Over 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:
…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”.
OneNote is, for a lot of fans, the best application that Microsoft makes, especially in an educational setting. About 18 months ago, it was announced that the venerable and extensible (especially if you’re a OneTastic / OneCalendar user) desktop version was being put out to pasture, in favour of the more modern, erm, Modern version.
Office 2019 was no longer going to ship with OneNote – the desktop app was not being developed beyond OneNote 2016, but it would still be freely installable if desired.
Efforts would be focussed on the Modern / Store / “OneNote for Windows 10”, which shares a lineage with the mobile apps; there’s a lot to be said in favour of this strategy, since it would bring the UX of the Windows Store, tablet, phone and web apps into alignment. For regular ToW readers, this has been covered ad nauseam.
Well, blow me down, a brilliant Ignite session from @Ben Hodes only went and wound the clock back (and simultaneously painted it forward)… [Check out Union Jack Man at 42:18 in the video stream if you want a laugh]
OneNote 2016 is getting some CPR, and will be installed by default with clean Office setups again, early in 2020.
Point of clarity – a clean Office2019 / Office 365 install doesn’t currently include OneNote 2016 … but upgrading from an existing Office install that already had OneNote, does. If need be, go to http://aka.ms/installonenote to install OneNote 2016.
Some new features are coming, too – like Dark Mode, @mentions, To Do integration and more. The OneNote for Windows 10 code base is being back-ported to the older Win32 version; in time, the same underlying code will exist, even if there remains two versions of the product. It was previously reported that across the Office suite on Windows, the Win32 codebase will be favoured going forward, even though Modern versions were released for several of the traditional apps. We will have to wait and see.
Of course, lots of functionality exists in common between the two current versions of OneNote, even if the level of detail and the way to invoke and use it is a little different – take Record Audio, for example.
Did you know that if you insert an audio recording into your OneNote page, that any handwritten or typed notes you take while the recording is underway, will be linked to the corresponding place in the audio?
Later, if you click on a block of text or handwriting, you can play back the recording at just that point, or if you just start playing the audio, the notes you took will be highlighted as the playback progresses.
No such function appears to exist in the OneNote for Windows 10 app; maybe that’s a good thing. After all, OneNote 2016 only lets you turn it on after an ominous-sounding warning…
Back 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.
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).
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!
Nudge 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.
There’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.
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.
As detailed in ToW #443, there 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…
Try the following:
Both 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
As 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.
To 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.
The 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 …
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.
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.
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?