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Google & Microsoft…Bullies on the playground?

See the NOTE at the bottom.

See the NOTE at the bottom.

You all know I am a Google girl, and have been since Gmail was first launched. But lately I have been reconsidering my current relationship with Google. (See my article Email Affairs – My version of 50 Shades of Grey to read about my Google love affair.)

As I mentioned in that article, I was finding Google was becoming a little too controlling and I was becoming increasingly unhappy about our current relationship. After recent events, my patience with Google has been stretched thin. You see, Google and Microsoft used to play well together; but after the release of Office 2013, the two giants are and have been battling, and the consumer is caught in the middle of the squabble.

One of my clients ordered a new system from an independent shop with Office 2013, back in April. She then asked me to come in in May and set up her system in her home office. Honestly, I figured I would pop in, set up her Gmail Apps for Business accounts, configure the backup and Blackberry, and have a happy client within a few hours. You know what is said about best laid plans?

It turned out Google hadn’t released the Google Apps Sync for Outlook at the time I first went in during the month of May. I set up the client’s email, knowing she didn’t have the whole calendar/contact sync, but according to the Google forums at the time, it was coming soon. We just had a to be patient a little while longer. In the meantime, we ordered a laptop with Windows 7 and Office 2013 Home and Business from Dell. By that point, it was early June and Google has released the Outlook integration model (kind of). In mid-June, the Dell unit with MS Home and Business 2013 arrives and I quickly set it up, with the Google Apps Sync for Outlook, and the client is up and running very quickly, except for some tweaking.

Next I head back to her home office and to finish the setup on her desktop. Since Google has released their software, I am sure this will be a snap. Many hours later, after a discussion with Microsoft and a Google reseller, my client still does not have a proper working desktop system at home; and the worst of it: she is not happy, which upsets me.

And what has caused all of this grief, you may ask? This should be a no-brainer, right? Think again and prepare yourself and your clients for what is turning into a miserable mess.

According to the Microsoft reps I spoke to, Office 2013 is Click and Run only (unless you have volume licensing).  I don’t know about you, but none of my small business clients have volume licensing, because it’s usually unnecessary for their needs and budget. Google released it’s Google Apps Sync for Outlook, but it is not supported on Office 2013 Click to Run. Office 2010 was also Click to Run, but we had the option of downloading the msi and Outlook 2010, and Google Apps Sync would work seamlessly.

So what’s the solution? In this case, the client returned the unit she bought, and we ordered a new desktop from Dell with Microsoft Office Home And Business installed; as I have been assured by the Dell rep that the Office 2013 pre-installed on the Dell systems is not Click to Run.

Moving forward with this company, we will order all units preloaded with Office 2013 from Dell, until this mess can be straightened out.

Who am I upset with? In this case I am upset with both companies. I understand why Microsoft is releasing software in this fashion, but they should make an MSI version available, as they did with Office 2010, for those of us who want more control over our installations. But in this case, I am more upset at and with Google right now. Office 2013 has been available to the public for 6 months now, and the manufactures had it back in the fall of 2012. I am not a programmer, but if Google can make self-driving cars, how hard is it to get Google Apps Sync to work on the Click to Run version of Office?

Why can’t these tech giants all get along? These companies are forcing their clients to side with one or the other, and it feels like the bully in the schoolyard. Remember “if you play with him/her, I won’t be your friend”? Unfortunately, small business consumers are the ones who are going to be most affected by this, and I am sure we’ll hear more about this problem as time goes by, and more people move to Office 2013.

The playground is much happier when everyone can enjoy playing together, no matter where you come from. I think it’s time for both Microsoft and Google to grow up, and play nice with each other, and all the others on the playground.

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.

Windows 8 – Still Not Convinced

Love the Lenovo.

Love the Lenovo.

If you read my previous blog post (click here), you know that my laptop died a few weeks ago.  I knew it was coming, and decided to make the jump the day it died ( I ordered the new system then my current system over-heated for the last time later that same day) and purchased a laptop with Windows 8.  My husband has been using it since the preview was available and he loves it.  Plus, I was at a Microsoft event the week prior and liked what I saw.  I knew I’d have to learn it at some point, so it seemed like a good time to dive in.

My new laptop arrived the following Tuesday night and I planned to set it up (transfer files, etc) the next day, since it was my scheduled “work at home day”.  I expected I would have the time to figure it out, get used to it, and play with it before I got started on any work.

By 9 am Wednesday morning, I had two client issues I had to deal with, and I still hadn’t transferred my files, or even had Office 2013 (which I am really liking) installed or configured.  Luckily, I had been working in the cloud during my non-laptop period, so I continued working, using web-based services on my new laptop until I could find the time to set it up for my workflow.  I assumed I would just be able to carry on, Windows is Windows, right?

Soon, I encountered a problem: not only was I trying to help my clients with their work, but I was trying to do so on a new operating system (which I was struggling with) without my standard “go-to” applications and I was becoming very frustrated.

Once I had my clients hiccups resolved I configured the system for my use.  I noticed some great new features in Windows 8 that I love, such as image mounting (awesome), and the fast boot-up time.  I can’t wait to jump-play with Hyper-V (I know that will be a huge plus for me).  And when I have some free time, I’ll play with Windows to Go.

Despite all the pluses, I am not sure I am really liking it yet.  As I mentioned before, I had to learn how to navigate Windows 8 on the fly.  Heck, I even had to Google how to restart it.  The interface formerly known as “Metro” is confusing, and I don’t understand why it’s on a non-touch device.  I find “searching” the requires more clicks/keystrokes.  Switching between “Metro” apps and the desktop is confusing and requires more clicks.  I am not even sure if Skype is open!  For a standard 9-5 Monday-Friday job, I am not sure I would recommend Windows 8.  My husband said I was being such a “user”, but if I am struggling, then I know my business clients will as well.

I’ll follow up in a few weeks with my feelings after a month of Windows 8.

Practicing What I Preach

Netbook

Awesome netbook, not a laptop.

If you know me or have seen me talk, you know that I love the cloud! I give entire talks about the cloud, how it can help you, and why you should use it.  I encourage small businesses and individuals to use it whenever possible.  It’s no surprise that I try to use the cloud as much as I can.  Here is my “real life” cloud story:

Last week, my laptop died.  It’s been giving me grief for the last few months and I knew it was coming, so I ordered a new laptop the morning of a couple weeks back.  That afternoon, my dying laptop overheated for the last time.  Of course, I had to wait a while for my new laptop to arrive (awesome black Friday sale).  I was without my own laptop for 4 days, and had to use my 4-year-old under-powered, slow, small netbook.  Although the netbook is not a full-fledged desktop, I wasn’t concerned about my work.  Since I use the cloud for just about everything, I could get through the weekend and early week, no problem.  And for the most part, I did.  I grabbed my little under-powered and non-Office-installed Acer netbook and promptly accessed my documents and mail, using a variety of services, including: Gmail (personal), Google Apps for Business (business account), Dropbox (additional storage), and Microsoft Live (personal).  My non-laptop experience highlighted three rolls of thunder in my cloud:

1. When I could pull what I needed from a various service to an application on my laptop seamlessly, it was fine.  But as soon as I had to start transferring files between various cloud services, things became a little cumbersome.  Going forward, I am going to settle on one cloud service to handle all of my data (email, documents, storage, etc.)

2.  My next big obstacle was Outlook, or should I say, the lack of.  As much as I love Google, I really don’t like their web-based mail experience.  I use Outlook for all of my mail, tasks, and scheduling.  Because of the amount of mail I have to manage, I found Google’s lack of folder structure overwhelming.  If I were to use Gmail, I would have to modify my email workflow severely.  By day two, I had to install Office on the netbook so I could have the basic functionality to work effectively.

3.  The third “roll of thunder” was not being able to access my financial application.  Okay, I always manage to find an excuse not to do paperwork, but I have to admit not being able to see my company financials bothered me.  I am considering moving my financials to a cloud-based service for this reason.  On a side note, when I went to bring my financial backup from cloud storage to my new laptop, the file was corrupted.

This experience didn’t change how I feel about the cloud, if anything, it validated my push to encourage others to use the cloud.  My cloud services allowed me to continue working, even if it was at a snail’s pace.  Luckily, I was able to retrieve all the data from my old drive and was up and running with all my programs and data within a few hours.  Now, if I could only figure out Windows 8…

Click here for blog post on my Windows 8 struggles

Small Business Server 2011 Essentials & Integrated Office 365 – Big Business Tools for the Small Business

I recently installed Microsoft SBS 2011 Essentials with Office 365 integration and was more than pleasantly surprised with the outcome of integrating the two products.

A Little Background

I have been working with Microsoft Enterprise servers for many years of my career, but moved into the Small business Server space a few years ago as a solution for my small business clients.  Microsoft Small Business Servers are designed specifically with the needs of the small business in mind.

Key benefits of SBS include:

·         Simplified Small Business IT

·         Increased Business Productivity

·         Protect Business Data

·         Reduced IT Costs

For a full list of features visit the Microsoft SBS website.

Microsoft Office 365 was released in June 2011. Office 365 provides Microsofts business productivity products, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, and Office Web Apps as cloud services.  This reduces the need to host these services on-site, greatly reducing IT costs.

  • Exchange Online: enables the sharing of email, contacts and calendars
  • SharePoint Online: allows the users to securely host their documents from any internet-connected device.  Also included are templates to easily create and host your public facing website
  • Lync Online: a real-time collaboration tool
  • Office Web Apps: a web-based Office suite

Client Details and Requirements

The client, for this installation, has a small office with 4 full-time employees.  They use a custom third-party application that requires a “server” type of installation, which was installed on a Windows 7 computer.  They share files in the office, but email, calendars, and contacts were not easily shared.  They wanted to be able to effortlessly share email, calendars, etc., between staff members and be able to access company documents from outside the office. 

The Solution

We decided to implement Small Business Server Essentials with Office 365.

SBS Essentials is a slick little operating system designed for the small businesses.  It is easy to setup and once configured, very easy to manage.  It provides the security and the basic functionality of its big brother, Microsoft Server 2008; but in an easy to use, slimmed-down package.

SBS Essentials offers:

  • Remote Web Access
  • Data Backup and Restore
  • File and Printer Sharing
  • Easy connection to the Microsoft “cloud”

For more information, please visit Microsoft SBS Essentials webpage. In late 2011, Microsoft provided an Office 365 integration module with SBS Essentials.

The Implementation

We moved all their email and webhosting to Office 365. This provided the sharing required, plus real-time collaboration using Lync and SharePoint for securely sharing documents.  The client can also rebuild and maintain control over their website, which they didn’t have before. 

The Office 365 Outlook integration provided a seamless Outlook experience for the client, whether they were using it on the desktop, laptop or web.

We moved the 3rd party application to the new SBS server, which has increased performance of the application itself, since it is now being hosted in a proper server environment on appropriate hardware.  All the computers in the office are backing up to the server, and file-sharing was enabled.  By far, the most beneficial feature for this client is the Remote Web Access feature (which was very easy to setup).  The client can securely access her desktop from her laptop with a click of the mouse.  She is currently on vacation, easily accessing her office desktop and server.

Final Thoughts

Combine SBS Essentials with Office 365 and now you can leverage some of Microsoft’s most powerful big business tools into your small office.  Your small office can now be on the same playing field as big business without the IT costs and frustrations. Well done Microsoft.

Control your Outlook Inbox with Rules

As promised from blog post (How to Take Control of Your Unruly Outlook Inbox) here is the post on Outlook Rules. Rules are a great way to organize your emails into bite size chunks. You can prioritize your email using Rules, this way the important “need to respond to” emails do not get “lost” in your Inbox. Rules can also apply a specific action on a given email. This will reduce your time trying to keep you Inbox organized by manually dealing with each email. Once you start using Rules you will wonder how you ever managed your email in the past without them.

Everyone will choose a different way to create Rules and organize their Inbox. My preference is to create Rules for “important” people, like my boss or specific clients and on the email subject line. I also use Rules to manage my subscribed email lists or LinkedIn group emails. My home email contains Rules based on family member. I have an extremely large extended family and I find it easier to group together specific family members i.e., my mom’s family, my husband’s moms family, my dad’s family. You get the idea.

I’ll use the example of an “Important” person for our example. In this case the important person is My Boss. When an email arrives from My Boss I want to be notified immediately.

Figure 1

As you can see from Figure 1 I need Outlook to notify me that there is an email from My Boss.

I find the best way to create Rules is to base the Rule on an existing email. The fastest and with the least amount of clicks is to right click on the email and select the Rules option. You will then be prompted with 3 additional choices:

  • Always move message from: My Boss (instead of My Boss, the name of the Sender it will be displayed)
  • Create Rule…
  • Manage Rules and Alerts…

 

A brief description of each option is listed below:

  • Always move message from: (senders name) – this option is great for moving the selected “senders” messages directly to a folder without any options. I use this option for subscribed email lists or LinkedIn group notices. I can then browse these folders at my leisure and avoid these distractions in my Inbox.
  • Create Rule… – this option will start the process of creating a new Rule based on the email you have just right clicked.
  • Manage Rules and Alerts… – use this option when Rules and Alerts already exist and you just need to manage and/or edit the Rules and Alerts.

For the My Boss example select the second option Create Rule…

The following dialog box will open:

Figure 2

You will now have three options in which to select the conditions of your Rule to best meet your needs. You can base your Rule on the “From” field. If I wanted to filter the email on the Subject “Meeting Today” then I would select option two. You can also create your Rule based on who the email was “Sent” to. These options can also be combined to create very specific Rules. In this case I care about all emails from My Boss regardless of the subject or who else the email was sent to; therefore I would only choose the first option as shown above.

I also want to be notified whenever an email from My Boss arrives. To do this I would select the first two options under the “Do the Following” section.

Display in the New Item Alert window (this would be a visual cue in case I have the sound on my computer was turned off) and Play a selected sound (this would be auditory cue in case I was not looking at my screen). You can choose the audio file you would like use for this alert. In the example above I left it as the default but normally I would change the sound to play a unique audio file (maybe the Star Wars Imperial March). The reason for this change is to be better alerted of the incoming email from My Boss. If I use a standard windows wav file, the sound may get lost in the rest of the Windows sounds that I hear during the day. By changing the wav file to a unique audio file it is more likely I will hear the alert when the email arrives.

The last option, Move the Item to the folder, would be selected if I wanted to move all email from My Boss to a specific folder in Outlook when the mail was received. In this case I do not want to have to go to open up another folder to see the email and would prefer to be able to quickly see the message in my Inbox view.

Once you are satisfied with your Rule click OK and you will receive a “Success” dialog window. You will notice within this window is the option to run the newly created Rule on the current folder. This is a great option if you are trying to clean up your Inbox (see article How to Take Control of Your Unruly Outlook Inbox).

That is the basics of Rules and for the most part this should be enough to help organize your Inbox and keep it organized in the future.

As with most Microsoft products they are more Advanced Options (including Marking as High Priority or Deleting) that I did not cover in this article. If you wish to learn about the Advanced Options please send me an email or post a comment.

Categories: Outlook

How to Take Control of Your Unruly Outlook Inbox

At a recent meet and greet at the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, I had the pleasure of meeting another entrepreneur who mentioned she had a 12 GB Outlook mail folder. After discussing her issue for a few minutes and providing suggestions, I realized how many times over the years this same issue has come up in conversation. Email can slowly take over our lives and we need to keep it in check.

The best solution to managing your email is to manage it from the beginning, but if you have been busy (which we all are) and your mail file has gotten ahead of you there are ways to get it back under control.

First take a deep breath. This may be a little overwhelming at first, but I promise you, by having a clean and organized inbox you will be more efficient handling your day to day mail moving forward.

Let’s start by taking some time and organizing your current Inbox. If Outlook is configured to fetch mail automatically, turn that off for the time being. You will be able to better focus at the task at hand without another email popping in. The location to turn this setting off or on is slightly different depending on your version of Outlook, but you should be able to find it by going to Tools then Options. From here it could be Advanced (Outlook 2010) or Mail Setup (Outlook 2003). If you are using a different version of Outlook, then search the Help (F1) for this information.

I like folders on my computer. I have folders to organize my pictures, music, documents and my mail. Usually I start with a folder called “Clients” and have a folder for each client in it. Then I will add folders for “Vendors”, “LinkedIn Groups”, and “Family” etc. See side picture.  Having this type of folder structure allows me to quickly locate an email based on sender or content. The larger your mail file is the longer it takes to search. If you can reduce the search to a folder your search will produce results faster.

If your Outlook folder is very large or a few years old you may want to start by archiving your email, see details a little further down. You will still be able to access these files as long as Outlook is configured to access the archive folder. I usually find Outlook users who have never used this feature a little worrisome. Immediately the question “can I still access my mail” is asked. Yes, you can still access your archived emails; this function cleans up your Inbox by archiving and deleting older items, based on your criteria. You will notice in the side picture the “Archives” list. I can still access these emails; the archiving feature cleans up my older emails and moves them out of my Inbox.

If you are uncomfortable just letting Outlook archive for you then it might be best to give yourself a few hours,(you may need a few hours even if you are using archiving) and start cleaning out your Inbox. You can filter your mail into groups of like items. To do this use the Filter option and select the criteria to Filter on. There are several filtering options, I like to filter on sender or email address. Other options for filtering include, size (a typical email only is 5k), attachments, dates etc. Select which filter will best meet your needs. This will allow you to select emails and move to appropriate folders that you have created above. Hopefully the filter methods you have selected will grouped similar emails together and allow you to bulk move the emails into the

appropriate folder that you have already created. Another method for moving bulk emails is to create “Rules” (see below) and then run the Rule. You can then sort through the folder, deleting email that is no longer needed.

Attachments should be saved to your Documents folder or any folder of your choosing. Again you may want to design your Documents folder to mimic the hierarchy in your Outlook folder structure.

You should be critical of your emails, if you don’t need it, delete it or at the very least put it into a folder for archiving later. Do not put anything in the Deleted Folder unless you are sure you want to delete it. It’s easy to keep items in your Deleted folder and never delete them. You need to empty your Deleted Items folder on a regular schedule or if you prefer you can configure Outlook to Empty the Deleted Items folder when Outlook is closed. Personally I prefer to empty the Deleted Items once every few weeks.

Once you have taken the time to sort through your Inbox, the Sent box will also require the same treatment minus the archiving and moving email into specific folders.

This process may take several hours; I would suggest you break it up over a few days, as it can be overwhelming. Just don’t forget to turn your automatic Send/Receive function back on when you have finished for that session.

Once you have your Inbox cleaned up you can use the Auto Archive Feature in Outlook to further clean up your mail. Auto Archive will group all your mail based on the criteria you have selected and put into an Archive folder. I usually use the default setting, but determine which archiving schedule best meets your needs.

Now that you have spent your time cleaning and organizing your Inbox I would suggest you create “Rules” for your incoming mail. Rules can help better organize your mail by managing your mail based on specific criteria you have configured. You could create a Rule which moves all client emails to the appropriate folder within you hierarchy from a specific sender. An example from my Inbox is email from sender John Smith will be moved to the client folder named John Smith Contracting. Once the Rule is created you could apply the Rule Now, which would then apply the Rule to all items in your Inbox. This could be used as the workaround instead of Filtering as mentioned above. There are several options to configure Rules. Outlook Rules will be another post, so check back.

I hope this helps you organize your Inbox. Letting our Inbox get out of control happens to all of us, but taking the time to organize and manage it, will save you time and frustration in the future.

Categories: Outlook, Small Business IT
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