Many Office users rely so much on Outlook, it’s their most-used application by far. Over the years, numerous other apps – such as Yammer, Slack or Teams – have presented other ways to collaborate and communicate yet with billions of messages being sent every day, email just doesn’t seem to slow down.
The bones of the current Windows release of Outlook date back to Outlook 97, with some dialogs and settings having changed little since even if the main UI has been refreshed over the years. One recent change was the further evolution of Outlook 2003’s “Wunderbar”, the menu on the bottom left of the main Outlook window that switched views between mail, calendar, tasks etc (yes, it really was called that internally – look in the Registry).
By Outlook 2016, the navigation bar had collapsed into a series of icons along the bottom, which did the same thing but took up less screen real estate. It’s long been possible to use keyboard shortcuts to jump between the options on the navigation bar – CTRL+1 will go to the 1st one (usually Mail), CTRL+2 to the second and so on. You can reorder the options on the bar if you like, so CTRL+1 could be Calendar if that’s what’s most important to you.
Other apps can be pinned to the new bar, too – including things like the Org Explorer, which presents a much more graphical way of looking at the org chart than the old Address Book in Outlook.
Moving these icons to the side of the screen might help organize screen real estate; another option would be to collapse the Ribbon, so you only see the many icons and options along the top of Outlook, when you need to use them.
You could try Simplified Ribbon to reduce the size and hide some of the more esoteric functions.
Show tabs only reverts to a simple menu bar, and when you click on one of the options, the ribbon for that tab is displayed. You can toggle easily between Tabs Only and the full ribbon by pressing CTRL+F1. There are loads of other shortcuts for Outlook though some are a little obscure.
If you need to search your mailbox while in full-screen, press ALT to temporarily display the ribbon, and look for the highlighted keys that can jump to specific tab or function.
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 were 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.
Some 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.
Nowadays, 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.
In full-fat desktop Outlook, click on the Share Calendar option on the ribbon, and you’ll get a 1990s-style dialog box allowing 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.
PowerPoint 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.
If 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.
Actually 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.
Once 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.
If you’re still unsure about these new-fangled “gooey” interfaces, you could crack open the command line to do it quickly.
If 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.
PowerPoint 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.
This title slide in the Slide Master view had a graphical background which was 17Mb in size; just deleting all the unnecessary visual slide templates dropped the size of the original file from 110MB to 26MB.
Running 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.
Going 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.
Anyone who has delved into writing formulæ in Excel will probably have had to manipulate strings of text at some point, possibly to clean up formatting or to convert what Excel thinks is a simple block of text into more meaningful data that we know it to be, like a number or a date.
There are simple ways of bulk handling text without resorting to writing a formula – copy all the names from the To: line in an Outlook email, for example: paste into a new spreadsheet and you’ll end up with a single line of text containing all of the display names and email addresses in one cell, which you may want to split up, to be of much use.
Separate the text into multiple columns by selecting the first cell, then go to the Data tab and look for Text to Columns, which presents a fairly powerful if somewhat old-fashioned looking dialog box, to step through fixing up your text.
Since we might want to create a table of names / addresses, select the cells spread across the columns, copy or cut them to the clipboard, then on a new line below, right-click and look for the Transpose option under Paste Special. Once that’s done, feel free to delete the original top row, or clear the contents of the first cell as we might come back to that row to add column names later.
There is some other cleaning up to do with this text, though; the Text-to-Columns function chopped everything at the “;” but there’s a space which follows the semicolon, so all the Display Names after the first one have a leading space. We could repeat the Text-to-Column feature on the selection again, but use a Space as delimiter now – unfortunately that would mangle the display names into multiple columns, and if we had a smattering of users with middle names or 3 or 4 part names common in many countries, it could make things look even worse.
Using the leading “<” of the email address as the delimiter is probably simplest, as it will separate the name(s) and email addresses out, though it does still give us a few tidying-up challenges, as there are spaces we don’t want and a trailing “>” at the end of every email address.
In cases like this, it’s easier to use a formula to clean things up – the Trim function being a good place to start; it removes both trailing and leading spaces in string, so the name can be fixed up into a new column.
Since we know the email address has one errant character – that trailing “>” – left behind from the earlier text-to-column operation, there are a variety of ways to strip it off. There’s the =LEFT() function, which keeps the left-most (n) characters of a string – so by combing the LEN function and knocking off a single character, we can chop the final character off.
After all this palaver, you might be thinking that some of this chopping around and formulaic string-handling can get a bit confusing as you start to nest operations within each other. Luckily, the Excel team has released some powerful new text-handling functions to try to simplify things a little:
So, using TEXTSPLIT on our original pasted text from the email, using “<” as the delimiter for the columns and “>; “ as the marker for the end of each row, gives us a near perfect solution – the only clanger being the trailing “>” on the last address.
You could use another formula to find and strip out any left-over characters like that, or just manually delete the last “>” off the original line you pasted in.
Memoirs and autobiographies are the top selling non-fiction books for good reason, as people like to recall past events through the words and thoughts of someone who was there, in the room or even in the driving seat. World leaders who write their tell-all book on what happened 20+ years ago, better have great memories or perhaps a trove of notes and diary entries from the time. If they are fans of journaling, they would have of-the-moment musings, written down to help clear their minds at the time – on committing thoughts to her diary, Anne Frank wrote, “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
Turning to technology and looking back to relatively near-term history brings up all kinds of product that was ahead of its time or was ultimately overtaken by other developments that nobody saw coming. Sometimes, the perfect blend of genius, timing, execution and luck combines and creates a durable and wildly successful category – like the Smartphone and the plethora of services and apps that were created.
Inversely, one of those tech innovations that was just a bit ahead of its time was the Tablet PC; a fully-functional Windows PC that was blessed with a pen and touch screen so you could take notes by hand just like on paper, yet by flipping it around it could be used to run Office apps and all the other stuff you’d need a PC for, 20 years ago.
In hindsight, the idea of the Tablet PC was 10-15 years ahead of the technology that was needed to really make it work – the pen and screen digitizer were a bit too low-res; the processing power and memory was not up to the mark of providing the kind of user experience that the vision hoped for. The battery life was too poor while the whole thing was too heavy. Nowadays, with devices like the Surface Go and the iPad Pro, the reality is much closer – even if the dream of writing meeting notes by hand has been made somewhat obsolete by transcription and the fact that fewer people use a pen to write any more.
One new app that was built for the Tablet PC to take advantage of its pen, was Windows Journal, a relatively simple yet effective note-taking app, with surprisingly good handwriting recognition built in.
To read more from someone who was in the room – figuratively and, at times, literally – around the time of Tablet PC, the Journal software and the Office app originally called Scribbler which went on to become OneNote, check out Steven Sinofsky’s Hardcore Software post. It’s a fairly long but fascinating read.
Using pen and paper for taking meeting notes might be less popular now, but many of us will still jot down reminders or lists on Post-it notes, perhaps doodling on paper to help creativity and flow. If you have a pen-capable computer now, the newly released Microsoft Journal app is worth a look.
Billed as an app for digital ink enthusiasts, this new Journal presents a modern take on the original Windows Journal idea – an infinitely scrollable canvas for jotting down anything, though with AI capabilities in the app providing quiet yet powerful functionality. Journal started as a research project (from the “Garage”), but has now graduated into a fully-fledged, supported app. Read more about it here.
|Even after 2 years of mostly enforced remote meetings, it’s still amazing how many people have yet to master some of the basics of online meetings – like management of the mute button and general audio interference, positioning of screen/camera so you’re not looking up their nose or side of their face, professing to having bandwidth issues as the reason for not enabling video, and many more. One “room for improvement” function is that of presenting PowerPoint slides and not looking like an idiot.
Firstly, have a practice with Teams if you’re not sure how things are going to work out – just go to the Calendar tile and you’ll see a Meet now option in the top right; that creates a new instant meeting in which you can play.
Don’t share your screen to present slides in PowerPoint (unless you really insist). Instead, save your PowerPoint to OneDrive for Business or SharePoint, and you’ll see a Present in Teams button in the top right, or a larger button on the Slide Show tab.
Choosing this opens up a Presenter View akin to the one in PowerPoint, which is the default if you have multiple monitors and you start a Slide Show. This view lets you see Speaker Notes, jump quickly to specific slides rather than paging through them, and be more interactive with the meeting than you could ever be if you were simply sharing a screen showing a PowerPoint slide on your computer.
Perhaps the most useful aspect of this mode in Teams is that you can still show the Chat or People pane to the side of the window – allowing you to keep an eye on attendees who might have their hands raised, or who ask questions in the meeting chat.
There are some other controls of note – the eye icon lets you decide if attendees can flick through your slides or whether you want to lock them to seeing only the slide you’re currently presenting. Useful if you have a Big Reveal coming at the end.
Next to that icon, there are some others which define the presenter mode – Content Only on the left, shows just the slide you want. Next to that is Standout, which takes your video and overlays it onto the slide rather than having it appear as one of the surrounding gallery of other attendees. And next to that is a new preview PowerPoint feature called Cameo, which integrates with the Teams Client.
A downside of the Standout mode is that you don’t get to control where your image goes on screen, or how big it is – so you might well obliterate some part of the content you’re presenting. This new feature gives you a way to solve that.
In PowerPoint, go to the Insert tab and on each slide add a Cameo (or a Camera as the object it creates is described in some controls), then place and size it as you want.
If you select the new object, the Camera tab will give you more customization options.
You will need to add a Cameo to every slide you want to show up on – potentially useful if you want to only appear for intros and Q&A but perhaps leave the content on its own for other parts.
Since each slide has its own Camera object, they can be of different shapes and you can even use the groovy Morph animation effect to transition too.
While in Presenter view, try using a “laser pointer” to temporarily show traces around something on your slide, with mouse or Surface pen to control it. There is a pen or highlighter to make more durable Ink markups, and if you double-click/tap each icon, you can set options like size, colour, adding arrow tips etc.
One downside of the Presenter View is that it shrinks the content on your own screen to the point of possibly making it difficult to read, especially if you’re showing the People or Chat pane as well – in fact, the content is only about 20% of your screen real estate.
Using Pop Out might help if you have a larger second screen connected, though chances are you’ll be using the camera on a laptop so ideally want to be looking at that display.
Since nobody really uses Speaker Notes anyway, you could try Hide presenter view, which means you’ll lose the slide thumbnails and speaker notes, but still keep the other controls. Go to the View control on the top left of the window and choose Full Screen to increase it even more.
For more details on using the new Cameo feature, see here – it is in preview which is rolling out through Office Insiders first so you may not see it right away. If you are presenting using simple app or desktop sharing rather than the PowerPoint Live model described above, there are some other options in how you appear alongside your content.
As well as launching the PowerPoint Live sharing from within PPT itself, you can choose to share recent presentations while in Teams – just scroll down past the various “share screen / app” options and you’ll see more. This topic was covered previously on ToW #576.
Many products evolve due to exposure to their competitors – adopting and refining the best features, and sometimes that evolution even starts to overtake the original. Many traditional desktop applications moved to online variants or were supplanted by newer concepts, such as shifting to mobile apps. Experiences that were clunky – like banking – moved to sometimes lower-functionality but more convenient apps, just as consumers adopted mobile payments and contactless cards.
Having blazed a trail with email in Hotmail and later Outlook Web Access, in 2010 Microsoft launched the first version of the Office web applications, meaning you could run lightweight Word, Excel and PowerPoint in your browser, as a companion or even as an alternative to the full-fat desktop versions.
A few years earlier, Google Docs released as an online word processor (and later, other types of productivity apps, rebranding as G Suite and now Google Workspace). There are pros and cons of the browser-only experience; you tend to sacrifice some functionality compared to the desktop applications in favour of ubiquitous availability, though web clients can be updated more easily and sometimes new features appear there first – as ToW #605 covered, with snoozing email.
Check out What’s new in Excel for the web or look for the summary covering Visio, Forms, Words and more, here.
If you like being browser based rather than desktop bound, you could start a new document from the address bar by simply entering word.new, excel.new or powerpoint.new. Others include docx.new, ppt.new, teams.new, sway.new …
You could add such links to your browser favourites; therefore, a new doc is but a single click away. There are many more .new shortcuts – Google’s in-house domain registry launched the service a few years ago, so not unsurprisingly, Mountain View hoovered up a lot of the relevant ones if you’re of a Googly persuasion. See docs.new, sheets.new or slides.new, mail.new …
Lists form a big part of lots of peoples’ lives – whether it’s a to-do list for productivity afficionados, shopping lists for remembering the essentials or compiling top-five lists of favourite things, just, well, because.
A while back, Microsoft released a new app for Microsoft 365 users called Lists, which was essentially a front-end to SharePoint, itself a staple of the Office 365/Microsoft 365 offering since the beginning, and providing much more functionality than simply a place to stuff documents. The original SharePoint Portal Server 2001 (codenamed “Tahoe”) is nearly old enough to buy itself a beer in its homeland, and relatively advanced logic and custom data validation & handling has been a major part of its appeal for a lot of that time.
Recently, the Lists experience was made available – in preview – for non-M365 users who could sign in with their Microsoft Account. A “lightweight” version of the app, it’s still pretty functional and pitched at individuals, families or small businesses who need to keep lists of things.
Taking a slightly different tack, the To Do application is a good way of making other sorts of lists – that could be Tasks or flagged emails as well as simple tick-lists to mark off what needs to be done. In something of an overlap with Lists, To Do can share its lists with other people – think of To Do as primarily for personal use that you might share, whereas Lists is for managing shared endeavours first and foremost.
If you’re a user of both Amazon’s Alexa services and Microsoft To Do, you might want to integrate them together; using the Tasks In The Hand skill. Once enabled and correctly configured, you can use Alexa to manage that service’s built-in To-Do and Shopping lists, and these are then synchronized to the Microsoft To Do app.
You can rename the lists which are subsequently created in To Do and which sync with Alexa, though you can’t yet manage additional ones. You could simply use the Alexa app to manage the lists rather than synching them with To Do, but setting up synch gives you more flexibility – To Do integrates with other software and services, like being able to show lists in the Microsoft Launcher app on an Android phone.
Microsoft has always been good at having several ways of doing the same thing. Internal competition was encouraged with the idea that if several teams built solutions for the same problem, it would spur them all on and the best would win out. The Best Laid Plans don’t always work, and sometimes politics and machination gets in the way.
One modern incarnation of the multiple-ways principle is electronic mail; despite many attempts to replace email with other means of messaging, persistent chat etc, it’s still a huge deal (especially in business) and it’s still growing.
In the days when companies ran their own IT on-premises, there was Exchange, and the companion mail client Outlook arrived shortly after. Web-based consumer services like Hotmail, Yahoo! and Gmail changed the expectations of many users. Home and work email services have been getting closer in form and function since.
Microsoft’s current email clients are quite diverged: you can use the full-fat Outlook application to connect to your business email as well as your private
The Mail app is pretty good – it can connect to a variety of sources including Office 365, so while it might not be an ideal primary business email application, it can be a good way of connecting to multiple personal email services.
One feature which appeared in different ways across multiple services and apps is the idea of Snoozing your email; initially pioneered by Gmail, others followed suit. It’s a different concept to flags and reminders, rather if you select an email and say snooze until 10am tomorrow, it will literally disappear from your inbox and it would reappear at the top of the pile the following morning.
Well, that’s how it works on some combinations. In the browser versions of both Hotmail / Outlook.com and Exchange/Office365, it works as you’d expect – you Snooze an email and it is actually moved into the Scheduled email folder (and you’ll see when it is later due to reappear in Inbox if you look in there). At the elected time, it shows up again on at the top of the mailbox. Let’s compare to some other Microsoft clients & services…
Outlook client and Office 365 – there is no snooze feature. Sorry. Just be more organised. If you snooze an email from another client, it will disappear from Inbox, but when it reappears, it’ll be in the same place as it was before – eg. if you Snooze a 9am email from the web app until 1pm, it will move into the Scheduled folder – but when it moves back into the Inbox, the Outlook and Windows Mail clients will show it down at 9am again so you might as well flag it and be done.
Windows Mail client with Outlook.com or Office 365 – Zip. Too bad.
Mobile Outlook and Web clients on Outlook.com or Office 365– Mail disappears and shows up again at the allotted time, right at the top of the mailbox. In the web clients, you’ll see the time stamp of the message as if it has literally just arrived; in the mobile version, though the message is ordered correctly (eg a 9am snooze to reappear at 1pm will show up between 12:30 and 1:15 mails), the displayed time is correct but a little clock icon is shown alongside. Clever.
At some point, there is a plan to deliver a single, unified, email client. An Ignite 2020 session talked about the roadmap and further commentary speculated that the One Outlook client may be coming, but isn’t going to be with us for some time yet.
One thing we all miss about having physical team meetings, is the delight of trying to read an enthusiastic participant’s attempt at getting their thought process across by scribbling on a whiteboard. Often with pens that have too little ink left to be legible. Charts with arrows always point up and left and bullet-point, capitalized text that may just be readable, but can anyone remember what it meant by the end of the meeting? At least you can take a picture to decipher later.
Fortunately, there are digital equivalences – you could be in a Teams meeting and co-authoring a document, where multiple people are editing at the same time and marking up comments. You could be watching someone share their 4K screen so they can walk through only a few dozen PowerPoint slides, or you might even have had a play with the shared Whiteboard app that’s been around and been part of Teams for a while now.
The whole UI has been given an overhaul in line with the latest colourful design ethos, and there are lots of neat new features like the automatic shape recognition for mouse-driven drawing. Hold the Shift key down while you’re drawing with a mouse pointer or a Surface pen, and it’ll straighten lines for you.
It’s available in a variety of guises; there’s a web UI (app.whiteboard.microsoft.com) and it shows up in the menu on the top left of Office 365 web applications, such as subscribers would find by going to office.com and signing in with your ID. It’s on iOS and Android, though updates may flow through at different rates to other platforms.
Of course, it’s as a Microsoft Store app too; if you’re already a Windows 11 user, you may want to check out the new Store and look for the Library icon on the lower left, showing you what you’ve installed previously and also which apps have been most recently updated (and am Update button to kick off that process). Sadly, looking at an app’s page in the Store (still) doesn’t tell you what the current version is or when it was last updated.
You can pin whiteboards to Teams channels or chats too; just add a Tab, select Whiteboard from the app list, and the content will persist within that context rather than a point-in-time meeting.