649 – Exploring SharePoint libraries

clip_image002SharePoint is now old enough that it could walk into a bar and buy itself a beer. It has changed a lot over the versions; starting out as a server product that would produce “portals” (or “digital dashboards”) it grew quickly to being rather more document-centric. SharePoint became the back-end for OneDrive for Business storage, and both have evolved a long way.

Two years ago, SharePoint was said to be used by over 200 million users. The following year, the Gartner MQ had it way out in front on the “Ability to Execute” Y-axis and slightly behind only one other supplier on the “Completeness of Vision” X-axis. It won’t be long now for the next MQ report to appear.

Nowadays, SharePoint underpins quite a lot of Microsoft 365 functionality, such as apps like Lists which provide a groovier UI over the top of the base web services, and the document oriented collab in Teams.

clip_image004If you look at a file library in Teams, you’ll see a bunch of SharePoint-y options – you can Sync the content offline and it will be held offline, using OneDrive to sync it (and if you like, syncing only the files you’ve opened rather than the whole shebang).

clip_image006The Sync’ed libraries show up in the Windows Explorer app, and in any number of applications’ File | Open / Save dialog boxes, so you can access and interact with the files through the apps you use rather than browsing to SharePoint.

You’ll see a collection of folders that have been set up to Sync, shown with your organization name, alongside any personal OneDrive and OneDrive for Business synced libraries.

The Download option (next to Sync on the Toolbar in Teams), creates a single ZIP file your computer, with the entire contents of the folder you’re looking at, so use it carefully.

clip_image008One somewhat overlooked option further to the right of the toolbar (or may be on the ellipsis (“…”) menu): Add shortcut to OneDrive. This creates a shortcut link to the current SharePoint folder within your main OneDrive for Business storage, making it easy to find that SharePoint folder in the future, even though it’s not synced offline. The Add shortcut option is also visible on the ellipsis to the right of sub-folders when viewed in SharePoint or Teams.

Don’t add shortcuts to libraries – or sub-folders – which are already being Synced offline. That would be bad.

One downside to the OneDrive shortcut approach is that it just dumps the link into “My Files”, which is the root folder in OneDrive. The shortcut is named the same as the original source – so if you have lots of Teams folders with the same name (eg “Documents”), they will clash with each other as adding a new link would try to create a shortcut with the same name as one that exists already.

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One solution would be to create a subfolder in OneDrive, called Sites (or similar), and after creating the shortcut to your latest Teams/SharePoint site, go to the root OneDrive folder and move your new shortcut – maybe renaming it too, so you can see what its parent site was (since the shortcut doesn’t make it clear what the source SharePoint site is) – you’d then have a Sites folder with lots of Shortcuts like Project Team – Documents etc.

Another side benefit of using shortcuts rather than Syncing offline, is that if you have multiple PCs – or feel like accessing OneDrive through a browser on a different machine altogether – you will always have access to the same collection of shortcuts, whereas the Sync offline capability is configured separately on each machine.

647 – Power of the Toys

imageAfter Windows 95 appeared on 25 August 1995, one of the later updates was to release a bunch of tweaks and addons which had been built to enhance the OS, but not considered mainstream enough to include them in the box – the Windows 95 PowerToys. They included such amazing advances as a round clock, or tools to help manage the country of your modem. Some more history of the PowerToys was covered back in 2005 by veteran commentator Raymond Chen.

In 2019, the Power Toys name was dusted down for a new run at building addins to Windows, this time using an open source approach; the vision document lays out what the team wants to achieve, and they are steadily releasing new versions with fixes, improvements and new features. You can find Power Toys in the Microsoft Store, or if you like to do to prove your geek creds, you can go straight to GitHub and clip_image002download it.

Recently, v0.62 came out and added some new functions, like a draggable box (Screen Ruler) which shows you the exact number of pixels between the start point and the mouse – useful if you’re looking to figure out how large a part of your screen is.

There’s clip_image004a neat Text Extractor tool which can take a selected area of an image and read the text within it straight to the clipboard – handy if you needed to get the serial number from a piece of electronics; take a picture on your mobile of the tiny writing on the back of the device, and quickly extract the details for pasting into some other app or website.

Other PowerToys of note include the Mouse Utilities, which can help find the mouse on screen – a double-tap of the CTRL key and you’ll get a temporary spotlight on the mouse, which can be super useful if you have multiple monitors and are not quite sure where the pointer has gone.

643 – Wireless extensions

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A computer on every desk and in every home”; that original Microsoft motto, all the way back from a time when any sane person would have said it was nuts. Looking back now, though – hands up, who has only the one computer at home?

clip_image004[4]The WindowsKey+P shortcut key has been used since Windows 7, for sending your screen output to another device. At one point, this was maybe a meeting room’s projector – hence “+P”. You’d plug it into the VGA port on your laptop, press Win+P and you’re away. These days, does anyone “project”? Or just mirror or extend their desktop to another connected display or monitor?

You’ll commonly be able to wirelessly “project” to a large screen on the wall in a meeting room nowadays, rather than having to faff about with ceiling-mounted projectors, with all their bulb issues, noisy fans and the multitude of connectors required.

clip_image006[4]Windows 10 and 11 has a nice wireless projection UI, used to “Cast” to a wirelessly-available device, such as a TV which uses the somewhat messy Miracast standard. Either through native support, or by adding a media stick like Roku, Chromecast or FireTV, most TVs can be made to receive the display output of your laptop.

One somewhat underappreciated feature, though, is the ability to set your PC to be the recipient of wireless projection from another machine. This could be used to show something to a nearby colleague, displaying your desktop on their PC, or to share your PC screen to a room where someone else is currently plugged into the screen / projector, and you can project to their machine rather than unplugging them.

Lesser known is the ability to wirelessly extend your desktop to another PC, effectively using it as a 2nd monitor.

clip_image008[4]To kick off proceedings, press Start and type project to find the shortcut to Projection Settings.

If you haven’t set it up previously, you’ll need to add the Wireless Display optional feature; have a look through the others in the same dialog to see if there’s anything else that takes your fancy.

After adding Wireless Display, clip_image010[4]you’ll be able to set various options about how and when to receive connections. Start the “Connect” app on the destination PC and you can run a source desktop in a window or make it full-screen.

clip_image012[4]This projection feature can be used to extend the desktop of your main machine onto a second PC.

If you have a spare laptop or a home desktop PC which has Wi-Fi capability, you could set it up to be the recipient of projection from your main work machine, as long as they’re both on the same wireless network, and without the need to join in domains or have the icy grip of corporate control extended to your own hardware.

Select the option to extend your desktop to the remote machine and you can use it just like an additional monitor.

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As many of us are used to having multiple screens in our home office, it could be worth carrying a second laptop if you go into an actual office where decent 2nd screens might not be available.

Having better kit at home than in the office is just one thing to deal with when going back to a workplace


641 – What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?

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Time-telling technology has always been a hot-bed of invention, from the radically precise first marine chronometer in the early 18th century, allowing more accurate navigation on long sea voyages, to atomic clocks that can measure time with the accuracy of one millionth of a second over 10 years.

clip_image004Computers and smart phones probably never need your intervention to set the time, except when travelling abroad and you want to manually manage the time zone – if you prefer not to let the machine do that for you. To play with the time settings in Windows, just right-click on the clock in the system tray and choose to adjust from there.

clip_image006If you’d like to know what the actual time is, maybe after a power cut has blanked the clock on your cooker or you need to adjust because of Daylight Savings Time, how do you know what the real time is? Call the Speaking Clock? Switch on TV news and wait for the clock in the corner to click over one more minute?

Even better than that, check out time.is, a service synchronized with an atomic clock and which purports to figure out how accurate your computer’s clock is compared with the real time. Open the time.is site on your mobile phone and you’re ready for next time you have to set the clock on your video recorder or bedside alarm.

The chronometer (“time” and “measure”) evolved from a ship’s device for navigation and became a byword for a really accurate watch (they even had competitions until the late 1960s for the manufacturer who could make the most accurate timepiece – right up until the Japanese started beating the organising Swiss at their own game, so they took their ball away and went home). Meanwhile chronographs (“time” and “write”) were devices made to accurately measure time gone by, such as at the request of France’s King Louis XVIII, who wanted to know exactly how long his horse races lasted. Early devices actually marked the passage of time on the dial with a pen.

clip_image008In Windows, you can easily time events or have countdown timers that alert you when your eggs are boiled or it’s time to start working again – look in the Swiss Army Knife that is the Clock app. You can display multiple timers in one window if necessary, make a single timer go full screen (useful if you’re presenting and counting down to getting started) or pop out to a side window.

If you wear an old-fashioned watch, you may have a simple way to measure elapsed time –  some will have built-in timers, and others will have a moveable bezel which lets you rotate the zero-marker to where the minute hand is pointing at the start of something you want to time.

clip_image010clip_image012If you look at the watch a few minutes from now, you’ll see how many markers on the bezel the minute hand has moved on by – not exactly sub-second accurate but it’s good enough for the “about 10 minutes” type measurement.

You could also reverse the process and set the bezel’s 50 minute marker at the minute hand, so counting down 10 minutes towards the zero marker instead. You do need to keep an eye on it as there’s no alarm.

clip_image014Contemporary chronographs are analogue watches with built-in stopwatch functions, usually controlled by start and stop buttons on the side. They may count to fractions of a second marked around the edge, and some sport Tachymetre marking around the outside – designed to let you calculate how fast something is travelling as it goes over a set distance, or how far you’ve travelled if you know your constant speed.

It’s hardly red-hot technology, but millions of watches have this fantastically complicated but nowadays basically useless feature. They have to sell wrist furniture somehow.

Perhaps the most over-sold and fantastically-named wrist watch from the 1960s was the now re-issued Croton Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver – a single device that could be used for so many things as it combined various chronograph and bezel-rotating features in one 38mm-wide watch, billed as a “wrist-sized computer”.

Just make sure you have a magnifying glass handy to be able to read all the tiny markers and numbers on it.

638 – Tracking and Mapping

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Looking back over the smartphone era of the last 15 or so years, one of the most transformative technologies is the confluence of mapping and geo-location, providing route guidance, finding things and even people. How did we manage to make our way around cities before maps in the palm of our hands? Just exit a tube or subway station anywhere in the world, and observe the herds of people spinning around looking at their phone trying to get a GPS fix.

Although Microsoft ceded the mobile phone space around 5 years ago, effectively leaving Android and iOS as the only options, the Bing Maps service still survives, even if fewer websites and mobile apps make use of it today. clip_image003[4]Windows 11 comes with a built-in Maps app which offers some decent functionality (and offline use), but lacks some of the features of Bing Maps in a browser, like the Ordnance Survey view showing public footpaths and other attractions in the UK (if you have the country setting to United Kingdom, that is).

Given the lack of “Bing Maps mobile” – and the commensurate lack of usage – the data that sits alongside may be less accurate, too; look at the reviews on the Windows Maps app in the store, and the main complaints are from people who don’t want it at all or comments about the map and PoI data being stale.

clip_image005[4]Some neat features in Bing Maps make it stand out from others – the Bird’s Eye view is cool, though not always as fresh or widely available as it used to be.

The team still updates imagery for the web view, provides data to the awesome 3D Cities feature in Windows Maps and contributes to the amazing scenery in Flight Simulator (even if some modders are switching Flight Sim to using Google Maps instead).

Bing Maps in a browser does sometimes offer a City Flyover option, which is akin to the Flight Sim view.

clip_image007[4]clip_image009[4]Bing’s Streetside can be sparse compared to Google’s Street View, even though the Google Maps car is sometimes thwarted with a “None Shall Pass” situation. Search the web and there are many – some NSFW – weird attractions found on Street View.

Some odd things can be found on Streetside too.

Apple used Google Maps data for its own maps app on the iPhone at first, but replaced with its own service which was at first poorly received. 10 years later, Apple Maps – available, of course, only to fruity device users – does a much better job and purports to be less cavalier with the user’s data than the advertising company. Despite a much larger number of users flocking to the universally available Google Maps, Apple Maps provides a good service for iOS users, and is there by default.

clip_image011[4]If you choose to surrender the use of your personal data to the advertising industry, Google Maps does offer some very useful capabilities in recording where you’ve been; it will remind you where you parked your car and let you see if you’ve visited a particular place before, and when.

clip_image013[4]If your family and friends consent, you can also share your whereabouts in real time, showing a pin in the map where they are, and when the location was last recorded.

This could be handy for checking if your kids are where they’re supposed to be, for friends arranging to meet or just knowing when to expect someone to come home. You can enable sharing of your location to each specified contact for a limited time or until it’s turned off, and it will also let you see their name, picture and other info including (!) battery level of their phone.

clip_image015[4]Sign into Google Maps on your computer, and you’ll be able to keep track of people a little more easily, too (as well as manage your own location sharing), and review your own timeline of where you’ve been. It’s usually somewhat fascinating and sometimes a little creepy.

Fortunately, you can choose to edit or remove certain items of data, export it to other formats or disable the collection of it altogether.

You give up some control of personal data, and you get some benefit from it.

As some say, them’s the breaks.

634 – M’aidez, m’aidez

Quick Assist logoThe internationally recognized distress signal “May-day!”, as used by pilots heading for trouble among other scenarios, was chosen as an anglicisation of the French “m’aidez”, or “help me”, due to difficulties of understanding other terms over poor quality radio.

With much less serious consequences, those of us with a technical bent might often be asked to help family or friends who have problems with their computer, and may turn to remotely taking over their machine –  from desktop sharing in Teams or Skype, to using software that should be simpler for the technologically challenged to initiate so you can help them out.

TeamViewer is one such bit of software that’s relatively easy to install and configure, so it’s unfortunately a fave of the scammers who prey on vulnerable people by phoning them up and warning that Microsoft has detected a problem with their computer, and they need to get help to fix it.

Microsoft will never proactively reach out to you to provide unsolicited PC or technical support.

Quick Assist updateIf you do want to get or give help from a Windows PC, a venerable in-box inclusion called Quick Assist could be worth a look – it has recently been updated and is delivered via the Microsoft Store, which now has support for any Windows app and not just UWP and PWA. More on that announcement from Build, here.

Sharing security codeThe gist with Quick Assist is that you over the phone, you could talk your victim friend through the process to start it up (Start -> type assist ENTER), then you do the same. The first screen gives an option to enter a code provided, or if you are the one doing the remote assisting, click the button to Assist another person, and you’ll be given a time-limited alphanumeric code to provide the other party.

They type this is to the dialog on their end, and a secure connection is established, whereupon they can choose to share their screen in view-only mode, or they can offer to give you control.

After a couple of prompts to validate that this is really what they want to do, you would see the recipient’s desktop in a window and have a variety of control icons around it, like a short cut to run Task Manager on their machine, shut it down or send messages back and forth between both of you. Unfortunately, the chat history is not preserved but it’s a good enough way to give short instructions.

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632 – New Old Things

old and new shoesMicrosoft veteran Raymond Chen has a great developer blog, The Old New Thing, which inspired the subject line for this week’s Tip, coming as it does, hot on the heels of the Build developer conference. There is also timely news around refreshment of old productivity applications.

OneNote has featured plenty in ToW previously, including a mention in the recent Journaling tip, with a nod in SteveSi’s ongoing historical missive which described members of the development team unhappy with the change of name from its code-name “Scribbler”, referring to the new “OneNote” app as “Onay-No-Tay.

A few years ago, OneNote was dropped from the Office suite and was due to be replaced by the new “modern” version in the Windows (now Microsoft …) Store. For a while at least, that shiny new one got all the innovation, even if its brand-new architecture meant it missed a lot of the old app’s functionality. In a somewhat surprising but welcome turn-around, old OneNote was reprieved, and both apps are going to converge at some later point – ie the desktop one will pick up features that only exist in the Store app, and eventually that version will cease to be.

New OneNote UIOld OneNote UIPending an eventual confluence of the two OneNote Windows apps, the desktop one is gradually getting new functionality and a visual refresh. The graphics bring it into line with Windows 11’s theme of rounded corners, subtle animations and a gentle 3D feel. To some, blink and you’ll miss them, but it does make the app look quite a bit smarter.

There’s a more prominent “Add Page” buttonSort and add, with the page sort function that was added back in February 2022 alongside. There are a few other tweaks in the refresh that has started to roll out, like some new Ink functionality with Ink-to-shape and handwriting-to-text like in other Office apps.

More is to come, including improved sharing capabilities and a neat dictation functionality that would allow you to record a spoken explanation for something while using Ink to highlight or illustrate; when another user plays back your monologue, the ink will be synchronised too. For more info on what’s coming, see here.

Results of OCRCopy Text from ImageOne handy feature that has been in desktop OneNote for years but never made it into the Store version, is the ability to use OCR magic to extract text from images. Try pasting an image into a notebook, then right-click on it to Copy Text from Picture into the clipboard. It does a surprisingly good job, even when the pic is not very clear and if the text on it is really small.

Copying screen-grabs when someone is doing a demo in a browser, so you can get the long and complex URL for the thing they’re showing is a particularly useful way of using this feature.

626 – Android Link

clip_image002Leaving aside dewy-eyed recollections of Windows Phone, Android and iOS mirror Windows and MacOS in many ways – the latter being more closed and single-supplier while the former is relatively open and available from a large number of providers. Android has a far larger market share than iOS, even if the cognoscenti seem to flock to the Apple device.

Microsoft has made great strides in the Satya Nadella era to embrace other ecosystems, from releasing Office apps for iOS to wide support of Android to emulate some of the best bits of Windows Phone.

clip_image004One way of making your Android device more integrated to your Windows PC has just been refreshed and renamed – Phone Link.

Previously known as Your Phone, this app lets you access a variety of features of your phone from your PC; from reading and sending SMS messages and working with photos easily, to making and taking calls using your PC as a headset to the phone.

clip_image006The UI has been updated to follow Windows 11 design, the app is easy to set up and activate – head to aka.ms/phonelink.

There are some things you can’t easily do with Phone Link, though – while it will mirror notifications you receive on the phone, it doesn’t necessarily allow you to interact with the app that generated them (eg a notification from Twitter won’t let you open the Twitter app to view the full thing). It does allow you to clear notifications though, so if you’re the type with loads of unacknowledged notification badges on your phone, this could be a good way to get rid of them.

While on the topic of mirroring, it is also possible to use WhatsApp on your PC – so you can type messages and paste photos etc into WhatsApp messages, without dealing with the vagaries of autocorrect on the phone.

622 – Lights, camera, action!

Movie Maker logoMany years ago, computer operating systems competed for the attentions of those who cared about such things by bundling other apps and experiences that might previously have cost extra – media players, web browsers, simple word processors and the like. After the turn of the millennium, as consumer digital video started being a thing, editing packages were added to that list and Microsoft joined the fray with its Movie Maker offering, initially included as part of the much-maligned Windows ME.

Movie Maker is sadly no longer with us, and if you find something online that purports to be Movie Maker then it very likely isn’t. Bowing out finally in 2017, Windows Live Movie Maker (because everything was Live in the days, just as everything was .NET before that) had been developed to be a freely-downloadable and pretty capable video editing package, offering simple to use features to crop and adjust video, add incidental titles, music and the like. It was replaced with some much more basic video editing clip_image004capabilities in the Photos app, also appearing as “Video editor” if you search for that from the Start menu.

There must be a lot of stored up love for Movie Maker, as searching the web for it will give you hundreds of “Movie Maker alternative” downloads, many of which are even published in the Microsoft Store.

Be careful of the “Free+” clip_image005labels in the store, though… it probably means that after you spend an hour figuring out the often confusing UI of whatever app you’re trying out, it’ll knobble your video by only allowing you to save the first 2 minutes, or slapping a watermark on it unless you pay extra for the not-quite-so-free version.

Shotcut video editor

If you’d like a fully-featured, completely free† video editing application and are prepared to put in a bit of work to figure out how to use it, then look no further than Shotcut. It’s open source, cross platform, and has numerous extensions and addins to enable pretty much any kind of effect you may want.

† It’s in the Store, too, meaning it’s clean and keeps itself updated too but costs $10 since you no longer need to visit the ad-supported website to get updates, thus supporting the developer. Comme ci, comme ça.

Clipchamp video editorClipchamp

Another video editor of interest which manages to do a good job of having lots of powerful features but without being bewildering to use, is Clipchamp. It, too, is in the Store, though it’s actually browser-based so you can just go to the site, sign up for a free account and start playing.

The free version is missing functions from the paid-for ones, and also only lets you export video at DVD-quality resolution of 480p. Great if you’re planning to watch your vids on a 1990s CRT television.

If you want to use the more 2010 HD-era 1080p (the max res for Clipchamp, unlike the 2020s 4K that Shotcut and every modern smartphone can support), then you need to pay extra; a not-inconsiderable $19 per month, at least. A fact not lost on Brad Sams and Paul Thurrott at First Ring Daily, who commented on the fact that Clipchamp is being included in forthcoming versions of Windows 11 as a built-in app. Maybe pricing will change in time.

Yes, Microsoft acquired Clipchamp 6 months back, and hopefully its evolution will mean that in these tough times, it becomes a little less swingeing to use it properly. Find out some more about using Clipchamp, here.

Oh, one more thing. Sign into the Clipchamp app with a Microsoft.com email address rather than a Microsoft Account, and you’ll get an activation link sent via mail. Click that and you’ll be in the high-fidelity, first-class-travelling set of Business Platinum, for free. Bonus!

610 – Windows 11 Hokey Cokey

clip_image002The Hokey Cokey / Hokey Pokey is a childhood party tradition many of us will recall, where you put something in and take it out again, or a step forward then a step back. The transition from Windows 10 to Windows 11 aims to simplify the user interface to a large extent, hiding things that some people think just get in the way, while beautifying the stuff that remains.

clip_image004Power users might grind their teeth at some choices – like the context menu when you right-click on a file; it’s more spaced out (in terms of screen size) but designed to be clearer and more relevant, hiding some of the chaff that 3rd party applications might install.

It even adds some hitherto hidden features, like Copy as path, which puts the full path & name of the selected file into the clipboard, ready to be pasted into a file selection dialog, for example. Some common commands – like cut or copy – have been replaced with icons at either the top or bottom of the dialog. If you want to use the old-style menu with the full set of options, you can do that too by selecting Show more… or pressing SHIFT+F10.

You can disable the new menu if you prefer the old style – just run a single command from an elevated command prompt then use Task Manager to restart the Windows Explorer application (or reboot).

Another piece of Windows that’s had a refresh is the notification function – first appearing in Windows 8 and having redesigns with every variant of Windows since, this is an attempt to summarize alerts from multiple apps in a similar way to how smartphones do it.

clip_image005Windows 10 shows a little callout in the corner of the screen with the number of notifications to read; click on that or press WindowsKey+A and you’ll see a pane slide in showing notifications on the top, and a load of Quick Actions icons below.

clip_image007Windows 11 has cleaned the UI up somewhat, with notifications and Quick Actions being separated out – clip_image009look for a simple bubble with a number in the corner of the screen. Clicking on that or the date/time in the system tray (or press WindowsKey+N) displays notifications.

Pressing WindowsKey+A or just clicking on one of the network / sound / battery icons on the system tray will display the Quick Settings pop up, which can be tweaked by clip_image011clicking on the pen icon. You can easily remove settings you don’t use – like Battery Saver, maybe – and swap in others from a fairly short list. Perhaps that list will grow in time.

Also worth a note is that WindowsKey+W brings in widgets from the other side, showing news, weather, calendar etc.