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Archive for May, 2013

Email Affairs – My Version of “50 Shades of Grey”

Gmail Intro

My first kiss with Gmail.

I have a confession.

As you may know, I am in a committed relationship with Gmail. I met Gmail about 5 months after he launched, back in 2004. Gmail and I have been together for almost 9 years now. It’s been a great relationship. He gives me lots of email storage, and a great interface. As our relationship grew, he gave me a wonderful calendar, then communication and collaboration tools. Yes, there have been some disappointments in our relationship, such as Google Wave, but there have been some great fun times too like “do a barrel roll”. (Really, if you haven’t done this, go Google it now.) Gmail has always had my back, he automatically saved all my documents at his house, with his brother Docs. (It’s a great app called Google Cloud Connect; unfortunately it broke when I moved to Office 2013.) Gmail kept all my information safe and secure there and he gave me the key so I could access my stuff when needed. He understood what I needed, and he even provided the directions for me to get there. He gave me great communication tools and an easy way to share my stuff. It was the perfect relationship. We even expanded our family when I added Google Apps For Business.

But, like I said before, I have a confession. I’ve been seeing someone else. I never intended to have these feelings, but they crept up on me.

You see, way back in 1997, Microsoft launched a fresh new email host called MSN Hotmail and I signed up for an account. Now, this was several years before Gmail stole my tech heart. There may have also been a short stint with Yahoo mail during this time (I don’t talk about it much). For those of you too young to remember, in the early days of email service, it was all about experimenting with different services, and not committing to just one. We were all so young and had multiple email accounts at the time. Gmail and I seemed to click, so settled down with him in 2004.

Every so often, over the years, I would check in with Hotmail and see what he was up to. Did he settle down, expand his offering? You know, the general stalking of a previous love. At first, it looked like Hotmail kept the status quo. Nothing new and exciting. But his sexy younger brother, Office 365, was breaking some new ground with small business. I have to admit, a new technology targeted right at my clients caught my interest. Not only did Office 365 target small businesses, but it also had a built-in relationship with my guilty pleasure, Microsoft Small Business Server. This was getting interesting. Then things changed in July 2012. Outlook.com launched; I guess Hotmail decided it was time to try something new and get back into the game. I started spending more time with Outlook.com.  And I was impressed. I loved the way he kept my stuff organized in folders, and it was so easy to share my files. He also has a built-in relationship with my desktop version of Office 2013. The more mature Outlook.com is looking more and more attractive with each new feature.

I haven’t committed to Outlook.com yet, but he is slowly growing on me. I still love Gmail, but his controlling and sometimes pushy attempts to keep me locked to him are starting to bother me. Outlook.com needs to take a few pointers from his younger brother, Office 365, and add instant communication tools, such as Skype. If Outlook.com can meet most of the functionality I currently rely on in Gmail, it may be the end of Gmail.

PS: I have never read, or intend to read, 50 Shades of Grey, so this may not be as exciting as the book to some.

Outlook, Google Apps for Business, and BB…What a Challenge

A few weeks ago, one of my clients handed me his new Blackberry Z10 and told me that it wouldn’t sync to his calendar or contacts via Outlook. Honestly, I thought he had lost it, how could BB release a product without this core functionality. Well he was right! It didn’t sync via Outlook at all (since this incident, BB has added this functionality in its newest desktop update). The client would soon be leaving for an overseas trip and needed a solution asap.

My clients company uses Google Apps for Business (free version), and had previously connected their phones to their systems, via a USB cable, to sync their calendar and contacts. (I am amazed at how many of my clients still sync their phones using a direct connection.) Because he hasn’t moved to the paid version of Google Apps, we are unable to use the Google Apps Sync, which syncs your Google accounts with Outlook, and in turn, syncs wireless to your device. Luckily, we had just purchased a sweet ultrabook with Office 2013, which gave us the tools we needed to come up with a solution for him quickly.

First, we created an Outlook.com account and connected it to Office 2013.  Then we copied all of his contacts to Outlook.com.

Contact Sync

Next we added his calendar events to the Outlook.com calendar.

Now, we added the Microsoft Outlook.com account to his BlackBerry. He was now able to see his contacts and calendar. Moving forward, he adds all his new contacts and calendar events to the Outlook.com accounts via Outlook.

Outlook Calendar Sync

This solution has been very successful. He can access his contacts and calendar anytime, and no longer needs to plug his phone in. One less cable to carry. This also provides a backup for his critical data. Our next step is to start using the SkyDrive integration to share files while he is on the road.

PS: Microsoft has released the Hotmail Connector for Office 2007-2010 which provides the same integration. Here is the link for the free program http://office.microsoft.com/en-ca/outlook-help/microsoft-office-outlook-hotmail-connector-overview-HA010222518.aspx

 

Side Note:

I have been finding that as each service updates, it’s getting harder to have these services work together as seamlessly as it has in the past. Personally, I feel the providers are forcing the users to pick one environment, whether it’s Microsoft, Google, or Apple.  All this does is frustrate the users, because it takes away previously had functionality and forces the user to pick a service which best meets their needs; and they may have give up, or modify, workflows to get all the functionality they used to have by combining the services.

IT and Small Business – It’s the perfect fit!

MSBS Logo“I feel like my business is too small for my IT provider,” I hear on a regular basis.

These small companies are the companies I serve and work with, and so few of them get qualified, professional IT help. As an IT professional, you may think, “why would I want to work with a small business, when I could work with a larger firm, and have more benefits and career growth?” And you may be right, but only to a point.

87.5% of all Canadian businesses have 1-20 employees, and 54.9% of Canadian businesses only have 1-4 employees. These companies are the ones that need talented and qualified help the most. Unfortunately, they’re often the group receiving it the least. Small businesses cannot afford an expensive IT firm to come in and help them, so they end up bringing in someone who may not have the appropriate skill set, and that can lead to insecure, inefficient, and incorrectly configured equipment and networks; not to mention unhappy and frustrated users.

From proper networking and security, to backup strategies and remote access; there are so many technologies we can introduce to small businesses to make their companies more efficient. The technical concepts are no different than with big businesses, it’s just the scope.

Here are just a few rewarding reasons of being a part of this growing group of small business IT professionals:

Uniqueness – Every day, there’s something different. Within a single day, I can work on an accounting solution for a caterer, a remote access solution for a not-for-profit, and a backup strategy for a specialized piece of equipment for a manufacturer. You will always be learning, and coming up with new solutions to meet the unique needs of this group. Working with small businesses is, in my opinion, more exciting than with large ones (and yes, I have worked for very large companies). The budgets and needs are much smaller, so your solutions must be tailored to meet the current business structure, but always keeping the potential growth of the small business in your plan.

Sense of Community – Small businesses talk, work, and network together. With a small IT business of your own, you are also in the 54.9%. It’s amazing how we all help each other. It’s a great feeling knowing that you are supporting and growing your community.

Appreciation – These businesses are so grateful to have an honest and qualified person to assist them.  From my experience, many small businesses aren’t able to hire qualified assistance at a reasonable rate.  If you can come in, offer them the same solutions as the large IT firm, and do it at a fair and reasonable price; you will have a client and friend for life. Providing the correct solution allows them to focus on their business instead of the technology. The greatest compliment I have had from a small business is, “we never have to worry about the computers anymore, it just works”.

So before jumping into an IT department for a large company, consider working with small businesses.  It may end up being the most satisfying career you’ll ever have.

Statistic source: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/02715.html

Jammies to Bathing Suit – Wasn’t What I Expected

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My first attempt at the “four hour workweek” didn’t go quite as expected. My family and I had a great vacation, but I learned some valuable lessons about working from the beach.  The main issue was that there was no Internet availability. The hotel advertised Internet, but what they consider Internet access and what I consider Internet access are two different things. ,Maybe it was just this resort or maybe it is an issue in Cuba, but either way, I had no access to my clients, or even email. I did have my phone, and in the end, I did have to use it (for a personal issue), and now I am dreading the bill because I didn’t add a roaming plan for the week we were away. If I had known about the lack of Interne,t I would have added a roaming package for the week.

Before I travel again with the intention of working in my bathing suit, I will:

  1. Confirm high-speed Internet access is available.
  2. Add a roaming plan to my phone, even if I have access to Internet.
  3. Ensure a have backup IT support to assist.

On the upside, because I wasn’t able to check email or assist clients, I was able to spend that time working “on” (instead of “in”) the business; but more importantly, I was able to hang out with my kids. I hated the feeling that I had no idea what was happening at home, but my clients knew I was going to be away and promised they would only email if there was an emergency. This relieved some of my “unplugged anxiety”. There was only one minor issue and my backup was quickly able to resolve it. I believe this alone proves that when your IT support does their job correctly, there really is no reason for your IT support to be on-site, excluding hardware issues. If your IT support is always on-site, or you have constant problems, then it may be time to consider having a second opinion.

Our next trip, aiming for the end of January, will probably be in the Florida Keys, where Internet access should not be an issue. I will also add a roaming plan so I can truly work from the beach, if I wish.

I can now take my experiences and help my clients work after they, too, get to play in the waves.

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