555 – checking Accessibility

clip_image002The word “accessibility” has been used for decades as a catch-all for how people of differing abilities can interact with their surroundings, and often applies to technology which can help to overcome barriers. It’s very easy to go about your day with no thought to how others could be affected by things that you don’t even notice, whether as a result of actions you do or just objects you encounter. Design plays a big part in helping people who have disabilities or who may find certain things more difficult, and good design means that assistive technology does not get in the way of anyone who doesn’t need it.

These technologies often spawn wider usage in unforeseen ways, and in many cases are developed not for goals of making a fortune or having global influence, but to help a particular individual:

Microsoft has a long history in pushing accessibility technology – Windows 95 was the first clip_image004operating system to ship with accessibility options built in, and has developed a variety of tools and platform services aimed at developers. Windows 10 has many built-in options, grouped mainly under the Settings | Ease of Access applet.

You can jump straight to many of the settings applets by running ms-settings:easeofaccess-keyboard or ms-settings:easeofaccess-speechrecognition and so on.

clip_image006If you don’t need to use assistive technology yourself, it’s good practice to think about how your work might impact people who do – and there’s a tool built into Office applications which will give you tips to make sure your document or email is suitable for users with accessible needs, such as having the contents read out by the machine, or making sure there’s adequate contrast in text colours, for improved reading ease.

The Check Accessibility option on the Review tab in Office apps like Word and Outlook, should be run just as you’d check the spelling of a document when you think it’s finished. The tool will give you a series of recommendations with guidance as to why it may be better to change aspects of the document. Not every one will be viable – you may want to have images in a particular place on the page, for example, rather than just in-line with text – but many are quick to correct.

clip_image008If you’ve inserted graphics or charts, for example, then it’s worth adding “Alt Text” to describe what it is, so screen-reading software can read your description of what it is. Right-click on your image to add the text, or have the PC generate a description for you – sometimes with amusing results…

clip_image010Thanks to Jon Morris for providing feedback on ToW #554, about email signatures – Jon rightly points out that many of us have tiny logos (Twitter, LinkedIn etc) or other icons in our email .sig, but don’t have Alt Text on them.

One call to action would be update your own sig to add Alt Text, or to mark the images as decorative so screen reader software ignores them.

For more tips on how to write documents which are more accessible, see guidance from Microsoft or from the University of Washington. Some resources for developers or web page designers from the UK Gov, with plenty of links to other sources – Testing for accessibility – Service Manual – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

554 – Outlook signatures shortcut

clip_image002Email signatures – or .sigs – were once an important means of self-expression. As email exploded in use and became established as a de facto means of business communication, its use as a social tool has diminished in favour of a myriad of social networking and real-time comms tools. So the .sig of today is less about showing a funny, clever or inspirational quote and more about legal disclaimers and providing your own contact info.

Still, having your LinkedIn photo (and a link to your profile) along with salient information makes a lot of sense, especially when emailing someone for the first time. You can edit your signature in Outlook directly, by going to File | Options | Mail | Signatures, though you may find it better to do the creative stuff in Word, then copy/paste the results into the Outlook dialog.

If you feel like freshening up the signature you use, there’s a nice template document with 20 sample signature designs to give you inspiration, here, and some instructions on how to make best use of it, here.

The signature that you create is stored by Outlook as a collection of files in a folder on your PC – if you want to look and see, press the Windows key to bring up the Start menu, paste %appdata%\microsoft\Signatures and hit enter. There was a previous Tip (ToW #267) on how to set up synchronisation between multiple PCs using OneDrive, if that kind of thing is of interest.

clip_image004By default, when you respond to an email in Outlook, it shows the reply in the main Outlook window, in the preview pane location – a feature that you can disable if you prefer to open in a new window. Go to File | Options | Mail and scroll down to find Replies and forwards.

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When sending mail in a new window, you get the full ribbon menu of options, which includes the ability to insert your signature in the message – handy if you have it set to not include by default (eg in replies, where you might not normally want a full signature).

clip_image008If Outlook is configured to write replies in the main window, you don’t get the Insert menu, so you’d either need to Pop Out the message into its own window, or you could start typing sig in the Search box at the very top of the window.

The search box will show you a bunch of content from search results as well as relevant actions from the many menu options in Outlook – it can jump to pretty much every feature, if you can’t remember where to find it clip_image010otherwise.

The Signature action is the same as the menu option which lets you choose from one of a number of possible signature blocks to insert – in this example, there is only one, called .sig.

clip_image012Finally, if you regularly need to insert your signature, you could add it to the Quick Access Toolbar in the main Outlook window. Just click the downward arrow at the right side of the QAT (in the top left of the window bar) to Customize it, and select More Commands to find the right one. Change the drop-down box to All Commands then scroll down to find Signature then click the add button to put it on your QAT.

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Now, when you’re replying to an email in the main Outlook window, the insertion of your signature block is only a couple of clicks away.

543 – Dynamics CRM and Outlook

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Customer Relationship Management or Customer Engagement, whatever you call it, is a huge part of the IT industry, powering repeated companies to multi-billion dollar valuations. CRM gives companies a way of tracking customer touch points and connecting people together, powering sales teams to track their opportunities and leads, as well as a way of managing GDPR compliance with respect to contact information.

clip_image003Evolving from personal and then group contact management software in the 1980s, CRM came of age in 1995, with Oracle refugee Tom Siebel establishing Siebel Systems as the early market leader, and eventually acquired by Oracle.

clip_image004 Microsoft deployed Siebel in the late 1990s, initially requiring a “fat client” installation complete with a local Sybase SQL Server on everyone’s PC, so they could sync data from the central Siebel system, then eventually moving to be browser-based. One MS sales manager coined the moniker “IIIInSIDE” – If It Isn’t In Siebel, It Doesn’t Exist – giving sales people nowhere to hide when it came to reporting pipeline of opportunities they were tracking.

Mark Benioff, another ex-Oracle exec, set up Salesforce.com in 1999 to not only establish SaaS as a viable way to deliver “line of business” systems (as part of the first Application Service Provider boom, which was largely wiped out by Dot Bomb), but to ultimately eclipse his former employer in terms of market value. Time also moves on – now that Salesforce is the big dog in the CRM world, there are lots of competitors snapping at its heels… Pega, Zoho and many more.

Not least, Microsoft – the Dynamics CRM business (now part of Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement) is growing fast, and even courted the “Father of CRM” to choose D365 for his new enterprise. If you use Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 CRM as part of your job, and use Outlook on your PC for mail, calendaring and contacts, there’s a handy way of connecting the two.

Dynamics Connector for Outlook

There have been several versions of a way to link Outlook and Dynamics together; the latest, Dynamics 365 App for Outlook, will fully supplant earlier versions in October 2020. See the admin guide for more on what the connector does and how it works. The installation can be a little clunky first time, though – you’ll need to install the connector software from here, which starts by downloading and extracting the setup files to a folder on your PC.

Make sure you’re getting the right version for your copy of Office – to check, in Outlook, go to File | Office Account | About Outlook and look to see if you have 32 or 64 bit version installed.

clip_image006If the latter, download the amd64 version of the client and the first major update package, otherwise download the i386 one.

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Once you have the base version installed (a process which takes a good few minutes: you also have the option to enable offline usage, which means setting up a local database to hold the content), don’t bother starting it yet – go straight ahead and run the update to the current version (strangely, a larger download than the original install). Once that’s downloaded and installed, you’ll need to restart Outlook if it’s running.

clip_image012On first run, enter the normal URL you’d use to access CRM – after a few minutes of configuring the addin you should be good to go.


You’ll see a new Dynamics 365 tab on the main menu, offering a variety of CRM-specific activities.

clip_image014Arguably, one of the most useful and obvious (given that you use this data all the time in mail) is managing contacts for your customers – Outlook is a great way of pushing them into CRM.

clip_image016clip_image018Start with an email – the Dynamics 365 app adds context-sensitive commands to the Outlook UI, so with a couple of clicks you can track an email in CRM – copying its contents into the Account record, so others can see that you sent or received it.

clip_image020If you right-click on an email address in a message, calendar appointment etc, and Add to Contacts, you can then sync that with Dynamics in a couple of clicks…

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… meaning there’s no excuse to not have your important contacts listed in CRM.

You can even match the contacts’ LinkedIn profiles, and create an org chart of all the listed contacts.

539 – Outlook calendaring fun

clip_image002Pretty much everyone who uses the Office productivity suite probably relies on Outlook for not just the daily splurge of email, but for organising their activity either by tasks, flags or just putting stuff in their calendar.

Here are a few simple tricks to remember when working with your calendar:

  • You can move to Calendar in Outlook by pressing CTRL+2 anywhere in Outlook – if you’re trying to organise meetings for lots of people and need to keep flicking between mail and calendar views, this can save you so much time (CTRL+1 for mail, CTRL+3 for contacts etc – try the rest of the numbers out for a trip down memory lane). Even the clunky old Notes function in Outlook now synchronises with Sticky Notes.

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  • CTRL+T always takes you to Today, or if you have the Ribbon showing, you can click Today there clip_image006– though an update to Calendar’s UI which was shipped to M365 subscribers in March, also added a Today button at the top left of the main calendar view, as well as a few other tweaks.
  • CTRL+G launches an old-school dialog that lets you jump to a specific day – and lets you choose from a date picker, or type the date in if you prefer. Like lots of other old-school date dialogs in Office apps, you can enter certain natural language clip_image008phrases too – some like next month, 3 weeks, will be relative from today’s date, others like June will take you to today’s day in that month (try it out; it’s easier to see than to explain) and there are certain special days like Christmas where it will jump to the next occurrence. See ToW #291 from nearly 5 years ago for more date tips. For multi-lingual dates and other stuff, see here.
  • clip_image010Manage Time Zones – at this time of year, some of us would ordinarily be planning holidays involving travel to foreign climes, but not so much in 2020. There’s every likelihood of planning online meetings in other time zones while you’re sitting in your own office in the middle of the night – so it’s worth adding multiple time zones to your Outlook Calendar view and labelling them. Right-click on the time bar to the left of your calendar view, and choose Change Time Zone to manage the display of time zones, or even switch your whole PC between them quickly.
    The rather nice Windows 10 Alarms & Clock application (WinKey+R then ms-clock: if you don’t like to click) has a nifty display of multiple time zones if you like to see at a glance where and when everyone is.
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  • Colour-coding appointments is another favourite tip the super-organised use. You can right-click on any clip_image013appointment to colour it by setting a Category, or you can use Conditional Formatting on a view to colour appointments based on category – like who sent it, or what location it’s in, etc. See more here.
    If you’re feeling extra-brave, you could install a special form that lets you differentiate mail – and therefore, appointments – which originated from an external source, by exposing a hidden property. This allows you to automatically colour them differently.
    Delve into ToW #275 to install the form, then set up a Condition under the Calendar view in much the same way.

528 – Shorten your meetings (again)

{F5531DA9-D8B1-4DA1-8EB1-EAD491380F60}Last week’s tip talked of the philosophy around 22 minute meetings, and shared a way of forcing Outlook to adjust the start and duration of meetings by default, to help you enforce the discipline.

Eagle-eyed reader John Westworth pointed out that a simpler way of doing much the same thing exists within Outlook already, if you’re on the Microsoft365 subscription. The feature arrived back in March 2019, in version 1902 (Build 11328.20146). Note: to find the version of the Office suite, go into Word – not Outlook itself – and under File | Account you’ll see what version you’re currently using.

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This year-old but hitherto little-known feature is called “End Meetings Early”: it lets you choose a value to over-ride the default meeting duration, so if you create what is ostensibly a 30-minute meeting, I’ll actually end some number of minutes early.

In Outlook, go to File | Options and look under the Calendar section on the left, to set your favoured options.

If you create your appointment or meeting – remembering that a meeting is just a special type of appointment, to which other people are invited – either {8EF536C3-747C-4C6E-AFEC-FBCC614F7707}{C15F5AF5-2086-4A14-A3DF-22BF92D72970}by using the New… option on the menu or by double-clicking on a gap in your calendar, the adjustment will be applied after the item is created (and before it’s sent, if it is a meeting).

With most of the world still WFH, it’s a handy way of making sure you don’t get in back-to-back meetings during the day, with no chance to get away from your screen. Assuming, of course, that everyone obeys the finish time rather than just over-running to the next half or full hour boundary…

If you use the Teams client to create meetings, it doesn’t currently have the functionality to shorten them, so for now, it’s best to stick to Outlook for setting the meeting up.


527 – 22 minute meetings

clip_image002One observation of the C-19 lockdown has been that as many of us are living in Teams, it’s quite easy to end up with back-to-back meetings lasting for hours, with no opportunity to get refreshments, go to the bathroom etc.

The old excuse of walking in 5 minutes late to a meeting because you were in a different building, is no longer available. “Sorry, my other call over-ran” is about the nearest you can get.

This behaviour gives cause to revisit and update a ToW from the distant past – October 2013, to be precise (though it was published online in December 2013, it was sent via email a couple of months earlier).

clip_image003Ex-Microsoftie Nicole Steinbok built a great and prescient short presentation on having better meetings, even covering the basics of handwashing. Like the “how to wash your hands” posters, Nicole produced one for summarising how to hold a better meeting, starting with making it only 22 minutes long.

See http://22MinuteMeeting.info.

Nicole partly blames Outlook for having the default meeting time set at 30 mins, and there’s also an argument for not starting on the hour, but delaying the posted start time to a little later. Imagine if we could tweak Outlook to set a different default than the fixed 30 minute block, starting either on the hour or at the half hour?

Well, it takes a few minutes to add some custom code to Outlook, but if you can follow simple instructions and can use copy & paste, you could have it up and running in a few minutes…

Voila – ToW 196 – Change Outlook meeting duration

Open the steps for #196 up in a browser and have it side/side to Outlook (or on another screen) – they still apply clip_image005to the current version of Outlook, though you may need to explicitly show the Properties dialog for the step about renaming Class1 to clsMeeting –  press F4 if you don’t see Properties in the lower left of the screen when you get to that point.

clip_image007The code in the sample defaults to having 45 minute meetings with a 5 minute delay to the start; if you want to be as fundamentalist as Nicole, you could substitute 22 and 4, as an example. This means that if you create a new meeting in Outlook, either by using the menu or just by double-clicking on the calendar, the start time and duration get tweaked by the code you’ve added, at the point the new meeting or appointment is created.

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517 – Try the preview…

clip_image002Several of Microsoft’s standard apps within Windows ship updates regularly, and increasingly are offering willing early adopters a peek at what’s coming through a  “Try the preview” clip_image004or “Coming Soon” option, usually in the top right of the main screen.

clip_image006You might need to force an update on your apps to get the latest version; go into the Store app and in the ellipsis menu on the top right, select Downloads and updates then hit the Get updates button. If you don’t like clicking menus, you could jump straight there by opening a run dialog with Win+R and entering ms-windows-store://DownloadsAndUpdates/

To find the name of any installed Store app, so you can run it from a command line or dialog, fire up powershell (just press the Start button and type that) then paste:

foreach ($p in $(get-appxpackage)) { foreach ($n in (Get-AppxPackageManifest $p).package.applications.application.extensions.extension.protocol.name) { $p.packagefullname + “`t `t `t -=- ” + $n } }

… and enter that. You’ll get a list of long app names followed by a one-word name that can be used to invoke the app. To run a Store app from a Run dialog or the Start menu directly, use that one word with a colon at the end – to start the Store version of OneNote try typing Win+R onenote: (for example).

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clip_image012The Calendar app – improbably named outlookcal: even though it has nothing to do with the desktop Outlook, other than it too can display a calendar – has recently received an opt-in preview which adds a funky new UI with background graphics reminiscent of Wunderlist, and nice icons to help you quickly switch between different calendar sources.

The preview will only show up (for now) if you’re a Windows Insider. Fortune favours the brave

514 – tweaking Outlook’s Ribbon

clip_image002Thirteen years ago, Microsoft launched Office 2007. Back when people looked forward to new releases of office productivity suites with a mix of excitement and dread, new features arrived by the boat load. While many functions stayed in later releases as core parts of the product, others led a wafer-thin existence then vanished.

One major change was the introduction of the Ribbon – a then-new way of organising the complex menu structure that sat within the individual Office apps. Despite complaints from some users, it quickly became established as a good way of presenting, in context, useful features that might otherwise have stayed buried in some deep menu structure. Competitors copied it too.

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clip_image006Outlook – like other Office apps – has evolved its Ribbon over time, and introduced a simplified version that takes up less screen real estate. While your average user has moved on from squinting at a 15” CRT monitor, it’s still desirable for some to keep the less-used menu options hidden and to focus on the content. To switch between the standard and simple Ribbons, click the little caret mark at the far right corner of the main Ribbon UI.

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So far, so good, but it you like the “Classic” Ribbon, there’s a lot you can do to get rid of some of the guff and keep the useful features more prominent. Looking at the first Ribbon image above, about 40% of the space is consumed with a handful of addins that might be useful, but not necessarily deserving of such prominence – your own list may differ, but the stuff on the right side tends to be a series of groups with a single, large icon in each.

clip_image010To clean up the ribbon, right-click on it and choose the Customize the Ribbon… option. You’ll now get a dialog box which lets you organise things – individual commands are displayed in Tabs (like Home, View, Help etc) and on groups within the tabs (New, Delete, Respond, and so on).

If you reduce the number of groups on a tab, the remaining ones may spread out and show larger icons or more detail – handy on the Home tab, if you like to use Quick Steps, which will expand out of one column.

clip_image012Let’s try moving some of the clip_image014less commonly used groups from the home tab – start by creating a new Tab and then right-click on it to rename it Add-ins or something like that.

Once you have the new tab created, it’s simple to start dragging and dropping defunct groups from the home tab onto the new one – things you might use occasionally but they don’t need to be on the main screen. Customisations are particular to the Ribbon you’re looking at – so if you organise the Classic one then switch to Simplified, you’ll still see the old arrangement until you customize that one too. You might want to export your finished layout too.

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Looking at the restyled Ribbon above, all of the groups from Delete to Tags have been stretched to show more prominent icons or reduce the menu level a little, and Quick Steps has grown from one to four columns wide. Much more useful.

clip_image018If you’re a Quick Steps fan, another trick is to right-click on one of your existing steps (where you’d normally customize that step or jump into the dialog clip_image020for managing the whole lot), and choose Add Gallery to Quick Access Toolbar; meaning your array of quick actions is only a couple of clicks away, regardless of what is shown on the Ribbon.

512 – Sticky Notes and Glancing

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Happy New Year! Whether it’s a way of keeping up with the NY resolutions you haven’t broken yet, or just a casual way to remind yourself to do stuff, Post-It Notes or the more generic “sticky notes” can be a useful tool. ToW # 446 talked about a handy Windows app that is now installed by default on Windows 10.

Sticky Notes has been through a number of iterations, and now in v3.7 it’s looking pared back yet really functional. Sure, you can use Outlook Tasks and To Do to track significant actions, long-term projects and the like, but sometimes you just want a simple list to get you through the morning or to take shopping.

If you open Sticky Notes, and click on the body of a note itself (to set focus to that window and start editing the text), then you’ll see the menu and close controls; clicking the menu lets you quickly change the colour of your note (so if you have several open, you can clip_image004tell them apart, clip_image006maybe) or jump to the Notes list that shows a summary of all the stickies you have lying around.

clip_image008Another quick way of getting to the notes you have is to right-click the Sticky Notes icon on your taskbar.

You can type, write (with your finger, or a stylus), or grab pictures from camera or existing files, all into a note, then share and make sense of it later.

You can sync your sticky notes to other devices: just go to the settings icon (from the taskbar context view or within the Notes list) to configure syncing using either an Office 365 or Microsoft Account.

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Sticky Notes has even replaced the venerable “Notes” function in Outlook, which has been around since 1997 – go to the Wunderbar in Outlook and you may need to click the ellipsis to see the Notes pages; it’s very old-school looking and not everything is carried over quite the same, but it’s a welcome integration that replaces another duplicate way of doing the same thing. It’s part of a long-term plan, so it seems.

Multi-device

clip_image012Sticky Notes show up on the web and are also accessible on iOS and Android devices via the OneNote app…

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If you set up sync between devices, it’s quite amusing to open the web client, the PC app, and then on your phone, add a new note… and see the other two update within seconds. Technology #ftw – far more useful than the kind of toot being peddled at CES in Las Vegas this week.

On an Android phone, though, the best way to use Sticky Notes is through the integration with the Microsoft Launcher – if you’re not a phone tech geek, you might not realise that with Android, you can supplant the entire home screen UI of the phone with any number of variants.

Microsoft has a mature and highly regarded launcher, that clip_image016has an average review score of 4.6 across over 1 million reviews – how many apps in the Windows store can beat that…? See more tips on using Launcher.

clip_image018When you have the Launcher installed, the “Glance” screen is only a swipe away – on the home screen, swipe from clip_image020left to right to flick over to this summary that lets you see a customisable list (click the stack on the top right) of important or interesting info.

clip_image022The Calendar summary lets you jump straight into a Teams meeting, you can show “screen time” stats, or scroll to the bottom to add more widgets from any number of apps you have installed on your phone.

Cortana integration featured in the Launcher at one point, though it’s planned to disappear for many of us.

In a “for your comfort and safety” type announcement, news came that Cortana will disappear from the phone in favour of being part of other M365 apps in time. More to follow, no doubt…

504 – Searching Outlook

clip_image002Many moons ago, Outlook search was a laborious process – you’d enter a word and Outlook would chunter through every message in turn to see if your desired text was contained within. In the days clip_image004when you a few emails, that was fine, but when you have many thousands of messages, it’s not viable.

15 years ago, Microsoft bought a company that made an add-in called LookOut and since then, deep search capabilities have been added in a variety of ways, now provided through the Windows Search service.

clip_image006A feature that was added into both Outlook is the “Top Results” section in search results – essentially providing what the search engine returns as the most relevant content, rather than necessarily the most recent.

How useful this is might depend on how and when you use Outlook search – if you’re looking for a way to return very specific results, it might be more of a distraction than a help (ie if you’re a natural piler, you might use Search as a normal way of retrieving stuff rather than an occasional tool for finding something in particular).

clip_image008clip_image010Should you find the Top Results section annoying and/or distracting, it can be easily disabled by going into Search Options within the Search tab on Outlook’s ribbon, and clear the  “most relevant search results” option.

clip_image012Do so, and normalcy returns.

Top Results also appears in Outlook Web App (outlook.office.com), in the consumer Outlook.com and in Windows Mail – and it doesn’t appear that you can disable it: much to some users’ chagrin. Turn to Uservoice or Feedback Hub if you feel similarly.

To get more out of Search in the desktop Outlook app, it’s worth understanding how to be more specific – even using just a few keywords will help you narrow the results. Search for from:bob, for example, and all results will be mails that originated from someone who had “bob” in their display name. Narrow the search even more by adding terms like sent:yesterday, about:pricing or messagesize:enormous as well.

clip_image014You can use various tools in the Search bar to filter your results, too – it might even be quicker clicking the big paperclip than typing hasattachments:yes. To discover more search terms, click the + More option in the search bar and have a play.