Tip o’ the Week #122 – The Sky (Drive)’s the Limit!

clip_image001For years now, SkyDrive has offered a chunk of online storage to anyone who wanted to use it, if they had a Windows Live (aka Hotmail, MSN Messenger, .NET Passport & others) user ID. Adding Windows Live Mesh to the mix gave the ability to not just store and share stuff online, but be able to back up files automatically from your PC, “to the cloud…”.

SkyDrive and Mesh have both featured a fair bit in ToWs passim (#52, #69, #109…) though some of those missives have been superseded by more recent developments.

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SkyDrive upgrade

One such change has been the release of a PC client for SkyDrive, so it’s not reliant on the Live Mesh software. It now provides easy access to SkyDrive storage directly from within Windows Explorer, and therefore any other application. Even though there’s a preview SkyDrive Metro app for Windows 8, this is the first time we’ve made it so deeply integrated to Windows through the provision of a PC client.

The differentiator here is that Mesh provided a way of backing up a maximum of 5Gb to “SkyDrive” (somewhat oddly, not taken out of the total 25Gb allocation from the regular SkyDrive), clip_image005and made visible from the Windows Live Devices page. There was no really easy way to retrieve stuff that had been synced by Mesh into the magic 5Gb bucket, other than viewing the folder within the browser and downloading a file by saving it to your PC then opening it, or by synching the folder onto another PC and downloading it that way.

The fab new SkyDrive app, however, exposes the full online storage facility just like it’s any other folder that happens to be on the network – so you can move files around, double-click on them to open in native applications, right-click for properties etc. If you use SkyDrive on multiple PCs, it could be used to synchronise your content with each PC and with the online SkyDrive service, meaning you’ve always got the ability to get to your files from any browser. Live Mesh could still be useful to synch content between PCs only (eg copy all your music between two PCs at home).

Other clients are available too – Windows Phone, iPad, iPhone, Mac …

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Get your 22Gb free, quickly!

It’s worth noting that the previous 25Gb storage limit on SkyDrive has been reduced, so now you “only” get 7Gb. It turns out that less than 1% of SkyDrive’s existing user base had more than 7Gb of storage in use, so the gratis amount has been reduced somewhat. Never fear, though – existing users can request a free upgrade to retain your 25Gb of space, though don’t delay… it’s a time-limited offer (see here and here). It’s also now possible to buy additional storage if you want – £32 per year will get you 100Gb, for example, surely a price worth paying to ensure all your photos and home docs are backed up and accessible from anywhere…?

· For more info on the new SkyDrive features, see here.

· For some commentary on the new SkyDrive service, see here, and for info about how much better this is than the vaguely comparable DropBox, Apple iCloud or Google Drive services, see here.
(DropBox, for example, gives you 2Gb free, and charges $20 per month for 100Gb, as a comparison).

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 #108 – Using Accelerators

Internet Explorer 8 added a concept known as IE “Accelerators” – the principle being that you could select some text on a page, and using an accelerator, quickly search the web for that piece of text, or maybe do something clip_image001more specific. The other day, I was talking to someone about a particular piece of kit, and we were looking at a website commenting on it. Looking for more info, I used one of the IE Accelerators to quickly Search with Bing, and he said, “wow – I didn’t know you could do that..?!”

There are a bunch of Accelerators built in with IE9 – the most obvious ones letting you select something on the page and immediately search Bing for the text you’ve selected. Even handier, select a post code or place name and Map with Bing to view the map straight away, all without need to re-key everything.

There are other accelerators available – if you’ve got more than one Search provider (other search engines, apparently, are available) then they’ll show up in the “All Accelerators->” flyout menu, and under the Manage  Accelerators option on the same menu, you can find more or deal with the ones you currently have.

Check out the IE Gallery for more accelerators and other addons.

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 #83 – some more IE9 tweaks

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It’s been a little while since we dug into Internet Explorer in the Tip of the Week, so I figured it would be worth revisiting. Previous tips included some basics in #64 and #65 and there are others.

Docking & Undocking tabs

clip_image002Have you ever found a time when you’ve got two tabs open in IE9, and you’re flicking between them? Maybe cross referencing some information – like a flight or train timetable – with some other application? Watching training videos whilst trying to surf the web? If so, one solution would be to right-click on the IE icon on your taskbar and click on “Internet Explorer” – this will launch a new instance of IE, and you could open up the 2nd site in that window, thereby allowing you to do side/side window comparisons, move one to a 2nd monitor etc.

Well, there’s an even easier way – simply click on the tab you want to move, and drag it away from the group of tabs within IE – it will now spawn a second window with only that one tab in it. Brilliant! When you’re done, you can even drag the tab from the 2nd window and drop it back onto the tab group of the first window to consolidate them back again.

Did you know IE9 recently trounced every other browser at blocking “malware”, in an independent test, scoring 100% effectiveness against the 13% scored by Chrome, Safari & Firefox..?clip_image003

Turning websites into Apps

IE9 has so many features besides its excellent security – faster performance, hardware-accelerated graphics, HTML5 (etc etc), but one of the top usability ones is the ability to pin websites to your taskbar.

Some sites will expose Windows 7 jump lists, so once you’ve pinned them you can go straight to specific parts of the site (like your messages, calendar, favourites, friends lists and so on). This is the first part of treating a web page more like an application.

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The jump lists can do more than just help your navigation on the site – take the excellent National Rail enquiries IE9 experience that was mentioned in ToW #74. The jump list lets you go straight to the departures/arrivals board for your most commonly used stations – it really does start to feel like a custom application rather than a simple website.

To pin any site to your taskbar, just open the page in IE9, and drag the tab (similar to the method for spawning a 2nd window), but this time just drop it onto the task bar. An alternative is to drag & drop the icon to the left of the site’s address.

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When you click on the docked icon on the taskbar, it will launch the page in its own IE9 window, and also displays an icon of site’s logo – clicking on this takes you “Home”: back to the main page of the site, rather the normal IE home page. Again, just like an application rather than a web site.

As you can see from the screen grabs above, there are plenty of popular sites which implement jump list support as a minimum – check the Beauty of the Web site or or this Softpedia article as a starting point to identifying which pages may support IE9 specifically. Of course, you can always just try adding a site directly and see if it does support jump lists or not.

clip_image007Clutter me not

Now, pinning web apps to your task bar is all well and good when you only want one or two, but if you have a selection you’d like to pin, it could clutter the whole taskbar up. There is something of an alternative, however: simply open your page, press the ALT key to show the menu, click on Tools and select Add site to Start menu. You don’t see jump lists in the Start Menu but if you right-click on the icon and Pin to Start menu, or if the icon shows up in the list of most recently used programs, then the jump list will be visible.

This shortcut on the Start menu can be moved around, put into groups, dragged off the menu onto your desktop or other folders, and yet whenever you launch the app, it will be in its own window, with its “home” button, so just like an application.

As it happens, you can turn any shortcut into an “app”, by renaming the extension from .url to .website

– eg.

· Copy a shortcut to your desktop

· Launch a command window (WindowsKey+R then enter cmd)

· Change to the desktop folder (normally that will be just by entering cd desktop)

· Rename your shortcuts by entering ren *.url *.website

· Close the command window and test your new “app” by opening the new shortcut…

Tip o’ the Week #74 – The Age of the Train

Now then, now then… Remember the old 1980’s Jimmy Savill advert for British Rail? RIP, Jingle Jangle Jim.

Well, it  seem that National Rail Enquiries adopted the Age of IE9 to deliver one of their latest consumer-facing web applications. Head over to http://ie9.nationalrail.co.uk to check out live departures and arrivals for your favourite stations, all presented in a slick, Windows Phone 7-style UI.

National Rail has said it won’t be updating the Outlook addin they built for Outlook 2003/2007 (but which isn’t clip_image001compatible with Outlook 2010), however it is possible to quickly add rail travel information to your calendar. If you search for a given journey, then look at the details … click on Add to calendar and the site will download an “ICS” file which IE will offer you the opportunity to open or save. Select Open, and Outlook will create a new appointment for you with the appropriate times of the journey.

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Tip o’ the Week #73 – Using Bing Maps in London

clip_image001Here’s a quick but useful tip for Bing Maps (did you know, by the way, that you can jump straight to the maps by entering www.bingmaps.com as the URL? Or if you’ve super-efficient, just type bingmaps into the address bar on IE, and press CTRL+ENTER and it will do the rest for you).

If you’re visiting London and your default language for Bing maps is UK English (you’ll see in the top right if it says “United Kingdom”), then when you view any Greater London location, your default view is the A-Z Maps – one familiar to every Londoner.

The A-Z view shows entrances to Tube stations, and if you click on the regular Tube icon, it will also tell you what line services that station, and displays an overlay of the tube network in the classic colours, but in a way you’ve probably never seen before (ie real geographical distances between stations rather than the well-known Tube map). Zoom out a little and the overlay stays in place, but the relatively cluttered A-Z view is replaced with Bing’s standard maps view.

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So what? Well, it lets you see just how close some stations are to each other, that it might be quicker to walk than to go about changing trains… and it also showcases how much better Bing Maps is than Google Maps…

If you have a customer or partner who’s London based, and who uses Google Maps on their website, show this to them and see if you can’t persuade them to switch… Then show them the Birds Eye view and see if that seals it!

Tip o’ the Week #69 – Keep your favourites and Office settings synchronised

clip_image001We covered using Windows Live Mesh to synchronise OneNote files between computers in ToW #52, but overlooked one really simple but useful check-box capability – the ability to sync your IE favourites between PCs, and to sync your Office settings too. Jamie Burgess suggested this would be worth covering.

In essence, this gives you a one-click (on each PC) means to keep your favourites up to date across multiple home and work PCs, as well as keep your Office spelling dictionaries, templates and email signatures up to date too.

clip_image003If you have multiple PCs and one of the first things you need to do when building a new machine is to recover your Outlook signature and IE favourites, then this is just for you.

To switch on, install Live Mesh (as part of Live Essentials) if you haven’t already, then switch on by entering “mesh” into your start menu and then click on Windows Live Mesh to open up the settings. More detail here.

Turn on and off with a single click and you’re done. For the more advanced users, you could set up a Sync Folder to copy your Favourites (generally found in c:\users\<alias>\Favorires) etc to SkyDrive, and that way they’d be available from any PC (via http://skydrive.live.com), or a useful way of backing up your settings if you only use one PC.

Tip o’ the Week #67–Lync Conferencing Tips

clip_image002An earlier Tip o’ the Week featured “5 Golden Rules” for OCS and Lync conferencing, and those tips still stand.

If you host or participate in a Lync conference, you can dial-in to the meeting from a phone as well as joining from your PC – eg for Microsoft-hosted Lync conferences, attendees can find numbers here when joining from elsewhere. The same URL can be used to set your conferencing host PIN, so if you dial the access number, you can sign in as the meeting leader.

Enter the conference ID that’s listed in the appointment, or which can be gleaned from the Lync client in the conference itself – so the leader could potentially pass on the joining instructions to other users who are not online.

Lync has some touch-tone commands that can be used to control the phone call – as an attendee, the most important is possibly *6, which mutes/unmutes your phone. Do everyone a favour if you are dialling in to a conference call, and mute your phone when you don’t need to talk. You’ll hear confirmation that “you are now muted” or the reverse, so it should be pretty clear what your current status is. Hopefully no embarassment of you starting to talk while still on mute and wondering why no-one’s listening, or the even less desirable inadvertent heavy breathing that can distract everyone else on the call.

Other touch-tone commands can help to provide the kind of info you can see when you join a conference call using the Lync client directly. Examples:

*1 – plays a list of conferencing commands you can use
*3 – plays a list of other attendees’ names
*4 – Toggle “audience mute”
*6 – Mute yourself
*7 – Lock/unlock the conference
*8 – Admit all participants currently in the lobby
*9 – Enable/disable announcements while entering/exiting

Clearly, some of these are only applicable if you’re a conference leader: it is worth remembering that you can still dial in and control a conference, even if you aren’t able to join from a PC.

Tip o’ the Week #64–Some IE9 tips

This tip was originally written shortly after the release of Internet Explorer 9, however it’s still valid today. IE9 is the fastest, most modern and most secure browser we’ve ever made (some would say, that anyone has made – recent independent analysis from NSS Labs shows IE9 blocking the vast majority of malware, versus all other tested browsers which fared less well – less than 20% effective, in fact).

If you haven’t installed IE9 yet, just head to http://microsoft.com/ie9 and click the “Download Now” – it’s as simple as that. Reasons to install are here, if you need convincing.

What’s new?

There’s a good overview of the new features in IE9, here. Far too many to cover in one Tip o’ the Week – so it’s a subject we will be returning to.

One key usability improvement is the ability to Pin sites to your taskbar, so you can launch them (or return to them) with a single click: just open the site, click on the tab it’s located in, then drag & drop the tab to the taskbar in order to pin it. Another is the simple display of recent & popular sites you’ve visited, when you create a new tab in IE9 by clicking on the clip_image002end of the tabs list, or by pressing CTRL-T.

The overall UI is much sleeker and simpler, doing away with lots of icons and even the separate search bar – if you want to search for something, just start typing it into the Address Bar and if it doesn’t get returned via your favourites or your recent history, then it will query your defrault search engine directly from there.

There’s even a “suggestions” option that can be turned on with one click, to suggest search results as you type. This is the off by default, as it would also send keystrokes of URLs you might type in… so the user has to opt in.

Show me the intranet! (add a “/”)

If you enter an intranet URL in the address bar, it will generally try to search online for that “word” – but in the background, IE9 can check if there is a web site available with just that name, and will offer you (displayed at the clip_image003bottom of the screen) the option  of going to that site. Try it with a site you haven’t visited since upgrading – eg hrweb

Once you’ve said “Yes” once to the offer, if you next enter the same phrase, IE9 will check from your history and see that you really did want to go to http://hrweb, rather than search Bing for it…

If you want to force IE9 to take you straight to the intranet site (and miss out the whole “search Bing, then confirm that you do want to go to the intranet..”), simple put a “/” at the end of the term. So you enter “itweb/ into the address bar (not bothering with http:// etc) and IE9 will take you straight to the designated site. Thanks to MSIT’s John Owen for this tip.