What is Cortana? A guide to Microsoft’s virtual assistant, and how you can use it to improve your productivity

Cortana on background
Microsoft’s Cortana assistant can handle a wide range of tasks on compatible devices and apps.

  • Cortana is Microsoft’s virtual assistant available for use across various devices and Microsoft 365’s suite of services and products.
  • To use Cortana, you must have the AI-powered assistant enabled through your Microsoft account and on relevant devices and services before saying the wake phrase “Hey Cortana,” followed by a prompt.
  • Cortana’s current iteration is geared towards productivity, focusing predominantly on saving you time and increasing your focus with tools like Briefing emails and Play My Emails.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Microsoft’s Cortana is a cloud-based personal assistant that operates outside the realm of standard voice-enabled AI.

Cortana doesn’t just understand voice commands and carry out tasks but is integrated for use across Microsoft’s 365 suite of products and all Windows 10 operating systems, version 2004 and later.

If you or your team rely on Microsoft 365, here’s everything you need to know about how to harness Cortana to improve your productivity.

What is Cortana?

First launched in 2014, this virtual voice assistant’s name and concept were inspired by a 26th-century artificial intelligence character of the same name from the popular “Halo” video game series. Designed to integrate with the Windows Phone – and by 2015, Windows 10 PCs – Cortana’s capabilities included organizing and managing your daily meetings, reminders, and more alongside traditional web searches – all through typed text or voice prompts.

Everything you turned to Cortana for was then stored in a virtual “Notebook,” an approach to the virtual assistant that was based on the work of actual human assistants who spoke to Microsoft during Cortana’s development process, according to a 2014 Verge report.

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Cortana is integrated across Microsoft 365 products to keep your work and life synced.

From there, Cortana’s presence grew as Microsoft integrated it everywhere from Xbox and smart speakers to Apple and Android apps and third-party skills for Fitbit, Spotify, and more. But in the years since its launch, Microsoft users’ needs have changed, and the company’s vision for its digital assistant has evolved along with it.

What can Cortana do?

Nowadays, Cortana’s focus puts it in a different space than other voice-enabled AI assistants. Cortana primarily connects Microsoft 365 users to every element of their product suites and helps you track, organize, and manage your daily work.

Still available on Windows 10 and client applications like Outlook for iOS and Android, users can now go hands- and worry-free when it comes to managing their personal and professional work.

Included with any Microsoft 365 price plan, you can use Cortana with Windows 10 computers, the Edge browser, and Bing search engine; apps like Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote; email and calendar services Outlook and Exchange; as well as file services like OneDrive and Forms; and finally, social and meeting products like Teams and Yammer.

With Cortana enabled, using the assistant’s waking phrase followed by a command prompt can open apps, fetch the news and weather, add to your lists in Microsoft To-Do, schedule calendar event reminders, locate a file in OneDrive, join meetings, or navigate through presentations in Teams.

Voice assistant on phone

But Cortana can go one step further with personalized and interactive tools like Briefings and Play My Emails, both designed to ensure you’re at your most productive each day.

  • Briefing emails: Set up through Outlook, these briefs are sent within two hours of your workday to help you stay on top of the day ahead of you. Expect notes about outstanding commitments, requests, and follow-ups that you may have forgotten, documents relevant to the day’s meetings so you can review before you attend, and suggested focus times to help you get the most out of your unscheduled hours.
  • Play My Emails: If you need to go hands-free, this Outlook Cortana feature reads out your emails, so you don’t have to slow down to keep up. Best used with Bluetooth-enabled wireless or wired audio devices like headphones or your car audio, you can use simple voice commands for a touch-free inbox search and response experience.

How does Cortana work?

Regardless of the device, service, or program you’re using Cortana in, the Microsoft voice assistant helps users quickly get information using typed or spoken queries that connect you with other people, your work, and your plans. And with a stricter focus on assisting you with Microsoft products, Cortana can work more like an actual assistant than ever before.

While signed in to your Microsoft account and with the app or service you’re using open, just say “Cortana” or “Hey Cortana.” Cortana then responds to your requests and queries before completing relevant tasks. Simultaneously, it’s collecting certain data about you, such as your searches, calendar, contacts, and location, to help make future experiences with Cortana more personalized.

There are several ways you can prompt Cortana once enabled. These include clicking or tapping the microphone icon in Cortana-integrated products and services, executing the keyboard command “Shift + Windows Key + C,” or by saying “Hey Cortana,” followed by a vocal command. If you haven’t enabled Cortana on your PC, you’ll need to do so.

Cortana command prompts

Once Cortana is activated, you can use it for just about anything. Commands span basic requests about the weather, making calls and sending emails or messages, scheduling meetings, reminders, and alarms, as well as updating your device settings.

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Cortana keeps track of your past commands in one easy to read scrolling chat window.

But you can also use it for more complex things like math, translations, and definitions; food and travel recommendations; music and entertainment app control; personal health and fitness updates; technical support for connected devices; and fun or factual conversation.

Here are a few common prompts you can try:

  • “What’s the weather like?”
  • “Go to / Open [app name / website].”
  • “What’s [percentage] of [dollar amount]?”
  • “Where is my package?”
  • “Find photos from [date / time].”
  • “Find restaurants near me.”
  • “What is this song?”
  • “What was my step count yesterday?”
  • “Turn on/off Bluetooth.”
  • “Set an alarm for [date and time].”
  • “When is my [event name]?”
  • “Send email to (contact): (message).”
  • “Show me public transportation directions to [location / address].”
  • “Track flight [flight number].”
  • “Call (contact) at home/work.”
  • “Who’s my next meeting with?”
  • “How do I change default apps?”

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A guide to two-factor authentication, the two-part security test for your online accounts and devices

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Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, uses multiple tests or devices to keep your accounts secure.

  • Two-factor authentication is a security measure that makes you pass two security tests before gaining access to your account or device.
  • As hackers and hacking systems become more advanced, experts say passwords alone are not enough to keep your data secure.
  • Many apps and websites give users the option to use two-factor authentication, but it’s also something users can set up for themselves.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

You can never be too careful with your information online.

Hackers are becoming more sophisticated, and while developers continually come up with new methods to make sites and devices more secure, hackers can still find ways around them. As a result, a password alone may not be enough to protect your important accounts from cybercriminals.

Lately, more businesses and services have been adding two-factor authentication as an optional feature for their online logins. Certain industries require two-factor authentication as a security practice, and most internet security experts would tell you that adding two-factor authentication is not only a good idea but an increasingly necessary step for ensuring your online security.

What to know about two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication, also referred to as 2FA or two-step verification, is a method of confirming your identity by asking you to pass two security tests. It’s a way for a site or a system to ensure that it’s really you logging in and not a sophisticated robot or a hacker.

After you enter your password, you’ll be asked to pass a second test, which will vary depending on the site you’re using.

2FA forces hackers to come up with solutions to two unique problems, rather than one. It’s also constantly evolving because hackers seem to eventually come up with solutions to said problems. One early form of 2FA was the security question, but years of predictable questions and answers left that method vulnerable to hackers.

Types of two-factor authentication

Things have gotten more complex since the days of the security question – hackers and robots have gotten more advanced, so security challenges have, too. There are now five common types of 2FA.

Text or voice-based 2FA

This type of two-factor authentication will usually prompt you to enter your phone number and choose whether you would like to receive a text message or a phone call to have your identity verified.

If you’re logging in to a multi-use account, once you have done this once, your preferences will usually be remembered for next time, with your permission.

If you choose a phone call, an automated system will call your number and ask you to verbally confirm that you are logging in.

If you choose text, you will most likely be sent a text message with a link that will automatically log you in and redirect to the site or app’s landing page. However, some older forms of this feature may simply send you a text asking you to send a reply text confirming that you logged in.

It’s important to note that, even if you know a site utilizes this form of authentication, they will never ask you for information like your username or password over SMS or a voice call. If you are ever asked for this info, you should block the number immediately – this is a common phishing scam.

Additionally, if a site you use has an option to set up this feature and you haven’t done so yet, you should do it as soon as possible, or set up some form of 2FA for that account immediately. If you don’t, a hacker who was able to get in using only your password might be able to set it up with their own number.

Hardware tokens

Hardware tokens are the oldest form of 2FA out there and they are relatively uncommon today, mostly because they’re expensive, easy to lose, and are, while still incredibly secure, not entirely invulnerable to hacking.

A hardware token is a device that generates a new, randomized code every 30 seconds. When you want to log into the associated account, you simply look at the device and enter the code displayed on it. With newer versions, you plug the device into your USB port and it enters the code for you.

Other tokens seek to authenticate your identity, but hardware tokens sidestep that issue entirely, operating under the assumption that whoever has it is already qualified to get into the system.

Software tokens

These tokens combine the best factors of SMS and hardware-based 2FA, while eliminating some significant issues each of the other methods face.

Software tokens work exactly like hardware tokens, as described above, but rather than using a physical device to generate a password, they’re an application that you install to generate a password automatically.

These tokens are sometimes attached to specific websites; CAPTCHA is one method employed by many sites in order to confuse robot password hackers with a visual question. However, you can also download and set up your own software token application – they’re an excellent and reliable way to stay secure online, and they work whether you’re using a desktop computer, a smartwatch, or anything in between.

Push notifications

When you’re logging into a website, chances are you’re using what’s called a secure connection. Basically, this means that, during the time your device and the site are communicating, the site is masking all of the communications involved to make them difficult for hackers to penetrate.

Push-notification 2FA merely takes advantage of this secure connection while you’re using it. Essentially, when you log in, it sends a signal to the server to send a push notification with a unique one-time code that completes your login.

This is basically an improved form of the SMS-based 2FA outlined earlier – the difference is that this one eliminates opportunities for phishing scams to take advantage of unsuspecting users, and, more importantly, stops man-in-the-middle attackers from intercepting login links.

The only drawback to this method is that it doesn’t work very well in areas with spotty internet service.

Biometrics

There’s an even more secure way to confirm your identity than any of these 2FA methods though, and people have been using it since even before there were computers – we just didn’t figure out how to implement it digitally until recently.

Once used as a sci-fi trope and associated with top-secret access, fingerprint scanners can be found on a number of devices people use every day, like phones and laptops. Other forms of biometric identification – methods of confirming your identity using factors unique to your biology – are also on the rise, most notably facial recognition.

Some organizations, especially apps on your phone that deal with money, like PayPal or whatever virtual banking app you may use, already use two-factor authentication, in a sense. If you have a phone that allows for fingerprint or facial recognition, these apps work with its software to allow you to store your username and password in your device, and have the device fill it in for you as long as it recognizes you.

Currently, the only issues with this technology are that not all devices have a fingerprint scanner or facial-recognition technology, and facial recognition is relatively in its infancy.

Why two-factor authentication is important

Two-factor authentication has become an increasingly important security measure as hackers and hacking systems have become more sophisticated over time. In fact, advanced hackers can easily use one unlocked account to unlock dozens, if not hundreds, of others.

These days, hackers aren’t just sitting at the computer typing away, hoping and guessing at random numbers and letters. They have algorithmic programs that test hundreds of common patterns and combinations in seconds. If your specific username or password hasn’t been guessed by these machines already, it’s most likely sheer luck. Once one password has been guessed, chances are they’ll be able to use that combo to hack into other common sites as well.

Related Article Module: What is cybersecurity? A guide to the methods used to protect computer systems and data

Even if you’re taking all the proper precautions and using the smartest, most obscure usernames and passwords you can think of, making them unique every time, you’re still vulnerable. You’re just a little less vulnerable than other people with simpler ones – and even then, you’re making way more work for yourself than you need to.

Human memory is faulty, and the more we get comfortable online, the more passwords we’ll have to create and remember to stay secure. Setting up two-factor authentication frees you from that burden, while still giving you the peace of mind of knowing you’re much more secure against cyberattacks.

How to enable two-factor authentication

If you’re not looking to buy a hardware token or download and install a separate software token in order to protect your accounts, there’s still good news for you. Most major websites, apps, and devices already have 2FA capability that you have the option to set up with your account.

Here’s a brief list of guides on how to set up two-factor authentication on some of the most popular sites, apps, and devices:

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What is Outlook Web App? A guide to Microsoft’s web email service.

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In addition to the desktop and mobile apps, Microsoft Outlook can be accessed in a browser with Outlook on the web.

  • Outlook Web App, also known as Outlook on the web, allows you to access your Outlook email account from a web browser.
  • While Outlook on the web doesn’t include all the features found in the desktop Outlook app, it’s still convenient and useful.
  • You can set up out of office messages, see your tasks and calendar, change your theme, and more when using Outlook in a web browser.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Outlook Web Access (OWA) is a browser-based way to access your Microsoft Outlook email. While it’s also been known as Outlook Web App, it’s now more commonly referred to as Outlook on the web.

OWA once applied exclusively to the online version of Outlook which came with Microsoft Exchange Server. These days, Outlook on the web is more commonly accessed from a Microsoft 365 or free Outlook.com account.

While the version of Outlook that runs on your desktop as an app for Windows or Mac still gives you the most flexibility, power, and features, you don’t need to use it – Microsoft makes it easy to open your Outlook inbox in a web browser instead. That means you can see your Outlook inbox from any computer.

How to open Outlook on the web

To open Outlook on the web, just open the URL that’s associated with your Outlook account. That should be the Microsoft 365 sign-in page or, if you have a free Outlook account, Outlook.com. Enter your email address and password and then select “Sign in.”

If you do happen to be using an Exchange Server rather than a Microsoft 365 account, you might need to ask your network administrator for the URL to the OWA website for your account.

How to use Outlook on the web

While Outlook on the web is a simplified version of Outlook, you’ll probably still recognize it as the email program you already know from the desktop. Here’s how to find your way around:

  • At the far left of the browser window is the folder list. It includes your Inbox, Sent items, and all the usual folders you have access to in Outlook.
  • To the right of the folder list is the message list. This displays all the messages in the currently selected folder, and the selected message appears in the Reading pane on the right.
  • You can also access additional features and settings from the toolbar at the top of the page and switch among Outlook’s modes (Inbox, Calendar, To Do, and Contacts) using the array of icons at the bottom left of the page, under the folder list.
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Outlook on the web displays your Outlook email in a web browser you can access from any computer.

How to view your Outlook calendar

To switch to the Outlook Calendar, just click the Calendar icon at the lower-left corner of the page. Here, you can customize the view. By default, you’ll see the Month view, but click “Month” at the top-right and choose the view you prefer from the drop-down menu.

You can add events and appointments to your calendar using the “New event” button at the top-left of the page. For more tips on how to get the most out of your calendar, read our article on the best tips and tricks to manage your Outlook Calendar on any device.

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The Calendar can be opened from the icons at the lower-left corner of the webpage.

How to manage your tasks and to dos

To switch to your tasks, click the “To Do” icon at the lower-left corner of the page. If your left-most pane is too narrow, you might not see the icon; instead, click the three dots and then choose “To Do” from the pop-up menu.

The To Do page has a task list pane on the left side of the page and the list of tasks on the right. To create a task, click the list in which you want the task to appear. Then, in the task pane on the right, click to the right of the plus sign and type your to do. You can mark a task by creating it in the “Important” list or by clicking the star after creating it.

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You can just click the text field beside the plus sign and start typing to create new tasks.

The best Outlook on the web settings

While you can get up and running with Outlook on the web in minutes, there’s a lot more power and customization hidden just under the surface. Here are some ways to get more out of Outlook on the web:

  • Filter your email. You can control what email is displayed and how it’s sorted. At the top right of the message pane click “Filter.” In the dropdown menu, you can choose which messages you want to see – such as all messages, only unread, messages directly addressed to you, flagged messages, and so on. To change the sorting method, at the bottom of the dropdown menu choose “Sort” and select how you’d like the messages to be organized.
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Outlook on the web gives you a variety of sorting options.

  • Configure the reading pane. You can set the Reading pane to appear on the right of the message pane (which is the default), underneath the message pane, or you can even disable it entirely. Click the Settings icon (shaped like a gear) at the top-right of the page and, in the Reading pane section at the bottom of the page, choose “Show on the right,” “Show on the bottom,” or “Hide.” If you choose to hide the pane, messages will appear in a new window and take over the Outlook webpage when you click on a message in the message list.
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The Reading pane can appear to the right or below the message list – or you can turn it off entirely.

  • Change your theme. Want a different theme for Outlook? Click the Settings icon (shaped like a gear) at the top right of the page and then choose a theme from the top of the Settings pane. There are more themes available than what you see here – click “View all” to see more.
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Use the Settings icon to change the visual theme of Outlook on the web.

  • Turn on dark mode. Dark mode is a popular feature that some people find easier on the eyes, especially in the evening hours. Click the Settings icon (shaped like a gear) at the top right of the page and then and then turn on Dark mode by swiping the button to the right.
  • Turn on desktop notifications. If you’d like to see a pop-up notification about new messages even when your browser is not the focus of your desktop, you can turn on desktop notifications. Click the Settings icon (shaped like a gear) at the top right of the page and then turn on Desktop notifications by swiping the button to the right. In most cases, you’ll also need to enable your browser to show notifications – look for a pop-up from your browser to enable these notifications. If you’re using Chrome, for example, click “Allow.” In Firefox, click “Allow Notifications.”
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If you turn on notifications, be sure to enable notifications in the browser as well.

  • Customize display settings with display density. You can vary how many messages appear in the message list at once – you can pack them in more tightly or space them out, making them easier to browse. Click the Settings icon (shaped like a gear) at the top right of the page and find the Display density section. Choose “Full,” “Medium,” or “Compact.” Full is the most relaxed view and each message includes a small icon representing the sender. Medium removes the icon, which shrinks the size of each message slightly. Compact tightens up the spacing and puts the most messages on the page at once.
  • View and group your conversations. You might be familiar with Outlook’s Conversation view from the desktop version of the email app. Conversation view groups related emails together, making it easier to follow a conversation thread. You can control this setting in Outlook on the web as well. Click the Settings icon (shaped like a gear) at the top right of the page and find the Conversation view section. You can arrange your email so the newest replies in a conversation appear on top, appear on the bottom, or you can turn off conversation view entirely. If you do that, every message appears independently in the message pane, regardless of its relationship to other messages.
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You have several options for configuring how to group and view messages in Outlook on the web.

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How to use Microsoft Family Safety to manage your family members’ app usage, screen time, and more

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You can manage your family’s devices in various ways through Microsoft Family Safety.

  • Microsoft Family Safety is a parental control app that lets you manage your kids’ screen time and app usage, among other features.
  • Family Safety is free but requires everyone to use a Microsoft account, and there are premium features available with a Microsoft 365 subscription.
  • The parental controls work across multiple devices, but browsing can only be filtered using the Edge browser.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Microsoft Family Safety is more or less just what the name implies: It’s Microsoft’s family safety and parental controls app that you can use to manage your kid’s screen time and device usage.

To use the service, you need to install the Microsoft Family Safety app on each mobile device you want to manage, and every family member you want to track needs a Microsoft account.

What to know about Microsoft Family Safety

Once configured, Microsoft Family Safety monitors the screen time and time spent with specific games and apps on phones, tablets, and Xbox. Parents can do more than just monitor usage as well: You can turn on screen time limits and schedules, and filter specific apps and web browsing. The app also tracks locations using mobile device GPS, so you can see where your family members are.

Most of these features are free, though some premium features are only available if you have a subscription to Microsoft 365 Family, most notably location alerts and drive safety features.

How to get started with Microsoft Family Safety

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You must install Microsoft Family Safety across devices and sign in to your Microsoft account to use it.

To use Microsoft Family Safety, you’ll need to install the app on each of your family member’s devices. You can install Microsoft Family Safety for Android or for iOS. Start by installing it on your mobile device as a parent and sign in to your Microsoft account.

Unless you’ve already created a family group, you’ll initially be the only member of your family. Tap “Add a family member” and enter their email address associated with their Microsoft account. If your child doesn’t yet have a Microsoft account, tap “Create a child account” and follow the instructions to create one for them. They will get an invitation to join your family group; if needed, help them accept the invitation and get started with Family Safety.

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You can add your entire family to your family group and manage how they use their phones, apps, and web browsers.

Be sure to install the Microsoft Family Safety app on each of your kids’ devices, signing them into their own Microsoft accounts.

Using the map and tracking your family’s location

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You can enable Microsoft Family Safety to display the location of your family members.

Microsoft Family Safety displays the location of your family members on a map, as long as you’ve enabled that feature in Settings.

To see the map, start Microsoft Family Safety and tap “Map” at the top of the screen. You should see pins for each family member.

If you want to, you can add saved locations to the map, which Microsoft calls “places.” When someone goes to that location, you’ll see it displayed on the family member’s card on the home page, so you can tell at a glance where they are.

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The 6 best tips and tricks to manage your Outlook Calendar on any device

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Your Outlook Calendar can be customized in many ways to suit your professional and personal needs.

  • You can use these tips and tricks to get the most out of your Outlook Calendar on a variety of devices.
  • The Outlook Calendar can be accessed in a desktop app, on the web, or in a mobile app, though only the Outlook desktop app includes all of the service’s features.
  • You can create a free account to use the Outlook Calendar on the web, but a subscription to Microsoft 365 gives you the most features.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Microsoft has offered a full-featured calendar as a part of its Microsoft 365 suite of productivity apps for decades. But rather than being a stand-alone program like other apps, Office’s calendar is so well integrated with the Outlook email app that they are literally the same program; the only way to see your digital calendar is via Outlook.

There are a lot of lesser-known features hidden in the app, and unless you’re already an Outlook power user, you’ll find that there are a lot of ways to get more out of your Outlook Calendar.

How to get an Outlook Calendar with or without Microsoft 365

Microsoft’s digital calendar is only available as a part of Outlook. You can get Outlook three ways: with a Microsoft 365 subscription on desktop, for free on the web, or as a mobile app for iPhone and Android.

The most full-featured version of the calendar is on the desktop with a Microsoft 365 subscription, such as Microsoft 365 Family ($100 per year) or Microsoft 365 Personal ($70 per year). In addition to giving you access to the full suite of Office apps, these subscriptions also include OneDrive storage.

Without a subscription, you can still access the Outlook Calendar on the web or via the mobile app, though with fewer features and capabilities.

Outlook Calendar tips and tricks

There are countless ways to personalize your Outlook Calendar to get the most out of the program. Here are some of the most useful tips and tricks.

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What is cybersecurity? A guide to the methods used to protect computer systems and data

cyber security
Cybersecurity is the protection of computer systems from cyberattacks and is a rapidly growing industry.

  • Cybersecurity is the practice that protects computer technology and data systems from attack.
  • It’s a huge, multi-billion dollar industry and consists of many kinds of security practices.
  • The threat landscape is always evolving, but current threats to cybersecurity include malware, phishing, and denial-of-service attacks.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting all forms of computer technology from malicious attacks. It includes the preservation of computers, servers, mobile devices, networks, applications, and data in the event of damage, destruction, and unauthorized access. As an industry, cybersecurity is enormous and growing to help protect everyone from new and evolving threats.

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15 Microsoft Word tips and tricks that will help any user work more efficiently

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Microsoft Word has many useful features you might not know about.

  • Microsoft Word is filled with little-known tips and tricks that allow for more efficient work. 
  • Some tricks, like “Focus” mode and quick translations, make writing and editing a breeze.
  • Other features, like a built-in Resume Assistant and a document-signing tool, can aid on professional documents.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

It’s easy to take Microsoft Word for granted, despite its reputation as an easy-to-use word processor. 

However, even everyday Word users might not realize how powerful the app is, or how many features it has beyond the simple editing commands we all know.

Microsoft Word tips and tricks

Taking time to explore Word’s more obscure corners can make the program even more useful for you. If you start using these tricks often, you might start to wonder how you ever went without them.

Here are 15 of our favorite Microsoft Word tips and tricks, all of which can save you time and energy while you work.

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How to give better PowerPoint presentations and improve your slides to keep an audience engaged

powerpoint presentation to coworkers in office space
It’s important to know how to create well-designed PowerPoint presentations to help your audience follow along and stay engaged.

  • You can improve your PowerPoint presentations by both improving your presentation skills and making better use of the program. 
  • To create a more compelling PowerPoint presentation, you can use tricks like animated charts, a background soundtrack, or embedded fonts. 
  • Here are 17 tips for making cleaner slides, speaking more effectively, and using little-known PowerPoint tools for smarter presentations.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Microsoft PowerPoint remains the most common platform to create and deliver presentations. 

No matter what your content, you can make a more compelling presentation when you’ve toned some common presentation skills and also mastered some of PowerPoint’s lesser-known features.

How to make a better PowerPoint presentation

Here are nine ways to get more out of PowerPoint and create a killer presentation. 

Start your presentation instantly 

Few things look as unprofessional as fumbling around trying to start your presentation in the PowerPoint app. But you can skip all that by setting your presentation to start instantly.

1. When your PowerPoint deck is complete, click “File” and “Save As.”

2. In the Save As dialog box, change the “Save as” type to “PowerPoint Show” and store it somewhere easy to find, like your desktop. 

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Save a finished presentation as a PowerPoint Show so it’ll launch directly into Slide Show mode.

3. When you’re ready to start the presentation, double-click this icon, and the deck will launch instantly in presentation mode, without needing to open the PowerPoint application. 

Create an animated chart

You can format any kind of chart so each segment animates individually. This can help you call attention to specific parts of the chart as you discuss it. Add a chart in the usual way, then:

1. Click the “Animations” tab in the ribbon and then click “Animation Pane.”

2. In the ribbon, click “Add Animation.”

3. Choose the kind of animation you want to apply to the chart. 

4. Right-click the effect in the Animation Pane and then, in the menu, choose “Effect Options.”

5. In the Properties box, choose the “Chart Animation” tab and then change “Group chart” to “By Category” and click “OK.”

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You can make each part of a chart or graph animate individually.

Align your graphics

PowerPoint lets you add objects – shapes, lines, arrows, text boxes, and other elements – to the screen, but getting them aligned can be tricky. You might appreciate knowing you can perfectly align any elements on the screen with just a couple of clicks. 

1. Press and hold the Shift key.

2. While continuing to hold Shift, click each item on the screen that you want to align. If you click an element by accident, click it again to de-select it. Release the Shift key when they’re all selected.

3. Click the “Home” tab in the ribbon.

4. In the ribbon, click “Arrange” and then, in the “Position Objects” section, choose an alignment to arrange or distribute the objects neatly on the screen. 

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The “Arrange” menu lets you easily align and format items on the screen so they line up perfectly.

Embed your fonts for portability

If you’re using special fonts in your presentation and you try to open the deck on a computer that doesn’t have those fonts installed, PowerPoint will substitute a local font, sometimes with disastrous results. You can avoid that problem by embedding the font in the deck, making the presentation fully portable (and possible for other people to share and edit the deck as well).

1. Click the “File” tab in the ribbon and then choose “Options.”

2. In the PowerPoint Options dialog box, choose “Save” in the navigation pane on the left.

3. In the section called “Preserve fidelity when sharing this presentation,” click “Embed fonts in the file” and then select “Embed all characters.”

Blank the screen to keep all eyes on you

It seems inevitable: For whatever reason, you find yourself needing to discuss a topic that’s not directly related to the slide on the screen. That’s when the deck can become a distraction, with your audience’s eyes focused on a pie chart when you’re answering an unrelated question. PowerPoint has an easy solution: Press the B key to blank the screen – it’ll turn black until you press B again or move to the next slide. If you prefer, press W to turn the screen white. 

Easily jump between sections of your deck

Not every presentation is linear, and you might prefer to jump back and forth from sections of your deck to a common “table of contents,” so you can tackle the presentation in any order. This can be handy, for example, if you’re using a deck for training or education. PowerPoint’s Zoom feature is ideal for this.

1. Create a presentation and be sure to organize it into sections, ideally with title slides dividing each part of the deck.

2. Click the “Insert” tab in the ribbon.

3. Click “Zoom” and then click “Summary Zoom.”

4. In the “Insert Summary Zoom” window, select the title slide or start of each section and then click “Insert.”

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Use the Zoom tool to jump back and forth between the presentation and a table of contents slide.

PowerPoint will add a summary page to your deck. Now you can start your presentation here and click a section to go there. When that section is complete, PowerPoint will return you to the summary page. 

Preserve the presentation as a PDF

If you want to share your presentation with your audience, a PDF file is an easy way to preserve the formatting, make it easily printable, and prevent anyone from modifying your content. Just click the “File” tab in the ribbon, choose “Save As,” and then select “PDF” as the “Save as” type. You can now share this PDF file quickly and easily. 

Zoom in for a closer look

During a presentation, you might realize that the audience can’t clearly see a detail you want to focus on. That’s ok – PowerPoint lets you zoom in with a couple clicks. 

First, make sure your presentation is set to Slide Show view. To zoom in, click on the magnifying glass in the lower-left corner of the presenter view. You’ll see a zoom box appear – position it where you want to zoom, and click. Now the presentation will be zoomed in on the part of the screen you want to focus on. You can even click and drag to move around the screen while zoomed in. 

When you’re done and want to zoom back out, either press the Escape key or the magnifying glass icon again. 

Add a musical soundtrack

You can easily add a musical score that plays in the background across all your slides. This is especially handy for “kiosk” presentations that run autonomously. 

1. Go to the slide where you want the music to begin and then click the “Insert” tab in the ribbon.

2. Click “Audio” and then click “Audio on my PC…”

3. Choose the track you want to play. 

4. In the ribbon, click “Play in Background.”

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Select “Play in Background” to ensure the music doesn’t stop when the slides are advanced.

Now, when you reach this slide, the music will start to play automatically and it will continue playing across slides until the track is over, then loop and play again.

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What is Microsoft 365? Here’s what you need to know about the subscription service to Word, Excel, and other Microsoft programs

office space working on desktop computers
Microsoft 365’s subscription packages for businesses can help improve your office’s productivity and workflow.

  • Microsoft 365 is a subscription-based evolution of Microsoft Office, featuring familiar programs, like Word and Excel, but with additional features.
  • There are different tiers of Microsoft 365 plans suited for different needs, like business, personal, and family plans.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

You’ve likely heard of Microsoft Office, which consists of workplace applications, including the widely used Microsoft Word program.

What you may not realize is that Word and other Office programs – Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote – are also a part of Microsoft 365.

Making a one-time purchase of Microsoft Office is still an option to anyone who wants access to the suite of programs. However, you might want to opt for Microsoft 365 instead, which is structured as a paid monthly subscription plan and features myriad perks not included with Office, including cloud-based productivity tools and artificial intelligence capabilities. 

Here’s a little bit more about Microsoft 365, how it differs from its predecessor, and how you can sign up.

What to know about Microsoft 365

Some of Microsoft’s subscription-based services were formerly known as Office 365.

In April 2020, Microsoft rebranded all of those services to Microsoft 365 to help differentiate its subscription service from the traditional Office-branded Microsoft program packages.

Microsoft 365 offers special additions to its classic Office apps as well as access to more programs, like OneDrive. Even a basic Microsoft 365 personal plan gives you access to premium versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, which Office doesn’t offer.  

You also get access to advanced tools and features like Microsoft Editor to help edit your writing; the financial planning tool, Microsoft Money in Excel; and OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage that allows for ease of collaboration in real time.

There’s also a slew of other smart perks in Microsoft 365: You can get focused help on your resume with Word’s Resume Assistant, or help with your next presentation with the PowerPoint Presenter Coach.

Again, these are benefits you won’t see with a basic Office purchase, and you can get them all with a Microsoft 365 plan for home, which has two tiers.

As the 365 plans move up in tiers, there are added security and business tools available. For instance, appointment manager Microsoft Bookings is available in the Standard and Premium versions of Microsoft 365, but not the Basic, and only the Premium tier of Microsoft 365 Business grants you access to mobile-device manager Intune and Azure Information Protection.

If you can’t decide on a business plan, Microsoft can help you determine what plan best fits your business, and you can back out before the one-month free trial ends.

Related coverage from Tech Reference:

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