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]

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.

Tip o’ the Week 499 – Cortana resurrection?

clip_image002Cortana 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.

clip_image004In 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.

clip_image006The 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.

clip_image008If 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.

clip_image010The 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.

Tip o’ the Week 496 – Dark Mode marches on

clip_image002Back 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.

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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).

Microsoft recently put out a groovy video to highlight Dark Mode across a variety of apps and device types, and some commentary about why and when. It’s even come to Outlook.com as well.

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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!

Tip o’ the Week 495 – Your Phone updates

clip_image002As 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.

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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.

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Tip o’ the Week 488 – Time Zone Travelling

clip_image002Heading somewhere nice this summer? Perhaps somewhere hot and busy, such as Las Vegas?

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?

If pilots all sound the same, what about air-traffic controllers?

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 sunor even a bright light – on the back of your knees. It’s a lot easier to handle the differing time zones using your PC…

clip_image003Outlook – 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 clip_image005time zones during the appointment itself, and don’t want to run the risk of horological befuddlement.

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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.

clip_image009Windows 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.

clip_image011Using 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.

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Tip o’ the Week 478 – O365 and Windows’ Mail and Calendar

clip_image002On 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.

clip_image004Somewhat 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.

clip_image006The Calendar app is functionally pretty similar clip_image008to 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.

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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.

Tip o’ the Week 465 – Cortana, remind me To-Do sync

clip_image002The ongoing post-Wunderlist improvements to To-Do, continue apace. The app has clip_image004been updated again recently, to include a bunch of additional functionality, like Cortana integration.

In fact, the Store listing name for To-Do is now appended with some additional context of what it can now do, at least if your language is English and you’re in US, UK, India or Australia.

clip_image006By asking Cortana to remind you of something, she’ll add it to your Outlook Tasks and To-Do reminders – if you’re set up that way – and you can manage lists within the To-Do app itself, or access the same To-Do Lists or Reminders from within the Cortana Notebook.

clip_image008You don’t even need to go into the Cortana UI (or say “Hey Cortana”) to add things to be reminded – any app that implements Share functionality, like the Edge browser’s Share page toolbar command – will let you target Cortana Reminders.

clip_image010clip_image012You can set a reminder time, which will then sync to Outlook Tasks and on to To-Do, if you’ve set up Office 365 or Outlook.com integration, and will trigger a reminder using those mechanisms (get ready for toast overload…) Alternatively, get Cortana to ping you when you arrive at a place or next talk with a known contact.

Cortana’s past tells a good story, and her future is changing somewhat – after deciding to stop positioning her as a potential competitor to Amazon Alexa or Google assistants, a forthcoming release of Windows 10 will break the bond between Windows Search & Cortana, and the voice prompts from Cortana during Windows Setup will be silenced when installing a non-Home version of Windows too.

Tip o’ the Week 464 – Previewing PDFs

If you spend time handling files in Windows Explorer (or File Explorer, as its now called), you’ll likely be famclip_image002iliar with the various options for clip_image004tweaking the views that you’re presented with.

If dealing with photos, particularly, it’s great to show extra-large icons clip_image006and switch on the Details pane, which will give you additional stats about any one file if you click on it – even if some of the data points are somewhat lost on a point & shoot phone camera user.

But when dealing with many pictures where you could be looking for subtle differences in multiple similar files, or if browsing documents that you want to quickly identify without having to open them all up, the Preview Pane becomes very useful.

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It’s especially so if you resize it to be more like 50% the window width, when you may want to read the first chunk of a document rather than just see its general shape.

clip_image010Windows 10, however, doesn’t have a built-in handler to preview PDF files, so you’re forced to open them up one-at-a-time unless you install some software…

Even if you like using the default PDF viewing facility in Edge browser (or favour some other reader): in order to preview within Explorer, you’ll need to have the Adobe Acrobat Reader installed, though it doesn’t have to be the default app to handle PDFs.

  • Start by going to https://get.adobe.com/uk/reader/ and clicking the big Install now button, having first decided if you want to allow the other guff that the publisher suggests you might wish to enjoy as well
  • clip_image012At the end of installation, you get to choose whether to have Acrobat as your default PDF app, and if you wish to stop it nagging you should you decide “No”.
  • Now launch the Acrobat Reader, and it will show you an empty list of previously opened files. Go to the Edit clip_image014| Preferences menu, and under the General settings group, choose Enable PDF thumbnail previews … and after a brief spot of installing another component…
  • Et voila!
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