Just over a year ago, the new release of the Edge browser with the Chromium engine was released, and lots of functionality has been shipped since. Much effort has been to differentiate the Edge browser from others, because it integrates better with Microsoft services and other offerings. From synching settings, history, favourites, extensions… to adding protections around passwords and having a great multi-profile experience… it’s been getting better all the time. But 88 updates? That’s crazy!
(it doesn’t necessarily have 88 updates – that was just a ploy to get in the Crazy 88 link above)
The latest version of Edge shipped to mainstream users recently; release 88 is named after the core engine version, so Google shipped Chrome 88 at the same time. Some of the “what’s new” in Chrome will be consistent with Edge, since the rendering engine is the same – like the deprecation of a couple of features; Chrome & Edge no longer have FTP support natively, and they finally killed Flash.
Back to Edge 88 – go to the … menu, then settings | about to find which version you have – there are a bunch of cool things to try out or investigate:
Themes – there are some really nice pre-built themes packaging background images and colour schemes; see them here. You can apply a theme to a specific user profile, which might help you differentiate them from each other – so a Forza or Halo theme applied to your personal profile would change the colour scheme for that one, making it easier to spot which profile you’re using. You can also add themes from the Chrome web store.
Sleeping Tabs – helping to reduce system resource demands, Edge can now make tabs go to sleep if they haven’t been used for a while. You need to switch it on (the plan being that it will be a default in a later version) by going to edge://flags and search for sleep.
If you regularly use websites that fire notifications – like mail, or news readers – then be aware that they will not show when the tab is asleep. Work is underway to report back which sites should not be put to sleep, so Edge will be able to know when it’s a help and when it would be a nuisance.
Passwords – as discussed previously when it was in dev mode, the password monitoring and strong password suggestion features are now generally available. Edge can look for common username/password combinations that are in your cached credentials, but which are known to have been leaked.
If you get a report of such a leak, you should change all of the passwords on affected sites as soon as possible. Looking under Edge Settings / Profile / Passwords, you should see the options to enable both Password Monitor and suggestion. For more info on how the Password Monitor works, check out this MS Research note.
PWAs and Profiles – Progressive Web Apps are increasingly being seen as the way to take a site and treat it like an app; it can show up in Start menu, can be pinned to task bar, will run with a specific icon and name, and won’t have all the UI of a browser, so it looks just like a native app.
To install a PWA on Edge, just go to the … menu on the top right when you’re browsing to a site, and you should see Apps > Install … as an option. You get to give the “app” a name, and it will then look and feel much like a native application.
If you install the PWA in more than one Edge browser profile, there’s a new function that means when you start the app – from the Start menu etc – then you can switch between which profile it should run in (scoping identity, passwords etc within).
One of the features in Office apps that has come to the fore in recent years is the concept of @mentions – something that started in the early days of Twitter. The use of the @ before someone’s name lets you quickly tag them to a piece of content, and in some cases gives them a proactive notification that you’re trying to reach them.
Exactly how the notification occurs differs slightly depending on the medium – in Yammer, for example, starting to type someone’s name after an @ sign will give you a picker to choose which person you might want to tag; pressing TAB will accept the name at the top of the list, and cc: that person to the specific post you’re making, so they’ll be notified in Yammer and possibly by email too. If you know someone’s alias then you can quickly type @aliasTAB to tag and accept them. You can also use mentions in comments within Office documents.
The same behaviour is commonly available in Teams as well, though it may be more limited as to who you can mention – in the chat for a meeting or in a Teams channel, you’ll typically only be able to @mention the people who are taking part or who are already members of the team. Like other uses of the @mention idiom, tagging someone will insert their full Display Name, as defined in the Microsoft 365 environment (or the address book if you like) – which can make mentioning people in a chat feel a little directorial or formal, especially if the format of their display name is something like FamilyName, GivenName (DEPARTMENT).
In most uses of the mention, you can edit the full name of the person, though it’s not quite consistent how to do it – in Teams, for example, merely pressing backspace (after the display name has been resolved) will remove the last word … so if you want to tag a colleague and their display name is Jane Doh, then a quick tap will reduce that to simply Jane. If they were Doh, Jane (IT) then it’s a little more complex to lose the formality – holding CTRL+SHIFT while pressing the left arrow will select a word at a time, so you could ditch the last part of the name then simply CTRL+Left arrow would skip the middle part, then CTRL+SHIFT+Left arrow/Delete will remove the first part again.
Lesser platforms might allow a user to set a nickname that is used in place of their display name; that’s not (yet) an option in Teams etc, though in Outlook when you mention someone, you could insert a nickname in-between other names then remove the original ones, leaving only the short name you’ve added, but still hot-linked to their contact card etc. It’s a bit clumsy but might be preferable to calling them by their more formal name.
You can’t sort by that special field, but you can filter the inbox to only show you the mails where you are being called out. Handy when people have a habit of assigning you tasks in an email, assuming that you’ll read it…
Just click the sort/filter option found to the top right of your Inbox or other folder, and choose Mentioned Mail to show only messages where you are mentioned.
For a long time, storage was relatively expensive so it was a good idea to spend time and money reducing the amount you would needed to use. In 1990, PC hard disks would cost about $0.20 per megabyte, and capacity would be in the 2-3 figure MB range. So, compression software could be used to delay the day you’d need to buy a bigger disk, even if there was a slight impact on performance (through decompressing and re-compressing data while reading from and writing to the disk).
As storage got cheaper, the tendency to just keep old data gained prevalence, though some systems imposed limits due to the relative complexity and expense of managing their data, providing resiliency and backup services.
Corporate email quotas were measured in Megabytes, and tools like the Outlook Thread Compressor helped people reduce the amount of space their mail took up. In time, people used it to simply reduce the number of messages they needed to read, rather than worrying about the space they’d save – and it inspired the Clean Up Folder function in Outlook today.
When Google launched Gmail in 2004 with a staggering mailbox limit of 1GB – 500 times that which was offered by Hotmail – the rules on what was expected for email quotas were re-written, with an expectation that you would never need to delete anything, and could use search to find content within.
Leaving aside corporate policy on data retention, keeping piles of stuff indefinitely causes its own set of problems. How do you know which is the right version? Can you be sure that you have copies of everything you might need, in case the data is lost or damaged? If you have a backup, do you know that it’s a full copy of everything, and not a partial archive? Having multiple copies of the same content can be a headache too, if you’re not sure which is the true original and which might be later copies or partial backups.
Applications might create their own duplicate content – perhaps through bugs, or through user activity. There was a time when syncing content to your phone or to another machine might risk duplication of everything – like having multiple copies of contacts in Outlook, for example. A variety of hacky resource kit utilities were created to help clean up mailboxes of duplicate contacts, appointments etc; you might want to check out a more modern variant if you’re worried that your mailbox is cluttered up.
The curse of duplication can be a problem at home, too, especially when it comes to photographs. Have you ever taken a memory card from a camera, or a backup of an old phone, and copied the whole lot just to be sure you have everything?
Cleaning up the dupes can help make sense of what remains. You could spend money on proper photo archiving and management tools like Adobe Lightroom, or you could roll your own methodology using a mixture of free and low-cost tools – tech pundit Paul Thurrott recently wrote about his approach.
There are many duplicate-removing tools out there – just be sure you’re getting them from a reliable place, free from adware and other nasties. Be wary of anything that purports to “clean” your PC (registry cleaners etc), watch out when accepting T&Cs and don’t allow the setup routine to install any other guff you don’t need. Make sure you have the right protection on your machine, too.
One recommended tool is Duplicate Sweeper – free to try but a princely £15 to buy, but worth the peace of mind that comes with a tidy photo library or Documents folder.
If you’re an iPhone user, the connected experience is somewhat watered-down and achieved in a different way, and is mostly about syncing content and continuing web browsing from your phone to your PC. Thank the differences in Android vs iOS ecosystems for that…
For various Samsung phones and the Surface Duo, you can also control and mirror apps from your phone on the PC as well as transfer content. If you have a phone with the shiniest of shiny Android 11, you may be able to treat mobile apps just as if they are Windows apps – pin them to Start menu, run them in their own window on the PC etc. See more here.
For most other Android devices, you can’t yet do the mirroring within the Your Phone experience, but you do get to share app notifications on your PC (so you’ll get “toasts” in Windows for WhatsApp etc), exchange photos and files quickly and easily, manage messaging and even, should you want to, take and make calls on your PC.
To get it up and running, start the Your Phone app on your PC, and the pre-installed Link To Windows app if you have a supported Samsung or Surface device; if not, then install the Your Phone companion app on the phone to get everything set up.
It can be handy getting notifications on your PC that originate on phone apps, especially if your device isn’t next to you – but there may be limited use if all the notification on the phone would normally do is make you tap on it to read the story or interact with the app.
If you’re going to enable notifications, be careful – you’ll want to go through the list of apps that are on your phone, and only allow the ones you really need, or you’ll be getting a blizzard of unwanted toasts on your PC, assuming you’re not in Focus Assist mode.
Perhaps the best feature on Your Phone is the rapid ability to copy photos – without having to send them by email or wait for OneDrive to sync them. Using Your Phone, you can copy the file immediately to your PC, or just browse the photos on a larger screen and possibly screen grab bits of interest to insert into documents or emails. Sadly, what it won’t let you do is manage the photos easily, like delete the garbage…
Still, it’s free and it’s potentially useful for anyone with a Windows 10 PC and an Android phone – so definitely worth a look. For more info on how to use and troubleshoot Your Phone, see here.
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.
In the same week that Salesforce announced its intent to splurge a load of cash on buying Slack, Microsoft’s Teams team put out a lengthy blog post outlining a load of new and updated features that are shortly coming to the Teams user experience. Some have been talked about before and are now already available or will roll out soon (you can always prod Teams to check for updates by clicking on your profile icon in the top right and choosing Check for updates – any available updates should be downloaded and installed in the background).
One new feature is a supposedly AI-powered (isn’t everything that’s vaguely smart these days?) noise suppression feature – useful if you’re on Teams calls and have to share your environment with noisy people/animals etc. Configure your own noise suppression settings within the Devices options, by clicking on Settings under your profile at the top right.
There are numerous new calling features coming, which will help in managing real (PSTN) phone calls and VoIP calls, as well as a load of new partner devices that can be plugged into your PC to give you a phone on your desk, if you like that sort of thing.
There are also some useful updates to bring other applications into Teams meetings, like allowing you to set up Polls in advance (using Microsoft Forms, configured within the Teams app with an easy-to-use wizard), and using Power Apps and other elements of the Power Platform, it’s never been easier to roll your own apps for including in Teams.
There’s a $45K prize fund available for the best apps that are built and submitted by February 2021, so if you have ideas, better get cracking…
A reader suggestion came in recently, sadly too late to be of use before everyone in the US downed tools for days of eating turkey and watching TV sports. It’s reprising a previous tip from nearly a decade ago, but presented here in a reminder to everyone else on the planet who’s planning to take some time off over “the Holidays” (or “Christmas” as much of the world secularly and un-offendedly refers to that time of year).
When we book time off, it makes sense to mark the days in our own calendar as Busy, or Out of Office – that way, if a colleague tries to book an appointment with you, they’ll see in the Scheduling Assistant (assuming they bother to look) that the time is blocked out and you’re unavailable – purple hatching being OOF, solid blue being busy and hatched blue meaning tentative.
Really progressive people might even be sharing their calendar details with you, so you can see what they’re doing – useful, as all-day busy events obliterate everything else if details are not shown.
If you’d like to tell other people you’re going on holiday, then you should create a 2nd appointment and invite your colleagues to it; but there are 3 important steps to take when you do this so you don’t muck up their calendar and annoy them to boot. When creating your second “FYI” holiday appointment:
While we’re setting the appointment up, it’s OK to not use Recurrence too – some people think that the way to make a multi-day appointment is to set a one-day meeting that recurs every day for a week. Don’t do that.
Just set the start and finish date of the appointment as appropriate and check the “all day event” box. The appointment will run from the start of the first date to the end of the second date so in the example here, we’d be returning to work on Tuesday 5th Jan.
Now all you need to do is create a suitably informative and entertaining Out of Office message and you’re all set!
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.