601 – Time and Focus

clip_image002Twice a year, it seems, there’s a ToW article (passim) about the shocking time zone change that is about to hit us. Or may have already – some parts of Australia (NSW) have just moved into summer time while neighbouring areas (QLD) stayed on year-round time. Much of Europe is about to head back into winter time on the last day of October. One week later, most of the US will return to standard time, meaning that the US and Europe will be one hour closer for those 7 days. Arizona will revert to having a single time zone for the whole state.

Many Windows 10 users may have escaped knowing about the app known as Alarms & Clock, and the groovy World Clock which shows a map with pinned locations of your choice, detailing the current time in each. 

clip_image003

clip_image005The cartographically obsessed may note that when compressed into a small window, the exact locations of some pins might look awry, but expand it properly and they’ll move around as you would expect. In the example above, London looks to be in Bordeaux, Budapest has swapped with Bangui while NYC has inexplicably relocated to eastern Peru.

Especially useful when figuring out relativity of time zones and future dates, is the Compare feature which lets you see what the time will be at a chosen point for each of your pinned cities, on a particular date. Take for example, Monday 1st November, when in the space of one month, Sydney has moved two hours further away from London, yet the Atlantic is temporarily one hour shorter.

Well, the Clock app, as it’s now known – even though it doesn’t actually feature a clock per se, but let’s not split hairs –  has been given a UI polish as part of Windows 11, and one additional new feature pane – Focus Sessions. It was shared with Windows Insiders a couple of months back, but is now mainstream for Windows 11 users.

Long-time ToW readers may recall an internal-to-Microsoft app called FocusTime, which let the user run a timer to focus on a given task, while putting Outlook into Offline mode so you didn’t get any new emails, and setting Office Communicator/Lync status to Do Not Disturb so you didn’t get annoying IMs. Well, Focus Sessions in Clock is doing a similar job though without (yet, at least) the integration to Outlook and Teams.

clip_image006

As well as tracking the number of Focus Sessions you have, the app can also let you create and pin tasks with Microsoft To-Do to achieve at a later focus time. One slight grind at the moment is that the app only allows you to sign in with a Microsoft Account, not your Office Microsoft 365 / work identity, so you won’t be able to seamlessly integrate with other task management tools you might already be using, like Outlook Tasks or an M365 To-Do list.

The Focus Sessions feature is newly released and the team behind it is looking into how to integrate with other tools and services, such as the Focus Assist feature in Windows (which quietens notifications, formerly known as Quiet Hours). If you’d like to see improvements or new features in the Focus Sessions section of the Clock App, make sure you go to the Feedback Hub and either upvote existing suggestions or add your own (instructions here). For some more tips on using Focus Sessions, see here.

600 – Welcome to Windows 11

Just in time for the holiday season and for the ranges of updated PC kit that’s coming, clip_image002Windows 11 is nearly here – ETA October 5th 2021.

In December 2009, when ToW was only #1 (it took a year before the internal-to-Microsoft emails were published to the web, and years after that before www.tipoweek.com arrived), Windows 7 was only 6 months old, having replaced the Windows Vista predecessor which everybody loved so much (for some great insights into what happened during the dev cycle of Vista, see here and here).

Windows 7 was the bomb, then Windows 8 came along and failed to set the world on fire to quite the expected extent. Windows 8.1 fixed a lot of the complaints and generally speaking, all was good. Windows 10 came out 6 years after Windows 7 and for some was its true natural successor, and since mid-2015 it’s been very widely deployed, even if the mobile ambitions were less than realised.

clip_image004For a while it was thought there would be no new releases of Windows, just incremental updates (Windows as a Service if you like), but we are now on the cusp of the next big milestone – Windows 11.

There’s a lot to like about the major update from Windows 10, such as its refreshed UI, easier window management (especially if you have multiple monitors), improved security and streamlined performance to take better advantage of modern hardware, like the new range of Surface products which will ship with Windows 11.

Existing users will get the upgrade free of charge after October 5th, either by kicking it off proactively or by waiting for Windows Update to offer it.

If you feel like a weekend project and want to upgrade a home PC to Windows 11, there are ways to grab it sooner than 5th October – join the Windows Insiders program if you’re not already in (it’s free – just go to Settings / Windows Update and you’ll see an Insiders option), and you can choose to receive the Beta preview, and download it from Windows Update.

If you’d like to manage the upgrade a bit more (or do a clean install), you can grab the Beta Channel ISO file and run the update from there. The clip_image006current Beta version (stay away from Dev Channel unless you really know your onions) will be very near to the version that’s released (if not actually the same in everything but name), so going Beta now will get you on the ladder to receive the final bits very soon.

clip_image008There are some downsides, though – creaking old PCs may not be compatible – find out if yours is, by running the Health Check app.

The specs required to run Windows 11 were somewhat controversial when announced – only modern processors are supported, even though an older but powerful PC with beefy CPUs and lots of memory would normally be considered fine.

Trusted Platform Module 2.0 is also a requirement, as part of the base security platform: generally speaking, A Good Thing and not an issue for modern laptops. Older desktops – especially home-built ones – are less likely to have a TPM chip on board, and if there is, it’s probably not enabled by default.

Some features are still waiting to be delivered; the unveiling in June showcased the new Microsoft Store, and that would include Android apps which could be used in emulation on the PC – that’s still “coming soon”, along with a number of in-the-box app updates (like Paint, Photos, Mail & Calendar and more) which will arrive “later”.

If you want to get your hackles up on everything that’s wrong, check out Windows Weekly. It’s a fair accusation that the primary driver for Windows 11 is to add some juice to the PC market by encouraging people to buy new machines rather than keep upgrading old ones; but if your existing computer will run Windows 11, it’s a great looking and functionally improved update.

595 – Emoji reboot

clip_image002Emojis can trace their roots back to the first 🙂 from September 1982. Originally knows as emoticons or simply smileys, many of us have adopted these icons like a form of punctuation, especially in social media / Yammer / Teams type comments. This topic was last visited 4 years ago in ToW 391.

Emojis are mostly agreed and defined by the Unicode Consortium, which controls the Universal Coded Character Set, adopted by many systems to maintain compatibility between each other. When a user sends a symbol in a text message, the phone of its recipient needs to know which character was being sent or confusion may occur. Interpreting what the actual emoji symbol means is still down to the end user, and there are many pitfalls to avoid.

clip_image004Once both sender and recipient of a message or comment agree which emoji to display, the application or platform they’re each using still has to decide what it will look like, and sometimes the iconography – and therefore the subtext – will have changed over time; see the Pistol Emoji (emojipedia.org) as just one example.

Microsoft decided to adopt a “flat” emoji look in the Windows 10 timeframe, but that is starting to change again with the upcoming release of Windows 11 and the evolution of Microsoft 365 – as Art Director and “Emojiologist” Claire Anderson previewed, we’re going 3D and Fluent, due late this year. Oh, one more thing…

clip_image006

clip_image008

ToW reader Paul Robinson draws attention to the shortcut way of inserting emojis in Windows – it’s been a feature for a while now – just press WindowsKey + and it will allow you to insert emojis into pretty much anywhere that accepts text.

The UI for the emoji panel is changing in Windows 11 too, with GIFs and other types of symbol being included and the whole thing is easier to search. A useful tooltip shows you what the symbol represents, though as said before, be careful with the potential interpretation of some of them. Peachy.

clip_image010In Windows 10, the same keystroke brings up a simpler yet slightly more confusing UI. Both old and new (under the Symbols grouping) provide a neat way of finding and inserting clip_image012other special characters; arguably quicker than fishing about in the Office menu, and certainly better than faffing around with typing in ANSI codes.

Paul likes to start Teams channel names with an emoji, and if you want to illustrate one difference between old world and new, try using them in email subject lines and see just how they appear in Outlook clip_image014versus Outlook Web App… clip_image016

589 – When I’m naming Windows

clip_image002Great News! Another family of products has been announced during Inspire – previously a mega event held in Las Vegas, now a carefully-choreographed series of pre-recorded sessions being shown as-live with real people providing Q&A support. Many companies have moved their productivity and communications services to the cloud (Office 365 largely being supplanted by Microsoft 365 as more security and management stuff was added), and shifted some or all of their server estate to someone else’s datacenter too. Increasingly, if people were physically sitting in an office anymore, the only on-premises compute would be the PC they’re using (plus some networking gear, and a printer or two).

Windows 365 delivers a “Cloud PC” – literally a machine running Windows, which is remotely accessed by an end user and stays just like they left it when they disconnect, but is managed and secured centrally. As you may expect, there will be various SKUs depending on how capable you want it to be; Paul Thurrott opines that there will be many options, as “Microsoft is addicted to tiers”.

General Availability is due on 2nd August; it’s sits on top of the existing Windows / Azure Virtual Desktop, offering a per-user/per month pricing model (rather than a per-hour of use price) and providing a simpler management layer. Eventually, you’ll have the option of running Windows 11 but for now it’s Windows 10; there’s also the ability to run just an application and stream that to a remote device.

clip_image004Initially, at least, Windows 365 will be offered only to businesses already using Microsoft 365; the model being that you choose how many machines you want, and what size they’ll be (datacenter location, how much memory/CPU/storage etc), and the actual machine will be running in the Microsoft datacenter, allowing you to remotely access it from anywhere and on any device.

According to Mary Jo Foley, it will be reassuringly expensive so use cases will be carefully chosen rather than thinking everyone will sit at home running W365, accessing it over some ancient PC. For more details on machine sizing and the mechanics of provisioning and managing Windows 365, see here.

Interesting examples given during the announcement were the remote government of Nunavut, or having hundreds of interns joining Microsoft for the summer; normally they’d come to the office and be given a PC but since they’re all at home, the cost and time burden of configuring the PCs and shipping them out would have been high. Instead, they’re given a virtual desktop via Windows 365 – created en masse in a few minutes – and they connect to that from whatever kind of device they already have at home. When their tenure is up, their access is removed and there’s no data left behind on their iPad/Mac/Chromebook or home PC. Maybe 2022 could finally be the Year of the Linux Desktop?

For the rest of us; Windows 10 is still moving forward and the latest release due later this year has entered its latest stage of testing – Windows 10 21H2. And Windows 11 got another update to 22000.71, offering a variety of tweaks and polish. Even though Windows 10 is a modern OS with lots of great functionality, if you have already switched to Windows 11, using a machine with Win10 feels like going back in a time machine.

588 – Inside(r) Windows 11

clip_image002If you were hiding under a rock, you may have missed the unveiling of the next release of Windows. Early adopters on the Windows Insiders program (which can be joined in from the Windows Update settings page on Win10) can already upgrade to Windows 11; currently that means being in the Dev channel (the most aggressive in terms of pushing our updates), so if you’re willing to run the risk of suffering a bit of discomfort, then you can get access to the preview bits now – or maybe wait until a bit later in the year and a more complete and stable build will make it to the Beta channel. If you have a Thurrott.com account, see what Paul thinks about whether you should try it out or not.

clip_image004Windows 11 promises not only a design refresh, but an under-the-covers shift from a security and reliability perspective, which means the compatibility list is pretty restrictive – it’s being targeted at newest hardware that supports updated security and performance management features. While many fairly recent machines will pass the test, DIY home PCs and older laptops are not likely to cut the mustard. The Windows 11 update and support cadence has been unveiled recently too. Maybe the ideal solution will be to buy a new PC when Windows 11 arrives…

Microsoft people who set up their Insider enrolment as being associated with a @microsoft.com email address will see additional options around which Branch or Ring to use – if that’s you, then unless you’re technically self-sufficient and very comfortable with the level of pain you may feel, be careful. External users get to join Dev / Beta / Release preview Channel.

clip_image006

Improved and updated functionality includes not just the fancy new Taskbar and Start menu – there are lots of areas where deeper integration with app functions and the OS itself will help to make it a slicker experience overall.

The virtual desktop experience has been improved somewhat – you can set up multiple desktop environments, then easily switch and drag/drop apps between them, but there are improvements over the same feature in Windows 10 – you can set different backdrops/themes for each and they persist between machine reboots.

Press WindowsKey+TAB to see the desktops and manage the apps – that’s the same key that used to control the Win 10 Timeline feature which has now been removed.

clip_image008When it comes to moving windows around, there’s a greatly enhanced Snap experience, so you can arrange windows by either dragging them to the appropriate corner of the screen or by pressing WindowsKey+Z to bring up a dialog that will snap your current window to the selected location. Newly added is a 3-line view if you have a portrait-aspect display.

Some features that have been disclosed – like running Android Apps on Windows – will be delivered in later previews, and doubtless some that are present now will change before final release. There’s already been an update which adds more tweaks and fixes some bugs.

A “Windows Health Check” app was released briefly which would report if your PC was suitable for Windows 11, but was short on information as to why a particular PC might not be upgradeable, so the team has pulled the app for now and instead points to the info on Windows 11 Specifications. At least while it’s in Dev channel, it is possible to get Win11 on machines which don’t meet the bar, though there is a warning that your experience may not be all there and some things won’t work. YMMV.