Julian Kay

Being productive on Windows 10

I thought I’d write down some of my thoughts on how I’m productive on Windows 10 now that it has been out for a little while and all of my machines have been updated.

Including my phone and 7 inch tablet, I run Windows 10 on four machines:

The following discussion is only about the first two, which are both configured to be general purpose devices used for all sorts of tasks, including development and productivity. I’ll write about the phone and tablet another time.

Windows 10 Desktop

With Windows 10 the desktop is back on the PC and, as usual with my computers, there are no icons in sight. I use my desktop for temporary things, not as a place to keep anything for any extended amount of time. If I’m downloading a file to run it through a comparison tool or something like that, my desktop is fine.

I’m still using teal as the main colour for the user interface. I have used this on my workstations for a number of years now and, with Windows 10, the colour configuration is better than ever. You can choose to have it just as a highlight colour on top of black or have variations of the colour used throughout the Start Menu and Action Centre UI. I prefer the latter with this colour choice.

I feel like teal has worked really well for me, it’s fairly conservative and seems to fit into multiple uses really well:

  • It is not too bright, and offers good contrast with both black and white
  • It works well in both cool or warm lighting environments
  • It doesn’t become too saturated when used with high F.lux settings

For my Surface, I have selected a nice ultra-wide space wallpaper which fits nicely with the colours I choose. This has been a real favourite of mine since I first started using it, but I am unsure who the original artist is. I’d love to give them credit.

Windows 10 Taskbar

I have no applications pinned on my taskbar so I get a really clean environment when I have nothing open. I launch all of my applications from the Start Menu or PowerShell.

I’ve loved using live tiles since they were first introduced on the phone. I enjoy the benefits you get from the glanceable information and I find the grid based organisational structure is way more useful than just a menu. My initial thoughts were that having the Start Menu in the corner may not be as good as having it full screen like on Windows 8, but I quickly changed my mind as soon as I started using it on the insider previews.

Right now, I have grouped the tiles into four main sections with the bottom right configured slightly differently depending on which machine I’m using.

Windows 10 Start Menu

My current setup of tiles and most used applications is pretty much a snapshot in time though – I don’t feel like I have had enough time to really know what I want to have pinned here. At the moment I’m enjoying having a mixture of glancable information (Weather, Calendar, etc.) unread content counts (NextGen Reader, Mail, etc.) and launcher icons (Edge, Store, etc.).

I’m certain this will change quite a lot with use.

Windows 10 Cortana

Cortana has been a very welcome addition to the PC. I’ve been using Cortana on my phone since the original previe, and she’s very much a part of my computer use now. She has had numerous improvements over her first iteration and now that she’s available through all my personal Windows devices, using her for things like reminders and glanceable information has been easier than ever.

I use her on my Surface quite a bit, though I do sometimes have trouble with her listening to me when I say ‘Hey Cortana’, so I usually just press WIN + C to activate her, then she has no trouble understanding my requests.

All of my requests are typed when I use the Virtual Machine. Typing requests is as easy as pressing the Windows key. I find typing to be just as natural as speech, and really fast when I’m using a desktop keyboard. I also tend to use the VM when I’m in locations where speaking wouldn’t be very useful anyway.

I have had issues with using the location-based features on the VM, but I worked around it using a Fake GPS driver.

The Task View is a another new addition to the Windows task bar, and even though I regularly use the key combination WIN + TAB to activate it, I still like to have the icon on the task bar anyway. This screen also includes the ability to add a number of virtual desktops. Surprisingly, I don’t use virtual desktops as much as I thought I would – but I am really glad they there when I do use them.

I originally thought I would always split things out every time I used the computer. For example, I thought that all my communications apps would always be in one desktop and development apps would belong in another. It just didn’t really happen that way. As I was regularly switching between them, I quickly got confused when I had more than a few apps open.

Virtual desktops become useful for me when I really want to concentrate on one or two different activities. I move their windows around on the Task View and put them into their own desktop to get a distraction fee environment when I need it. Ad hoc desktops to help me focus have been much more useful than trying to set rules for myself.

CTRL + WIN + LEFT and CTRL + WIN + RIGHT are used to switch back and forth between desktops. (I’d like to see better support for this with a three finger swipe on the trackpad please Microsoft!)

Windows 10 Notification Area

The Notification Area has been shuffled around a bit in Windows 10. The keyboard icon is now integrated and right next to the clock, and there’s now an additional new notification icon for the Action Centre.

I only show the very minimum of icons here – Process Explorer, Power, Network, Sound. I often use a FuzzyClock application to change how the time is displayed down here too. I am not a fan of using the notification area as a place to minimize windows, or launch applications.

Process Explorer is Microsoft’s ultra-nerdy replacement for the Task Manager and something I always use on my Windows machines. I find it to be way more detailed than the built in version and it includes many features developers find useful. As you can see from the screenshot, you also get a glanceable indicator of CPU usage here too. I find that CPU usage is often the most important metric for how the machine is doing, as I don’t really care how much RAM is being used unless I am having problems with something. If I do have problem, full access to everything running on the machine is just a click away.

Windows 1`0 Action Centre

Action Centre is a welcome addition to Windows on the PC, and something I’m already well used to using, thanks to Windows Phone. The version that ships today is not perfect though. Over time I’d like to see better notification sync with the phone. I also find that the having a solid icon isn’t enough to really draw attraction to the fact there is a new notification pending. I’d like to see options here for flashing or some other more substantial indicator, though I have to admit, I probably wouldn’t want it to be like that all time.

In fact, when I’m trying to be super productive, I turn on Quiet Hours. I use this in combination with the Quite Hours feature on my phone to ensure I don’t get annoyed with notifications when I don’t need them. But they’re still a click away.

The utilities I have mentioned above, like FuzzyClock and Process Explorer, are tiny portable executables and don’t require some system-changing installation mechanism. All these small applications I use are stored in a Scripts folder I have been maintaining for years.

This folder lives in my profile under C:\Users\Julian\Scripts and is synchronised to a private Git repository hosted on Visual Studio Online. Inside there are a number of scripts to run automated tasks and setup my PowerShell profile to be exactly the same across machines. In addition to these scripts, there’s a Tools folder which contains all of these small utility applications as well as some larger applications which have been modified to work in a ‘portable’ way.


I spend a lot of my time in PowerShell and this folder is absolutely fundamental to how I complete many tasks on my Windows machines including, but not limited to:

  • Scripting languages and runtimes – Ruby, Python, IKVM
  • Text editors and UNIX utilities- Vim, grep, wget, curl
  • Windows Tools – Process Explorer, Autoruns
  • General Utilities – FileZilla, Far, WinMerge, Putty
  • Plus years of PowerShell and F# scripts, registry files and more

I could probably go into more detail around this in the future. If you are interested, let me know in the comments.

Not everything is installed this way though. Some of the biggest applications I use require installation from the web through subscriptions, like Office 365 and MSDN:

  • Outlook, OneNote, Visio and the rest of Office (from Office 365)
  • Visual Studio Enterprise (from MSDN)
  • Visual Studio Code, Node and Git (free)
  • Wunderlist, Slack and Skype (free)
  • 7-Zip, F.lux, Paint.NET (free)

And finally, there are a number of applications which either are preinstalled on Windows or I have to install from the Windows Store. The ones I use the most are:

  • Groove Music, Film & TV, Photos and other entertainment apps
  • MSN apps like Weather and Sports
  • Audible, Netflix
  • NextGen Reader

Applications installed through the Windows Store are super painless. I wish more applications could be installed this way. I’d like to see more parity with the phone too, and I’m sure that’ll be coming when Windows 10 Mobile ships at the end of the year.

Overall, I feel like I’m more productive on Windows 10 than I have been on any other operating system. I feel like things are only getting better in general – with things like SSH and containers coming soon, the future is pretty bright for Windows 10.


I had been looking at a replacement for Outlook tasks for the longest time. Since Windows Phone 7 came out, Microsoft’s mobile offerings for Outlook tasks have been… sub-optimal.

I had heard of Wunderlist through sites like Lifehacker and The Verge, and in 2014 6Wunderkinder released a new real-time sync engine as well as new beta versions for Windows Phone and Windows 8. I thought it was about time I switched from Outlook, so I gave it a shot.

A year later and I’m still using it every day.

Wunderlist is intuitive and easy to use. The free version does more than other apps, and it’s totally cross platform with first-class apps for Apple’s platforms (including Watch), Android, Windows and the web. It features recurring to-dos, subtasks, reminders, due dates, multiple lists and folders to organise them. Smart views let me order the to-dos by today or this week. This is where I spend most of my time when actually doing things. I like working through to-dos in due-date order, across all of the lists.

The latest new feature was a Wunderlist API. Integration with Slack and Sunrise has been useful, but I’m still waiting on integration with Outlook (coming soon) and IFTTT.


Now Wunderlist is part of my Action Management System and vital to how I get stuff done. Here’s how I have it set up.


The Inbox is where I collect any of my to-dos as I record them. I try to keep my inbox fairly minimal, so I regularly review it. I often put links or other small reminders to myself in here and check them off without ever organising them into folders. The way I use inbox is in a similar way to my email: it’s a great collection point, but it should be regularly emptied – either by doing the to-do, or organising it into one of my folders.


Anything that takes longer than a couple of minutes goes from the Inbox and into here. Pretty much anything goes, as long as doesn’t fit into any of my other lists. I regularly review this list to add due dates or subtasks.


Daily, weekly, and monthly habits are stored here. All of these to-dos are recurring, so as soon as I check them off they return for the next date. For example, every week I review my finances and every month I review my projects list. These will appear on my weekly smart list as they need to be addressed.


There are often things I am thinking about doing or getting which are either just ideas or not feasible right now. This is where my wish list comes in. Putting items in here gets them off my mind into a place where I can review regularly.


This list keeps track of any items I’m waiting for including Kickstarter projects, deliveries, book and music release dates and other things like that. I also use list to keep track of things that I am waiting on from people too, including items loaned to friends.

Projects, Objectives and anything else

All of the above to-do lists are actually inside a folder marked ‘Personal’. As well as this folder, I also have a folder called ‘Projects’ which contains number of to-do lists for projects I am working on – and these come and go depending on what’s happening in my life. In fact, some of these lists may even be shared with other people.

Currently I also have an ‘Objectives’ folder which is keeping track of a some bigger picture things I want to achieve, but this is not permanent. I like to keep things flexible inside Wunderlist, and creating ad hoc lists and folders makes it easy for me to do so. I always review my to-do lists once a week a week anyway.

Using Cortana with a fake GPS driver on Windows 10

I’ve mentioned before that I like to offload some of my development and productivity tasks to Virtual Machines running on Microsoft Azure. On these machines I like to run Visual Studio, Office and any other apps I need so I can be productive anywhere.

One of the apps that helps me be productive is Cortana, so I was pleased to get her up and running on my Windows 10 VM.

Cortana can helpfully give you reminders and recommendations based on location, but can you guess what the problem is when using Cortana on a VM in Azure?

Location in Redmond

The location services think I am currently located in Redmond, Washington. Oh dear.

The cross devices functionality of Cortana gets very confused because of this. When I’m using my phone she thinks I’m in Leeds, but if I switch to using the VM she thinks I have suddenly appeared in the United States.

I had a think about how best to approach this issue, and currently I’m trying out a solution which seems to work well: using a homemade Fake GPS driver.

FakeGPS Sensor Driver

I went through the code in the Windows DDK and found an example for creating a GPS driver. Rather than getting the data from a real hardware devices, I hard coded the latitude and longitude. Once I had it set up in exactly the way I wanted, it was just a matter of compiling the C++ for Windows 10 and getting it installed.

Location in Leeds

Now this Fake GPS driver simply returns the geolocation coordinates which I want, and Cortana thinks that I’m in Leeds. Sorted!

This isn’t a perfect solution. For example you have to switch your OS to run in Test Mode, and obviously the location doesn’t automatically change depending on where you are. However my initial use shows me it’s way more useful than just letting the OS guess the location from the IP address.

Cortana on Windows 10

If people are interested in trying out this solution for themselves, I’ll share the code on GitHub. It shouldn’t be too tricky to add an interface to set the location as required.

Let me know in the comments.


I recently moved into a new flat, and so I got a new set of keys to get into the building. This time, both of them are the flat key type rather than the mixture of types I had previously. This gave me an idea.

In the past, I’ve seen people on EDC websites use all sorts of key organisers, and I thought I’d give it a go. There are a lot out there – so I’d recommend having a good look around, but I decided that the KeySmart would be a safe choice for me. I only have two keys and I am not too worried about having anything super hard-wearing like titanium.

With the KeySmart you get two scales, a number of washers (depending on which model you get), a loop for attaching to other keys, and screws to hold it all together.

I’ve only had it set up like this for a few weeks now, so I haven’t found out if there are any other issues (for example, I never want it to come apart and lose my keys). But in the time I’ve had it, I have been very happy.


I’m not in a rush, but I have been tempted to get some keys with a black finish cut especially for this. Think that would look good?


  • Way cooler than normal keys, obviously
  • Great for avoiding the jingle when running
  • Super slim profile and feels good in the hand


  • The Utili-Key I used to keep with me doesn’t really work
  • Lack of jingle means I have to really check I have my keys on me
  • Not as speedy for one handed use, but ok

Field Notes

Used Field Notes

A few months ago I tried Field Notes for the first time. I was travelling to America and didn’t want to carry both of my large Moleskine notebooks around.

I was immediately hooked.

In the past I’d tried a number of ways to keep track of notes that seemed too basic to go into my larger notebook, but too complex for my planner; the vague middle ground of half thought ideas and random bits of information. The last thing I tried was 6″ × 4″ index cards. These were a great size, but then I had a stack of index cards to worry about. (I liked index cards so much, I may still find a way to use them moving forward, but that’s another story.)

I decided to try out Field Notes for this exact purpose – anything goes. From Wi-Fi passwords to plans of world domination, in any type of pencil or ink. The Field Notes is where I empty my brain.

Field Notes

Now that I’ve started using them this way, I plan to continue to use Field Notes for this purpose for the foreseeable future, and they’ll feature prominently in my plans for my refreshed analogue setup alongside Japanese notebooks like Hobonichi and Midori. There will be more to come about that over the next few months.

Aside from their actual purpose of note taking, there are a few other things that make Field Notes special for me…

Physically wonderful

First of all I find the dimensions and the number of pages to be just right for what I’m using them for. They’re 3½″ × 5½″ and 48 pages with a card exterior. They are a perfect fit for a jeans pocket or for stuffing inside a another notebook or case. They work well as companion notebooks more than anything else.

Field Notes

The physical design is based on the old memo books and pocket ledgers popular in America’s days gone by. Revived to fill the need of analogue note taking in a digital age, they feel just right for use at home or on the move.

Colors and limited editions

As well as a few stock notebooks, Field Notes provides a ‘Colors‘ subscription service where they release four different designs throughout a year. These designs are unknown until they are released, which can be really fun and exciting. Due to the physical size of the notebook, I’m regularly burning through them and changing the edition I’m using. I really like this pace as it keeps things interesting. Differences in paper, card, and printing technique means there is plenty of variety in more than just the colour of the card stock used.

Field Notes Night Sky

They also do a number of collaborations which means there’s a lot of additional designs out there, in fact there is a very strong community of ‘Field Nuts‘ who are interested in collecting and using these different designs. I have no plans on trying to get them all or to keep them in pristine condition, but it is delightful to have so many options around the same basic notebooks style.

The best of American design

I liked the look of Aaron Draplin’s designs before I even knew who he was. With editions ranging from the classic Americana of America the Beautiful to the eye-popping colours of Unexposed, the work Draplin and the whole of the Field Notes team has done for these notebooks is absolutely outstanding, they’re always on the cutting edge of American design and trying new things.

Field Notes Workshop Companion

The simplicity of purpose and design philosophy also expands to some of the accessories you can get – from leather cases to archive boxes, the use of the Futura typeface, and even the tone of language used in the back of the book.

The Field Notes style is bold and distinct, and something I really enjoy.

They look great used

Finally, one of my favourite things about the Field Notes brand notebooks is how good they look after they’ve been used. Using analogue tools for note taking is very different to digital notes. Microsoft OneNote is always going to be pixel perfect, but my Field Notes are going to get bent, scraped, rubbed and damaged through use.

Used Field Notes

They’re mine and it just adds to the experience.

I go through Field Notes faster than any other notebook I have, so really using them seems perfectly natural. I’m much more careful with my yearly planner because I have to keep it for 12 months. It’s nice to have something I feel comfortable just grabbing and folding over to scribble on.

Productivity Music

When listening to an episode of Cortex on Relay.fm, Myke Hurley and CGP Grey talked about how they use music to get in the zone for productivity. It really resonated with me as I’ve done the same thing for many years, and one of my albums of choice was actually mentioned by Grey.

Get into the zone, work harder, associate similar tasks with the music.

There are two main benefits of doing this: one is to distract the part of the brain which is looking for distractions, and the other is to provide a familiar experience and link it with the act of getting things done.

All Day

All Day is name of the epic 2010 mashup album from Girl Talk which is needs to be experienced in order to be understood. Essentially, it’s a huge number of small snippets from loads of pieces of popular music, all smashed together in one cohesive mashup mega mix spectacular, but you’d have to listen to it to see what I mean.

Girl Talk

I use All Day and Girl Talk’s other albums (all available for free) to get myself into the zone for being productive when writing, scripting and power coding, especially when I want to feel pumped up and full of energy.

The only word of warning is that it may be a bit too distracting if you’re not familiar with the album, as you may end up trying to work out where the samples are coming from rather than concentrating on your work. I’ve been listening to this album since it came out, so a lot of the lyrics are just noise to me now.

Not only was this album mentioned on Cortext, it was also discussed on Inquisitive.

Music to Code By

Music to Code By is not an album of music. It is a productivity tool. It will help you focus intently on any task.

Developed by Carl Franklin (of .NET Rocks! fame) specifically for software developers, Music to Code By (MTCB) has been crafted to provide an easy way for the listener to get into the Flow.

Carl Franklin

The melodic loops are around 50 to 80 BPM and 25 minutes long, which is perfect for me to use as a timer without actually watching the clock. After the track finishes, I get up and go for a short walk before putting on the next track. I use this all the time, especially when I want to calmly read specifications, work through tasks, design software architecture and focus on complex problems.

MTCB isn’t free, but you can get samples from Carl’s website and order from there. I currently only have the first three tracks, but another compilation will be released soon. My favourite track is Blue.

Highlights from Build 2015

The Build 2015 conference has just taken place in San Francisco.

Like last year, this has been another huge event for Microsoft, and a big deal for the people who build solutions using their technologies.

There have been way more interesting things happening than I can possibly cover in one article, but I have decided to cover the three most important to me:

.NET, Windows and Azure.

An exciting future for .NET and Open Source

The future of .NET is the continued push to an open source .NET Core, which is at the centre of both the latest ASP.NET runtime and the Universal Windows app platform. In the future, this will expand and include other application types. In my opinion, they’ve picked the right place to start.

Applications running on the CoreCLR can be developed and deployed on cloud and server-based infrastructures running different operating systems including Windows, Linux and OS X. I have been watching the development efforts on GitHub for a while now, and I’ve set it up on my own machines running both Windows and Linux. It sure is a sight to see.

As well as the core runtime itself going open source, other technologies like Roslyn have enabled products that many wouldn’t have guessed would see the light of day. Having an open source compiler platform has enabled Visual Studio Code – a new cross platform text editor with Intellisense – to be built.

I was lucky enough to see Visual Studio Code before it was announced, and it changed the way I thought about collaboration with Mac users instantly. I’ll have more on this new text editor soon.

Visual Studio Code

With the RC of Visual Studio 2015 there have been some big improvements in the languages supported including both the more traditional C# and Visual Basic, and (my personal favourite) F#.

The Visual F# improvements in ‘every day’ activities are dramatic for anyone who has been using the language. This is all thanks to the new open source attitude, and the amazing community around F# who have helped to develop the Visual F# tools on GitHub.

This new world of cross-platform and open source .NET technology is going to enable some amazing scenarios for .NET developers like myself.

Windows 10’s application platform takes shape

The aforementioned Universal Windows app platform is really taking shape now. Gone are the days of very prescriptive (and maybe too forward-looking) design patterns of Windows 8, and in is the ‘do what’s right for your applications‘ model that has been working well for some for a while.

Universal Windows apps scale from the smallest phones and Internet of Things devices up to the large screens of the Xbox One and the Surface Hub. The most ‘universal’ of these apps are built with just one binary which includes a scalable UI. This allows you to even have the ‘desktop’ app experience when used on a landscape 5.7 inch phone, or when plugged into an external screen using an amazing new Continuum for Phones feature.

For app developers there are some interesting (and controversial) new ways for software venders to build for Windows. The biggest of which are the bridges from Android and iOS. These two are extremely important for the phone and work especially well for iOS games which don’t rely too heavily on the operating specific UI elements. Combined with the bridges for ‘classic windows’ apps and websites using Microsoft Edge, the Store should get a lot more apps on this Windows 10 wave of releases.

From a user’s view, Windows 10 has really rounded out, with the latest Insider Preview feeling a lot more polished than any of the previous builds. Seeing HoloLens run standard Windows Universal apps was a big deal too.

I’ll have more thoughts on these in the future as the Insider Preview continues, and more information for HoloLoens is released at E3.

Microsoft <3 Docker and other Azure improvements

Azure, and the Microsoft Cloud in general, continue to amaze me. Microsoft has managed to embrace this new way of building (and selling) software in at breakneck speed. Additional services were added throughout the platform all the way from storage and networking, to analytics and machine learning. Way too many for this article.

Two of the biggest highlights were the ability to run the complete Azure Stack locally, and Azure’s new Data Lake features too, something which Amazon has had a lot of success with.

Microsoft <3 Docker

For me though, the most interesting changes were around Docker support across Windows and Azure. Docker has been on my radar for a while, but I have yet to use it in production. I have plans to do so in the not too distant future.