Leaving aside dewy-eyed recollections of Windows Phone, Android and iOS mirror Windows and MacOS in many ways – the latter being more closed and single-supplier while the former is relatively open and available from a large number of providers. Android has a far larger market share than iOS, even if the cognoscenti seem to flock to the Apple device.
One way of making your Android device more integrated to your Windows PC has just been refreshed and renamed – Phone Link.
Previously known as Your Phone, this app lets you access a variety of features of your phone from your PC; from reading and sending SMS messages and working with photos easily, to making and taking calls using your PC as a headset to the phone.
There are some things you can’t easily do with Phone Link, though – while it will mirror notifications you receive on the phone, it doesn’t necessarily allow you to interact with the app that generated them (eg a notification from Twitter won’t let you open the Twitter app to view the full thing). It does allow you to clear notifications though, so if you’re the type with loads of unacknowledged notification badges on your phone, this could be a good way to get rid of them.
While on the topic of mirroring, it is also possible to use WhatsApp on your PC – so you can type messages and paste photos etc into WhatsApp messages, without dealing with the vagaries of autocorrect on the phone.
Bad Actors are all over the internet (not just in your local multiplex), mostly aiming to gain access to data and systems for nefarious purposes, though sometimes they try to do good. Data breaches generally start with the weakest link in the chain: PEBKAC, in other words, It’s Your Problem.
Identity protection company SpyCloud reports that more than two-thirds of passwords which have been breached online are still in use and most users still have the same username and password combo across multiple accounts. If you want to keep your own personal identity and data safe, it’s job #1 to make sure you have unique passwords for each website you use, and that the passwords are not made up of guessable words or phrases.
The Edge browser gives you some tools to manage your passwords better – look for the Password Generator, or the drop-down Suggest strong password option, when you’re registering a new sign-in, and it will generate a long and complex password, stored in your account so in future you can be automatically signed in.
Some sites don’t trigger the password generator or suggestion – perhaps due to how they describe or display the password field(s) – so another option is to use a browser extension like btPass – numerous others are available. It simply drops an icon on the browser toolbar and will show a password of varying complexity and length, which can be quickly copied to the clipboard and pasted into password fields. Since some sites don’t like special characters in the password, you can tweak or edit the text it creates.
Security software company F-Secure has launched a free online password generator, if you’d prefer to create your secrets that way.
The Manage passwords option seen in some password drop-downs – also available from the settings menu or by entering edge://settings/passwords into the address bar – gives access to Password Monitor, which warns you if passwords you have saved are known to have been breached, and can display a list of the sites where your previously-set password has been found in a trove of hacked accounts.
You can quickly check the password used and decide to visit the page to change it – assuming the site still exists – or simply ignore it (on the assumption that you’ll be cleaning up and not using the compromised passwords on any sites you still want to actually visit).
If you install Microsoft Authenticator on your phone and sign in with the same account as you use in your browser, the saved passwords will be available through Authenticator too – so having very complex passwords should be no barrier to usability any more.
Lists form a big part of lots of peoples’ lives – whether it’s a to-do list for productivity afficionados, shopping lists for remembering the essentials or compiling top-five lists of favourite things, just, well, because.
A while back, Microsoft released a new app for Microsoft 365 users called Lists, which was essentially a front-end to SharePoint, itself a staple of the Office 365/Microsoft 365 offering since the beginning, and providing much more functionality than simply a place to stuff documents. The original SharePoint Portal Server 2001 (codenamed “Tahoe”) is nearly old enough to buy itself a beer in its homeland, and relatively advanced logic and custom data validation & handling has been a major part of its appeal for a lot of that time.
Recently, the Lists experience was made available – in preview – for non-M365 users who could sign in with their Microsoft Account. A “lightweight” version of the app, it’s still pretty functional and pitched at individuals, families or small businesses who need to keep lists of things.
Taking a slightly different tack, the To Do application is a good way of making other sorts of lists – that could be Tasks or flagged emails as well as simple tick-lists to mark off what needs to be done. In something of an overlap with Lists, To Do can share its lists with other people – think of To Do as primarily for personal use that you might share, whereas Lists is for managing shared endeavours first and foremost.
If you’re a user of both Amazon’s Alexa services and Microsoft To Do, you might want to integrate them together; using the Tasks In The Hand skill. Once enabled and correctly configured, you can use Alexa to manage that service’s built-in To-Do and Shopping lists, and these are then synchronized to the Microsoft To Do app.
You can rename the lists which are subsequently created in To Do and which sync with Alexa, though you can’t yet manage additional ones. You could simply use the Alexa app to manage the lists rather than synching them with To Do, but setting up synch gives you more flexibility – To Do integrates with other software and services, like being able to show lists in the Microsoft Launcher app on an Android phone.
The Windows Insiders program which, for a good many years, has provided a way for the product team to develop aspects and features of Windows with the help of millions of early testers, announced some changes in its focus recently. The distinction between Dev and Beta channels will blur to some degree, with A/B testing of new experimental features showing up in Dev before some may make it into future releases.
The path to how new features for Windows 11 will be rolled out is changing a little too. Having previously said that there would be only one Feature Update each year, rather than the spring/fall update cadence that has been with Windows 10 for some time, there are going to be intermediate feature experience packs which will deliver some updates, like the forthcoming Android subsystem which will allow Windows 11 users to install and run a subset of Android apps and games on their PC.
If you’re outside of the US, don’t get too excited about the Android apps – the initial preview needs both your PC region to be US and you need an Amazon account in the US, in order to use the Amazon Appstore (which is the home of the subset of available apps). Enterprising tinkerers have found ways to install the software without meeting said requirements – if you choose this rocky path, however, you’re on your own.
If you want some groovy new features for your PC without grubbing around in the command line or waiting for a future update to arrive, do check out the recently-refreshed PowerToys package. The tl;dr history is that PowerToys started as a collection of side projects built during the Windows 95 days, shipped as freebies for power users to play with. The name was dusted down a couple of years ago to collect up similar skunkworks projects for Windows 10 (and now, 11), and has been updated fairly regularly – though the release version is still way off v1.0.
The New PowerToys comprises a collection of addons which will be of varying interest to your average Windows user, but some are so neat on the occasions you need them that you’ll be glad of having installed the package. Image Resizer, for example, is a File Explorer extension to kick off resizing a large picture to a more manageable size – handy for the kind of website where you need a thumbnail or a profile picture that’s of restricted dimensions. There are other file-related tools like Power Rename, as well as power usage, window-handling and a whole lot more.
Of particular interest (and most recent) are utilities to do with your mouse – how many times have you tried to find the location of your pointer (especially if you have multiple screens) by waggling the mouse or tickling the trackpad? Press CTRL key twice to Find My Mouse and the screens go dark, except for a spotlight that shines on the current pointer location. There’s a Mouse Highlighter which – when activated via a configurable shortcut key – leaves a little short-lived blob on-screen where you clicked the mouse; great if you’re recording a training video or doing a demonstration.
Finally, there’s the somewhat more dramatic Mouse Pointer Crosshairs, which puts a big cross centered on wherever your pointer is, and follows it around. This might be hugely distracting to leave it on all the time, but fortunately, a quick press of the shortcut key will turn it off.
The PowerToys use a lot of different shortcut keys – some configurable – and also have a handy Shortcut Key guide, which displays common Windows shortcuts; none of those used by the PowerToys themselves, though.
Well, it seems that gaming is the portal to the metaverse. Brad Sams from First Ring Daily had an idea on how to get rich from “the mesh”, but maybe producing a blockbuster game is a sure-fire way to success. Or almost accidentally make one and give it away.
“Wordle” became a synonym (or even an anthimeria) for a “word (or tag) cloud” from the mid 2000s – the idea being that you feed text into an app to generate a diagram showing the most common words in varying arrangements. The original “wordle.net” site has now disappeared, though since it needed Java to be installed on your computer to actually generate the image, it’s been defunct for over a decade.
In late 2021, another Wordle appeared – a play on the name of its creator (Josh Wardle), a simple word game which has taken the internet by storm. It deliberately only had one round per day (so as to not rob the player’s attention like many other games do), and aims to be free to play and commendably ad-less. If you’d prefer to have your attention stolen so you can repeatedly play the game, try clone Wheeldle instead.
Of course, many other word games are available as apps and sites – like Wordle, the word-search mobile app which has been around for years, along with a load of clones of the viral 6-line Wordle web app; they may not be free and may not be free of ads. Apple has already weilded the ban hammer to several Wordle rip-offs.
If you’ve not been much of a word puzzle gamer previously but you’ve taken to Wordle, try out Wordament – a venerable app available on mobile devices and Windows PCs alike. It’s also available online. However you play it, you will need to put up with some ads on the way.
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.
Even fans of OneNote – either the full-fat Windows x86 version or the versions targeted at other platforms, mobiles and the Microsoft Store, both of which have been covered extensively in ToW passim – will likely use only a fraction of its total functionality. Did you know, for example, that pressing SHIFT+CTRL+> or SHIFT+CTRL+< increases or decreases the font size of the selected text? Or holding CTRL while pressing DEL or BACKSPACE in a block of text deletes the word either side of the cursor, and not just a single character? (Actually, these are true of other Office apps as well, though not Excel, presumably because using Excel for text formatting is considered deviant and weird).
There are many useful features hidden in plain sight, like the tagging functionality which sits on the Home tab. In OneNote for Windows, if you have the ribbon expanded, you’ll see a series of icons to mark selected text with a Tag, and for the top 9 you can tag the text by pressing CTRL+n, where n is the number in the list.
The idea with tags is that you can quickly reference back to the specific text that you’ve highlighted and tagged, via a hyperlink. As well as the variety of in-the-box tags, it’s easy to add custom ones: click on the down arrow at the bottom of the list and choose Customize Tags… then you can supply your own description and choose the icon and colours.
Finding previously-tagged text uses the seriously powerful but sometimes obtuse search function in the sidebar; if you use OneNote to take notes from Outlook meetings, by default you might see hundreds of links that appear to be tagged.
Try using the Search filters at the bottom to restrict the results set, so you only show tags within a given notebook location or across all your notebooks, but for a specific time.
The “OneNote for Windows 10”, Mac and mobile versions of OneNote handle tags slightly differently; while more-or-less compatible the degree of functionality does vary between the clients. Generally speaking, you can find tags across them all, though you may be restricted in editing or creating them. The OneNote mobile app supports a “To Do” tag, for example. The web clients don’t offer custom tags at all, and don’t allow tag-specific search (other than just text indexing).
In the OneNote for Windows 10 store app, you can search for Tags but custom ones created in the desktop app don’t appear in the Tags list when editing a page. Only a handful of tags are initially offered in the store version, and if you add a custom one it’s still possible to press CTRL+n to use it, but you need to count where your tag is in the list as it doesn’t show you the shortcut.
Custom tags added in the store version don’t appear in the tags list of any other client though do sync across other devices, to some degree.
Given the slight rough edges between the versions if you routinely open the same notebook in mobile, web and store/desktop apps, then Tags may not prove so useful – but if you tend to stick to a single UI – especially if it’s the older desktop one – then it’s worth exploring how custom tags could help you organize your stuff.
For some years now, Microsoft has produced an application for mobile devices, which allows easy scanning of bits of paper, photos from physical whiteboards or importing of contact info from business cards.
The “Office Lens” app was originally produced for Windows Phone before being ported to iOS and Android. Later, a PC version came along but with the death of Windows Phone it hardly seemed worth keeping going, since scanning docs and business cards etc is so much easier from a handheld device. As a result, Office Lens on the PC is now gone – dispatched at the end of 2020; if you had installed it previously, you could still use some of its functionality, though the smarter online services that sat behind it are no longer available.
Instead, the old Office Lens mobile apps on the surviving smartphone platforms has been renamed “Microsoft Lens” – along with the release of some improvements and new features.
There are tweaks to the algorithms used to detect edges of documents when scanning pages or turning a receipt snapped at an angle into a square-on image. It’s not always perfect, but you can drag the apices to tidy up the process, and save pages as images on their own or multiple pages of a document into a single PDF file, straight to OneDrive or local on the phone.
There is also a new “Actions” feature which lets you interact with reality – grab text from something you point the camera at, and potentially feed it into the Immersive Reader so the phone will read it out to you. You can also extract a table from the physical world, or scan a QR code or barcode from something in your hand.
The QR scanning is pretty slick, focussing on URLs or files, quickly enabling you to follow the link or view the doc (and ignoring some types of QRs used for encoding a membership number or serial number of a device, etc).
Similarly, barcode reading just brings back the number, whereas some other apps will provide a bit more context – Lightning QR Reader for Android, for example, can read any text encoded in a QR code and will also give some more details for barcodes, like decoding ISBN codes on books to let you search for more info on that specific title. Still, Lens provides a neat & quick solution for scanning or capturing all kinds of info.
If you’re an iPhone user, the connected experience is somewhat watered-down and achieved in a different way, and is mostly about syncing content and continuing web browsing from your phone to your PC. Thank the differences in Android vs iOS ecosystems for that…
For various Samsung phones and the Surface Duo, you can also control and mirror apps from your phone on the PC as well as transfer content. If you have a phone with the shiniest of shiny Android 11, you may be able to treat mobile apps just as if they are Windows apps – pin them to Start menu, run them in their own window on the PC etc. See more here.
For most other Android devices, you can’t yet do the mirroring within the Your Phone experience, but you do get to share app notifications on your PC (so you’ll get “toasts” in Windows for WhatsApp etc), exchange photos and files quickly and easily, manage messaging and even, should you want to, take and make calls on your PC.
To get it up and running, start the Your Phone app on your PC, and the pre-installed Link To Windows app if you have a supported Samsung or Surface device; if not, then install the Your Phone companion app on the phone to get everything set up.
It can be handy getting notifications on your PC that originate on phone apps, especially if your device isn’t next to you – but there may be limited use if all the notification on the phone would normally do is make you tap on it to read the story or interact with the app.
If you’re going to enable notifications, be careful – you’ll want to go through the list of apps that are on your phone, and only allow the ones you really need, or you’ll be getting a blizzard of unwanted toasts on your PC, assuming you’re not in Focus Assist mode.
Perhaps the best feature on Your Phone is the rapid ability to copy photos – without having to send them by email or wait for OneDrive to sync them. Using Your Phone, you can copy the file immediately to your PC, or just browse the photos on a larger screen and possibly screen grab bits of interest to insert into documents or emails. Sadly, what it won’t let you do is manage the photos easily, like delete the garbage…
Still, it’s free and it’s potentially useful for anyone with a Windows 10 PC and an Android phone – so definitely worth a look. For more info on how to use and troubleshoot Your Phone, see here.
Previous Tips have covered making use of 2FA – or 2 Factor Authentication – with your Microsoft Account (ie your account from Outlook.com/Hotmail/MSN/Passport etc) and how to manage passwords better, so you don’t end up with P@ssw0rd1 for every single one of your website logins. Dealing with passwords can be complicated and since humans are typically weak and seek the path of least resistance, this can often lead to huge security lapses.
So 2FA – or its cousin, Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) – is a better way to secure things, as a remote system can validate that the user knows something which identifies them (their username & password, secret phrase, date of birth etc etc) but also has something that identifies them too; a security token, smart card, digital certificate or something else that has been issued, or even just a mobile phone that has been registered previously with whatever is trying to validate them.
Although such systems have been around for a while, the average punter in the EU has been more recently exposed to 2FA through a banking directive that requires it for many services that involve transfer of funds, setting up payments or even using credit cards. In some cases, the tech is pretty straightforward – you get a SMS text message with a 6-digit one-time code that you need to enter into the mobile app or website, thus proving you know something (you’re logged in) and you have something (your phone), so validating that it really is you. Or someone has stolen your phone and your credentials…
MFA is stronger than 2FA, as you can combine what you know and what you have, with what you are. An example could be installing a mobile banking app on your phone then enrolling your account number, username & password; the know is your credentials, and the have is a certificate or unique identifier associated with your phone, as it’s registered as a trusted device by the banking service that’s being accessed. Using your fingerprint to unlock the app would add a 3rd level of authentication – so the only likely way that your access to the service (for transferring funds or whatever) could be nefarious, is if you are physically being coerced into doing it.
2FA and MFA aren’t perfect but they’re a lot better than username & password alone, and Microsoft’s @Alex Weinert this week wrote that it’s time to give up on simpler 2FA like SMS and phone-call based validations, in favour of a stronger MFA approach. And what better way that to use the free Microsoft Authenticator app?
Once you have Authenticator set up and running, It’s really easy to add many services or apps to it – let’s use Twitter as an example. If you’re using a browser, go to Settings and look under Security and account access | Security | two-factor authentication.
In the Microsoft Authenticator app itself, add an account from the menu in the top right and then choose the option that it’s for “other” – presuming you’ve already have enrolled your Work or school Account (Microsoft/Office 365) and your Personal account (MSA, ie Outlook.com etc).
After tapping the option to add, point your phone at the QR code on the screen and you’re pretty much done; you’ll need to enter a one-time code to confirm it’s all set up – rather than getting an SMS, go into the list of accounts in the Authenticator app home screen, open the account you’ve just added then enter the 6-digit code that’s being displayed. This is the method you’ll use in future, rather than waiting to be sent the 6-digit code by text.
As you can see from the description, there are lots of other 3rd party apps and websites that support MFA using authenticator apps –