Office Online: Now with Bing Integration in Insights For Office

Office Online, specifically Word Online, has a new feature which is rolling out now, which features tight integration with Bing. This new feature, announced on December 10, is called Insights for Office.

If you remember “Research” pane in earlier versions of Office, this may be familiar. Of course, Insights for Office is supposedly much more powerful because it is very contextual, and utilizes Bing to provide the best possible way to surface web content right inside Word.

The way it works is this: as you write something in Word Online, you can start searching for a word or phrase within the text (by right-clicking) and Bing’s various results are shown in a nice panel. You can see results from Bing Snapshot, Wikipedia, Bing Image Search, Oxford Dictionary, and the whole web. You can avoid switching windows in order to run the searches in a separate tab/window of the browser and instead, see the content right beside your text, thereby reducing workflow disruption.

Insights for Office - Amazon
Insights for Office – Amazon
Insights for Office - Abraham Lincoln
Insights for Office – Abraham Lincoln

Insights for Office will also be triggered through the TellMe search box since that is the other obvious place where someone may enter content-related queries.

The Bing Blog goes on to explain more about how this works:

Bing indexes and stores entity data from around the web representing real world people, places and things. Insights for Office utilizes Bing’s ability to index the world’s knowledge and our machine learned relevance models to semantically understand the most important content in a user’s document and then return the most relevant results. This capability is derived largely from patterns of text analysis developed in collaboration with Microsoft Research. The results deliver the most relevant web links, images, etc. for a given request in the form of entity cards – a quick overview of the most important attributes (description, date of birth, etc.) about a real world person, place or thing. In many cases, the entity card may provide enough information for the user’s query intent to be fulfilled without requiring any additional exploration.

This is yet another integration of Bing into a Microsoft product, further confirming that Bing cannot be spun off from Microsoft, if that thought is still in some investors’ minds. The tight coupling of Bing into a variety of other Microsoft products like Sway, Xbox, Cortana personal digital assistant, etc. solidify Microsoft’s positioning of Bing as a platform rather than a search engine.

Surface with Windows RT: Likes

After an agonizing wait, I finally got a chance to play with my new Surface with Windows RT, or as I will call it for sanity’s sake, Surface RT or simply, Surface. It has been a few days, and I thought instead of writing a full-fledged review, I’d focus on some key likes and a long list of dislikes. Nits that I picked. I discuss the likes here, and dislikes in a second post.

Surface RT

Overall, I really like the device. I was determined to evaluate its use as an iPad replacement in my house. To be clear, in our house, the iPad is used for Facebook, Twitter, web browsing (between my wife and I), and some Netflix/PBS Kids/kid games (our kids, 4 and 6 years old). We are not using the iPad as a computer, or a “creation device”. It is a pure consumption device, unless you call writing a tweet, “creation”.

In that use case, the Surface has ably fit in place of the iPad for the kids. The kids have enough games that they know of, and enough games that are new, that they actually like using the Surface. My wife has not used it much, but that is because at this point of time, she considers the Surface “my baby” so she is almost afraid to some extent, of using it. However, it is only a matter of time :-)

Last night, I saw my kids fight to get to use the Surface. Mind you, we got our second iPad 2 just so they can both have their own. So, despite having two iPads, they preferred to use the Surface. Granted, it could be a novelty thing, but still, it bodes well for me that they are actually liking the device with all its oddities, like the 16:9 aspect ratio.

I replaced my iPad too, almost

As for me, the Surface has almost replaced the iPad. The big gap at this point? Twitter app! I like Tweetro, but because of their recent issue with API token limit, I was unable to sign in on the Surface despite having used it (extensively) on my Windows 8 desktop. The other two big names, Rowi and MetroTwit are both far behind what I would call a basic Twitter experience, so to me they are unusable. I am forced to use the People app and Twitter website meanwhile, and that makes for a highly sub-optimal experience for a “power user” like yours truly.

The other small issue which makes me use the iPad when the PC is not being used, is access to my work email and calendar. My work has an app which allows me to access Exchange with native iOS mail, calendar and reminders apps. They haven’t yet provisioned it for Windows 8/RT.

Besides those two missing pieces, I am extremely happy with the device. I haven’t yet experienced some of the performance issues that many others have experienced, nor have I found any major app missing. It is thin enough, and light enough for me to use it like I used my iPad. (Important to note, my iPad has a strong Speck case which makes the iPad feel heavier.)

Windows 8 (and Windows RT)

Some part of why I like the Surface so much is due to Windows 8. For example, all my settings including my lock screen image, theme, pinned websites, favorites, web history, etc. automatically came through as I signed in with my Microsoft account. This is because I had set up my account and settings on my desktop PC earlier and set it up so all those settings were synced across devices via the cloud.

Also, thanks to Xbox Music Match, a service that is yet to officially roll out but works anyway, all my music was available on the Surface as soon as I signed in with my Microsoft account. This includes some playlists I created just the day before. Again, this is because my music was matched from my desktop PC (which in turn is connected to my home server where all my music, photos and videos are stored). In addition, I was able to impress some of my family members by searching for and playing a bunch of songs on-demand via the Xbox Music subscription service. While I have the Xbox Music Pass, the unlimited streaming (with some, ahem, limits) is automatically included with all Windows 8 and Windows RT devices.

The last thing I want to mention why I love the Surface and why I replaced my iPad with it? Office. I use Excel and Word in addition to OneNote, for various purposes. Things like tracking expenses, creating birthday lists, sending formal letters, etc. are all done on Excel, Word and OneNote. Having “real” Office on my tablet with a constant sync to SkyDrive (which allows me to collaborate with my wife for some of those items) is a huge benefit. Not what I would call the #1 reason to buy a Surface, but definitely a huge plus when considering a Surface over an iPad.

Suffice to say, I really like my Surface. I think it is money well spent, for my use of such a device. Having said that, there are issues I have with the device and I list them in my next post.

Microsoft Apps – Word, Excel And PowerPoint – Are Coming To Symbian!

Symbian users, you will finally get some benefits of the Nokia-Microsoft partnership. Up until now, the Nokia-MS deal was all about two sinking ships (Nokia and WP7)  joining hands to form one big ship, which hopefully will not sink.

Nokia and Microsoft have now joined hands to bring Microsoft Apps to Symbian Belle users. The Microsoft Apps package will consist of apps which will help in boosting the productivity of the user. The list of apps include Microsoft Lync 2010, PowerPoint Broadcast, OneNote and MS Document Connection. Symbian Belle users will get all the above stated apps for free sometime in the fourth quarter of this year.

MS Lync will allow users to have audio/video meetings on the go, while PowerPoint Broadcast will allow them to quickly broadcast Powerpoint presentations from their PC to mobile. The OneNote app is a rich note taking app from the Redmond based company, which syncs with SkyDrive.

Microsoft will also release another update in early-2012 which will add OneNote sync, along with bringing native versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint  to Symbian. This is the first time that the MS Word and other apps will be released for a mobile OS other than Windows Mobile or WP7.


Merge Word Documents to Outlook Email Recipients

Merge to Email in WordSummer’s here!  The birds are chirping.  The butterflies flutter by.  All this just screams, “COMPANY PICNIC SEASON“!  So let’s make some plans and get those invites out!  Microsoft Word is a great way to make pretty invitations.  But what is the easiest way to distribute them?  You could attach your invitation to an e-mail, but then you would have to go through and select all of the recipients.  You also have to consider the fact that putting all the recipients names in the “To:” field lets everyone who gets the e-mail see the e-mail addresses of all the other recipients.  This is a real problem if you want to protect the identity of certain people.  You could resolve this by placing all the recipients in the “BCC:” field, however, then you have to put something in the “To:” field or it just looks weird when the recipient gets it.  Confused yet?  This whole process can be simplified using the “Merge to Email” feature in Word.

Let’s begin by creating a custom contact folder Microsoft Outlook.  In Outlook, right click your mailbox folder and choose “New Folder” from the menu.  You will see the following window pictured below.  Give your folder a name and make sure that the “Folder contains:” field has “Contact Items” selected.  This will assure that we have a contact folder.

Create New Contact Folder in Microsoft Outlook

Next, add some contacts to your new contact folder.  Pictured below, you will see the contact window with a couple of contacts shown.

Contacts Window

Once you have all of your contacts entered in you new contact folder, you are ready to proceed to your invitation.  Open Microsoft Word and type up your invitation.  When you have it all typed up the way you want it, click the “Mailings” tab on the ribbon toolbar.  See the picture below.

Mailings Tab in Word

On the “Mailings” tab, you will see a button that says “Select Recipients”.  When you click this button you will see a drop down menu where you can choose the source of your recipients.  In this tutorial you will choose “Select from Outlook Contacts” from the menu shown in the picture below.

Select Recipients

You will now see the window, pictured below, asking you to select the Outlook contacts folder.  Choose the appropriate folder and click OK.  Choosing the contacts folder will set that folder as the source for the merge in Word.

Select Contacts

You now have the opportunity to pick and choose which contacts from that folder you want to receive the invitation.  Note that all contacts in the folder are selected by default.  In the picture below, you will see little check boxes beside each contact name.  Simply click the check box to select or deselect the contacts you wish to send to.  When you are finished, click OK.

Recipient List

Now the magic really starts to happen.  Let’s personalize the invitation to show the recipients first and last names at the top.  To do this, make sure your cursor is at the top of the page, then, from the “Mailings” tab choose “Insert Merge Field”.  This will give you a drop down menu with all of the fields in the contact folder you chose.  See the picture below.

Insert Merge Field

Now, choose the “First” field.  Notice you get a little merge field at the top of your document with the word “<<First>>” listed, as pictured below.  What this means is when you finish the merge, and your contact receives the e-mail, they will see their first name in this spot on the document.  Go ahead and hit the space bar, and  insert the “Last” merge field too, so that the recipients last name will appear there as well.

Edit Merge Field Font

Double click the “First” field to see formatting options, as pictured above.  Here you can change the font style and size.  Go ahead and set the font to look the way you would like for the recipient to see it.

The last step in the process is to click the “Finish & Merge” button on the “Mailings” tab.  You will see the drop down menu pictured below.  Click the “Send E-mail Messages” option to start the merge.  Now all of the recipients you picked from the contacts folder will receive an email with the invitation in the body of the message.  WARNING! Once you click “Send E-mail Messages”, the message is immediately sent!  There will be no dialog boxes asking you to click OK or anything.  So don’t click this button until you are ready for it to go.

Start the Merge

You can verify that the mailing went out by checking your “Sent Items” in Outlook.  You will notice that every contact received a single message.  This means there is no more worry about hiding people’s email in the “BCC:” field.   Problem solved!

Hopefully you will find this feature useful for your next big mailing.  Oh, by the way, don’t forget to save me a little dessert at the picnic!  ;)

Microsoft Loses Word Patent Battle

The Canadian company i4i has won its patent battle against software giant, Microsoft. On Thursday, the US Supreme Court upheld the lower courts’ decisions stating that Microsoft Word is an infringing product and has ordered Microsoft to pay over $290m in damages to i4i.

Steve Ballmer

In 2007, i4i filed a case against Microsoft, claiming that the Word applications violated patent rights it held to Custom XML technology. And in December 2009, the US Courts found Microsoft guilty and ordered Microsoft to pay over $290 million in damages to i4i and directed Microsoft to stop selling versions of Word from January 2010.

Though Microsoft stopped selling versions of Word as per courts’ orders, it challenged the verdict and appealed in the US Supreme Court in August 2010, stating that a jury should determine a patent’s validity by a “preponderance evidence” instead of “clear and convincing evidence” standard instructed by the judge.

However, the Supreme Court upheld the lower courts’ decisions. Microsoft said it wanted a new trial, but the justices ruled against Microsoft.

Loudon Owen, chairman of i4i, said: “Microsoft tried to gut the value of patents by introducing a lower standard for invalidating patents. It is now 100% clear that you can only invalidate a patent based on ‘clear and convincing’ evidence.”

Microsoft spokesman Kevin Kutz stated: “While the outcome is not what we had hoped for, we will continue to advocate for changes to the law that will prevent abuse of the patent system and protect inventors who hold patents representing true innovation,”

The patent No. 5,787,449, issued in July 1998