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.

609 – A modern soliliquy

clip_image002The legendary science fiction writer and 20th century soothsayer Arthur C Clarke famously wrote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. If you have a relatively cheap bit of hardware like an Alexa or a Google doohicky, you’ll be familiar with the wonder when you say something from an adjacent room, and it not only understands you but gives you a response immediately.

And when you’re leaning directly over it shouting “Alexa! STOP!” and it bravely blinks while continuing whatever it was doing, you’ll no doubt curse how stupid the thing is, even though from a computer science perspective, what happens most of the time is truly remarkable. In 1986, it certainly seemed like something belonging to the technological era of dilithium crystals.

We’re now used to giving voice commands to our phone, or to our car – yet many people don’t speak to their PC. Maybe it’s a legacy of not wanting to look like an eejit sitting in an open plan office talking to your computer. Now that most of us are still WFH, though, does it matter?

clip_image004

Windows 10 had a dictation feature which has been overhauled for Windows 11 – launch it by pressing WindowsKey + H and you’ll get a pop up which will let you dictate into any application or text box – just click the microphone icon to get started.

Settings allow you to auto-punctuate (though maybe not quite as nuanced as one might want), and to keep the voice typing function closer to hand so clip_image006by enabling the launcher,  you can start dictation just by pressing Win+H rather than having to click the mic icon first.

Give it a try – start reading aloud at normal speed from a book or a magazine and here’s betting you will be amazed at the speed and accuracy. It’s certainly quicker than typing, for most people.

For more detail, check out Use voice typing to talk instead of type on your PC (microsoft.com)

Also see What’s the difference between a soliliquy and a monologue?


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.