My Comments and how to go about this further
Most of us encounter times in our work and personal computing lives where we don’t really like Windows to “pop up” too many notifications while we are concentrating. Situations where this is more so include running a presentation, watching video material, engaging in a videocall or playing games where we really crave the minimum of distractions.
There are multiple approaches to reducing distractions caused by Windows when it pops up those notifications. These depend on the screen setup you are running with.
Most of you who are using that laptop or convertible 2-in-1 will be using this machine’s screen to view your long-form video or show that presentation to two or three people at the “second-office” café. Or you are using a traditional desktop computer like that “gaming rig” and don’t want Windows to distract you from that game you are playing.
Here, you can enable the “Quiet Hours” function to prevent Windows 8 or 10 from popping up notifications when you don’t want them. This can be enabled using a “button” in the Windows 10 Action Center or by right-clicking on the Windows 10 Action Center bubble at the right-hand corner of the screen then selecting “Turn on Quiet Hours”. This will mute all notifications coming in so you aren’t disturbed.
When you have finished, you then disable “Quiet Hours” by repeating the above process. If you right-click on the Action Center bubble, the option that will show up will be “Turn Off Quiet Hours”.
Two Screens – Duplicated display
Some of you who have a laptop may connect your computer to the projector or large-screen TV and set it up to “duplicate” the display. This is often seen as a simplified approach to putting things up on the large screen especially if both displays have the same resolution and aspect ratio.
As well, this scenario may please those of us who are using Windows Media Player, Windows Photo Viewer, the Windows Store apps or similar software that doesn’t address displays separately, or are simply working with the Web.
Windows 10 has a dedicated setup for this scenario where if you are duplicating the display, you don’t see any of the notifications appearing on both screens. This is a separately-selectable option in the Notifications And Actions settings screen as “Hide Notifications When I’m Duplicatiing My Screen”.
Two Screens – Extended display
There are those of you who have your computer connected to an external display in the “extend” mode. This may be because you are using presentation software that can separately address the external displays or are using the extended multiple-screen desktop.
In this scenario, you would be having your notifications appear on your setup’s primary screen such as your laptop screen. This is although, in a presentation setup, you would be having the presentation appear on the large screen.
But you may want to be sure that you are not disturbed during the presentation or video content. Here, you can follow the instructions for enabling “Quiet Hours” as described in the “One Screen” context.
Managing your system’s sound
On the other hand, you may not mind the visual notifications on your screen such as when you are watching a video or engaging in a videocall. This may be because you want to make sure you don’t miss that message for example.
But you may want to play things a bit more discreetly and not have chimes or bells associated with incoming messages or error notifications disturb you. This is more so when you have the sound coming through a sound system or a large-screen TV’s speakers, and these sounds at the default volume level can be increasingly annoying to hear.
This situation shows up very strong where the software you are using doesn’t allow you to determine which sound-playback device it should play through and you have to use the Windows “default sound device” typically shared by the system for its notification purposes. This situation applies mainly with Web-based situations, UWP / Modern / Metro apps that you get from the Windows Store or some online-service clients like Spotify.
There is the ability to turn off audible chimes for apps that put up notifications but let them put up the visual notifications. Here, you may have to use the Notifications settings screen and work through each app and turn off the “Play a sound when a notification arrives” option on each app. Then you would have to do this rigmarole again when you want the audio prompts back.
Here, you can work around this problem by using the Windows Volume Mixer to reduce the System Sounds volume output so that those beeps and chimes don’t come through very loud. You can even slide that volume right down so that those sounds can’t come through at all. If you are using Windows Store apps like some of the Windows 10 clients for the various online video services, you could use “Ear Trumpet” (Free download from Windows Store) which is an advanced volume mixer that works with these apps as well as Desktop (classic) apps as well as integrating with the Windows 10 look and feel.
Those of you who run Windows 10 April 2018 Update (build 1803) will have the integrated Volume Mixer function able to manage the sound from both the legacy Win32 apps and the UWP Windows Store apps in the same interface. This also extends to the ability to direct which sound device a program uses for its sound output so you don’t hear the notification chimes coming through your TV’s speakers, home theatre or PA system.
What Microsoft could do
Microsoft could support a “notifications profiles” setup in Windows where you can turn off the notifications abilities for particular apps and save these setups as one or more profiles. Here, it could be useful to allow users to create situation-specific profiles such as one to have when watching video content, running a business presentation or going to bed.
It could be implemented also with notifications being assigned “priority” levels so as to allow users not to have “hints-and-tips” or similar unimportant notifications come through at “do-not-disturb” times yet have important notifications come through. For email, messaging and similar software, user could assign priority levels for their contacts so that they don’t miss messages from the contacts that matter like the boss.
The sound-management software in Windows could allow you to create situation-specific sound-level settings like what happened with the Symbian-based Nokia phones. This was where you could create sound-level scenarios for particular situations by varying different sound outputs like ringtone, notification tones and multimedia sounds (music or video playback). This also appeals to other ideals like being able to relegate sound classes like system notifications to particular output devices independent of other sound classes like multimedia and communications.
Once you know how to manage the notifications that pop up in Windows 10’s Notification bar, you can be able to make sure you aren’t distracted by this noise when you want to run that important presentation or watch that favourite Netflix. Similarly, adjusting the sound output of your apps, especially those that are only about notifying, can allow you to achieve that quiet environment while you enjoy music, watch videos or give presentations.
I have updated this article to highlight the improvements that Windows 10 April 2018 Update (Build 1803) offers in relation to sound-level and device management.