As detailed in ToW #443, there are ways of running Modern Windows apps from a script, command line or maybe just from the WindowsKey+R Run prompt – so you don’t need to use the mouse or your finger to activate them.
If you’re looking for the shortcut name for your favourite app, there’s a somewhat lengthy process to find out what it is, but at least you only need to do it once…
Try the following:
Remember the time when talking to a computer seemed like science fiction?
If you’re an Amazon Echo or Sonos One* user, you’ll already be familiar with barking orders at an inanimate object. If you’re tired of shouting ALEXA… ALEXA!!!, then you can even change the “Wake Word” on the Amazon devices – but not yet others – so you can say other things instead. Handy if your daughter or your dog is called Alexa.
In the Alexa app on your phone, go to Settings, look under the list of devices and if you select an Echo device of some sort, then you’ll find a Wake Word option fairly far down the list. This lets you choose something else, though not yet at the level when you could make up your own wake word…
Anyway, who can pass up the opportunity to pretend to be Mr Scott?
Anyway, recent announcements saw the preview of Cortana joining hands with Alexa and allowing access both from Windows 10 PCs to (some) Alexa functionality, and US-based Amazon users can access Cortana stuff through Alexa-enabled devices.
On your PC, you may need to check your Cortana settings (just press WindowsKey and start typing Cortana to see the settings) to either enable the Hey Cortana key phrase, or press WindowsKey+C as a shortcut, then speak.
Voice-searching on the PC using Cortana can be a pretty handy thing to do, as there are plenty of phrases that will give you a direct response rather than take you to a website. It’s quicker to press the WindowsKey+C option than to say “Hey Cortana”, and you could ask stuff like M-S-F-T, what’s the time in New York, what’s the news, what’s the weather, convert pound to dollar and so on.
You’ll also need to grant permission to share info between the two services, and now be able to do things like add items to your Amazon shopping list from within the Cortana UI, or in the reverse, query your Office 365 calendar from your Echo smart speaker.
YMMV at the moment, but it’ll surely get more integrated in time. Right now, you can’t stream music through Alexa to the PC (or, it seems, control smart home devices that work through Alexa, though that could be a regional thing for the moment) – and if you’ve a UK-based Amazon account, you can’t add the Cortana Skill to your Alexa account, so there’s no option of querying Cortana from the Echo, yet. US users can, though.
Still, Normal People don’t have electronics listening to everything they say… so what if a few nerds need to put up with some temporary friction from having two competing assistants try to work together? Click-Over-bzzzt.
Power Users often like to start applications quickly, without recourse to grubbing around with a mouse or a trackpad. Super Users might even want to write scripts that automate all sorts of things that mere mortals with less time on their hands are happy to do manually. Regardless of your penchant for automation, here are a few short cuts you can take to quickly start apps that you use often.
Apps pinned to taskbar
The taskbar in Windows obviously shows you what’s currently running, but can also be used to pin frequently accessed apps or – by default at least – those that Windows thinks should be frequent (Edge, Store, etc – right-click on them to unpin if you disagree). You’ll see a highlight line under the apps that are running, so those without the line are simply pinned there.
If you drag the pinned apps around, they’ll stay in that position relative to each other, and new apps will always start to the right (or underneath, if you use a vertical taskbar, as you really should). Now, if you press WindowsKey+number, you’ll jump to the app that is n along the line, and if that app isn’t running, then Windows will start it. So in the picture above, pressing WindowsKey+2 would start Edge, or WindowsKey+3 would bring Outlook to the fore.
Shortcut to desktop
You could try an old-skool method, by creating a desktop shortcut to apps that are already on your Start menu – press WindowsKey+D to show the bare desktop itself, then press Start to show the actual Start menu.
Assuming your Start menu isn’t full screen then you’ll be able to drag icons or tiles from the menu to the Desktop, and if you right-click the shortcut and look at Properties, you’ll see a Shortcut key: option… just press some key sequence that makes sense to you and press OK to save.
This method differs from the taskbar one above, because each press of the shortcut you set might start a new instance of the app (if it supports that) – which may or may not be desirable. If you end up with several windows of OneNote, for example, you could cycle through them by repeatedly pressing the appropriate WindowsKey+n as above.
Keep on Running
There’s no better mark of being a real PC deity than by launching your apps through running the executable name… you know the drill? WindowsKey+R to get the Run dialog (it’s so much faster than pressing Start), then enter the app’s real name and you’re off to the races. winword, excel, calc, notepad… they’re for novices. The genuine hardcases might even dive into the (old fashioned, obvs) Control Panel applets like ncpa.cpl rather than navigating umpteen clicks.
Looking at the shortcut to OneNote’s modern app above, though, it’s clear there isn’t a simple executable to run – onenote will launch the on-life-support OneNote 2016 version.
Many modern apps do, however, let you launch them from the Run dialog by entering a name with “:” at the end…
If you’re an Android user, and a Windows Insider, then you can get a preview version of the Your Phone app for the PC; after starting the app on the PC, it will ask for your mobile number and text you a link to download an updated version of the Microsoft Apps app (ya falla?). Download the update, sign in as appropriate, and suddenly your photos on the phone will start appearing in near real-time on your PC.
The Your Phone app actually uses a Wi-Fi connection on the phone to sync content with the PC – they don’t need to be on the same network but they do need to be able to talk to the back end service that coordinates things. For now, it just does photos (and only on Android), but in time, more services will be added. See more details here. And here.
The photo sharing capability is pretty cool – if you ever find yourself taking a photo on your phone and then immediately wanting to use it on your PC, then your alternatives are either to wait for OneDrive to sync your new pic from phone to cloud (and then back down to your PC)… or plug the phone in on a USB cable and root about in its file system to find the photo. Or the worst, but probably most used: you email the photo from your phone, to yourself…