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

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.

# 513 – Ship ahoy!

clip_image002tl;dr – there’s a new browser out. Go and install it.

Back in the day, Microsoft nerds (yes, there were some, both in and outside of the company) used to take pride in continually referring to products by their code names long after they’d been released, and by using the most Microspeak.

There used to be a browsable Microspeak Glossary on the Microsoft intranet, and various versions of it online, but they now seem to have withered.

The odd phrase still crops up in contemporary usage, and one which shows its age is RTM.

Historically, at a point in a software product’s lifecycle, the team just needs to ship the thing – some would think it’s the completion of the development, but most developers know nothing is ever finished and therefore nothing would ever ship. Instead, it’s some date that’s been decided, and they work backwards from that date to ship whatever they have at that point. In traditional boxed-software sales, that would mean sending the final code off to be turned into floppy discs, CDs, whatever – in other words, release it to manufacturing. RTM in the CD-era often referred to the “gold code”, as it was burned to a (gold-coloured) recordable CD before being sent to the manufacturing process. So RTM also means the final build of code as well as the process to release it.

Since nobody really buys software on physical media anymore, RTM is something of an anachronism. “RTW” was used for a while, meaning “Release to Web” but it’s a clunky phrase, and has disappeared from use – much like Cisco’s attempt to for a while to talk not about “IoT,” but “Internet of Everything” or “IoE”.

Nowadays, products at the end of their development cycle “go GA” – Generally Available. Much easier.

clip_image004This week sees the GA/RTW/etc of the new Edge browser, built on the Chromium rendering engine for maximum compatibility and performance, but extended in a host of ways to arguably make it a better browser than the others out there. It’s available for Windows 7 – even though that’s just gone out of support – and it’s also on Win8x and Mac too. Though technically a different code base, the Edge mobile versions have recently been rebranded and the UI tweaked.

If you currently use Edge – or shudder, still use Internet Explorer – then installing the new Edge will migrate your settings, history, passwords etc, but not any extensions you might have. Fear not, though, for the Chromium engine means you can install extensions from both the Microsoft Store and also the Chrome Store too.

For more on the new Edge, see the tips that are shown as part of the install process, read some opinion pieces on whether world+dog seems to think this is a good thing; here, here, here … and here… and, oh, you get the idea.

512 – Sticky Notes and Glancing

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Happy New Year! Whether it’s a way of keeping up with the NY resolutions you haven’t broken yet, or just a casual way to remind yourself to do stuff, Post-It Notes or the more generic “sticky notes” can be a useful tool. ToW # 446 talked about a handy Windows app that is now installed by default on Windows 10.

Sticky Notes has been through a number of iterations, and now in v3.7 it’s looking pared back yet really functional. Sure, you can use Outlook Tasks and To Do to track significant actions, long-term projects and the like, but sometimes you just want a simple list to get you through the morning or to take shopping.

If you open Sticky Notes, and click on the body of a note itself (to set focus to that window and start editing the text), then you’ll see the menu and close controls; clicking the menu lets you quickly change the colour of your note (so if you have several open, you can clip_image004tell them apart, clip_image006maybe) or jump to the Notes list that shows a summary of all the stickies you have lying around.

clip_image008Another quick way of getting to the notes you have is to right-click the Sticky Notes icon on your taskbar.

You can type, write (with your finger, or a stylus), or grab pictures from camera or existing files, all into a note, then share and make sense of it later.

You can sync your sticky notes to other devices: just go to the settings icon (from the taskbar context view or within the Notes list) to configure syncing using either an Office 365 or Microsoft Account.

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Sticky Notes has even replaced the venerable “Notes” function in Outlook, which has been around since 1997 – go to the Wunderbar in Outlook and you may need to click the ellipsis to see the Notes pages; it’s very old-school looking and not everything is carried over quite the same, but it’s a welcome integration that replaces another duplicate way of doing the same thing. It’s part of a long-term plan, so it seems.

Multi-device

clip_image012Sticky Notes show up on the web and are also accessible on iOS and Android devices via the OneNote app…

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If you set up sync between devices, it’s quite amusing to open the web client, the PC app, and then on your phone, add a new note… and see the other two update within seconds. Technology #ftw – far more useful than the kind of toot being peddled at CES in Las Vegas this week.

On an Android phone, though, the best way to use Sticky Notes is through the integration with the Microsoft Launcher – if you’re not a phone tech geek, you might not realise that with Android, you can supplant the entire home screen UI of the phone with any number of variants.

Microsoft has a mature and highly regarded launcher, that clip_image016has an average review score of 4.6 across over 1 million reviews – how many apps in the Windows store can beat that…? See more tips on using Launcher.

clip_image018When you have the Launcher installed, the “Glance” screen is only a swipe away – on the home screen, swipe from clip_image020left to right to flick over to this summary that lets you see a customisable list (click the stack on the top right) of important or interesting info.

clip_image022The Calendar summary lets you jump straight into a Teams meeting, you can show “screen time” stats, or scroll to the bottom to add more widgets from any number of apps you have installed on your phone.

Cortana integration featured in the Launcher at one point, though it’s planned to disappear for many of us.

In a “for your comfort and safety” type announcement, news came that Cortana will disappear from the phone in favour of being part of other M365 apps in time. More to follow, no doubt…

510 – Fluent apps flow in

clip_image002Fluent is a “design language”.

Or purportedly, it’s a “design system”, itself an evolution of an earlier “Microsoft Design Language”, which evolved from “Metro”. You follow?

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/miM6mBAfA8g/maxresdefault.jpgOver the last couple of years, a variety of changes in design have rolled out across all sorts of Microsoft applications – from a simplified look of toolbars and the canvas that makes up a big part of many apps, to new icons and other UI elements. Consistency, reuse and a common experience across multiple devices is the aim.

When Hypertext was first conceived – the term itself is more than 50 years old – early implementations tended to use a book metaphor, where a page was the size of one screen, and moving around the content dived in and out through following hyper-links. Apple pioneered a similar approach with HyperCard, where a stack of virtual cards would hold data (and other objects) that were linked together.

Over the last decade, as web and app users have moved to being more mobile, the way content is displayed and interacted with has changed – many websites appear less hierarchical, with longer pages that can be swiped up and down, rather than the classic design where short pages were strung together with links.

As one example, look at the British Airways site today – it’s designed to be touch-friendly and yet be usable with a more traditional mouse/menu approach if desired:

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…compared to the old, from December 2009 …

Back then, pretty much everyone who hit that site was using a keyboard, mouse and non-touch screen. Completely separate mobile versions were often build for smartphone users, but the more traditional site was still very mouse oriented. Not so today.

Microsoft’s Fluent design system embraces a common ethos that applies to web pages as well as apps on all screen sizes – and forms a big part of an expanded design philosophy, as covered by an interesting article and video from The Verge earlier this year.

As Fluent principles are being applied across the board, we’ve seen updated versions of lots of apps and online experiences – like OneDrive and OneNote, for example. More will follow, with Teams and Yammer being identified as “coming soon”.

The same thinking may even generate new forms of application – the Fluid Preview, a new canvas-type collaboration app which was announced at Ignite potentially being one.

506 – OneNote 2016 reprieve

clip_image002clip_image004OneNote is, for a lot of fans, the best application that Microsoft makes, especially in an educational setting. About 18 months ago, it was announced that the venerable and extensible (especially if you’re a OneTastic / OneCalendar user) desktop version was being put out to pasture, in favour of the more modern, erm, Modern version.

Office 2019 was no longer going to ship with OneNote – the desktop app was not being developed beyond OneNote 2016, but it would still be freely installable if desired.

Efforts would be focussed on the Modern / Store / “OneNote for Windows 10”, which shares a lineage with the mobile apps; there’s a lot to be said in favour of this strategy, since it would bring the UX of the Windows Store, tablet, phone and web apps into alignment. For regular ToW readers, this has been covered ad nauseam.

Well, blow me down, a brilliant Ignite session from @Ben Hodes only went and wound the clock back (and simultaneously painted it forward)…  [Check out Union Jack Man at 42:18 in the video stream if you want a laugh]

OneNote 2016 is getting some CPR, and will be installed by default with clean Office setups again, early in 2020.

Point of clarity – a clean Office2019 / Office 365 install doesn’t currently include OneNote 2016 … but upgrading from an existing Office install that already had OneNote, does. If need be, go to http://aka.ms/installonenote  to install OneNote 2016.

Some new features are coming, too – like Dark Mode, @mentions, To Do integration and more. The OneNote for Windows 10 code base is being back-ported to the older Win32 version; in time, the same underlying code will exist, even if there remains two versions of the product. It was previously reported that across the Office suite on Windows, the Win32 codebase will be favoured going forward, even though Modern versions were released for several of the traditional apps. We will have to wait and see.

clip_image006clip_image008Of course, lots of functionality exists in common between the two current versions of OneNote, even if the level of detail and the way to invoke and use it is a little different – take Record Audio, for example.

Did you know that if you insert an audio recording into your OneNote page, that any handwritten or typed notes you take while the recording is underway, will be linked to the corresponding place in the audio?

Later, if you click on a block of text or handwriting, you can play back the recording at just that point, or if you just start playing the audio, the notes you took will be highlighted as the playback progresses.

clip_image010In OneNote 2016, you can also have the application index the contents of audio recordings, looking for keywords. Enable it at  File > Options > Audio & Video.

No such function appears to exist in the OneNote for Windows 10 app; maybe that’s a good thing. After all, OneNote 2016 only lets you turn it on after an ominous-sounding warning…

503 – OneDrive Personal Vault

clip_image001A previously-announced capability of OneDrive has been widely rolling out – the Personal Vault. This is a special area of your OneDrive Personal storage which is invisible until you choose to unlock it, using a second strong factor of authentication (such as 2FA and the Microsoft Authenticator mobile app). On a mobile device, you can use a PIN, fingerprint or facial recognition to provide the additional identity verification.

clip_image003When you unlock the Personal Vault from the OneDrive app on your PC (eg. right-click on OneDrive’s white cloud icon in your system tray), it appears as a special folder clip_image004under the root of your personal OneDrive folder list, on PCs where your OneDrive content is synchronised.

Browsing in your OneDrive data folder, you may need to enable Hidden Items in the View tab to even see it.

You can treat it like any other folder, adding files and other folders that are particularly sensitive – scans of important but infrequently-accessed documents like passports, driving licenses and so on.

Why infrequently accessed, you may ask?

clip_image006When the PV is visible, it will re-lock after 20 minutes of inactivity (or can be locked manually) and would need another 2-factor authentication method to unlock it again (text message, phone-app approval etc). On the PC, when the PV is locked, the “Personal Vault” folder (and therefore everything under it) is completely hidden and therefore any files within it do not exist as far as Windows is concerned.

clip_image008In fact, the PV isn’t just a hidden folder – it’s treated by Windows as another physical volume that is mounted on the PC for the duration of it being unlocked; a Junction is then created so it can be accessed as if it’s part of your OneDrive data folder. When the PV is locked again, the volume is clip_image010dismounted and the junction disappears, so there is no way to access the data using the normal file system.

If you had a file in your now-locked PV that you tried to access from clip_image012the most-recently-used files list in either Windows itself or within an appclip_image014, you’ll get a jarring “file does not exist” type error rather than a prompt to unlock the PV and the file within.

Maybe apps will in time come to know that a file is in PV, and prompt the user to unlock before opening?

Then again, security through obscurity (the most sophisticated form of protection, right?) might be a good thing here; when the PV is locked, there is no such folder therefore no apps can get access to it without the user taking specific and separate action to unlock it first. Not being seen is indeed a useful tactic.

clip_image016Personal Vault can be accessed from the PCs or mobile devices through the OneDrive app, or in a browser – at onedrive.com. No Mac support is planned.

Unlike in the PC scenario, the PV folder is always shown and indicates if it’s open or locked based on the icon.

The Web UI offers other help and advice about how to use the Personal Vault effectively.

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OneDrive on PC – Setup error 0x8031002c

clip_image019Enabling Personal Vault for the first time might throw an error if your PC is corporately managed with a BitLocker policy.

To work around this and get up and running, try:

  • Press WindowsKey and type Group Policy, then open the Edit group policy control panel (if you don’t see this or get an error, try running mmc from a WinKey+R prompt, then File | Add/remove Snap-in | Group Policy Object… | clip_image021Add | Local Computer | Finish | OK)
  • Expand to the Computer Configuration | Administrative Templates | Windows Components | BitLocker Drive Encryption | Fixed Data Drives node
  • Double-click on the Choose how BitLocker… setting and update it to Disabled then hit OK
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  • Press WindowsKey+R and type cmd then hold SHIFT+CTRL when pressing ENTER, to run the command prompt with administrative rights
  • In the ensuing command prompt enter gpupdate /force and, assuming everything runs without blowing up, you can close the command & Group Policy windows down and try enabling Personal Vault again.

Tip o’ the Week 499 – Cortana resurrection?

clip_image002Cortana 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.

clip_image004In 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.

clip_image006The 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.

clip_image008If 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.

clip_image010The 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.

Tip o’ the Week 496 – Dark Mode marches on

clip_image002Back 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.

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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).

Microsoft recently put out a groovy video to highlight Dark Mode across a variety of apps and device types, and some commentary about why and when. It’s even come to Outlook.com as well.

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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!