585 – Heading to Viva

clip_image002Back in the mid/late 20th century, the mainstream car market in developed countries was quite localized, where certain brands were seen as the default. Italians drove Fiats and Lancias; even until fairly recently, pretty much all you’d see in French towns were Citroëns and Renaults. The biggest blue-collar rivalry for Brits, Aussies and many Americans was undoubtedly… are you a Ford family, or a GM family?

In the UK’s 1970s, Ford had the Fiesta (small), Escort (mid), Cortina (large), Capri (sporty) and Granada (executive). GM operated in mainland Europe as Opel (Kadett/Rekord/Monza/Senator etc) and in the UK, as Vauxhall (Chevette/Cavalier/Carlton etc). Brits of a certain age may fondly? remember the Escort-sized, everyman family car: the Vauxhall Viva. The announcement of the employee wellbeing platform, Microsoft Viva thus brought a misty-eyed moment of reflection for some…

clip_image004Since the unveiling in February 2021, Viva functionality has been gradually added to a variety of Office 365 experiences from Topics (based on what was called Project Cortex), Learning (highlighting online learning materials from a selection of company-curated sources, including stuff from LinkedIn Learning), Connections (a modern take on the company intranet) and the first module which was available, Insights, which is accessed via an app in Teams.

The Insights-defined “Virtual Commute” and calendar-blocking Focus Time has been mentioned previously in ToW #577, but it’s had a new shot in the arm as well as announcements about forthcoming improvements, such as the ability for Teams to quieten notifications when you’re in a focus period, and quiet time when Teams and Outlook will shush pinging you outside of working hours.

Now rolling out to Viva Insights is a set of mindfulness and meditation exercises curated from Headspace, who produce a load of online video as well as Netflix series and in-flight channels. See more about Headspace in Viva Insights, here.

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584 – Office Apps expansion

clip_image002Subscribers to Office 365 / Microsoft 365 obviously get a load of services like email, OneDrive storage, SharePoint and so on, as well as client apps like the full-blown Office suite. Over the years, the app experience has got quite a lot closer with the web clients sometimes advancing faster than the desktop or mobile apps, meaning that it’s increasingly viable to live your life entirely in the browser.

clip_image004The Office home page – on www.office.com when you’re signed in using your M365 account, or maybe even installed as an app on your PC – shows a list of available apps if you click the grid icon in the top left. Initially you’ll see the most popular or your own most recently used apps, but try clicking on “All apps” for the full list of what else is offered.

What you’ll see depends on what kind of subscription you have and what previews you might have opted into, as well as what apps may have been published by your subscription’s administrators (eg internal HR website or IT support desk sites could be listed there).

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To keep things interesting, you can also install most of these web apps as Progressive Web Apps on your PC – using Edge, go to the Settings “…” menu in the top right, and look for the Apps menu option. They will then appear in the Start menu, can be pinned to the Task Bar and run in their own discrete window, just like a “real” program would.

One app which could roll back the years for a lot of people is Visio. Microsoft bought the diagramming software company at the turn of the century, for what was the largest acquisition to date – check out the list of other deals and see if you can remember many of those other $100M+ names…

Microsoft Visio became a premium addition to the Microsoft Office suite, latterly being sold as an add-on like Project. The software has continued to evolve over the years and has its own band of fans who use it for mind mapping, flowcharting, network diagrams, room layouts and so much more. You can even build Power Automate workflows using Visio (see more here).

clip_image008It was recently announced that Visio is coming to a good many Office 365 subscriptions next month, for no extra charge. The “lightweight” web app approach is not going to supplant the full application for more complex purposes, but it still offers a wide range of templates that can be used to start some fairly snazzy drawings, all done in the browser.

If you’d normally turn to PowerPoint to try to create graphical documents like flow diagrams or simple org charts, keep an eye out on the All Apps list to see when Visio makes an appearance, and give it a try.

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583 – Zooming PPT

clip_image002The Pandemic may have exposed millions of new WFHers to the delights of video conferencing, but the Zoom in this week’s ToW has nothing to do with the eponymous meeting company, rather it deals with a very cool yet somewhat obscure feature in PowerPoint, called, er, Zoom.

Way back when, there were numerous product incubation groups in Microsoft, who tried out new features as addins or companion products; over time, most of them have disappeared or the prototype products they produced made their way into the mainstream (or just quietly went away). Innovation continues within the various engineering groups, of course, and some is curated in the Microsoft Garage.

One OfficeLabs project that showed promise was pptPlex – an addin to PowerPoint that made it easy to create and present “non-linear” presentations, offering a kind of “Seadragon” type experience of zooming into content. The actual pptPlex software is long-gone but if you want a reminder of what it was like, or even to recall how funky Office 2007 looked, check out this video tutorial.

clip_image004But like other Labs innovations, the ideas were re-born in other ways, in this case in the PowerPoint Zoom feature. This lets you essentially embed a thumbnail of a slide into another one, optionally even replacing the mini-version of the slide graphic with a custom image; in the example shown below, rather than a miniscule chart of stock price, we’ve put the company logo instead, but clicking on it drives a nice zoom transition to a separate slide which has the real chart.

clip_image006It’s probably easiest to see by example so check out the download here – to experience the Zoom effect, put the file into Slideshow mode.

For more info on using Zoom, see here.

582 – Edgy Profile Switching

clip_image002The “new” Edge browser has been around long enough to be just “the Edge browser”, given that old Edge is not only deprecated but being removed from Windows 10. If you’re still clinging onto Internet Explorer, then get ready for its demise; it’s got a year left, then the plug gets pulled. Plenty of ToW’s past have dealt with the Edge browser, especially the benefits of having multiple profiles (useful to keep work and personal stuff separate, or even having different sets of credentials for common sites, like demo accounts vs real users).

A feature which was added to the profile functionality was the ability for Edge to switch between them automatically – in other words, Edge would try to determine if you’re opening a site in the “wrong” profile, and it also lets you set the default on which profile should be used when you click an external link in an email or a document (other than in the browser itself). This not only changes how the site might be displayed, but also sets where the browser history is saved, and which set of cookies, cached usernames / passwords etc should be used…

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You could set that a specific profile should be used for “external” links; if set to “Work”, then all external links (from other apps) would open in that profile; automatic does a pretty good job but sometimes gets flummoxed by M365 sites like Sharepoint, which could mean clicking a link to a doc in Outlook will try to open it in your personal profile, and fail to authenticate (since you’d want it to use the work profile’s credentials).

Similarly, if you had it set up to open links in whichever profile was last used or to hard-default to Work, then clicking a URL that you’d want to view in Personal might cross the streams. Fortunately, an unreleased feature could be just what you need in this scenario.

There’s a still-experimental “flags” feature set that is part of both Google Chrome and Microsoft’s Chromium-based-Edge; different releases of each browser have a changing set of flags features which can be enabled if you know they’re there and are prepared that they might not work, or at least might not work in the same way as they eventually will.

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Many flags tweak how the browser operates under the covers and will never be noticeable by the average user; others enable features that are hidden by default or are still early in their development cycle.
The plan is that (in some form) flag features will be part of the mainstream release, though not necessarily in the same way. You can view the flags by entering edge:flags in the address bar.

clip_image008One flag which is eminently and quietly useful in this potential multi-profile befuddlement is edge://flags/#edge-move-tabs-to-profile-window. It does pretty much what it says; right-clicking on a browser tab will let you switch it between the profiles, so if you’re presented with a login screen for a site that should be opened in the other profile, one click is all it takes to flick it across.

581 – 21H1 is not a flu

clip_image002[4]Last week, the latest set of changes to Windows 10 started to become widely available. The 21H1 update – following the naming convention established in October 2020 with 20H2, rather than using a version number like 1903is now rolling out.

There are few major visible changes in 21H1; it’s mostly an under-the-hood arrangement, with a few minor features involving things like having multiple Windows Hello capable web cameras (in case you decided to splash out on a better camera for your online meetings, to better highlight your carefully curated backdrop?) Even some of the latest Surface devices only have a 720P front-facing camera, so if you want to upgrade your visuals with a 1080P one, there are plenty available for not much outlay. There’s even a new Microsoft Modern Camera which might be great for Teams, but unfortunately doesn’t support Windows Hello. Maybe that one needs a reboot.

A few legacy bits of technology have been removed from 21H1 – like the “original” Edge browser, ie the “Project Spartan” one that was launched with Windows 10 before being replaced with the Chromium-based version we enjoy today. For a preview of what is next for the block, check out the list of deprecated features – things that are still there but being tolerated rather than enhanced.

In other Windows news, the previously-announced slimmed-down version, called Windows 10X, is not going to happen any time soon, if at all. Where is Surface Neo now?

Having tried to “simplify” Windows previously with WinRT and then Windows S Mode, the latest turn is to do a “Cairo” by deciding to bring some of the planned features into a different release schedule, ie the mainstream one.

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The next frontier for visible Windows enhancements might be the 21H2 update which logic would suggest should be with us midway through the fourth quarter of 2021. Reportedly codenamed “Sun Valley” and bringing a fresh new UI sheen, this next big update is expected to be announced soon – maybe something else is to follow?

580 – Let’s Lens

clip_image002For 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.

clip_image004Instead, 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.

clip_image006There 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.

clip_image008The 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.

clip_image010Microsoft Lens (on both Android and iOS) is described as a PDF scanning tool, but it’s also got a ton of extra functionality which is worth checking out if you haven’t used it for a while.

579 – Archive that email

clip_image002There was a time when archiving email meant taking a few Megabytes of data away from the restricted space within your mailbox, and possibly storing it for posterity in an a PST file on your PC, where the mail would stay until eventually the file is either corrupted or deleted with no backup being taken first, whichever inevitable event happened first.

clip_image004Thanks to Moore’s Law, mailbox capacity is now less of a constraint. Having too much clutter and the distraction that it causes is a more pressing issue than not having enough space.

There are tools – some mythical and magical – to reduce volumes of unnecessary emails, and automatic processing via features like the Focused Inbox or Clutter can help to filter out stuff that is getting in the way, but fundamentally the decision on whether to delete, defer, delegate or just leave it lying about, rests with the user.

There is still an AutoArchive function in Outlook, but you probably don’t want to use that.

clip_image006Instead, look at the simpler “Archive” feature, which is available for Microsoft 365 users and appeared first in the web client before making it into desktop Outlook. If you haven’t used the Outlook Web App for a while, it’s worth having a look since it has evolved massively over the years, and often leads the way for new functionality and integration, compared to its desk-bound precursor. There is a view that eventually, the web client will replace Outlook on the PC.

If the Archive option shows up in the web UI (with suitable icon), the folder should also be visible in desktop Outlook in the main folder tree. Just like you have an Inbox, Drafts, Sent Items clip_image008and so on, it will have been created for you but you may need to expand the view to locate it. And no, you can’t rename it…

Check out the Archive folder properties, and you can see its size on your own machine or on the server (assuming that you’re not storing everything in your mailbox within your Outlook cache).

To fire an email into the Archive folder from the desktop Outlook client, just press backspace if you’re currently viewing the message in the preview window. The default shortcut key to archive a message in Outlook Web App is E though you can reconfigure the app to use different shortcut schemes, in case you’re more familiar with other web clients. To see the shortcuts in Outlook web app at any time, just press the ? key.

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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?

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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?