For a long time, storage was relatively expensive so it was a good idea to spend time and money reducing the amount you would needed to use. In 1990, PC hard disks would cost about $0.20 per megabyte, and capacity would be in the 2-3 figure MB range. So, compression software could be used to delay the day you’d need to buy a bigger disk, even if there was a slight impact on performance (through decompressing and re-compressing data while reading from and writing to the disk).
As storage got cheaper, the tendency to just keep old data gained prevalence, though some systems imposed limits due to the relative complexity and expense of managing their data, providing resiliency and backup services.
Corporate email quotas were measured in Megabytes, and tools like the Outlook Thread Compressor helped people reduce the amount of space their mail took up. In time, people used it to simply reduce the number of messages they needed to read, rather than worrying about the space they’d save – and it inspired the Clean Up Folder function in Outlook today.
When Google launched Gmail in 2004 with a staggering mailbox limit of 1GB – 500 times that which was offered by Hotmail – the rules on what was expected for email quotas were re-written, with an expectation that you would never need to delete anything, and could use search to find content within.
Leaving aside corporate policy on data retention, keeping piles of stuff indefinitely causes its own set of problems. How do you know which is the right version? Can you be sure that you have copies of everything you might need, in case the data is lost or damaged? If you have a backup, do you know that it’s a full copy of everything, and not a partial archive? Having multiple copies of the same content can be a headache too, if you’re not sure which is the true original and which might be later copies or partial backups.
Applications might create their own duplicate content – perhaps through bugs, or through user activity. There was a time when syncing content to your phone or to another machine might risk duplication of everything – like having multiple copies of contacts in Outlook, for example. A variety of hacky resource kit utilities were created to help clean up mailboxes of duplicate contacts, appointments etc; you might want to check out a more modern variant if you’re worried that your mailbox is cluttered up.
The curse of duplication can be a problem at home, too, especially when it comes to photographs. Have you ever taken a memory card from a camera, or a backup of an old phone, and copied the whole lot just to be sure you have everything?
Cleaning up the dupes can help make sense of what remains. You could spend money on proper photo archiving and management tools like Adobe Lightroom, or you could roll your own methodology using a mixture of free and low-cost tools – tech pundit Paul Thurrott recently wrote about his approach.
There are many duplicate-removing tools out there – just be sure you’re getting them from a reliable place, free from adware and other nasties. Be wary of anything that purports to “clean” your PC (registry cleaners etc), watch out when accepting T&Cs and don’t allow the setup routine to install any other guff you don’t need. Make sure you have the right protection on your machine, too.
One recommended tool is Duplicate Sweeper – free to try but a princely £15 to buy, but worth the peace of mind that comes with a tidy photo library or Documents folder.
If you’re an iPhone user, the connected experience is somewhat watered-down and achieved in a different way, and is mostly about syncing content and continuing web browsing from your phone to your PC. Thank the differences in Android vs iOS ecosystems for that…
For various Samsung phones and the Surface Duo, you can also control and mirror apps from your phone on the PC as well as transfer content. If you have a phone with the shiniest of shiny Android 11, you may be able to treat mobile apps just as if they are Windows apps – pin them to Start menu, run them in their own window on the PC etc. See more here.
For most other Android devices, you can’t yet do the mirroring within the Your Phone experience, but you do get to share app notifications on your PC (so you’ll get “toasts” in Windows for WhatsApp etc), exchange photos and files quickly and easily, manage messaging and even, should you want to, take and make calls on your PC.
To get it up and running, start the Your Phone app on your PC, and the pre-installed Link To Windows app if you have a supported Samsung or Surface device; if not, then install the Your Phone companion app on the phone to get everything set up.
It can be handy getting notifications on your PC that originate on phone apps, especially if your device isn’t next to you – but there may be limited use if all the notification on the phone would normally do is make you tap on it to read the story or interact with the app.
If you’re going to enable notifications, be careful – you’ll want to go through the list of apps that are on your phone, and only allow the ones you really need, or you’ll be getting a blizzard of unwanted toasts on your PC, assuming you’re not in Focus Assist mode.
Perhaps the best feature on Your Phone is the rapid ability to copy photos – without having to send them by email or wait for OneDrive to sync them. Using Your Phone, you can copy the file immediately to your PC, or just browse the photos on a larger screen and possibly screen grab bits of interest to insert into documents or emails. Sadly, what it won’t let you do is manage the photos easily, like delete the garbage…
Still, it’s free and it’s potentially useful for anyone with a Windows 10 PC and an Android phone – so definitely worth a look. For more info on how to use and troubleshoot Your Phone, see here.
As 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.
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.
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.
If 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.
The 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 choose 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.
Assuming 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 ellipsis 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).
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.
Chrome 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.
Artificial 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.
Back 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.
There’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) or 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.