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Do You Really Miss Your Good Old Toolbars?

​Users of 2003 would never forget the way the good old toolbars were useful while editing, formatting, drawing and reviewing their documents, slides and worksheets. But ever since the invasion of the new Office versions (from 2007 onwards), it has been quite a learning time for these users. Ironically, Microsoft spent millions to redesign the complete Graphical User Interface (GUI) and replaced the toolbars and menus (primary, secondary and tertiary) with the new Ribbon UI and with the new Fluent design concept. The main objective was to throw open all the features to the users that till then lay hidden under those toolbars and the dropdown menus.

(I learnt from a source that in a survey conducted among the users of the older Office to identify what new feature they would want to see in the new office that was being developed at that time (Office 2007), a majority of the respondents seemed to have mentioned one or another feature that had already existed in the older version. This was because they were not even aware of its existence).

But habits acquired over a period of time are hard to kill and adapting to change is a very difficult task for many. Probably, keeping this in mind, the designers of the New Office threw in a feature that would cater to the aspirations of the users who migrate to the new from their older office versions. Thus came into existence the "Quick Access toolbar"- QAT.

The QAT is by default found at the top left corner of the Office application's window and has a couple of options already checked. You can add more to the toolbar from the list that is displayed or add any command from the complete list when the "More commands" option is chosen. And if it starts encroaching upon the space left for the file name, it can also be shown below the Ribbon. Email is one command in the QAT that has been of great use to me. It saves me a considerable time and effort when I want to attach the current file to a mail. Just a click on this command will open a mail window (if my Outlook is open) and automatically attach the current file to the mail. Save the file with an appropriate name before doing this so that your attachment looks more professional (than just Document1 or Book1).

See What You Have Copied Last; Then Paste It With Confidence

Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V are by far the most used key combinations in Office applications. While it has become a familiar feature, many do not know how to see the contents that was copied last. In fact some people keep wondering where the copied item is stored.  It is stored in a place called the Office Clipboard – a named portion of your computer's RAM. The last item that was copied (text, picture, etc.,) stays in this clipboard and gets pasted when Ctrl + V is clicked. As soon as another item is copied, the clipboard retains this and discards the older content. So, there is a continuous change in the content that is stored in the clipboard as latest item is stored and the older ones are discarded. When there is a frequent use of the copy & paste activity, there is always a need felt by the user to know the content that was last was copied.

There is an easy way to see the contents in the clipboard. All the user needs to do is click on the small arrow pointing to the bottom right corner close to the "Clipboard" command in the Home tab of the ribbon (in any of the office applications). The Clipboard opens and the content of the clipboard shows up. You can close the Clipboard afterwards if you find it encroaching the workspace on your screen.

There is an easier way to see the contents in the clipboard. Open the clipboard panel once and at the Options, down below, check the "Show Office Clipboard when Ctrl + C Pressed Twice" option. Thereafter, even if the Clipboard is hidden, press the Ctrl key and press C twice. Immediately, the Clipboard opens and shows the contents of the clipboard.

You might also be surprised to see there are more clips in the Clipboard after you opened the Clipboard the very first time. (The last item copied is displayed at the top). This is because you activated multiple clip retention when you opened the Clipboard. While Ctrl + V will paste the last item, you can also make use of the clipboard to paste any item that was clipped (copied) prior to the last item. Just point your mouse at the place you want the clipped item and then click on the respective item in the clipboard.

You can also paste all the items from the Clipboard at once into an office application. Remember, the Office Clipboard can hold only the last 24 items and follows the First-In-First-Out (FIFO) method. There is also a counter displayed at the bottom right corner of the screen as and when an item is copied along with a screen tip that tells whether the copy was successful and if not why.

Paste Multiple Pictures Into PowerPoint Instantly

We know that multiple items can be collected in the Office Clipboard once we activate it during an office session while working in Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc. (Just open the Clipboard by clicking on the arrow that points to the bottom right corner adjacent to the Clipboard command in the Home tab of the Ribbon to activate the Clipboard).

Now, you can also collect pictures and photos from the web (or any other source) into the Clipboard. Whether you use a search engine to display images and then you copy them one by one or whether you use the Windows + S feature of OneNote to clip pictures from a web page or whether you use the snipping tool of your Windows OS, they get collected in the Clipboard one after another.

Once all these pictures are clipped, go to where you want these pictures in a slide of your PowerPoint presentation and click on the Paste All option found at the top of the Clipboard. All the pictures get pasted but piled up one above the other. It is now just another step to spread them across the slide. Click on the Picture Tools – Format command and click the Picture Layout option. Choose one of the layouts and immediately all the pictures are arranged in the layout chosen by you.

You can move the SmartArt and resize it as required. If you have chosen a layout that allows titles/captions for pictures, just start naming them. You can also expand the text pane of the SmartArt and add the relevant captions to make your job easier.

Create Powerful Keyboard Shortcuts The Easiest Way

We know that the Quick Access Toolbar provides us a means to create shortcuts for our favourite commands that we use very frequently. They save us time by allowing us to access them quickly instead of choosing the respective tab in which the command lies of open the dialogue box that has the respective command.

It is also the most powerful way of creating the alt key combination keyboard shortcuts. The order in which the QAT tools are chosen will determine the sequence of the Alt key combinations beginning with the number 1. The first command to be checked will become the Alt + 1 keyboard shortcut, the second command to be checked will become the Alt + 2 and so on. This way we can have 9 such Alt key combinations (and more with 09, 08 and so on) at our disposal. If you already have these commands checked in the QAT, it can be rearranged when you click the More Commands option.

It would be better if we have these Alt key combinations set uniformly throughout the office application suit by choosing the commands that are common across all these apps. This way, it sets a uniform environment for one to work in the New Office.

Again, a certain QAT set can be set for a certain File also instead of being made the default set for all files. This can be done when we click the More Commands option and choose the option from the Customize Quick Access Toolbar dropdown.

You can also export this customized QAT (and other Ribbon customizations) to a file and share it with others who find it difficult to grasp the concept or are new to the environment). This file can be imported by them and implement the customization in their Office applications.

Communicate And Collaborate Better With Outlook And Lync

We get mails from our colleagues day in and day out. If you are using Lync in your enterprise, it will also let you know whether the person who sent the mail as well as others who have received it are available online at the moment through the presence indicator which glows green close to the email addresses of the people. (Grey indicates the concerned person is offline for quite a while, yellow indicates he is temporarily offline and red indicates he is busy).

Now, if you want to clarify a point immediately and you don't want to do it through a reply to the mail, which might take relatively more time, then your tools come in handy immediately. As Outlook is closely integrated with Lync, striking a conversation with one or more people in the mail can be done in just a click of your mouse.

Just point to the email address and you are presented with an option to start an instant messaging (chat) session, an audio call, a video call or a reply mail. Click the IM icon and your IM window opens for a chat session. You can drag and drop other emails into the chat window and include them in the chat. You can also use the IM option in the Respond cluster of the Home tab of the Outlook Ribbon to Reply with IM or Reply all with IM.

You work gets done quickly and your productivity increases manifold when you start using this feature.

Take Outlook/ Lync Meeting Notes In OneNote in One click

When you have meeting posted in your Outlook Calendar, this item in your Calendar can be linked to one of your OneNote notebooks for easy reference later on.

Right click on the meeting on your Calendar and choose the Meeting Notes option. Immediately it will open OneNote and ask you for your preference – whether you have a shared OneNote notebook that can be accessed by others who have (permission to the notebook) or you want to take down your notes manually in your personal notebook. When you choose the second option, it also allows you to choose the name of the default notebook in which these notes need to be saved.

OneNote presents you with a page in the notebook populated with all the details of the meeting from the calendar – Meeting date, Location, any links to Outlook items, Invitation message, Participants etc., from where you can continue taking notes of the meeting. And the added advantage is that the page gets saved automatically – no save command is required.

Microsoft Outlook Web Apps (OWA) in iPad and iPhone as a native application!

Microsoft threw open its Outlook Web App to users of its lifetime rival Apple in their iPhones and iPads as well. Moreover, this OWA app is available from the Apples App Store for download for free.  

A stunning move by the rivals! 

Apple took the lead in the devices market with the iOS to run them and is now closely fought by Samsung with the now open Android OS in its phones. But users of email have been familiar with Exchange and Outlook for quite a long time now – even longer than the iPhone and the iPad. With the, it was a long felt need of these users, especially the iOS users, to have access to their familiar email applications accessible from these non-windows devices. While there was already an app from the Android apps store (Google Play) for this OWA, it was a question in debate whether a native app would be made available for the iOS users. While OWA was certainly accessible through the Safari browser, a native app would make a huge difference to the user experience. Microsoft has finally answered positively to the aspirations of a large subset of email users who want to keep their device and still access their mails in a familiar fashion. 

How does Microsoft benefit? 

This move is also aimed at increasing the reach of the O365 online services offered by Microsoft. Exchange mail is a vital component of the O365 offering and has gained substantial ground recently with the launch of Office 2013. Now users of Apple's devices also can subscribe to Microsoft's online services, especially the Exchange Online and benefit from the offering. The $2 offering for the light users of mails are given access to their mails through the OWA with a storage of 1 GB in the cloud. So, this attempt might be a subtle strategy of Microsoft to break in to the Apple users market. 

How does Apple benefit? 

Apple might also benefit from the move as it can aim at selling its devices to users who tend to use MS Exchange for their mails and have always felt a need for a native app for easy access and so had put off their purchase decisions until one arrived. 

The Application 

iPhone and iPad's OWA app lets one know how many items are unseen (not unread) from the last time the user opened the app. When tapped, it opens to a log in screen for the O365 subscriber. Once logged in, an icon at the bottom left corner, when tapped, blows up and allows the user to switch between mails, calendars, people (contacts) and options to customize the app. (Credentials are stored once in the device and then needs no login thereafter). It offers almost a similar experience to the users of both the kind of devices. Holding the same icon (at the bottom left of the screen) for a little longer initiates a voice input session for the user. The folder pane, the list view and the reading pane are available to the user (though only two are open by default in iPad and one by default in iPhone but can be further opened) giving him/her a familiar user experience through the interface. 


Even IRM protected emails can be created and accessed through the app. Out of office messages and the most productivity enhancing Mail tips are also available at the new mail composing window. Even apps for Outlook like Bing maps are available for the users on the app bar. Search can also be initiated from within the OWA. Offline access to mails and the ability to compose mails even one is not connected to the internet are some of the most welcome features for the users of this app. 


Calendars with day, week, month and agenda views categorized by using various colours are all available in the OWA app. New appointments can be created and the Scheduling assistant can help in knowing the availability of a one or more individuals for a meeting in a given time slot on a given day. Event locations can also be added using Bing maps. Even reminders pop up even when the app is closed. 

People (contacts) 

OWA contacts can be synced to the device's address book and can be controlled by the Exchange administrator. 


Out of Office (OOO) messages, automatic replies and signatures can be set in the OWA. A remote wipe of the contents in the device can also be done by the administrator when situation warrants it. 

Note: This OWA is useful only if the user has a live O365 subscription. Normal Exchange on premises users might have to wait.

Create New Items in Outlook with Easily Rememberable Keyboard Shortcuts

​It is well know that while in Microsoft Outlook and when the current folder is Mails, you can create a New Mail using Ctrl+ N (This also holds good for other folders like Calendars, Contacts, Tasks andd Notes). But not many know that we can also create new items like Mails, Appointments, Meetings, Contacts and Tasks and from any folder we are in using very simple shortcuts. Here they are ...

New Mail​Ctrl + Shift + M
​New Appointment​Ctrl + Shift + A
​New Meeting reQuest​Ctrl + Shift + Q
​New Contact​Ctrl + Shift + C
​New TasK (Self assigned)Ctrl + Shift + K​
​New Distribution List (Contact Group)​Ctrl + Shift + L
​New Task ReqUest (Assign to someone else)​Ctrl + Alt + Shift + U
​New FaX (After signing up with a Fax Service provider)​Ctrl + Shift + X


Practise these a couple of times and then you will not have to switch folders to create the respective items anymore.

Hey Dollar! Can you tell me how much you are in Indian Rupees today?

Any one who deals with products and services whose prices are available only in a foreign currency has to check for the Indian Rupee equivalent from their favourite exchange rate provider in the Web. Also, buyers from online stores also face this challenge, especially, if the online store has prices posted in a foreign currency. Excel provides a tool here so that frequent checking from the web service becomes redundant. Here is how this is done...

Let us first go to the web service provider that gives us the current value of the foreign currency. I am taking an example of the www.eforexindia.com website. The site provides the latest exchange rates for the Rupee against US Dollar (USD), Euro (EUR), GB Pound (GBP), Japanese Yen (JPY) and Swiss Franc (CHF).


eforexindia table.png 
Let us copy (Ctrl+c) the website's address from the address box of the Browser. (This will make things easier for us if the website's address is long and contains many special characters like %)


Let us now go to the Data tab of the Excel ribbon, and click on the "From Web" option. We will then paste (Ctrl+v) the website's address on the Address box and click "Go".

We will now be shown the same page we saw on the browser. Also note there will be small arrows displayed at the top left corner of the tables available on the page. We will click on the arrow that is poining to our currency conversion table. Immediately, it becomes a tickmark.


eforexindia table in excel.png 
We will next click "Import" button at the bottom right corner of the dialogue box.


Now we will see a dialogue box asking us to show where we want the imported external data to be displayed. We will point to the cell where we want the table to start in the worksheet. We will also click on "Properties" and choose a refresh option.


External data connector.png 


Note that you can choose to refresh the data from the web everytime you open the Workbook and also to refresh the data periodically after the workbook is opened and is in use. (A shorter period can be chosen depending on how often the web service provider refreshes the value in the respective website - very useful for automatically updating shareprices that keep fluctuating within a short period of a few minutes). After checking the desired checkboxes, we will click OK.

Excel will run the query in the background and will get the data from the web (all of this indicated on the status bar of the worksheet) and will display the table with the data at the desired place.


 Current price.png


Since this table will always be located in the same range while refreshing the data from the web, we can make use of the values in the cells in our formulae in the worksheet elsewhere. A simple example is given in the screen clipping above.

The next time you want the current exchange rate (and the pricing of items based on this, you don't have to go to eforex (or any such service provider). Just open the excel workbook that contains this web query and Excel will get the values from the website for you.

Accelerate with Quick Steps - "Micro Macros" in Outlook

There are some activities we do time and again in Outlook which some times tend to become routine. This might involve 3 or four steps - Clicks of the mouse or use of the keys in the keyboard. There is a powerful tool in Outlook that can automate these clicks and keyboard inputs. It is the "Quick Steps" feature that is found right in the middle of the Outlook default ribbon.  

Quick Steps.png 
Quick Steps (2).png 


This Quick Step is lika a "micro macro" and can be created by the user for certain activities mentioned below. 
  • Filing
  • Changing status
  • Catogorizing, flagging and adding tasks
  • Responding
  • Creating Appointments
  • Actions relating to conversation views

You can also club more than just one activity and accomplish much more complex work that involves more clicks and keyboard inputs. For example, you can file the mail in a folder, mark it as important and then forward this mail as an attachment to another mail.

This is a great time saver and can be put to use innovatively to improve one's productivity.