Tip o’ the Week #131 – Shortcuts with Windows 8 Release Preview

This tip is being published out of sequence, like a few others before it, since it’s much more timely than it would be if published in mid-August (which is when it would otherwise be scheduled).

Windows homeEveryone must have seen Windows 8 by now, and many of you will be running the latest version, the Release Preview. If not, you can install by heading over here.

Like any new environment, Windows 8 can take a bit of getting used to.
There have been a few previous Tips o’ the Week to help. Here are a few more.

Using Metro apps instead of desktop ones

If you’re on a regular laptop or desktop PC (ie non-touch, with a keyboard & mouse), it can be a bit strange getting used to Metro apps – especially if there’s an equivalent on the desktop that you might normally use instead. There’s no better example than IE 10 in Metro and IE 10 on the regular desktop – it may take some effort to use the Metro version rather than simply clicking on the IE icon on the taskbar, or adding tabs to your existing IE desktop window…

Every time any major bit of software evolves, there are a few things that initially seem like a kludgy way of operating, or just an annoying change, even if they subsequently turn out to be an improvement. The Ribbon in Office, for one. Moving to Metro IE as the default browser you use, can be a bit like the day you stopped caring whether Windows showed you the extensions of known file types. Try it, get over it, and live it like every normal end user will.

One keystroke that will be invaluable to any QWERTY-toter with a Metro penchant is WindowsKey – Z, which clip_image002[1]displays the App Bar, showing some context-relevant options for the app.

In the News app, for example, the App Bar will show categories of news along the top of the screen. In the Finance app, the top of the screen shows navigation options whilst the bottom is concerned with pinning items to the main Start screen. Search on MSFT, for example, Pin to the start, and you have a quick way of looking at the current Microsoft stock price.

clip_image003[1]Metro IE is possibly the most App Bar-relevant application, however, since the section at the top of the screen is where IE Tabs are controlled and navigation between them sits; and the bottom is where the site address is entered, and where you can access tools like on-page Find, the “View on the desktop” capability that shows the app in the regular IE (useful for sites with addins that don’t work on Metro IE, eg apps with Silverlight addins), and the somewhat-yet-to-be-discovered “Get app for this site” option (commentary here).

clip_image004[1] If you browse to a site in Metro IE and it shows the spanner icon with a small “+”, then it means the site has a corresponding Metro App that can be downloaded, and the “Get app for this site” option won’t be grayed out…

Other shortcut keys of note:

  • In Metro IE, press ALT-D to display the App Bar and set the typing focus on the address bar, so you can enter a new site
  • CTRL-T creates a new Tab in Metro IE, and sets the focus to the address bar to type in the URL. This view will also show a list of icons of frequently used sites.
  • If you’re using multiple monitors, the keystrokes for switching the Metro App “window” between screens is WindowsKey – PgUp or PgDn, rather than WindowsKey –left or WindowsKey –right arrow which is the norm to switch windowed applications. The main Start screen can be flicked between monitors by the same Wnd-PgUp/PgDn trick.
  • WindowsKey – Q within a Metro app will let you search for content, with that app as focus. An example would be if you’re using Metro IE, then pressing Wnd-Q will let you enter a Bing search straight away. If you’re using the Mail app, the same key combo will search email content, etc. Essentially the same thing as showing the Charms, clicking on Search, entering the search term, then clicking the App you want to search within. Except, it’s a lot quicker. Obviously.
  • To send your machine to Sleep quickly on Windows 8 RP, try the following:  CTRL-ALT-DEL, ALT-S, TAB (to switch focus to the options for shutdown on the right), then Space or Enter to accept the top one – Sleep.

Remember the days when Microsoft keyboards had Sleep buttons? An idea ahead of its time: the PC hardware wasn’t really reliable enough at suspend/resume then, but now it is: and Sleeping a Win8 PC only takes 7 keys … that’s progress. Unless, of course you know different. Answers on, oh whatever. Zzzzzz.

More shortcuts for the Win8 RP are here.

Tip o’ the Week #122 – The Sky (Drive)’s the Limit!

clip_image001For years now, SkyDrive has offered a chunk of online storage to anyone who wanted to use it, if they had a Windows Live (aka Hotmail, MSN Messenger, .NET Passport & others) user ID. Adding Windows Live Mesh to the mix gave the ability to not just store and share stuff online, but be able to back up files automatically from your PC, “to the cloud…”.

SkyDrive and Mesh have both featured a fair bit in ToWs passim (#52, #69, #109…) though some of those missives have been superseded by more recent developments.


SkyDrive upgrade

One such change has been the release of a PC client for SkyDrive, so it’s not reliant on the Live Mesh software. It now provides easy access to SkyDrive storage directly from within Windows Explorer, and therefore any other application. Even though there’s a preview SkyDrive Metro app for Windows 8, this is the first time we’ve made it so deeply integrated to Windows through the provision of a PC client.

The differentiator here is that Mesh provided a way of backing up a maximum of 5Gb to “SkyDrive” (somewhat oddly, not taken out of the total 25Gb allocation from the regular SkyDrive), clip_image005and made visible from the Windows Live Devices page. There was no really easy way to retrieve stuff that had been synced by Mesh into the magic 5Gb bucket, other than viewing the folder within the browser and downloading a file by saving it to your PC then opening it, or by synching the folder onto another PC and downloading it that way.

The fab new SkyDrive app, however, exposes the full online storage facility just like it’s any other folder that happens to be on the network – so you can move files around, double-click on them to open in native applications, right-click for properties etc. If you use SkyDrive on multiple PCs, it could be used to synchronise your content with each PC and with the online SkyDrive service, meaning you’ve always got the ability to get to your files from any browser. Live Mesh could still be useful to synch content between PCs only (eg copy all your music between two PCs at home).

Other clients are available too – Windows Phone, iPad, iPhone, Mac …


Get your 22Gb free, quickly!

It’s worth noting that the previous 25Gb storage limit on SkyDrive has been reduced, so now you “only” get 7Gb. It turns out that less than 1% of SkyDrive’s existing user base had more than 7Gb of storage in use, so the gratis amount has been reduced somewhat. Never fear, though – existing users can request a free upgrade to retain your 25Gb of space, though don’t delay… it’s a time-limited offer (see here and here). It’s also now possible to buy additional storage if you want – £32 per year will get you 100Gb, for example, surely a price worth paying to ensure all your photos and home docs are backed up and accessible from anywhere…?

· For more info on the new SkyDrive features, see here.

· For some commentary on the new SkyDrive service, see here, and for info about how much better this is than the vaguely comparable DropBox, Apple iCloud or Google Drive services, see here.
(DropBox, for example, gives you 2Gb free, and charges $20 per month for 100Gb, as a comparison).

Tip o’ the Week #121 – Networking with Lync

clip_image001This week, we have a semi-rehash of earlier tips (#51 and #67), based on some investigation work that’s been done inside Microsoft’s own IT group.

If you’re going to join a Lync call (especially if you’re using video or app sharing, using a Roundtable/Polycom CX5000 device etc), then best practice is to use a wired network connection. If you’ve a laptop which is on WiFi, then you need think about your connection if you want the call quality to be at its best.

Networking preference

Windows 7 and Windows 8 prefer wireless networks, on the basis that if you’re connected to a WiFi network, then there’s a reasonable chance you’re on a laptop and therefore you’re likely to move around.

Lync really wants a nice, fast, low-latency network connection. In a typical Microsoft office environment, most users have laptops and most will be connected to wireless, meaning the WiFi is going to be pretty clip_image002congested, compared to a wired network at least. And congested, slow(er) networks don’t make for great call quality (as is sometimes evidenced by the network connectivity icon).

The Lync client is network-aware, though, and will default to using the highest-performing network it can. So, if you’ve a laptop that’s on WiFi and plugged into Ethernet, then Lync will use the wired network in preference. There’s one important consideration though – Lync can’t switch an in-progress call between WiFi and wired!

So if you establish a call on Wireless, then see the dreaded red bars that tell you all is not well with your network, simply plugging in a network cable won’t do you any good. You’d have to drop the call and re-establish it to make clip_image003a difference.

To be sure which network you’re using for the call, fire up Task Manager – right-click on the Taskbar and choose Task Manager, or just press CTRL-SHIFT-ESC.

In Windows 7, select the Networking tab, and if you’re using Windows 8 Consumer Preview, look under Performance and you’ll see little graphs of how your networks are doing. This will help you see which network is being used to carry all that data.

A simple way of checking the behaviour is to use the Lync client’s test call facility and see which one spikes…

If the WiFi is taking the brunt, then make sure the wired network is connected OK, then disconnect the call and re-establish it, and you should see the wired network usage jump up.

No real need to disable WiFi, but if you have a switch on your laptop to do that, and you’re a suspicious sort (or untrusting type), then doing so may hurry the process along.


Tip o’ the Week #120 – The colour of time

clip_image001This week’s tip is a lovely little Windows app, recommended by Ceri Morris.

It’s a little like the sunrise alarm clocks which start your day by gently lighting the room, or the sleep alarms which gradually fade out the radio instead of a sudden silence in place of music.

This free application, called f.lux, changes the colour temperature of your Windows PC’s display,  based on what the time is. Once the sun goes down, it starts to change the bright white of your Windows backgrounds to a nice soft glow, with the intent that your eyes will adjust to the softer lighting system when you’re looking at the screen in the evening.

Ditto, early in the day, the less harsh, less bright white screen will be more soothing on the peepers first thing, and that will be altogether better. It’s possible to over-ride temporarily, if you’re doing work that is colour-sensitive (like photo editing etc), and you can preview the effect so when you install the software, you’ll be able to see what it looks like throughout the course of night and day.clip_image002

Thousands of comments on the f.lux website list people saying they’re sleeping better since their evening PC use with f.lux helps their eyes relax before settling down for the night. If work/life balance is a problem for you, then maybe you should stop using your work PC in the evening… but if you do need/want to use a computer after the sun goes down, give this tool a try and see how you get on with it.

Check out the site to install F.lux – http://stereopsis.com/flux/ – It’s really rather good.
Now, go to bed!

Tip o’ the Week #119 – Using Outlook in multiple windows

clip_image002This week’s tip comes courtesy of Jon Morris, who is agog at the way lots of people switch between their Inbox and their Calendar, in Outlook. Hands up if you routinely use the Navigation Pane on the lower left of the main window, to switch between these two most commonly used folders?

OK, put your hand down now. People will stare. As an aside, the Navigation Pane was introduced in Outlook 2003, and was codenamed the “WunderBar”. Honestly.

Long-term ToW readers may recall Tow #10 (over 2 years ago), which covered some Outlook shortcut keys – eg press CTRL-1 to switch the current window to “mail” (whichever folder of email you last had open), CTRL-2 to “Calendar”, CTRL-3 for Contacts etc. That’s one way of switching the focus around, and certainly quicker than clicking on the WunderBar.

clip_image003Anyway, back to Jon’s tip. If you right click on any folder or any of the shortcuts in the Navigation Pane, you’ll have the option of opening that folder in a new window, so you can switch between (for example) your Inbox and Calendar windows, by any of the various means you might favour (ALT-TAB, WindowsKey+number, hovering over the application on the Task bar etc). This works well if you have multiple monitors, so you could (say) have your Inbox on the main screen and the Calendar/Task list on the second one.

Now the smart bit here is that Outlook will remember what windows you had open, what folders they were looking at, and on which monitor they were displayed, if you close the application down by going to the File menu and choosing Exit. Closing the app using the Window Close “X” or by right-clicking on the application in the task bar will not remember the window positions, so if you get used to leaving the Outlook application from its own file menu, you’ll get the same window setup every time you restart.