After Americans celebrated “Turkey Day” yesterday, the phenomenon of Black Friday is now well underway. Originally coined for bricks & mortar retailers to kick off the shopping spree in the run-up to Christmas, it’s now exported around the world and applied across all retail channels with consumer electronics being routinely discounted for a few days (stretching through the weekend to what grew to be called “Cyber Monday”).
Around a year ago, the Edge browser debuted the Shopping feature which showcased vouchers from various sites you might visit – similar to the Honey add-in which offers coupons and vouchers proactively when you visit e-commerce sites.
There have been some recent updates to Shopping, including a price tracking feature which tells you if a specific item has been reduced in price recently – as with all these things, YMMV depending on the retailer and your own location, but it’s certainly worth a look – find out more, and see which retailers are supporting the Shopping feature with coupons and price alerts.
There are other improvements on the way – including a rare UK-first rollout, of a Bing Shopping collaboration with Good On You to highlight ethically sourced fashion. Have fun on your shopping spree!
Month: November 2021
607 – How’s you call health?
When the pandemic first hit, many people realised that fast, reliable home broadband was an essential utility rather than a nice-to-have. With potentially more people in the house sharing the connection all day, streaming video and doing online meetings, contention in the domestic environment became something of an issue, where one user can hog the available bandwidth to the detriment of others.
The same issue occurs en masse at the broadband provider’s network, where their resources are shared between users on the assumption that they won’t see all of them demanding full speed at the same time: a contention ratio of 50:1 is pretty common, meaning if your neighbours are hammering their connection then it may affect you (assuming you’re on the same provider).
By now, we should all be used to the challenge of making your home network better – plugging into a wired network port to avoid poor WiFi signal, making sure other devices don’t do massive downloads during the working day. Check the speed of your network using one of the many tools available – like this one from Microsoft Research; if you search on Bing.com for just speed test then you’ll get a simple speedometer view.
If you’re using Teams or other realtime conferencing tools, it’s arguably more important to look at the latency (or “ping”) and the upload speed, than focussing on the headline download speed; if you have a device uploading lots of data, it might rob your bandwidth and ramp up the latency, which will be the enemy of any kind of synchronous comms. Check your latency over time with an online tool (like TestMy Latency) or download WinMTR to look for spikes in latency.
It’s worth making sure your PC isn’t causing issues itself, by running out of memory or pegging out the CPU and therefore giving a poor experience: the topic of looking for poor home network perf has been covered previously in ToW #533 amongst others.
Microsoft Teams has added some built-in monitoring and data collection capabilities, reported back to a central admin dashboard (Set up Call Quality Dashboard (CQD), and now semi-realtime data is visible in the Teams client itself.
When in a call, go to the … menu and look for Call health. Click on the various “view more… data >” buttons to see further detail, like the size and rate of the video you’re sending to the call you’re currently on. If your colleagues tell you that the quality of your video is poor, take a look in there to see what you’re actually sending.
As an end user, see here to understand how to interpret the various data. Hover over the little info icons to the side of each headline to see a bubble explaining in one-line what this is measuring. It’s quite interesting.
For admin guidance on what bandwidth and latency requirements you should have to perform acceptably, see here.
606 – Cloudy Horizons
|As the Holiday Season starts to loom (though some retailers’ tasteful décor has been in the aisles since late August), technology fans’ thoughts turn to Black Friday and the inevitable gift flinging that follows. The Global Pandemic™ and its spin-off, The Supply Chain Nightmare®, has dealt a shortage of what uninformed pundits refer to as “computer chips” amongst many other issues.
This means that even if big ships weren’t in the wrong place and there was anyone left to drive the containerloads of toot they ordinarily carry, the actual goods themselves might be in shorter supply than expected. All sorts of consumer electronics from gadgets to motor cars have been affected by shortfall in capacity at silicon fabs.
If you haven’t got your planned-for Xbox Series X console yet, then good luck in finding any in stock – there are numerous twitter accounts and stock scraping websites out there which might help, assuming you don’t want to get scalped on eBay. Maybe you’ll need to stick with what you have already and just wait until 2022 to get the top spec console, or settle for a Series S in the meantime.
Good news for all Xbox console gamers, though – the latest release in the mammoth Forza series has arrived.
Originally a racing simulation franchise to rival the PlayStation’s Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport appealed to driving sim types, but Forza Horizon – a more arcade-style driving game which has you hooning around an open world in all kinds of exotic cars – has reached a far wider audience. Set in Mexico (or a fictionalized variant thereof), FH5 has hit the ground running with over 1 million gamers already.
Forza Horizon 5 is available for PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series S / X. Already available on Xbox Game Pass, it can be downloaded free with the right subscription, though it might take a while to complete the installation…
If you can’t wait to play it (or you just fancy a quick try without spending all day installing it), why not run it from the cloud instead?
The smoothness of the graphics probably won’t be quite as good as having it locally, but with Game Pass Ultimate you can try the streaming experience which has been in beta for a while now. Cloud Gaming is available on Apple, Android and Windows devices.
Simply plug in an Xbox controller via USB or connect via Bluetooth, and your device will be the front end to the game which is actually running in an Azure datacenter, on one of many Xbox Series X blades.
Even modest spec PCs like the original Surface Go can cut a credible job for a little Friday night entertainment.
605 – Snooze la differénce
Microsoft has always been good at having several ways of doing the same thing. Internal competition was encouraged with the idea that if several teams built solutions for the same problem, it would spur them all on and the best would win out. The Best Laid Plans don’t always work, and sometimes politics and machination gets in the way.
One modern incarnation of the multiple-ways principle is electronic mail; despite many attempts to replace email with other means of messaging, persistent chat etc, it’s still a huge deal (especially in business) and it’s still growing.
In the days when companies ran their own IT on-premises, there was Exchange, and the companion mail client Outlook arrived shortly after. Web-based consumer services like Hotmail, Yahoo! and Gmail changed the expectations of many users. Home and work email services have been getting closer in form and function since.
Microsoft’s current email clients are quite diverged: you can use the full-fat Outlook application to connect to your business email as well as your private
The Mail app is pretty good – it can connect to a variety of sources including Office 365, so while it might not be an ideal primary business email application, it can be a good way of connecting to multiple personal email services.
One feature which appeared in different ways across multiple services and apps is the idea of Snoozing your email; initially pioneered by Gmail, others followed suit. It’s a different concept to flags and reminders, rather if you select an email and say snooze until 10am tomorrow, it will literally disappear from your inbox and it would reappear at the top of the pile the following morning.
Well, that’s how it works on some combinations. In the browser versions of both Hotmail / Outlook.com and Exchange/Office365, it works as you’d expect – you Snooze an email and it is actually moved into the Scheduled email folder (and you’ll see when it is later due to reappear in Inbox if you look in there). At the elected time, it shows up again on at the top of the mailbox. Let’s compare to some other Microsoft clients & services…
Outlook client and Office 365 – there is no snooze feature. Sorry. Just be more organised. If you snooze an email from another client, it will disappear from Inbox, but when it reappears, it’ll be in the same place as it was before – eg. if you Snooze a 9am email from the web app until 1pm, it will move into the Scheduled folder – but when it moves back into the Inbox, the Outlook and Windows Mail clients will show it down at 9am again so you might as well flag it and be done.
Windows Mail client with Outlook.com or Office 365 – Zip. Too bad.
Mobile Outlook and Web clients on Outlook.com or Office 365– Mail disappears and shows up again at the allotted time, right at the top of the mailbox. In the web clients, you’ll see the time stamp of the message as if it has literally just arrived; in the mobile version, though the message is ordered correctly (eg a 9am snooze to reappear at 1pm will show up between 12:30 and 1:15 mails), the displayed time is correct but a little clock icon is shown alongside. Clever.
At some point, there is a plan to deliver a single, unified, email client. An Ignite 2020 session talked about the roadmap and further commentary speculated that the One Outlook client may be coming, but isn’t going to be with us for some time yet.
In the meantime, maybe now’s the time to try the switch full time to Outlook Web App? You can even install it like a regular app, pin it to Start and so on.