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.

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.

501 – Next of Kin

clip_image002ToW’s #350 and #353 looked back at technologies of old which are long gone – or at least should be. Lots of tech somehow lives on, though – did you know,  for example, that pagers are still a thing, and that more than 10% of the world’s remaining bleeps are used in the UK’s NHS? The same organisation has even been told to ditch the fax machine by April 2020 – a target that looks like being missed.

Some old tech has just been superseded by better, cheaper, easier alternatives – the erstwhile fax message gave way to email, the film camera largely replaced by digital photography, though there are always people who doggedly prove exceptions. Vinyl records came back from the brink, even prompting a potential rebirth of physical music retailing. There’s even a revival of cassette tapes for goodness’ sake (Hey kids! throw away your DVDs and get those VHS tapes from the attic…)

The path of progress is littered with the wreckage of ideas that didn’t quite work out; sometimes, they’re just a development that nobody wanted, or at least the target audience didn’t want in enough numbers, or maybe other forces combined to nix them (eg Google Glass) or at least to sustain their development enough. Some ideas were subsequently proven to be on the right path, but the first executions didn’t succeed: maybe the technology wasn’t advanced enough at the time.

The fab new devices previewed at the October 2019 Surface Event gave cause to recollect some old and perhaps before-their-time devices. The forthcoming Surface Pro X looks like the ultimate evolution of a Tablet PC, the due-next-year Surface Neo brings to life the “Courier” prototype that never made it out of the lab, and the especially groovy-looking (and also “available Holiday 2020”) Surface Duo makes Windows Mobile fans shed the remaining tears by embracing Android, though don’t dare call it a “phone”.

clip_image004Remember when 3G was going to set the world on fire? When people would pay handsomely to watch football clips or do video conferencing on their mobile device? The first such thing to enable that dream was the Orange SPV M5000, aka the HTC Universal. It was a folding device, had front-facing camera, 3G, Bluetooth, WiFi… It was ground-breaking, though too big and heavy to be a phone and too small and cramped to be a laptop replacement. It ran Windows Mobile 5.0, soon-to-be-eclipsed by the awesomeness that was Windows Mobile 6.0 (jokingly codenamed “Crossbow”, after a weed killer that had a deadly effect on blackberries…)

clip_image006Before Windows Mobile / Windows Phone was really a platform, Microsoft had the vision to build a tablet device with touch screen, UI navigation and handwriting recognition via a stylus, and all sorts of use cases and software that would differentiate it from other laptops.

The Tablet PC specification spawned a whole new version of Windows that eventually merged into the mainstream with Windows Vista. It only took maybe 15 years for technology and successive software improvements to turn the original dream into something of a reality.

Tip o’ the Week 495 – Your Phone updates

clip_image002As Samsung recently released the new Galaxy Note 10 premium phone (some versions later than the now infamous Note 7 with battery issues), one prominent new feature may have inadvertently caused a headline during the last week. “Microsoft’s Your Phone App is Down” might have made some readers question, what is Your Phone anyway? (It’s back up now, btw).

Your Phone is a PC and companion iOS or Android app that lets the user of both device sync data and other experiences between them. Initially focussed on photo sharing, it grew to encompass other areas like allowing you to view and reply to text messages on your phone, using the PC’s screen & keyboard instead, thus avoiding any embarrassing auto-correct moments.

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The photo sync between phone and PC is more real-time than synching via OneDrive or similar, and it’s a bit more usable for many. But since the May 2019 update to Windows 10, there have been a load of other changes to Your Phone.

It’s possible to share notifications from mobile apps – so you could see Android notifications shown on your PC, too – the goal being that in time, you’d be able to view and respond to them on your computer. If you set it up, do so carefully – you don’t want to be getting notifications on your PC that your phone has sent, for stuff that the PC is already notifying you for… like Outlook, or Teams. Otherwise, you’ll be getting a blizzard of notifications to the point of ignoring them all.

Finally, if you have a Samsung device on the extensive list of currently one, you can share your screen between phone and PC. The plan is, this would allow you to fully operate your phone – including making and taking calls – from your PC, and it’s likely that this will end up growing to other Samsungs and to other manufacturers.

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Tip o’ the Week 490 – Bluejacking LinkedIn

clip_image002[4]There was a time when nefarious sorts could fire up their mobile in a busy place and send unsolicited messages to any hapless punter not smart enough to switch their own phone to not receive unsolicited Bluetooth connections – a process known as Bluejacking.

Mostly harmless, it was a way of making people take their own phones out of their pocket and look around in a puzzled fashion over what was happening – useful entertainment in a boring theatre or a packed train carriage. Mobile platforms stopped leaving these things on by default – booo – but it’s probably for the best.

Still, the more modern way of dishing out business cards – LinkedIn – has another way to harness the same basic technology for good. ToW #461 discussed the QR-code method of sharing a LinkedIn profile with someone, and it’s a great way of doing it 1:1, by pointing a camera at someone else’s phone to make the connection with them.

clip_image004[4]But there is another way that is perhaps more useful when dealing with several people at once – a networking meeting with people you don’t know, or a business gathering where you might be communing with several new people at one time. Or a party. If you’re at a pretty sad party.

clip_image006[4]clip_image008[4]If you start the LinkedIn app on your phone and tap the My Network icon on the bottom toolbar, you’ll see the Find nearby option, which allows you to see anyone else in the vicinity who has similarly switched on the same feature. On enabling, you may need to turn on Bluetooth and then separately allow the sharing of data, and of the LinkedIn app to use it.

clip_image010[4]You’ll see a list of who’s in the vicinity and with a single tap, can connect with them on LinkedIn. Make sure you remember to turn it off again, in case you inadvertently show up on some unknown ne’er-do-well’s phone, as the Nearby functionality can continue even when you leave that page.

But it you’re careful, it’s a great way to mutually share contacts with a group of people.  See more here.

Tip o’ the Week 483 – mobile OCR and Office

clip_image002Optical Character Recognition is one of those technologies which has gone from being just-about-possible at great expense and hassle, to so mainstream that people just assume it will work flawlessly, all in a relatively few years. Numerous companies offer OCR services or addins to line-of-business systems which help to prepare printed data for easier consumption – scanning invoices for example.

clip_image004Consumers tend to use OCR in other ways; combined with language translation, you can point your phone at a foreign menu or sign and it may be able to help you understand. clip_image006In OneNote, if you have captured an image (maybe through the clipper addin from your browser), then it can extract the text from that picture – not always perfectly, and not necessarily well-formatted, but it’s probably quicker than re-typing everything.

Near OCR functionality is also pervading the slew of freely available Office apps for Android tablets, phones and even Chromebooks, and similar versions for iPad and iPhone.

A recent addition to the iOS version of Excel is the ability to scan a table of printed data and use OCR plus a bit of tweaking, to import the data into the spreadsheet. See more here. The same functionality was first made available on Android a couple of months earlier

clip_image001Start with the grid capture icon on the toolbar of a new spreadsheet, and then use the camera to highlight the area of a document that you’re interested in – the UI will be familiar to anyone who uses Office Lens, as the same anti-skewing technology is used to prepare the “document” for importing.

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Then the OCR goes to work and tries to lay out the data as closely as possible to its source – obviously, your accuracy will be improved by having a well-lit and clear original document, and you’ll get to tweak the contents in context of seeing the OCR’d data and the scan at the same time, before committing to insert it.

Tip o’ the Week 467 – Gardyloo, It’s the News!

clip_image002Edinburghers will know of the term, “Gardyloo” – perhaps a corruption of a French warning that “water” was about to need avoiding, like dodging the gutters in Blackadder. As well as regarding the loos, it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure your source of news is clean and fresh. Not fake.

clip_image004clip_image006A startup called NewsGuard hit the, er, news recently, after launching a service that uses real journalists to assesses sources of news, and scores them on various criteria on how they source, handle and attribute the stories they report.

The Mobile version of Edge browser was updated in January 2019, to include the NewsGuard plugin (though it wasn’t enabled by default), and at the time it was widely reported that their vetting had decided the UK’s Daily Mail, a popular newspaper and at one time the largest newspaper website in the world, was not to be trusted. (Screenshots above & right were taken on 24 Jan 2019).

More people probably read about the warning that was gleefully propagated by the Mail’s competitors, than there are actual users of the Edge mobile browser itself (if you use Edge on your PC, give it a try on your phone – it’s really rather good).

clip_image008clip_image010If you’d like to add the NewsGuard addin to the Edge browser on your PC, go to the Settings menu (…) on the top right of the Edge toolbar, and look under Extensions – then find NewsGuard in the Store to add it to the browser from there.

NewsGuard has since worked with the Daily Mail and decided that it’s not quite as bad as all that, so has backtracked and removed the klaxon warning.

It’s still not giving a completely clean bill of health – see the “nutrition label” –  but the feedback NewsGuard has shared with some other news websites may well help to improve the quality of their output.

The same extension is available on other browsers too.

Tip o’ the Week 466 – Mobile Teams Tips

clip_image002Teams is more than just a replacement for Skype for Business on your PC, it’s also a consummate mobile app that functionally eclipses its predecessor in many ways, and even its desktop sibling in some. If you haven’t installed the Teams mobile app on your phone, go and get it (and other Office apps) for Googly Devices or Fruity Phones. The remaining Windows Phone users can follow the setup link here, though be prepared for disappointment.

clip_image004The “Calls” tab on the mobile version on the app is more usable in some senses than Calls on the PC version of Teams is, since it exposes phone numbers more easily. On the desktop Teams app, if you want to use the service to call an existing contact via the POTS, the actual phone number you use can at times be somewhat obscured.

clip_image006On the PC app, for example, if you look at History, you’ll often seen a list of people but it’s not clear which number they called from (or you called them on), and you’ll need to use the Contacts list within Calls to be able to direct a new call to a specific number.

In the Teams mobile app, if you look at the Calls tab, under History, tap on a line and then the card to the right side of the list of icons, you’ll get a contact card and the ability to respond back – using Teams – to any one of the listed phone numbers.

clip_image008Under Settings, you also get a bit more direct control over do not disturb functionality with quiet hours and days.

Finally, one of the great new functions in Teams mobile is the building-in of clip_image010Org Chart functions, so you can browse the global address list hierarchy while on the move (assuming such info is populated in the directory).

Just search for a contact’s name, and their organisational tree is only a tap away.

For more tips on using Teams Mobile, see here.

Tip o’ the Week 462 – Instagram photos on your PC

clip_image001If you’re an Instagram fan, you’ll no doubt be quite used to posting, browsing, liking and hashtagging everything in sight, using your phone. If you like editing photos on your PC, however, there’s no simple way to upload pics to post as Instagram photos.

Instagram continually toys with their UI and the capabilities of the app – not always to great acclaim – and also offers a browser experience that lets you find and interact with content, but not upload it yourself. Various third parties offer other tools that integrate with Instagram – like the Top Nine meme that celebs were posting, showing their best pics of 2018.

clip_image003The Instagram Windows 10 app does give the option to upload photos by clicking or tapping the + icon in the toolbar along the bottom, but it can occasionally be a bit slow, and it only lets you clip_image005choose photos from your camera roll folder.

The Instagram app sometimes goes a little berserk, too.

There is a technique to use your PC to upload anything to Instagram, though, and it involves fooling the web site into thinking you’re on a mobile device rather than a PC. Start by signing into www.instagram.com using your existing Instagram or FB credentials. You’ll see a particular  UI with no + button in sight.

clip_image007Assuming you’re on Edge browser, press F12 to go into Developer Tools mode (or if you’re using a keyboard that’s a pain to get to function keys, click on the clip_image009ellipsis on the top right to bring up the menu, choose More Tools, Developer Tools).

When you see the Dev Tools pane appear, go to Emulation.

Now choose a device or set a browser profile that will tell the Instagram site that you’re using a phone… even a defunct one (at least while Instagram supports that profile – someday, you may need to tweak the other settings).

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And bingo; click on the ickle + icon on the bottom and you’ll get a regular Windows Explorer file dialog box that can be used to select and upload a photo from anywhere you like.

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clip_image015Chrome domes can do a similar thing, using Developer Tools (menu – More tools – Developer tools, or press CTRL+SHIFT+I) and then toggle a device toolbar that lets you test the page as if it was running on a different device.

Strangely, Windows Phone doesn’t appear as one of the default options, but you can, if you want, add a Nokia 520 back in.

Tip o’ the Week 461 – share LinkedIn profile quickly

clip_image002Lots of professional types rely on LinkedIn – sales professionals, recruitment professionals, people looking for business – it’s a great platform. There’s a load of advice out there on how to compose your profile properly (as it’s really a modern version of your CV or resumé), even down to how to pose for the best photo (one school of thought says since LinkedIn shows your mugshot on the left of the page, then you should face to the right, so it doesn’t look like you’re turning away from your own page…)

Philosophically, you have a decision to make on whether or not you accept unsolicited requests. On one hand, why not accept a request from someone who has looked you up and may one day be a useful contact; on the other, why clutter your network with people you don’t know and maybe have never even met?

Also, should you clean and prune your contact list? Got some free time over Christmas and can’t face another mince pie…? Why not go through your LinkedIn network and if you can’t remember the last time you met that person, delete them… Season of goodwill and all that.

Here’s a tip that may make your life a little easier when you do meet someone and want to exchange professional details – at a cocktail party, for example. Instead of the 20th century method of giving out little bits of dead tree with rapidly out-of-date contact info/job titles etc, swap contacts using LinkedIn but in real time rather than after the meeting.

clip_image004First, make sure you have the latest version of the LinkedIn mobile app and that you have it set up with your login. Now, if you look at the top of the LinkedIn home screen, you’ll see a strange little clip_image006 symbol on the right-hand edge of the search box – this is supposed to look like a QR code.

clip_image008Tap the icon, and you’ll be presented with the phone camera looking for a code to scan. The QR code is just a way of encoding the URL to someone else’s LinkedIn profile.

If you flick to the “My Code” tab, LinkedIn will show you the QR code that it has generated just for you, along with options to export and save the code for use elsewhere (like put it on your business card… oh, wait…)

So, the ideal workflow is that if you want to exchange a connection with someone quickly, then one of you goes into My Code, the other into Scan, and the rest is a matter of waving your phone over theirs and hitting the connect button. Not exactly rocket science, is it?
(that last link is a belter – if you have kids, watch it with them. Props to Dr Chris).