For a long time, storage was relatively expensive so it was a good idea to spend time and money reducing the amount you would needed to use. In 1990, PC hard disks would cost about $0.20 per megabyte, and capacity would be in the 2-3 figure MB range. So, compression software could be used to delay the day you’d need to buy a bigger disk, even if there was a slight impact on performance (through decompressing and re-compressing data while reading from and writing to the disk).
As storage got cheaper, the tendency to just keep old data gained prevalence, though some systems imposed limits due to the relative complexity and expense of managing their data, providing resiliency and backup services.
Corporate email quotas were measured in Megabytes, and tools like the Outlook Thread Compressor helped people reduce the amount of space their mail took up. In time, people used it to simply reduce the number of messages they needed to read, rather than worrying about the space they’d save – and it inspired the Clean Up Folder function in Outlook today.
When Google launched Gmail in 2004 with a staggering mailbox limit of 1GB – 500 times that which was offered by Hotmail – the rules on what was expected for email quotas were re-written, with an expectation that you would never need to delete anything, and could use search to find content within.
Leaving aside corporate policy on data retention, keeping piles of stuff indefinitely causes its own set of problems. How do you know which is the right version? Can you be sure that you have copies of everything you might need, in case the data is lost or damaged? If you have a backup, do you know that it’s a full copy of everything, and not a partial archive? Having multiple copies of the same content can be a headache too, if you’re not sure which is the true original and which might be later copies or partial backups.
Applications might create their own duplicate content – perhaps through bugs, or through user activity. There was a time when syncing content to your phone or to another machine might risk duplication of everything – like having multiple copies of contacts in Outlook, for example. A variety of hacky resource kit utilities were created to help clean up mailboxes of duplicate contacts, appointments etc; you might want to check out a more modern variant if you’re worried that your mailbox is cluttered up.
The curse of duplication can be a problem at home, too, especially when it comes to photographs. Have you ever taken a memory card from a camera, or a backup of an old phone, and copied the whole lot just to be sure you have everything?
Cleaning up the dupes can help make sense of what remains. You could spend money on proper photo archiving and management tools like Adobe Lightroom, or you could roll your own methodology using a mixture of free and low-cost tools – tech pundit Paul Thurrott recently wrote about his approach.
There are many duplicate-removing tools out there – just be sure you’re getting them from a reliable place, free from adware and other nasties. Be wary of anything that purports to “clean” your PC (registry cleaners etc), watch out when accepting T&Cs and don’t allow the setup routine to install any other guff you don’t need. Make sure you have the right protection on your machine, too.
One recommended tool is Duplicate Sweeper – free to try but a princely £15 to buy, but worth the peace of mind that comes with a tidy photo library or Documents folder.
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.
In the same week that Salesforce announced its intent to splurge a load of cash on buying Slack, Microsoft’s Teams team put out a lengthy blog post outlining a load of new and updated features that are shortly coming to the Teams user experience. Some have been talked about before and are now already available or will roll out soon (you can always prod Teams to check for updates by clicking on your profile icon in the top right and choosing Check for updates – any available updates should be downloaded and installed in the background).
One new feature is a supposedly AI-powered (isn’t everything that’s vaguely smart these days?) noise suppression feature – useful if you’re on Teams calls and have to share your environment with noisy people/animals etc. Configure your own noise suppression settings within the Devices options, by clicking on Settings under your profile at the top right.
There are numerous new calling features coming, which will help in managing real (PSTN) phone calls and VoIP calls, as well as a load of new partner devices that can be plugged into your PC to give you a phone on your desk, if you like that sort of thing.
There are also some useful updates to bring other applications into Teams meetings, like allowing you to set up Polls in advance (using Microsoft Forms, configured within the Teams app with an easy-to-use wizard), and using Power Apps and other elements of the Power Platform, it’s never been easier to roll your own apps for including in Teams.
There’s a $45K prize fund available for the best apps that are built and submitted by February 2021, so if you have ideas, better get cracking…
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 –
If you’re a car-owning Android phone user, it’s worth looking into the Android Auto ecosystem. At a high level, Android Auto is like Apple CarPlay – a way of projecting apps from your phone to a screen in your car, and interacting with them through the car’s own UI – be that touch, buttons or speech. Some cars will allow your phone to connect wirelessly, while others may require it to be plugged in.
If you have an older car – or you didn’t fork out on the options list to add CarPlay/Android Auto to your more recent one (like the £3K option price on a £170K Ferrari) – it’s still possible to run Android Auto on your phone while in the car.
The main Android Auto app can either be run manually or set to start automatically when the phone connects to your car’s Bluetooth system.
The app displays a simplified arms-reach or voice-driven UI, showing navigation, telephone and music apps, and the settings allow for a good amount of choice – Waze or Google Maps, Spotify or Amazon Music etc.
Assuming you’re going to cradle it, you’d treat it like you might use a fitted satnav system – albeit one which uses the phone’s network to show real-time traffic news, updates maps dynamically and freely rather than the eye-watering prices to update software and maps on installed systems.
There are 120-odd Android Auto compatible apps, so even if you don’t see their UI on the main menu, you could respond (with voice) to incoming messages on WhatsApp, or choose to listen to podcasts with Stitcher as one of several interchangeable “music” apps.
If your car does support Android Auto (check compatibility here) then it might take a bit of experimenting to understand how to connect it and how to get the car’s display to show the app outputs, though the results are largely the same as what you’d see if you just ran the host Android Auto app on your phone screen directly.
You might be able to replace the satnav system in an older car with one which does support Android Auto – see here for some ideas – as aftermarket satnavs are increasingly simple, ditching a CD/DVD player and maybe not even having a radio tuner – perhaps all you need in your car stereo is a 7” screen to which your phone connects, and an amplifier. Some retro-fit satnav systems use Android as their own OS, and offer a whole host of Carlos Fandango features for little more than the cost of a maps update for an older in-car system.
There’s a great little app built-in to Windows 10 called Alarms & Clock, which lets you set alarms on your PC, show a world map with multiple locations / time zones displayed, and also provides a neat countdown or count-up timer.
You can create multiple separately-controlled timers with different durations & names; so you could have an overall meeting countdown timer, and then a separate one for each participant, if you were acting as the time cop to keep everyone else in line.
The Stopwatch is simply a fast-running counter of elapsed time, and by using the icon on either Timer or Stopwatch screens, you can easily fill the display to help focus on the elapsed or remaining time. Handy if you’re in a physical meeting (remember them?) and are able to display a laptop screen showing the time for everyone.
Those of us who still wear physical, mechanical wristwatches may be passingly familiar with a few features that have existed for decades to achieve the same kind of function, albeit more for individual rather than shared use.
So called “diver” watches were popularised in the 1960s and 70s, as tough, waterproof and utilitarian. The most striking feature of any dive watch is generally the rotating numbered bezel which goes around the outside.
The simple idea was that when you entered the water (knowing you might have 20 minutes of air), you would turn the bezel so the arrow / zero marker was set to where the minute hand was at that point – meaning a later glance at the watch will tell you how many minutes have passed since.
Lots of other non-dive watches also have rotating bezels or indicators, and can be useful for things other than scuba – when the activity above started at 5 minutes to 10, the bezel was set, and it’s easy to see in a trice that was 11 or 12 minutes ago. Not sub-second accurate, but it’s a simple way to mark the passing of time.
Many chronograph watches – which combine the function of a stopwatch and a regular timepiece – have a Tachymetre scale around the outside, yet most people these days will have no clue what it’s for. The basic function of the watch is that pusher buttons on the side will start and stop the movement of the chronograph hand which ticks round to indicate elapsed time.
The deal with the TACHY scale is that if you know a distance – the length of a straight on a motor-racing track, for example – and you time something going over that distance, then you can quickly calculate its speed across the ground.
In practice this is easier said than done, since the TACHY scale reads how many of the <distance> would be covered in an hour at this speed. If the measured distance was exactly 1km or 1mile then it’s an easy calculation – if it took 12 seconds to cover 1km, that would equate to 5km per minute or 300km/h. If the measured distance was a fraction – let’s say the length of the 12-second straight was 150m – then the calculation would be 300 x 150m per hour, or 45km/h. By the time you’ve done that in your head, the subject will be half a lap further on…
Another variant on the theme would be if you know the speed – e.g. you’re in a plane with inflight map display, or passenger in a car on cruise control on the motorway – then you could use the Tachymeter to calculate distance travelled.
If you were cruising at 120km/h, and started the timer, then stopped it when it reached 120 on the scale… (after 30 seconds) – then you know you will have travelled 1km in that time.
Yes, there probably are hundreds of times a month when you need to know exactly this.
Slightly more useful to the average person, some chronographs have a Pulsations bezel rather than a Tachymeter scale, or maybe even have both (since the Tachymeter would typically be used for more than 15 seconds, it’s possible to have one quarter of the bezel represent pulsations and the rest of it be a Tachy).
Watches with Pulsations bezels are sometimes nicknamed “Doctors’ watches” as the utility is to help count a patient’s pulse – the method being you start the chronograph, count 15 pulses and the corresponding number on the bezel would tell you what the pulse/minute rate is.
Smart watches, eh, who needs them when you have space-age timing technology like this?
There are other more accessible and arguably easier ways for the modern PC user to capture the screen, though. You could start a Teams meeting with yourself (a handy way to check how you look and sound on video) by going to the Calendar node in Microsoft Teams and click Meet now. Once you’re in the meeting with only yourself, you can share your desktop or an app in the usual way, and record the “meeting” for later enjoyment.
Depending on how your Teams/M365 environment is set up, your recording may be stored on OneDrive or SharePoint (as opposed to being automatically uploaded to Microsoft Stream – a new change that was announced at Ignite), but one way or another you can download the MP4 recording to a file, and share it more widely.
A simpler method might be to just go to the Stream portal – if you’re a subscriber to Microsoft 365 – and create a screen recording from there.
If you’re not looking for anything too fancy, though, a quick & easy way to grab a recording of an application – not the whole screen, only the current app window – is to use the Xbox Game Bar that’s probably included in your Windows 10 install.
Although the Game Bar is designed to be used for recording snippets of gameplay, it’s also a really neat way of capturing the video and audio of pretty much any other application; with a bit of practice, you could record your own instructions on how to carry out some task in an application, while showing just that app window, and it’ll be available to share in a few moments.
Simply open the app you want to record, then press WindowsKey+G to bring up the overlay GameBar UI.
Click the floating toolbar along the top to show or hide various docked windows which will appear on the left side; if you want to record a commentary over the top of your screen capture, then click the settings cog at the far right of the toolbar and set the option to record system audio as well.
When you’re ready, press the round record button in the Capture dialog (or press WindowsKey+ALT+R), also making sure your mic isn’t muted if you want to record your voice. Once you’re live, you’ll see another floating toolbar that lets you mute your mic and stop the recording, and when complete, it’ll show a confirmation that the recording is done – click on that notification to go straight to the folder where the recordings are held.
Just open the Editor and create a new project, add the huge video capture file, drag it to the Timeline then hit Finish video to save an encoded version at a lower quality – for rough screen caps, Medium (1280×720) is probably good enough, and drops from 130+ MB/minute to more like 5MB/min.
Updates flow to Microsoft 365 on a regular basis – there’s a published list of all the minor and major changes that are launched and on their way. As well as improving the current user experience and adding new features, occasionally whole new offerings are added – such as Microsoft Lists, which first made an appearance in July.
Lists gives an easy way of creating, sharing and managing lists of custom information within a team – tracking issues, recording assets, anything in fact, that might have used a shared spreadsheet to do it in a low-tech way. Lists was announced to provide a modern-looking, consistent way of managing lists through a variety of front-ends – including mobile apps, to come later this year.
You should be able to see Lists from the menu on Office 365 web apps – start at www.office.com and sign in with a business Office/Microsoft 365 login and the new icon will give you access to Lists – get started here.
Just like sharing forms or doing task management, there are often numerous ways to do the same thing – and in days of yore, that would have meant several competing and incompatible technologies, encouraged to fight it out with each other to try to ensure that the best one wins. Nowadays, with a more collegiate mindset, consistent ways of doing things show up in different user experiences – like To-Do and Outlook, StickyNotes and more. Expect deeper integration across other apps in due course
The new Lists experience is essentially just a great UI built on top of a mature back-end; SharePoint Lists, which have evolved over the last 10+ years, allowing the definition of custom columns and rules to validate data entry.
One new frontier is to integrate the new Lists UI into Teams; if you have ability to administer a Team, you will see an “add a tab” function alongside the Posts / Files etc tabs that are typically presented.
Adding a List tab will then walk you through a process to either choose an existing List (by entering the URL of the SharePoint site that hosts it) or by creating one by importing a spreadsheet, starting from a number of templates or by defining it from scratch
Have a play with Lists and think about how your team could use them in place of spreadsheets.
Microsofties: There’s an internal story about how Lists came about, and looking forward to where it’s likely to go in the future.
Check out Paul Thurrott’s excellent introduction to Lists. And there’s even a Lists Look Book.
Many visitors to Microsoft UK’s TVP campus over the years will have been in the auditorium for some kind of event. When the first three buildings at TVP first opened in September 1997, they each had different themes for their meeting room names – B1 had inventors (like Babbage, Turing etc), B2 were local place names (Henley, Bisham and so on) and B3 had old Microsoft code names, like Hermes, Olympus, Xenon, Memphis (whatever happened to that guy?) and the biggest room got the biggest code name of them all: Chicago.
Yes, just over 25 years ago, the largest product launch Microsoft had ever done – following the widest beta program to date – took place, and Windows 95 was released. Listen to some of the background history on the run up to Win95 with Raymond Chen, (who’s been involved with Windows pretty much his whole career) on the Windows Insider podcast. Raymond even got his name on the Win95 Easter Egg.
Windows 95 really was a big deal in a whole lot of ways – it made computers easy enough for even ordinary people to use (leaving aside the holy wars of Mac vs PC – remember that in 1995, Apple was in a very different place from where the Mac went in the second Jobs era). An advertising blitz got the message across that this new Windows was different – you could connect to the internet with MSN, and do all sorts of other stuff, powered by the Stones’ Start Me Up and a Jay Leno-run glitz launch with some groovy dancers.
The IT gutter press had a field day with the choice of launch music – rumoured to have cost $millions, though according to Windows Weekly’s Paul Thurrot, instead of “you make a grown man cry”, Win95 could have been launched to the “end of the world”…
A more recent product launch has its roots even further back, though – Flight Simulator has been brought up to date, having been largely on the shelf for 13 years. The very first PC release was in 1982, initially as a port from an Apple II version, and done to showcase the power of 3D graphics, and the last major update was in 2007.
The new version is quite a different spectacle – using AI in Azure and Bing mapping to render the world at large, reviews are glowing – “a spectacular technical achievement and a deeply inspiring experience, filled with glorious possibilities.” Real-time weather makes for some extremely impressive photos – like Hurricane Laura.
Flight Simulator 2020 is huge. Think, 100+Gb download – and you’ll need a meaty PC to run it, though a version is on its way for Xbox. So, set aside a long time to download it…
Flight Simulator is already the most-played game using the Game Pass system on PC – with over 1 million players over the last few weeks, racking up over a billion miles – the equivalent of flying around the world 40,000 times.
Finally, a link back to Chicago – in early versions of Flight Simulator, the default airport was Meigs Field at Chicago, a single-runway downtown airport on an artificial peninsula on Lake Michigan. Flight Simulator 2004 was both the last version to run on Windows 95/98, and was the last to feature Meigs Field after that airport was suddenly closed in 2003. Here it is, in the latest version – good luck landing there.
The Mayor at the time sent in bulldozers during the night to incapacitate the runway, against FAA law, rather than go through the time consuming and costly process of closing the airport through normal channels. Politicians, eh?
For what most people would think of as a simple application, Windows Calculator has had a reasonable chunk of attention on ToW over the years – back in 2012, #90 uncovered some of the groovy updates that were coming in the then-soon-to-be-forthcoming Windows 7. Did anyone actually go to a Launch Party?
CALC has grown to include lots of other features than simple arithmetic – adding scientific functions, programming functions (for all those times when you need to multiply in octal, for example) and more..
Calculator was reimagined as a Modern App, and has added numerous extra features accessed via the hamburger menu – such as Date Calculators that will show the time difference between two dates – or numerous converters, some static (eg. length, weight – measures that don’t tend to change) and others dynamic, like currency conversion rates. A visual refresh arrived with a colourful new icon and some other graphical tweaks.
There are some neat shortcut keys as well – if you press ALT+H, the hamburger menu will show; to jump to another option, press ALT and another letter or number than corresponds to the appropriate option. To find out what the options are, just press ALT and the letters/numbers will be displayed. Once you know, though, you could press ALT+H and holding ALT, press C for currency. Whichever mode you’re in, pressing ALT+1 will take you back to Standard calculator.
If you have a recent Microsoft keyboard there may even be a dedicated calculator key that will launch the calculator app (also available via START+R | CALC | Enter) but if you’d rather use that button for a more commonly needed app – Teams maybe – then you can install the Mouse & Keyboard Center software, to re-map the hardware button to run a different application.
If you want to be particularly fly, you could set up macros to chain other key presses together, or even have app-specific functions on that key; so pressing the Calculator button might launch Teams or bring it to the fore, then pressing it again could do something else within Teams – press CTRL+1 to jump to the first icon in the side bar, for example.