529 – To Do: Switch off Wunderlist

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Nearly 5 years ago, Microsoft acquired a German developer called 6wunderkinder, who built a cool, cross-platform task management tool, Wunderlist. Over the half-decade since, the back-end of Wunderlist was basically rebuilt so it could run on Azure (instead of its previous cloud platform), and many of the team who had developed Wunderlist moved to working on the Microsoft To Do app suite.

The To-Do To Do apps have evolved hugely over the last couple of years, and collectively are being positioned as the natural successor to Wunderlist.

clip_image004This week, Wunderlist was finally closed down. If you still have the app, you can carry on using it but the data won’t be backed up or synced and you won’t be able to migrate it. You can export the data from the service, and To Do has built-in Wunderlist migration tools that bring more-or-less everything across. Other task managers are also available.

The Microsoft To Do service has clip_image006integration with PowerAutomate (previously known as Flow).

The To Do team also updated the mobile apps (as announced on their blog), with a collection of new features and views of tasks, and the Windows app has also been tweaked lately too. New features include new Smart Lists, such as “All”, which shows everything in one huge list, grouped by category.

“Tasks” across different apps are being integrated more and more – To Do now lets you create tasks from flagged emails, or integrate tasks from Planner. Teams is going to rationalise tasks into a single UI too.

See here for more tips on using To Do.

528 – Shorten your meetings (again)

{F5531DA9-D8B1-4DA1-8EB1-EAD491380F60}Last week’s tip talked of the philosophy around 22 minute meetings, and shared a way of forcing Outlook to adjust the start and duration of meetings by default, to help you enforce the discipline.

Eagle-eyed reader John Westworth pointed out that a simpler way of doing much the same thing exists within Outlook already, if you’re on the Microsoft365 subscription. The feature arrived back in March 2019, in version 1902 (Build 11328.20146). Note: to find the version of the Office suite, go into Word – not Outlook itself – and under File | Account you’ll see what version you’re currently using.

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This year-old but hitherto little-known feature is called “End Meetings Early”: it lets you choose a value to over-ride the default meeting duration, so if you create what is ostensibly a 30-minute meeting, I’ll actually end some number of minutes early.

In Outlook, go to File | Options and look under the Calendar section on the left, to set your favoured options.

If you create your appointment or meeting – remembering that a meeting is just a special type of appointment, to which other people are invited – either {8EF536C3-747C-4C6E-AFEC-FBCC614F7707}{C15F5AF5-2086-4A14-A3DF-22BF92D72970}by using the New… option on the menu or by double-clicking on a gap in your calendar, the adjustment will be applied after the item is created (and before it’s sent, if it is a meeting).

With most of the world still WFH, it’s a handy way of making sure you don’t get in back-to-back meetings during the day, with no chance to get away from your screen. Assuming, of course, that everyone obeys the finish time rather than just over-running to the next half or full hour boundary…

If you use the Teams client to create meetings, it doesn’t currently have the functionality to shorten them, so for now, it’s best to stick to Outlook for setting the meeting up.


527 – 22 minute meetings

clip_image002One observation of the C-19 lockdown has been that as many of us are living in Teams, it’s quite easy to end up with back-to-back meetings lasting for hours, with no opportunity to get refreshments, go to the bathroom etc.

The old excuse of walking in 5 minutes late to a meeting because you were in a different building, is no longer available. “Sorry, my other call over-ran” is about the nearest you can get.

This behaviour gives cause to revisit and update a ToW from the distant past – October 2013, to be precise (though it was published online in December 2013, it was sent via email a couple of months earlier).

clip_image003Ex-Microsoftie Nicole Steinbok built a great and prescient short presentation on having better meetings, even covering the basics of handwashing. Like the “how to wash your hands” posters, Nicole produced one for summarising how to hold a better meeting, starting with making it only 22 minutes long.

See http://22MinuteMeeting.info.

Nicole partly blames Outlook for having the default meeting time set at 30 mins, and there’s also an argument for not starting on the hour, but delaying the posted start time to a little later. Imagine if we could tweak Outlook to set a different default than the fixed 30 minute block, starting either on the hour or at the half hour?

Well, it takes a few minutes to add some custom code to Outlook, but if you can follow simple instructions and can use copy & paste, you could have it up and running in a few minutes…

Voila – ToW 196 – Change Outlook meeting duration

Open the steps for #196 up in a browser and have it side/side to Outlook (or on another screen) – they still apply clip_image005to the current version of Outlook, though you may need to explicitly show the Properties dialog for the step about renaming Class1 to clsMeeting –  press F4 if you don’t see Properties in the lower left of the screen when you get to that point.

clip_image007The code in the sample defaults to having 45 minute meetings with a 5 minute delay to the start; if you want to be as fundamentalist as Nicole, you could substitute 22 and 4, as an example. This means that if you create a new meeting in Outlook, either by using the menu or just by double-clicking on the calendar, the start time and duration get tweaked by the code you’ve added, at the point the new meeting or appointment is created.

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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.

521 – Earth mapping

The last couple of decades have seen a revolution in user apps which offer location awareness and guidance. clip_image002 Automotive sat-navs were available some years ago, dating back to Honda’s electro Gyro-cator (now that’s a name) in 1986. CD and HDD based satnavs in cars became available over the years since, but typically were many thousands of dollars/pounds/etc as an option.

clip_image004Google Earth was first launched in 2001 as a desktop app, and Google Maps followed in the browser, a few years later. Microsoft launched “Virtual Earth” shortly after that, though it was initially more like “Virtual North America” as its global coverage was very lacking. Over time, Bing Maps launched a bunch of innovative services, like Birds Eye, which used licensed 3rd party images from spotter planes to stitch together a “45 degree” view rather than the typical straight-overhead aerial view.

clip_image006The source data for Birds Eye is a little out of date in some areas – though is still being updated in, er, North America (eg. see here and here), and maybe in other areas over time too. Point Birds Eye at Microsoft’s UK campus, and it shows Building 5 under construction, so the images are at least 8 years old, though since they no dates other than “© 2020”, there’s no obvious way to tell.

Google’s Street View shows the dates of images if there are multiple – click the down arrow next to “Street View” in the top left to view the history.

Meanwhile, as well as rowing back some of the nagging to get Edge browser users to move to Chrome, Google released Google Earth in the browser – it’s maybe not quite so smooth as the desktop app, but it’s quick to use – https://earth.google.com/web/ … see Microsoft UK’s TVP campus, here.

The Washington Post reports that Google changes the view of maps depending on the country the user is in, removing disputed borders and the likes – so it’s a complicated world. According to that same article, Bing Maps is a very minor player in map usage, with Apple Maps (after an inauspicious start) has grown to be the second-most-used mapping platform, due to mobile usage, either on the Maps app directly or via other 3rd party apps which use location-awareness from the mobile device.

clip_image008Bing Maps is used in many online services and other apps, however – like Microsoft’s forthcoming reboot of Flight Simulator, which supposedly features every airport in the world and uses data from Bing Maps, real-time weather reports and rendering in Azure, to provide a realistic flying view. There are some amazing videos on the Flight Simulator channel.

517 – Try the preview…

clip_image002Several of Microsoft’s standard apps within Windows ship updates regularly, and increasingly are offering willing early adopters a peek at what’s coming through a  “Try the preview” clip_image004or “Coming Soon” option, usually in the top right of the main screen.

clip_image006You might need to force an update on your apps to get the latest version; go into the Store app and in the ellipsis menu on the top right, select Downloads and updates then hit the Get updates button. If you don’t like clicking menus, you could jump straight there by opening a run dialog with Win+R and entering ms-windows-store://DownloadsAndUpdates/

To find the name of any installed Store app, so you can run it from a command line or dialog, fire up powershell (just press the Start button and type that) then paste:

foreach ($p in $(get-appxpackage)) { foreach ($n in (Get-AppxPackageManifest $p).package.applications.application.extensions.extension.protocol.name) { $p.packagefullname + “`t `t `t -=- ” + $n } }

… and enter that. You’ll get a list of long app names followed by a one-word name that can be used to invoke the app. To run a Store app from a Run dialog or the Start menu directly, use that one word with a colon at the end – to start the Store version of OneNote try typing Win+R onenote: (for example).

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clip_image012The Calendar app – improbably named outlookcal: even though it has nothing to do with the desktop Outlook, other than it too can display a calendar – has recently received an opt-in preview which adds a funky new UI with background graphics reminiscent of Wunderlist, and nice icons to help you quickly switch between different calendar sources.

The preview will only show up (for now) if you’re a Windows Insider. Fortune favours the brave

516 – More Teams Sharing

clip_image002[4]When you use online meeting technologies, there are usually ways to share content with attendees. Even years and years ago, lots of people felt the easiest way to present a PowerPoint slide deck was to “share their screen” while running the PowerPoint application.

Some folk have the good sense to “present” clip_image004[4]that PPT fullscreen while screen-sharing, whereas others would merely flick through the slides within the PowerPoint app, consuming 30% of the screen real estate with menus, slide sorter, and other visual detritus of not only the app, but their host operating system as well.

Top tip – when you’re presenting, don’t be a doofus – please present, don’t share your screen then move through slides.

PowerPoint itself, OCS, Lync, Skype for Business – they’ve all tried to provide easy ways to present content online or through a meeting. Not wanting to throw in the towel to the screen-sharing crowd just yet, Teams has a few more tricks up its sleeve too.

clip_image006[4]clip_image008[4]Try for yourself – go to the Calendar node (remembering that you can switch between them by pressing CTRL+ the number from the top, so CTRL+4 in this case will jump to Calendar – though current versions of the Teams client will allow you to reorder the nodes by dragging & dropping them), and on the top right of the screen, click Meet now. This will give you a one-person playground to try stuff in. Read more here.

When you’re in a meeting, if you wave your mouse around or click/tap on a blank area within the main window, you’ll see the meeting controls toolbar, which you’ll use to control your audio/video, look at the text chat or participants list within a meeting, and also the Share option.

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clip_image012[4]clip_image014[4]Rather than sharing Desktop or Window, check out PowerPoint – if you don’t see the slide deck you want to present in the list of the most recently used ones, click on Browse and you’ll be able to navigate to it throught Teams channels and libraries (if your content is already in there), or you can upload it from your elsewhere.

The Teams client will render your presentation on each viewer’s machine, using less network bandwidth than screen-sharing does, and allowing more seamless multi-user control – so if you have multiple presenters in a single meeting, they can take over presenting the deck without having to be given overall control of the original presenter’s computer.

clip_image016[4]If you decide to put your PowerPoint file into a Teams channel and share / present it from there, it’s worth double-checking the formatting though; under the covers the Teams client will use the same rendering as if were previewing the file in a web browser.

You may find some slide transitions, animations or even some text layout will be a little different to how you’d see it in full-blown PowerPoint – to check that everything is OK, just navigate to the file within the Teams channel, and preview it from there.

If you do find the slides get mangled, you may be able to tidy them up within the Teams preview, or else you have permission to do the dastardly desktop sharing method.

For more information on sharing content within Teams meetings, see here.

514 – tweaking Outlook’s Ribbon

clip_image002Thirteen years ago, Microsoft launched Office 2007. Back when people looked forward to new releases of office productivity suites with a mix of excitement and dread, new features arrived by the boat load. While many functions stayed in later releases as core parts of the product, others led a wafer-thin existence then vanished.

One major change was the introduction of the Ribbon – a then-new way of organising the complex menu structure that sat within the individual Office apps. Despite complaints from some users, it quickly became established as a good way of presenting, in context, useful features that might otherwise have stayed buried in some deep menu structure. Competitors copied it too.

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clip_image006Outlook – like other Office apps – has evolved its Ribbon over time, and introduced a simplified version that takes up less screen real estate. While your average user has moved on from squinting at a 15” CRT monitor, it’s still desirable for some to keep the less-used menu options hidden and to focus on the content. To switch between the standard and simple Ribbons, click the little caret mark at the far right corner of the main Ribbon UI.

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So far, so good, but it you like the “Classic” Ribbon, there’s a lot you can do to get rid of some of the guff and keep the useful features more prominent. Looking at the first Ribbon image above, about 40% of the space is consumed with a handful of addins that might be useful, but not necessarily deserving of such prominence – your own list may differ, but the stuff on the right side tends to be a series of groups with a single, large icon in each.

clip_image010To clean up the ribbon, right-click on it and choose the Customize the Ribbon… option. You’ll now get a dialog box which lets you organise things – individual commands are displayed in Tabs (like Home, View, Help etc) and on groups within the tabs (New, Delete, Respond, and so on).

If you reduce the number of groups on a tab, the remaining ones may spread out and show larger icons or more detail – handy on the Home tab, if you like to use Quick Steps, which will expand out of one column.

clip_image012Let’s try moving some of the clip_image014less commonly used groups from the home tab – start by creating a new Tab and then right-click on it to rename it Add-ins or something like that.

Once you have the new tab created, it’s simple to start dragging and dropping defunct groups from the home tab onto the new one – things you might use occasionally but they don’t need to be on the main screen. Customisations are particular to the Ribbon you’re looking at – so if you organise the Classic one then switch to Simplified, you’ll still see the old arrangement until you customize that one too. You might want to export your finished layout too.

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Looking at the restyled Ribbon above, all of the groups from Delete to Tags have been stretched to show more prominent icons or reduce the menu level a little, and Quick Steps has grown from one to four columns wide. Much more useful.

clip_image018If you’re a Quick Steps fan, another trick is to right-click on one of your existing steps (where you’d normally customize that step or jump into the dialog clip_image020for managing the whole lot), and choose Add Gallery to Quick Access Toolbar; meaning your array of quick actions is only a couple of clicks away, regardless of what is shown on the Ribbon.

# 513 – Ship ahoy!

clip_image002tl;dr – there’s a new browser out. Go and install it.

Back in the day, Microsoft nerds (yes, there were some, both in and outside of the company) used to take pride in continually referring to products by their code names long after they’d been released, and by using the most Microspeak.

There used to be a browsable Microspeak Glossary on the Microsoft intranet, and various versions of it online, but they now seem to have withered.

The odd phrase still crops up in contemporary usage, and one which shows its age is RTM.

Historically, at a point in a software product’s lifecycle, the team just needs to ship the thing – some would think it’s the completion of the development, but most developers know nothing is ever finished and therefore nothing would ever ship. Instead, it’s some date that’s been decided, and they work backwards from that date to ship whatever they have at that point. In traditional boxed-software sales, that would mean sending the final code off to be turned into floppy discs, CDs, whatever – in other words, release it to manufacturing. RTM in the CD-era often referred to the “gold code”, as it was burned to a (gold-coloured) recordable CD before being sent to the manufacturing process. So RTM also means the final build of code as well as the process to release it.

Since nobody really buys software on physical media anymore, RTM is something of an anachronism. “RTW” was used for a while, meaning “Release to Web” but it’s a clunky phrase, and has disappeared from use – much like Cisco’s attempt to for a while to talk not about “IoT,” but “Internet of Everything” or “IoE”.

Nowadays, products at the end of their development cycle “go GA” – Generally Available. Much easier.

clip_image004This week sees the GA/RTW/etc of the new Edge browser, built on the Chromium rendering engine for maximum compatibility and performance, but extended in a host of ways to arguably make it a better browser than the others out there. It’s available for Windows 7 – even though that’s just gone out of support – and it’s also on Win8x and Mac too. Though technically a different code base, the Edge mobile versions have recently been rebranded and the UI tweaked.

If you currently use Edge – or shudder, still use Internet Explorer – then installing the new Edge will migrate your settings, history, passwords etc, but not any extensions you might have. Fear not, though, for the Chromium engine means you can install extensions from both the Microsoft Store and also the Chrome Store too.

For more on the new Edge, see the tips that are shown as part of the install process, read some opinion pieces on whether world+dog seems to think this is a good thing; here, here, here … and here… and, oh, you get the idea.