Tip o’ the Week 357 – Launching Windows Apps

clip_image002How do you like to start your applications?

In Windows 3.x days, you double-clicked on an icon in Program Manager (or PROGMAN aka Program Mangler) and you got to manage groups of icons to help you organise your applications. There was an accompanying File Mangler too, that might still be usable on modern OSes if you fancy it, and you’ve decided that you have too much time on your hands.

clip_image004Most normal people these days will start applications from the Start menu, or the programs list that shows up when you press the Windows Key or click the Windows logo on the task bar. The app list has evolved somewhat, so now shows most-used apps near the top, and if you start typing a name (like outl) then you’ll be shown the relevant shortcut for that particular app.

If you know an exact app command that you want to execute (eg outlook /safe to launch it with no addins), you can run it by pressing WindowsKey+R and entering the clip_image006command, but you get little in the way of help in finding the right thing to type. Simply pressing the WindowsKey and starting to type will show you a load of options for a simple app launch that you might be looking for.

clip_image008Another option could be to follow a process familiar to Windows Phone users, though with a slightly different mode – if you click on one of the letters or symbols that show up at the top of each group of applications, you’ll get a grid of letters just like on the phone – tap or click on one of those to jump quickly to the right group of apps within.

The same approach shows up in some other Windows apps too – like in Groove, where you can select the list of artists or albums etc, based on the letter, rather than scrolling up & down.

This is redolent of the much-vaunted Semantic Zoom feature in Windows 8, which seemed like – and was – a truly great idea at the time, but was fairly poorly implemented by mainstream app publishers who just wanted to port mass-grid iOS and hamburgerised Android apps to Windows. Oh well, back to the day job.

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 #255 – Rating apps in the store

The Store was a key innovation when Windows 8 launched, and continues to grow, both in terms of the number of apps published and the way popular and well-rated apps are surfaced. Earlier this year, Microsoft said there were over 150,000 apps in the Windows 8 store, though now the total reported is combined between the Windows 8 and Windows Phone stores. It’s said that Windows 10 will join the two stores together anyway, a process that’s underway already through the move to Universal Apps.

According to Microsoft By The Numbers, a neat external website that helps to show how large some bits of the company are (did you know that together, the Office for iPad apps have been downloaded 45 million times? Or that 40% of Azure revenue comes from startups and ISVs?), the total number of apps across both stores is 525,000. That’s rather a lot. Finding the good apps from the guff ones can be a challenge.

So, it’s more important than ever to make sure when you use an app you like, or one you don’t, that you rate it. Ratings and reviews will help other people choose your preferred app over some other one which isn’t as good, or has more annoying adverts, or nags you to buy the premium version all the time. In Windows 8.1, there are a few tricks to rating the apps you’ve used, and of sharing your favourite apps with others.

clip_image002Rate and review

As well as rating Windows 8 apps you use regularly, why not review those you feel work particularly well or particularly badly? Maybe the developer will read your review and improve or fix things that don’t work, or maybe people who are browsing will read your rave review and decide that’s the app for them.

Apps for Windows 8 let you Rate and review if you open the Charms menu (when you’re in the app, press WindowsKey+C or swipe from the right, or move your mouse to the top right or bottom right of the screen), then look under Settings.

clip_image004Taking this option fires up the Store app, and navigates directly to the review section where you can assign a 1-5 star rating and give some verbiage should you desire. If you’re going to slate an app that everyone else rates highly, or the opposite, then you really should explain why, so others can benefit from your wisdom or simply write your thoughts off as coming from a blithering idiot.

How many Amazon reviews have you read, that score a product 1 star because it took ages to arrive or the box was damaged on receipt? The case rests.

clip_image006If you want to rate apps without actually opening them, you can go into the Store app, select Account | My apps from the menu at the top, then select the appropriate filter from the drop-down boxes, then click or tap on each item to get to its Store page, which includes rating & reviews.

Sensibly, you can’t actually rate apps that you’ve never installed, but you can rate and review apps that you have only on another PC.

Sadly, there’s no way of showing your own ratings in a list – it would be handy to be able to see all the apps you’ve installed and how you rated each one – maybe there’s an app for that, or someone else will write it to share a way of doing so…

clip_image008Windows Phone ratings

Apps on Phone don’t have the same consistent mechanism to expose the ratings and review section of the Store (since they don’t have charms), though many apps will prompt you after a while of usage, to ask if you’d like to rate them.

From a PC, you can head over to the Windows Phone site and look at your purchase history, then rate from within there.

On the phone, visit the Store app to rate and review other apps you’ve used (again, you need to have actually installed them to be able to rate), and you’ll see on the same reviews tab that you can also Share the app, which sends a link via mail or numerous other messaging or social networking means.


Sharing on Windows 8.1clip_image009

Returning to Windows 8.1, if you want to share your favourite apps with friends, just go back into the Charms menu and you’ll see Share proudly offered – though its use will vary depending on what you’re doing with the app itself. If listening to Music (US only, sadly), you’ll share a link to whatever you’re playing. If you’re reading the News, selecting Share will send the headline and a link to the article you’re on.

To Share apps, follow the same steps as earlier to list your installed apps from within the Store, then open the details page for the app in question, but instead of rating or reviewing it, invoke the Share charm when at the same page.

If you don’t want to email links etc using the Mail client, perhaps preferring to embed the links into rambling missives from within Outlook, then check out the neat Clipboard app, which (using a “contract”) lets you Share something straight into the Windows Clipboard, ready to be pasted into another app of your choice.

Tip o’ the Week #249 – Sync your Desktop

clip_image001This week’s tip comes as a direct result of a conversation had over a glass of wine and a plate of food, with Content & Code’s supremo, Tim Wallis.

Most of us who’ve been using PCs for years will have picked up or held onto habits that are probably not ideal, at least not as the designers of the latest software might have in mind – but as the customer is always right, if we want to be backward, then the system should accommodate that, right?


Windows users of old: at which point did you finally accept the default, and stop disabling the Hide extensions for known file types setting in Windows Explorer? Let hidden files stay that way? Or do you still switch these options on?
Are you holding on too tight?

And do you still think of directories or have you embraced folders? Do you still want a D: drive to put all your data on?

Well, many of us will habitually drop stuff onto the Windows desktop because it’s generally easy to find (press WindowsKey-D and, tada!, there it is) – though it’s always possible to go over the top.

If you want to drag an attachment from Outlook and upload it to a SharePoint site, for example – you’ll need to copy the file to somewhere on your PC and then upload from there. And the desktop can be just the simplest way to do that (press WindowsKey and left or right arrow key to snap Outlook to the side, potentially exposing the desktop beneath… a perfect target for dragging & dropping files onto).

Syncety Sync

What Tim was musing over, however, was the scenario when you have multiple PCs and you drop a document (or folder full of them) onto the desktop – wouldn’t it be nice if OneDrive could replicate the desktop onto the other machine(s)? Windows 8 makes it easy to roam lots of settings (the Start menu layout, the desktop backdrop etc) between machines, but it doesn’t sync the actual contents of the desktop out of the box.

Worry not: it’s possible. Firstly, you need the OneDrive software on every PC (it’s installed by default on Windows 8.1, including Surface RT), then you’ll re-point the Desktop to a location that OneDrive can sync.

To set up sync, for the purposes of just backing up one PC or for sharing the same desktop content with several:

  • clip_image004Find the OneDrive logo in the Windows System Tray Notification Area
    (NB: if you have OneDrive for Business installed, you’ll want to make sure you pick the white consumer OneDrive icon, rather than the blue business one…)
  • clip_image006Right-click the icon, then open the OneDrive folder using Explorer, right-click in the resulting window and create a folder where you want the Desktop contents to be. It might help to copy the location of that folder to the clipboard, for use shortly…
  • Hold the SHIFT key, and then right-click on your new folder– and use the phenomenally handy Copy as path option that only appears when you hold down SHIFT.
  • clip_image007Now, in the same Explorer window, scroll down in the folder list to see the This PC section and right-click on Desktop, then Properties, then look to the Location tab.
  • Now click the Move button, paste the contents of the clipboard (the path to the folder you created in OneDrive) into the dialog that pops up, Select Folder then confirm that you’d like to move the contents of the desktop across.


Now, any folders or files you drop on the desktop will synchronise to other PCs if you repeat the same process as above. If you have lots of folders full of stuff, you’ll need to wait a little, while OneDrive syncs them for you. Right-click on the OneDrive icon in your system tray again, and click Sync if you’d like to see the status.

Tip o’ the Week #246 – The least-used key on your keyboard

clip_image002The computer keyboard will probably be with us for many years to come – it’s just such an efficient way (once you get used to it) of text entry, that it’s hard to imagine it’ll be replaced entirely with gestures or by speech.

There are some pretty obscure keys on the standard PC keyboard though – many of which date to the very earliest implementations of the IBM PC. What does Scroll Lock do, for example, other than annoy Excel users who think they’re moving the cursor around inside the sheet, only to find the whole thing is scrolling up and down?


The Pause key (often doubled up with Break, which dates back to the days of the telegraph) has one interesting modern side effect – press WindowsKey + Pause, and your machine will jump straight to the “System Properties” page – a handy way of checking the config of a machine you’re using.

These kinds of tips were once redolent of the doyen of desk-side PC support, where every second spared in visiting a user was time better spent in the pub. All of this is of course lost now, what with the risk in desktop sharing via Lync or Remote Desktop software.

The AltGr key normally found to the right of the space bar has a few odd functions that are not often needed, from a way of setting formatting in Office to a means of entering accented characters. Try AltGr+e for example to chuck an é into a name, and keep people with extravagant names happy that you’ve bothered to spell them correctly. There are other ways of doing the same thing, too – Office apps all have a means of using “dead keys”, eg CTRL+ followed by an appropriate letter would render an acute accent, or the CTRL+ ` (generally found on the key below Escape) will render the next letter with a  grave. CTRL + Caret (^), Colon (:) or Tilde (~) will accent the following letter with the appropriate accent. See here for more international Office fun.

Finally, there’s the strange “menu” key, sometimes referred to a “application” or “right click” – usually found to the right of AltGr. It’s generally used as the equivalent of right-clicking a clip_image006mouse, though can be followed up with other keys to quickly perform functions that might otherwise need a few clicks or menu commands.


One example – if you are looking to paste some text in a document or email, you can quickly press the menu button then follow with T if you only want to paste the text only (ie plain text, not the formatting) or M if you want to merge formatting.

In a Metro Modern application, the menu/application/right-click key also has the same effect as swiping up from the bottom of the screen (or pressing WindowsKey + Z).

Tip o’ the Week #233 – When I’m moving windows

clip_image002As the nights are already drawing in, UK domestic interest in international football has long waned to background tolerance (apart from tabloid cannibal fever), massive new TV sales and beer supply forecasts drop to any normal summer level, we must amuse ourselves in other pursuits. Maybe, perusing old Tips o’ the Week could be one of them?

ATS Andrew Warriner commented in email, that he sees lots of people struggling to move windows around when projecting during meetings (dragging between the two screens being offered in an extended display). Well, it’s a topic ToW has covered in part before, but it’s always good for a refresher.

If you only have one screen in front of you, try pressing WindowsKey + LEFT or RIGHT arrow to snap your current window to the left or right side of the screen (or unsnap it back to normal). WindowsKey + UP or DOWN will maximise, restore or minimise the current clip_image002window.

When you’re working on multiple screens (the default when you plug in a 2nd monitor or projector), just press WindowsKey + SHIFT + LEFT or RIGHT to switch the current window between your PC screen and the projected one.

Displaying an Excel spreadsheet in a window that you’d like to show off? Try Wnd+SHIFT+LEFT immediately followed by Wnd+UP, and you’ll not only have flicked the window to the big screen, you’ll have maximised it too, all in a matter of half a second. A Productivity Superhero you shall become, hmmm.

Andrew also suggested that you might want to switch off the taskbar showing in the 2nd screen, by right-clicking on the Taskbar, choosing Properties and switching off the “Show taskbar on all displays” check box.

More shortcut fun can be found here, and here.

Tip o’ the Week #209 – Shhhhhhhh!


How many times have you been awoken by your phone, tablet or PC blaring an alert first thing in the morning, telling you it’s someone’s birthday (worse, someone you hardly even know)? Or reminding you it’s time to go to an optional conference call in the middle of the night (your time), that was sitting unnoticed in your diary?

As mobile platforms have evolved, sometimes favoured functionality in old versions gets sacrificed in the name of quick progress, and may be eventually added back in future. The Windows Phone 7 journey is a great example – compared to Windows Mobile 6.5, there were lots of features which didn’t exist yet most people either didn’t notice, or they did notice but quickly stopped whining, dried their eyes and got on with the rest of their lives.

Windows Phone 8 misses one feature that was present in many old mobile phones, (including that first “Stinger” phone, the Orange SPV, which showed up more than 11 years ago), namely the idea of sound profiles – you could set up several named settings (Meeting, Silent, Outdoor, Normal, etc), and easily switch between them, maybe even automatically. Later versions of Pocket PC-based phones had an array of 3rd party software that could not only create & manage profiles – a feature that didn’t exist on the PPC platform – but could even switch profiles on a schedule, so when you went to bed, the phone went to quiet mode but came back to life in the morning so the alarm still worked.

Windows 8.1 and Quiet hours

clip_image004Here’s a handy added-feature to Windows 8.1 which could be particularly relevant to hypnagogic tablet users, namely the ability to shut the machine up for specified periods of time. It’s even enabled by default.

To set up your preferred Quiet hours, either navigate through settings (Settings charm | clip_image006Change PC Settings | Search and apps | Notifications) or save yourself a lot of clicking or poking, by typing quiet hours at the Start screen, and select from the search results.

Maybe we’ll see the same Quiet Hours functionality built into the next generation of Windows Phone…? In the meantime, at least you can quickly switch between ring mode and silence by just pressing one of the volume controls on the side of the phone, then tapping the sound icon on the top right of the screen.

Tip o’ the Week #204 – Mirror, mirror, on the big screen


Many people who’ve had a new laptop in the last year will have experienced the frustration of showing up in a meeting room, only to find that you have no means of projecting onto the screen – there are at least 5 different types of connector that could go into the laptop, and 2 or 3 that might be supported by the screen in the room.

clip_image003Wireless projection has been promised for years, with a series of proprietary and clunky technologies that never really took off. All this is set to change, using a technology which started as a consumer function on high-end TVs, yet is filtering down to £200 tellies and will be mainstream on projection systems going forward. Maybe. For now, we have to live with a profusion of dongles while projecting at work, but what about in the home? Ever fancied delivering a PPT presentation to the gathered family?

Miracast” is a standard which allows devices – PCs and Android tablets, mainly (Apple does not support Miracast, preferring their own proprietary technology) – to replicate their display and sounds onto a remote device. Windows 8.1 now supports Miracast, and if your home TV is new, then you might well find it enables the screen mirroring technology too.

There are third-party Miracast devices which can bring wireless access to your “legacy” TV and sound system, potentially – EZCast HDMI WiFi adapters or the Netgear PTV3000. Maybe it’s worth treating your living room to some remote projection goodness?

A few things to check:

  • You can only use Miracast over WiFi – it’s not applicable using wired connections, and some WiFi networks won’t support it either.
  • Even if you’ve got an appropriate telly and a Windows 8.1 machine with the right kind of WiFi adapter, you may still need to get an updated display driver (either from your PC manufacturer or from Intel directly).
  • clip_image004Surface RT currently does not support Miracast even though the Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC that powers the original Surface, does. Surface Pro and 2 should be OK.
  • You’ll need to add the TV to your PC, akin to pairing a Bluetooth device – a one-off process that is pretty self-explanatory, though if it doesn’t go smoothly, return to the “update your driver” section.
  • As you may see, this is still not exactly Plug & Play…

Having said that, when it works – it works well. Think of Miracast as like HDMI over WiFi, so could be a way of streaming music to a TV connected to a sound system. Hello Xbox Music Pass, bye-bye Sonos?

To find out more, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to project and some more details on how it works, here.

Tip o’ the Week #203 – Remote control of Office

clip_image002Anyone who regularly presents will have had the occasion when there’s a need to wander around the stage, or instead be marooned behind a lectern on the side, yet if there’s no presentation “clicker” provided, it’s difficult to control the flow. A/V professionals complain that they can never keep hold of clickers as they grow legs and walk, so unless you bring your own, you might be out of luck.

There have been any number of attempts to build remote control software for Pocket PCs, Stinger smartphones, but none have been altogether successful – usually requiring faffing about with esoteric networking to make them work. There was also the snappily-named Microsoft Wireless Notebook Presenter Mouse 8000, which could be flipped over from its primary rodent function, to expose PowerPoint clicker type buttons below. It’s so bulky, maybe the mouse’s best use in retirement is to torment cats with its laser pointer.

clip_image001Enter Microsoft Research, who recently produced Office Remote – and a means, with your Windows Phone in paw, to remotely operate Office apps using a Bluetooth connection direct to the PC.

Frankly, controlling a remote Word doc (by jumping around the structure of the document, zooming in/out etc), or Excel (moving about, using Slicers/Filters/Pivots, as well as the jumping/zooming around) is something of a novelty. How many cases will you find yourself where you’re looking at a screen showing your document from your PC, but you don’t have the means to control the document directly?

Where the remote control really comes into its own, however, is with PowerPoint. You can read speaker notes and even use your phone screen as a virtual laser pointer on the main screen – as well as swiping back and forth to move through the slide being shown on the main PC.

There are two routes to go about installing the software – there’s an agent that needs to run on your PC, and an app on the clip_image003 phone. If you run the Setup app on your PC, then look under the “OFFICE REMOTE” tab in your Word/Excel/PowerPoint apps, you can remotely install the controller app on your phone. Or start with the phone install first.

Simply install the app on both PC (running Windows 7 or 8.x) and on your mobile device, bond the two together in Bluetooth settings (part of the setup to add a new device) and you’re off. Simple, effective and free. Thanks to Simon Boreham, Ant Austin, Rina Ladva and others for recommending the application.

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.