As more AI hoo-hah continues to pour from the hype machine of big tech, some of the puffed-up services are starting to become more accessible. Even if it’s still badged as “preview”, Bing’s AI chat is now more widely available and further functionality will be along soon.
Stepping onto the bandwagon before it fully departs, AI technology behind Google’s Bard chatbot is being embedded into Search, as announced at Google’s I/O conference, whose theme was all about how everything is being re-engineered to embrace generative AI. El Reg has neatly summarized the keynote here if you’re interested to learn more (“We sat through the Chocolate Factory’s PR blitz so you don’t have to”).
Google announced copilot-like functionality for its cloud productivity suite while Microsoft unveiled the M365 Copilot preview that’s been running for a few months, is being extended further.
Not all is rosy in the garden of AI, however. Distinguished scientist Geoffrey Hinton, a Turing Award winner and widely-described as “Godfather of AI”, has walked out of his Googly role amid concerns that AI will become sentient and enslave or kill us all. Interestingly, Hinton did not sign the Elon Musk-backed petition to halt AI development, effectively saying that if those currently working on it were to stop, others would pick up the baton. Microsoft’s chief scientist agrees.
Making AI pay for itself is one challenge that will need to be addressed, as the intensive computation required can be very expensive – costs of running ChatGPT are eye-watering, according to OpenAI’s boss, and reckoned by some to be in the region of $700K per day. Still, investors can’t get enough of it and OpenAI is piloting a $20/month ChatGPT Plus subscription.
The expanded M365 Copilot preview is a “paid-for” thing, and Microsoft’s Q3 earnings call did mention that Copilot will be additionally priced over and above whatever Office licenses a customer already has (though some AI related features will show up in E3/E5 licensed environments, such as the new Semantic Index which can be harnessed by Copilot but will be useful for giving more accurate search results even if Copilot is not in use).
Back in the present, there are some relatively new practical capabilities in both Bing AI and in the Edge browser’s discover feature, as discused in last week’s ToW. The Compose feature in the Sidebar lets you play with generating different types of written content, the kind of thing which will be integral to Copilot in all kinds of Office applications before long.
The Insights tab on the same Sidebar gives you more info on the page you’re currently looking at, from a summary of the key points of the page, to some background on where that site is accessed from, how likely it is to be reliable and more.
The core Bing AI search in a browser – in case you’re itchy about using Edge or its Bing Sidebar – has some new capabilities, especially the integration of Bing Image Creator, which is available separately from the AI chat function.
Another one of OpenAI’s groovy tools – Dall-E – generates images based on a text description, and Bing AI chat can feed directly into that.
The image generation capability is now multi-lingual (with over 100 languages supported). It will also soon be possible to upload images to Chat, so you could ask it questions about what’s in the image.
All free for now, but someday soon, we will need to pay the ferryman or the robot overlords will wreak their revenge.
680 – Edgy emails
The Edge browser has seen a lot of change in its life. Originally conceived as a successor to Internet Explorer, with its own modern web rendering engine and lots of additional features which are designed to complement the usage experience, like taking handwritten notes on top of a webpage or building a Reading List of pages or publications to come back to.
Later, the decision was taken to replace the browser with one based on a new core using Chromium, largely for reasons of compatibility and performance, but to carry on building new capability that would differentiate the new Edge browser from others that also use the Chromium rendering engine, including Google Chrome itself.
Recent builds of Edge have a Sidebar which includes a load of apps and integrations – the goal being that it can help multitask on the web by sharing complementary information or functionality alongside the page the user is looking at; think a shopping widget that would compare prices of the product on the page you’re viewing, showing where else you could buy that same thing.
A recent update to the Sidebar has been the inclusion of the new Bing search, which adds some very cool relevance capabilities that would allow you to fire the current page content straight at the Bing’s AI engine to summarize, rewrite or explain the contents – selected text, or the entire page you’re visiting.
Here’s an example of a reasonably detailed blog article (from early 2021) summarized into a few key paragraphs:
One of the more useful integrations in the Sidebar is the Outlook app (individual icons on the Sidebar can be enabled and disabled through the settings option; you can also dock other sites which will appear in the sidebar, though not necessarily with the context of the page you’re currently looking at). A recent – and somewhat controversial – change means that when you click a link from an email in desktop Outlook on a PC, it will open in Edge and the Outlook sidebar will be shown alongside, displaying the email that you clicked it from.
Once you’ve got the hang of this feature, it’s actually pretty cool – especially if the email is offering some context about what you’re supposed to be doing on that page, or if it’s a densely-packed missive full of clickbait and other nonsense:
Why is it controversial? Well, the point is that the extra functionality is happening due to the Sidebar in Edge, so clicking a link in Outlook if you’re using a different default browser wouldn’t have the same effect. Outlook, therefore, has decided to send links to Edge even if that’s not your usual browser, to the chagrin of some netizens. Be careful with doing things that annoy some people.
If you’d prefer that Outlook and Windows respected your choice to send all your links to a specific, non-Edge, browser, then it’s fairly easy (if not exactly easily discoverable) to set that. Go to File | Options | Advanced within Outlook, and look for the Link Handling option, and change it to Default Browser. This will mean opening the hyperlink in Chrome / Brave / Firefox / whatever, without the Sidebar doing its thing.
More change is on its way to Edge and Bing AI.
If you like Edge but would rather dispense with the Sidebar altogether, go to the “…” menu on the top right, select Settings | Sidebar and disable the Always show sidebar toggle.
You can use the same settings UI to play with other behaviours in the various apps that are pinned to the sidebar, too.
To add or hide apps on the sidebar, just show it, right-click on something and choose Customize sidebar, or use the “Add or remove apps…” feature from the Settings | Sidebar screen.
If you’d rather not to have the somewhat prominent Bing icon on the very top right of your Edge screen, look under the Discover section of this Settings UI, and if you flick the switch, the big blue b goes away.
663 – Optimize Edge start screen
Happy New Year! Do you have any resolutions that you’ve decided to follow, other than the usual (eat less, move more, try all you can to write 2023 instead of 2022)? How about cleansing your web browser start up screen to something more useful and/or less distracting?
With the Edge browser, the default New Tab Page (or NTP) presents a configurable and sometimes useful way to display information, however the source of news articles and the advertising that is shown alongside can sometimes be, er, challenging.
Third party advertising aggregators take sponsored content from an originator and present it as an advert. This presents a problem for the sites that choose to sell advertising space – in tiles mixed with legitimate sources in the likes of the NTP, or in chumbox “Recommended for You” type content at the bottom or side of articles.
Some of the ads often lead users to a site which will do more than try to sell them something – some try to get them to install browser addons, show faux review sites recommending dubious-at-best products, or fraudulently push get rich quick schemes and the like.
If the originator keeps foisting nonsense adverts with poor quality visuals and clickbait headlines through the aggregator, the content owner who relies on the revenue stream from the ads can complain and have it blocked – it doesn’t do their reputation any good if their site is littered with stupid adverts.
Ad blockers don’t work on the Edge new tab page, but you can report a dodgy ad by clicking the ellipsis on the top right of the tile. Or submit a report here. This is a whack-a-mole game in a modern sense, since even if the original is blocked they may just appear the next day on a different URL but with substantially the same garbage content.
If this kind of insidious spam drains your energy, there are things you can do to minimize or remove the nonsense, even without switching to a different browser.
Looking at the Edge NTP, if you are using a browser profile signed in with a Microsoft 365 account, you might see “Work” or similar in the Enterprise page; it’s extremely useful and quite customizable, and administrators could make Edge default to that tab. If users click on My Feed, they’ll get the same view as a non-Enterprise tab, and it will stick for that user on the next new tab.
You can customize the “My Feed” section by choosing to Personalise your content selection and how you want it laid out, but if you want to switch the whole lot off altogether then look on the settings cog on the top right.
Switching the clickbait off will mean you get a beautiful Bing image taking up most of the screen (click the double-headed arrow on the bottom right to find out what it is), with a search bar and some collapsible quick links tiles pointing to pinned or recently-used sites, and other subtle info points like weather or stock prices.
Replace NTP altogether
There is no option within Edge to set what the New Tab Page should be – it’s only possible to tweak the one that’s there already. Install a simple extension like Custom New Tab, however, and you can point it to any URL you like (a largely clickbait and ad-free news source like Google News might be one choice, or a customized set of sources from something like Feedly). After installing and configuring, you’ll need to deal with Edge checking if you really want to replace the NTP and making sure that it’s not being subverted by some malicious code. Just say Yes.
A final nail in the NTP could be to just silence all the distractions by installing the Blank New Tab extension: that’s the equivalent of setting the new tab page to be about:blank.
If you’re still using Edge and have replaced the NTP with something else, yet feel like checking in on either your M365/Enterprise page or you’d like to outrage yourself over the stupid adverts polluting the “My Feed” section, just drop https://ntp.msn.com/edge/ntp?query=enterprise into the address bar to get the classic NTP experience.
654 – Browsing across devices
One of the most profound changes in the way most people use the internet has been broadening out to using a variety of devices. As well as having a selection of laptops, phones and tablets, people will surf across them all the time – from playing with a phone while watching TV, to reading an article or book on a larger-screen slate as well as working on a regular laptop or desktop. Browsers have added functionality to smooth the transition, but most people are probably unaware.
You’ll typically be offered the chance to sign-in and sync your favourites, history and passwords across any other device that you’re using when running Edge or Chrome. If you’re browsing across multiple PCs, one way to easily pick up where you left off would be to go into the browser’s history and revisiting sites browsed from current or previous machine, or use Favourites/Bookmarks or Edge’s Collections.
Edge gives you a simple way of sending a currently-viewed tab to another PC or a mobile device – right-click on the browser tab and choose from a list of other devices that you’re signed in on. You’ll then see a near-real-time notification on the other machine that the page has been shared with you.
On phones and tablets, if you’re also using Edge and signed in, you’ll see a Send to Devices option on the browser menu, so you can fire links straight to your PC.
There are other options, too – the browser menus in both Chrome and Edge have a Share option that lets you send a link to another application, send via Bluetooth to nearby devices of other types and more.
If you don’t yet have enough toolbars in your life, you could look on the Edge Sidebar, at the new Drop feature, which lets you transfer snippets of text or whole files between browsers on multiple PCs or mobile devices. It might be the quickest-yet way to send a photo from a phone to your PC, where received files are dropped into the Downloads folder and stored in OneDrive for other devices to access.
629 – Edge Task, Man
Following 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
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.
For 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.
In 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
Ever 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.
One 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.
Tab 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?
Many 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.
Not 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 bound, 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 …
You 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!
Bad 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.
The 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.
Some 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 btPass – numerous 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.
The 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.
You 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
|There 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.
Sometimes, 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 open 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.
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.