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 480 – Installing Apps in New Edge

Whatever you call it – New Edge, Edge Dev, Edgemium, Chromdge etclip_image002[4]c – the new Windows browser called Edge but with its rendering gubbins based on Chromium is making progress with regular updates and has quite a following already.

ToW 476 covered some of the articles that were written when it first came out, but buried within was a slew of interesting features that merit their own mention.

clip_image004[4]Such a capability is being able to install a web page as an App, making it look a lot like a normal Windows app to some degree. In older Edge browser, this was known as pinning a site.

In New Edge, just go to the … menu (top right) on any web page, and under Apps, you can Manage apps and install pages.

clip_image006[4]If the current site is a regular web page, you’ll see “Install this site…” but if the page is itself a Progressive Web App (PWA), like the Starbucks example above, then it will likely declare its name. There are lots of PWAs out there already – see here as an example – some are managed through the Windows Store, but since Google allowed Chrome / Chromium to install PWAs, many are published online and available directly.

Users don’t even need to know what a PWA is, for the most part – if a site looks and feels like an app, then that’s what it is. Some publishers report dramatic improvements in using PWA when compared to more traditional iOS/Android or UWP apps – Tinder, for example, found the PWA was 90% smaller than the regular app.

It seems that when Tindering, size really does matter.

Tip o’ the Week 463 – Photographs, eh (he asked him knowingly)?

clip_image002Nudge Nudge! We’ve all taken photographs and wanted to manipulate them with better tools or on a better screen than presented by our smartphones, haven’t we? Pros might use Photoshop (and some less than Pro too), but for the mere mortals among us, the Photos app for Windows 10 can do a lot of the basics really well.

There are some simple but reasonable tips on getting more out of Photos here, and if you’re still missing Movie Maker, then you could do worse than check out Photos’ ability to edit videos, as discussed here.

clip_image004There’s a recently-released beta extension for Windows which provides support for RAW images (well, some of them)see more here.

If you already use Photos, have you noticed that when using a Modern App to manipulate files (eg inserting a photo into OneNote or Mail), then you’ll see Photos appear as a node in the file chooser dialog?

You get the ability to use some of the Photo app functionality for organising your pics – like using search, viewing by subject or use the Timeline feature to quickly jump to a picture based on the date it was taken.

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In a rare departure from the mantra that modern apps are somehow inferior to proper ones, here’s an example where using a UWP app is demonstrably better than its Win32 counterpart.

See for yourself –  when you’re used to the Photos app functionality and go back to a non-Modern app (like the zombie OneNote 2016 application that’s still a lot more functional in many ways than its UWP sibling), the file dialog box is shorn of Photos addenda and you’re back to grubbing about in the file system to find your files.

Tip o’ the Week 445 – Finding Modern App names

As detailed in ToW #443, clip_image002there are ways of running Modern Windows apps from a script, command line or maybe just from the WindowsKey+R Run prompt – so you don’t need to use the mouse or your finger to activate them.

If you’re looking for the shortcut name for your favourite app, there’s a somewhat lengthy process to find out what it is, but at least you only need to do it once…

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Try the following:

  • Fire up PowerShell (press Start, type powershell then make sure you don’t go for the ISE unless you want to do some script authoring and debugging. In other words, if you don’t know why you would want to run PowerShell ISE, then just stick with PowerShell…)
  • From the PowerShell console, run get-appxpackage > $env:userprofile\apps.txt – this will grab the details of every installed modern app in turn, and pipe all of the text to a file
  • Press WindowsKey+R and run apps.txt to launch the file, and you’ll see an almost impenetrable wall of text (thousands of lines – in Notepad, go to the View menu and enable the Status Bar then press CTRL+END to jump to the very bottom, if you want to see just how many lines…)


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  • clip_image008Now, you might be able to figure out from the Name line in the text, which app the following details pertain to, but it’s not always obvious – take the Mail app, for example … if you have it pinned to the Start menu and then drag/drop it onto your desktop to create a shortcut, you can see the target (which is the same as the PackageFamilyName attribute in the text file) is a bit more opaque… 
  • There are all sorts of ways you could dig around in the file system and/or the registry to find out what the shortcut name is to launch your chosen app, but perhaps the quickest is to copy/paste this text into a PowerShell console and hit enter:

    foreach ($p in $(get-appxpackage)) { foreach ($n in (Get-AppxPackageManifest $p).package.applications.application.extensions.extension.protocol.name) { $p.packagefullname + “`t `t `t -=- ” + $n } }

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  • This will display a list of all the packages and the “protocols” that each can support, in other words the direct commands you can run to invoke them (if you run that command and stick a “:” on the end). Some will be pretty useless, but others can be handy – like onenote-cmd: which launches the Modern OneNote without the annoying prompt you get if you just try onenote:
  • If you want to create a traditional (eg Desktop) shortcut to one of your fave apps, just right-click, New, Shortcut and enter the command, give it a name, and Robert’s your father’s brother.

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  • You could use a variant of this approach to automatically launch Modern apps when Windows itself starts – from WindowsKey+R, enter shell:startup and drop (or create) your shortcut in there.

Tip o’ the Week 426 – You’ve been PWAned

clip_image002Both the Windows/Microsoft Store app marketplace and the kinds of apps it contains have had a number of generations, from phone apps (designed for Windows Phone), through Windows 8’s so-called “Metro” apps, to the later Universal Windows Platform apps ushered in by the Windows 10 platform. The goal of UWPs is to allow a single code-base to run on multiple Windows 10 based environments, such as tablet/PC, phone, HoloLens and Xbox One.

clip_image004The inconvenient truth with the UWP model is that, for most people, apps are used primarily on their phone and on smaller tablet devices. With the demise of Windows Phone, and the tablet market consisting largely of cheap Android tabs, expensive iPads, and Windows “2 in 1” detachables rather than straight-up Windows 10 tablets, there are arguably few compelling reasons for app developers to support UWPs, unless they feel a particular need to also target relatively niche devices like HoloLens, Surface Hub and Xbox.

Devs could turn to an app framework like Xamarin, which would let them support multiple device types and OSes, generating UWP apps alongside their Android and iOS counterparts.

When the vast majority of their addressable market is someone sitting in front of a PC, not a phone, if you’re an app developer who already supports Windows, then it might be easier to wrap your existing PC app using the Desktop Bridge, allowing for distribution through the Store but without needing to completely rewrite the app as a UWP one, as both Spotify and Amazon Music have shown.clip_image006

One tell-tale of an app that’s probably been packaged with the Desktop Bridge, is that if you look at it in the Store, you’ll see that it’s available on PC only.

The latest chapter in the Store story, though, is that of PWAs, or Progressive Web Apps.

In a nutshell, PWAs are web sites built to behave more like dedicated mobile apps, with features like caching, notifications & more, so a mobile version of an existing web site could obviate the need for building an app as well. Developers could build a specific app for the remaining mobile platforms (natively, or with frameworks like Xamarin or – check out this excellent intro – Google’s Flutter), alternatively they just put their efforts into a PWA, which can run on any modern browser, mobile or otherwise. There’s a lot of love for PWAs in some quarters of the mobile developer world.

It’s still a relatively new frontier, but there are already various collections of PWA apps that can be quickly sampled.

clip_image008As highlighted by Windows Central, PWAs are now appearing in the Microsoft Store, potentially giving top tier app developers a way of supporting Windows, even if they haven’t decided to specifically build a dedicated Windows app.

clip_image010To quickly find the list of all Microsoft-published apps, start with Skyscanner, and you’ll see the publisher is “Microsoft Store” itself – scroll down to the Additional information, click on that link and you’ll find the others that have been published at the same time. Or search the web.

Of course, publishers may well choose to proactively put their own apps into the Store, or if they publish PWAs elsewhere, then the best of them may get hoovered up and added to the Microsoft Store on their behalf.

Tip o’ the Week 418 – Preview Apps on Windows 10

clip_image002The Insider Program for Windows 10 is one of the largest public beta program in software development history with over 10m active users. There are various options for how much on the bleeding edge you’d like to be (eg how much pain are you prepared to tolerate, in order to get to play with stuff long before everyone else?) – and the “hit me baby” version, called Skip Ahead, is already now testing the next update to Windows (RS5) that will come after the one that’s due for release in the spring (RS4), which is still in the rest of the test branches. Capiche?

Way down in the text of the latest announcement, there’s mention of a new “App Preview” program which lets the quick & the brave get access to cool but maybe unfinished updates to Apps they like, but maybe aren’t as dependent on, as the stability of the whole operating system.

The first wave of apps that are Preview-enabled, will let more cautious Insiders experience the latest versions of …

  • Feedback Hub
  • Microsoft Photos
  • Microsoft Sticky Notes
  • Viewer
  • Microsoft Tips
  • Paint 3D
  • Windows Alarms & Clock
  • Windows Voice Recorder
  • Windows Calculator
  • Windows Camera
  • Windows Mixed Reality

clip_image004… by opting in, through going into the Settings within the appropriate app and choosing to join the fun. The app will update in the background, and may change the app title & version number…

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There are regular updates to the core apps for every Windows user, not running an Insider build. If you’d like to check, just go into the Store, activate the “…” ellipsis on the top right, and choose Downloads and updates, and review the list to see what apps have been updated and when, or hit “Get updates” to check for published updates to other apps.

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The Photos app has a new opt-in feature, in conjunction with a test app that is designed to make it easy to share Photos from a phone to a PC; even if you’re not running an Insider build, you can turn on the mobile import…

The “Photos Companion” test app makes a point-to-point connection between phone & PC (ie they need to both be on the same network), and by going to the Import menu within the PC Photo app, a QR code will be displayed on-screen.

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clip_image010Start the app on your phone, point at the QR code and you’ll quickly be able to send the selected photos from phone to PC.

Of course, you could use OneDrive on your mobile device to automatically sync photos to a Camera Roll folder in your cloud storage location; it has a bit of latency, usually, so you might find it takes a few minutes before the photo you’ve just taken has uploaded and is ready to be accessed or shared.

The Import over WiFi feature is handy to share right away, or to share with PCs that aren’t set up with your OneDrive, such as a friend’s PC, or if you’re working on a project where you want to collect photos from a group of people in a short space of time – maybe doing a collaborative video or something similar?