547 – I Stream a stream

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Popular subscriptions services which deliver on-demand content, rather than recording or otherwise acquiring it in advance, are killing off CD and DVD sales. Every generation sees a new technology upset the old – the 1980s MTV video vs the 1970s “taping from the radio” for example.

Streaming technology has risen with the availability of high-speed, low-latency internet access, allowing users to play on-demand – rather than watch or listen at the time a broadcaster decides – and is wiping out the need to record live TV to watch later, maybe even obsoleting the concept of broadcast TV.

Perhaps the next vanguard is the gaming industry – as Microsoft and Sony get ready to launch next-generation consoles, buying a disc-based game to install and play will soon feel as old-hat as going to Blockbuster to rent a VHS for the night. Streaming games on-demand as part of a subscription service may be norm, rather than buying and owning a title outright. The console isn’t the only destination, though – streaming to mobiles is on the way.

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Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers will soon be able to start using “Project xCloud(the code name, now simply known as “cloud gaming”) services, which basically run Xbox games in Azure, and stream the video & audio down to a mobile device, initially an Android phone or tablet, but also supporting Windows PCs in time. There was a plan to allow cloud gaming to work on iOS too, but that has been scuttled – Apple says no. Maybe something to do with the App Store revenue stream, though the company made some blah-blah about the store being all about a curated quality of applications. Of course it is.

Back in the workplace, streaming takes a different form, from virtualizing and delivering applications on-demand to running whole desktops somewhere else and displaying the output on a remote screen, not unlike the old mainframe/terminal model. And of course, there’s streaming of other types of media besides applications.

clip_image006Many users will first encounter Microsoft Stream, the secure enterprise video service, if they’re using Teams and see a meeting has been recorded – usually, when the organizer hits the button, a link to the recorded video will be dropped into the chat window of the meeting.

If you miss that, or weren’t at the meetinclip_image008g in the first place but want to catch up, try going to microsoftstream.com and search, either by the name of the meeting, or by looking under People for the  name of the organizer where you’ll see all of their content. If you’re recording a load of meetings yourself (like a training series, or a monthly team call) then it might be worth creating a channel and adding those recordings to make it easier for people to see related content.

Unfortunately, you won’t get paid millions of dollars and given tons of free stuff but you might get some sort of corporate kudos and recognition.

clip_image010Stream is ultimately replacing the earlier Office 365 Video service, though isn’t yet fully feature compatible: see a comparison of the two, here.

It’s not just for storing recordings of meetings in the hope that people who couldn’t be bothered to turn up the first time will somehow tune in to watch the re-run; you can create new content and upload that for your colleagues to view, too.

You could use the Record a Slide Show feature in PowerPoint, to make an (editable) recording of you giving a presentation and publishing it, or if you’re just looking to do something quick and easy (up to 15 minutes in duration), you can even kick off a screen-recording (with audio and video) from the Stream site directly.

clip_image012clip_image014When you publish your video to Stream, it’s worth making sure you’re making it visible – depending on how you’re set up, it may be limited. Go into My Content and look for the coloured icon showing the permissions. Click on the pencil icon to the left, to edit the video properties, including setting the permissions or adding it to a channel. For more about managing permissions on Stream, see here.

clip_image016One thing to note, is that if you have remote participants in a Teams meeting – customers, partners etc – then they won’t be able to see the recording you make; the Stream service is limited to your own organization, as defined by the Azure Active Directory that’s used to authenticate you. If you need to be able to share the video with others (making sure you’re not breaking any rules, obvs), then you may be able to download just an MP4 video file – none of the other metadata, captions, transcriptions etc that you get with Stream, it’ll just be the main video – and at least make that available separately.

Maybe record it to a VHS tape and post it to them?

536 – Spreading to friends and family

clip_image002There have been plenty of ToW missives over the last few months on the subject of remote working, video conferencing and the like. Businesses who have Microsoft 365 – the new umbrella name that includes Office 365 – already have access to Teams, though personal users and non-subscribers could still set up a free version.

Other chat, video and collaboration tools have clearly been finding many new users during the COVID-19 lockdown…

Slack, which established itself as a texty business collaboration tool (especially in the technology industry), has been overtaken somewhat by the rush to video calling and meeting. Slack’s partner AWS, who also have a video/audio/chat service called Chime, announced plans to integrate under the covers. Meanwhile, Slack thinks it’s finally time to ditch email and their CEO also has an interesting take on how remote working will evolve – will this be the end of the real estate bubble in the Bay Area, for example?

Salesforce has launched a new offering called Anywhere, which aims to take back collaboration and comms tasks from Slack or Teams. And in the “you can tell any story you like by using the right set of numbers” file, Teams has been reported as outgrowing the media’s darling, Zoom, as the feature battles between the two have intensified. Skype and Google’s Hangouts Meet have also added multi-party video among other new capabilities.

Teams will soon have the ability to show up to 49 people at once (having rolled out a 3×3 grid of video windows recently)…

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… and has also released an updated free offer, aimed at friends and family communications.

Initially available in the mobile apps, the focus is on providing free collaborative functionality for groups you can set up, as well as being able to schedule video calls and meetings.

If you don’t already have the Teams mobileclip_image004 app on your phone, then go to iOS App Store or Google Play to install it. If you’re already using Teams through your work account, you can add a personal account by going to the settings icon in the top left, and at the very bottom of the list is “Add Account”.

This will guide you through the process of associating with an existing Microsoft Account, including signing up for free Teams service if you haven’t already.

At the moment, the service is in Preview, and it does involve switching between profiles when you need to, but offers a load more than just WhatsApp-style text chat and the odd call.

As well as file sharing, there’s even a “Safe” feature on its way, which will let you share WiFi Passwords or other more sensitive information that requires 2-factor authentication.

So, for once in the last 3+ months, now’s a good time to spread something to the rest of your family and your wider circle of friends…

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.

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.