We’ve all been in the position when sharing a web link with someone reveals a URL that is several lines long and full of hexadecimal IDs and so on. There are a few ways to make the long URL more acceptable – a simple one being to hot-link the URL under a piece of text.
In most email programs, in Word, and even in the new Yammer experience and some other web forum software, selecting some text and pressing CTRL-K lets you insert a URL under that text – so rather than saying “Flight Simulator – https://www.xbox.com/en-US/games/microsoft-flight-simulator”, you could just write “Flight Simulator”.
When it comes to sharing URLs with other people, though, you might still need the native URL rather than copying the text that has been hyperlinked, so in many apps and websites you could right-click a hyperlink and grab the URL (or in Office apps, again, put your cursor on the text and press CTRL-K to get the edit UI which would also let you put it on the clipboard).
It’s both easier to share and also to remember shorter URLs with simple names, but URLs for linking directly to a web forum discussion or Yammer post (in the new Yammer, click on the 3-dot icon to the side of a post to get the link directly) tend to be cumbersome and with lots of references within.
The first URL Shortening service was launched in 2002, tinyurl.com (and doesn’t the website look like a 2002 site?). The basic idea was that instead of having a 200-character URL, you could generate something that would have the form of the tinyurl domain and a random series of characters, such as https://tinyurl.com/yxtj4gft.
When the user clicks the link, their browser goes to the TinyURL website and is then provided the full link to follow, and redirects to that. The primary benefit was to make it easier to share the URL, even if it’s not so memorable, however the developers later added the ability to provide a custom redirect name and, as long as nobody else has nabbed it first, you can use it – eg https://tinyurl.com/yammerofficespace.
TinyURL has been overtaken by others, notably bit.ly, which Twitter switched to from having previously used TinyURL, and before later launching its own t.co. There are many others too, some connected with existing services – like the onedrive.com shortener (eg https://1drv.ms/u/s!AgMogCiKiWDFraIfifRzFKdjw4F1uQ?e=Yepjwh) which isn’t really very short, and which causes Bit.ly to get its Alans in a twist, as it seems it doesn’t like to shorten another shortener’s link.
There are some downsides to using this kind of service, potentially. What happens if the provider goes bust, or decides to start charging users where it was once free? Sites like Photobucket which started free but began charging users a “ransom” get internet warriors hot under the collar, but so far, sites like TinyURL and it’s progeny are mostly still free to use, with the operators selling aggregate data about the referrals being followed to fund their operations costs.
Some shorteners decide to close down – like goo.gl – meaning there’s a risk that previously-shared short URLs won’t work in future (though in the case of Google’s shortener, they are keeping old links alive, just not allowing any new ones to be created). Similarly, if a shortener has a technical problem or security breach, it could affect the way it works – TinyURL reportedly having problems just this week.
Finally, a web shortener that is unlikely to disappear overnight is operated by Microsoft, called aka.ms. Anyone from Microsoft can create an aka.ms shortlink – subject to some rules – as long as they share responsibility with someone else. Like the other public shortener services, can generate a random series of characters or can provide the “target” part of the link if they like.
All aka.ms links are by definition publicly accessible, but many are used to get access to sites that are for internal use, even though they exist beyond the firewall – Sharepoint sites, for example, or the intranet homepage, aka.ms/msw. Anyone could resolve the destination URL – even en masse as one enterprise developer has done, using Azure functions – but you still need to provide appropriate credentials to access the destination site.
The New Edge Browser is evolving rapidly – if you’re still using Internet Explorer, then ditch it ASAP and move to a modern browser. If you already use the new Chromium-based Edge, it’s worth looking at the Profiles capability, which lets you keep several sets of browser settings. At a basic level, you could have a Work profile and a Personal profile, and keep usernames, passwords, favourites and so on, separate between each.
Edge has the ability to sync favourites, passwords, credit cards, collections and other browser data all to other machines with the same profile address – so if you have a home PC and a work laptop, then having a “personal” profile on both could mean that suitable info will roam between the machines, but work specific stuff can be kept on your work profile.
Some capabilities – like syncing history between machines – are “coming soon”.
Lately, some versions of the Edge browser have been updated to sync extensions – like Lastpass, or the OneNote web clipper. Jump to edge://settings/profiles/sync within the browser itself to see the gist.
Having multiple profiles lets you consciously separate home and work stuff, keeping social media, web mail or personal interest stuff in one window, and your boring old Sharepoint sites and PowerBI charts in another. Quickly minimizing your “home” window before sharing your desktop on a Teams call is perhaps the modern equivalent of the Boss Key.
One tricky part is when you go to open a web link – other than from within a browser session itself – then the last window you were using could be the one to launch that site, meaning you might be crossing the streams and opening up work stuff in your personal profile or t’other way round. It’s possible to set a particular profile to be the default, or just let the machine decide.
One recent addition in the Beta channel for Edge – soon to hotfoot its way to the release version – is the automatic detection of work sites being opened in “other” profiles.
If you try to open a site that wants to authenticate using your work or school account but you’re using a different profile, you’d be offered the chance to switch to the correct one, so you can used cached authentication settings, cookies and the likes.
Automatic profile switching is available in Edge versions 83 and beyond – open edge://settings/help in the browser to see what version you have.
As another week draws to a close, in a world which is starting to feel a lot less like a temporary aberration and a lot more like The New Normal, we continue to look for things that distract, entertain (lots of good stuff on Netflix – dat’s the fact, jack), educate and give us cause us to think of others. Sadly, we lost TBT and Stirling this week, as well as too many others.
But technology marches on, sometimes a bit more slowly than we’d normally expect, and sometimes accelerated – Teams has rolled out the new background effects feature (though not everyone can yet choose a custom image – that’s on its way too, though it’s possible to add your own under the covers – create or find a picture, ideally 1920×1080 pixels, then press Start and enter %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads – drop your pic in there and it’ll show up in the list of backgrounds, right at the bottom).
Collections allows you to quickly add groups of related sites/pages into a kind-of folder which you can add notes to, quickly open or share, and it also keeps a preview of the page so it’s smarter than just favourites or bookmarks.
If you’re an Office 365 user, check out Edge PMM Eric Van Aelstyn’s post with some good tips on WFH, especially if it’s not on a work computer, including setting up the Enterprise tab (so you get Office 365 content rather than Microsoft News clickbait).
Eric also espouses using the default Bing search engine with Edge, as it can generate Microsoft Rewards for you – and with a few clicks you can give the reward points to charity.
US based Bingers can switch to Give mode, but UK users appear to have a different method and only a few target charities, but it’s free money you collect by searching, so you might as well give it away to a good cause. Take a look on your rewards page and you can choose to Shop, Win or Donate – select the latter and see if you like the look of any of the charities listed.
The “Browser Wars” happened in the late 1990s, and marked a time of intense, er, “competition” between different web browsers. Since then, Google’s Chrome has rather cleaned up and established a seemingly unassailable lead in browser market share.
Still, Edge’s recent release using the Chromium rendering engine – designed to make it comparable with Chrome from a compatibility point of view, yet allowing Microsoft developers to remove Google-services-specific stuff (and replace them, sometimes, with Microsoft-services-specific stuff, many of which will be checked in to the Chromium open-source project.
The Edge browser built on Chromium was released in January, and updates are flowing through to add more functionality – which, exactly, depending on whether you’re running the normal release or you’re on one of several preview or developer (“canary”) versions. Some features are things that were ideally intended to make it to the public release – like synchronizing extensions installed across multiple PCs.
The Edge update won’t be forced out to existing non-Chromium-Edge users (hello, out there!) – or at least there will be a way of stopping it from being pushed out, if you’re an enterprise IT controller who’d rather not have to manage change and things like that.
One of the benefits of Edge being on Chromium is that the extensions which third parties build for the browser should be compatible – and since Google has 2/3rd of the total market, there are more of them than for other browsers.
There’s an Edge “addons” page which shows a curated list of extensions known to work well with the new Edge, but if you want, you can install anything that’s listed on the Google site.
If you enable the ability to install Chrome extensions into Edge, then refresh/browse to the Chrome store again, you’ll be met with scary warnings, however…
Google has started alerting of a security issue – namely, if the extension is somehow added to the Chrome store and subsequently found to be of dubious intent and posing a security risk, then Google can remotely knobble it on installed machines. They are now warning that if you happen to use a Chromium but-not-Chrome browser – like Edge – then they won’t do this. It seems the extension security scare banner isn’t the only one to try to make Edge users install and switch to Chrome.
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.
This 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.
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.
Once 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.
To change profiles, just click on the associated picture on the browser toolbar and if you like, you can even pin the individual profiles to your taskbar so you can quickly jump into each one, rather than having to launch 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.
If you’re using a preview of the new Edge, you may spot an update icon in the top right – click to get the latest.
The Beta has been bumped to version 79 of the Chromium engine, and is expected to release in mid-January. The Dev channel will soon jump to the version 80, being more experimental and potentially less stable.
One experimental feature is Collections. Currently only in the Dev channel but sure to arrive in Beta at some point, it’s a way of grouping sites and content together, like a smart Favourites; it’s been in test for a while, with the dev team trying out a number of approaches and responding to user feedback. To enable it, go to edge://flags/#edge-collections.
If you’re already on the Dev channel, try enabling Collections, create a new one called Microsoft Edge and then add 4 shortcuts to it, renaming each one S U R and F (it doesn’t matter what the underlying site is).
Now if you drag one of the shortcuts to reorder them – eg move R after F, and then put it back, you’ll get a link to a hidden “Easter Egg” game that brings back memories of the early 1990s.
If you know any company who still has intranet sites also rooted in the 1990s, they might like the Internet Explorer mode, which will effectively allow IE to be a tab in Edge, so the users can enjoy a single browser while retaining compatibility.
Much has been written about Microsoft’s effort to replace the underlying web page rendering engine in the Edge browser with a version based on the open-source Chromium project.
The plan is to produce a cross-platform browser, available on older versions of Windows too, which implements a lot of the innovative features that first appeared with the Edge browser in Windows 10, but by using the Chromium engine, improve compatibility with web sites that perhaps didn’t work as well on Edge as they did on other browsers; notably Google’s Chrome, which shares a lot of the same underlying technology as Chromium.
Microsoft has put over 1,300 contributions back into the Chromium open source project over the last 5 years, with 1,100 in the last year, so the effort isn’t just to take Chromium and use it, but to help improve it for everyone.
Early adopters have had the ability to run a fairly stable Dev Channel build for a while, but now the Beta Channel is available, it’s open for anyone to have a look. Read more, and download the Beta version from here.
It’s possible to run all 3 versions of the browser side-by-side if you really want, and they co-exist with the regular Edge browser and Google Chrome as well, so it’s worth giving it a try. You’ll quickly find that the new Edge is notably quicker and is already slicker than old Edge, and some people consider it superior to Chrome.
The Tab key on your computer has its roots in the Tabulate typewriter function, which let you align type to defined (even modifiable) stops, so you could easily type tables of text and numbers, like invoices and so on.
In short, Tab could be used to left-align text, and is still used in modern typing, especially in word processing and in writing code. People who type space-space-space-space rather than a single TAB press still exist, though.
As well as the many features invoked by the Tab key in modern Windows, though – like WindowsKey-Tab to look at the timeline or the more common ALT-Tab to switch between programs – there’s a new capability for Edge browser users that might be worth looking out for.
If you’re using the Edge Preview – the Chromium-based version that has recently been pitched as Enterprise-Ready (for testing at least) – there’s a feature that has been enabled, which lets you search within a website rather than going straight to your favourite search engine and without needing to go to the site’s homepage and perform a search within.
This is a feature that has existed in Chrome for a while, but now appears more prevalent in the new Edge. The prompt showing up depends on the website implementing an OpenSearch capability, which is used to plug some query into the search engine behind the site, and how well it performs depends on whether that site search is any good.
Try Microsoft.com TAB search term ENTER and you might just see how many apps that match your word in the Microsoft Store there aren’t, but try Amazon.co.uk TAB Surface ENTER and you’ll have the opportunity to buy Surfaces and many things associated with them. Try maps.google.co.uk | RG6 1WG (what? No Street View?)
Perhaps most useful is when you want to try something in a search engine other than your default; so if you normally use Bing, you’ll know that typing a phrase in the address bar on its own will cause the browser to search if it can’t resolve your term to being a URL. Well, if you type google.com TAB term ENTER then it’ll try that same search over there, rather than you needing to go to the search engine homepage first.
Bill Gates had a vision of the future, set out in his 1995 tome, “The Road Ahead” (and later in “Business @ The Speed of Thought”) which included computers performing seamless speech and handwriting recognition, and language understanding (even to the extent of lip reading). Many of his predictions have come true yet it’s easy to forget what the world was like before the advent of technology we now take for granted.
In the not-too distant future, we may have the ability, babel fish-like, to automatically hear in our own language, regardless of what is spoken. Institutions like the EU have thousands of translators and interpreters, who provide written, spoken and signed interpretation between different languages. There are rigorous checks in place when trying to get work in these areas (though not everywhere), as we all know what can happen when wrong grammar is used, the words are unsuitable, or punctuation is in the incorrect place.
Computerised language translation has come a long way, and though it may still a way off replacing real translators, it’s good enough for most people to get the gist of a foreign document or website – so while you might not rely on it to turn a contract from French to English, it’s fine to figure out what’s on a menu or read some instructions.
Microsoft Research Asia recently won a competition for the best machine translation between a host of languages, and the growing fidelity of AI models is helping to improve the quality – a year previously, the Chinese-English translation was adjudged to be at human conversation level already, so it might not be too long before machine translation gets good enough that it’s hard to tell the difference between that and humans.
A practical tip for users of the new Chromium-based “Edge Dev” browser; you can enable on-the-fly webpage translation by going to edge://flags/, search for trans to find the translation flag, then switch it on and restart the browser. It is an experimental feature, technically, so YMMV for now.
Now, when you browse to a foreign-language site, you’ll be prompted if you’d like to translate (or you can invoke the function using the Bing Translator icon to the right of the address in the toolbar).
Legacy Edge users can install the Translator extension.
As they say in translation circles, Yandelvayasna grldenwi stravenka!