627 – Sleeping as Edge hits the ton

clip_image002Ever since Microsoft switched the Edge browser from its own page rendering technology to instead use the open-source Chromium, it benefits from regular rolling updates and the version number keeps increasing to match. If you use Edge already, you can see what release you have by going to the “…” menu > Help and Feedback > About Microsoft Edge or paste edge://settings/help into the address bar.

The release number ticked over from 99 to 100 recently, causing a few legacy websites to fall over: when you visit any site, your browser’s User Agent String identifies to the web server what type of client it’s dealing with, including the version number (so the server can modify the page to suit the client, if necessary).

In Shades of Y2K, a few sites balked at a browser showing up with a 3-digit number – if you have problems with any, you could make Edge stick to telling sites it’s running v99 – go to edge://flags/#force-major-version-to-minor on the address bar. Mozilla – creators of the Firefox browser which also uses Chromium – tracked known issues in sites and which ones have been fixed.

As well as taking whatever goodies come from the evolution of Chromium, the Edge development team can devote more of their time building stuff with a view to making Edge better than other browsers.

clip_image004One feature which made it into Edge a while back is sleeping tabs; meaning open tabs you haven’t used it for a while can be put into an inactive mode and consume less memory, CPU and ultimately, power.

Look in Task Manager (CTRL+SHIFT+ESC) and you’ll likely see lots of entries underneath the Edge application; some are processes in support of the overall app, Extensions and the like, but you’ll also see each Tab appear separately. If you think Edge is running amok, it’s worth looking here to see if some specific site is chewing up CPU and consuming lots of memory.

clip_image006Tab sleeping has been updated and given extra capabilities to manage tabs which are inter-connected, reckoned to mean that 8% more tabs will be put to sleep. When a tab is dozing, it typically saves 99% of CPU and 85% of memory compared to when running.

Other updates which came into v100 include some changes to handling of PDF files and some tweaks to policy-based control and other improvements to the way the browser works.

The Performance view on sleeping tabs Is rolling out now; if you don’t see it in Settings, then sit tight, or try visiting the Edge Insiders site and install one of the test versions, either Canary (daily updates – not really recommended for the average user), Dev or Beta; pre-release and stable versions of the browser can be run side-by-side so there’s low risk in having both on your machine.

For more information on browser evollution, keep an eye on the release notes for the Beta channel and watch the release schedule for when to expect further browser updates. There’s a feature tracker too, to see what’s in development and learn what’s coming, and summary news is regularly shared via the What’s New blog.

623 – What’s .new pussycat?

clip_image002Many products evolve due to exposure to their competitors – adopting and refining the best features, and sometimes that evolution even starts to overtake the original. Many traditional desktop applications moved to online variants or were supplanted by newer concepts, such as shifting to mobile apps. Experiences that were clunky – like banking – moved to sometimes lower-functionality but more convenient apps, just as consumers adopted mobile payments and contactless cards.

Having blazed a trail with email in Hotmail and later Outlook Web Access, in 2010 Microsoft launched the first version of the Office web applications, meaning you could run lightweight Word, Excel and PowerPoint in your browser, as a companion or even as an alternative to the full-fat desktop versions.

A few years earlier, Google Docs released as an online word processor (and later, other types of productivity apps, rebranding as G Suite and now Google Workspace). There are pros and cons of the browser-only experience; you tend to sacrifice some functionality compared to the desktop applications in favour of ubiquitous availability, though web clients can be updated more easily and sometimes new features appear there first – as ToW #605 covered, with snoozing email.

Check out What’s new in Excel for the web or look for the summary covering Visio, Forms, Words and more, here.

clip_image004Not sure about living in a browser? Modern-living afficionados can get by, using only web apps like Outlook, OneNote, To-Do and more.

If you like being browser based rather than desktop boundclip_image006, you could start a new document from the address bar by simply entering word.new, excel.new or powerpoint.new. Others include docx.new, ppt.new, teams.new, sway.new

clip_image008You could add such links to your browser favourites; therefore, a new doc is but a single click away.  There are many more .new shortcuts – Google’s in-house domain registry launched the service a few years ago, so not unsurprisingly, Mountain View hoovered up a lot of the relevant ones if you’re of a Googly persuasion. See docs.new, sheets.new or slides.new, mail.new

620 – Change your P@ssw0rd!

clip_image002Bad Actors are all over the internet (not just in your local multiplex), mostly aiming to gain access to data and systems for nefarious purposes, though sometimes they try to do good. Data breaches generally start with the weakest link in the chain: PEBKAC, in other words, It’s Your Problem.

Identity protection company SpyCloud reports that more than two-thirds of passwords which have been breached online are still in use and most users still have the same username and password combo across multiple accounts. If you want to keep your own personal identity and data safe, it’s job #1 to make sure you have unique passwords for each website you use, and that the passwords are not made up of guessable words or phrases.

clip_image004clip_image006The Edge browser gives you some tools to manage your passwords better – look for the Password Generator, or the drop-down Suggest strong password option, when you’re registering a new sign-in, and it will generate a long and complex password, stored in your account so in future you can be automatically signed in.

clip_image008Some sites don’t trigger the password generator or suggestion – perhaps due to how they describe or display the password field(s) – so another option is to use a browser extension like btPassnumerous others are available. It simply drops an icon on the browser toolbar and will show a password of varying complexity and length, which can be quickly copied to the clipboard and pasted into password fields. Since some sites don’t like special characters in the password, you can tweak or edit the text it creates.

Security software company F-Secure has launched a free online password generator, if you’d prefer to create your secrets that way.

clip_image010The Manage passwords option seen in some password drop-downs – also available from the settings menu or by entering edge://settings/passwords into the address bar – gives access to Password Monitor, which warns you if passwords you have saved are known to have been breached, and can display a list of the sites where your previously-set password has been found in a trove of hacked accounts.

clip_image012You can quickly check the password used and decide to visit the page to change it – assuming the site still exists – or simply ignore it (on the assumption that you’ll be cleaning up and not using the compromised passwords on any sites you still want to actually visit).

If you install Microsoft Authenticator on your phone and sign in with the same account as you use in your browser, the saved passwords will be available through Authenticator too – so having very complex passwords should be no barrier to usability any more.

615 – Zooming images on webpages

clip_image002There are a variety of ways to zoom into content on your PC, maybe so you can read the tiny text or perhaps look for details in an image. If you have a physical mouse, then it will almost certainly have a scroll wheel or a touch-sensitive scroll-pad which is used to speed through all those LinkedIn posts that clutter up your feed of the good stuff. If you also hold the CTRL key down while moving the scroll-thing up and down, then the Office doc or web page you’re looking at will zoom in and out as well. Pressing CTRL-0 in the browser will quickly reset your view back to 100%, in case you’ve scrolled off the edge of the world.

If you’re using a trackpad rather than a rodent, or have a proper touch-screen, pinching with thumb and forefinger might well do the same thing, though exactly how will be determined by your machine’s settings.

Annoyingly, some websites (like eBay, many estate agents, photo galleries etc) have a habit of not zooming into the image when you make the browser try to scale the page up; they might even make the menus and surrounding text massive, while keeping the image the same size.

clip_image004Sometimes, the page itself is scaling the image down to fit a specific pixel size – so it could be taking a 4000×3000 pixel image but displaying it at 800×600. In order to see the fine detail in the image, maybe you need to open it away from the page it’s on, so you can display it full-size.

A simple way to over-ride the issue might be to right-click on the image and choose to clip_image006open it in a new tab, thus freeing the graphic from the strictures of the page it’s on and allowing you to zoom in as you please. In some cases, the image you see here will be higher in resolution than the one which was on the page, due to the aforesaid scaling (especially true on eBay images, where often the source is many times larger than the view eBay presents). Even simpler, you may find that clicking on the image on a web page will open the full-size version of it, and that will allow you to zoom in even further.

Some sites (like image libraries or photographers’ websites) won’t let you right-click on an image to save it or do anything. But there is another way… If you care to delve into the Developer Tools section in Edge (or Chrome) then you’ll get a frankly bewildering array of tools that let you peek into how the content of the page is set out and even how the site is performing over the network.

Of particular interest here, though, is to be found under the Elements tab – this shows a hierarchical representation of the code behind the page, with sections that can be expanded and collapsed by a little arrow to the left of each. [Browsers other than Edge or Chrome may behave differently and call it something else – if you’re weird enough to still use Firefox, it’s Inspector vs Elements].

Normally, you’d be looking somewhere in the body section, and when you hover your mouse over an element, it will highlight that section on the page so you know you’re dealing with the right one. You’ll probably need to drill in to quite a number of <div> or <table> tags to find the one you want, though if you right-click on a part of the page and choose Inspect, it might jump straight to that particular clause . Try it on a fairly simple website and you’ll get the gist quickly.

clip_image007

If you find an image file listed in the site coding, hover that section and you should see the properties of the image (depending on how it’s encoded); click the Current source URL and it will launch that image in its own tab.

Press 12 again to close Developer Tools and return to normal browsing.

608 – Shopping Season

After clip_image002Americans celebrated “Turkey Day” yesterday, the phenomenon of Black Friday is now well underway. Originally coined for bricks & mortar retailers to kick off the shopping spree in the run-up to Christmas, it’s now exported around the world and applied across all retail channels with consumer electronics being routinely discounted for a few days (stretching through the weekend to what grew to be called “Cyber Monday”).

Around a year ago, the Edge browser debuted the Shopping feature which showcased vouchers from various sites you might visit – similar to the Honey add-in which offers coupons and vouchers proactively when you visit e-commerce sites.

clip_image004There have been some recent updates to Shopping, including a price tracking feature which tells you if a specific item has been reduced in price recently – as with all these things, YMMV depending on the retailer and your own location, but it’s certainly worth a look – find out more, and see which retailers are supporting the Shopping feature with coupons and price alerts.

There are other improvements on the way – including a rare UK-first rollout, of a Bing Shopping collaboration with Good On You to highlight ethically sourced fashion. Have fun on your shopping spree!

582 – Edgy Profile Switching

clip_image002The “new” Edge browser has been around long enough to be just “the Edge browser”, given that old Edge is not only deprecated but being removed from Windows 10. If you’re still clinging onto Internet Explorer, then get ready for its demise; it’s got a year left, then the plug gets pulled. Plenty of ToW’s past have dealt with the Edge browser, especially the benefits of having multiple profiles (useful to keep work and personal stuff separate, or even having different sets of credentials for common sites, like demo accounts vs real users).

A feature which was added to the profile functionality was the ability for Edge to switch between them automatically – in other words, Edge would try to determine if you’re opening a site in the “wrong” profile, and it also lets you set the default on which profile should be used when you click an external link in an email or a document (other than in the browser itself). This not only changes how the site might be displayed, but also sets where the browser history is saved, and which set of cookies, cached usernames / passwords etc should be used…

clip_image004

You could set that a specific profile should be used for “external” links; if set to “Work”, then all external links (from other apps) would open in that profile; automatic does a pretty good job but sometimes gets flummoxed by M365 sites like Sharepoint, which could mean clicking a link to a doc in Outlook will try to open it in your personal profile, and fail to authenticate (since you’d want it to use the work profile’s credentials).

Similarly, if you had it set up to open links in whichever profile was last used or to hard-default to Work, then clicking a URL that you’d want to view in Personal might cross the streams. Fortunately, an unreleased feature could be just what you need in this scenario.

There’s a still-experimental “flags” feature set that is part of both Google Chrome and Microsoft’s Chromium-based-Edge; different releases of each browser have a changing set of flags features which can be enabled if you know they’re there and are prepared that they might not work, or at least might not work in the same way as they eventually will.

clip_image006
 

Many flags tweak how the browser operates under the covers and will never be noticeable by the average user; others enable features that are hidden by default or are still early in their development cycle.
The plan is that (in some form) flag features will be part of the mainstream release, though not necessarily in the same way. You can view the flags by entering edge:flags in the address bar.

clip_image008One flag which is eminently and quietly useful in this potential multi-profile befuddlement is edge://flags/#edge-move-tabs-to-profile-window. It does pretty much what it says; right-clicking on a browser tab will let you switch it between the profiles, so if you’re presented with a login screen for a site that should be opened in the other profile, one click is all it takes to flick it across.

569 – Password migration

clip_image002One of the problems with free software and particularly free services, is that at some point, they might stop being free. The path of freely-provided online services is littered with companies who gave their service away to get the users, then grappled with the reality that more users means more costs to deliver the service – and if they don’t get enough income from whatever sources they can, the free ride will come to an end. Just look at Photobucket. And every web site that makes you whitelist them in your ad-blocker before you can continue.

The latest in a line of what-used-to-be-free but is now tightening its belt is LastPass, an excellent password manager that has a lot of users but may end up with a good few fewer. The day after the Ides of March, LastPass Free will only allow use on a single device type, so if you currently use it to sync passwords across desktops and tablets or mobiles, then you need to start paying (and maybe you should) or stick to either mobile or desktop.

As soon as the company announced its plans, the web sprung up many articles offering “what is the best alternative to…” type advice. Only a few weeks ago, ToW#561 espoused the virtues of cleaning up your passwords, featuring LastPass and also trailing some features that were coming to an alternative that you might already be using to provide 2 factor authentication on your phone – Microsoft Authenticator.

It’s fairly easy to switch to using Authenticator on your device to also sync passwords and to provide the Auto-Fill function which plugs in usernames/passwords not only to sites on your mobile browser but to other apps too. If you already have a load of passwords set up in LastPass or other locations, there are methods to export them and then import the data into Authenticator.

clip_image004

In the case of LastPass, you sign into the Vault (either through the browser plugin or directly on their website) and under Advanced Options, select the Export function. It will immediately drop a lastpass_export.csv file into your Downloads folder; be very careful with this file as it contains all your usernames & passwords in clear text.

clip_image006You can get these passwords into Authenticator either by copying the file to your phone (Not a Good Idea) and importing from there, or by installing the Microsoft Autofill extension for Chrome into Edge (remember, Edge is a Chromium browser under the hood), then click on Settings and choose the Import data feature.

Now navigate to your Downloads folder and choose the lastpass_export file. It might take a little while to complete, but when it’s done, make sure you go back to the Downloads folder and clip_image008hard-delete that CSV file (ie select the file, hold the SHIFT key down and press the Delete key – this makes sure it doesn’t go to the recycle bin). You definitely don’t want that file being left behind, or copied or synced anywhere that is not encrypted.

The LastPass browser extension (like other password managers) remains potentially useful on the desktop as it can help to sync passwords between profiles (eg the Work and Personal profile of Edge, if both have the extension installed and logged in using the same LastPass account), or even between browsers – in the cases you might want to use Chrome for some things and Edge for others.

Edge on the PC does have password sync capabilities, though not quite with the same level of flexibility –

clip_image012clip_image014

clip_image010

Edge will let you sync passwords, favourites etc if you’re using a Microsoft Account (eg outlook.com) for your Personal profile, and it may do if you have a Microsoft 365 account for your Work Profile.

In a twist of fate, if you pay for a Microsoft 365 Family or a small business environment rather than using the free Microsoft Account, your subscription lacks the Azure Information Protection feature that is required to allow syncing. In which case, a 3rd party password sync feature may be your best option, even if you choose to use Authenticator on your mobile device, and perhaps do a periodic export/import from LastPass to keep your mobile passwords in sync.

Or best of all, just install the Autofill extension into multiple profiles (or Edge & Chrome), signing into the extension using the same Microsoft Account, to keep the passwords in sync. Tidy.

568 – The Race for Space

clip_image001Nearly 60 years ago, JFK announced the intention to go to the moon, and the huge effort – at one point employing over 400,000 people – had to invent a load of technology to make it happen. The guidance computer on the Eagle module, for example, was the first digital portable computer, without which it would have been impossible for the landing to take place. Then there’s the old myth about how the Americans spent millions inventing a zero-gravity pen, whereas the Russians used a pencil…

The “space race” continued for some years afterwards (the US had Skylab in the 1970s and built the Shuttle, while the USSR built Mir, the first proper space station), before numerous countries decided to pool resources and build the International Space Station.

After unveiling Azure Space in late 2020, the 20th February 2021 – 35 years to the day after the first Mir mission – saw the launch of the ultimate in Edge devices, ensuring Azure reaches the ISS with HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-2. That will be furthest Cloud-Edge computing node until we finally become an interplanetary species, and once again leave the confines of low-Earth orbit.

Edge back on Earth

If you want to make the most of the space on your screen, you should try moving your Windows taskbar to the side rather than the bottom of the screen – follow the science – as it makes more efficient use of the screen real estate, especially if you have a big widescreen monitor. Open Taskbar settings here and choose Taskbar location.

If you’re a vertical taskbar fan, then you’ll like a new feature in the Edge browser, also designed to maximise the use of space – vertical tabs.

clip_image003If you’re the kind of user who has lots of tabs open at any one time, you’ll notice that the title of each tab is quickly lost when they are arrayed horizontally.

By enabling the vertical tabs feature, a single click will show them to the side of the browser window. Click the < caret to the top right of the tab list and they’ll collapse to icons only until you mouse over again, and the full width will be shown.

clip_image005The clip_image007 icon to the left of the horizontal tabs switches the display to vertical, and the icon at the top of the vertical list reverts to horizontal.

If you’re using the beta or dev version of Edge, you’ll be able to show the Vertical Tabs button in the Appearance section of the clip_image009settings:

To enable vertical tabs on the current public release, enter edge://flags/#edge-vertical-tabs into the address bar of the browser and switch on the “experimental” feature; you’ll have to restart the browser for it to take effect, but after that point you’re free to try switching the arrangement.

565 – 88 Edge updates

clip_image001Just over a year ago, the new release of the Edge browser with the Chromium engine was released, and lots of functionality has been shipped since. Much effort has been to differentiate the Edge browser from others, because it integrates better with Microsoft services and other offerings. From synching settings, history, favourites, extensions… to adding protections around passwords and having a great multi-profile experience… it’s been getting better all the time. But 88 updates? That’s crazy!

(it doesn’t necessarily have 88 updates – that was just a ploy to get in the Crazy 88 link above)

The latest version of Edge shipped to mainstream users recently; release 88 is named after the core engine version, so Google shipped Chrome 88 at the same time. Some of the “what’s new” in Chrome will be consistent with Edge, since the rendering engine is the same – like the deprecation of a couple of features; Chrome & Edge no longer have FTP support natively, and they finally killed Flash.

Back to Edge 88 – go to the menu, then settings | about to find which version you have – there are a bunch of cool things to try out or investigate:

Themes – there are some really nice pre-built themes packaging background images and colour schemes; see them here. You can apply a theme to a specific user profile, which might help you differentiate them from each other – so a Forza or Halo theme applied to your personal profile would change the colour scheme for that one, making it easier to spot which profile you’re using. You can also add themes from the Chrome web store.

clip_image003Sleeping Tabs – helping to reduce system resource demands, Edge can now make tabs go to sleep if they haven’t been used for a while. You need to switch it on (the plan being that it will be a default in a later version) by going to edge://flags and search for sleep.

If you regularly use websites that fire notifications – like mail, or news readers – then be aware that they will not show when the tab is asleep. Work is underway to report back which sites should not be put to sleep, so Edge will be able to know when it’s a help and when it would be a nuisance.

clip_image005Passwords – as discussed previously when it was in dev mode, the password monitoring and strong password suggestion features are now generally available. Edge can look for common username/password combinations that are in your cached credentials, but which are known to have been leaked.

If you get a report of such a leak, you should change all of the passwords on affected sites as soon as possible. Looking under Edge Settings / Profile / Passwords, you should see the options to enable both Password Monitor and suggestion. For more info on how the Password Monitor works, check out this MS Research note.

PWAs and ProfilesProgressive Web Apps are increasingly being seen as the way to take a site and treat it like an app; it can show up in Start menu, can be pinned to task bar, will run with a specific icon and name, and won’t have all the UI of a browser, so it looks just like a native app.

clip_image007To install a PWA on Edge, just go to the menu on the top right when you’re browsing to a site, and you clip_image009should see Apps > Install … as an option. You get to give the “app” a name, and it will then look and feel much like a native application.

clip_image011If you install the PWA in more than one Edge browser profile, there’s a new function that means when you start the app – from the Start menu etc – then you can switch between which profile it should run in (scoping identity, passwords etc within).

PWAs are cool. Unless you’re using Firefox, where PWAs are not cool.

561 – Password clean up

clip_image001As most of us look to put 2020 firmly behind us and take some down-time over the festive season, there may be a list of jobs which get left to this time of year – filling out the annual tax return, maybe, or clearing out that drawer with miscellaneous stuff in it.

clip_image003You could set your sights higher, even – like gathering all the papers scattered throughout your house (user guides, receipts, utility bills etc etc) and putting them in one place, as recommended by Getting Things Done guru, David Allen.

Or just scan them all in then recycle…

Maybe it’s time to finally sort out all the passwords you use for different websites. Even though Multi-Factor Authentication is gradually replacing the need to enter a username & password every time you access a resource, there’s still often a need to create a username and password combo when you sign up for something. If you’ve used Edge or Chrome to remember your passwords, you might find there are many hundreds of them, and being weak carbon-based lifeforms, we’re quite likely to use the same ones for many sites. Naughty!

clip_image005There are browser addins and other tools you can use to remember the passwords you use, and (using LastPass as an example) can give you the option of generating something strong and unique at the point of signing up on a site, then syncing that username and password back to a central service so you don’t need to re-enter it next time (or remember something truly unmemorable). LastPass recently announced their 2020 stats – they’ve generated 94 million secure passwords and been used to log in more than 10 billion times.

Microsoft Edge offers some password management capabilities – as well as being able to remember passwords within the Edge browser, and sync them between different machines or mobile devices, Edge is also getting to be capable of suggesting and storing complex passwords for new sign-ups.

clip_image007Edge is beefing up its password security in other ways, offering proactive warnings if your passwords have shown up in databases of leaked credentials (at the moment, this is a test feature in the dev builds). One-by-one, you can use Edge’s “fix leaked passwords” function to check what the existing password is for each site, and then click a button to jump to the site to reset it – in some cases, going straight to the change password part of the site.

clip_image009Finally, the password sync feature is getting some extra legs – using the Microsoft Authenticator app on your phone and it’s new beta Autofill feature, you can use that app to provide the username/password for website or even mobile app logins. There’s a Chrome extension too, so if you want to switch back and forth between Edge & Chrome on a PC, your passwords will be available to both.

In some senses, storing passwords and allowing them to be automatically filled in feels like a security risk – anyone with access to your unlocked computer or phone could potentially access your online services. Using Autofill and Authenticator, though, the default setup is to require biometric authentication – so you’ll need a fingerprint or camera, or unlocking with a PIN, before the auto-fill will happen.

Also, it’s more important to have complex passwords that are hard to break or guess, and to have different ones for each and every site or app you use.

This is the final ToW for 2020. Let’s hope ’21 brings us all better luck.

In the meantime, have a great holiday season, stay safe, see you on The Other Side!