Outlook uses natural language to interpret dates

In case you did not already know, Outlook has some pretty clever parsing built in to date fields on Tasks and Appointments which can interpret and understand all sorts of combinations of “natural language” snippets to figure out what date you really mean. This is pretty powerful, and certainly saves reaching for the calendar widget to set up a meeting for the last Thursday of next month, or the first Monday after Christmas.

Sorry to say, Outlook does not know when your birthday is (“You look like you are opening a present! Do you want help with that?”), nor can it deal with Easter moving around every year, but otherwise it’s pretty smart.
See some examples of the sorts of text strings that Outlook will happily interpret»

Advanced Office Documents 2010 Edition by Stephanie Krieger

It took me a while to realise that when Stephanie Krieger said her new book was on the way, it was not necessarily going to be published under a similar title to her previous one “Advanced Office Documents 2007 edition”, in the MS Press “Inside Out” series.

So I’ve only just got round to finally ordering Documents, Presentations, and Workbooks: Using Microsoft Office to Create Content that gets Noticed which is the updated version.
Not the snappiest of titles, and if it is anything like her last it should have really been called something like “How to make Office 2010 really rock”.

I’m hoping it will be as brilliant and have the same deep content as the previous one, which certainly taught me loads about the packaging and XML structure of the new document formats, as well as some great stuff about using content controls in Word. If I get time I’ll do a proper review when I’ve worked my way through it.

PowerPoint presenter view smarter with sp1

PowerPointOnce you install Office 2010 service pack 1 then PowerPoint presenter view gets a bit smarter about how it choose which screen is used for the presenter’s “dashboard”, and which shows the slides for the audience.

With sp1 installed, when you select “use presenter view” on the Slide Show tab of the Ribbon, whichever monitor is set to be your main display (the one with your Start menu and Taskbar on) will be assumed to be the one the presenter is looking at, while the slides will go on your second monitor.

PowerPoint Slide Show Ribbon tab - Presenter View option

This is usually the right decision and is much more likely to result in you getting the setup you need “right first time” without having to fiddle about to choose the right monitor from the list (although you can still select this by hand if you need to override the automatic choice, of course).

Office 2010 Service Pack 1 – sp1 download available

Office 2010 logoLast month I wrote about the planned availability of Service Pack 1 for Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 for the end of June. And it’s here!

You can now download the whole service pack file as a self-extracting executable and simply run it to install, or you can use Windows Update, where it is listed as an Important/High Priority update (rather than critical or security) for you to manually install (after 90 days this will change to an automatic update if your system is configured for that). At the moment my 32 bit install claims this would take 409 MB via Windows Update compared with only 361 MB for the full exe package download.

Even if you only have 1 machine to do, you will save marginally on the file size if you manually download Office 2010 sp1, and then of course you will have the file to use again on any other machines that need it – if like me you are the de facto IT support for family and friends, this can be quite useful.

A few key changes relating to other products are that Outlook 2010 sp1 will fully support the now-released Office 365 online business applications suite, while SharePoint 2010 will support SQL 2011 and has improved support for users of Internet Explorer 9.

So, there’s lots of information about this important update, as well as the downloads themselves, so let’s dive straight in with a load of links to the things you probably want to get hold of straight away.
Find out more about Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 service pack 1 downloads, resources, and information »

SharePoint and Office 2010 Service Pack 1 announced


The Office Sustained Engineering blog has an announcement that Service Pack 1 for Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 is on track for release at the end of June.

As you might expect, this will include a roll up all previous patches and cumulative updates, as well some minor feature changes.

Update 28th June 2011: It’s here!

Read all about it and find links to all sorts of information and resources: Office 2010 sp1 available for download

Change to Outlook reminders dialogue

One of the changes declared for Service Pack 1 will be to revert the behaviour of the reminders window in Outlook 2010 back to the way it worked in 2007 thanks to sustained pressure from various contributors on the Microsoft Answers forums.

In Outlook 2007 when you snooze a reminder it remembers how long you snoozed that item for, and next time it comes up that is the default time chosen so you can very easily hit snooze again for the same delay. Each item (calendar entry, task or follow up) remembers it’s own interval so you can snooze a meeting later today maybe 15 minutes at a time, but a reminder about a conference next month a whole day at a time.

Outlook 2010 changed this behaviour so that each time you snooze any item, the time interval chosen is remembered for the next item as well, which means some people found they had to keep changing this back and forth between different values, and might snooze something for too long without realising – possibly ending up being late for that important meeting for example. Service Pack 1 will switch this behaviour back to the 2007 method, and it sounds like this will just happen, rather than providing the user with any option to choose which approach works better for them.

Which way would you prefer this to work? Let us know via the comments.

No news on Outlook 2010 holiday errors

For over a year now people using Outlook 2010 have been able to add public holidays for their country, with the slight problem that many of these holidays have several errors in at least 23 countries around the world . I have actually seen some people report the problem and offer fixes for it which still contain some of the incorrect dates, or “corrections” which introduce different faults.

Hopefully Microsoft will stick to their plan of including fixes in the service pack to finally address this problem, but there is no detail available on this yet, but we’ll update this with any news when it arrives.

Producer for PowerPoint

PowerPoint 2010 logo

The Microsoft Office blog has an article about Producer for PowerPoint, as well as links to the download page, and importantly to the Office Animation Runtime which you will need if you have PowerPoint 2010 (previous versions installed this along with the application, whereas 2010 does not). What is strange here is that the download page describes this as version 2 with a release date of 29th April 2011, yet the actual download page and file is identical to the version released and announced at the beginning of May last year.

The previous release was really a bug fix version which sorted out compatibility for Office 2007 and 2010, and there were vague claims that there would be new features in some later release, although as always according to policy there were no specifics about software in development.

Producer is a great way to turn a presentation file into a polished multimedia show which anyone can view using their browser. This is great for e-learning, tutorials, or any situation where you want to take something which would normally be delivered in person and make it available to a wider audience.

Oddly enough the download page refers to this as version 2, but the program itself claims (through help > about) that it is build 3.0.3012.0, but the MD5 hash for this file is identical to the year-old one. I’ve had a couple of problems with it – for example if you delete a load of slides from the timeline it expands the last one to fill up the space, and when you try to shrink it back down it takes while for no obvious reason, in my case chewing up one of my four processor cores flat out for a couple of minutes (tip: only add slides when you know you need them rather than all at once to avoid this problem).

Exam objectives for MOS 2010 exams are now available

If you are interested in Microsoft Office Specialist 2010 certification, you may be interested to see that the full exam objectives have now been published for the various MOS 2010 exams, including the expert level ones for Word and Excel. Some of these exams are not yet released (such as SharePoint, due in June 2011), but by knowing the objectives which will be tested you can start to put together your training plan.

Subject Exam number and link
Word Core 77-881
Excel Core 77-882
PowerPoint 77-883
Outlook 77-884
Access 77-885
SharePoint End User 77-886
Word Expert 77-887
Excel Expert 77-888

I passed the Excel 2010 exam during a break at a conference last year, but I’ve been waiting for the Expert level exams to come out so I can go and do the Word and Excel Expert ones as well as Outlook and PowerPoint in a single day to get them all done at once for my MOS:Master certification. This is what I did for my MOS 2003 and similar to MCAS 2007 (when I did Vista as well, but there were no “expert” exams for 2007), and I just find it the best way to “blitz” them and get them all passed in one go.

(Just in case anyone missed it by the way, the Office exams are now back to the “MOS” branding rather than MCAS, and anyone with an MCAS 2007 certificate is retroactively awarded a MOS 2007 in its place.)

Good luck to anyone planning to take these; let me know in the comments how you get on!

Outlook 2010 has incorrect holidays for UK and many other countries

Quick background information to bring you up to speed: You can add national holidays for your country to your Outlook calendar so they remind you not to go to work that day. Unfortunately Microsoft sometimes get the details wrong for one or two places, but in the case of Outlook 2010 at least 23 countries have incorrect dates for some of their holidays.

In this article I will describe some of the errors, list corrected dates and provide links to files I have prepared with the fixes already in to save you some typing. I have also posted a separate article about adding and removing holidays from your Outlook calendar, rather than making this one even longer with a great big discussion about the mechanics of doing this.


When you add holidays to Outlook, they are read in from a specially formatted text file, formerly outlook.txt, now (since 2002?) renamed to outlook.hol but essentially the same thing. This contains sections for various countries and a couple of religions, so that you can easily choose the ones you are interested in. This approach has a couple of limitations but some upsides too:

  • each holiday is specified as a single date, so even things which have on obvious recurrence pattern must be included several times for different years, which means only a limited number are included in the interests of file size
  • it is hugely subject to human error, as we will see
  • when there are errors, at least you can easily fix them by editing the file or replacing it with one someone else has done (like me)
  • you can add extra sections for “countries” you want to include, such as for a special interest group, or additional company holidays (such as winter shutdown periods)

Outlook 2010 errors

The version of the outlook.hol file which shipped with Outlook 2010 final version (RTM) has some serious flaws in it, affecting at least 23 countries as far as I can see (basically most of Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand), and likely many others I have not been able to identify. As I mentioned above, because of the way this file is used, this is relatively easy to fix as it is not an actual bug in the program, but is still very annoying, especially for anybody that has already imported the incorrect holidays.

Read more of this post

How to add national holidays in Outlook 2010

You can easily add national holidays to your calendar in Outlook to make sure that you don’t forget those extra days when you don’t need to go to work.

Before you do though, it is worth noting that Microsoft have published a whole bunch of wrong holiday dates in Outlook 2010 for at least 23 countries, including many future UK Bank Holidays. You should probably read my other post about the errors and download one or more of the files with corrections for them before you go ahead and add anything.

This article is intended to help you add national holidays, remove holidays with an incorrect date, and use Outlook categories to make these stand out on your calendar. Although I wrote this to accompany my post about incorrect dates in 2010 to show you how to actually add or remove these from your calendar, what follows applies pretty much the same to Outlook 2007 and older as well, although to be fair I have not attempted to test this in any step-by-step fashion for Outlook 2003, 2000, 97 or older as I no longer have these antiquated, steam-driven versions installed for me to access.

Adding Holidays to your Outlook 2010 Calendar

The normal way to add these holidays from the outlook.txt or outlook.hol file already installed on your machine is through Outlook’s own options as follows:

In Outlook 2010 go to File > Options then click the Calendar tab on the left, then click then “Add Holidays” button and carry on as described below.

If you are still using an older version, then for Outlook versions up to 2007, go to Tools > Options, then on the Preferences tab click on the “Calendar Options” button, then click on the “Add Holidays” button in the middle of the dialogue box which appears.
Read on to find out more about adding and removing holidays from your Outlook calendar»

Annoying file format warning when exporting CRM records to Excel

Pointless error message dialog box

When you export from CRM to Excel the data is derived as XML, saved with an XLS file extension and Excel is invoked to open the temporary file. Unfortunately Excel checks to see if the file being opened is actually of a type which matches the file extension and tries to be helpful. Normally this is to help overcome problems such as a comma-separated variable (CSV) file being saved as an XLS file extension, which ought to mean Excel tries to read the XLS file, fails because the contents are nothing like a real Excel binary file and gives up. Instead, Excel actually looks at the content, spots that it looks very much like a CSV and allows you to open it just as if the file extension was correct in the first place. However, this cleverness is tempered somewhat by the fact that the default setting for this is to ask the user every single time what they want to do.

As always, this is probably intended to be a helpful warning and prevent people opening files which might have insecure content, but it fails to do so because most users do not understand the implications and the longwinded message is probably not even read properly anyway. Certainly the 50th time someone sees a dialog like the one below, they just click “yes” without reading and it no longer provides any benefit whatsoever (by the way, I have done nothing to this, it displays in this ridiculously wide, un-resizable window on my machine).

Click to see larger version - CRM Excel export error message

Whenever I have managed people in IT support roles I try to eliminate fixes which involve things like “ignore that error message, just hit OK and it will work fine”. This not only numbs people to the meaning of that particular error message but to these sorts of warnings in general. Too often I have heard users explain why they did not report a problem until it was too late, saying “well, I got an error every day saying something about faulty disk or something but I just clicked OK, like John said we should with that other one…”. Find the root cause, eliminate the error, or suppress the error somehow, don’t teach people that errors don’t matter or they just ignore them. If you went to your doctor and said “it hurts my neck when I lift my arm up” you would not be impressed if she replied “then don’t lift your arms up!”, would you?
Read on to find out how to stop Excel asking unhelpful questions when you export records from CRM»

Awesome quick formatting of chart elements in Excel 2010

I just discovered a minor enhancement to chart controls in Excel 2010 that makes a really big difference in terms of how long it takes to quickly add the formatting I need.

When you right click something in your chart you see the usual right click menu as with Excel 2007 but now you also get the floating mini-bar above it as shown below (click for larger version)

Excel 2010 chart formatting mini-bar

On the right hand end of this you can see the selected element (Series 3 in this case) which you can then directly format, but even more usefully, you can use the drop down here to select another element, format that, then another and so on, and the mini-bar stays on top throughout.

Excel2010 chart formatting2

Now of course you can achieve the same thing by selecting elements on the Chart Tools|Layout or Chart Tools|Format ribbons, but for some items like labels and axes you want to change font properties and that means going from one Ribbon to another. If you want to rapidly change the colours or borders of various things, make the gridlines and plot area less obvious, alter the fonts of data labels or axes and other quick changes, you can do all of this without ever leaving this mini-bar area

Read on to find out more about using the mini-toolbar to change chart formatting»

Office 2010 available worldwide


Businesses have been able to get their hands on Office 2010 through various licensing options such as Software Assurance for just over a month now, and system administrators may have begun testing, rolling out and managing their new Office 2010 estate. Now the rest of the world can catch up as Office 2010 becomes available through all sorts of channels to purchase as boxed products through high street stores and online retailers, as well as options to download if you really can’t wait for the postman.

Eric Ligman has a great page about Office 2010 with lots of links to more information, documents, videos and the Office team blog. Really useful stuff all put together in one place for you to help you find out about the new features in Office 2010, decide if you should upgrade, and choose the right version for your needs.

Stephen Elop, president, Microsoft Business Division said:

Working with major retail partners and PC makers, we’ve made dramatic changes in the way we deliver Office 2010 to give consumers more buying choice, making it easier than ever to unlock the power of Office on new and existing PCs. For the first time, people can purchase a Product Key Card at retail to activate Office 2010 preloaded on new PCs. For those who want to download Office 2010 direct from Office.com for an existing PC, the new Click-to-Run technology will have them up and running in a matter of minutes.

Buy Office 2010 Professional on Amazon.com

Find Office 2010 features in the Ribbon

Excel Menu to Ribbon reference

One of the issues with any software upgrade is that as well as finding all the new features and getting to grips with them, there is also a certain amount of reorganisation, renaming and generally moving around of menus and toolbars to seemingly more logical places. Never was this more apparent than the complete replacement of the old Office menus and toolbars with the Fluent User Interface and the Ribbon in Office 2007.

The new style Ribbon is still retained in Office 2010, and you can now customise this to suit your own use. To help people who are upgrading from Office 2003 (or those who upgraded to 2007 but still have not got to grips with where everything is) Microsoft have published a bunch of reference documents to help you find Office 2010 features in the Ribbon. These are all presented as Excel templates, so if you don’t already have Excel 2007 or 2010 installed, you will need to use the Excel 2007 viewer discussed here.

Simply download the files you want for the programs you use, save them somewhere on your computer, then double click to open them whenever you find you have lost a function you used to use a lot. Given that most features that were kept in the product from earlier versions through to 2003 did not move around much, you will probably find these references equally useful if you are upgrading from 97 or 2000, say (I suspect if you are just getting round to upgrading from Excel 5 or earlier you might have other things to worry about!).

[Thanks to Daniel Escapa for bringing this to my attention with his post Menu to Ribbon mappings for OneNote 2010]

Have you upgraded to Office 2010 already? Do you have Office 2007? How have you found the transition from menus and toolbars to the Ribbon way of doing things?

Office 2010 file viewers

Office 2010 has now been released, so inevitably some early adopters (like me) will be deploying this in their businesses. If they are your suppliers, customers, partners or just other folks you know, they might want to share their files with you. So how can you read these documents if you don’t have this latest greatest version yet? There are various free options available to you to view them, depending on which version (if any) of Office you have.

Find out what your options are for different versions of Office»

Changing and managing your Office 2010 product keys

So you got excited and installed Office Professional Plus 2010 or Visio 2010 using your Technet or MSDN subscription and product key? What if you want to change it later?

If you got your keys before 1st May they might not allow you to use all the features of the product as it seems there was some mix up with product keys for Terminal Services rather than full product ones. There’s more info about what you might be missing in Office or Visio in this Microsoft support article and longwinded instructions about how to fix the issue and use a different product key.

Quick version of how to change your Office 2010 key

Via control panel, go to install / remove a program (this called different things in different versions of Windows, but if you have a Technet or MSDN subscription I would pretty much hope you know where this is).

Find the entry for Office 2010 and choose to change the installation (not remove). The very first screen of the install wizard gives you a bunch of options, simply choose the one to enter a product key as shown below:

Read more of this post

Office 2010 launch failure update – working media stream

Tim posted a comment with a working link for the media stream of the Office and Sharepoint 2010 launch.

So far the demo is fast paced and pretty impressive, although resolution of the screen during demo is a bit poor. More thoughts later.

Office 2010 launch failure

Looks like Microsoft are too popular for once, and shot themselves in the foot. The Office 2010 launch which was supposed to be taking place today in 38 countries (or was it 60?) at 15:00 UCT is currently falling very flat as it struggles with the load of too many people trying to see what all the fuss is about.

I am sure Stephen Elop is giving a rousing speech to the several hundred people who have gathered in New York to hear him live, but the “virtual launch” is a big fail at the moment. The links to the live keynote speech media stream are not connecting, the main launch website returns a 503 or a custom “service not available” message.

As an aside, the launch site is running on Sharepoint 2010 – maybe that dog food does not taste so great today.

So far a great product looks like it is being let down by a launch which is going to be an unfortunate flop.

(Update: the main URLs all now seem to be delivering the same pages, but the link to the actual keynote speech still comes up as a dud. Media Player can’t connect to the stream, it seems.)

Office 2010 Group Policy setting reference

There’s a useful Office 2010 Group Policy settings reference which details 428 settings which are new versus Office 2007, 125 deprecated or removed since 2007, and 98 which write to registry locations which are not version specific (and therefore might be policies which affect older and newer versions equally). This is a useful additional companion to the main settings reference (downloaded as part of the Office 2010 admin templates as discussed in an earlier post about managing Office 2010), especially to quickly identify where you may need to make new decisions rather than just replicating your original Office 2007 group policies setting by setting.

Managing Office 2010 RTM

Office 2010 has reached RTM (“release to manufacturing”) stage, and one week from today on May 12th Office 2010 will be available to business customers through Software Assurance they already have on copies of Office, or through new volume licences. (Technet and MSDN subscribers can already download the release version, and anyone can download the Beta to begin familiarising themselves with the new features.

The main (virtual) Office 2010 launch event will include a keynote speech by Stephen Elop, President of the Microsoft Business Division at 11am EDT (that’s 4pm BST for readers in the UK).

System administrators everywhere will also be pleased to find that the associated Office 2010 management tools are available to download already to coincide with the launch, unlike the time lag before they were available for Office 2007, or for the later service packs. This nearly 16MB download is a self extracting exe which will force a UAC prompt on newer OS’s, which can be useful so you can put the files in a folder which needs elevated privileges, and the contents expand to a total of about 123MB.

Read more of this post

Draft whitepaper about improvements to functions in Excel 2010

I don’t often write posts that simply say “hey, did you see this post over here?”. These echoes in the blogosphere don’t really add much value, and are sometimes symptomatic of people being measured by how many blog posts they write to meet some arbitrary marketing activity metric, rather than adding quality.

(Aside: the same applies to a series of posts about 6 related features of some software or comparing 5 alternative products which would have made much more sense written as a single cohesive article, but failed to tick the box for 10 blog posts per month. You get what you measure, or WYMIWYG)

But today, I though this was important enough to just say – have you seen this post on the Excel Team blog about improvements to functions in Excel 2010? Now that one’s a week or so old now, but today there was an even more important post with a link to a draft whitepaper with more information.

I have linked to the post , not the pdf file directly as it is only a draft, and hopefully the post will get an edit or at least a comment when a newer or final version is available. This document is for those who like to understand the details, and for any sceptics who might say “well, they said it was accurate last time, how do we know it’s any better now?” – it does sound a bit like washing powder ads who always tell us that this time round it will get things even whiter and brighter and cleaner than ever (just like they said before).

There are a couple of typos in the draft (the floor.precise function for example has an obvious chunk of copy and paste from the ceiling.precise function for example), and there are some things not made very clear (for example in most cases it only describes the new behaviour, not the old for comparison or for explanation of the difference and why the new way is more accurate).

It lists the MOD function in the section on functions whose accuracy has been improved. Did you know that MOD gave inaccurate results on older versions of Excel? I didn’t. In fact, it doesn’t – it gives a completely accurate result or fails with a #NUM error if the divisor goes into the number more than 2^27 times as described here. I think this is distinct from being inaccurate in the way the statistical functions have often been criticised.

Similarly the RAND function is listed but its problems not described in any detail – I can only assume that the function is flawed in that it does not give a perfectly even distribution of results and is therefore “weighted” to some extent. Since I only ever use it to produce dummy data for examples used in my Excel training courses, it does not really matter to me if it not truly statistically pure, but I am sure to others it is vitally important what algorithm is used to generate the results (it’s now the Mersenne Twister, for those who care, but this fact is not from the whitepaper, it’s in a comment to the original post made by Jessica Liu).

Anyway, the bugs and inaccuracies that are discussed in the whitepaper are all now fixed (but it does not say this in the whitepaper, merely leaves it implied), and already works in the Technical Preview. Some of the other changes came too late for TP but should be in the public Beta when that gets released.

I expect the changes to naming conventions will also help people who use the statistical functions a lot (I’m not one of those) or have to make sense of others’ work. The convention of .precise added to a function name seems to mean “according to a precise definition” rather than “inherently more accurate”. I would have though .strict might be less ambiguous and similar to the use of the term in other fields (eg web design using XHTML versus XHTML strict).

Has anybody had real issues with these inaccuracies in the past? (and had you even noticed?)

Are you using other software tools to avoid the problem in Excel, and will these changes allow or encourage you to switch back?