631 – Why does nobody share calendars?

A paper calendarBack in the late 1980s/early 90s, IBM had an internal email system called NOSS – an implementation of PROFS, a text-only mainframe-based system delivered via a terminal.

Even in 1990, NOSS allowed any user to browse a hierarchical directory (showing contact info, job titles, manager/reporting relationships etc), email or instant message anyone, and look at their calendar to see what they block of text about IBM's NOSSwere doing. It was 10 years before you could do all those things using Microsoft Windows and Office. In recent years, Big Blue’s email environment has seemingly been less happy.

When Microsoft Exchange first came out, email was handled with the Exchange client and calendaring was from Schedule+, which had been updated to support Exchange (and lives on in some backward Microsoft lingo, where people who start every sentence with “So,” ask you to send them an S+, meaning, invite them to a meeting). Outlook came along in 1996 and became the preferred and unified way to do email, calendars, address books etc.

Schedule view of free/busySome organisations had a default policy when new mailboxes were created that their calendar was shared Read-only, so anyone in the company could see it. You could open someone’s calendar fully in Outlook or by viewing the scheduling tab in a meeting, where you will typically see if a list of people are available or not. Others might have it that only free/busy info is visible by default, and that is pretty sub-optimal.

With M365 in general, newly-created mailboxes have no calendar sharing set up, and the action is on the user to choose how to let co-workers see their info.

Be a nice person, and check to make sure your colleagues can view your calendar.

Ideally, share so that others will see the title and location of any appointment; useful when someone is trying to arrange a meeting, as within the schedule view they can figure out if you are likely to be able to make the proposed meeting time – if your diary is full of blocks marked busy or tentative, they’ll have no idea if you really are in a meeting or have just marked time to do something that you might be happy to move. Or had a colleague’s FYI notice of being on holiday obliterate the view of your calendar.

In the early days of Exchange/Outlook, if you had read access to someone’s calendar, you could open up appointments, see who else was attending a meeting, download any attachments and so on, unless the appointment was marked “Private” – though it’s somewhat possible to open Private appointments programmatically if you know what you are doing.

OWA sharing persmissionsNowadays, calendar sharing is more granular – in Outlook Web App, go into Calendar and you’ll see the Sharing and permissions option, which will let you choose specific people and give them ability to see various details, or you can change the default for the whole organisation.

OWA sharing persmissions detailIn full-fat desktop Outlook, click on the Share Calendar option on the ribbon, and you’ll get a 1990s-style dialog box Sharing permissions in Outlookallowing you to set the default permissions or to invite particular team-mates to have higher level access should you want them to know where you are and with whom.

If you choose titles & locations, viewers can’t open your appointments to peer inside, so can’t see who else is attending or what the body of the meeting says, but they can at least see if you’re likely to need travel time between meetings. See here for more info on calendar sharing & delegate access.

630 – slimming your PPT

Piles of documentsPowerPoint files can get big. In the scale of small vs large, sending a many-megabyte PPT file around between a few people might not matter much, but if you’re building a presentation that is going to be widely shared, it could cost actual money – data storage costs, bandwidth charges on a website, carbon footprint for transmitting and storing etc.

Estimates of the energy cost to transmit and store data vary wildly, but if 1 GB cost 1 kWh power and the average CO2 output for generation was ~500g/kWh, then even shaving 10MB off a file can make a material difference if it’s going to be heavily used.

There are a few tricks you can follow to make your PPTs less massive – like compressing the images within, meaning that an embedded picture which was originally sized to print on a poster could be re-sized to fit on a screen.

File sizes sortedIf you see a few-slide presentation file and it’s dozens of MB in size, then there’s probably other info in the deck which is not necessary for your presentation. Even more likely is that there are some embedded graphic or video assets which are bloating the size of it. Quickly identifying the cause of such largesse might allow you to ditch the offending slide or resize/remove the content.

A somewhat cavalier way of looking for large things you can torch, is to make a copy of your PPTX file and then rename it so you can look within. The OfficeXML file formats (prevalent in Office 2007 and onwards) use the same compression as ZIP files, so if you rename your file as such, you’ll be able to open it in Windows Explorer or other ZIP handling utilities, to see its innards. Opening the file shows you a folder structure, and if you navigate into ppt \ media then sort by Size, you’ll quickly see what’s making your file so big.

File Name extensions optionActually doing the rename might be trickier than you think, since Windows hides by default such grubby detail as file extensions. One trick is to flip the switch to show extensions again (in Windows Explorer, look under View menu / Show / File name extensions), then it’s a simple matter of changing the file in Explorer by editing the last part of its name from .pptx to .zip.

Renaming file in ExplorerOnce you’ve confirmed in the warning dialog that the apocalypse is nigh and you really do want to change file type, open the new ZIP file and you’re off. Remember to go back in and switch off the Show > File name extensions option if you’re so inclined.

Renaming file, command lineIf you’re still unsure about these new-fangled “gooey” interfaces, you could crack open the command line to do it quickly.

Slide master viewIf all this grubbing about inside PowerPoint files makes you feel uneasy, there is one other trick that could yield dividends – look inside the Master. Since many people create a new presentation by starting with an old one, they liked, it’s very possible there are slide layout templates with embedded graphics that you no longer need – especially if the originating deck was produced for a conference.

Go into View menu and look under Slide Master, which will open a whole new tab specific to the management of these template slides that form the bones of the presentation. You may well see lots of title slides or similar, which have embedded background images – if you know you don’t need those graphics or those layouts, just delete them.

Closing Master viewPowerPoint generally won’t let you ditch a master layout which is being used to format the current slide deck; so, if you have your deck already built and want to distribute it, just go into the Slide Master view, delete everything which looks unnecessary and that PowerPoint will allow you to, then Close the Master view to return to the main menu. Once you’ve checked that the presentation format hasn’t been garbled, go File > Save As and give it a new name. Now compare the size of the new and old files.

Super Massive background graphic

This title slide in the Slide Master view had a graphical background which was 17Mb in sizefile sizes compared; just deleting all the unnecessary visual slide templates dropped the size of the original file from 110MB to 26MB.

Compress pictures dialogRunning the Document Inspector to remove other content further dropped another 1.5MB.

Selecting an image from one of the 70-odd slides in the deck, and choosing Compress Pictures from the Picture Format tab reduced it again to only 11MB, or 10% of the original file size – all for a few minutes’ effort.

Tools from Save As dialogGoing back to the original 110MB file and opening File > Save As, then choosing More options… will open a traditional Save As dialog box; on the bottom is a Tools > submenu which allows you to run the Compress Pictures function at the point of saving the file, so reducing it to 1/3 of the original size, for literally 15 seconds’ work.More options of Save as dialog

NB: the irony of sending a 2MB email to thousands of people, and sharing online and on LinkedIn, is not lost.

629 – Edge Task, Man

clip_image002Following on from ToW #627, which talked about the efficiency of the latest versions of the Chromium-based Edge browser, avid reader Brad Wilson commented on another natty feature of the ChrEdge Edgmium Edge browser: the built-in Task Manager.

If you’re in Edge already, press SHIFT+ESC, or go to the “…” menu in the top right, choose More Tools > and find Browser task manager under there. Even though the main Windows Task Manager has been overhauled recently with extended support for Edge, the browser task man gives even more insight into what’s going on with the various tabs, extensions and supporting processes.

clip_image004For one, you can see specifics about the different bits of the browser to find out if things are bogging down and start to troubleshoot why, and kill off potentially rogue processes if you feel like living dangerously.

Right-click in the task list to add more columns to the display, like CPU Time to show longer-term vampire processes, or Profile, to display which of the potentially multiple browser profiles are hosting that tab or extension.

If the browser is taking up a bit more CPU or memory than you think it should, it may be time to prune the installed extensions list somewhat (disabling certain extensions from lesser-user profiles or removing some altogether), or engage in a more protracted exercise to find out where the memory is being used.

clip_image006In further Edge updates, a new built-in VPN feature is being tested; powered by Cloudflare, it will give users signed in with a Microsoft Account an encrypted channel with up to 1Gb of data every month to run through what it calls “Microsoft Edge Secure Network” – it’s not there to let you watch iPlayer or Netflix while you’re abroad, but it could be handy for syncing email on a coffee shop Wi-Fi network. Presumably, when your free 1Gb runs out, you’ll get some warning and an opportunity to add some more coins to the meter.

Also, Edge is now 101, though there’s not much excitement for most users.