Archive for MS Office Tips and Tricks

4 Ways to Lock Your Windows 10 PC

Many of us are responsible for not only our own data, but the data of our clients as well.  Whether  or not you are subject to compliance regulations such as those in the medical or financial services industry, it is vital that we take seriously the security of the data that is entrusted to us.

Most importantly, you should never leave your PC unattended. But if you have to leave your Windows 10 PC alone for a period of time and don’t want to shut it down, we have a few alternatives for you.

Give these tips a try!

  1. Windows-L

Hit the Windows key and the L key on your keyboard. Keyboard shortcut for the lock!

  1. Ctrl-Alt-Del

Press Ctrl-Alt-Delete. On the menu that pops up, click Lock. Easy as 1,2,3 –  done!

  1. Start button

Tap or click the Start button in the bottom-left corner. Click your user icon and then select Lock.


  1. Auto lock via screen saver

You can set your PC to lock automatically when the screen saver pops up. Go to Control Panel > Appearance & Personalization > Change screen saver and then check the box for On resume, display logon screen. You can also set a time for how long your PC should wait before starting the screen saver. Now, when you exit out of the screensaver, you’ll need to enter your system password to get back in.


With Windows 10 Creators Update, Microsoft moved this screen saver setting from the Control Panel to Settings. You can find it by going to Settings > Personalization > Lock screen > Screen saver settings.


Posted in: MS Office Tips and Tricks, Security

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Make Important Email Standout in Outlook


To make sure emails from important contacts stand out and do not go unnoticed, you can set up a rule that makes the email appear in a specific color or a specific size and type of font. For example, you can make emails from your boss appear in a larger font or have emails from family members all appear in red. To set up the way emails are displayed for Outlook 2016, Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2007:

For Outlook 2016:

  • Go to the View tab

  •  Select View Settings


  • Choose Conditional Formatting


  •  Click add
  • Name your rule
  • Click on Font and pick a color, style and size and click OK


  • Click on Condition


  • Type in the email address of the sender or senders you want to highlight. For multiple people, separate the email address with a semicolon.


For Outlook 2010:

  • Go to View tab



  • Select View Settings


  • Choose Conditional Formatting


  • Click Add
  • Name your rule
  • Click on Font and pick a color, style and size and click OK


  • Click on Condition


  • Type in the email address of the sender or senders you want to highlight. For multiple people, separate the email addresses with a semicolon.


For Outlook 2007:

  • Go to the tools menu


  • Select Organize, using colors


  • Then choose specific colors for emails from specific people


  • More advanced automatic settings for applying font type and size to emails can be added by selecting Automatic Formatting in the top right corner of the Using Colors screen.


  • Click “Add” to create more rules
  • When you’re finished creating your rule, important email will stand out.



Kantra, Suzanne. “Make Important Email Standout in Outlook with Color Coding” Techlicious February 2017

Posted in: E-mail, MS Office Tips and Tricks, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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The 10 Best Features Coming to Windows 10

Microsoft wants to make you love your computer again.

This spring, Microsoft will release the next major update to Windows 10. Dubbed Creators Update, the free download includes new 3D apps, VR capabilities and 4K game streaming among its flashier features.

But you don’t need to be a graphics professional or VR-headset owner to appreciate what the Creators Update has in store.

I believe these are the true top 10 features coming to Windows 10 — not the snazziest, but the ones that might actually make Windows work better when you’re trying to get work done. As neither a visual artist nor a VR early adopter, these are the changes I’m most excited about.

  1. Smarter Settings layout

If you head to the Bluetooth page in Windows 10’s Settings page right now, you won’t find a button to Add a Device, which I find maddening. Instead, you must tab over to “Connected Devices” to perform the simple, common task of adding a Bluetooth peripheral to your computer. There’s also no easy way to disconnect from a Bluetooth device without removing it entirely.

Creators Update addresses this mess by combining the separate “Bluetooth” and “Connected devices” pages into one “Bluetooth & other devices” page in Settings where you can add, remove, connect and disconnect devices at will.

Elsewhere in Settings, you’ll find new categories for “Apps,” “Gaming” and “Mixed Reality” as well.

  1. Free up disk space without lifting a finger

Hard drive nearing capacity? Mine always seems to be. Creators Update can help keep your drive from filling up with crap. Head to Settings > System > Storage and turn on Storage sense.

With this setting enabled, Windows will automatically delete unused temporary files, as well as files that have been in the Recycle Bin for more than 30 days. I’m pretty good with emptying the Recycle Bin on something approaching a regular schedule, but I’m also very happy to have Windows track down and eradicate needless temp files.

  1. Action Center sliders

Right now, when you swipe in from the right edge of your screen to call up the Action Center, there’s a control to adjust display brightness — but tapping it only bumps up display brightness in huge, 25 percent blocks. Usually, I’m looking for finer control. But Creators Update offers handy sliders for both brightness and volume.

Microsoft is also testing a slider that could help you fine-tune the balance between your computer’s battery life and performance. You can see a picture of that below.

  1. Easier to change screen resolution

One of the more puzzling things about Windows 10 is how difficult it is to change the resolution of your display. (Currently, you must right-click on the desktop, select Display Settings, scroll to the bottom and click “Advanced display settings” to find it.)

I’d argue that the display resolution isn’t exactly an “advanced” setting, and Microsoft finally agrees; Creators Update places the screen resolution drop-down in its rightful place on the main Display settings page.

  1. Hit the Pause button on automatic updates

I agree, the worst part about Windows 10 is automatic updates. With Creators Update, you can’t stop automatic updates from happening, but you can delay some of them — for about a month, anyhow. Head to Settings > Update & security > Windows Update and click Advanced options under Update settings. Here, you’ll see a toggle switch for Pause Updates, which lets you prevent updates from being installed for up to 35 days.

You aren’t completely free from the specter of an automatic update taking control of your machine and potentially losing unsaved work. As the panel clearly states, “some updates… will continue to be installed.” But, hey, at least it’s a start.

  1. Metered Ethernet connection

Originally designed to give you control over your data usage if you’re using, say, a mobile hotspot or a satellite connection that has a data cap, a metered connection also has the added benefit of keeping Windows Updates at bay. Windows won’t download the update until you tell it to, or set your connection as unmetered.

But what if your computer is connected with a physical Ethernet cable? Creators’ Update adds that as well. To set your Ethernet connected as metered, head to Settings > Network & Internet > Ethernet and then click your Ethernet network. Next, toggle Set as metered connection.

  1. High DPI support

It’s a bummer to upgrade to a 4K display only to find some of your apps look blurry, because the developer has yet to update them to run on a screen with so many pixels. Creators Update adds a way for you to override DPI settings so individual apps can scale properly (read: crisply) on high-resolution displays. Here’s how:

Right-click on the app and choose Properties. Click on the Compatibility tab and check the box for Override high DPI scaling behavior and then choose System (Enhanced) from the pull-down menu.

  1. New Reminders recurrence options

Forget to pay your cable bill or buy flowers for your wedding anniversary? Hopefully, never again: Creators Update adds two new options for Cortana Reminders, so you can now ask Cortana to remind you to do something “Every Month” or “Every Year.”

  1. Share menu where you want it

Currently, when you hit the share button in an app, the sharing options slide in from the right edge of the screen — usually not where I’m looking. But soon, the share window will pop up right in the center of the current app. The new Share menu in Windows 10 Creators Update offers the usual suspects — Cortana Reminder, Facebook, Mail, OneNote and Twitter — and also features suggestions to install the Box, Dropbox and Line apps.

  1. Night light for less blue light

Staring at an unnaturally blue screen at night can shift your body’s natural clock and make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Your phone likely has a way to switch to warmer colors at night, and Windows soon will, too. In Creators Update, there’s setting to lower the blue light of your PC. Head to Settings > System > Display > Night light settings. You can schedule it to come on at sunset or manually set hours. You’ll also find a new Night light button in the Action Center to toggle the setting on and off.

Elliot, Matt.  “10 Best Features Coming to Windows 10” CNET February 2017

Posted in: MS Office Tips and Tricks, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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Get the Most out of Windows 10 File Explorer

You probably use Windows 10’s File Explorer a hundred times a day.  You already know how to use it to move around your hard drive. Why bother to learn it better?

Because you’ll work more efficiently.  This truly excellent file manager has little-known tricks that makes it even more powerful and convenient.  You can control what folder the program opens to.  You can hide and unhide the ribbon. You can make your favorite File Explorer tools more readily available. And you can use keyboard shortcuts to make everything easier.

I’m not going to tell you how to use File Explorer.  I assume you already know the basics.  But I’ll take you to the next level, and make File Explorer easier and faster for you.

The Many Ways to Open File Explorer

Of course, you know how to open File Explorer.  But do you know the fastest and simplest way to do it? Or how to control what folder it opens to?

The fastest and easiest way to open File Explorer doesn’t involve your mouse or touchscreen.  Simply press Win-E and up comes a File Explorer window.  If you’re already running the program, it opens another File Explorer window.

That window opens to File Explorer’s default location.  You can change that default, but the options are very limited.

To change the default location, select File>Change folder and search options. In the General tab, pull down the “Open File Explorer to” menu and select your choice.

Unfortunately, that menu has only two options: Quick access and This PC. The first displays folders and files you may likely want based on past usage. The second displays library folders and drives.

Fortunately, you can create a shortcut to open File Explorer to any specific folder. All you need do is drag your desired folder into the Navigation pane’s Quick access section. That’s the top section of the Navigation pane, and it’s connected to the File Explorer icon on the taskbar. Don’t worry; dragging the folder will not move it. You can create several of these shortcuts.

Then, when you want to open File Explorer to your desired folder, right-click the File Explorer icon on the taskbar and select the folder.

At some later date, you may want to remove the shortcut to a folder from that pop-up menu. To do that, right-click the File Explorer icon on Windows’ taskbar, point to the folder on the pop-up menu, and click the thumbtack icon next to it.

The ribbon and the toolbar

Somewhere along the line, Microsoft decided that File Explorer should look like a part of Office. Instead of menus, it has ribbons. Ribbons are better than menus on a touchscreen, but they take up a lot of screen real estate.

To hide the ribbon and regain that real estate, click the tiny chevron in the upper-right corner, directly below the X that closes the window.

Or you can use the keyboard. Press Ctrl-F1.

You can still access the ribbon while it’s hiding. Click or tap on any of the ribbon names (File, Home, Share, or View), and that ribbon will temporarily appear.

To bring back the ribbon permanently, click the chevron or press Ctrl-F1 again.

File Explorer also has a configurable Quick Access toolbar, which makes your favorite tools always conveniently available. You’ll find it at the very top-left corner of the File Explorer window. Unlike the ribbon, it doesn’t take up much room. To add something to the Quick Access toolbar, right-click the item on the ribbon and select Add to Quick Access Toolbar. To remove an item, right-click the icon on the Quick Access Toolbar and select Remove from Quick Access Toolbar. But that small size has a price. The toolbar icons are so tiny that they’re difficult to identify, and on a touchscreen, difficult to tap. The Quick Access toolbar doesn’t have to be at the very top of the menu. You can move it to directly below the ribbon. Click the little arrow to the right of the Quick Access icons to pull down a menu. Select Show below the Ribbon.

Search tools

Searching in Windows 10 can seem pretty obvious. You type your criteria in the Search field below the ribbon on the right side of the File Explorer window.

Type in a word, and files containing that word pop up.

However, if you want a more complex search – i.e. you need to narrow it to a certain type of file, or files of a certain date — you have to remember all sorts of criteria.

But just look up from the Search field, to the File Explorer ribbon. As soon as you clicked that field, the Search tab appears on the ribbon. While the ribbon is hidden, the ribbon tabs remain, and in this case, the Search ribbon appears. All the user has to do is click the tab.

Here you can control where you want to search. This PC, Current folder, All subfolders, and Search again in are all pretty clear options. If Search again in is grayed out, do your intended search and that option will become available.

You can also refine your search by Date, Kind, Size, and Other properties, which includes the confusing option Type. To clarify this, Picture is a Kind; Jpeg is a Type. In other words, specific file formats are types.

Additional options let you repeat previous searches, control whether to search in .zip files, and to save searches. By default, searches are saved in the Search folder within your Users folder (probably C:\users\yourname\searches).

The keyboard shortcuts

The great thing about keyboard shortcuts is that you just type them and the action happens. The bad thing is that they’re useless unless you memorize them.

Here are seven File Explorer shortcuts that are worth memorizing. I’ve mentioned a couple of them in the article already, but I’m repeating them here for easy lookup.

Win-E: Opens File Explorer. If it’s already open, this will open a new window. Unlike the other shortcuts below, this one works whether or not you’re in File Explorer.

Ctrl-F1: Hide or unhide the ribbon.

Alt-P: Toggles the preview pane.

Alt-Enter: Opens the selected file’s Properties dialog box.

Alt-Up: Go to the folder containing the current folder. In other words, if you’re in D:\Libraries\Documents, this shortcut will bring you to D:\Libraries.

Ctrl-N: Opens a new window to the current folder.

Ctrl-Shift-N: Create a new folder.

Microsoft has turned File Explorer into a very powerful tool. The more you study it, the more tricks you’ll learn.

Spector, Lincoln. “Get the Most Out of Windows 10’s File Explorer” Windows Secrets January 26, 2017

Posted in: MS Office Tips and Tricks

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7 Ways to Take Screenshots in Windows 10

Capture all — or just part — of your screen with a few keystrokes.


Screenshots are handy — whether you’re trying to write a how-to article or show your friend something on your screen — but taking screenshots in Windows 10 is not as simple as it could be.

Don’t get me wrong, you have plenty of options. There’s the Snipping Tool, various keyboard and physical button shortcuts, and tons of third-party tools. It’s just not as intuitive as I’d like (I’m a big fan of Apple’s screenshot process in OS X). But if you’re looking for screenshot info, look no further — here are seven different ways to take a screenshot on your Windows 10 device.

Snipping Tool

Windows’ built-in screenshot tool, the Snipping Tool, has been around since Windows Vista. You can find this tool in Start > All Programs > Windows Accessories > Snipping Tool.



To use the Snipping tool, open it and click New to begin the screenshot process. The default snip type is a rectangular snip — you’ll use your mouse to crop a rectangular part of your screen for capture. You can also take free-form, window, and full-screen snips with the Snipping Tool.

The Snipping Tool does not automatically save your screenshots — you will need to manually save them in the tool before you exit. It does automatically copy your captures to the clipboard.

Print Screen

To capture your entire screen, tap the PrtScn button. Your screenshot will not be saved, but it will be copied to the clipboard — you’ll need to open an image editing tool (such as Microsoft Paint), paste the screenshot in the editor and save the file from there.

Windows Key + Print Screen

To capture your entire screen and automatically save the screenshot, tap the Windows Key + PrtScn. Your screen will briefly go dim to indicate that you’ve just taken a screenshot, and the screenshot will be automatically saved in the Pictures > Screenshots folder.

Windows Key + H

If you’d like to capture your entire screen for sharing purposes, you can use the Windows Key + H keyboard shortcut. This will capture your entire screen and open the Windows Share toolbar so you can immediately share it with your friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, OneNote, etc.

Alt + Print Screen

To take a quick screenshot of the active window, use the keyboard shortcut Alt + PrtScn. This will snap your currently active window and copy the screenshot to the clipboard. You will need to open the shot in an image editor to save it.

Windows Logo + Volume Down

If you’re rocking a Windows Surface device, you can use the physical (well, sort of physical) buttons to take a screenshot of your entire screen — similar to how you would take a screenshot on any other smartphone or tablet. To do this, hold down the Windows Logo touch button at the bottom of your Surface screen and hit the physical volume-down button on the side of the tablet. The screen will dim briefly and the screenshot will be automatically saved to the Pictures > Screenshots folder.

Posted in: MS Office Tips and Tricks, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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Windows 10 Tips, Tricks, secrets, & Shortcuts: File Explorer


Even certified Windows masters can learn a trick or two from Ed Bott’s series of how-to articles. This edition covers tips, tricks, secrets, and shortcuts for using File Explorer.

For the past few months, I’ve been working with my two longtime partners, Carl Siechert and Craig Stinson, on a new book, Windows 10 Inside Out. It’s off to the printer this week and should be available in about a month.

Putting a book of this size together is always a learning experience, and that’s especially true with Windows 10, which mixes classic elements that have been part of Windows for many editions with all-new stuff.

Over the next few weeks, I want to share some of that learning here, in a series of how-to posts. Today’s edition covers tips, tricks, secrets, and shortcuts for using File Explorer. Even if you’re a certified Windows master, I bet I can show you a trick or two you didn’t know before.

1. Open a File Explorer windows fast

Get to know the classic shortcut combination for File Explorer, Windows key+E. For opening a single window, it’s only a few microseconds faster than clicking the taskbar icon, but it’s a huge time-saver when you’re trying to open a second window.

Knowing that shortcut is especially handy when you plan to move or copy files between two folders. To open a second window using the mouse, you have to Shift+click. Instead, press Windows key+E twice to open two windows, which you can then snap left and right for easy dragging and dropping.

2. Customize the Quick Access list

The signature feature of Windows 10’s revamped File Explorer is the new Quick Access list. You can pin your favorite folders to the top of the list for quick, one-click access. Folders you’ve used recently show up below the pinned items, which is handy when you’re working with a group of files as part of a short-term project.

Anything in the Quick Access list is a drop target, which means you can move files to that location by dragging them from the main window (or even from another File Explorer window) and dropping them on the pinned folder.


To pin the current folder, click the big Pin to Quick Access button on the ribbon’s Home tab.

3. Change File Explorer’s opening folder

In Windows 10, File Explorer opens with Quick Access selected. Old-school Windows users might prefer to start in This PC (previously known as My Computer), which includes the six standard data folders in your user profile as well as any local drives and removable media such as USB drives.

No problem. On the ribbon, open the View tab, click Options, Change folder and search options, and then choose one of these two options.


Choose one of two folder options

4. Use the expanded Send To menu

Yes, you can right-click a file or folder (or multiple items, for that matter) and use the Send To menu to do a few interesting things, like move or copy the selection to your Documents folder, create a compressed file (in .zip format), or send the selection as an email attachment. But the selection is pretty weak and, frankly, weird. Fax recipient? Really?


The selection is pretty weak and, frankly, weird. Fax recipient? Really?

But the Send To menu gets much more interesting if you hold down the Shift key before you right-click. The menu you get after doing that is just filled with interesting stuff, including every folder in your user profile. Here, see for yourself.


Hold down the Shift key before you right-click.

5. Customize the Send To menu

Speaking of the Send To menu, you can make it much more useful by adding and removing the options on the default (short) menu. They’re just shortcuts, but good luck finding them, because they’re buried in a folder hidden deep within your user profile.

To get to that folder, open the Run box (Windows key+R), type shell:sendto, and then press Enter.

First order of business: delete the Fax Recipient shortcut. After that, you can add shortcuts to favorite folders (local and network). You can also add shortcuts to programs. Adding a shortcut to Notepad or another text editor makes it much easier to quickly edit any file, for example. Ditto for pictures and your favorite image editor.

6. Customize the Quick Access toolbar

If you’ve jumped straight from Windows 7 to Windows 10, the addition of an Office-style ribbon is probably the biggest change in File Explorer.

Its companion, the Quick Access Toolbar, is equally noteworthy and arguably more useful. It appears in the title bar, above the ribbon. Customize that toolbar with the commands you use most often and you can bypass the ribbon completely for many tasks.

Some obvious customization options are available on the menu that appears when you click the arrow to the right of the toolbar. Not so obvious and much more useful is the option to add any individual command from any tab on the ribbon. Just right-click the command and then click Add to Quick Access Toolbar.


Right-click the name under the group to see this option.

But even most Windows experts don’t know you can right-click an entire group of commands and add the group as a menu on the Quick Access Toolbar. Right-click the name under the group to see the option. I use this trick to add the Panes group from the View tab, so I can easily show or hide the Preview pane or Details pane on the right.

7. Master advanced search

See that search box in the upper right corner of the File Explorer window? Type a word or two in there and you can find any file in the current folder that contains your search term, either in the file name or (for file types that are fully indexed) in the body of the file.

But there’s an entire advanced search syntax, complete with Boolean operators, parameters, and operators. My favorite is the datemodified: operator, which accepts actual dates but also understands relative dates, like today, this week, last week, this month, and last month.

If you want to see all the Excel spreadsheets you’ve worked on so far this month, for example, just enter this in the search box:

type:excel datemodified:this month

The search syntax assumes you want to find files that match both criteria, treating the query as if you had added the AND operator between the two terms.


The search syntax assumes you want to find files that match both criteria.

8. Pin saved searches to Start

So maybe you didn’t like that last tip, because the idea of typing commands in a box seems too retro. Fair enough.

But what if you could save those searches, so you could just click a shortcut to show only files that you worked with in the past week or two? You can, and the search results will always be relative to the current date.

Start in the folder or library you want to use as the search scope – that could be your synced OneDrive or Dropbox files, your local Documents folder, or a network store, for example.

Enter datemodified:(this week OR last week) in the search box. Be sure to include the parentheses and capitalize the Boolean OR.

Because you’ve just run a search, File Explorer politely switches the ribbon to the Search tab, where you can click Save Search and give those parameters a name. The search gets saved, logically enough, in the Searches folder in your user profile. Right-click that saved search to pin it to the Start menu, or drag it onto the File Explorer icon on the taskbar to add it to the jump list.


Right-click that saved search to pin it to the Start menu.

9. Use filters to find files faster

Typing in the search box is one way to narrow a large group of files to a more manageable one, but it’s not the only way. Filters are an even easier way to point and click your way to search success.

Start in the folder or library you want to search, and then use the button in the lower right corner of a File Explorer window to switch to Details view, which arranges your files into columns. Now look to the right of each heading, where you’ll find a small arrow. Click that arrow to show a filter list for the data in that column. By clicking a check box or two (or three), you can cut a very large list of files down to size.

The date navigator is much more powerful than it looks at first glance. Use the calendar to zoom in or out and narrow or expand your view of the contents of a folder or a search. Initially, the calendar shows the current month, with today’s date highlighted. Click the month heading to zoom out to a display showing the current year as a heading with the current month highlighted. You can then drag or hold down Ctrl and click to select multiple months.


Drag or hold down Ctrl and click to select multiple months

10. Group files

Everyone knows how to sort files–just click a column heading to sort by that value, and click again to reverse the sort order.

But you can also group files by date, size, or type, making it much easier to see similar files in a folder or a set of search results. The Group command is on the View tab of the ribbon. It’s also available when you right-click in the File Explorer window.

Each group gets its own heading in File Explorer, with a count of how many items are in that group. You can right-click a heading to expand or collapse it. You can also collapse all groups to produce a neat breakdown of groups, with the number shown beside each one.


You can also collapse all groups.

Bott, Ed.Windows 10 Tips, Tricks, Secrets, and Shortcuts: File Explorer.ZDNet. N.p., n.d. Web.

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5 Android Shortcuts You’ll Wish You Knew all Along

Whether you’re just getting started with Android, or a seasoned user, these are the five shortcuts you should be using right now.

Bypass unlocking your phone (when it’s safe)
This feature in the Lock screen and Security menu will let your device know when it’s safe to stay conveniently unlocked.  Once you add trusted places, devices, or voices you can skip the PIN, pattern or password every time you want to check an alert. For more info on how to set this up, check out this post.

Reject calls with a text
Make your phone work like a personal secretary by letting callers know why you can’t answer, and (hopefully) avoiding follow-up calls. On most phones, this option is available in the Phone app > Settings, and labeled Call blocking, Quick responses, or something similar. You’ll see the call-reject messages that you can edit with your own writing style.

Quickly open the camera
Launching the camera at a moment’s notice means that you won’t miss great photo opportunities. How you access this camera shortcut will vary between manufacturers, but here’s a few examples of popular devices that have it enabled:

  • Nexus 5X or Nexus 6P: double-tap power button.
  • Samsung devices 2015-2016: double-tap the physical Home button.
  • LG V10: double-tap the volume down button.
  • Moto G 2015: twist your wrist with the device in hand.

Add contact widgets
Want to reach out to your favorite people with just a tap? Press and hold on your Home screen, choose Widgets, and then look for the Contacts 1×1 widget. Tapping this shortcut loads a contact’s details, letting you call, text, or email without scrolling through your address book.

Enable ‘OK, Google’ everywhere
Ask your burning questions right now by enabling “OK, Google” everywhere — meaning from any screen. To get set up, open the Google (search) app and head to Settings > Voice > “Ok Google” Detection > toggle the From any screen option on. Say the magic words three times and you’re set. As a bonus, this little exercise will let you use the trusted voice option in Smart Lock.

Cozma, Nicole CNET, Mobile, “5 Android shortcuts you’ll wish you knew all along” April 2016

Posted in: Mobile Computing, MS Office Tips and Tricks, Tech Tips for Business Owners, Technology

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One in the eye for ransomware: Microsoft adds new macro controls to Office 2016

Office 2016As you probably know, a lot of ransomware arrives by means of believable-looking Word documents.

You receive an email that looks just like a customer requesting a quote, or an invoice that you need to pay, or a courier delivery that went astray.

You’re supposed to consult the attached document for details…

…but when you do, there’s some problem viewing it, but you can fix that…

…if only you click the [Options] button and enable macros.

The problem is that a macro is essentially a miniature program embedded inside the document, and it can do almost anything that a regular program can do, such as connecting to a web server, downloading some software, and running it.

In other words, an email telling you to enable macros in a document is as dangerous as an email telling you, “Please download and install this unusual version of NOTEPAD.EXE, ignoring all security warnings, to read this email properly.”

Macros don’t run by default, for security reasons, but an outright block on macros can get in the way, because many legitimate Word and Excel files use macros for perfectly unexceptionable purposes, such as helping you fill in forms or perform complex calculations.

That means that in most businesses, users can enable macros if they think they need to – so that just one bad judgement call could let ransomware, or any other malware, into the organization.

Microsoft has therefore added a new policy option into Office 2016 that allows finer control over documents with macros.

You can now limit the functionality of the macro programming system so that even if users normally have the chance to enable macros, they can’t if the macros came in an Office file from the internet.

The option is well-named: Block macros from running in Office files from the internet.

Is this end of ransomware?

Sadly, the answer is,”No.”

Malware, including ransomware, can arrive in many other ways.

Instead of using attachments containing Word macro downloaders, crooks can use numerous other infection techniques.

A common trick is to send a .js attachment (JavaScript) instead of a .doc file; scripts written in JavaScript have much the same powers as those written as Office macros, and protection based on controlling macros won’t help in this case.

And crooks can also use booby-trapped documents that work by exploiting bugs in Word itself, so that no macros are needed at all.

Lastly, there’s still plenty of malware that get in without using email, thanks to USB flash devices, malvertising, and booby-trapped websites.

Nevertheless, if you are using Office 2016, this new anti-untrusted-macro execution protection is well worth using.

Dicklin, Paul. “One in the eye for ransomware: Microsoft adds new macro controls to Office 2016” Naked Security March 23, 2016

Posted in: IT Support, MS Office Tips and Tricks, Security, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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How to Stop the Free Windows 10 Upgrade

Windows10updateMicrosoft’s Free Windows 10 Upgrade Offer is perhaps the most generous the company has ever been with a new software upgrade. Anyone who has Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 can take advantage of the Windows 10 Upgrade offer and get it running on their old notebook, desktop or tablet in hours. It’s unprecedented. For some it’s also unwanted.

No matter how much you plan for a software upgrade to be painless, things are going to happen. The hardware requirements for Windows 10 are the same as Windows 8 and Windows 7, but that doesn’t mean everything flawlessly works. Some have reported their printers not working after the upgrade or software that they rely on every day simply not loading up anymore. Initially, Microsoft only upgraded those who actively sought out the software refresh. Yes, you can go back to your earlier version of Windows after the upgrade, but that’s not enough. Some don’t want to risk installing a new operating system on their devices at all.

Instead, they want a way to block the Windows 10 update and silence the Free Windows 10 Upgrade Offer that won’t stop trying to grab their attention from the Taskbar.

Here’s how to stop the free Windows 10 Update on your system:

Before we Begin

Before we begin, it’s important that you understand the ramifications of stopping the Windows 10 Upgrade in its tracks. Windows 10 is absolutely free to download and will receive free upgrades over time. Unless there’s a feature in Windows 7 and Windows 8 that you absolutely can’t live without – like Windows Media Center – stopping the upgrade isn’t the best idea.

That’s because Windows 7 and Windows 8 don’t have long, always-updating lifespans of their own. Support for both operating systems will eventually expire. When they do, you’ll be more vulnerable to the kinds of internet threats that could put your personal information at risk.

As for reasons not to upgrade. Early reports that Windows 10 monitored users when explicitly told not have been debunked by Microsoft. You can disable the Cortana personal assistant and the operating system does have controls for avoiding sharing location. Privacy is a legit, if slightly overblown worry with any software upgrade like this.

Stopping the Free Windows 10 Upgrade

Microsoft has so embedded the Free Windows 10 Upgrade Offer into Windows 7 and Windows 8 that there’s no real way to get away from it without a software upgrade. There’s no toggle that you can push to permanently ignore it, for example. You’re going to need to download some extra pieces of software onto your device to fully suppress it.

A straight forward and easy to use software utility for stopping the free Windows 10 update is called Never10. Developed by Gibson Research, there’s not a lot to it really. The utility kills the upgrade with a single button press. There’s nothing to configure.

Never10 can be uninstalled once you have killed the upgrade offer, but it’s a good idea to keep it around in case you ever decide that you do want to upgrade. Lots of people report having a great experience with this tool.

GWX Control Panel

GWX CP 1_7_1 Only

The appropriately named GWX Control Panel is pretty feature rich. (GWX stands for “Get Windows 10.”) The app itself isn’t all that attractive but it does its job very well.

After it’s installed, you get a breakdown of how your system was changed to accommodate the Free Windows 10 Upgrade Offer. A breakdown shows you if the icon for the offer is enabled and how much space Windows Update is using on your system to store the upgrade in case you ever decide to take advantage of it.

It then gives you the option to start reversing every change it lists. There’s a button for disabling the icon that always pops-up asking you to download operating system. Another button lets you quickly delete anything that Windows Update downloaded to your system. This is option is a life-saver, the Windows 10 download can take up as much as 4.8GB on a single device. That’s a lot of space.

You’ll want to click the Disable ‘Get Windows 10’ App button to insure that you and no one else in your household ever accidentally gives the upgrade the go ahead. You’ll also want to click the Prevent Windows 10 Upgradesbutton too.

GWX Control Panel can be configured to monitor your device and make sure that none of these settings chance, just a virus scanner, but I’d say that might be overkill at this point. Only enable this if you suddenly find yourself looking at the upgrade offer without warning again.

Again, keep GWX installed so that you’re able to reverse the decision in the future.

Good luck stopping the free Windows 10 Update. We hope this helps.

Pope, Travis. “How to Stop the Free Windows 10 Upgrade” GottaBe Mobile April 3, 2016


Posted in: IT Support, MS Office Tips and Tricks, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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Adding Comments to Excel Can Boost Your Productivity

Have you ever re-opened one of your Excel spreadsheets only to find that you’ve forgotten what half the formulas in it stand for? Have you ever opened a spreadsheet only to find yourself asking, “What, exactly, was I up to here?” Well, you can prevent this from happening by adding comments directly to the formula cell in a spreadsheet.

Jogging your memory

The tech Web site Lifehacker explains how to do this. You’ll simply have to access Excel’s N() function. To use this function, add a plus sign after your formula. You can then write out your comment in quotes inside the function.

Why do it

Now, whenever you click on that cell, both your formula and your comment will appear. Doing this can save you plenty of time when poring over a half-finished Excel spreadsheet. You won’t have to wrack your brain trying to remember what you were trying to accomplish.

This function is available in Excel 2013 and earlier versions. If you have Excel don’t be shy about using it. You might be surprised at how much more productive you can be.

Posted in: Business, MS Office Tips and Tricks, Tech Tips for Business Owners, Technology

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