Another milestone in Tip o’ the Week – 500 weeks. A bit more than 5 million minutes. A judicial sentence that would have meant a very serious crime. 500 weeks ago, Jay-Z and Alicia had an Empire State of Mind atop the US chart. Some months later, Newport State of Mind was a viral hit.
On days like these, it’s easy to reflect on previous glories and favourite moments. Brits of a certain age, start playing that TOTP chart rundown tune (without getting distracted by YouTube clips of what was actually in the charts back in the day – some of it was undoubtedly great, some just bad noise)… and get ready for probably the 5 best Tips of the Week since the whole sorry enterprise started nearly 10 years ago…
Horizontal lines – this one is incredibly handy when you’re formatting an email or document and need to demarcate a section of content. Simply type three (or more) dashes “—” and press enter. Bingo, thank Autocorrect for that piece of magic. First seen all the way back in Tip o’ the Week #16: All wiyht. Rho sritched mg kegtops awound?
OneCalendar / OneTastic – a fabulous addin to the pensioned-off OneNote 2016 (and its predecessors), the OneCalendar function shows you a calendar view of note pages, arranged by when you edited them. It’s brilliant if you use multiple notebooks, and you want to recall something you knew you did on a particular day (like the previous week’s regular call). OneCalendar spawned OneTastic, a suite of other useful addins and macros for OneNote.
Sadly, neither feature in the new, Modern app OneNote (which you can start with Win+R, onenote-cmd: <enter> if you recall ToW 445). Though the modern app version is getting better all the time, it doesn’t have the same kind of addin architecture so OneCalendar/OneTastic is relegated to the legacy version. Still you can take notes in the new OneNote and as long as you have the same notebooks configured within the old one, then you can use either OneCalendar standalone or activate it by launching the old OneNote, just for searching your notes.
Actually, as ToW 393 covered, searching in old OneNote is better, anyway. ALT-O – who knew?
OneCalendar was first discussed back in Tip o’ the Week #98 – OneNote calendar front-end
Copy as Path – a well-hidden but most useful Explorer trick that is of particular use when you’re fishing around for files to then add into another application; sharing, sending, uploading, that kind of thing. Within Windows Explorer, right-click on the file in question whilst also pressing SHIFT, and you’ll see Copy as path, which plonks the full path and filename of the file onto the clipboard, making it a snatch to reference it within the other application.
Originally uncovered in Tip o’ the Week #101 – Finding files for dialogs
WindowsKey + V – a fairly new entrant to this chart, a feature that arrived with the October 2018 update to Windows 10, and was redesigned a little in May 2019: it shows you the clipboard history, so you can recall URLs, screen grabs etc that you might have copied a few steps ago. Hugely useful once you remember it’s there, once you’ve enabled it. See more in Windows help. First look was in Tip o’ the Week 482 – Paste History
404 – not so much of a tip, as a practical joke played in email. It doesn’t work quite the same in the browser, but you’ll get the idea. Also has some of the best tangential links to random content.
Guess what? It was in Tip o’ the Week 404 – [%subject%] not found %&
Thanks to all the regular readers who provide feedback, ideas and encouragement!
Will anyone still be here for ToW1000?
Cortana was supposed to be the differentiator for Windows Phone. 5 years ago, before Alexa had wormed her way into kitchens of millions of people and forced Google to respond with their range of devices, Siri and Cortana were the assistants in town. When Windows Phone carked it, Cortana transferred her attention to Windows 10, though there have been a few redesigns after feedback from users, such as preferring to have the search dialog shorn of Cortana-ness.
In latest news, rumours have surfaced of some kind of Microsoft speaker to be announced, though it’s purely a design patent rather than any details of what it might do – Cortana? Or just a companion device for making Teams calls? Time will tell. The same source unveiled a patent for a Roundtable type device at the same time last year – ahead of the autumn Surface launch event – and nothing seems to have come of that yet.
The much-trumpeted GLAS home thermostat (competing with Nest, basically) has dropped Cortana from the device, and the Cortana-powered Harman Kardon Invoke speaker (which, by all accounts, is a really good speaker) has sunk beneath the waves following a fire sale to get rid of stock. Cortana is reportedly disappearing from Xbox too, though a wider speech strategy is in place so she won’t go too far.
Cortana has been repositioned from being a consumer service or device, to a series of services that add value by integrating with your productivity applications and services. Additionally, efforts have gone into making speech/AI assistants interoperable.
In a recent Windows 10 build pushed to Insiders, Cortana is getting a new look – again – and will eventually roll out around the world, rather than be limited to a few locations as it had been previously.
If you’re on the insider program for Windows 10 and using a UK language machine, you may find that the new Cortana app doesn’t want to talk to you, unless you set English (United States) as your Windows Display language.
Also click on each entry in the Preferred languages list, and make sure you have all the speech and proof-reading features installed.
The original vision of Cortana’s usefulness is evolving so that when you enable the service, it now searches your email and calendars on a variety of sources (Office 365, Gmail etc) and will remind you when you say things in email (eg I’ll give you a call on Tuesday) – it’s vaguely spooky when you first start to use it, but after a while proves to be really useful.
As To Do and the Microsoft Launcher continue to improve and integrate, the original vision of Cortana might well come back to being more than a gimmick to ask for directions or the current weather – a genuinely personal assistant that will help you organise your life and get more stuff done.
The Microsoft To Do desktop and mobile applications and services (all available from https://todo.microsoft.com/) had a major update recently, which included being slightly renamed. Instead of “Microsoft To-Do”, the core app is now simply “Microsoft To Do”, and it has a new logo (well done if you noticed)… instead of a blocky light-blue and white tick on a blue background, it’s a slightly rounded and shaded blue tick on white background.
Still, To[-]Do’s functionality has stepped forward greatly since its first release a couple of years back, taking more than a few leaves from the Wunderlist app that preceded it. The new v2 of the To Do app includes background images that can be shown behind task lists, including one of the Berlin Television Tower which was synonymous with Wunderlist.
After Microsoft’s acquisition of 6wunderkinder (the company that made Wunderlist), it was announced that, at some stage, the Wunderlist application would be retired but still there’s no confirmed date or anything, with back-end engineering apparently taking a good bit longer than was first expected.
When the To-Do app was launched, it was a somewhat poorer cousin. Now, the story is that To Do v2 has enough of the functionality of Wunderlist, and lots of new capabilities (such as Cortana integration), that it’s time for Wunderlist users to transition.
The founder of 6wunderkinder has taken to Twitter to offer to buy back Wunderlist before Microsoft shuts the service down. It remains to be seen if the offer is being considered or not…
|Morph was a clay stop-motion animated figure from the late 1970s, who featured on a BBC children’s programme, Take Hart. He was created by Aardman Animations, who later went on to create Wallace and Gromit, amongst many others.
Morphing is a special effect used to move between two forms or images, gaining ground from the late 1980s as software allowed smooth transitions between different pictures or moving images – used heavily in movies like Terminator 2, for example.
This week’s tip was inspired by Dan Scarfe of New Signature, who commented, “I think of my life in two halves: pre-morph and after-morph.” It’s not often a feature in a software package can have such a life-changing effect, and for most of us it will be less profound than on Dan. Still, it’s worth a closer look – and was first mentioned on ToW back in July 2016, a tumultuous time in British politics. Plus ça change…
The Morph feature is a Transition in PowerPoint – meaning it’s applied when moving from one slide to another, when presenting. These are powerful capabilities that need to be used carefully for maximum effect – there’s a temptation to add whiz-bang transitions and animations just because you can, but often, a subtle and steady hand works better. See some tips here.
If you want to animate shapes moving from one part of the screen to another, just copy the starting slide from within the slide sorter view, paste it to create the destination, and then move/size/colour the shapes as you see fit. Select the second slide and in the Transitions menu, chose Morph… and that’s it.
Example: blue rectangle 1 will move to the opposite corner of the screen, the number size will shrink and it’ll change to green. 2 will slide across to the top left and the number size will grow, while 3 will drop down and also grow. The star changes shape and orientation, adopts a textured fill, all while also moving to the lower left.
Here’s a screen-grab taken during the transition – it’s smooth and, basically, magic.
Back to Morph, the plasticine man: turns out he did have a life in the 21st century as well – after a Kickstarter campaign, two whole new series of short videos were commissioned and along with lots of archive material, released on Morph’s official YouTube channel.
Back in the olden days of computing, wage slaves sat in front of terminals with black backgrounds and lurid green text writing. The advent of the graphical user interface relieved this tyranny with a paper-white background from a bitmapped screen to write your WYSIWYG text, to showcase colourful graphics (and Fonts!).
Fast forward 30+ years and it seems every app and OS is running away from black text / white backgrounds, and heading for monochrome graphics and oppressive white text on a black background again.
Using Dark Mode, either in apps or in the operating system on your computer or phone, promises a variety of benefits – less noticeable flickering, reducing eye strain, avoiding bright lights in a dark environment, perhaps better readability and therefore productivity, and even lower energy costs.
Dark Mode has existed in Windows for a while – but ultimately, apps need to support the theme, too, and more and more are doing so – like new Edge browser, or Office apps (where you can set the Office Theme).
The announcement on Microsoft 365 functionality adds for August 2019 highlighted additional Dark Mode support coming to Outlook mobile apps and Outlook.com, saying, “Dark Mode is not only easier on the eyes and may extend battery life, it also enables you to comfortably continue using your device in places where the default bright mode isn’t appropriate, like darkened airplanes and movie theaters.”
So kids, next time you want to go and watch a movie & catch up on your email, make sure you’ve Dark Mode on!
As Samsung recently released the new Galaxy Note 10 premium phone (some versions later than the now infamous Note 7 with battery issues), one prominent new feature may have inadvertently caused a headline during the last week. “Microsoft’s Your Phone App is Down” might have made some readers question, what is Your Phone anyway? (It’s back up now, btw).
Your Phone is a PC and companion iOS or Android app that lets the user of both device sync data and other experiences between them. Initially focussed on photo sharing, it grew to encompass other areas like allowing you to view and reply to text messages on your phone, using the PC’s screen & keyboard instead, thus avoiding any embarrassing auto-correct moments.
The photo sync between phone and PC is more real-time than synching via OneDrive or similar, and it’s a bit more usable for many. But since the May 2019 update to Windows 10, there have been a load of other changes to Your Phone.
It’s possible to share notifications from mobile apps – so you could see Android notifications shown on your PC, too – the goal being that in time, you’d be able to view and respond to them on your computer. If you set it up, do so carefully – you don’t want to be getting notifications on your PC that your phone has sent, for stuff that the PC is already notifying you for… like Outlook, or Teams. Otherwise, you’ll be getting a blizzard of notifications to the point of ignoring them all.
Finally, if you have a Samsung device on the extensive list of currently one, you can share your screen between phone and PC. The plan is, this would allow you to fully operate your phone – including making and taking calls – from your PC, and it’s likely that this will end up growing to other Samsungs and to other manufacturers.
Much has been written about Microsoft’s effort to replace the underlying web page rendering engine in the Edge browser with a version based on the open-source Chromium project.
The plan is to produce a cross-platform browser, available on older versions of Windows too, which implements a lot of the innovative features that first appeared with the Edge browser in Windows 10, but by using the Chromium engine, improve compatibility with web sites that perhaps didn’t work as well on Edge as they did on other browsers; notably Google’s Chrome, which shares a lot of the same underlying technology as Chromium.
Microsoft has put over 1,300 contributions back into the Chromium open source project over the last 5 years, with 1,100 in the last year, so the effort isn’t just to take Chromium and use it, but to help improve it for everyone.
Early adopters have had the ability to run a fairly stable Dev Channel build for a while, but now the Beta Channel is available, it’s open for anyone to have a look. Read more, and download the Beta version from here.
It’s possible to run all 3 versions of the browser side-by-side if you really want, and they co-exist with the regular Edge browser and Google Chrome as well, so it’s worth giving it a try. You’ll quickly find that the new Edge is notably quicker and is already slicker than old Edge, and some people consider it superior to Chrome.
PowerPoint files can be quite big. Not that it matters too much, now that we have huge amounts of local and cloud storage available, and even email quotas tend to allow large message sizes, so your 25MB PowerPoint file will typically still get through.
What lots of people do when they’re building a new PowerPoint deck, is to start with a template they like – a conference slide deck, or a jazzy marketing one they got a copy of. They delete the slides they don’t need, and maybe create a few of their own, and there’s a beautiful new document, ready to use.
As the decks morph in these ways, lots of hidden stuff stays embedded, even when it’s not used. In a recent group exercise, a bunch of people were asked to create a business plan deck for every one of hundreds of accounts, but the template they were asked to use was nearly 10MB in size before there was any real content within.
In this case, the reason was that the slide deck had over 200 master slide layouts within the template, many of which had large embedded bitmap images. If you find a slide deck whose file size is huge even if there isn’t much content in the slides themselves, you may see the same behaviour. ToW #276, some 4 years ago, covered a few things you can do to make the file smaller, but here’s a slightly more straightforward solution.
In your huge yet seemingly empty file, try going into the View tab in PowerPoint and look under the Slide Master view. You’ll see a vertical list of thumbnails for all the different slide layouts (where each contains background graphics as well as layout controls).
Hover over each thumbnail, and a tool-tip will tell you if that layout is used (and on which slides in your deck). If it’s not being used… then maybe you could ditch it and save some space?
A simpler way than deleting all the unwanted layouts – if there are many – would be to create a new, blank PowerPoint, then (back in the normal slide sorter view, rather than slide master), copy the slides from the the huge slide deck, and simply paste them into the new, blank file. You may want to force it to Keep Source Formatting – but this process will copy only the used slide layouts into the new deck.
In this example, copying the slides to a new deck and saving that, reduced the size from nearly 10MB to only 750KB.
The Tab key on your computer has its roots in the Tabulate typewriter function, which let you align type to defined (even modifiable) stops, so you could easily type tables of text and numbers, like invoices and so on.
In short, Tab could be used to left-align text, and is still used in modern typing, especially in word processing and in writing code. People who type space-space-space-space rather than a single TAB press still exist, though.
As well as the many features invoked by the Tab key in modern Windows, though – like WindowsKey-Tab to look at the timeline or the more common ALT-Tab to switch between programs – there’s a new capability for Edge browser users that might be worth looking out for.
If you’re using the Edge Preview – the Chromium-based version that has recently been pitched as Enterprise-Ready (for testing at least) – there’s a feature that has been enabled, which lets you search within a website rather than going straight to your favourite search engine and without needing to go to the site’s homepage and perform a search within.
This is a feature that has existed in Chrome for a while, but now appears more prevalent in the new Edge. The prompt showing up depends on the website implementing an OpenSearch capability, which is used to plug some query into the search engine behind the site, and how well it performs depends on whether that site search is any good.
Try Microsoft.com TAB search term ENTER and you might just see how many apps that match your word in the Microsoft Store there aren’t, but try Amazon.co.uk TAB Surface ENTER and you’ll have the opportunity to buy Surfaces and many things associated with them. Try maps.google.co.uk | RG6 1WG (what? No Street View?)
Perhaps most useful is when you want to try something in a search engine other than your default; so if you normally use Bing, you’ll know that typing a phrase in the address bar on its own will cause the browser to search if it can’t resolve your term to being a URL. Well, if you type google.com TAB term ENTER then it’ll try that same search over there, rather than you needing to go to the search engine homepage first.
Microsoft people love PowerPoint. Even when using it for completely unsuitable purposes (writing reports using PPT instead of Word, OneNote etc – filling slides with very dense and small text) or simply putting too much stuff on a slide, so a presenter has to say “this is an eyechart but…”
There are many resources out there to try to help you make better slides – from how-to videos to sites puffing a mix of obvious things and a few obscure and never-used tricks (eg here or here), and PowerPoint itself is adding technology to try to guide you within the app.
The PowerPoint Designer functionality uses AI technology to suggest better layouts for the content you’ve already put on your slide – drab text, even a few Icons (a library of useful-looking, commonly-used symbols) or graphics from your favourite source of moody pics.
If you don’t see the Design Ideas pane on the right, look for the icon on the Design tab, under, er Designer.
The PowerPoint Designer team has recently announced that one billion slides have been created or massaged using this technology, and they have previewed some other exciting stuff to come – read more here.
A cool Presenter Coach function will soon let you practice your presentation to the machine – presumably there isn’t some poor soul listening in for real – and you’ll get feedback on pace, use of words and so on. Watch the preview. No need to imagine Presenter Coach is sitting in his or her undies either.
When it comes to laying out simple objects on a slide, though, you might not need advanced AI to guide you, rather a gentle helping hand. As well as using the Align functionality that will ensure shapes, boxes, charts etc, are lined up with each other, spread evenly and so on, when you’re dragging or resizing items you might see dotted lines indicating how the object is placed in relation to other shapes or to the slide itself…
In the diagram above, the blue box is now in the middle of the slide, and is as far from the orange box as the gap between the top of the orange box and the top of the grey one. There are lots of subtle clues like this when sizing and placing objects, and it’s even possible to set your own guides up if you’re customising a slide master.