Tip o’ the Week 496 – Dark Mode marches on

clip_image002Back in the olden days of computing, wage slaves sat in front of terminals with black backgrounds and lurid green text writing. The advent of the graphical user interface relieved this tyranny with a paper-white background from a bitmapped screen to write your WYSIWYG text, to showcase colourful graphics (and Fonts!).

Fast forward 30+ years and it seems every app and OS is running away from black text / white backgrounds, and heading for monochrome graphics and oppressive white text on a black background again.

Using Dark Mode, either in apps or in the operating system on your computer or phone, promises a variety of benefits – less noticeable flickering, reducing eye strain, avoiding bright lights in a dark environment, perhaps better readability and therefore productivity, and even lower energy costs.

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Dark Mode has existed in Windows for a while – but ultimately, apps need to support the theme, too, and more and more are doing so – like new Edge browser, or Office apps (where you can set the Office Theme).

Microsoft recently put out a groovy video to highlight Dark Mode across a variety of apps and device types, and some commentary about why and when. It’s even come to Outlook.com as well.

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The announcement on Microsoft 365 functionality adds for August 2019 highlighted additional Dark Mode support coming to Outlook mobile apps and Outlook.com, saying, Dark Mode is not only easier on the eyes and may extend battery life, it also enables you to comfortably continue using your device in places where the default bright mode isn’t appropriate, like darkened airplanes and movie theaters.”

So kids, next time you want to go and watch a movie & catch up on your email, make sure you’ve Dark Mode on!

Tip o’ the Week 488 – Time Zone Travelling

clip_image002Heading somewhere nice this summer? Perhaps somewhere hot and busy, such as Las Vegas?

When moving between countries, one of the tricks the traveller needs to decide is how to handle the switch of time zone. Do you set your watch to the destination time as soon as you board the plane, or only when the pilot announces, in his or her ever-so distincive pilot tone, what the local time is on arrival?

If pilots all sound the same, what about air-traffic controllers?

Also, do you wait for your phone to pick up the destination time zone automatically, or do you set it manually? If you have a Fitbit or other wearable, do you want it to pick up the time from your phone or do you force it on departure? Decisions, decisions…

Frequent travellers tend to have pearls of wisdom on how to deal with jet lag – like get your mind in the destination time zone and keep it there (ie. If you’re out having dinner after arrival, do not keep saying that it’s really 4am; it’s 8pm now and you can’t go to bed for at least another two hours), or get the sunor even a bright light – on the back of your knees. It’s a lot easier to handle the differing time zones using your PC…

clip_image003Outlook – whenever an appointment is created, its date and time are recorded as an offset from UTC, and the time zone it’s due to take place in is also noted. If you’re creating meetings or appointments which are in a different time zone, like travel times, then it may be worth  telling Outlook by clicking the Time Zone icon in the ribbon, and then selecting the appropriate TZ – especially useful if you’re moving between clip_image005time zones during the appointment itself, and don’t want to run the risk of horological befuddlement.

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If you’re booking a load of appointments in another time zone – eg. you’re working in another country for a few days and creating appointments with people in that locale – then it’s even worth switching the TZ of your PC whilst you do the diary-work, to save a lot of clicking around in setting the appropriate time zone specific to each meeting.

The best way to do this would be to show your second time zone in the Outlook calendar – in the main Outlook window, go to File | Options | Calendar and select the second one to show; when you’re ready to switch between your local TZ and the remote one, just click the Swap Time Zones button to switch the PC (and Outlook) between the different zones.

clip_image009Windows 10 – In the Settings | Date & time menu, there’s an option to tweak how Windows deals with time and time zones – some of which might be applied by policy and therefore greyed out for you. Like phone OSes, Windows 10 has the option of setting time zone automatically.

If you’re going to use the time zone swapping in Outlook as per above, switching time zones before you actually travel, then it’s worth disabling the automatic mode as Windows can get itself properly confused; the default time zone will change, and Outlook will end up showing the same time zone for both primary and secondary.

clip_image011Using the old fashioned Windows control panel time settings applet, you can choose to show a second time zone in the clock on the system tray – in the Date & time settings, look to the right and you’ll see Add clocks for different time zones.

The Alarms & Clock app in Windows 10 shows a map of the world with your choice of locations, and the moving daylight line so you can see what’s happening around the globe. A good alternative to that exec boardroom display nonsense, that you might expect to see gracing the wall of your average corporate hot shot.

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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.

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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 473 – Teams Shortcuts

clip_image001Many people who rely on the same applications to do repetitive tasks, will want to learn quicker ways of doing them – and use shortcut keys to good effect. Shortcuts have been covered in ToW previously – eg. how to start modern apps quickly, or navigating between running apps.

As world+dog moves from internal corporate email to Teams, Slack etc, it’s handy to know how to get the best out of the new messaging environment. Before abandoning Outlook already, here’s a reminder of some especially useful shortcut keys:

  • CTRL-2 – jumps to Calendar; useful if you’re in mail and want to quickly check something in the diary.
  • CTRL-1 – sets focus to “mail” – whatever folder you were looking at before moving away to check your calendar etc. CTRL-SHIFT-i will jump to your Inbox regardless of where you are in the UI (eg you might be in another mail folder, or looking at Calendar/Tasks etc)
  • CTRL-3 – jumps to Contacts (or “People” as Outlook now calls it)
  • CTRL-4 – jump to Tasks.
  • CTRL-5, -6, -7 and -8 will take you to long-dead Outlook features. Try them. Take a teary trip down memory lane.

And there are lots and lots more.

When it comes to using Teams, one of the most useful shortcut tips is essentially the same as the Outlook set above – CTRL-number takes you to one of the nodes on the side-bar that corresponds to the number from the top – eg CTRL-4 will jump to Meetings, which is handy if you have Teams calls in you clip_image002calendar and want to join the calls from there rather than Outlook.

clip_image004Incidentally, if you normally go into an appointment in Outlook and click the “Join Teams Meeting” link in the text body, you may tire of continually telling Outlook that yes, you did mean to switch applications, and it’s OK, you already have the desktop app…

Click the “Join Teams Meeting” icon on the Ribbon in Outlook instead, and you’ll skip this. If you’re super-skilful then you can jump straight to that command without lifting your fingers from the keyboard – just press the ALT key and you’ll see clip_image006shortcut letters appear under each of the sections of the Ribbon; press the corresponding one (“H” if you’ve opened the meeting up in Outlook already), and you’ll then see a letter combo that will activate the Ribbon commands – Y1 in this case will jump straight into the meeting.

There are many other shortcuts in Teams, with varying degrees of usefulness. Customising the UI is still a bit clunky (eg you can’t add shortcuts straight to the sidebar or move items on it up and down) but you may be able to find a quick way of doing the things you need most. To see a summary of shortcut keys whilst in teams, just press CTRL-. (ie CTRL and full stop/period ‘.’).

Tip o’ the Week 454 – Time Zone Tumult Ahead

clip_image002You may be affected by upcoming changes to time zones, as much of the northern hemisphere moves out of Daylight Saving Time and back to winter, which for is happening over the next couple of weeks.

Many Southern Hemisphere nations have already moved into “summer time”, though a few will make the transition on 4th November.

Europe, most of Mexico and parts of the Middle East will move out of DST this weekend, but most of the North America and the Caribbean will “fall back” the week after. See the list of places that currently observes DST and when they transition.

This can play havoc with people’s electronic calendars; systems these days generally take notice of time zone changes pretty well and that means the relative times of meetings are preserved, though what this does mean is that a 9am meeting organised in Seattle (and therefore hosted in Pacific Time) will be 5pm for attendees in London this week, but it would be 4pm GMT the week after, then back to 5pm after that, as the US moves clocks back.

This topic was covered 3 years ago in ToW #301, and most of the tips contained therein are still valid today.

Maybe future generations will stop the winter/summer time flip-flop effect altogether (Californians get to vote on whether to join their neighbours in Arizona, by staying on the same time zone all year, and the EU may stop the practice of changing clocks too). In the meantime, for a few weeks a year, those of us who deal cross-border may need to think a bit more about what the time is in our neighbour’s locale.

clip_image004clip_image006If in any doubt, make sure you add another time zone to the time scale on your Outlook calendar view, so you can see at a glance what the time is in other regions.

One further innovation since the last time this topic was aired, is that Outlook now lets you show a third time zone in calendar if you so desire.

Tip o’ the Week 453 – Outlook Quick Steps

clip_image002Somewhat improbably, one fairly prominent feature of Outlook has never been discussed in detail on a previous ToW – Quick Steps. Hiding in plain sight on the Home tab, it’s likely that every Outlook user has clicked on Quick Steps at some point, but do you use them regularly?

Put simply, Quick Steps make some repetitive tasks easy with a single click or even a shortcut key combo – start by selecting a message you’d like to apply some action to (such as moving or categorizing it), or if you’d like to start some new item based on the contents of the message – like create a task or an appointment, including the body of the original mail.

clip_image004Quick Steps can be applied to individual messages or multiples (hold CTRL key while selecting more than one), including selecting the whole clip_image006conversation if you’re viewing in that mode. Click on Create New Quick Step (or click the little expand icon in the bottom right, for the Manage Quick Steps dialog, and create one from there).

clip_image008You’ll see there are plenty of options available for actions that you can take on messages, clip_image010some already combined if you kick off the New step from within the Manage Quick Steps dialog box – though you can add multiple actions to any one after the initial creation. The Categorize and Move option is particularly handy if you want to file all your mails for a given customer or a specific topic, into a subfolder.

clip_image012For more on Quick Steps, see the tutorial here. If you ever think about backing up and restoring your defined Quick Steps, see here (very much not for the faint-hearted), or here.

If you haven’t played much with Quick Steps before, have a go – they’re fab-u-lous!

Tip o’ the Week 448 – Sometimes, size does matter

clip_image002Once upon a time, users had to deal with email quotas that meant they often had to shuffle messages around to stay within their allowed size limit, or else get limited functionality. The Outlook Thread Compressor tool* was written to help reduce the size of a user’s mailbox, and for a while, had thousands of users inside Microsoft. It inspired the Outlook team to write the “Conversation Clean Up” feature, which works in a slightly different way but does similar things.

Nowadays, with 50 or 100GB mailbox quotas being the norm, most Outlook users don’t need to worry about reducing the size of their mailbox other than to keep it from being too hard to use – a tidy mind and all that. But if you have massive mailboxes, the storage and organisation of all your content may put an unnecessary strain on your PC, so it’s worth taking a few steps to check and clean up if you can.

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In Outlook 2016, go to the File menu and lclip_image006ook for Tools > Mailbox Cleanup for a bunch of tools that can help, including being able to view your current mailbox size…

… and marvel at a dialog box that hasn’t changed since the earliest days of Outlook, evidenced by the fact it measures size in KB rather than MB or even GB…

Limits to be aware of

There are some recommended limits that have been given to Exchange/Outlook users over the years – not just about the overall size of the mailbox, but the number of items in certain folders and even the number of folders themselves. See a 2005 post on the Exchange blog here, for example, which advises keeping the item count low on certain folders (< 1,000 items in the Inbox, Calendar and Contacts folder was the recommendation then – also on the Exchange Blog, check out some of the examples in this post for early pioneers of huge mailboxes).

In more recent versions of Outlook, though, there are some guidelines to avoid performance problems:

  • Keep the number of items per folder below 100,000
  • Keep the total number of folders to less than 500

Now, you’re probably not going to have too many folders with more than 100k items though it might be worth checking Sent Items and Deleted Items. Unfortunately, the mailbox size tool above shows you the total size of each folder, rather than the number of items – and if you want to know how many folder you have, you’d need to manually count them in the scrolling list box: not an easy task if you have lots of them.

It’s quite possible if you’ve had your mailbox for a while, and you’re a very diligent filer (especially if you use a methodology like GTD or tools like ClearContext), you could inadvertently have more than 500 folders – and if you use AutoArchive, then you could find a lot of them are empty, since the archive process moves the items out into another location but leaves the folder structure behind.

FolderCount to the rescue

Here’s an interesting little hobby project – a macro-enabled Excel sheet which cycles through all the folders in your mailbox, tells you how many items are in each one and offers to get rid of the empty ones for you.

It can be run in:

  • Read Only mode – it’ll just show you what you have, and leave it up to you to clean the mess
  • Active mode – for each identified empty folder, you’ll be prompted if you’d like to keep or delete it
  • Nuclear mode – just assumes you want to delete the empties, so doesn’t prompt.

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Use with caution; though anything that is successfully “deleted” will be moved to Deleted Items first, therefore you’ll need to run it again to actually do the damage (or just empty your Deleted Items… a thought that fills some people with dread).

To run it, click on the link above, save the file locally, open it up in Excel and you’ll need to clip_image010enable the Macros to run – probably by first enabling editing, and then allowing macros by “Enable Content”.

Once you’ve done that, click on the appropriate button to let it run. I’d suggest starting with the top one until you feel brave…

*The Thread Compressor tool was made available externally after a time, but the domain disappeared… the actual Outlook Addin is again available here, but you’re a bit on your own as far as installing and using it is concerned…

Tip o’ the Week 434 – To Do: update To-Do

clip_image002Lots of people like to-do lists – from Post-it notes stuck on the side of your monitor (or the digital equivalent on your PC’s desktop), to the Tasks you might have in Outlook, up to dedicated list-management apps that run on your PC and on your phone; such delights have been covered in ToW’s passim, (the Wunder of lists, or what a right To-Do we’re in… see #various).

Well, the seemingly unloved Microsoft To-Do app has been updated recently, with a few new clip_image004capabilities – notably steps (sub-tasks, in other words) and the ability to share lists.

The Windows Weekly video from MJF and Paul Thurrott talked a little about To-Do recently, too.

See here for more details on the updates. List sharing sounds a lot like the existing Wunderlist capability, to collaborate on tasks with someone you work or live with; for now at least it’s most likely one or the other.

You can share a list with someone else only within the same organisation, if you’re signed in with Office 365 credentials – so you can’t share with parties outside of your own O365 org. if you choose to mix work and home, then you’d need to sign in with your Microsoft Account to be able to share tasks with your SO, unless they also happen to be a co-worker.

clip_image006Steps are simply a way of breaking things down – handy if your method of task management starts with “Sort my life out” / “Get a new job” / “become a millionaire”,  rather than going in at the level where action is obvious… (“Tidy my bedroom” / “re-write my CV” / “buy a lottery ticket”).

There are so many time management tools and techniques out there; like diets, maybe one day we’ll find a single one that can’t be improved on, and put an end to the industry peddling new ideas. Some people love to work on task management, some people just don’t do it. We think we work one way, but when stressed, do it the other…

Before you do any more thinking on Time Management, go and watch the lecture by the late Randy Pausch – a brilliant professor and speaker, had terminal pancreatic cancer when he delivered “The Last Lecture” and then, later (wha?), gave an extremely practical session on time management: someone with hardly any time left (he died 8 months later) knows more about managing time than any corporate productivity jockey.

If you haven’t watched both of these, go and carve out 3 hours of your life, and do so. You won’t regret it. Srsly.

Tip o’ the Week 432 – Generally Disregarded Privacy Rubbish

clip_image001GDPR day has passed.. Now, it’s illegal to communicate with anyone. Or not.

If Data is the new Oil, perhaps the much-anticipated big privacy stick that is GDPR will be the new Millennium Bug – companies will want to avoid to be made an example of first. €20M or 4% of global turnover fines, whichever is the larger, probably gives some execs sleepless nights, even though the proportionality of any punishment will only be realised when there are a few court cases to set the tone. The threat of being caught out might well have scared CxOs around the world into doing something to make sure they look like they’re prepared.

In many cases, it seems, that action has been to email all their customers and ask them to opt-in to being contactable; some got confused and emailed people, asking them to opt out if they didn’t want to get any more. As it happens, both of these approaches may well be irrelevant if not illegal themselves.

clip_image002The avalanche of “we’ve updated our privacy policy” emails unleashed over the last few weeks probably makes you realise the number of companies you’ve never heard of, who have your details on file. The most-used key on the keyboard in this time is surely “Delete”. Of course, there are many memes and jokes doing the rounds…

It’s time to recall a few message handling tips in Outlook which may help…

  • You can show a normally-hidden field in Outlook which lets you identify messages that originated from outside the organisation. Mail that arrives from the internet will be tagged in an attribute called Sender Address Type.
    By tweaking Outlook to make it visible, you can customise folder views to show external email in a different colour or font size, so clip_image003helping you quickly pick out messages to deal with differently. Normally, this would be to prioritise external vs internal emails, but in these dark days, it could be to flex the muscles on your delete finger.
    For more details, see ToW 275.
  • The “Focused Inbox” feature in Office 365 might well help you here; many of the GDPR spammage will be swept up into the “Other” category, so you should be able to quickly triage those messages.
  • If you keep getting mail from certain senders nagging you to respond, you could right-click on the clip_image004message and add the sender to your Block list. By clicking Junk Mail Options on the clip_image005same menu, you could add their whole domain to the blocked list so you’ll filter all their junk in future.
    Handy for the kind of spammers who don’t care about GDP Aaaargh.

Of course, GDPR should be a Good Thing. It’ll take a bit of time to settle down (and may need some further work in the UK, post-Brexit), but at least we all get a few less emails in future.

Tip o’ the Week 422 – Freshening Outlook.com

Microsoft has been the butt of jokes in the past when it comes to brandingclip_image002, but one of the strongest product names in decades is Outlook. Originally released in 1997 as part of Office 97, the Outlook application has come a long way over the years.

As world+dog runs from discrete and perpetually licensed software, to SaaS applications delivered via a variety of clients, web apps and the like, Outlook has grown into a whole family of products, not altogether without confusion.

First, there’s Outlook the app that’s part of Office. That’s Office, the application suite, which can trace its roots back to 1990. There’s also a version of Outlook that’s delivered via Click2Run technology (itself rooted in App-V, formerly known as Softgrid), generally in conjunction with an Office 365 subscription.

clip_image004Outlook.com was the name given to the successor of the venerable and poioneering Hotmail platform, some 5 years ago. And the web front end to Exchange, either standalone or part of O365, was previously “Outlook Web Access” then “Outlook Web App”, yet is now somewhat confusingly just a web app called “Outlook”, or “Outlook on the Web”.

Now, if you buy a business version of Office 365, you may or may not get the rights to use Outlook the desktop application, and you will have a web app called Outlook which is running from the Office 365 back end based on Exchange Server.

If you buy a consumer version of Office 365 – Home or Personal – you’ll have email called Outlook.com, delivered to you by the same platform as the Hotmail successor but known as “Premium” and therefore without ads and with more capacity, and you may get the Outlook desktop application to use with it. Do you follow?

clip_image006Anyway; the Outlook.com consumer / “Premium” platform is getting a bit of a makeover, and very nice it is, too. The beta is available for anyone who wants to switch it on, but in the near term, it will become the default.

And returning to Outlook on the Web, ie the version of Outlook you get in your browser when you’re on a commercial version of Office 365, it’s likely that the tailored versions for mobile phones will be retired soon, and users will be pushed to use the Outlook mobile apps for iOS or Android instead.