The word “accessibility” has been used for decades as a catch-all for how people of differing abilities can interact with their surroundings, and often applies to technology which can help to overcome barriers. It’s very easy to go about your day with no thought to how others could be affected by things that you don’t even notice, whether as a result of actions you do or just objects you encounter. Design plays a big part in helping people who have disabilities or who may find certain things more difficult, and good design means that assistive technology does not get in the way of anyone who doesn’t need it.
These technologies often spawn wider usage in unforeseen ways, and in many cases are developed not for goals of making a fortune or having global influence, but to help a particular individual:
Microsoft has a long history in pushing accessibility technology – Windows 95 was the first operating system to ship with accessibility options built in, and has developed a variety of tools and platform services aimed at developers. Windows 10 has many built-in options, grouped mainly under the Settings | Ease of Access applet.
You can jump straight to many of the settings applets by running ms-settings:easeofaccess-keyboard or ms-settings:easeofaccess-speechrecognition and so on.
If you don’t need to use assistive technology yourself, it’s good practice to think about how your work might impact people who do – and there’s a tool built into Office applications which will give you tips to make sure your document or email is suitable for users with accessible needs, such as having the contents read out by the machine, or making sure there’s adequate contrast in text colours, for improved reading ease.
The Check Accessibility option on the Review tab in Office apps like Word and Outlook, should be run just as you’d check the spelling of a document when you think it’s finished. The tool will give you a series of recommendations with guidance as to why it may be better to change aspects of the document. Not every one will be viable – you may want to have images in a particular place on the page, for example, rather than just in-line with text – but many are quick to correct.
If you’ve inserted graphics or charts, for example, then it’s worth adding “Alt Text” to describe what it is, so screen-reading software can read your description of what it is. Right-click on your image to add the text, or have the PC generate a description for you – sometimes with amusing results…
Thanks to Jon Morris for providing feedback on ToW #554, about email signatures – Jon rightly points out that many of us have tiny logos (Twitter, LinkedIn etc) or other icons in our email .sig, but don’t have Alt Text on them.
One call to action would be update your own sig to add Alt Text, or to mark the images as decorative so screen reader software ignores them.
For more tips on how to write documents which are more accessible, see guidance from Microsoft or from the University of Washington. Some resources for developers or web page designers from the UK Gov, with plenty of links to other sources – Testing for accessibility – Service Manual – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
There’s a great little app built-in to Windows 10 called Alarms & Clock, which lets you set alarms on your PC, show a world map with multiple locations / time zones displayed, and also provides a neat countdown or count-up timer.
You can create multiple separately-controlled timers with different durations & names; so you could have an overall meeting countdown timer, and then a separate one for each participant, if you were acting as the time cop to keep everyone else in line.
The Stopwatch is simply a fast-running counter of elapsed time, and by using the icon on either Timer or Stopwatch screens, you can easily fill the display to help focus on the elapsed or remaining time. Handy if you’re in a physical meeting (remember them?) and are able to display a laptop screen showing the time for everyone.
Those of us who still wear physical, mechanical wristwatches may be passingly familiar with a few features that have existed for decades to achieve the same kind of function, albeit more for individual rather than shared use.
So called “diver” watches were popularised in the 1960s and 70s, as tough, waterproof and utilitarian. The most striking feature of any dive watch is generally the rotating numbered bezel which goes around the outside.
The simple idea was that when you entered the water (knowing you might have 20 minutes of air), you would turn the bezel so the arrow / zero marker was set to where the minute hand was at that point – meaning a later glance at the watch will tell you how many minutes have passed since.
Lots of other non-dive watches also have rotating bezels or indicators, and can be useful for things other than scuba – when the activity above started at 5 minutes to 10, the bezel was set, and it’s easy to see in a trice that was 11 or 12 minutes ago. Not sub-second accurate, but it’s a simple way to mark the passing of time.
Many chronograph watches – which combine the function of a stopwatch and a regular timepiece – have a Tachymetre scale around the outside, yet most people these days will have no clue what it’s for. The basic function of the watch is that pusher buttons on the side will start and stop the movement of the chronograph hand which ticks round to indicate elapsed time.
The deal with the TACHY scale is that if you know a distance – the length of a straight on a motor-racing track, for example – and you time something going over that distance, then you can quickly calculate its speed across the ground.
In practice this is easier said than done, since the TACHY scale reads how many of the <distance> would be covered in an hour at this speed. If the measured distance was exactly 1km or 1mile then it’s an easy calculation – if it took 12 seconds to cover 1km, that would equate to 5km per minute or 300km/h. If the measured distance was a fraction – let’s say the length of the 12-second straight was 150m – then the calculation would be 300 x 150m per hour, or 45km/h. By the time you’ve done that in your head, the subject will be half a lap further on…
Another variant on the theme would be if you know the speed – e.g. you’re in a plane with inflight map display, or passenger in a car on cruise control on the motorway – then you could use the Tachymeter to calculate distance travelled.
If you were cruising at 120km/h, and started the timer, then stopped it when it reached 120 on the scale… (after 30 seconds) – then you know you will have travelled 1km in that time.
Yes, there probably are hundreds of times a month when you need to know exactly this.
Slightly more useful to the average person, some chronographs have a Pulsations bezel rather than a Tachymeter scale, or maybe even have both (since the Tachymeter would typically be used for more than 15 seconds, it’s possible to have one quarter of the bezel represent pulsations and the rest of it be a Tachy).
Watches with Pulsations bezels are sometimes nicknamed “Doctors’ watches” as the utility is to help count a patient’s pulse – the method being you start the chronograph, count 15 pulses and the corresponding number on the bezel would tell you what the pulse/minute rate is.
Smart watches, eh, who needs them when you have space-age timing technology like this?
If you have the kind of name that people habitually get wrong, there are things you can do to mitigate, like adopting a shorter and easier-to-pronounce and/or spell version. This tactic is often seen where people from cultures with long and complex names choose a “western” handle as well, just to make their own lives a bit easier. Or you could just put up with people getting your name wrong and don’t worry about it.
An alternative trick is to provide people with your own pronunciation – that way, even if they forget, they can go back and check how you say your name. In the days of Microsoft Exchange Unified Messaging, you could choose to record your own name, as well as calling in to set your voicemail greeting, manage your calendar and so on. Exchange UM made a great demo back in the day, but presumably didn’t get used enough as it has now gone away.
If your organization used UM and you’d bothered to record your name, then you may still see a greyed-looking loudspeaker icon next to yours or others’ names in the Outlook address book. Click on that to play – if it’s not there, too bad (probably).
A possibly more useful way of spreading your preferred pronunciation is to use LinkedIn – if you record your own name, it’ll show up on your profile and you can make it so public that anyone in the world can play it. To make the recording, you’ll need to use the LinkedIn mobile app.
Tap on your own photo in the top left of the LinkedIn app, then choose View Profile – and the rest is fairly self-explanatory. You record your name, and after you’ve confirmed that you’re happy with the playback, save it and from now on, anyone who looks you up will see the speaker icon next to your profile name.
Alternatively, YouTube has a variety of pronunciation tutorials.
There are other more accessible and arguably easier ways for the modern PC user to capture the screen, though. You could start a Teams meeting with yourself (a handy way to check how you look and sound on video) by going to the Calendar node in Microsoft Teams and click Meet now. Once you’re in the meeting with only yourself, you can share your desktop or an app in the usual way, and record the “meeting” for later enjoyment.
Depending on how your Teams/M365 environment is set up, your recording may be stored on OneDrive or SharePoint (as opposed to being automatically uploaded to Microsoft Stream – a new change that was announced at Ignite), but one way or another you can download the MP4 recording to a file, and share it more widely.
A simpler method might be to just go to the Stream portal – if you’re a subscriber to Microsoft 365 – and create a screen recording from there.
If you’re not looking for anything too fancy, though, a quick & easy way to grab a recording of an application – not the whole screen, only the current app window – is to use the Xbox Game Bar that’s probably included in your Windows 10 install.
Although the Game Bar is designed to be used for recording snippets of gameplay, it’s also a really neat way of capturing the video and audio of pretty much any other application; with a bit of practice, you could record your own instructions on how to carry out some task in an application, while showing just that app window, and it’ll be available to share in a few moments.
Simply open the app you want to record, then press WindowsKey+G to bring up the overlay GameBar UI.
Click the floating toolbar along the top to show or hide various docked windows which will appear on the left side; if you want to record a commentary over the top of your screen capture, then click the settings cog at the far right of the toolbar and set the option to record system audio as well.
When you’re ready, press the round record button in the Capture dialog (or press WindowsKey+ALT+R), also making sure your mic isn’t muted if you want to record your voice. Once you’re live, you’ll see another floating toolbar that lets you mute your mic and stop the recording, and when complete, it’ll show a confirmation that the recording is done – click on that notification to go straight to the folder where the recordings are held.
Just open the Editor and create a new project, add the huge video capture file, drag it to the Timeline then hit Finish video to save an encoded version at a lower quality – for rough screen caps, Medium (1280×720) is probably good enough, and drops from 130+ MB/minute to more like 5MB/min.
Updates flow to Microsoft 365 on a regular basis – there’s a published list of all the minor and major changes that are launched and on their way. As well as improving the current user experience and adding new features, occasionally whole new offerings are added – such as Microsoft Lists, which first made an appearance in July.
Lists gives an easy way of creating, sharing and managing lists of custom information within a team – tracking issues, recording assets, anything in fact, that might have used a shared spreadsheet to do it in a low-tech way. Lists was announced to provide a modern-looking, consistent way of managing lists through a variety of front-ends – including mobile apps, to come later this year.
You should be able to see Lists from the menu on Office 365 web apps – start at www.office.com and sign in with a business Office/Microsoft 365 login and the new icon will give you access to Lists – get started here.
Just like sharing forms or doing task management, there are often numerous ways to do the same thing – and in days of yore, that would have meant several competing and incompatible technologies, encouraged to fight it out with each other to try to ensure that the best one wins. Nowadays, with a more collegiate mindset, consistent ways of doing things show up in different user experiences – like To-Do and Outlook, StickyNotes and more. Expect deeper integration across other apps in due course
The new Lists experience is essentially just a great UI built on top of a mature back-end; SharePoint Lists, which have evolved over the last 10+ years, allowing the definition of custom columns and rules to validate data entry.
One new frontier is to integrate the new Lists UI into Teams; if you have ability to administer a Team, you will see an “add a tab” function alongside the Posts / Files etc tabs that are typically presented.
Adding a List tab will then walk you through a process to either choose an existing List (by entering the URL of the SharePoint site that hosts it) or by creating one by importing a spreadsheet, starting from a number of templates or by defining it from scratch
Have a play with Lists and think about how your team could use them in place of spreadsheets.
Microsofties: There’s an internal story about how Lists came about, and looking forward to where it’s likely to go in the future.
Check out Paul Thurrott’s excellent introduction to Lists. And there’s even a Lists Look Book.
Streaming technology has risen with the availability of high-speed, low-latency internet access, allowing users to play on-demand – rather than watch or listen at the time a broadcaster decides – and is wiping out the need to record live TV to watch later, maybe even obsoleting the concept of broadcast TV.
Perhaps the next vanguard is the gaming industry – as Microsoft and Sony get ready to launch next-generation consoles, buying a disc-based game to install and play will soon feel as old-hat as going to Blockbuster to rent a VHS for the night. Streaming games on-demand as part of a subscription service may be norm, rather than buying and owning a title outright. The console isn’t the only destination, though – streaming to mobiles is on the way.
Back in the workplace, streaming takes a different form, from virtualizing and delivering applications on-demand to running whole desktops somewhere else and displaying the output on a remote screen, not unlike the old mainframe/terminal model. And of course, there’s streaming of other types of media besides applications.
Many users will first encounter Microsoft Stream, the secure enterprise video service, if they’re using Teams and see a meeting has been recorded – usually, when the organizer hits the button, a link to the recorded video will be dropped into the chat window of the meeting.
If you miss that, or weren’t at the meeting in the first place but want to catch up, try going to microsoftstream.com and search, either by the name of the meeting, or by looking under People for the name of the organizer where you’ll see all of their content. If you’re recording a load of meetings yourself (like a training series, or a monthly team call) then it might be worth creating a channel and adding those recordings to make it easier for people to see related content.
Unfortunately, you won’t get paid millions of dollars and given tons of free stuff but you might get some sort of corporate kudos and recognition.
Stream is ultimately replacing the earlier Office 365 Video service, though isn’t yet fully feature compatible: see a comparison of the two, here.
It’s not just for storing recordings of meetings in the hope that people who couldn’t be bothered to turn up the first time will somehow tune in to watch the re-run; you can create new content and upload that for your colleagues to view, too.
You could use the Record a Slide Show feature in PowerPoint, to make an (editable) recording of you giving a presentation and publishing it, or if you’re just looking to do something quick and easy (up to 15 minutes in duration), you can even kick off a screen-recording (with audio and video) from the Stream site directly.
When you publish your video to Stream, it’s worth making sure you’re making it visible – depending on how you’re set up, it may be limited. Go into My Content and look for the coloured icon showing the permissions. Click on the pencil icon to the left, to edit the video properties, including setting the permissions or adding it to a channel. For more about managing permissions on Stream, see here.
One thing to note, is that if you have remote participants in a Teams meeting – customers, partners etc – then they won’t be able to see the recording you make; the Stream service is limited to your own organization, as defined by the Azure Active Directory that’s used to authenticate you. If you need to be able to share the video with others (making sure you’re not breaking any rules, obvs), then you may be able to download just an MP4 video file – none of the other metadata, captions, transcriptions etc that you get with Stream, it’ll just be the main video – and at least make that available separately.
Maybe record it to a VHS tape and post it to them?
Evolving from personal and then group contact management software in the 1980s, CRM came of age in 1995, with Oracle refugee Tom Siebel establishing Siebel Systems as the early market leader, and eventually acquired by Oracle.
Microsoft deployed Siebel in the late 1990s, initially requiring a “fat client” installation complete with a local Sybase SQL Server on everyone’s PC, so they could sync data from the central Siebel system, then eventually moving to be browser-based. One MS sales manager coined the moniker “IIIInSIDE” – If It Isn’t In Siebel, It Doesn’t Exist – giving sales people nowhere to hide when it came to reporting pipeline of opportunities they were tracking.
Mark Benioff, another ex-Oracle exec, set up Salesforce.com in 1999 to not only establish SaaS as a viable way to deliver “line of business” systems (as part of the first Application Service Provider boom, which was largely wiped out by Dot Bomb), but to ultimately eclipse his former employer in terms of market value. Time also moves on – now that Salesforce is the big dog in the CRM world, there are lots of competitors snapping at its heels… Pega, Zoho and many more.
Not least, Microsoft – the Dynamics CRM business (now part of Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement) is growing fast, and even courted the “Father of CRM” to choose D365 for his new enterprise. If you use Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 CRM as part of your job, and use Outlook on your PC for mail, calendaring and contacts, there’s a handy way of connecting the two.
Dynamics Connector for Outlook
There have been several versions of a way to link Outlook and Dynamics together; the latest, Dynamics 365 App for Outlook, will fully supplant earlier versions in October 2020. See the admin guide for more on what the connector does and how it works. The installation can be a little clunky first time, though – you’ll need to install the connector software from here, which starts by downloading and extracting the setup files to a folder on your PC.
Make sure you’re getting the right version for your copy of Office – to check, in Outlook, go to File | Office Account | About Outlook and look to see if you have 32 or 64 bit version installed.
Once you have the base version installed (a process which takes a good few minutes: you also have the option to enable offline usage, which means setting up a local database to hold the content), don’t bother starting it yet – go straight ahead and run the update to the current version (strangely, a larger download than the original install). Once that’s downloaded and installed, you’ll need to restart Outlook if it’s running.
You’ll see a new Dynamics 365 tab on the main menu, offering a variety of CRM-specific activities.
Start with an email – the Dynamics 365 app adds context-sensitive commands to the Outlook UI, so with a couple of clicks you can track an email in CRM – copying its contents into the Account record, so others can see that you sent or received it.
If you right-click on an email address in a message, calendar appointment etc, and Add to Contacts, you can then sync that with Dynamics in a couple of clicks…
… meaning there’s no excuse to not have your important contacts listed in CRM.
You can even match the contacts’ LinkedIn profiles, and create an org chart of all the listed contacts.
As an example, if you took the small table below and wanted to copy and paste the calculated values on row 4, you’d need to deal with the fact that the formula will change – offsetting the D and the 2 reference to wherever you paste it (eg if you pasted the copy into E4, the formula would be =E2-E3) – normally, a powerful and useful function, but a potential nuisance.
You could decide to paste just the value itself (which means that if the values in D2 and D3 changed, cell D4 would be recalculated but your copy would not), or you could copy the cell, then copy original cell’s formula and paste that into the formula of the destination cell.
There are lots of “Paste Special” options, which will vary depending on what kind of data is in the clipboard. Right-click in a destination cell and the Paste Options menu will surface the commonly used variants, or click the arrow by Paste Special to see all the others. Move the mouse over that pop-up menu and the rest will fade away.
An older UI for selecting the options is available if you click on the Paste Special… command at the bottom of the pop-out, or by pressing CTRL+ALT+V to pop out the Special dialog.
One of the more particularly useful features of Paste Special in Excel is the Transpose option – if you select and Copy a row of data then Paste / Transpose it, the data is rearranged as a column (and vice versa). Great news in many cases, but if you want to paste cells and keep the original formulae (without resorting to using absolute references formula references using $ in the formula itself, eg setting =$D$2-$D$3), there are no default options to transpose the orientation of the cells but not change the formulae.
One trick if you ever find yourself in this position, is to bulk change the formulas so they won’t get modified when you paste the cells; do a Find & Replace to change = to something like #=.
It’s an edge case but could save you lots of time if you need to do it.
For most of us, getting to grips with shortcut keys in Excel would make things more productive – as well as numerous combos of CTRL-something, there are simple keys (like pressing F4, which repeats the very last command … so if you’ve just coloured a cell yellow, move the cursor to another cell and hit F4 to make that one yellow too… if you’re doing very repetitive things, this can save so much time).
There are also more complex sequences; press the ALT key in Excel (and other Office apps, too) to see the key combos that invoke each command group on menus or the Ribbon – if you can’t remember the shortcut, just press ALT then the key for the menu you want, then the key on the menu that equates to the command you’re looking for.
A little bit of legacy/history – press ALT-E then S to jump to the Paste Special menu – why E? Even though it’s long gone, really old versions of Excel had an Edit menu, and the commands on any menu – in any application – that have an underscore under a letter (like Paste Special) are highlighting the key you can press to jump to that command.
So ALT E / S used to be the combo to get Paste Special circa Excel 2003, and it still exists today.
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.
Yet more updates have arrived for users of Teams; Jared Spataro did a good session at Inspire in July, outlining some changes that are already available for some and talked about new capabilities that are on the way. There’s a cool background noise suppression capability to remove the clamour that’s happening behind someone, and a load of transcription / captioning technology that works alongside meeting recording, to highlight who said what.
Jared also announced Team Room services (more on rooms.microsoft.com), providing a management and monitoring service for physical rooms that are equipped with Teams kit, as well as the performance of the meeting space. The intent is to make the meeting experience better when we have a mix of in-person and remote people, as the world transitions to some kind of normality.
While we’re still in a predominantly-remote working cycle, Together Mode introduces an intriguing way of displaying videos from a group of people – rather than the “Gallery Mode” of video boxes arranged in a grid, Together mode uses the same technology which can apply a custom background to cut out the user’s video of their person, and place that in a lecture / theatre type setting.
It takes some getting used to, especially if the meeting is one where there’s a predominant speaker – like a teacher – who appears in one of the chairs in the room rather than separate from it. Also, you might have some people who sit relatively close to their camera and will appear huge, while others look like they’d be sitting with feet dangling in the air.
To learn more about how to use Together Mode, and for some info on what is planned for the future, see here.