Windows 95 (aka “Chicago”) introduced us to the wonders of the Windows “Taskbar” as a way of managing open apps. It was a response to people's increased ability and need to multitask in Windows, as previous versions of the OS provided no ready visual indication of how many windows were currently open. Other than a pile of open windows on the screen, obviously.
Windows 7 brought with it some brilliant enhancements to the taskbar that have pretty much remained unchanged in Windows 8 (even the spirit of the Start Button is there, if only you drift your mouse over to the bottom left of the screen…) Useful functions like Jump Lists and the ability to pin Internet Explorer favourites by dragging them directly to the taskbar (see ToW #83 and #86) are all retained in Windows 8.
Like every step forward, however, there was a down side to the changes made in Windows 7 (& by the same token to Windows 8), in the way the taskbar behaves with certain apps that offer no additional functionality by situating themselves on the taskbar (other than cluttering it up). Lync and Skype are examples of ‘always on’ but not as frequently used as Outlook, which has a permanent place on just about all of our taskbars.
There are other taskbar villains out there too – the Windows Live Messenger app always wanted to stick itself there, even if you didn’t sign in – but with the groovy “Messaging” app now part of Windows 8, you could spam FB & Windows Live Messenger, all from a single, chromeless, modern, Windows UI app style UI app, so who needs separate apps to do all those things anyway?
Here’s how to banish those Skype & Lync apps to the ‘tray notification area’ (a.k.a. systray) while they are not in use. [Rumour has it that we’re going to merge Skype & Lync together at some point and call it Slync. Actually, that isn’t true but it would be amusing and certainly better than “Klype”].
If you’re using a widescreen monitor or laptop, try setting the taskbar to the side of the screen – it’s more efficient and allows better navigation for most people. Try it out by checking out this KB article.
File Extensions. The lost remnants of MS DOS that started to vanish when Windows 95 removed the tyranny of the 8.3 for most people. This 8 year old survey asks, which one are you?
There are other historical artefacts littered around in Microsoft history – like the alias/login name, which for many is still their email address and is limited in length.
From a 1998 snapshot of the Microspeak Glossary:
E-Mail Names: On the surface, a reasonably logical method of distinguishing 20,000 or so Microsoft employees and contractors on the internal corporate e-mail system. Consists of a five- or six-letter alias (q.v.) constructed from first and last name — if Leonardo Di Caprio worked for Microsoft, for example, his e-mail handle would be something like "leodic." Where it gets strange is that the corporate culture fosters a substitution of the e-mail name for the real name, in memos, formal documents, and even, repellently, in conversation. (Ex: "johnd owns that issue," "contingent staffers report to edcur," and constant casual references to Bill Gates as "billg.") [in actual fact, the maximum email name, logon name or alias length was 7 then 8 characters, a restriction originally imposed by the Xenix and then MSMail systems – Xenix was a version of Unix which Microsoft used to sell, and on which our first corporate-wide email system was based. MSMail disappeared nearly 15 years ago, yet the length limit still applies because, erm, nobody knows why. Probably.]
E-Mail Names: On the surface, a reasonably logical method of distinguishing 20,000 or so Microsoft employees and contractors on the internal corporate e-mail system. Consists of a five- or six-letter alias (q.v.) constructed from first and last name — if Leonardo Di Caprio worked for Microsoft, for example, his e-mail handle would be something like "leodic." Where it gets strange is that the corporate culture fosters a substitution of the e-mail name for the real name, in memos, formal documents, and even, repellently, in conversation. (Ex: "johnd owns that issue," "contingent staffers report to edcur," and constant casual references to Bill Gates as "billg.")
[in actual fact, the maximum email name, logon name or alias length was 7 then 8 characters, a restriction originally imposed by the Xenix and then MSMail systems – Xenix was a version of Unix which Microsoft used to sell, and on which our first corporate-wide email system was based. MSMail disappeared nearly 15 years ago, yet the length limit still applies because, erm, nobody knows why. Probably.]
People continue to refer to document types by their file name extension, at least in part – “PPT” is still used (even if it’s really a PPTX); now and again you’ll talk about a “JPEG” or “MPEG”, but one of the most used is “PDF”.
The Portable Document Format was originally used by Adobe nearly 20 years ago, after the company was founded by people who had worked at the legendary Xerox PARC (having developed the PostScript page description language there, before leaving – like seemingly everyone else at PARC – with their good ideas, and making millions elsewhere).
There’s a PDF reader built into Windows 8 (called, simply, “Reader”). It’s quick, it’s clean, it isn’t full of unwanted functionality and security vulns, and it’s already there, so no downloading and updating every time you reboot. Hurah!
The downside? Well, sometimes it can look a bit funny on different machines, and it isn’t so easy to print as you might expect – on the Charms Bar (swipe from the right, throw your mouse to the bottom right, or press Wnd-C) you need to use Devices to print out.
The most annoying feature though, is when you click on a PDF link in an web page or an attachment in email, you view it in the full-screen, chromeless, Modern UI, and when you’re done, you close the window by dragging down from the middle of the top (like in any Modern UI app). And you get dumped back to the Start screen rather than the app you were in.
Ex-UK wonderboy Matt McSpirit was always a big proponent of Foxit Reader, an alternative to Adobe’s ubiquitous, monolithic and forever-needing-patched trad. PDF reader app. If you spend most of your time in the Desktop app side of Windows 8, then you might want to check it out – it integrates with browsers (of several flavours), and it is quick to launch and easy to make go away too.
If you do take a look at Foxit Reader from the link above, make sure, however, you pay attention to the install routine (this one) – like a lot of software these days, it insists on advising that if you don’t want to not install this software and not make it your undefault, then make sure you don’t not untick this already ticked box…
Check you don’t want what it wants to set your defaults, that you uncheck the checked check boxes. Check?
Other PDF readers are available. Paul “Woody” Woodman recommends PDF-XChange Viewer; you may want to check that out before taking the plunge.
Following on from ToW #135, which introduced the “Peek” capability in the flat and shiny-shiny Outlook 2013, this week we’re looking at another couple. If you use Tasks, the ability to quickly see what’s due and to create a new one might be a useful feature.
Hover over the Tasks option at the bottom of the main Outlook window, and you’ll see a pop up “Peek” (right click on the Tasks option and you can “Pin the Peek” – or show Tasks off to the right of the current window, regardless of which folder you’re looking at. In the pop up window, you can mark tasks complete, you can create new ones, and if you double-click on one of the list, you’ll open the task in a new window.
The Calendar menu option also lets you Peek (as described in #135), while the remaining Peek-able option is People, the selection that was previously known as “Contacts”.
Peek on People, and you can enter someone’s name to find them – akin to searching for them in the Lync client by typing the name. You can also add people to a favourites list – although it says “anywhere in Office”, it’s not quite so straightforward… at least not yet.
Lync 2013 has a “Favorites” list that is a different thing, but if you right-click on someone in Outlook, you can add to Favorites and then be able to stalk contact them easily in future by Peeking on the People tab to see their current Lync status, and view the Lync Contact Card easily, which will afford you all the variety of ways to contact them.
The Peeks functionality doesn’t really give you anything you couldn’t quickly do with other means – press CTRL-2 to show Calendar, CTRL-3 to show People, CTRL-4 to show Tasks for example – but it brings some common functionality that bit closer if you’re using a mouse.
If you’ve taken the plunge and started using Office 2013, you may be getting used to the subtle but impactful changes to the way some information is displayed, particularly lists of emails in your inbox.
Outlook 2010 has a colourful Ribbon, emboldens folders where you have unread email, and shows everything in the mail list in the same font and with the same size (unless you create rules to tell it to do otherwise).
Outlook 2013, on the other hand, has a flatter looking, less colourful Ribbon, and by default, will show your Inbox with a single line preview of the message, and the sender’s name will be in larger text. Some of the “chrome” used in the window has been removed too – dividing lines, 3D-like edges to controls etc.
Maybe it’s all part of the Metrofication Windows 8 Modern/Native Application Design Style-ification of the Office 2013 UI. Just don’t go into the new “Full Screen” mode, then try to close the window by dragging the window down by the middle… it might look like the UI design language until recently known as Metro, but it’s still a full fat desktop app.
In some respects, changes like the new Inbox view take a bit of adapting to, may even seem like an annoyance: in Outlook, the impact of the change of view style is that fewer messages can be seen on screen at once. There are some things you can do to mitigate this fact, though…
Office has allowed the user to make the Ribbon go away in previous versions, and in some respects it’s even more useful now if you want to maximise your screen real estate. Look on the far right of the Ribbon bar and you’ll see an upward pointing carat – click on that and the whole shooting match vanishes upwards. You’re still left with a menu bar, though, and if you click on a menu (the “View” one, for example), then the Ribbon will re-appear. If you don’t like this modus operandi, just click on the pin icon at the bottom right and you’ll be back to normal working. Pressing CTRL-F1 toggles the Ribbon between hidden and pinned, but then if you’re a keyboard junkie, what need would you have with the Ribbon anyway?
If you use the Reading Pane on the right, you might find you don’t need to worry about the one line preview below the message in the displayed view – you can tweak this by disabling the preview altogether, and you get prompted to choose if you’d like it just for this folder or for everywhere. Preview? Pah.
Some people recall messages based on their contents, others on when they were sent (hence why you get a by-default grouping based on age), and some on who the sender was – “that note from Steve last week” maybe rings a bell more than what it was called. If you prefer a good ol’ fashioned Subject first approach, then it’s possible – though not necessarily bleedin’ obvious – to switch them round again.
Bon Appetit! This week’s tip brought to you by 1970s comedy…