The first Tip o’ the Week was sent on Friday 4th December 2009, starting life in response to the Microsoft annual employee survey, where team members could give feedback on how things are going. One common complaint was that tools they had to use – internal, mostly – were less than ideal, so a local task force was formed to decide on how best practices could be shared amongst a wider group of 50 or so people. “Why not a weekly newsletter?”
Quickly, ToW evolved into sharing productivity tips and news about (Microsoft, mainly) technology. Membership to the newsletter spread organically until thousands of people received it every week. The “Best Practice Tip o’ the Week” lost the “Best…” bit by #87, and at #100 became part of an internal Microsoft “Love it” project (and outlasted said project by some years). When it turned #300, ToW gained Bill Murray’s endorsement. Eventually, it went online and onto LinkedIn.
In all of this time, the fourth wall was rarely broken.
ToW has never been about me, it’s always tried to find and share some hopefully useful tips and tricks, often aided by suggestions from readers or even a few who wrote up the sollution themselves, presented in an informal and somewhat irreverant format.
The best ToWs? Well IMHO, they are (in no particular order):
The most fun was probably 662 – How to make the perfect martini, for obvious reasons. One I use every day? 406 – A path! A path!, though now Copy as path is built-in to Windows Explorer on the right-click.
In the meantime, thank you all!
Sometimes, new application paradigms disrupt the old ways of doing things – like real time messaging could sometimes replace email, or shared online document authoring takes over from working in offline silos. Just as software development methodologies and tools come in and out of fashion amongst the cool kidz, so too does the idea of doing everything online in a browser vs using those fusty old desktop apps that you might have installed.
One new application that spring to prominence in recent years is Notion; it showcased a canvas-based approach to colloborative workspaces with components that could be shared and reused in an entirely browser or mobile app based environment.
Notion went from a small startup 10 years ago to a multi-billion valuation, despite initially fending off VC cash. The user base is supposedly skewed to teenage-to-mid-30s, though old timers like Paul Thurrott and the team behind the Windows Weekly podcast notably use Notion to manage the prep notes for each episode. He was initially less than complementary when Microsoft unveiled a similar-looking new service, born out of components of the “Fluid Framework” which been unveiled at Build in 2019 as a new way of doing co-authoring on compound documents.
Loop is the name given to this new Microsoft 365 collab tool, announced in preview in 2021 and expanded somwhat shortly thereafter. It’s still a preview – some software companies have products in preview lasting multilple years, even if they don’t ultimately cark it.
Loop can be accessed at loop.microsoft.com either by using a “work or school” account as part of M365, or a Microsoft Account to sign-in to a personal version. Loop mobile apps now have support for personal accounts too. Admins in Microsoft 365 environments need to enable Loop for use – if you visit loop.microsoft.com as an end user and it’s not available, you’ll be told as much and asked to find your IT admin to get them to switch it on.
Loop components can belong to a workspace which itself has numerous pages – when you create a new page, you’ll see a selection of templates to get you started:
… and there’s a larger gallery which has more ideas, basically just pre-built pages with a smattering of ready-configured Loop components.
Inevitably, commentators compare Loop and Notion though one major difference is that rather than doing everyting in the online workspace, Loop components can also be shared and embedded within Office documents, emails or in Teams, which is arguably more flexible.
If you copy a Loop component to the clipboard and paste it into an email, you’ll see it embedded – though if using a table in your mail (such as is used in some weekly missives to try to control their layout), you’ll be disappointed as it appears you can’t embed Loop components inside a table.
Create a new Loop component inside a mail or Teams session, and it won’t be part of an existing Workspace – it’s basically just an attachment but still offers multi-user capabilities. If you insert the component from the menu then it auto-creates the name assiged to that component and there’s nowhere that you can rename it within the email etc.
Head over to OneDrive and look under My Files / Attachments, and you’ll see the created component – just click the ellipsis to the right and choose Rename from there, and it will show up with that name, wherever you embedded it.
Hypertext was a concept first coined in the 1960s, inspired by an idea in the early 1940s as a way of thinking about organising information. The first practical implementations of Hypertext let a document or application reference a link to some other content, just as we now know web hyperlinks to do. It’s no wonder that when Sir Tim was conceiving the means of writing what came to be pages on the web, he envisaged hypertext – or even hypermedia – as the glue that holds it all together.
True hypertext documents or applications don’t just link pages to each other, but specific contents – it could be a fly-out or a pop-up with a definition of what a specific term was, or it might be a link that jumps into a particular part of a longer document.
Many web pages have bookmarks defined within – eg Wikipedia typically has links on the left side which jump to parts later in the document, and the bookmark is added to the end of the URL – like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperlink#HTML
Office docs offer similar things – Word and Outlook have Bookmarks, PowerPoint can have hyperlinks inside slides that jump to a different slide etc.
If you look at documents stored on OneDrive or SharePoint, it’s often possible to create a link directly from within the full fat Office application, to a part of that document – eg in PowerPoint, right-click on a slide in the sorter view and it will display a URL to that specific slide, that you could share or link from elsewhere.
When dealing with web pages, there are some other tricks you can do to jump straight to a part in the page, even if that page itself has not defined the bookmarks for you to reference like the Wikipedia one above. The WWW Consortium fairly recently defined a standard for handling “Text Fragments”, which means you could link to a specific phrase on a page. Clicking the link will navigate to that point on the page and highlight the text. This is done with a strange looking tag at the end of the URL: #:~:text=whatever.
Example: one of the most-visited articles in the TipoWeek archive, Killing me Softly, part I (a wistful post looking back at some of the Microsoft tech which has ceased to be) has a part which deals with the audio file format, Windows Media Audio – see it on https://tipoweekwp.azurewebsites.net/2016/10/21/tip-o-the-week-350-killing-me-softly-part-i/#:~:text=Windows%20Media%20Audio.
Handily, if you want to generate a link straight to a word or phrase on a page, both Edge and Chrome offer a feature if you right-click on some text on the page – it may use other text fragment features to help steer to this specific piece of text, rather than just the first time that phrase appears on the page. See it in action, here.
Research from a couple of years back showed that the most-searched-for term on Bing.com was “google”. While it seems crazy that people would type the name of a search engine into the search box of another, it’s possible they were entering “google” into a box on their homepage or even in the browser address bar, and that term was sent to bing.com as a query, rather than sending the browser to google.com.
If you’re using Edge and have Bing as the default search experience – other search engines are available – then you may see the prominent search box in your new tab page, but it’s worth remembering that the address bar at the top of the browser is also a search box. You can jump to the address bar in Edge or Chrome by pressing ALT+D, which also selects the current site’s URL (if there is one) so you can edit it or just replace by typing something else.
If you start putting the name of a site into the address bar, you’ll be offered autocomplete suggestions from your favourites and your previous browsing history, so it may be very straightforward to jump to not just the website but a specific and previously accessed page within.
Entering a site name and pressing CTRL+ENTER will add the https://www. and .com bits so you don’t need to; therefore, to go to the BBC website, you could press ALT+D bbc CTRL+ENTER and you’d go there directly.
Although the address bar will ultimately use your default search engine to query a word or phrase that doesn’t appear to be a web site address, you can force it by starting to type ? in the address bar, then enter your search term after the question mark.
Some sites will allow the browser to search within them by adding the site name and then pressing TAB. Whatever text you enter after the TAB will be sent to the specific search page of that site. Not all sites support this method, but many common ones do, like Twitter, Amazon, YouTube and more.
Go to the search engine settings in Edge (or jump to the address bar and enter edge://settings/searchEngines) to see which sites are set up already. You can add your own “search engine”, which means you can direct Edge how to search within that site.
Click Add to include one of your own, using the appropriate site URL while replacing the bit where the search term is specified with %s – eg searching the OneDrive photos section for “dogs” would give a URL of https://photos.onedrive.com/search?q=dogs.
Give the Search Engine a shortcut name you want to use and then paste the modified URL and hit save. Now, in this example, typing photos | TAB | cats | ENTER would seach OneDrive for cat pictures.
If you are a Microsoft 365 user then you might be able – if it’s been enabled for your tenant – to search internal work documents and Sharepoint sites, just by typing work | TAB | etc. It’s on by default, but admins could also give you custom keywords / shortcut words too.
Finally, on the topic of Searching in the browser, it’s possible to search across all the tabs you have open; start typing something in the address bar and you’ll see the option of filtering that search to apply to Work, history, favourites or tabs.
To quickly jump to that tab, use the up and down keys to select the one you want, and press Enter.
The word “Go” has so many connotations for such a couple of letters. It’s typically upbeat & positive, forward-looking and action-oriented. You get £200 for breezing past it in Monopoly, it’s the oldest board game known, it’s a popular open-source programming language and it’s what the Thunderbirds do.
Back in April 2021, ToW #574 talked about sharing a countdown timer in Teams, if you want to make it clear in a meeting that it’s about to get underway. That was by sharing the application window of a countdown clock, meaning that it would replace any other desktop sharing/slides etc being shown.
Also, the timer will loom very large on the screen of everyone watching, which could well be effective though maybe lacking some of the subtlety you’d prefer.
A more nuanced tip would be to overlay a timer on your own video feed, so you could make the point that things are about to change, and it could be shown alongside other content or whatever else might be happening in the meeting.
Depending on how you do it, the timer could disappear altogether when it has finished, and you’d carry on with the video as before. You might even want to replace your own camera feed with a backdrop and timer until you’re ready to go and show your face.
One recommended way to achieve this effect is to use OBS Studio, open source software which started life as a kind of video manipulation tool aimed at recording or streaming, and has grown to offer a host of features and plugins to modify and manipulate video in real time. It can look a bit scary to start with, but the basics can be picked up quickly.
OBS Studio can apply a series of effects to one or more video sources – could be the real-time recording of windows showing a live demo or a physical camera, with some other stuff like a video file, overlaid on top. You can go down a rabbit-hole of effects (like put a real-life green screen behind you, then chroma key a backdrop or video onto your own video feed – see Scott Hanselman’s tutorial for inspiration).
OBS also includes a virtual camera driver, so while you’re running the software and combining several sources – like a real camera and one or more media sources overlaid on top (along with selected effects) – OBS will combine everything to look like it’s a camera feed that can be selected in Teams, Zoom or any other software that could use a video input.
A simple trick could be to add only a countdown video to OBS and then choose the OBS Virtual Camera in Teams; it will display the video instead of your camera feed, and then when you’re ready to get going, just change the video settings in Teams to go back to your own webcam.
There are plenty of sources online for free countdown videos – here or here for example; download the file, add it to OBS as a Media Source and you’re off. If you’d like to take it up a level, here’s a more in-depth tutorial, and you can even script your own custom ones if you like to delver deeper into OBS features.