Month: December 2019
510 – Fluent apps flow in
Fluent is a “design language”.
Or purportedly, it’s a “design system”, itself an evolution of an earlier “Microsoft Design Language”, which evolved from “Metro”. You follow?
Over the last couple of years, a variety of changes in design have rolled out across all sorts of Microsoft applications – from a simplified look of toolbars and the canvas that makes up a big part of many apps, to new icons and other UI elements. Consistency, reuse and a common experience across multiple devices is the aim.
When Hypertext was first conceived – the term itself is more than 50 years old – early implementations tended to use a book metaphor, where a page was the size of one screen, and moving around the content dived in and out through following hyper-links. Apple pioneered a similar approach with HyperCard, where a stack of virtual cards would hold data (and other objects) that were linked together.
Over the last decade, as web and app users have moved to being more mobile, the way content is displayed and interacted with has changed – many websites appear less hierarchical, with longer pages that can be swiped up and down, rather than the classic design where short pages were strung together with links.
As one example, look at the British Airways site today – it’s designed to be touch-friendly and yet be usable with a more traditional mouse/menu approach if desired:
…compared to the old, from December 2009 …
Back then, pretty much everyone who hit that site was using a keyboard, mouse and non-touch screen. Completely separate mobile versions were often build for smartphone users, but the more traditional site was still very mouse oriented. Not so today.
Microsoft’s Fluent design system embraces a common ethos that applies to web pages as well as apps on all screen sizes – and forms a big part of an expanded design philosophy, as covered by an interesting article and video from The Verge earlier this year.
As Fluent principles are being applied across the board, we’ve seen updated versions of lots of apps and online experiences – like OneDrive and OneNote, for example. More will follow, with Teams and Yammer being identified as “coming soon”.
The same thinking may even generate new forms of application – the Fluid Preview, a new canvas-type collaboration app which was announced at Ignite potentially being one.
509 – Edge Beta profiles & sync
At a simple level, Profiles lets you specify your work account and personal account(s) separately, and you can switch between them quickly. Look under Settings or go straight to edge://settings/profiles in the browser if you already have it.
For anyone who’s ever had to sign into a work-related website but using their Microsoft Account (eg Outlook.com / Hotmail / MSN / Zune etc credentials), this can be handy as you do it without resorting to an InPrivate tab.
Once you’ve set up profiles, you can individually enable Sync, Password retention etc, for each, though you will see that only some of the options are lit up in the current version of the Beta. More to come soon – ahead of the expected January 15th release. Probably.
To change profiles, just click on the associated picture on the browser toolbar and if you like, you can even pin the individual profiles to your taskbar so you can quickly jump into each one, rather than having to launch the browser and do the switcheroo.
You may want to import and export favourites between profiles – like Chrome, Edge no longer stores these as shortcut files that can be simply moved around, instead holding the favourites to a “bookmarks” file.
If you want to see where Edge Beta is saving your profile info, go to edge://version in the browser and check out the Profile Path. Mind how you go if you decide to start editing stuff directly.
To read more about profiles and the new Edge, see here.
508 – Black Friday Mania
Like other aspects of what some might call cultural imperialism, the Black Friday epidemic continues to spread around the world, on the day after the fourth Thursday in November.
Shoppers around the world might go a bit crazy for special deals, and this weekend is likely to be one of the busiest ever for the online emporia too. Not all retailers play the game, though – in the past, some worthy chains have publicly opted out, though every one of them will have some kind of sale or special offer roster on, FOMO and all that.
There are plenty of bargains to be had, of course; retailers will have been planning their sales for months and many now start a week or more before Thanksgiving, and continue well into December.
The Microsoft store has some good deals – in the UK, you can grab £hundreds off new Surface gear, and there’s probably never been a cheaper time to buy a new Xbox One – and with Project Scarlett arriving next year (along with Surface Neo and Duo), maybe it’s the best time to be buying a current Xbox. There’s a fire sale on the disc-less Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” – £129 means a third off the usual price, with some rumours that it might be the last chance to buy such a device.
The world’s largest bookseller has some great offers too, especially if you want to festoon your house with Alexa stuff or other first-party surveillance gear. If you’re an Amazon shopper, consider supporting homeless charity, Launchpad, by using Microsoftie Fraser Murrell’s affiliate link which he uses to collect a few hundred pounds every year: all you need do is click through to open up the site, go about your shopping as normal, and a slice will go to a good cause.
Scourge of Fakebook, the Money Saving Expert, has a pretty comprehensive list of other UK offers that apply right now – check out their special page for maximum distraction.
Finally, another ‘Softie, Darren Adams, has a great solution if all of this brings out the Grinch in you:
507 – Momentum of Teams
It’s been a busy few weeks on the Teams team. As an aside, what do you call a team that’s set up in Teams? Is it a Teams Site, or a Teams team, just a “Team” or …? Documentation talks about creating a team, which is fine when you’re already in Teams, but talking with someone about Teams teams can be a bit like a tongue twister.
It was recently announced that Teams has 20 million daily active users, up from 13 million since July. Talk to enterprise customers who have adopted Teams, and many have a user base that really loves it. There may be more to the story, but as many Office 365 users get Teams as part of their subscription, it’s inevitable that its usage will grow. It’s great to hear stories of how customers are using technology like Teams to positively change the way they work.
At the Ignite Conference in October, some forthcoming functionality was announced, from nascent integration into Outlook (coming next year) to some nearer-term stuff like the ability to create Private channels within a Team, which has already rolled out.
Outlook Tasks and To-Do integration is also expected next year, and the app is increasingly being used as a focal point for other sources of data too – such as using PowerApps to bring business reports or other custom functionality into the same canvas.
See the recent whitepaper on using PowerApps with Teams.
The App Studio in Teams allows enterprise developers to build their own extensions and addins quickly.
There were quite a few Ignite sessions devoted to using Teams for calling and for meetings. One innovation to look forward to is the ability to not just blur your background, but to add a specific background image, either from a library or one of your own.
Live captions – similar in approach to the subtitles in PowerPoint presentations that were recently discussed – is already available in a preview for some users.
Captioning and transcription is also available for Teams Live Events, if you enable the feature in the setup of the event.
506 – OneNote 2016 reprieve
OneNote is, for a lot of fans, the best application that Microsoft makes, especially in an educational setting. About 18 months ago, it was announced that the venerable and extensible (especially if you’re a OneTastic / OneCalendar user) desktop version was being put out to pasture, in favour of the more modern, erm, Modern version.
Office 2019 was no longer going to ship with OneNote – the desktop app was not being developed beyond OneNote 2016, but it would still be freely installable if desired.
Efforts would be focussed on the Modern / Store / “OneNote for Windows 10”, which shares a lineage with the mobile apps; there’s a lot to be said in favour of this strategy, since it would bring the UX of the Windows Store, tablet, phone and web apps into alignment. For regular ToW readers, this has been covered ad nauseam.
Well, blow me down, a brilliant Ignite session from @Ben Hodes only went and wound the clock back (and simultaneously painted it forward)… [Check out Union Jack Man at 42:18 in the video stream if you want a laugh]
OneNote 2016 is getting some CPR, and will be installed by default with clean Office setups again, early in 2020.
Point of clarity – a clean Office2019 / Office 365 install doesn’t currently include OneNote 2016 … but upgrading from an existing Office install that already had OneNote, does. If need be, go to http://aka.ms/installonenote to install OneNote 2016.
Some new features are coming, too – like Dark Mode, @mentions, To Do integration and more. The OneNote for Windows 10 code base is being back-ported to the older Win32 version; in time, the same underlying code will exist, even if there remains two versions of the product. It was previously reported that across the Office suite on Windows, the Win32 codebase will be favoured going forward, even though Modern versions were released for several of the traditional apps. We will have to wait and see.
Of course, lots of functionality exists in common between the two current versions of OneNote, even if the level of detail and the way to invoke and use it is a little different – take Record Audio, for example.
Did you know that if you insert an audio recording into your OneNote page, that any handwritten or typed notes you take while the recording is underway, will be linked to the corresponding place in the audio?
Later, if you click on a block of text or handwriting, you can play back the recording at just that point, or if you just start playing the audio, the notes you took will be highlighted as the playback progresses.
In OneNote 2016, you can also have the application index the contents of audio recordings, looking for keywords. Enable it at File > Options > Audio & Video.
No such function appears to exist in the OneNote for Windows 10 app; maybe that’s a good thing. After all, OneNote 2016 only lets you turn it on after an ominous-sounding warning…
505 – Edge closer to release
At the Ignite conference, the roadmap for Microsoft Edge was confirmed – the beta effectively moved to Release Candidate level, and a new logo was unveiled.
Not without comment, the new logo maybe stylises the old “e” logo while evoking surfing a wave, perhaps, and putting clear blue water between the Internet Explorer and previous Edge logos.
If you’re using a preview of the new Edge, you may spot an update icon in the top right – click to get the latest.
The Beta has been bumped to version 79 of the Chromium engine, and is expected to release in mid-January. The Dev channel will soon jump to the version 80, being more experimental and potentially less stable.
There are plenty features in Edge which are in development and may or may not make it into the first released version – they can typically be played with by typing edge://flags/ into the address bar.
One experimental feature is Collections. Currently only in the Dev channel but sure to arrive in Beta at some point, it’s a way of grouping sites and content together, like a smart Favourites; it’s been in test for a while, with the dev team trying out a number of approaches and responding to user feedback. To enable it, go to edge://flags/#edge-collections.
If you’re already on the Dev channel, try enabling Collections, create a new one called Microsoft Edge and then add 4 shortcuts to it, renaming each one S U R and F (it doesn’t matter what the underlying site is).
Now if you drag one of the shortcuts to reorder them – eg move R after F, and then put it back, you’ll get a link to a hidden “Easter Egg” game that brings back memories of the early 1990s.
If you know any company who still has intranet sites also rooted in the 1990s, they might like the Internet Explorer mode, which will effectively allow IE to be a tab in Edge, so the users can enjoy a single browser while retaining compatibility.