545 – Calculator Short Cuts

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For what most people would think of as a simple application, Windows Calculator has had a reasonable chunk of attention on ToW over the years – back in 2012, #90 uncovered some of the groovy updates that were coming in the then-soon-to-be-forthcoming Windows 7. Did anyone actually go to a Launch Party?

clip_image003CALC has grown to include lots of other features than simple arithmetic – adding scientific functions, programming functions (for all those times when you need to multiply in octal, for example) and more..

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Calculator was reimagined as a Modern App, and has added numerous extra features accessed via the hamburger menu – such as Date Calculators that will show the time difference between two dates – or numerous converters, some static (eg. length, weight – measures that don’t tend to change) and others dynamic, like currency conversion rates. A visual refresh arrived with a colourful new icon and some other graphical tweaks.

There are some neat shortcut keys as well – if you press ALT+H, the hamburger menu will show; to jump to another option, press ALT and another letter or number than corresponds to the appropriate option. To find out what the options are, just press ALT and the letters/numbers will be displayed. Once you know, though, you could press ALT+H and holding ALT, press C for currency. Whichever mode you’re in, pressing ALT+1 will take you back to Standard calculator.

If you have a recent Microsoft keyboard there may even be a dedicated calculator key that will launch the calculator app (also available via START+R | CALC | Enter) but if you’d rather use that button for a more commonly needed app – Teams maybe – then you can install the Mouse & Keyboard Center software, to re-map the hardware button to run a different application.

clip_image007If you want to be particularly fly, you could set up macros to chain other key presses together, or even have app-specific functions on that key; so pressing the Calculator button might launch Teams or bring it to the fore, then pressing it again could do something else within Teams – press CTRL+1 to jump to the first icon in the side bar, for example.

One final calculator tip – each of your calculations are preserved – just click the icon or press CTRL+H to clip_image009open History and then right-click any of the previous results to add them to the clipboard.

544 – Farewell, IE

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In 1998, when anti-trust hearings were perhaps more spiky and combative and certainly not delivered by a flaky Zoom connection, Microsoft was arguing that the free Internet Explorer web browser was so intrinsic to Windows that it could not be removed.

Ever since Windows 98, Internet Explorer 4 was built-in to Windows, though versions of IE were available for the Mac (Steve Jobs chose to use it!), Unix and even OS/2, through the mid 2000s, before it settled on being a PC-only thing. If IE4 was installed on other versions of Windows, it was basically not possible to remove it and revert back to an earlier version, without reinstalling the operating system.

Since 2014, when Microsoft announced Windows 10, it was clear that IE would not evolve beyond the latest release, version 11. IE11 is still included in Windows 10, and will continue to be so until the end of days – or the end of the support lifecycle, whichever comes sooner.

clip_image003You can still launch Internet Explorer in Windows 10 – just press Start and type internet – though the default page does leave you in no doubt that you’re better off elsewhere…

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If you want to remind yourself what it’s like to drive without a seatbelt, or go to the shops without wearing PPE, try using IE to browse the web for an hour.

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It was announced recently that – even if the IE11 browser is still included in Windows 10 and will still be technically supported for another while – “support” for using it will start to be removed from Microsoft 365 services from November 2020. Just as friends don’t let friends do crazy things – like virus scan the M: drive – it’s time to stop them using IE11 as their daily and default browser.

All paths lead to the new Edge browser, built on Chromium for added compatibility – though somewhat ironically, issues have cropped up when using Google as the default search engine, all since fixed. Additionally, some angry-from-Manchester types have complained you can’t uninstall Edge if it arrives via Windows Update or pre-installed. Tried uninstalling Safari on your iPhone or your Mac?

There’s been a subtle change in nomenclature, too – “Edge” is the new Edge, or Chromium Edge, or ChrEdge or whatever you want to call it. The old Edge – the one which shipped with Windows 10 as the successor to IE and as a whole new web experience – is now Microsoft Edge Legacy. LegEdge is not even visible on latest versions of Windows, but if you need it and are the type who likes to live dangerously, you can re-enable it by hacking around in the registry.

538 – OneDrive updates

clip_image002If you’ve been a PC user and part of Microsoft ecosystem for any amount of time, you’ll have been exposed to a variety of services and products which have come and gone, or at least changed names on occasion. OneDrive is a great example – initially unveiled as Windows Live Folders in 2007, the consumer cloud storage service spent a while under the brand name SkyDrive until an agreement was reached with satellite TV broadcaster Sky, to change the name – and so, OneDrive it has been since 2014.

Along the way quite a few associated names and services have bitten the dust – Microsofties celebrate/commemorate old products on the Next of Kin Yammer group: raise a glass to OneCare (an unfortunate name choice if you’re a Cockney, ain’t that Irish Stew), and all manner of other products that turned out to be Red Shirt / Non-speaking parts, like MSN Music/Zune Music/Xbox Music/Groove, and now Mixer.

If you still have a “SkyDrive Camera Roll” folder in your OneDrive storage, that’s probably a legacy of having synced photos from a Windows Phone and then later having installed OneDrive on your modern mobile. You can rename the folder to something else now – at one point, it was not supported but that’s no longer the case.

Using OneDrive on the move makes a lot of sense – even if only to back-up photos from your phone. The web UI lets you see the pictures in a variety of interesting ways, showing the places you’ve been or the things you’ve photographed.

In OneDrive for consumers, you get 5GB of free storage on signing upnot bad, but Google Drive gives you 3 clip_image004times as much for free – though you can add lots more online storage to both services by either coughing up the readies to buy a TB or two, or in the case of OneDrive, signing up for an Office 365 a Microsoft 365 subscription, such as 365 Personal, which gives you 1TB, or 365 Family which gives 1TB each, for up to 6 people.

The pricing is such that unless you wanted to buy only a few extra GB, it makes sense to go for the M365 option – £60 a year for a personal subscription that gives a 1TB (ie 1000Gb) storage capacity, or pay £24/year per 100GB block if you want to buy storage on its own and forego the other stuff you get with M365, notably the Office apps.

Despite a bit of confusion over what the differences are between OneDrive for Business and OneDrive (not described as for business, so presumably for home/personal use), it continues to evolve with additional capabilities – as covered in ToW passim. The OneDrive for Business / Sharepoint and OneDrive for clip_image006consumer technologies are blending together to the point where they look and feel very similar.

Now, the OneDrive team has unveiled a slew of new features for both ODfB and OneDrive personal – like Dark Mode on the web client, or the ability to share files and folders more easily with colleagues, or share with family and friends by creating groups of people who will be sent an invitation to view and contribute.

And the upload file size limit has been raised from 15GB to a whopping 100GB.

535 – Switching monitors

clip_image002Now that monitors are relatively cheap, having more than one display on a PC – and the productivity benefits that can bring – should be a normal situation for everything other than using a laptop on the hoof. Improve your windowing arrangements without anarchy, configuring your displays by right-clicking on your desktop and selecting Display settings.

clip_image004clip_image006This will let you move your monitors around to mirror your physical environment, so you can move a mouse or window easily from one screen to the other, and the desktop will span the monitors appropriately.

If you have a big monitor in front of you, and your laptop to the side, you’ll probably want to select the monitor in the Display Settings dialog and select to “Make this my main display”, which is where the Start menu will appear, along with other system related things like the place where the UI for ALT+TAB or WindowsKey+TAB shows.

You can move windows around by dragging them, or learn to use the shortcut keys SHIFT+WindowsKey+left or right arrow which cycles windows between your monitors (and using the WindowsKey and the arrow keys without SHIFT, will snap the active window to the sides, or to max/minimize the window on whatever screen it’s on).

If you ever share a monitor between several machines, XBOXes etc, you might get to a point where you want to stop Windows displaying stuff on a screen that it still sees as connected, even if that monitor is displaying a different source. You could use WindowsKey+P to cycle through the Projection options, of PC only, Duplicate, Extend or Second Screen. If you knew you were on Extend but your primary screen was now showing something else, you could press Wnd+P twice to switch through the options to be back at PC-Only so you can use the machine as normal, and move any windows that were on the 2nd display back to the laptop screen.

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If you like a more definite way, you can use WindowsKey+R then enter displayswitch with /internal (for PC only), /clone, /extend or /external for the other options.

clip_image010Right-click your desktop to go New > Shortcut, and you can add a shortcut, to which you can also assign a shortcut keystroke if you like – then a single keypress sequence will jump to a specific monitor configuration.

As a parting shot, should you want to change which screen is the primary one – rather than forcing a particular display scheme – then you can do that with an open source tool called nircmd, that lets you fire a command (like nircmd setprimarydisplay 2) to switch the primary display to that numbered screen.

534 – May Update maybe

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As discussed a couple of weeks back, the May 2020 Update to Windows 10 is making its way to users via Windows Update, though not yet all users.

A few incompatible hardware problems have blocked the installation on a series of machines, including the latest Surface models like Surface Book 3, Surface Pro 7 and Surface Laptop 3.

As part of Patch Tuesday this week (9th June), a fix was rolled out (along with lots of other security updates) which should unblock these machines in time. It’s worth proactively going to Updates in your PC’s settings and make sure it has downloaded and installed any and all updates, firmware upgrades and so on. If you have a Surface machine, you can see – and manually download – a list of all the applicable updates, here.

clip_image004There’s still a compatibility hold which may be active for a few weeks as the Update makes it way to all affected devices. If you’ve applied all the pending changes via Settings -> Update & Security, you can manually kick-off the 2004 upgrade, by going to the Update Assistant page and hitting the Update Now button.

clip_image006This will download an installer program that will check the PC has the minimum spec, has enough disk space and so on, then it’ll begin the download and install process, which will take a good few minutes to complete, with plenty of downloading / checking / applying etc cycles to complete.

You might be disappointed at the end, though – if the compatibility hold still applies to your machine, the process will run all the way through then tell you …

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Boo.

[if you’re not offended by foul language, go to YouTube and search Fred MacAulay etiquette

It’s most appropriate, if a little colourful for some, so you’ll need to find it yourself]

533 – Revisiting TaskMgr

clip_image002If  you’ve ever had problems with your PC’s performance, you may have turned to Task Manager. It’s been in Windows since the NT4.0 days, when developer Dave Plummer came up with a bit of software he was planning to sell, but decided to donate it to his employer instead:

I’m the Microsoft developer that wrote TaskMgr at home in my den in about 1994 and then the NT silverback devs [ie Dave Cutler] let me check it into the main tree even though I was a greenhorn at the time. So that meant I got to bring it into work and polish it up and make it an official part of Windows, where it remains to this day.

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Dave tells his career story from a talk a couple of years back, but hit the news recently through a Reddit post from which the italic text above originates.

He was inspired to apply to Microsoft in 1993 – having read the Hard Drive book (an excellent historical tome, having inspired at least a few great Microsofties to join up), then went on to write various money-saving optimisations for MS-DOS, and ended up in the NT team, leaving the company 10 years later.

Dave also recommends another great history book – Showstopper!

Back to the current era, Task Manager is still a really useful tool when it comes to figuring out issues with your Windows PC. If you think something is wrong (app starts bogging down, feels like the PC is in a bad way), you can quickly start Task Manager with the shortcut CTRL+SHIFT+ESC (easy to hit with one hand…)

clip_image006In an emergency (if it feels like your laptop it about to blow up, with fan blaring, screen blinking, UI non-responsive etc – maybe joining a Teams call or opening an Excel spreadsheet), it’s usually possible to throw TASKMGR its own special three-fingered-salute, since it isn’t tied to the Windows Shell –  you can use even Task Manager to kill or restart the EXPLORER.EXE that sits under the Start menu, task bar etc.

If you can get to Task Manager, you can run a CMD or Powershell prompt, start explorer or msedge etc.

Practical Example

A colleague pleaded recently that he was having a poor experience with Teams, and queried, did he need to upgrade his 150Mbps internet connection?

To check what kind of network performance you’re actually receiving, there are many speed test apps and sites.

If you’re using the new Edge (if not, why not? Don’t use IE – it’s too old;  stop using old Edge – it’s obsolete; the new Edge is fast and it’s better than Chrome), and you have Bing as your default search engine, all you need do is enter ? speed test into the address bar and you’ll get a speed test gadget to give you an idea of performance.

clip_image008If the base speed looks OK, use Task Manager to inspect what’s happening – fire it up in your favoured way (clicky-clicky-menu, right-click the taskbar, CTRL-ALT-DEL > Task Manager, if not CTRL-SHIFT-ESC) and by default you’ll see the near-useless list of what’s running with no other context. Time to show more details…

On the Processes tab, click on the CPU column to sort by what’s using the processor most – its also worth casting an eye on some other resources to make sure they’re not running out of steam; if you see an app consuming a huge amount of memory, it might be leaking, and shutting it down completely could make all the difference.

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Task Manager lets you kill processes (“End Task”) too, if the app has hung and won’t close cleanly. In fact, Dave said there should be nothing that Task Manager can’t kill (apart from some critical system processes – TM might have been able to kill them, but will also bluescreen the machine … so some protection has been added to prevent the user from doing something that would be instantly fatal to Windows – though TM is able to kill itself).

Back to the Teams troubleshooting scenario – If you don’t see the PC getting nailed by some process (that isn’t Teams itself), then it’s worth looking at the Performance tab, and leave it running for a short while, paying particular attention to WiFi/Ethernet.

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clip_image014If you see sustained high throughput, then switch back to the Processes tab, sort by Network and you can see what service/app it is that’s hammering the connection. You could fire up Resource Monitor if you want to dig in even further, started from the bottom of the Performance tab. ResMon lets you drill down to see what a single process is doing, what it’s connecting to, how much network traffic is going to and from it, and so on. Useful, if you like that sort of thing.

Finally, your network might perform brilliantly most of the time, but every so often you get a blip that feels like it’s dragging, then it picks up again. This could be spikes in latency, the enemy of anything real-time, like video calls.

Try running the Microsoft Research Speed Test appclip_image016 the nice thing is that it keeps a history log, so if you ever think your connection is bogging down, try running a realtime test.

The Network delay is actually key here – if you had more than 1Mbps upload and 5Mbps download speed, that should be plenty – but if your network delay is commonly more than ~150ms, it’s going to start causing problems.

If you have a network connection whose latency fluctuates a lot, there are a bunch of things you could do to seek and troubleshoot: 

  • Is something else on your network uploading huge amounts of data (a backup process, or OneDrive sync maybe) ? This is particularly important if you use an ADSL type connection, where choking the upload will also dramatically reduce download throughput too.
  • Is your wireless network getting interference? (try switching to a wired network, or use a Wifi Analyzer app to see if the channel it’s using has a noisy neighbour?)
  • Pin the blame on your service provider by keeping a log of latency performance over time, using something like http://ping-test.net/. If you can prove that your own network is stable, but there are glitches upstream somewhere, then you may be able to make your ISP turn their attention to their own network – tools like WinMTR will help you validate the performance of the network all the way between your machine and some endpoint; so if your ISP has networking problems, you might see spikes happening.

532 – Party like it’s 2004

clip_image0042004 was a momentous year in many respects. The first crewed private spaceflight took place, NASA flew a Scramjet at nearly 10x the speed of sound, there was an election in the US and an Olympics took place. Not entirely like 2020, then. Windows XP was the world’s most-used operating system, and Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing (TwC) initiative brought forth Windows XP SP2, which added a ton of security updates brought forward from the Longhorn project.

In a tenuous segue, this leads us to Windows and 2004 in the year 2020 – namely, the release of “2004” build, otherwise known as the Windows 10 May 2020 Update. This is the 10th major update of Windows 10 – updates which, not unlike the service packs of old, roll-up the fixes of known issues while introducing new features and improving existing ones.

clip_image006There are quite a few new features and lots of incremental improvements in the May 2020 update; some are fairly minor, others could be more significant – like the many accessibility improvements or improving security with the PUA-blocking feature which could stop the end user from unwittingly installing an app which is not exactly legit but is not exactly malware.

clip_image008Cortana is getting another reboot, this time as a chat-based assistant, in conjunction with M365;

UK users – after installation, you’ll need to wait for an app update to arrive via the Store, as the Cortana app initially says it’s not available in the UK – though ironically, one of the examples asks for the weather and gets the answer for London… in Fahrenheit

For an idea of what the latest Cortana invocation will give you, see here.

It might take a little while for 2004 to arrive via Windows Update – it’s a staged rollout, and there have been some reported issues with incompatible drivers, so it may be held back from certain machines until the drivers are updated. See more info on blocked machines.

If you want to force the update to 2004 rather than wait for Windows Update, you can go to the Download Windows 10 page and hit the Update Now button. You might find that the update process goes through a load of downloading and processing, only to tell you that your machine is in a “compatibility hold” because of known driver issues. So you’ll just have to wait…

There are some deprecated and removed features, too, including the Windows To Go ability to run Windows off a portable USB stick.

520 – You have the Power

clip_image002When Windows 95 launched nearly a quarter of a century ago, it brought a whole new way of interacting with the windowing environment on users’ PCs. The Start menu was introduced (and the grand launch event had the execs “dancing” to ‘Start Me Up’ by the Rolling Stones – chosen because of its “Start” association, presumably, rather than the lyric “you make a grown man cry”), and after a short-term diversion in Windows 8, the Start menu reappeared in Windows 10, and is still evolving.

After the Win95 initial release, the development team behind the Windows Shell came out with a bunch of useful utilities; things that at one point might have shipped as Resource Kit tools, but were aimed at a slightly broader user base – and so the Power Toys family was born.

There were often capabilities in the OS which could be enabled or disabled by the flick of a setting in the Registry (also new in Windows 95, in an attempt to put all the settings stuff in one place rather than having INI files everywhere). Telling an end user to go an start Registry twiddling is a potential recipe for disaster, so the Power Toys included utilities like TweakUI, which exposed some of the settings.

Various other Microsoft products embraced the idea of Power Toys, but the whole thing was killed off in the wake of the intensive code reviews required as part of the Trustworthy Computing (TwC) initiative in 2002. See more of the history here (though the page is 15 years old so pretty much all the links are dead).

In late 2019, it was announced that PowerToys was coming back – this time, as an open source project supported by the dev team but ultimately driven by a wider community. The goals for v1.0 have been published and recently the 0.15 release was made – get the latest version here.

So far, possibly the most useful app in the current build is FancyZones, which allows you to have more control over window layouts than simply snapping to the left or right – handy if you have a massive monitor or two, and want to tile multiple windows side by side.

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518 – The App(s) of Office

clip_image002Once upon a time, there were Microsoft Office mobile apps, for Windows.

Ever since the demise of Windows Mobile and the collateral damage caused to Microsoft’s previous Universal Windows Platform apps strategy by not having a universal platform any more, their future has been in some doubt. In fact, since late 2018, it was reported that the Office “Mobile” apps for Windows were being de-prioritized in favour of the desktop variants (with the exception of OneNote), and separate mobile apps for the surviving mobile platforms.

clip_image004If you search the Microsoft Store app on PC, you won’t find any trace of the Office mobile apps for Windows PCs any more but if you want to see what the future looked like from a point 5+ years in the past, you can still access the direct links get the UWP apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

In these enlightened days, Microsoft builds quite a lot of apps for iOS and Android, more especially the latter since it has a larger number of users (and seems to be growing its share in key markets) as well as being more open when it comes to the both the end-user and developer experience (though Apple may be changing its tack a little).

Recently, the Office team has shipped a whole new, unified Office app for Android and for iOSmore details in the team’s blog, here.

The app brings together Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but also adds a bunch of other related things – like Sticky Notes, and some related and useful technology like the ability to manage PDF files, extract text from an image and more.

Back in Oct 19, MJF wrote about this strategy and more recently has suggested more features are on their way.

517 – Try the preview…

clip_image002Several of Microsoft’s standard apps within Windows ship updates regularly, and increasingly are offering willing early adopters a peek at what’s coming through a  “Try the preview” clip_image004or “Coming Soon” option, usually in the top right of the main screen.

clip_image006You might need to force an update on your apps to get the latest version; go into the Store app and in the ellipsis menu on the top right, select Downloads and updates then hit the Get updates button. If you don’t like clicking menus, you could jump straight there by opening a run dialog with Win+R and entering ms-windows-store://DownloadsAndUpdates/

To find the name of any installed Store app, so you can run it from a command line or dialog, fire up powershell (just press the Start button and type that) then paste:

foreach ($p in $(get-appxpackage)) { foreach ($n in (Get-AppxPackageManifest $p).package.applications.application.extensions.extension.protocol.name) { $p.packagefullname + “`t `t `t -=- ” + $n } }

… and enter that. You’ll get a list of long app names followed by a one-word name that can be used to invoke the app. To run a Store app from a Run dialog or the Start menu directly, use that one word with a colon at the end – to start the Store version of OneNote try typing Win+R onenote: (for example).

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clip_image012The Calendar app – improbably named outlookcal: even though it has nothing to do with the desktop Outlook, other than it too can display a calendar – has recently received an opt-in preview which adds a funky new UI with background graphics reminiscent of Wunderlist, and nice icons to help you quickly switch between different calendar sources.

The preview will only show up (for now) if you’re a Windows Insider. Fortune favours the brave