631 – Why does nobody share calendars?

A paper calendarBack in the late 1980s/early 90s, IBM had an internal email system called NOSS – an implementation of PROFS, a text-only mainframe-based system delivered via a terminal.

Even in 1990, NOSS allowed any user to browse a hierarchical directory (showing contact info, job titles, manager/reporting relationships etc), email or instant message anyone, and look at their calendar to see what they block of text about IBM's NOSSwere doing. It was 10 years before you could do all those things using Microsoft Windows and Office. In recent years, Big Blue’s email environment has seemingly been less happy.

When Microsoft Exchange first came out, email was handled with the Exchange client and calendaring was from Schedule+, which had been updated to support Exchange (and lives on in some backward Microsoft lingo, where people who start every sentence with “So,” ask you to send them an S+, meaning, invite them to a meeting). Outlook came along in 1996 and became the preferred and unified way to do email, calendars, address books etc.

Schedule view of free/busySome organisations had a default policy when new mailboxes were created that their calendar was shared Read-only, so anyone in the company could see it. You could open someone’s calendar fully in Outlook or by viewing the scheduling tab in a meeting, where you will typically see if a list of people are available or not. Others might have it that only free/busy info is visible by default, and that is pretty sub-optimal.

With M365 in general, newly-created mailboxes have no calendar sharing set up, and the action is on the user to choose how to let co-workers see their info.

Be a nice person, and check to make sure your colleagues can view your calendar.

Ideally, share so that others will see the title and location of any appointment; useful when someone is trying to arrange a meeting, as within the schedule view they can figure out if you are likely to be able to make the proposed meeting time – if your diary is full of blocks marked busy or tentative, they’ll have no idea if you really are in a meeting or have just marked time to do something that you might be happy to move. Or had a colleague’s FYI notice of being on holiday obliterate the view of your calendar.

In the early days of Exchange/Outlook, if you had read access to someone’s calendar, you could open up appointments, see who else was attending a meeting, download any attachments and so on, unless the appointment was marked “Private” – though it’s somewhat possible to open Private appointments programmatically if you know what you are doing.

OWA sharing persmissionsNowadays, calendar sharing is more granular – in Outlook Web App, go into Calendar and you’ll see the Sharing and permissions option, which will let you choose specific people and give them ability to see various details, or you can change the default for the whole organisation.

OWA sharing persmissions detailIn full-fat desktop Outlook, click on the Share Calendar option on the ribbon, and you’ll get a 1990s-style dialog box Sharing permissions in Outlookallowing you to set the default permissions or to invite particular team-mates to have higher level access should you want them to know where you are and with whom.

If you choose titles & locations, viewers can’t open your appointments to peer inside, so can’t see who else is attending or what the body of the meeting says, but they can at least see if you’re likely to need travel time between meetings. See here for more info on calendar sharing & delegate access.

630 – slimming your PPT

Piles of documentsPowerPoint files can get big. In the scale of small vs large, sending a many-megabyte PPT file around between a few people might not matter much, but if you’re building a presentation that is going to be widely shared, it could cost actual money – data storage costs, bandwidth charges on a website, carbon footprint for transmitting and storing etc.

Estimates of the energy cost to transmit and store data vary wildly, but if 1 GB cost 1 kWh power and the average CO2 output for generation was ~500g/kWh, then even shaving 10MB off a file can make a material difference if it’s going to be heavily used.

There are a few tricks you can follow to make your PPTs less massive – like compressing the images within, meaning that an embedded picture which was originally sized to print on a poster could be re-sized to fit on a screen.

File sizes sortedIf you see a few-slide presentation file and it’s dozens of MB in size, then there’s probably other info in the deck which is not necessary for your presentation. Even more likely is that there are some embedded graphic or video assets which are bloating the size of it. Quickly identifying the cause of such largesse might allow you to ditch the offending slide or resize/remove the content.

A somewhat cavalier way of looking for large things you can torch, is to make a copy of your PPTX file and then rename it so you can look within. The OfficeXML file formats (prevalent in Office 2007 and onwards) use the same compression as ZIP files, so if you rename your file as such, you’ll be able to open it in Windows Explorer or other ZIP handling utilities, to see its innards. Opening the file shows you a folder structure, and if you navigate into ppt \ media then sort by Size, you’ll quickly see what’s making your file so big.

File Name extensions optionActually doing the rename might be trickier than you think, since Windows hides by default such grubby detail as file extensions. One trick is to flip the switch to show extensions again (in Windows Explorer, look under View menu / Show / File name extensions), then it’s a simple matter of changing the file in Explorer by editing the last part of its name from .pptx to .zip.

Renaming file in ExplorerOnce you’ve confirmed in the warning dialog that the apocalypse is nigh and you really do want to change file type, open the new ZIP file and you’re off. Remember to go back in and switch off the Show > File name extensions option if you’re so inclined.

Renaming file, command lineIf you’re still unsure about these new-fangled “gooey” interfaces, you could crack open the command line to do it quickly.

Slide master viewIf all this grubbing about inside PowerPoint files makes you feel uneasy, there is one other trick that could yield dividends – look inside the Master. Since many people create a new presentation by starting with an old one, they liked, it’s very possible there are slide layout templates with embedded graphics that you no longer need – especially if the originating deck was produced for a conference.

Go into View menu and look under Slide Master, which will open a whole new tab specific to the management of these template slides that form the bones of the presentation. You may well see lots of title slides or similar, which have embedded background images – if you know you don’t need those graphics or those layouts, just delete them.

Closing Master viewPowerPoint generally won’t let you ditch a master layout which is being used to format the current slide deck; so, if you have your deck already built and want to distribute it, just go into the Slide Master view, delete everything which looks unnecessary and that PowerPoint will allow you to, then Close the Master view to return to the main menu. Once you’ve checked that the presentation format hasn’t been garbled, go File > Save As and give it a new name. Now compare the size of the new and old files.

Super Massive background graphic

This title slide in the Slide Master view had a graphical background which was 17Mb in sizefile sizes compared; just deleting all the unnecessary visual slide templates dropped the size of the original file from 110MB to 26MB.

Compress pictures dialogRunning the Document Inspector to remove other content further dropped another 1.5MB.

Selecting an image from one of the 70-odd slides in the deck, and choosing Compress Pictures from the Picture Format tab reduced it again to only 11MB, or 10% of the original file size – all for a few minutes’ effort.

Tools from Save As dialogGoing back to the original 110MB file and opening File > Save As, then choosing More options… will open a traditional Save As dialog box; on the bottom is a Tools > submenu which allows you to run the Compress Pictures function at the point of saving the file, so reducing it to 1/3 of the original size, for literally 15 seconds’ work.More options of Save as dialog

NB: the irony of sending a 2MB email to thousands of people, and sharing online and on LinkedIn, is not lost.

627 – Sleeping as Edge hits the ton

clip_image002Ever since Microsoft switched the Edge browser from its own page rendering technology to instead use the open-source Chromium, it benefits from regular rolling updates and the version number keeps increasing to match. If you use Edge already, you can see what release you have by going to the “…” menu > Help and Feedback > About Microsoft Edge or paste edge://settings/help into the address bar.

The release number ticked over from 99 to 100 recently, causing a few legacy websites to fall over: when you visit any site, your browser’s User Agent String identifies to the web server what type of client it’s dealing with, including the version number (so the server can modify the page to suit the client, if necessary).

In Shades of Y2K, a few sites balked at a browser showing up with a 3-digit number – if you have problems with any, you could make Edge stick to telling sites it’s running v99 – go to edge://flags/#force-major-version-to-minor on the address bar. Mozilla – creators of the Firefox browser which also uses Chromium – tracked known issues in sites and which ones have been fixed.

As well as taking whatever goodies come from the evolution of Chromium, the Edge development team can devote more of their time building stuff with a view to making Edge better than other browsers.

clip_image004One feature which made it into Edge a while back is sleeping tabs; meaning open tabs you haven’t used it for a while can be put into an inactive mode and consume less memory, CPU and ultimately, power.

Look in Task Manager (CTRL+SHIFT+ESC) and you’ll likely see lots of entries underneath the Edge application; some are processes in support of the overall app, Extensions and the like, but you’ll also see each Tab appear separately. If you think Edge is running amok, it’s worth looking here to see if some specific site is chewing up CPU and consuming lots of memory.

clip_image006Tab sleeping has been updated and given extra capabilities to manage tabs which are inter-connected, reckoned to mean that 8% more tabs will be put to sleep. When a tab is dozing, it typically saves 99% of CPU and 85% of memory compared to when running.

Other updates which came into v100 include some changes to handling of PDF files and some tweaks to policy-based control and other improvements to the way the browser works.

The Performance view on sleeping tabs Is rolling out now; if you don’t see it in Settings, then sit tight, or try visiting the Edge Insiders site and install one of the test versions, either Canary (daily updates – not really recommended for the average user), Dev or Beta; pre-release and stable versions of the browser can be run side-by-side so there’s low risk in having both on your machine.

For more information on browser evollution, keep an eye on the release notes for the Beta channel and watch the release schedule for when to expect further browser updates. There’s a feature tracker too, to see what’s in development and learn what’s coming, and summary news is regularly shared via the What’s New blog.

626 – Android Link

clip_image002Leaving aside dewy-eyed recollections of Windows Phone, Android and iOS mirror Windows and MacOS in many ways – the latter being more closed and single-supplier while the former is relatively open and available from a large number of providers. Android has a far larger market share than iOS, even if the cognoscenti seem to flock to the Apple device.

Microsoft has made great strides in the Satya Nadella era to embrace other ecosystems, from releasing Office apps for iOS to wide support of Android to emulate some of the best bits of Windows Phone.

clip_image004One way of making your Android device more integrated to your Windows PC has just been refreshed and renamed – Phone Link.

Previously known as Your Phone, this app lets you access a variety of features of your phone from your PC; from reading and sending SMS messages and working with photos easily, to making and taking calls using your PC as a headset to the phone.

clip_image006The UI has been updated to follow Windows 11 design, the app is easy to set up and activate – head to aka.ms/phonelink.

There are some things you can’t easily do with Phone Link, though – while it will mirror notifications you receive on the phone, it doesn’t necessarily allow you to interact with the app that generated them (eg a notification from Twitter won’t let you open the Twitter app to view the full thing). It does allow you to clear notifications though, so if you’re the type with loads of unacknowledged notification badges on your phone, this could be a good way to get rid of them.

While on the topic of mirroring, it is also possible to use WhatsApp on your PC – so you can type messages and paste photos etc into WhatsApp messages, without dealing with the vagaries of autocorrect on the phone.

625 – Journaling now and then

Compaq Tablet PCMemoirs and autobiographies are the top selling non-fiction books for good reason, as people like to recall past events through the words and thoughts of someone who was there, in the room or even in the driving seat. World leaders who write their tell-all book on what happened 20+ years ago, better have great memories or perhaps a trove of notes and diary entries from the time. If they are fans of journaling, they would have of-the-moment musings, written down to help clear their minds at the time – on committing thoughts to her diary, Anne Frank wrote, “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

Turning to technology and looking back to relatively near-term history brings up all kinds of product that was ahead of its time or was ultimately overtaken by other developments that nobody saw coming. Sometimes, the perfect blend of genius, timing, execution and luck combines and creates a durable and wildly successful category – like the Smartphone and the plethora of services and apps that were created.

Inversely, one of those tech innovations that was just a bit ahead of its time was the Tablet PC; a fully-functional Windows PC that was blessed with a pen and touch screen so you could take notes by hand just like on paper, yet by flipping it around it could be used to run Office apps and all the other stuff you’d need a PC for, 20 years ago.

Windows Journal appIn hindsight, the idea of the Tablet PC was 10-15 years ahead of the technology that was needed to really make it work – the pen and screen digitizer were a bit too low-res; the processing power and memory was not up to the mark of providing the kind of user experience that the vision hoped for. The battery life was too poor while the whole thing was too heavy. Nowadays, with devices like the Surface Go and the iPad Pro, the reality is much closer – even if the dream of writing meeting notes by hand has been made somewhat obsolete by transcription and the fact that fewer people use a pen to write any more.

One new app that was built for the Tablet PC to take advantage of its pen, was Windows Journal, a relatively simple yet effective note-taking app, with surprisingly good handwriting recognition built in.

To read more from someone who was in the room – figuratively and, at times, literally – around the time of Tablet PC, the Journal software and the Office app originally called Scribbler which went on to become OneNote, check out Steven Sinofsky’s Hardcore Software post. It’s a fairly long but fascinating read.

Using pen and paper for taking meeting notes might be less popular now, but many of us will still jot down reminders or lists on Post-it notes, perhaps doodling on paper to help creativity and flow. If you have a pen-capable computer now, the newly released Microsoft Journal app is worth a look.


Billed as an app for digital ink enthusiasts, this new Journal presents a modern take on the original Windows Journal idea – an infinitely scrollable canvas for jotting down anything, though with AI capabilities in the app providing quiet yet powerful functionality. Journal started as a research project (from the “Garage”), but has now graduated into a fully-fledged, supported app. Read more about it here.

Microsoft Journal appMaybe time to take a leaf from erstwhile storyteller Steve Clayton’s Friday Thing, and spend a few minutes every day handwriting a journal. Now where did I put that pen?

623 – What’s .new pussycat?

clip_image002Many products evolve due to exposure to their competitors – adopting and refining the best features, and sometimes that evolution even starts to overtake the original. Many traditional desktop applications moved to online variants or were supplanted by newer concepts, such as shifting to mobile apps. Experiences that were clunky – like banking – moved to sometimes lower-functionality but more convenient apps, just as consumers adopted mobile payments and contactless cards.

Having blazed a trail with email in Hotmail and later Outlook Web Access, in 2010 Microsoft launched the first version of the Office web applications, meaning you could run lightweight Word, Excel and PowerPoint in your browser, as a companion or even as an alternative to the full-fat desktop versions.

A few years earlier, Google Docs released as an online word processor (and later, other types of productivity apps, rebranding as G Suite and now Google Workspace). There are pros and cons of the browser-only experience; you tend to sacrifice some functionality compared to the desktop applications in favour of ubiquitous availability, though web clients can be updated more easily and sometimes new features appear there first – as ToW #605 covered, with snoozing email.

Check out What’s new in Excel for the web or look for the summary covering Visio, Forms, Words and more, here.

clip_image004Not sure about living in a browser? Modern-living afficionados can get by, using only web apps like Outlook, OneNote, To-Do and more.

If you like being browser based rather than desktop boundclip_image006, you could start a new document from the address bar by simply entering word.new, excel.new or powerpoint.new. Others include docx.new, ppt.new, teams.new, sway.new

clip_image008You could add such links to your browser favourites; therefore, a new doc is but a single click away.  There are many more .new shortcuts – Google’s in-house domain registry launched the service a few years ago, so not unsurprisingly, Mountain View hoovered up a lot of the relevant ones if you’re of a Googly persuasion. See docs.new, sheets.new or slides.new, mail.new

622 – Lights, camera, action!

Movie Maker logoMany years ago, computer operating systems competed for the attentions of those who cared about such things by bundling other apps and experiences that might previously have cost extra – media players, web browsers, simple word processors and the like. After the turn of the millennium, as consumer digital video started being a thing, editing packages were added to that list and Microsoft joined the fray with its Movie Maker offering, initially included as part of the much-maligned Windows ME.

Movie Maker is sadly no longer with us, and if you find something online that purports to be Movie Maker then it very likely isn’t. Bowing out finally in 2017, Windows Live Movie Maker (because everything was Live in the days, just as everything was .NET before that) had been developed to be a freely-downloadable and pretty capable video editing package, offering simple to use features to crop and adjust video, add incidental titles, music and the like. It was replaced with some much more basic video editing clip_image004capabilities in the Photos app, also appearing as “Video editor” if you search for that from the Start menu.

There must be a lot of stored up love for Movie Maker, as searching the web for it will give you hundreds of “Movie Maker alternative” downloads, many of which are even published in the Microsoft Store.

Be careful of the “Free+” clip_image005labels in the store, though… it probably means that after you spend an hour figuring out the often confusing UI of whatever app you’re trying out, it’ll knobble your video by only allowing you to save the first 2 minutes, or slapping a watermark on it unless you pay extra for the not-quite-so-free version.

Shotcut video editor

If you’d like a fully-featured, completely free† video editing application and are prepared to put in a bit of work to figure out how to use it, then look no further than Shotcut. It’s open source, cross platform, and has numerous extensions and addins to enable pretty much any kind of effect you may want.

† It’s in the Store, too, meaning it’s clean and keeps itself updated too but costs $10 since you no longer need to visit the ad-supported website to get updates, thus supporting the developer. Comme ci, comme ça.

Clipchamp video editorClipchamp

Another video editor of interest which manages to do a good job of having lots of powerful features but without being bewildering to use, is Clipchamp. It, too, is in the Store, though it’s actually browser-based so you can just go to the site, sign up for a free account and start playing.

The free version is missing functions from the paid-for ones, and also only lets you export video at DVD-quality resolution of 480p. Great if you’re planning to watch your vids on a 1990s CRT television.

If you want to use the more 2010 HD-era 1080p (the max res for Clipchamp, unlike the 2020s 4K that Shotcut and every modern smartphone can support), then you need to pay extra; a not-inconsiderable $19 per month, at least. A fact not lost on Brad Sams and Paul Thurrott at First Ring Daily, who commented on the fact that Clipchamp is being included in forthcoming versions of Windows 11 as a built-in app. Maybe pricing will change in time.

Yes, Microsoft acquired Clipchamp 6 months back, and hopefully its evolution will mean that in these tough times, it becomes a little less swingeing to use it properly. Find out some more about using Clipchamp, here.

Oh, one more thing. Sign into the Clipchamp app with a Microsoft.com email address rather than a Microsoft Account, and you’ll get an activation link sent via mail. Click that and you’ll be in the high-fidelity, first-class-travelling set of Business Platinum, for free. Bonus!

621 – Working Time Directive

Analog watch with GMT handTime Zones have featured lots on ToW; in an epoch when everyone was holed up WFH, the relative time people were at became especially important when trying to meet with them. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable that meeting times are unpalatable to some attendees if they’re in a far-flung time zone, but it’s worth reminding yourself how distant they are when trying to find the best time slot to speak with them.

There are whole genres of mechanical watches which can display multiple time zones (check out GMT or World Time if horology is your thing), or you could rely on phone or computer-based aides-memoire, such as displaying multiple time zones alongside your calendar in Outlook, using the Windows Clock app with its world clock view, or even showing several clocks on the Windows task bar.

Teams contact card showing time zone infoA new addition to the arsenal of time zone tooling is a neat feature that’s appeared in the contact card in Teams and Outlook, showing you what the time is for the person you’re looking at. The time displayed is set by the device they’re using, so if on Windows, that’s the Time Zone setting.

Outlook Time Zone optionsWhen travelling, rather than just manually winding the clock back or forward, it makes sense to set the correct time zone on your machine – either by allowing Windows to change it automatically or by specifically choosing it from the list.

If you have multiple time zones displayed in Outlook, you can switch between them from the settings page – just right-click on the timeline to the side of the calendar and choose Change Time Zone, or go to File | Options | Calendar and look for the settings in there.

When you swap them around inside Outlook, it will change the time zone on your PC.

In some parts of the world, there’s pressure to prevent “work” from creeping into personal time, meaning emails and other messages should be held back and not Viva Insights delay deliverysent during what’s supposedly down-time. Ireland has published a “right to disconnect” code of practice, and Portugal even made it illegal for an employer to contact their workers outside of working hours.

If you’re using the right kind of Microsoft 365 subscription, Outlook can offer to delay emails you’re sending to people who are in different time zones – part of the Viva Insights package.

Choosing this action has a similar effect to the Delay Delivery Outlook's delay delivery optionoption which is visible on the Outlook toolbar, except that it won’t need Outlook to be running; the regular Delay feature leaves a message in your Outbox folder, and that normally means the Outlook client needs to be running at the time you want it to be sent.

The Viva-powered delay option holds the message on the server until the allotted hour, and then delivers it to the recipients – handy if the sender is already outside their working hours by that point

620 – Change your P@ssw0rd!

clip_image002Bad Actors are all over the internet (not just in your local multiplex), mostly aiming to gain access to data and systems for nefarious purposes, though sometimes they try to do good. Data breaches generally start with the weakest link in the chain: PEBKAC, in other words, It’s Your Problem.

Identity protection company SpyCloud reports that more than two-thirds of passwords which have been breached online are still in use and most users still have the same username and password combo across multiple accounts. If you want to keep your own personal identity and data safe, it’s job #1 to make sure you have unique passwords for each website you use, and that the passwords are not made up of guessable words or phrases.

clip_image004clip_image006The Edge browser gives you some tools to manage your passwords better – look for the Password Generator, or the drop-down Suggest strong password option, when you’re registering a new sign-in, and it will generate a long and complex password, stored in your account so in future you can be automatically signed in.

clip_image008Some sites don’t trigger the password generator or suggestion – perhaps due to how they describe or display the password field(s) – so another option is to use a browser extension like btPassnumerous others are available. It simply drops an icon on the browser toolbar and will show a password of varying complexity and length, which can be quickly copied to the clipboard and pasted into password fields. Since some sites don’t like special characters in the password, you can tweak or edit the text it creates.

Security software company F-Secure has launched a free online password generator, if you’d prefer to create your secrets that way.

clip_image010The Manage passwords option seen in some password drop-downs – also available from the settings menu or by entering edge://settings/passwords into the address bar – gives access to Password Monitor, which warns you if passwords you have saved are known to have been breached, and can display a list of the sites where your previously-set password has been found in a trove of hacked accounts.

clip_image012You can quickly check the password used and decide to visit the page to change it – assuming the site still exists – or simply ignore it (on the assumption that you’ll be cleaning up and not using the compromised passwords on any sites you still want to actually visit).

If you install Microsoft Authenticator on your phone and sign in with the same account as you use in your browser, the saved passwords will be available through Authenticator too – so having very complex passwords should be no barrier to usability any more.

619 – Teams plays Pop

clip_image002Words evoke times and places for lots of people, and “Pop” certainly has plenty of associations and meanings. For some, it’s the (often cheaply-branded, sickly-sweet) fizzy drink of their youth (see also skoosh, in certain parts of the world), it might be forgettable teeny bop music or perhaps an intransitive verb used to describe how something stands out.

It’s also a familiar word used in annoying UX concepts like a pop-up in your browser, or a toast on your desktop. Applications often put out toolbars or separate content in side windows, to help users make the most of their functionality: especially handy when the user has more than one display.

In its evolution over the past couple of years of explosive user growth (270M MAU!), Microsoft Teams has started to move away from the one-window-to-rule-them-all idea of having all your chats, activities, documents etc in one place, and started offering to pop things out into their own window.

clip_image004

If you’re in a meeting and want to have a side channel going on with a subset of participants, just start a multi-party chat, then clip_image006right-click on it within the recent chats list, or from within the chat window itself. See more here. Other Teams apps also feature the top-right pop-out icon too.

clip_image008As well as offering a variety of Gallery and focus views, including the ability to place where the gallery is displayed (if at all), there’s also been an addition to hide your own clip_image010camera preview, in case you find yourself distractedly checking yourself out during meetings.

You could therefore dismiss all the other sidebars – like chat, or participants list – make the gallery go away, focus on presented content in full screen and hide your own preview – all in the name of being able to see what someone else is sharing.

clip_image012There is probably more popping still to come. There is a public preview for Teams – which can be enabled by your Microsoft 365 Admin, here – and that enables the early stages of some new features which are being tested. Microsoft has its own internal test programs too.

Once the preview-enabling policy has been applied by Admin, then individual users will have the option (from the … / About menu) to enrol their machine in the preview; after doing so, signing out & in again, and a “Check for updates” cycle should see them have the latest available preview version.

The holy grail for popping out in Teams meetings would be the ability to separate the content being shared so you could have that on one screen, and see a large video gallery of attendees, with chat sidebars etc on another. 

clip_image014Some day. Maybe.

In the meantime, keep an eye on what’s new in the main branch of Teams, by looking on the Teams blog.