Tip o’ the Week 444 – Computer! Computer!? Hello Computer?!?

clip_image002Remember the time when talking to a computer seemed like science fiction?

If you’re an Amazon Echo or Sonos One* user, you’ll already be familiar with barking orders at an inanimate object. If you’re tired of shouting ALEXA… ALEXA!!!, then you can even change the “Wake Word” on the Amazon devices – but not yet others – so you can say other things instead. Handy if your daughter or your dog is called Alexa.

clip_image004In the Alexa app on your phone, go to Settings, look under the list of devices and if you select an Echo device of some sort, then you’ll find a Wake Word option fairly far down the list. This lets you choose something else, though not yet at the level when you could make up your own wake word

Anyway, who can pass up the opportunity to pretend to be Mr Scott?
(Isn’t it amazing what you could do with one-fingered, random typing on a keyboard in 1986…?)

Anyway, recent announcements saw the preview of Cortana joining hands with Alexa and allowing access both from Windows 10 PCs to (some) Alexa functionality, and US-based Amazon users can access Cortana stuff through Alexa-enabled devices.

On your PC, clip_image006you may need to check your Cortana settings (just press WindowsKey and start typing Cortana to see the settings) to either enable the Hey Cortana key phrase, or press WindowsKey+C as a shortcut, then speak.

Voice-searching on the PC using Cortana can be a pretty handy thing to do, as there are plenty of phrases that will give you a direct response rather than take you to a website. It’s quicker to press the WindowsKey+C option than to say “Hey Cortana”, and you could ask stuff like M-S-F-T, what’s the time in New York, what’s the news, what’s the weather, convert pound to dollar and so on.

clip_image008To start using Alexa on your PC, just go to Cortana and say “Open Alexa” – at which point, on the first run, you’ll be prompted to sign in clip_image010using your Amazon account.

You’ll also need to grant permission to share info between the two services, and now be able to do things like add items to your Amazon shopping list from within the Cortana UI, or in the reverse, query your Office 365 calendar from your Echo smart speaker.

YMMV at the moment, but it’ll surely get more integrated in time. Right now, you can’t stream music through Alexa to the PC (or, it seems, control smart home devices that work through Alexa, though that could be a regional thing for the moment) – and if you’ve a UK-based Amazon account, you can’t add the Cortana Skill to your Alexa account, so there’s no option of querying Cortana from the Echo, yet. US users can, though.

Still, Normal People don’t have electronics listening to everything they say… so what if a few nerds need to put up with some temporary friction from having two competing assistants try to work together? Click-Over-bzzzt.

Tip o’ the Week 426 – You’ve been PWAned

clip_image002Both the Windows/Microsoft Store app marketplace and the kinds of apps it contains have had a number of generations, from phone apps (designed for Windows Phone), through Windows 8’s so-called “Metro” apps, to the later Universal Windows Platform apps ushered in by the Windows 10 platform. The goal of UWPs is to allow a single code-base to run on multiple Windows 10 based environments, such as tablet/PC, phone, HoloLens and Xbox One.

clip_image004The inconvenient truth with the UWP model is that, for most people, apps are used primarily on their phone and on smaller tablet devices. With the demise of Windows Phone, and the tablet market consisting largely of cheap Android tabs, expensive iPads, and Windows “2 in 1” detachables rather than straight-up Windows 10 tablets, there are arguably few compelling reasons for app developers to support UWPs, unless they feel a particular need to also target relatively niche devices like HoloLens, Surface Hub and Xbox.

Devs could turn to an app framework like Xamarin, which would let them support multiple device types and OSes, generating UWP apps alongside their Android and iOS counterparts.

When the vast majority of their addressable market is someone sitting in front of a PC, not a phone, if you’re an app developer who already supports Windows, then it might be easier to wrap your existing PC app using the Desktop Bridge, allowing for distribution through the Store but without needing to completely rewrite the app as a UWP one, as both Spotify and Amazon Music have shown.clip_image006

One tell-tale of an app that’s probably been packaged with the Desktop Bridge, is that if you look at it in the Store, you’ll see that it’s available on PC only.

The latest chapter in the Store story, though, is that of PWAs, or Progressive Web Apps.

In a nutshell, PWAs are web sites built to behave more like dedicated mobile apps, with features like caching, notifications & more, so a mobile version of an existing web site could obviate the need for building an app as well. Developers could build a specific app for the remaining mobile platforms (natively, or with frameworks like Xamarin or – check out this excellent intro – Google’s Flutter), alternatively they just put their efforts into a PWA, which can run on any modern browser, mobile or otherwise. There’s a lot of love for PWAs in some quarters of the mobile developer world.

It’s still a relatively new frontier, but there are already various collections of PWA apps that can be quickly sampled.

clip_image008As highlighted by Windows Central, PWAs are now appearing in the Microsoft Store, potentially giving top tier app developers a way of supporting Windows, even if they haven’t decided to specifically build a dedicated Windows app.

clip_image010To quickly find the list of all Microsoft-published apps, start with Skyscanner, and you’ll see the publisher is “Microsoft Store” itself – scroll down to the Additional information, click on that link and you’ll find the others that have been published at the same time. Or search the web.

Of course, publishers may well choose to proactively put their own apps into the Store, or if they publish PWAs elsewhere, then the best of them may get hoovered up and added to the Microsoft Store on their behalf.

Tip o’ the Week 423 – SwiftKey update swipes in

clip_image002Resident Microsoft Paddingtonites or visitors, may be familiar with the cubist stools used in some areas but might not instantly recognise the SwiftKey logo on the seats themselves.

SwiftKey is a replacement software keyboard for iOS or Android devices, which supports a variety of auto-complete and swiping functions – and it has just had the biggest upgrade since Microsoft acquired SwiftKey back in 2016. The SwiftKey keyboard app implements a technology similar to the pioneering Word Flow – not the Word Flow app for iOS that SwiftKey has basically replaced, but the swipey writing technology which was part of the dearly departed Windows Phone 8.1.

clip_image004SwiftKey, if you haven’t used it before, aims to be smarter at predicting what you’re trying to say when you swipe a word or peck at the on-screen keys. If you allow it, you can sign in using your Microsoft Account and it will use your Sent Items in Outlook.com mail to look for phrases or words that you routinely use. It’ll also show you some stats based on how much help you’ve received, what your own accuracy is etc. Interesting.

The upgrade to SwiftKey introduces some updated design elements and cool new functionality, most notably a toolbar accessed via the little “+” symbol to the left of the auto-complete suggestions, which provides easy access to emojis, GIFs and other business essentials. More here.

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Tip o’ the Week #171 – eWallet on your phone

One attribute of your phone is that it tends to be with you all the time, so it makes a great place to store information that you want to get access to when you’re out and about – the details of your car insurer, the password for your online banking site, your frequent flyer numbers etc. The long-established iLium Software has offered eWallet for years on a variety of Windows Mobile systems and PCs. There’s a Windows PC desktop version, and a Windows 8 Modern App version, as well as the various fruit and malware-ridden-Googly-device versions.

clip_image002iLium’s current offering on Windows Phone isn’t very well organised – the main eWallet app (which is quite complex) is only on iOS and Android, but there’s also a simpler (though still very flexible and powerful) application called eWalletGO! The Windows Phone version isn’t quite as capable as some of the others, but it’s still a decent app and it’s so useful to be worth persevering with.

The model is simple – you can have a Windows PC (or Mac) version of the app, and a corresponding mobile version too. You create your single wallet (there’s no File menu or anything) and can backup and restore to/from online services DropBox and Google Docs.

So to get the wallet on your phone, you either create it in situ or else build it on your PC and perform a backup (to DropBox) and then restore it down to the phone – a faff, but one that can be done fairly quickly and since the wallet probably doesn’t change much once established, it’s not too hard.

If you buy the Windows PC version (well worth a few quid investment) and want to sync its data between machines, there’s a simpler way than using backup/restore to keep it up to date on multiple PCs… well, it’s simpler once you have it set up…

The eWalletGO! application stores its data in your user profile folder – after installing, just run the app for the first time and create a dummy wallet, press WindowsKey+R to get the Run dialog, then paste %userprofile%\appdata\Roaming\Ilium Software into the box and hit enter. You should see an eWalletGO folder….

Sync application data between PCs using SkyDrive

Now, if you want to sync this to SkyDrive, simply carry out the following…

  • install the SkyDrive desktop application (here, if you haven’t got it already) and copy the eWalletGO folder above into the SkyDrive folder that is Synced to your PC (by default, %userprofile%\SkyDrive). Once it’s copied, we need to fool the eWalletGO app into thinking it’s accessing its own folder, and instead redirect it to SkyDrive.
  • Let’s say that you’ve dropped the eWalletGO folder into the root of your SkyDrive folder… (ie %userprofile%\SkyDrive\eWalletGO), now go back to %userprofile%\appdata\Roaming\Ilium Software and delete the eWalletGO folder
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  • Fire up a command prompt with administrative privileges (press WindowsKey, simply type cmd, then CTRL+SHIFT+Enter) and then click on Yes to approve the use of admin privileges
  • Now we need to create a symbolic link – it’s basically a special folder within the Windows file system which redirects from one place to another – ie if an app thinks it’s accessing c:\foo\whatever, then “whatever” could be a symbolic link to c:\foo\bar.

So, when you have your admin cmd prompt up and running, copy this following command to the clipboard and paste it into your command window …
mklink /D "%userprofile%\appdata\roaming\ilium software\eWalletGO" %userprofile%\skydrive\ewalletgo  
(modify the \skydrive\ewalletgo as appropriate to point to your real location of your eWallet folder if it’s not in the root of your SkyDrive storage… and put quotes (“) around that section if your location has any spaces in it)

Now, if you fire up the ewalletGO app and make a change, then exit, you should see the ewalletgo.wlt file in your SkyDrive  location has been updated – proof that not only do you have an automatic backup of the important data, but that if you repeat the exercise above on PC #2 (apart from the first step that copies the eWalletGO folder into SkyDrive, since it’s already there), you have an automatic replica of your data onto multiple machines, even though the application doesn’t realise it.

This technique can potentially be applied to any application that doesn’t realise it can replicate its data to the cloud – or in the case of eWalletGO, that it can copy data to the cloud, but just does it to the wrong cloud.

Tip o’ the Week #168 – Loving some Windows Phone 8 tips

clip_image001At a recent “Love It” internal event hosted in Microsoft UK’s Reading campus, a whole series of tips and tricks were shared amongst other Microsofties. Did you know, for example, that with an application called ZipApp (www.zipapp.co.uk – check it out), you can build a Windows 8 app in a few minutes without writing any code?

DPE’er Andy Robb said, “Yesterday I helped a couple of people create a dummy app for their customer complete with logo, draft content, a couple of social feeds, in about 30 mins… Customer walks in, sees their app on the Start menu, has a play on a touch device and they ‘get it’ better than any pitch deck could do.“ … BOOM!

Phone gurus Jon Lickiss and Natasha Joseph presented a great session on Windows Phone, with a slew of great tips and apps that  they recommend – they’ve promised to write up the session so we may feature it here in future. In the meantime, here are 3 of the tips to get cracking:

clip_image002Here Maps

Nokia has released mapping software available to any Windows Phone 8 user, which they called Here Maps. The great thing about Here Maps is that you can download the content offline, so they can be used on the tube (say) or when abroad, without racking up career-ending roaming charges.

The downloaded maps data is shared between Here Maps and Here Drive, the new name for the sat nav software that’s free (in beta) for any Windows Phone 8, as well as Nokia Lumias. If you’re on a non-Nokia device, Here Drive only allows access to the maps where the phone’s SIM is registered, but if you’ve a Lumia then you can use maps all over the world,, still get turn/turn navigation.

Here Maps also has a feature analogous to Bing Maps’ own capability to show details of what’s inside buildings – like shopping centres. Here’s a pic of the Oracle centre in Reading, as seen by Here Maps…

Where are you…?

If you’re arranging to meet up and want to tell your friends your current 10-20, you could text them a description – or try this neat function that was new in WP8. Go into the Messaging (ie text) app, start a new text message, then tap on the paperclip icon normally used to attach something – select “my location” to insert a Bing Maps link to your current whereabouts. See here.

Screen grab

A quick and simple way to capture the screen of a Windows Phone. To snap the contents of the phone screen, press the Windows logo on the bottom of the phone then quickly press the power/standby button. It may take a little practice to get the timing right, but once you’ve figured it out, you’ll see the results in the Screenshots folder within the Photos app.

To get them to your PC for further use, it’s probably easiest to just go into the folder, view the picture then Share it via email or NFC, if your new PC supports it

Tip o’ the Week #164 – Work Anywhere with Windows 8

clip_image001Recruiter Nick Papé recommended this week’s topic. Escalation Engineer with spare time on his hands Ben Phillips wrote a cracking Windows 8 app to inspire Nick, and UC overlord Steve Tassell had this to say about it:

“The app is another step in the consortium providing practical advice and guidance which our growing community so dearly crave. This is also an important vehicle in helping us promote the second annual Anywhere Working week which is running again from 18th-22nd March.  There are many activities planned for the week but,  I want to highlight to you the roadshows running all week.  We are planning an ambitious tour of the country taking our Office hub experience nationally.  In Partnership with local authorities, we are providing a networking opportunity, technology experience and Ignite-style sessions from businesses and experts already working flexibly.  You can find more details and means to register here.“

Of course, Nick and Steve are both very keen to stress the possibilities of remote working using Lync – every “snow day” is another day to celebrate and sell the technology benefits, in other words. Well, news reached us of a looming collaboration between Skype and Lync, and the promise of some groovy new Lync 2013 mobile clients, due in the coming months.

Tip o’ the Week #109 – SkyDrive on the move

clip_image001Everyone should know about SkyDrive – the free Microsoft service that gives users with a Live ID (including MSN, Hotmail etc) a 25Gb storage space online, accessible ostensibly from anywhere?

Well, it’s just been made more convenient to access SkyDrive files from mobile devices, thanks to SkyDrive Mobile. In the case of Windows Phone and iPhone (and iPod Touch, and iPad too), there are apps specifically built to make the interface to SkyDrive more smooth – otherwise, it’s still possible to get there via a browser from other devices, albeit maybe a little more clunky.

We’re increasingly stepping up efforts to support non-Microsoft devices in accessing our services – as well as SkyDrive and Tag, there is a growing number of Microsoft apps for iOS and Android.
An example is the newly-released MSN App for the iPad – link via iTunes here.

One of the more useful tricks with SkyDrive is to use OneNote for home-based note taking (making sure you don’t fall foul of MS security policy and use it for work related, potentially confidential stuff) – with a OneNote stored in SkyDrive, it’s accessible from your phone, from multiple clip_image002PCs using OneNote just as  normal, and from any browser you care to point in the right direction. It’s a huge boon for taking notes like holiday booking reference numbers, insurance claim notes, shopping lists etc. We’ve covered this a while before in ToW #52 here, and there’s also an article in the online help.

We’ve also looked in the past at an unsanctioned but still potentially useful 3rd party PC app called SDExplorer, which lets you access SkyDrive folders directly from within Windows Explorer, and therefore within any application. There’s a free version that’s limited in some functions, and a trialware pay-$20-for variant that’s a bit more capable. Have a look but do remember that it’s subject to break any time the SkyDrive team make major changes – the SDExplorer authors seem to have done a reasonable job keeping up, but as they say, YMMV.

Tip o’ the Week #106 – Revisiting Microsoft Tag

We’ve covered Microsoft Tag before on Tip o’ the Week, but it’s worth paying another visit as a few things have changed. Tag is an innovative 2D barcode which can be in colour or black and white, and can even be heavily stylised and worked into logos or other graphics.

If you haven’t tried using Tag before, then point your mobile phone to http://gettag.mobi to download the Tag reader app, unless you have Windows Phone 7.5, in which case it’s built in. just press the search button on the bottom of the phone, and press the “eye” icon on the bottom of the page – then hold your phone over the tag to read it.

clip_image001clip_image003Here’s a customised tag that points to a web URL – http://binged.it/wcQrOr. (Spot the new function within Bing Maps, where when you share a map view that you have, it generates a short URL rather than the massive multi-line one that it used to. like this one.

http://www.bing.com/maps/?v=2&cp=51.471944979869825~-0.5412939190864563&lvl=10&dir=0&sty=r&eo=0&rtp=pos.51.496877_-0.140405_near%20Victoria%20Street,%20London%20SW1P%201___a_~pos.51.461876_-0.925197_near%20street,%20Reading%20RG6%201___a_&mode=D&rtop=0~0~0~&form=LMLTCC)

It’s a piece of cake to create new Tags – go to http://tag.microsoft.com and sign in with you Live ID. You can create a tag that will point to a URL, will contain contact information, a simple block of text or a phone number. Someone can scan your contact and add it straight to their phone, or just call your number directly. Or if your website has mobile-oriented information, then maybe direct them to that.

clip_image005There have been some updates from the Tag team (banish any wrestling analogies from your mind), which have added some interesting new areas of functionality, such as the ability to generate the more widely used if much less visually jazzy, QR Codes. Like this one.

To create your own Microsoft business cards with Tags on the back, visit https://xerox-mscopy.nowdocs.com/ then click on Business Cards / Business Cards / Worldwide Employee Business Cards / . card WITH MS TAG . and upload the Tag image of your contact info you’ve already created

There are some nice analysis tools available, too – if you are using Tags, QR Codes or NFC codes to do some kind of marketing, you can check on:

· Frequency – how many times a Tag barcode, QR Code or NFC touchpoint (or group of them) has been scanned.

· Time frame – how many scans each recognition technology receives each day and overall.

· Geography – where each Tag barcode, QR Code or NFC touchpoint has been scanned, which can be represented on a Heat Map.

Best of all with Tag, though – everything is completely free. Anyone can create and manage Tags, QR Codes etc, so let your customers and partners know that they could be adding rich, mobile-oriented content to any of their flyers, ads, business cards etc – just by sticking a Tag on the bottom. QR Codes are ugly – try using Tag properly!

Tip o’ the Week #95 – the new Windows Phone lock screen

clip_image002One of the most immediately user-friendly aspects of Windows Phone 7.5, aka Mango, is also one that is not automatically enabled… Try this out, and I bet you’ll love it. Show to your friends who’ve upgraded: they’ll love it too.

Windows Phone supports having a PIN lock policy so that if you haven’t used your device for a period of time, you’ll need the PIN to wake it up again. Pretty much every phone that supports the Exchange ActiveSync protocol has something similar, and many companies will not allow any device to connect & sync email unless the policy is active and set up.

With Windows Phone 7, the lock policy also kicked in every time the screen went off, either by the user pressing the power button to switch it off, or because of a time-out. Not an amazing hardship to have to enter a 4-digit PIN, but it’s a slight annoyance.

clip_image004Deliverance from the PIN

Mango introduces a number of new and useful capabilities to the Lock Screen – the principal one being that you can set a time-out before a password needs to be entered.

So, you can “lock” the screen with the power button and unlock it again with only a press of the button and a swipe upwards, rather than having to enter your PIN again – up to 15 minutes after the phone was locked. Really handy if you’re walking along the street and need to consult the Maps app again; a simple press and swipe and you’re straight back in.

To set, simply go into settings -> lock + wallpaper.

The first time-out is the one that automatically switches the screen off (and that would have PIN-locked the phone in WP7 too). The second time-out specifies how long a grace period you have before you need to unlock with a PIN.

clip_image006Wallpaper

If you want to customise your phone’s wallpaper, there’s an option (just off the top of the screenshot above) to do so, or you can press and hold on any image, and it will let you set it to be the wallpaper – even pictures that people have emailed you (just open the pic from Outlook, press/hold, and bingo).

The new lock screen in Mango lets you show the Zune-supplied artist’s photo as your wallpaper whilst you’re listening to music. When you stop the track, it reverts back to whatever wallpaper you had before.

Tip o’ the Week #81 – I’m Late!

clip_image002We’ve all had that feeling when you just know you aren’t going to make it in time for your next meeting… You know, you’re in Building 1 and the meeting’s at the top of Building 5, or you’re stuck in traffic, or in another meeting that’s already running over and isn’t going to end any time soon..?

Obviously, it would be polite to tell people when you can’t make it to a meeting on time… but emailing everyone to say you’ll be late will just make you later still…

clip_image001I’m Late! I’m Late!!

If you use Windows Phone 7, have a look in a calendar appointment which is a meeting (ie where there are invited attendees, rather than just an appointment you’ve put in your own calendar), and you’ll see a “late option on the menu at the bottom of the screen…

…tap on that and it will create an email ready to be sent to everyone in the meeting (if you’re the organiser), and if you’re merely an attendee, you can choose if you want the whole meeting to know of your tardiness, or if you’d rather just send an email to the organiser directly.

UMm…

clip_image003Everyone who uses Exchange 2010 with its Unified Messaging capability (where voice mail is handled by Exchange) can also dial in to collect voicemails, have the Exchange Server read out emails and calendar appointments etc. One of the options when in the calendar, is to say “I’ll be late” – whereupon the server will send an email on your behalf to everyone – useful if you can’t actually type at the time (maybe you’re in the car, or running along the corridor…)

From within Lync, it’s easy to get to your Voice Mail – click on the large telephone icon near the top of the main Lync window, and you can dial into or set up Voice Mail from there.

clip_image004Try calling Voice Mail and saying “Calendar for today”, and the Exchange server will read out details of your current meeting, or others in the schedule. You can then tell it you’ll be late, and by how much, or even simply say “I’ll be 10 minutes late.

To call from your mobile, try setting up a contact in Outlook to dial into your Unified Messaging mailbox – set the contact’s phone number (for Microsoft UK users) to: +44 118 909 nnnn x p12345678#, replacing “118 909 nnnn” with the phone number you’d use to dial in to your own Exchange UM, and “12345678” with the handy 8 digit (or whatever length) PIN that the Exchange server wants you to set. clip_image005

If you don’t know what your PIN is, never fear – you can reset it quickly from Outlook 2010, by going to the File menu and clicking…

Just make sure when you have to change the PIN, you remember to update the Outlook contact(s) that contain it, to reflect your new number. If you call the standard access number from another phone, you’ll need to tell it what your extension number is, but if you’ve got your mobile set up in the GAL properly, then it’s possible that Exchange can tell it’s your phone, so all you need to provide is your PIN. If you dial from Lync (as above), then you’ve already logged into the network so don’t even need a PIN. Clever, eh?

It’s worth setting up a couple of contacts to get you straight into UM – one with the number as above to take you to the spoken voice prompt, and one with the number +44 0118 909 nnnn x p12345678#001, which will automatically switch to using touch-tone numbers, and will drop you into playback of voice mail messages – handy if you know you have a new message to retrieve, especially so if you’re in a public space (where talking aloud to the server will have your tarred with the epithet “loony”) or other noisy environment, where you’d never be understood anyway.

Finally, if you like to update your voice mail message (saying you’re at WPC or MGX or Tech Ready, for example) then set up another contact with the number +44118909nnnn x p12345678#006212 – dialing that from your mobile phone will take you straight to the “record your message after the tone” prompt.