653 – Bookings with me, you, everybody

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Ideally, within an organization where people are expected to work together, they will use tools that have been around since the 1980s and actually share their calendar with their colleagues.

Outlook users can usually see blocks of when someone looks free or busy, when looking in the Scheduling Assistant tab on a meeting, though it won’t show external attendees and unless the attendees have chosen to share their calendar details, you won’t see anything other than tentative, free, busy or out of the office. Hopefully, some eejit won’t have blocked everyone else’s calendars by informing their colleagues of an impending day off.

clip_image004When dealing with people in other time zones, there is a clue to whether they are likely to be able to join a meeting (quite apart from whether they have their calendar blocked or not) – the Work time setting is meant to show others what days and hours their expected work time is supposed to be.

Looking at the scheduling assistant grid, the light-grey area is supposed to be not-work time, and if there are any clip_image006lighter-coloured blocks, that means they’re free and open for booking. Individually, you might also see their time zone displayed in their Profile Card when clicking on the user’s name in Outlook, Teams etc. Again, this is available for people in the same organization, so when dealing with external parties another approach will be required.

A variety of 3rd party services exist to help people find time when others are free – a bit like a restaurant or hotel booking service, tools like Calendly or HubSpot (others are available) offer to expose your free time slots to selected external people, so they can find a slot that you are available and reserve it for a meeting with them. Office users could also use FindTime, which effectively sends a poll of suggested times to a group of people and gets them to vote on which one suits them best.

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There’s also a Bookings application which is part of Microsoft 365; accessible via the app launcher icon (the grid of squares on the top left if you login on office.com using an account with an active M365 subscription). Bookings is designed to manage scheduling across a group of people – like in a hairdresser’s salon, where multiple members of staff could be available on different shift patterns, but a simple web UI is presented to an end customer so they can find a time when their favourite snipper is available.

Regular ToW contributor Ian Moulster spotted a new addition to Microsoft 365 which appeared in July, and though it may have common underpinnings, it’s a different offering to Bookings – called Bookings with me.

clip_image010You might spot the Bookings with me notification in the top right of Outlook Web App, or try setting it up at outlook.office.com/bookwithme.

If available in your subscription, you can then set up a booking page with a menu of meeting types you want to accept – eg 20 minute 1:1 Teams calls in “public” (ie available to anyone who has your booking page URL – you might even add it to your email signature), or more specific meetings that are “private”, which you can choose to make available individually to sets of people. There are numerous of controls over how much time before and after the meeting, what days/times it can happen etc. Availability is synced with your Outlook calendar.

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When you share the booking page or private URL with people, they just find themselves a time that’s free, and either sign in with a M365 work or school account or give another email address. If the latter, they will get an email with a verification code to enter into the booking form (M365 users are presumed already clean), and after confirming the code, they’ll get a meeting request sent from your calendar, with location and/or Teams details.

632 – New Old Things

old and new shoesMicrosoft veteran Raymond Chen has a great developer blog, The Old New Thing, which inspired the subject line for this week’s Tip, coming as it does, hot on the heels of the Build developer conference. There is also timely news around refreshment of old productivity applications.

OneNote has featured plenty in ToW previously, including a mention in the recent Journaling tip, with a nod in SteveSi’s ongoing historical missive which described members of the development team unhappy with the change of name from its code-name “Scribbler”, referring to the new “OneNote” app as “Onay-No-Tay.

A few years ago, OneNote was dropped from the Office suite and was due to be replaced by the new “modern” version in the Windows (now Microsoft …) Store. For a while at least, that shiny new one got all the innovation, even if its brand-new architecture meant it missed a lot of the old app’s functionality. In a somewhat surprising but welcome turn-around, old OneNote was reprieved, and both apps are going to converge at some later point – ie the desktop one will pick up features that only exist in the Store app, and eventually that version will cease to be.

New OneNote UIOld OneNote UIPending an eventual confluence of the two OneNote Windows apps, the desktop one is gradually getting new functionality and a visual refresh. The graphics bring it into line with Windows 11’s theme of rounded corners, subtle animations and a gentle 3D feel. To some, blink and you’ll miss them, but it does make the app look quite a bit smarter.

There’s a more prominent “Add Page” buttonSort and add, with the page sort function that was added back in February 2022 alongside. There are a few other tweaks in the refresh that has started to roll out, like some new Ink functionality with Ink-to-shape and handwriting-to-text like in other Office apps.

More is to come, including improved sharing capabilities and a neat dictation functionality that would allow you to record a spoken explanation for something while using Ink to highlight or illustrate; when another user plays back your monologue, the ink will be synchronised too. For more info on what’s coming, see here.

Results of OCRCopy Text from ImageOne handy feature that has been in desktop OneNote for years but never made it into the Store version, is the ability to use OCR magic to extract text from images. Try pasting an image into a notebook, then right-click on it to Copy Text from Picture into the clipboard. It does a surprisingly good job, even when the pic is not very clear and if the text on it is really small.

Copying screen-grabs when someone is doing a demo in a browser, so you can get the long and complex URL for the thing they’re showing is a particularly useful way of using this feature.

619 – Teams plays Pop

clip_image002Words evoke times and places for lots of people, and “Pop” certainly has plenty of associations and meanings. For some, it’s the (often cheaply-branded, sickly-sweet) fizzy drink of their youth (see also skoosh, in certain parts of the world), it might be forgettable teeny bop music or perhaps an intransitive verb used to describe how something stands out.

It’s also a familiar word used in annoying UX concepts like a pop-up in your browser, or a toast on your desktop. Applications often put out toolbars or separate content in side windows, to help users make the most of their functionality: especially handy when the user has more than one display.

In its evolution over the past couple of years of explosive user growth (270M MAU!), Microsoft Teams has started to move away from the one-window-to-rule-them-all idea of having all your chats, activities, documents etc in one place, and started offering to pop things out into their own window.

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If you’re in a meeting and want to have a side channel going on with a subset of participants, just start a multi-party chat, then clip_image006right-click on it within the recent chats list, or from within the chat window itself. See more here. Other Teams apps also feature the top-right pop-out icon too.

clip_image008As well as offering a variety of Gallery and focus views, including the ability to place where the gallery is displayed (if at all), there’s also been an addition to hide your own clip_image010camera preview, in case you find yourself distractedly checking yourself out during meetings.

You could therefore dismiss all the other sidebars – like chat, or participants list – make the gallery go away, focus on presented content in full screen and hide your own preview – all in the name of being able to see what someone else is sharing.

clip_image012There is probably more popping still to come. There is a public preview for Teams – which can be enabled by your Microsoft 365 Admin, here – and that enables the early stages of some new features which are being tested. Microsoft has its own internal test programs too.

Once the preview-enabling policy has been applied by Admin, then individual users will have the option (from the … / About menu) to enrol their machine in the preview; after doing so, signing out & in again, and a “Check for updates” cycle should see them have the latest available preview version.

The holy grail for popping out in Teams meetings would be the ability to separate the content being shared so you could have that on one screen, and see a large video gallery of attendees, with chat sidebars etc on another. 

clip_image014Some day. Maybe.

In the meantime, keep an eye on what’s new in the main branch of Teams, by looking on the Teams blog.

618 – Listing

clip_image002Lists 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.

clip_image004Lists brings a lot of that functionality to the fore, while being extensible through Power Apps and integrated into Teams. There are mobile Lists apps available and in beta too.

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.

clip_image008If 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.

clip_image010You 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.

584 – Office Apps expansion

clip_image002Subscribers to Office 365 / Microsoft 365 obviously get a load of services like email, OneDrive storage, SharePoint and so on, as well as client apps like the full-blown Office suite. Over the years, the app experience has got quite a lot closer with the web clients sometimes advancing faster than the desktop or mobile apps, meaning that it’s increasingly viable to live your life entirely in the browser.

clip_image004The Office home page – on www.office.com when you’re signed in using your M365 account, or maybe even installed as an app on your PC – shows a list of available apps if you click the grid icon in the top left. Initially you’ll see the most popular or your own most recently used apps, but try clicking on “All apps” for the full list of what else is offered.

What you’ll see depends on what kind of subscription you have and what previews you might have opted into, as well as what apps may have been published by your subscription’s administrators (eg internal HR website or IT support desk sites could be listed there).

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To keep things interesting, you can also install most of these web apps as Progressive Web Apps on your PC – using Edge, go to the Settings “…” menu in the top right, and look for the Apps menu option. They will then appear in the Start menu, can be pinned to the Task Bar and run in their own discrete window, just like a “real” program would.

One app which could roll back the years for a lot of people is Visio. Microsoft bought the diagramming software company at the turn of the century, for what was the largest acquisition to date – check out the list of other deals and see if you can remember many of those other $100M+ names…

Microsoft Visio became a premium addition to the Microsoft Office suite, latterly being sold as an add-on like Project. The software has continued to evolve over the years and has its own band of fans who use it for mind mapping, flowcharting, network diagrams, room layouts and so much more. You can even build Power Automate workflows using Visio (see more here).

clip_image008It was recently announced that Visio is coming to a good many Office 365 subscriptions next month, for no extra charge. The “lightweight” web app approach is not going to supplant the full application for more complex purposes, but it still offers a wide range of templates that can be used to start some fairly snazzy drawings, all done in the browser.

If you’d normally turn to PowerPoint to try to create graphical documents like flow diagrams or simple org charts, keep an eye out on the All Apps list to see when Visio makes an appearance, and give it a try.

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564 – Do Mention It

clip_image001One of the features in Office apps that has come to the fore in recent years is the concept of @mentions – something that started in the early days of Twitter. The use of the @ before someone’s name lets you quickly tag them to a piece of content, and in some cases gives them a proactive notification that you’re trying to reach them.

clip_image002Exactly how the notification occurs differs slightly depending on the medium – in Yammer, for example, starting to type someone’s name after an @ sign will give you a picker to choose which person you might want to tag; pressing TAB will accept the name at the top of the list, and cc: that person to the specific post you’re making, so they’ll be notified in Yammer and possibly by email too. If you know someone’s alias then you can quickly type @aliasTAB to tag and accept them. You can also use mentions in comments within Office documents.

The same behaviour is commonly available in Teams as well, though it may be more limited as to who you can mention – in the chat for a meeting or in a Teams channel, you’ll typically only be able to @mention the people who are taking part or who are already members of the team. Like other uses of the @mention idiom, tagging someone will insert their full Display Name, as defined in the Microsoft 365 environment (or the address book if you like) – which can make mentioning people in a chat feel a little directorial or formal, especially if the format of their display name is something like FamilyName, GivenName (DEPARTMENT).

In most uses of the mention, you can edit the full name of the person, though it’s not quite consistent how to do it – in Teams, for example, merely pressing backspace (after the display name has been resolved) will remove the last word … so if you want to tag a colleague and their display name is Jane Doh, then a quick tap will reduce that to simply Jane. If they were Doh, Jane (IT) then it’s a little more complex to lose the formality – holding CTRL+SHIFT while pressing the left arrow will select a word at a time, so you could ditch the last part of the name then simply CTRL+Left arrow would skip the middle part, then CTRL+SHIFT+Left arrow/Delete will remove the first part again.

Lesser platforms might allow a user to set a nickname that is used in place of their display name; that’s not (yet) an option in Teams etc, though in Outlook when you mention someone, you could insert a nickname in-between other names then remove the original ones, leaving only the short name you’ve added, but still hot-linked to their contact card etc. It’s a bit clumsy but might be preferable to calling them by their more formal name.

clip_image003Entering a mention in Outlook also invokes the person by adding them to the To: line of the message and will show up in their default inbox view, indicating mails which mention them specifically.

clip_image004You can’t sort by that special field, but you can filter the inbox to only show you the mails where you are being called out. Handy when people have a habit of assigning you tasks in an email, assuming that you’ll read it…

Just click the sort/filter option found to the top right of your Inbox or other folder, and choose Mentioned Mail to show only messages where you are mentioned.

As with all such features, it works for some people and work cultures/environments better than others. For some external best practice guidance, see here or here.

548 – A-List listings

clip_image002Updates flow to Microsoft 365 on a regular basis – there’s a published list of all the minor and major changes that are launched and on their way. As well as improving the current user experience and adding new features, occasionally whole new offerings are added – such as Microsoft Lists, which first made an appearance in July.

Lists gives an easy way of creating, sharing and managing lists of custom clip_image004information within a team – tracking issues, recording assets, anything in fact, that might have used a shared spreadsheet to do it in a low-tech way. Lists was announced to provide a modern-looking, consistent way of managing lists through a variety of front-ends – including mobile apps, to come later this year.

You should be able to see Lists from the menu on Office 365 web apps – start clip_image006at www.office.com and sign in with a business Office/Microsoft 365 login and the new icon will give you access to Lists – get started here.

Just like sharing forms or doing task management, there are often numerous ways to do the same thing – and in days of yore, that would have meant several competing and incompatible technologies, encouraged to fight it out with each other to try to ensure that the best one wins. Nowadays, with a more collegiate mindset, consistent ways of doing things show up in different user experiences – like To-Do and Outlook, StickyNotes and more. Expect deeper integration across other apps in due course

The new Lists experience is essentially just a great UI built on top of a mature back-end; SharePoint Lists, which have evolved over the last 10+ years, allowing the definition of custom columns and rules to validate data entry.

One new frontier is to integrate the new Lists UI into Teams; if you have ability to administer a Team, clip_image008you will see an “add a tab” function alongside the Posts / Files etc tabs that are typically presented.

clip_image010Adding a List tab will then walk you through a process to either choose an existing List (by entering the URL of the SharePoint site that hosts it) or by creating one by importing a spreadsheet, starting from a number of templates or by defining it from scratch

Have a play with Lists and think about how your team could use them in place of spreadsheets.

Microsofties: There’s an internal story about how Lists came about, and looking forward to where it’s likely to go in the future.

Check out Paul Thurrott’s excellent introduction to Lists. And there’s even a Lists Look Book.