Twice a year, it seems, there’s a ToW article (passim) about the shocking time zone change that is about to hit us. Or may have already – some parts of Australia (NSW) have just moved into summer time while neighbouring areas (QLD) stayed on year-round time. Much of Europe is about to head back into winter time on the last day of October. One week later, most of the US will return to standard time, meaning that the US and Europe will be one hour closer for those 7 days. Arizona will revert to having a single time zone for the whole state.
Many Windows 10 users may have escaped knowing about the app known as Alarms & Clock, and the groovy World Clock which shows a map with pinned locations of your choice, detailing the current time in each.
The cartographically obsessed may note that when compressed into a small window, the exact locations of some pins might look awry, but expand it properly and they’ll move around as you would expect. In the example above, London looks to be in Bordeaux, Budapest has swapped with Bangui while NYC has inexplicably relocated to eastern Peru.
Especially useful when figuring out relativity of time zones and future dates, is the Compare feature which lets you see what the time will be at a chosen point for each of your pinned cities, on a particular date. Take for example, Monday 1st November, when in the space of one month, Sydney has moved two hours further away from London, yet the Atlantic is temporarily one hour shorter.
Well, the Clock app, as it’s now known – even though it doesn’t actually feature a clock per se, but let’s not split hairs – has been given a UI polish as part of Windows 11, and one additional new feature pane – Focus Sessions. It was shared with Windows Insiders a couple of months back, but is now mainstream for Windows 11 users.
Long-time ToW readers may recall an internal-to-Microsoft app called FocusTime, which let the user run a timer to focus on a given task, while putting Outlook into Offline mode so you didn’t get any new emails, and setting Office Communicator/Lync status to Do Not Disturb so you didn’t get annoying IMs. Well, Focus Sessions in Clock is doing a similar job though without (yet, at least) the integration to Outlook and Teams.
As well as tracking the number of Focus Sessions you have, the app can also let you create and pin tasks with Microsoft To-Do to achieve at a later focus time. One slight grind at the moment is that the app only allows you to sign in with a Microsoft Account, not your
The Focus Sessions feature is newly released and the team behind it is looking into how to integrate with other tools and services, such as the Focus Assist feature in Windows (which quietens notifications, formerly known as Quiet Hours). If you’d like to see improvements or new features in the Focus Sessions section of the Clock App, make sure you go to the Feedback Hub and either upvote existing suggestions or add your own (instructions here). For some more tips on using Focus Sessions, see here.
Just in time for the holiday season and for the ranges of updated PC kit that’s coming, Windows 11 is nearly here – ETA October 5th 2021.
In December 2009, when ToW was only #1 (it took a year before the internal-to-Microsoft emails were published to the web, and years after that before www.tipoweek.com arrived), Windows 7 was only 6 months old, having replaced the Windows Vista predecessor which everybody loved so much (for some great insights into what happened during the dev cycle of Vista, see here and here).
Windows 7 was the bomb, then Windows 8 came along and failed to set the world on fire to quite the expected extent. Windows 8.1 fixed a lot of the complaints and generally speaking, all was good. Windows 10 came out 6 years after Windows 7 and for some was its true natural successor, and since mid-2015 it’s been very widely deployed, even if the mobile ambitions were less than realised.
For a while it was thought there would be no new releases of Windows, just incremental updates (Windows as a Service if you like), but we are now on the cusp of the next big milestone – Windows 11.
There’s a lot to like about the major update from Windows 10, such as its refreshed UI, easier window management (especially if you have multiple monitors), improved security and streamlined performance to take better advantage of modern hardware, like the new range of Surface products which will ship with Windows 11.
Existing users will get the upgrade free of charge after October 5th, either by kicking it off proactively or by waiting for Windows Update to offer it.
If you feel like a weekend project and want to upgrade a home PC to Windows 11, there are ways to grab it sooner than 5th October – join the Windows Insiders program if you’re not already in (it’s free – just go to Settings / Windows Update and you’ll see an Insiders option), and you can choose to receive the Beta preview, and download it from Windows Update.
If you’d like to manage the upgrade a bit more (or do a clean install), you can grab the Beta Channel ISO file and run the update from there. The current Beta version (stay away from Dev Channel unless you really know your onions) will be very near to the version that’s released (if not actually the same in everything but name), so going Beta now will get you on the ladder to receive the final bits very soon.
There are some downsides, though – creaking old PCs may not be compatible – find out if yours is, by running the Health Check app.
The specs required to run Windows 11 were somewhat controversial when announced – only modern processors are supported, even though an older but powerful PC with beefy CPUs and lots of memory would normally be considered fine.
Trusted Platform Module 2.0 is also a requirement, as part of the base security platform: generally speaking, A Good Thing and not an issue for modern laptops. Older desktops – especially home-built ones – are less likely to have a TPM chip on board, and if there is, it’s probably not enabled by default.
Some features are still waiting to be delivered; the unveiling in June showcased the new Microsoft Store, and that would include Android apps which could be used in emulation on the PC – that’s still “coming soon”, along with a number of in-the-box app updates (like Paint, Photos, Mail & Calendar and more) which will arrive “later”.
If you want to get your hackles up on everything that’s wrong, check out Windows Weekly. It’s a fair accusation that the primary driver for Windows 11 is to add some juice to the PC market by encouraging people to buy new machines rather than keep upgrading old ones; but if your existing computer will run Windows 11, it’s a great looking and functionally improved update.
There was a time when visiting a website gave you a 1/10 chance of being offered a user survey, asking why you’re visiting today and how you feel about the company. Presumably, response rates were low enough that such surveys are largely replaced with annoying cookies and tracker software so the company can see what you’re doing without needing to ask you why.
Surveys in email can be a lot more useful, though, when trying to garner feedback about a particular topic. Outlook has had Voting Buttons since it first appeared in Office 97. They provide a simple way of asking a single question and getting recipients of the email to respond so that the sender can see what the votes cast are. You can take the defaults or add your own custom options, separated by semicolons.
Recipients get prompted in Outlook and can vote with a single click, rather than having to type a response, and the sender can see a Tracking tab on the message in their Sent Items folder to get the results.
One downside of voting buttons, though, is that they only work in Outlook – there’s no Web App or mobile support, so it does restrict the usability somewhat. Great news, though – a more modern approach is available; not only does it work using the Outlook mobile apps and the browser but it’s a bit more in-your-face for most Outlook users too, with a simple and quick way of responding.
The Poll feature in Outlook appeared in March 2020 but may have been easy to miss, given all the other stuff that was happening then. It’s accessible from the Insert menu on a new message, or if you look at the bottom of the Use Voting Buttons drop-down menu, it’s been added there too.
Clicking on the icon gives you a single question with two or more options; it’s powered by Microsoft Forms, but there’s no fancy branching or data validation – it’s a straight “choose one of these short text responses” feature and all the better for it.
If using Outlook (desktop or mobile) or OWA, when a recipient in your organization receives an email with a Poll included, it’s shown right at the top and is super simple to reply to. If the recipient is using a mail client that doesn’t understand the Poll, there’s also a link to the web-based version too.
Since it’s delivered as part of a Microsoft 365 / Office 365 subscription, it’s a little less slick when dealing with users outside of the organization / tenant (the inline previews don’t show up, so outsiders will need to click the link and use the web UI, and will need to type their email address into the response too), so think of it as a friendly and visible way of collecting simple internal votes.
Back when some execs danced badly to a highly-priced tune, “Start” was the menu button you’d press to get to the programs and settings on your computer. The Start menu begat the Start button on your keyboard, whose logo evolved with different versions of Windows.
Now, Start is a new thing – a relaunch of Microsoft News.
Users of Windows 11 in preview – due to release soon – can see the widgets for news on their task bar, or any users can go to MicrosoftStart.com. If you feel ` reducing the clickbait and garbaj, you can tune the sources and types of news you’ll receive and save the settings with your Microsoft Account.
Apps are available for iOS and Android, on the web, the Windows taskbar / widgets, and on the new tab page on Microsoft Edge (like it or not).
One notable absence from the announcement?
The Microsoft News app for Windows. Install it while you still can.
Pivot Tables are a somewhat esoteric spreadsheet feature which everyday Excel users probably shy away from, but for the enlightened can help to turn potentially large tables of raw data into summarised views that can be easily rearranged.
Excel makes it easy to take a static table with rows of data arranged into columns that correspond to measures or fields – like sales of a product, or assignments of a relationship such as an export from a CRM system – and then represent the inherent hierarchy in a super-powerful fashion.
If you haven’t really used Pivot Tables, the simplest way to get your head around what they can do is to try messing around with some real data, or use some relatively simple sample data to unearth the power within. Free sample data at Contextures is a good place to start – in fact, here’s one sample that has been turned into a Pivot table to get started with (just download it somewhere, open the Zip file and then open the example XLSX file within).
The sample data is sales of foods over a period of time; look at the FoodSales tab to see the raw data. The pivot table quickly lets you summarise by region, or category, or whatever fields are defined.
By showing the PivotTable field list (right-click on the table and you’ll see either show or hide field list at the bottom of the menu), you can easily drag things around to change the grouping order.
It’s easier to just try it out than to try and explain, though there are plenty of tutorials around – from overviews to walkthrough videos or all kinds of more advanced stuff. And if you end up making a mess of the table, there’s also CTRL+Z to undo…
If you’re dealing with lots of fields that would go in the Rows section then you might find it easier to use the Classic layout by right-clicking on the table and choosing Pivot Table options, though you might want to remove the auto-totalling for most of the fields (right-click on a field and choose Subtotal…) otherwise the display gets a bit unwieldy.
When handling very large volumes of data, filtering using the drop-downs to the right side of field names is a great way of showing only the specifics you’re interested in, though sometimes it’s easy to forget there’s a filter in force and think that the data you’re working with is not showing the full picture. To reset all the filters back to the start, just go to the Data tab and Clear the filters from there.
If you want to filter on a specific value – eg. Let’s say you have a list of customer account names and you want to show only the customers associated to a single account manager (regardless of geography, industry etc), you could click the filter on the account manager field and find the person’s name within.
In our foodstuff example, we could have a different layout of fields and want to filter on City – but a quicker way to doing so is to just right-click on the name you want to focus on, and choose Filter > Keep Only Selected Items and it will quickly set the filter to just that name.
Before The Event, you’ll probably recall being presented at in a stuffy airless room, mainlining caffeine to stave off the postprandial doldrums in attentiveness. “On this slide…”, the presenter might have said, before reading out all the text that’s now being shown on a slightly-too-small screen.
Some would apologize for the fact that the chart/table of data/timeline with 6pt text annotations etc, was too small for the audience to read. “I know this is an eye chart, but…”
So hurray when all such in-person meetings were banished to Teams or Zoom if you’re lucky, or if you’ve been a horrible person in a previous life, you may have inflicted upon you Webex, Amazon Chime or whatever Google calls Hangouts these days.
As an attendee, however, the Teams UI can get a bit busy if you want to follow online chat and see other attendees as well as the content being presented. You can make life a bit easier by going full-screen, from the view control in the top left.
As well as tweaking the layout, and hiding/showing components like chat or the participant list, you can zoom the Teams client in and out by using CTRL = and CTRL – (or CTRL + / – on your numeric keypad if you have one), or by holding CTRL and moving the mouse wheel up and down, if you have a suitably-equipped rodent connected. This method, however, just makes the Teams UI get bigger and smaller, so although it might increase the size of the pane being used to present content, it is a marginal gain.
Enter, a greatly useful tip espoused by Belgian usability maestro, Ingmar Boon – click on the content being shown in a meeting, then use CTRL+mousewheel (or if you have a Surface device and the touchpad is enabled then use the pinch in & out gesture on the touchpad). Teams will now let you zoom in & out and pan around the content being shared. C’est manifique!
Emojis can trace their roots back to the first 🙂 from September 1982. Originally knows as emoticons or simply smileys, many of us have adopted these icons like a form of punctuation, especially in social media / Yammer / Teams type comments. This topic was last visited 4 years ago in ToW 391.
Emojis are mostly agreed and defined by the Unicode Consortium, which controls the Universal Coded Character Set, adopted by many systems to maintain compatibility between each other. When a user sends a symbol in a text message, the phone of its recipient needs to know which character was being sent or confusion may occur. Interpreting what the actual emoji symbol means is still down to the end user, and there are many pitfalls to avoid.
Once both sender and recipient of a message or comment agree which emoji to display, the application or platform they’re each using still has to decide what it will look like, and sometimes the iconography – and therefore the subtext – will have changed over time; see the Pistol Emoji (emojipedia.org) as just one example.
Microsoft decided to adopt a “flat” emoji look in the Windows 10 timeframe, but that is starting to change again with the upcoming release of Windows 11 and the evolution of Microsoft 365 – as Art Director and “Emojiologist” Claire Anderson previewed, we’re going 3D and Fluent, due late this year. Oh, one more thing…
ToW reader Paul Robinson draws attention to the shortcut way of inserting emojis in Windows – it’s been a feature for a while now – just press WindowsKey + . and it will allow you to insert emojis into pretty much anywhere that accepts text.
The UI for the emoji panel is changing in Windows 11 too, with GIFs and other types of symbol being included and the whole thing is easier to search. A useful tooltip shows you what the symbol represents, though as said before, be careful with the potential interpretation of some of them. Peachy.
In Windows 10, the same keystroke brings up a simpler yet slightly more confusing UI. Both old and new (under the Symbols grouping) provide a neat way of finding and inserting other special characters; arguably quicker than fishing about in the Office menu, and certainly better than faffing around with typing in ANSI codes.
Paul likes to start Teams channel names with an emoji, and if you want to illustrate one difference between old world and new, try using them in email subject lines and see just how they appear in Outlook versus Outlook Web App…
When you create an appointment in Outlook and decide to turn it into a Teams meeting by clicking the icon on the Meeting tab, a bunch of custom fields are added to the meeting item in your calendar to define how it should be handled by the Outlook application, allowing such functionality as right-clicking on an item in your calendar and joining the meeting from there.
Then there’s the text that gets added to the end of any existing appointment text, which gives dial-in info and provides a link for users who like to click on URLs or who are running a calendaring client which doesn’t support Teams natively. Some degree of customization can be done to this auto-text, but it’s an admin task rather than an end-user one.
LinkedIn’s #1 fan, Brian Galicia, got in touch to draw attention to an option in Outlook which lets you make every meeting a Teams meeting (since the days of meeting people face to face now feel like a distant memory). Fortunately, it only adds the appendages to a calendar appointment when you start to invite people to it, so if you put stuff in your calendar to remind you to do things In Real Life, it won’t get in the way.
The option is accessed from the main Outlook window, under File | Options | Calendar, and is just above the groovy feature which lets you choose to shorten the default meeting time, so as to allow you and the attendees to get out of your chair once or twice in a working day.
From the ToW history files: When you create a thing in your calendar that’s just for you, that’s an Appointment. When you start to invite other people to your thing, then it becomes a Meeting. The Outlook UI changes when you’re dealing with Meetings vs Appointments (e.g., see tracking information on who accepted your meeting invitation, etc).
When the Teams integration to Outlook was first rolled out, the workflow to create a meeting was typically to put the time in your diary, invite your desired attendees, then click the Teams Meeting button to add all the extra stuff that anoints the meeting to become a Teams one.
That was a one-way process, though – if you clicked in error or decided to forego the online element, you either had to hack out the properties and text (since merely removing the “join” links in the text didn’t get rid of the Join Meeting UI in Outlook, as that was lit up by the contents of the various custom fields in the item) or, more likely, ditch the meeting and create a new one.
Happily, Outlook now lets you do the removal from within its UI. You’ll find that under Settings on the Meeting tab, where you can also control some other functions, like whether external attendees need to be held in the lobby or whether you let them straight in.
The bypass feature is meeting-specific, so if you are scheduling 1:1s with customers or partners, you might want to let the striaght through, but if hosting a larger meeting then having a lobby could let you get your internal team straight before bringing in your guests.
Following last week’s missive on Notepad, including the obscure tip on how to create a log file, the topic of inserting and handling dates in other applications is worth a (re-)visit. Each individual app may choose to offer different methods and formats, but for common Office applications there are a handful of memorable tricks and shortcuts.
In Word, there are plenty of ways to insert and manage dates – perhaps the most useful way to remind the reader when the document was last updated (manually showing when a document was last reviewed or published). On the Insert tab, you’ll find Date & Time on the right-hand side, letting you add appropriate info in the format of your choice. You can also tick a box to update the field automatically, though that simply means every time the document is opened, it will show today’s date… which feels a bit pointless.
More useful could be to tell the reader when the document was created or last saved, by referencing the actual properties of the document (though be careful; auto-save might mean someone opened an old document, realised it was irrelevant, but had inadvertently saved it back).
On the Insert tab / Quick Parts, look under Field, then pick the doc property and format you’d like to show.
It is worth pointing out that showing a date as 10/1/21 (or similar) is ambiguous given that a few hundred million people will expect it be month-day-year while many of the remaining 7 billion will assume the day comes first, with a couple of billion presuming the format should normally start with the year, such as yyyy-mm-dd (which is arguably the most sensible of all; and it sorts properly, too).
A more daily usable short format like dd-mmm-yy (ie 13-Aug-21) should perhaps be the norm, especially when the date is appearing as text in a document. Pressing SHIFT+ALT+D in Word will insert the current Date as a field (so you can edit the format to remove ambiguity) and SHIFT+ALT+T inserts the current time too. In PowerPoint, both of these combos bring up the “Date & Time” dialogue to add the chosen content and format as plain text.
When formatting dates, incidentally, the convention is that two letters refer to the short number (eg dd = 13), whereas 3 d’s or m’s will use the short form of spelling the day or month, with 4 meaning the whole thing (ie Friday, August). Try formatting a cell in Excel as Custom, and you can preview what the format would be, by typing in a variety of letters.
While in Excel, it’s worth learning the short cut key to insert the date and time – CTRL+; and SHIFT+CTRL+; respectively (no doubt there’s a reason why Excel has a different shortcut to other Office apps – some legacy of Lotus 1-2-3 perhaps?).
OneNote fans will want to remember that SHIFT+ALT+D / T combo as it inserts the date/time into the notebook; really handy when taking notes of a phone call or similar. SHIFT+ALT+F puts both day and time, something that Word doesn’t offer. In both Desktop OneNote and users of the Windows Store version, it’s just plain text that gets added, so you’re on your own when it comes to formatting.
OneNote pages will typically have a date & time showing under their title – on the Desktop version, it’s possible to change that so as to mark a page as having been recently updated. No such luck on the lame duck Store version.
At least when stalwarts insist on writing – or worse, saying – a short-form date as something like “ten one”, there’s more than half of each month where one number in the date could only mean “day” – starting with the thirteenth (as in, 8/13 can never by the 8th of a month, but 8/12 could be a few days before Christmas to Europeans, or the date when tweedy Americans start looking for grouse in the Yorkshire moors and Scottish Highlands).
The simple text editor Notepad has been around since the dawn of Windows – it’s one of the few apps that was in the box with Windows 1.0 and is still there 36 years later, in Windows 10 and 11. Many people will encounter Notepad because they open a txt or log file, but some still fire up Notepad to quickly scratch something down, like a number being read out to you over the phone, when they say “do you have a pen and paper handy?”. Normally, It should take you under to two seconds to get Notepad running from anywhere – Press WindowsKey+R notepad ENTER.
Another handy use of Notepad is to quickly strip text of formatting; you might find that copying and pasting text from multiple documents often drags unwanted font choice, size, colours etc. In many apps you have the option of pasting something as Text Only, but if not, then putting the decorated text into Notepad first, then selecting and copying it again from there will mean it pastes quickly and cleanly into the destination document. Sometimes, it’s actually quicker to use Notepad as a middleman too (especially if you favour the CTRL-C / CTRL-V method of clipboard interaction).
Some people – for whatever self-flagellatory reasons – actually use Notepad for taking notes during meetings or calls, and then maybe format their raw text into something more structured afterwards. ZDNet’s Microsoft commentator Mary Jo Foley is devout Notepad user. The fact that it’s simple and quick appeals to many, it seems.
Notepad was turned into a Store app in mid 2019 and has gained a few tweaks to functionality, though nothing that normal people might notice. It’s getting a new icon in Windows 11, and who knows what other advanced functionality might follow.
Despite its relative simplicity, there are some obscure features – like the ability to add content to the header and/or footer of a page that’s being printed, even if there’s nowhere to save that setting (since a TXT file is just that, until you start getting into the intricacies of different text file formats and what that might mean to applications which may consume the text file you’re editing).
Following last week’s F4 tip for Office apps like Excel, ToW reader Flaviu Comanescu-Balla goes one better in highlighting that pressing F5 in Notepad will insert the current date and time, so if you are keeping phone notes or something, you can quickly annotate them.
In fact, Flaviu also spotted an even more obscure feature, where if you put .LOG as the first line in a Text file saved from Notepad, every time you open that file, the current date and time is appended at the end, so you can jot something down, save it again and keep a log of activities.