Tip o’ the Week 346 – Under the Bridge

clip_image002There’s something beautiful about a well-made bridge, even a modernist one with engineering on display and functional elements providing elegance as well as strength. Of course, not all bridges work out quite as planned while some engender mythology all of their own.

There other types of bridge too, of course – they form intrinsic parts of some music, and essential parts of musical instruments, but there is also the concept in computing, of a bridge that can be used to make stuff designed for one environment to connect to or work in another. Like in networking, or in the case of several projects Microsoft worked on over the last few years, in bridging applications to work across multiple platforms.

At the build conference in 2015, Microsoft unveiled several bridges to bring Universal Windows Platform apps from other platforms – “Islandwood”, which allowed developers to port iOS apps to Windows was later released as Windows Bridge for iOS and a few high-profile apps have reportedly used it.

There was a web bridge, taking HTML and Javascript based apps and repurposing them for Windows with additional functionality like Live Tiles and Cortana support. Shazam used that. And a “Project Astoria” (tentatively called the Windows Bridge for Android) was announced, leaked and then unannounced and subsequently deep sixed.

Which leaves “Project Centennial”, a closer-to-home, perhaps smaller, less ornate & elaborate bridge, but one that’s likely to see a lot more traffic – it’s the bridge that lets developers take traditional Windows/Win32 apps and clip_image004package them up to be in the Store, with a bunch of additional capabilities yet without wholesale rewriting.

Now released as the “Desktop bridge”, Centennial is available for developers to push their apps into the store by converting them to UWPs – see here for more detail. There are a handful of apps already in store thanks to the conversion process, perhaps most notably Evernote, who have now dropped their previous Win8.x app that had relatively limited functionality, and replaced it with the fully featured desktop version re-packaged for the Windows Store.

Tip o’ the Week 345 – Android in the Garage

clip_image002For some time now, there’s been a collective of off-the-wall projects and experiments (which may or may not become part of more fully-fledged Microsoft products) called the Microsoft Garage. In an homage to the semi-stereotypical Silicon Valley startup idea (a few techies hacking away in the garage to make stuff, as gave life to both Apple and HP among many others), the Garage has some projects that will live fast and die young, while others persist as long-term experiments on the periphery of maturity.

One of the more interesting developments – for Microsoft, at least – over the last year or two, has been the number of Garage projects which not only come out first for non-Microsoft platforms, but which may even be exclusive to other environments. The Word Flow Keyboard for iPhone, for example, has been getting rave reviews, yet doesn’t have an immediate equivalent for Windows or any other OS.

clip_image004If you’re an existing – or aspiring – Android user, you may want to take a look at a recently-updated Garage project, called Arrow.

There’s a concept in Android of the “launcher”, the software that presents the main UI to the end user for navigating installed apps. In desktop OSes, it might be called the shell or GUI; with Windows and Mac, you basically get what you’re given, but with Linux, there’s usually a choice of shells and UIs that you can pick from.

Well, Microsoft’s Arrow is a launcher (said to be the best, no less) aimed at the kind of user who wants to put their most useful content at the fore; whether that’s the apps you use the most, or widgets that summarise information that you care about. It’s nowhere near as good as the Start screen and live tiles environment on Windows Mobile, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Arrow has recently been updated (to v2.3.x.xx…) and now, as well as showing you Bing wallpaper of the day, lets you quickly search using Bing, from the home screen (just swipe up from the panel at the bottom of the screen as if you wanted to expand it vertically, and the Bing search box appears at the top).

The new release includes Wunderlist integration too, as well as some abilities to dial-down the animation if you’re a particular speed freak or you have an old device that struggles with modern window movements.

As with iOS, there is a plethora of other Microsoft apps available, too – from OneNote, OneDrive, Cortana, various MSN content-rich apps… and the Arrow launcher provides a neat and fast way of navigating the stuff you care about. Check it out on the Google Play store.

Tip o’ the Week 344 – Inky betterness

clip_image002Inky was, along with his friends Blinky, Pinky & Clyde, one of the ghosts in the original Pac-Man. A little further back, Henry “Inky” Stephens was a noted inventor, businessman, politician & philanthropist. More recently, Inky is a company aiming to displace Outlook & Exchange by “fixing email”. You could also think of apps that support Windows Ink as “inky”. Maybe.

If you have a Windows 10 PC with a stylus, you may have noticed some additional functionality provided through the Ink Workspace (covered in ToW #340 no less) but it’s worth keeping an eye out on other applications for their increased usage of Ink, in a way that could make scribbling a more obvious and natural part of using your computer than you’d expected.


Recent updates to Office365’s client portfolio include a bunch of inky features – like the Maths* assistant in OneNote Mobile (the mobile/modern app, not the OneNote 2016 desktop version), which lets you not only capture written equations but can bring them to life. Or the ability to do Ink Replay (see here), which lets you show how the ink on a given page was produced – great if you like drawing a diagram that tells a story, almost like an animation.

Planky made something of a name for himself in producing these kinds of videos – here he is explaining cryptography, certificates, public/private keys and digital signatures.

clip_image005To see which version of OneNote Mobile you’re running, go to the hamburger menu in the top left, then look in Settings -> About. There’s also a “What’s New” button to show you the headline latest features.

Ink Replay functionality is due to arrive in mainstream Office desktop apps soon, too. For more information, see the Office blog here, which also details a slew of other updates being made to Office through these regular feature enhancements.

*Maths is the abbreviation used by pretty much the whole English-speaking world for the study of Mathematics, and in the English UK localisation of Office, fortunately, the functionality is presented as “Maths” just as browsers have Favourites. Presumably the button in OneNote for US users will say, simply, “Math”. Maths vs Math can still be cause for argument (watch the video, it’s quite interesting) – just read the comments here. Most other languages avoid the issue by simply not having a commonly agreed abbreviation.

Tip o’ the Week 342 – LastPass on Edge

clip_image001As has been discussed on previous ToWs, one of the notable features of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update has been the slew of improvements that have come to the default web browser, Microsoft Edge. Even Thurrott is talking about it, if anyone is prepared to pay to read.

clip_image002The availability of extensions is surely one of the big news items. One of the most useful extensions (see the rest here, or in the store) is LastPass – an online website password manager, useful for a couple of things … keeping an off-machine archive of your usernames/passwords for websites (across multiple machines if you pay for a Premium clip_image003subscription) and an easy way of entering the saved username & password (look for the ellipsys icon which the addin shows at the far side of password dialogs – click clip_image004on that to select the saved usernames & passwords for that site; you could use this to manage multiple identities for the same site).

The LastPass addin – and corresponding web service – also lets you set up a random password when signing up for new websites; hopefully avoiding the same username/password problem that hurts when online forums or websites get compromised and usernames & passwords are leaked. And who has the time to generate and remember a unique username & password for every site?