Tip o’ the Week #295 – Outlook 2016 tweaks

 Office 2016 for the PC is nearly here. Many Office users have been already running a preview version, detailed here, but according to Julia White, the rollout of the final 2016 release will begin on 22nd September.

With many new capabilities that might appeal to IT admins, and with distribution increasingly being done as part of Office365, end-users might be forgiven for missing what the differences are over 2013 or even noticing that the upgrade has taken place.

In Excel and PowerPoint, there are new charting types, additional polish to numerous capabilities in data presentation, analysis tools and the likes. OneNote goes largely unchanged, except for some high-DPI capabilities on very large or very dense screens. Outlook has some tweaks for being shown in portrait mode on tablet devices, and also gets some changes to how it goes about connecting to the Exchange/Office365 back end. Office apps also now support multi-factor authentication, so it’s possible to get users to strongly authenticate when trying to open a specific document, for example.

I’ll tell you what I want

 One nice end-user additions to most Office apps (sadly, not OneNote) is a new feature called “Tell me” – a text box that sits to the right of the menu bar, which lets you tell the software what you want it to do. Think of it like Help on Steroids, or Clippy’s Revenge.


 Click on the light-bulb on your menu, (keyboard warriors press ALT+SHIFT+Q, or just ALT then Q), and type what you want the Office app to do… and rather than just showing you help about how to do it yourself, it may jump straight to that command.

Try this – press ALT+SHIFT+Q and type forward (and as you’ll see, that is the top option anyway, after only a few letters, for… at least, it is in English…); press ENTER, then send a copy of this tip to all your friends. Simples.

You can enter help requests too, and Office will try to figure out what you’re doing, and if all else fails you can search the Help files for your phrase, or perform a “Smart Lookup” – which searches the web and displays the results in a pane to the right of the application.

Outlook has a history of incremental smart additions, like the attachment detector that first appeared a few years ago now – if it thinks you’re trying to send a message with an attachment, but you haven’t attached a file, you’ll get a pop up to check …

 Well, attaching files got a bit different in Outlook 2016, and it’s one of the  neatest new features, even if it’s not rocket engineering.

When attaching a file within Outlook 2016, you can drag & drop files as before, but if you click on the paper-clip icon on a message, you’re presented with a list of most-recently-used documents.

If the document you’re selecting lives on a SharePoint site, then (depending on how you have Office configured) the default paste behaviour may be to include a link to that doc rather than to paste the original into the email – so you can do what people have talked about for years, and that is send around pointers to the current version rather than attached copies which will go stale.

Obviously, sometimes people won’t be able to access the online variant, so it’s still possible to decide to attach a copy instead, in the traditional sense.

 Be careful when sending attachments to external users as it could be quite easy to send them a link to a shared document (which they won’t be able to access) instead of a proper attachment.

Maybe a future “attachment detector” will sense that you’re trying to email a shared document to an outside recipient, and offer to replace it with an attachment instead.

ß Who knows, maybe there’s a hidden Easter Egg already in Office 2016 already…?

There are some features in Office that might appear to be Eater Eggs but are actually designed to be useful, if hidden, functions. Try typing =rand() into a Word doc, or =lorem(100) (or number of your choice), to generate lines and lines of lorem ipsum guff.

Comments (2)

  1. Eduardo Silva says:

    I suppose this is for the Windows version of Outlook 2016. I am using it on a Mac and I don’t have the light bulb and “Alt + Shift + Q” does nothing. Why is the Mac version so stripped down from the Windows version?

    1. EwanD says:

      Yes, you’re probably right – the tips on here are invariably about Windows as I don’t use a Mac… but the two are different code bases, so it’s not like the Mac version is some stripped down variant of the Windows client, it’s just that they have evolved differently (sometimes because the underlying technology is different, or because the app design methods are slightly different between the platforms). Keep suggesting changes and they will get nearer over time…

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