Tip o’ the Week #325 – your time, my time, everyone’s time

clip_image001Time is a subject that features regularly on ToW (tick, tock, tick, tock); maybe it’s a fact of getting older that it seems to speed up, or it could just be that the IT industry has for so long sold the vision of increasing productivity, that we start to believe it too.

If we become more effective in some ways, decreasing the time it takes to accomplish mundane stuff, will we spend the regained hours doing more stuff, or just fritter it away meaninglessly? Discuss, ad inifinitum.

Quick Time

One thing you could do when deciding what to do with all the spare hours the world of Yammer, Slack, Outlook, Skype etc has delivered, is to go right now and uninstall QuickTime from your PC. After 20 years of providing the Windows version, Apple has decided (to quote El Reg) to take QT for a long drive down a country road. The US Dept of Homeland Security advises immediate removal of QuickTime, since it contains zero-day vulnerabilities which Apple will not fix, ever. Whilst thinking about security, wonder about the effectiveness of the Thousands Standing Around at US airports, or consider if you really need to change your passwords after all.

Find Time clip_image002

A few months ago, a Microsoft Garage project released FindTime, an addin to Outlook and Office365 which allows a meeting organiser to send a request out to a group of people, to vote for when the best time to hold the meeting is. The best part is, the recipients don’t need to be using Office365, don’t even need to be in the same company – so you could ask your customers to join in the negotiation for when the best time to meet would be.

Tip o’ the Week #324 – Delve into something new

 Here’s one of those services that arrived in Office 365, and yet many users will never have noticed, or weren’t sure if it was a preview or some other kind of experiment (having first appeared around 18 months ago). Delve (just as well it’s not called dig or excavate) is a potentially phenomenally useful way of finding out what people you’re connected with are working on.

If you can get access to Delve (either on https://delve.office.com or via https://portal.office.com, depending on your account and level of access), then it’s well worth playing with it for a while, especially if you work in a large company like Microsoft, where all sorts of interesting stuff is being saved onto shared document folders.

One downside of Delve might be that nervous Nellies will stop putting their documents into shared areas in the fear that other people will read them, or that the default-to-open (for their internal staff) culture that typically pervades lots of companies will flip to an access-only-on-a-need-to-know-bassist.

Delve lets you see what documents are popular, what people you are connected with are doing, and lets you search by document content or by author. Want to see what FY17 holds for your org? Wondering what juicy PPTs your VP has been editing lately…?  Have a Delve…

Take back your time with Delve Analytics

Announced recently, the Delve Analytics function (available to O365 users based on their license type), shows you not just what other people are doing, but how you are performing too. The Delve Analytics dashboard and corresponding Outlook Addin lets you see how you’re spending your time, and who you’re spending it with, promising to help you make the most of it.

The Outlook addin surfaces Delve info within Outlook’s reading pane, so as long as you’re looking at colleagues who’re in the same Office 365 environment (which might be an issue in MSIT, where there are several tenants), you’ll see stats about how often and effectively you email with each other.

Here’s one example; judge not any of the numbers…


Eek. 3h 31m average response time. Must try harder to do less email and do more work.

Tip o’ the Week 323 – Some lesser-known Excel spreadsheetery

Spreadsheets did – or do, still – make the modern IT world go round. clip_image001Until Dan Bricklin and VisiCalc invented the familiar grid-based software environment, business school boffins had to manually write up large grids of numbers on blackboards, and routinely calculate the impact of changes in any one “cell” based on a book of formulae. An error-prone process that could, as you’d imagine, take a long time.

As it happens, VisiCalc powered the Jobs’n’Woz enterprise to mass success, as Apple IIs were selling (even fully kitted out at $5k+ a time, in the 1980s) to middle managers who were sick of the Data Processing department taking ages to turn around financial reports, so they took to sticking an Apple on their desk and doing the sums themselves. If you’re interested in all of this, see here.

This threat from Valley spooked Big Blue enough to worry about the mainframe franchise being under threat, and after a couple of false starts and a skunkworks project called Chess, the PC was born.

Lotus software quickly became the de facto spreadsheet provider running on PC-DOS (as it was so fast, meaning the spreadsheet jockeys ditched their Apple IIs and flocked to PCs), but Lotus got distracted with OS/2 while Microsoft’s Windows 3.0 started to gain traction. In place of WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3 and dBase, the 1st party Microsoft Office suite took early and full advantage of Windows, ultimately powering Office to the front. So, Excel trumped 1-2-3, just as Lotus eclipsed VisiCalc.

That means Microsoft Excel for Windows has been around for a very long time, and there are many functions you’ve probably never used – but there are loads of useful tips that could make your life easier. Here are a few…

  • Text editing – yes, yes. Spreadsheets are for putting in numbers, making calculations and drawing up charts… but some management types do like to go on about other stuff in text fields. Did you know if you press ALT+ENTER whilst entering text, you’ll add a new line to the text box and, most-likely, resize it in the sheet?
  • clip_image003Change the Enter key – when Power Users press ENTER, they mean, er… moving to the cell below? What if they’d prefer to move to the cell to the right? Well, you can change it … just go to File | Options | Advanced
  • The power of F4 – one of the handiest shortcut keys in any Office app, pressing F4 simply re-does whatever the last action was. Say you’ve just changed a cell’s format; well, instead of using Format Painter to select the formatting and paste it into another one, you could just press F4 to apply the same changes to another selected cell. And keep on pressing F4 to re-apply the same settings to other cells too. CTRL+Y has the same effect.


  • Stripey rows are a nice way of drawing differentiation within tables – if you select cells and use the Format as Table command on the Home tab, one of the side effects of tablifying your cells is to give you the option of making the rows and/or columns stand out from each other. If you want to apply the same sort of formatting to a block of cells without making clip_image006them act like a table (maybe you’ve copied and pasted cells from a proper table and then removed some of the rows, thereby breaking the colour sequence), then a simple trick is to apply formatting:
  • Select your block of cells then go to Conditional Formatting on the home tab
  • Choose a new rule, then use a formula…
  • Enter =MOD(ROW(),2)=0 as the formula itself and then click the Format… button to select the formatting you’d like to apply to every other row (fill a colour, for example). You could try the same trick with =MOD(COLUMN(),2)=0 if you’d prefer… or change the number to highlight only every 10th row, etc.
  • Add a calculator to the Quick Access Toolbar – the QAT was featured the other week, and here’s another clip_image008handy use for it. Although spreadsheets are great for calculation, sometime you don’t want to add a formula to process numbers, but would rather tot them up yourself and add the result to your sheet. If you’ve done this before, there’s no need to feel inadequate – assuage your tech guilt and put a shortcut to the Windows Calculator by clicking the down-arrow to the right of the Quick Access Toolbar, selecting All Commands from the drop-down, and then Adding the Calculator so you can launch it easily in future. (Or just press Windowskey+R then enter calc).

Tip o’ the Week 322 – Booking meeting rooms (again)

clip_image002As any fule kno, the //build/ conference was on last week. There was lots of news and updates and a good number of the sessions are on Channel9. If you liked Age of Ascent in ScottGu’s keynote, check out the next public Alpha on Saturday 9th April.

Building on last week’s ToW and on a topic that has been covered some time ago, let’s dig deep into the bowels of Outlook, going back almost 20 years to Outlook Forms to solve a very particular problem.

As per ToWs passim (like Eyes), every item (message, contact, appointment etc) you open in Outlook is a bag of data fields that are rendered in front of your eyes by a form. It’s possible to design and publish custom forms to do more stuff, or in this instance, to fulfil a specific function and by pre-populating some data and by hiding other extraneous information.

Show meeting rooms

Meeting rooms are often set up as bookable resources within Exchange & Outlook – so you invite the room to your meeting and it automatically accepts, meaning you’ve reserved that resource. When trying to figure which rooms are free, if you only have a few meeting rooms then it might be easy enough to just show their calendars from the Room List (eg here). If you’re using a more modern version of Outlook and/or have more than a few rooms to deal with, then Room Finder is more useful. See here and here.


As an end-user, though, you may find that your IT department doesn’t manage the rooms the way you’d like – in a new building, for example, there might be no room list published – so not much help if you’re trying to book a room.

Here’s a somewhat hacked-up solution which might be useful in other ways, though – it involves customising a form of your own, with your favourite rooms shown, so you can quickly check their availability. You could do the same thing with a group of people too, should you want.

Let’s get building

Start by going into your Calendar, and create a blank Appointment form, then follow the steps for adding the Design This Form command to the Quick Access Toolbar (or right-click the Ribbon when in a new clip_image005appointment, choose Customize the Ribbon, then tick the check-box next to the Developer option on the right hand side, which will now show the Developer tab on the Ribbon, with the Design This Form command on it).

clip_image007Now, add the list of meeting rooms (or people) you want to quickly check out by choosing the Invite Attendees option from the main Appointment tab. Once you have the list populated with everyone/every room you want, go into the Design This Form option as above.

Now you’ll have switched to a form clip_image009designer view that shows a bunch of tabs representing pages which can be shown or hidden. On the Appointment tab, clear the tick next to “Display This Page”, which will add brackets around the name of the tab (indicating that it’s now hidden). The only tab that will be shown is the Scheduling Assistant.


Now that’s all done, Publish the new form as a custom name (something like <building name> Meeting Rooms) then hit the Publish button. This will now save the form into your own Calendar folder, so it will be available from any PC running Outlook.

clip_image013To activate the form, select the time slot you’re looking for in your calendar, then go to New Items -> Custom Forms -> pick your newly-created form.

You’ll now see the custom form will display only the grid view of room availability, with all of the rooms ticked.

You won’t actually use this clip_image015form to make your room booking, but it will let you know which rooms are available and when (or not, as the case may be), so if you manage to find one that’s not booked already, you could right-click its name from the list on the left, copy the name, then paste that into a new appointment you can make for the same timeslot.

Make sure you close down the custom form without saving or sending anything.

This approach is nicely flexible in that you can create your own “lists” of favourite rooms (eg all large customer rooms with AV, or all rooms kitted out with Surface Hub, devices in any location etc).

If your desired selection changes, you can create a new form and Publish As using the name of an existing one to replace it (or open the existing custom form, enter Design This Form mode again, go to the Appointment tab and edit the list of invitees there).

If you’d like to delete old forms then from the main Outlook window, go into File | Options | Advanced | Developers | Custom Forms | Manage Forms, and click on Set… to navigate to your own calendar folder, then delete the forms you no longer need. Phew.

Tip o’ the Week 321 – Quick Access Toolbar customisation

Most of us will have used the Quick Access Toolbar in Windows Office apps – even if only to click the floppy disk icon to save documents, which, like many others, makes no sense to modern life. The QAT (not to be confused with other, phonetically similar terms) lets you dock commonly-used commands to be constantly available on the top corner of your favourite Office apps.

Click the downward arrow to the right of the QAT and you can quickly add extra commands, either chosen from a common list or by selecting pretty much any command from the gamut of menus offered in the Office application.

A common QAT command is the Touch/Mouse mode option that changes the spacing between menu items and the like, but there are many other useful commands that can quickly be added to the toolbar, that make it easy to do repetitive stuff or just things that are normally buried deeply in other menus. Let’s try a couple of examples.

In Outlook, try opening a message that someone else sent you (this one would be a good start); go to the QAT and click the down arrow to the far right side, choose More Commands… and then select “Developer Tab” from the Choose commands option. Now, pick the Design this Form option from the list and Add to the toolbar. Then press OK.

This will now add a new icon to the QAT, which will let you “design” whichever form you have open. In Outlook, a “form” is used to display Items such as email messages, contacts, calendar appointments etc. The QAT is content-sensitive to different forms, so if you add it to email, it won’t show up on appointments unless you add it there too.

In fact, adding to appointments is the best place to do it, since you can show the date and time that an appointment was created in your calendar; if you just find an appointment that you can’t remember the context of, you could quickly show the date/time you created it and that might help figure out how valid it is. If you have a meeting that someone invited you to, you’ll easily see the date/time it was sent, but if you’re the organiser, you won’t – unless you use something like Design This Form, then navigate to All Fields and choose Date/Time fields to show all the common date or time attributes of that form.

For more context, this topic was covered some time ago on the Electric Wand blog and a previous tip, #102.

Another example of QAT goodness is in OneNote – if you’re routinely using OneNote for account planning or status reporting, it’s quite handy to be able to colour cells or rows in tables to show their status, but the menu option to set the colour would need you to go into the table menu. To quickly add to the QAT for future easy access, click the down arrow / More Commands… / choose the Table Tools tab and look for Shading, then Add>> and OK.

Whilst you’re playing with any application’s QAT, it’s worth having a look through the other commands you might want to add – like while still in OneNote, try your favourite OneTastic macros, for example.

On the topic of OneNote (and we’re still talking about the desktop one, not the Modern App version), there have been some updates shipped out to Office365 users that could be interesting – especially the ability to search handwriting, not just scribbled using a Surface stylus or similar, but grabbed from a photo by OfficeLens. There’s a promise of a future update that will be able to search handwriting in any picture that’s dropped into OneNote.

This opens the door to being able to scan in old paper notebooks for easier reference/shelf space clearance, and ditch the dead tree notebooks for digital. If you’re like controversial car design Chris Bangle, you may beg to differ.

To check you’re on the latest version of OneNote via O365, go to the File menu, look under Office Account and the Office Updates section, and choose Update Now from under Update Options.

Tip o’ the Week 320 – Give Modern OneNote a chance

clip_image001OneNote is an application that inspires love from some of its devotees, even drawing one to start a  “IHeartOneNote” site (now defunct – maybe love knows some boundaries after all). Still, the OneTastic addin has enough to keep the true disciples busy.

If you really embrace note-taking when having meetings or phone calls, OneNote is an awesome way of collecting your thoughts for future recollection. Sometimes, reading back your notes might seem like jibberish, but at least you wrote something down.

There are basically two versions of OneNote on PC – the full-fat, Office app with all the menus and ribbons and clip_image002toolbars and stuff, and the modern app/Windows Store version which is now a Universal Windows Platform app (store linky), so runs on both PC and Windows 10 Mobile, and is also more usable for tablet-toters. [What will come of those when the sugar tax hits, who knows?]

Most hard-core OneNote users would default to using the Desktop version since, from the outset, the trusted/modern/metro version was considerably less functional. Over time, however, successive updates to the Store variant have improved its feature list, and added elements that have never been applied to the Desktop version, even if the overall look and function of the UWP app is lighter.

So, if you’re a OneNote user stuck in the world of Desktop OneNote, there are a few reasons to give the Modern version a whirl, if you haven’t recently.

  • It’s a rather good application. Now with >15k reviews on the Store, it’s averaging 4.4, which isn’t shabby
  • clip_image004It’s got automatic shape conversion – if you like to doodle on your screen with your stylus/pen/pencil, you’ll be able to get it to turn your vague approximations of geometric shapes into more defined ones. There’s still a bit of a lack of editing capability (like straightening squinty sides), but it’s neater than the alternative.
  • It’s not an either-or decision – you could run both Desktop & Store apps against the same notebooks
  • You can use the Modern app as a target for Sharing in other Windows apps. Remember the Windows 8 “Share” charm? It still lives to a degree in some Windows apps – like the Store. If you want to send your friends a link to a cool Windows app you’ve discovered, clip_image005for example, there’s a Share option within, and OneNote is one of the target apps you can send links to. Quite handy, really.
  • It’s been updated. There are new Mobile versions of Office apps, like PowerPoint, Excel and Word, and OneNote too

To to see if you’re running the latest version, try going into the Mobile/Modern app and click clip_image006the hamburger menu, choose Settings | About, and you should see 17.6769.1776x.0 if you’re running the current release (at time of writing, obvs). If you’re not seeing that release (or later), then try going into the Store app and kicking off the check for updates process.