661 – Finding mail and slimming down


Learning how to find stuff in email is crucial, since many of us get so much that we let it accumulate until eventually it becomes a problem. Sifting through the many cc’ed work mails, or finding the order confirmation email in your personal mailbox amongst all the other stuff, we’re more reliant on search than ever.

This is a topic that has been covered numerous times in previous ToWs – 573 – Searching in Outlook and 504 – Searching Outlook for example – but is worthy of a revisit since we may have a chance to pursue the fallacy that is Inbox Zero over the next few weeks. And maybe it’s a time to find and delete the special offer emails and once-in-a-lifetime invitations that may be clogging up our personal mailboxes too.

Work mail

Dealing with desktop Outlook on the PC, there are plenty of tools available to help you find specific messages, in fact there’s a whole toolbar full of them.


As you look to search mail that meets your chosen criteria – it’s from someone in particular, maybe with a keyword in the subject, or that you know has an attached PowerPoint file, you’ll see that clicking the filters and options inserts the actual commands that will drive clip_image006the search, into the Search bar positioned at the window’s top.

Remembering a few of these means it’s quick and easy to search for mail from a person (you don’t need the quotes, really, and you could use just a part of their name) by typing straight into the box. ALT+Q (for query?) sends your focus straight onto the search bar, so if you’re a keyboard warrior, you could ALT+TAB to Outlook, ALT+Q and enter a search command, before your clip_image008 mouse-toting colleagues have even clicked a toolbar. While we’re at it, remember that CTRL+number jumps to the location on the (now vertical) icon bar on the left, so CTRL+1 will normally be mailbox, CTRL+2 is calendar, CTRL+3 contacts, and so on.

Commands could also be used to filter on properties of a message that are not so easily visible through the UI – eg from:ewan messagesize:>10mb or from:nico sent:”last week”. See here for more examples of the kind of thing you can type. Look under Recent Searches to re-run ones you’ve typed before.

Reducing Mail Bloat

clip_image010Is your mailbox size is starting to look under strain (look under the File menu to see how big your ‘box is and what the limit is)? With an active work mailbox in M365, it shouldn’t be much of a risk unless you genuinely never delete anything, but a quick way of identifying the big rocks and getting rid of them may be needed occasionally.

clip_image012clip_image014You could run a one-off search for all big mail as per the instructions above, or for extra control try creating a Search Folder. Expand the folder tree on Outlook’s left side, and scroll towards the bottom, to locate the Search Folders hierarchy, right-click on the top of the tree and choose New …

This will bring up a wizard which creates a query across your entire mailbox or other data file, but which looks like a folder; it’s visible only in Outlook desktop (ie not in web or on mobile) but can be a great way to locate stuff that might be filed away in the darker recesses of your mailbox.

You can choose from some set templates or do your own custom thing entirely. The age of this feature is somewhat given away by the default value for “Large mail”… click the Choose button and enter something meaningful (like 10000 for ~10MB).


This should give you a few easily deleted big mails to at least get any short-term capacity problems dealt with.

Right-click on the Search folder and choose Customize… to give it a better name, or to tweak the criteria.

Home email

If you have a Hotmail / Outlook.com etc mailbox, there may be a more pressing size issue, as over a period of years you might have been signed up to a newsletter every time you buy something online, and without realizing it, those could account for gigabytes of data bloat on your mailbox. If every notification from Amazon or eBay is 400K, they soon mount up to a meaningful size.

clip_image018If you have a free Outlook.com account, you should have a 15GB mailbox quota and if you have the account associated to a Microsoft 365 home or work subscription, you’ll get 50GB.

To check, go into Settings and search for Storage.

The UI for Outlook.com is simple and effective, but one thing it doesn’t do a great job of is handling message sizes.

clip_image020Sort by size and you’ll see a group heading showing which emails are clip_image022the largest (displayed by default with the biggest on top), but nowhere can you find out what the actual message size is.

If you want to do a mass clean-out of your Outlook.com account, then you could try sorting by From, however the UI won’t let you click on the group heading to select all emails from that sender and make it easy to delete them.

The Windows Mail app on Win11 doesn’t offer Size either, not even to sort by.

clip_image024Sometimes, the old ways are the best – you get much more functionality if you add your Outlook.com account to full-fat desktop Outlook, allowing you to change the view, see and sort by message sizes etc. Oh, and yes, you can even set up a Search Folder too. Now, tidy away!

This is the last “regular” Tip o’ the Week until January.

If you’re still here next Friday, look out for next week’s special edition – it’ll be a belter.

623 – What’s .new pussycat?

clip_image002Many 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.

clip_image004Not sure about living in a browser? Modern-living afficionados can get by, using only web apps like Outlook, OneNote, To-Do and more.

If you like being browser based rather than desktop boundclip_image006, 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

clip_image008You 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

541 – shrtn ur url

clip_image002We’ve all been in the position when sharing a web link with someone reveals a URL that is several lines long and full of hexadecimal IDs and so on. There are a few ways to make the long URL more acceptable – a simple one being to hot-link the URL under a piece of text.

In most email programs, in Word, and even in the new Yammer experience and some other web forum software, selecting some text and pressing CTRL-K lets you insert a URL under that text – so rather than saying “Flight Simulator – https://www.xbox.com/en-US/games/microsoft-flight-simulator”, you could just write Flight Simulator”.

When it comes to sharing URLs with other people, though, you might still need the native URL clip_image004rather than copying the text that has been hyperlinked, so in many apps and websites you could right-click a hyperlink and grab the URL (or in Office apps, again, put your cursor on the text and press CTRL-K to get the edit UI which would also let you put it on the clipboard).

clip_image006It’s both easier to share and also to remember shorter URLs with simple names, but URLs for linking directly to a web forum discussion or Yammer post (in the new Yammer, click on the 3-dot icon to the side of a post to get the link directly) tend to be cumbersome and with lots of references within.

The first URL Shortening service was launched in 2002, tinyurl.com (and doesn’t the website look like a 2002 site?). The basic idea was that instead of having a 200-character URL, you could generate something that would have the form of the tinyurl domain and a random series of characters, such as https://tinyurl.com/yxtj4gft.

When the user clicks the link, their browser goes to the TinyURL website and is then provided the full link to follow, and redirects to that. The primary benefit was to make it easier to share the URL, even if it’s not so memorable, however the developers later added the ability to provide a custom redirect name and, as long as nobody else has nabbed it first, you can use it – eg https://tinyurl.com/yammerofficespace.

TinyURL has been overtaken by others, notably bit.ly, which Twitter switched to from having previously used TinyURL, and before later launching its own t.co. There are many others too, some connected with existing services – like the onedrive.com shortener (eg https://1drv.ms/u/s!AgMogCiKiWDFraIfifRzFKdjw4F1uQ?e=Yepjwh) which isn’t really very short, and which causes Bit.ly to get its Alans in a twist, as it seems it doesn’t like to shorten another shortener’s link.

There are some downsides to using this kind of service, potentially. What happens if the provider goes bust, or decides to start charging users where it was once free? Sites like Photobucket which started free but began charging users a “ransom” get internet warriors hot under the collar, but so far, sites like TinyURL and it’s progeny are mostly still free to use, with the operators selling aggregate data about the referrals being followed to fund their operations costs.

Some shorteners decide to close down – like goo.gl – meaning there’s a risk that previously-shared short URLs won’t work in future (though in the case of Google’s shortener, they are keeping old links alive, just not allowing any new ones to be created). Similarly, if a shortener has a technical problem or security breach, it could affect the way it works – TinyURL reportedly having problems just this week.

clip_image008Finally, a web shortener that is unlikely to disappear overnight is operated by Microsoft, called aka.ms. Anyone from Microsoft can create an aka.ms shortlink – subject to some rules – as long as they share responsibility with someone else. Like the other public shortener services, can generate a random series of characters or can provide the “target” part of the link if they like.

All aka.ms links are by definition publicly accessible, but many are used to get access to sites that are for internal use, even though they exist beyond the firewall – Sharepoint sites, for example, or the intranet homepage, aka.ms/msw. Anyone could resolve the destination URL – even en masse as one enterprise developer has done, using Azure functions – but you still need to provide appropriate credentials to access the destination site.