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Office 365: A guide to the updates


Office 365 subscribers always have the latest version of Microsoft Office — currently Office 2016. They also get more frequent software updates than those who have purchased Office 2016 without a subscription, which means subscribers have access to the latest features, security patches and bug fixes. But it can be hard to keep track of the changes in each update and know when they’re available. We’re doing this for you, so you don’t have to.

Following are key updates to Office 365 for Windows since Office 2016 was released in September 2015 — all the 2017 updates and the most important ones from 2016 and late 2015, with the latest releases shown first. We’ll add info about new updates as they’re rolled out.

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Windows 10 Insider Previews: A guide to the builds


Microsoft never sleeps. Even before Microsoft made the Windows 10 May 2020 Update (version 2004) generally available to users, the company began working on upcoming feature updates to Windows 10. As it did with version 2004, Microsoft has been releasing a series of public preview builds to members of Microsoft's Windows Insider Program.

After years of using “Redstone” in its code names for upcoming releases, Microsoft switched to a new format with version 1903, released in May 2019. The code names now use a YYH1/YYH2 format, with the YY standing for the last two numbers of the year and H1 or H2 referring to the first or second half of the year. So Windows 10 version 2004, which was released in May 2020, was code-named “20H1” (for first half of 2020). The next feature update, due in the fall of 2020, is code-named 20H2.

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Slack moves video and voice calls to AWS


Slack will run its native voice and video calling capabilities on Amazon Web Services’ Chime platform, part of a “multi-year partnership” for collaboration product development.

AWS is already Slack’s “preferred” cloud infrastructure provider, and the two companies have a common rival in Microsoft, competing with its Azure and Teams products, respectively.

An announcement on Thursday, alongside Slack’s first quarter financial results, explained that Slack will use Amazon’s Chime software development kit as the basis for Slack Calls, which includes audio, video and screen sharing features. Chime was launched by AWS in 2017, but hasn’t grabbed attention in the same way as communication tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams in subsequent years.

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It's a bumpy road for the Win10 version 2004 rollout


Microsoft’s revised-revised Windows 10 update scheme now entails a “major” release in the first half of the year, followed by a “minor” release in the second half of the year.

The 2020 “major” release - version 2004 - started rolling out a couple of weeks ago, and the problems we’re seeing could fill a book.

Microsoft lists 11 officially acknowledged Known Issues with version 2004. One of them, with the DISM command, has a manual workaround. But if your machine appears to be affected by any of the other 10, Windows Update shouldn’t offer version 2004 just yet - and Microsoft has stern warnings that you shouldn’t try to manually install 2004, if it doesn’t come through Windows Update.

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Delays, deals and drastic actions: Microsoft responds to the pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic has postponed the Tokyo Olympics, scrubbed all college sports and silenced presidential campaign rallies, so it shouldn't be any surprise that the crisis has also upended plans Microsoft once had set in similar stone.

But because of the work-at-home mandate set by many businesses, Microsoft has faced other pressures by dint of its place as the maker of Windows and Office, two technology cornerstones of modern corporations.

Along with rivals Google and Apple, Microsoft was among the first U.S. firms to send employees home, one of the first to start tearing up calendars. Since early March, it's made a score and more changes to product timelines, launched deals specific to work-at-home or the pandemic, and taken action to shutter stores and symposiums.

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COVID-related U.S. IT job losses have stopped: report


The wave of IT layoffs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, according to new data from management consulting firm Janco Associates. The pandemic's economic fallout resulted in about 117,000 job losses in U.S. IT positions in April and early May 2020.

But Janco's May survey of U.S. IT organizations shows that further layoffs are largely not expected. But neither is much IT job growth. IT organizations don't expect to begin hiring again until late 2020, assuming that the gradual economic reopening now in progress continues and demand for goods and services resumes, providing the money for new and replacement hires.

Janco CEO Victor Janulaitis expects that the net number of new U.S. IT jobs in 2020 will be about 35,000, versus the 94,500 it had expected before the epidemic struck. In 2019, the U.S. IT job market grew by 90,200.

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Windows 10: A guide to the updates


The launch of a major Windows 10 update isn’t the end of a process — it’s really just the beginning. As soon as one of Microsoft’s twice-yearly feature updates is released, the company quickly gets to work on improving it by fixing bugs, releasing security patches, and occasionally adding new features.

Here we’ve summarized what you need to know about every Windows 10 update being released to the public. First come updates to the latest version of Windows 10 — version 2004, known as the May 2020 Update — with the most recent updates on top.

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How to go incognito in Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari


Private browsing. Incognito. Privacy mode.

Web browser functions like those trace their roots back more than a decade, and the feature — first found in a top browser in 2005 — spread quickly as one copied another, made tweaks and minor improvements.

But privacy-promising labels can be treacherous. Simply put, going "incognito" is as effective in guarding online privacy as witchcraft is in warding off a common cold.

That's because private browsing is intended to wipe local traces of where you've been, what you've searched for, the contents of forms you've filled. It's meant to hide, and not always conclusively at that, your tracks from others with access to the personal computer. That's it.

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Tech event calendar 2020: Upcoming shows, conferences and IT expos


Tech Events

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Apple’s first 5G iPhone 12 will ship late this year


Apple’s first 5G iPhone 12 may not ship until later than normal this year, as the company grapples with COVID-19 supply chain problems, a senior company partner has suggested.

A little later than normal

Broadcom CEO Hock Tan warned investors that his company’s 2020 revenue would be impacted by what he described as a major product cycle delay at “a large North American mobile phone customer,' which is apparently how he has referred to Apple in the past.

Of course, we don’t know he’s discussing Apple, but it seems pretty likely, as most other North American mobile phone firms make relatively inconsequential quantities of devices.

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The critical need for AI digital assistants


One of the fascinating long-term discussions of the future is whether we’re trending toward the world in the book 1984 or Brave New World.  While most of us thought we were on track for Aldous Huxley’s vision, the future envisioned by George Orwell seems more plausible now.

In Brave New World, the problem is one of massive distraction; in 1984, it is all-encompassing misinformation. We could argue that the issues we face today are a blend of the two.  We face increasing phishing schemes and a proliferation of “Fake News,” which opens us to attacks and drives us to make bad decisions. And we are so overwhelmed with disruptions it is very hard to prioritize what we need to do.  Working from home has exacerbated this issue because many of us are now surrounded by pets, children, and chores that demand our attention. 

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Q&A: Box CEO Aaron Levie looks at the future of remote work


Businesses have had to adapt quickly to remote working during the COVID-19  pandemic, but this year's shifts are only the start, says Box CEO Aaron Levie. The next phase will see office work processes digitized and automated to support workers – wherever they are – as a decade of workplace transformation takes place in the next two years.

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(Insider Story)


Flashback Friday: NOW they get some edge?


It’s the 1990s, and this IT services outfit has a client that sees the writing on the wall for its aging minicomputer, reports a pilot fish on the scene.

“They asked if the software-development side of our company could custom-write a slightly specialized inventory control program for them that would run on a cheap Intel-based server,” says fish.

Negotiations ensue, and soon the client agrees to a rate for development and a final payment after delivery and acceptance.

The development team makes several visits to the client’s business to collect specifications. But the only input the client gives is that the new system needs to look and work exactly like the old program, so no one on staff will have to be retrained.

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Microsoft starts Edge-for-Edge swap on Windows 10 PCs



The key point most Android vs. iOS arguments miss


In my approximately 97 years of covering Android, I've heard it all:

  • "You can't have privacy if you use Android!"
  • "You can't have security if you use Android!"
  • "You can't get upgrades if you use Android!"
  • "You can't have a good user experience if you use Android!"

All right, so that last one might be a bit of an exaggeration (though only a little). But that aside, these are all shockingly common sentiments you hear not only from tech enthusiasts but also from people who write about this stuff for a living. And I'm here to tell you they're all equally misguided.

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The Zebra lets you compare car insurance rates without hassle or commitment


In most states, auto insurance isn't just a necessity in case of an accident. It's your actual legal responsibility. So why is it so hard to get?

To be clear, it's not hard at all to do the bare minimum. You could certainly choose the first car insurance carrier you found on Google, fill out an application and get coverage within a few minutes. But as we all know, that's rolling the dice. Auto insurance rates can vary wildly between providers, and so that few minutes' worth of searching turns into an hour or so. And even though you'll only come away with insurance from one company, every provider you submitted information to now has your email address - and they have no qualms about staying in touch (by which we mean spamming you with solicitations).

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Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'Speaking up on racism'


In an important move, Apple CEO Tim Cook has published an open letter on the company’s website in which he speaks up on racism following the tragic events emanating from Minneapolis.

Face the challenge of change

Responding to the “senseless killing” of George Floyd, Cook pulls no punches, pointing to the longer history of racism.

Observing that discrimination persists across many parts of life, including criminal justice, health and access to education and services, Cook states:

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Windows 10X: Train wreck in slow motion – or the future of Windows?


If you’re a resolute Windows watcher, you may have heard about Windows 10X, the new version of Windows Microsoft has been cooking up. But there’s a great deal of confusion about Windows 10X, because Microsoft hasn’t been forthcoming about its primary purpose, or why anyone might ever want to use it.

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(Insider Story)


Windows by the numbers: Windows 10 restarts purge of Windows 7


Windows resumed a more-or-less normal pattern in May as Windows 7 shed share while Windows 10 added to its account, bucking the March-April trend where roles had flipped – perhaps because of businesses and governments urging people to work at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to analytics company Net Applications, Windows 10 grew by 1.8 percentage points to reach 57.8% of global OS share last month, representing 66.7% of all flavors of Windows. Both of those numbers were records for Windows 10, with the latter marking the first time that the operating system accounted for two-thirds of all existent Windows.

Windows 10's percentage of only Windows PCs was significantly larger than the percentage of all personal computers because Windows does not power every system. In May, Windows was the OS of 86.7% of the world's personal computers, a decrease of two-tenths of a percentage point and a new low for Microsoft's operating system. Of the rest, all but a miniscule six-hundredths of a point ran macOS, Linux or Chrome OS, in decreasing order.

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Prep yourself to earn Cisco CCNA & CCNP certifications for just $35


Spending more time at home these days? Then this is an ideal opportunity to upgrade your skills. And that’s especially the case for IT professionals. Many technical courses, after all, can be taken via the web, so there’s no need to ever leave your house. If you want to gain some new skills and potentially earn some pretty valuable credentials, then The Premium Cisco CCNA and CCNP Lifetime Certification Prep Bundle may be the perfect solution.

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The ultimate guide to privacy on Android


On the surface, Android and privacy might not seem like the most natural of bedfellows. Google is known for its advertising business, after all — it's how the company makes the lion's share of its money — and it can be tough to square the notion of data collection with the concept of carefully controlled information.

In actuality, though, Google gives you a good amount of authority over how and when it taps into your Android-associated info. (And even at its worst, the company never shares your data with anyone or sells it to third parties, despite some broad misconceptions to the contrary.) Ultimately, it just comes down to a matter of educating yourself about the possibilities and then determining what balance of privacy and function makes the most sense for you.

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Wayback Wednesday: Four-letter words


This pilot fish works in an IT group that supports a semiconductor fabrication facility.

“The first step of the manufacturing process was to microscopically etch four-digit serial numbers onto the silicon using a laser,” fish says.

“One day, a microcode change request for the laser machine was made by manufacturing. They were quickly running out of four-digit serial numbers and wanted the laser reprogrammed to use alphanumeric characters.

“The first thought that came to mind was that there are some very offensive words that might be constructed from four alphabetical characters. We asked the factory director if she wanted a filter built into the new program to screen serial numbers using a predefined list of distasteful words.

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5 more hidden Pixel features worth finding


Need a distraction from — uh, you know, everything? I sure do. And there's nothing that puts me in a happy, temporarily oblivious place quite like finding underappreciated features for my favorite Googley gadgets.

Earlier this year, we talked about hidden Pixel features — helpful yet out-of-the-way options just waiting to be discovered in Google's self-made devices. And you'd better believe the things we touched on then are far from the only gems floating around these mobile-tech aquariums.

With Google itself rolling out a fresh wave of Pixel features as we speak (and also the first Android 11 Beta release set to show up sometime soon — though not, as originally scheduled, this week), I thought this would be a fine time to pick up where we left off and make our way through more hidden Pixel features worth uncovering. No matter what generation Pixel you've got, there's something worthwhile waiting here for you.

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iOS feature request: Do Not Disturb Pro



What's next for Windows 10?


Now that Microsoft has released Windows 10 May 2020 Update, aka 2004, what's next?

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(Insider Story)


Outlook organization tips: 5 ways to tame the email pile


Microsoft's Outlook is an irreplaceable tool for countless organizations and a veritable legion of people around the globe—but it's not a beloved one by any stretch. Nobody actually enjoys sifting through a stuffed inbox or responding to meeting requests all day long; you want to open your inbox, do what you need to do, and get the heck out as fast as possible. 

That's where these Outlook organizational tips come in. Adopting these five simple practices will make diving into your inbox less painful—and far less time consuming.

1. Use folders to reduce Inbox clutter

It seems easy to let emails just pile up in your Inbox, until you try to find something and have to suffer through a manual search. Instead, move messages to a custom folder that relates to the company or the message. It’s just like using a file cabinet.

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How to get HBO Max on your Fire TV right now


How to sideload HBO Max on Fire TV while Amazon and WarnerMedia fight over money.


How to overclock your PC's CPU


If you think that overclocking is solely for performance-obsessed geeks armed with bottles of liquid nitrogen, it’s time to reconsider! Even a small bump in PC performance can delay the need to upgrade your CPU, keeping money in your pocket.

Today I’ll walk you through simple overclocking steps that can boost processor speeds 10 percent or more. If you’re a gamer, video artist, or media streamer, that’s a useful, no-cost upgrade. Read on if you want your PC to go faster!

What is overclocking, anyway?

Overclocking is a technique for tweaking various types of PC hardware, so that it runs faster than the manufacturer’s intended specification. Many processors, RAM modules, and graphics cards can be overclocked, usually by adjusting their settings via your motherboard’s UEFI BIOS. Operate in safe margins and overclocking shouldn’t damage your PC. But, as we’ll discuss, it’s important to manage the additional heat that accelerated hardware can generate.

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Meet DATEDIF(), Excel’s secret Date & Time function that's still handy


DATEDIF(), which means Date + Dif, is a compatibility function left over from Lotus 1-2-3 that Microsoft adopted in Excel version 2000, which is the only version that explains how this function works. It’s operational in all Excel versions, but it’s not on the Formulas menu or in the Help menus after Excel 2000. If your spreadsheet experiences began with Lotus, which is true for many thousands of users, you’ll be happy to know that this old Lotus function is still alive and kicking.

The purpose of this function is to calculate the time between a user-specified starting and ending date in days, months, or years. The arguments for this function are:

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Want to listen to Spotify remotely with your friends? There’s an app for that


Just like the late app, JQBX lets you create remote listening rooms for your friends. You will, however, need a Spotify Premium account to indulge.


How to make your Google/Nest smart speakers, displays, and cameras listen for suspicious sounds


Thanks to Google’s new Nest Aware plans, Google Home and Nest devices can now keep an ear out for the sounds of smoke alarms and breaking glass.


How to edit PDFs in Microsoft Word


Editing in PDFs in Microsoft Word has become a lot easier since Microsoft built in more functionality, starting with Word 2016. Its cousin the Edge browser has impressive PDF capabilities too.

While you can't beat a full-fledged PDF editor for complex work, Word now has the ability to open and edit PDFs (though with some formatting hiccups). Here's how it all works.

Import, export, and edit PDFs in Microsoft Word

1. Open Word 2016. Select File > Open, then Browse to the folder that contains your PDFs. Select a file and click the Open button. Notice the selected file appears in the View window on the right. For this example, select a file with text and graphics.

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6 ways to manage emails and control spam in Outlook


Spam lives on, despite all our efforts to snuff it out—but Outlook has some features to help slow it down. Here are some things anyone can do, plus some tips for working within a corporate Outlook system. 

1. Use Block Sender frequently

Use Outlook’s Block Sender feature to add intrusive spam to your Block Sender List, and then move it to the Junk Email folder. This works fine if you receive fewer than a dozen emails a day.

Select the spam email, right-click, choose Junk from the drop menu, and click Block Sender. Or, Select Home > Junk > Block Sender. Outlook marks it and relocates it immediately.

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5 ways to improve your relationship with Google Assistant


Learn how to change the sound of Google Assistant’s voice, teach it your nickname, make your conversations flow better, and more.


How to get free books for your Amazon Kindle


When you own an Amazon Kindle, the cost of supporting a voracious reading habit can get very steep, very quickly. A quick glance at Amazon’s list of the Best Books of the Month shows that a decent read can set you back between $13 and $15 for a Kindle edition book. Sure, Amazon offers deals on great ebooks, but waiting for a deal could take forever. Many titles can be had for two bucks or less, but it takes work to find the gems among the dross. 

What you need are some solid options for finding free, absorbing content to devour on your Kindle. We’re more than happy to point you in the right direction. (And if you need a new e-reader, find one among our reviews of the best Kindles.) Updated July 2, 2019 with additional resources. 

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Microsoft Excel: Why your spreadsheet is so slow


When your Microsoft Excel spreadsheet slows to a crawl, you can’t help but notice. It may take longer to open and save your files, longer for Excel to calculate your formulas, and longer for the screen to refresh after entering data, or sorting and formatting the cells. System memory is the other issue that relates to Excel’s slowness. 

Slow spreadsheets take longer to manage and, as always, time is money. We’ll show you how to tackle this problem. 

When Excel spreadsheets get too big

Excel is capable of creating a very big spreadsheet, but the bigger it gets, the more memory is needed to keep it open on your PC.

In the current version of Excel, each spreadsheet has 1,048,576 rows and 16,384 columns (A1 through XFD1048576). Each cell can hold a maximum of 32,767 characters. I would not advise pushing these limits. 

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Tips and best practices for optimizing your smart home


Looking to build out a smart home? These 12 key pieces of advice will turn you into a master.


How to improve your writing using Editor for the online version of Word, Chrome, or Edge


Microsoft’s conversion from Office 365 subscriptions to Microsoft 365, beginning Tuesday, will be accompanied by features that will be rolled out over the coming months. But there’s an exception that’s already available: Microsoft’s new Editor for the online version of Word, which provides a handy dashboard of suggestions to improve your writing.

As the name suggests, the new Editor feature isn’t available for the downloadable version of Word, whether it be in Office 365/Microsoft 365 or in Word 2019.  You’ll need to load Word Online to use it, as well as subscribe to Office 365/Microsoft 365. (Microsoft sometimes refers to it as Word Online, Word for the Web, or Office Online.)

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How to record all the free streaming TV before it's gone


How to record streaming TV shows from HBO, CBS, Netflix, and others before their free previews end


Internet radio: Everything you need to know to stream a world's worth of fantastic music for free


Hey, we dig Sonos Radio, but you don’t need a Sonos speaker to enjoy internet radio. Allow us to be your guide to this fabulous resource.


How to turn your Kindle on or off: Finding the power button


Turning your Amazon Kindle on and off is as easy as finding the power button—except the location of that button has varied from model to model over the generations. Our handy guide will help you, and we've included photos of a variety of models, working our way from the latest down to some older vintages. 

How to turn your Kindle on or off

The process to turn your Amazon Kindle on or off is the same regardless of the model or generation. Depress or flick the button, and hold it for one second. Then, let it go. If your Kindle was powered off, its display will now power on.

Not sure of where your Kindle's power button is located? This comprehensive list, organized by model and moving from the latest to the older generations, will help you track it down.

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Excel: How to create simple and dependent drop-down lists


Drop-down lists in Microsoft Excel (and Word and Access) allow you to create a list of valid choices that you or others can select for a given field. This is especially useful for fields that require specific information; fields that have long or complex data that’s hard to spell; or fields where you want to control the responses.

Creating dependent drop-down lists (when combined with an INDIRECT function) is another benefit. This allows you to select a product category from the main menu drop-down list box (such as Beverages), then display all the related products from the submenu (dependent) drop-down list box (such as Apple Juice, Coffee, etc.). This works very well for ordering and inventory purposes because it divides all the products into manageable categories. This is how most wholesale and retail companies handle their product lines. In fact, companies from hospitals and insurance carriers to banks and more use drop-down lists, check boxes, combo lists, and/or radio buttons to minimize typing and user errors.

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Funny Zoom trick: Wear a celebrity's face to your next meeting


Here's a free and funny Zoom trick that could really mess with people during your next video call: Use Snap Camera and Zoom to wear a celebrity's face over your own. Who will it be? Joe Exotic? Joe Biden? Brad Pitt? Most people don't know how to do this, and it’s scary how realistic it is!

It’s also about as simple as Zoom tricks get. (While this may also work in Teams and Skype, Zoom’s the easiest to configure.) To take advantage of it, you’ll need to be familiar with our previous tutorial on how to enable a funny custom Zoom background, as well as our earlier guide on how to use Snap Camera to change the way you look in Zoom, Teams, and other chat apps. Naturally, better hardware helps, too, and maybe a green screen.

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How to survive homeschooling with nothing more than an Echo, Roku, and a Disney+ subscription


Homeschooling can be a pain for everyone involved, but with the help of a few smart devices, it can be much more pleasant.


How to limit screen time on Xbox and Windows for your kids


If you’re working from home, chances are you’ve let your kids sit down in front of the Xbox or a Windows PC...then you lost track of time, and they ended up playing for hours unattended. It’s easy to control this on the Xbox and on Windows 10, allowing parents to set precise limits on screen time per day and define the hours during which it’s okay to play.

Setup’s a bit of a hassle, though, especially if the kids don't yet have Microsoft accounts. We’re here to walk you through it.

(Want more screen-time guidance for phones and tablets? We pitted Screen Time, Family Link, and FreeTime versus a seven-year-old.)

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How to make a funny Zoom background to entertain your friends and coworkers


It's as easy to make a custom Zoom background that's silly to mess around with your friends and coworkers, as it is to make a serious Zoom background for business meetings. We'll show you how. 

Normally, a webcam shows just what it sees: you, your kitchen table, maybe an unkempt desk in the background. But Zoom, like Microsoft Teams, can use custom backgrounds that completely obscure all that background clutter. After enabling that background, the only thing the camera will see is your face, like this:

zoom static image Mark Hachman / IDG

Zoom's AI-generated backgrounds are pretty seamless with a good PC.

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Best funny Zoom background trick: Put yourself in a looping video so you can skip the meeting


We’ve all been in Zoom video conference meetings that drag on longer than a bad movie. Unfortunately your boss insists upon seeing your face among the dozens of other co-workers carefully listening to updates on the TPS reports.

Suffer no more, office drone! Use this sure-fire method to get out of boring meetings by feeding Zoom pre-recorded video of yourself instead.

Perhaps you’ve seen this method in movies, where the hero defeats the terrorist by inserting a fake video feed into the surveillance system, fooling the guards while the prisoners are freed.

For this trick, you’ll need nothing more than the webcam-equipped PC you already use for Zoom video. However, it needs to be a modern laptop made for working from home, with a CPU with a minimum of 8 threads to play back the video background. Pretty much any Intel 7th-gen or equivalent Kaby Lake R laptop will do it, as well as older quad-core computers. Basically if your computer can’t meet the Zoom virtual background requirements, it won’t work for this trick. (Don't despair! We have other funny Zoom background tips you can try.)

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How to prepare your home for emergencies (like the one we’re going through right now)


These 15 tips will raise your home preparedness game and fortify your defenses against, well, just about anything.


How to use animated GIFs as backgrounds in Zoom video


In an age where your virtual background says more about you than actually being in the call, static backgrounds in Zoom are just plain boring.

While Zoom supports video virtual backgrounds, finding an appropriate video can be challenging (although not impossible if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves), due to the length and work it takes to trim out just the section you want.

Because the animated GIF is the new third language behind Emojis, it can easily communicate your thought of the day.

Unfortunately Zoom doesn’t support animated GIFs and lets you add only static PNG, JPG and BMP files to use with its virtual clipping background. But there is a workaround, so keep reading to find out.

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How to share your iPhone’s mobile connection by tethering or hotspot


If you need Wi-Fi on your Mac or iPad, here's how to share your iPhone's mobile data.


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