Tip o’ the Week #202 – Screen grabs, reprised

clip_image004Previous ToWs have covered how to capture the screen image on Windows, but things have moved on a little of late and it seems like a good time to highlight how to take an image of the screen on a number of devices. Props to Liam Kelly and Rachel Peck for inspiring this discussion.

There are any number of 3rd party screen grab utilities but here are some integral ways of doing so. Snap, Snap, Grin, Grin

Windows 8.1

ToW #183 uncovered a hack to replace the WindowsKey+S combination OneNote used but which was appropriated by Windows 8.1 preview, meaning that Win+S snappers were left with no easy way of capturing areas of the screen.

GREAT NEWS! The RTM of Windows 8.1 (or is it an update to OneNote?) has restored the ability to capture areas of the screen, this time by using WindowsKey + SHIFT + S. This method has the benefit of being able to screen grab parts of the Start screen and of modern apps too.

Windows 8.x devices

To quickly add the whole screen (or a combination of all of your displays if you’re running multi-mon) to the clipboard, just press WindowsKey + PrtScn.

If you want to capture the whole screen and find yourself lacking a PrtScn button (eg on the Surface) or in fact with no keyboard at all (eg tablets aplenty), you are able to grab the screen(s) by holding the volume down button and pressing the hardware Windows logo, at the bottom of the screen. The screen dims momentarily in both of the above methods, to let you know that the image has been dropped into the clipboard, ready for pasting into Word, Outlook or your favourite image manipulation app. Or MSPAINT.

Windows Phone 8

Simple – lightly press & hold the power/standby button and quickly press the Windows button on the front of the phone. The screen flashes briefly, the camera shutter noise may play (so careful playing with this feature in any situation where you wouldn’t want to look like you’re taking a photo…) and the resulting image is saved to the Screenshots folder within the Pictures hub.

Tip o’ the Week #201 – Multi-monitors with Windows 8.1


One of the best presents you can buy your PC is a second monitor. There have been a few ToW’s past that have explored the delights of running a second screen, where even just plugging your laptop into a desk monitor can make a really noticeable difference to the way you work.

The basics are all there – use WindowsKey + SHIFT + Left / Right to move the current window between monitors (though do try to remember that most desktop monitors don’t have touch input, or you might look like you’re from the Far Side). Windows 8.1 adds extra functionality though, including using the same key combo to move the main Start Screen around.

Andrew Warriner has a neat tip to maximise real estate on the 2nd screen –

Remove the task bar on a second screen.

How often do you use a second screen for presenting or running a demo and the task bar uses up valuable space along the bottom of the screen?  To remove it, simply right click on your taskbar and select Properties then toggle “Show taskbar on all displays”.

clip_image003Obviously, you can drag windows between monitors, and if you right-click on the desktop and select Screen Resolution then you can even position the two monitor icons in such a way that they reflect the physical arrangement of the screens, to make it easier to move the mouse around, and even position windows spanning the two (if you like to be really perverse).

Windows 8.1 adds some further goodness, such as the ability to adjust the scaling on individual screens – if you have a new laptop with a full HD quality screen then you may already be familiar with the fact that the pixels are really tiny so therefore everything looks small – but if you plugged your machine into an old fashioned 4:3 ratio 17” monitor, the screen resolution and pixel density would be a lot less, so windows will look larger in comparison.

If the mix is wrong, then a window that moves from one screen to another will be small on one and dis-proportionately huuuge on another – an effect akin to Billy Connolly’s Prescription Windscreen. The other side of the scaling tweak is that as we get higher resolution monitors (with 4K monitors on the horizon, even if the technology is still a little on the expensive side just now), then this will be more of an issue going the other way – an app that takes half the physical screen on a 17” widescreen laptop, would be postage stamp sized on a large high res external display.

To change the scaling on an individual monitor, go into the Screen Resolution settings, and look under Make text and other items larger or smaller – by selecting the monitor first, you can change the scaling for each individual screen, to get something a little more even.

clip_image005Windows 8.1 also allows the running of “Modern” (aka M***o) apps on multiple screens too, even combining them with the desktop environment, so you can mix & match. This fellow’s got interesting taste in apps, combining Python development with looking at puppies, alongside food, maps and pictures. Riiiight. There’s more detail on how, here.

Tip o’ the Week #200 – Top Ten Greatest Hits

clip_image001If I was to ever write a style guide for these Tip o’ the Week emails, it would say to never use the first person, and to maintain a degree of relatively irreverent humour that hopefully makes it easy to read and not get in the way of the content. When I was thinking about what to write for the ToW #200, a few areas were considered…

Rob Fraser suggested some intriguing but frankly unprintable ideas.

I considered writing an off-piste article such as “How to wash your car properly”, or “How to cook the perfect fillet steak”, amusingly the most popular (by a factor of x10) old post on my blog.

All old externally-relevant ToWs end up on the blog, so if you want to send this stuff to your customer then by all means forward the emails, or just point them at the blog.

But no. After thinking about 4 years’ worth of Tips o’ the Week, some of which are now superseded by new product releases or defunct intranet or external web sites, I decided to showcase my favourite ten, presented here in no particular order. Some are a little out of date now (eg the steps to follow changed due to a new release) but the core principle still holds up and is easy enough to figure out.

#1 – Hide Outlook New Mail Notification. In Outlook clip_image0032013, go into File | Options | Mail and look for the Message arrival section. Switch off particularly the Desktop Alert and the sound – you don’t need to know you have a new mail, and it’ll still be there next time you go to look.

#45 – Focus! Silence the interruptions! Featured a brilliant application which puts Outlook into offline mode and Lync into Do Not Disturb, for a period of time… to let you do your day job without interruption. Sadly not available externally, but you should check out the principle of the Pomodoro technique for time management.

#19 ­–­ Navigating multi-sheet Excel workbooks. Particularly useful when you’re using Multi-monitor setups (a scenario first covered in ToW #39, and updated for Win8.x in ToW #115).

#101 – Finding files for dialogs. The Copy As Path method of clicking on a file somewhere and adding its full file name and path to the clipboard is such a useful tip, it saves me practically several minutes every week. Hey, every second counts.

#71 – Formatting tips for Office apps. Introducing the “Magic Office Key no-one knows about”, F4. Not useful very often, maybe, but when you do need it, you’ll be singing praises to the Office product group.

#5 – Contact number formatting. Install this little utility into Outlook and it will live forever in your mailbox, so never needs to be re-installed. Run it to sweep your Contacts folder for number formatted 0118 etc and it will tidy them up as +44118 etc, so you can click to dial from Lync. It’s UK specific but easy enough to modify for other country codes if you’ve got any VBScript coding skills in you.

#175 – a ‘tastic OneNote add-in. The great OneNote addin “OneCalendar” has featured in a couple of ToWs, it’s so good. This is the latest incarnation, either as a standalone addin or as part of the OneTastic suite.

#102 – When did someone really put something in their calendar? I really wondered whether to “out” this technique for sneaking a look at another user’s calendar, to see how long ago they created a meeting that they are now saying conflicts with the thing you’ve already invited them to.

#105 – Productivity? Learn to type! By far the best thing you can do to increase your productivity, is to learn how to use your keyboard properly. That’s all.

#125 – Ban the Mail Bomb. Another internal-only Tip, aiming to Stop Reply-all madness. It doesn’t just affect Microsoft, though. Me too!
You could employ the great and simple addin to Outlook courtesy of Microsoft Research, which disables the Reply All functionality from any subsequent emails, without having to rely on Rights Management. See here for a description, and here to install.

Hopefully these may be a useful refresher for regulars or a new discovery for recent additions to the ToW list. Here’s looking forward to the next 200 tips – remember, keep the ideas and the feedback coming! Thanks,


Streaming music at home

imageThose of us who like the idea of streaming music around our homes have a plethora of technologies available to make it a reality. Sadly, all of them – at least all the ones which work well – are proprietary and have some degree of “lock in” to the suppliers. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing from a user experience perspective, once you’re locked in, then you’re at the whim of a manufacturer deciding to continue supporting the system you’ve invested time and money into building up.

I’ve been playing around with streaming music for years, and have a few experiences to share, with some links to interesting discussion topics elsewhere on the net. Hands up – I work for Microsoft, and my preferences in the past have been to go down the Microsoft-compatible route as much as possible. Not necessarily the easiest route to take, as it turns out…

Apple AirPlaysee more on Wikipedia

Introduced in 2010 as an evolution of a previous proprietary protocol (AirTunes), Apple’s AirPlay is the slickest system around – as long as you have Apple devices everywhere. This alone makes it compelling enough for consumers who have already got an iPhone/iPad/iPod, to invest in other kit that purports to be compatible. There’s something of a dependency on Apple not shifting the goal posts in future, but for the majority of users who are in the Apple device fold, “it just works”.

Chris Hoffman recently published a great overview of all the wireless standards on How-To Geek. Chris highlights the various efforts the non-Apple industry has tried to counter AirPlay with – Intel’s WiDi wireless display, the somewhat disappointing DLNA alliance and the frustratingly non-aligned Miracast standard. In time, there might be a credible and non-proprietary alternative that works as well as AirPlay, but nobody seems to know when.

I have one old iPod bought only because a previous car had a 3rd party device available that swapped out its CD changer for an iPod; that side of things works well enough, but having to suffer iTunes on the PC ever since is the cross I have to bear.

Slim Devices / Logitech Squeezebox

Logitech bought over Slim Devices in 2006, to acquire their network streaming product, Squeezebox. After bringing out a number of well-regarded devices which supported the proprietary Slim Server (later “Logitech Music Server”) software, which offered a web interface as well as a number of 1st and 3rd party mobile control applications (such as SqueezeRemote for Windows Phone or Windows 8). Squeezebox devices have been discontinued now, and Logitech switched the brand to “UE Radio” – which used basically the same hardware as the last Squeezebox Radio, but with new operating software which was not Squeezebox compatible. After some disquiet from existing users, it’s now possible to “downgrade” the UE Radio back to Squeezebox however there appears to be no future development for Squeezebox apart from occasional updates to the server software. The UE Smart Radio has now disappeared from the US web site, and the UK one is showing pretty deep discounting. Looks like that’s the end of that.

I’ve had a Squeezebox Boom for a number of years, and it’s a great piece of kit – they change hands on Ebay now for not much less than they sold for brand new.

Logitech have switched tack to being a wireless speaker provider (eg the UE Mini Boom), which is possibly more user friendly if all you want to do is play music on your mobile device, but doesn’t really help if you’re looking to stream music around the house from a central library. it’s a pity, really – the Squeezebox worked really well when you got it up and running, and attracted a devoted set of users, audiophiles amongst them. Those looking for something else to replace SB with, seem to inevitably draw the conclusion that without relying on DIY or community-driven open source projects, there’s nothing much out there, but…


Been around for since 2002, selling one platform for streaming over WiFi or over their own proprietary wireless standard. The range of devices is expanding (and to a degree contracting – the dedicated Sonos controller has been superseded with mobile apps for iOS and Android). A whole bunch of new devices have been released in the last year. SONOS starts to make a lot of sense once you have multiple devices, as you can specify different zones within your house, and play different music in each zone. Some of the devices can even be combined together – so the PLAY:1 speaker could be a standalone player in one room, could combine with a 2nd PLAY:1 to make a stereo pair, or could even be configured as satellite speakers for a home theatre system.

Downsides with SONOS? Well, they still haven’t come off the fence as to whether they’re going to build a Windows 8 or Windows Phone app controller app – ask SONOS directly and you’ll be sent to request it on their online forum, but at the time of writing and despite being the single most asked-for feature, the last comment from SONOS themselves was 6 months ago and doesn’t say whether they are planning on doing either. There are 3rd party apps out there – like Phonos or Sonata – but they don’t offer the same degree of control as the kosher apps do on other platforms, or on Windows 7/8 desktop.

Another bummer about moving from Squeezebox to SONOS is that the latter doesn’t support Lossless WMA playback – years ago, I ripped my whole CD collection in WMA, so it’s a bind to have to convert the whole lot to FLAC just so that SONOS can play it back without reducing the quality to 320kpbs. The free conversion software FOOBAR2000 did the trick of batch converting everything, but that’s just a pain to have to deal with.

SONOS supports Spotify (Premium only) so the next decision is whether to move off Xbox Music and take the plunge to a more expensive Spotify service…