What is Microsoft Flow?

Microsoft Flow logo

As part of Microsoft’s push towards cloud and mobile apps, they’ve invested in several cloud-only additions to the old familiar Office apps. One of these is Flow, a trigger-based system for creating automated workflows.

What Does Flow Do?

If you’re the kind of person who reads How-To Geek regularly, you’re probably aware of the drive for personal productivity that’s been raging for pretty much the whole millennium. Flow is Microsoft’s attempt at giving you the kind of automation for notifications, alerts, data gathering, and communication that will help you spend less time on boring but necessary admin work and more time on interesting (and productive) things.

Think of Flow as IFTTT, but with a slant towards the office rather than IoT or hardware.

Flow home page

Flow allows you to create “flows” (short for “workflows”) that are based on trigger events. For example, you could create a flow that would download the responses to a Microsoft Forms questionnaire to Dropbox regularly, or post a message in a Slack channel if a Visual Studio build fails.

RELATED: How to Create a Questionnaire in Microsoft Forms

Can Anybody Use It?

Anybody can use Flow if they sign up for a free Microsoft account. People with an Office 365 subscription can also use Flow, but they get much the same functionality as people with a free Microsoft account.

Flow also comes with business versions of Office 365 and Dynamics 365, but different subscription levels get different versions of flow that match up with the paid and free accounts. It’s a bit confusing, but you can check out the details on Microsoft’s pricing page.

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How to Show All Mail as Plain Text in Outlook

Reading mail in plain text can be a blessed relief from complicated formatting, not to mention being quicker to open and more secure than HTML-heavy emails. Here’s how to use plain text as the default in Outlook.

Before we get into how to do this, it’s worth noting that plain text has benefits and drawbacks, both for the sender and the receiver. The main drawback of plain text is that it has no formatting and no inline functionality like images or links. Virtually all of the mail you read will look at least a bit different if you read it in plain text, and some mail will be almost unreadable if it’s been heavily formatted.

However, there are benefits, too. Plain text is more secure because nothing is hidden. There can be no embedded tracking images and no hidden phishing URLs (because if the URL is visible in plain text, you’ll be able to see the whole URL, rather than whatever text the sender wanted you to see). For this reason, plain text emails you send are less likely to be viewed as dangerous or malicious by automated scanners because plain text simply can’t be as dangerous as HTML. (This doesn’t mean someone can’t send you a malicious link in plain text, but it’s much more difficult to trick you into clicking it.)

With that in mind, here’s how to read all messages in plain text, send all messages in plain text, and send just an individual message in plain text.

Reading Mail in Plain Text

If you want to read all mail in plain text, head to File > Options > Trust Center > Trust Center Settings.

Go to Trust Centre, then Trust Centre Settings

Choose the Email Security option, and switch on the “Read all standard mail in plain text” option.

Click Email Security then switch on "Read all standard mail in plain text"

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How to Change the Character Encoding in Outlook

outlook logo

At best, it’s irritating to get an email that contains unreadable characters. At worst, it can prevent you from reading the mail at all. Sometimes, changing the encoding in Outlook shows those missing characters and lets you read the message. Here’s how to do it.

What is Character Encoding?

If you’re not sure what “character encoding” is, we’ve got a comprehensive explanation for you. The less-comprehensive explanation is that a character is a glyph that appears on screen when you type something. So every letter in this article is a glyph that represents a letter—a, b, c, and so on. Behind the scenes, your computer represents these glyphs using a code that is interpreted by a program—like a web browser or a word processor—and then renders them on screen as a character.

RELATED: What Are Character Encodings Like ANSI and Unicode, and How Do They Differ?

So far, so simple, especially if you think there are only 26 characters in the alphabet, ten numbers, and some grammatical marks like ! or @.

However, there are also 26 upper case letters and far more grammatical marks that you might realize (your keyboard only shows a small subset of possible grammatical marks, even for English). And this only covers one language, English, which is in one alphabet, Latin (also known as the Roman alphabet). The Latin alphabet includes most Western European languages and has a large number of diacritic symbols which aren’t used in English. Diacritic symbols are things like accents, umlauts, cedillas, and other marks that change the pronunciation of a letter or word.

Then there are the many other alphabets, such as Cyrillic (most widely known for containing the Russian language), Greek, Kanji (Japanese), and Chinese, many of which include more than one language.

Now, you can now start to see the scale of characters that need to be encoded as glyphs. There are over 70,000 Chinese glyphs alone. A character encoding contains a number of code points, each of which can encode one character. ASCII, which you have probably heard of, was an early Latin alphabet encoding that had 128 code points, nothing near enough to cover all the possible characters people use.

W3’s recommended encoding for HTML is called UTF-8, which has 1,112,064 code points. This is enough to cover pretty much all of the characters in all of the languages in all of the alphabets (although not every single one), and is used in 93% of all websites. UTF-8 is also the encoding recommended by the Internet Mail Consortium.

Why Would I Bother Changing It?

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What is Microsoft Sway, and What Can I Do with It?

Sway logo

As part of Microsoft’s push towards cloud and mobile apps, it has invested in several cloud-only additions to the old Office apps with which you’re familiar. One of these is Sway, a friendlier alternative to PowerPoint.

Why Does Microsoft Need a PowerPoint Alternative?

If you’ve ever worked in an office environment, you most likely associate PowerPoint with shiny-suited salespeople and managers with no public speaking skills. That’s not entirely fair, because you can produce brilliant presentations in PowerPoint. But, life isn’t fair, and PowerPoint is a big, heavy, corporate tool with a matching reputation.

The Sway app front page

Enter Sway, which is Microsoft’s attempt to provide a lightweight, cloud-only, story-telling application that is easier to use than PowerPoint and provides more narrative devices than simply slide after slide of bullet points.

Can Anybody Use It?

Anybody can use Sway if they sign up for a free Microsoft account. People with an Office 365 can also use Sway. There are some differences between the free version and the Office 365 version, but these are mainly on the admin side and let you do things like password protect a Sway (oh yeah, Sway documents are called “Sways”) or remove the footer. There are also some differences in how much content you can fit into a single Sway, but the free version still provides more than enough for the average user.

Let’s take a look at why you might want to use Sway.

What Can I Do With Sway?

If there’s one thing more intimidating than staring at a blank Word document wondering what to write, it’s staring at a blank PowerPoint presentation wondering what to add. Presentations are by their nature intended for others to view, and plenty of people are terrified of public speaking to start with, so a blank PowerPoint can be enough to make you give up then and there.

This fear has always been one of the biggest problems with PowerPoint. Thankfully Microsoft has recognized this, and they’ve gone to great lengths to prevent this fear with Sway. Most people are not specialists in design and layout, so Microsoft has provided a bunch of templates (18 at the time of writing) for common presentations to help get you past the creator’s block and started designing.

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How to Show Your Working Hours to Other People in Outlook

outlook logo

What’s worse than not being able to get a meeting with someone? Getting a meeting request for a time when you’re not working. We can’t stop that, but we can help you set up Outlook so that at least people know your working hours.

When you create a meeting request in Outlook, the Meeting > Scheduling Assistant helps you find a time that you and the meeting request recipients are both free.

click scheduling assistant on the meeting tab

When you open the Scheduling Assistant, the hours shown for each day aren’t from midnight to midnight, though; they’re from 8 am to 5 pm.

meeting hours show 8 am to 5 pm by default

This is Outlook’s default working day, which you can change to whatever hours you work. Click File > Options > Calendar and look for the “Work Time” section. You can change your working hours here.

change your working hours at File > Options > Calendar

As an example, we’ll change our working hours to 10 am to 4 pm and then click “OK.” If we open a new Meeting request and click on the Scheduling Assistant, our working hours have changed to reflect the new hours.

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