553 – Android Autobahn

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20 years ago, if you had a satellite navigation in your car, it would probably be driven by a CD of map data, and it would be slow and expensive. By comparison, today’s in-car entertainment and navigation feels like a scene from Tomorrow’s World.

clip_image004If you’re a car-owning Android phone user, it’s worth looking into the Android Auto ecosystem. At a high level, Android Auto is like Apple CarPlay – a way of projecting apps from your phone to a screen in your car, and interacting with them through the car’s own UI – be that touch, buttons or speech. Some cars will allow your phone to connect wirelessly, while others may require it to be plugged in.

clip_image006If you have an older car – or you didn’t fork out on the options list to add CarPlay/Android Auto to your more recent one (like the £3K option price on a £170K Ferrari) – it’s still possible to run Android Auto on your phone while in the car.

The main Android Auto app can either be run manually or set to start automatically when the phone connects to your car’s Bluetooth system.

The app displays a simplified arms-reach or voice-driven UI, showing navigation, telephone and music apps, and the settings allow for a good amount of choice – Waze or Google Maps, Spotify or Amazon Music etc.

Assuming you’re clip_image008going to cradle it, you’d treat it like you might use a fitted satnav system – albeit one which uses the phone’s network to show real-time traffic news, updates maps dynamically and freely rather than the eye-watering prices to update software and maps on installed systems.

There are 120-odd Android Auto compatible apps, so even if you don’t see their UI on the main menu, you could respond (with voice) to incoming messages on WhatsApp, or choose to listen to podcasts with Stitcher as one of several interchangeable “music” apps.

If your car does support Android Auto (check compatibility here) then it might take a bit of experimenting to understand how to connect it and how to get the car’s display to show the app outputs, though the results are largely the same as what you’d see if you just ran the host Android Auto app on your phone screen directly.

You might be able to replace the satnav system in an older car with one which does support Android Auto – see here for some ideas – as aftermarket satnavs are increasingly simple, ditching a CD/DVD player and maybe not even having a radio tuner – perhaps all you need in your car stereo is a 7” screen to which your phone connects, and an amplifier. Some retro-fit satnav systems use Android as their own OS, and offer a whole host of Carlos Fandango features for little more than the cost of a maps update for an older in-car system.

551 – Ticking away the moments

clip_image002Keeping track of time is ever-present in our normal working lives, all the more so during These Difficult Times™, and the subject has featured in many ToW’s passim.

There’s a great little app built-in to Windows 10 called Alarms & Clock, which lets you set alarms on your PC, show a world map with multiple locations / time zones displayed, and also provides a neat countdown or count-up timer.

clip_image004Using the timer function can be pretty handy if you’re speaking as part of an online meeting, and need to keep a check on how long you have left to go.

You can create multiple separately-controlled timers with different durations & names; so you could have an overall meeting countdown timer, and then a separate one for each participant, if you were acting as the time cop to keep everyone else in line.

The Stopwatch is simply a fast-running counter of elapsed time, and by using the clip_image005icon on either Timer or Stopwatch screens, you can easily fill the display to help focus on the elapsed or remaining time. Handy if you’re in a physical meeting (remember them?) and are able to display a laptop screen showing the time for everyone.

Those of us who still wear physical, mechanical wristwatches may be passingly familiar with a few features that have existed for decades to achieve the same kind of function, albeit more for individual rather than shared use.

clip_image007Diver bezel

So called “diver” watches were popularised in the 1960s and 70s, as tough, waterproof and utilitarian. The most striking feature of any dive watch is generally the rotating numbered bezel which goes around the outside.

The simple idea was that when you entered the water (knowing you might have 20 minutes of air), you would turn the bezel so the arrow / zero marker was set to where the minute hand was at that point – meaning a later glance at the watch will tell you how many minutes have passed since.

Lots of other non-dive watches also have rotating bezels or indicators, and can be useful for things other than scuba – when the activity above started at 5 minutes to 10, the bezel was set, and it’s easy to see in a trice that was 11 or 12 minutes ago. Not sub-second accurate, but it’s a simple way to mark the passing of time.

clip_image009Tachymetre /Tachymeter

Many chronograph watches – which combine the function of a stopwatch and a regular timepiece – have a Tachymetre scale around the outside, yet most people these days will have no clue what it’s for. The basic function of the watch is that pusher buttons on the side will start and stop the movement of the chronograph hand which ticks round to indicate elapsed time.

The deal with the TACHY scale is that if you know a distance – the length of a straight on a motor-racing track, for example – and you time something going over that distance, then you can quickly calculate its speed across the ground.

In practice this is easier said than done, since the TACHY scale reads how many of the <distance> would be covered in an hour at this speed. If the measured distance was exactly 1km or 1mile then it’s an easy calculation – if it took 12 seconds to cover 1km, that would equate to 5km per minute or 300km/h. If the measured distance was a fraction – let’s say the length of the 12-second straight was 150m – then the calculation would be 300 x 150m per hour, or 45km/h. By the time you’ve done that in your head, the subject will be half a lap further on…

clip_image011Another variant on the theme would be if you know the speed – e.g. you’re in a plane with inflight map display, or passenger in a car on cruise control on the motorway – then you could use the Tachymeter to calculate distance travelled.

If you were cruising at 120km/h, and started the timer, then stopped it when it reached 120 on the scale… (after 30 seconds) – then you know you will have travelled 1km in that time.

Yes, there probably are hundreds of times a month when you need to know exactly this.

Pulsations

clip_image013Slightly more useful to the average person, some chronographs have a Pulsations bezel rather than a Tachymeter scale, or maybe even have both (since the Tachymeter would typically be used for more than 15 seconds, it’s possible to have one quarter of the bezel represent pulsations and the rest of it be a Tachy).

Watches with Pulsations bezels are sometimes nicknamed “Doctors’ watches” as the utility is to help count a patient’s pulse – the method being you start the chronograph, count 15 pulses and the corresponding number on the bezel would tell you what the pulse/minute rate is.

Smart watches, eh, who needs them when you have space-age timing technology like this?

549 – Quick & easy screen recording

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It’s not uncommon to want to make a quick recording of how to do something on your PC – maybe you’re capturing a demo for someone, or want to show a team member how to use a particular tool. There have been lots of ways to achieve this over the years – from professional-grade software like Camtasia, to a variety of adware-laden freebies that you can find around the web. There used to be a whole product line of video encoding software – free and pro versions – called Microsoft Expression Encoder. Sadly, no more.

There are other more accessible and arguably easier ways for the modern PC user to capture the screen, though. You could start a Teams meeting with yourself (a handy way to check how you look and sound on video) by going to the Calendar node in Microsoft clip_image004Teams and click Meet now. Once you’re in the meeting with only yourself, you can share your desktop or an app in the usual way, and record the “meeting” for later enjoyment.

clip_image006Depending on how your Teams/M365 environment is set up, your recording may be stored on OneDrive or SharePoint (as opposed to being automatically uploaded to Microsoft Stream – a new change that was announced at Ignite), but one way or another you can download the MP4 recording to a file, and share it more widely.

A simpler method might be to just go to the Stream portal – if you’re a subscriber to Microsoft 365 – and create a screen recording from there.

If you’re not looking for anything too fancy, though, a quick & easy way to grab a recording of an application – not the whole screen, only the current app window – is to use the Xbox Game Bar that’s probably included in your Windows 10 install.

Although the Game Bar is designed to be used for recording snippets of gameplay, it’s also a really neat way of capturing the video and audio of pretty much any other application; with a bit of practice, you could record your own instructions on how to carry out some task in an application, while showing just that app window, and it’ll be available to share in a few moments.

Simply open the app you want to record, then press WindowsKey+G to bring up the overlay GameBar UI.

clip_image010Click the floating toolbar along the top to show or hide various docked windows which will appear on the left side; if you want to record a commentary over the top of your screen capture, then click the settings cog at the far right of the toolbar and set the option to record system audio as well.

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When you’re ready, press the round record button in the Capture dialog (or press WindowsKey+ALT+R), also making sure your mic isn’t muted if you want to record your voice. Once you’re live, you’ll see another clip_image016floating toolbar that lets you mute your mic and stop the recording, and when complete, it’ll show a confirmation that the recording is done – click on that notification to go straight to the folder where the recordings are held.

clip_image018To find or set the capture location, or to tweak settings like the video frame rate and quality, just press WindowsKey and start typing Capture to jump to the settings page.

clip_image020The captures generated are full-fidelity, so on a large screen monitor, sizes can be pretty big.

A 1m30s demo captured on a 4K display could easily be 200Mb in size; a quick solution is to use the built-in Video Editor in the Photos app.

clip_image022Just open the Editor and create a new project, add the clip_image024huge video capture file, drag it to the Timeline then hit Finish video to save an encoded version at a lower quality – for rough screen caps, Medium (1280×720) is probably good enough, and drops from 130+ MB/minute to more like 5MB/min.

548 – A-List listings

clip_image002Updates flow to Microsoft 365 on a regular basis – there’s a published list of all the minor and major changes that are launched and on their way. As well as improving the current user experience and adding new features, occasionally whole new offerings are added – such as Microsoft Lists, which first made an appearance in July.

Lists gives an easy way of creating, sharing and managing lists of custom clip_image004information within a team – tracking issues, recording assets, anything in fact, that might have used a shared spreadsheet to do it in a low-tech way. Lists was announced to provide a modern-looking, consistent way of managing lists through a variety of front-ends – including mobile apps, to come later this year.

You should be able to see Lists from the menu on Office 365 web apps – start clip_image006at www.office.com and sign in with a business Office/Microsoft 365 login and the new icon will give you access to Lists – get started here.

Just like sharing forms or doing task management, there are often numerous ways to do the same thing – and in days of yore, that would have meant several competing and incompatible technologies, encouraged to fight it out with each other to try to ensure that the best one wins. Nowadays, with a more collegiate mindset, consistent ways of doing things show up in different user experiences – like To-Do and Outlook, StickyNotes and more. Expect deeper integration across other apps in due course

The new Lists experience is essentially just a great UI built on top of a mature back-end; SharePoint Lists, which have evolved over the last 10+ years, allowing the definition of custom columns and rules to validate data entry.

One new frontier is to integrate the new Lists UI into Teams; if you have ability to administer a Team, clip_image008you will see an “add a tab” function alongside the Posts / Files etc tabs that are typically presented.

clip_image010Adding a List tab will then walk you through a process to either choose an existing List (by entering the URL of the SharePoint site that hosts it) or by creating one by importing a spreadsheet, starting from a number of templates or by defining it from scratch

Have a play with Lists and think about how your team could use them in place of spreadsheets.

Microsofties: There’s an internal story about how Lists came about, and looking forward to where it’s likely to go in the future.

Check out Paul Thurrott’s excellent introduction to Lists. And there’s even a Lists Look Book.

546 – Flying back to Chicago

clip_image002Many visitors to Microsoft UK’s TVP campus over the years will have been in the auditorium for some kind of event. When the first three buildings at TVP first opened in September 1997, they each had different themes for their meeting room names – B1 had inventors (like Babbage, Turing etc), B2 were local place names (Henley, Bisham and so on) and B3 had old Microsoft code names, like Hermes, Olympus, Xenon, Memphis (whatever happened to that guy?) and the biggest room got the biggest code name of them all: Chicago.

clip_image004Yes, just over 25 years ago, the largest product launch Microsoft had ever done – following the widest beta program to date – took place, and Windows 95 was released. Listen to some of the background history on the run up to Win95 with Raymond Chen, (who’s been involved with Windows pretty much his whole career) on the Windows Insider podcast. Raymond even got his name on the Win95 Easter Egg.

clip_image006Windows 95 really was a big deal in a whole lot of ways – it made computers easy enough for even ordinary people to use (leaving aside the holy wars of Mac vs PC – remember that in 1995, Apple was in a very different place from where the Mac went in the second Jobs era). An advertising blitz got the message across that this new Windows was different – you could connect to the internet with MSN, and do all sorts of other stuff, powered by the Stones’ Start Me Up and a Jay Leno-run glitz launch with some groovy dancers.

The IT gutter press had a field day with the choice of launch music – rumoured to have cost $millions, though according to Windows Weekly’s Paul Thurrot, instead of “you make a grown man cry”, Win95 could have been launched to the “end of the world”

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A more recent product launch has its roots even further back, though – Flight Simulator has been brought up to date, having been largely on the shelf for 13 years. The very first PC release was in 1982, initially as a port from an Apple II version, and done to showcase the power of 3D graphics, and the last major update was in 2007.

The new version is quite a different spectacle – using AI in Azure and Bing mapping to render the world at large, reviews are glowing – a spectacular technical achievement and a deeply inspiring experience, filled with glorious possibilities.Real-time weather makes for some extremely impressive photos – like Hurricane Laura.

Flight Simulator 2020 is huge. Think, 100+Gb download – and you’ll need a meaty PC to run it, though a version is on its way for Xbox. So, set aside a long time to download it…

The Standard Edition is available to buy from the Microsoft Store or to play as part of the Xbox Game Pass, along with a variety of other PC games.

Flight Simulator is already the most-played game using the Game Pass system on PC – with over 1 million players over the last few weeks, racking up over a billion miles – the equivalent of flying around the world 40,000 times.

Finally, a link back to Chicago – in early versions of Flight Simulator, the default airport was Meigs Field at Chicago, a single-runway downtown airport on an artificial peninsula on Lake Michigan. Flight Simulator 2004 was both the last version to run on Windows 95/98, and was the last to feature Meigs Field after that airport was suddenly closed in 2003. Here it is, in the latest version – good luck landing there.

The Mayor at the time sent in bulldozers during the night to incapacitate the runway, against FAA law, rather than go through the time consuming and costly process of closing the airport through normal channels. Politicians, eh?

545 – Calculator Short Cuts

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For what most people would think of as a simple application, Windows Calculator has had a reasonable chunk of attention on ToW over the years – back in 2012, #90 uncovered some of the groovy updates that were coming in the then-soon-to-be-forthcoming Windows 7. Did anyone actually go to a Launch Party?

clip_image003CALC has grown to include lots of other features than simple arithmetic – adding scientific functions, programming functions (for all those times when you need to multiply in octal, for example) and more..

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Calculator was reimagined as a Modern App, and has added numerous extra features accessed via the hamburger menu – such as Date Calculators that will show the time difference between two dates – or numerous converters, some static (eg. length, weight – measures that don’t tend to change) and others dynamic, like currency conversion rates. A visual refresh arrived with a colourful new icon and some other graphical tweaks.

There are some neat shortcut keys as well – if you press ALT+H, the hamburger menu will show; to jump to another option, press ALT and another letter or number than corresponds to the appropriate option. To find out what the options are, just press ALT and the letters/numbers will be displayed. Once you know, though, you could press ALT+H and holding ALT, press C for currency. Whichever mode you’re in, pressing ALT+1 will take you back to Standard calculator.

If you have a recent Microsoft keyboard there may even be a dedicated calculator key that will launch the calculator app (also available via START+R | CALC | Enter) but if you’d rather use that button for a more commonly needed app – Teams maybe – then you can install the Mouse & Keyboard Center software, to re-map the hardware button to run a different application.

clip_image007If you want to be particularly fly, you could set up macros to chain other key presses together, or even have app-specific functions on that key; so pressing the Calculator button might launch Teams or bring it to the fore, then pressing it again could do something else within Teams – press CTRL+1 to jump to the first icon in the side bar, for example.

One final calculator tip – each of your calculations are preserved – just click the icon or press CTRL+H to clip_image009open History and then right-click any of the previous results to add them to the clipboard.

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.

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.

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