Tip o’ the Week #216 – Bing Smart Search in Windows 8.1


Hopefully, everyone who was on Windows 8 should be running Windows 8.1 by now. There’s so much that was improved since Windows 8 released, some very noticeably (such as the return of the Start button, if you consider that an improvement) and some, less so – like all the Enterprise functionality that changed. Not to mention the changes that have come in as part of the Windows 8.1 Update 1, as featured in Tip o’ the Week #222

One of the more obvious new features is the Smart Search capability, and yet it can take a bit of getting used to  before it changes the way you use your PC.

You could still use the normal methods for getting to Bing – clip_image004viewing the lovely picture or video on the homepage and searching from there, try just typing your query into the address bar of the browser and let it make suggestions or just carry out the search terms… or use the Bing Desktop App.

clip_image006If you type your search query into the standard Search mechanism in Windows 8.1 (just start typing at the Start screen, or press WindowsKey+S or swipe to bring up the Search charm), then the PC will be able to combine results from your own documents, from popular web sites like Wikipedia, it’ll show you images and videos that correspond to the same term as well bringing results from certain apps (even from sources who have apps you haven’t installed yet).

Try a few special terms out, and you’ll get even more context – a flight number will show you current status and related searches (such as the historical performance and the current position, from Flightradar… who also have Apps for Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 should you want to interact some more, as Paul Barlow recommends).

Type in a place name and you may well be greeted with weather reports, links to restaurant recommendations, details from Bing Travel and other apps in the store that might be relevant.

Enter a musician and you may see results from the Xbox Music app Xbox Music app (latest updates, here), allowing you to play their tracks directly from within Windows 8.1 – and did you know that streaming Xbox Music is free for 6 months for Windows 8.x users?

For more tips on using Smart Search, see here, here and here.

There’s a great opinion piece by Ed Bott at ZDNet, which discusses the role that Bing plays in Microsoft’s future. Well worth a read of the whole thing.

Tip o’ the Week #223 – Clear your inbox


Some people live a disciplined existence and manage to keep a very tidy desk, their to-do list at the end of each day is empty, and their inbox is clean. Many others aspire to be so organised but either convince themselves that they’re too busy to tidy everything up, or they try hard but just don’t quite manage to make it. History loves a tryer.

Well, this week’s tip covers an awesome add-in to Outlook which could make the difference between finishing your week with a clean slate and a happy mood, or working in the evenings to clear your backlog. What price that peace of mind?

That is a salient question since ClearContext Professional provides some really powerful tools to help get your mailbox and task list under control, but it does cost a reasonable sum to do so. Try it for 30 days, free, first…

clip_image004When you first install the addin, it will set up some new menu options on the MESSAGE tab in the main Outlook Window, and also adds a new ClearContext tab with additional functionality. At a simple level, ClearContext gives you a quick ability to move individual messages and threads to any folder – it will show the last few folders you’ve filed into. If the mail is part of a thread you’ve already done some filing on before then you’ll see the destination for those other messages, and you can start typing the name of a folder to see a list that can quickly be selected from. So much easier than dragging & dropping, expanding out hierarchies etc.

If you’re into the GTD methodology, then ClearContext can help implement that easily given its “project”-oriented view of things. A Dashboard side panel lets you see an overview of your filing, set up auto-filing rules, and a whole lot more.

There’s a very cool Email Stats view that will show you information such as how many emails you send and receive each day, and how long it takes you to respond to them on average.

clip_image005(I’m not going to show you a screen shot as I’m too ashamed of the results – here’s a library picture instead… ->)

How much do YOU think this advanced productivity environment is worth? $500? $1000? Even more??? NO!
Ask BrianV

As mentioned earlier, there is a cost to ClearContext – normally $89.95 for ClearContext Professional, or $99.95 for the “Master Your Now” edition, which comes pre-populated with a bunch of rules to implement another methodology, this time specifically developed for Outlook by Michael Linenberger, called Total Workday Control. Find out more about TWC & MYN here.

Is your effectiveness at work and resulting happiness at home worth £60/$90 of your hard-earned dough?

You can try CC out for 30 days free of charge and decide if you’re willing to part with the readies to keep on top of your mountain of mail. If you decide you’d like to invest, then… ClearContext have kindly offered a $15 discount to loyal Tip o’ the Week readers, here, so you can clear your inbox for only £50/$75 instead. Valid until the end of May 2014. What a bargain!

Tip o’ the Week #222 – Windows 8.1 Update 1 is here


Another in the occasionally out-of-sequence Tips: since this is quite topical, it’s jumping the queue (as will next week’s tip) before we settle back to ToW #215.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Windows 8.1 arrived, promising universal salvation from the blight of the empty Task Bar by reinstating the Start button. Huzzah! And lots of other good stuff too, of course.

Now, we march onward with the widely acclaimed Windows 8.1 Update 1, itself a pretty big series of changes to Windows. The Update 1 was unveiled at the Build conference at the beginning of April, though there may have been a little confusion over what was coming imminently and which demos were showing functionality due in “a future” update.

Terry Myerson clarified that the revisited Start Menu is something to look forward to, rather than expect in the imminent release. Terry also commented on developing a “Windows for the Internet of Things” running on Intel Quark chips, CPUs the size of a pencil eraser yet promising to run full x86 Windows.

Anyway, to see what’s new in Update 1, check out this great blog post for a nice overview. clip_image003In short – if you primarily use a keyboard and mouse to interact with Windows, then 8.1 Update 1 will have a lot that’s good for you.

Some highlights:

  • If you have a PC with no touch screen, you will boot straight to the desktop, bypassing the Start screen – which is still there, just not shown by default unless you have a touch laptop or a fondleslab
  • The Power and Search icons now appear on the Start screen, so it’s easier to sleep/shutdown and find stuff
  • You can right-click on Start-screen tiles with a mouse to get a context-menu, rather than having to select them and then bring up the menu at the bottom of the screen like before.
  • The Store icon is now docked to the Task Bar so you can find new apps even more easily. clip_image005This also means you can pin Modern Apps to the Task Bar too. In this example, my Task Bar is pinned to the left of the screen rather than the bottom – if you have a widescreen laptop panel or monitor (as most of us do), try dragging the Task Bar to the side – it makes better use of the screen real estate.
  • clip_image007Modern App IE gets useful tabs for mouse toters. It arguably makes the Modern IE app better than Desktop IE for most sites unless compatibility determines that you need the old desktop mode.
  • clip_image009Move the mouse to the top of a Modern App, and you’ll get a window title bar with minimise and close buttons on the top right, and an app icon on the left – click on that, and you can snap (or “split”) the app to the left or right as well as minimise or close it. Note that Maximise is greyed out – see the screenshot here, observe the Mail app running in a window, and you’ll see why it’s greyed, for now…

OK, OK, How do I get it?

To install the update, you can get it from Windows Update now – just type Windows Update on your start screen, check for what’s new and you’ll see the biggie show up, possibly hidden amongst a bunch of other Office updates or more minor Windows ones. Depending on whether you prefer the Modern Windows Update app or the trad. Desktop one (which is busier but gives you more info), you’ll see the update show up, possibly unchecked…


Watch out, however – on a not-so-recently updated desktop with Office 2013, all of the cumulative Office SP1 and Windows 8.1 Update 1 came to 2.5Gb. Just make sure you allow plenty of time for the whole thing to complete.

If you’d like to download all the Windows 8.1 updates offline (if you have wet-string broadband at home, and want to shuttle the binaries home from work), see here for full intructions.

Tip o’ the Week #214 – Trouble connecting Outlook at home?


If you see Outlook behaving strangely while working at home, there are a few things you might want to try. Symptoms include steadfastly refusing to connect to the server, even though everything else appears to work fine. Or connecting fine for email but hanging when you need to do something “real time” – like look up a meeting room schedule etc.

Regular ToW reader/contributor, Paul “Woody” Woodman, suggests that a series of bizarre connectivity issues are caused by some routers and having UPnP – Universal Plug and Play, a technology intended to make life easier when devices want to talk to each other through a network – enabled.

WoodysGems blog has some more details, and Phil Cross recommends the UPnP toggle as a solution to unreliable Lync and Outlook connectivity. You can always switch it back on again if the problem doesn’t go away…

The way in which Outlook connects to the Exchange Server (where your mailbox lives), is a well-known nest of vipers. clip_image004In the Good Old Days, Outlook and Exchange maintained a direct connection with each other where everything you did on the client was fed up and down the pipe, and all the data resided on the server. Sounds great, but if anything got in the way – like a rubbish network connection, or a somewhat overloaded server – then the whole experience bogged down and got basically pretty unusable.

If you want to see how Outlook connects to the server, find the Outlook icon in your system tray, hold the CTRL key and then right-click on it. This combo displays the hitherto-hidden Connection Status… option. If you’re seeing particularly poor Outlook performance, it’s worth checking this and seeing that everything is connecting OK – try scrolling to the right and look at some of the stats to see if they look out of the ordinary…

Cached Mode salvation

In Outlook 2003, the default behaviour was changed so that Outlook operated in cached mode – in other words, everything you see in your inbox etc, has already been downloaded by Outlook, and is sitting on your PC. So you click on an attachment and it opens immediately, you sort the Inbox with 20,000 items in it, and it’s done in a jiffy.

Cached mode was a Good Thing, and it even helped isolate the user from those slow network links or servers, such that they might never notice – in fact, cached mode was the catalyst for Microsoft IT reducing the number of places where it had Exchange servers deployed internally, from nearly 100 to less than 10. If the server was further away, end users didn’t notice that the network linking Outlook and the server was slow and had a high degree of latency.

Synchronous vs Asynchronous

Synchronous means that both ends are talking to each other as part of the same, real-time conversation – like a phone call. Generally, when on the phone, you’re either listening or talking, and unless you’re one of the many clackety-clack, clickety-click typists and mouseists who inhabit Lync conference calls, you pretty much don’t do anything else whilst you’re deeply engaged. The old way of Outlook <-> Exchange comms was entirely  synchronous. Asynchronous, on the other hand, is more like a text message – you fire it off, and assume that at some stage (whilst you get on with other stuff in the meantime), you’ll get a response.

Well, the Outlook cached mode is an odd mix of both of these – the majority is async, as Outlook is talking to the Exchange Server in the background, bringing down new emails and attachments and the like, but you don’t necessarily know – since most of your interaction is with a local copy of the data, the email won’t plop into your inbox until it’s been downloaded already, meaning it could’ve taken 5 minutes to download and you wouldn’t have noticed.

Where things get interesting is when Outlook has to do synchronous things – such as displaying parts of the address book. If you open the GAL and look at a person’s details, most of the content is coming from a cached copy of the common attributes, however there are a few that are not cached and will only be shown when Outlook has had a chance to have a good ol’ fashioned synchronous chat with the server. Such activities could be looking up someone’s org structure, or what DLs they’re a member of – things you don’t really think twice about when on a fast network but if you’re at home, might be a lot more noticeable.

When you embark on certain synchronous operations in Outlook, the whole application is wont to freeze (with dire Not Responding warnings in the window title) should the network start to go south, or just if the person in question is on the other side of the world and you might be communicating clip_image005with a very remote server.  If you get this far (Not Responding, all Outlook windows go a milky white colour, your cursor changes to the Circle of Hope etc) and start to panic as you haven’t saved that email you’ve been writing for the last half hour, then help may be at hand.  A cure can be to right-click on the Outlook icon in the task bar, and choose Cancel Server Request from the pop up menu. You may need to do several of these in order to truly make Outlook back down, but it often resumes ordinary connectivity to the application, even if the task you asked it to do (which caused the flat spin/heading out to sea moment) didn’t complete.