642 – Finding work stuff

Data storage has become very cheap over the decades – a while ago, ComputerWorld wrote an article, saying that when it was founded 50 years previous, a 1MB hard disk would cost you $1M, and in 2017, that would work out at $0.02. 5 years later, $0.02 would get >1GB, more than 1,000 times as much.

clip_image002[4]This profusion has turned many of us into pilers – what’s the point of organizing data and deleting old stuff, be that files, emails, camera roll photos?

Outlook has a pretty good search function built in. OneDrive photos has some great organizing and filtering capabilities (like On This Day, or if you have GPS enabled on your camera/phone, you can easily group photos by the location taken from).

clip_image004[4]Still in OneDrive, there is also some AI-based tagging of your pics, which can sometimes be a bit hit & miss… but more often than not gets it about right.

While browsing “All Photos”, if you mouse-over to the right, you’ll get a scrollable timeline too (similar to the Windows Photos app), so you can quickly jump to a reference date.

Assuming you’re using Microsoft 365 / Office 365 at your workplace, there are other ways to find stuff that is more work-related, like documents, email and messages. One easily overlooked source is the “new tab” experience within the Edge browser.

clip_image006[4]The content on the default home page can be customized in a variety of ways, from choosing whether to show a background image or keep it clear; to displaying content from various “news” providers and clickbait advertisers that Microsoft News / MSN has elected to present to you, or hiding that altogether.

You can do some filtering of that content too, though for work purposes, many people may want to leave the page layout in “Focused”, which puts a link bar at the bottom and hides the content to be a scroll away.

Edge Profiling

If you have a “Work” profile (or you only have a single profile) and it is connected to your work account – ie your Microsoft 365/ Office 365 email address rather than your personal one – then you’ll see a “Microsoft 365” link within the list of content providers, which gives you a simple view of your most recent documents, SharePoint sites you visit and a whole lot more. To learn more about this Edge Enterprise tab, see here.

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Also, you’ll see the search box containing your company name – it uses Bing to search for whatever you put in there (somewhat controversially, regardless of what your default search engine in the browser is…). Edge doesn’t give you the option – like IE used to – of starting a tab with a completely blank page, though there are hacks to make that work.

clip_image010[4]If you stick with the standard new tab, it will also give you the choice of restricting your search to “Work”, so looking at documents and the likes. You’ll see a list of content sources clip_image012[4]displayed on the left side as tabs, allowing you to filter what you’re looking for or where you want to search.

There’s a fairly new one that searches “Messages”. At least for now, that means Outlook and / or Teams messages, but it could be really useful when trying to remember if a conversation you had was in email or in a Teams chat.

A quick way to jump to this section is to go to aka.ms/messages

– regardless of which browser you’re using, as it uses the Bing.com/work back end.

629 – Edge Task, Man

clip_image002Following on from ToW #627, which talked about the efficiency of the latest versions of the Chromium-based Edge browser, avid reader Brad Wilson commented on another natty feature of the ChrEdge Edgmium Edge browser: the built-in Task Manager.

If you’re in Edge already, press SHIFT+ESC, or go to the “…” menu in the top right, choose More Tools > and find Browser task manager under there. Even though the main Windows Task Manager has been overhauled recently with extended support for Edge, the browser task man gives even more insight into what’s going on with the various tabs, extensions and supporting processes.

clip_image004For one, you can see specifics about the different bits of the browser to find out if things are bogging down and start to troubleshoot why, and kill off potentially rogue processes if you feel like living dangerously.

Right-click in the task list to add more columns to the display, like CPU Time to show longer-term vampire processes, or Profile, to display which of the potentially multiple browser profiles are hosting that tab or extension.

If the browser is taking up a bit more CPU or memory than you think it should, it may be time to prune the installed extensions list somewhat (disabling certain extensions from lesser-user profiles or removing some altogether), or engage in a more protracted exercise to find out where the memory is being used.

clip_image006In further Edge updates, a new built-in VPN feature is being tested; powered by Cloudflare, it will give users signed in with a Microsoft Account an encrypted channel with up to 1Gb of data every month to run through what it calls “Microsoft Edge Secure Network” – it’s not there to let you watch iPlayer or Netflix while you’re abroad, but it could be handy for syncing email on a coffee shop Wi-Fi network. Presumably, when your free 1Gb runs out, you’ll get some warning and an opportunity to add some more coins to the meter.

Also, Edge is now 101, though there’s not much excitement for most users.

627 – Sleeping as Edge hits the ton

clip_image002Ever since Microsoft switched the Edge browser from its own page rendering technology to instead use the open-source Chromium, it benefits from regular rolling updates and the version number keeps increasing to match. If you use Edge already, you can see what release you have by going to the “…” menu > Help and Feedback > About Microsoft Edge or paste edge://settings/help into the address bar.

The release number ticked over from 99 to 100 recently, causing a few legacy websites to fall over: when you visit any site, your browser’s User Agent String identifies to the web server what type of client it’s dealing with, including the version number (so the server can modify the page to suit the client, if necessary).

In Shades of Y2K, a few sites balked at a browser showing up with a 3-digit number – if you have problems with any, you could make Edge stick to telling sites it’s running v99 – go to edge://flags/#force-major-version-to-minor on the address bar. Mozilla – creators of the Firefox browser which also uses Chromium – tracked known issues in sites and which ones have been fixed.

As well as taking whatever goodies come from the evolution of Chromium, the Edge development team can devote more of their time building stuff with a view to making Edge better than other browsers.

clip_image004One feature which made it into Edge a while back is sleeping tabs; meaning open tabs you haven’t used it for a while can be put into an inactive mode and consume less memory, CPU and ultimately, power.

Look in Task Manager (CTRL+SHIFT+ESC) and you’ll likely see lots of entries underneath the Edge application; some are processes in support of the overall app, Extensions and the like, but you’ll also see each Tab appear separately. If you think Edge is running amok, it’s worth looking here to see if some specific site is chewing up CPU and consuming lots of memory.

clip_image006Tab sleeping has been updated and given extra capabilities to manage tabs which are inter-connected, reckoned to mean that 8% more tabs will be put to sleep. When a tab is dozing, it typically saves 99% of CPU and 85% of memory compared to when running.

Other updates which came into v100 include some changes to handling of PDF files and some tweaks to policy-based control and other improvements to the way the browser works.

The Performance view on sleeping tabs Is rolling out now; if you don’t see it in Settings, then sit tight, or try visiting the Edge Insiders site and install one of the test versions, either Canary (daily updates – not really recommended for the average user), Dev or Beta; pre-release and stable versions of the browser can be run side-by-side so there’s low risk in having both on your machine.

For more information on browser evollution, keep an eye on the release notes for the Beta channel and watch the release schedule for when to expect further browser updates. There’s a feature tracker too, to see what’s in development and learn what’s coming, and summary news is regularly shared via the What’s New blog.

623 – What’s .new pussycat?

clip_image002Many products evolve due to exposure to their competitors – adopting and refining the best features, and sometimes that evolution even starts to overtake the original. Many traditional desktop applications moved to online variants or were supplanted by newer concepts, such as shifting to mobile apps. Experiences that were clunky – like banking – moved to sometimes lower-functionality but more convenient apps, just as consumers adopted mobile payments and contactless cards.

Having blazed a trail with email in Hotmail and later Outlook Web Access, in 2010 Microsoft launched the first version of the Office web applications, meaning you could run lightweight Word, Excel and PowerPoint in your browser, as a companion or even as an alternative to the full-fat desktop versions.

A few years earlier, Google Docs released as an online word processor (and later, other types of productivity apps, rebranding as G Suite and now Google Workspace). There are pros and cons of the browser-only experience; you tend to sacrifice some functionality compared to the desktop applications in favour of ubiquitous availability, though web clients can be updated more easily and sometimes new features appear there first – as ToW #605 covered, with snoozing email.

Check out What’s new in Excel for the web or look for the summary covering Visio, Forms, Words and more, here.

clip_image004Not sure about living in a browser? Modern-living afficionados can get by, using only web apps like Outlook, OneNote, To-Do and more.

If you like being browser based rather than desktop boundclip_image006, you could start a new document from the address bar by simply entering word.new, excel.new or powerpoint.new. Others include docx.new, ppt.new, teams.new, sway.new

clip_image008You could add such links to your browser favourites; therefore, a new doc is but a single click away.  There are many more .new shortcuts – Google’s in-house domain registry launched the service a few years ago, so not unsurprisingly, Mountain View hoovered up a lot of the relevant ones if you’re of a Googly persuasion. See docs.new, sheets.new or slides.new, mail.new

620 – Change your P@ssw0rd!

clip_image002Bad Actors are all over the internet (not just in your local multiplex), mostly aiming to gain access to data and systems for nefarious purposes, though sometimes they try to do good. Data breaches generally start with the weakest link in the chain: PEBKAC, in other words, It’s Your Problem.

Identity protection company SpyCloud reports that more than two-thirds of passwords which have been breached online are still in use and most users still have the same username and password combo across multiple accounts. If you want to keep your own personal identity and data safe, it’s job #1 to make sure you have unique passwords for each website you use, and that the passwords are not made up of guessable words or phrases.

clip_image004clip_image006The Edge browser gives you some tools to manage your passwords better – look for the Password Generator, or the drop-down Suggest strong password option, when you’re registering a new sign-in, and it will generate a long and complex password, stored in your account so in future you can be automatically signed in.

clip_image008Some sites don’t trigger the password generator or suggestion – perhaps due to how they describe or display the password field(s) – so another option is to use a browser extension like btPassnumerous others are available. It simply drops an icon on the browser toolbar and will show a password of varying complexity and length, which can be quickly copied to the clipboard and pasted into password fields. Since some sites don’t like special characters in the password, you can tweak or edit the text it creates.

Security software company F-Secure has launched a free online password generator, if you’d prefer to create your secrets that way.

clip_image010The Manage passwords option seen in some password drop-downs – also available from the settings menu or by entering edge://settings/passwords into the address bar – gives access to Password Monitor, which warns you if passwords you have saved are known to have been breached, and can display a list of the sites where your previously-set password has been found in a trove of hacked accounts.

clip_image012You can quickly check the password used and decide to visit the page to change it – assuming the site still exists – or simply ignore it (on the assumption that you’ll be cleaning up and not using the compromised passwords on any sites you still want to actually visit).

If you install Microsoft Authenticator on your phone and sign in with the same account as you use in your browser, the saved passwords will be available through Authenticator too – so having very complex passwords should be no barrier to usability any more.

615 – Zooming images on webpages

clip_image002There are a variety of ways to zoom into content on your PC, maybe so you can read the tiny text or perhaps look for details in an image. If you have a physical mouse, then it will almost certainly have a scroll wheel or a touch-sensitive scroll-pad which is used to speed through all those LinkedIn posts that clutter up your feed of the good stuff. If you also hold the CTRL key down while moving the scroll-thing up and down, then the Office doc or web page you’re looking at will zoom in and out as well. Pressing CTRL-0 in the browser will quickly reset your view back to 100%, in case you’ve scrolled off the edge of the world.

If you’re using a trackpad rather than a rodent, or have a proper touch-screen, pinching with thumb and forefinger might well do the same thing, though exactly how will be determined by your machine’s settings.

Annoyingly, some websites (like eBay, many estate agents, photo galleries etc) have a habit of not zooming into the image when you make the browser try to scale the page up; they might even make the menus and surrounding text massive, while keeping the image the same size.

clip_image004Sometimes, the page itself is scaling the image down to fit a specific pixel size – so it could be taking a 4000×3000 pixel image but displaying it at 800×600. In order to see the fine detail in the image, maybe you need to open it away from the page it’s on, so you can display it full-size.

A simple way to over-ride the issue might be to right-click on the image and choose to clip_image006open it in a new tab, thus freeing the graphic from the strictures of the page it’s on and allowing you to zoom in as you please. In some cases, the image you see here will be higher in resolution than the one which was on the page, due to the aforesaid scaling (especially true on eBay images, where often the source is many times larger than the view eBay presents). Even simpler, you may find that clicking on the image on a web page will open the full-size version of it, and that will allow you to zoom in even further.

Some sites (like image libraries or photographers’ websites) won’t let you right-click on an image to save it or do anything. But there is another way… If you care to delve into the Developer Tools section in Edge (or Chrome) then you’ll get a frankly bewildering array of tools that let you peek into how the content of the page is set out and even how the site is performing over the network.

Of particular interest here, though, is to be found under the Elements tab – this shows a hierarchical representation of the code behind the page, with sections that can be expanded and collapsed by a little arrow to the left of each. [Browsers other than Edge or Chrome may behave differently and call it something else – if you’re weird enough to still use Firefox, it’s Inspector vs Elements].

Normally, you’d be looking somewhere in the body section, and when you hover your mouse over an element, it will highlight that section on the page so you know you’re dealing with the right one. You’ll probably need to drill in to quite a number of <div> or <table> tags to find the one you want, though if you right-click on a part of the page and choose Inspect, it might jump straight to that particular clause . Try it on a fairly simple website and you’ll get the gist quickly.

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If you find an image file listed in the site coding, hover that section and you should see the properties of the image (depending on how it’s encoded); click the Current source URL and it will launch that image in its own tab.

Press 12 again to close Developer Tools and return to normal browsing.

608 – Shopping Season

After clip_image002Americans 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.

clip_image004There 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!

582 – Edgy Profile Switching

clip_image002The “new” Edge browser has been around long enough to be just “the Edge browser”, given that old Edge is not only deprecated but being removed from Windows 10. If you’re still clinging onto Internet Explorer, then get ready for its demise; it’s got a year left, then the plug gets pulled. Plenty of ToW’s past have dealt with the Edge browser, especially the benefits of having multiple profiles (useful to keep work and personal stuff separate, or even having different sets of credentials for common sites, like demo accounts vs real users).

A feature which was added to the profile functionality was the ability for Edge to switch between them automatically – in other words, Edge would try to determine if you’re opening a site in the “wrong” profile, and it also lets you set the default on which profile should be used when you click an external link in an email or a document (other than in the browser itself). This not only changes how the site might be displayed, but also sets where the browser history is saved, and which set of cookies, cached usernames / passwords etc should be used…

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You could set that a specific profile should be used for “external” links; if set to “Work”, then all external links (from other apps) would open in that profile; automatic does a pretty good job but sometimes gets flummoxed by M365 sites like Sharepoint, which could mean clicking a link to a doc in Outlook will try to open it in your personal profile, and fail to authenticate (since you’d want it to use the work profile’s credentials).

Similarly, if you had it set up to open links in whichever profile was last used or to hard-default to Work, then clicking a URL that you’d want to view in Personal might cross the streams. Fortunately, an unreleased feature could be just what you need in this scenario.

There’s a still-experimental “flags” feature set that is part of both Google Chrome and Microsoft’s Chromium-based-Edge; different releases of each browser have a changing set of flags features which can be enabled if you know they’re there and are prepared that they might not work, or at least might not work in the same way as they eventually will.

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Many flags tweak how the browser operates under the covers and will never be noticeable by the average user; others enable features that are hidden by default or are still early in their development cycle.
The plan is that (in some form) flag features will be part of the mainstream release, though not necessarily in the same way. You can view the flags by entering edge:flags in the address bar.

clip_image008One flag which is eminently and quietly useful in this potential multi-profile befuddlement is edge://flags/#edge-move-tabs-to-profile-window. It does pretty much what it says; right-clicking on a browser tab will let you switch it between the profiles, so if you’re presented with a login screen for a site that should be opened in the other profile, one click is all it takes to flick it across.

569 – Password migration

clip_image002One of the problems with free software and particularly free services, is that at some point, they might stop being free. The path of freely-provided online services is littered with companies who gave their service away to get the users, then grappled with the reality that more users means more costs to deliver the service – and if they don’t get enough income from whatever sources they can, the free ride will come to an end. Just look at Photobucket. And every web site that makes you whitelist them in your ad-blocker before you can continue.

The latest in a line of what-used-to-be-free but is now tightening its belt is LastPass, an excellent password manager that has a lot of users but may end up with a good few fewer. The day after the Ides of March, LastPass Free will only allow use on a single device type, so if you currently use it to sync passwords across desktops and tablets or mobiles, then you need to start paying (and maybe you should) or stick to either mobile or desktop.

As soon as the company announced its plans, the web sprung up many articles offering “what is the best alternative to…” type advice. Only a few weeks ago, ToW#561 espoused the virtues of cleaning up your passwords, featuring LastPass and also trailing some features that were coming to an alternative that you might already be using to provide 2 factor authentication on your phone – Microsoft Authenticator.

It’s fairly easy to switch to using Authenticator on your device to also sync passwords and to provide the Auto-Fill function which plugs in usernames/passwords not only to sites on your mobile browser but to other apps too. If you already have a load of passwords set up in LastPass or other locations, there are methods to export them and then import the data into Authenticator.

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In the case of LastPass, you sign into the Vault (either through the browser plugin or directly on their website) and under Advanced Options, select the Export function. It will immediately drop a lastpass_export.csv file into your Downloads folder; be very careful with this file as it contains all your usernames & passwords in clear text.

clip_image006You can get these passwords into Authenticator either by copying the file to your phone (Not a Good Idea) and importing from there, or by installing the Microsoft Autofill extension for Chrome into Edge (remember, Edge is a Chromium browser under the hood), then click on Settings and choose the Import data feature.

Now navigate to your Downloads folder and choose the lastpass_export file. It might take a little while to complete, but when it’s done, make sure you go back to the Downloads folder and clip_image008hard-delete that CSV file (ie select the file, hold the SHIFT key down and press the Delete key – this makes sure it doesn’t go to the recycle bin). You definitely don’t want that file being left behind, or copied or synced anywhere that is not encrypted.

The LastPass browser extension (like other password managers) remains potentially useful on the desktop as it can help to sync passwords between profiles (eg the Work and Personal profile of Edge, if both have the extension installed and logged in using the same LastPass account), or even between browsers – in the cases you might want to use Chrome for some things and Edge for others.

Edge on the PC does have password sync capabilities, though not quite with the same level of flexibility –

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Edge will let you sync passwords, favourites etc if you’re using a Microsoft Account (eg outlook.com) for your Personal profile, and it may do if you have a Microsoft 365 account for your Work Profile.

In a twist of fate, if you pay for a Microsoft 365 Family or a small business environment rather than using the free Microsoft Account, your subscription lacks the Azure Information Protection feature that is required to allow syncing. In which case, a 3rd party password sync feature may be your best option, even if you choose to use Authenticator on your mobile device, and perhaps do a periodic export/import from LastPass to keep your mobile passwords in sync.

Or best of all, just install the Autofill extension into multiple profiles (or Edge & Chrome), signing into the extension using the same Microsoft Account, to keep the passwords in sync. Tidy.

568 – The Race for Space

clip_image001Nearly 60 years ago, JFK announced the intention to go to the moon, and the huge effort – at one point employing over 400,000 people – had to invent a load of technology to make it happen. The guidance computer on the Eagle module, for example, was the first digital portable computer, without which it would have been impossible for the landing to take place. Then there’s the old myth about how the Americans spent millions inventing a zero-gravity pen, whereas the Russians used a pencil…

The “space race” continued for some years afterwards (the US had Skylab in the 1970s and built the Shuttle, while the USSR built Mir, the first proper space station), before numerous countries decided to pool resources and build the International Space Station.

After unveiling Azure Space in late 2020, the 20th February 2021 – 35 years to the day after the first Mir mission – saw the launch of the ultimate in Edge devices, ensuring Azure reaches the ISS with HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-2. That will be furthest Cloud-Edge computing node until we finally become an interplanetary species, and once again leave the confines of low-Earth orbit.

Edge back on Earth

If you want to make the most of the space on your screen, you should try moving your Windows taskbar to the side rather than the bottom of the screen – follow the science – as it makes more efficient use of the screen real estate, especially if you have a big widescreen monitor. Open Taskbar settings here and choose Taskbar location.

If you’re a vertical taskbar fan, then you’ll like a new feature in the Edge browser, also designed to maximise the use of space – vertical tabs.

clip_image003If you’re the kind of user who has lots of tabs open at any one time, you’ll notice that the title of each tab is quickly lost when they are arrayed horizontally.

By enabling the vertical tabs feature, a single click will show them to the side of the browser window. Click the < caret to the top right of the tab list and they’ll collapse to icons only until you mouse over again, and the full width will be shown.

clip_image005The clip_image007 icon to the left of the horizontal tabs switches the display to vertical, and the icon at the top of the vertical list reverts to horizontal.

If you’re using the beta or dev version of Edge, you’ll be able to show the Vertical Tabs button in the Appearance section of the clip_image009settings:

To enable vertical tabs on the current public release, enter edge://flags/#edge-vertical-tabs into the address bar of the browser and switch on the “experimental” feature; you’ll have to restart the browser for it to take effect, but after that point you’re free to try switching the arrangement.