#15: The Pointer Evolution

clip_image002Some computer users might put time into customizing their environment, perhaps using themes that specify colours, backgrounds, sound schemes and the like. Themes first arrived on the PC with Windows 95 (even being a billed feature as part of the Plus! Pack) and still persist in Windows 11, though it’s a fair bet that most people leave things as they are, apart from picking a suitable colour scheme from the range of defaults and then setting a personalized background photo.

clip_image003One of the innovations introduced in Windows NT and later into 95 was the ability to have animated cursors – like the old “busy” hourglass icon which was replaced with one which turns over and over, a motif superseded by a pulsing circle for Windows Vista.

clip_image004There used to be whole mouse pointer schemes with fun icons, like the waddling dinosaurs, whose removal between Vista and Win7 caused some angst in end user communities.

If you feel like introducing some old-world nostalgia, it’s possible to get hold of a variety of static and animated pointers, and then somewhat laboriously add them by clicking the Mouse cursor option in Settings > Personalisation > Themes, which brings up a Windows XP era dialogue to select from one of the preinstalled cursor schemes, and edit each individual pointer …

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The Power of Toys

The whole topic of meeces got some fresh news when Microsoft listed a new feature in the latest “Canary” build of Windows, as fed to the most eager of the Windows Insiders program: there’s a new mouse position indicator, which draws a giant crosshair over the top of the screen with the current mouse position at its focus. This kind of thing can be handy for finding a tiny pointer on a giant screen.

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Regular readers might recall that some variant of this feature is already part of the ever-evolving PowerToys add-in for Windows 10 or 11, as discussed in 673 – Where is my mouse?

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clip_image011The Crosshairs option in PowerToys is enabled by a keyboard shortcut though can be a little distracting as it’s persistent until you switch it off again; PowerToys’ other Find My Mouse feature is arguably more useful as it quickly dims the screen then puts a spotlight on where your pointer is, before returning to normal. It can be activated by a double-tap of the control key or you can set it to show up when you shake the mouse.


683 – OneNote Docking

imageSince the OneNote desktop app is getting a reprieve from its previously-announced retirement, and the anointed successor UWP app is itself being put on notice, maybe it’s worth looking at a few tweaks which can make the old app a bit more useful. There were a load of updates announced about a year ago, and further improvements to the OneNote family are on the way too.

If you use OneNote to take meeting notes – especially if you’re meeting virtually and want to have your notes alongside the Teams/Zoom/Chime app – then it makes sense to arrange the windows side by side. Students of ToW past will know that in Windows 11, pressing WindowsKey+ ‎← or → will snap the current window to the sides of your display, and there are other ways to control window placement if you have especially complex desktop arrangements.

clip_image002clip_image004There is an old feature in OneNote which is worth revisiting; Dock to Desktop. Invoke it at any time by pressing CTRL+ALT+D or go to the View tab to select it.

You could also try pinning it to the Quick Access Toolbar on the very top left of the OneNote window. The QAT in Office apps was covered way back in ToW #321, from March 2016.

clip_image006Docking has the effect of minimizing the UI for OneNote and sending it to a (horizontally resizable) section of your screen, on right-hand-side.

Usefully, it also means other apps respect that space, so even if you maximize another window, it will only grow to appear alongside your docked OneNote.

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If you don’t like the position of the docked window, drag it using the “…” at the top of the pane, and position it on the top, bottom or the left side of the screen instead. If you press CTRL+ALT+D again while docked, it will fill the entire screen – maybe useful if you have a 2nd monitor.

The rest of the minimal UI lets you access the pen menu, restore back to the full UI or you can use a somewhat obscure feature called Linked Notes. This will add a link back to another clip_image010document that you could also be working on; you’ll see an icon showing the source document when you select text that has been linked.

Hover over the icon and you can get a summary or thumbnail of the document, and left-click the icon to open the document.

The original intent with Linked Notes was that you could use it across Office apps and also when browsing the web; how useful to be able to make notes on a specific web page and then jump back to the source when revisiting the notes you took! Sadly, the feature was integrated only to the dearly departed Internet Explorer, and it is not available in modern browsers. The topic of Edge support has been raised in online forums but thus far, responses have been less than forthcoming.

Even the Help page on Linked Notes talks about how it works with Word 2013, PowerPoint 2013 and other OneNote 2013 pages… no mention of Excel either.

clip_image012If you do find yourself going back in time and using Linked Notes, you’ll see an additional icon (when un-docked and back in full OneNote mode) in the top right of any page where you have links, allowing you to go straight to the source docs or to manage the links themselves.

673 – Where is my mouse?

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The “mouse” was invented 60 years ago, as a means of moving a cursor around on-screen. Through many generations of hardware, it evolved from using wheels to rubbery balls, before eventually going sensor-based and even losing the tail that may have helped coin its original name

Since many people now use laptops with touchpads, they won’t even use an external meecely peripheral but the term “mouse” is still often used to refer to the pointer that it controls. Finding that pointer on your desktop can sometimes be a challenge, especially if you have multiple screens on your computer, and particularly if at least one of them is a snazzy ultrawide job.

mouseyThe free PowerToys addons to Windows 11 includes a section of Mouse utilities; install the full PowerToys suite and you can usually enable each feature individually, and set what mechanism you’d use to invoke it. Perhaps the most useful is the “Find my Mouse” keyboard shortcut – just press the CTRL key twice in quick succession, and the screen dims with a spotlight on where your pointer currently is. Press CTRL once again to remove it and go back to normal.

crosshairsThere are loads of settings to tweak how some of the utilities work – Find my Mouse could be enabled by shaking your mouse if you’d prefer. There’s also a highlighter feature that indicates if you’re pressing a left or right mouse button, or a crosshair view which, when turned on, sets a permanent crosshair display (again, configurable in numerous ways) that remains in place until you repeat the key combo to switch it off.

clip_image008Mice can jump high – who knew?

A new mousey feature in the latest release of PowerToys is called Mouse Jump – erstwhile known as FancyMouse – and lets you teleport your mouse pointer from one side of a potentially massive desktop to another.

This is particularly handy if clip_image010you have multiple screens set at different heights, and in order to traverse from one side of the desktop to the other would take you multiple swipes of a physical mouse or strokes of a touchpad.

Press the activation key and you’ll see a shrunken version of the desktop in a small window; click where you want the pointer to vamoose to on that depiction of the display and it will teleport to the other side of the desktop.

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670 – Clipboard history

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Some tips deserve multiple bites* especially when the recipe changes between software versions. This one harks back to ToWs #457 and #482, yet it’s still seemingly little known. If you ever have to watch someone share their desktop on Teams and fuss about when copying and pasting stuff, this could be a useful tip to share with them.

*ToW readers will probably know there are 8 bits in a byte; did you know that half a byte is called a nibble?
There is no accepted name for 2-bits, though Bing AI suggested it might be a “crumb”
.

clip_image003The metaphor of cutting and pasting has been around since the early days of interactive computing, taking inspiration from the way that printed publications would be edited together by physically cutting parts of one page and gluing/pasting them onto another. They might have been kept on a physical clipboard between the snip and the stick.

The Windows clipboard is common across all applications, and has an opt-in feature to keep a history so you can go back to something you copied previously; turn on the history or interact with your previous clips by pressing WindowsKey+V. See more on using Clipboard history. You can also sync the clipboard across multiple devices too.

The same UI for clipboard clip_image005history can also be used to insert special characters, emoticons and the like, into any application – in fact, pressing WindowsKey+. (that’s a full stop or period) brings up the smiley-picker, which is just another one of the tabs on the same dialogue as clipboard.

You can pin clipped items if you like, and pressing the ellipsis … gives the option of removing an item, or pasting it as text – handy if you’d like to paste a URL rather than a smart link that results in the title of a web page with hyperlink behind it.

0x29A – It’s only a number

Last week’s ToW was the six-hundimagered, three-score and fifth, and while this week’s is one more, it’s probably best if it’s not mentioned. As well as being called out in a certain old book, said number also features greatly in legend, light musical entertainment and popular fiction.

Other numbers attract a certain amount of superstition – some tall buildings don’t have a thirteenth floor, for example, and even big companies like Microsoft have been known to clip_image002dodge bad luck by not shipping a v13 of a product (like Office – look at the File | Account | About dialog in any Office app, and you’ll see the version number – Office 2007 was v12 and Office 2010 was v14). Some cultures don’t much like the number 4 or 14 either.

clip_image004One numerically interesting but easily overlooked app in Windows 11 is the venerable Calculator. Start it by pressing the Windows key and entering calc, or if you’re truly blessed, you might even have a physical button on your keyboard. The app starts in whichever mode it was last run – by default, a simple calculator with the same kinds of functions that were common on the popular pocket calculators of the 1980s.

But look at the hamburger menu on the top left and you’ll see so much more – from Programmer functions to convert numbers from clip_image006one clip_image008base to another (so you can decode hex error messages or “funny” binary t-shirts*), to a whole array of converter functions which let you quickly change currency (at the current rate) or transform from one measurement standard to another.

There’s a neat date calculator too, so you don’t need to resort to using an Excel formula to count how many days there are between two dates.

Back in Standard mode, you’ll see the history of your calculations on the right side, and you can use the Memory functions to store multiple numbers for future use; much better than the old one-and-done M- clip_image010M+ and MR buttons on a pocket calc. There’s also a mode which keeps the calculator window on top of others, even if it isn’t the active window at the time.

If you have a full-sized keyboard, you’ll also probably have a NumLock key – that turns the numerical keypad on the right side on and off. In the early days of the PC, smaller keyboards didn’t have separate cursor keys, so these were sited on the keypad. In order to use these cursor functions – and the others, often doubled-up PgUp / PgDn etc – you’d switch NumLock off. And then swear when you went to use the numerical pad to quickly enter a number into some DOS application, only to find you’ve moved the blinking cursor around instead.

*convert each of the 8-bit binary numbers in the t-shirt to decimal; assuming the decimal number is the ASCII code corresponding to a letter, open a new blank doc in Word, and holding down the ALT key, enter the decimal number on your numeric keypad. Oh, if you’ve only got a laptop with no separate Numlock/keypad, bad luck.

665 – Mind your screenshots

imageScreen-grabbing has been around in some forms since the earliest days of the IBM PC – there is a PrtScn key on most keyboards, for example. Back in the day it would have sent the contents of the screen to a physical printer but later might save the info to a file or copy it to the clipboard.

Windows has had a screen grabbing utility for a while called Snipping Tool, which was replaced with a new tool called Snip & Sketch. The gist of these tools was that pressing some key combo (eg SHIFT+WindowsKey+S) would grab a portion of the screen and copy it into the clipboard. Snip & Sketch ultimately gave way to a new version, called, er, Snipping Tool. There have been many ways to take screen shots over time.

clip_image002clip_image004The latest iteration of the app throws a toolbar at the top of the screen when invoked with SHIFT+WIN+S, and gives a variety of options on how to grab that screenshot. You can also set Windows to use the physical PrtScn key to do the same in case you forget the shortcut combo.

After completing it, you’ll see a pop-up in the lower right to tell you that it has completed.

In previous versions, if you wanted to manipulate or save the screen grab, you’d need to click quickly on that toast to then launch the Snipping Tool UI with the grab inside, or else you’d need to paste the image that is now in the clipboard into another image manipulation tool and modify or save it to a file from there. Annoyingly, there’s never been an option to paste what’s in the clipboard into the Snipping Tool’s UI, so you could edit or save it quickly.

clip_image006An alternative approach would be to start the Snipping Tool first and initiate the screen-grab from within; you could make some simple tweaks and highlights (like cropping it, or circling a part of the screen in red ink) from there. Kicking off the snipping from within the tool gives you other options too – like grabbing in a few seconds, to give you time to ready the app you’re trying to capture.

clip_image008A new feature to the Snipping Tool is the default setting that it saves snips to a “Screenshots” folder; it’s configured in the Tool itself, should you want to disable it.

The Screenshots folder itself is within your “Pictures” folder, unless you’ve decided to move it somewhere else (if you’re that way inclined, open the Pictures folder, right-click on Screenshots and under the Location tab, click Move to find a new home for it).

clip_image010It’s worth keeping an occasional eye on the size of the Screenshots folder, as it could well have hundreds of grabs totalling many megabytes of data. Screen grab files are named with the date and time in the filename,  so you can easily get to the latest one by opening the folder and pressing the Home or End key (depending on how you have it sorted). Feel free to delete any you don’t need.

clip_image012The … menu in the top right of the Snipping Tool lets you quickly find your way to the Screenshots folder directly, or if you press WindowsKey+R and enter shell:screenshots, it’ll open in a new Explorer window.

If you favour command lines in general, you can also start the Snipping Tool by pressing Win+R and entering ms-screensketch: (including the comma) to run the full UI or ms-screenclip: to jump straight to the capture just as if you’d pressed SHIFT+Win+S.

664 – Android apps on Windows

clip_image002Microsoft has a somewhat complicated history with ”mobile apps”. The Windows Phone platform promised much, and though many of the ideas were good, ultimately it went away. The Universal Windows Platform app model was a sound idea in some respects, but when the ‘Phone disappeared, its raison d’être ceased to be.

At one point, there were calls that Windows Phone should be able to run Android apps in emulation, or that Microsoft should embrace Android in other ways. Recent years have seen Microsoft publish a profusion of Android apps, including the excellent Launcher, which takes some of the ideas honed in the Windows Phone UI and makes them available to just about any Android phone.

When the dual-screen Surface Duo phone appeared, it was the first time Microsoft had shipped a device running Android as the base operating system. Recent speculation on the future of the Surface Duo 3 might point to a different form factor, but it’s still very likely going to be running the Android OS.

On the desktop, Windows 11 has been offering Android apps to many users for a little while. Similar in some ways to Windows Subsystem for Linux, which basically lets you run a fully-fledged Linux machine inside your Windows PC, the Windows Subsystem for Android means running Android in a virtual machine and allowing apps to appear in a window alongside native Windows apps.

clip_image004To run Android apps on the WSA on Windows 11, you first need to install the Amazon Appstore. There are many apps in this store, but since it originally started as a walled garden for Amazon’s own Fire tablets, there are gaps. You won’t find many banking apps, for example, and aside from the thousands of garish games, many of the available apps could just be run in a browser on your PC instead.

clip_image006Install the Amazon Appstore app from the app for the Microsoft Store (still with us?), and it adds the bones of the Subsystem for Android too.

The Amazon Appstore app itself is a bit crude – it doesn’t offer much opportunity to filter and sort the apps it presents, so it’s not easy to wade through the many stupid games to find real apps you might want to use. It’s maybe better to peruse what’s available through a browser, and then search specifically within the Appstore app for the app you want to add.

clip_image008clip_image010After you’ve installed your Android apps, you will see them show up individually in Windows’ list of programs, with nothing obvious to differentiate from native apps.

clip_image012Clicking the menu next to an installed Android app then choosing Modify presents a familiar-looking UI (if you have an Android phone) for managing the permissions or the running state of the app.

If you wanted to use Android apps that are not published through the curated Amazon store, you’d need to have access to the Google Play store, and that’s not officially an option with the Windows Subsystem for Android.

There are numerous hacks online to enable Google Play Services (and thus the Googley Store) but getting it installed and running is convoluted, and at least one script has already been subverted with malware, so might be a risky endeavour too. You might want to try running BlueStacks or another Android emulator, to get access to the Google Play store.

659 – Sounding out apps

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How you control the sonic emissions from your PC has changed repeatedly over the years; volume is often adjustable by hardware buttons or function keys but more advanced controls are usually found by double-clicking a speaker icon in the system tray. Windows 11 evolved the UI further, in the hope of making it easier to use.

Now, if you click the speaker, you don’t jump to the full blown sound control panel, but to a quick settings dialog which clip_image004controls some commonly used connectivity and display settings, customizable if you like. Desktop PCs typically don’t need Flight mode, but nocturnal users may want to add night light for quickly changing screen colour.

clip_image006Drag the slider by the volume icon and the predictable happens but click the icon to its right and you can easily choose which output device you want to use, if you have several (like headphones, speakers, monitors etc). Clicking More volume settings at the bottom takes you to a more fully-featured volume control panel.

If you have multiple monitors connected to your PC – especially if HDMI is involved – it’s clip_image008possible your machine might expect to route sound to one or more of them; unless you do actually have speakers attached to the monitor, or it’s in fact a flippin’ big television, you’d probably prefer it didn’t show up on the list of potential output devices.

clip_image010Click on the arrow to the right of the device you want to exclude – the ASUS monitor, in this case – and then hit the Don’t allow button: next time you look in the quick volume settings UI, it’s no longer there.

Some apps might have a UX for controlling audio output directly, over-riding the system default and probably sticking with whatever device you choose – Teams or Zoom, for example, may choose a USB speaker/mic or a headset if connected, rather than using the laptop speaker. If the app doesn’t know anything of sound devices, then ordinarily it will use the default (as per the options above), but there is a somewhat hidden setting that lets you tweak things further rather than having to alter the system’s chosen output just for that app or session.

If you want to fire the audio stream from a particular app at a different endpoint than the system default – let’s say you have a Bluetooth speaker connected, but you’d prefer system sounds and the likes to keep coming from your laptop speakers – you could tell Windows to send that app’s audio output to a different place, and the app will never know about it.

clip_image012In the main System > Sound control panel, scroll down to Volume Mixer and click the arrow to open it up. In that page, you’ll see a list comprising the currently-running applications which have made some kind of audio output (in other words, if you want to set an app up, make sure it’s started it and if it’s not in the list, start playing something).

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In this case, the Dell monitor does have an amp & speakers attached to its audio line-out socket (where audio is sent to the monitor via the display cable, and it then puts it out to the speakers), so while spending a day of Teams calls and other system sounds emanating from the tinkly-bonk USB speaker, the business of smashing out some banging tunes can go to the bassier speakers.

clip_image016Finally, should you wish to give your devices more meaningful names than the ones shown, look for More sound settings in that first System > Sound settings page. This brings up a Windows clip_image018XP-era dialog which allows more precise configuration of devices and levels.

The Sound dialog lets you choose the sound scheme (controlling all the bongs and bings of Windows), configure the speaker arrangement (if you have surround sound etc), or choose all kinds of enhancements and effects.

It also lets you rename the device altogether and set a different icon, so when it shows up elsewhere – including in the shiny Windows 11 Settings app – then it’ll be a bit clearer what it really is

651 – Snappy Snap

imageSnap is a feature in Windows, used to arrange applications on screen, building on a shortcut that has been around since Windows 7: press the Windows Key and one of the arrow keys simultaneously, and the current window will be maximised, minimised or snapped to one side of the screen. Windows 8’s touch fixation brought other means to control window layouts, while Windows 10 evolved things further with “Snap Assist”.

One of the improvements that came initially to Windows 11 and has been improved in the latest 22H2 updateimaginatively called the Windows 11 2022 Update – is the Snap Layouts feature, allowing finer control on the way you want windows to be arranged.

clip_image002Especially useful on high-res displays, this can be invoked by hovering the mouse over the maximise icon in the top right of any window, and choosing from a set of offered layouts.

clip_image004You’ll then be able to select other open applications that can be slotted into the remaining screen space.


clip_image006This Snap Layout can also be invoked on the active window by pressing WindowsKey+Z, followed by a number key to represent the layout you want; press the corresponding number and then another clip_image008number within the destination group, to quickly move the window – or Edge browser tab – to that location. This now creates a Snap group which shows up in the ALT+TAB gallery as if it was a single application, so making it easier to manage side-by-side windows that are related.

clip_image010Finally, in the Windows 11 22H2 update, if you drag your window to the top of the screen, a small black bar will hove into view…

clip_image012Continue dragging your window onto that as a target and a larger control will appear, allowing you to drop your window into the appropriate place. This also kicks off the Snap Assist feature which lets you easily select the other windows you’d like to be in the same layout.

*Deceased muso George Michael famously pranged into a Snappy Snaps store, leading to some inspired graffiti.

649 – Exploring SharePoint libraries

clip_image002SharePoint is now old enough that it could walk into a bar and buy itself a beer. It has changed a lot over the versions; starting out as a server product that would produce “portals” (or “digital dashboards”) it grew quickly to being rather more document-centric. SharePoint became the back-end for OneDrive for Business storage, and both have evolved a long way.

Two years ago, SharePoint was said to be used by over 200 million users. The following year, the Gartner MQ had it way out in front on the “Ability to Execute” Y-axis and slightly behind only one other supplier on the “Completeness of Vision” X-axis. It won’t be long now for the next MQ report to appear.

Nowadays, SharePoint underpins quite a lot of Microsoft 365 functionality, such as apps like Lists which provide a groovier UI over the top of the base web services, and the document oriented collab in Teams.

clip_image004If you look at a file library in Teams, you’ll see a bunch of SharePoint-y options – you can Sync the content offline and it will be held offline, using OneDrive to sync it (and if you like, syncing only the files you’ve opened rather than the whole shebang).

clip_image006The Sync’ed libraries show up in the Windows Explorer app, and in any number of applications’ File | Open / Save dialog boxes, so you can access and interact with the files through the apps you use rather than browsing to SharePoint.

You’ll see a collection of folders that have been set up to Sync, shown with your organization name, alongside any personal OneDrive and OneDrive for Business synced libraries.

The Download option (next to Sync on the Toolbar in Teams), creates a single ZIP file your computer, with the entire contents of the folder you’re looking at, so use it carefully.

clip_image008One somewhat overlooked option further to the right of the toolbar (or may be on the ellipsis (“…”) menu): Add shortcut to OneDrive. This creates a shortcut link to the current SharePoint folder within your main OneDrive for Business storage, making it easy to find that SharePoint folder in the future, even though it’s not synced offline. The Add shortcut option is also visible on the ellipsis to the right of sub-folders when viewed in SharePoint or Teams.

Don’t add shortcuts to libraries – or sub-folders – which are already being Synced offline. That would be bad.

One downside to the OneDrive shortcut approach is that it just dumps the link into “My Files”, which is the root folder in OneDrive. The shortcut is named the same as the original source – so if you have lots of Teams folders with the same name (eg “Documents”), they will clash with each other as adding a new link would try to create a shortcut with the same name as one that exists already.

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One solution would be to create a subfolder in OneDrive, called Sites (or similar), and after creating the shortcut to your latest Teams/SharePoint site, go to the root OneDrive folder and move your new shortcut – maybe renaming it too, so you can see what its parent site was (since the shortcut doesn’t make it clear what the source SharePoint site is) – you’d then have a Sites folder with lots of Shortcuts like Project Team – Documents etc.

Another side benefit of using shortcuts rather than Syncing offline, is that if you have multiple PCs – or feel like accessing OneDrive through a browser on a different machine altogether – you will always have access to the same collection of shortcuts, whereas the Sync offline capability is configured separately on each machine.