515 – Whiteboarding Teams

clip_image002[1]Microsoft Teams continues to attract more fans, as Office 365 licensees deploy it and end-users embrace and enjoy Teams as another way to other communicate and collaborate. As part of a blog post in November, some best practices and references were shared, as was the widely-reported figure of 20m active users.

After a while, Teams becomes prevalent as a way of managing online meetings: handy, for example, when the usual seasonal rain in Seattle gives way to the odd bout of debilitating snow.

clip_image004[1]clip_image006[1]If you’re having meetings with Teams, there’s always the chance you’ll want to collaborate on a virtual whiteboard, something that was discussed a bit back in ToW #440.

Just go to the Share control within the meeting and scroll over to the right – past a list of PowerPoint files you have recently opened; yes, it is possible to display PPT content without sharing your whole desktop – and you’ll see Whiteboard as a category.

clip_image008[1]The Microsoft Whiteboard that is listed within is a simplified version of the main application; as used in Teams, you get less control and fewer pens etc. You could just start then share out the main Whiteboard application, but as it would be a single-user application being displayed, you wouldn’t have the same fidelity of multi-user interaction.

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It is possible, however, to open up the Whiteboard canvas associated with a Teams meeting, back in the separate Microsoft Whiteboard app. So, if you want to use the groovy tools like highlighter and ruler, start Whiteboard, then look in the gallery of existing whiteboards you’ve used.

One of them will be the Whiteboard from the meeting: open it up in the main app and you’ll also be able to interact in real-clip_image012[1]time, even if the meeting is still taking place with others contributing.

Whiteboard is available as a Windows app, an iOS app, and also as a web apphere – and the web app provides the same kind of slightly more basic functionality as the Teams version. Who knows, they might be related…?

There’s also an even-more-capable whiteboard app that needs you to sign up for a free account and provides a commensurate web experience – Freehand by InVision. The Teams app basically embeds the web UI of that app too, but it provides a wider choice of features (like holding ALT down to force your freehand shapes to snap to real ones, or press SHIFT to force a straight line even if drawn with a mouse or a pen) and some additional organisational control. It’s worth looking at both Freehand and the simpler Microsoft Whiteboard.

514 – tweaking Outlook’s Ribbon

clip_image002Thirteen years ago, Microsoft launched Office 2007. Back when people looked forward to new releases of office productivity suites with a mix of excitement and dread, new features arrived by the boat load. While many functions stayed in later releases as core parts of the product, others led a wafer-thin existence then vanished.

One major change was the introduction of the Ribbon – a then-new way of organising the complex menu structure that sat within the individual Office apps. Despite complaints from some users, it quickly became established as a good way of presenting, in context, useful features that might otherwise have stayed buried in some deep menu structure. Competitors copied it too.

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clip_image006Outlook – like other Office apps – has evolved its Ribbon over time, and introduced a simplified version that takes up less screen real estate. While your average user has moved on from squinting at a 15” CRT monitor, it’s still desirable for some to keep the less-used menu options hidden and to focus on the content. To switch between the standard and simple Ribbons, click the little caret mark at the far right corner of the main Ribbon UI.

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So far, so good, but it you like the “Classic” Ribbon, there’s a lot you can do to get rid of some of the guff and keep the useful features more prominent. Looking at the first Ribbon image above, about 40% of the space is consumed with a handful of addins that might be useful, but not necessarily deserving of such prominence – your own list may differ, but the stuff on the right side tends to be a series of groups with a single, large icon in each.

clip_image010To clean up the ribbon, right-click on it and choose the Customize the Ribbon… option. You’ll now get a dialog box which lets you organise things – individual commands are displayed in Tabs (like Home, View, Help etc) and on groups within the tabs (New, Delete, Respond, and so on).

If you reduce the number of groups on a tab, the remaining ones may spread out and show larger icons or more detail – handy on the Home tab, if you like to use Quick Steps, which will expand out of one column.

clip_image012Let’s try moving some of the clip_image014less commonly used groups from the home tab – start by creating a new Tab and then right-click on it to rename it Add-ins or something like that.

Once you have the new tab created, it’s simple to start dragging and dropping defunct groups from the home tab onto the new one – things you might use occasionally but they don’t need to be on the main screen. Customisations are particular to the Ribbon you’re looking at – so if you organise the Classic one then switch to Simplified, you’ll still see the old arrangement until you customize that one too. You might want to export your finished layout too.

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Looking at the restyled Ribbon above, all of the groups from Delete to Tags have been stretched to show more prominent icons or reduce the menu level a little, and Quick Steps has grown from one to four columns wide. Much more useful.

clip_image018If you’re a Quick Steps fan, another trick is to right-click on one of your existing steps (where you’d normally customize that step or jump into the dialog clip_image020for managing the whole lot), and choose Add Gallery to Quick Access Toolbar; meaning your array of quick actions is only a couple of clicks away, regardless of what is shown on the Ribbon.

# 513 – Ship ahoy!

clip_image002tl;dr – there’s a new browser out. Go and install it.

Back in the day, Microsoft nerds (yes, there were some, both in and outside of the company) used to take pride in continually referring to products by their code names long after they’d been released, and by using the most Microspeak.

There used to be a browsable Microspeak Glossary on the Microsoft intranet, and various versions of it online, but they now seem to have withered.

The odd phrase still crops up in contemporary usage, and one which shows its age is RTM.

Historically, at a point in a software product’s lifecycle, the team just needs to ship the thing – some would think it’s the completion of the development, but most developers know nothing is ever finished and therefore nothing would ever ship. Instead, it’s some date that’s been decided, and they work backwards from that date to ship whatever they have at that point. In traditional boxed-software sales, that would mean sending the final code off to be turned into floppy discs, CDs, whatever – in other words, release it to manufacturing. RTM in the CD-era often referred to the “gold code”, as it was burned to a (gold-coloured) recordable CD before being sent to the manufacturing process. So RTM also means the final build of code as well as the process to release it.

Since nobody really buys software on physical media anymore, RTM is something of an anachronism. “RTW” was used for a while, meaning “Release to Web” but it’s a clunky phrase, and has disappeared from use – much like Cisco’s attempt to for a while to talk not about “IoT,” but “Internet of Everything” or “IoE”.

Nowadays, products at the end of their development cycle “go GA” – Generally Available. Much easier.

clip_image004This week sees the GA/RTW/etc of the new Edge browser, built on the Chromium rendering engine for maximum compatibility and performance, but extended in a host of ways to arguably make it a better browser than the others out there. It’s available for Windows 7 – even though that’s just gone out of support – and it’s also on Win8x and Mac too. Though technically a different code base, the Edge mobile versions have recently been rebranded and the UI tweaked.

If you currently use Edge – or shudder, still use Internet Explorer – then installing the new Edge will migrate your settings, history, passwords etc, but not any extensions you might have. Fear not, though, for the Chromium engine means you can install extensions from both the Microsoft Store and also the Chrome Store too.

For more on the new Edge, see the tips that are shown as part of the install process, read some opinion pieces on whether world+dog seems to think this is a good thing; here, here, here … and here… and, oh, you get the idea.

512 – Sticky Notes and Glancing

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Happy New Year! Whether it’s a way of keeping up with the NY resolutions you haven’t broken yet, or just a casual way to remind yourself to do stuff, Post-It Notes or the more generic “sticky notes” can be a useful tool. ToW # 446 talked about a handy Windows app that is now installed by default on Windows 10.

Sticky Notes has been through a number of iterations, and now in v3.7 it’s looking pared back yet really functional. Sure, you can use Outlook Tasks and To Do to track significant actions, long-term projects and the like, but sometimes you just want a simple list to get you through the morning or to take shopping.

If you open Sticky Notes, and click on the body of a note itself (to set focus to that window and start editing the text), then you’ll see the menu and close controls; clicking the menu lets you quickly change the colour of your note (so if you have several open, you can clip_image004tell them apart, clip_image006maybe) or jump to the Notes list that shows a summary of all the stickies you have lying around.

clip_image008Another quick way of getting to the notes you have is to right-click the Sticky Notes icon on your taskbar.

You can type, write (with your finger, or a stylus), or grab pictures from camera or existing files, all into a note, then share and make sense of it later.

You can sync your sticky notes to other devices: just go to the settings icon (from the taskbar context view or within the Notes list) to configure syncing using either an Office 365 or Microsoft Account.

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Sticky Notes has even replaced the venerable “Notes” function in Outlook, which has been around since 1997 – go to the Wunderbar in Outlook and you may need to click the ellipsis to see the Notes pages; it’s very old-school looking and not everything is carried over quite the same, but it’s a welcome integration that replaces another duplicate way of doing the same thing. It’s part of a long-term plan, so it seems.

Multi-device

clip_image012Sticky Notes show up on the web and are also accessible on iOS and Android devices via the OneNote app…

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If you set up sync between devices, it’s quite amusing to open the web client, the PC app, and then on your phone, add a new note… and see the other two update within seconds. Technology #ftw – far more useful than the kind of toot being peddled at CES in Las Vegas this week.

On an Android phone, though, the best way to use Sticky Notes is through the integration with the Microsoft Launcher – if you’re not a phone tech geek, you might not realise that with Android, you can supplant the entire home screen UI of the phone with any number of variants.

Microsoft has a mature and highly regarded launcher, that clip_image016has an average review score of 4.6 across over 1 million reviews – how many apps in the Windows store can beat that…? See more tips on using Launcher.

clip_image018When you have the Launcher installed, the “Glance” screen is only a swipe away – on the home screen, swipe from clip_image020left to right to flick over to this summary that lets you see a customisable list (click the stack on the top right) of important or interesting info.

clip_image022The Calendar summary lets you jump straight into a Teams meeting, you can show “screen time” stats, or scroll to the bottom to add more widgets from any number of apps you have installed on your phone.

Cortana integration featured in the Launcher at one point, though it’s planned to disappear for many of us.

In a “for your comfort and safety” type announcement, news came that Cortana will disappear from the phone in favour of being part of other M365 apps in time. More to follow, no doubt…

511 – This is the End

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Where did that decade just go? clip_image004[4]It feels like just a short skip since 2010, and over the next couple of weeks no doubt the TV schedules will be full of retrospective coverage of all that’s changed in the last 9.97 years. While the global political tumult continues, it’s interesting to reflect on how much technology has moved on in this time, and how some long-term promises still remain frustratingly unfulfilled. Where’s my flying car?

Back in 2010, MySpace was still a thing, the iPad had yet to be clip_image006[4]unveiled, Nokia and Blackberry’s platforms were not yet ablaze, Windows Phone 7 arrived late in 2010 and nobody had heard of Alexa or Siri. The Internet of Things was going to be a big deal, and smart homes and vehicles got to be a hot technology area though at the outset of the decade, seemed mostly a pipe dream.

In January 2020, the electronics industry will gather again for the hypefest that is CES, having moved on from clip_image008 trying to sell everyone on 3D televisions, and is concentrating instead on puffing smart transport, AI-in-everything, more music formats and the inexorable quest for an even bigger telly. Massive 8K screens are the Next Big Thing.

If you’re looking for something fulfilling to do over the holiday season (other than drinking port at lunchtime and eating yourself into a stupor), Ex-Microsoftie Terry Smith has been publishing a collection of great podcasts with a simple but beguiling theme: each guest choses a song from each decade of their life. Check out Music Talks.

Also, read poetry from another former-Softie, Toni Kent, who gives some sage advice on preparations, Christmas shopping or handling the Bin of Shame come January.

Whatever you get up to, have a great break, and thanks for your readership over the last decade (yes, the first ToW mail went out in December 2009 – though took a year to make it onto the blog). See you in the New Year!

510 – Fluent apps flow in

clip_image002Fluent is a “design language”.

Or purportedly, it’s a “design system”, itself an evolution of an earlier “Microsoft Design Language”, which evolved from “Metro”. You follow?

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/miM6mBAfA8g/maxresdefault.jpgOver the last couple of years, a variety of changes in design have rolled out across all sorts of Microsoft applications – from a simplified look of toolbars and the canvas that makes up a big part of many apps, to new icons and other UI elements. Consistency, reuse and a common experience across multiple devices is the aim.

When Hypertext was first conceived – the term itself is more than 50 years old – early implementations tended to use a book metaphor, where a page was the size of one screen, and moving around the content dived in and out through following hyper-links. Apple pioneered a similar approach with HyperCard, where a stack of virtual cards would hold data (and other objects) that were linked together.

Over the last decade, as web and app users have moved to being more mobile, the way content is displayed and interacted with has changed – many websites appear less hierarchical, with longer pages that can be swiped up and down, rather than the classic design where short pages were strung together with links.

As one example, look at the British Airways site today – it’s designed to be touch-friendly and yet be usable with a more traditional mouse/menu approach if desired:

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…compared to the old, from December 2009 …

Back then, pretty much everyone who hit that site was using a keyboard, mouse and non-touch screen. Completely separate mobile versions were often build for smartphone users, but the more traditional site was still very mouse oriented. Not so today.

Microsoft’s Fluent design system embraces a common ethos that applies to web pages as well as apps on all screen sizes – and forms a big part of an expanded design philosophy, as covered by an interesting article and video from The Verge earlier this year.

As Fluent principles are being applied across the board, we’ve seen updated versions of lots of apps and online experiences – like OneDrive and OneNote, for example. More will follow, with Teams and Yammer being identified as “coming soon”.

The same thinking may even generate new forms of application – the Fluid Preview, a new canvas-type collaboration app which was announced at Ignite potentially being one.

509 – Edge Beta profiles & sync

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If you haven’t tried out the new Edge Browser beta yet (go to microsoftedgeinsider.com to have a look), here’s another reason to give it a go – the ability to have multiple Profiles set up, and to sync various contents across several machines / phones.

At a simple level, Profiles lets you specify your work account and personal account(s) separately, and you can switch between them quickly. Look under Settings or go straight to edge://settings/profiles in the browser if you already have it.

For anyone who’s ever had to sign into a work-related website but using their Microsoft Account (eg Outlook.com / Hotmail / MSN / Zune etc credentials), this can be handy as you do it without resorting to an InPrivate tab.

clip_image004Once you’ve set up profiles, you can individually enable Sync, Password retention etc, for each, though you will see that only some of the options are lit up in the current version of the Beta. More to come soon – ahead of the expected January 15th release. Probably.

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To change profiles, just click on the associated picture on the browser toolbar and if you like, you can even pin the clip_image008individual profiles to your taskbar so you can quickly jump into each one, rather than having to clip_image010launch the browser and do the switcheroo.

You may want to import and export favourites between profiles – like Chrome, Edge no longer stores these as shortcut files that can be simply moved around, instead holding the favourites to a “bookmarks” file.

If you want to see where Edge Beta is saving your profile info, go to edge://version in the browser and check out the Profile Path. Mind how you go if you decide to start editing stuff directly.

To read more about profiles and the new Edge, see here.

508 – Black Friday Mania

clip_image002Like other aspects of what some might call cultural imperialism, the Black Friday epidemic continues to spread around the world, on the day after the fourth Thursday in November.

Shoppers around the world might go a bit crazy for special deals, and this weekend is likely to be one of the busiest ever for the online emporia too. Not all retailers play the game, though – in the past, some worthy chains have publicly opted out, though every one of them will have some kind of sale or special offer roster on, FOMO and all that.

There are plenty of bargains to be had, of course; retailers will have been planning their sales for months and many now start a week or more before Thanksgiving, and continue well into December.

The Microsoft store has some good deals – in the UK, you can grab £hundreds off new Surface gear, and there’s probably never been a cheaper time to buy a new Xbox One – and with Project Scarlett arriving next year (along with Surface Neo and Duo), maybe it’s the best time to be buying a current Xbox. There’s a fire sale on the disc-less Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” – £129 means a third off the usual price, with some rumours that it might be the last chance to buy such a device.

The world’s largest bookseller has some great offers too, especially if you want to festoon your house with Alexa stuff or other first-party surveillance gear. If you’re an Amazon shopper, consider supporting homeless charity, Launchpad, by using Microsoftie Fraser Murrell’s affiliate link which he uses to collect a few hundred pounds every year: all you need do is click through to open up the site, go about your shopping as normal, and a slice will go to a good cause.

Scourge of Fakebook, the Money Saving Expert, has a pretty comprehensive list of other UK offers that apply right now – check out their special page for maximum distraction.

Finally, another ‘Softie, Darren Adams, has a great solution if all of this brings out the Grinch in you:

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507 – Momentum of Teams

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It’s been a busy few weeks on the Teams team. As an aside, what do you call a team that’s set up in Teams? Is it a Teams Site, or a Teams team, just a “Team” or …? Documentation talks about creating a team, which is fine when you’re already in Teams, but talking with someone about Teams teams can be a bit like a tongue twister.

It was recently announced that Teams has 20 million daily active users, up from 13 million since July. Talk to enterprise customers who have adopted Teams, and many have a user base that really loves it. There may be more to the story, but as many Office 365 users get Teams as part of their subscription, it’s inevitable that its usage will grow. It’s great to hear stories of how customers are using technology like Teams to positively change the way they work.

clip_image004At the Ignite Conference in October, some forthcoming functionality was announced, from nascent integration into Outlook (coming next year) to some nearer-term stuff like the ability to create Private channels within a Team, which has already rolled out.

clip_image006Outlook Tasks and To-Do integration is also expected next year, and the app is increasingly being used as a focal point for other sources of data too – such as using PowerApps to bring business reports or other custom functionality into the same canvas.

See the recent clip_image008whitepaper on using PowerApps with Teams.

The App Studio in Teams allows enterprise developers to build their own extensions and addins quickly.

clip_image010There were quite a few Ignite sessions devoted to using Teams for calling and for meetings. clip_image012One innovation to look forward to is the ability to not just blur your background, but to add a specific background image, either from a library or one of your own.

Live captions – similar in approach to the subtitles in PowerPoint presentations that were recently discussed – is already available in a preview for some users.

Captioning and transcription is also available for Teams Live Events, if you enable the feature in the setup of the event.

506 – OneNote 2016 reprieve

clip_image002clip_image004OneNote is, for a lot of fans, the best application that Microsoft makes, especially in an educational setting. About 18 months ago, it was announced that the venerable and extensible (especially if you’re a OneTastic / OneCalendar user) desktop version was being put out to pasture, in favour of the more modern, erm, Modern version.

Office 2019 was no longer going to ship with OneNote – the desktop app was not being developed beyond OneNote 2016, but it would still be freely installable if desired.

Efforts would be focussed on the Modern / Store / “OneNote for Windows 10”, which shares a lineage with the mobile apps; there’s a lot to be said in favour of this strategy, since it would bring the UX of the Windows Store, tablet, phone and web apps into alignment. For regular ToW readers, this has been covered ad nauseam.

Well, blow me down, a brilliant Ignite session from @Ben Hodes only went and wound the clock back (and simultaneously painted it forward)…  [Check out Union Jack Man at 42:18 in the video stream if you want a laugh]

OneNote 2016 is getting some CPR, and will be installed by default with clean Office setups again, early in 2020.

Point of clarity – a clean Office2019 / Office 365 install doesn’t currently include OneNote 2016 … but upgrading from an existing Office install that already had OneNote, does. If need be, go to http://aka.ms/installonenote  to install OneNote 2016.

Some new features are coming, too – like Dark Mode, @mentions, To Do integration and more. The OneNote for Windows 10 code base is being back-ported to the older Win32 version; in time, the same underlying code will exist, even if there remains two versions of the product. It was previously reported that across the Office suite on Windows, the Win32 codebase will be favoured going forward, even though Modern versions were released for several of the traditional apps. We will have to wait and see.

clip_image006clip_image008Of course, lots of functionality exists in common between the two current versions of OneNote, even if the level of detail and the way to invoke and use it is a little different – take Record Audio, for example.

Did you know that if you insert an audio recording into your OneNote page, that any handwritten or typed notes you take while the recording is underway, will be linked to the corresponding place in the audio?

Later, if you click on a block of text or handwriting, you can play back the recording at just that point, or if you just start playing the audio, the notes you took will be highlighted as the playback progresses.

clip_image010In OneNote 2016, you can also have the application index the contents of audio recordings, looking for keywords. Enable it at  File > Options > Audio & Video.

No such function appears to exist in the OneNote for Windows 10 app; maybe that’s a good thing. After all, OneNote 2016 only lets you turn it on after an ominous-sounding warning…