’ the Week 483 – mobile OCR and Office

clip_image002Optical Character Recognition is one of those technologies which has gone from being just-about-possible at great expense and hassle, to so mainstream that people just assume it will work flawlessly, all in a relatively few years. Numerous companies offer OCR services or addins to line-of-business systems which help to prepare printed data for easier consumption – scanning invoices for example.

clip_image004Consumers tend to use OCR in other ways; combined with language translation, you can point your phone at a foreign menu or sign and it may be able to help you understand. clip_image006In OneNote, if you have captured an image (maybe through the clipper addin from your browser), then it can extract the text from that picture – not always perfectly, and not necessarily well-formatted, but it’s probably quicker than re-typing everything.

Near OCR functionality is also pervading the slew of freely available Office apps for Android tablets, phones and even Chromebooks, and similar versions for iPad and iPhone.

A recent addition to the iOS version of Excel is the ability to scan a table of printed data and use OCR plus a bit of tweaking, to import the data into the spreadsheet. See more here. The same functionality was first made available on Android a couple of months earlier

clip_image001Start with the grid capture icon on the toolbar of a new spreadsheet, and then use the camera to highlight the area of a document that you’re interested in – the UI will be familiar to anyone who uses Office Lens, as the same anti-skewing technology is used to prepare the “document” for importing.


Then the OCR goes to work and tries to lay out the data as closely as possible to its source – obviously, your accuracy will be improved by having a well-lit and clear original document, and you’ll get to tweak the contents in context of seeing the OCR’d data and the scan at the same time, before committing to insert it.

Tip o’ the Week 482 – Paste History

clip_image002[4]Back in 2012, three weeks before Super Saturday, ToW #133 talked about the Art of Cut ‘n’ Paste. How the widely-used CTRL-V keyboard shortcut for Paste can trace its roots back to a program co-developed by Butler Lampson, one of the “Dealers of Lightning” as a founder at Xerox PARC, and now a near-25-year Microsoftie and Technical Fellow. QED was a thing before Neil & Buzz set foot on the Moon (which happened on 21st July, not 20th: Eagle landed on the 20th, but it was 21st before “one small step for a man”… at least it was in UTC).

clip_image004[4]Did you know that in recent versions of Windows 10, there’s a useful new shortcut – WindowsKey+V?

It shows you the history of the clipboard, so you can quickly access something you’d previously copied; you can sync the clipboard between multiple machines (or phones), too.

clip_image006[4]There are other controls you can assert when it comes to pasting stuff, too – CTRL+ALT+V in Office apps will let you paste something and decide how to handle it (the equivalent of Paste Special, in most cases) and you can over-ride the default behaviour in  Word too, by choosing to Set Default Paste.

clip_image008[4]In other apps, there may still be different ways of handling Paste actions – Paul Thurrott recently wrote about how to change the options in OneNote for Windows 10 (the UWP app that is replacing traditional OneNote; the one you can start by running onenote-cmd: from the Win+R box).

The “copy & paste” metaphor dates to PARC, too – and yet it’s still evolving, 45 years later.

Tip o’ the Week 478 – O365 and Windows’ Mail and Calendar

clip_image002On the mobile platforms that still survive, the highly-regarded and rightly popular “Outlook” mobile apps have no relation to the Outlook desktop Windows app which first appeared with Office 97, before smartphones were a glint in anyone’s eye. Mobile Outlook has hundreds of millions of downloads on both iOS and Android; quite a feat, as later this year Windows Mobile sinks quietly beneath the waves.

The genesis of Outlook on the phone as we know it today, is perhaps the acquisition of a company called Accompli 5 years ago, and a great deal of refinement and effort since.

clip_image004Somewhat interestingly, traces of the same app have come to Windows as well – namely the Mail and Calendar app(s) that are in the box on Windows 10. Look back to ToW 445, and you’ll see that the names for the apps are outlookcal, outlookmail and outlookaccounts. Stick a “:” on the end and you can run them from a prompt.

e.g. Hit WindowsKey+R then enter outlookcal: and you’ll jump straight into the Calendar app.

Both have come a very long way – at first release, they were pretty basic, but they’re now so well featured that most people could use them as their primary email and calendar apps, most of the time.

clip_image006The Calendar app is functionally pretty similar clip_image008to the Outlook desktop app, except when it comes to working with other people – there’s no way to view someone else’s calendar, for example, but for a personal diary of appointments it’s really very good. And if you want the best of both worlds, you can connect your Office 365 account to both Outlook – as might be your primary way of working – and to the Mail and Calendar apps, for some side benefits and quicker ways of getting some things done.

Go into the settings on the Calendar app, then Manage accounts, then + Add account… or just Win+R then outlookaccounts: and you’ll be able to add your Office 365 account onto both Mail and Calendar.

If you have multiple calendars connected – like home Office 365, Gmail or Outllook.com accounts as well as your corporate one – you could selectively enable them for display in the app, and the set of calendars that are shown will also appear in the agenda if you click on the clock / date on your taskbar. You can also see your upcoming appointments in a live tile on the Start menu, if you still use such things.


You’ll also see your next appointment on the Windows Lock Screen if you have it enabled under Lock screen settings.

You may want to go into the Notifications & actions settings page (just press Start and begin typing notif…) and turning off Calendar notifications, or you’ll get a blizzard of reminders from desktop Outlook and the Calendar app.

Tip o’ the Week 474 – Parse and Flow

clip_image001Microsoft Flow was introduced a couple of years ago, and covered in ToW #401; it’s basically a glue between different online applications, allowing the exchange of data between them and being driven by events and actions.

clip_image003Sign up, sign in, and when you go to create a new Flow, you can start with a blank canvas, or by customising a pre-built template, of which there are many.

Learn how to build Flows here.

Many of the templates for Flow are quite esoteric – when a tweet on a particular topic appears, write a log to a Sharepoint site and send a notification to a Teams channel, that kind of thing. But there are plenty of really useful connectors that can be combined in time-saving ways; here’s a really handy way of bringing traditional data sources into the modern era: an email parser, called Parserr.

After signing up with Parserr – free if you only need a few uses per month – you can then crack open mail that is consistent in format and contains some information you’d like to extract and use elsewhere, such as confirmation of an appointment or maybe a travel booking. In practice, you get given an inbox with a unique email address within Parserr and you’d set up a rule in Office365 or Outlook.com to send mails that meet some inbox rule to that address, where it would be parsed for you and key data fields then sent back to Flow.

e.g. if email comes from a specific source address or it has a subject that indicates it’s a particular type of reservation, then forward to your nnnnn@mg.parserr.com inbox address, extract the details of the booking then do something with them within Flow.

clip_image005Start by sending an example mail to your Parserr inbox, then you can define rules to identify content within it (by looking for set keywords, going to specific line numbers and so on).

Create a rule for each piece of information you want to extract, and it will effectively create a field:


Once set up, you create the Flow by choosing the connectors for Parserr and whatever other applications you need to work on the information.

In this example, we’re using Office 365 to create an appointment that matches a reservation – the arrival and departure dates are provided by the source email, and converted to YYYY-MM-DD format within Parserr, then dragged across in Flow to match the Start & End times of an “event”. We’ll tack on T16:00 to the arrival time and T10:00 to the departure as that’s the check in and check out times, and thus create an ISO8601-compliant date/time such as 2019-04-05T08:00, which Office365 will use as the start or end time of an appointment.

“Advanced options” gives you further control (such as adding body text that might contain static text and other fields provided by Parserr, other addresses to forward the invite to, setting if you want it to be free/busy/tentative, reminder duration, time zones etc).


And that’s it: you can test the logic is working within each system – in Parserr, you can continually re-run the processing of your initial sample mail until you know the data is being extracted as you’d like, and within Flow you can keep testing your formatting etc by clip_image010either triggering a new input or by working with the last set of data that came over from the source. 

Once you’re happy just save the Flow, and it will automatically create an appointment in your calendar every time you get a matching email forwarded to the Parserr system – all in a few seconds.

See more on using Parserr with Flow and here’s a worked example.

Tip o’ the Week 472 – Update Store & Office apps

clip_image001[4]We’re all used to Windows Update or other software automatically downloading and installing updates (on phones, TVs, cars…). Sometimes the updates are at more of a leisurely pace than keen users might want though occasionally the recipients demand to hold back the updates until they elect to install.

The Windows 10 October 2018 is now being pushed to (nearly) everyone, though business users will have the option of pausing Windows Updates in case they want to enact a temporary delay for some particular reason – you’re about to go on a trip, for example – though it’s not meant as a centralised policy control: IT departments have other ways to do that. Windows 10 Homes users will soon get the ability to defer updates for up to 35 days, too.

How often applications update themselves is largely down to the publisher, clip_image003[4]but it’s usually possible to give the apps a prod to see if there are published updates before they get pushed out to you.

clip_image004[4]In the Microsoft Store app, for example, go to the ellipsis menu on the top right. You’ll see Downloads and updates, which will force the check for updates for all your installed Store apps. Even if you’ve turned on the automatic app update checks, it’s worth taking a look periodically as some of the apps you use most often might have updates pending.

clip_image006[4]If you find that most of the stuff you’re offered is updates to boring apps that you don’t use, then you could just wait for them to fetch their own in time. If, however, you spot an individual update to an app that you know you want to have the latest version of, then click the down arrow to the right to get it right away, or click the app name to look at its page in the Store and see what’s new.

clip_image008[4]Of course, non-Store apps may still offer their own updates directly – to check for updates to the Microsoft Office suite, for example, try going into Word (or Excel or PowerPoint if those are your most-used Office apps) and from the start screen that offers a few previously-opened files, templates you’ll never use etc, look to the bottom-left and you’ll see Account.

clip_image009[4]Click Account to go to the product information page, which will let you check for updates, show you the current installed version number of the the application, and maybe even let you sign up for more updates through the Insider program.

clip_image011[4]After you’ve installed any pending updates, the What’s New option will be active and will show you a summary of what has changed, in a pane within the app itself.

Or check the View Updates option at any time, and it’ll take you to the web to see what the latest updates contain.