Last week, the latest set of changes to Windows 10 started to become widely available. The 21H1 update – following the naming convention established in October 2020 with 20H2, rather than using a version number like 1903 – is now rolling out.
There are few major visible changes in 21H1; it’s mostly an under-the-hood arrangement, with a few minor features involving things like having multiple Windows Hello capable web cameras (in case you decided to splash out on a better camera for your online meetings, to better highlight your carefully curated backdrop?) Even some of the latest Surface devices only have a 720P front-facing camera, so if you want to upgrade your visuals with a 1080P one, there are plenty available for not much outlay. There’s even a new Microsoft Modern Camera which might be great for Teams, but unfortunately doesn’t support Windows Hello. Maybe that one needs a reboot.
A few legacy bits of technology have been removed from 21H1 – like the “original” Edge browser, ie the “Project Spartan” one that was launched with Windows 10 before being replaced with the Chromium-based version we enjoy today. For a preview of what is next for the block, check out the list of deprecated features – things that are still there but being tolerated rather than enhanced.
Having tried to “simplify” Windows previously with WinRT and then Windows S Mode, the latest turn is to do a “Cairo” by deciding to bring some of the planned features into a different release schedule, ie the mainstream one.
The next frontier for visible Windows enhancements might be the 21H2 update which logic would suggest should be with us midway through the fourth quarter of 2021. Reportedly codenamed “Sun Valley” and bringing a fresh new UI sheen, this next big update is expected to be announced soon – maybe something else is to follow?
If 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 up – not bad, but Google Drive gives you 3 times 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
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 consumer 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.
Now 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.
This 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.
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.
Right-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.
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.
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.
There’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.
This 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.
It’s most appropriate, if a little colourful for some, so you’ll need to find it yourself]
2004 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.
There 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.
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…
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…
Cortana was supposed to be the differentiator for Windows Phone. 5 years ago, before Alexa had wormed her way into kitchens of millions of people and forced Google to respond with their range of devices, Siri and Cortana were the assistants in town. When Windows Phone carked it, Cortana transferred her attention to Windows 10, though there have been a few redesigns after feedback from users, such as preferring to have the search dialog shorn of Cortana-ness.
In latest news, rumours have surfaced of some kind of Microsoft speaker to be announced, though it’s purely a design patent rather than any details of what it might do – Cortana? Or just a companion device for making Teams calls? Time will tell. The same source unveiled a patent for a Roundtable type device at the same time last year – ahead of the autumn Surface launch event – and nothing seems to have come of that yet.
The much-trumpeted GLAS home thermostat (competing with Nest, basically) has dropped Cortana from the device, and the Cortana-powered Harman Kardon Invoke speaker (which, by all accounts, is a really good speaker) has sunk beneath the waves following a fire sale to get rid of stock. Cortana is reportedly disappearing from Xbox too, though a wider speech strategy is in place so she won’t go too far.
Cortana has been repositioned from being a consumer service or device, to a series of services that add value by integrating with your productivity applications and services. Additionally, efforts have gone into making speech/AI assistants interoperable.
In a recent Windows 10 build pushed to Insiders, Cortana is getting a new look – again – and will eventually roll out around the world, rather than be limited to a few locations as it had been previously.
If you’re on the insider program for Windows 10 and using a UK language machine, you may find that the new Cortana app doesn’t want to talk to you, unless you set English (United States) as your Windows Display language.
Also click on each entry in the Preferred languages list, and make sure you have all the speech and proof-reading features installed.
The original vision of Cortana’s usefulness is evolving so that when you enable the service, it now searches your email and calendars on a variety of sources (Office 365, Gmail etc) and will remind you when you say things in email (eg I’ll give you a call on Tuesday) – it’s vaguely spooky when you first start to use it, but after a while proves to be really useful.
As To Do and the Microsoft Launcher continue to improve and integrate, the original vision of Cortana might well come back to being more than a gimmick to ask for directions or the current weather – a genuinely personal assistant that will help you organise your life and get more stuff done.
Back in the olden days of computing, wage slaves sat in front of terminals with black backgrounds and lurid green text writing. The advent of the graphical user interface relieved this tyranny with a paper-white background from a bitmapped screen to write your WYSIWYG text, to showcase colourful graphics (and Fonts!).
Fast forward 30+ years and it seems every app and OS is running away from black text / white backgrounds, and heading for monochrome graphics and oppressive white text on a black background again.
Using Dark Mode, either in apps or in the operating system on your computer or phone, promises a variety of benefits – less noticeable flickering, reducing eye strain, avoiding bright lights in a dark environment, perhaps better readability and therefore productivity, and even lower energy costs.
Dark Mode has existed in Windows for a while – but ultimately, apps need to support the theme, too, and more and more are doing so – like new Edge browser, or Office apps (where you can set the Office Theme).
The announcement on Microsoft 365 functionality adds for August 2019 highlighted additional Dark Mode support coming to Outlook mobile apps and Outlook.com, saying, “Dark Mode is not only easier on the eyes and may extend battery life, it also enables you to comfortably continue using your device in places where the default bright mode isn’t appropriate, like darkened airplanes and movie theaters.”
So kids, next time you want to go and watch a movie & catch up on your email, make sure you’ve Dark Mode on!
As Samsung recently released the new Galaxy Note 10 premium phone (some versions later than the now infamous Note 7 with battery issues), one prominent new feature may have inadvertently caused a headline during the last week. “Microsoft’s Your Phone App is Down” might have made some readers question, what is Your Phone anyway? (It’s back up now, btw).
Your Phone is a PC and companion iOS or Android app that lets the user of both device sync data and other experiences between them. Initially focussed on photo sharing, it grew to encompass other areas like allowing you to view and reply to text messages on your phone, using the PC’s screen & keyboard instead, thus avoiding any embarrassing auto-correct moments.
The photo sync between phone and PC is more real-time than synching via OneDrive or similar, and it’s a bit more usable for many. But since the May 2019 update to Windows 10, there have been a load of other changes to Your Phone.
It’s possible to share notifications from mobile apps – so you could see Android notifications shown on your PC, too – the goal being that in time, you’d be able to view and respond to them on your computer. If you set it up, do so carefully – you don’t want to be getting notifications on your PC that your phone has sent, for stuff that the PC is already notifying you for… like Outlook, or Teams. Otherwise, you’ll be getting a blizzard of notifications to the point of ignoring them all.
Finally, if you have a Samsung device on the extensive list of currently one, you can share your screen between phone and PC. The plan is, this would allow you to fully operate your phone – including making and taking calls – from your PC, and it’s likely that this will end up growing to other Samsungs and to other manufacturers.
When moving between countries, one of the tricks the traveller needs to decide is how to handle the switch of time zone. Do you set your watch to the destination time as soon as you board the plane, or only when the pilot announces, in his or her ever-so distincive pilot tone, what the local time is on arrival?
Also, do you wait for your phone to pick up the destination time zone automatically, or do you set it manually? If you have a Fitbit or other wearable, do you want it to pick up the time from your phone or do you force it on departure? Decisions, decisions…
Frequent travellers tend to have pearls of wisdom on how to deal with jet lag – like get your mind in the destination time zone and keep it there (ie. If you’re out having dinner after arrival, do not keep saying that it’s really 4am; it’s 8pm now and you can’t go to bed for at least another two hours), or get the sun – or even a bright light – on the back of your knees. It’s a lot easier to handle the differing time zones using your PC…
Outlook – whenever an appointment is created, its date and time are recorded as an offset from UTC, and the time zone it’s due to take place in is also noted. If you’re creating meetings or appointments which are in a different time zone, like travel times, then it may be worth telling Outlook by clicking the Time Zone icon in the ribbon, and then selecting the appropriate TZ – especially useful if you’re moving between time zones during the appointment itself, and don’t want to run the risk of horological befuddlement.
If you’re booking a load of appointments in another time zone – eg. you’re working in another country for a few days and creating appointments with people in that locale – then it’s even worth switching the TZ of your PC whilst you do the diary-work, to save a lot of clicking around in setting the appropriate time zone specific to each meeting.
The best way to do this would be to show your second time zone in the Outlook calendar – in the main Outlook window, go to File | Options | Calendar and select the second one to show; when you’re ready to switch between your local TZ and the remote one, just click the Swap Time Zones button to switch the PC (and Outlook) between the different zones.
Windows 10 – In the Settings | Date & time menu, there’s an option to tweak how Windows deals with time and time zones – some of which might be applied by policy and therefore greyed out for you. Like phone OSes, Windows 10 has the option of setting time zone automatically.
If you’re going to use the time zone swapping in Outlook as per above, switching time zones before you actually travel, then it’s worth disabling the automatic mode as Windows can get itself properly confused; the default time zone will change, and Outlook will end up showing the same time zone for both primary and secondary.
Using the old fashioned Windows control panel time settings applet, you can choose to show a second time zone in the clock on the system tray – in the Date & time settings, look to the right and you’ll see Add clocks for different time zones.
The Alarms & Clock app in Windows 10 shows a map of the world with your choice of locations, and the moving daylight line so you can see what’s happening around the globe. A good alternative to that exec boardroom display nonsense, that you might expect to see gracing the wall of your average corporate hot shot.
On the mobile platforms that still survive, the highly-regarded and rightly popular “Outlook” mobile apps have no relation to the Outlook desktop Windows app which first appeared with Office 97, before smartphones were a glint in anyone’s eye. Mobile Outlook has hundreds of millions of downloads on both iOS and Android; quite a feat, as later this year Windows Mobile sinks quietly beneath the waves.
The genesis of Outlook on the phone as we know it today, is perhaps the acquisition of a company called Accompli 5 years ago, and a great deal of refinement and effort since.
Somewhat interestingly, traces of the same app have come to Windows as well – namely the Mail and Calendar app(s) that are in the box on Windows 10. Look back to ToW 445, and you’ll see that the names for the apps are outlookcal, outlookmail and outlookaccounts. Stick a “:” on the end and you can run them from a prompt.
e.g. Hit WindowsKey+R then enter outlookcal: and you’ll jump straight into the Calendar app.
Both have come a very long way – at first release, they were pretty basic, but they’re now so well featured that most people could use them as their primary email and calendar apps, most of the time.
The Calendar app is functionally pretty similar to the Outlook desktop app, except when it comes to working with other people – there’s no way to view someone else’s calendar, for example, but for a personal diary of appointments it’s really very good. And if you want the best of both worlds, you can connect your Office 365 account to both Outlook – as might be your primary way of working – and to the Mail and Calendar apps, for some side benefits and quicker ways of getting some things done.
Go into the settings on the Calendar app, then Manage accounts, then + Add account… or just Win+R then outlookaccounts: and you’ll be able to add your Office 365 account onto both Mail and Calendar.
If you have multiple calendars connected – like home Office 365, Gmail or Outllook.com accounts as well as your corporate one – you could selectively enable them for display in the app, and the set of calendars that are shown will also appear in the agenda if you click on the clock / date on your taskbar. You can also see your upcoming appointments in a live tile on the Start menu, if you still use such things.
You’ll also see your next appointment on the Windows Lock Screen if you have it enabled under Lock screen settings.
You may want to go into the Notifications & actions settings page (just press Start and begin typing notif…) and turning off Calendar notifications, or you’ll get a blizzard of reminders from desktop Outlook and the Calendar app.