525 – Day nnn in the Big Brother House

clip_image002As the developed world stays in and starts to go a bit stir crazy, life beginning to feel like an episode of Big Brutha, we’re increasingly turning to streaming and video conferencing apps typically used for business, to keep in touch with friends and family, go dating, virtually visit a museum and many other things.

When you’re only allowed one walk a day and you can’t go for a drive, turn to virtual tours and motoring videos instead. Allez!

Captain Slow is hosting an online pub quiz and there are plenty of others you can join or even run your own quiz offline.

Online conferencing app Zoom has seen huge take-up over recent weeks, though its security has been questioned & tested by Zoom Bombing, leading the company to quickly release updates to give more control.

Microsoft Teams has announced some feature updates too – though there’s still more to do. Custom Backgrounds will be rolled out very soon, so users can replace their messy kitchen backdrop with a scene of serenity.

clip_image004clip_image006It’s getting easier to schedule and join Skype video meetings, too – from within the Skype app or even in a browser, you can Meet Now and quickly generate a URL that can be shared with others, who can join as a guest without needing to have an account or signing in.

Skype still has a huge user base, with over 40 million daily users of late.

Teams and Skype have started interoperating more, too, though it’s a limited experience at the moment. Expect Teams for Consumer, due to arrive later this year, to have tighter integration – and perhaps may eventually replace Skype.

Tip o’ the Week 392 – distract with GIFs

clip_image001We’re all used to file formats being associated with programs and the data they work with. Some, like .TXT, have been around for so long and are so cross-platform, they transcend association with any one application, whereas .PPT will always be PowerPoint – though that app has gained notoriety in such phrases as “Death by PowerPoint(which we’ve all been subjected to, even if not completely fatal), or “PowerPoint Karaoke(reading out the words on slides without adding anything).

One long-used file type goes back to 1987, the GIF – standing for Graphics Interchange Format, predating the eventually prevalent JPEG format by 5 years. GIFs were relatively poor quality – only 256 colours could be used; 30 years ago, that wasn’t an issue but in recent decades, it’s more limiting. Most people, however, will be familiar with GIFs due to a sub-variant – the Animated GIF. This is a series of frames which are played like a simple video – with low frame rates & no sound, yet they have occupied a niche in the way people use the web.

clip_image003Applications tend not to render animated GIFs well – Outlook, for example, simply inserts a static image, but browsers do show them properly. If you have an email in Outlook that you know has animated GIFs, look for the Actions submenu on the Message tab and select View in Browser.

Adding animated GIFs to chat applications is a good way of making a clip_image005point more vociferously than with smilies… though it can be even more distracting. Skype (the consumer version) added some featured videos (with sound), but both Yammer and Teams have added GIF buttons to make it easy to seach for amusement from online animation repository, GIPHY.

clip_image007clip_image008Try pepping up boring Yammer groups or Teams sites, by looking for the GIF logo on the message box, then searching for a 2-3 second loop that underlines your point. Just make sure the content is suitably Safe For Work or you may find the consequences of sending jokey GIFs to be less than ideal.

Facebook has the same kind of thing on comments boxes, from a variety of sclip_image010ources and also not entirely SFW.

Finally, Outlook.com has unveiled a new beta mode that is available for some users (& rolling out to more – look for a “Try the beta” toggle switch on the top of your Hotmail/MSN/Outlook.com mailbox) – and one feature will be animations that can be easily embedded in mail.

clip_image011clip_image013The “expressions” feature lumps emojis & GIFs together to make it simpler to annoy your recipients.

Read what Thurrot has to say about the other bits of the beta.

Tip o’ the Week 391 – Smile, control your emoticons

“Smileys” have been around in one form or another for a surprisingly long time. The use of the original 🙂 smiley goes back 35 years, but written symbolism to convey emotion goes back to the 17th century, maybe even in the days of Lincoln.

In modern times, the smiley has evolved; after the grinning yellow dot being used in various waves of popular culture, the textual facial-expression-on-its-side became more common as people flocked online and started using email and instant messaging. Gradually, icons of a variety of smileys helped convey a wider range of meaning – becoming known collectively by the portmanteau, “emoticons”. Or the Japanese-based variant, emoji. If you’re bored sticking pins in your eyes, you could be watching a Turkey at the flicks, though you’re more likely just an end-user of the emoji symbols.

Over recent years, emoji have become more mainstream and therefore the interpretation of symbols across different platforms has grown in importance – if you enter 🙂 into many apps, you’ll get a – as configured in the AutoCorrect function in Office, and natively supported in lots of other applications, and if you send a text message with emoji in it, you’d hope that it gets interpreted correctly at the other end.

To insert emojis into your mail, IM or whatever, you could type the foundation characters – like 🙁 or 😀 – or copy & paste the relevant symbol from a source such as http://emojipedia.org/microsoft/.

If you’re using Skype (consumer, and Skype for Business), though, there’s a shortcut for each emoticon, that you can type to insert the relevant symbol – eg. (t) or (call) will insert the symbol to the left, or (c) or (coffee) will show the cup symbol. Just hover over the symbol and you’ll see the shortcut you can type.

Other handy shortcuts for Skype for Business include (b), (d), (y), (n), (cic), (!), (e), (run), (k) – careful, mind… Why not try them out on your colleagues next time you’re IMing?

The consumer Skype app has lots more emoji/emoticons than the Business version, as you might expect – generally speaking, there’s not a lot of business need for 💩 or dancing gran icons.

Well, unless you know differently? ‍✋

Tip o’ the Week 338 – And now for something completely different

clip_image002If you’re a Skype user – desktop, consumer Skype, or the various mobile platforms (including the Skype Preview on Windows 10 Mobile), as opposed to Skype for Business, you may know about smileys and emojis, but have you used “mojis”?

Put simply, they’re short, often pithy and funny, video clips that can be quickly inserted into conversations. You can shut up your colleagues. Or they could retort back at  you. There are hundreds of mojis, from naff Hollywood to Bollywood, Macca to the Muppets.

clip_image004Now, Skype has released a whole selection of the finest Monty Python clips, as mojis. Click on the smiley icon in the bottom right of a Skype conversation window, then look for the new “foot” icon, and you’ll see an array of classic Python videos.


Try not to waste all day mucking around with it.

If you don’t see the icon, make sure you’re running the latest version of Skype.

Tip o’ the Week 326 – Skype for Business, meet Skype consumer

clip_image002Power Skypers will probably know this week’s tip already, but it’s a fair bet that it’ll be news to others, even though it’s been possible since Lync gave way to Skype for Business (and was available in a slightly different form prior to that).

Put simply, Skype for Business has the ability to communicate with users on the consumer Skype platform, as well as to federate with other parties, and Office365 has it enabled by default. This means you can exchange IMs and see presence for Skype for Business users outside your organisation.

clip_image003The simplest way to check if you have Skype for Business federation set up with a customer or partner’s own Skype for Business estate, is to double-click on their name/address in an email, and you’ll see the Outlook “Contact card”. If you’re signed into Skype for Business, the speech bubble icon will be shown, giving you the option of IMing with them: click that icon to start an IM conversation.

Now, if you’re not federated (or clip_image004maybe depending on the privacy settings your contact’s organisation has set up), then you’ll just see “presence unknown” as their status within the IM window, and attempts to send messages will fail. If you are federated with them (again, subject to privacy settings), then you’re likely to see their email address change to their actual name, and their job title and status should get completed too. If they’re offline, you obviously still can’t IM them but at least you know they should be available at some stage.

clip_image006If you have contacts who use Skype the consumer service (and Skype helpfully positions the consumer and business offerings together, here), you can add them as contacts and have IM chats with them just like you could do with internal users too. clip_image007 Click on the little add contact icon on the right of the Skype for Business client, and you can include contacts from a number of external sources (the list may vary depending on your own profile or setup).


An even easier way is just to start typing the person’s name, Skype ID or Microsoft account, into the “Find someone…” search box within Skype for Business and click the Skype Directory button: you might well see them listed, profile pic & all – right-click on their profile to add them as a contact (which will kick off a contact request just like in consumer Skype).

Once someone has been added from consumer Skype to your contact list, you can IM them, see their presence, and even fire up an audio or video call with them, without needing to use the consumer Skype client yourself. Nice if you’d prefer to keep your business contacts and your personal ones separate, but if your customer is asking to have a Skype chat with you…

You can try this out by running both Skype and Skype for Business side-by-side and adding your contact, sending yourself a test IM, even cracking open a video or audio call.

clip_image011If you’re in a call between the two worlds, it’s literally 1:1 – you can’t convert it into a conference call by adding other people, nor can you invite your Skype contact into an existing Skype for Business call or meeting. When you’re in a 1:1 call from Skype for Business with a consumer Skype user, you just don’t see the options for inviting others etc, and if you’re in Skype for Business on an existing conf call and try to bring in a Skyper, sadly, you’ll just get an unhelpful error message. Too bad.

Options are to ask the Skype user to join using the Skype for Business Web App, or use the consumer Skype client to call the phone number the Skype for Business meeting offers to regular phone users.

For more details on how to set up and use Skype for Business federation, see here. Check this post for instructions about getting it working with consumer Skype (or here). And another.

Tip o’ the Week #293 – STOP SHOUTING ON CONF CALLS


Keeping track of the characters on conference calls could be a new type of buzzword bingo – from the people who stay muted the whole time (the only word they say being “bye”, at the end), to the unmuted furious typer/clicker/lunch eater/talker-to-somebody-else.

This brilliant spoof of conference calls in real life features most of them, but not the blast-radius shouter that is probably more of a nuisance to people physically sitting next to him/her than to others on the call. Sure beats real meetings, mind.

Thanks to Brett Johnson, for pointing out that there’s a feature in Windows that might help reduce the volume of the well-meaning noise pollutant, something known as Sidetone. Turns out, this has been in Windows for ages, if you have a headset that supports it.

clip_image004What Sidetone does is to play your own voice back into the audio stream you’re listening to, so if you have a headset that covers your ears entirely and blocks out background noise, you don’t completely isolate yourself and end up shouting to compensate.

To access the setting, plug in your headset then right-click on the volume icon in your system tray and select Playback devices to open the Sound settings applet, then  clip_image005double-click on your headset and look in the Levels tab.

Try it out and have a play with the levels, with a willing guinea pig: it’s a surprisingly subtle effect, but one that you won’t want to overdo.

Now, all we need to do is to build a Skype addin for meeting organisers to subvert the Sidetone on chosen attendees, to put a bit of a delay into the replay of their spoken voice, which could effectively deal with some of the other characters on the calls… and now we know how Garth from Wayne’s World achieved his effect.

Tip o’ the Week #274 – Hello, Skype for Business


Instant Messaging (and later, voice/video calling) has been with us, in the corporate world, for 15 years – the first real enterprise IM platform was Exchange 2000 Instant Messaging, which used a variant of MSN Messenger as its client, and some workers had been using MSN and AOL for a while before that.

The Exchange 2000 IM server was a one-off; it was superseded by Microsoft Office Live Communication Server (released at a time when everything at Microsoft was seemingly prefixed or suffixed “Live”, and somehow linked to Windows or Office) and latterly Office Communications Server (when the edict came around to ditch the practice of sticking “Live” in every product name), and later acquired the much groovier name of “Lync”.

And now the next phase has rolled out; just as the original MSN Messenger gave way to Windows Live Messenger (see?) and then went away in favour of Skype, Lync has now given over to Skype for Business – though SFB is effectively a technology update, rebranding & a new UI, rather than the wholesale change of underlying technology that MSN/Live Messenger to Skype was.

So now we have Skype for Desktop (the traditional Windows, Mac etc application, which uses a Skype ID or Microsoft Account to sign in), there’s Skype for a variety of mobile & TV platforms, Skype for Outlook.com (the plugin to Outlook.com online email, you know, the email service that was once Hotmail). And for Windows 8.x users, there’s also Skype the Modern Application, now also being referred to as Skype for Tablet.

D’ya follow?

And now the spangly new Skype For Business client has been distributed via Windows Update, as an update to Lync – so you may already have received it. If you haven’t, and you’re still on Lync, you could either:

  • clip_image003Try downloading the update to turn Lync into Skype, from KB2889923
  • If you’re running Office in “Click to Run Mode”, you can check for updates by going into (for example) Word and choosing File / Account, then select Update Options / Update Now. See here for more.

Or maybe you’ll get it automatically via a corporate deployment. It may even have been pushed out to you already,

Whatever, you’ll have a cracking new updated UI compared to Lync, and the emoticons will be better again… in fact, most of the animated icons from the regular consumer Skype app have made it over to the corporate one, with a few of the less work-oriented ones removed. clip_image001