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

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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 #168 – Loving some Windows Phone 8 tips

clip_image001At a recent “Love It” internal event hosted in Microsoft UK’s Reading campus, a whole series of tips and tricks were shared amongst other Microsofties. Did you know, for example, that with an application called ZipApp (www.zipapp.co.uk – check it out), you can build a Windows 8 app in a few minutes without writing any code?

DPE’er Andy Robb said, “Yesterday I helped a couple of people create a dummy app for their customer complete with logo, draft content, a couple of social feeds, in about 30 mins… Customer walks in, sees their app on the Start menu, has a play on a touch device and they ‘get it’ better than any pitch deck could do.“ … BOOM!

Phone gurus Jon Lickiss and Natasha Joseph presented a great session on Windows Phone, with a slew of great tips and apps that  they recommend – they’ve promised to write up the session so we may feature it here in future. In the meantime, here are 3 of the tips to get cracking:

clip_image002Here Maps

Nokia has released mapping software available to any Windows Phone 8 user, which they called Here Maps. The great thing about Here Maps is that you can download the content offline, so they can be used on the tube (say) or when abroad, without racking up career-ending roaming charges.

The downloaded maps data is shared between Here Maps and Here Drive, the new name for the sat nav software that’s free (in beta) for any Windows Phone 8, as well as Nokia Lumias. If you’re on a non-Nokia device, Here Drive only allows access to the maps where the phone’s SIM is registered, but if you’ve a Lumia then you can use maps all over the world,, still get turn/turn navigation.

Here Maps also has a feature analogous to Bing Maps’ own capability to show details of what’s inside buildings – like shopping centres. Here’s a pic of the Oracle centre in Reading, as seen by Here Maps…

Where are you…?

If you’re arranging to meet up and want to tell your friends your current 10-20, you could text them a description – or try this neat function that was new in WP8. Go into the Messaging (ie text) app, start a new text message, then tap on the paperclip icon normally used to attach something – select “my location” to insert a Bing Maps link to your current whereabouts. See here.

Screen grab

A quick and simple way to capture the screen of a Windows Phone. To snap the contents of the phone screen, press the Windows logo on the bottom of the phone then quickly press the power/standby button. It may take a little practice to get the timing right, but once you’ve figured it out, you’ll see the results in the Screenshots folder within the Photos app.

To get them to your PC for further use, it’s probably easiest to just go into the folder, view the picture then Share it via email or NFC, if your new PC supports it

Tip o’ the Week #157 – Bing photos R Us

clip_image002Everybody loves the lovely photos that feature every day on Bing. Did you know the images can and do differ in disparate markets (eg PRC, USA and UK tend to have different images from each other)?

You can set the flavour of Bing you’d like to see on http://www.bing.com/account/worldwide, so if you don’t love the current pic, you could always have a look at what’s online elsewhere.

clip_image003Or click/push back to get an image from the previous week.

If you’re a budding snapper (FTE), you can submit your own photos to be included on the Bing homepage – here. You could even join the Bing Homepage Monthly Report DL here to keep up with developments.

If you’re interesting in photography in Blighty, you could try tagging along to one of the short courses by Going Digital to get you off “Auto” mode.
Snap snap, grin grin, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more…?

Viewing on your lock screen & desktop

Since most of us are simply content to enjoy the daily pic, there are a few apps that can assist. The Bing Desktop App (for regular PCs, and it even runs on Windows 7), has been around for a little while, but usefully serves up news headlines as well as optionally providing a fresh desktop photo every day. If you don’t like the fact that it eats up a space on your taskbar (even when you right-click on that icon and choose Close Window), then you can drag the bar to the top or bottom of your screen and dock it – whereupon it shrinks nearly out of sight when not in use.

If you’ve set up Windows 8 with a Microsoft account synchronising your settings, then you’ll even see the daily image on your other devices – like a Surface or home PC.

Bing my lockscreen and desktop

If you’d prefer to actually set the image from a Windows 8 Modern App (aka an orteMapp), suitable for running on your Surface, you might want to try Bing my lockscreen, as recommended by Simon Boreham. If you search the store for Bing Wallpaper, you’ll find a slew of other apps to view or download previous images, but there don’t appear to be any that will automate the setting of your desktop wallpaper to the daily image in the same way that the Bing Desktop app does.

Tip o’ the Week #108 – Using Accelerators

Internet Explorer 8 added a concept known as IE “Accelerators” – the principle being that you could select some text on a page, and using an accelerator, quickly search the web for that piece of text, or maybe do something clip_image001more specific. The other day, I was talking to someone about a particular piece of kit, and we were looking at a website commenting on it. Looking for more info, I used one of the IE Accelerators to quickly Search with Bing, and he said, “wow – I didn’t know you could do that..?!”

There are a bunch of Accelerators built in with IE9 – the most obvious ones letting you select something on the page and immediately search Bing for the text you’ve selected. Even handier, select a post code or place name and Map with Bing to view the map straight away, all without need to re-key everything.

There are other accelerators available – if you’ve got more than one Search provider (other search engines, apparently, are available) then they’ll show up in the “All Accelerators->” flyout menu, and under the Manage  Accelerators option on the same menu, you can find more or deal with the ones you currently have.

Check out the IE Gallery for more accelerators and other addons.

Tip o’ the Week #106 – Revisiting Microsoft Tag

We’ve covered Microsoft Tag before on Tip o’ the Week, but it’s worth paying another visit as a few things have changed. Tag is an innovative 2D barcode which can be in colour or black and white, and can even be heavily stylised and worked into logos or other graphics.

If you haven’t tried using Tag before, then point your mobile phone to http://gettag.mobi to download the Tag reader app, unless you have Windows Phone 7.5, in which case it’s built in. just press the search button on the bottom of the phone, and press the “eye” icon on the bottom of the page – then hold your phone over the tag to read it.

clip_image001clip_image003Here’s a customised tag that points to a web URL – http://binged.it/wcQrOr. (Spot the new function within Bing Maps, where when you share a map view that you have, it generates a short URL rather than the massive multi-line one that it used to. like this one.

http://www.bing.com/maps/?v=2&cp=51.471944979869825~-0.5412939190864563&lvl=10&dir=0&sty=r&eo=0&rtp=pos.51.496877_-0.140405_near%20Victoria%20Street,%20London%20SW1P%201___a_~pos.51.461876_-0.925197_near%20street,%20Reading%20RG6%201___a_&mode=D&rtop=0~0~0~&form=LMLTCC)

It’s a piece of cake to create new Tags – go to http://tag.microsoft.com and sign in with you Live ID. You can create a tag that will point to a URL, will contain contact information, a simple block of text or a phone number. Someone can scan your contact and add it straight to their phone, or just call your number directly. Or if your website has mobile-oriented information, then maybe direct them to that.

clip_image005There have been some updates from the Tag team (banish any wrestling analogies from your mind), which have added some interesting new areas of functionality, such as the ability to generate the more widely used if much less visually jazzy, QR Codes. Like this one.

To create your own Microsoft business cards with Tags on the back, visit https://xerox-mscopy.nowdocs.com/ then click on Business Cards / Business Cards / Worldwide Employee Business Cards / . card WITH MS TAG . and upload the Tag image of your contact info you’ve already created

There are some nice analysis tools available, too – if you are using Tags, QR Codes or NFC codes to do some kind of marketing, you can check on:

· Frequency – how many times a Tag barcode, QR Code or NFC touchpoint (or group of them) has been scanned.

· Time frame – how many scans each recognition technology receives each day and overall.

· Geography – where each Tag barcode, QR Code or NFC touchpoint has been scanned, which can be represented on a Heat Map.

Best of all with Tag, though – everything is completely free. Anyone can create and manage Tags, QR Codes etc, so let your customers and partners know that they could be adding rich, mobile-oriented content to any of their flyers, ads, business cards etc – just by sticking a Tag on the bottom. QR Codes are ugly – try using Tag properly!

Tip o’ the Week #99 – Is your hard disk just “on”?

clip_image001One frustrating aspect of a modern PC is when it seems to slow down inexplicably, even when it’s not obviously busy. Sometimes that could be evidenced by the hard disk light flickering a lot of the time, or in extreme cases, solidly lit up. There are a number of reasons why this could be the case – here are some tips on finding out why and maybe what to do about it.

Your PC is just not good enough

A common reason why your disk is really busy (sometimes known as thrashing) is simply that the machine doesn’t have enough oomph to do what it’s being told to. It could be you just don’t have enough of some critical resources, such as memory. If there isn’t enough physical memory (RAM) in the machine, then when an application wants to hold information in memory, something else which is currently in memory needs to be “paged out” – written to disk, temporarily.

clip_image002That’s all very well, until the application that was using the data that’s just been paged out needs it back -then, something else is paged out, and the previous data is read back in. If you get to the point where you’re really short of RAM, the PC will be thrashing to the point of exclusion to practically everything else. The whole process is a lot like the juggling you might need to do when you’re trying to work with more than two things but are limited to having only two hands.

The only solution to not having enough RAM is to add some more (not always straightforward), or make the machine do less. Look in Resource Monitor (press Windowskey-R then enter “resmon“) under the memory tab, and you’ll see how much of your physical memory is being used. You can also look and see which applications are using up all the memory and maybe think about shutting them down, or making room for them by closing other clip_image003applications.

Modern day whack-a-mole

Curing performance problems can be like pushing a blockage from one place to another, or like the whack-a-mole fairground game where you hit one issue and another one just pops up elsewhere. If your PC isn’t running out of memory, maybe the processor (CPU) is the bottleneck, or perhaps it’s the disk itself.

If the CPU is slow, then everything else will feel pretty slow – the whole machine will just feel like it’s overworked. If the disk is slow, then the machine will bog down every time it needs to do something disk-intensive. Combine a possibly slow disk with running out of memory, and you’ve got the perfect storm – a PC that is constantly shuttling stuff to-and-fro between memory and disk, and burdening the CPU with all the additional overhead to do so.

There are some things you can do to mitigate the “disk light on” issue, however.

It’s probably Outlook

ToW #96 covered an issue where Outlook might use up a large amount of disk space, and maintaining that kind of volume will put something of a strain on the PC. Outlook is probably the heaviest desktop application most of us use, and if it isn’t hammering your memory or processor, then it will probably be nailing your hard disk.

Defragment

It’s still worth making sure your hard disk isn’t badly fragmented, a situation where files end up scattered across the surface of the disk in lots of pieces or fragments. If you have a nice clean disk that’s largely empty, then Windows would write a new file out in one big splurge of “contiguous” fragments or clusters.

When files are deleted, all that happens is those clusters that are currently used, get marked as free so they can be over-written in future. If the disk gets increasingly full up, though, it may be that the only free space exists in small chunks all over the place – meaning Windows has to do more work to read and write files.

clip_image004You can run Disk Defragmentation by going to Start and typing in Disk Defrag, then you’ll be able to run the Defrag process interactively, or schedule it to happen in the background – ensuring that you pick a time that you won’t be really busy on your PC, otherwise it will be the Disk Defrag that’s making the light glow.

To allow fragmentation a better shot of cleaning up the disk, it may be a good idea to close applications that are likely to be using big files (like Outlook, whose OST file is probably the biggest file on your hard disk), and if you have a high degree of fragmentation, then it would be worth getting rid of the hidden Hibernate File on your hard disk – that’s where Windows writes the contents of memory if the battery on your laptop runs out, so it’s gigabytes in size.

clip_image005To delete your Hibernate File, you need to fire up a command prompt in Administrator mode – go to Start menu and start typing command then right-click and choose Run as administrator.

A quick alternative is to go to Start, then type cmd and press CTRL-SHIFT-ENTER, which tells Windows to run whatever you’ve typed in as an administrator. Try it: you too can run notepad as an admin.

Once you have your admin Command Prompt (denoted by the window title of Administrator C:\Windows\etc), then type powercfg -h off to switch the Hibernate functionality off, and in so doing, ditch the hiberfil.sys file. Once you’ve finished defragmenting, you can switch hibernate back on by repeating with powercfg -h on.

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Is your disk just too slow? How would you know?

Finally for this week, there’s a possibility that your disk is just basically slow and there’s not a lot you can do about that short of replacing it. If you look in Device Manager (Start -> then type Device Manager), and expand out the Disk Drives section, you will see what kind of hard disk you have – try Binging the cryptic model number and you might find the specifications of the disk – does it spin at 5,400rpm or 7,200rpm, or is I solid state? Does it have any cache? Maybe reviewers on Amazon et al will pan that model’s performance, or even suggest that a simple firmware upgrade of the disk itself will solve performance issues. [Here Be Dragons – be very careful if you go down this route].

You can see if your disk is the bottleneck to PC performance by looking at the Disk tab in Resource Monitor, clip_image007expanding out the Storage section. You’ll see Disk Queue Length as one of the columns on there – that’s a measure of how much stuff Windows is waiting for to be read from or written to the disk. If the machine is busy and doing a lot of disk work, this might be legitimately quite high (maybe double figures) but if it’s sustained then it could be illustrating that the disk is struggling to keep up with the requests the PC is making of it.

That could be a symptom that it’s just not quick enough, but it could be a forebear of the disk being faulty – maybe the reason it’s taking ages is because it’s physically about to fail. Best get it checked out.

And don’t forget ReadyBoost

After sending this original tip above within Microsoft, a reader (Rob Orwin) responded to remind me about ReadyBoost – so I added the following in a subsequent tip. In Rob’s own words.

clip_image001[1]Whenever my computer is being a bit sluggish, I stuff two memory sticks, which I always carry around in my laptop bag, in the USB ports and as if by magic everything starts running as if it’s on steroids. It’s instantaneous as you only need to dedicate a device to ReadyBoost once, and then every time you put it in the USB drive it gets automatically used as pseudo-RAM. Another option is to get a ReadyBoost compatible SD card and stick it in the laptop’s SD card slot – which pretty much no one ever uses. [and 4Gb SD cards can be picked up for a few £s]

Yes, it’s not quite as fast as actually adding RAM but it’s a lot easier and a great deal faster than having to use the HDD for virtual memory. I learnt this from a friend who’s a graphic designer. She uses ReadyBoost whenever she needs to do huge batch operations in PhotoShop. The ReadyBoost feature was apparently the main reason why she got her company to buy her a PC instead of a Mac. When a Mac is out of RAM, it’s out of RAM.

I even use ReadyBoost at home to run Windows 7 on a laptop that is 12 years old and has 256Mb RAM.

Tip o’ the Week #73 – Using Bing Maps in London

clip_image001Here’s a quick but useful tip for Bing Maps (did you know, by the way, that you can jump straight to the maps by entering www.bingmaps.com as the URL? Or if you’ve super-efficient, just type bingmaps into the address bar on IE, and press CTRL+ENTER and it will do the rest for you).

If you’re visiting London and your default language for Bing maps is UK English (you’ll see in the top right if it says “United Kingdom”), then when you view any Greater London location, your default view is the A-Z Maps – one familiar to every Londoner.

The A-Z view shows entrances to Tube stations, and if you click on the regular Tube icon, it will also tell you what line services that station, and displays an overlay of the tube network in the classic colours, but in a way you’ve probably never seen before (ie real geographical distances between stations rather than the well-known Tube map). Zoom out a little and the overlay stays in place, but the relatively cluttered A-Z view is replaced with Bing’s standard maps view.

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So what? Well, it lets you see just how close some stations are to each other, that it might be quicker to walk than to go about changing trains… and it also showcases how much better Bing Maps is than Google Maps…

If you have a customer or partner who’s London based, and who uses Google Maps on their website, show this to them and see if you can’t persuade them to switch… Then show them the Birds Eye view and see if that seals it!