A reader recently got in touch to ask for help in finding stuff in Outlook. The search capability within the application most of us use most of the time has evolved considerably throughout its life, with a prominently placed search bar now adorning the top of the main window. When you click into it, lots of helpful filtering and searching capabilities are offered in the ribbon below.
It’s worth getting to grips with a few simple text search terms, though, so when you’re typing some search term you can direct Outlook to particular items. Helpfully, using the options in the menu will actually build the query that is fed to search, so you can type them in future. Simple quick wins include things like using from:name to show only emails that originated from a particular sender.
Or has:attachment, which will only show you mails that have other files attached. Combined with a few other criteria, you can filter the results of your search pretty hard, rather than sifting through them. Adding some other smarts like received:”last month” can streamline some more. For more info on search terms, see here.
The scenarios our reader posed, though, were specifically around searching in the calendar – eg, do I have a meeting in my calendar with a particular person? Or what recurring appointments are due to expire this month?
If you navigate to your Calendar and click the down-pointing arrow to the right of the Search box, it will display a small form with series of other fields you can complete, in this case relevant to appointments rather than messages.
Click + Add more options to bring up a picker that lets you add even more – such as whether the meeting is a recurring one, or if it shows in calendar as Busy or not. Selecting the options builds the query as before, so you can see a variety of defined names – like organizer | organiser (depending on your locale) or requiredattendee:.
Coming back to the original question; if you want to find all future meetings in your calendar with anyone called Tony, you could type something like requiredattendee:tony start:>today. And if you want to find out which recurring meetings are expiring soon, start by searching is:recurring start:>today. That will show you a list of future recurring appointments, but not give all the info we’re looking for since the default results view doesn’t show anything about the pattern of recurrence – so right-click on one of the column headings of the search results and select Field Chooser, where we can add some extra columns to the view.
Now, in the pop out window, change the filter from Frequently-used fields to All Appointment fields, and scroll down to find Recurrence Range End. Now drag and drop that field into the column list, then click on it to sort descending so you’ll now see all the meetings that are set up with a recurring pattern, ordered by when that pattern is due to end. For added context, you could put Recurrence and Recurrence Pattern on there too.
Don’t be alarmed if some of them are due to keep happening until a very long way into the future. We’ll probably have stopped using email by then.
Before Outlook arrived as part of Office 97, users of Exchange Server had an email client and a separate calendar app (Schedule+; that’s why some diehards still say things like “send me an S+”, meaning send a meeting request). Both would maintain a connection to the server and would chat back and forth, only downloading data when a message or attachment was opened. Although this put something of a penalty on the network, it meant there was no need to cache large amounts of data on a PC hard disk. Outlook replaced both the mail and S+ clients, but maintained the same synchronous connection to the server.
Outlook 2003 and Exchange 2003 changed the default model, since PC hard disks were getting much bigger and cheaper, so it made sense to have Outlook deal primarily with a cached copy of the user’s mailbox, bringing all kinds of performance benefits to both end user and to the operators of the server back-end. One really notable improvement was the ability to run fast searches against mailbox data that’s in the cache, rather than having to execute searches on the server.
Prior to the cached mode, the best-case scenario for running a search was the server returned messages that fit a particular query asked by the client – mails received this week, mails with FOO in the subject line etc. If the server had indexed the relevant properties (received date, subject etc), it was pretty quick at sending back the results. If the user wanted something more in-depth, it was a punishingly slow process as each message would need to be picked up and inspected to see if it met the query – so searching for every email with a particular word in the message body text would be laborious. Three cheers for cached mode and client-side indexing.
If you look at Advanced Find in Outlook today, though, you’re staring into a time vortex that transports you right back to the late 1990s, as it hasn’t really changed, even if the speed of getting results back will be noticeably better since you’re almost certainly pulling them out of a local copy of your mailbox.
The first couple of tabs on the Advanced Find dialog let you search for mailbox items that fit some common criteria – but the third tab is a window into how Exchange stores and categorises messages, appointments, tasks etc.
Aside: most apps use CTRL+F to invoke Find – try it in Word, Excel etc – but in the mail client, CTRL+F forwards a message instead. Find out why, here.
The idea here is that you can build a query based on properties of messages – and when you select the Field from the extensive drop-down list, it would let you choose appropriate filters (some, like Flag Status or Receipt Requested would only have a couple of possible values, but others would let the user enter text, date or numeric filters).
Not all of the fields are used for much these days – eg InfoPath Form Type harks back to the days when the now-defunct InfoPath could be used to create mailable forms – but having a poke around in Advanced Find can give a curious user some insight into how Exchange and Outlook organises their data.
Many moons ago, Outlook search was a laborious process – you’d enter a word and Outlook would chunter through every message in turn to see if your desired text was contained within. In the days when you a few emails, that was fine, but when you have many thousands of messages, it’s not viable.
15 years ago, Microsoft bought a company that made an add-in called LookOut and since then, deep search capabilities have been added in a variety of ways, now provided through the Windows Search service.
A feature that was added into both Outlook is the “Top Results” section in search results – essentially providing what the search engine returns as the most relevant content, rather than necessarily the most recent.
How useful this is might depend on how and when you use Outlook search – if you’re looking for a way to return very specific results, it might be more of a distraction than a help (ie if you’re a natural piler, you might use Search as a normal way of retrieving stuff rather than an occasional tool for finding something in particular).
Should you find the Top Results section annoying and/or distracting, it can be easily disabled by going into Search Options within the Search tab on Outlook’s ribbon, and clear the “most relevant search results” option.
Do so, and normalcy returns.
Top Results also appears in Outlook Web App (outlook.office.com), in the consumer Outlook.com and in Windows Mail – and it doesn’t appear that you can disable it: much to some users’ chagrin. Turn to Uservoice or Feedback Hub if you feel similarly.
To get more out of Search in the desktop Outlook app, it’s worth understanding how to be more specific – even using just a few keywords will help you narrow the results. Search for from:bob, for example, and all results will be mails that originated from someone who had “bob” in their display name. Narrow the search even more by adding terms like sent:yesterday, about:pricing or messagesize:enormous as well.
You can use various tools in the Search bar to filter your results, too – it might even be quicker clicking the big paperclip than typing hasattachments:yes. To discover more search terms, click the + More option in the search bar and have a play.
The Tab key on your computer has its roots in the Tabulate typewriter function, which let you align type to defined (even modifiable) stops, so you could easily type tables of text and numbers, like invoices and so on.
In short, Tab could be used to left-align text, and is still used in modern typing, especially in word processing and in writing code. People who type space-space-space-space rather than a single TAB press still exist, though.
As well as the many features invoked by the Tab key in modern Windows, though – like WindowsKey-Tab to look at the timeline or the more common ALT-Tab to switch between programs – there’s a new capability for Edge browser users that might be worth looking out for.
If you’re using the Edge Preview – the Chromium-based version that has recently been pitched as Enterprise-Ready (for testing at least) – there’s a feature that has been enabled, which lets you search within a website rather than going straight to your favourite search engine and without needing to go to the site’s homepage and perform a search within.
This is a feature that has existed in Chrome for a while, but now appears more prevalent in the new Edge. The prompt showing up depends on the website implementing an OpenSearch capability, which is used to plug some query into the search engine behind the site, and how well it performs depends on whether that site search is any good.
Try Microsoft.com TAB search term ENTER and you might just see how many apps that match your word in the Microsoft Store there aren’t, but try Amazon.co.uk TAB Surface ENTER and you’ll have the opportunity to buy Surfaces and many things associated with them. Try maps.google.co.uk | RG6 1WG (what? No Street View?)
Perhaps most useful is when you want to try something in a search engine other than your default; so if you normally use Bing, you’ll know that typing a phrase in the address bar on its own will cause the browser to search if it can’t resolve your term to being a URL. Well, if you type google.com TAB term ENTER then it’ll try that same search over there, rather than you needing to go to the search engine homepage first.
In an effort to attract users to the perennially under-rated search engine Bing, the service launched a “visual search” function some time ago (ToW 397). There have been some recent updates to mobile apps, enabling search capabilities from an image. Similar images will be identified or major subjects could be spotted, using AI technology to try to figure out what’s in the image, as well as find related info.
The Bing Search app and the Edge browser for both iOS and Android have been updated, as has the Microsoft Launcher for Android – each has added a little camera icon to the Search box, which makes it easy to take a pic and upload it to Bing for analysis. The Bing app can also scan QR codes and the Launcher can scan barcodes too. More features are promised for all 3 methods of app-based visual search, and for the Bing web site itself.
To use visual search in the Launcher, swipe from the left at the home screen and you’ll get the “Feed” page (a customisable summary of news, activities, apps, contacts etc), the top of which has a search bar with a camera and a mic (though if you’ve used the barcode scan in the Launcher, the camera will be replaced with a scanner symbol – just tap that as if to scan a new barcode, then tap the barcode with an X in the top right to revert back to camera).
If the results you get aren’t quite spot on at first, you could direct visual search to focus on a particular part of your snap – tap the magnifying glass in the top right, move the edges of the area to filter out any peripheral nonsense, and you may find results improve.
Tip o’ the Week ❤ OneNote. Both the full-fat trad Windows app version (OneNote 2016), and the Store (just “OneNote”) application that has a portion of the functionality and a simpler UI. One side effect of using OneNote a lot, though, is that you might have a huge amount of old pages in your set of Notebooks, especially if you share notebooks with your team, and end up with a Notebook for each project you’re working on.
If you’re using the regular OneNote 2016 application, and go to search content (by entering the search term into the box on the top right, maybe by just pressing CTRL+E to jump straight to it), you may find that the results you get include a lot of old content which isn’t all that easy to parse – the name of the notebook occupies much of the column showing the location of the matching page or section, there’s no date of last update or any means of sorting – so it’s hard to know what’s recent and what might be years old.
If you click on “Pin Search Results” at the very bottom of the results list, or press ALT-O, then you’ll see the results appearing in a pane to the right of the OneNote window, where you can change sorting and filtering options, and see the date the pages were last modified.
Referring to this option as “Pin” may make you think it’s a bit more permanent (such as pinning to taskbar or Start, or pinning to a menu somewhere), but it’s as easy to dismiss the results pane as it is to invoke it in the first place – just click the X in the top right of the window pane, or the close option on the drop down arrow which also lets you resize the pane or even move/undock it from the main Outlook window altogether.
There’s no obvious equivalent of this search granularity in the OneNote store app. ☹
Who keeps an up-to-date browser favourites list these days? Most people seem to find web sites by Binging/Googling (other search engines are available(!), though some of the pioneers are no longer around) for the site they know about, rather than in trying to keep a link that might change. This relates to the filing vs. piling analogy of document and email retention, which has been covered before (here).
[The precis is that some people find or recall things by where they are, like in a folder specific to that customer or project, whereas others might have a massive pile of unsorted stuff, but they can recover items within it by remembering key words or attributes, and searching the contents]
You’d think that by now, we’d all be experts at plugging queries into search engines, maybe even doing so before posting stupid stuff on Facebook. Hint – if anything looks dodgy or unbelievable, try searching snopes.com. Please.
Anyway, here are some tips for getting more accurate searches, in a few different places…
Did you know you can direct specific search criteria through Outlook’s Search pane? Click on the search box at the top of a folder and you will see the Search menu appear (or the ribbon will automatically show you the Search pane, depending on how you’ve got views set up). If you click on a criterion (like From), then Outlook will build the query for you in the search box, so you can see what it’s doing.
It’s possible to jump a little though – instead of clicking From then editing, you could just type from: Paul to search for all mail sent by anyone with Paul in their name, or try using a combo of other attributes (there are many – see more here), (eg. to: Paul sent: last week). Lots more example tips here.
For many users, Yammer is a great conversational and collaboration tool, but even if you don’t use it frequently to post content, it can be a brilliant way of searching for answers to frequently asked questions, that you might not get via email if you aren’t on the right DL.
Thing is, Yammer’s search tends to be a bit overly inclusive – if you enter several terms then you might have one or two more results than you’d expect.
Adding quotes around phrases (“surface 4” “release date”) helps a bit, but it will still search for any occurrence of either phrase, but by adding a + sign to each word or phrase changes the search from an OR to an AND (ie show results with all rather than any of the phrases).
If you’re looking to trim the results you get from a web search – either carried out from the Bing homepage, or from the address bar in your browser (assuming Bing is the default search engine) – there are a few operators that it’s worth remembering. Adding site:<url> to your query means you’ll only get stuff from there, so it may be quicker to use Bing to search a given site than to go to that site itself and search from within.
Eg. Try this query – site:engadget.com Lumia –iphone, will show results from the Engadget site regarding Lumia phones, that don’t mention iPhones: not too many results there. Try that same query as a web search rather than news (here), and you’ll notice a few pages in other languages. You could try filtering more by language (here). You can also stack site: clauses with an OR (must be capitals) operator, so you could say “Jenson Button” (site:bbc.co.uk OR site:pistonheads.com).
If you’re after particular types of content, you might want to throw the filetype: operator in, eg Azure filetype:pptx site:microsot.com. For more details on the kinds of operators Bing supports, see here.
Hopefully, everyone who was on Windows 8 should be running Windows 8.1 by now. There’s so much that was improved since Windows 8 released, some very noticeably (such as the return of the Start button, if you consider that an improvement) and some, less so – like all the Enterprise functionality that changed. Not to mention the changes that have come in as part of the Windows 8.1 Update 1, as featured in Tip o’ the Week #222…
One of the more obvious new features is the Smart Search capability, and yet it can take a bit of getting used to before it changes the way you use your PC.
You could still use the normal methods for getting to Bing – viewing the lovely picture or video on the homepage and searching from there, try just typing your query into the address bar of the browser and let it make suggestions or just carry out the search terms… or use the Bing Desktop App.
If you type your search query into the standard Search mechanism in Windows 8.1 (just start typing at the Start screen, or press WindowsKey+S or swipe to bring up the Search charm), then the PC will be able to combine results from your own documents, from popular web sites like Wikipedia, it’ll show you images and videos that correspond to the same term as well bringing results from certain apps (even from sources who have apps you haven’t installed yet).
Try a few special terms out, and you’ll get even more context – a flight number will show you current status and related searches (such as the historical performance and the current position, from Flightradar… who also have Apps for Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 should you want to interact some more, as Paul Barlow recommends).
Type in a place name and you may well be greeted with weather reports, links to restaurant recommendations, details from Bing Travel and other apps in the store that might be relevant.
Enter a musician and you may see results from the Xbox Music app Xbox Music app (latest updates, here), allowing you to play their tracks directly from within Windows 8.1 – and did you know that streaming Xbox Music is free for 6 months for Windows 8.x users?