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.

563 – Remove the Dupes

clip_image001For 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.

clip_image003Corporate 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 clip_image005to 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.

clip_image007The 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.

558 – Sharing your holidays

clip_image001A reader suggestion came in recently, sadly too late to be of use before everyone in the US downed tools for days of eating turkey and watching TV sports. It’s reprising a previous tip from nearly a decade ago, but presented here in a reminder to everyone else on the planet who’s planning to take some time off over “the Holidays(or “Christmas” as much of the world secularly and un-offendedly refers to that time of year).

clip_image003When we book time off, it makes sense to mark the days in our own calendar as Busy, or Out of Office – that way, if a colleague tries to book an appointment with you, they’ll see in the Scheduling Assistant (assuming they bother to look) that the time is blocked out and you’re unavailable – purple hatching being OOF, solid blue being busy and hatched blue meaning tentative.

Really progressive people might even be sharing their calendar details with you, so you can see what they’re doing – useful, as all-day busy events obliterate everything else if details are not shown.

If you’d like to tell other people you’re going on holiday, then you should create a 2nd appointment and invite your colleagues to it; but there are 3 important steps to take when you do this so you don’t muck up their calendar and annoy them to boot. When creating your second “FYI” holiday appointment:

  • clip_image005Change the Show As drop-down box to be Free. This way, the all-day event doesn’t appear at all in the Scheduling Assistant, and therefore doesn’t mess up other peoples’ views of your recipients’ calendars.
    (wow, lots of plurals in that last sentence, and thankfully no grocers’ apostrophes either)
  • Set the Reminder drop-down to None – your friends don’t need a reminder to fire to tell them you’re away, and they certainly don’t need to be woken up by their phone either.
  • Set “Response Options” so people don’t need to accept your invitation; that’s a few clicks saved for everyone who is on the meeting invite. All 3 of these options are ticked by default and you might want to clear them all.

While we’re setting the appointment up, it’s OK to not use Recurrence too – some people think that the way to make a multi-day appointment is to set a one-day meeting that recurs every day for a week. Don’t do that.

Just set the start and finish clip_image007date of the appointment as appropriate and check the “all day event” box. The appointment will run from the start of the first date to the end of the second date so in the example here, we’d be returning to work on Tuesday 5th Jan.

Now all you need to do is create a suitably informative and entertaining Out of Office message and you’re all set!

556 – Using MFA more widely

{10B132AF-CB81-488A-9B6B-27D6F996ACBA}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 {6CB942E5-5D57-48E1-BE97-E89CA2CF482B}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.

{3D294F5C-25AA-4DA7-8C84-C13CF43B7321}If you enable 2FA and tick the box saying you want to use an authenticator app, it will ask you for your password again, then show you a QR code which can be used to enrol in the app.

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).

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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 –

547 – I Stream a stream

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Popular subscriptions services which deliver on-demand content, rather than recording or otherwise acquiring it in advance, are killing off CD and DVD sales. Every generation sees a new technology upset the old – the 1980s MTV video vs the 1970s “taping from the radio” for example.

Streaming technology has risen with the availability of high-speed, low-latency internet access, allowing users to play on-demand – rather than watch or listen at the time a broadcaster decides – and is wiping out the need to record live TV to watch later, maybe even obsoleting the concept of broadcast TV.

Perhaps the next vanguard is the gaming industry – as Microsoft and Sony get ready to launch next-generation consoles, buying a disc-based game to install and play will soon feel as old-hat as going to Blockbuster to rent a VHS for the night. Streaming games on-demand as part of a subscription service may be norm, rather than buying and owning a title outright. The console isn’t the only destination, though – streaming to mobiles is on the way.

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Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers will soon be able to start using “Project xCloud(the code name, now simply known as “cloud gaming”) services, which basically run Xbox games in Azure, and stream the video & audio down to a mobile device, initially an Android phone or tablet, but also supporting Windows PCs in time. There was a plan to allow cloud gaming to work on iOS too, but that has been scuttled – Apple says no. Maybe something to do with the App Store revenue stream, though the company made some blah-blah about the store being all about a curated quality of applications. Of course it is.

Back in the workplace, streaming takes a different form, from virtualizing and delivering applications on-demand to running whole desktops somewhere else and displaying the output on a remote screen, not unlike the old mainframe/terminal model. And of course, there’s streaming of other types of media besides applications.

clip_image006Many users will first encounter Microsoft Stream, the secure enterprise video service, if they’re using Teams and see a meeting has been recorded – usually, when the organizer hits the button, a link to the recorded video will be dropped into the chat window of the meeting.

If you miss that, or weren’t at the meetinclip_image008g in the first place but want to catch up, try going to microsoftstream.com and search, either by the name of the meeting, or by looking under People for the  name of the organizer where you’ll see all of their content. If you’re recording a load of meetings yourself (like a training series, or a monthly team call) then it might be worth creating a channel and adding those recordings to make it easier for people to see related content.

Unfortunately, you won’t get paid millions of dollars and given tons of free stuff but you might get some sort of corporate kudos and recognition.

clip_image010Stream is ultimately replacing the earlier Office 365 Video service, though isn’t yet fully feature compatible: see a comparison of the two, here.

It’s not just for storing recordings of meetings in the hope that people who couldn’t be bothered to turn up the first time will somehow tune in to watch the re-run; you can create new content and upload that for your colleagues to view, too.

You could use the Record a Slide Show feature in PowerPoint, to make an (editable) recording of you giving a presentation and publishing it, or if you’re just looking to do something quick and easy (up to 15 minutes in duration), you can even kick off a screen-recording (with audio and video) from the Stream site directly.

clip_image012clip_image014When you publish your video to Stream, it’s worth making sure you’re making it visible – depending on how you’re set up, it may be limited. Go into My Content and look for the coloured icon showing the permissions. Click on the pencil icon to the left, to edit the video properties, including setting the permissions or adding it to a channel. For more about managing permissions on Stream, see here.

clip_image016One thing to note, is that if you have remote participants in a Teams meeting – customers, partners etc – then they won’t be able to see the recording you make; the Stream service is limited to your own organization, as defined by the Azure Active Directory that’s used to authenticate you. If you need to be able to share the video with others (making sure you’re not breaking any rules, obvs), then you may be able to download just an MP4 video file – none of the other metadata, captions, transcriptions etc that you get with Stream, it’ll just be the main video – and at least make that available separately.

Maybe record it to a VHS tape and post it to them?

538 – OneDrive updates

clip_image002If you’ve been a PC user and part of Microsoft ecosystem for any amount of time, you’ll have been exposed to a variety of services and products which have come and gone, or at least changed names on occasion. OneDrive is a great example – initially unveiled as Windows Live Folders in 2007, the consumer cloud storage service spent a while under the brand name SkyDrive until an agreement was reached with satellite TV broadcaster Sky, to change the name – and so, OneDrive it has been since 2014.

Along the way quite a few associated names and services have bitten the dust – Microsofties celebrate/commemorate old products on the Next of Kin Yammer group: raise a glass to OneCare (an unfortunate name choice if you’re a Cockney, ain’t that Irish Stew), and all manner of other products that turned out to be Red Shirt / Non-speaking parts, like MSN Music/Zune Music/Xbox Music/Groove, and now Mixer.

If you still have a “SkyDrive Camera Roll” folder in your OneDrive storage, that’s probably a legacy of having synced photos from a Windows Phone and then later having installed OneDrive on your modern mobile. You can rename the folder to something else now – at one point, it was not supported but that’s no longer the case.

Using OneDrive on the move makes a lot of sense – even if only to back-up photos from your phone. The web UI lets you see the pictures in a variety of interesting ways, showing the places you’ve been or the things you’ve photographed.

In OneDrive for consumers, you get 5GB of free storage on signing upnot bad, but Google Drive gives you 3 clip_image004times as much for free – though you can add lots more online storage to both services by either coughing up the readies to buy a TB or two, or in the case of OneDrive, signing up for an Office 365 a Microsoft 365 subscription, such as 365 Personal, which gives you 1TB, or 365 Family which gives 1TB each, for up to 6 people.

The pricing is such that unless you wanted to buy only a few extra GB, it makes sense to go for the M365 option – £60 a year for a personal subscription that gives a 1TB (ie 1000Gb) storage capacity, or pay £24/year per 100GB block if you want to buy storage on its own and forego the other stuff you get with M365, notably the Office apps.

Despite a bit of confusion over what the differences are between OneDrive for Business and OneDrive (not described as for business, so presumably for home/personal use), it continues to evolve with additional capabilities – as covered in ToW passim. The OneDrive for Business / Sharepoint and OneDrive for clip_image006consumer technologies are blending together to the point where they look and feel very similar.

Now, the OneDrive team has unveiled a slew of new features for both ODfB and OneDrive personal – like Dark Mode on the web client, or the ability to share files and folders more easily with colleagues, or share with family and friends by creating groups of people who will be sent an invitation to view and contribute.

And the upload file size limit has been raised from 15GB to a whopping 100GB.

523 – Raise your hand

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As more of the world is in lock-down and pretty much everyone who can is working at home, apps like Teams have taken a more central role in many lives. Alongside adding 12m users the other week, there was a substantial increase in resources dedicated to running the back-end – millions of additional CPU cores were provisioned to the Teams service.

clip_image004Mobile Teams users are getting some new functionality, and the blog post about the 40% growth in usage teased some features that are coming later in the year, notably background noise-cancelling (to supress the tap-tap-tap of the typical team-mate’s typing), and a new action which lets attendees ask for help or offer to contribute by “raising their hand”. That might help avoid people talking over each other.

This feature is in test currently and is expected to appear a little later this year, along with a raft of other improvements, like having custom backgrounds (in addition to blurring of the existing background), and the ability to break out chats into separate windows rather than have everything in one.

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clip_image008When the hand-raising feature is rolled out, assuming you can see the People pane to the side of the Teams window, anyone who has their hand raised will be listed with a hand icon, meaning the organiser could ask them to chime in.

On the COVID-19 pandemic – the WHO publishes a view of the spread of the disease, with the help of Microsoft’s ISV partner ESRI, using their ArcGIS platform. See the global WHO dashboard, or look at the county-by-county map of the US, here. It’s all very sobering. There’s a Coronavirus Tracker on Bing and a load of other resources on Microsoft.com.

522 – Teams best practices for WFH

clip_image002In these uncertain times, many organisations are scrambling to enable their workers to be able to carry on even when the rest of the world is seemingly losing control. At least the meme creators are busy.

Ex-Microsoftie Allister Frost has some wise words to share about Working From Home, and given that he was Chief Puppy Controller for a well-known marketing team, he knows things that are currently relevant.

Microsoft Teams may have had a couple of bumps since the Covid-19 virus started to cause people to stay at home; early in the week there were a couple of outages that have been swiftly resolved, but it’s since been announced that the service added 12 million daily active users in the last 7 days – that’s a 40% increase in usage, so it’s no surprise if the infrastructure creaked a little as it grew.

There are many tips for making good use of Teams –

Stay at home, stay safe, and follow Buzz Aldrin’s advice.

511 – This is the End

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Where did that decade just go? clip_image004[4]It feels like just a short skip since 2010, and over the next couple of weeks no doubt the TV schedules will be full of retrospective coverage of all that’s changed in the last 9.97 years. While the global political tumult continues, it’s interesting to reflect on how much technology has moved on in this time, and how some long-term promises still remain frustratingly unfulfilled. Where’s my flying car?

Back in 2010, MySpace was still a thing, the iPad had yet to be clip_image006[4]unveiled, Nokia and Blackberry’s platforms were not yet ablaze, Windows Phone 7 arrived late in 2010 and nobody had heard of Alexa or Siri. The Internet of Things was going to be a big deal, and smart homes and vehicles got to be a hot technology area though at the outset of the decade, seemed mostly a pipe dream.

In January 2020, the electronics industry will gather again for the hypefest that is CES, having moved on from clip_image008 trying to sell everyone on 3D televisions, and is concentrating instead on puffing smart transport, AI-in-everything, more music formats and the inexorable quest for an even bigger telly. Massive 8K screens are the Next Big Thing.

If you’re looking for something fulfilling to do over the holiday season (other than drinking port at lunchtime and eating yourself into a stupor), Ex-Microsoftie Terry Smith has been publishing a collection of great podcasts with a simple but beguiling theme: each guest choses a song from each decade of their life. Check out Music Talks.

Also, read poetry from another former-Softie, Toni Kent, who gives some sage advice on preparations, Christmas shopping or handling the Bin of Shame come January.

Whatever you get up to, have a great break, and thanks for your readership over the last decade (yes, the first ToW mail went out in December 2009 – though took a year to make it onto the blog). See you in the New Year!