Tip o’ the Week 486 – Cloud Storage Bonanza

clip_image002Microsoft’s OneDrive end-user cloud storage system was in the news this week, as plans were unveiled to allow people to buy more storage space than was previously available. The tl;dr version of this is that in addition to your free 5GB of storage when you sign up for OneDrive, you can opt in to buy an additional block of 50GB for $1.99 a month. Now, you’ll get 100GB for the same amount, and Office 365 users will soon be able to buy even more.

clip_image003If you visit the OneDrive.com site and sign in, you’ll see the total space being used in the lower left, and have the option of upgrading your service – but it’s pretty clear that Microsoft doesn’t want you to buy OneDrive storage on its own… in a Tarrantesque “We don’t want to give you that!” move, you’d need to click through

several “are you sure you don’t want Office 365 instead?” type dialogs.

The best way to get clip_image005additional OneDrive storage is indeed to get Office 365 Personal, if you only need one account – and for your $70 / £60 per year, you get 1TB of storage plus all the additional awesomeness of Office 365 for your home delight.

An even better solution would be to fork out an extra $30 / £20 per annum to get up to 6 accounts; even if you don’t plan on sharing O365 with your extended family, you could set up separate accounts for different purposes – eg if you want to backup all your movie files from a home NAS, that could be a separate login to your primary one, or if you store RAW format images you could keep them in one OneDrive login while enjoying your processed photos in your regular account.

If you really need more than 1TB per login, Office 365 will soon let you buy addon storage, so for $2 per month more, you can add storage in 200GB blocks, all the way up to an additional 1TB for an extra $9.99 per month.

Online commenters have already pointed out that you could buy 2TB of storage outright from Google for $10/month without first needing to have an Office 365 subscription, but let’s get distracted by that.

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 460 – AI, AI, Oh…

clip_image002Artificial Intelligence has been dreamt of for decades, where machines will be as smart – or maybe smarter – than humans. AI in popular consciousness is not just a rubbish film, but if you’re a brainless tabloid journalist, then it means Siri and Alexa (assuming you have connectivity, obvs … and hope there’s no Human Stupidity that forgot to renew a certificate or anything), and AI is also about the robots that are coming to kill us all.

Of course, many of us know AI as a term used to refer to a host of related technologies, such as speech and natural language recognition, visual identification and machine learning. For a great example on practical and potentially revolutionary uses of AI, see Dr Chris Bishop’s talk at Future Decoded 2018 – watch day 1 highlights starting from 1:39, or jump to 1:50 for the example of the company using machine learning to make some world-changing medical advances.

clip_image004Back in the mundane world for most of us, AI technologies are getting more visible and everyday useful – like in OneDrive, where many improvements including various AI investments are starting to show up.

One simple example is image searching – if you upload photos to consumer OneDrive (directly from your phone perhaps), the OneDrive service will now scan images for text that can be recognized… so if you took a photo of a receipt for expenses, OneDrive might be able to find it if you can remember what kind of food it was.

clip_image006There’s also a neat capability where OneDrive will try to tag your photos automatically – just go into www.onedrive.com and look under Photos, where you’ll see grid of thumbnails of your pictures arranged by date, but also the ability to summarise by album, by place (from the geo-location of your camera phone) clip_image008or by Tag. You can edit and add your own, but it’s an interesting start to see what the visual search technology has decided your photos are about… not always 100% accurately, admittedly…

More AI goodness is to come to Office 365 and OneDrive users in the near future – automatically transcribing content from videos stored online (using the same technology from the Azure Video Indexer and Microsoft Stream), to real-time PowerPoint captions. Watch this space… and mind the robots.

Tip o’ the Week 365 – Throttling applications’ network perf

clip_image002If you ever wonder why your home network is apparently bogging down, the blame may not be just down to your broadband provider. As we increasingly use multiple devices on the home network, any one of them may be causing issues for all the others.

If you’re using an ADSL connection, the Asymmetric nature means that preference is given to data download, with only a portion of the available bandwidth allocated to uploads, since most people are browsing, streaming and downloading files more than they are serving data or putting things into the cloud.

One of the downsides to ADSL is that when you do need to upload a lot of data, it has the side effect of hammering the download speeds too. It’s even worse if something you don’t especially care about is killing your download speed through unexpected uploads, or you need to use something that requires decent upload speeds – like a Skype call or an Xbox Live session – and you get poor performance because something else is hogging your bandwidth.

clip_image004OneDrive is a bit of a culprit – in an experiment, the Network Speed Test app was used in normal run of things, and saw ~18Mbps download and .77Mbps upload, which is fairly healthy.

clip_image006Starting a big upload by dropping a video file into the OneDrive folder on the PC, and allowing the sync process to get going (verified by the icon in the system tray changing to show a couple of sync arrows, and the pop up balloon saying what’s happening), and things changed radically; a paltry 600Kbps download and just 150Kbps upload speed. A tell-tale is the network delay – or latency – which rose from <50ms to >700ms, which will make anything that needs real-time communications very difficult.

clip_image008If you think your network performance is terrible, start by looking in Task Manager – CTRL+SHIFT+ESC – and if you think the Send vs Receive stats in the network performance tab is a bit skewed, then click the Resource Monitor link at the bottom of the window… and look at the Send / Receive columns under Network, to see which application is causing the trouble…

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clip_image012Fortunately, the OneDrive app has the option of imposing upload limits; look in the system tray for the OneDrive icon(s), and right-click then choose Settings. Note that you might have separate OneDrive personal and OneDrive business icons; they can be tuned separately.

Under the Network tab, you can put a value in for KB/sec (that’s Kilo-bytes per sec, rather than the Mega-bits or Kilo-bits per second of the bandwidth measurements above – remembering, of course, that 1 Byte = 8 bits, so 1KB = 8Kb), which will throttle the upload speed used by OneDrive sync. Hover over the OneDrive icon to see the

The “Adjust automatically” option sounds hopeful, but still appears to favour upload speed over download requirements, though there may be more long-term monitoring going on. If you’ve identified OneDrive sync as the culprit to your poor performance, you can also pause it for a period of time – handy if you’re on conference calls with Skype and you want to give all of your bandwidth over to that.

Still, back to the experiment: after setting the limit to 25KBps as above, there’s still plenty of uploading, but not as bad an impact on the downloads…

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Tip o’ the Week #294 – OneDrive sharing & syncing

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OneDrive – the consumer-oriented file-sharing service, www.onedrive.com – has added a nice new feature which replicates functionality that used to be possible with other Microsoft file syncing technologies in days gone by, and is a key part of other services like DropBox.

It’s been possible to share folders with people for a long time on OneDrive, or even share individual documents (handy for when you want to make a presentation available to a customer or a conference organizer, for example, and don’t fancy emailing them a 30Mb file), but it’s just been stepped up a gear by allowing people with whom you share your stuff, to synchronise that content onto their own PC.

To get started, put your content into OneDrive either directly from the web UI, by using the OneDrive app or by clip_image003using the built-in OneDrive client in Windows 10 (look for the white cloud in your system tray, if you’ve set up your Microsoft Account within Windows 10).

Windows 8 can have the OneDrive client installed, and there’s one built-in to Windows 8.1, but, as yet, it appears not to support this sharing functionality – the line is, “Windows 8.1 users, upgrade for free to Windows 10…”

clip_image005You can also see what other people have shared with you by looking here, or by going to the OneDrive homepage and clicking on the Shared section on the left. You’ll see all the stuff that’s been shared with you previously, and can selectively decide not to show some folders in future – or in the case of content that you’ve been given the ability to add to or edit, you’ll be able to sync those folders to your local PC too.

If you view such a shared folder in OneDrive (via the link that’s emailed to you when your friend clip_image007sends the sharing email, for example), it will take you straight into that list of shared content, and (again, if you have Edit rights), will give you the option of adding that folder to your own OneDrive. As well as appearing in your Shared list, the folder will now show up in the regular list of folders you see when you look in OneDrive, even though it doesn’t belong to you.

If you’d like to sync that content for offline consumption on your own machine, then users of Windows 10 can right-click on the OneDrive client icon in your taskbar and choose Settings, then clip_image008Choose Folders, you’ll see the newly-shared folder appear in the list of folder available to sync, just as if it belongs to your own OneDrive storage. Check the box next to the new content to keep a synchronised copy along with your own OneDrive content. Looking at the shared, synced files in Windows Explorer, you won’t be able to see who originally posted the file into the folder, but if you view it in the browser, then it’s possible to see that info.

You might want to think about this when setting up shared folders with lots of contributors – collecting photos from a stag do or a company event, for example, it may be best to ask each contributor to create their own folder so it’s easier to see who’s responsible for the pictures, and to stop them inadvertently mucking around with each other’s

Tip o’ the Week #284 – Music on OneDrive

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Did you know you can now put music on your OneDrive, and stream it to the Xbox music app on your phone, your PC, the web or even your Xbox Console?

You don’t need an Xbox Music Pass to do it, either – though in time, you may find that having both XMP and music on OneDrive is a good thing, especially if music-playing hardware that supports them both is available.

Uploading loads of uploads

The trick is to basically copy or even move all your music to your OneDrive storage – you may need to get some more of that. It can be a bit challenging doing the actual upload, though – what if you’ve got 500Gb of music ripped from your CD collection at home? Try uploading that little lot over your domestic ADSL and you might well break the internet as far as your family is concerned.

Upload speeds on a lot of broadband connections are pretty poor, you see. The A in ADSL stands for Asynchronous, meaning it’s very much not 50:50 up and down. Doing online backup and/or bulk upload of loads of files could take a looooong time, and whilst you’re maxing out the upload bit of clip_image003the link, the download bit will be getting very constrained too – so you could see your overall network performance drop dramatically. Take a look using the Network Speed Test app (for Windows, for Windows Phone) to see the latency (otherwise known as network delay or sometimes PING time – anything into 3 figures is basically bad news), upload and download rates that are available – during heavy usage periods, it’ll seem like your network is performing poorly.

Managing music & OneDrive together

One trick to making sure your music is synced properly, is to put music folder into your OneDrive cache. If you have the OneDrive app installed on your PC, you’ll have a location that is set to sync the OneDrive storage from the cloud onto your machine. If you move your Music folder to be a subdirectory of your OneDrive location, then your PC will sync all that music up into OneDrive for you, and yet it will still show up as local choonz library for playback on your PC, if you tell it so (find Music library in Windows explorer, right-click and you can Move from there).

The downside? It might take weeks to actually copy your music to the cloud and you may not want to nail your broadband to the ground in the meantime. A solution is at hand, however – take your PC into the office and use the network there set up a schedule so your home machine starts OneDrive at times when nobody is using the network, and can kill it off when you might want to.

clip_image005clip_image007Depending on your version of Windows, the specifics may vary a little, but they generally start by looking for the Task Scheduler in control panel – something that’s existed since the very earliest days of Windows NT, though used to be a command-line only thing. Now with Task Scheduler, you can create jobs that do something on your machine according to a load of conditions – running at user logon, or at a time but only if someone’s logged in, if it’s been idle for a while etc.

It’s a snap to create a task that will start up OneDrive on a timed basis clip_image009– just create a new task, tell it when you want it to fire (midnight, when everyone’s gone to bed, and 9am, when everyone’s left the house could be good times?) and set the action to run.

Now, rather than running the OneDrive app directly, you might want to create a little command file that can do some other goodies too – try running (WindowsKey+R) notepad %userprofile%\start.cmd to create a new start command, and paste the following into it (and save it when you’ve done that):

 

echo Started OneDrive %date% %time% >> %userprofile%\onedrive.log

%userprofile%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\OneDrive\OneDrive.exe

… and, while you’re at it, create a similar stop.cmd file with:

echo Stopping OneDrive %date% %time% >> %userprofile%\onedrive.log

taskkill /IM onedrive.exe 2>> %userprofile%\onedrive.log

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Now, schedule the start.cmd to run at the times you like, and stop.cmd to do the same – eg if start is midnight and 9am, maybe stop should be 7am and 6pm. Both will write a line to a log file to say what date/time they ran.

clip_image013clip_image015Assuming it’s running at the time, you should be able to see the OneDrive icon in the Windows taskbar, and if it’s busy uploading you’ll see just how it’s getting on by clicking on the icon.

If you find your network is taking a hammering and you need all the bandwidth you can get for a Skype call, right-click on the icon, choose Exit and then click on the Close OneDrive button. This will stop all syncing of OneDrive content until either you manually start the program again, or until the next scheduled time kicks in.

Tip o’ the Week #276 – Reduce massive PowerPoint files

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clip_image004Windows Explorer has a search function which can filter found files, based on some attribute or other – so you return files that are only of a particular type or age, or maybe of a specific size. The problem is, the understanding of what is a big file has changed over the years.

In the days of the floppy disk, any file larger than 1Mb was a bit unwieldy. When server hard disks cost £1,000 per Gb, then file servers would impose quotas of maybe a few 10s of Mbs per user.

But now, with storage so cheap (e.g. a 4Tb hard drive is a little over £100, Azure storage is a few pennies per Gb/month, and OneDrive seemingly can’t wait to give it away) it’s easy to become blasé about very large files.clip_image006

One particular culprit in the generation of unnecessarily mahoosive files is PowerPoint. With the ease of inserting graphics and video, especially, it’s not hard to get files well into double figures of megabytes, which can be problematic to email and take ages to open. There are a few tips that can help you keep the size a little more trim.

clip_image008Delete stuff you don’t need

Well, duh. Obviously, deleting stuff can make a big difference to the file size: before distributing a deck, maybe dump the hidden slides and the many appendix slides unless you feel they might be a useful reference…

It’s sometimes not as easy as ditching slides you don’t need, however – the template you’re using might have a lot of imagery that’s unnecessary in it, so it may be worth cleaning up a little.

Go into the View tab, look under Slide Master and you’ll be able to see the slide templates that define the look and the layout of new slides. It’s not uncommon to find hundreds of these, though in most cases they’re not a cause for concern – unless they have lots of images embedded.

This is particularly the case when an elaborate slide deck is produced for a conference, and people start using that template as the basis for their own presentations, because it’s got a really nice background or whatever – not realizing that the template might have 10Mb of grinning stooges holding long-obsolete mobile devices and conference logos from years gone by. If you don’t use the graphics slides, feel free to delete them from the master, then Close Master View to go back the regular deck. (Might be an idea to save a copy of the deck first, just in case you muck it up…)

Look within

The PPTX file format that has been used by PowerPoint since 2007 is part of the Open XML file formats – the idea being that instead of a proprietary binary file, the artefacts and contents within the file are described using XML according to a published format, so other applications could re-use the files. In order to achieve this and not end up with huge file bloat (XML not being well known for its brevity), the whole shebang is compressed.

What you may not know is that all of the Open XML formats use the same compression as ZIP files, and if you rename the .PPTX extension to .ZIP, you’ll be able to see inside it.

clip_image010Navigate to your file location, and make sure can see the file extensions – go to the View tab in Explorer and tick the File name extensions box if you can’t see them.  Make a copy of the PPTX file you want to work on, select it and right-click to Rename (or just press F2). Now overtype the .pptx bit at the end with .zip, and agree to the dire warning that the Earth might stop turning if you continue.

Now open the ZIP file up and look in a couple of places to see what is likely to be making it huge – ppt\media and ppt\embeddings are a couple of notable sources (the clip_image012former when you’ve maybe got a video or just lots of high-res pictures embedded, and the latter is a common source of embedded XLS files which might be unnecessary… ie. Maybe you could get away with a simple copy of relevant data, rather than the whole file?). Maybe the best way to slim down the file is to open the un-renamed one in PowerPoint, then navigate to the place where the huge content was and resize, compress or replace it.

Compress pictures

A very simple way of cutting the size of large files without digging around in their innards might clip_image014be just to compress pictures – you can get to that from the Format tab when you have a picture selected, and clip_image016individually reduce the size and resolution of each image.

Alternatively, when it’s time to save your work, use Save As and under the Tools drop down in the lower right of the dialog, you can invoke the same function, but which applies clip_image018to every image in the deck.

Choose the appropriate resolution – Screen is probably a good one for PPT, though the same picture compression functionality is also available in Word and Outlook, so if you’re pasting images into an email then resizing them, it’s an idea to compress them and you can get away with an even lower resolution there.

Tip o’ the Week #269 – Clip to OneNote, once more

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Time moves on. Things that are news soon turn into things in history: 20 years ago, Microsoft Bob came into the world. Bob was ahead of its time in some ways, foretelling some UI principles and ideas that later became more refined. It also indirectly gave us Comic Sans, too (though the font never shipped with the software – it was too late).

clip_image003Bob featured an animated mutt, the precursor to Clippy, aka the greatly-maligned Office Assistant.

Recalling Clippy, ToW has covered a few clip-related topics before, notably #219 (almost a year ago), which included a section on a new tweak that could grab web pages into OneNote notebooks.

clip_image004Well, the OneNote Clipper v2.0 has just been released, and is much-updated – the point being that you can easily add a “Clip to OneNote” button to your browser (drop into desktop IE or Firefox, addin to Chrome).

Use the shortcut to quickly clip whole pages or, new in this version, sections of web pages, to a location in your OneDrive storage – offering the choice of the multiple OneNote notebooks that you may have saved there.

You can clip “products” too – handy as you do shopping or browsing and want to remember what you’ve been clip_image005looking at.

It also recognises recipes as a specific content type, so you don’t need to snap all the clutter that might be on the web page, instead only grabbing the detailed instructions.

This is a great bit of non-work productivity software that really showcases the power of OneNote and OneDrive. Installation is a breeze, over at http://www.onenote.com/clipper.

Tip o’ the Week #267 – Synchronising Outlook Signatures again

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Hot on the heels of last week’s missive about how to snaffle more storage space, once again we turn to OneDrive to solve a problem. First, let’s journey back in time to recall some previous tools.

Once, there was a peer-2-peer (P2P) file sychronisation product called FolderShare which was acquired by Microsoft nearly a decade ago; it allowed files and folders to be replicated amongst multiple machines, essentially for backup or for making sure you had your stuff (music, pictures etc) everywhere you needed it.

FolderShare begat Mesh or Windows Live Mesh, which became Windows Live Sync and eventually all became part of SkyDrive, as the latter became less of a simple place-to-put-stuff-in-the-sky/cloud and more of a storage mechanism with a means to sync and replicate it onto multiple places. Now OneDrive is part of Windows, and as well as giving away oodles of online disk space, it’s the mechanism by which Windows 8 and 10 users can synchronise settings between computers. It’s getting better and more granular all the time, too.

One of the nice features of Live Mesh/Sync was the ability to automatically keep several settings on multiple PCs in sync with each other – like IE favourites, or settings from Office like dictionaries, templates and email signatures. Though it’s now obsolete, this was first covered in ToW #69, back in 2011. Email .sigs used to be a big deal.

Windows manages to do a good job of keeping PC-specific settings in sync between machines, or even just backing up settings from one machine to the cloud using OneDrive – so once you’ve signed in to your shiny new machine with your MSA, then it’s quite amazing how much of your stuff just appears. But one thing that doesn’t is your Outlook email signature. If you want to back up your .sig and also make it/them available on multiple PCs, you need to work a bit harder.

The Dark Art of Symbolic Links

Worry not, however. Through a cunning bit of sleight of hand, it’s possible to fool dusty old Outlook into thinking that its Signatures folder is stored in the usual place, however we all know it can be moved into OneDrive and therefore made available to multiple machines. This is similar to the technique of replicating Desktop which was covered a little while back, except that instead of changing a registry setting to tell Windows where the folder is, we need to create a special kind of folder, which is really just a redirection to somewhere else.

Here’s the method – it’s best to close Outlook while doing this.

  • Find your current Signatures location – try pressing WindowsKey + R then paste into the run box, %appdata%\Microsoft (which opens the special location that many applications will use to store files that clip_image003pertain to how they work).

  • Then look for the Signatures folder – select it, copy it and paste into your OneDrive folder (in Explorer; paste it into the OneDrive\Documents folder, for example).

  • … rename the original Signatures folder to something like Signatures.old

  • clip_image005Now, we need to create a Symbolic Link to make something that looks like a folder at the same location, but points elsewhere – start an elevated command prompt (on Windows 8 or 10, press WindowsKey-X then press A to start an admin command prompt).

  • Now create the symbolic link by entering the following as one line into the command window:
    mklink /d %appdata%\Microsoft\Signatures %userprofile%\OneDrive\Documents\Signatures
    (if you know your OneDrive folder is in a different place, then substitute the 2nd parameter for whatever is appropriate – maybe D:\OneDrive\Documents\Signatures, for example)

  • If you now go back to the %appdata%\microsoft location from the 1st step, you’ll see the Signatures folder clip_image006with a special icon showing that it represents a link rather than a real folder. Open it to check that your signature files – as stored in the OneDrive folder from earlier – are showing up in there as expected. Feel free to close the command window.

  • Now, on each other PC you want to synchronise with, go back to the first instruction and repeat, except that you don’t need to do the “copy to OneDrive bit” since your Signatures folder is already there – in other words, you create the Symbolic Link to the local replica of the OneDrive folder, and Outlook will think that the data is in its own appdata location.

  • Don’t worry if you get to the 2nd step on a destination PC and realise the Signatures folder doesn’t exist – it’s only created when you first set up a .sig

Tip o’ the Week #266 – OneDrive – getting more storage

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OneDrive has been quietly expanding its functionality over the last while, increasingly echoing the UI of Office365 (with the numerous apps shown as tiles on the upper left of clip_image003the screen).

As well as offering a tier of free storage (recently upped to 15Gb), it’s possible to buy additional space for your stuff – from a modest $2/month for an additional 100Gb, to a frankly bonkers offer if you sign up for Office365 Home at $10/month, with copies of Office for up to 5 users, 60 minutes of Skype calls per user, 1Tb of storage each and a bunch more. See here for info.

In the meantime, however, OneDrive has also been falling over itself to give users additional storage in exchange for doing something. (Check out your own storage quota and options here). You could refer your friends (get up to 5Gb free), if you set up your phone to back up photos, you’ll get another 15Gb for nada – plenty of storage for all those photographs you like to take on your handset.

Bing Rewards members can get a whopping 100Gb (cor!) just for signing up. Hint: if you are in a country that gets an error saying “This feature isn't available yet in your country or region” when you try to sign up, you might want to try clicking on the settings cog clip_image005in the top right of that very page. If you happened to temporarily set your Worldwide region to be US – English, then you may have better luck. Just an idea.

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If you happen to use DropBox (Win8 app here, WinPhone app here), or more correctly if you happen to have a Dropbox account that you know the logon details of, then you could try visiting here to claim a special 100Gb annual bonus for DropBox users.

All you need to do is sign in and have the web page be able to save a doc to your DropBox account, and you’ll get another 100Gb free OneDrive for a year. Boom!

What to do with all this massive amount of storage? Well, phone pictures might take up lots of space, but what about storing your music on there so you can access from anywhere? Now, wouldn’t that be cool?