Tip o’ the Week #96 – Reining back Outlook’s file size


Outlook likes to cache lots of information on your PC – which is generally beneficial. All of the email in your mailbox, for example, is already on your hard disk, so when you open a message or an attachment, it can open it clip_image003quickly. This is a Good Thing. In fact, it’s the reason why Office 365 works.

One feature added in 2007 was that Outlook also cached other users’ calendars after you’ve previously opened them, so that if you open them again, the data is already there. That is also good (pretty much).

In fact, Outlook will happily trundle through a long list of calendars, updating them in the background: you might find that since it caches all those users’ & meeting rooms’ calendars, that you have rather a lot of space being consumed by the offline file. If you’re running a laptop or desktop with a traditional spinning hard disk, you probably won’t even notice – but if you’re lucky enough to have a Solid State Drive, where storage capacities are typically much lower, then it could cause you a problem.

Outlook’s OST file (that’s the offline cache), can get pretty large – by default (in Outlook 2010), it won’t warn you until the OST is 47.5Gb in size, and it won’t let the file grow to more 50Gb. Note that we’re talking about the size of the offline cache file, not the size of the user mailbox, which will typically be an order of magnitude smaller. Nevertheless, having such a big OST file will cause the machine’s performance to suffer somewhat, since it will be indexing all of the data as well as probably maintaining lots of calendars or other shared folders (as well as whatever is in your own mailbox). I first hit this problem when the Outlook cache file was taking up about one quarter of my disk space, meaning the PC was running low of free space.

To see your OST file size, copy %userprofile%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook to the clipboard, bring up the Windows Start menu and paste that into the search box and press Enter. That will open up the folder where Outlook keeps all of its offline files, so don’t worry if you see lots that you don’t expect. If there are any big files with a really old date, then they are not being used by Outlook and might be safe to remove… though take a backup copy just in case…

clip_image005How to reclaim your disk space

If your OST file is particularly large (ie several times the size of your mailbox – and you can find out how large that is from the File menu in Outlook), then there are a few things you can do to reclaim the space back.

Delete the OST

You could quit Outlook, delete the OST file altogether and then restart Outlook – causing it to rebuild the whole thing from scratch. The downside to this approach is that it will take ages to complete, your PC will need to re-index all of the content to make it searchable, and you might end up with a similarly-sized file anyway since it will re-cache everything your Outlook profile tells it to.

clip_image006Be rid of Calendars

It is possible to get Outlook to discard some of the data it’s cacheing – a simple bit of housekeeping would be to prune the list of other calendars shown on the list to the left of your own calendar, thereby reducing the amount of background work it has to do to keep them up to date, and reducing the size of your offline cache file.

You can remove them one by one (though this could be laborious, it at least will let you decide which – if any – to keep), or simply right-click on any groups of calendars and ditch the lot. You can always add people back as and when needed. Go on, it’s quite cathartic.

clip_image007Stop the cacheing of other folders altogether

If you’d rather not cache calendars at all, you can switch off the whole functionality – simply (!) go into File | Info | Account Settings | Account Settings, and then double-click on the Exchange Server account that’s listed there. Within the ensuing dialogue box, click on More Settings then Advanced Settings. Now, you can choose to just not download (and cache) the shared Calendars or other shared folders. The downside is that you can’t see other people’s calendars when you’re offline, but that isn’t important, you might want to look at this option.

Compact the file

It may be worth trying to reduce the size in your OST file, and if you have done either of the previous 2 options, then you will definitely need to compact it. Outlook will reduce the OST file size in the background over time, reclaiming unused space in the file, but if you make large changes by deleting lots of infomration, you will need to force it to do some maintenance. A word of warning though – this will take a long time. We’re talking many hours, maybe even more than a day – so, it’s one to do overnight at best or over the weekend.

clip_image008To compact the file in size (and mine went from well over 30Gb to less than a third of that), follow the instructions to get to the Cached Mode Settings above, and click on the Outlook Data File Settings button at the bottom, and you’ll see the properties of the data file. Click on the Compact Now button and wait. Oh, and you can’t use Outlook whilst it’s compacting, so do not try this during the work day….

Hopefully this will help you keep your Outlook OST file size in check. It will free up space, it will give your PC less work to do in keeping a list of calendars updated and maintaining the searchable index of all your data.

Tip o’ the Week #90 – Advanced Windows 7 Calculator


Yes, really. When did you last use Windows Calculator? When did you last look to see if there are any new functions you haven’t used before? clip_image004 Most of us probably can’t remember what all the functions on a scientific calculator do, and don’t have much need for trigonometry or advanced calculus in our daily lives.

Our friend on the right, is “Businessman with Calculator” in Office Clip Art.
you do any business with him?

However, we often need to do simple arithmetic, and that can be handled easily by the built-in Calculator application in Windows, one of the few functions that can trace its lineage all the way back to Windows 1.0, more than 25 years ago. To fire up Calculator quickly, just press WindowsKey+R then enter CALC.

clip_image006Did you know that Windows 7’s revamp of the CALC application included a whole load of useful additions…?

Perhaps most useful, there are hundreds of unit conversions built in (from the predictable Fahrenheit to Celsius, to more esoteric such as how many kilopascals per PSI, how many minutes are there in two weeks, etc).

There are a few other useful calculations too (like how many days there were between two dates), and the Worksheets function also gives you a simple way of working out some standard tasks like mortgage payments or fuel economy…

Tip o’ the Week #87 – Hello? Hello?? Can you hear me?


There is an all-too common refrain which echoes around the open-plan offices of many a Microsoft location, following the receipt of an incoming call… “Hello? Hello..?”

The joy of Unified Communications with Lync sometimes means that receiving a phone call isn’t always as straightforward as it could be, if you have a laptop that moves around and may have different devices plugged-in or removed (eg headsets or USB telephone handsets). Occasionally, the sound starts coming out of laptop speakers rather than headphones, or the other party might complain that they can’t hear you well / are hearing lots of background noise…

Often these symptoms are caused by Lync using the “wrong” audio device – maybe because the PC is still dealing with the fact that you plugged in your headset or similar. Plug in a Roundtable device in a meeting room and (especially if it’s your first time), it could be a minute or two before it becomes visible as an audio device to the PC, and therefore ready for Lync to use as a suitable “end point” for your call.

Never fear: if you do manage to take or even make a call and the sound is happening in the wrong place, it’s possible to switch the active call to a different audio device – so you could even take the call, plug in your headset, then transfer the call to the headset once it’s been detected.

clip_image004There is a little icon on the bottom left of the main Lync window  that will show what the current clip_image005audio device is (such as, a standard speaker, maybe a headset or even a Roundtable icon). Once you’ve received a call, the same icon is also visible in the call window – and you can switch the call between any devices that are visible to the PC, by simply selecting the right device from the drop-down list.

No need to take the take the call and say “Oh, you’ve come through on my speakers, can you call back..?” again…

clip_image006Check your own call quality

Of course, not being heard or being able to hear the other party might have nothing to do with whether you’re using the right device– it could simply be that your network connection isn’t affording you enough bandwidth to have a decent quality call. There are a few things you can do to optimise the network: a topic covered in ToWs passim (including festive ToW #51).

clip_image008Lync introduced a nice ”Check Call Quality” test that puts in a simple call to a dummy attendant where you record a bit of “blah bla-blah bla-blah” and have it play back your recording to simulate what you’d sound like another party. If the network is bad, you’ll see the little signal-strength style icon going yellow or red. If all is well, you can be confident that the call you’re about to make is going to be a good one.

Well, as confident as you could ever be when relying on this new-fangled technology, that is…

Tip o’ the Week #83 – some more IE9 tweaks


It’s been a little while since we dug into Internet Explorer in the Tip of the Week, so I figured it would be worth revisiting. Previous tips included some basics in #64 and #65 and there are others.

Docking & Undocking tabs

clip_image002Have you ever found a time when you’ve got two tabs open in IE9, and you’re flicking between them? Maybe cross referencing some information – like a flight or train timetable – with some other application? Watching training videos whilst trying to surf the web? If so, one solution would be to right-click on the IE icon on your taskbar and click on “Internet Explorer” – this will launch a new instance of IE, and you could open up the 2nd site in that window, thereby allowing you to do side/side window comparisons, move one to a 2nd monitor etc.

Well, there’s an even easier way – simply click on the tab you want to move, and drag it away from the group of tabs within IE – it will now spawn a second window with only that one tab in it. Brilliant! When you’re done, you can even drag the tab from the 2nd window and drop it back onto the tab group of the first window to consolidate them back again.

Did you know IE9 recently trounced every other browser at blocking “malware”, in an independent test, scoring 100% effectiveness against the 13% scored by Chrome, Safari & Firefox..?clip_image003

Turning websites into Apps

IE9 has so many features besides its excellent security – faster performance, hardware-accelerated graphics, HTML5 (etc etc), but one of the top usability ones is the ability to pin websites to your taskbar.

Some sites will expose Windows 7 jump lists, so once you’ve pinned them you can go straight to specific parts of the site (like your messages, calendar, favourites, friends lists and so on). This is the first part of treating a web page more like an application.


The jump lists can do more than just help your navigation on the site – take the excellent National Rail enquiries IE9 experience that was mentioned in ToW #74. The jump list lets you go straight to the departures/arrivals board for your most commonly used stations – it really does start to feel like a custom application rather than a simple website.

To pin any site to your taskbar, just open the page in IE9, and drag the tab (similar to the method for spawning a 2nd window), but this time just drop it onto the task bar. An alternative is to drag & drop the icon to the left of the site’s address.


When you click on the docked icon on the taskbar, it will launch the page in its own IE9 window, and also displays an icon of site’s logo – clicking on this takes you “Home”: back to the main page of the site, rather the normal IE home page. Again, just like an application rather than a web site.

As you can see from the screen grabs above, there are plenty of popular sites which implement jump list support as a minimum – check the Beauty of the Web site or or this Softpedia article as a starting point to identifying which pages may support IE9 specifically. Of course, you can always just try adding a site directly and see if it does support jump lists or not.

clip_image007Clutter me not

Now, pinning web apps to your task bar is all well and good when you only want one or two, but if you have a selection you’d like to pin, it could clutter the whole taskbar up. There is something of an alternative, however: simply open your page, press the ALT key to show the menu, click on Tools and select Add site to Start menu. You don’t see jump lists in the Start Menu but if you right-click on the icon and Pin to Start menu, or if the icon shows up in the list of most recently used programs, then the jump list will be visible.

This shortcut on the Start menu can be moved around, put into groups, dragged off the menu onto your desktop or other folders, and yet whenever you launch the app, it will be in its own window, with its “home” button, so just like an application.

As it happens, you can turn any shortcut into an “app”, by renaming the extension from .url to .website

– eg.

· Copy a shortcut to your desktop

· Launch a command window (WindowsKey+R then enter cmd)

· Change to the desktop folder (normally that will be just by entering cd desktop)

· Rename your shortcuts by entering ren *.url *.website

· Close the command window and test your new “app” by opening the new shortcut…

Tip o’ the Week #51 – Five Golden Rules for OCS & Lync


A tip this week concerning best practices for using Enterprise Voice in OCS or Lync for making and receiving voice calls…

Participating in OCS/Lync Calls:

  • Use a wired* connection when you are on OCS/Lync calls. (Performance over WIFI will not be as good)
  • Ensure you use an approved OCS/Lync headset (available from the service desk in TVP and CP).

Hosting a OCS/Lync Meeting:

There is also some best practice for hosting a OCS/Lync meeting – the 5 golden rules. In summary:

If you are hosting the meeting, always set-up 5-10 minutes in advance, to upload presentation(s) and to complete the following steps..

  1. Connect network cable to presenter PC first, then start the meeting
  2. Switch off wireless networking on presenter PC.
  3. Always run “Audio Video“ wizard to make sure that your speakers, micro and webcam work correctly after all audio/video devices are connected.
  4. Avoid noise in the meeting room when microphones are not on mute**
    • typing (e.g. email or instant messaging)
    • rustling papers
    • tapping solid objects
    • be aware of fans (e.g. projector) which are close to PC
    • side talk
    • breathing into your own microphone …
  1. Do not start multiple Live Meetings in the same room – use projector to save bandwidth!

             **Also remember to Mute yourself if you are not speaking

*the reason for using a wired connection is partly due to a behaviour that Windows Vista and Windows 7 introduced – where a PC has both a wired and wireless connection, the PC assumes you are using a laptop and needs to be prepared to be disconnected, so it uses the wireless in preference to wired network.

clip_image006You you can set your PC to always favour the wired network, if one is available…

  • Go to Control Panel / Network and Internet / Network Sharing Center / Change Adapter Settings (or just go WindowsKey-R and run ncpa.cpl)
  • Press ALT if you don’t see a menu, then go into Advanced and select Advanced settings (stay with me)
  • Change the binding order so that Local Area is higher than Wireless…

The downside of doing this is that if you do unplug your laptop from the wired network, it might disconnect you from OCS/Lync and any file copying etc might get dropped.

If you want to check what your network is doing, and in particular, which connection is being used, check the Network tab in Task Manager (start it quickly by pressing CTRL-SHIFT-ESC).

Tip o’ the Week #39 – Multi-monitor with Win7

clip_image002If you sit at a shared desk with a monitor on it, but are content to just use your laptop screen, then this tip is for you. Also, if you use your laptop and display the same image on both its internal panel and an attached external screen, listen up.

Multi-mon in Windows 7 – the ability to extend your desktop to cover multiple screens – is quite possibly its killer feature. Seriously. I bought a 2nd widescreen monitor for my home PC, just because it’s so useful.

Using multiple monitors couldn’t be simpler – plug in to your laptop (or plug a 2nd monitor into your desktop if you have one – many desktop PCs now have a VGA and a DVI connector, so you could drive one of each), and press WindowsKey-P to bring up the display selector, if necessary (since windows 7 does a good job of remembering your previous settings, you should only have to do this once).

(If you’re running a laptop with Windows 7, you do not need to do Fn-F7 or whatever to send the display to a projector. Same thing goes with managing an external display – Win-P does most of what you’ll need).

Shortcut keys are indispensible when managing multiple monitors – here are a few:

  • WndKey+SHIFT+ Left / Right arrow – switches the current window between the screens*
  • WndKey+Left / Right arrow – docks the current window to the left of the screen it’s on
    • (flick a window to the 2nd display with Wnd+Shift+Left then press Wnd+Left to dock)
  • WndKey+Home – minimises / maximises all windows other than the active one

clip_image004*actually, it’s possible to have an array of screens – these key combinations merely move the window one along the array.
Here’s someone taking things to extreme, I feel…

clip_image005Now, sometimes you won’t have monitors side-by-side – but that’s OK. Right-click on your desktop and choose Screen Resolution and you can move things around a bit…

In the example above, the 2nd display is offset to the top left and has a different resolution (1440×900 vs 1400×1050) and aspect ratio (16:9 widescreen vs 4:3 standard) to the main laptop screen. This happens to be my 2nd monitor when working at home. You can drag & drop the position of the 2nd monitor in relation to the primary one, and it gets saved for future – so your mouse moves appropriately between the two, or you can drag windows between (and even span) the two screens.

In the office, I use a 4:3 monitor (pictured below). The screen size/resolution can make for some interesting effects in comparison with the laptop panel, but here I have it set to stack the two screens vertically. Really handy when working on a couple of different things at once, or even when showing something to another user – far easier for them to see it on the big screen than squint at the laptop.


Most obscure tip of the week – WndKey+SHIFT+Up arrow –stretches a window’s height to span both monitors if they’re stacked vertically as shown above. Nope, I can’t think of too many uses for it either.

Tip o’ the Week #31 – the lost art of the .EXE name

As has been mentioned in a couple of earlier ToW’s, it’s often quicker to use the keyboard to do things, than to take your hands off the keyboard and fish about for a mouse or other means of pointer manipulation. In the vast majority of cases, for example, whenever there’s a box that lets you type some text and an “OK” button to accept it, pressing ENTER will have the same effect as finding your pointer and clicking on the button, and will save you precious seconds in so doing.

An easy way of shaving more seconds from the daily grind is to remember the old names of executable files, rather than relying on finding an icon in the Start menu and clicking on it. Remember the days of DOS-style “8.3” filenames, where programs would have a .EXE (or even a .COM) extension? If you entered the bit preceding the “.” in a command prompt, then DOS or Windows clip_image001would just run the program (without needing to add the .EXE bit).

Well, some things never change. Windows preserves the same ability to run an executable by entering its name, and in many cases, the “path” to where that executable lives (in the file system) will be included in the locations that Windows will look for appropriate files.

Maybe this is easier to “do” than to explain – try pressing WndKey-R, which will bring up the “Run” prompt that used to be on the Start menu but is no longer. At this point, you can ENTER the names of any of your favourite programs…

  • CALC
  • COMMUNICATOR (note that all of the above have their legacy in pre-Win95 days of 8.3 file names, so their main executable file name was <=8 chars in length… well, Office Communicator being a more modern app has no such history – some internal Windows commands still preserve the 8.3 format even though there’s been no need to do so for 15 years)
  • OUTLOOK (you can sometimes add command-line switches to alter the behaviour of the app you’re looking to run – Outlook has a myriad, normally used for troubleshooting purposes)

All of the above are mainstream productivity apps, but there are hunders of Windows system applications that could be occasionally useful, too:

  • CMD

clip_image002In fact, you can launch all of these by just pressing the WindowsKey to bring up the start menu, and type in the name of the program and hit enter… but you don’t get the history of previous commands entered, which can be handy (eg to open a Remote Desktop session to another machine, you could enter “MSTSC /V <machinename>” and all of the recent entries will be recalled in the Most Recently Used list, and can be selected with a deft down-arrow or two, followed by ENTER.

Tip o’ the Week #28 – Windows Key is your friend

clip_image002Some people love keyboard shortcuts – producivity guru David Allen (not to be confused with the the late comedian) recommends, as part of his Getting Things Done methodology, that learning a few keyboard shortcuts will make everyone more productive in doing routine things more quickly. ToW #10 highlighted some Outlook shortcuts that can make everyone’s life better, but there are many that apply to Windows and other applications that are worth remembering.

Using the clipboard
Let’s start simply – copy (CTRL-C), cut (CTRL-X) and paste (CTRL-V) apply to pretty much every application in Windows. There’s no need to take your hand off the keyboard and go for the mouse right-click if you’re looking to manipulate text. These key combinations can trace their lineage all the way back to Xerox PARC, where pretty much everything we understand as the modern computer was invented or perfected and implemented (graphical UI, mouse, network, laser printer…)

Did you know you can also use CTRL-Insert for copy, SHIFT-Insert to paste and SHIFT-Del for cut? The handy thing there is that most keyboards have a shift and control key on the right hand side, near INS and DEL keys… so you can cut, copy & paste with your right hand only… add to that the standard commands to select text – CTRL <– and CTRL –> moves the cursor one word backwards and forwards, and holding shift down at the same time selects the text from where you were starting from. So, holding shift, and selecting a few words, followed by CTRL-C or SHIFT-Insert, and you’ve copied them to the clipboard. SHIFT-Home selects everything to the left of the cursor on the current row, & SHIFT-End selects everything to the right.

Windows Key in Windows 7

But Windows 7’s got a whole host of shortcut keys that can make life easy, from WndKey-L to lock your keyboard or Wnd-“+” and Wnd-“-“ to zoom in and out. What about:

· Wnd – rightarrow, which docks the current window to the right of the screen 

· Wnd – leftarrow, which docks to the left

· Wnd uparrow, maximises the current window…

… and the reverse, Wnddownarrow, restores it again, or minimises it to the taskbar)

· SHIFT-Wndrightarrow and SHIFT-Wndleftarrow moves the current window between two monitors (if you have them) or between your laptop and the projector (if you have it set to “Extend” rather than “Duplicate”, a choice you get when you use WndP to switch screens).

With a bit of practice on some of these, you can take several minutes off repeated processes like editing a document or an email – just think how much more you could Get Things Done with nothing but some keyboard shortcuttery?

There are many, many other shortcuts – more details here.

Tip o’ the Week #23: Viewing Excel sheets side by side

clip_image002Toni Kent from Microsoft UK’s partner group once again provides the inspiration for this week’s tip.

Everyone loves the side-by-side windows feature of Windows 7, where you can dock windows to the sides of your monitor by dragging them (or pressing ÿ+? or ÿ+?). But sometimes it doesn’t appear to work if you have several documents open, and want to compare them side by side, particularly if they are spreadsheets.

It’s all to do with how applications open multiple windows. Microsoft Word, for example, opens each document in a separate instance of Word, so if you have two docs open, it’s a snap to show them side/side. Excel, by contrast, prefers to open each new worksheet within a single “Excel” application.

So, whilst Windows 7 will show previews of multiple windows, they’re actually just multiple documents opened within Excel.

If you want to see Excel windows side by side, try going into the View menu in Excel, and click on the View Side by Side option on the Ribbon, then choose which of the additional open worksheets you’d like to compare the current one with.

There’s also the option in Excel to “tile” open worksheet windows, so you could have more than 2 arranged side by side or one above the other.