I have been spending some of my free time writing add-ins for Office and Power-Ups for Trello. I just completed two add-ins for Office. One is going through the process with AppSource and I will blog about it soon enough. The other cannot go though AppSource because it uses the Block On Send interface for Outlook. The add-in I just release is the 5entences Add-in for Outlook.
I have been inspired by various books I have read that all cross-pollinate the idea that we use e-mail all wrong or too much. Cal Newport’s “A World without Email” and Tim Ferris’ “4 Hour Workweek” are just two examples. And I believe it was Tim’s book that first touched on brevity in email. And thus, this website was born: five.sentenc.es.
From those books, and website, I had an idea. Why not add “training wheels” to the idea of email brevity? So, I wrote the 5entences Add-in for Outlook as a simple to use add-in that tries to help you keep your email responses brief and to the point.
It has been a fun side project as I was delving deeper into writing React code and using prebuilt React controls, so I wanted to share it with everyone. Maybe we can make email fun again.
In my day-to-day dealings with people and organizations, there is a common confusion on the term “Office 365.” And that confusion is fed by a few common myths that I have heard repeated by some very smart people in those organizations. So, first, let me dismiss the myths…
The first one is that Office 365 is online, in the browser applications only… NO! Office 365 is NOT just Excel Online, Word Online, PowerPoint Online, Outlook Online, and OneNote Online.
And the second myth is that the desktop applications are getting deprecated… NO! Microsoft is NOTdoing away with the installed desktop applications on Windows and Mac in favor of web based versions.
So let’s get to the question:
If Microsoft is not replacing Office with web versions, then what the heck is all this Office 365 and cloud stuff then?
Primarily, Office 365 is the name of the subscription. You no longer buy the Office applications on disks and install them, then buy the next version, etc. With the subscription you always get the newest version (and much more). As you will read from the link above, there are lots of FAQ’s and other information that explain how this works.
So Excel Online, ET AL. is PART of the Office 365 subscription based platform. Office 365 still includes the traditional Microsoft Office desktop applications on the PC/Windows or the Mac. And they are not going anywhere. When you hear that your organization is moving to Office 365 it does not mean you will ONLY be accessing Office from a web browser.
Office 365 is really Office anywhere, on any device. For example, Office 365 also includes applications on iPhone, iPad, and Android. And it is not just the traditional applications. There are incredible tools such as Forms, Sway, Teams, and for developers the Graph API. It also shifts workloads like Exchange Server for mail and SharePoint server for document management from local IT servers to servers run by Microsoft in the cloud.
So when you hear Office 365, DO NOT THINK GOOGLE DOCS. The online versions of Office are only there to provide an additional avenues to access Office from anywhere, on any device. Per the Office 365 website:
Works across multiple devices
Get the fully installed Office apps on multiple PCs, Macs, tablets, and mobile devices (including Windows, iOS, and Android).
They are not as fully featured and as such you really need to consider when you might use them over using the traditional Microsoft Office desktop applications. Per this site (my emphasis added):
Office for the web (formerly Office Web Apps) opens Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint documents in your web browser. Office for the web makes it easier to work and share Office files from anywhere with an internet connection, from almost any device. Microsoft Office 365 customers with Word, Excel, OneNote, or PowerPoint can view, create, and edit files on the go. …
The following tables compare Office for the web feature capabilities to feature-rich Microsoft Office desktop apps.
So, if you like your Excel just the way it is, installed on your scientific workstation with a bazillion gigabytes of RAM, you can still run it there if you move to Office 365. What you get with the traditional Office applications is more frequent, seamless and automatic updates from the web. Per the Office 365 website:
Get the latest features and capabilities with fully installed and always up-to-date versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint for Windows or Mac, OneNote (features vary), Teams, and Access and Publisher (PC only).
Hopefully, this has helped clear up and dispel the myths. And when you go back to the smart person that has told you otherwise, and continues to insist and tell you otherwise, please send them here.
I like taking notes, the old fashioned way (by hand in a notebook, on… paper), but I like finding them the new way (using search on my PC). I love OneNote and how easy it is to keep an online notebook with all sorts of data. For example, due to archival rules some of my email starts to “disappear” from my work account after a couple of years. But some emails I like to keep – little nuggets of wisdom, notices, personal information and such I like to keep around. So, I export them to OneNote, where I can keep them safe.
So, I was living this duplicitous life of daily note taking with pen and paper but also filling my online notebook with all sort of information. I wanted to find a way to bridge these two. A few years back I was at a Microsoft convention and ran into a member of the OneNote team that turned me on to a small startup firm called: ModNotebooks. Their website is now gone, this is all you see:
What they did was to send you a very high quality notebook, you would fill it up and ship it off to them. In the back of the notebook was a folder with a mail pouch and prepaid postage. They would receive it, scan it in for you and then dump the contents into your OneNote file behind the scenes. I filled 7 notebooks with them. But alas, their business model did not work, I am guessing, and they have gone out of business.
Now, I am left with my seeming duplicity again. How do I get back to having my handwritten notes in OneNote again? Enter, OfficeLens.
I have actually been using this app for some time to scan travel receipts to PDF to turn in for expense reimbursement. And while I have always known I can use it for OneNote notes, I never tried it – namely because I had a better thing in ModNotebooks – or so I thought. Being forced to use something is sometimes what it takes. So, I gave OfficeLens a shot.
First, you download it to your phone. It comes on all three platforms (Windows Phone, iOS, and Android). Next, you hook up your Microsoft account (Live/Hotmail/MSN) and then you start scanning. It automatically finds the page and draws a border around it:
When you click the button at the bottom, it shows you what it got:
In the lower left, you can click the (+1), to add more page (up to 10 at a time – my only complaint – more on that later)* Once complete with your scanning, you click Done at the top right. This will take you to the “Export To” page.
From here I select OneNote and it asks me where I want to put it in my Notebook and when I click Save, it begins to upload it to my OneNote notebook:
And once it is in OneNote, it is fully text searchable, based on my handwriting. Yes, I said “fully text searchable” from my handwriting. Here is what it looks like once it gets to the final destination and I perform a search:
So, my only complaint is that the tool only allows you to scan in 10 pages at once. I wish there was a way to override this, for two reasons:
I take a lot of notes and I fill 10 pages quickly. I have to get into the habit of scanning every week at this point to keep up. It is not impossible, but it would be nice to skip a few weeks and then scan them all in – in bulk. Right now, I have to upload it in several different batches of 10.
I recently was working with legal documents and needed to print them out, sign them, scan them in and then send them off. The document had 11 pages. 11. 11! So, I had to scan 10 pages, then scan the last one and then find PDF merge software to merge them all together. That was NOT fun.
With that said, Au Revoir ModNotebooks. You were great while you lasted. I will likely be going back to using Moleskin’s and then using OfficeLens to digitize. We shall see… TUL (the “u” is long, so “tool”) has some nice notebooks too – I love their fine-point pen:
If you have any suggestions, please leave comments below.
A customer I work with encountered an issue where a specific add-in was causing Outlook to lose its network connection. Essentially, we were unable to get the “Click here to view more on Microsoft Exchange” (in cached mode) to light up. Here is what we saw:
Here is what we wanted to see:
It was always grayed out and no mater what we did in Outlook with the connection state, it never same back.
After a lot of troubleshooting we found one particular in-house add-in was causing the problem. Oddly, everything worked great with the same add-in in previous versions of Outlook, but in Outlook 2016, we started seeing this problem. Therefore, we knew it had to be a change made in Outlook 2016. What we found is that Outlook 2016 had been greatly reconfigured in the startup code to optimize network connections as it now connects to the cloud (Office 365). So we started working with the product team on identifying the root cause and in the end we were unable to find a solution (in time). My customers deployment was delayed.
As such, I had to come up with a workaround. We found that if the add-in was not loaded when Outlook started, but was manually enabled after Outlook launched, the problem would NOT occur. This got me thinking: What if I created an add-in that loaded add-ins AFTER Outlook was done loading all other add-ins?
The Outlook Delayed Loading of Add-ins for the Enterprise was born. By the way, that name is credited to my customer. The catchy acronym stuck: D-LAME Add-in.
I have posted the project for it here on GitHub here:
You will need to load it into Visual Studio and compile it and then sign it with a certificate on your own. The code is provided AS IS. The README.md on the page explains the installation, configuration and usage of the a add-in once you have it ready for deployment. Some key points:
You will want to move the add-in(s) you wish to delay from HKLM to HKCU registry locations.
You can load DLAME as either HKCU or HKLM. The suggestion is HKLM.
So, what can you use this for? Well, it turns out this add-in has a lot of uses and as I have started discussing it with other support folks at Microsoft, several use cases came out:
You have a lot of add-ins that you need to have loaded with Outlook. They keep getting disabled by Outlooks resiliency feature, so you add policy settings to prevent them from being disabled, but now Outlook takes forever to launch. You can now set only DLAME to be resiliency policy blocked and then delay load all your other add-ins.
Because it is a .NET/VSTO add-in, added to the above scenario, you can have all your VSTO add-ins load after Outlook has completed loading all other add-ins.
Because the loading occurs on a background thread, the user will see Outlook fully load and then will start to see the other add-ins load (Ribbons and buttons appearing) after they are able to see their inbox and start reading/selecting items.
Bottom line, this add-in is useful for helping an enterprise manage their add-in without impacting the loading of Outlook or user productivity.
However, there is ONE major caveat. You will need to thoroughly test your add-ins because some add-ins might not like being loaded AFTER the fact. Technically, I have not found any that behave this way, but there could be some that register to certain events (like Application_Load and NewExplorer) that will not get fired if loaded after Outlook is already fully loaded.
Recently, a customer I work with asked me to investigate why the tabs in their shared OneNote notebooks were disappearing. It is especially prevalent when they moved to OneNote 2016. The cause as it turned out was something called Windows Deduplication. At its simplest, it is a way to reduduplicate files and similar streams of data on a disk. It is a form of compression at its simplest which is to say it is a mechanism to allow you to stick more stuff on a computer or server disk. What we found was the deduplication was corrupting the OneNote index (toc) on the server and each time someone went to make changes to the OneNote file on the server. Tabs would start disappearing for other users when multiple users were editing the files. When we enabled the exception for OneNote files in the data deduplication feature and then moved the OneNote files from one folder to another and then back (which is required to de-optimize the files), the problem went away. To resolve this problem you will likely need your administrator involved:
You will need to set an exception for the OneNote file extensions in Windows Server 2012 Data Deduplication.
You will need to exclude these extensions: *.one, *.onebin, *.onetoc2
Next, have everyone close OneNote on their systems.
Finally, you will need to “deoptimize” (or, and I love this, de-dedup) the files. To do this, you will create a folder somewhere in the shared folder, move all the files in the OneNote folder to that location, then move them back.
NOTE: Nothing needs to be done on the clients, they will just work the next time the users launch OneNote. You might notice the tabs will still initially appear to be missing, but they will re-index and come back. This might take a few minutes depending on how many tabs there are.
Once completed, you should find that your tabs are no longer disappearing.
I have been working with a number of customers over the years that come from the world of Lotus Notes. And one of the areas they often complain about with regards to Outlook is the calendar printing options. There are certain things you just cannot do in Outlook from the printing perspective that leaves them wont for more.
So, I have been working over the years on this add-in. This has actually gone through a few iterations – the current version 126.96.36.199 is the most recent and most fully-featured version.
The full source code is on GitHub, here. It is totally open source and free to use, modify, etc. Here is what it can do:
Printing calendars not available in Outlook by default.
The ability to create your own custom calendar
The ability to combine calendars for multiple people at once:
Displaying only overlapping schedules on the same calendar
Displaying all meetings including overlapping meeting
The ability to export in daily, weekly, by-weekly, tri-weekly or monthly formats.
The exact details on customization, installation and usage are all covered in the user guide, here.
Ever since Office 2010, Excel has become more and more burdened with memory issues. The most common problems I have seen are hangs, crashes, errors about resources, and problems with cut/copy/paste. This has occurred more and more often with each subsequent build of Excel. The symptoms have become more apparent as Excel Spreadsheets have become more and more complex. Users have become more savvy with formulas, pivot tables, slicers, etc. And Excel has started using more and more memory to enable these features. The problem is 32-bit architecture on a system. Although application are supposed to have 4GB of memory, Excel is actually limited to 2GB where the system uses the other 2GB for shared process memory.
Now, there is a fix which makes Excel 2013 and 2016 “Large Address Aware.” This is a feature of Windows that limits memory for the system to 1GB, freeing up 3GB for Excel. This should help tremendously. Most of the problems reported with Excel usage should decrease as a result of this. For more information on this fix, see:
Windows XP and Office 2003, however, have been supported for more than a decade, or since “Baywatch” went off the air.
Computers currently running Windows XP and Office 2003 won’t stop working on April 9, but over time security and performance will be affected: Many newer apps won’t run on Windows XP; new hardware may not support Windows XP; and without critical security updates, PCs may become vulnerable to harmful viruses, spyware and other malicious software that can steal or damage personal information and business data.
Office 365 — the next generation of familiar Office productivity applications in the cloud. The subscription-based service offers familiar Office tools and maintains file integrity and design when documents are edited by multiple people, and it provides enterprise-class security and privacy.
If you are considering the move and have questions about your Microsoft Office Integrated Line of Business Applications, there are many ways Microsoft and Microsoft partners can assist you in assessing and remediating these solutions.
I have heard from a number of folks that are “stuck” in XP/2003 land. Namely, because they have a large number of Office based solutions, Excel VBA add-ins, XLL’s, UDF’s, macros and Access 2003 databases that must be migrated and no idea how to begin to remediate them. There is help out there and a number of partners and even service offerings from Microsoft that can help you.
If you have a solution in Office 2003 that you need help to remediate, please contact me. Send me a private tweet or send me an InMail on LinkedIn.
If you have been doing much work in VSTO and especially around Excel and embeddings, you may have been bit by this bug. Does this error look familiar:
“The program used to create this object is Excel. That program is either not installed on your computer or it is not responding. To edit this object, install Excel or ensure that any dialog boxes in Excel are closed.”
This error can be caused by the following:
A .NET3.5 Add-in or a .NET 4.0 Add-in
You have attached to the WorkbookOpen and/or WorkbookActivate events.
You are trying to edit/open/double-click on an embedded Excel instance inside a Word or PowerPoint document.
There have been several reports of this problem on the Microsoft MSDN site:
The basic simple answer is to place a Marshal.ComReleaseObject(Wb) at the end (or better, in the Finally block) of your event handlers. This will properly allow Word and excel to handle the OLE communication by not having VSTO hang on to an instance handle of the workbook, therefore causing the error.
And this is not carte blanche to start placing ComReleaseObject() all over your code. I have found VERY VERY few limited cases where using ComReleaseObject() in an add-in necessary. And this is one of them.
It is not a panacea, either. While it resolves the issues of OLE initialization and allows you to edit your Excel embedding in Word (as one example), it does not prevent one other scenario that I like to call “Orphaned Excel.” In this scenario, you edit your embedded Excel instance in another Window (usually via a right-click / Ole Object / Open). If you leave Excel open, return to Word and close the document, Excel should close. But in the VSTO COM/OLE scenario it may not – it will remain open with the embedded workbook still editable. However, it is orphaned an no longer associated with its container. Any edits will be lost.
That is where a solution I created for Excel/Word OLE interaction comes in here:
This add-in is very well commented and explains the following:
When a workbook is opened, it looks to see if it is embedded.
If it is, it connects to the running instance of Word, and gets a reference to the parent document.
A timer in the add-in will then continually check the status of the document
If the parent document is still opened, nothing happens. However, if Word is existed or the parent document is closed, the child embedding is forced closed.
However, and this is important note. For everything you do, you are in the sandbox with other kids. Your add-in is loading in the same AppDomain as everybody else. If there is another VSTO 3.5/4.0 Add-in loaded in Excel and that add-in is not doing any of the above – well, your still going to have problems.
That is what makes this issue so vexing. You can play by all the rules, but you cannot prevent other kids from throwing sand. This is why I see some customers going to the extreme to manage out (disable) all other COM add-ins when they load their solution. But this does not work for HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE Loaded add-ins.
There are few options and most involve a lot of code. I say, TEST. If your are in an Enterprise environment, test all your VSTO add-ins together, find code owners and get everyone on the same page. If it is a vendor add-in causing the problem, point them here.