Both the Windows/Microsoft Store app marketplace and the kinds of apps it contains have had a number of generations, from phone apps (designed for Windows Phone), through Windows 8’s so-called “Metro” apps, to the later Universal Windows Platform apps ushered in by the Windows 10 platform. The goal of UWPs is to allow a single code-base to run on multiple Windows 10 based environments, such as tablet/PC, phone, HoloLens and Xbox One.
The inconvenient truth with the UWP model is that, for most people, apps are used primarily on their phone and on smaller tablet devices. With the demise of Windows Phone, and the tablet market consisting largely of cheap Android tabs, expensive iPads, and Windows “2 in 1” detachables rather than straight-up Windows 10 tablets, there are arguably few compelling reasons for app developers to support UWPs, unless they feel a particular need to also target relatively niche devices like HoloLens, Surface Hub and Xbox.
Devs could turn to an app framework like Xamarin, which would let them support multiple device types and OSes, generating UWP apps alongside their Android and iOS counterparts.
When the vast majority of their addressable market is someone sitting in front of a PC, not a phone, if you’re an app developer who already supports Windows, then it might be easier to wrap your existing PC app using the Desktop Bridge, allowing for distribution through the Store but without needing to completely rewrite the app as a UWP one, as both Spotify and Amazon Music have shown.
One tell-tale of an app that’s probably been packaged with the Desktop Bridge, is that if you look at it in the Store, you’ll see that it’s available on PC only.
The latest chapter in the Store story, though, is that of PWAs, or Progressive Web Apps.
In a nutshell, PWAs are web sites built to behave more like dedicated mobile apps, with features like caching, notifications & more, so a mobile version of an existing web site could obviate the need for building an app as well. Developers could build a specific app for the remaining mobile platforms (natively, or with frameworks like Xamarin or – check out this excellent intro – Google’s Flutter), alternatively they just put their efforts into a PWA, which can run on any modern browser, mobile or otherwise. There’s a lot of love for PWAs in some quarters of the mobile developer world.
It’s still a relatively new frontier, but there are already various collections of PWA apps that can be quickly sampled.
As highlighted by Windows Central, PWAs are now appearing in the Microsoft Store, potentially giving top tier app developers a way of supporting Windows, even if they haven’t decided to specifically build a dedicated Windows app.
To quickly find the list of all Microsoft-published apps, start with Skyscanner, and you’ll see the publisher is “Microsoft Store” itself – scroll down to the Additional information, click on that link and you’ll find the others that have been published at the same time. Or search the web.
Of course, publishers may well choose to proactively put their own apps into the Store, or if they publish PWAs elsewhere, then the best of them may get hoovered up and added to the Microsoft Store on their behalf.
Month: April 2018
Tip o’ the Week 425 – Windows Timeline
It’s amazing how many Windows users still don’t really get the idea that you can switch between windows without minimising them. Every support professional who’s ever done remote assistance knows that out there, some end users will want to save their document and close an application before even switching to another one.
One of Windows Vista’s touted benefits was the amazing Flip 3D technique, but beyond demo-ware, few people ever used it. For nearly 30 years (since Windows 3.0) the ALT-TAB key combination has been an option to switch between running applications and windows, and over this time, its behaviour has evolved a little, though not revolutionarily so.
For example, if you hold CTRL as well as ALT-TAB, the dialog persists until you select a window (click, tap or press Enter) or Escape to go back.
Windows 10 users can also click the Task View icon, on the task bar near the Windows logo by default; that has the effect of showing a tiled view of running windows, and also is the entry point to using multiple virtual desktops (as discussed previously on ToW #279).
The soon-to-be-released “Redstone 4” update for Windows 10, still officially unnamed but being widely referred to as the Spring Creators Update, will tweak the Task View again, replacing the logo with one that hints to a more dynamic layout of tiles, and introducing the long-awaited “Timeline” feature. Like the Task View in earlier versions of Windows 10, you can invoke it using the WindowsKey-TAB method.
Windows Timeline has been a while coming due to the back-end support that’s required to make it compelling – in a nutshell, when applications (such as Office apps, or the Edge browser) support activities as part of Project Rome, then those activities can be recorded and made accessible across devices – so if you have multiple PCs or even apps on other platforms (like using the Edge browser on your phone), you’ll be able to get a single view of what you’ve been doing and be able to jump back to the page, document or other activity. Even on a single machine, it’s useful to be able to scroll back through history to see what you’ve been doing and when.
You can even use Timeline to search through your browsing history, something that’s still not possible using the Edge browser’s History feature; it’s an often requested addition (since it was in Internet Explorer and is also in other browsers) that will hopefully make its way into the Edge browser at some stage. Just ask Bing.
Tip o’ the Week 424 – Tracking meeting responses
Office 365 updates roll in on a regular basis – that’s kinda-the-point of delivering a service rather than once-every-three-year upgrades. To see what’s changed over time, be that for early-access Insiders or for regular subscribers, see here.
One seemingly minor but really notable improvement of late has been the ability for attendees of meetings to be able to see who is also joining them. How many times have you gone to a meeting – or conference call (video call even) – and not known who else was attending, since you weren’t the organiser?
Well, one of the small but incredibly useful updates of late has been to show everyone who else is attending – just look at the Tracking icon on the main Meeting tab. If you are looking at a larger meeting and want to know who’s coming and who’s tardy enough to not reply, you could copy the responses to the clipboard and then paste into Excel for easy consumption.
Copy Status to Clipboard, paste into a brand new Excel sheet, select the area in question and Format as Table if you’d like to easily manipulate the responses.
So you can nag the people you think should be there, but haven’t showed up yet…
Tip o’ the Week 423 – SwiftKey update swipes in
Resident Microsoft Paddingtonites or visitors, may be familiar with the cubist stools used in some areas but might not instantly recognise the SwiftKey logo on the seats themselves.
SwiftKey is a replacement software keyboard for iOS or Android devices, which supports a variety of auto-complete and swiping functions – and it has just had the biggest upgrade since Microsoft acquired SwiftKey back in 2016. The SwiftKey keyboard app implements a technology similar to the pioneering Word Flow – not the Word Flow app for iOS that SwiftKey has basically replaced, but the swipey writing technology which was part of the dearly departed Windows Phone 8.1.
SwiftKey, if you haven’t used it before, aims to be smarter at predicting what you’re trying to say when you swipe a word or peck at the on-screen keys. If you allow it, you can sign in using your Microsoft Account and it will use your Sent Items in Outlook.com mail to look for phrases or words that you routinely use. It’ll also show you some stats based on how much help you’ve received, what your own accuracy is etc. Interesting.
The upgrade to SwiftKey introduces some updated design elements and cool new functionality, most notably a toolbar accessed via the little “+” symbol to the left of the auto-complete suggestions, which provides easy access to emojis, GIFs and other business essentials. More here.
Tip o’ the Week 422 – Freshening Outlook.com
Microsoft has been the butt of jokes in the past when it comes to branding, but one of the strongest product names in decades is Outlook. Originally released in 1997 as part of Office 97, the Outlook application has come a long way over the years.
As world+dog runs from discrete and perpetually licensed software, to SaaS applications delivered via a variety of clients, web apps and the like, Outlook has grown into a whole family of products, not altogether without confusion.
First, there’s Outlook the app that’s part of Office. That’s Office, the application suite, which can trace its roots back to 1990. There’s also a version of Outlook that’s delivered via Click2Run technology (itself rooted in App-V, formerly known as Softgrid), generally in conjunction with an Office 365 subscription.
Outlook.com was the name given to the successor of the venerable and poioneering Hotmail platform, some 5 years ago. And the web front end to Exchange, either standalone or part of O365, was previously “Outlook Web Access” then “Outlook Web App”, yet is now somewhat confusingly just a web app called “Outlook”, or “Outlook on the Web”.
Now, if you buy a business version of Office 365, you may or may not get the rights to use Outlook the desktop application, and you will have a web app called Outlook which is running from the Office 365 back end based on Exchange Server.
If you buy a consumer version of Office 365 – Home or Personal – you’ll have email called Outlook.com, delivered to you by the same platform as the Hotmail successor but known as “Premium” and therefore without ads and with more capacity, and you may get the Outlook desktop application to use with it. Do you follow?
Anyway; the Outlook.com consumer / “Premium” platform is getting a bit of a makeover, and very nice it is, too. The beta is available for anyone who wants to switch it on, but in the near term, it will become the default.
And returning to Outlook on the Web, ie the version of Outlook you get in your browser when you’re on a commercial version of Office 365, it’s likely that the tailored versions for mobile phones will be retired soon, and users will be pushed to use the Outlook mobile apps for iOS or Android instead.
Tip o’ the Week 421 – Mind your passwords
Passwords are a bane of IT usability – everyone chooses a password that’s too simple, until the systems make it too hard, and even the process of password entry is difficult.
So you write your passwords down (srsly, don’t do that), sometimes in an obvious way – there’s a (probably apocryphal) story of a senior healthcare professional who left their laptop (with lots of sensitive data on it, obviously) in a taxi… the standard disk encryption neatly foiled by a Postit note stuck to the lid with their username and password on it…
Corporate domain passwords will generally enforce a certain degree of complexity, frequency of changing, and may even add certificate or token based authentication that needs to be used in combination with other forms – so called secondary or multi-factor authentication (2FA/MFA. It’s getting pretty common now for web sites to offer or even force 2FA, achieved via texting a one-time login code, or using a mobile app to authenticate you. ToW #371 covered how to enable 2FA for your Microsoft Account (MSA) – you really should switch that on.
For most people’s private credentials (used for logging into websites concerned with personal lives rather than work), usernames & passwords – with the odd secret question thrown in – are the main way they’ll access sensitive information from their phone or PC. And forcing the changing of passwords on a very regular basis can be a bad idea, too, as people are more likely to use easily-guessable passwords that are in turn easy for them to remember.
The average person, apparently, is many times more likely to fall victim to some sort of computer-related incident than a more traditional robbery. You might be hoodwinked yourself, or through your lax credentials, your account might be compromised and used to scam other unsuspecting punters – as happens regularly on eBay.
The Man on the Clapham omnibus is also likely to use the same username & password for every website or other system they can, even though many know they shouldn’t. It’s easy to recall the same few sets of credentials, rather than having to go and look something up every time. Don’t do this.
If you want to scare yourself into action, have a look on https://haveibeenpwned.com/ and see if your (consumer) email address is on there; chances are, it might have leaked from one of the many high-profile data breaches that have happened over the years. Try entering a common password you might use on https://haveibeenpwned.com/Passwords and it’ll tell you if that password has ever been leaked… and advise you never to use that password again.
Password managers are a way to help combat the issue – so you could have a different password for each site, sometimes even a random password that the password manager itself will generate for you. Examples include 1Password, LastPass, KeePass, Dashlane, eWallet… many will be browser based or have extensions (even for Edge!), so you can log in easily despite the complexity of your passwords. If the password manager has a cloud-storage vault, make sure it’s encrypted and there’s no way it could be compromised … and make sure you use a suitably complex but easy to remember password to unlock the password manager vault. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
If you use a password manager already, it may even have a report you can run to see how well protected you are…
Tip o’ the Week 420 – Office 365 updates
As part of the usual round of updates, Office 365 has had a bunch of changes during February and March. For many businesses (and a good few consumers), the traditional Microsoft Office (Word/Excel/PowerPoint…) app suite is now Office 365, with dozens of apps & services; even the app start banner says so.
As the world shifts from discrete software purchase to a subscription model – and it’s happening everywhere – it allows software purchasers to get more incremental functionality sooner (rather than a 2-3 year refresh cycle… or more). Software publishers can charge an ongoing amount, neatly dealing with software piracy and giving themselves a more predictable revenue stream, whilst probably lowering overall support costs and maybe even making the software less expensive for the end user as a result.
The latest updates for Office365 include some new additions to Word – like the consolidation of the Spell Check and Grammar functionality under the new “Editor”, found on the Review tab (just look under Check Document to see the pane on the right hand side).
There are some other interesting features on the same tab (like language translation or accessibility checks), as well as dealing with style and content of your writing. Delving into Settings from within the Editor pane lets you switch on all kinds of checks for common errors in writing, or highlighting the use of words & phrases that are best avoided.
Now, don’t turn on the profanity check and see how many squiggles you can generate in a single document – and stop sniggering at the back!
A variety of online services now benefit from general availability of Compliance Manager, part of the tool chest that might help businesses deal with GDPR.
Take a look at the Compliance Manager if you want to scare yourself silly about the amount of checks that people will be expected to complete, in order to be in line with GDPR.