Blog Archive

PowerPoint’s Morph Transition



When we train on PowerPoint, we don’t often go through the animations and transitions in detail because everyone plays with them and you should never overuse them.  There is a thin line between effective and gaudy.  Please, we’re begging you never to use the airplane transition in a serious presentation.

There are two very useful transitions in PowerPoint however; morph and whilst not listed on the transition ribbon group, the zoom control which we’ll blog about later this week.

Morph

Morphing two similar slides is nothing new and in the past I would have used animations tools such as motion paths and fade.  The morph transition potentially saves me hours by automating what I need.

Let’s get started

I have the following slide and want to add a second slide afterwards with different text and layout but essentially the same main components.

PowerPoint morph example slide 1

 

Of course, I could just use a fade transition but to be really flashy I’d create motion paths to move each of the elements around as if it were the same slide animating.

The easiest way to utilise morph is to duplicate your starting slide so now we have two slides the same.

In slide 2, move the elements where you want them to be, edit the text as required and create any new elements you require as you would normally.  Here’s my new slide 2.

PowerPoint morph example slide 2

 

Once you’ve finished, select the morph transition for slide 2 and if you have transition preview set on, you’ll see PowerPoint recognising the existing elements from slide 1 and automatically moving them to their new positions on slide 2.  The text and new elements simply fade in.

Here’s the effect.

 

Morph can also be set to animate words or characters as well as objects by setting your choice in Effect Options in the Transitions ribbon tab.

If you try to set morph on two completely dissimilar slides, you’ll just see morph perform a simple fade.

Whilst morph is a great time saver and looks really special, you may still need to create motion paths if you want elements to animate in certain ways, such as following a defined route.

This Early Solar System Explorations – Morph PowerPoint deck is a great example of using morph.  There are no animations in this deck whatsoever, the work is all done by PowerPoint and it makes the fictional Mrs Roberts look awesome.

Morph is available in PowerPoint on Office 365 and PowerPoint 2019.


Accessibility with Microsoft Office



User excluded from the team

Part of any software rollout involves considering the needs of a diverse population of users.  We are running a series of free webinars which introduce the challenges for users with accessibility needs who may use computers in different ways.

We’ll cover technology and techniques used, design decisions which affect the accessibility of documents and features available in Microsoft Windows, Office 365 and Internet Explorer which will help IT projects to be more inclusive from the outset.

Each webinar will last 20 minutes and there will be opportunities to ask questions.

 

Webinar 1 – Wednesday 28th November 2018, 2pm – Why is accessibility important?

Webinar 2 – Wednesday 5th December 2018, 2pm – Creating accessible content with Microsoft Office

Webinar 3 – Wednesday 12th December 2018, 2pm – Accessibility tools in the Microsoft platform for consuming content

Webinar 4 – Wednesday 19th December 2018, 2pm – How not to alienate users with accessibility needs in team collaboration

You can register for these by clicking here.

We hope to see you for the webinars!


Quick Access to a SharePoint library



Being able to synchronise a SharePoint document library to your pc in order to utilise it through Windows File Explorer is extremely useful. However the synchronisation will use up storage space on your local hard drive and having organisational documents stored locally will increase the risk of information compromise.

An effective way of rapidly accessing SharePoint document libraries and folders through File Explorer is to add them to the Quick Access section at the top left or the File Explorer windows, aka Favourites.

Step 1 – Navigate to the library through Internet Explorer

Browse to your SharePoint site and click on the document library.

SharePoint Document Library

 

Step 2 – Open the library in File Explorer

This is a great little step which opens the library as if it were a traditional mapped drive.  On the right-hand side of your document library toolbar (New, Upload, Sync, etc.) you’ll see the All Documents view.  Dropdown to see options and choose Open library in Windows File Explorer.  This allows you to act on the files just as you would normally for operations such as bulk copy or move.  The files are not synchronised locally so there is no offline access, storage or latency issues.  You must be online to achieve this and also must be using Internet Explorer as Chrome, FireFox and even Edge don’t support the Open library in Windows File Explorer feature.

Open a SharePoint document library in Windows File Explorer

Step 3 – Pin the library to you Quick Access navigation

When the explorer window opens, right-click the Quick Access on the left hand side and choose Pin current folder to Quick Access.  Or if it’s just a subfolder, right-click the specific folder you want and select Pin to Quick Access.  You’ll now have a handy shortcut to your online document library within File Explorer.

Pin a folder to Quick Access in Windows File Explorer

 

Caveats

This method assumes you are on a domain-joined machine with the same login as your Office 365 account, you have automatic login enabled and your SharePoint intranet is a trusted domain within Internet Explorer.  Otherwise File Explorer won’t be able to authenticate and you’ll get an error window stating access denied.  If this is a problem you aren’t able to resolve, then try one of the alternative methods below.

SharePoint Access Denied Error

 

Alternative methods

You can achieve a similar result in the Office applications.  Copy the URL of your SharePoint library (removing everything from the /forms suffix onwards).  Start your Office application, e.g. Word.  Select File, Save As and paste the URL into the filename box (you may need to click Browse first).  Hit enter and the app will open your document library.  Now you can scroll up the folder tree on the left until you see Quick Access and right-click in the same way as step 1.  This will propagate into other Office apps but not File Explorer and it’s useful if you regularly save into or open files from SharePoint libraries.

Finally, it’s also possible to pin the web page to your Windows taskbar in order to have quick navigation to the portal view of your library.  Drag the webpage tab onto the taskbar until the icon changes to Pin.  Then release the mouse button and you’ll have a persistent icon to that page.

Pin a webpage to Windows taskbar

Simple ways to cut costs through tech



We’re often told how technology can help organisations save money so here are some concrete actions that be used in organisations and teams.

Action 1 – Utilise virtual meetings

Until we develop telepathy we’re going to need to meet with other people but we can do this in a much smarter way.  Think how quick and easy a telephone call is; no travel, no hanging around, we get things done quickly.  Now translate the benefits to a meeting.  Spending time finding, booking or hiring a meeting room, getting to the room (which may involve some participants travelling in), setting up your laptop, waiting for everyone to arrive all put a dent in your time and budget.  It’s incredibly easy to hold virtual meetings from your desk or a quiet corner.  Your virtual meeting room is always ready and waiting, people can join from anywhere and if someone is only needed for part of the meeting, they can be invited into the virtual space at the appropriate time.  Many virtual meeting tools include whiteboards, presentation tools (where all participants can annotate slides), polls and moderated Q&A channels.  Also think about recording the meeting instead of taking minutes or as a record for absent staff who couldn’t attend in person.  There are plenty of free tools to run virtual meetings, share screens and documents as well as the more enterprise-ready and full-featured Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

Steps to achieve – Reduce your in-person meetings to once or twice a month and hold the rest using the virtual collaborative tools available to you.

Action 2 – Work from anywhere

We have worked with many enterprise organisations that are reducing physical office space because it is extremely expensive.  It’s possible to work in virtual teams where staff aren’t expected to come into an office.  How did your staff fare during the big UK snowfall of March 2018?  Could they work from home or if not what were the blockers?  Personally, I was stranded in Edinburgh due to the lack of flights and trains.  I was just as productive, perhaps even more so because of the room-service cheesecake on tap.  You can still remain in-touch through collaborative portals such as SharePoint and Teams and using presence information from Skype for Business.  Setting up team portals or collaborative spaces for individuals sectors, projects or clients can add a great relationship benefit because you can include external users, such as business partners, agencies or the customer in your team portals.

Steps to achieve – Set up a team channel in Microsoft Teams (there is a new free version if you don’t already have an Office 365 plan), invite the relevant colleagues and start collaborating on your project.

Action 3 – Save on software licences

We worked with a marketing firm a few years ago and due to acquisitions, an aggressive hiring plan and allowing their staff to use the tools they were familiar with, they had almost 300 disparate business intelligence reporting tools in use.  That’s an extreme example but we often see companies paying for software which is available to them in another licence they own.  For example, paying for WebEx or paying an external provider to host virtual meetings when you already have an Office 365 plan with Skype for Business.  Or paying for screen recording software when PowerPoint has the ability to record and trim screen recordings (brilliant for creating training videos) and Windows has Steps Recorder built-in (brilliant for capturing a series of screenshots for documentation).  The latest update to the Office applications allow for dictation when creating emails and documents so if you’re paying for dictation software this could be your first reduction in licence costs.

Steps to achieve – Perform an audit of software (many tools available to do this including Intune, the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit or Spiceworks Software Inventory Audit) and look for duplication of functionality.

Action 4 – Use project management tools

Breaking down projects into assigned tasks, delegating and distributing workloads can save time, duplication of effort and enable working to tight schedules.  There is a host of choices including no-cost options.  Microsoft Project is a full-featured suite for enterprise project portfolios or again, Office 365 can help here with the Planner app for simple task management across your team.

Steps to achieve – Choose a project to pilot with a project management tool and monitor the benefits from stronger planning, time management and budgeting.

Action 5 – Reduce stationery

Yes, we had to check we had the right spelling of the word; we’re not perfect!  Notepads, pens and all those colourful post-it notes cost a lot to buy, no surprise there, but they also cost a lot to store and then recycle after use.  You can’t password-protect or encrypt a notepad (bad handwriting doesn’t count as encryption), it’s not easy to search back through hundreds of pages of notes, you can’t add rich content such as graphs, videos or pictures and you can’t share notepads so people can work on a common set of notes.  Even if you don’t have mobile or touch devices, OneNote is a superb tool for digital note taking with the ability to accept handwriting (and convert to text if needed), paste pictures and then search the text within the image (or even extract the text), dictate, tag, assign tasks share and record audio and video.  The notes also synchronise between devices so you can browse your notes on your mobile phone whilst you’re on the train travelling to the next meeting.

A common task we see users perform is signing documents.  The user prints the document, walks over to the printer, signs it with a pen, scans the signed copy, shreds the printout, walks back to their desk and emails the signed scan.  Open the document in Word (even if it’s a PDF, Word 2013 onwards can open and edit PDF files), use your mouse, finger or stylus to sign the document and then select File, Share, Send a PDF.  Word will convert the annotated document to a PDF and attach it to an email for you saving time and paper.  We’ll blog about how to do this in an upcoming post.

Steps to achieve – Use OneNote in your next meeting (In your Outlook meeting, choose the Meeting Notes button on the ribbon).

 

We’ll continue this blog in part 2 with some more steps on moving to VOIP and easy steps to move to the cloud.


Teams is an App not a Service



Microsoft Teams Logo  I must admit to being frustrated when Teams was first introduced.  It automatically started at Windows login, sometimes before I’d even connected to wifi (and then would error out due to the lack of an Internet connection) and the disconnection between some of the Office 365 services Teams uses and the main apps for those services, e.g. Skype for Business, was hard to explain to customers.

The gap is closing however and Redmond are putting some thought into Teams now that it’s gaining momentum.  There is a healthy roadmap, some good product management and top level buy-in from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

There is still a gap between some of the native clients and functionality in Teams.  For example, you can do more in online meetings through Skype for Business currently than you can in a Teams meeting despite both apps using the Skype for Business online services.  Teams is now bringing in functionality for meetings that isn’t available in Skype for Business so we find ourselves in the familiar place where we have two apps with an overlap of features but which individually might not meet all our needs; we need to choose which tool to use and accept some sacrifices in functionality.  Check out this brief post from Satya introducing the updated features and the new, free edition of Teams.  We’ll blog about the differences over the next week or so.

The thing to bear in mind is Teams is a presentation layer; an app.  It connects to the existing backend Office 365 online services and enhances them with integration and connectivity to other services, including 3rd party services and apps.  This is the strength of Teams – it is a hub where we can perform 60-70% of our collaborative tasks before we might need to go into another app to continue or access deeper features.

We would like to see Teams become an Office 365 service in itself and have service definitions just like Exchange online, SharePoint online, Yammer and Skype for Business online.  It would need to find it’s own place for that to happen though, or displace Skype for Business completely.


Automatic alt-text in Pictures



Office 365 utilises Azure Intelligent Services for a number of features including dictation, designer and smart lookup.  One of the features we love is the automatic alt-text generation when you insert a picture into an Office document.

We are strong advocates that accessibility is not just important to users who need these features; everyone who creates content should be making it accessible.

A picture tells a thousand words but when a screen reader is parsing a document it will read out the alt-text for an image.  If there’s no alt-text then you’ll just hear something along the lines of ‘picture’.  Not very helpful.  It’s been possible to manually enter the alt-text of course and this is very helpful in online content for search engine optimisation.

Intelligent services can automatically generate the alt-text for you based on the image contents.  If you are dealing with sensitive images, this feature can be turned off in options as it does require information being sent to Microsoft.

Let’s insert an online image into a document to see how it performs.

Button to insert pictures in Office

 

For blatant blog-promotion SEO purposes I’m going to search for an online image of the royal wedding.  Megan Markle Prince Harry Royal Wedding Windsor Castle.  That should raise us at least one place in search results.

Search results for online pictures

 

When I insert the fourth image, intelligent services analyses it and generates an alt-text tag for me.  In this case, it’s accurate but not quite hitting the spot of wedding dress and it certainly doesn’t even try to achieve facial recognition; we know that’s a minefield.  This result is far better than leaving alt-text empty though.

alt text for an image

 

So you’ll get mixed results.  Insert the third image and you’ll get an amusing result of “A picture containing dancer, indoor, sport, red” when clearly the image is all about the military and boys in culottes.

Alt text in a picture

 

Now, we’ll try a business image and search for Donald Trump.  I can feel our SEO going up.

alt text in a picture

 

The alt-text is accurate but again, no face recognition.  Last example to see if there’s some Microsoft bias.  I inserted the Microsoft logo.

Microsoft logo

 

No alt-text was generated but there’s a button in the image option alt-text panel which you can click to generate some.  If you need to use this button, the image was typically not obvious enough for intelligent services to work out straight away so the confidence level will be lower.

Office generating alt-text for a picture

 

Our result?  A drawing of a face.  Perhaps Bill Gates’ face is in the logo subliminally.

 

Alt-text result for the Microsoft logo

 

 


We Try Out Dictation in Outlook



Dictation is being made available to Office 365 applications including Outlook, PowerPoint and Word.  Currently it’s a first release feature but will gradually make its way into the mainstream release.  This is different from the Windows speech recognition feature where you can control your PC using speech and it’s also distinct from the Windows 10 dictation added to Windows last autumn (and only available for US English).

We loved the Learning Tools add-on for OneNote which included dication and a host of accessibility features and were keen to give dictation a whirl in Outlook.

Enabling Dictation in Office 365

Luckily, there’s very little to set-up as this is a feature that’s enabled by default in an office upgrade.  It uses Microsoft’s intelligent services (just like the automatic Alt-Text feature for inserted images) so you’ll need an internet connection – dictation can’t be used offline.  If you can’t get dictate to work, check Intelligent Services is enabled in the File, Options, General tab.  Your Office account must also be up to date.

Office 365 intelligent services in options

 

Using Office 365 Dictate in Outlook

In a new email, click the Dictate button on the right hand of the Ribbon Home tab.  The dropdown menu shows the languages this is available in.  This should default to your Windows locale and having UK English gives me a good excuse to test for UK spelling.

Office 365 dictation languages

 

It’s unlikely many built-in pc microphones will provide good results in a noisy office so I grabbed a Sennheiser headset and recorded the following:

My favourite colour is purple to wear and green to see.  I also like black but it’s not really a colour.
I still can’t get dictation to type pounds.
My favourite neighbour is the one down the road with the aluminium blinds.
I drank too much at a party and made a bit of an arse of myself.
It’s my mum’s birthday soon.

You need to specifically add punctuation by saying ‘full stop’ or ‘period’, etc. and also formatting such as ‘new line’ to add a carriage return.  I was speaking in a normal cadence but did add a bit of a Windsor accent.  This is the result:

Dictation in Outlook

 

Quite an impressive outcome.  I like the way offensive words are automatically censored.  Spelling is UK English.  Why it shortened road I don’t know and the final ‘I’ would have been capitalised had I said ‘new line’ to move to a different paragraph.  And I still can’t figure out how to get it to type a £ symbol.

You can say the following to add punctuation:

Period
Comma
Question mark
Exclamation point
Exclamation mark
New line
New paragraph
Semicolon
Colon
Open quote
Close quote
Open quotes
Close quotes

This should be a real boon for users and because it uses Microsoft’s online intelligent services with machine learning, recognition and accuracy should improve over time.


How to Make OneNote use £



We often run accessibility training for staff.  Not just staff with accessibility needs; all staff should have an understanding of how to create inclusive content and work collaboratively.

A very useful add-on for OneNote is Learning Tools.  This is developed by Microsoft and there’s no charge so we hope it will make it’s way into the native product at some point rather than needing a separate download.

Learning tools includes a dictation feature to transform speech to text and it’s very effective, especially with a good quality microphone or headset.

However, try as we might we cannot get it to recognise £.  Here’s an example:

OneNote Learning Tools dictation feature

 

As you can see, I’m dictating “Host a fantastic Office 365 excitement day from £500” (which is a blatant sales plug for our Buzz Days of course).  OneNote recognises when I say dollars, euros and yen and probably many others that I could recall from my travels outside of Reading (does Swindon use Roubles?) but try as I might, I cannot get it to place a £ sign.

The dictation you see where OneNote has wisely replaced the letters with asterisks was me saying 500 nicker.  Nicker is a slang term for pounds which OneNote is clearly not familiar with and thus thought I was being offensive.

No, OneNote, I’m not rapping, I’m simply trying to get our pricing correct.


Free International Dial-out



Microsoft Office 365 PSTN conferencingWe described the new Office 365 E5 plan and standalone features as well as how to licence them in previous blog posts.  One of the features included in the PSTN Conferencing for Skype for Business (SfB) is to allow presenters to dial-out to a national phone number in order to add attendees into the meeting (or for attendees to ask SfB to dial them back on a national phone number).

The word national is important there because the plan wouldn’t allow you to dial-out to international phone numbers.  This would be enabled when consumption billing is introduced in 2016 and customers could maintain a credit balance that international and freephone call costs would be drawn against.

However, today Microsoft have announced a free trial period where international dial-out will be enabled at no cost.

PSTN conferencing for Skype for Business is available to buy in 15 countries (as of the date of this blog post):

US
UK
Belgium
Canada
Denmark
Finland
France
Germany
Italy
Netherlands
Norway
South Africa
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland

During the free trial period, users of PSTN Conferencing will be allowed to make international dial-out calls at no charge to phone numbers in any of those 15 countries where PSTN conferencing is available for sale.  International dial-out calls outside of the 15 countries will not be enabled.  This free period will last until April, 30th 2016.  After that, customers will be billed per minute for all International Dial-Out calls.

Whilst Microsoft are selling PSTN conferencing in 15 countries, the users can be worldwide so this makes it easier to sell to multinational accounts.  For example, a UK company who subscribe to PSTN conferencing can host a webcast and offer a New Zealand dial-in number even though PSTN Conferencing is not available to buy in that country yet.

 


Licensing Office 365 E5



December 1st marked two extraordinary launches: a brand new Office 365 plan called E5 and Microsoft becoming a Telco.

We described the key new features and capabilities in an earlier post and we’re going to concentrate on the licensing concepts in this blog post.

Some of the new features will be included via updates to the E1 and E3 plans.  Most of the new features will be included in the E5 plan with the exception of PSTN Calling which will be an add-on subscription.  All of the new features will be available as standalone subscriptions which will suit customers that don’t require all of the E5 functionality but do want one of two of the new capabilities.

This does mean that Office 365 E4 plan follows E2 in being discontinued.  E4 will remain on the pricelist until the end of Microsoft’s financial year, June 30th, 2016.  Customers on E4 will be able to renew it as E4 prior to that date but should look to transition into E5 or into E3 with the Cloud PBX add-on.  If customers want to maintain E4 functionality after June 30th, they can transition to the E3 plan and add the new Skype for Business Plus user subscription licence (USL) that was released on the 1st December.

Microsoft Office 365 Plan Features

Table 1: Office 365 E1, E3 and E5 plans with new or enhanced features highlighted in orange

 

How can customers licence Office 356 E5?

Office 365 E5 is available as a:

  • Full User Subscription Licence (USL) for new users
  • Step-up licence for existing Office 365 E3 and E4 customers
  • From SA USL for customers who currently own licences for and have active Software Assurance (SA) on Office and a Client Access licence (CAL) Suite
  • Add-on licence for customers who already subscribe to the Enterprise Cloud Suite (ECS)

At launch, what you’ll see on the price list is Office 365 Enterprise E5 without PSTN Conferencing.  Office 365 E5 and Cloud PBX is available worldwide, however the PSTN conferencing feature is only available in fifteen countries from the 1st December.  Lucky UK; we’re one of those fifteen.  The remaining 191 countries (bonus points if you can name them all; I had to source from the United Nations) cannot enjoy PSTN conferencing yet so it‘s unfair to sell them full E5.

Where PSTN Conferencing is available, customers will purchase Office 365 Enterprise E5 without PSTN Conferencing and Office 365 Skype for Business PSTN Conferencing
Where PSTN Conferencing is not available, customers will purchase Office 365 Enterprise E5 without PSTN Conferencing
At some point in the future, we’ll announce a single Office 365 E5 licence on the pricelist which is likely to be priced the same as the combination of E5 w/out PSTN Conferencing and the Skype for Business PSTN Conferencing licences.

 

What channels are the new plans available through?

Being a telco brings tax and regulatory responsibilities.  Microsoft needs to sell these PSTN features in the right way so whilst the Office 365 Enterprise E5 without PSTN Conferencing SKU is available worldwide and through all licensing channels, currently Office 365 Skype for Business PSTN Conferencing is only available through direct channels: the Microsoft Online Subscription Program (MOSP) and direct Enterprise Agreements.

 

How can customers licence the new features as standalone subscriptions?

Table 2 lists the new standalone licences along with the relevant pre-requisite.

Office 365 E5 Standalones

 

Table 2: Office 365 E1, E3 and E5 plans with new or enhanced features highlighted in orange

 

How can customers licence the PSTN Calling Plans?

These are not available as of December in the UK.  In fact they are only available in the US but the UK should be able to enjoy this in the first half of 2016.

There are two PSTN Calling Plans: Domestic and International.  Domestic will have a set price per user/per month for 3,000 minutes of national calls.  The International Plan will include the domestic quota and add 600 minutes of international calls.  These quotas will be allocated to the organisation as a whole, rather than each user so a customer with 10 USLs for the International PSTN Calling Plan will have 30,000 national minutes and 6,000 international minutes.

 

What do the PSTN features include?

At launch, PSTN Conferencing includes the ability to advertise a national, non-freephone number (e.g. 0118 for Reading, 020 for London, etc.).  The person dialling into the conference will pay for the call charges.  Customers can also dial-out to a phone using a national phone number in order to bring someone into the Skype conference.

In 2016, there will be a consumption billing model, similar to Azure consumption billing, where customers can maintain a balance of monetary credit.  This can then be used to advertise Freephone numbers to conferences and dial-out to international phone numbers to bring people into the conference.  The call charges will be met using the consumption balance.

The same goes for the PSTN Calling plans.  If a customer exceeds their quota of minutes, or a customer subscribing to the Domestic plan wants to make international calls, the charges will be drawn from their consumption balance.

E5 and the PSTN features mark a very exciting chapter in Microsoft’s online capabilities.  Keep a close eye out for the release of UK PSTN Calling plans and the consumption billing in 2016.  We’ll continue to keep you up to date with blog posts.