As most of us look to put 2020 firmly behind us and take some down-time over the festive season, there may be a list of jobs which get left to this time of year – filling out the annual tax return, maybe, or clearing out that drawer with miscellaneous stuff in it.
You could set your sights higher, even – like gathering all the papers scattered throughout your house (user guides, receipts, utility bills etc etc) and putting them in one place, as recommended by Getting Things Done guru, David Allen.
Or just scan them all in then recycle…
Maybe it’s time to finally sort out all the passwords you use for different websites. Even though Multi-Factor Authentication is gradually replacing the need to enter a username & password every time you access a resource, there’s still often a need to create a username and password combo when you sign up for something. If you’ve used Edge or Chrome to remember your passwords, you might find there are many hundreds of them, and being weak carbon-based lifeforms, we’re quite likely to use the same ones for many sites. Naughty!
There are browser addins and other tools you can use to remember the passwords you use, and (using LastPass as an example) can give you the option of generating something strong and unique at the point of signing up on a site, then syncing that username and password back to a central service so you don’t need to re-enter it next time (or remember something truly unmemorable). LastPass recently announced their 2020 stats – they’ve generated 94 million secure passwords and been used to log in more than 10 billion times.
Microsoft Edge offers some password management capabilities – as well as being able to remember passwords within the Edge browser, and sync them between different machines or mobile devices, Edge is also getting to be capable of suggesting and storing complex passwords for new sign-ups.
Edge is beefing up its password security in other ways, offering proactive warnings if your passwords have shown up in databases of leaked credentials (at the moment, this is a test feature in the dev builds). One-by-one, you can use Edge’s “fix leaked passwords” function to check what the existing password is for each site, and then click a button to jump to the site to reset it – in some cases, going straight to the change password part of the site.
Finally, the password sync feature is getting some extra legs – using the Microsoft Authenticator app on your phone and it’s new beta Autofill feature, you can use that app to provide the username/password for website or even mobile app logins. There’s a Chrome extension too, so if you want to switch back and forth between Edge & Chrome on a PC, your passwords will be available to both.
In some senses, storing passwords and allowing them to be automatically filled in feels like a security risk – anyone with access to your unlocked computer or phone could potentially access your online services. Using Autofill and Authenticator, though, the default setup is to require biometric authentication – so you’ll need a fingerprint or camera, or unlocking with a PIN, before the auto-fill will happen.
Also, it’s more important to have complex passwords that are hard to break or guess, and to have different ones for each and every site or app you use.
This is the final ToW for 2020. Let’s hope ’21 brings us all better luck.
Online retail has been a clear beneficiary of people spending more time at home (and possibly less time working), in some cases having more money (since they’re not travelling for fun, eating out less – if at all – and so on). One aspect of online shopping that has grown over the last few years has been the use of voucher codes – perhaps as a way of trying to award loyalty while combating the dominance of certain online behemoths.
Websites who offer vouchers will often target them to existing customers, possibly previous customers who haven’t been active for a while – they’d email a time-limited code that could get money off, or free delivery and so on, or add a “money off your next purchase” printed code, in the box with the thing you just bought. People will often share these codes with their family and friends, and inevitably a load of websites sprung up purporting to offer voucher codes, though quite a few seem to be a vector for spam and unwanted advertising.
The Edge browser has recently added a feature which can help to discover active vouchers for a given site – with the idea that they are known to be good, active and not spammy. The idea is that when you go to a site that has current vouchers/coupons, then a little shopping label will appear on the right side of the address bar, with initial pop-out text which disappears after a few seconds, but the badge on the icon indicates how many vouchers are available. At the opposite end of the address bar, you’ll probably see the handbag icon illustrating, on this site, that it’s safe to shop.
Click on the vouchers icon and a pop-up will show the list of coupons; clicking a coupon copies it to the clipboard, ready to paste into some box during the checkout process.
The Shopping feature in Edge has started rolling out, beginning with the various dev and beta channels. To check if it’s on your build, and to enable/disable it, look in edge://settings/privacy and look for the Save time and money… option as pictured above. Right now, the availability of sites with vouchers may seem thin on the ground, but that’s likely a regional thing (ie concentrating on US retailers for now).
An alternative that was previously being pushed somewhat by the Edge team, is Honey – a simple Edge addin which does much the same as the Shopping feature, but more widely supported. On the example given above (from US retailer www.target.com) the orange Honey icon found lots more coupons that had been submitted and supposedly verified by other users saying they worked, and when. As with any of these things, YMMV.
The URL – Uniform Resource Locator, to give its full name – is familiar to everyone as a way of accessing their favourite sources of online titillation, propaganda and knowledge. Most people pronounce the term “yoo arr ell” though some stick to calling it Earl. Few “regular” users have any idea what magic occurs behind the scenes when you enter an address in the browser.
Early browsers might have been pedantic about the user entering the protocol into the address box, since the application wouldn’t know if you wanted to use ftp, gopher or this new-fangled http thing to try to open the page. So you had to spell out the whole address – with the right number of slashes and colons, sometimes even having to get upper and lower case parts of it exactly correct – or just get denied.
Of course, it’s easier to enter URLs these days – a good proportion of end users just type the thing they’re looking for (eg “bbc news”) into the address bar, and it will search on their favourite engine to display a list of results upon which they then click. Others will know that if you enter a term in the address bar and press CTRL+ENTER, the browser will add the www and the .com to either side of it, and on Chrome, the address bar even hides the display of the https://www bit.
Still, pasting a URL into a document or email can sometimes look messy, especially if it’s a link to a file on a Sharepoint or Teams site. Public websites sometimes will have an address which tells the story – like https://www.upi.com/Top_News/Voices/2020/11/19/SpaceXs-Starlink-satellites-are-ruining-stargazing-for-everyone/9351605790233/ – but a new feature in Edge browser aims to make things a whole lot more friendly.
In the latest versions of Edge, instead of pasting the raw address (with all of its slashes, symbols and numbers), when you add a URL into an Office document, the link will use the title of the page as the “text to display” instead of the URL itself. As a result, the UPI story above would look like “SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are ruining stargazing for everyone – UPI.com”.
When pasting a link to a shared document, instead of it showing up like https://microsoft.sharepoint.com/:b:/t/Store%20Planning%20Team/EX3o-R5PRT5Kk-Ndmh5GKFgBx0OfjIWI9d4CGT4nZGi0Dw90980 or similar, Office apps will try to fetch the source document’s details and render its name as the displayed text, hiding the URL under it:
If you’re sending the link in an email, it will even check if all the recipients have permission to open it, and offer to help you fix that by changing the permissions or by attaching the document instead of a link to it. This might even realise the dream that one day, people will stop emailing documents to each other and instead will use proper collaboration tools. We can but hope.
If you’d rather keep the raw URL, paste it into your document using the Paste Options / Text only choice. If you don’t like the new feature, you can switch it off in the Edge settings – navigate to the Share, copy and paste settings, or just enter edge://settings/shareCopyPaste into the browser address bar to jump straight there.
One potential side effect, though, is if the website you’re looking at doesn’t properly manage its page title (as displayed in the browser tab), it could paste as the wrong thing: some sites might set the title when you search for something, but then not set it properly when you click through into the results. You can always right-click the link and Edit Hyperlink to fix the issue if that occurs, and hope that enough people complain to the site owner so they fix it.
In 1998, when anti-trust hearings were perhaps more spiky and combative and certainly not delivered by a flaky Zoom connection, Microsoft was arguing that the free Internet Explorer web browser was so intrinsic to Windows that it could not be removed.
Ever since Windows 98, Internet Explorer 4 was built-in to Windows, though versions of IE were available for the Mac (Steve Jobs chose to use it!), Unix and even OS/2, through the mid 2000s, before it settled on being a PC-only thing. If IE4 was installed on other versions of Windows, it was basically not possible to remove it and revert back to an earlier version, without reinstalling the operating system.
Since 2014, when Microsoft announced Windows 10, it was clear that IE would not evolve beyond the latest release, version 11. IE11 is still included in Windows 10, and will continue to be so until the end of days – or the end of the support lifecycle, whichever comes sooner.
If you want to remind yourself what it’s like to drive without a seatbelt, or go to the shops without wearing PPE, try using IE to browse the web for an hour.
It was announced recently that – even if the IE11 browser is still included in Windows 10 and will still be technically supported for another while – “support” for using it will start to be removed from Microsoft 365 services from November 2020. Just as friends don’t let friends do crazy things – like virus scan the M: drive – it’s time to stop them using IE11 as their daily and default browser.
All paths lead to the new Edge browser, built on Chromium for added compatibility – though somewhat ironically, issues have cropped up when using Google as the default search engine, all since fixed. Additionally, some angry-from-Manchester types have complained you can’t uninstall Edge if it arrives via Windows Update or pre-installed. Tried uninstalling Safari on your iPhone or your Mac?
There’s been a subtle change in nomenclature, too – “Edge” is the new Edge, or Chromium Edge, or ChrEdge or whatever you want to call it. The old Edge – the one which shipped with Windows 10 as the successor to IE and as a whole new web experience – is now Microsoft Edge Legacy. LegEdge is not even visible on latest versions of Windows, but if you need it and are the type who likes to live dangerously, you can re-enable it by hacking around in the registry.
We’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 rather 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).
It’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.
Finally, 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.
The 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.
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.
One 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 using 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.
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 Netflix – dat’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.
But 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).
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.
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).
Eric 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.
The “Browser Wars” happened in the late 1990s, and marked a time of intense, er, “competition” between different web browsers. Since then, Google’s Chrome has rather cleaned up and established a seemingly unassailable lead in browser market share.
Still, Edge’s recent release using the Chromium rendering engine – designed to make it comparable with Chrome from a compatibility point of view, yet allowing Microsoft developers to remove Google-services-specific stuff (and replace them, sometimes, with Microsoft-services-specific stuff, many of which will be checked in to the Chromium open-source project.
The Edge browser built on Chromium was released in January, and updates are flowing through to add more functionality – which, exactly, depending on whether you’re running the normal release or you’re on one of several preview or developer (“canary”) versions. Some features are things that were ideally intended to make it to the public release – like synchronizing extensions installed across multiple PCs.
The Edge update won’t be forced out to existing non-Chromium-Edge users (hello, out there!) – or at least there will be a way of stopping it from being pushed out, if you’re an enterprise IT controller who’d rather not have to manage change and things like that.
One of the benefits of Edge being on Chromium is that the extensions which third parties build for the browser should be compatible – and since Google has 2/3rd of the total market, there are more of them than for other browsers.
There’s an Edge “addons” page which shows a curated list of extensions known to work well with the new Edge, but if you want, you can install anything that’s listed on the Google site.
If you enable the ability to install Chrome extensions into Edge, then refresh/browse to the Chrome store again, you’ll be met with scary warnings, however…
Google has started alerting of a security issue – namely, if the extension is somehow added to the Chrome store and subsequently found to be of dubious intent and posing a security risk, then Google can remotely knobble it on installed machines. They are now warning that if you happen to use a Chromium but-not-Chrome browser – like Edge – then they won’t do this. It seems the extension security scare banner isn’t the only one to try to make Edge users install and switch to Chrome.
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.
This 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.
At a simple level, Profiles lets you specify your work account and personal account(s) separately, and you can switch between them quickly. Look under Settings or go straight to edge://settings/profiles in the browser if you already have it.
For anyone who’s ever had to sign into a work-related website but using their Microsoft Account (eg Outlook.com / Hotmail / MSN / Zune etc credentials), this can be handy as you do it without resorting to an InPrivate tab.
Once you’ve set up profiles, you can individually enable Sync, Password retention etc, for each, though you will see that only some of the options are lit up in the current version of the Beta. More to come soon – ahead of the expected January 15th release. Probably.
To change profiles, just click on the associated picture on the browser toolbar and if you like, you can even pin the individual profiles to your taskbar so you can quickly jump into each one, rather than having to launch the browser and do the switcheroo.
You may want to import and export favourites between profiles – like Chrome, Edge no longer stores these as shortcut files that can be simply moved around, instead holding the favourites to a “bookmarks” file.
If you want to see where Edge Beta is saving your profile info, go to edge://version in the browser and check out the Profile Path. Mind how you go if you decide to start editing stuff directly.
To read more about profiles and the new Edge, see here.