557 – Making URLs more friendly

clip_image001The 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 clip_image002address 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:

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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.

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clip_image006If 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.

This useful feature was a preview in the Edge beta, but is now part of Edge 87 that released last week.

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.

530 – Edge profile switching

clip_image002The New Edge Browser is evolving rapidly – if you’re still using Internet Explorer, then ditch it ASAP and move to a modern browser. If you already use the new Chromium-based Edge, it’s worth looking at the Profiles capability, which lets you keep several sets of browser settings. At a basic level, you could have a Work profile and a Personal profile, and keep usernames, passwords, favourites and so on, separate between each.

clip_image004clip_image006There’s a profile photo typically found on the top right of the Edge toolbar, and multiple profiles can be added and managed from there. Or enter edge:settings in the browser’s address bar.

Edge has the ability to sync favourites, passwords, credit cards, collections and other browser data all to other machines with the same profile address – so if you have a home PC and a work laptop, then having a “personal” profile on both could mean that suitable info will roam between the machines, but work specific stuff can be kept on your work profile.

Some capabilities – like syncing history between machines – are “coming soon”.

Lately, some versions of the Edge browser have been updated to sync extensions – like Lastpass, or the OneNote web clipper. Jump to edge://settings/profiles/sync within the browser itself to see the gist.

Having multiple profiles lets you consciously separate home and work stuff, keeping social media, web mail or personal interest stuff in one window, and your boring old Sharepoint sites and PowerBI charts in another. Quickly minimizing your “home” window before sharing your desktop on a Teams call is perhaps the modern equivalent of the Boss Key.

One tricky part is when you go to open a web link – other than from within a browser session itself – then the last window you were using could be the one to launch that site, meaning you might be crossing the streams and opening up work stuff in your personal profile or t’other way round. It’s possible to set a particular profile to be the default, or just let the machine decide.

clip_image008One recent addition in the Beta channel for Edge – soon to hotfoot its way to the release version – is the automatic detection of work sites being opened in “other” profiles.

If you try to open a site that wants to authenticate clip_image010using your work or school account but you’re using a different profile, you’d be offered the chance to switch to the correct one, so you can used cached authentication settings, cookies and the likes.

Automatic profile switching is available in Edge versions 83 and beyond – open edge://settings/help in the browser to see what version you have.

To read more about automatic profile switching, how to enable it and how it works, see here.

526 – Collections in Edge

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As another week draws to a close, in a world which is starting to feel a lot less like a temporary aberration and a lot more like The New Normal, we continue to look for things that distract, entertain (lots of good stuff on Netflixdat’s the fact, jack), educate and give us cause us to think of others. Sadly, we lost TBT and Stirling this week, as well as too many others.

clip_image004But technology marches on, sometimes a bit more slowly than we’d normally expect, and sometimes accelerated – Teams has rolled out the new background effects feature (though not everyone can yet choose a custom image – that’s on its way too, though it’s possible to add your own under the covers – create or find a picture, ideally 1920×1080 pixels, then press Start and enter %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads – drop your pic in there and it’ll show up in the list of backgrounds, right at the bottom).

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Microsoft Partner Hubdrive’s CTO has kicked off a competition on LinkedIn for the most original / amusing – see #TeamsBackgroundCompetition and maybe even join the fun…

clip_image008If you’re using the new Chromium-based Edge browser then you might want to keep separate profiles for your distractions, and for your work.

You may also want to give Collections a try – a feature that was in preview and available for Beta users for a while, has made it into the mainstream release.

Collections allows you to quickly add groups of related sites/pages into a kind-of folder which you can add notes to, quickly open or share, and it also keeps a preview of the page so it’s smarter than just favourites or bookmarks.

Look on the toolbar for the +clip_image010 icon to open up the Collections, and it’s pretty self-explanatory from there.

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If you’re an Office 365 user, check out Edge PMM Eric Van Aelstyn’s post with some good tips on WFH, especially if it’s not on a work computer, including setting up the Enterprise tab (so you get Office 365 content rather than Microsoft News clickbait).

clip_image014Eric also espouses using the default Bing search engine with Edge, as it can generate Microsoft Rewards for you – and with a few clicks you can give the reward points to charity.

US based Bingers can switch to Give mode, but UK users appear to have a different method and only a few target charities, but it’s free money you collect by searching, so you might as well give it away to a good cause. Take a look on your rewards page and you can choose to Shop, Win or Donate – select the latter and see if you like the look of any of the charities listed.

519 – Browser battles revisited

clip_image002The “Browser Wars” happened in the late 1990s, and marked a time of intense, er, “competition” between different web browsers. Since then, Google’s Chrome has rather cleaned up and established a seemingly unassailable lead in browser market share.

Still, Edge’s recent release using the Chromium rendering engine – designed to make it comparable with Chrome from a compatibility point of view, yet allowing Microsoft developers to remove Google-services-specific stuff (and replace them, sometimes, with Microsoft-services-specific stuff, many of which will be checked in to the Chromium open-source project.

The Edge browser built on Chromium was released in January, and updates are flowing through to add more functionality – which, exactly, depending on whether you’re running the normal release or you’re on one of several preview or developer (“canary”) versions. Some features are things that were ideally intended to make it to the public release – like synchronizing extensions installed across multiple PCs.

The Edge update won’t be forced out to existing non-Chromium-Edge users (hello, out there!) – or at least there will be a way of stopping it from being pushed out, if you’re an enterprise IT controller who’d rather not have to manage change and things like that.

One of the benefits of Edge being on Chromium is that the extensions which third parties build for the browser should be compatible – and since Google has 2/3rd of the total market, there are more of them than for other browsers.

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There’s an Edge “addons” page which shows a curated list of extensions known to work well with the new Edge, but if you want, you can install anything that’s listed on the Google site.

If you enable the ability to install Chrome extensions into Edge, then refresh/browse to the Chrome store again, you’ll be met with scary warnings, however…

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Google has started alerting of a security issue – namely, if the extension is somehow added to the Chrome store and subsequently found to be of dubious intent and posing a security risk, then Google can remotely knobble it on installed machines. They are now warning that if you happen to use a Chromium but-not-Chrome browser – like Edge – then they won’t do this. It seems the extension security scare banner isn’t the only one to try to make Edge users install and switch to Chrome.

Tsk, Tsk.

Also, the Edge browsers published for Android and iOS are receiving updates to make them work more seamlessly with desktop Edge. (See more for Android & iOS)

# 513 – Ship ahoy!

clip_image002tl;dr – there’s a new browser out. Go and install it.

Back in the day, Microsoft nerds (yes, there were some, both in and outside of the company) used to take pride in continually referring to products by their code names long after they’d been released, and by using the most Microspeak.

There used to be a browsable Microspeak Glossary on the Microsoft intranet, and various versions of it online, but they now seem to have withered.

The odd phrase still crops up in contemporary usage, and one which shows its age is RTM.

Historically, at a point in a software product’s lifecycle, the team just needs to ship the thing – some would think it’s the completion of the development, but most developers know nothing is ever finished and therefore nothing would ever ship. Instead, it’s some date that’s been decided, and they work backwards from that date to ship whatever they have at that point. In traditional boxed-software sales, that would mean sending the final code off to be turned into floppy discs, CDs, whatever – in other words, release it to manufacturing. RTM in the CD-era often referred to the “gold code”, as it was burned to a (gold-coloured) recordable CD before being sent to the manufacturing process. So RTM also means the final build of code as well as the process to release it.

Since nobody really buys software on physical media anymore, RTM is something of an anachronism. “RTW” was used for a while, meaning “Release to Web” but it’s a clunky phrase, and has disappeared from use – much like Cisco’s attempt to for a while to talk not about “IoT,” but “Internet of Everything” or “IoE”.

Nowadays, products at the end of their development cycle “go GA” – Generally Available. Much easier.

clip_image004This week sees the GA/RTW/etc of the new Edge browser, built on the Chromium rendering engine for maximum compatibility and performance, but extended in a host of ways to arguably make it a better browser than the others out there. It’s available for Windows 7 – even though that’s just gone out of support – and it’s also on Win8x and Mac too. Though technically a different code base, the Edge mobile versions have recently been rebranded and the UI tweaked.

If you currently use Edge – or shudder, still use Internet Explorer – then installing the new Edge will migrate your settings, history, passwords etc, but not any extensions you might have. Fear not, though, for the Chromium engine means you can install extensions from both the Microsoft Store and also the Chrome Store too.

For more on the new Edge, see the tips that are shown as part of the install process, read some opinion pieces on whether world+dog seems to think this is a good thing; here, here, here … and here… and, oh, you get the idea.

Tip o’ the Week 481 – Lost in Translation

clip_image002Bill Gates had a vision of the future, set out in his 1995 tome, “The Road Ahead(and later in “Business @ The Speed of Thought”) which included computers performing seamless speech and handwriting recognition, and language understanding (even to the extent of lip reading). Many of his predictions have come true yet it’s easy to forget what the world was like before the advent of technology we now take for granted.

In the not-too distant future, we may have the ability, babel fish-like, to automatically hear in our own language, regardless of what is spoken. Institutions like the EU have thousands of translators and interpreters, who provide written, spoken and signed interpretation between different languages. There are rigorous checks in place when trying to get work in these areas (though not everywhere), as we all know what can happen when wrong grammar is used, the words are unsuitable, or punctuation is in the incorrect place.

clip_image004Computerised language translation has come a long way, and though it may still a way off replacing real translators, it’s good enough for most people to get the gist of a foreign document or website – so while you might not rely on it to turn a contract from French to English, it’s fine to figure out what’s on a menu or read some instructions.

There are plenty of mobile apps and websites like Bing Translator, and the cloud-powered translation service is built-into Word (just right-click and Translate on any text).

Microsoft Research Asia recently won a competition for the best machine translation between a host of languages, and the growing fidelity of AI models is helping to improve the quality – a year previously, the Chinese-English translation was adjudged to be at human conversation level already, so it might not be too long before machine translation gets good enough that it’s hard to tell the difference between that and humans.

A practical tip for users of the new Chromium-based “Edge Dev” browser; you can enable on-the-fly clip_image006webpage translation by going to edge://flags/, search for trans to find the translation flag, then switch it on and restart the browser. It is an experimental feature, technically, so YMMV for now.

clip_image008Now, when you browse to a foreign-language site, you’ll be prompted if you’d like to translate (or you can invoke the function using the Bing Translator icon to the right of the address in the toolbar).

Legacy Edge users can install the Translator extension.

As they say in translation circles, Yandelvayasna grldenwi stravenka!

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.

Tip o’ the Week 462 – Instagram photos on your PC

clip_image001If you’re an Instagram fan, you’ll no doubt be quite used to posting, browsing, liking and hashtagging everything in sight, using your phone. If you like editing photos on your PC, however, there’s no simple way to upload pics to post as Instagram photos.

Instagram continually toys with their UI and the capabilities of the app – not always to great acclaim – and also offers a browser experience that lets you find and interact with content, but not upload it yourself. Various third parties offer other tools that integrate with Instagram – like the Top Nine meme that celebs were posting, showing their best pics of 2018.

clip_image003The Instagram Windows 10 app does give the option to upload photos by clicking or tapping the + icon in the toolbar along the bottom, but it can occasionally be a bit slow, and it only lets you clip_image005choose photos from your camera roll folder.

The Instagram app sometimes goes a little berserk, too.

There is a technique to use your PC to upload anything to Instagram, though, and it involves fooling the web site into thinking you’re on a mobile device rather than a PC. Start by signing into www.instagram.com using your existing Instagram or FB credentials. You’ll see a particular  UI with no + button in sight.

clip_image007Assuming you’re on Edge browser, press F12 to go into Developer Tools mode (or if you’re using a keyboard that’s a pain to get to function keys, click on the clip_image009ellipsis on the top right to bring up the menu, choose More Tools, Developer Tools).

When you see the Dev Tools pane appear, go to Emulation.

Now choose a device or set a browser profile that will tell the Instagram site that you’re using a phone… even a defunct one (at least while Instagram supports that profile – someday, you may need to tweak the other settings).

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And bingo; click on the ickle + icon on the bottom and you’ll get a regular Windows Explorer file dialog box that can be used to select and upload a photo from anywhere you like.

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clip_image015Chrome domes can do a similar thing, using Developer Tools (menu – More tools – Developer tools, or press CTRL+SHIFT+I) and then toggle a device toolbar that lets you test the page as if it was running on a different device.

Strangely, Windows Phone doesn’t appear as one of the default options, but you can, if you want, add a Nokia 520 back in.

Tip o’ the Week 455 – Pin your PMAs

clip_image002Progressive Web Apps were covered some months ago in ToW 426, and are seen by many as the next generation of mobile apps. They provide a handy way of meeting the needs of a website suitable for mobile browsers as well as a way of delivering an app-like experience to multiple devices of varying sizes, without needing the developers to target specific platforms individually.

Microsoft published a bunch of 3rd party PWA apps directly into the Microsoft Store (eg start with SkyScanner then click on “Microsoft Store” when opened with the Store app itself rather than the web UI), though there haven’t been any new ones for a while.

Google is also throwing its weight behind PWAs – so much so, that version 70 of the Chrome browser has support for PWAs that can be installed to look like a desktop app on Windows, so when the PWA is running it hides the browser UI and is launched from either within Chrome directly, or from the traditional Windows app UI.

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clip_image007When installed, eg https://app.ft.com, via the Chrome browser, the PWA behaves a lot like a desktop app – it can be found by typing its name on the Start menu, and can be quickly pinned to the Start menu or taskbar.

clip_image009That said, Edge browser users can treat pretty much any website in that way – if you browse to a PWA or simple page you like, as well as adding it to favourites/toolbars etc, you can pin it to your taskbar or start menu by going to the settings menu in the top right. Otherwise, when opening PWAs in Edge they look and behave the same as in other ways, though the Edge toolbar remains.

To look for dedicated PWA resources, check out this list, or look here, here or here.

Tip o’ the Week 428 – Spring, April or the Edge of Summer

clip_image002The intent was to release the latest update (“Redstone 4” or “RS4”) to Windows 10 during early April, though a late “blocking bug” delayed the release. The name of the update was late to be officially confirmed, too – it was rumoured to be “Spring Creators Update” (since the Fall Creators Update happened last year, though the “Creators Update” appeared around a year ago, in April 2017)… but was also thought to be simply, “Windows 10 April Update”. The Reg forecast a wait of weeks to be sure.

clip_image004There are lots of small improvements in the update, as well as some biggies like Timeline (which is showing up in other apps, too – like Photos, as seen to the left), and the Edge browser is getting a slug of new functionality – take a sneak peek at some of the Edge goodness, here.

Developers also got a new preview of Edge DevTools, which opens the door to such excitement as remote debugging of another Edge instance. If you’re a hoopy frood, check it out here.

clip_image006It seems that Edge, even though it’s the default browser in Windows 10, doesn’t appear to be everyone’s favourite, with many users installing Chrome as one of their first tasks on a new machine. Both browsers and the respective web services from their creators seem insistent on nagging their end users to switch…

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Still, there are times when the two cooperate behind the scenes. The Edge for Android app, for example, uses the rendering engine from the Chromium project, so is effectively running the same browser capabilities in a different shell which takes care of synchronising your favourites, passwords etc, between the Edge browser on your PC(s) and the one on your phone. Edge for iOS uses the native WebKit engine to achieve the same thing.

There are updates on the way for the mobile versions of Edge, supporting Timeline too – so you could resume activities from your desktop on your phone and vice versa.

Microsoft also recently launched a Defender Extension for Chrome, to provide similar protection to defectors that Edge users get natively from the SmartScreen filter technology (NSS Labs tested Edge, Chrome & Firefox, concluding that Edge blocks more bad stuff than either of the others). Even some surprised Chrome users recommend it.