601 – Time and Focus

clip_image002Twice 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. 

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clip_image005The 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.

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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 Office Microsoft 365 / work identity, so you won’t be able to seamlessly integrate with other task management tools you might already be using, like Outlook Tasks or an M365 To-Do list.

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.

600 – Welcome to Windows 11

Just in time for the holiday season and for the ranges of updated PC kit that’s coming, clip_image002Windows 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.

clip_image004For 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 clip_image006current 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.

clip_image008There 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.

599 – Time for a short survey?

clip_image002There 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.

clip_image004Surveys 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 clip_image006your 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 clip_image008tab 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.

clip_image010clip_image012The 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.

clip_image014If 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.

598 – Start me up

clip_image002Back 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.

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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.