Subscribers 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.
The 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).
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).
It 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.
For some years now, Microsoft has produced an application for mobile devices, which allows easy scanning of bits of paper, photos from physical whiteboards or importing of contact info from business cards.
The “Office Lens” app was originally produced for Windows Phone before being ported to iOS and Android. Later, a PC version came along but with the death of Windows Phone it hardly seemed worth keeping going, since scanning docs and business cards etc is so much easier from a handheld device. As a result, Office Lens on the PC is now gone – dispatched at the end of 2020; if you had installed it previously, you could still use some of its functionality, though the smarter online services that sat behind it are no longer available.
Instead, the old Office Lens mobile apps on the surviving smartphone platforms has been renamed “Microsoft Lens” – along with the release of some improvements and new features.
There are tweaks to the algorithms used to detect edges of documents when scanning pages or turning a receipt snapped at an angle into a square-on image. It’s not always perfect, but you can drag the apices to tidy up the process, and save pages as images on their own or multiple pages of a document into a single PDF file, straight to OneDrive or local on the phone.
There is also a new “Actions” feature which lets you interact with reality – grab text from something you point the camera at, and potentially feed it into the Immersive Reader so the phone will read it out to you. You can also extract a table from the physical world, or scan a QR code or barcode from something in your hand.
The QR scanning is pretty slick, focussing on URLs or files, quickly enabling you to follow the link or view the doc (and ignoring some types of QRs used for encoding a membership number or serial number of a device, etc).
Similarly, barcode reading just brings back the number, whereas some other apps will provide a bit more context – Lightning QR Reader for Android, for example, can read any text encoded in a QR code and will also give some more details for barcodes, like decoding ISBN codes on books to let you search for more info on that specific title. Still, Lens provides a neat & quick solution for scanning or capturing all kinds of info.
There was a time when archiving email meant taking a few Megabytes of data away from the restricted space within your mailbox, and possibly storing it for posterity in an a PST file on your PC, where the mail would stay until eventually the file is either corrupted or deleted with no backup being taken first, whichever inevitable event happened first.
Thanks to Moore’s Law, mailbox capacity is now less of a constraint. Having too much clutter and the distraction that it causes is a more pressing issue than not having enough space.
There are tools – some mythical and magical – to reduce volumes of unnecessary emails, and automatic processing via features like the Focused Inbox or Clutter can help to filter out stuff that is getting in the way, but fundamentally the decision on whether to delete, defer, delegate or just leave it lying about, rests with the user.
There is still an AutoArchive function in Outlook, but you probably don’t want to use that.
Instead, look at the simpler “Archive” feature, which is available for Microsoft 365 users and appeared first in the web client before making it into desktop Outlook. If you haven’t used the Outlook Web App for a while, it’s worth having a look since it has evolved massively over the years, and often leads the way for new functionality and integration, compared to its desk-bound precursor. There is a view that eventually, the web client will replace Outlook on the PC.
If the Archive option shows up in the web UI (with suitable icon), the folder should also be visible in desktop Outlook in the main folder tree. Just like you have an Inbox, Drafts, Sent Items and so on, it will have been created for you but you may need to expand the view to locate it. And no, you can’t rename it…
Check out the Archive folder properties, and you can see its size on your own machine or on the server (assuming that you’re not storing everything in your mailbox within your Outlook cache).
To fire an email into the Archive folder from the desktop Outlook client, just press backspace if you’re currently viewing the message in the preview window. The default shortcut key to archive a message in Outlook Web App is E though you can reconfigure the app to use different shortcut schemes, in case you’re more familiar with other web clients. To see the shortcuts in Outlook web app at any time, just press the ? key.
Fans of the fathers of elektronische music will get the reference to the seminal track Autobahn, written to mimic the repetitive noises of driving along the motorway. Since most of us have not being doing much of that for a while (and nobody misses being stuck in a traffic jam on the M25 on a Friday evening), a new addition to Microsoft Teams from the previously announced Microsoft Viva could be a welcome distraction.
Start by looking for the “…” menu on the left-side icons bar in the Teams client, and you’ll see additional apps that can be added to the menu (and once there, you can right-click on them to pin in place); a previous update to Teams lets you drag the icons’ placement to your own preference too.
You can jump between the apps in Teams by pressing CTRL+n, where n is the corresponding location on the bar (ie CTRL+1 for the top app, CTRL+2 for next down etc).
Open the Insights app to see the first-released Viva application, which has also been recently updated.
Viva Insights lets you send praise to colleagues, do some quick & mindful breathing exercises, check on actions you may have mentioned in email (eg “I’ll get back to you on Monday…”) and block out time that’s currently free in your schedule to give you a chance to focus on work you’re supposed to do, rather than meeting with people to talk about it.
Newly added, is the Virtual Commute – go to the Protect Time tab, or look in the top-right settings menu “…”, to set up the time to finish your work day.
You can now have Teams remind you that it’s time to go home, even if you’re home already.
Jared Spataro wrote recently about the need to give yourself breaks between meetings and to transition from “work” to “home” modes.
If you’d like to jazz up your Teams background image rather than showing your real backdrop, check out the Viva backgrounds now available in the custom backgrounds gallery for Microsoft Teams.
OneNote has been part of the Office suite since 2003, and has been freely downloadable for much of that time; it’s an invaluable tool for note taking or just capturing information that you’ll want to recall at some point. There have been a few sideways turns in the roadmap, though – as well as the Office application (on Windows and Mac), there is OneNote for mobile devices, OneNote the web experience and OneNote the “Modern” Windows app.
To try to simplify the roadmap somewhat, the app formerly known as OneNote 2016 is now just “OneNote”, and the Store app that shares more of its UX with the mobile and web versions, is OneNote for Windows 10. For more detail on the differences between all the versions, see here.
At one point, the plan was to discontinue the more functional desktop app, and shift development to the simpler Store version, however that plan was rowed back and OneNote (the Office app) will continue to be part of Office, even though it wasn’t installed by default in 2019. The perpetual version of Office (as opposed to the subscription service that is Microsoft 365) will be updated later this year, and OneNote will still be part of that. Probably.
There’s not a lot being published on the Roadmap for OneNote, though, so it may not be getting hosts of new features… See here for a list of some recent updates to OneNote for Windows 10. You can jump to the latest What’s New from the Help menu in the Store version.
As has been covered on ToW passim (here, here), you can start OneNote from the Run command, by pressing WindowsKey+R then onenote <enter> for the desktop version, or onenote: for the modern Windows 10 version. In the latter, you can also pin particular pages to the Start menu, handy if you want to jump to a particular page of quick notes or ideas.
Any version of OneNote is just great at noting down lists – perhaps by using your pen (though if you’re a big inker, you might want to also check out Journal by Microsoft Garage – it’s a notebook intended for “ink first”).
Or maybe by typing a quick few lines at first, and formatting as a list once you’ve got some text. There are some shortcuts to help that formatting; in both OneNote and OneNote for Windows 10, to quickly select what you’ve just typed, hold the shift key and press the up arrow to grab a row at a time.
To create a table, just press TAB to turn whatever you’ve just typed into the first column, and keep pressing TAB to create new columns, or CTRL+ENTER to accept the column layout and start adding extra rows, or to insert a new row into an existing table. Once have content in your table, you can easily move rows around by simply putting your cursor in the row you want to shift, and hold ALT+SHIFT then use the up / down arrow keys to move that row. Much simpler than faffing about with copy & paste.
On the full-fat version of OneNote, you could also select your list and by using the somewhat obscure-sounding menu option “Link to Pages”, OneNote will create a new page for each item in your list and then make a hot-link to it. Hover the mouse over to see the link.
You can manually create links to any page by selecting the text you want to hot-link from, and press CTRL+K; then either select the destination in the dialog box, or paste the link to the page (or paragraph) if you’ve already copied that link to the clipboard.
If you’re going to be doing much with tables, it’s probably better to use the OneNote app rather than the Store one; the older tool has much richer table formatting capabilities, and it also has an Addin architecture which is completely absent from the OneNote for Windows 10 version.
The fantastic OneCalendar addin shows you all the notebook pages you’ve worked on by date, so if you spread your note-taking across a variety of sections or even shared notebooks, then it can be invaluable to jump right to the notes in question.
Its big brother, OneTastic, also allows using pre-written Macros to automate tasks like custom sorting of sections and loads more.
In the Northern Hemisphere, spring feels finally underway – and following a long locked-down winter, it can’t come soon enough. For many of us, even if meteorological spring started nearly 2 weeks ago, the promise of summer starts when the clocks go forward to daylight saving – or summer – time.
If the country or state you’re in observes summer time, then you’re either about to enter (if in the northern half of the marble) or leave it (if southern). To keep us on our toes, this movement back or forth often happens around the world on different dates. To keep us on our toes, some countries have less-than-hour gaps between time zones, and in the past, others have decided to change time zone permanently.
In olden days, some people wore GMT or World Time watches, which allowed the user to tell what the time was in different locations. With the World Time example here, the red arrow hand points (on a 24hr scale) to the current time; when the user rotates the outer bezel so that the nearest location is pointed to by that hand, the other locations listed on the bezel will be aligned with the 24hr number of the current time in those places…
– eg if it’s 2:30am in Iran, then lining Tehran up with the red hand would put both London and Paris at midnight, since they’re both at GMT+1.
eh? In October 1968, the UK decided to move to British Standard Time – GMT+1 – all year round. This particular wristwatch was produced between 1968 and the end of 1971, when the practice was reversed – so for a while, it was correct that London would be in the same time zone as Paris and Rome. Except the watch wouldn’t know when Paris and Rome went into summer time, thus putting them an hour further ahead… oh well, never mind.
In a global working environment, especially one where everything is done online rather than having people in the same location, the friction of time zones changing has never been more obvious. Usually, you’ll only move through time zones relative to everyone else when you travel – flying across large distances, or maybe just driving across a bridge or dam.
But now, a digitally-oriented meeting can shift its time for some of its attendees, relative to the others – depending on where the originator is based.
The excellent Alarms & Clock app, which is part of Windows 10, lets you pin cities around the world to a map, showing their approximate location (bet you didn’t know Brissie was south east of Sydney?) and what the time is currently, and if you click the Compare icon to the left of Add new city, you’ll see a grid indicating the relative time in all of your pinned cities. You can jump to a specific date, so if you’re planning a meeting with people in different time zones, it might be a good idea to check what the impact of Daylight Saving Time (DST) changes might be.
Those parts of the US which observe DST, are due to move an hour forward this coming Sunday (ie March 14th). In common with doing things differently to everywhere else, that brings the US (and Canada) one hour nearer most of Europe for the next two weeks, until the end of March. Much of the southern hemisphere comes out of DST the week after that, so by then Sydney will be two hours nearer London than currently.
The impact of this can be seen in peoples’ calendars, when regular meetings somewhat inexplicably start to clash with each other – if a UK organiser set a recurring meeting for 4pm GMT, that would normally compel Seattleites to be there at 8am, but since they’ll be only 7 hours behind for a couple of weeks, that shifts to 9am in their calendar, potentially clashing with some existing 9am Pacific Daylight Time meeting.
Conversely, a 9am PST / 5pm GMT meeting as created by the person in the US a few weeks ago, would now start at 4pm in the afternoon in London. Great news if that meeting is a Friday afternoon, as it brings beer o’clock one hour forward.
Although Outlook does a pretty decent job of juggling the differences between time zones, there is no obvious way to show what time zone a meeting had been created in (eg show me all meetings that are going to be affected by this shift for the next 2 weeks). A simple trick if you want to check on a specific meeting, is to start a Reply to a meeting you’ve been invited to, whereupon you’ll see the time zone of its creator…
While It won’t help you identify the meetings that are causing the clashes, it might help restrain you from firing angry missives at the organiser of the meeting, if you know what’s causing it.
Before The Event, if you were an IT professional in the Microsoft ecosystem for any amount of time, you may have marked your calendar by conferences you were going to attend – PDC, WPC, maybe TechEd? The big ones always happened in the US, but some were followed up with regional replays.
All were replaced in time with rebranded but otherwise similarly targeted variants:
2020 saw a fast move to hosting everything digitally and for the most part got away with it. 2021 was always going to be different, and the first big do of the year took place this past week – a spring Ignite. When you don’t need to book a conference centre 12 months in advance and get thousands of people to fly in to attend, why not do some of the big events more often or a different time of year?
For a summary of what was being announced at Ignite 2021, check out the excellent Ignite Book of News.
Charles Lamanna’s keynote on Power Platform highlighted some news around Power Automate – one of the key components of the Power Platform and formerly known as Microsoft Flow, Power Automate began as an online service that could make workflows to stitch together actions that happened across multiple online applications –a new booking alert email to a hotel mailbox could add an appointment to a Google Calendar and send a notification to someone on Microsoft Teams, and so on.
This tool brings automation concepts right down to the desktop, allowing any end user to create flows that span multiple apps and services; it’s not unlike an advanced Macro Recorder, where the user can perform a task that is regularly repeated, and the software will keep track of the steps they’re making.
With PAD, however, it’s more than just repetition – they can go back and inject data into those steps, like take the email addresses from column B of this spreadsheet and send a specific email to each one, with logic determining what should be different for each message (so a lot more granular than a simple mail merge).
As well as some pretty advanced integration into all kinds of apps on Windows and services on the web, there are lots of tools to guide the flow of logic; while it might seem a bit scary to some, anyone who’s ever done some basic programming will be able to quickly figure out how to describe the logic without needing to break out a line of code.
The impact of RPA is explored when looking at how this technology could remove boring, repetitive tasks thus freeing up clever and creative people to do something better with their time and attention. On one hand, automating processes could be a threat as we’ll need fewer people to do the same things, but a more optimistic view is that it will increase productivity and satisfaction. If you have 17 minutes free, then check out a great TEDx talk on “White Collar Robots”.
Just over a year ago, the new release of the Edge browser with the Chromium engine was released, and lots of functionality has been shipped since. Much effort has been to differentiate the Edge browser from others, because it integrates better with Microsoft services and other offerings. From synching settings, history, favourites, extensions… to adding protections around passwords and having a great multi-profile experience… it’s been getting better all the time. But 88 updates? That’s crazy!
(it doesn’t necessarily have 88 updates – that was just a ploy to get in the Crazy 88 link above)
The latest version of Edge shipped to mainstream users recently; release 88 is named after the core engine version, so Google shipped Chrome 88 at the same time. Some of the “what’s new” in Chrome will be consistent with Edge, since the rendering engine is the same – like the deprecation of a couple of features; Chrome & Edge no longer have FTP support natively, and they finally killed Flash.
Back to Edge 88 – go to the … menu, then settings | about to find which version you have – there are a bunch of cool things to try out or investigate:
Themes – there are some really nice pre-built themes packaging background images and colour schemes; see them here. You can apply a theme to a specific user profile, which might help you differentiate them from each other – so a Forza or Halo theme applied to your personal profile would change the colour scheme for that one, making it easier to spot which profile you’re using. You can also add themes from the Chrome web store.
Sleeping Tabs – helping to reduce system resource demands, Edge can now make tabs go to sleep if they haven’t been used for a while. You need to switch it on (the plan being that it will be a default in a later version) by going to edge://flags and search for sleep.
If you regularly use websites that fire notifications – like mail, or news readers – then be aware that they will not show when the tab is asleep. Work is underway to report back which sites should not be put to sleep, so Edge will be able to know when it’s a help and when it would be a nuisance.
Passwords – as discussed previously when it was in dev mode, the password monitoring and strong password suggestion features are now generally available. Edge can look for common username/password combinations that are in your cached credentials, but which are known to have been leaked.
If you get a report of such a leak, you should change all of the passwords on affected sites as soon as possible. Looking under Edge Settings / Profile / Passwords, you should see the options to enable both Password Monitor and suggestion. For more info on how the Password Monitor works, check out this MS Research note.
PWAs and Profiles – Progressive Web Apps are increasingly being seen as the way to take a site and treat it like an app; it can show up in Start menu, can be pinned to task bar, will run with a specific icon and name, and won’t have all the UI of a browser, so it looks just like a native app.
To install a PWA on Edge, just go to the … menu on the top right when you’re browsing to a site, and you should see Apps > Install … as an option. You get to give the “app” a name, and it will then look and feel much like a native application.
If you install the PWA in more than one Edge browser profile, there’s a new function that means when you start the app – from the Start menu etc – then you can switch between which profile it should run in (scoping identity, passwords etc within).
For a long time, storage was relatively expensive so it was a good idea to spend time and money reducing the amount you would needed to use. In 1990, PC hard disks would cost about $0.20 per megabyte, and capacity would be in the 2-3 figure MB range. So, compression software could be used to delay the day you’d need to buy a bigger disk, even if there was a slight impact on performance (through decompressing and re-compressing data while reading from and writing to the disk).
As storage got cheaper, the tendency to just keep old data gained prevalence, though some systems imposed limits due to the relative complexity and expense of managing their data, providing resiliency and backup services.
Corporate email quotas were measured in Megabytes, and tools like the Outlook Thread Compressor helped people reduce the amount of space their mail took up. In time, people used it to simply reduce the number of messages they needed to read, rather than worrying about the space they’d save – and it inspired the Clean Up Folder function in Outlook today.
When Google launched Gmail in 2004 with a staggering mailbox limit of 1GB – 500 times that which was offered by Hotmail – the rules on what was expected for email quotas were re-written, with an expectation that you would never need to delete anything, and could use search to find content within.
Leaving aside corporate policy on data retention, keeping piles of stuff indefinitely causes its own set of problems. How do you know which is the right version? Can you be sure that you have copies of everything you might need, in case the data is lost or damaged? If you have a backup, do you know that it’s a full copy of everything, and not a partial archive? Having multiple copies of the same content can be a headache too, if you’re not sure which is the true original and which might be later copies or partial backups.
Applications might create their own duplicate content – perhaps through bugs, or through user activity. There was a time when syncing content to your phone or to another machine might risk duplication of everything – like having multiple copies of contacts in Outlook, for example. A variety of hacky resource kit utilities were created to help clean up mailboxes of duplicate contacts, appointments etc; you might want to check out a more modern variant if you’re worried that your mailbox is cluttered up.
The curse of duplication can be a problem at home, too, especially when it comes to photographs. Have you ever taken a memory card from a camera, or a backup of an old phone, and copied the whole lot just to be sure you have everything?
Cleaning up the dupes can help make sense of what remains. You could spend money on proper photo archiving and management tools like Adobe Lightroom, or you could roll your own methodology using a mixture of free and low-cost tools – tech pundit Paul Thurrott recently wrote about his approach.
There are many duplicate-removing tools out there – just be sure you’re getting them from a reliable place, free from adware and other nasties. Be wary of anything that purports to “clean” your PC (registry cleaners etc), watch out when accepting T&Cs and don’t allow the setup routine to install any other guff you don’t need. Make sure you have the right protection on your machine, too.
One recommended tool is Duplicate Sweeper – free to try but a princely £15 to buy, but worth the peace of mind that comes with a tidy photo library or Documents folder.