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In brief: Microsoft’s Fluid Framework documents explained

With users now able to get their hands on Microsoft’s latest document format – rolled out under the umbrella of the Fluid Framework – the company is hoping it can deliver on its promises of better productivity and collaboration online.

The Fluid Framework was announced at Microsoft’s Build developer conference in 2019, and at Build 2020 – a virtual-only event this year – the company made the format available for user preview for Microsoft 365 Enterprise and education subscribers enrolled in Targeted Release. It’s also available as open source software; Microsoft said the code and SDK will be available on GitHub soon.

The goal behind Fluid is an ambitious one: users can create discreet pieces of content – such as text, tables, graphs or lists – that live on the web instead of the desktop or a SharePoint drive and are blower agnostic. These artifacts can then be collaborated on or snapped together with other elements in near-to-real-time across a variety of environments.

Nick McQuire, vice president for enterprise research at CCS Insight, believes Microsoft is on its way to making Office “a development environment,” where organizations can start to “embed [Fluid] in business processes and deeper collaboration environments across your company.

“Microsoft does feel a bit of pressure to break down the silos within various, different applications out there, as well,” he said. “Whether it is Google or other flavors of collaboration software, there are others that are pushing the boundaries of what it is to collaborate.”

How it works

The basic Fluid experience involves a clean user experience reminiscent of Google Docs or Dropbox Paper. It is essentially a blank slate, with the option to create a document or Fluid artifact that can then be shared with your network.

Underpinned by JavaScript APIs, these elements can be dropped in to an email via Outlook or other productivity apps via for starters. (Teams compatibility is slated for later this year.) And by open-sourcing the framework, Microsoft is allowing developers to work Fluid elements into a variety of other locations in the future, essentially allowing these items free roam on the internet and in various productivity apps already in use.

“Discovering the full potential of the Fluid Framework can only be accomplished through creating a diverse, open, and vibrant developer community,” Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, said in an announcement this week.

Where Fluid differs from the likes of Google Docs is how it enables people to work together on an item – wherever it resides. Instead of opening a proposed agenda from an email and editing it in Word, a users can just edit it in place in the email, with all changes staying up to date. In practice, it looks like a typical Google Docs experience, with colleagues’ avatars appearing next to the line on which they’re working in real time.

If that sounds potentially chaotic, that’s because it is. Microsoft is looking to achieve true real-time collaboration, where changes are relayed immediately and multiple users can work on items simultaneously, even if they aren’t “in” the same document. That could lead to conflicts with co-workers, and concerns about version control.

Use cases will be fluid (sorry), but early examples include: tracking action items, building a crowd-sourced meeting agenda with minutes or sharing the results of a recent project with a team in a virtual meeting.

“It is becoming clear you cannot single handedly live in one application, so the ability for companies to make that workflow more adaptive and easier for people to do tasks across different applications, while retaining an experience that they prefer to work in, is becoming really important,” McQuire said.

What next?

Further in the future, Microsoft envisions a model where software bots – like its Cortana virtual assistant – can work alongside users to translate text, suggest edits and perform checks directly within Fluid components.

McQuire believes the success of Fluid depends on the developer community. “They have to be the starting point to take Fluid in a direction that will bring some innovation into Office and 365 overall,” he said.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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How to Save Office Documents to This PC by Default

Microsoft Word logo.

Microsoft Office wants you to save your documents to online locations like OneDrive or SharePoint. That’s the default in applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Here’s how to change the default save location back Documents or another folder on “This PC.”

These instructions apply to the latest versions of Microsoft Office on Windows 10, whether you have an Office 365 subscription or you purchased a package like Office 2019.

To get started, open an Office application like Microsoft Word if it isn’t already open. Click the “File” menu at the top-left corner of the application’s window.

Opening the File menu in Microsoft Word.

Click the “Options” link at the bottom-left corner of the window. (If you’ve just opened an application like Word and you’re prompted to start a new document from a template or open an existing document, you can just click “Options” immediately without clicking “File” First.)

Opening the Options window in Microsoft Word.

Select the “Save” category on the left side of the window. Under Save documents, enable the “Save to Computer by default” option.

Saving documents to the local computer by default in Microsoft Word.

Office will save your documents to your user account’s Documents folder by default. This is generally C:UsersNAMEDocuments.

If you’d like to change the default folder, you can select a new location by clicking “Browse” to the right of “Default File Location.”

Choosing a default save folder for documents in Microsoft Word.

When you’re done, click “OK” to save your changes.

Clicking the OK button to save your changes in Word's options window.

With this option enabled, Office applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will save documents to “This PC” by default.

Office's save dialog with your documents folder selected by default.

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5 Freedom of Information Sites Full of Declassified Documents and Secrets

This is a time when governments across the world are getting more secretive and difficult to trust. So the greatest tool the common man can have is his freedom to demand information. A little bit of it can come from declassified documents and un-redacted files. And some from the FOIA.

Leaks from whistle-blowers and informants often lead to damaging exposes like with WikiLeaks. But more and more hidden information is surfacing through common people and activists. The trailblazers leverage the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the USA and its equivalents in other countries.

These portals show how they are forcing changes and making an impact, and even gives you the power and guidelines to dig out data yourself.

1. FBI and CIA Vaults (Web): Official Declassified Documents

The FBI Vault and CIA's Reading Room have all files declassified through freedom of information act requests

Everyone wants to know what’s happening at two of the most secretive government bodies: The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Well, you’ll be happy to know that they have dedicated portals for declassified documents.

The FBI Vault is the official library formed due to the FOIA. It houses over 6,700 scanned documents.

Every new file that is released gets added to this vault. You can search the database with the help of optical character recognition (but that doesn’t always work well). You can also browse it alphabetically. Go through the categories on war, crime, courts, unexplained phenomena, intelligence and terrorism, civil rights, etc.

The CIA Reading Room is a similar library of all records released under the FOIA.

This repository is as well-stocked as the FBI, but I’d dare say it’s a little more entertaining. The CIA has a few “greatest hits” for you to browse. Under Frequently Requested Records, you’ll find the top 11 CIA files the public wants to read, from UFOs to spies. And it voluntarily declassifies certain records, such as its files during the 7-year Argentinian war, under the Historical Collections.

National Security Archive is the largest repository of declassified documents through Freedom of Information Act

In 1985, journalists and scholars at the George Washington University formed the non-profit National Security Archive as its own watchdog for government secrecy. The world’s largest non-governmental collection of declassified U.S. documents is a result of over 30 years of FOIA requests.

The archives do an excellent job of explaining what you’re reading. The staff puts together detailed articles that compile different declassified documents. Subsections such as the Cyber Vault and the Nuclear Vault will help you narrow down resources about with a massive number of declassified documents.

Head to the virtual reading room to browse or search through all the documents published by the National Security Archive, and even a YouTube channel for some of the videos it has obtained. There are also guidelines on how to file FOIA requests, but if you’re interested in being part of that movement, check out Muck Rock below.

3. The Black Vault (Web): UFOs and Other Secret Files

John Greenwald's The Black Vault features declassified documents and government files about UFOs

No article about FOIA requests would be complete without mentioning the Black Vault. Its founder, John Greenwald, has been filing requests since he was 15 and shares all the files on his website.

The Black Vault has become the internet’s virtual storehouse for all kinds of documents released by different arms of the U.S. government, with a focus on UFOs and unexplained activity. The site is divided into sections for UFOs, government, history, military/defense, intelligence, science, the fringe, and wartime. The forums host an active community of like-minded people looking to find out what’s out there.

UFO coverage gets the most attention, with sections on spotting weird aircraft, alien encounters, space anomalies, and cryptozoology. Before you scoff at it, remember, Greenwald has hundreds of declassified government documents that he is basing this on. In fact, there is also a section on debunking hoaxes. There is a method to the madness here.

4. Mark Curtis (Web): UK Foreign Policy and World Impact

Mark Curtis's blog collects declassified documents about UK foreign policy

What John Greenwald is for UFOs in America, Mark Curtis is for foreign policy in the UK. The British government has been one of the most influential forces in shaping the 20th century. Curtis analyzes its foreign policies through original documents and transcripts from the National Archives.

The files are broken down by country or region, as well as topics like censorship, nuclear weapons, torture, and intelligence. Of course, if you only got the documents, it would be pretty useless to a lay reader. But Curtis adds reference links from news agencies that pertain to the documents, providing much-needed context to the policy at play.

Away from the Declassified page, the main site has articles by Curtis, where he marries his knowledge of foreign policy history with current news to provide insight into what’s happening in the world. If you like his analysis, check out one of the five books he wrote.

5. Muck Rock (Web): File, Share, and Analyze FOIA Requests

Muck Rock teaches you how to file freedom of information act requests and analyze them through journalists

Do you want to start filing FOIA requests for public records, track their progress or rejection, and figure out how to analyze them to expose miscreants and secrets? Stop by Muck Rock, a space for all the guidance you’ll need.

Muck Rock has everything you need to file requests, teaching you the tools of the trade for total transparency. The site also has a few experienced journalists at its helm and writers and analysts who go through the released files to find newsworthy items in them. You can even contribute and be part of the transparency movement by dedicating your knowledge, local expertise, or funds.

Muck Rock also releases a weekly round-up of news made possible by FOIA requests. It’s not going to be earth-shattering, but it’s heartening to see the impact transparency can have at the grass-roots level. It’s the first step to change.

Going Beyond FOIA

There are plenty of other websites and activists that rely on FOIA requests. But to get the secrets, you often need to rely on whistle-blowers. There are renegades like Wikileaks and there are journalistic organizations like the ICIJ, which released the Panama Papers.

In the end, what you’re looking for is transparency, and trustworthy sources that don’t hide or redact information. In a world where news is often gagged and you’re uncertain of media biases, the first step is to find world news outlets guaranteed free from censorship

Top 5 Unbiased World News Sources Free From Censorship

Top 5 Unbiased World News Sources Free From Censorship

Unbiased news sources are rare, but they do exist. We’ve compiled a list of the best news websites that are free from censorship.
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10 Neat Ways to Create Beautiful Google Documents

Do you remember when Google Docs was known as Writerly? Yeah, that was a long time ago, but since then Google Docs has gone from a simple word processor to a powerful tool to make creative Google Docs.

Google is constantly adding new features to its word processing suite, which also consists of Sheets, Slides, Forms, Google Drawings, and App Script. This turns it into a professional tool that can compete with the best word processing programs out there.

In fact, with the help of add-ons and templates, you can turn your Google Docs suite into a powerhouse. Here are some tricks and tips that will help you make your Google Docs look pretty and stylish.

Make Google Docs look Pretty with Paragraph Styles+

If you’ve typed up a large document before, then you’ll know the importance of having headers to break things up. Paragraph Styles+ gives you the flexibility to make your own headers outside of the program’s built-in editing tools. It will also help you make a Google Doc look good.

No longer are you constrained by the program’s header sizes. When using Paragraph Styles+, you can specify which font, size, style, and format you would prefer when you decorate your Google Doc. You can also save multiple styles.

To access a saved header style:

  • Highlight the text.
  • Open the sidebar by going to Add-ons > Paragraph Style+.
  • Click on the header that you want.

Paragraph Styles+ also has the ability to make a table of contents for that mega-project you’ve been working on.

Lucidchart Diagrams for Google Docs

Lucidchart Diagrams is one of the top-rated apps available for Google Docs. It’s an incredibly in-depth creation tool that allows you to design charts and diagrams to decorate your Google Doc. Once you’ve created a diagram, you can insert it directly into the document. You can also share it.

There are two levels to the app. There’s the free account, which you can try out for an unlimited amount of time with limited features. You can also use one of the paid options which releases all features.

Pretty Translate for Google Docs

Now this one we love a lot. While we’re an English-based site, our writers (and readers) come from all around the world. It’s handy to have Google Translate sitting in the corner of your creative Google Doc.

To make it work:

  • Highlight the text in the document.
  • Choose the language of that highlighted text.
  • Choose the language that you want to translate the text into.
  • Click Translate.

As you can see, the number of provided languages is limited. Hopefully, they’ll expand it in the future.

How to Make Google Docs Look Pretty Mindmeister

MindMeister is for the mindmap fans out there. It’s quite simple to use, and a great way to make a pretty Google Doc—especially if you’re visually oriented.

To make a mindmap, highlight your bulleted list. Click on the MindMeister add-on.

When you click on it, MindMeister will turn your bullet points into a mindmap. This is an easy way to decorate your Google Doc and also simplify the information in it. It’s also one of the better tools out there when it comes to brainstorming a project.

Use Change Case with Google Docs

Have you ever received a document and it had too many uppercase words or lowercase words in the wrong spots? What if this document was big, and you had to pick through it for individual instances where grammar went wrong?

No worries. Change Case is here.

This small, uncomplicated, no-frills add-on is incredibly useful when it comes to word processing. By highlighting the text that you need to fix, and clicking Add-ons > Change Case, you can change the case to your preferred style. A few clicks and everything’s corrected.

If you’re not interested in downloading Change Case, you can learn how to change the default fonts in Google Docs

How to Change the Default Fonts in Word and Google Docs

How to Change the Default Fonts in Word and Google Docs

If you feel really strongly about using something other than Microsoft Word or Google Doc’s default fonts, you can easily change them.
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, as well to begin with.

Remove Line Breaks to make documents look better

Nothing can be more frustrating than copying and pasting from one document to another, only to see all the formatting errors pop up. PDFs are notorious for this; when you take a perfectly formatted document over to Word, it usually scatters like a shotgun blast.

Reconstructing these paragraphs to make your Google Doc look good is a laborious task. With Remove Link Breaks, however, the add-on will take any text you highlight and pull it back together.

Insert accented characters into your Google Doc with Easy Accents

Like Translate, Easy Accents is a simple add-on for Google Docs that allows you to insert accented characters into your Google Doc without using a keyboard shortcut.

This is especially helpful if you’re typing in a different language and you don’t know those shortcuts. Easy accent also supports a decent number of languages, ranging from Afrikaans to Spanish.

Create beautiful word maps with the Word Cloud add on

Word Clouds are all the rage these days. They’ve become popular with the public, who are curious about what words they use, how often they use them, and why.

Word Cloud Generator allows you to create beautiful word maps that can help to illustrate your point in a creative Google Doc. It does this by reading your entire document, determining what your “theme” is, then making a visual from it. You can download these word clouds, change their color palettes, and adjust the number of words they’re pulling from.

It’s personally one of my favorite tools on this list.

Doc Tools

Doc Tools is a similar add-on to the previously mentioned Change Case. It can adjust individual words to match the uppercase and lowercase styles that you want.

However, Doc Tools also adds more useful features to decorate your Google Doc. It does this by having a toolbox where you can increase or decrease the size of your text, highlight text, or sort lists from A to Z.

How to Make Google Docs Look Pretty Better Word Count

Finally, there’s Better Word Count. Because Google Docs already has a built-in word count system, you may think you don’t need it. However, Better Word Count brings you the basic stats on your document that much quicker.

As you type, Better Word Count constantly updates the word and character count in your document, which you can see along your sidebar. When you need to know how many words you’ve typed, just look to your right. There’s no clicking through another menu to find it.

Which Google Document Add-Ons Do You Love?

The nice thing about Google Docs is that it’s a constant work in progress. Third-party developers are always working together with Google to come up with new and innovative ideas to make your documents look cool.

Are you searching for other ways to make a Google Doc look pretty? Here’s how to embed a Google Slide into a Google Doc

How to Embed a Google Slide Into a Google Doc

How to Embed a Google Slide Into a Google Doc

Build a more creative collaborative document with the ability to embed a slide inside a Google Doc.
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5 Ways to Make Your Computer Read Documents to You

Want to know how to get your computer to read to you? Several different approaches are available. Both Windows and Mac have native tools that can read documents and MS Word files aloud, while there are bevies of third-party apps.

Want to know more? Keep reading to learn how to get your computer to read documents out loud.

Can Microsoft Word Read to You?

For many people, the main reason for getting their computer to read to them is so they can listen to an audio output of a Microsoft Word file.

It helps give your eyes a break if you’re reading something that’s dozens of pages long. And it’s also a great way to spot typos and other grammatical errors in your work.

But can Microsoft Word read to you directly? The answer is yes.

The app has its own built-in document reader called Speak; you don’t need to use your operating system’s native narrator. Better yet, you can get Word to read to you on both Windows and Mac versions of the software, leading to a seamless experience across both platforms.

How to Make Word Read to You on Windows

How to get Word to read to you.

To make Word read to you on your Windows computer, follow the step-by-step instructions below:

  1. Open the document you want Word to read.
  2. Place the cursor where you want to the Word reader to begin.
  3. Go to Review > Speech > Read Aloud.

The narration should start immediately. If not, click the Play button in the upper right corner of the window. You can also use the Speak panel to edit the speech output; both the reading speak and the voice used are customizable.

The voices available are determined by the language setting you are using in the document. To change the language of the text, use the button in the Status Bar at the bottom of the page.

How to Make Word Read to You on Mac

To get a Mac to read text from a Word file, you can use the same process as Windows:

  1. Open the document you want Word to read.
  2. Place the cursor where you want the reading to begin.
  3. Go to Review > Speech > Read Aloud.

On Mac, the playback controls and settings button appear in floating on-screen widget that you can drag around.

How to Make Your Computer Read to You

We’ve looked at how to make Microsoft Word read aloud, but what about the rest of the Windows or Mac operating system?

Both operating systems have built-in tools, but there are also some third-party apps available.

How to Get Windows to Read to You

How to make your computer read to you with the Narrator app in Windows.

In Windows, the native screen tool is called Narrator. It’s one of the Ease of Access tools. You can find it in the Start menu or by using a Cortana search.

When you use Narrator for the first time, Windows will prompt you to work through a 13-stage setup process. You can customize many aspects about the way Narrator works, including startup settings, voice settings, and custom commands. All the settings are available in Narrator’s app window.

When Narrator is running, you can toggle it on and off by pressing Ctrl + Windows + Enter.

How to Get Your Mac to Read to You

macos voice settings

A Mac can also read any on-screen text. The Speech tool available in the Accessibility Tools menu. To start it, head to Apple > System Preferences > Speech.

At the top of the window, you can choose various speaking voices. The options available are connected to the language packs you are running on your Mac’s operating system. There are also settings for speaking speed, system/app announcements, and an option to enable an on/off toggle.

Third-Party Apps to Make Your Computer Read Documents to You

If you need an app that’s capable of reading all the text within an operating system, the native tools are your best bet.

However, if you just want another document reader, a PDF audio reader, or choices for similar text-to-speech tool, there are plenty of third-party options available.

1. Balabolka

Balabolka is probably the best third-party document reader thanks to its impressive list of features. However, that also means the app is one of the least accessible for beginners.

The app supports a wide list of document types, including DOC, TXT, PDF, EPUB, and HTML. It even lets you save the audio output voice files in the various formats (including WAV and MP3), so you can share them with other people.

Finally, there’s a bookmark feature. This is handy if you’re listening to a narrator of a long document and don’t want to lose your place.

The app is only available on Windows.

Download: Balabolka (Free)

2. Natural Reader

natural reader app prices

The other widely-used text-to-speech app is Natural Reader. It has both a free and a premium version.

The free app has unlimited use, a scanner bar that lets you read any text on the screen, a built-in browser that lets you access the web and read websites aloud in a single interface, and support for DOC, PDF, TXT, and EPUB files.

If you want something a bit more powerful, you can buy the full app for $99.50. It includes two natural voices and downloadable audio files. For $199, you get unlimited OCR to read aloud from images and scanned PDFs.

Natural Reader is available on both Windows and Mac.

Download: Natural Reader (Free, premium version available)

3. eSpeak

eSpeak is an open source document reader that’s available for Windows and Linux computers.

The output is synthesized, unlike many larger big-budget apps which now use human voice recordings to sound more realistic. But on the positive side, the app is tiny—its size is less than 2MB, including all the language data. All major world languages are available, though some are still a work in progress.

Download: eSpeak (Free)

Other Ways to Read Text Out Loud

The tools we’ve discussed in this piece should be suitable for the vast majority of users. Make sure you let us know about your favorite document readers in the comments below.

If you would like to learn more about document readers and accessibility tools in general, read our articles on the best accessibility tools in Office and the best text-to-speech software for Windows

The Best (Free) Speech-to-Text Software for Windows

The Best (Free) Speech-to-Text Software for Windows

Looking for the best free Windows speech to text software? We compared Dragon Naturally Speaking with free alternatives from Google and Microsoft.
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