Archive for September, 2006

PROJECT: We need a Microsoft Project Express

Posted on September 28, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a cheap (perhaps free) stripped down version of Microsoft Project?
 
Today we took on the third big client in a row who is using Excel to project manage their project.
 
Insane right?
 
Here’s how they do it. Tasks go down the first column. The other columns represent dates. They size the date columns about 10 wide and colour in the cells to denote scheduling for each task. And the colour of the cell denotes the resource being used.
 
Great. What happens if you want to insert a new task? How do handle task chaining? How do you allocate partial resources. What if a task is running behind schedule – how do we calculate contingency? How do we insert public holidays? What about if a resource goes on holidays? And on it goes. Amazing.
 
And this is a big project. We are talking 3 separate companies involved, 10-15 key managers and business analysts, a development team, plus IT technicians.
 
I asked their Project Manager why they were using Excel and not Project. She informed me that the company has no licenses for MS Project. She was in disbelief herself (she’s been contracted by the company to PM the project), but since the company was not prepared to buy licenses they were forced to use other means… Incredible.
 
So, I checked prices. And yikes, Project is expensive (check this out for example). But even if they bought 20 licenses it would still be a fraction of the project cost.
 
Now I wonder if this is a regular occurrence. For us it seems to – as I mentioned at the start this is the third project in a row where this has happened. Fortunately we convinced our client to purchase MS Project in the last project, but that was a tough and thankless task.
 
To ease the cost barrier it might be worth Microsoft providing a cut down version of Project that is much cheaper (or even free!). Call it MS Project Express and just provide basic Gant Chart and Resource views. Forget the reports and Resource Levelling, perhaps even strip back the task attributes.
 
Currently my only other option is to recommend that clients install the 60 day trial – atleast we get good project tools for the first 2 months…
 
Any other suggestions?
 
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PROJECT: We need a Microsoft Project Express

Posted on September 28, 2006. Filed under: Software |

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a cheap (perhaps free) stripped down version of Microsoft Project?
 
Today we took on the third big client in a row who is using Excel to project manage their project.
 
Insane right?
 
Here’s how they do it. Tasks go down the first column. The other columns represent dates. They size the date columns about 10 wide and colour in the cells to denote scheduling for each task. And the colour of the cell denotes the resource being used.
 
Great. What happens if you want to insert a new task? How do handle task chaining? How do you allocate partial resources. What if a task is running behind schedule – how do we calculate contingency? How do we insert public holidays? What about if a resource goes on holidays? And on it goes. Amazing.
 
And this is a big project. We are talking 3 separate companies involved, 10-15 key managers and business analysts, a development team, plus IT technicians.
 
I asked their Project Manager why they were using Excel and not Project. She informed me that the company has no licenses for MS Project. She was in disbelief herself (she’s been contracted by the company to PM the project), but since the company was not prepared to buy licenses they were forced to use other means… Incredible.
 
So, I checked prices. And yikes, Project is expensive (check this out for example). But even if they bought 20 licenses it would still be a fraction of the project cost.
 
Now I wonder if this is a regular occurrence. For us it seems to – as I mentioned at the start this is the third project in a row where this has happened. Fortunately we convinced our client to purchase MS Project in the last project, but that was a tough and thankless task.
 
To ease the cost barrier it might be worth Microsoft providing a cut down version of Project that is much cheaper (or even free!). Call it MS Project Express and just provide basic Gant Chart and Resource views. Forget the reports and Resource Levelling, perhaps even strip back the task attributes.
 
Currently my only other option is to recommend that clients install the 60 day trial – atleast we get good project tools for the first 2 months…
 
Any other suggestions?
 

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VFP: Kevin Ragsdale initiates the Certified Visual FoxPro Evangelist Program

Posted on September 28, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Nice one Kevin!
 
Read the comments to get the full story – wOOdy is particularly useful
 
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VFP: Kevin Ragsdale initiates the Certified Visual FoxPro Evangelist Program

Posted on September 28, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Nice one Kevin!
 
Read the comments to get the full story – wOOdy is particularly useful
 

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VFP: OzFox 2007 details starting to appear

Posted on September 25, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

OzFox is happening again next February.
 
The dates are 25-27 February 2007.
 
Details are starting to appear on the site… www.ozfox.com.au
 
By early October we’ll have most of the details confirmed (eg a final price!).
Registration will open in mid-October.
 
Australia and New Zealand, put these dates in your diary – it’s gonna be huge!
 
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VFP: OzFox 2007 details starting to appear

Posted on September 25, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

OzFox is happening again next February.
 
The dates are 25-27 February 2007.
 
Details are starting to appear on the site… www.ozfox.com.au
 
By early October we’ll have most of the details confirmed (eg a final price!).
Registration will open in mid-October.
 
Australia and New Zealand, put these dates in your diary – it’s gonna be huge!
 

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VFP: Sydney Visual FoxPro User Group this Wed 27 Sep

Posted on September 25, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

See you there at 6:30pm this Wednesday 27 September 2006
Andrew Coates will be presenting on SchoolMate (a VFP application for schools)
Craig Bailey will be discussing ‘How to price your VFP projects’
 
More details at www.svfpug.com.au
 
 
 

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VFP: Sydney VFP User Group this Wed

Posted on September 25, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

See you there at 6:30pm this Wednesday 27 September 2006

Andrew Coates will be presenting on SchoolMate (a VFP application for schools)
Craig Bailey will be discussing ‘How to price your VFP projects’

More details at www.svfpug.com.au

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TECHED: TechEd clarifications – the need for clear direction

Posted on September 24, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

TECHED: TechEd clarifications – the need for clear direction

I’ve had very little feedback on my TechEd Disappointment post (even though surprisingly it has become my second most hit post of the last 6 months). Of the feedback I have received there has been two main points:

1.       The post was far too long and wordy – yep, can’t deny this (in fact I suspect that most of the hits I’ve received has been lost – ie people take one look at how long it is and go elsewhere {g})

2.       Some of the points are unclear

It is this second point I’d like to address. A passing comment by Nick Randolph at the end of his excellent podcast alerted me to my need to add clarity (I’ve a lot of respect for Nick – anyone who’s heard him present will know he is very smart. So if he’s misunderstood my point then it’s clear to me I haven’t presented it very well!)

The point in question is with regard to Microsoft’s overview of strategy (this was my suggestion to do with the opening keynote at TechEd). Nick is right to say that the Vista and Office roadmaps have been clearly presented by Microsoft and that anyone reading blogs will be aware of such. (As an aside: from my experience, many people, including attendees at TechEd, don’t read blogs, so assuming they do could be a little presumptive – but for this post let’s assume that everyone reads blogs and is well informed on short term strategy at Microsoft.)

Microsoft’s longer term strategy – what is it?

However, my main point is the longer term view. I’m really after a clearly articulated overview of where Microsoft is going to be in 5 years time. Perhaps not so much in the developer community, but definitely in the IT Pro space, people are looking for assurance that the decisions they are making now are valid for the 5-8 year timeframe. Microsoft can really help out by providing more information here. For example, if I embark on a big SharePoint project within our company (which we are just commencing by the way) where will this leave us in 5 years time? What can we expect going forward once Office 2007 has been released? In my opinion a keynote is a perfect place to present this. Please note, I’m not after details of feature sets, I’m after strategic direction. How is Windows Live and Office Live going to fit in with their other plans? How does Microsoft really plan to respond to Google as a competitor (reputed CEO chair throwing aside {g})?

Unity

The other request I have is to make Microsoft’s strategy more unified. Let’s take an example that our company has experienced recently. We’ve been called into a large Healthcare company to consult on their BizTalk architecture and methodology. You may be surprised to learn that both their IT Manager and Development Strategy Manager had no idea what BizTalk was. (They need to interface with BizTalk at another company and thus need to get BizTalk running at their end.) To us this isn’t a surprise. Like all IT Managers, they are time-poor and under resourced. They don’t have time to read all the blogs and Microsoft articles that they’d like to. They have no idea where BizTalk fits in the Microsoft strategy.

Now, I’m not criticizing these guys. They are the norm in my opinion. They are very good at their jobs and have built an impressive infrastructure so far. And yet they hadn’t heard about BizTalk. What can Microsoft do to reach these people? My suggestion is that the opening keynote at an event like TechEd is the ideal place to include coverage of these technologies.

In Nick’s podcast Athena mentions that TechEd had single day focuses on key tools such BizTalk (to be honest I wasn’t aware of this). Even in light of this, and although BizTalk 2006 was included in the fanfare of the Ready Launch last November, I’ll wager money that a survey of IT Pros (and developers even) would reveal that the majority don’t understand where BizTalk sits in the Microsoft strategy.

The problem is not lack of information on products – in fact just the opposite – we are bombarded with too much information. What managers need is high level overview clarity.

Best practice

A final example is the Patterns and Practices team. Although many might disagree, it is my opinion that Microsoft should be making mention of this in an opening keynote. It is an excellent spoke in Microsoft’s software integration wheel. And I’m not just talking about Developers. IT Pros should be made aware of the P&P strategy. In fact they should be mindful of it when evaluating their software providers.

As personal feedback on the P&P perception, we’ve been interviewing a few .Net developers lately for roles in Talman. None of them have known what the Enterprise Library is. That’s right, none. Not one has known anything about the P&P team. Most have not known what a design pattern is. Now, I could be critical of them and wonder at their lack of general knowledge. But, I’d rather suggest there is an opportunity for Microsoft to be clearer on these matters. It was great to see mention of it (again) in Frank’s last MSDN Flash (note, at the time of this post the latest edition was not yet up on the site). Frank’s regular email is a great way of staying informed. But, what can we do to ensure that all .Net developers are reading it? And as Nick asks in his podcast, how can we get more people to value user groups? It is very important that we get these tools and strategies from Microsoft out to a wider audience.

Ill informed?

In closing let me be the first to admit how ill-informed I am. It well may be that this is all clearly articulated somewhere. If so please point me to the relevant resources – I’ll be very grateful.

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TECHED: TechEd clarifications – the need for clear direction

Posted on September 24, 2006. Filed under: Software |

TECHED: TechEd clarifications – the need for clear direction

I’ve had very little feedback on my TechEd Disappointment post (even though surprisingly it has become my second most hit post of the last 6 months). Of the feedback I have received there has been two main points:

1.       The post was far too long and wordy – yep, can’t deny this (in fact I suspect that most of the hits I’ve received has been lost – ie people take one look at how long it is and go elsewhere {g})

2.       Some of the points are unclear

It is this second point I’d like to address. A passing comment by Nick Randolph at the end of his excellent podcast alerted me to my need to add clarity (I’ve a lot of respect for Nick – anyone who’s heard him present will know he is very smart. So if he’s misunderstood my point then it’s clear to me I haven’t presented it very well!)

The point in question is with regard to Microsoft’s overview of strategy (this was my suggestion to do with the opening keynote at TechEd). Nick is right to say that the Vista and Office roadmaps have been clearly presented by Microsoft and that anyone reading blogs will be aware of such. (As an aside: from my experience, many people, including attendees at TechEd, don’t read blogs, so assuming they do could be a little presumptive – but for this post let’s assume that everyone reads blogs and is well informed on short term strategy at Microsoft.)

Microsoft’s longer term strategy – what is it?

However, my main point is the longer term view. I’m really after a clearly articulated overview of where Microsoft is going to be in 5 years time. Perhaps not so much in the developer community, but definitely in the IT Pro space, people are looking for assurance that the decisions they are making now are valid for the 5-8 year timeframe. Microsoft can really help out by providing more information here. For example, if I embark on a big SharePoint project within our company (which we are just commencing by the way) where will this leave us in 5 years time? What can we expect going forward once Office 2007 has been released? In my opinion a keynote is a perfect place to present this. Please note, I’m not after details of feature sets, I’m after strategic direction. How is Windows Live and Office Live going to fit in with their other plans? How does Microsoft really plan to respond to Google as a competitor (reputed CEO chair throwing aside {g})?

Unity

The other request I have is to make Microsoft’s strategy more unified. Let’s take an example that our company has experienced recently. We’ve been called into a large Healthcare company to consult on their BizTalk architecture and methodology. You may be surprised to learn that both their IT Manager and Development Strategy Manager had no idea what BizTalk was. (They need to interface with BizTalk at another company and thus need to get BizTalk running at their end.) To us this isn’t a surprise. Like all IT Managers, they are time-poor and under resourced. They don’t have time to read all the blogs and Microsoft articles that they’d like to. They have no idea where BizTalk fits in the Microsoft strategy.

Now, I’m not criticizing these guys. They are the norm in my opinion. They are very good at their jobs and have built an impressive infrastructure so far. And yet they hadn’t heard about BizTalk. What can Microsoft do to reach these people? My suggestion is that the opening keynote at an event like TechEd is the ideal place to include coverage of these technologies.

In Nick’s podcast Athena mentions that TechEd had single day focuses on key tools such BizTalk (to be honest I wasn’t aware of this). Even in light of this, and although BizTalk 2006 was included in the fanfare of the Ready Launch last November, I’ll wager money that a survey of IT Pros (and developers even) would reveal that the majority don’t understand where BizTalk sits in the Microsoft strategy.

The problem is not lack of information on products – in fact just the opposite – we are bombarded with too much information. What managers need is high level overview clarity.

Best practice

A final example is the Patterns and Practices team. Although many might disagree, it is my opinion that Microsoft should be making mention of this in an opening keynote. It is an excellent spoke in Microsoft’s software integration wheel. And I’m not just talking about Developers. IT Pros should be made aware of the P&P strategy. In fact they should be mindful of it when evaluating their software providers.

As personal feedback on the P&P perception, we’ve been interviewing a few .Net developers lately for roles in Talman. None of them have known what the Enterprise Library is. That’s right, none. Not one has known anything about the P&P team. Most have not known what a design pattern is. Now, I could be critical of them and wonder at their lack of general knowledge. But, I’d rather suggest there is an opportunity for Microsoft to be clearer on these matters. It was great to see mention of it (again) in Frank’s last MSDN Flash (note, at the time of this post the latest edition was not yet up on the site). Frank’s regular email is a great way of staying informed. But, what can we do to ensure that all .Net developers are reading it? And as Nick asks in his podcast, how can we get more people to value user groups? It is very important that we get these tools and strategies from Microsoft out to a wider audience.

Ill informed?

In closing let me be the first to admit how ill-informed I am. It well may be that this is all clearly articulated somewhere. If so please point me to the relevant resources – I’ll be very grateful.

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O07: Office 2007 Technical Refresh Thoughts

Posted on September 24, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

O07: Office 2007 Technical Refresh thoughts

I was going to attempt to work in some witty James Bond references (eg Office 07 = O07 – License to Thrill, Live and Let (Toolbars) Die, The World is (Still) Not Enough, A View to a (conditional formatting) Fill, etc, etc) but soon realised none of them were remotely funny…

So, let’s give the new Office 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh a one word summary instead.

In a word: Exceptional.

Let’s break it down:

Performance

Impressively good. Performance wise Office 2007 is very good. Now, admittedly I’m running on a reasonably new machine (< 12 months old) with 2GB of RAM, so stating that performance is good is probably not particularly reliable. But note, if I’d said speed was slow then we’d know there were major problems.

It is rare for me to run Beta software straight on my notebook these days, but after running the Beta on a VMware image for a couple of weeks without problems, and then the release of the Technical Refresh I decided to make the leap. I installed it straight on my machine and after a week haven’t regretted it. Everything (except Project 2007) is running great.

Stability

The product is very stable. I’ve only had a single crash all week and this I’m pretty sure was to do with my LinkedIn Outlook Add-in playing up.

[Oh yes, and Project 2007 is completely hosed. I don’t know if the Tech Refresh wiped it out or what, but Project 2007 is completely unusable. I haven’t investigated further, so it might be an easy to fix known issue, but I’m just warning people that I’ve had problems with it.]

Ribbons

You’ve all been ribboned to death with so many blogs and articles on the new Office UI so I won’t bore you with more coverage. Let me just say that I am an Office Ribbon convert. I think the idea is fantastic and the closest to a revolution that Microsoft has come up with in a long time. I know it’s a big call, but I consider the ribbon concept to be so good that it will be the standard in all products eventually. Visual Studio would benefit from the concept (ie only show me stuff I can actually do) as will SQL Server, MMC snap-ins, and just about everything else that has some complexity to it. I’m sold on it.

Add-ins

In general all my Add-ins all work. The LinkedIn Outlook toolbar I think had some intermittent problems, but Skylook, Mind Manager and SnagIt are all working fine for me.

Outlook 2007

Outlook 2007 was my first stop. There are features aplenty, but my three favourite (so far) are:

1.       Calendar Tome Zones: We have family in Minnesota, and having their times displayed next to current time is surprisingly handy.

2.       Calendar Overlaying: I have a bunch of different calendars (personal, birthdays, plus when connected I link into a few of my company calendars, and I am also going to link into my wife’s calendar when at home). Having the option to simply overlay these is a fantastic feature.

3.       To-Do bar: Having this on the side of all different views (Mail, Calendar, Notes, Tasks, Contacts) is now unthinkable to be without.

I was trying to think of what new features I’d like in Outlook. I reckon a convergence of OneNote (more on this later) and Outlook would be great. I would like to be able to go to a scribble pane in Outlook and write notes, record audio and drop screen shots like I can in OneNote.

I also downloaded the Search Beta 3 that Outlook recommends. I’ve had mixed results with Microsoft Desktop Search before (up till now I’ve used Google Desktop Search) but this one is working without problems. And it is quite fast. I may be close to uninstalling Google’s offering…

My only slight criticism would be memory usage. After a week of use (I hibernate most of the time, so I only reboot every couple of weeks) Outlook was taking up over 220MB of memory – which seems a little high to me (reminds me of that joke about how to find Microsoft products in Task Manager – sort by memory usage… boom tish).

Tip: when opening up an email, at first you might miss the Next and Prev email buttons on the Ribbon. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise they are up on the top Quick Access mini-bar.

Word 2007

In a word, fantastic. I can’t believe how bug-less this release is. Everything seems to work well. There are no glitches with layouts or page numbering. Formatting is a dream (thanks to the Ribbon concept) and the new default font (Calibri)  is a eye-pleasing (interestingly Calibri comes up as a spelling mistake in Word…).

Tip: Doubling clicking on the ribbon will hide it and bring it back. To be honest I didn’t realise this until I was going through Office sessions on my TechEd DVD set… so perhaps you have missed it too).

Excel 2007

Not much to say here except that it continues to do everything I need, and does it well. The conditional formatting is a nice feature (but of course isn’t backwards compatible so you are limited in who you can send it to).

Excel has always been a strong product, so it is hard to improve on.

PowerPoint 2007

And here’s where the real presentation advantages come. No doubt you’ve seen some of the formatting tools demoed already, and all I can say is that it lives up to the hype. Using PowerPoint 2007 will definitely give you an unfair advantage over other presenters not yet onto it. Simple graphs, bullet point formatting, font formats, and the mass of great templates available are more than enough reason to upgrade to this version.

I know people say they are sick of seeing PowerPoint presentations and the old ‘death by PowerPoint’ arguments do have merit. But face it, you can’t escape it and as long as you don’t start trying to use all 50 million different formatting features in every single presentation you can’t lose. It’s about balance. Don’t go overboard with animations and a new colour scheme on every slide. Sure, you still need to stick to the rules of good presenting (eg http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2005/12/the_102030_rule.html), but PowerPoint 2007 allows you to do it with some flair.

Here’s something annoying to do… Create a New presentation based on the Quiz Show template. Go to slide 6, take a screen shot and send it to the Office team as an incredibly urgent mis-fact that needs to be fixed before the product is released…

OneNote 2007

Not much has changed here from what I’ve seen so far. OneNote is one of those simple programs that you’ll either find extremely useful or irrelevant. I’m in the former category and couldn’t live without it these days, but if you’re working with OneNote 2003 then I can’t offer any compelling reason to upgrade. A few nice usability enhancements, but little else. By the way, did OneNote 2003 have the F11 – Full screen option? If it did, I never noticed it. OneNote 2007 has it, and it is mildly useful.

Publisher 2007

I’ve only used Publisher a few times in the past (eg when I created the OzFox 2004 brochure a few years ago) so I can’t really offer anything in-depth on this. But to me it seems fine. The range of templates and example documents it comes with are great (although previous versions were also overflowing here). I downloaded a few of the Flyer templates from Microsoft online and was pleasantly surprised by how professional they look (eg the Professional Services flyer).

Publisher is the only program I’ve found to be a little slow. Not sure why.

Visio 2007

Overall, more of an already good thing.

There is an odd looking Getting Started interface (black with dark blue labels can be hard to read at times), but once working the interface is the old familiar one (no Ribbons here). The samples are quite helpful. I don’t remember seeing a sample in 2003 that showed how easily you could link Visio diagrams to Excel data, but here it is simple to spot. I had a problem with the ‘Project Management’ sample – It was initially crashing on the PivotDiagram task pane. Helpfully Office recognized I was experiencing issues and prompted me to run the Office Diagnostics. This all proceeded without incident (and without reporting any findings btw) but the problem hasn’t re-occurred since. Coincidence or other, I’m pretty impressed.

If I could request just one thing for Visio it would be to add a zoom bar on the tool bar, just like the one in Word 2007. That feature is so handy it begs to be put in as many products as possible.

If I could request two things, the second would be to make the Shapes Window pane have fly-in functionality. Currently to maximize real estate you need to close the Shapes pane, and then go to View -> Shapes Window to get it back. Even having a hotkey to do this would be welcome improvement, but having the Hide/Show fly-in option (similar to the To-Do Bar in Outlook 2007 would be ideal).

Groove 2007

Think Skype on steroids. I really like the idea behind Groove, and although I think it will be a long while before it really takes off there is benefit investigating it now.

For those not familiar with Groove, the idea starts with sharing a workspace. It will be of most benefit to remote users who want to share stuff around. You set up a Groove account and then create workspaces that you share with colleagues. Testing this one was hard since all I could do was share between my notebook Groove account and my VMware hosted Groove installation. Still it was enough to evaluate the functionality.

Groove of course is much more than just workspaces. Besides file sharing there is discussion boards, Issue tracking, notes sharing, meetings and more (even a Chess game). Calendars can be shared, but I couldn’t work out how to link in my Outlook Calendar. It seems Groove has its own internal Calendar. I can only think I must have missed something obvious here, because not being able to share your Microsoft Office Outlook calendar in Microsoft Office Groove would be a big oversight. Someone please point me on the right path…

Groove claims to allow you to share IE Favourites and put Shortcuts in your My Documents folders. I enabled these but couldn’t quite get them working. The IE Favourites shortcut turned up but I couldn’t see any shortcuts to My Documents workspaces. Perhaps I didn’t quite understand the concept properly.

All things considered Groove is a big thing waiting to happen. However, if I’m not mistaken it still needs better integration with the other Office products. To be fair, Groove is still in Beta, it’s just that the other products still in Beta look so much more refined.

Other products: InfoPath and SharePoint Designer

I haven’t had time to play with these yet, so I can’t report on them at present.

Closing

In closing let me reiterate my disbelief at how good these applications are for a product still in Beta. Microsoft has done really well – in the main they are fast, stable, feature packed and instantly productive.

All the normal Beta software disclaimers apply of course, however I recommend loading Office 2007 Beta 2 and the Technical Refresh (but sans Project 2007) as soon as possible. There are many positives and few negatives.

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O07: Office 2007 Technical Refresh Thoughts

Posted on September 24, 2006. Filed under: Software |

O07: Office 2007 Technical Refresh thoughts

I was going to attempt to work in some witty James Bond references (eg Office 07 = O07 – License to Thrill, Live and Let (Toolbars) Die, The World is (Still) Not Enough, A View to a (conditional formatting) Fill, etc, etc) but soon realised none of them were remotely funny…

So, let’s give the new Office 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh a one word summary instead.

In a word: Exceptional.

Let’s break it down:

Performance

Impressively good. Performance wise Office 2007 is very good. Now, admittedly I’m running on a reasonably new machine (< 12 months old) with 2GB of RAM, so stating that performance is good is probably not particularly reliable. But note, if I’d said speed was slow then we’d know there were major problems.

It is rare for me to run Beta software straight on my notebook these days, but after running the Beta on a VMware image for a couple of weeks without problems, and then the release of the Technical Refresh I decided to make the leap. I installed it straight on my machine and after a week haven’t regretted it. Everything (except Project 2007) is running great.

Stability

The product is very stable. I’ve only had a single crash all week and this I’m pretty sure was to do with my LinkedIn Outlook Add-in playing up.

[Oh yes, and Project 2007 is completely hosed. I don’t know if the Tech Refresh wiped it out or what, but Project 2007 is completely unusable. I haven’t investigated further, so it might be an easy to fix known issue, but I’m just warning people that I’ve had problems with it.]

Ribbons

You’ve all been ribboned to death with so many blogs and articles on the new Office UI so I won’t bore you with more coverage. Let me just say that I am an Office Ribbon convert. I think the idea is fantastic and the closest to a revolution that Microsoft has come up with in a long time. I know it’s a big call, but I consider the ribbon concept to be so good that it will be the standard in all products eventually. Visual Studio would benefit from the concept (ie only show me stuff I can actually do) as will SQL Server, MMC snap-ins, and just about everything else that has some complexity to it. I’m sold on it.

Add-ins

In general all my Add-ins all work. The LinkedIn Outlook toolbar I think had some intermittent problems, but Skylook, Mind Manager and SnagIt are all working fine for me.

Outlook 2007

Outlook 2007 was my first stop. There are features aplenty, but my three favourite (so far) are:

1.       Calendar Tome Zones: We have family in Minnesota, and having their times displayed next to current time is surprisingly handy.

2.       Calendar Overlaying: I have a bunch of different calendars (personal, birthdays, plus when connected I link into a few of my company calendars, and I am also going to link into my wife’s calendar when at home). Having the option to simply overlay these is a fantastic feature.

3.       To-Do bar: Having this on the side of all different views (Mail, Calendar, Notes, Tasks, Contacts) is now unthinkable to be without.

I was trying to think of what new features I’d like in Outlook. I reckon a convergence of OneNote (more on this later) and Outlook would be great. I would like to be able to go to a scribble pane in Outlook and write notes, record audio and drop screen shots like I can in OneNote.

I also downloaded the Search Beta 3 that Outlook recommends. I’ve had mixed results with Microsoft Desktop Search before (up till now I’ve used Google Desktop Search) but this one is working without problems. And it is quite fast. I may be close to uninstalling Google’s offering…

My only slight criticism would be memory usage. After a week of use (I hibernate most of the time, so I only reboot every couple of weeks) Outlook was taking up over 220MB of memory – which seems a little high to me (reminds me of that joke about how to find Microsoft products in Task Manager – sort by memory usage… boom tish).

Tip: when opening up an email, at first you might miss the Next and Prev email buttons on the Ribbon. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise they are up on the top Quick Access mini-bar.

Word 2007

In a word, fantastic. I can’t believe how bug-less this release is. Everything seems to work well. There are no glitches with layouts or page numbering. Formatting is a dream (thanks to the Ribbon concept) and the new default font (Calibri)  is a eye-pleasing (interestingly Calibri comes up as a spelling mistake in Word…).

Tip: Doubling clicking on the ribbon will hide it and bring it back. To be honest I didn’t realise this until I was going through Office sessions on my TechEd DVD set… so perhaps you have missed it too).

Excel 2007

Not much to say here except that it continues to do everything I need, and does it well. The conditional formatting is a nice feature (but of course isn’t backwards compatible so you are limited in who you can send it to).

Excel has always been a strong product, so it is hard to improve on.

PowerPoint 2007

And here’s where the real presentation advantages come. No doubt you’ve seen some of the formatting tools demoed already, and all I can say is that it lives up to the hype. Using PowerPoint 2007 will definitely give you an unfair advantage over other presenters not yet onto it. Simple graphs, bullet point formatting, font formats, and the mass of great templates available are more than enough reason to upgrade to this version.

I know people say they are sick of seeing PowerPoint presentations and the old ‘death by PowerPoint’ arguments do have merit. But face it, you can’t escape it and as long as you don’t start trying to use all 50 million different formatting features in every single presentation you can’t lose. It’s about balance. Don’t go overboard with animations and a new colour scheme on every slide. Sure, you still need to stick to the rules of good presenting (eg http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2005/12/the_102030_rule.html), but PowerPoint 2007 allows you to do it with some flair.

Here’s something annoying to do… Create a New presentation based on the Quiz Show template. Go to slide 6, take a screen shot and send it to the Office team as an incredibly urgent mis-fact that needs to be fixed before the product is released…

OneNote 2007

Not much has changed here from what I’ve seen so far. OneNote is one of those simple programs that you’ll either find extremely useful or irrelevant. I’m in the former category and couldn’t live without it these days, but if you’re working with OneNote 2003 then I can’t offer any compelling reason to upgrade. A few nice usability enhancements, but little else. By the way, did OneNote 2003 have the F11 – Full screen option? If it did, I never noticed it. OneNote 2007 has it, and it is mildly useful.

Publisher 2007

I’ve only used Publisher a few times in the past (eg when I created the OzFox 2004 brochure a few years ago) so I can’t really offer anything in-depth on this. But to me it seems fine. The range of templates and example documents it comes with are great (although previous versions were also overflowing here). I downloaded a few of the Flyer templates from Microsoft online and was pleasantly surprised by how professional they look (eg the Professional Services flyer).

Publisher is the only program I’ve found to be a little slow. Not sure why.

Visio 2007

Overall, more of an already good thing.

There is an odd looking Getting Started interface (black with dark blue labels can be hard to read at times), but once working the interface is the old familiar one (no Ribbons here). The samples are quite helpful. I don’t remember seeing a sample in 2003 that showed how easily you could link Visio diagrams to Excel data, but here it is simple to spot. I had a problem with the ‘Project Management’ sample – It was initially crashing on the PivotDiagram task pane. Helpfully Office recognized I was experiencing issues and prompted me to run the Office Diagnostics. This all proceeded without incident (and without reporting any findings btw) but the problem hasn’t re-occurred since. Coincidence or other, I’m pretty impressed.

If I could request just one thing for Visio it would be to add a zoom bar on the tool bar, just like the one in Word 2007. That feature is so handy it begs to be put in as many products as possible.

If I could request two things, the second would be to make the Shapes Window pane have fly-in functionality. Currently to maximize real estate you need to close the Shapes pane, and then go to View -> Shapes Window to get it back. Even having a hotkey to do this would be welcome improvement, but having the Hide/Show fly-in option (similar to the To-Do Bar in Outlook 2007 would be ideal).

Groove 2007

Think Skype on steroids. I really like the idea behind Groove, and although I think it will be a long while before it really takes off there is benefit investigating it now.

For those not familiar with Groove, the idea starts with sharing a workspace. It will be of most benefit to remote users who want to share stuff around. You set up a Groove account and then create workspaces that you share with colleagues. Testing this one was hard since all I could do was share between my notebook Groove account and my VMware hosted Groove installation. Still it was enough to evaluate the functionality.

Groove of course is much more than just workspaces. Besides file sharing there is discussion boards, Issue tracking, notes sharing, meetings and more (even a Chess game). Calendars can be shared, but I couldn’t work out how to link in my Outlook Calendar. It seems Groove has its own internal Calendar. I can only think I must have missed something obvious here, because not being able to share your Microsoft Office Outlook calendar in Microsoft Office Groove would be a big oversight. Someone please point me on the right path…

Groove claims to allow you to share IE Favourites and put Shortcuts in your My Documents folders. I enabled these but couldn’t quite get them working. The IE Favourites shortcut turned up but I couldn’t see any shortcuts to My Documents workspaces. Perhaps I didn’t quite understand the concept properly.

All things considered Groove is a big thing waiting to happen. However, if I’m not mistaken it still needs better integration with the other Office products. To be fair, Groove is still in Beta, it’s just that the other products still in Beta look so much more refined.

Other products: InfoPath and SharePoint Designer

I haven’t had time to play with these yet, so I can’t report on them at present.

Closing

In closing let me reiterate my disbelief at how good these applications are for a product still in Beta. Microsoft has done really well – in the main they are fast, stable, feature packed and instantly productive.

All the normal Beta software disclaimers apply of course, however I recommend loading Office 2007 Beta 2 and the Technical Refresh (but sans Project 2007) as soon as possible. There are many positives and few negatives.

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VFP: Using BINDEVENT in Grids

Posted on September 13, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

I’m sure everyone who reads this blog already reads Andrew MacNeill’s (and if not, then why not?).
So, the reason I’m linking to his BINDEVENT post is mainly so that I remember to use it soon. I’m ashamed to admit I still use some ancient code in my projects (not that I write much code these days…) that replaces grid header code with a custom class… it’s been working for years, but is well and truly ripe for refactoring…
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VFP: Using BINDEVENT in Grids

Posted on September 13, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

I’m sure everyone who reads this blog already reads Andrew MacNeill’s (and if not, then why not?).
So, the reason I’m linking to his BINDEVENT post is mainly so that I remember to use it soon. I’m ashamed to admit I still use some ancient code in my projects (not that I write much code these days…) that replaces grid header code with a custom class… it’s been working for years, but is well and truly ripe for refactoring…

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VFP: Looking forward to Milind’s September letter

Posted on September 13, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Is anyone else wondering where the Visual FoxPro September newsletter is? I’m hanging out for Milind’s report on Advisor Devcon (Rick’s here was great reading) and other news about the Sedna project…
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VFP: Looking forward to Milind’s September letter

Posted on September 13, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Is anyone else wondering where the Visual FoxPro September newsletter is? I’m hanging out for Milind’s report on Advisor Devcon (Rick’s here was great reading) and other news about the Sedna project…

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LINK: Doug does Prague

Posted on September 13, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Great to read Doug’s feedback on Prague. See also Dave Crozier’s report – great reading.
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LINK: Doug does Prague

Posted on September 13, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Great to read Doug’s feedback on Prague. See also Dave Crozier’s report – great reading.

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LINKS: Rick Schummer on presentation skills

Posted on September 13, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Rick sheds some light on how to prepare properly for presenting at conferences. Excellent advice and mandatory reading for any conference presenter.
As a very experienced audience member {g} I deeply applaud his first suggestion on being well prepared.
 
You’ve probably picked up my lack of excitement about under prepared speakers in previous posts. But it comes down to this: I don’t care if you are extremely nervous, ugly!, have a speech impediment, lack charisma, aren’t funny etc. None of that matters, as long as you are super well prepared, have stacks of excellent content, your demos work and you are passionate about your topic.
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LINKS: Rick Schummer on presentation skills

Posted on September 13, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Rick sheds some light on how to prepare properly for presenting at conferences. Excellent advice and mandatory reading for any conference presenter.
As a very experienced audience member {g} I deeply applaud his first suggestion on being well prepared.
 
You’ve probably picked up my lack of excitement about under prepared speakers in previous posts. But it comes down to this: I don’t care if you are extremely nervous, ugly!, have a speech impediment, lack charisma, aren’t funny etc. None of that matters, as long as you are super well prepared, have stacks of excellent content, your demos work and you are passionate about your topic.

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VFP: FoxTabs 0.4.2 Beta released

Posted on September 13, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Yes, another(!) beta. Download it here.
 
I know we promised to release this ages ago, but we’ve been slack…
 
This release fixes a few minor items (eg the flickering between tab changes) and brings consistency between tab icon and tab label behaviour.
A big, big thank you to Tracy P who has done most of the work for these fixes.
 
If you’ve been following the discussions in the FoxTabs forum then you’ve probably implemented these changes already. If not, then download the latest version here:
 
If you’d like to post a suggestion or bug please register on the site and drop us a note on the Forum here:
 
Some interesting stats on FoxTabs downloads:
So far we’ve had 1005 downloads of the .app and the source code.
Now, I’ll assume that most people downloaded both the app file and the source code file (even though the app is in the source code download as well), so assume 500 or so people have downloaded it.
 
Next, divide this in half again because we’ve had a few beta versions and most people have probably downloaded more than one version over time.
 
So, I’m assuming around 250 people are playing with FoxTabs even though it is still in beta.
Folks, thank you so much for your great support! Thanks also to the great suggestions and support we’ve had on the forum.
 
And yes, we’ll do a formal release soon.
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VFP: FoxTabs 0.4.2 Beta released

Posted on September 13, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Yes, another(!) beta. Download it here.
 
I know we promised to release this ages ago, but we’ve been slack…
 
This release fixes a few minor items (eg the flickering between tab changes) and brings consistency between tab icon and tab label behaviour.
A big, big thank you to Tracy P who has done most of the work for these fixes.
 
If you’ve been following the discussions in the FoxTabs forum then you’ve probably implemented these changes already. If not, then download the latest version here:
 
If you’d like to post a suggestion or bug please register on the site and drop us a note on the Forum here:
 
Some interesting stats on FoxTabs downloads:
So far we’ve had 1005 downloads of the .app and the source code.
Now, I’ll assume that most people downloaded both the app file and the source code file (even though the app is in the source code download as well), so assume 500 or so people have downloaded it.
 
Next, divide this in half again because we’ve had a few beta versions and most people have probably downloaded more than one version over time.
 
So, I’m assuming around 250 people are playing with FoxTabs even though it is still in beta.
Folks, thank you so much for your great support! Thanks also to the great suggestions and support we’ve had on the forum.
 
And yes, we’ll do a formal release soon.

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VFP: TIOBE again

Posted on September 7, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Interesting to see no one blogging about how VFP has fallen back to position 18 in the TIOBE index. This from 13 a month or two back. Not surprising really I guess given how quiet the VFP blogosphere has been lately.

Craig Boyd, please help, we need another call to action…

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VFP: TIOBE again

Posted on September 7, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Interesting to see no one blogging about how VFP has fallen back to position 18 in the TIOBE index. This from 13 a month or two back. Not surprising really I guess given how quiet the VFP blogosphere has been lately.

Craig Boyd, please help, we need another call to action…

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