Category Archives: Outlook
Microsoft Teams is the hub for teamwork in Office 365. The vision Microsoft has with Teams, of bringing existing products and services together into a central hub and minimising context switching, is a vision I share in and have been fostering for over a decade. Before Teams came along I’d spent over a decade of my career working primarily within Outlook and integrating/surfacing other applications and services within Outlook to provide that hub. Outlook was (and still is in most organisations) the first application opened in the morning and the last to be closed at the end of the day. To me it has been blindingly obvious that we can help make users more efficient and productive by bringing the data and information they work with into core applications that they live inside of already, and prevent them having a plethora of applications open on the desktop and constantly switching between them. Outlook was that hub application for me.
Enter Microsoft Teams, a client built from the ground up to bring existing services, applications and product features into a central hub in the context of teams of people working together on a common goal or purpose. Finally Microsoft was no longer thinking in individual products isolated from each other and starting to realise the benefit of combining the power of all of those products for a focused purpose. In essence that is what we have all been doing for many many years, we select a mix of products that allow us to get our job done and where possible we try to integrate them because products that are integrated just make our lives easier!
It’s easy to see why Microsoft Teams has been getting some seriously good traction since it’s introduction and is set to overtake Slack.
I’m sure this uptick in usage was also helped by the fact that Microsoft Teams in now a free offering.
As with any product, it won’t magically fix your business problems simply by being installed and present on users machines. To make any product successful you will need a plan and to execute on it. To this end Microsoft has released an excellent resource in the Microsoft Teams Adoption Guide. This flipbook packs a lot of valuable information into a very polished and concise package. I highly recommend it as your starting point to a successful implementation of Microsoft Teams.
What I particularly like about Microsoft Teams is that it already has a rich extensibility story with developers being able to bring existing line of business application into the Teams client and allowing Teams to be the hub not only of Microsoft products and services but also non-Microsoft products and your own custom applications.
Wonder what a Microsoft 1:1 hackathon looks like? OnePlace Solutions Teams/Graph Engagement Experience
I was fortunate enough to be involved in a 1:1 hack engagement with Microsoft recently where OnePlace Solutions hosted some eager Microsoft engineers for a week long engagement. The intention was to see how we could harness some of Microsoft’s new Teams extensibility options and the Graph API, and for Microsoft to identify limitations or areas for improvement.
The format of the event:
- brainstorming possible ideas ahead of the event itself
- discussion and selection of a few possible ideas
- splitting up into teams and scoping what were would try to achieve within the scope of the hack
- working in a compressed scrum process (daily stand-ups, task refinement and retros)
- present to a wider audience on the last day of the hack to show what had been achieved and the business benefit
It was amazing to see how quickly the Microsoft engineers were absorbed into our development team, brought up to speed with our existing code-base, and starting to deliver functionality.
The real takeaway and reason for writing this article it just to let everyone know what an awesome opportunity these engagements are from Microsoft, a bit of what you can expect and that I highly recommend getting involved if the opportunity arises.
What did I see as the biggest benefits to our business of doing this hack with Microsoft?
The tips, tricks and work pattern knowledge sharing that occurred only comes when you truly try to work together on a project and aren’t just academically sharing knowledge. We all work in different ways and by running the hack almost as a true project (in a condensed form) there is a lot more than just the coding that is being discussed. VSTS, scoping, work item tracking, design white-boarding sessions, daily stand ups, retros, git source control, review of pull requests. All this is outside of the actual coding and using the technology being hacked on, but it is also a critical piece of developing in an efficient, scalable and measurable way.
Accelerated and focused learning on new technologies. The speed of getting across where a technology like Teams extensibility is up to, what’s possible when applying to problems we are trying to solve, and that hard first mile of understanding the frameworks, dependencies, and tooling to get the first hello world skeleton running.
Outside of the technology it’s a great opportunity to meet and build relationships with people who share a similar passion and spend a lot of their time working to solve similar problems. At OnePlace Solutions we are a passionate bunch of technologists that enjoy working in a social and supportive environment – from what I’ve experienced the hack is a perfect match for the way we work, with Microsoft bringing the same mindset, energy and support to the hack. We spent as much time laughing and discussing topics outside of technology as we did on it. At the end of the day we are social creatures and I found the hack was a perfect environment that bought people together with a desire to want to work together on a common goal, to challenge and push each other to do more in a fun and supportive way, and have a good laugh at the same time. Having access to global Microsoft resources to get definitive answers quickly, removed the amount of wasted time and frustration which allowed productivity, enthusiasm and energy levels to remain high.
We dedicate an amount of time each sprint to R&D, which usually involves educating ourselves in what is possible with new technologies and APIs and often going as far as prototyping code to see what’s possible and where the limitations are. It’s hard to imagine a better return on investment than spending this R&D time with Microsoft in the format of a 1:1 hack.
So a huge thank you to the Microsoft engineers, we had a great time and my advice to anyone thinking of getting involved with these engagements is that they can have great value to your team.
If you read my blog you are probably working with IT everyday and are familiar with the fact that all your family members (and extended family) use you as the family IT help desk – if only you could charge them your hourly rate…
A frequent family help desk call is the one you get after they have purchased a new laptop or PC. They need help to set it up and get the basic applications installed – one of which is Office.
You can point them towards buying an Office subscription, but these days it’s also worth considering what a Microsoft Live account provides for free. How much are they really going to use the “power” features of Office? I know they want Office installed because they need to feel assured that when they want to start writing a novel or need to fire up Excel for working out their finances and budget that it’s going to be there for them – but in reality it’s probably just the basic features that they require; and guess what, a free Microsoft Live account gives you online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint that are actually very good. So much so that I find them faster than their desktop counterparts and in the commercial world find myself using Office Online more and more to read and make changes to Office files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint & OneNote).
So what do you get when you sign up for a consumer Microsoft Live free account?
The sign-up page lists quite a few things but I don’t think it does a great job of telling you what you actually get, lets take a look at them:
- Account – This is the identity of your user account pretty simple.
- Outlook – You get an Outlook.com email address and you can use Outlook in a web browser, and native Outlook apps available on iPhone and Android (for free) which are really good. What you don’t get is a license to use the Desktop version of Outlook on Windows. The built in Windows mail app can be used to connect to your Outlook.com account however. It’s not as powerful and feature rich as the Outlook Desktop client but it’s also faster and baked into Windows 10.
- Office Online – This to me is really the unsung hero of a consumer Microsoft account. What this means is that you get:
- Word Online (plus native Word on iPhone/iPad and Android) – Read and pretty impressive edit capabilities
- Excel Online (plus native Word on iPhone/iPad and Android) – Read and pretty impressive edit capabilities
- PowerPoint Online (plus native Word on iPhone/iPad and Android) – Read and pretty impressive edit capabilities
- OneNote (Full Windows application plus native Word on iPhone/iPad and Android) – Read and pretty impressive edit capabilities
- Office Lens – If you haven’t used this app on iPhone or Android it’s going to blow your mind (just a little). It turns your phone into a handheld scanner. Take a photo and it automatically straightens up the page and makes the scan look good (with document, business card and whiteboard modes).
- Skype – This refers to the consumer version of Skype that you may already have used for free, well since Microsoft acquired in quite a few years ago now your Microsoft Live account has an associated Skype identity.
- OneDrive – This is personal cloud storage (think DropBox). You can save files to the cloud and they are backed up and available anywhere you log in (Windows PC, Mac, tablet, web browser, iPhone, Android etc). On the free plan you get 5GB of cloud storage for free.
- Windows – to get the most out of Windows 10 you really need to have a Microsoft account at the time of setting Windows up. Your free Microsoft Live account provides this Windows identity, this is who you will sign into you new laptop or PC with.
- XBox Live, Bing, Store, MSN – I don’t think these are anything to rave about they are really just providing you with an identity to these services.
So we’ve covered off the services that Microsoft advertises you get with a Microsoft Live account, but once you have set it up these are the application that you actually get access to (this is accessing your account via a web browser).
In addition to what’s advertised you also get:
- Calendar – Yes this is pretty much what you’d expect it to be. It’s baked into Windows 10 and the Cortana personal assistant can make use of it too
- People – This is your central contact management area for your Microsoft Live account
- Photos – these are stored in OneDrive but you get specific handling of photos with thumbnails, albums and some AI classification as well.
- Tasks – These are basically a ToDo list but with pretty slick apps for iPhone and Android as well. This has come partly from Microsoft’s acquisition of Wunderlist which was one of the most popular mobile ToDo applications.
- Sway – this is for creating rich and engaging online presentations
- Flow – very useful for automating tasks and connecting systems together (even outside the Microsoft ecosystem). Example: every time you receive and email with a certain subject or from a certain sender you want to copy the attachment to a folder in OneDrive – Flow can do that for you. Flow is similar to IFTTT (If This Then That)
The real draw cards here for your family and friends though is Office online (Word, Excel, PowerPoint). The editing capabilities of the online version of these apps is now to the point that it would be sufficient for most use cases. Have a look at the ribbons options on the screenshots below, are they missing anything you’d need for day to day use?
You’re getting a lot out of the box now with your free Microsoft Live account. It’s by far the smartest move when setting up a new laptop or PC so that your Microsoft Live account is used when you are logging in and you are going to get all of these great apps for free and may even replace the need for buying a Office subscription or installing a desktop version of the Office application. Now that has to cut down your future IT help desk overhead!
It’s a fast moving space and hard to keep up with even when you are working in the space, so cut your family and friends some slack, it may take a little education but they can achieve what they used to with a minimal install and without having to part with any hard earned cash.
Read more about Office Online.
I had the pleasure this week of speaking at the Sydney SharePoint User Group on the topic of transitioning to the modern Office Add-in development model.
- The existing COM/VSTO Office Add-in development model
- The reasons and drivers for needing a new development model
- What the modern Office Add-in development is and how it works
- Benefits of the modern model
- What this transition means for Office developers
- A look at the typical modern add-in technology stack and discussing some of the options
- The wider Office Developer Vision (Extending Office through add-ins + accessing Office 365 data via Graph)
Thanks to those who attended and as promised here’s a link to the slide deck from the nights presentation.
What a massive week in Orlando for Office developers. So many sessions, so much new information, it really was a case of drinking from the fire hose!
Thankfully most sessions were recorded and are progressively being made available along with the relevant slide decks on https://myignite.microsoft.com/videos
If you only have time to watch one session my pick for the SharePoint/Office Developer would be Accelerate your digital transformation with SharePoint and OneDrive presented by Jeff Teper, Dan Holme, Omar Shahine, Naomi Moneypenny. This session was just non-stop announcements on what’s new in SharePoint, Office and OneDrive. Some of the announcements:
- Office 2019 is coming (Office clients, SharePoint, Exchange, Skype for Business servers – all servers to be available on-prem) – preview due mid 2018
- A SharePoint specific conference (backed by Microsoft) is coming back in 2018 – and yes it’s going to be in Las Vegas
- SharePoint hub sites to group related sites together, share branding and navigation and provide rollup of some information
- SharePoint site provisioning model to allow for scripted customizations during the provisioning process
- SharePoint Company Theming and an online tool to help (https://aka.ms/spthemebuilder)
- SharePoint File Preview webpart (supports over 270 file formats)
- SharePoint Migration tool to move SharePoint content from on-prem to the the cloud (Office 365)
- Improved external link sharing
- OneDrive – deeper integration into Windows 10
- Improved large list support
- New version of the SharePoint mobile app
Going one level deeper into the Office/SharePoint developer world, here’s some of the news that came out regarding:
Microsoft Graph (Build smarter apps with Office using the Microsoft Graph (Yina Arenas))
- Generally Available
- SharePoint Lists
- File Versions
- People API
- App-only support for OneDrive
- Access to Outlook shared calendars, contacts and mail folders
- In Preview
- Graph Extensions for Azure Functions
- Outlook Categories
- Outlook Rules
- Outlook Email Headers
- Outlook Rooms
- Generally Available
- Outlook Add-ins for Android
- Single sign-on API (Web clients)
- Auto-open task pane
- Single sign-on API for Outlook
- Centralized Deployment for Outlook Add-ins
- Adaptive card support in Outlook (OWA)
SharePoint Framework and Patterns and Practices
- SharePoint Framework became available on-prem with SharePoint Server Feature pack 2 (this was released a couple of weeks before Ignite)
- SharePoint Framework Extensions – custom snippets on every page (aka delegate controls) context buttons/actions, customized field rendering
- Reusable controls and Office Fabric Core
One of the more complex areas of doing modern Office development is authentication and authorization (especially when connection back into Office 365 services). This story is becoming a lot simpler if you can go exclusively through the Graph API. Vittorio Bertocci did a very entertaining session (Office development: Authentication demystified) that really shows you an on-rails experience for how to accomplish this from many different technologies and context. It is well worth a watch and has the potential to save you a lot of time and head scratching. This area of Office development has changed drastically over the last couple of years and there is a lot of conflicting information on the web and much of it is out of date.
Debugging in Office Online (web browser versions of the Office products) is probably the simplest to use existing debug tools, and simply using F12 debug tools in IE, Edge, Chrome will give you access to the Console, DOM and inspection of HTML and CSS.
Desktop Office clients make it a bit harder since you can’t just start the F12 debugger tools because you are not in a full browser (like Edge or Chrome). Luckily Microsoft have provided a standalone version of the F12 tools (F12Chooser.exe) that you can use to attach to the running instance of the Desktop Office client.
Once you start talking about devices such as iPhones and iPads it begins to get even more difficult. Most documentation points you in the direction of Vorlon.JS which provides a good remote debugging experience, but involves a fair bit of setup, configuration and embedded scripts in your addin as well.
Firebug Console (iPhone)
Firebug DOM explorer (iPhone)
Firebug HTML Inspector (Desktop Outlook)
I was recently working on extracting mail from Outlook to an .msg file and later importing the .msg file back into Outlook. I was concerned that some of the non-obvious properties (there are a lot of non-visible MAPI properties stored on an email) would not be persisted or may change value in the process of the export/import. I thought this was going to be a daunting and time consuming process comparing the value of around 100 MAPI properties and playing spot the difference. Luckily the first thing I tried was the awesome OutlookSpy tool which I’ve found simply brilliant for assisting with Outlook development over the years. What I didn’t realise was that OutlookSpy has a build-in compare feature that will compare the MAPI properties of 2 mail items and highlight:
- Properties missing/extra on the 2 objects being compared
- Properties with different values on the on the 2 objects being compared
- Properties with the same values on the on the 2 objects being compared
Steps compare the properties on 2 email messages using OutlookSpy
Select one of the emails to compare and select OutlookSpy | IMessage
The IMessage window will appear showing all the MAPI properties on the item. From here select the Compare tab.
In order to compare this email against another email, the compare tab gives you a green area where you can drag and drop the PR_ENTRYID property from a different email message. So to do this leave the IMEssage window open on the compare tab.
Go and select the email you want to compare to in Outlook and select the OutlookSpy | IMessage button for this new email. You will be presented with the IMessage window and shown the MAPI properties for the new email. Locate the PR_ENTRYID MAPI property in the table (hint: click the column header to sort the table). Now drag and drop the PR_ENTRYID row from the table into the green drag/drop zone on the original IMessage window that you left open.
Now the magic happens! The compare tab does a comparison of the 2 items and allows you to switch between properties with the same values, properties with different values, and missing or extra properties.
When working with Outlook for Mac the content of email messages are rendered in a web browser control that is specific to Outlook (it does not use Safari). So when you have a need to clear any cached data or cookies it is far from obvious how you should go about clearing this cache. I’m a newbie to Mac so maybe this is obvious to seasoned users! Here’s how I went about it.
- Start the Finder application
- Open the Go menu
- You need to get to the hidden Library folder. To get the Library folder to show up under the go menu, hold down the option button on your keyboard
- Now open the Library folder
- Find the Containers folder under Library and expand it
- You should be able to find a folder called com.Microsoft.OsfWebHost
- To clear out the web browser cache I move the following to the trash:
- com.Microsoft.OsfWebHost/Library/Caches/com.Microsoft.OsfWebHost (folder)
- com.Microsoft.OsfWebHost/Library/Caches/Cookies/Cookies.binarycookies (file)
Restart Outlook and you should now have no cached files being used.