523 – Raise your hand

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As more of the world is in lock-down and pretty much everyone who can is working at home, apps like Teams have taken a more central role in many lives. Alongside adding 12m users the other week, there was a substantial increase in resources dedicated to running the back-end – millions of additional CPU cores were provisioned to the Teams service.

clip_image004Mobile Teams users are getting some new functionality, and the blog post about the 40% growth in usage teased some features that are coming later in the year, notably background noise-cancelling (to supress the tap-tap-tap of the typical team-mate’s typing), and a new action which lets attendees ask for help or offer to contribute by “raising their hand”. That might help avoid people talking over each other.

This feature is in test currently and is expected to appear a little later this year, along with a raft of other improvements, like having custom backgrounds (in addition to blurring of the existing background), and the ability to break out chats into separate windows rather than have everything in one.

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clip_image008When the hand-raising feature is rolled out, assuming you can see the People pane to the side of the Teams window, anyone who has their hand raised will be listed with a hand icon, meaning the organiser could ask them to chime in.

On the COVID-19 pandemic – the WHO publishes a view of the spread of the disease, with the help of Microsoft’s ISV partner ESRI, using their ArcGIS platform. See the global WHO dashboard, or look at the county-by-county map of the US, here. It’s all very sobering. There’s a Coronavirus Tracker on Bing and a load of other resources on Microsoft.com.

522 – Teams best practices for WFH

clip_image002In these uncertain times, many organisations are scrambling to enable their workers to be able to carry on even when the rest of the world is seemingly losing control. At least the meme creators are busy.

Ex-Microsoftie Allister Frost has some wise words to share about Working From Home, and given that he was Chief Puppy Controller for a well-known marketing team, he knows things that are currently relevant.

Microsoft Teams may have had a couple of bumps since the Covid-19 virus started to cause people to stay at home; early in the week there were a couple of outages that have been swiftly resolved, but it’s since been announced that the service added 12 million daily active users in the last 7 days – that’s a 40% increase in usage, so it’s no surprise if the infrastructure creaked a little as it grew.

There are many tips for making good use of Teams –

Stay at home, stay safe, and follow Buzz Aldrin’s advice.

521 – Earth mapping

The last couple of decades have seen a revolution in user apps which offer location awareness and guidance. clip_image002 Automotive sat-navs were available some years ago, dating back to Honda’s electro Gyro-cator (now that’s a name) in 1986. CD and HDD based satnavs in cars became available over the years since, but typically were many thousands of dollars/pounds/etc as an option.

clip_image004Google Earth was first launched in 2001 as a desktop app, and Google Maps followed in the browser, a few years later. Microsoft launched “Virtual Earth” shortly after that, though it was initially more like “Virtual North America” as its global coverage was very lacking. Over time, Bing Maps launched a bunch of innovative services, like Birds Eye, which used licensed 3rd party images from spotter planes to stitch together a “45 degree” view rather than the typical straight-overhead aerial view.

clip_image006The source data for Birds Eye is a little out of date in some areas – though is still being updated in, er, North America (eg. see here and here), and maybe in other areas over time too. Point Birds Eye at Microsoft’s UK campus, and it shows Building 5 under construction, so the images are at least 8 years old, though since they no dates other than “© 2020”, there’s no obvious way to tell.

Google’s Street View shows the dates of images if there are multiple – click the down arrow next to “Street View” in the top left to view the history.

Meanwhile, as well as rowing back some of the nagging to get Edge browser users to move to Chrome, Google released Google Earth in the browser – it’s maybe not quite so smooth as the desktop app, but it’s quick to use – https://earth.google.com/web/ … see Microsoft UK’s TVP campus, here.

The Washington Post reports that Google changes the view of maps depending on the country the user is in, removing disputed borders and the likes – so it’s a complicated world. According to that same article, Bing Maps is a very minor player in map usage, with Apple Maps (after an inauspicious start) has grown to be the second-most-used mapping platform, due to mobile usage, either on the Maps app directly or via other 3rd party apps which use location-awareness from the mobile device.

clip_image008Bing Maps is used in many online services and other apps, however – like Microsoft’s forthcoming reboot of Flight Simulator, which supposedly features every airport in the world and uses data from Bing Maps, real-time weather reports and rendering in Azure, to provide a realistic flying view. There are some amazing videos on the Flight Simulator channel.

520 – You have the Power

clip_image002When Windows 95 launched nearly a quarter of a century ago, it brought a whole new way of interacting with the windowing environment on users’ PCs. The Start menu was introduced (and the grand launch event had the execs “dancing” to ‘Start Me Up’ by the Rolling Stones – chosen because of its “Start” association, presumably, rather than the lyric “you make a grown man cry”), and after a short-term diversion in Windows 8, the Start menu reappeared in Windows 10, and is still evolving.

After the Win95 initial release, the development team behind the Windows Shell came out with a bunch of useful utilities; things that at one point might have shipped as Resource Kit tools, but were aimed at a slightly broader user base – and so the Power Toys family was born.

There were often capabilities in the OS which could be enabled or disabled by the flick of a setting in the Registry (also new in Windows 95, in an attempt to put all the settings stuff in one place rather than having INI files everywhere). Telling an end user to go an start Registry twiddling is a potential recipe for disaster, so the Power Toys included utilities like TweakUI, which exposed some of the settings.

Various other Microsoft products embraced the idea of Power Toys, but the whole thing was killed off in the wake of the intensive code reviews required as part of the Trustworthy Computing (TwC) initiative in 2002. See more of the history here (though the page is 15 years old so pretty much all the links are dead).

In late 2019, it was announced that PowerToys was coming back – this time, as an open source project supported by the dev team but ultimately driven by a wider community. The goals for v1.0 have been published and recently the 0.15 release was made – get the latest version here.

So far, possibly the most useful app in the current build is FancyZones, which allows you to have more control over window layouts than simply snapping to the left or right – handy if you have a massive monitor or two, and want to tile multiple windows side by side.

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519 – Browser battles revisited

clip_image002The “Browser Wars” happened in the late 1990s, and marked a time of intense, er, “competition” between different web browsers. Since then, Google’s Chrome has rather cleaned up and established a seemingly unassailable lead in browser market share.

Still, Edge’s recent release using the Chromium rendering engine – designed to make it comparable with Chrome from a compatibility point of view, yet allowing Microsoft developers to remove Google-services-specific stuff (and replace them, sometimes, with Microsoft-services-specific stuff, many of which will be checked in to the Chromium open-source project.

The Edge browser built on Chromium was released in January, and updates are flowing through to add more functionality – which, exactly, depending on whether you’re running the normal release or you’re on one of several preview or developer (“canary”) versions. Some features are things that were ideally intended to make it to the public release – like synchronizing extensions installed across multiple PCs.

The Edge update won’t be forced out to existing non-Chromium-Edge users (hello, out there!) – or at least there will be a way of stopping it from being pushed out, if you’re an enterprise IT controller who’d rather not have to manage change and things like that.

One of the benefits of Edge being on Chromium is that the extensions which third parties build for the browser should be compatible – and since Google has 2/3rd of the total market, there are more of them than for other browsers.

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There’s an Edge “addons” page which shows a curated list of extensions known to work well with the new Edge, but if you want, you can install anything that’s listed on the Google site.

If you enable the ability to install Chrome extensions into Edge, then refresh/browse to the Chrome store again, you’ll be met with scary warnings, however…

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Google has started alerting of a security issue – namely, if the extension is somehow added to the Chrome store and subsequently found to be of dubious intent and posing a security risk, then Google can remotely knobble it on installed machines. They are now warning that if you happen to use a Chromium but-not-Chrome browser – like Edge – then they won’t do this. It seems the extension security scare banner isn’t the only one to try to make Edge users install and switch to Chrome.

Tsk, Tsk.

Also, the Edge browsers published for Android and iOS are receiving updates to make them work more seamlessly with desktop Edge. (See more for Android & iOS)

518 – The App(s) of Office

clip_image002Once upon a time, there were Microsoft Office mobile apps, for Windows.

Ever since the demise of Windows Mobile and the collateral damage caused to Microsoft’s previous Universal Windows Platform apps strategy by not having a universal platform any more, their future has been in some doubt. In fact, since late 2018, it was reported that the Office “Mobile” apps for Windows were being de-prioritized in favour of the desktop variants (with the exception of OneNote), and separate mobile apps for the surviving mobile platforms.

clip_image004If you search the Microsoft Store app on PC, you won’t find any trace of the Office mobile apps for Windows PCs any more but if you want to see what the future looked like from a point 5+ years in the past, you can still access the direct links get the UWP apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

In these enlightened days, Microsoft builds quite a lot of apps for iOS and Android, more especially the latter since it has a larger number of users (and seems to be growing its share in key markets) as well as being more open when it comes to the both the end-user and developer experience (though Apple may be changing its tack a little).

Recently, the Office team has shipped a whole new, unified Office app for Android and for iOSmore details in the team’s blog, here.

The app brings together Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but also adds a bunch of other related things – like Sticky Notes, and some related and useful technology like the ability to manage PDF files, extract text from an image and more.

Back in Oct 19, MJF wrote about this strategy and more recently has suggested more features are on their way.

517 – Try the preview…

clip_image002Several of Microsoft’s standard apps within Windows ship updates regularly, and increasingly are offering willing early adopters a peek at what’s coming through a  “Try the preview” clip_image004or “Coming Soon” option, usually in the top right of the main screen.

clip_image006You might need to force an update on your apps to get the latest version; go into the Store app and in the ellipsis menu on the top right, select Downloads and updates then hit the Get updates button. If you don’t like clicking menus, you could jump straight there by opening a run dialog with Win+R and entering ms-windows-store://DownloadsAndUpdates/

To find the name of any installed Store app, so you can run it from a command line or dialog, fire up powershell (just press the Start button and type that) then paste:

foreach ($p in $(get-appxpackage)) { foreach ($n in (Get-AppxPackageManifest $p).package.applications.application.extensions.extension.protocol.name) { $p.packagefullname + “`t `t `t -=- ” + $n } }

… and enter that. You’ll get a list of long app names followed by a one-word name that can be used to invoke the app. To run a Store app from a Run dialog or the Start menu directly, use that one word with a colon at the end – to start the Store version of OneNote try typing Win+R onenote: (for example).

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clip_image012The Calendar app – improbably named outlookcal: even though it has nothing to do with the desktop Outlook, other than it too can display a calendar – has recently received an opt-in preview which adds a funky new UI with background graphics reminiscent of Wunderlist, and nice icons to help you quickly switch between different calendar sources.

The preview will only show up (for now) if you’re a Windows Insider. Fortune favours the brave

516 – More Teams Sharing

clip_image002[4]When you use online meeting technologies, there are usually ways to share content with attendees. Even years and years ago, lots of people felt the easiest way to present a PowerPoint slide deck was to “share their screen” while running the PowerPoint application.

Some folk have the good sense to “present” clip_image004[4]that PPT fullscreen while screen-sharing, whereas others would merely flick through the slides within the PowerPoint app, consuming 30% of the screen real estate with menus, slide sorter, and other visual detritus of not only the app, but their host operating system as well.

Top tip – when you’re presenting, don’t be a doofus – please present, don’t share your screen then move through slides.

PowerPoint itself, OCS, Lync, Skype for Business – they’ve all tried to provide easy ways to present content online or through a meeting. Not wanting to throw in the towel to the screen-sharing crowd just yet, Teams has a few more tricks up its sleeve too.

clip_image006[4]clip_image008[4]Try for yourself – go to the Calendar node (remembering that you can switch between them by pressing CTRL+ the number from the top, so CTRL+4 in this case will jump to Calendar – though current versions of the Teams client will allow you to reorder the nodes by dragging & dropping them), and on the top right of the screen, click Meet now. This will give you a one-person playground to try stuff in. Read more here.

When you’re in a meeting, if you wave your mouse around or click/tap on a blank area within the main window, you’ll see the meeting controls toolbar, which you’ll use to control your audio/video, look at the text chat or participants list within a meeting, and also the Share option.

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clip_image012[4]clip_image014[4]Rather than sharing Desktop or Window, check out PowerPoint – if you don’t see the slide deck you want to present in the list of the most recently used ones, click on Browse and you’ll be able to navigate to it throught Teams channels and libraries (if your content is already in there), or you can upload it from your elsewhere.

The Teams client will render your presentation on each viewer’s machine, using less network bandwidth than screen-sharing does, and allowing more seamless multi-user control – so if you have multiple presenters in a single meeting, they can take over presenting the deck without having to be given overall control of the original presenter’s computer.

clip_image016[4]If you decide to put your PowerPoint file into a Teams channel and share / present it from there, it’s worth double-checking the formatting though; under the covers the Teams client will use the same rendering as if were previewing the file in a web browser.

You may find some slide transitions, animations or even some text layout will be a little different to how you’d see it in full-blown PowerPoint – to check that everything is OK, just navigate to the file within the Teams channel, and preview it from there.

If you do find the slides get mangled, you may be able to tidy them up within the Teams preview, or else you have permission to do the dastardly desktop sharing method.

For more information on sharing content within Teams meetings, see here.

515 – Whiteboarding Teams

clip_image002[1]Microsoft Teams continues to attract more fans, as Office 365 licensees deploy it and end-users embrace and enjoy Teams as another way to other communicate and collaborate. As part of a blog post in November, some best practices and references were shared, as was the widely-reported figure of 20m active users.

After a while, Teams becomes prevalent as a way of managing online meetings: handy, for example, when the usual seasonal rain in Seattle gives way to the odd bout of debilitating snow.

clip_image004[1]clip_image006[1]If you’re having meetings with Teams, there’s always the chance you’ll want to collaborate on a virtual whiteboard, something that was discussed a bit back in ToW #440.

Just go to the Share control within the meeting and scroll over to the right – past a list of PowerPoint files you have recently opened; yes, it is possible to display PPT content without sharing your whole desktop – and you’ll see Whiteboard as a category.

clip_image008[1]The Microsoft Whiteboard that is listed within is a simplified version of the main application; as used in Teams, you get less control and fewer pens etc. You could just start then share out the main Whiteboard application, but as it would be a single-user application being displayed, you wouldn’t have the same fidelity of multi-user interaction.

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It is possible, however, to open up the Whiteboard canvas associated with a Teams meeting, back in the separate Microsoft Whiteboard app. So, if you want to use the groovy tools like highlighter and ruler, start Whiteboard, then look in the gallery of existing whiteboards you’ve used.

One of them will be the Whiteboard from the meeting: open it up in the main app and you’ll also be able to interact in real-clip_image012[1]time, even if the meeting is still taking place with others contributing.

Whiteboard is available as a Windows app, an iOS app, and also as a web apphere – and the web app provides the same kind of slightly more basic functionality as the Teams version. Who knows, they might be related…?

There’s also an even-more-capable whiteboard app that needs you to sign up for a free account and provides a commensurate web experience – Freehand by InVision. The Teams app basically embeds the web UI of that app too, but it provides a wider choice of features (like holding ALT down to force your freehand shapes to snap to real ones, or press SHIFT to force a straight line even if drawn with a mouse or a pen) and some additional organisational control. It’s worth looking at both Freehand and the simpler Microsoft Whiteboard.

514 – tweaking Outlook’s Ribbon

clip_image002Thirteen years ago, Microsoft launched Office 2007. Back when people looked forward to new releases of office productivity suites with a mix of excitement and dread, new features arrived by the boat load. While many functions stayed in later releases as core parts of the product, others led a wafer-thin existence then vanished.

One major change was the introduction of the Ribbon – a then-new way of organising the complex menu structure that sat within the individual Office apps. Despite complaints from some users, it quickly became established as a good way of presenting, in context, useful features that might otherwise have stayed buried in some deep menu structure. Competitors copied it too.

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clip_image006Outlook – like other Office apps – has evolved its Ribbon over time, and introduced a simplified version that takes up less screen real estate. While your average user has moved on from squinting at a 15” CRT monitor, it’s still desirable for some to keep the less-used menu options hidden and to focus on the content. To switch between the standard and simple Ribbons, click the little caret mark at the far right corner of the main Ribbon UI.

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So far, so good, but it you like the “Classic” Ribbon, there’s a lot you can do to get rid of some of the guff and keep the useful features more prominent. Looking at the first Ribbon image above, about 40% of the space is consumed with a handful of addins that might be useful, but not necessarily deserving of such prominence – your own list may differ, but the stuff on the right side tends to be a series of groups with a single, large icon in each.

clip_image010To clean up the ribbon, right-click on it and choose the Customize the Ribbon… option. You’ll now get a dialog box which lets you organise things – individual commands are displayed in Tabs (like Home, View, Help etc) and on groups within the tabs (New, Delete, Respond, and so on).

If you reduce the number of groups on a tab, the remaining ones may spread out and show larger icons or more detail – handy on the Home tab, if you like to use Quick Steps, which will expand out of one column.

clip_image012Let’s try moving some of the clip_image014less commonly used groups from the home tab – start by creating a new Tab and then right-click on it to rename it Add-ins or something like that.

Once you have the new tab created, it’s simple to start dragging and dropping defunct groups from the home tab onto the new one – things you might use occasionally but they don’t need to be on the main screen. Customisations are particular to the Ribbon you’re looking at – so if you organise the Classic one then switch to Simplified, you’ll still see the old arrangement until you customize that one too. You might want to export your finished layout too.

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Looking at the restyled Ribbon above, all of the groups from Delete to Tags have been stretched to show more prominent icons or reduce the menu level a little, and Quick Steps has grown from one to four columns wide. Much more useful.

clip_image018If you’re a Quick Steps fan, another trick is to right-click on one of your existing steps (where you’d normally customize that step or jump into the dialog clip_image020for managing the whole lot), and choose Add Gallery to Quick Access Toolbar; meaning your array of quick actions is only a couple of clicks away, regardless of what is shown on the Ribbon.