541 – shrtn ur url

clip_image002We’ve all been in the position when sharing a web link with someone reveals a URL that is several lines long and full of hexadecimal IDs and so on. There are a few ways to make the long URL more acceptable – a simple one being to hot-link the URL under a piece of text.

In most email programs, in Word, and even in the new Yammer experience and some other web forum software, selecting some text and pressing CTRL-K lets you insert a URL under that text – so rather than saying “Flight Simulator – https://www.xbox.com/en-US/games/microsoft-flight-simulator”, you could just write Flight Simulator”.

When it comes to sharing URLs with other people, though, you might still need the native URL clip_image004rather than copying the text that has been hyperlinked, so in many apps and websites you could right-click a hyperlink and grab the URL (or in Office apps, again, put your cursor on the text and press CTRL-K to get the edit UI which would also let you put it on the clipboard).

clip_image006It’s both easier to share and also to remember shorter URLs with simple names, but URLs for linking directly to a web forum discussion or Yammer post (in the new Yammer, click on the 3-dot icon to the side of a post to get the link directly) tend to be cumbersome and with lots of references within.

The first URL Shortening service was launched in 2002, tinyurl.com (and doesn’t the website look like a 2002 site?). The basic idea was that instead of having a 200-character URL, you could generate something that would have the form of the tinyurl domain and a random series of characters, such as https://tinyurl.com/yxtj4gft.

When the user clicks the link, their browser goes to the TinyURL website and is then provided the full link to follow, and redirects to that. The primary benefit was to make it easier to share the URL, even if it’s not so memorable, however the developers later added the ability to provide a custom redirect name and, as long as nobody else has nabbed it first, you can use it – eg https://tinyurl.com/yammerofficespace.

TinyURL has been overtaken by others, notably bit.ly, which Twitter switched to from having previously used TinyURL, and before later launching its own t.co. There are many others too, some connected with existing services – like the onedrive.com shortener (eg https://1drv.ms/u/s!AgMogCiKiWDFraIfifRzFKdjw4F1uQ?e=Yepjwh) which isn’t really very short, and which causes Bit.ly to get its Alans in a twist, as it seems it doesn’t like to shorten another shortener’s link.

There are some downsides to using this kind of service, potentially. What happens if the provider goes bust, or decides to start charging users where it was once free? Sites like Photobucket which started free but began charging users a “ransom” get internet warriors hot under the collar, but so far, sites like TinyURL and it’s progeny are mostly still free to use, with the operators selling aggregate data about the referrals being followed to fund their operations costs.

Some shorteners decide to close down – like goo.gl – meaning there’s a risk that previously-shared short URLs won’t work in future (though in the case of Google’s shortener, they are keeping old links alive, just not allowing any new ones to be created). Similarly, if a shortener has a technical problem or security breach, it could affect the way it works – TinyURL reportedly having problems just this week.

clip_image008Finally, a web shortener that is unlikely to disappear overnight is operated by Microsoft, called aka.ms. Anyone from Microsoft can create an aka.ms shortlink – subject to some rules – as long as they share responsibility with someone else. Like the other public shortener services, can generate a random series of characters or can provide the “target” part of the link if they like.

All aka.ms links are by definition publicly accessible, but many are used to get access to sites that are for internal use, even though they exist beyond the firewall – Sharepoint sites, for example, or the intranet homepage, aka.ms/msw. Anyone could resolve the destination URL – even en masse as one enterprise developer has done, using Azure functions – but you still need to provide appropriate credentials to access the destination site.

540 – All Together Now

clip_image001Yet more updates have arrived for users of Teams; Jared Spataro did a good session at Inspire in July, outlining some changes that are already available for some and talked about new capabilities that are on the way. There’s a cool background noise suppression capability to remove the clamour that’s happening behind someone, and a load of transcription / captioning technology that works alongside meeting recording, to highlight who said what.

Jared also announced Team Room services (more on rooms.microsoft.com), providing a management and monitoring service for physical rooms that are equipped with Teams kit, as well as the performance of the meeting space. The intent is to make the meeting experience better when we have a mix of in-person and remote people, as the world transitions to some kind of normality.

clip_image003While we’re still in a predominantly-remote working cycle, Together Mode introduces an intriguing way of displaying videos from a group of people – rather than the “Gallery Mode” of video boxes arranged in a grid, Together mode uses the same technology which can apply a custom background to cut out the user’s video of their person, and place that in a lecture / theatre type setting.


It takes some getting used to, especially if the meeting is one where there’s a predominant speaker – like a teacher – who appears in one of the chairs in the room rather than separate from it. Also, you might have some people who sit relatively close to their camera and will appear huge, while others look like they’d be sitting with feet dangling in the air.

To learn more about how to use Together Mode, and for some info on what is planned for the future, see here.

539 – Outlook calendaring fun

clip_image002Pretty much everyone who uses the Office productivity suite probably relies on Outlook for not just the daily splurge of email, but for organising their activity either by tasks, flags or just putting stuff in their calendar.

Here are a few simple tricks to remember when working with your calendar:

  • You can move to Calendar in Outlook by pressing CTRL+2 anywhere in Outlook – if you’re trying to organise meetings for lots of people and need to keep flicking between mail and calendar views, this can save you so much time (CTRL+1 for mail, CTRL+3 for contacts etc – try the rest of the numbers out for a trip down memory lane). Even the clunky old Notes function in Outlook now synchronises with Sticky Notes.

  • CTRL+T always takes you to Today, or if you have the Ribbon showing, you can click Today there clip_image006– though an update to Calendar’s UI which was shipped to M365 subscribers in March, also added a Today button at the top left of the main calendar view, as well as a few other tweaks.
  • CTRL+G launches an old-school dialog that lets you jump to a specific day – and lets you choose from a date picker, or type the date in if you prefer. Like lots of other old-school date dialogs in Office apps, you can enter certain natural language clip_image008phrases too – some like next month, 3 weeks, will be relative from today’s date, others like June will take you to today’s day in that month (try it out; it’s easier to see than to explain) and there are certain special days like Christmas where it will jump to the next occurrence. See ToW #291 from nearly 5 years ago for more date tips. For multi-lingual dates and other stuff, see here.
  • clip_image010Manage Time Zones – at this time of year, some of us would ordinarily be planning holidays involving travel to foreign climes, but not so much in 2020. There’s every likelihood of planning online meetings in other time zones while you’re sitting in your own office in the middle of the night – so it’s worth adding multiple time zones to your Outlook Calendar view and labelling them. Right-click on the time bar to the left of your calendar view, and choose Change Time Zone to manage the display of time zones, or even switch your whole PC between them quickly.
    The rather nice Windows 10 Alarms & Clock application (WinKey+R then ms-clock: if you don’t like to click) has a nifty display of multiple time zones if you like to see at a glance where and when everyone is.
  • Colour-coding appointments is another favourite tip the super-organised use. You can right-click on any clip_image013appointment to colour it by setting a Category, or you can use Conditional Formatting on a view to colour appointments based on category – like who sent it, or what location it’s in, etc. See more here.
    If you’re feeling extra-brave, you could install a special form that lets you differentiate mail – and therefore, appointments – which originated from an external source, by exposing a hidden property. This allows you to automatically colour them differently.
    Delve into ToW #275 to install the form, then set up a Condition under the Calendar view in much the same way.

538 – OneDrive updates

clip_image002If you’ve been a PC user and part of Microsoft ecosystem for any amount of time, you’ll have been exposed to a variety of services and products which have come and gone, or at least changed names on occasion. OneDrive is a great example – initially unveiled as Windows Live Folders in 2007, the consumer cloud storage service spent a while under the brand name SkyDrive until an agreement was reached with satellite TV broadcaster Sky, to change the name – and so, OneDrive it has been since 2014.

Along the way quite a few associated names and services have bitten the dust – Microsofties celebrate/commemorate old products on the Next of Kin Yammer group: raise a glass to OneCare (an unfortunate name choice if you’re a Cockney, ain’t that Irish Stew), and all manner of other products that turned out to be Red Shirt / Non-speaking parts, like MSN Music/Zune Music/Xbox Music/Groove, and now Mixer.

If you still have a “SkyDrive Camera Roll” folder in your OneDrive storage, that’s probably a legacy of having synced photos from a Windows Phone and then later having installed OneDrive on your modern mobile. You can rename the folder to something else now – at one point, it was not supported but that’s no longer the case.

Using OneDrive on the move makes a lot of sense – even if only to back-up photos from your phone. The web UI lets you see the pictures in a variety of interesting ways, showing the places you’ve been or the things you’ve photographed.

In OneDrive for consumers, you get 5GB of free storage on signing upnot bad, but Google Drive gives you 3 clip_image004times as much for free – though you can add lots more online storage to both services by either coughing up the readies to buy a TB or two, or in the case of OneDrive, signing up for an Office 365 a Microsoft 365 subscription, such as 365 Personal, which gives you 1TB, or 365 Family which gives 1TB each, for up to 6 people.

The pricing is such that unless you wanted to buy only a few extra GB, it makes sense to go for the M365 option – £60 a year for a personal subscription that gives a 1TB (ie 1000Gb) storage capacity, or pay £24/year per 100GB block if you want to buy storage on its own and forego the other stuff you get with M365, notably the Office apps.

Despite a bit of confusion over what the differences are between OneDrive for Business and OneDrive (not described as for business, so presumably for home/personal use), it continues to evolve with additional capabilities – as covered in ToW passim. The OneDrive for Business / Sharepoint and OneDrive for clip_image006consumer technologies are blending together to the point where they look and feel very similar.

Now, the OneDrive team has unveiled a slew of new features for both ODfB and OneDrive personal – like Dark Mode on the web client, or the ability to share files and folders more easily with colleagues, or share with family and friends by creating groups of people who will be sent an invitation to view and contribute.

And the upload file size limit has been raised from 15GB to a whopping 100GB.

537 – Teams Mute shortcut

clip_image002We’ve all been there. Either as the source of background distraction on a Teams call, or one of the participants perhaps wondering how best to handle it. Sometimes it’s better to intervene if you can see who’s doing the heavy breathing or who’s sitting in a noisy environment, rather than making a fuss about it.

clip_image004If you show the participant list during a team call, you’ll see who is muted, and depending on your own role in the meeting, you can mute others who might be unwittingly generating noise (identifiable by the “halo” surrounding their profile picture or initials, which flickers as they talk or as their mic picks up other sounds). The Organiser or any Presenter in the meeting can mute anyone else.

Muting a participant displays a notification in their Teams client to the effect that they have been shushed and can unmute themselves, and if they’re dialled in, they’ll be told by an announcer that they’ve been muted and told how to unmute themselves.

The person who’s been quietened doesn’t know who did the deed (one feature request is to log who’s doing it, as there have been reports of miscreants randomly muting and booting out participants from virtual classrooms during lockdown). If you’ve already muted a participant (or even all participants), it’s not possible to unmute anyone – only they can control that process, since an organiser unmuting someone could put them in an awkward position (#poorJennifer again?).

There are requests to allow finer control of muting in some circs, though – preventing people from unmuting unless given permission, for example – in a large meeting, it could be better to police Q&A by asking people to “raise their hand”, and only allow them to unmute when the presenter virtually gives them the mic.

If you’re going to do a load of noisy typing whilst on a call, one trick to memorise is to flick the focus from OneNote/Outlook/whatever to Teams by quickly tapping ALT+TAB, then tap CTRL+SHIFT+M to mute and unmute yourself – this is probably a lot quicker than trying to click the microphone icon within the Teams app.

Anyway, enough about muting – time to go make some noise. Have a great weekend!