Tip o’ the Week 498 – Go do, To Do (you do so well)

clip_image002The Microsoft To Do desktop and mobile applications and services (all available from https://todo.microsoft.com/) had a major update recently, which included being slightly renamed. Instead of “Microsoft To-Do”, the core app is now simply clip_image004Microsoft To Do”, and it has a new logo (well done if you noticed)… instead of a blocky light-blue and white tick on a blue background, it’s a slightly rounded and shaded blue tick on white background.

clip_image006Still, To[-]Do’s functionality has stepped forward greatly since its first release a couple of years back, taking more than a few leaves from the Wunderlist app that preceded it. The new v2 of the To Do app includes background images that can be shown behind task lists, including one of the Berlin Television Tower which was synonymous with Wunderlist.

After Microsoft’s acquisition of 6wunderkinder (the company that made Wunderlist), it was announced that, at some stage, the Wunderlist application would be retired but still there’s no confirmed date or anything, with back-end engineering apparently taking a good bit longer than was first expected.

When the To-Do app was launched, it was a somewhat poorer cousin. Now, the story is that To Do v2 has enough of the functionality of Wunderlist, and lots of new capabilities (such as Cortana integration), that it’s time for Wunderlist users to transition.

See more of the detail here. See what’s new in versions of To[-]Do. For further To Do tips, check the help center.

The founder of 6wunderkinder has taken to Twitter to offer to buy back Wunderlist before Microsoft shuts the service down. It remains to be seen if the offer is being considered or not…

Tip o’ the Week 497 – 21st Century Morph

clip_image002Morph was a clay stop-motion animated figure from the late 1970s, who featured on a BBC children’s programme, Take Hart. He was created by Aardman Animations, who later went on to create Wallace and Gromit, amongst many others.

Morphing is a special effect used to move between two forms or images, gaining ground from the late 1980s as software allowed smooth transitions between different pictures or moving images – used heavily in movies like Terminator 2, for example.

This week’s tip was inspired by Dan Scarfe of New Signature, who commented, “I think of my life in two halves: pre-morph and after-morph.” It’s not often a feature in a software package can have such a life-changing effect, and for most of us it will be less profound than on Dan. Still, it’s worth a closer look – and was first mentioned on ToW back in July 2016, a tumultuous time in British politics. Plus ça change

clip_image004The Morph feature is a Transition in PowerPoint – meaning it’s applied when moving from one slide to another, when presenting. These are powerful capabilities that need to be used carefully for maximum effect – there’s a temptation to add whiz-bang transitions and animations just because you can, but often, a subtle and steady hand works better. See some tips here.

If you want to animate shapes moving from one part of the screen to another, just copy the starting slide from within the slide sorter view, paste it to create the destination, and then move/size/colour the shapes as you see fit. Select the second slide and in the Transitions menu, chose Morph… and that’s it.

Example: blue rectangle 1 will move to the opposite corner of the screen, the number size will shrink and it’ll change to green. 2 will slide across to the top left and the number size will grow, while 3 will drop down and also grow. The star changes shape and orientation, adopts a textured fill, all while also moving to the lower left.

clip_image006clip_image008clip_image010Here’s a screen-grab taken during the transition – it’s smooth and, basically, magic.

Here’s some more info on using Morph. Download the PowerPoint PPTX file of this example, here.

Back to Morph, the plasticine man: turns out he did have a life in the 21st century as well – after a Kickstarter campaign, two whole new series of short videos were commissioned and along with lots of archive material, released on Morph’s official YouTube channel.

Tip o’ the Week 496 – Dark Mode marches on

clip_image002Back in the olden days of computing, wage slaves sat in front of terminals with black backgrounds and lurid green text writing. The advent of the graphical user interface relieved this tyranny with a paper-white background from a bitmapped screen to write your WYSIWYG text, to showcase colourful graphics (and Fonts!).

Fast forward 30+ years and it seems every app and OS is running away from black text / white backgrounds, and heading for monochrome graphics and oppressive white text on a black background again.

Using Dark Mode, either in apps or in the operating system on your computer or phone, promises a variety of benefits – less noticeable flickering, reducing eye strain, avoiding bright lights in a dark environment, perhaps better readability and therefore productivity, and even lower energy costs.

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Dark Mode has existed in Windows for a while – but ultimately, apps need to support the theme, too, and more and more are doing so – like new Edge browser, or Office apps (where you can set the Office Theme).

Microsoft recently put out a groovy video to highlight Dark Mode across a variety of apps and device types, and some commentary about why and when. It’s even come to Outlook.com as well.

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The announcement on Microsoft 365 functionality adds for August 2019 highlighted additional Dark Mode support coming to Outlook mobile apps and Outlook.com, saying, Dark Mode is not only easier on the eyes and may extend battery life, it also enables you to comfortably continue using your device in places where the default bright mode isn’t appropriate, like darkened airplanes and movie theaters.”

So kids, next time you want to go and watch a movie & catch up on your email, make sure you’ve Dark Mode on!

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 494 – Edge Beta breaks cover

clip_image002Much has been written about Microsoft’s effort to replace the underlying web page rendering engine in the Edge browser with a version based on the open-source Chromium project.

The plan is to produce a cross-platform browser, available on older versions of Windows too, which implements a lot of the innovative features that first appeared with the Edge browser in Windows 10, but by using the Chromium engine, improve compatibility with web sites that perhaps didn’t work as well on Edge as they did on other browsers; notably Google’s Chrome, which shares a lot of the same underlying technology as Chromium.

Microsoft has put over 1,300 contributions back into the Chromium open source project over the last 5 years, with 1,100 in the last year, so the effort isn’t just to take Chromium and use it, but to help improve it for everyone.

Early adopters have had the ability to run a fairly stable Dev Channel build for a while, but now the Beta Channel is available, it’s open for anyone to have a look. Read more, and download the Beta version from here.

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It’s possible to run all 3 versions of the browser side-by-side if you really want, and they co-exist with the regular Edge browser and Google Chrome as well, so it’s worth giving it a try. You’ll quickly find that the new Edge is notably quicker and is already slicker than old Edge, and some people consider it superior to Chrome.

Find out what’s new and what’s coming next.

Tip o’ the Week 493 – downsizing PPT

clip_image002PowerPoint files can be quite big. Not that it matters too much, now that we have huge amounts of local and cloud storage available, and even email quotas tend to allow large message sizes, so your 25MB PowerPoint file will typically still get through.

What lots of people do when they’re building a new PowerPoint deck, is to start with a template they like – a conference slide deck, or a jazzy marketing one they got a copy of. They delete the slides they don’t need, and maybe create a few of their own, and there’s a beautiful new document, ready to use.

As the decks morph in these ways, lots of hidden stuff stays embedded, even when it’s not used. In a recent group exercise, a bunch of people were asked to create a business plan deck for every one of hundreds of accounts, but the template they were asked to use was nearly 10MB in size before there was any real content within.

In this case, the reason was that the slide deck had over 200 master slide layouts within the template, many of which had large embedded bitmap images. If you find a slide deck whose file size is huge even if there isn’t much content in the slides themselves, you may see the same behaviour. ToW #276, some 4 years ago, covered a few things you can do to make the file smaller, but here’s a slightly more straightforward solution.

clip_image004clip_image006In your huge yet seemingly empty file, try going into the View tab in PowerPoint and look under the Slide Master view. You’ll see a vertical list of thumbnails for all the different slide layouts (where each contains background graphics as well as layout controls).

Hover over each thumbnail, and a tool-tip will tell you if that layout is used (and on which slides in your deck). If it’s not being used… then maybe you could ditch it and save some space?

clip_image008A simpler way than deleting all the unwanted layouts – if there are many – would be to create a new, blank PowerPoint, then (back in the normal slide sorter view, rather than slide master), copy the slides from the the huge slide deck, and simply paste them into the new, blank file. You may want to force it to Keep Source Formatting – but this process will copy only the used slide layouts into the new deck.

In this example, copying the slides to a new deck and saving that, reduced the size from nearly 10MB to only 750KB.

Tip o’ the Week 492 – TAB and Search

clip_image002The Tab key on your computer has its roots in the Tabulate typewriter function, which let you align type to defined (even modifiable) stops, so you could easily type tables of text and numbers, like invoices and so on.

In short, Tab could be used to left-align text, and is still used in modern typing, especially in word processing and in writing code. People who type space-space-space-space rather than a single TAB press still exist, though.

As well as the many features invoked by the Tab key in modern Windows, though – like WindowsKey-Tab to look at the timeline or the more common ALT-Tab to switch between programs – there’s a new capability for Edge browser users that might be worth looking out for.

If you’re using the Edge Preview – the Chromium-based version that has recently been pitched as Enterprise-Ready (for testing at least) – there’s a feature that has been enabled, which lets you search within a website rather than going straight to your clip_image004favourite search engine and without needing to go to the site’s homepage and perform a search within.

clip_image006Start by typing the site’s URL in the browser address bar, and you may well see a prompt to press Tab to search within that site.

clip_image008This is a feature that has existed in Chrome for a while, but now appears more prevalent in the new Edge. The prompt showing up depends on the website implementing an OpenSearch capability, which is used to plug some query into the search engine behind the site, and how well it performs depends on whether that site search is any good.

Try Microsoft.com TAB search term ENTER and you might just see how many apps that match your word in the Microsoft Store there aren’t, but try Amazon.co.uk TAB Surface ENTER and you’ll have the opportunity to buy Surfaces and many things associated with them. Try maps.google.co.uk | RG6 1WG (what? No Street View?)

Perhaps most useful is when you want to try something in a search engine other than your default; so if you normally use Bing, you’ll know that typing a phrase in the address bar on its own will cause the browser to search if it can’t resolve your term to being a URL. Well, if you type google.com TAB term ENTER then it’ll try that same search over there, rather than you needing to go to the search engine homepage first.

Tip o’ the Week 491 – PowerPoint layout tips

clip_image002Microsoft people love PowerPoint. Even when using it for completely unsuitable purposes (writing reports using PPT instead of Word, OneNote etc – filling slides with very dense and small text) or simply putting too much stuff on a slide, so a presenter has to say “this is an eyechart but…”

There are many resources out there to try to help you make better slides – from how-to videos to sites puffing a mix of obvious things and a few obscure and never-used tricks (eg here or here), and PowerPoint itself is adding technology to try to guide you within the app.

clip_image004The PowerPoint Designer functionality uses AI technology to suggest better layouts for the content you’ve already put on your slide – drab text, even a few clip_image006Icons (a library of useful-looking, commonly-used symbols) or graphics from your favourite source of moody pics.

If you don’t see the Design Ideas pane on the right, look for the icon on the Design tab, under, er Designer.

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The PowerPoint Designer team has recently announced that one billion slides have been created or massaged using this technology, and they have previewed some other exciting stuff to come – read more here.

A cool Presenter Coach function will soon let you practice your presentation to the machine – presumably there isn’t some poor soul listening in for real – and you’ll get feedback on pace, use of words and so on. Watch the preview. No need to imagine Presenter Coach is sitting in his or her undies either.

When it comes to laying out simple objects on a slide, though, you might not need advanced AI to guide you, rather a gentle helping hand. As well as using the Align functionality that will ensure shapes, boxes, charts etc, are lined up with each other, spread evenly and so on, when you’re dragging or resizing items you might see dotted lines indicating how the object is placed in relation to other shapes or to the slide itself…

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In the diagram above, the blue box is now in the middle of the slide, and is as far from the orange box as the gap between the top of the orange box and the top of the grey one. There are lots of subtle clues like this when sizing and placing objects, and it’s even possible to set your own guides up if you’re customising a slide master.

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 489 – What’s the time?

{948851C4-1687-40F3-BED7-26DFF997E62F}The subject of time has featured on a few occasions on ToW, but it’s always worth revisiting. After the time-centric ToW 488’s reception on The LinkedIn, it’s always possible a few more people will be reading this week, too.

50 years ago, as the countdown timer clicked zero and the biggest rocket that was ever made (and still is) was fired to the moon, one of the few bits of technology onboard that wasn’t specifically made for the program was the Swiss watch around each astronaut’s wrist.

Despite all the computing power available to them, they used the stopwatch function to time critical parts of their mission. NASA went to some lengths to choose the right watch for the purpose, and when the ill-fated Apollo 13 needed to be guided home, Jack Swigert timed the corrective burn on his Omega Speedmaster.

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Back on earth and presently, on Windows 10, a single-click on the clock in the taskbar will show you the current time in multiple time zones (if you have it set up that way), as well as the date in a calendar that you can move around without worrying the PC’s own date setting. The Calendar app can sync your agenda and display that in the same view, and is a great way of quickly checking future commitments for a given date.

Many people now rely on phones or computers to tell the time, either a casual glance to see if they need to wrap up yet, or to be reminded that some activity needs to be completed. The Alarms & Clock app in Windows is a nice way of looking at the time across the world, of being reminded at a particular time, or just using a countdown timer or stopwatch to time the duration of something.

What is time?

Existentially, time is relative. If you ever find that your Windows PC isn’t keeping time accurately, you may want to check that you have it set to get its time automatically (check Settings -> Time & Language – > Date & time), or go into the old-fashioned Control Panel, search for time and look at the settings in there, especially under the “Internet Time” tab to see where it’s syncing the time from: time.windows.com is probably the default.

Windows Time is also a thing – the number of milliseconds since the machine was started up, and also the name of the service that controls the time synchronisation. Unix time is also a concept, measuring the number of elapsed seconds since 1st January 1970, and may present another millennium bug style problem in 18 years, if anyone is still using 32-bit *nix by then.

Back to simple relativity, though – what is the actual, real “time”? If you have multiple clocks, watches, phones & PCs, it’s a fair bet that they’ll all be divergent, unless they’re all being synchronised by some external device (your broadband router, maybe). If you’d like to find out exactly what the time is and don’t have access to an atomic clock or similar, there are a few online resources that might help…  and you could even try asking Cortana, as she knows about time zones and stuff.

But the best time site is http://time.is. Try it from any device and you’ll get the time right now;  some allowances need to be made for network latency but the operators have tried {A56CDC7A-F0F0-4CBE-B8D5-8611F35C6DC2}their best. It tells you the time in your location (or one of your choice), and calculates the offset between your computer’s clock and the time.is service.

For an illustration of what latency (as ultimately governed by the speed of light) means when accessing nearby vs far away websites, check out www.azurespeed.com, which measures the time to connect to storage services at Azure datacenters. Some variance could be explained by performance spikes and so on, but the main impact is network latency due to distance travelled. The results can sometimes be surprising.

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