Microsoft has been the butt of jokes in the past when it comes to branding, 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.
Outlook.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?
Anyway; 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.
This might be a very old-Microsoft culture thing, but alias names have always been a relatively big deal within the company; not an alias in the sense of a nom de plume or some alter ego, but a name curiously given to mean your login name.
Before enlightenment, Microsofties were emailed simply by sending to firstname.lastname@example.org – and still are, so even if the primary mail address is email@example.com, you could still mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or whatever their alias is.
In a company with a handful of people, it was easy to remember such a name for when you wanted to drop them an email, but with hundreds of thousands of mail addresses, you might need more room – when Exchange Server came out in 1996, it supported 64 characters in the alias name, though oddly, Microsoft has never embraced longer than 8-character aliases.
Back in the day, your mailbox was a folder on a Xenix server, then an MS Mail postoffice, and the folder names were restricted by the 8.3 filename format. There are probably too many legacy systems that also have an employee name represented by their 8-letter alias, and it still kinda works.
Some people at Microsoft still talk about an email distribution list as an “alias” – eg. “TAKE ME OFF THIS ALIAS!!” as a Reply-All (as opposed to a little “r”) to the occasional mail storms that amazingly still happen. They’re wrong – those are Distribution Lists (DLs) or maybe more correctly, Distribution Groups (DGs).
But the true “alias” lives on, even if the Skypey “Contact Card” UI in Outlook does its best to not show you what someone’s alias is (but you can usually still get to Open Outlook Properties, which shows you the traditional Outlook address book view, with alias in the very top section). Lots of reports from Microsoft’s internal systems will refer to an employee using their alias name, so it often helps if you can decipher an alias into the person behind it.
Resolving an alias to a name one-at-a-time is all very well, but when looking at a column of alias names in some spreadsheet, it’s a bit of a palaver to turn each of the FORENAMS into something meaningful.
Fear not, worthy reader, for a solution is to hand.
This can be handy if you’re building Excel reports and want to add names to a table instead of aliases – you could sort the list of aliases alphabetically, run them through the resolver, and then reference the table with a VLOOKUP formula so you could hide the column of aliases from your report and show instead the derived real names.
It’s been 9 months since the unveiling of Microsoft To-Do, the task manager app that will someday replace the much loved Wunderlist (see ToWs passim – 317, 376, et al); the celebrations were muted in the halls of Wunderlist superfans, though, as To-Do has a much reduced feature set, albeit with a mission to be clear and easy to use. “Maybe it’ll catch up quickly”, some said.
There has been very little noticeable progress on the features front, though there have been lots of minor upgrades and fixes to the Windows 10, iOS and Android “Microsoft To-Do” apps (note the hyphen and the design of the icon; the respective app stores are awash with inferior “todo” apps with a variety of tick logos).
Since publishing this tip internally at Microsoft (where some early builds of new functionality are available in test versions), Thurrott.com highlighted the quiet announcement that we’re working on shared lists and subtasks, as well as deeper integration to Outlook. Watch that space, basically.
Recently, though, the To-Do web app has been released in the Office365 Portal (after a few months of opt-in preview), and a tantalizing teaser shows up on the “Your apps” page… though doesn’t really tell you a whole lot that isn’t immediately obvious.
To-Do can import tasks from your existing Wunderlist task list if you have one, and automatically syncs with Outlook Tasks, therein exposing a rub – most people will have signed in to Wunderlist with their Microsoft Account, but for To-Do and Outlook to get along well, you’ll need to be using Office365 and therefore a different set of creds.
There are various solutions, the practicality of which will depend on how many active items you have in Wunderlist – you could share your MSA-homed lists with your O365 credentials, then log in with the latter and copy the contents across. Laborious, maybe.
You could make a clean break, or else use the Outlook addin for Wunderlist to sync the list items into Outlook as Tasks, then install To-Do and sync them back out again.
The To-Do / Outlook task sync is pretty quick – just add an item to your To-Do app and it will quickly appear in your Outlook tasks view, reminders, notes and all. See more here.
The reverse is also true, though if you add Outlook tasks without putting them directly in the folders created to mimic the To-Do structure, (such as Tasks that were created in OneNote), the new item will just be lumped in the general “To-Do” list at the top.
Dragging and dropping the item, either within Outlook (from the “Tasks” list into on a suitable corresponding folder to your To-Do lists) or by doing the same within the To-Do app or web app itself, and you’ll keep things nicely arranged.
If you like the idea of being more task organised, find Outlook Tasks too cumbersome, then To-Do could be a great way of simplifying the junction. It may not be as functionally rich as Wunderlist, but the latter is still available for those who want it.
The curse of email is that it’s too easy to send nonspecific content to large groups, meaning it’s generally in everyone’s interests to avoid getting any more. How often do you have to parse some online form where you need to leave the checked checkbox unchecked if you’d like to remain not signed up to receive specially selected offers from our carefully chosen partners?
That said, email distribution lists were an early form of mass collaboration – powered by the likes of LISTSERV, where online communities formed, in some ways an alternative to USENET and the web forums that now host many interest groups online. In the days of LISTSERV, email volumes would be relatively low, and it provided a simple distribution system that fired mail out to everyone on the list, and people could easily join and leave, by simply mailing a JOIN or LEAVE command to the address.
Next time there’s an internal company email storm (the famous Bedlam DL3 storm at Microsoft occurred just over 20 years ago), it’s not necessarily counter-intuitive for people to respond in the “take me off this list” manner, even though the perpetrators themselves are probably unaware of that.
If you find yourself getting unwanted email from marketeers or newsletters you’re not interested in, there are a variety of ways of opting-out – most kosher bulk email tools will allow you to unsubscribe with a link at the bottom; if the email is completely unsolicited, however, then clicking on an “unsubscribe” link in a spam message might just mark you as a real person, and you’ll get even more spam in future. If in doubt, you might want to rely on some of the built-in tools within Outlook, to protect you from further spammage.
3rd party bulk unsubscribe tools like https://unroll.me/ might help clean up subscriptions for consumer mail platforms like Outlook.com, Gmail etc, though exercise with caution as there’s always a risk they’ll just be exposing your data to people you shouldn’t.
Though aggregated news apps and websites are ten-a-penny, there are some very good resources out there that are worth signing up to receive mail from – for example…
We all get notified of stuff that we’re probably interested in, but which we never get around to reading about in-depth, or trying out. Well, this week’s topic presents both an example of exactly that (for some of us at least) and a potential solution to it – Microsoft Flow, a free-to-use, simple*, workflow tool that can stitch all kinds of things together in a useful manner.
* some may take issue with “simple”. Bah.
Flow promises to do all sorts of groovy things that nobody ever needs, like writing every email to a Google Sheet then sending your calendar a reminder to look at it. But there are lots of potentially interesting and useful things you can put together, either by using the many templates or by building your own custom flow based on simple logic. You could connect all kinds of disparate web-based services together and using triggers, fire off actions based on events happening – like a tweet about a particular topic, or a new event added to a calendar.
Let’s take an example – say, you have an Office 365 work mail account and associated calendar. When you put something in your calendar which is both an all-day event, and is also marked “Out of the Office”, that probably means you’ll be out of the office all day, maybe away on a business trip or possibly even on holiday.
Wouldn’t it be useful to be able to copy that to a calendar that your nearest and dearest can see, maybe even adding all the events from several family members into one place, shared with all the others?
First off, you may want to log into www.outlook.com, go into Calendar and create a new shared calendar (if you don’t have one already) – give it a suitable name (like Family Calendar) and then make sure you’re sharing it with the right people you’d like to be able to see it. They will get an invite to see the shared calendar and it will be added to their own Outlook.com calendar view (as pictured way below).
Now, to create the flow to copy stuff from your work to Family Calendar…
Now you should be able to see any new, all-day events that appear in your work calendar, showing up in your shared Outlook.com custom calendar.
A further refinement might be to add a condition to only trigger the sync when the original meeting is set to “Out of Office” – click on Update flow to edit, then add another step, Add a condition then add Show as equals 3 – that’s the field that denotes the event’s status (busy, free etc), and “3” is the value that means “out of office”.
It’s worth having a play around with Flow, as you can do some interesting things with it (and there are connectors for all kinds of services, including Google mail & calendar, Wunderlist tasks, even grown-up apps like Dynamics or Salesforce. There are mobile apps that can take part in flows, too); do bear in mind that it takes anything up to a few minutes to fire these kinds of events, and if there’s a problem running your logic, then you’ll be notified.
It may be worth adding a debug step that can be easily removed later, by getting the flow to send you an email with the values of the fields you’re interested in…
In Outlook, any time there’s a date field (like when you’re setting a reminder, or entering the start date/time for an appointment) you can choose or enter a regular date, or put in an expression – like “2 days” or “next Tuesday” – and Outlook will figure out the offset from today, and will set the appropriate date.
In some date fields (like an appointment start time), if you say “4 days” then press enter or TAB, it will evaluate the new date; if you return and put “4 days” again, it may add those extra days to the last date. Try a few other things like “next Christmas”, “3rd Sunday in November”, “2mo” , “7d” or some special days – there are some surprising ones there, like “Lincoln’s birthday”, and other events with static dates … though nothing that might change the actual date from year to year (like Easter, or Thanksgiving).
In Excel, press CTRL+; to insert the current date into any cell – add a SHIFT key to insert the time instead. Excel are many date-oriented functions, but you don’t always need to write functions – simple maths can work on date fields – calculating the number of days’ difference between two dates, for example, or adding a number of days to a start date.
In the desktop OneNote app, if you want to edit the date and time at the top of a page, click on the field and you’ll see a clock or calendar icon appear next to it – click on that is set to, click on that to change the value; handy if you’re updating some reference material and want to make it clear that it’s recent.
Another way might be to insert the current date or time into the text: to do so, press SHIFT-ALT-D, or SHIFT-ALT-T for the current time, or SHIFT-ALT-F for the current date and time. The last one is really handy if you’re taking notes about a phone call, and want to quickly note the time that your insurance company said that everything was all fine, or when you started the indefinite call to the airline. The same shortcuts apply to the desktop OneNote 2016 application and also the OneNote store app.
Word also supports SHIFT-ALT-D and SHIFT-ALT-T like OneNote, though inserts a date or time field rather than a simple bit of text, and is slightly different to the Date & Time command on the Insert tab, which gives a bit more control over the formatting at the point of insertion, rather than requiring the user to insert the field then go back in to edit the format.
Since Outlook uses Word as its text editor behind the scenes, the same shortcut keys will also insert date fields into the text of an Outlook email.
We’re all used to file formats being associated with programs and the data they work with. Some, like .TXT, have been around for so long and are so cross-platform, they transcend association with any one application, whereas .PPT will always be PowerPoint – though that app has gained notoriety in such phrases as “Death by PowerPoint” (which we’ve all been subjected to, even if not completely fatal), or “PowerPoint Karaoke” (reading out the words on slides without adding anything).
One long-used file type goes back to 1987, the GIF – standing for Graphics Interchange Format, predating the eventually prevalent JPEG format by 5 years. GIFs were relatively poor quality – only 256 colours could be used; 30 years ago, that wasn’t an issue but in recent decades, it’s more limiting. Most people, however, will be familiar with GIFs due to a sub-variant – the Animated GIF. This is a series of frames which are played like a simple video – with low frame rates & no sound, yet they have occupied a niche in the way people use the web.
Applications tend not to render animated GIFs well – Outlook, for example, simply inserts a static image, but browsers do show them properly. If you have an email in Outlook that you know has animated GIFs, look for the Actions submenu on the Message tab and select View in Browser.
Adding animated GIFs to chat applications is a good way of making a point more vociferously than with smilies… though it can be even more distracting. Skype (the consumer version) added some featured videos (with sound), but both Yammer and Teams have added GIF buttons to make it easy to seach for amusement from online animation repository, GIPHY.
Try pepping up boring Yammer groups or Teams sites, by looking for the GIF logo on the message box, then searching for a 2-3 second loop that underlines your point. Just make sure the content is suitably Safe For Work or you may find the consequences of sending jokey GIFs to be less than ideal.
Finally, Outlook.com has unveiled a new beta mode that is available for some users (& rolling out to more – look for a “Try the beta” toggle switch on the top of your Hotmail/MSN/Outlook.com mailbox) – and one feature will be animations that can be easily embedded in mail.
Read what Thurrot has to say about the other bits of the beta.
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?
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 sun – or even a bright light – on the back of your knees. All we can cover is how to handle the crossing of time zones using your PC…
Outlook – 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 time zones during the appointment itself, and don’t want to run the risk of horological befuddlement.
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.
Windows 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 other phone OSes, Windows 10 – even on proper computers – has the option of setting time zone automatically.
If you’re going to use the time zone swapping in Outlook as per above, 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.
Using 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.
There’s a nice Alarms & Clock app in Windows 10, that 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.
A couple of years ago, ToW #282 covered how to delay your mail from being sent, by forcing Outlook to work offline, by selectively delaying individual messages or even adding a rule to ensure that every one is held up. It’s a very useful thing to do, sometimes – a great way to prevent accidental mail sending, or give you a chance to revise stuff you’ve sent after maybe reading newer emails in your inbox.
This tip presents a refinement of the process as there is a downside to automatically delaying everything – namely, if you’re in a hurry to go somewhere but you need a mail to be fired off beforehand, it can be annoying to have to hang around for the enforced delay to expire before you can safely pack up and head out.
You will need to do a bit of digging around inside Outlook dialogs, so it may help to park this on a 2nd screen, copy to a Word doc or something…
What we’re going to do is set up a rule to delay all outgoing email – except mail with a particular category assigned to it, so that will be sent immediately. If you know you want the mail you’re about to send to go right now, then you could manually set the category before you hit send, and it will leave straight away.
This is all very well if you remember to go in and set the category before you his send. If you regularly have an Outbox full of stuff waiting to go and you’re truly adventurous, you could add a Macro to Outlook to automatically flush the queue. Press ALT+F8 to get to the Macro settings; if prompted to run or create a macro, Create a new one called SendNow, paste the following into the code window:
After saving/exiting from the Macro editor, you might want to add a shortcut to your new macro to the Quick Access Toolbar in the main Outlook window. When you add the command to the list on the right hand side of the dialog, you can modify the button to give it a snazzier icon and a name that means something.
Toodle-oo (like it’s synonym, toodle pip) is, if you’re not otherwise familiar, a charming and olde-wurlde English way of bidding farewell. It seems somewhat appropriate, as Microsoft announced plans to retire Wunderlist in favour of a new app that’s been in the works for a while, with the codename Project Cheshire.
Reviewers who had an early look at Cheshire around a year ago, commented on the fact that it’s kinda similar to Wunderlist, in that both are trying to achieve the same sort of thing. As the product now called Microsoft To-Do was announced, it became clear that the team behind Wunderlist has been working to evolve some of what they’d done before, bringing tighter integration with Office 365 and the promise of more groovy features to come.
Right now, To-Do (to hyphenate, or not to hyphenate?) is in Preview, which means it’s not fully featured (eg sub-tasks that you might use in Wunderlist haven’t made an appearance yet), and as well as a web version, there are Windows, Android phone & iPhone apps – others are due though we’ll see whether the same breadth of coverage as Wunderlist provides is maintained. The Preview nature also means that Wunderlist isn’t going away soon, but it will eventually give way to To-Do, or http://todo.microsoft.com
Start by signing in, and looking in the top left menu – if you have used Wunderlist before, it can import your existing tasks, thought it might take longer than you think. It’s a one-way process, so try to make sure you don’t keep adding stuff into Wunderlist, though you can choose to sync only selective task groups, so you could potentially re-import to get only new stuff. Be careful when running an import for the 2nd time – the process doesn’t merge sections that already exist, so if you’ve imported already, you might end up with lots of Project (1) type lists and tasks.
The preview version of To-Do also supports importing from the alternative todoist. The web client has an import command from the context menu under the user, but you may need to go to the Settings pane in other clients, or else just go to https://import.todo.microsoft.com/ and be done with it.
If you sign in on a machine that’s already set up for Office 365, your default login to To-Do will be your O365 credentials, and it will automatically show you Outlook Tasks as to-do items… and synchronizes with Tasks as the back end for To-Do is Office 365.
You might need to play around a bit if you also use To-Do with your Microsoft Account – the one you maybe logged into Wunderlist with, for example…