578 – Let’s talk about fonts

clip_image002Most people don’t really think too much about which font they’re using in written works. The novelty of having different font designs, weights and sizes soon wears off, especially if you like to try all of them in the same document.

clip_image004Some strange choices do persist, though – Comic Sans on a warning sign at an electricity substation?

Yet, there is a lot of thought which goes into creating a font, especially when considering how it’s likely to be used. Typeface design goes back to the earliest days of printing, with fashions changing from heavy and elaborate block type to lighter and perhaps easier to read lettering. To serif or to sans?

The author Simon Garfield has written extensively on the subject of typography, including articles on What’s so wrong with Comic Sans? or The 8 Worst Fonts In The World and his really excellent book, Just My Type, which delves into the history behind lots of common typefaces and how or why they came about. It really is fascinating.

Even the design of the text used on road signs was a hot topic in the 1950s, with the UK facing a need to choose a standard for the upcoming motorway network, which could be easily read at speed. Designers Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert came up with many road signs and the typeface design still used today (theorising that at 70mph, a driver looking for Birmingham won’t actually read the letters, but will recognise the shape of the word). Trials were done by fixing words to the top of a Ford Anglia and driving it past a group of seated, bemused volunteers, to test the fonts’ efficacy.

A lot of technology we take for granted today has its roots in the 1970s at Xerox’s PARC research establishment or was materially advanced there – ethernet, bitmapped displays, laser printers, the mouse, the GUI, object orientation, distributed computing and so much more – and the two founders of Adobe, who went on to define PostScript, started their work together there. This font-rendering software – along with the Apple Macintosh & LaserWriter and the Desktop Publishing software PageMaker – laid the way to revolutionise the printing industry.

clip_image006Most fonts used until the 21st century had been designed to look good in print, but 14 years ago, Microsoft shipped a new font in Office 2007 and Windows Vista. Designed specifically to be easy to read on-screen, presuming that most documents and emails will be read on a display rather than printed out, that font was Calibri. It became the default font used in Office applications and has remained so since.

But that’s all about to end.

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Cloud Fonts” are available to Microsoft 365 subscribers (more info here) – in Word, go to File / Account and look for the optional settings.

Five of the Cloud Fonts collection are being considered to be the new default font for Office apps in the future… which would you choose?

fonts

 

577 – Wir Fahren auf der Autobahn (virtuell)

clip_image002Fans of the fathers of elektronische music will get the reference to the seminal track Autobahn, written to mimic the repetitive noises of driving along the motorway. Since most of us have not being doing much of that for a while (and nobody misses being stuck in a traffic jam on the M25 on a Friday evening), a new addition to Microsoft Teams from the previously announced Microsoft Viva could be a welcome distraction.

clip_image004Start by looking for the “…” menu on the left-side icons bar in the Teams client, and you’ll see additional apps that can be added to the menu (and once there, you can right-click on them to pin in place); a previous update to Teams lets you drag the icons’ placement to your own preference too.

You can jump between the apps in Teams by pressing CTRL+n, where n is the corresponding location on the bar (ie CTRL+1 for the top app, CTRL+2 for next down etc).

Open the Insights app to see the first-released Viva application, which has also been recently updated.

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Viva Insights lets you send praise to colleagues, do some quick & mindful breathing exercises, check on actions you may have mentioned in email (eg “I’ll get back to you on Monday…”) and block out time that’s currently free in your schedule to give you a chance to focus on work you’re supposed to do, rather than meeting with people to talk about it.

Newly added, is the Virtual Commute – go to the Protect Time tab, or look in the top-right settings menu “…”, to set up the time to finish your work day.

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You can now have Teams remind you that it’s time to go home, even if you’re home already.

Jared Spataro wrote recently about the need to give yourself breaks between meetings and to transition from “work” to “home” modes.

If you’d like to jazz up your Teams background image rather than showing your real backdrop, check out the Viva backgrounds now available in the custom backgrounds gallery for Microsoft Teams.

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576 – Presenter guidance

clip_image002Remember when presenting to a room full of people was a thing? At some point, we may get back to needing to do that, but in the meantime we’re probably presenting to smaller groups of people using Teams or some other form of video meeting.

It’s still worth tailoring your presentation style, especially so when you can’t necessarily see the audience – that guy who’d be dozing off in the front row of the presentation room? He’s now doing that on mute and with camera switched off. Creating compelling content is another huge topic which is even more important than the means by which you present it.

clip_image004Firstly, when it’s time to present your slides in a Team meeting, please don’t just share your screen. Most of the time, the PowerPoint sharing experience that is built into Teams is good enough.

If you have a specific reason to share the screen or app then please at least “Present” in PowerPoint, since simply showing a PPT window is a massive waste of screen real estate and your attendees won’t be able to read it.

clip_image006If you’re wary of presenting in a multiple-monitor setup (in case your slides end up on the screen you’re not sharing, and the non-existent speaker notes gets displayed to the meeting attendees), then go into Set Up Show on the Slide Show tab in PowerPoint and choose which monitor you want the slide presentation to appear on (and share that one in Teams). Worst case, just disable Presenter View in that same dialog, and then PowerPoint will only use one monitor.

The simplest way to present slides on Teams is to use the clip_image008PowerPoint Live feature from within the Share icon – it will show you a list of recently opened PowerPoint decks, or let you browse your machine for one if it’s not visible.

This view will let you share content in a more efficient manner, and also gives the option of letting other presenters easily manage the transition from slide-to-slide, rather than having to rely on trying to take control of the presenter’s PC in order to advance them, and avoiding the “Next Slide Please” request. Attendees can privately move around your deck if you allow it.

You can also start the sharing from within PowerPoint, as long as the source slide deck is saved to OneDrive or Sharepoint, as the content is rendered as a web view. Go to the Slide Show tab clip_image010and you’ll see a Present in Teams icon; click on that when you’re in a meeting, and it will automate the whole sharing process to start presenting your current slide deck.

Assuming you’ve managed to create slides which are not a mess and are comfortable about how you’re going to present them, the next step might be to polish your own performance.

You could use Rehearse Timings to do a dry run of your presentation, and it will record the time it takes to cover each slide (and will also save that timing so clip_image012you could auto-matically advance the slides during a future presentation).

If you’d like an unbiased assessment of your presentation style, try out the new Rehearse with Coach feature – as well as getting some real-time tips during the rehearsal, you’ll get a report when completed, praising for a job well done or admonishing you for speaking too fast, just reading the slides out loud, using, errm, non-inclusive language etc – all of which might be used to help improve your delivery for the next time.

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Have a play with the Presenter Coach – presuming it’s an automated service rather than a real human listening in, it’s fun to try and see how the recommendations given – see how many profanities you can get it to recognise?

575 – Who’s meeting?

clip_image001Organising a meeting in Outlook means sending out requests to participate – effectively you’re creating an appointment or event in your own calendar, then converting into a meeting by inviting other people to join you. If you’re putting something in your diary and want other people to know about it, but without expecting them to join you (eg you’re going on vacation and presumably don’t want your teammates to tag along), simple tricks can reduce the annoyance you might foist onto your co-workers…

  • clip_image003Create a separate appointment for sharing (rather than forwarding one already used to block out your own calendar)
  • Under Response Options, clear the default “Request Responses” option, so they don’t need to respond
  • Set Reminder to None so people don’t get a notification fired, unless you think you’re important enough to make sure they know at the time, that you’re away
  • Show As: Free, so your appointment doesn’t block out their calendar and get in the way of other people who are trying to book proper meetings with them. Think of this as an FYI for colleagues’ calendars.

Who has responded? Have most people declined?

clip_image005When you open a meeting you’re organising and which you do want people to respond to, you’ve always been able to see (in the Tracking tab) how many people have accepted or declined etc. A couple of years back, Outlook added the feature of Tracking if you’re an attendee, so anyone in the same tenant as the organizer can see who else has accepted etc.

If you are organising or attending a large business meeting with lots of attendees, it’s useful to be able to slice and dice the attendees more effectively – have most people declined and should I move the date, for example – click on the big Copy Status option at the top of the list.

clip_image007It’s now easy to paste the info into a blank Excel sheet, and before even changing selection, hit the Format as Table option on the Home tab; confirm the selection area is OK, tell it you want to add a header row and choose a style that suits.

If you right-click the table and select Table > Totals Row then if you filter the headings – like the responses, for example, you’ll be able to quickly see how many Accepted, Declined and so on.

What could be interesting, too, is showing attendees names alongside their role, department, which office they’re from, their actual email address etc…
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Well, thanks to the magic of macros, use this Address Book Resolver spreadsheet, and just paste the responses from the Copy Status… step into cell A1, then hit the Resolve button.

Some attendees might be external users (so won’t be known to your address book), and some of the names in the first column might not be unique enough to resolve, and will be highlighted (alongside external users) by a red Unknown in the Job Title column.

clip_image011If you manually look up an unresolved internal user in the Outlook address book, and find the correct alias name for that person, paste it into the first column instead of their name, and re-run the Resolve function.

To use this sheet for resolving any list of bulk display names or alias names, just paste them into column A (and hide Columns B and C if you’re not using the output from a meeting invite tracking list).

To prepare the spreadsheet for use, download the Address Book Resolver file as above (here it is again). Open the ZIP file and open the enclosed XLSM file or save it somewhere on your machine, then open it. Make sure you Enable Editing, then Enable Content so you can run the Macro that does the lookups.

This is an evolution of the Alias resolver sheet posted back in ToW 417.

574 – Teams Times Countdown

As many of us have spent the last year meeting people through Teams instead of in person, our methods and behaviours may have altered. Most people stopped getting dressed up as if they were going to work, though some found that after months of wearing jogging pants and hoodies, actually getting smartened up helped them get into “Work Mode”. There’s even the idea of having a virtual commute to separate work life from home life.

clip_image002To avoid back-to-back meetings all the time, some organizations mandate that meetings start at 5 or 10 minutes past the hour. A quick way to achieve this goal is to use the option in Outlook to either start late or finish early, maybe adopting the idea of a 22-minute meeting in place of a default half hour.

clip_image004One of the many small but neat features that has been added to Teams during its unprecedented rise in use over the last year, is the 5-minute warning. Maybe the next improvement could be a countdown timer for the last 2 minutes, and the meeting organizer have the option to boot everyone out at the allotted end time, so there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind about when to shut up and close the meeting down.

clip_image006If you’re running a meeting, you could manually start a countdown – rather than using the iconic sequence from the popular British tea-time quiz or the puppetry launch, try showing a timer from the built-in Windows Alarms & Clock application, as featured previously.

clip_image008When you create a Timer, give it a name and the starting point of the countdown, and when you set the timer running, it will show the time left, the end time, and it will also display a moving indicator to illustrate the remaining duration.

Clicking the double-arrow on the top right will make the timer fill the whole Alarms & Clock app, and you could even make that app full screen if need be.

It’s possible to have multiple timers running simultaneously – you could set one for the duration of the meeting, then line up timers for each point on the agenda, though you do need to start them manually.

clip_image010If you wanted to be particularly passive aggressive, you could share the application within the Teams meeting (rather than sharing your whole desktop, just share that single window), then every attendee would see it in place of any other shared content – which could be useful in helping to close things down.

A more gentle use of this technique would be if you’re going to allow attendees a couple of minutes to join before getting started – so you’d start and share the timer and then people will know that it’ll get underway at 2 minutes past the hour. If you’re hosting a long meeting with breaks scheduled, the same could be used to indicate when proceedings are going to resume.

573 – Searching in Outlook

clip_image002A reader recently got in touch to ask for help in finding stuff in Outlook. The search capability within the application most of us use most of the time has evolved considerably throughout its life, with a prominently placed search bar now adorning the top of the main window. When you click into it, lots of helpful filtering and searching capabilities are offered in the ribbon below.

clip_image004It’s worth getting to grips with a few simple text search terms, though, so when you’re typing some search term you can direct Outlook to particular items. Helpfully, using the options in the menu will actually build the query that is fed to search, so you can type them in future. Simple quick wins include things like using from:name to show only clip_image006emails that originated from a particular sender.

Or has:attachment, which will only show you mails that have other files attached. Combined with a few other criteria, you can filter the results of your search pretty hard, rather than sifting through them. Adding some other smarts like received:”last month” can streamline some more. For more info on search terms, see here.

The scenarios our reader posed, though, were specifically around searching in the calendar – eg, do I have a meeting in my calendar with a particular person? Or what recurring appointments are due to expire this month?

If you navigate to your Calendar and click the down-pointing arrow to the right of the Search box, it will display a clip_image008small form with series of other fields you can complete, in this case relevant to appointments rather than messages.

Click + Add more options to bring up a picker that lets you add even more – such as whether the meeting is a recurring one, or if it shows in calendar as Busy or not. Selecting the options builds the query as before, so you can see a variety of defined names – like organizer | organiser (depending on your locale) or requiredattendee:.

Coming back to the original question; if you want to find all future meetings in your calendar with anyone called Tony, you could type something like requiredattendee:tony start:>today. And if you want to find out which clip_image010recurring meetings are expiring soon, start by searching is:recurring start:>today. That will show you a list of future recurring appointments, but not give all the info we’re looking for since the default results view doesn’t show anything about the pattern of recurrence – so right-click on one of the column headings of the search results and select Field Chooser, where we can add some extra columns to the view.

clip_image012Now, in the pop out window, change the filter from Frequently-used fields to All Appointment fields, and scroll down to find Recurrence Range End. Now drag and drop that field into the column list, then click on it to sort descending so you’ll now see all the meetings that are set up with a recurring pattern, ordered by when that pattern is due to end. For added context, you could put Recurrence and Recurrence Pattern on there too.

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Don’t be alarmed if some of them are due to keep happening until a very long way into the future. We’ll probably have stopped using email by then.

History Lesson

Before Outlook arrived as part of Office 97, users of Exchange Server had an email client and a separate calendar app (Schedule+; that’s why some diehards still say things like “send me an S+”, meaning send a meeting request). Both would maintain a connection to the server and would chat back and forth, only downloading data when a message or attachment was opened. Although this put something of a penalty on the network, it meant there was no need to cache large amounts of data on a PC hard disk. Outlook replaced both the mail and S+ clients, but maintained the same synchronous connection to the server.

Outlook 2003 and Exchange 2003 changed the default model, since PC hard disks were getting much bigger and cheaper, so it made sense to have Outlook deal primarily with a cached copy of the user’s mailbox, bringing all kinds of performance benefits to both end user and to the operators of the server back-end. One really notable improvement was the ability to run fast searches against mailbox data that’s in the cache, rather than having to execute searches on the server.

Prior to the cached mode, the best-case scenario for running a search was the server returned messages that fit a particular query asked by the client – mails received this week, mails with FOO in the subject line etc. If the server had indexed the relevant properties (received date, subject etc), it was pretty quick at sending back the results. If the user wanted something more in-depth, it was a punishingly slow process as each message would need to be picked up and inspected to see if it met the query – so searching for every email with a particular word in the message body text would be laborious. Three cheers for cached mode and client-side indexing.

clip_image015If you look at Advanced Find in Outlook today, though, you’re staring into a time vortex that transports you right back to the late 1990s, as it hasn’t really changed, even if the speed of getting results back will be noticeably better since you’re almost certainly pulling them out of a local copy of your mailbox.

The first couple of tabs on the Advanced Find dialog let you search for mailbox items that fit some common criteria – but the third tab is a window into how Exchange stores and categorises messages, appointments, tasks etc.

clip_image017You can start Advanced Find from the Search Tools menu option as above. Or press CTRL+SHIFT+F.

Aside: most apps use CTRL+F to invoke Find – try it in Word, Excel etc – but in the mail client, CTRL+F forwards a message instead. Find out why, here.

The idea here is that you can build a query based on properties of messages – and when you select the Field from the extensive drop-down list, it would let you choose appropriate filters (some, like Flag Status or Receipt Requested would only have a couple of possible values, but others would let the user enter text, date or numeric filters).

Not all of the fields are used for much these days – eg InfoPath Form Type harks back to the days when the now-defunct InfoPath could be used to create mailable forms – but having a poke around in Advanced Find can give a curious user some insight into how Exchange and Outlook organises their data.

572 – simple OneNote tricks

clip_image001OneNote has been part of the Office suite since 2003, and has been freely downloadable for much of that time; it’s an invaluable tool for note taking or just capturing information that you’ll want to recall at some point. There have been a few sideways turns in the roadmap, though – as well as the Office application (on Windows and Mac), there is OneNote for mobile devices, OneNote the web experience and OneNote the “Modern” Windows app.

To try to simplify the roadmap somewhat, the app formerly known as OneNote 2016 is now just “OneNote”, and the Store app that shares more of its UX with the mobile and web versions, is OneNote for Windows 10. For more detail on the differences between all the versions, see here.

At one point, the plan was to discontinue the more functional desktop app, and shift development to the simpler Store version, however that plan was rowed back and OneNote (the Office app) will continue to be part of Office, even though it wasn’t installed by default in 2019. The perpetual version of Office (as opposed to the subscription service that is Microsoft 365) will be updated later this year, and OneNote will still be part of that. Probably.

clip_image002There’s not a lot being published on the Roadmap for OneNote, though, so it may not be getting hosts of new features… See here for a list of some recent updates to OneNote for Windows 10. You can jump to the latest What’s New from the Help menu in the Store version.

As has been covered on ToW passim (here, here), you can start OneNote from the Run command, by pressing WindowsKey+R then onenote <enter> for the desktop version, or onenote: for the modern Windows 10 version. In the latter, you can also pin particular pages to the Start menu, handy if you want to jump to a particular page of quick notes or ideas.

clip_image003Any version of OneNote is just great at noting down lists – perhaps by using your pen (though if you’re a big inker, you might want to also check out Journal by Microsoft Garage – it’s a notebook intended for “ink first”).

Or maybe by typing a quick few lines at first, and formatting as a list once you’ve got some text. There are some shortcuts to help that formatting; in both OneNote and OneNote for Windows 10, to quickly select what you’ve just typed, hold the shift key and press the up arrow to grab a row at a time.

clip_image004If you press CTRL+ . on selected text, it will turn into a bulleted list, or press CTRL+ / to make it numbered, and the same combination will remove the list formatting.

To create a table, just press TAB to turn whatever you’ve just typed into the first column, and keep pressing TAB to create new columns, or CTRL+ENTER to accept the column layout and start adding extra rows, or to insert a new row into an existing table. Once have content in your table, you can easily move rows around by simply putting your cursor in the row you want to shift, and hold ALT+SHIFT then use the up / down arrow keys to move that row. Much simpler than faffing about with copy & paste.

clip_image005On the full-fat version of OneNote, you could also select your list and clip_image006by using the somewhat obscure-sounding menu option “Link to Pages”, OneNote will create a new page for each item in your list and then make a hot-link to it. Hover the mouse over to see the link. clip_image007

You can manually create links to any page by selecting the text you want to hot-link from, and press CTRL+K; then either select the destination in the dialog box, or paste the link to the page (or paragraph) if you’ve already copied that link to the clipboard.

clip_image008If you’re going to be doing much with tables, it’s probably better to use the OneNote app rather than the Store one; the older tool has much richer table formatting capabilities, and it also has an Addin architecture which is completely absent from the OneNote for Windows 10 version.

clip_image009The fantastic OneCalendar addin shows you all the notebook pages you’ve worked on by date, so if you spread your note-taking across a variety of sections or even shared notebooks, then it can be invaluable to jump right to the notes in question.

Its big brother, OneTastic, also allows using pre-written Macros to automate tasks like custom sorting of sections and loads more.

#571 – Save the Daylight

clip_image002In the Northern Hemisphere, spring feels finally underway – and following a long locked-down winter, it can’t come soon enough. For many of us, even if meteorological spring started nearly 2 weeks ago, the promise of summer starts when the clocks go forward to daylight saving – or summer – time.

If the country or state you’re in observes summer time, then you’re either about to enter (if in the northern half of the marble) or leave it (if southern). To keep us on our toes, this movement back or forth often happens around the world on different dates. To keep us on our toes, some countries have less-than-hour gaps between time zones, and in the past, others have decided to change time zone permanently.

clip_image004In olden days, some people wore GMT or World Time watches, which allowed the user to tell what the time was in different locations. With the World Time example here, the red arrow hand points (on a 24hr scale) to the current time; when the user rotates the outer bezel so that the nearest location is pointed to by that hand, the other locations listed on the bezel will be aligned with the 24hr number of the current time in those places…

– eg if it’s 2:30am in Iran, then lining Tehran up with the red hand would put both London and Paris at midnight, since they’re both at GMT+1.

eh? In October 1968, the UK decided to move to British Standard TimeGMT+1 – all year round. This particular wristwatch was produced between 1968 and the end of 1971, when the practice was reversed – so for a while, it was correct that London would be in the same time zone as Paris and Rome. Except the watch wouldn’t know when Paris and Rome went into summer time, thus putting them an hour further ahead… oh well, never mind.

clip_image006There may be trouble ahead

In a global working environment, especially one where everything is done online rather than having people in the same location, the friction of time zones changing has never been more obvious. Usually, you’ll only move through time zones relative to everyone else when you travel – flying across large distances, or maybe just driving across a bridge or dam.

But now, a digitally-oriented meeting can shift its time for some of its attendees, relative to the others – depending on where the originator is based.

clip_image008The excellent Alarms & Clock app, which is part of Windows 10, lets you pin cities around the world to a map, showing their approximate location (bet you didn’t know Brissie was south east of Sydney?) and what the time is currently, and if you click the Compare icon to the left of Add new city, you’ll see a grid indicating the relative time in all of your pinned cities. You can jump to a specific date, so if you’re planning a meeting with people in different time zones, it might be a good idea to check what the impact of Daylight Saving Time (DST) changes might be.

Those parts of the US which observe DST, are due to move an hour forward this coming Sunday (ie March 14th). In common with doing things differently to everywhere else, that brings the US (and Canada) one hour nearer most of Europe for the next two weeks, until the end of March. Much of the southern hemisphere comes out of DST the week after that, so by then Sydney will be two hours nearer London than currently.
More info.

The impact of this can be seen in peoples’ calendars, when regular meetings somewhat inexplicably start to clash with each other – if a UK organiser set a recurring meeting for 4pm GMT, that would normally compel Seattleites to be there at 8am, but since they’ll be only 7 hours behind for a couple of weeks, that shifts to 9am in their calendar, potentially clashing with some existing 9am Pacific Daylight Time meeting.

Conversely, a 9am PST / 5pm GMT meeting as created by the person in the US a few weeks ago, would now start at 4pm in the afternoon in London. Great news if that meeting is a Friday afternoon, as it brings beer o’clock one hour forward.

Although Outlook does a pretty decent job of juggling the differences between time zones, there is no obvious way to show what time zone a meeting had been created in (eg show me all meetings that are going to be affected by this shift for the next 2 weeks). A simple trick if you want to check on a specific meeting, is to start a Reply to a meeting you’ve been invited to, whereupon you’ll see the time zone of its creator…

—–Original Appointment—–
From: originator

Sent: 14 February 2021 08:03
To: people

Cc: more people

Subject: meeting that could have been an email
When: 12 March 2021 08:30-09:00 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada).
Where: Microsoft Teams Meeting

While It won’t help you identify the meetings that are causing the clashes, it might help restrain you from firing angry missives at the organiser of the meeting, if you know what’s causing it.

570 – Automation for all

clip_image002Before The Event, if you were an IT professional in the Microsoft ecosystem for any amount of time, you may have marked your calendar by conferences you were going to attend – PDC, WPC, maybe TechEd? The big ones always happened in the US, but some were followed up with regional replays.

All were replaced in time with rebranded but otherwise similarly targeted variants:

  • Build (in the spring, initially in SFO to appeal to the cool cats writing apps, then moved to Seattle with a focus on cloud),
  • Inspire (in the summer, with thousands of partners, latterly held in Las Vegas) and
  • Ignite (in the autumn, home to lots of IT pros, often in Orlando).

2020 saw a fast move to hosting everything digitally and for the most part got away with it. 2021 was always going to be different, and the first big do of the year took place this past week – a spring Ignite. When you don’t need to book a conference centre 12 months in advance and get thousands of people to fly in to attend, why not do some of the big events more often or a different time of year?

For a summary of what was being announced at Ignite 2021, check out the excellent Ignite Book of News.

Charles Lamanna’s keynote on Power Platform highlighted some news around Power Automate – one of the key components of the Power Platform and formerly known as Microsoft Flow, Power Automate began as an online service that could make workflows to stitch together actions that happened across multiple online applications –a new booking alert email to a hotel mailbox could add an appointment to a Google Calendar and send a notification to someone on Microsoft Teams, and so on.

Just announced is that the fairly new Power Automate Desktop will be included in Windows 10 and is free to download and use now.

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This tool brings automation concepts right down to the desktop, allowing any end user to create flows that span multiple apps and services; it’s not unlike an advanced Macro Recorder, where the user can perform a task that is regularly repeated, and the software will keep track of the steps they’re making.

With PAD, however, it’s more than just repetition – they can go back and inject data into those steps, like take the email addresses from column B of this spreadsheet and send a specific email to each one, with logic determining what should be different for each message (so a lot more granular than a simple mail merge).

clip_image006As well as some pretty advanced integration into all kinds of apps on Windows and services on the web, there are lots of tools to guide the flow of logic; while it might seem a bit scary to some, anyone who’s ever done some basic programming will be able to quickly figure out how to describe the logic without needing to break out a line of code.

This capability has come about through Microsoft acquiring Robotic Process Automation specialist company Softomotive in early 2020.

The impact of RPA is explored when looking at how this technology could remove boring, repetitive tasks thus freeing up clever and creative people to do something better with their time and attention. On one hand, automating processes could be a threat as we’ll need fewer people to do the same things, but a more optimistic view is that it will increase productivity and satisfaction. If you have 17 minutes free, then check out a great TEDx talk on “White Collar Robots”.

There’s a great demo of Power Automate technology being used in real-world scenarios, on Microsoft Mechanics. See more videos from the makers on Microsoft Mechanics – YouTube

569 – Password migration

clip_image002One of the problems with free software and particularly free services, is that at some point, they might stop being free. The path of freely-provided online services is littered with companies who gave their service away to get the users, then grappled with the reality that more users means more costs to deliver the service – and if they don’t get enough income from whatever sources they can, the free ride will come to an end. Just look at Photobucket. And every web site that makes you whitelist them in your ad-blocker before you can continue.

The latest in a line of what-used-to-be-free but is now tightening its belt is LastPass, an excellent password manager that has a lot of users but may end up with a good few fewer. The day after the Ides of March, LastPass Free will only allow use on a single device type, so if you currently use it to sync passwords across desktops and tablets or mobiles, then you need to start paying (and maybe you should) or stick to either mobile or desktop.

As soon as the company announced its plans, the web sprung up many articles offering “what is the best alternative to…” type advice. Only a few weeks ago, ToW#561 espoused the virtues of cleaning up your passwords, featuring LastPass and also trailing some features that were coming to an alternative that you might already be using to provide 2 factor authentication on your phone – Microsoft Authenticator.

It’s fairly easy to switch to using Authenticator on your device to also sync passwords and to provide the Auto-Fill function which plugs in usernames/passwords not only to sites on your mobile browser but to other apps too. If you already have a load of passwords set up in LastPass or other locations, there are methods to export them and then import the data into Authenticator.

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In the case of LastPass, you sign into the Vault (either through the browser plugin or directly on their website) and under Advanced Options, select the Export function. It will immediately drop a lastpass_export.csv file into your Downloads folder; be very careful with this file as it contains all your usernames & passwords in clear text.

clip_image006You can get these passwords into Authenticator either by copying the file to your phone (Not a Good Idea) and importing from there, or by installing the Microsoft Autofill extension for Chrome into Edge (remember, Edge is a Chromium browser under the hood), then click on Settings and choose the Import data feature.

Now navigate to your Downloads folder and choose the lastpass_export file. It might take a little while to complete, but when it’s done, make sure you go back to the Downloads folder and clip_image008hard-delete that CSV file (ie select the file, hold the SHIFT key down and press the Delete key – this makes sure it doesn’t go to the recycle bin). You definitely don’t want that file being left behind, or copied or synced anywhere that is not encrypted.

The LastPass browser extension (like other password managers) remains potentially useful on the desktop as it can help to sync passwords between profiles (eg the Work and Personal profile of Edge, if both have the extension installed and logged in using the same LastPass account), or even between browsers – in the cases you might want to use Chrome for some things and Edge for others.

Edge on the PC does have password sync capabilities, though not quite with the same level of flexibility –

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Edge will let you sync passwords, favourites etc if you’re using a Microsoft Account (eg outlook.com) for your Personal profile, and it may do if you have a Microsoft 365 account for your Work Profile.

In a twist of fate, if you pay for a Microsoft 365 Family or a small business environment rather than using the free Microsoft Account, your subscription lacks the Azure Information Protection feature that is required to allow syncing. In which case, a 3rd party password sync feature may be your best option, even if you choose to use Authenticator on your mobile device, and perhaps do a periodic export/import from LastPass to keep your mobile passwords in sync.

Or best of all, just install the Autofill extension into multiple profiles (or Edge & Chrome), signing into the extension using the same Microsoft Account, to keep the passwords in sync. Tidy.