535 – Switching monitors

clip_image002Now that monitors are relatively cheap, having more than one display on a PC – and the productivity benefits that can bring – should be a normal situation for everything other than using a laptop on the hoof. Improve your windowing arrangements without anarchy, configuring your displays by right-clicking on your desktop and selecting Display settings.

clip_image004clip_image006This will let you move your monitors around to mirror your physical environment, so you can move a mouse or window easily from one screen to the other, and the desktop will span the monitors appropriately.

If you have a big monitor in front of you, and your laptop to the side, you’ll probably want to select the monitor in the Display Settings dialog and select to “Make this my main display”, which is where the Start menu will appear, along with other system related things like the place where the UI for ALT+TAB or WindowsKey+TAB shows.

You can move windows around by dragging them, or learn to use the shortcut keys SHIFT+WindowsKey+left or right arrow which cycles windows between your monitors (and using the WindowsKey and the arrow keys without SHIFT, will snap the active window to the sides, or to max/minimize the window on whatever screen it’s on).

If you ever share a monitor between several machines, XBOXes etc, you might get to a point where you want to stop Windows displaying stuff on a screen that it still sees as connected, even if that monitor is displaying a different source. You could use WindowsKey+P to cycle through the Projection options, of PC only, Duplicate, Extend or Second Screen. If you knew you were on Extend but your primary screen was now showing something else, you could press Wnd+P twice to switch through the options to be back at PC-Only so you can use the machine as normal, and move any windows that were on the 2nd display back to the laptop screen.

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If you like a more definite way, you can use WindowsKey+R then enter displayswitch with /internal (for PC only), /clone, /extend or /external for the other options.

clip_image010Right-click your desktop to go New > Shortcut, and you can add a shortcut, to which you can also assign a shortcut keystroke if you like – then a single keypress sequence will jump to a specific monitor configuration.

As a parting shot, should you want to change which screen is the primary one – rather than forcing a particular display scheme – then you can do that with an open source tool called nircmd, that lets you fire a command (like nircmd setprimarydisplay 2) to switch the primary display to that numbered screen.

534 – May Update maybe

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As discussed a couple of weeks back, the May 2020 Update to Windows 10 is making its way to users via Windows Update, though not yet all users.

A few incompatible hardware problems have blocked the installation on a series of machines, including the latest Surface models like Surface Book 3, Surface Pro 7 and Surface Laptop 3.

As part of Patch Tuesday this week (9th June), a fix was rolled out (along with lots of other security updates) which should unblock these machines in time. It’s worth proactively going to Updates in your PC’s settings and make sure it has downloaded and installed any and all updates, firmware upgrades and so on. If you have a Surface machine, you can see – and manually download – a list of all the applicable updates, here.

clip_image004There’s still a compatibility hold which may be active for a few weeks as the Update makes it way to all affected devices. If you’ve applied all the pending changes via Settings -> Update & Security, you can manually kick-off the 2004 upgrade, by going to the Update Assistant page and hitting the Update Now button.

clip_image006This will download an installer program that will check the PC has the minimum spec, has enough disk space and so on, then it’ll begin the download and install process, which will take a good few minutes to complete, with plenty of downloading / checking / applying etc cycles to complete.

You might be disappointed at the end, though – if the compatibility hold still applies to your machine, the process will run all the way through then tell you …

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Boo.

[if you’re not offended by foul language, go to YouTube and search Fred MacAulay etiquette

It’s most appropriate, if a little colourful for some, so you’ll need to find it yourself]

533 – Revisiting TaskMgr

clip_image002If  you’ve ever had problems with your PC’s performance, you may have turned to Task Manager. It’s been in Windows since the NT4.0 days, when developer Dave Plummer came up with a bit of software he was planning to sell, but decided to donate it to his employer instead:

I’m the Microsoft developer that wrote TaskMgr at home in my den in about 1994 and then the NT silverback devs [ie Dave Cutler] let me check it into the main tree even though I was a greenhorn at the time. So that meant I got to bring it into work and polish it up and make it an official part of Windows, where it remains to this day.

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Dave tells his career story from a talk a couple of years back, but hit the news recently through a Reddit post from which the italic text above originates.

He was inspired to apply to Microsoft in 1993 – having read the Hard Drive book (an excellent historical tome, having inspired at least a few great Microsofties to join up), then went on to write various money-saving optimisations for MS-DOS, and ended up in the NT team, leaving the company 10 years later.

Dave also recommends another great history book – Showstopper!

Back to the current era, Task Manager is still a really useful tool when it comes to figuring out issues with your Windows PC. If you think something is wrong (app starts bogging down, feels like the PC is in a bad way), you can quickly start Task Manager with the shortcut CTRL+SHIFT+ESC (easy to hit with one hand…)

clip_image006In an emergency (if it feels like your laptop it about to blow up, with fan blaring, screen blinking, UI non-responsive etc – maybe joining a Teams call or opening an Excel spreadsheet), it’s usually possible to throw TASKMGR its own special three-fingered-salute, since it isn’t tied to the Windows Shell –  you can use even Task Manager to kill or restart the EXPLORER.EXE that sits under the Start menu, task bar etc.

If you can get to Task Manager, you can run a CMD or Powershell prompt, start explorer or msedge etc.

Practical Example

A colleague pleaded recently that he was having a poor experience with Teams, and queried, did he need to upgrade his 150Mbps internet connection?

To check what kind of network performance you’re actually receiving, there are many speed test apps and sites.

If you’re using the new Edge (if not, why not? Don’t use IE – it’s too old;  stop using old Edge – it’s obsolete; the new Edge is fast and it’s better than Chrome), and you have Bing as your default search engine, all you need do is enter ? speed test into the address bar and you’ll get a speed test gadget to give you an idea of performance.

clip_image008If the base speed looks OK, use Task Manager to inspect what’s happening – fire it up in your favoured way (clicky-clicky-menu, right-click the taskbar, CTRL-ALT-DEL > Task Manager, if not CTRL-SHIFT-ESC) and by default you’ll see the near-useless list of what’s running with no other context. Time to show more details…

On the Processes tab, click on the CPU column to sort by what’s using the processor most – its also worth casting an eye on some other resources to make sure they’re not running out of steam; if you see an app consuming a huge amount of memory, it might be leaking, and shutting it down completely could make all the difference.

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Task Manager lets you kill processes (“End Task”) too, if the app has hung and won’t close cleanly. In fact, Dave said there should be nothing that Task Manager can’t kill (apart from some critical system processes – TM might have been able to kill them, but will also bluescreen the machine … so some protection has been added to prevent the user from doing something that would be instantly fatal to Windows – though TM is able to kill itself).

Back to the Teams troubleshooting scenario – If you don’t see the PC getting nailed by some process (that isn’t Teams itself), then it’s worth looking at the Performance tab, and leave it running for a short while, paying particular attention to WiFi/Ethernet.

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clip_image014If you see sustained high throughput, then switch back to the Processes tab, sort by Network and you can see what service/app it is that’s hammering the connection. You could fire up Resource Monitor if you want to dig in even further, started from the bottom of the Performance tab. ResMon lets you drill down to see what a single process is doing, what it’s connecting to, how much network traffic is going to and from it, and so on. Useful, if you like that sort of thing.

Finally, your network might perform brilliantly most of the time, but every so often you get a blip that feels like it’s dragging, then it picks up again. This could be spikes in latency, the enemy of anything real-time, like video calls.

Try running the Microsoft Research Speed Test appclip_image016 the nice thing is that it keeps a history log, so if you ever think your connection is bogging down, try running a realtime test.

The Network delay is actually key here – if you had more than 1Mbps upload and 5Mbps download speed, that should be plenty – but if your network delay is commonly more than ~150ms, it’s going to start causing problems.

If you have a network connection whose latency fluctuates a lot, there are a bunch of things you could do to seek and troubleshoot: 

  • Is something else on your network uploading huge amounts of data (a backup process, or OneDrive sync maybe) ? This is particularly important if you use an ADSL type connection, where choking the upload will also dramatically reduce download throughput too.
  • Is your wireless network getting interference? (try switching to a wired network, or use a Wifi Analyzer app to see if the channel it’s using has a noisy neighbour?)
  • Pin the blame on your service provider by keeping a log of latency performance over time, using something like http://ping-test.net/. If you can prove that your own network is stable, but there are glitches upstream somewhere, then you may be able to make your ISP turn their attention to their own network – tools like WinMTR will help you validate the performance of the network all the way between your machine and some endpoint; so if your ISP has networking problems, you might see spikes happening.

532 – Party like it’s 2004

clip_image0042004 was a momentous year in many respects. The first crewed private spaceflight took place, NASA flew a Scramjet at nearly 10x the speed of sound, there was an election in the US and an Olympics took place. Not entirely like 2020, then. Windows XP was the world’s most-used operating system, and Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing (TwC) initiative brought forth Windows XP SP2, which added a ton of security updates brought forward from the Longhorn project.

In a tenuous segue, this leads us to Windows and 2004 in the year 2020 – namely, the release of “2004” build, otherwise known as the Windows 10 May 2020 Update. This is the 10th major update of Windows 10 – updates which, not unlike the service packs of old, roll-up the fixes of known issues while introducing new features and improving existing ones.

clip_image006There are quite a few new features and lots of incremental improvements in the May 2020 update; some are fairly minor, others could be more significant – like the many accessibility improvements or improving security with the PUA-blocking feature which could stop the end user from unwittingly installing an app which is not exactly legit but is not exactly malware.

clip_image008Cortana is getting another reboot, this time as a chat-based assistant, in conjunction with M365;

UK users – after installation, you’ll need to wait for an app update to arrive via the Store, as the Cortana app initially says it’s not available in the UK – though ironically, one of the examples asks for the weather and gets the answer for London… in Fahrenheit

For an idea of what the latest Cortana invocation will give you, see here.

It might take a little while for 2004 to arrive via Windows Update – it’s a staged rollout, and there have been some reported issues with incompatible drivers, so it may be held back from certain machines until the drivers are updated. See more info on blocked machines.

If you want to force the update to 2004 rather than wait for Windows Update, you can go to the Download Windows 10 page and hit the Update Now button. You might find that the update process goes through a load of downloading and processing, only to tell you that your machine is in a “compatibility hold” because of known driver issues. So you’ll just have to wait…

There are some deprecated and removed features, too, including the Windows To Go ability to run Windows off a portable USB stick.

531 – Spice up your video conferences

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The New Normal™ will be all about avoiding people and using technology to supplement and even replace behaviours in ways we’d never have expected before The Event.

Video conferencing has been used in tech circles for years, though it was foretold many years earlier. 1989’s Back to the Future II showed one vision of how the future might look, and it wasn’t the only wry prediction.

Now that you’ve frouffed-up your home office backdrop and maybe thought about how you look on video calls, even going for a custom background image, maybe it’s time to mix things up and jazz up your video feed itself.

clip_image004One approach could be to play with Snap Camera, a PC or Mac software solution from SnapChat that takes the feed from your regular camera and applies some effects to it, before presenting that modified stream as a virtual hardware camera to any app that wants it.

clip_image006If you install Snap Camera, you can then use a catalog of “lenses” to add attributes to your video, or to alter the lighting or background, even if your chosen video conferencing app doesn’t give the option of doing so natively.

Roots or dodgy haircut starting to show in the lockdown? Perhaps try a nice tint?

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Want to practice online before going out to the shops? Maybe choose a groovy mask?

Whatever your choice, if you install Snap Camera and choose (or even create) a suitable lens, then the software will run in the background and if you choose the “camera” from your video conferencing app, then the software will augment the feed from your real camera and present that image to your chosen software.

So for Teams, if you want to prank your colleagues, you can set up the lens of choice using that software, then when you go to join a meeting, clip_image010click the “PC, Mic and Speakers” settings cog, to get the Device Settings pane, and choose the Snap Camera as your source.

Just remember to switch back to the regular camera before you have an important customer meeting, OK?

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530 – Edge profile switching

clip_image002The New Edge Browser is evolving rapidly – if you’re still using Internet Explorer, then ditch it ASAP and move to a modern browser. If you already use the new Chromium-based Edge, it’s worth looking at the Profiles capability, which lets you keep several sets of browser settings. At a basic level, you could have a Work profile and a Personal profile, and keep usernames, passwords, favourites and so on, separate between each.

clip_image004clip_image006There’s a profile photo typically found on the top right of the Edge toolbar, and multiple profiles can be added and managed from there. Or enter edge:settings in the browser’s address bar.

Edge has the ability to sync favourites, passwords, credit cards, collections and other browser data all to other machines with the same profile address – so if you have a home PC and a work laptop, then having a “personal” profile on both could mean that suitable info will roam between the machines, but work specific stuff can be kept on your work profile.

Some capabilities – like syncing history between machines – are “coming soon”.

Lately, some versions of the Edge browser have been updated to sync extensions – like Lastpass, or the OneNote web clipper. Jump to edge://settings/profiles/sync within the browser itself to see the gist.

Having multiple profiles lets you consciously separate home and work stuff, keeping social media, web mail or personal interest stuff in one window, and your boring old Sharepoint sites and PowerBI charts in another. Quickly minimizing your “home” window before sharing your desktop on a Teams call is perhaps the modern equivalent of the Boss Key.

One tricky part is when you go to open a web link – other than from within a browser session itself – then the last window you were using could be the one to launch that site, meaning you might be crossing the streams and opening up work stuff in your personal profile or t’other way round. It’s possible to set a particular profile to be the default, or just let the machine decide.

clip_image008One recent addition in the Beta channel for Edge – soon to hotfoot its way to the release version – is the automatic detection of work sites being opened in “other” profiles.

If you try to open a site that wants to authenticate clip_image010using your work or school account but you’re using a different profile, you’d be offered the chance to switch to the correct one, so you can used cached authentication settings, cookies and the likes.

Automatic profile switching is available in Edge versions 83 and beyond – open edge://settings/help in the browser to see what version you have.

To read more about automatic profile switching, how to enable it and how it works, see here.

529 – To Do: Switch off Wunderlist

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Nearly 5 years ago, Microsoft acquired a German developer called 6wunderkinder, who built a cool, cross-platform task management tool, Wunderlist. Over the half-decade since, the back-end of Wunderlist was basically rebuilt so it could run on Azure (instead of its previous cloud platform), and many of the team who had developed Wunderlist moved to working on the Microsoft To Do app suite.

The To-Do To Do apps have evolved hugely over the last couple of years, and collectively are being positioned as the natural successor to Wunderlist.

clip_image004This week, Wunderlist was finally closed down. If you still have the app, you can carry on using it but the data won’t be backed up or synced and you won’t be able to migrate it. You can export the data from the service, and To Do has built-in Wunderlist migration tools that bring more-or-less everything across. Other task managers are also available.

The Microsoft To Do service has clip_image006integration with PowerAutomate (previously known as Flow).

The To Do team also updated the mobile apps (as announced on their blog), with a collection of new features and views of tasks, and the Windows app has also been tweaked lately too. New features include new Smart Lists, such as “All”, which shows everything in one huge list, grouped by category.

“Tasks” across different apps are being integrated more and more – To Do now lets you create tasks from flagged emails, or integrate tasks from Planner. Teams is going to rationalise tasks into a single UI too.

See here for more tips on using To Do.

528 – Shorten your meetings (again)

{F5531DA9-D8B1-4DA1-8EB1-EAD491380F60}Last week’s tip talked of the philosophy around 22 minute meetings, and shared a way of forcing Outlook to adjust the start and duration of meetings by default, to help you enforce the discipline.

Eagle-eyed reader John Westworth pointed out that a simpler way of doing much the same thing exists within Outlook already, if you’re on the Microsoft365 subscription. The feature arrived back in March 2019, in version 1902 (Build 11328.20146). Note: to find the version of the Office suite, go into Word – not Outlook itself – and under File | Account you’ll see what version you’re currently using.

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This year-old but hitherto little-known feature is called “End Meetings Early”: it lets you choose a value to over-ride the default meeting duration, so if you create what is ostensibly a 30-minute meeting, I’ll actually end some number of minutes early.

In Outlook, go to File | Options and look under the Calendar section on the left, to set your favoured options.

If you create your appointment or meeting – remembering that a meeting is just a special type of appointment, to which other people are invited – either {8EF536C3-747C-4C6E-AFEC-FBCC614F7707}{C15F5AF5-2086-4A14-A3DF-22BF92D72970}by using the New… option on the menu or by double-clicking on a gap in your calendar, the adjustment will be applied after the item is created (and before it’s sent, if it is a meeting).

With most of the world still WFH, it’s a handy way of making sure you don’t get in back-to-back meetings during the day, with no chance to get away from your screen. Assuming, of course, that everyone obeys the finish time rather than just over-running to the next half or full hour boundary…

If you use the Teams client to create meetings, it doesn’t currently have the functionality to shorten them, so for now, it’s best to stick to Outlook for setting the meeting up.


527 – 22 minute meetings

clip_image002One observation of the C-19 lockdown has been that as many of us are living in Teams, it’s quite easy to end up with back-to-back meetings lasting for hours, with no opportunity to get refreshments, go to the bathroom etc.

The old excuse of walking in 5 minutes late to a meeting because you were in a different building, is no longer available. “Sorry, my other call over-ran” is about the nearest you can get.

This behaviour gives cause to revisit and update a ToW from the distant past – October 2013, to be precise (though it was published online in December 2013, it was sent via email a couple of months earlier).

clip_image003Ex-Microsoftie Nicole Steinbok built a great and prescient short presentation on having better meetings, even covering the basics of handwashing. Like the “how to wash your hands” posters, Nicole produced one for summarising how to hold a better meeting, starting with making it only 22 minutes long.

See http://22MinuteMeeting.info.

Nicole partly blames Outlook for having the default meeting time set at 30 mins, and there’s also an argument for not starting on the hour, but delaying the posted start time to a little later. Imagine if we could tweak Outlook to set a different default than the fixed 30 minute block, starting either on the hour or at the half hour?

Well, it takes a few minutes to add some custom code to Outlook, but if you can follow simple instructions and can use copy & paste, you could have it up and running in a few minutes…

Voila – ToW 196 – Change Outlook meeting duration

Open the steps for #196 up in a browser and have it side/side to Outlook (or on another screen) – they still apply clip_image005to the current version of Outlook, though you may need to explicitly show the Properties dialog for the step about renaming Class1 to clsMeeting –  press F4 if you don’t see Properties in the lower left of the screen when you get to that point.

clip_image007The code in the sample defaults to having 45 minute meetings with a 5 minute delay to the start; if you want to be as fundamentalist as Nicole, you could substitute 22 and 4, as an example. This means that if you create a new meeting in Outlook, either by using the menu or just by double-clicking on the calendar, the start time and duration get tweaked by the code you’ve added, at the point the new meeting or appointment is created.

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526 – Collections in Edge

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As another week draws to a close, in a world which is starting to feel a lot less like a temporary aberration and a lot more like The New Normal, we continue to look for things that distract, entertain (lots of good stuff on Netflixdat’s the fact, jack), educate and give us cause us to think of others. Sadly, we lost TBT and Stirling this week, as well as too many others.

clip_image004But technology marches on, sometimes a bit more slowly than we’d normally expect, and sometimes accelerated – Teams has rolled out the new background effects feature (though not everyone can yet choose a custom image – that’s on its way too, though it’s possible to add your own under the covers – create or find a picture, ideally 1920×1080 pixels, then press Start and enter %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads – drop your pic in there and it’ll show up in the list of backgrounds, right at the bottom).

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Microsoft Partner Hubdrive’s CTO has kicked off a competition on LinkedIn for the most original / amusing – see #TeamsBackgroundCompetition and maybe even join the fun…

clip_image008If you’re using the new Chromium-based Edge browser then you might want to keep separate profiles for your distractions, and for your work.

You may also want to give Collections a try – a feature that was in preview and available for Beta users for a while, has made it into the mainstream release.

Collections allows you to quickly add groups of related sites/pages into a kind-of folder which you can add notes to, quickly open or share, and it also keeps a preview of the page so it’s smarter than just favourites or bookmarks.

Look on the toolbar for the +clip_image010 icon to open up the Collections, and it’s pretty self-explanatory from there.

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If you’re an Office 365 user, check out Edge PMM Eric Van Aelstyn’s post with some good tips on WFH, especially if it’s not on a work computer, including setting up the Enterprise tab (so you get Office 365 content rather than Microsoft News clickbait).

clip_image014Eric also espouses using the default Bing search engine with Edge, as it can generate Microsoft Rewards for you – and with a few clicks you can give the reward points to charity.

US based Bingers can switch to Give mode, but UK users appear to have a different method and only a few target charities, but it’s free money you collect by searching, so you might as well give it away to a good cause. Take a look on your rewards page and you can choose to Shop, Win or Donate – select the latter and see if you like the look of any of the charities listed.