#30: Snipping Smarter

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Wclip_image004indows’ Snipping Tool, used to capture an area of the screen, has been around for a long time in various guises, even threatened with cancellation at least once. Invoking the tool by pressing SHIFT+WindowsKey+S or just hitting the PrtScn button (if you have one) now displays a small dialog at the top of a dimmed screen.

You can choose to capture a static image (of a part of the screen, or the whole thing) or a record a video of a marked section of the screen, optionally with your own commentary – useful for sharing a quick “how to” video.

Another way of capturing the entire screen is to press WindowsKey+PrtScn, which can be useful when trying to grab menus and things that might disappear if you tried to interact with them – like the first image above, since the screen grab menu itself will disappear as soon as you click the mouse button.

As well as copying the snipped area to the clipboard, an updated Snipping Tool from about 18 months ago also saved them to a Screenshots folder, so it’s easy to go back and fish them out later. See 665 – Mind your screenshots for more details; it’s worth keeping an eye on that Screenshots folder so it doesn’t get overly large and/or contain stuff that you might not want to keep.

REDACT THE gggg TEXT

Some further updates to Snipping Tool have been happening of late; there’s some nice functionality which lets you extract text from the grabbed area to the clipboard (as paste-able text rather than an image), or to redact certain bits of the screen so as to preserve potentially confidential info.

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The Quick redact feature tries to identify some data types, but to manually scratch it out, just select the text you want to hide, right-click and choose Redact.

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When you’re happy, click the Copy button on the top right

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And that will put the fully redacted version into the clipboard, either replacing what was there before or adding it to the list if you have Clipboard History turned on.

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Another newish addition is the quick ability to feed your screen grabbed image to the Visual Search in Bing, effectively doing a reverse image lookup – just look in the menu on the top right.

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#29: The power of CTRL

Designer (7)The familiar computer keyboard has evolved over decades, even though some languages have obstinately different layouts; Germans have QWERTZ and French users have AZERTY, while Brits used to their usual keyboard might struggle to find the backslash on an American machine, and accidentally hit Enter when looking for the hash key.

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Most keyboards feature control keys on the bottom corners; designed as a “modifier” to be used in conjunction with other keys to activate certain commands, there are some well-known combos like CTRL+C and CTRL+V for copy and paste. There are outliers – German keyboards have Strg instead of Ctrl, and even an obsolete ISO standard says the key could be marked “”.

There are some occasions when the Control key is not just a straightforward modifier; aside from using Sticky Keys to keep it pressed, one somewhat hidden feature in the Edge browser turns Ctrl to good effect, for opening an image in a zoomable overlay window.

Many images embedded in web pages are much bigger than you might think; the source picture could be something like 2000×1500 pixels in size, but when displayed on the site, it’s reduced to 640×480. In such cases, you can use the CTRL key to magnify the original image without having to navigate away from the current page.

If the Edge window is in focus, move your mouse cursor over an image and try tapping CTRL twice; if the site can support it, you’ll see the image displayed in a pop-up window that lets you zoom in out (with the mouse scroll wheel or by stroking your laptop touchpad).

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If you have the PowerToys addon pack installed, you may also have Find My Mouse enabled, and that too uses one of the Control keys as its activator. Happily, if a little confusingly perhaps, both can co-exist so you’ll expand the highlighted image while temporarily spotlighting where your pointer is.

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#28: Recalling history

tl;dr – press WindowsKey+V on your Windows 10 or 11 PC. If you don’t have Clipboard history turned on, enable it. You’re welcome.

Microsoft unveiled a new range of Surface laptops recently; the foghorn headline is they’re not just PCs, they’re Copilot+ PCs with lots of AI goodness. There was also a lot of news from the Microsoft Build conference this week – Copilot might have mentioned once or twice, but I think they got away with it.

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The really big news for PC watchers is concerning the most recent attempt by Microsoft to move away from Intel to ARM processors; tried before with the Windows RT and Surface RT cul-de-sac, then later the Windows 10X project and the Surface Pro X which was ultimately superseded by an Intel-powered replacement.

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Apple showed that it was not only possible but desirable to move from power-hungry Intel to lightning fast ARM chips, delivering huge improvements in battery life at minimal expense of application compatibility. The new Surface Laptop 7 purports to deliver power and performance that will finally take the fight to Apple in-house ARM silicon.

As well as flashing the new hardware, Microsoft also announced a bunch of new capabilities coming to Windows, delivered by snazzy new hardware and the Copilot Runtime which will allow advanced AI computation to take place locally on the device, without having to round-trip to the cloud.

One such AI-powered feature is “Recall”, which captures what the user is doing on the PC over time and will use a local AI model to analyse the data, so you can ask it to bring back whichever document, web page or app you might have been using when you were doing or thinking about something.

So far, the use cases being discussed are a little basic (like “I saw a recipe for a goat’s cheese pizza but can’t remember where it was”) but it could prove really useful when in the wild.

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Remembering history

There are plenty of other places where history is recorded as you do your thang on a PC. Office apps remember documents you’ve been using in the past either by presenting the Most-Recently Used (MRU) list or letting you search across common document areas.

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Outlook will cache the email addresses you’ve sent to before, browsers like Edge have an extensive and searchable history of pages you’ve been to, and even Windows Explorer’s Home tab shows you all the documents you’ve opened recently alongside ones you might have pinned as favourites.

One history feature which is presumably switched off by default due to some sort of privacy worry, is one where when you start using it, you wonder how you’ve lived your life to date without it: Clipboard history. In a nutshell, CTRL+C and CTRL+V have been widely-used shortcut keys for copy & paste since before Windows was an apple in its creators’ eyes. Using WindowsKey+V to initiate a Paste, will present you a list of the last few things you put on the clipboard.

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It was covered in Old Testament ToW #670.

Remember Windows Timeline? It was a feature which recorded what the user was doing across many apps, browser sessions and different devices (even on mobile), synched to the cloud and presented in a logical, searchable timeline view. While it still exists in Windows 10, it wasn’t part of Windows 11 and since it relied on Cortana (RIP), the feature which remains has very much had its wings clipped.

“Recall” Chicken Licken

The old fairy tale of the chicken thinking the sky is falling (originally an Indian story about a hare, not a hen, and known by a variety of names around the world) was revisited in relation to Microsoft’s “Recall” feature which is part of this new range of Copilot+ PCs, enabled by the additional NPU chips (and not to be confused the Outlook’s “Recall” feature which purports to un-send a message but rarely works as expected, especially if sending to a lot of people).

The story behind the new Recall is that the PC will keep a history of everything the user does by screen-grabbing every few seconds, so that the user can later ask Copilot for help in remembering what they’ve done previously.

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Cue, heavy breathing from all sorts of commentators who’ve never even laid eyes on this thing being used. The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office – the Gov data watchdogissued a short statement and was widely reported as “looking into” the potential privacy concerns, however Microsoft was clear to point out that:

  • Recall will (initially) only work on these new (ARM) Copilot+ PCs and is in preview. Other PCs with Intel CPUs and Neural Processing Units (NPU) hardware will get the feature in time.
  • Recall will be enabled on initial PC or user setup, but can be switched off using the Settings menu and sys admins can centrally disable through policy; ditto, the length of time Recall will store data for can be tuned (and the amount of storage it uses).
  • Specific apps (and InPrivate browser windows) can be excluded from the screen-grabbery
  • It holds all the data in an encrypted store on the local PC and is only accessible by the user (i.e. not synced to the cloud, not readable by Microsoft or by any company administrator).

#22: A Moment in time

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As the sun momentarily disappeared for many, strange things happened – like 50 year-old album-closing songs from moon-related LPs making into the iTunes charts, alongside that 80s power ballad about dove throwing.

You might think days like these don’t happen very often, but they’re probably more regular than you think, though often the path of totality is not over such a populous area as the latest eclipse. Book your Airbnb in Cornwall ready for the next total eclipse in only 66 years, or hang out in London for the one after that? Still, this time at least, we survived the Rapture.

For more moon-related shenanigans, do go and see The Moonwalkers in London before October 2024, and check out the ever-engaging The Rest is History duo interviewing Tom Hanks and shooting the breeze about the fascination with the Apollo lunar missions.

Back on terra firma, this past week saw Microsoft push out the latest stack of updates to Windows 11 which provide fixes to known issues as well as tweaks to the operating system, including the previously-discussed ability to remove the click-bait “news” stories from the Widgets board that may be visible on the lower left of the task bar or by pressing WindowsKey+W.

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Windows 11 “Moment 5(remember the days when Service Packs didn’t need to be all Saturday Night TV with their names?) has been available for a while if you sought it out. You should see it – masquerading as the less exciting KB5036893 – in Windows Update; if your PC says you’re up to date, you should see it under Update history…

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As well enabling the switching off the stupid ads and AI-selected stories on the widgets board…

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… you’ll get undreamt of delights like tabs in Notepad, snap layout suggestions, accessibility improvements and more reliable nearby sharing, as well as new AI powered stuff in Copilot for Windows and in the Photos app (with Generative Erase to cut things out of photos).

#20: Choosing Characters

clip_image002Windows still has lots of really old bits that can trace their lineage back to Windows 95 or even before. One such app is “Character Map” – used for picking a specific letter or symbol from the many fonts available, the idea being that you can then paste it into the document you’re working on.

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Selecting some of the characters, you’ll see a “Keystroke” comment on the lower right; if you hold the ALT key down and type those numbers on your numeric keypad (only), it’ll insert that character in your document, email or whatever. Or just Select it, click Copy then paste as normal.

clip_image006There are other ways to choose characters, of course – press WindowsKey + . (ie Win+full-stop) and you’ll get the dialog introduced to make it easy to pick emojis, but which also presents myriad symbols.

Office Apps typically have a “Symbols” item on the Insert menu, which lets you pick the more commonly used ones too. There’s a somewhat obscure Office feature, too, where if you type the corresponding hex number (like 00F1 as in the screenshot above) then press ALT+X, it will convert that code to the requisite symbol. Insert a special symbol through another means, and if you put the cursor after it and press ALT+X, it will replace the symbol to show the code you could use – press ALT+X again and it’ll be back to symbol as before. How obscure.

21st Century Charmap

If you fancy a modern looking character chooser which also gives you lots of info about the fonts as well, check out the free 3rd-party Character Map UWP from the Microsoft Store.

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There are lots of other functions, like an easy visual comparison of different fonts – even if the default phrase has a quick brown dog and a lazy fox…

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See more on its history on GitHub.

#18: Linking Phones and PCs

If you’re using a PC with Windows 10 or 11 and you have a smartphone, it’s worth exploring the Microsoft Phone Link app which lets you interact with the handset from your computer.

Microsoft has made several attempts to link phones and PCs, from the Continuum feature at the twilight of Windows Phone’s life (before it was knifed) to a variety of bespoke apps for Samsung devices and ultimately “Your Phone”. The latter has now evolved and expanded to be “Phone Link”. The array of features varies slightly depending on what OS your phone is using, and which manufacturer it originates from.

The app is likely pre-installed on Windows; make sure it’s up to date. It then needs to pair with a companion app called Link to Windows on your phone – either Android or iOS. For step-by-step instructions on how to set it up, see Sync Your Smartphone to Your Windows Computer.

For Android users, arguably the most compelling quick win is being able to easily access Photos without requiring them to have synced to Google Photos or OneDrive first – while the phone is connected to the PC either via Bluetooth or through the same WiFi network, you can interact with the last 2,000 photos on the device’s camera roll, so copying and pasting them into other apps is a snap.

iPhone users will have to use other means to get their hands on pics, at least for now.

The Phone Link app allows notifications on the device to be seen and managed on PC, which sounds more useful than it really is. It can also set the PC up to use the phone to make and receive calls (think of it like the PC is a smart Bluetooth headset), though some handsets might be a bit flaky. It seems even new phones don’t always provide the right level of support for some features to work well, such as Google nobbling the ability to output to an external display over the USB-C port on Pixel phones (a behaviour which will be fixed, at some point).

Some Android devices will allow you to display and control phone apps on the PC itself (or even mirror the whole phone screen) – which can be very useful, especially if you’re having to input a reasonable amount of text. It’s pretty much always going to be quicker to type on a keyboard than tap on a screen. Other options do abound, though, depending on the apps you use – there’s a native WhatsApp client for the PC, for example, so you could use that rather than relying on Phone Link.

You can use the PC to work with text messages on the phone, even supporting iMessage for Apple devices. Arguably the handiest part is when you get a text message as part of a multi-factor authentication sequence like logging into a bank account. The notification which Phone Link displays includes a “copy” shortcut so you can easily grab the code and paste it into the waiting logon page… even if the phone is on the other side of the room.

#16: All about dat font

Typography and the use of lettersets and fonts was the preserve of (mostly) men working in the printing industry, until the invention of the laser printer alongside DTP and word processing software brought to the masses that ability to have 20 different fonts in all the sizes you like in a single document.

Historically, using lots of fonts, sizes and weights might have been a way of attracting attention – look at the 1843 poster which was the inspiration for John Lennon to write “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite” as one example …

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… but these days, simplicity and consistency is generally preferred.

For a fascinating diversion into modern history, check out Jock Kinnear and Margaret Calvert’s seminal work on the UK’s motorway signage. Most people wouldn’t give it a second thought, but carefully designing the font and the layout of the signs to be employed in the late 1950s was a central part of the rollout of the new motorway network.

To test how legible signs might be at speed, an assembled group of volunteers sat on a platform at RAF Benson airfield while sample signs were driven past on the roof of a car. The thinking was that if you’re travelling as fast as 60mph, you won’t have time to read the words on a sign, instead relying on their shape – so the consistency of capitalization, the tail of the g and the stem of the h in Birmingham become second nature to the driver.

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For more font-related history, check out Simon Garfield’s surprisingly engaging Just My Type.

Back to the present

Typeface trends tend to be a dating mechanism; Times New Roman looks very mid-1990s, whereas cool kids would use a sans serif default like Arial. Microsoft switched to using the newly designed Calibri for Office 2007, moving from a default font whose primary purpose was to look good in print to one which was specifically designed to be readable on screen. Similarly, the Segoe font family took a leading role as the default font for Microsoft logos and in the UI of many apps.

Incidentally, if you want to try a font out to see how it looks in a large block of text, you can enter =lorem(nnn) onto a new line in Word, and it will generate nnn paragraphs of the ‘lorem ipsum’ cod Latin gobbledygook to fill your pages up. Or you could go to Copilot or ChatGPT and ask it to write a 1,000 word essay for you

Well, Calibri’s default-ness has been under threat for a few years – Microsoft announced its intent to switch and outlined several new fonts which might be the default. Last year, it announced the decision to switch Calibri to a newly-named font called Aptos, previously known as Bierstadt.

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After a period of testing for preview customers, the switch has now been flicked and M365 users will see Aptos as their default. Cue some amusing anthropomorphism of the fonts’ particular characters and histrionic headlines from the usual clickbait foundries.

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#15: The Pointer Evolution

clip_image002Some computer users might put time into customizing their environment, perhaps using themes that specify colours, backgrounds, sound schemes and the like. Themes first arrived on the PC with Windows 95 (even being a billed feature as part of the Plus! Pack) and still persist in Windows 11, though it’s a fair bet that most people leave things as they are, apart from picking a suitable colour scheme from the range of defaults and then setting a personalized background photo.

clip_image003One of the innovations introduced in Windows NT and later into 95 was the ability to have animated cursors – like the old “busy” hourglass icon which was replaced with one which turns over and over, a motif superseded by a pulsing circle for Windows Vista.

clip_image004There used to be whole mouse pointer schemes with fun icons, like the waddling dinosaurs, whose removal between Vista and Win7 caused some angst in end user communities.

If you feel like introducing some old-world nostalgia, it’s possible to get hold of a variety of static and animated pointers, and then somewhat laboriously add them by clicking the Mouse cursor option in Settings > Personalisation > Themes, which brings up a Windows XP era dialogue to select from one of the preinstalled cursor schemes, and edit each individual pointer …

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The Power of Toys

The whole topic of meeces got some fresh news when Microsoft listed a new feature in the latest “Canary” build of Windows, as fed to the most eager of the Windows Insiders program: there’s a new mouse position indicator, which draws a giant crosshair over the top of the screen with the current mouse position at its focus. This kind of thing can be handy for finding a tiny pointer on a giant screen.

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Regular readers might recall that some variant of this feature is already part of the ever-evolving PowerToys add-in for Windows 10 or 11, as discussed in 673 – Where is my mouse?

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clip_image011The Crosshairs option in PowerToys is enabled by a keyboard shortcut though can be a little distracting as it’s persistent until you switch it off again; PowerToys’ other Find My Mouse feature is arguably more useful as it quickly dims the screen then puts a spotlight on where your pointer is, before returning to normal. It can be activated by a double-tap of the control key or you can set it to show up when you shake the mouse.


#14: Meetings are a drag

Last week’s rant on New Outlook’s stupefying licensing enforcement was quickly and neatly responded to by Microsoft Outlook Product Manager, Allen Filush, in a comment and more publicly on a blog post which had neatly been written the week before. Chapeau, Allen… Anyway, a new release of New Outlook also neatly deals with the issue and now allows you to add certain M365 subscriptions that were previously blocked, and should be available now.

The scourge of feature parity

One of the problems inherent in widely used software which has been around a long time, is that of technical debt. Microsoft saddled itself hugely with the effort of backwards compatibility in old versions of Windows; occasionally companies will take the other approach and sacrifice short term user pain for the benefit of moving forward quickly.

It’s never easy building a new application which is intended to take the place of the old, without necessarily replicating all the features of its predecessor. Cutting some obscure shortcut key sequence that application telemetry tells you 0.1% of the userbase ever invokes, will still annoy the 0.02% of those who do it every day. One such deprecation – if you want to call it that – is to be found in New Outlook.

A bit of Drag and Drop history

The metaphors of drag & drop were present at the outset of the Graphical User Interface, as an easy way of moving files around. Other forms of drag & drop have evolved since – like clicking on a tab in your browser, and dragging it off the window to launch a new window with just that tab in, or dragging browser tabs between open windows.

Edge even has an experimental new feature called Super Drag and Drop which lets you open a link in a new tab by dragging it as you click on it.

If you like opening other stuff while reading online articles, but want them to open in a new tab, just hold Control key down as you click on them, or enable Super Drag and do it with a deft flick of the wrist.

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To the chagrin of some Windows 10 users, one of the side-effects of the redevelopment / simplification of the taskbar in Windows 11 was the lack of drag & drop support; previously it was possible to drag a file from Explorer and by hovering it over an icon in the taskbar, that app would open up and let you open that file by dropping it in. That was no longer possible in initial versions of Windows 11 but was hurriedly re-implemented.

Outlook Droppings

One handy trick in Old Outlook, was when you wanted to turn an email into a calendar appointment. Some people like to use their calendar as a task list, so if they intend to reserve time for something, they might start from the email they need to work on. In the Outlook Heritage Edition™️ you could simply drag an email from your Inbox to the Calendar icon on the Wunderbar to generate an appointment in your diary with the contents of the email. It might throw away some of the formatting and the attachments etc, but at least it was a start.

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Try doing that in New Outlook and you’ll get less success. You’ll get a little “denied” icon if you try to drop your email onto the calendar node, so what to do? Copy all the contents to the clipboard, switch to calendar, create an appointment and paste the contents in… ?

Quick Steps to the Rescue

The old Outlook app had a Quick Steps capability where users could define easily-repeatable tasks, like moving an email to a specific subfolder, categorizing it or creating related tasks.

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The New Step wizard lets you select from a list of pre-defined templates, including picking up the content of your email and creating a new meeting or appointment with it.

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But that’s old Outlook, the one that might one day be replaced by New Outlook. Though some of the decades’ worth of Outlook functionality has been left behind, Quick Steps are not one of them.

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That said, not all of the Quick Steps templates carry over – including that thing with the Appointments seen in Dusty Old Outlook. But there is a workaround.

When you put something in your calendar, that’s an appointment. As soon as you invite other people or resources to it, then it’s now a meeting. They are handled differently even though they’re closely related – you save an appointment, you send a meeting request, for example. New Outlook can has a quick step that could be useful.

Create a new quick step (by going into Manage quick steps) and near the bottom of the list, you’ll see the option to Reply with meeting. You can add other stuff like assigning categories, putting in a description which will show in a tool tip if you hover over the quick step or give it a shortcut key if you want to use it all the time.

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When you click on the new quick step, it will add a new draft meeting to your calendar, insert the recipients of that email to the invitation, and copies the body text of the source message into the main part of the new meeting). It does a better job of formatting than the old Outlook version, but still dumps any attachments, sadly. (A useful scenario could be adding an email about an event with attached PDF tickets to your calendar, but you could always put the attachment in manually, later).

If you remove the attendees (and change the “Teams Meeting” toggle if that’s on by default), you can then simply save the appointment in your own calendar.

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There are other ways of doing the same thing, though the UI is somewhat inconsistent. In the preview pane, if you click the “…” ellipsis at the top right of a message, you’ll see the option to reply with a meeting or forward as an attachment.

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Open the message up in its own window and the ellipsis gives a single-click Respond with meeting option:

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#13: New Outlook gets in own way

Many people rely on email for their work, and in some cases the inbox and calendar are the primary tools they use. Gen Z’ers might put up a struggle on entering the workforce, preferring to commune via instant messaging or Tik Tok, but for the most part we know that email isn’t going away. Unless you have an alternative product to sell, that is.

The Outlook application that comes with Microsoft 365 and Office suite has been with us since 1997, but can trace some of its roots back some years before that. Students of history may want to delve into the writings of ex-Office supremo (who went on to bring Windows 8 upon the world), Steven Sinofsky, as he revisits some of the tensions between and the decisions being made by the various development teams. There’s a good one on Outlook’s gestation, or the one where BillG gets presented with the idea for the Office Assistant: 042. Clippy, The F*cking Clown.

In a trope briefly discussed last week, we all know how Microsoft has historically loved to use the same name for wildly different things. “Outlook” is one such case – at various times, the core application which has had quite different capabilities during its growth (especially the difficult second album version, Outlook 98) and the name was associated with a whole slew of other products and/or services.

In the Windows 95 / Internet Explorer 3 days, there was a free app called “Microsoft Internet Mail and News” which combined internet email – POP3, IMAP4 – and the long-dead USENET newsgroup infrastructure based on the NNTP protocol. This was rebranded as “Outlook Express” even though it had nothing to do with the main Outlook application; the actual executable file for Outlook Express was still MSIMN.EXE for its whole life…

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[Outlook Express … the solution for all your messaging needs…]

The Exchange Server that sat behind much corporate email added a web view of your mailbox back in 1996, called Exchange Web Access, later renamed Outlook Web Access and then Outlook Web App. As the functionality developed, so the old Hotmail.com service was rebranded Outlook.com, and the functionality of Outlook Web App for Exchange users and the free Outlook.com web client converged to a degree, as Outlook.com was moved to the same Exchange-based Microsoft 365 infrastructure.

Then there’s the mobile Outlook apps – Microsoft acquired email and calendaring companies Acompli and Sunrise Calendar, and folded their stuff into the highly-regarded Outlook mobile applications for iOS and Android.

Finally, when Windows 10 released, there were built-in Mail and Calendar applications; in fact, it was the same application under the hood, but it could be started with different criteria which would set how it looked. This app is still available in the Windows Store and came with OG versions of Windows 11. If you delve back to August 2018 and Tip o’ the Week 445 – Finding Modern App names, you’ll see how to find out what “modern apps” are really called within the system; as it happens, under the hood, the Mail and Calendar app was … ms-outlook.

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One Outlook to rule them all

There has been a long held dream in Microsoft of having a replacement for the sometimes creaky old PC Outlook application and the Windows 10/11 Mail & Calendar app, to bring them together under a shiny new application. Sometimes known as “Project Monarch” or “One Outlook”, this new version will use web technologies to effectively be running Outlook Web App but with offline capability, on your PC or Mac.

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Spot the difference? The New Outlook above has lots of mail accounts added with different inboxes etc pinned to Favourites. Here’s the same primary mailbox in Outlook Web App:
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The New Outlook for Windows has been available in preview for a while, and you might be getting nagged to migrate from Windows Mail to try it out, or if your M365 administrator hasn’t switched off the prompt, you could even be getting it in full-fat Outlook.

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Having been in Preview for a while, Microsoft announced in September 2023 that this new client is now generally available, and was to be pre-installed on latest versions of Windows 11. By the end of 2024, the old Mail & Calendar apps on Win10/11 will no longer be supported and won’t be available in the Store anymore. It could be a long time coming to migrate desktop Outlook users to the new-fangled version, but the signalling is saying it’s happening someday.

Check those horses

By all means, have a play with the New Outlook – it’s actually pretty good, if you don’t get 10,000 emails every day; in fact, if you have several accounts, it does a better job of keeping on top of them all than old Outlook does (though, arguably, not as well as Mobile Outlook, which lets you see a single Inbox view of all accounts). If you decide to go for it, then you’ll still have access to the Old Outlook app as well (should you need it), and if you’re moving from Windows Mail to New Outlook and don’t like it then the move back should be smooth too.

But currently, there is a gotcha. And it’s the cold hand of license enforcement mistakenly stopping play.

Users of certain M365 subscriptions – Business Basic, or Exchange Online Plan 1 as two examples, are being blocked from using the New Outlook as their license supposedly doesn’t allow it. There is a confusion having a license for a piece of software, and having the rights to use your software against a separately licensed service.

If you look at Compare All Microsoft 365 Plans, you’ll see that Business Basic include “Web and mobile apps only” for Outlook; another way of putting that is “you don’t get the Office applications on your PC or Mac” by buying that subscription. But what if you had the actual software already, through another route? If you have a M365 Family subscription, you can install the Office apps on 6 machines, and there’s nothing stopping you from connecting to a separately-paid-for M365 Business Basic mailbox from your legitimately-licensed Outlook application.

But New Outlook thinks differently. Trying to add a low-cost M365 mailbox gets you an unhelpful error:

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Raise a ticket through official support and you’ll be told “you can access your mailbox by upgrading to a premium subscription”. The irony of “Add all your email accounts” is also not lost (especially since free services like Gmail, Outlook.com and Yahoo! seemingly have no problem), but penny-pinching paid-for Microsoft 365 subscriptions do.

Looking at the Exchange Online Service Description

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The service that is being paid for should allow access from “Outlook for Windows”. Regardless of whether that means the full-fat Outlook app that you have to buy, or the freely available “New Outlook”, this document says you can access those mailboxes. But the New Outlook app is now enforcing something different.

Predictably, there are furious users on the internet. The Powers That Be have been made aware and are trying to think up an appropriate way round the issue, apparently. How about, don’t be a Doofus, Rufus? Excellent!