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Not so Friendly; getting to grips with regional settings in Microsoft 365

If you want your dates to be regionally approproiate, don’t expect the Regional settings in Microsoft 365 to help that much. Some things aren’t as friendly as they appear…

It is a point of continuing frustration that the Microsoft engineering team can’t get their head around the fact that just 3% of the world uses the arse-about-face US date system. If you are in the, apparently less important, 97% then you will have a bunch of hoops to jump through to get dates to display in a usable (non-misleading) way. To be fair the Microsoft they are not the only ones who are deeply rubbish at this trivial regionalisation activity – see my unequivocal rant about Tesla et al.

Having battled with this issue and found most of the things that come up on search unhelpful, out of date or wrong, I thought I should write up what has worked for me.

Please note that there is a ridiculous number of regional settings that are simply ignored. After several days of investigation in preparing this blog, it all comes down to the use of so-called Friendly date formats. I’m going to take your through all the regional setting steps, then show you how to, finally, get the dates the way you want them (with thanks to Simon Doy for the final fix).

If you are in the US you probably don’t need to read this, but please do forward a link to everyone you know at Microsoft as this problem is failing to empower every person on the planet…

1.        OneDrive for Business

It is well known that OneDrive for Business is really a bunch of SharePoint Site Collections which are automatically created for all the users on your Microsoft 365 tenant. The user interface for OneDrive is mostly quite different from SharePoint, however, and this extends to settings (even though the OneDrive admin settings are now mostly incorporated into the SharePoint admin portal).

You might expect that the regional settings are accessible from the Settings cog wheel and opening it offers that hope. Click the Change your language link to visit the Account Settings page. You should make any changes you need here, but don’t get your hopes up yet, since I have never seen these have any effect on the dates displayed in the OneDrive files list. (You can use this URL to get to this same page: https://myaccount.microsoft.com/settingsandprivacy )

However, if you had, instead, chosen OneDrive Settings from the cog you would have arrived, unintuitively, at the Notifications Settings page, on which there is a discrete More Settings link

Excitingly, this does what it promises and half way down that page is a link to Regional Settings. Change the time zone and the region.

If you are feeling adventurous, you could click Site Settings on the navigation breadcrumb to see all the site collection settings, which are instantly familiar to anyone that has owner rights in SharePoint. Avoid messing around with these unless you know what you are doing – OneDrive for Business isn’t (quite) SharePoint.

So here is the kicker, after all that, it doesn’t work!! Despite having set your regional settings, OneDrive stubbornly shows dates in the rather ridiculous ‘friendly’ mmmm d yyyy (June 29, 2021) rather unlike the format used everywhere else in the English speaking world (Canada excepted, perhaps, and I haven’t tested what happens with all the other languages though I’m hoping they haven’t been equally marginalised).

However, all is not lost and it’s the ‘friendly’ format that is the clue. We should offer thanks to the rather splendid Simon Doy for the final part of the puzzle. The fix goes like this…

From the Regional Settings screen (see above) click Apps in the left navigation. You are now in the hidden Site Contents page (familiar to all SharePoint folk. You could also have changed onedrive.aspx to viewlsts.aspx in the URL). As I said at the start, OneDrive for Business is really a personal SharePoint Online Site Collection. All your OneDrive documents are in the site collection document library, so click the ellipsis next to Documents and choose Settings to arrive at the library settings screen (also familiar to SharePoint admins).

All we need to do is change the date format for the modified date, so click Modified  and change the display format to Standard from Friendly. As if by magic, all your dates are now shown in proper English. And when I say all, I actually mean just those in the files list; incredibly the dates are still wrong in things like the details pane and I am sad to report I have no fix for that at all, other than finding someone at Microsoft to shout at a bit. And you will have to do that for every individuals OneDrive unless someone shares a PowerShell script to fix it.

2.        OneDrive (Consumer)

Meanwhile the consumer version of OneDrive has the same problem. Once again, it fails to apply reasonable date formats.

In theory, the fix is a little more straight forward. Firstly click the Settings cog wheel. The 3rd item is the region it has arbitrarily assigned.

Click it to open the Change Display Language dialog. This will probably be correct (if not please change it. Almost no one wants US as their language of choice!). Now the clever bit… close the dialog! The regionalisation settings are tucked away at the bottom of the page, in Language Info.

After a bit of scrolling you should be able to find and select your region and it will choose sensible date and time formats. You could choose one of the other options if you are weird, but I find the ones it chooses to be the most acceptable ( dd/mm/yyyy and 24 hour clock))

Hit Done and you should expect to be all set (though you might as well set up the preferred language while you are here and your other settings too, if you haven’t been on this page before).

As with OneDrive for Business, I’m afraid that fun though this has been it has no effect on the date formats. It’s probalby much the same reason under the hood, but because this isn’t really a SharePoint site there is no work around that I can find. Sorry about that. I guess you can feel satisfied that at least your settings are correct and you can’t be held culpable for the stupid date display.

BTW, If you are in a hurry, you could just use the Your Info URL to get straight to the settings: https://account.microsoft.com/profile/

3.        Microsoft Lists

Microsoft Lists are also ‘just’ part of SharePoint. Personally, I love that they have been upgraded with conditional column formatting, formattable views, card views etc. plus the consolidated Lists portal. Incidentally, it would be nice if all that list loveliness worked the same in SharePoint libraries – but that’s another story. Meanwhile, to some extent, the Microsoft date format blindness is hard at work here too.

Previously, if you created a list, you did it in a SharePoint site and the list inherited regionalisation from the Site Collection settings, which you can access from the cog wheel via Site Infomration, View all site settings. However you can also create a list directly from the Lists portal and that doesn’t have a settings page; nor is it obvious where the list has actually been created, other than it is in My Lists (as you can see in the MVP Activity log list in the screen shot.

If you look at the URL for these lists you would think that they are in your OneDrive and you would be right. In fact if you pull the same trick of going to OneDrive for Business and changing onedrive.aspx to viewlsts.aspx in the URL you will see all the My Lists lists in Site Contents. Mostly the date formats will be fine now, if you have done the things in section 1, OneDrive for Business. However the friendly format gremlin is still at work and probalby needs fixing. This is pretty straightforward; go to each list, use the cog wheel to open List Settings (ignoring the Language Settings link as we have already seen that doesn’t help much) and work your way through any columns in your lists that is date based, changing them to Standard formats as we did previously.

4.        And now, PowerShell

There is one other thing that might be helpful while we are busy with regional and language formats and that’s how to set the general settings on an account using PowerShell. Even here the Microsoft documentation  leaves much to be desired since it provides no guidance on logging into the tenant or what the region codes are; so I will cover that.

The first step is to open PowerShell in Admin mode from your start menu in Windows (type ‘powers’ in the search box next to the start menu icon, click Run as Administrator.

To connect to your M365 tenant you need to install a PowerShell module, using:

Install-Module -Name AzureAD

If you see an Untrusted Repository warning, type ‘A’ to accept all (it’s safe).

Now enter the following and sign in to your tenant:

Connect-AzureAD

You probably also need to install the Microsoft Online Service module in the same way (because Microsoft are still trying to harmonise the two sets of modules):

Install-Module MSOnline

Connect-MsolService

Next we can run the command to set your users’ regional and language settings. Assuming you have just a cloud (AAD) identity then change the bits in italics to specify the user name you want to update; your language code and region code (en-GB in the example below, where en is the language and GB is the region. See a full list here):

Get-MsolUser -UserPrincipalName username@domain.co.uk | Set-MsolUser -PreferredLanguage “en-GB

Get-MsolUser -UserPrincipalName username@domain.co.uk | Set-MsolUser –UsageLocation GB

If you are using an on -premises Azure with synchronisation to the cloud (hybrid AAD) then you need to do this instead:

Get-ADUser -SearchBase “OU=Italy,OU=Countries,DC=contoso,DC=com” -Filter * | Set-ADUser –replace @{PreferredLanguage=”it-it“}

Get-MsolUser -UserPrincipalName user1@contoso.com | Set-MsolUser –UsageLocation IT

And wait. It can take a few hours to sweep through and do everything.

Last Words

As you can see, unless you live in the US or, possibly, Canada, regionalisation is a bit of a mess. To ally this Microsoft seem to have assumed that the friendly date format is acceptable. It isn’t and you will have to do a bit of work to sort it out.

It’s a continuing shame that Microsoft neither automate regionalisation based on browser or OS settings, nor provide a M365-wide setting in the M365 admin centre (spelling regionalised by me) to set a sensible default (by which I do mean not US). Until they do understand that regionalisation is an important aspect of “empowering every person” then hopefully the advice above will help.

It’s an equal shame that their documentation is poor in places – I have done my bit and provided feedback on this minimally informative page Set language and region settings for Office 365 – Office 365 | Microsoft Docs

Good luck.

By Simon Hudson

Interests: Knowledge management; Information Architecture; Flexible working technologies

Passions: Physics, music, classic cars

Aspirations: To drive a V8 Vantage to the Amalfi Coast; to play guitar to a crowd of 1000+; to ski more than once a year; to make a difference

Background: From teaching to quality assurance, technical development to international marketing and from business development to business start-ups, Simon has flitted, butterfly like, learning from each experience and bringing that breadth to his client facing and business development activities. Simon is articulate, opinionated, understanding and suffers from an insatiable curiosity.

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