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It's the worst of times here at Office-Watch.com. The site has crashed and the backup arrangements haven't done what they are supposed to do.  We'll be back soon with over 2,000 articles about Microsoft Office ... a lot of it things Microsoft doesn't like to talk about.

For the moment, we can only ask for your patience. Here's some new and recent articles to keep you going ...

Organizing Outlook Email for Outlook 2013
Vale Leonard Nimoy
Free Office 365 goes global
Outlook apps – a closer look
OneNote is now even more free
Office 365: keep email forever
Metadata – Governments take from Microsoft’s PR handbook

Organizing Outlook Email for Outlook 2013 and more

We’ll take you through all the features available from simple moving of messages to adding Categories, Flags, Reminders and much more with examples and plenty of color images to illustrate.

Many people want to see Outlook and their email on multiple computers, smartphones and tablets.  We’ll show you how to do that cheaply, easily and probably with the software you already have. Migrating Email There’s an entire chapter on how to move your email accounts to another service like Gmail, Outlook.com, Office 365/Exchange Server or Yahoo Mail.

Attachments – how to preview, open, manage and delete attachments. Viewing and sorting messages in various views.  That includes restoring the Unread messages view inexplicably dropped from Outlook 2010.  Searching is an important part of Outlook so we look at it in considerable detail.  There’s simple searches through to complex finds as well as the invaluable Search Folders.

All the anti-spam choices with advice on which to use and, crucially, which to avoid.   The book explains how modern spam filters work with Outlook being just one part of the process.

How to get it

The 3rd edition for Outlook 2013/2010/2007 edition costs only US$6.95 for Office Watch subscribers compared with the retail price of $11.95 – a $5.00 saving – click here.

Unlike paper books, and most ebooks, we offer upgrades for past purchasers.  Instead of paying full price all over again, past customers can get all the benefits of the complete new book for less money.  How many publishers offer buyers of older editions a cut price on the new version?   We do.

Organizing Outlook Email has been a popular ebook since 2006, through several editions. This is the first paid update in all that time. We've emailed all past customers with details of their upgrade pricing.  (If you missed that message, login to your account at https://shop.office-watch.com and qualifying customers will see the upgrade offer which is available for a limited time only.)

Vale Leonard Nimoy

One noticeable omission from the obituaries was any mention of Mr Spock’s ears.  When Star Trek started all the talk about Mr Spock surrounded his pointed ears.  It’s hard to believe now that such a relatively minor prosthetic caused so much fuss.

Over time, people forgot about the ears and focused on the character that Gene Roddenberry created and Leonard Nimoy nurtured and protected over the decades.  Mr Nimoy avoided cheap exploitation and cameos for Spock, if he and his alter-ego where to appear it had to be for good reason.

He agreed to appear as Spock in a Next Generation episode ‘Unification’.  It was not only a good episode but it bridged the schism between fans of the Original Series and the Next Generation.  Truly a ‘unification’ of the fans who had to concede when their idols (Nimoy and Spock) took a major role in the new Trek.

Leonard Nimoy and Mr Spock were part of our teenage and adult lives, we’ll miss them both.

Free Office 365 goes global

Back in 2014, Microsoft made Office 365, including Office software, available to many US students.  The same program is now available globally.

If the school buys Office software for their faculty and staff, the students get free Office 365 accounts.  So it's not really free at all because the schools have to pay.

The program now covers, among many, 1.1 million students in New York City, all students in Hong Kong, 5.5 million in Australia, 7m each in Germany and Brazil and a staggering 1.3 million at Anadolu University in Turkey.

If the student and school qualify they can get an Office 365 account which has:

  • Office software (Windows or Mac) on up to 5 computers. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Access and Publisher.
  • Office mobile software on up to 5 mobile devices (Apple, Android or Windows).
  • Office Online – the web browser versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
  • OneDrive with 1TB online storage.

The school should be able to tell students if they qualify or you can check online:

Hebrew and Arabic languages versions will be available from mid-March 2015.  Self-sign up not available in China.

Outlook apps – a closer look

We’ve been looking closely at the Outlook app for iOS and Android as well as online reviews and the many comments from Office-Watch.com readers.  We’ve come to the conclusion that there are two different apps.  The preview versions that the public are trying and there’s other, quite different, apps which are being given to journalists.

Truly, we read the glowing reviews of the Outlook apps, singing its praises at the newest and greatest way to manage email on a device.  Even the grossly overused hype ‘killer app’ is being thrown around. But then we use the Outlook apps ourselves and it’s like a different product from the one being lauded in the press.  We can see some of the interesting features.  Some are different but not necessarily good or appropriate.  Others aren’t really new at all.  Yet others might be good but they don’t interact with the main Outlook programs for Windows or Mac, so they’re more likely to be a nuisance or confusing.

There’s no mention of the security and privacy concerns about the new apps.

There’s little mention of the wide gap in features between the Apple and Android versions of the Outlook app.

What’s the rush?

Overall, the Outlook preview apps show all the signs of something rushed out by Microsoft.  The apps were bought by Microsoft in 2014, been given a quick coat of paint and pushed out under Microsoft’s brand. Little attention has been given to consistency with Outlook or Exchange Server features.   Legitimate security concerns were ignored entirely.

The promotion and developments of the Outlook apps is haphazard and confused – a rarity from Microsoft who are usually so slick and professional.  Depending on where you look, Outlook apps work with contacts or maybe not (it doesn’t).   Microsoft can’t even decide if the Outlook apps are a public release or just a preview.

“I cannot believe that Microsoft has done what they’ve done. Even as a non-Microsoft guy I would have expected that they obey the rules of common company security rules.” - Rene Winkelmeyer

Now Microsoft is madly changing the apps to address even basic security concerns like remote wiping.  These are things that should have been fixed before a public preview.   With all the other mobile and cloud announcements about Microsoft Office, surely the public preview of Outlook apps could have waited a month or two so the developers could do their job right?

Let’s look at some of these features that make no sense in Microsoft’s long-established email system with Outlook for Windows or Mac.

Focused and Other views

The Outlook apps separate your Inbox into two views – Focused and Other.  The apps have settings that decide what are important messages (Focused) and the rest go into Other.  Over time, you can train the app to know what you prefer to be in the Focused view.

We’ve never had good experiences with these ‘artificial intelligence’ attempts to arrange email.  They’re dynamite on paper but not good enough to handle all the different ways people get and manage their messages. But the split view might work for some people and they’re welcome to try it.

TThe Outlook apps need a single Inbox view, if only for consistency with Outlook for Windows, Mac and online.  You can rid yourself of the Focused Inbox and return to a traditional view at Settings | Focused Inbox.

Outlook for iOS also has an ‘Organize Mail by thread’ option (akin to Conversations in Outlook Windows/Mac).  The Android apps should have the same feature soon.

Swipe emails

Lots of praise for the swipe actions in the Outlook app, but we’re not sure why.

Swiping left/right on items is hardly a new concept for mobile devices.  Plenty of Apple and Android apps have it already.  What’s interesting was the two stage swipe to the left.    Swipe a little to the left and the message is ‘archived’, continue the left swipe and the message will be deleted. At least that’s the way it worked with the first public preview, in the latest release that’s been changed to a single action swipe but it’s now configurable under Settings |Swipe Options

We’ve changed the swipes to Delete and Mark as Read since that’s our most common tasks.  Hopefully the configuration will change so each swipe can have two actions attached to it.

What is Defer and Archive?

The original public preview had message options like ‘Deferred’, ‘Archive’ or even ‘Schedule’ that had no equivalent on the main Outlook clients.  If you use those features in the Outlook apps, the messages will end up in extra folders on Outlook clients.

However Microsoft is acting quickly.  The latest Android version seems to have dropped ‘Deferred’.  ‘Archive’ and ‘Schedule’ are only available as sweep actions.

Flags

Flags and Reminders have been important parts of Outlook for a long time.  The ability to flag a message with a reminder popping up later is very useful, if not essential.

FFlags are in the Outlook apps for iOS or Android but there’s no way to add a Reminder for future date/time.  An email with a reminder set in Outlook clients doesn’t even show that reminder time in the Outlook app for Android.

Is one app really a good thing?

A supposedly good feature in the Outlook app is that all your information; email, calendar and contacts are in the one place. Is that really a good thing?/p>

Both iOS and Android have methods of switching quickly between different apps.  With the in-built and separate apps on either system you can fast switch around the email, calendar and people apps.

The same isn’t available with the Outlook app.  You have to switch, rather clumsily, within the one app.

Contacts/People

Microsoft has been quietly back-pedaling on the Contact part of the Outlook apps.  Any mention of Contact/People support has been dropped from more recent promotions.

That’s with good reason.  Aside from a list of Contacts with the ability to send an email, the contacts supports in the Outlook apps is awful.  You can’t view all of a contact’s details, not even phone numbers or physical address.

You can only hope Microsoft developers are working hard to fix this astonishing lapse.

iOS vs Android

Microsoft has admitted from the start that the Apple version of the Outlook app is far more ‘mature’ than the Android version.  That’s worth keeping in mind if you’re trying to make sense of online help because it might not yet apply to both flavors of the Outlook app.

The Outlook apps are being updated quickly at the moment.  Not a lot of detail about what’s in these updates but it’s clear that Microsoft is working furiously to make the Outlook apps meet the promises and hype. Our comments are based mostly on the Android version of Outlook.

Hopefully, sometime soon, the Outlook apps will be a lot better and have features that work seamlessly with other programs that share the name ‘Outlook’.  Hopefully they'll re-engineer the apps to avoid the nasty security problem that's currently in place.

Even when the Outlook apps improve, it’s hard to see they will be that much better than the existing Email, Calendar, Contacts support in Apple and Android.

OneNote is now even more free

I’m not sure how something can get better than free, but a marketing genius at Microsoft has done it.

OneNote for Windows has been available free to all comers since 2014 but with some features blocked and only accessible in the paid versions.

Now more of the features have been made available.  Previously these features were only available in the paid version.

  • Password protected sections—Add a password to protect sensitive information.
  • Page history—Easily see or go back to prior versions of a page.
  • Audio and video recording—Take notes while recording, and easily jump to the relevant section later.
  • Audio search—Search for a word in a voice or video recording.
  • Embedded files—Insert Office documents or other files directly in your notebook.

This removes all free/paid limitations on OneNote.

Microsoft hasn’t said if this change requires a new download and install or existing free OneNote installs will release the new features after an automatic activation check back to Microsoft’s servers.  We suggest you try OneNote and if the above features aren’t available, download a fresh version and reinstall.

OneNote 2013 stores its data in your OneDrive account.  That’s limited to 15GB for unpaid accounts while Office 365 ‘subscribers’ get effectively unlimited online storage.

OneNote 2013 runs on Windows 7 & 8. It’s available for free from http://onenote.com/download

Office 365: keep email forever

Also online at Office-Watch.com

Microsoft has changed their Exchange Server hosting (under the Office 365 banner) to allow for longer holding of Deleted Items up to ‘forever’.

Until now, Office 365 hosting had a fixed 30 days for Deleted Items retention.  Any item in the Deleted Items folder older than 30 days was automatically removed and wasn’t directly visible in Outlook.

That might seem like enough but for many organizations it’s not.  Some have data retention policies that require all communications, even deleted ones, be kept for a specified period.  Some law suits might require handing over all messages on a particular topic, regardless of the date.  Network administrators don’t want to make their boss angry when he/she can’t find the message from 35 days ago.

This change in Office 365 hosting does NOT affect the ‘Recoverable Items’ folder which contains ‘permanently’ deleted items which can’t be viewed in standard Outlook folders but are still retained on the Exchange Server.

The Microsoft blog has details on how to change the Default MRM Policy among the Retention Policies available to Office 365 Exchange admins.

If you do nothing the default retention period will be automatically changed to ‘indefinite’,  meaning that Deleted Items are kept forever or until the user deletes them manually.

To change the new default, open the ‘Default MRM Policy’, change the setting and (this is vital) save it with a new policy name.

We suggest a long retention period like a year or more.  That gives users plenty of time to find older deleted items but still allows for eventual automatic removal.

The same feature is already available to Exchange Server admins hosting elsewhere in-house.

Metadata – Governments take from Microsoft’s PR handbook

All over the world, governments are intruding into our private lives in the name of safety and anti-terrorism.  They talk about ‘metadata’ to make out that the information they are collecting isn’t that important.  This ‘metadata’ will be collected, held for a long time and accessible by government agencies without a warrant or judicial oversight.

No wonder many people aren’t buying it.

At Office Watch we find all this strangely familiar.  Using technical terms to downplay the importance or harm is an old trick from the Microsoft playbook.

Microsoft talked about ‘metadata’ back when concerns were raised about the hidden information in Office documents.  Many users didn’t realize that vital details where being sent out in documents.  Details like who had made or edited the document (politicians got caught sending press releases written almost entirely by lobbyists), when it was created (maybe before the sender had admitted knowing something) or revisions and comments (like price changes in a negotiation).

Microsoft’s response to this was typical.  At first they downplayed the whole problem saying it happened to a small number of people and wasn’t really important.  They also threw out the term ‘metadata’ a lot knowing that most people would not understand and dismiss the whole thing as some technical detail.  These stalling tactics worked until, lo and behold, Microsoft came out with its own tool for removing hidden details from documents.  When the tool was released, suddenly Microsoft ‘did a 180’ and hidden document details was an important issue.

These days, Office has ‘metadata’ removal tools included at File | Info | Inspect Document | Check for Issues.

This wasn’t the first time the Office team had done this trick.  Back in the early days of Office Watch there was a lot of concern about Office document macros being used to hack into computers.  Microsoft retaliated not by working to add security into Office, instead they dismissed the whole issue as trivial and talked about ‘prank macros’.  ‘Prank macros’ made it seem like malicious code was just a bit of harmless fun and nothing to worry about. 

Now we have governments doing the same thing.  Talking about ‘metadata’ and hoping to confuse the public so much that we’ll ignore the whole thing. 

What is Metadata

Everyone else has had a crack at this, so we might as well join in.

Metadata isn’t the message or content, it’s the details about that content.  Who sent it, who received it, when, the size etc.

Letter

The simplest example of metadata is a letter (remember those?).  Metadata for a letter is on the envelope; the recipient’s name and address, senders details on the back, date and place of posting (postmark), cost of postage, even the thickness of the envelope (a long or short letter).

All those details, combined with other details or a log of letter metadata can tell you a surprising amount about someone.   This example isn’t theoretical, postal authorities around the world (notably the USA) can and do track letters and pass that info to law enforcement.

Web Browsing

Metadata for your web browsing is even more detailed.  When you access a web site, the metadata is the exact web link, date/time accessed, length of time on the page, which links you clicked on that page, which computer you used (IP address), operating system, browser etc.

Apologists for this kind of tracking argue that they don’t collect the content on the page you read, just the web address.  But that’s just silly, if you know the web page link, it’s simply enough to revisit that link and see what’s on the page.

Office Documents

For Microsoft Office documents there are two levels of metadata – the basic file information and then the hidden details within the document but not printed out.

The basic file information is important because it is reported to the US government and perhaps other governments whenever a document is emailed or saved in cloud storage like OneDrive.

A document saved on OneDrive, DropBox, Google Drive etc is automatically included in a log/report to the US government.  Details like the file name, file type, size, date/time plus who saved the file (account details), where it was saved from (IP address, computer type, browser).  If the document is edited by multiple people, all their details will also be passed along.

And that’s just the first stage.  Get a copy of the Office document and you can see not only the document but all the hidden details, as explained by Microsoft on the Info screen in Word 2013

Whether it’s Microsoft, governments or law enforcement, using the technical term ‘metadata’ is just a way to obfuscate an intrusion into our privacy.

Personally, we have no problem with details being accessed under proper legal and judicial oversight.  After all, phone call logs (another example of metadata) have been used by police for decades, usually after getting a warrant.  It’s the wholesale and secret handing over data that’s a serious concern.