Tip o’ the Week 315 – Getting to know Windows 10 Mobile

clip_image001There was a time when the software “ship cycle” resulted in delivery of the final version, the “Gold” code (so called as it would have been written to a gold-coloured recordable CD), which was RTM’ed then sent off to get pressed onto CD or even copied onto magnetic disks.

Nowadays, there generally isn’t ever a “finished” version – there’s the initial release, then a whole stream of updates, patches, service releases, feature packs etc.

Windows 10 Mobile (the new moniker for Windows Phone) has been slated for release for a little while now, even though there are phones out there shipping with it ready installed, and there are more to come soon – maybe some news will follow at Mobile World Congress later in February. There’s now a page that will show details of updates to Windows 10 Mobile – there’s not a lot on it right now, but check out the Windows 10 version if you want to see what to expect. Commentators are suggesting that the fact the update page exists means the wide-scale rollout of Windows 10 Mobile to existing Windows Phone 8.x devices must be imminent.

Get it early

If you want to install Windows 10 Mobile on your existing phone, it’s very easy to do – just install the Windows Insider app on your device, sign in with your Microsoft Account, and when you run the app it will ask you what degree of pain excitement you’re prepared to tolerate enjoy. The Insiders Fast “ring” will give you the biggest thrill, but especially in early stages of the development cycle, might break things that worked previously. The Slow ring clip_image004will give you stuff that’s been run by the Fast people for a while, and is known to be in good shape. You can switch between the rings, so if you choose to go Slow but never get any updates, you can always step up the pace a bit. There’s a new “Release Preview” ring now too,

Read more about the Insider program here; get the app from here.

Latest release

Fast and Slow rings have been given the 10586.107 build (in fact, that’s also gone to any existing W10 Mobile user too), which is being reported as “Production Ready” and rumoured to be the build that will be rolled out to other devices, said to be coming any day now. If you’re running Windows Phone 8.x and fancy previewing Windows 10 Mobile, or if you’ve already got a 950 or 950XL and are looking to get the latest & greatest build, then make sure you grab this one. User reports say that devices are running noticeably faster and battery life is greatly improved.

Check out your current version by going to Settings -> About -> More Info on Windows Phone 8.x,
or Settings -> System -> About on Windows 10 Mobile.

What’s new in Windows 10 Mobile

clip_image006There’s a new UI, some changes that are obvious when compared to WP8.x, but some are more subtle. The Notifications area at the top of the phone, for example, can show all the common settings and includes shortcut features like a Flashlight, or quick jump to OneNote.

Find out more about what’s new, here.

If you have a new handset, there are some other obvious changes – like the 3 buttons at the bottom of the screen now being on-screen rather than below it (so the screen can be bigger). Those buttons will disappear in some apps that go full-screen (like games, or videos), so you may need to swipe up from the bottom of the screen to show them.

Also, if you’ve a new device, you’ll notice that it’s using USB-C – a further evolution of the USB standard with a reversible connector (hooray!) – hopefully no more damaging the connector by jamming it in the wrong way. You might not be able to bend the connector, but powering the device can still be something of a minefield.

USB-C cables are not all the same

If you got a Lumia 950 or 950XL, you may notice that the USB cable that comes with it looks like the kind of thing you’d find connecting an electric car to the charging stations in the car park. It turns out that good USB-C cables are quite differentiated from the generic junk you could buy for $1 on eBay or $15 from Best Buy.

Since you’ve probably got a house-full of Micro-USB cables & chargers cluttering the place up, you might wonder how to work USB-C into your life without too much friction. Well, Googley engineer Benson Leung has done a great job of putting lots of USB-C cables & adapters through their paces, and declaring which ones will set fire to your power supply, make your phone go into meltdown or which ones to get. Basically, if Benson gives it 2 stars, then don’t bother.

If you’re after the tl;dr version and you’re in the UK, just go and buy this £7 cable and these £5 Micro-USB->USB-C adapters (so you can plug your phone into your existing car charger without too much faffing and changing cable). Yes, £7 seems a lot for a USB doofer when you could find them on fleabay for a quid, but guff cables could do more harm than good. Benson Leung for President!

Some additional early-stage tips for getting to grips with your new Lumia 950/XL:

  • Make sure you run the Phone Update from Settings / Update & security / Phone update
  • When you plug the phone in and the battery icon shows the charging symbol, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s charging. You may find that it’s just plugged in, but not getting power (especially if it makes the bada-la-doop noise every 15 secs). Props to Nick Page for pointing this out.
  • There’s no way to turn on “Hey Cortana” from the All settings menu, and usingfind a setting” for “Cortana”, doesn’t (apparently). Instead, start Cortana (press/hold the magnifying glass), press the hamburger menu in the top left, and still, there’s no settings etc. Start Notebook from that Cortana menu, and you’ll see Settings from within, and you can switch on, Hey, Cortana. Bonzer.

Tip o’ the Week 314 – time, time, time, see what’s become of me

clip_image001In the northern hemisphere, it’s winter. Time marches slowly by, as the springtime stretches just out of reach ahead of us, leaving many of us trapped in artificially-lit offices, commuting in the cold, wet & dark, feeling generally starved of all natural stimulus and connection with the outside. Oh for heaven’s sake, cheer up.

From telling the time to trying to stop wasting it, horology has featured in Tips o’ the Week passim. Microsoft employees can benefit from a 5-year old yet most excellent tool called FocusTime, which will silence interruptions when working in blocks of predetermined length – following something called the Pomodoro technique. The beauty of this internal-only app is that it switches Outlook to offline mode and Skype for Business to Do Not Disturb, while you’re supposed to be focussing – something the Outlook team should build in, fer sure.

There are other Pomodoro apps too, for Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Windows 8/10.


If you want to know how you’re spending your time, however, here’s a cool fremium app/service call RescueTime. It installs an agent on your PC which acts like a proxy to any outbound traffic, and monitors what you’re doing – so it can report on the time you spend in different applications, what websites you’re visiting etc.

There are all sorts of controls over what it does and when, and you can choose to take the free version (which gives some basic functionality, reporting back what you’re doing) or pay $9/month for the premium one (or $72/yr), adding some more controls to stop you frittering away your time – what value is $6/month for improved productivity, even if 5* positive reviewers reckon it’s pricey?


The premium version can automatically sound an alarm when you’ve exceeded a certain amount of what you decide unproductive time (on the basis that, if you’re a social media clip_image007consultant, noodling about in Facebook and Twitter might be actual work, whereas if you’re an accountant, it’s probably not).

You can even get the software to block certain websites during particular times of the day, in case temptation gets the better of you, or give you some leeway to waste time but jump in when the limit has expired.

Might be worth checking out the freebie version first if you’re unsure, thought the premium one does come with a 14-day free trial too.

Tip o’ the Week 313 – Live Writer lives!

clip_image002At one point, blogging was changing the world. Politics, household economics, technology; you name it, there was someone writing a blog about it. Blogging was the great democratization of opinion, where anyone could set up a place to spout their own unique form of drivel, and hope that the masses would come.

Of course, most blogs didn’t get that many regular readers, and most couldn’t make any money – so the fad declined somewhat, with only the well-read (and generally well-written) or the persistent loonies sticking around. Tools used are/were largely web-based blog editing and authoring tools.

Even though there are still plenty of proponents out there, some say that the blog is basically dead. Popular content reporting site Technorati ditched their blog ranking report, and many other influential sources have flocked to Twitter/Instagram/Facebook etc as a way of getting noticed.

Blogging software

Windows Live Essentials is/was a package of software that added capabilities to Windows, including a really neat blog post composer called Windows Live Writer. WLW was well received at the time and gathered a legion of fans as it offered offline blog writing capabilities, as well as an easy way of posting images & other content into blog posts, without the aggro of uploading the pics to some staging area and then linking to them.


Development of WLW pretty much ceased after the 2012 release, and after a couple of glitches caused by supported blog services changing the way they authenticate users (which broke the publishing process), the decision was taken to fork the WLW codebase and spin out an open-source variant called Open Live Writer.

There aren’t many visible differences between OLW and WLW yet, apart from the former now supporting Google’s Blogger.com platform. Keep an eye on openlivewriter.org if you’re an active blogger, as the web’s best offline blogging tool looks to be getting a new lease of life.

Tip o’ the Week 312 – Windows 10 Shell Commands

clip_image002The shell of an operating system is another name for its user interface (whether graphical or textual) – Microsoft Windows being one such shell, provides common UI elements like the taskbar, window controls etc (and a longish list of dead or obsolete elements, like charms).

Most Windows users will stick with the default shell, but alternatives do exist if you want to be individual and create more work for yourself. Desktop Linux users have a cornucopia of GUI and CLI shells to choose from, with names like Gnome, KDE, bash, tcsh, sh, tosh and bosh. Actually, the last two aren’t real. Probably.

Hardcore power users tend to eschew the namby-pamby niceties of a gooey WIMP system and prefer keyboard shortcuts to everything, but for normal people, there are some quick ways of jumping into parts of the UI using the shell, so you can shave a few tenths off common activities and yet still relax in the modern, graphical world.

It’s been possible for years to short-circuit sections of the Windows UI to make troubleshooting quicker – all of these would run from Start -> Run in previous versions, or just press WindowsKey+R in Windows 10. You can get to the old-fashioned Control Panel applets, for example, if you know the .cpl extension to activate them. If you don’t, you could try running %systemroot%\system32 to take you to the Windows System folder, then clip_image004filter by type to show only the Control panel items. Perhaps the most useful for troubleshooters is ncpa.cpl (which you can just run directly from WinKey+R), to take you to the Network Settings, without lots of right-clicking and faffing about.

There are a host of other handy shortcuts, from system environment variables (you can see the full list from a cmd prompt by just typing set, and use/reference them by strapping %’s to either end), to lots of relatively obscure shell commands which jump straight to otherwise hidden or deeply-nested bits of the OS. You can just run these commands as above, or if you want to create a shortcut, set it to explorer shell:command

Here are a few to try:

  • shell:accountpictures – could be useful if you’re putting your existing profile picture into a website or some such, though the pictures don’t get exposed here as PNG or JPG so YMMV.
  • shell:desktop – jumps straight to your desktop; handy if you use that as a dumping zone for docs etc
  • shell:downloads – jumps straight to your downloads folder
  • shell:onedrivecameraroll – especially useful when fishing out pics from your phone
  • shell:my pictures or shell:pictureslibrary – takes you to different places you might have photos stashed

Most of these have been around for a while, but may be comparatively unknown. For a supposedly-fulsome list, check here.