Tip o’ the Week 417 – Resolving aliases in bulk

This might be a very old-Microsoft culture thing, but alias names have always been a relatively big deal within the company; not an alias in the sense of a nom de plume or some alter ego, but a name curiously given to mean your login name.

Before enlightenment, Microsofties were emailed simply by sending to alias@microsoft.com – and still are, so even if the primary mail address is forename.surname@microsoft.com, you could still mail them at forenams@microsoft.com, or whatever their alias is.

The alias, or logon name, at Microsoft was historically an up-to-7- or 8-letter moniker, based by default on surname|first-letter-of-forename, eg billg or steveb.

In a company with a handful of people, it was easy to remember such a name for when you wanted to drop them an email, but with hundreds of thousands of mail addresses, you might need more room – when Exchange Server came out in 1996, it supported 64 characters in the alias name, though oddly, Microsoft has never embraced longer than 8-character aliases.

Back in the day, your mailbox was a folder on a Xenix server, then an MS Mail postoffice, and the folder names were restricted by the 8.3 filename format. There are probably too many legacy systems that also have an employee name represented by their 8-letter alias, and it still kinda works.

Aliases – and the cultural phenomenon of calling people not by their name, but by their alias… eg “we had a billg review” – were a central part of the 1995 Douglas Coupland book, Microserfs.

Some people at Microsoft still talk about an email distribution list as an “alias” – eg. “TAKE ME OFF THIS ALIAS!!” as a Reply-All (as opposed to a little “r”) to the occasional mail storms that amazingly still happen. They’re wrong – those are Distribution Lists (DLs) or maybe more correctly, Distribution Groups (DGs).

But the true “alias” lives on, even if the Skypey “Contact Card” UI in Outlook does its best to not show you what someone’s alias is (but you can usually still get to Open Outlook Properties, which shows you the traditional Outlook address book view, with alias in the very top section). Lots of reports from Microsoft’s internal systems will refer to an employee using their alias name, so it often helps if you can decipher an alias into the person behind it.

Resolving an alias to a name one-at-a-time is all very well, but when looking at a column of alias names in some spreadsheet, it’s a bit of a palaver to turn each of the FORENAMS into something meaningful.

Bulk alias resolver in Excel

Fear not, worthy reader, for a solution is to hand.

  • Simply download this macro-enabled Excel workbook, and unwip it/open it/save it somewhere locally
  • Click on the Enable Editing, then the Enable content button, so the macro can do its stuff
  • Now paste your list of chosen alias names in column A, then click the resolve button
  • The macro will now go through each alias in the first column, and resolve the name, then stick it in column B, if it can. If the name doesn’t work, then column B will just be the same as the alias in column A

This can be handy if you’re building Excel reports and want to add names to a table instead of aliases – you could sort the list of aliases alphabetically, run them through the resolver, and then reference the table with a VLOOKUP formula so you could hide the column of aliases from your report and show instead the derived real names.

Tip o’ the Week 403 – Office Insiders and training

clip_image002The Windows Insiders program is well known as an early-access scheme for Windows, with millions of users trialling out new versions regularly and getting new functionality ahead of general release. A new “fast ring” version of Windows 10 came out just the other day, in fact.

Did you know that Office has a similar programme? Office Insiders is geared towards Office 365 subscribers who want to opt-in to early releases.

clip_image004Regardless if you are or are not in the Insiders group, you can see what’s new in the latest version of Office you’re running (assuming you’re on Office 2016 and subscribing to Office 365).


Try looking under File | (Office) Account menu, and check under the Office Updates section to make sure you’ve got the latest versions available to you.

Click on What’s New and you’ll see a pop-up of the latest features, with a “Learn More” link to find more. To see the latest for Office Insiders, check here.

One new feature that’s previewing for Insiders but available to anyone on the web is the new Office Training Center, which offers help in a number of features, templates and the like. There are short videos showing tips on how to use Office apps in conjunction with Office365 – check out some of the “try new things” category to see if they really are new to you.

Tip o’ the Week 396 – Handling dates in Office apps

clip_image002There are many times when you may need to deal with dates in ordinary applications – and there are a few shortcuts that you can make it easier.

In Outlook, any time there’s a date field (like when you’re setting a reminder, or clip_image004entering the start date/time for an appointment) you can choose or enter a regular date, or put in an expression – like “2 days” or “next Tuesday” – and Outlook will figure out the offset from today, and will set the appropriate date.

In some date fields (like an appointment start time), if you say “4 days” then press enter or TAB, it will evaluate the new date; if you return and put “4 days” again, it may add those extra days to the last date. Try a few other things like “next Christmas”, “3rd Sunday in November”, “2mo” , “7d” or some special days – there are some surprising ones there, like “Lincoln’s birthday”, and other events with static dates … though nothing that might change the actual date from year to year (like Easter, or Thanksgiving).

clip_image006In Excel, press CTRL+; to insert the current date into any cell – add a SHIFT key to insert the time instead. Excel are many date-oriented functions, but you don’t always need to write functions – simple maths can work on date fields – calculating the number of days’ difference between two dates, for example, or adding a number of days to a start date.

clip_image008In the desktop OneNote app, if you want to edit the date and time at the top of a page, click on the field and you’ll see a clock or calendar icon appear next to it – click on that  is set to, click on that to change the value; handy if you’re updating some reference material and want to make it clear that it’s recent.

Another way might be to insert the current date or time into the text: to do so, press SHIFT-ALT-D, or SHIFT-ALT-T for the current time, or SHIFT-ALT-F for the current date and time. The last one is really handy if you’re taking notes about a phone call, and want to quickly note the time that your insurance company said that everything was all fine, or when you started the indefinite call to the airline. The same shortcuts apply to the desktop OneNote 2016 application and also the OneNote store app.

clip_image010Word also supports SHIFT-ALT-D and SHIFT-ALT-T like OneNote, though inserts a date or time field rather than a simple bit of text, and is slightly different to the Date & Time command on the Insert tab, which gives a bit more control over the formatting at the point of insertion, rather than requiring the user to insert the field then go back in to edit the format.

Since Outlook uses Word as its text editor behind the scenes, the same shortcut keys will also insert date fields into the text of an Outlook email.

Tip o’ the Week 373 – Copying Images for emails

A picture tells a thousand words, etc etc etc. We all know the power of adding images into presentations, documents, emails and the like… even forum posts into external discussions often feature reference to pics that exist elsewhere on the internet.

If you want to use someone else’s imagery, especially if it’s something you plan to disseminate, then you really ought to ask, or else pick imagery that’s appropriate licensed. One way is to source your image content from a pre-licensed source – like public domain (fill your boots) or Creative Commons, where some rights are reserved by the creator but others are often waived, meaning you’re free to use those images within certain constraints.

Bing.com has some nice image searching tools which let you find content and then filter based on the license type – just click on the filter logo on the far right, and then choose the requisite license type from the drop-down box.

Once you’ve found the image content and you’re happy that it’s OK to use it as per the license (or you don’t really care), then you can copy & paste in a number of ways.

If the destination for your image-based plagiary is some Office app, then you can usually copy & paste, or do some sort of Insert from within the app ; Outlook gives you an easy way of finding content that’s Creative Commons by default, and plenty of warnings to boot. Here’s a screen shot of the warnings and stuff, probably in flagrant breach of the actual rules…

See earlier comment. Whatever.

Anyway. There are a few other ways of pasting in found content – in Facebook, for example, if you have a picture in the clipboard, you can paste it straight into a Post and it will be uploaded. The same thing is true of some online forums (watch nerds, look away now), whereas most will want you to find a URL for your photos before you can embed them in the post you’re making.

There are some different approaches to grabbing the URL of an online photo, should you need to – Google’s Chrome browser lets you right-click on an image, and you can copy it to the clipboard, copy its URL or even search Google for similar or different-sized versions of the same thing.

The Edge browser usually works a little differently, though – you could share the image to another app that supports that ability, but with Edge (updated in a number of ways as part of the forthcoming (on April 11) Creators Update), there’s a simplification in that if you just Copy an image, it will copy & paste the URL that points to that image, and/or the image itself. If you want a URL (for example, you go to the Insert Image option in most online fora, where they expect you to point to an external picture rather than host a copy themselves) the clipboard just contains a hard link to the image in question.

For applications that support directly inserting an image (via pasting), then the image will be pasted instead of its URL. Try it with any image you find online – Copy in Edge, and if you paste into MSPaint, you’ll get the image itself, but if you paste into Notepad, you’ll just get the URL. Some apps – like Outlook or OneNote – will let you choose which you want; when pasting an image, you could choose to leave it as such, or pick the “text” icon on the right, to paste the URL instead.

Asking Cortana will tell you a bit about the image, too, which is nice

Finally, don’t forget that if you’re grubbing about in Windows Explorer (WindowsKey+E, remember), you can right-click on any local or network-located file, while also holding shift, and you’ll see a Copy as path option – which will copy the name & place where that file is (the fully qualified filename, to be precise), to your clipboard.

So, if you’re a good girl or boy, you can share your own content from your PC, easily uploading to appropriate services by copying the path to any file on your machine and pasting that path into the dialog to attach, upload or insert a file.

In fact, that’s probably the most useful tip in this whole mail. Done.

Tip o’ the Week 363 – Erasing past mistakes

clip_image001[4]Using a Windows PC with Office presents many opportunities to make it easier to do things repeatedly – from shortcut keys which speed up regular tasks, to remembering things you’ve done before or accessed recently, so you can easily repeat them. Sometimes, however, they remember stuff you do mistakenly, and thereafter clutter up the system that’s supposed to simplify the way you work. Now, it’s time to look at ways of erasing those mistakes.

Custom Dictionary

clip_image003[4]Following the ToW #362, a reader asked how to remove misspelled words that are accidentally added to Word’s custom dictionary – if you’d like to edit that, within Word, go to File | Options | clip_image005[4]Proofing, then click on Custom Dictionaries… and then

select the default dictionary and click on Edit Word List…

clip_image007[4]Outlook Auto-complete cache

When you type a name into the To: line of a new Outlook email, the autocomplete cache will offer you a list of previously-used addresses. If you got the original address wrong or someone’s email address has subsequently changed, you may want to remove the suggested name.

In order to do that, when you’re presented with the list of suggestions, either use your mouse to hover over the name you want to ditch, and click the X to the right, or use the up & down arrow keys to move the selection and click the X or press the Del key. You could also clear the whole list, or switch it off entirely – see here for details.

clip_image009[4]Windows Run list

If you’re a habitual user of the Run command in Windows (press the WindowsKey+R) to enter commands, then you may rue mistyping one that sticks around getting in the way, as it is presented to you next time you’re doing something similar. To fix this Most Recently Used (MRU) list, it’s a bit more involved:

  • Start Registry Editor (WindowsKey+R / regedit, natch)
  • Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\RunMRU
  • Find the entry you want to fix from the list of values on the right, and either edit or delete it

clip_image011[4]Explorer recent files

Windows Explorer (WindowsKey+E) shows a list of recent files and folders, which is a handy thing if you want to quickly access things you use regularly, though if you accessed a file in error, you may not want it hanging around in the list. To remove a file from the list, just right-click on it and select to Remove from Quick access.

The Frequent Folders and Quick Access views in Explorer are essentially the same thing, so if you see a folder there you’d rather not have, just right click it and choose Remove from Quick Access or Unpin from Quick Access.

Tip o’ the Week 351 – Searching the GAL

When Exchange clip_image001Server first appeared in 1996, to deliver email like nothing ever seen before in the land of corporate email, one of its defining features was the directory service that held all sorts of details about users & groups, and could be populated with phone numbers, manager-employee reporting relationships and all sorts of other data, custom or otherwise.

The Directory fed the Global Address List, or GAL, that was visible in the Exchange Capone mail client and later in Outlook – so that’s what you see as the address book when looking stuff up (tip: at the main Outlook window, just press CTRL+SHIFT+B to open the Address Book).

Ever since Outlook 2003, the predominant way of looking up the address book is to refer to an offline copy called the OAB, and there’s a bunch of management that can be enacted on the OAB generation, by the operator of the Exchange Server. By and large, it’s a seamless exercise that users won’t notice, but you do sometimes see a bit of lag – like if a change is made to the directory (a user’s mailbox being created or deleted, for example), it could take many hours to make it down to the address book on the client. Also, not all information is stored in the OAB, so looking for pictures or reporting line information, for example, will need your client to talk to the directory server, meaning it seems to lag behind everything else and won’t work at all when you’re offline.


Since 2000, Exchange has used the Windows Active Directory rather than Exchange’s own; in fact the AD traces its own roots back to the Exchange one – including various detritus of the X.500 standard that was part of the original Exchange directory).

One of the seemiclip_image003ngly lesser-known features of the Offline Address Book in Outlook, is that contents themselves are indexed and searchable. Sure, you can search in the address book by “Name only” but all that does is jump to a place in the sorted list of the GAL; the sorted list that doesn’t let you sort and filter by any of the column headings – blame 1996 code for that…

If you want to search other fields, just change the Search radio button to “More columns”, enter your text and hit Go. Sadly, you can’t use wildcards or anything, but you can join different searches as the logic seems to be combining all the words in an AND rather than OR fashion – so searching the Microsoft GAL for “ewan” currently returns 7 users and one DL, but searching “ewan UK” brings back the 3 of us based in the UK.

There’s one thing to be aware of, though – the matching is still pretty basic – it only searches clip_image005from the start of each field, so if there’s a Bob Robertson then looking for Robert or Roberts in the More columns search, will return Bob’s details but only if the “Surname” field is filled in (in other words, if you only had the display name of “Bob Robertson” then it wouldn’t get returned). Ditto, searching for “son” won’t return Bob.

Still, if the naming convention is orderly enough, it could still be useful – at Microsoft we do have a reasonably consistent naming scheme, so try searching for all the Steves in Edinburgh, or all the Patels in Hyderabad (hint – look at the location or department fields, and if the first few characters denote the building name or the division of the company, you could use that to search against). Or the Mc-somethings who work in building 9…?

[The location field for Redmond employees starts with their building number – so 9/1234 would equate to room 1234 found on the first floor of building 9 – the trailing slash in the search example above stops results from building 99 being returned as well]

Tip o’ the Week 328 – Clip for art’s sake

clip_image001As discussed in Tip o’ the Week 28, Office Clip Art changed a while back – out was the staid clip art composed of vectors and 1990s bitmaps.  In was an online search for stuff you might like, filtered loosely by content that’s maybe not always what it seems.

clip_image002You can, of course, use your own photos – in fact, the Online Pictures option within Office apps includes Flickr, OneDrive and Facebook – and you’ve always got the option of uploading from your PC or any other URL.


If you’re after some high-quality clip art to insert into you magnus opus, you could try a service called Pickit, previously known as PicHit.me.

The Pickit Photo Finder app gives you a nice Modern app way of finding cool photos given a theme or keyword (though there’s a subscription fee if you want the higher quality pics). It’s even Cortana enabled, supposedly. There’s an Office Addin too, which lets you search for and add photos and art straight into your documents.

Pickit is a Microsoft BizSpark success story, and the service runs on Azure.

There are many ways of finding decent clipart for your projects – there’s Open Clip Art for an archive of more traditional vector & standard clipart image fare, or image hosting services like Pixabay, which offer free Creative Commons photos. Check out these other alternatives too.

Tip o’ the Week #291 – A few handy date handling tips

clip_image001Sometimes, the Tip o’ the Week is all about one topic, and sometimes it’s a theme that spans several things. Today’s is just such a smörgåsbord of stuff, spanning a number of apps that are concerned with dates.

Windows 10 dates

This is not a new topic for ToW – the swish new Alarms & Clocks app that ships with Windows 10 was covered in #280, though the UI has changed a little since then. If you hover your mouse over the date/time on your taskbar, you’ll see a clip_image003familiar preview that tells you a bit more detail. If you click on that section, you’ll see the new calendar view, with a link to Date and time settings which will take you to the system Settings > Time & language > Date & time options. In here, under Related settings, you can add clocks for an additional couple of time zones, if you need to – give them a label, then you’ll see those additional timesclip_image005 displayed atop the calendar and the larger display of the current time.

Hovering on the system tray shows a simple view clip_image007of the same thing. Handy for those of us who regularly work with people from all over the world, and want to make sure you’re not booking conference calls in the middle of the night. Outlook allows you to easily show a second time zone in your calendar – just right-click on the border to the left of the calendar itself, choose Change Time Zone and in the resulting dialogue box, tick the box to show an additional time zone and give it a label.

OneNote page dates

clip_image009If you use OneNote (the desktop version – does anyone prefer the Store app?) in a shared fashion, then you’ll see coloured blocks when other people update sections of the textclip_image011, though it’s not so easy to figure out when you last edited a page (in short, you can see the date you edited a page by looking under History tab, Recent Edits or Find by Author, but it’s not always that obvious).

If you’re using a template repeatedly (Sales Account Plans, for example, where you take a copy of a pro forma plan then complete it), or if you’re updating pages of old notes, you may want to adjust the date/time that’s displayed at the top of the OneNote page, to show yourself (and other readers, maybe) that it has updated content.


clip_image015Click on the date under the title, and then the calendar icon which appears to its side, and you’ll be able to use a date picker to change the date – or simply click the Today button to set the current date. The same process works with the time field, too – click on it, then on the clock icon, and you can set the time – with the default being the time now.

clip_image017OneNote has a couple of other neat date tricks that have also featured before on ToW – like the ability to insert today’s date or time, on the Insert tab – if you hover over the first two, you’ll be reminded that ALT+SHIFT+D or T inserts the Date or the Time, but hovering over Date & Time doesn’t remind you that ALT+SHIFT+F, does.

Tuck that away in your sporran for future use, as it’s supremely handy when adding notes (eg from a phone call) to the end of an existing page.

Other Office apps

Excel has a similarly handy shortcut – CTRL+; adds the current date to the selected cell, and CTRL+: adds the time. Word has a different way again; you can go to the Insert tab and look under Text > Date & Time which then displays a dialogue box to ask how you’d like it formatted. The same box can be got to more quickly by holding ALT then pressing N and then D, which is basically jumping to the menu using keyboard shortcuts. That same combo works in Outlook when editing an email, too.

While on the topic of Outlook, there’s one last tip and it’s a belter. Every time Outlook gives you a date & time control – like when you’re editing an appointment, for example – you can select the current value and replace it, either by typing in the new date/time or by using the date picker or time drop down.

clip_image019But the date control also has some other smarts – you can put  additions to dates, for example, so you could type the end date to be “tomorrow” and it will automatically figure out the offset from today and set it appropriately. The duration of the meeting will also be set, so if you subsequently went back to the start date and typed “tomorrow”, the end date would be a day further out. Clever eh?

Here are some others to try – just type a number in the date field and it sets to that number of the current month, or type next month to set the date exactly one calendar month away from the current value (or 2 months, or 1 year…). The most useful ones are often things like next Monday or in 3 days (or just 3d if you don’t want to wear your keyboard out; next mo, 2mo, 1y do the same). There are lots of special dates too – Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Independence Day, Halloween etc. You can even combine them, so could say 2nd Monday in January or 3 days after Christmas. Maybe Outlook will integrate with Cortana one day, and you could enter “Steve’s birthday” or “my wedding anniversary”…

Tip o’ the Week #274 – Hello, Skype for Business


Instant Messaging (and later, voice/video calling) has been with us, in the corporate world, for 15 years – the first real enterprise IM platform was Exchange 2000 Instant Messaging, which used a variant of MSN Messenger as its client, and some workers had been using MSN and AOL for a while before that.

The Exchange 2000 IM server was a one-off; it was superseded by Microsoft Office Live Communication Server (released at a time when everything at Microsoft was seemingly prefixed or suffixed “Live”, and somehow linked to Windows or Office) and latterly Office Communications Server (when the edict came around to ditch the practice of sticking “Live” in every product name), and later acquired the much groovier name of “Lync”.

And now the next phase has rolled out; just as the original MSN Messenger gave way to Windows Live Messenger (see?) and then went away in favour of Skype, Lync has now given over to Skype for Business – though SFB is effectively a technology update, rebranding & a new UI, rather than the wholesale change of underlying technology that MSN/Live Messenger to Skype was.

So now we have Skype for Desktop (the traditional Windows, Mac etc application, which uses a Skype ID or Microsoft Account to sign in), there’s Skype for a variety of mobile & TV platforms, Skype for Outlook.com (the plugin to Outlook.com online email, you know, the email service that was once Hotmail). And for Windows 8.x users, there’s also Skype the Modern Application, now also being referred to as Skype for Tablet.

D’ya follow?

And now the spangly new Skype For Business client has been distributed via Windows Update, as an update to Lync – so you may already have received it. If you haven’t, and you’re still on Lync, you could either:

  • clip_image003Try downloading the update to turn Lync into Skype, from KB2889923
  • If you’re running Office in “Click to Run Mode”, you can check for updates by going into (for example) Word and choosing File / Account, then select Update Options / Update Now. See here for more.

Or maybe you’ll get it automatically via a corporate deployment. It may even have been pushed out to you already,

Whatever, you’ll have a cracking new updated UI compared to Lync, and the emoticons will be better again… in fact, most of the animated icons from the regular consumer Skype app have made it over to the corporate one, with a few of the less work-oriented ones removed. clip_image001

Tip o’ the Week #256 – Clip Art clips off


Exactly 5 years after publishing the very first instalment (though it was internal only for a year before I started posting the tips on this blog), clip_image003Tip o’ the Week goes Old Skool: #256, or 28, the number of combinations possible from a single byte. If you want to join the retro-fun, Sir Clive is backing a new crowd-funded Speccy games console. Sinclair was a hero of the 1980s’ UK 8-bit computer market, before having to sell out to the-then un-betitled upstart Alan Sugar.

Time moves on. The oft-mocked and much-maligned Clippy died, aged 10. Not enough people wanted to write letters any more, it seems.

Other things change, too – the very idea of Clip Art within Office apps, for one. Word 6 from the early 1990s had a handful of clip art images, but later versions of Office had full libraries of pictures and vector-image clip art. But Clip Art is going the way of the dodo…


clip_image007Microsoft announced recently that the Clip Art collection was being closed down, to be replaced by Bing Image searches.

To insert Bing images into Word docs or Outlook emails, just go to the Insert tab and look under Online Pictures.


The Bing Image Search option shows pictures which are available for free use, licensed through an arrangement called  Creative Commons – so you should be able to use them without charge, though do bear in mind that the license to re-use may have specific conditions – select the desired image  and click on the link for more details.


So, let’s raise our hats to Clip Art – even if it’s sometimes pretty naff, with images that are out of date and a bit cheesy.

If you don’t like the Bing Image options, you can always select Pictures from your own PC, or add your own collections to the “Online Pictures” list  – from online accounts such as OneDrive, Flickr or Facebook.