573 – Searching in Outlook

clip_image002A reader recently got in touch to ask for help in finding stuff in Outlook. The search capability within the application most of us use most of the time has evolved considerably throughout its life, with a prominently placed search bar now adorning the top of the main window. When you click into it, lots of helpful filtering and searching capabilities are offered in the ribbon below.

clip_image004It’s worth getting to grips with a few simple text search terms, though, so when you’re typing some search term you can direct Outlook to particular items. Helpfully, using the options in the menu will actually build the query that is fed to search, so you can type them in future. Simple quick wins include things like using from:name to show only clip_image006emails that originated from a particular sender.

Or has:attachment, which will only show you mails that have other files attached. Combined with a few other criteria, you can filter the results of your search pretty hard, rather than sifting through them. Adding some other smarts like received:”last month” can streamline some more. For more info on search terms, see here.

The scenarios our reader posed, though, were specifically around searching in the calendar – eg, do I have a meeting in my calendar with a particular person? Or what recurring appointments are due to expire this month?

If you navigate to your Calendar and click the down-pointing arrow to the right of the Search box, it will display a clip_image008small form with series of other fields you can complete, in this case relevant to appointments rather than messages.

Click + Add more options to bring up a picker that lets you add even more – such as whether the meeting is a recurring one, or if it shows in calendar as Busy or not. Selecting the options builds the query as before, so you can see a variety of defined names – like organizer | organiser (depending on your locale) or requiredattendee:.

Coming back to the original question; if you want to find all future meetings in your calendar with anyone called Tony, you could type something like requiredattendee:tony start:>today. And if you want to find out which clip_image010recurring meetings are expiring soon, start by searching is:recurring start:>today. That will show you a list of future recurring appointments, but not give all the info we’re looking for since the default results view doesn’t show anything about the pattern of recurrence – so right-click on one of the column headings of the search results and select Field Chooser, where we can add some extra columns to the view.

clip_image012Now, in the pop out window, change the filter from Frequently-used fields to All Appointment fields, and scroll down to find Recurrence Range End. Now drag and drop that field into the column list, then click on it to sort descending so you’ll now see all the meetings that are set up with a recurring pattern, ordered by when that pattern is due to end. For added context, you could put Recurrence and Recurrence Pattern on there too.


Don’t be alarmed if some of them are due to keep happening until a very long way into the future. We’ll probably have stopped using email by then.

History Lesson

Before Outlook arrived as part of Office 97, users of Exchange Server had an email client and a separate calendar app (Schedule+; that’s why some diehards still say things like “send me an S+”, meaning send a meeting request). Both would maintain a connection to the server and would chat back and forth, only downloading data when a message or attachment was opened. Although this put something of a penalty on the network, it meant there was no need to cache large amounts of data on a PC hard disk. Outlook replaced both the mail and S+ clients, but maintained the same synchronous connection to the server.

Outlook 2003 and Exchange 2003 changed the default model, since PC hard disks were getting much bigger and cheaper, so it made sense to have Outlook deal primarily with a cached copy of the user’s mailbox, bringing all kinds of performance benefits to both end user and to the operators of the server back-end. One really notable improvement was the ability to run fast searches against mailbox data that’s in the cache, rather than having to execute searches on the server.

Prior to the cached mode, the best-case scenario for running a search was the server returned messages that fit a particular query asked by the client – mails received this week, mails with FOO in the subject line etc. If the server had indexed the relevant properties (received date, subject etc), it was pretty quick at sending back the results. If the user wanted something more in-depth, it was a punishingly slow process as each message would need to be picked up and inspected to see if it met the query – so searching for every email with a particular word in the message body text would be laborious. Three cheers for cached mode and client-side indexing.

clip_image015If you look at Advanced Find in Outlook today, though, you’re staring into a time vortex that transports you right back to the late 1990s, as it hasn’t really changed, even if the speed of getting results back will be noticeably better since you’re almost certainly pulling them out of a local copy of your mailbox.

The first couple of tabs on the Advanced Find dialog let you search for mailbox items that fit some common criteria – but the third tab is a window into how Exchange stores and categorises messages, appointments, tasks etc.

clip_image017You can start Advanced Find from the Search Tools menu option as above. Or press CTRL+SHIFT+F.

Aside: most apps use CTRL+F to invoke Find – try it in Word, Excel etc – but in the mail client, CTRL+F forwards a message instead. Find out why, here.

The idea here is that you can build a query based on properties of messages – and when you select the Field from the extensive drop-down list, it would let you choose appropriate filters (some, like Flag Status or Receipt Requested would only have a couple of possible values, but others would let the user enter text, date or numeric filters).

Not all of the fields are used for much these days – eg InfoPath Form Type harks back to the days when the now-defunct InfoPath could be used to create mailable forms – but having a poke around in Advanced Find can give a curious user some insight into how Exchange and Outlook organises their data.

#571 – Save the Daylight

clip_image002In the Northern Hemisphere, spring feels finally underway – and following a long locked-down winter, it can’t come soon enough. For many of us, even if meteorological spring started nearly 2 weeks ago, the promise of summer starts when the clocks go forward to daylight saving – or summer – time.

If the country or state you’re in observes summer time, then you’re either about to enter (if in the northern half of the marble) or leave it (if southern). To keep us on our toes, this movement back or forth often happens around the world on different dates. To keep us on our toes, some countries have less-than-hour gaps between time zones, and in the past, others have decided to change time zone permanently.

clip_image004In olden days, some people wore GMT or World Time watches, which allowed the user to tell what the time was in different locations. With the World Time example here, the red arrow hand points (on a 24hr scale) to the current time; when the user rotates the outer bezel so that the nearest location is pointed to by that hand, the other locations listed on the bezel will be aligned with the 24hr number of the current time in those places…

– eg if it’s 2:30am in Iran, then lining Tehran up with the red hand would put both London and Paris at midnight, since they’re both at GMT+1.

eh? In October 1968, the UK decided to move to British Standard TimeGMT+1 – all year round. This particular wristwatch was produced between 1968 and the end of 1971, when the practice was reversed – so for a while, it was correct that London would be in the same time zone as Paris and Rome. Except the watch wouldn’t know when Paris and Rome went into summer time, thus putting them an hour further ahead… oh well, never mind.

clip_image006There may be trouble ahead

In a global working environment, especially one where everything is done online rather than having people in the same location, the friction of time zones changing has never been more obvious. Usually, you’ll only move through time zones relative to everyone else when you travel – flying across large distances, or maybe just driving across a bridge or dam.

But now, a digitally-oriented meeting can shift its time for some of its attendees, relative to the others – depending on where the originator is based.

clip_image008The excellent Alarms & Clock app, which is part of Windows 10, lets you pin cities around the world to a map, showing their approximate location (bet you didn’t know Brissie was south east of Sydney?) and what the time is currently, and if you click the Compare icon to the left of Add new city, you’ll see a grid indicating the relative time in all of your pinned cities. You can jump to a specific date, so if you’re planning a meeting with people in different time zones, it might be a good idea to check what the impact of Daylight Saving Time (DST) changes might be.

Those parts of the US which observe DST, are due to move an hour forward this coming Sunday (ie March 14th). In common with doing things differently to everywhere else, that brings the US (and Canada) one hour nearer most of Europe for the next two weeks, until the end of March. Much of the southern hemisphere comes out of DST the week after that, so by then Sydney will be two hours nearer London than currently.
More info.

The impact of this can be seen in peoples’ calendars, when regular meetings somewhat inexplicably start to clash with each other – if a UK organiser set a recurring meeting for 4pm GMT, that would normally compel Seattleites to be there at 8am, but since they’ll be only 7 hours behind for a couple of weeks, that shifts to 9am in their calendar, potentially clashing with some existing 9am Pacific Daylight Time meeting.

Conversely, a 9am PST / 5pm GMT meeting as created by the person in the US a few weeks ago, would now start at 4pm in the afternoon in London. Great news if that meeting is a Friday afternoon, as it brings beer o’clock one hour forward.

Although Outlook does a pretty decent job of juggling the differences between time zones, there is no obvious way to show what time zone a meeting had been created in (eg show me all meetings that are going to be affected by this shift for the next 2 weeks). A simple trick if you want to check on a specific meeting, is to start a Reply to a meeting you’ve been invited to, whereupon you’ll see the time zone of its creator…

—–Original Appointment—–
From: originator

Sent: 14 February 2021 08:03
To: people

Cc: more people

Subject: meeting that could have been an email
When: 12 March 2021 08:30-09:00 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada).
Where: Microsoft Teams Meeting

While It won’t help you identify the meetings that are causing the clashes, it might help restrain you from firing angry missives at the organiser of the meeting, if you know what’s causing it.

539 – Outlook calendaring fun

clip_image002Pretty much everyone who uses the Office productivity suite probably relies on Outlook for not just the daily splurge of email, but for organising their activity either by tasks, flags or just putting stuff in their calendar.

Here are a few simple tricks to remember when working with your calendar:

  • You can move to Calendar in Outlook by pressing CTRL+2 anywhere in Outlook – if you’re trying to organise meetings for lots of people and need to keep flicking between mail and calendar views, this can save you so much time (CTRL+1 for mail, CTRL+3 for contacts etc – try the rest of the numbers out for a trip down memory lane). Even the clunky old Notes function in Outlook now synchronises with Sticky Notes.

  • CTRL+T always takes you to Today, or if you have the Ribbon showing, you can click Today there clip_image006– though an update to Calendar’s UI which was shipped to M365 subscribers in March, also added a Today button at the top left of the main calendar view, as well as a few other tweaks.
  • CTRL+G launches an old-school dialog that lets you jump to a specific day – and lets you choose from a date picker, or type the date in if you prefer. Like lots of other old-school date dialogs in Office apps, you can enter certain natural language clip_image008phrases too – some like next month, 3 weeks, will be relative from today’s date, others like June will take you to today’s day in that month (try it out; it’s easier to see than to explain) and there are certain special days like Christmas where it will jump to the next occurrence. See ToW #291 from nearly 5 years ago for more date tips. For multi-lingual dates and other stuff, see here.
  • clip_image010Manage Time Zones – at this time of year, some of us would ordinarily be planning holidays involving travel to foreign climes, but not so much in 2020. There’s every likelihood of planning online meetings in other time zones while you’re sitting in your own office in the middle of the night – so it’s worth adding multiple time zones to your Outlook Calendar view and labelling them. Right-click on the time bar to the left of your calendar view, and choose Change Time Zone to manage the display of time zones, or even switch your whole PC between them quickly.
    The rather nice Windows 10 Alarms & Clock application (WinKey+R then ms-clock: if you don’t like to click) has a nifty display of multiple time zones if you like to see at a glance where and when everyone is.
  • Colour-coding appointments is another favourite tip the super-organised use. You can right-click on any clip_image013appointment to colour it by setting a Category, or you can use Conditional Formatting on a view to colour appointments based on category – like who sent it, or what location it’s in, etc. See more here.
    If you’re feeling extra-brave, you could install a special form that lets you differentiate mail – and therefore, appointments – which originated from an external source, by exposing a hidden property. This allows you to automatically colour them differently.
    Delve into ToW #275 to install the form, then set up a Condition under the Calendar view in much the same way.

517 – Try the preview…

clip_image002Several of Microsoft’s standard apps within Windows ship updates regularly, and increasingly are offering willing early adopters a peek at what’s coming through a  “Try the preview” clip_image004or “Coming Soon” option, usually in the top right of the main screen.

clip_image006You might need to force an update on your apps to get the latest version; go into the Store app and in the ellipsis menu on the top right, select Downloads and updates then hit the Get updates button. If you don’t like clicking menus, you could jump straight there by opening a run dialog with Win+R and entering ms-windows-store://DownloadsAndUpdates/

To find the name of any installed Store app, so you can run it from a command line or dialog, fire up powershell (just press the Start button and type that) then paste:

foreach ($p in $(get-appxpackage)) { foreach ($n in (Get-AppxPackageManifest $p).package.applications.application.extensions.extension.protocol.name) { $p.packagefullname + “`t `t `t -=- ” + $n } }

… and enter that. You’ll get a list of long app names followed by a one-word name that can be used to invoke the app. To run a Store app from a Run dialog or the Start menu directly, use that one word with a colon at the end – to start the Store version of OneNote try typing Win+R onenote: (for example).



clip_image012The Calendar app – improbably named outlookcal: even though it has nothing to do with the desktop Outlook, other than it too can display a calendar – has recently received an opt-in preview which adds a funky new UI with background graphics reminiscent of Wunderlist, and nice icons to help you quickly switch between different calendar sources.

The preview will only show up (for now) if you’re a Windows Insider. Fortune favours the brave

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 368 – Mail and Calendar apps mature

Ever since Windows 8 came out, theclip_image002re were simplified Mail & Calendar apps built-in. Reviews were initially fairly mixed – and even after a bunch of improvements and a refresh when Windows 10 arrived, it could be argued there was still work to do.

The Mail & Calendar apps are essentially joined now – though you still have “Mail” clip_image006and “Calendar” appearing in the apps list once installed, and starting either from clip_image008the appropriate icon jumps into the requisite section within the single Mail clip_image004and Calendar application. “They” show up as a single app within the Store (bearing the same icon within its Store entry as full-fat Outlook, no less, though the apps are different). Increasingly, new functionality is appearing within the Mail and Calendar app which is common across regular Outlook and also the Outlook mobile versions.

clip_image010There’s been a recent update to the Mail and Calendar app – to check if you have it, go into the Store app, click on your own avatar to the left of the Search box in the top right, and check under Downloads and updates.

clip_image012There’s a bunch of new functionality similar to Outlook – @mentions support (try it), categories, travel integrations and a lot more – the latest updates are pretty substantial.

Both mail and calendar functionality is getting advanced enough, you might choose to set up Mail and Calendar for your work/Office 365 email account, rather than bothering with installing Outlook on your home PC or companion tablet device.

clip_image014The Focussed Inbox view familiar to Outlook 2016 and clip_image016Office 365 users makes an appearance in Mail (though you do need to turn it on – go into Settings > Reading, and look at the bottom of the settings pane).

Another notable new feature in Calendar is dubbed “Interesting Calendars”, optionally added alongside and sourced from a variety of publishers surfaced via Bing, and tailored for you based on locale.

If you have multiple mail accounts set up, you can choose which one to add your “interesting calendars” to, by checking under the Settings > Calendar section (note – to get to the calendar specific settings, he app needs to be in the calendar view at the time, then invoke settings by clicking on the gear wheel in the icons on the bottom-left).


If you add a custom calendar to your Office 365 account, the same one will be visible within Outlook too, under the “My Calendars” group.

clip_image020Aside from new features, there are some neat tricks you can use to personalise Mail and Calendar – like choosing the colour scheme and background images to fill the apps when you haven’t got something selected in the preview pane.

clip_image022Or set the “quick actions”, an inherited bit of functionality from the mobile versions of Outlook, where swiping a message left or right can do something to it – delete it, archive it, flag it etc.

Handy if you’re using the Mail app on a touch device (from a cheap 8” Windows tablet to a Surface being used in tablet mode).

For a history of new features in Mail and Calendar, see here (though since that page doesn’t list version numbers and also doesn’t look comprehensively up-to-date, YMMV).

Tip o’ the Week 322 – Booking meeting rooms (again)

clip_image002As any fule kno, the //build/ conference was on last week. There was lots of news and updates and a good number of the sessions are on Channel9. If you liked Age of Ascent in ScottGu’s keynote, check out the next public Alpha on Saturday 9th April.

Building on last week’s ToW and on a topic that has been covered some time ago, let’s dig deep into the bowels of Outlook, going back almost 20 years to Outlook Forms to solve a very particular problem.

As per ToWs passim (like Eyes), every item (message, contact, appointment etc) you open in Outlook is a bag of data fields that are rendered in front of your eyes by a form. It’s possible to design and publish custom forms to do more stuff, or in this instance, to fulfil a specific function and by pre-populating some data and by hiding other extraneous information.

Show meeting rooms

Meeting rooms are often set up as bookable resources within Exchange & Outlook – so you invite the room to your meeting and it automatically accepts, meaning you’ve reserved that resource. When trying to figure which rooms are free, if you only have a few meeting rooms then it might be easy enough to just show their calendars from the Room List (eg here). If you’re using a more modern version of Outlook and/or have more than a few rooms to deal with, then Room Finder is more useful. See here and here.


As an end-user, though, you may find that your IT department doesn’t manage the rooms the way you’d like – in a new building, for example, there might be no room list published – so not much help if you’re trying to book a room.

Here’s a somewhat hacked-up solution which might be useful in other ways, though – it involves customising a form of your own, with your favourite rooms shown, so you can quickly check their availability. You could do the same thing with a group of people too, should you want.

Let’s get building

Start by going into your Calendar, and create a blank Appointment form, then follow the steps for adding the Design This Form command to the Quick Access Toolbar (or right-click the Ribbon when in a new clip_image005appointment, choose Customize the Ribbon, then tick the check-box next to the Developer option on the right hand side, which will now show the Developer tab on the Ribbon, with the Design This Form command on it).

clip_image007Now, add the list of meeting rooms (or people) you want to quickly check out by choosing the Invite Attendees option from the main Appointment tab. Once you have the list populated with everyone/every room you want, go into the Design This Form option as above.

Now you’ll have switched to a form clip_image009designer view that shows a bunch of tabs representing pages which can be shown or hidden. On the Appointment tab, clear the tick next to “Display This Page”, which will add brackets around the name of the tab (indicating that it’s now hidden). The only tab that will be shown is the Scheduling Assistant.


Now that’s all done, Publish the new form as a custom name (something like <building name> Meeting Rooms) then hit the Publish button. This will now save the form into your own Calendar folder, so it will be available from any PC running Outlook.

clip_image013To activate the form, select the time slot you’re looking for in your calendar, then go to New Items -> Custom Forms -> pick your newly-created form.

You’ll now see the custom form will display only the grid view of room availability, with all of the rooms ticked.

You won’t actually use this clip_image015form to make your room booking, but it will let you know which rooms are available and when (or not, as the case may be), so if you manage to find one that’s not booked already, you could right-click its name from the list on the left, copy the name, then paste that into a new appointment you can make for the same timeslot.

Make sure you close down the custom form without saving or sending anything.

This approach is nicely flexible in that you can create your own “lists” of favourite rooms (eg all large customer rooms with AV, or all rooms kitted out with Surface Hub, devices in any location etc).

If your desired selection changes, you can create a new form and Publish As using the name of an existing one to replace it (or open the existing custom form, enter Design This Form mode again, go to the Appointment tab and edit the list of invitees there).

If you’d like to delete old forms then from the main Outlook window, go into File | Options | Advanced | Developers | Custom Forms | Manage Forms, and click on Set… to navigate to your own calendar folder, then delete the forms you no longer need. Phew.

Tip o’ the Week #271 – Finding your Friends


Sometimes, people don’t want to be found. That’s maybe understandable if you’re a sweary unemployed pugilist, but often, you’d like to locate your friends and colleagues and you’d like them to find you.

Start by letting people see your calendar – in days gone by, the norm in Microsoft Outlook and Exchange was to let everyone see what your calendar says, but in recent versions, the only clip_image003info you’d see by default would be their free/busy status – which isn’t really much use if you’re trying to collaborate with them. All it would take is some eejit to invite you to their holiday, marking the time as out of office and therefore obliterating your own F/B status for people looking to book you for meetings.

Free/Busy is basically rubbish – it doesn’t let anyone know where you are, how likely you are to be available in a given location, etc. So, if you regularly get meeting requests from people expecting you to be in one place when your calendar shows you’re somewhere else, then maybe you should share your calendar better, and tell them to look in your calendar before emailing to ask if you’re available.

Thereclip_image005 are a few options for better calendar sharin: if you look on the Share tab when looking at the Calendar in Outlook 2013, you’ll see a clip_image007Calendar Permissions option, which will let you set the default permissions on your calendar, and see/set it you’ve granted more rights to certain folk – so you could allow everyone to see basic info, and your closest colleagues can be given the right to see everything.

Unless you’ve got something to hide (and if you do, you can always set those appointments as Private), then set the defaut sharing level to be Full Details – in which case, people will be able to see where you are, and who else is supposed to be at your meeting. If you choose any other option, then others won’t be able to open your meeting, so they wouldn’t see body text (like agenda, directions etc) or the attendee list.


FindMe – a Microsoft internal tool

There’s a snazzy tool developed by a group of Microsoft staff (in an internal development effort akin to the Garage), called FindMe. There are two parts – the installable software agent sits in the PC’s system try and provides your whereabouts to friends who you want to allow to see your location, and there’s a web front-end which will show you where your friends are.

The killer app part of FindMe is its ability to see the meeting rooms located in your chosen location – you can use it without needing to install the agent, and in supported locations you can see the floor layout, and a colour-coded view of the meeting rooms to show availability at a clip_image004given date and time (and a one-click link to make a booking).

As for finding people, if they have the agent running and if the location services detect that they’re sitting in a supported Microsoft building, you’ll see them on a floor plan, otherwise you’ll be shown a world map.

The software can use triangulated positions against known Microsoft WiFi network points, to show not just which building someone is in, but potentially right down to which desk they’re sitting at – it’s brilliant, but it needs a good deal of work in surveying the buildings to make it useful – but the team is working on how to make it available to customers as part of a Microsoft Services engagement. If you’re interested in learning more, ask your Microsoft contact to get in touch with the FindMe team (just send mail to the DL with alias findme).