Microsoft open up .PST files


Microsoft have announced that they are opening up the technology behind their .PST files- the files that hold all the email, calendar and contact info that Outlook archives. While many people aren’t fans of .PST files (products such as Symantec’s Enterprise Vault have whole modules aimed at eradicating them), they are still prevalent and so anything that makes interacting with easier has got to be good 🙂

While developers have been able to work with .PST files in the past through MAPI and the Outlook Object Model, it required that Outlook was installed on the machine. However once this new documentation is released it will:

“will allow developers to read, create, and interoperate with the data in .pst files in server and client scenarios using the programming language and platform of their choice. The technical documentation will detail how the data is stored, along with guidance for accessing that data from other software applications. It also will highlight the structure of the .pst file, provide details like how to navigate the folder hierarchy, and explain how to access the individual data objects and properties.”

This is another move by Microsoft to increase interoperability between their products and those of other manufacturers, and is to be applauded I think. Some say this might lead to more people moving away from Exchange but I doubt that anyone was sticking with Microsoft’s email platform simply because of .PST’s 😉

The full post can be found here.

Microsoft Office 2010 Tech Preview: First Hand Look


I had hoped to get a full post together on the first day the tech preview became available but I had some issues with the installation, and that took a good few hours to sort out.

I have, somehow, ended up with a seemingly corrupt install of Office 2007 as Office 2010 is unable to upgrade it and I can’t remove it either! Eventually I tried installing 2010 alongside 2007 and it worked, the downside is that you can’t have 2 versions of Outlook together so I’m stuck on 2007 for that…however I’ll install it on another machine ASAP and hopefully Outlook will work on that 🙂 I managed to get rid of Office 2007 after 2 hours of deleting and registry editing so I now have it all installed! (I’ll do a separate post on how I did it).

Excel 2010:

Excel 2010 First Opened

That’s Excel 2010 opened for the first time-not much difference although I think it looks a bit “cleaner”.

Sparklines:

Excel 2010 Sparkline

These were one of the big features from the WPC demo of Office 2010 and they’re as awesome as they seemed. This feature is going to make Business Intelligence and the sharing of information so much easier (to understand and present) and more worthwhile; I think this is going to make a real difference in the world of work-it certainly will for me! I’ve got a spreadsheet at work that covers all our major software vendors and includes sales and profit for each one as well as overall totals, various comparisons between years and more. Currently this has multiple tabs that just contain trending charts, making it awkward to present and impossible to screenshot/print. With Sparklines in Excel 2010, I can show the trend in a single cell at the end of the data range, allowing me to consolidate it down to just one sheet!

There is an excellent post on Sparklines over on the Excel team blog here which features some great examples of how they can be used.

OneNote 2010:

One Note 2010 New Features

I haven’t had much of a play with OneNote yet but one thing I have noticed is it seems that OneNote no longer auto copies screen clippings into the Unfiled Notes section…I think I like that 🙂

Word 2010:

I don’t actually use Word that much and when I do it’s usually pretty basic, so it may well take me a while to find all the new features. However one that I’ve found straight away and is very useful is the Navigation Pane, which makes it much easier to read and work with large documents.

Word 2010 Navigation Pane Arrow

As you can see on the left hand side, the Navigation Pane has identified all the section headers in the document and allows you to jump around simply by clicking them-no more slightly random scrolling up and down 🙂 This is a truly great addition!

Outlook 2010:

I’ve not yet got any good screenshots of Outlook 2010 as I’ve discovered that the Hotmail connector doesn’t work with the new version, which is a shame. I’m sure that will be resolved by the final release though! I’ll get some screenshots from work but I’ll need to block out any confidential/customer info etc first so that’ll be next week.

I can however attest that Outlook 2010 is great. I was a BIG fan of the improvement in Outlook 2007 and the new version builds on those very well. There are no huge new killer features but there are lots of little ones such as:

Quick Steps: A set of handy time savings shortcuts which allow you to, for instance, forward a mail directly to your manager with 1 click, send an email just to your team, forward a mail and automatically add “FYI” to the subject line and more. It’s also possible to create your own Quick Steps, just like macros.

Calendar: When you receive a meeting invite, you can now see a preview of your calendar inside the mail-handy!

PowerPoint 2010:

Powerpoint has always been full of features I’ve never quite got round to using and I’m sure that is true of 2010 too, but one that I like is the ability to “Broadcast Slideshow”. This allows you to quickly and easily share your presentations with others in remote locations:

Powerpoint 2010 Broadcast 1

 Powerpoint 2010 Broadcast 2 Powerpoint 2010 Broadcast 3

This will be useful for informal collaboration with colleagues where you just want/need quick opinions and helps further Microsoft’s Collaboration through Office strategy.

General Features

Backstage: Gone is the menu/sub-menu structure for print preview, open, save as etc and in it’s place is Backstage:

Word 2010 Backstage

 The Office Sync Center:

This is a new thing AFAIK that I noticed when uploading some documents to our Sharepoint Online BPOS installation.

Office 2010 Sync Center

Office 2010 Sync Center Settings

This gives you a great overview of which files have been uploaded and if they were successful or not. It also shows a history of recently uploaded files which works well for me as I often forget whether I’ve done it or not 🙂 This seems like yet another great addition in Office 2010…

Summary:

This post isn’t finished, at the very least I’ll be adding in some screenshots and more info on Outlook. However as I come across new features in the various programs I’ll add them into this post as I go.

All in all, Office 2010 looks like a solid forward move for the Office suite and should see good adoption across the board-although perhaps more in the business rather than home space. The inclusion of more business intelligence, more collaboration and more time saving tricks is a sure winner and Sharepoint Workspace Manager (SWM formerly Groove) will only further that I’m sure.

Microsoft Exchange Online and Shared Folders


As previous visitors will probably have noticed, I’m quite a fan of Microsoft’s Online Services AKA Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS). I spend a fair amount of my time talking to customers about how they can online services to better serve their business and how BPOS can fit their needs.

Something that everyone needs to be aware of is that the online versions of the products aren’t quite as fully featured as their regular, on-site relatives. This means there can be certain situations where the MS hosted version just isn’t a viable option…however MS are constantly working to give them parity with the on-site versions, but it takes time transferring them into a multi-tenant environment. Exchange Online is very nearly feature complete but the biggest missing feature is Public Folders…

What are Public Folders?

“Public folders provide an effective way to collect, organize, and share information with others in your organization. They are central, shared folders that anyone can view to share information and ideas. Public folders can contain any Outlook item type, such as messages, appointments, contacts, tasks, journal entries, notes, forms, files, and posts.”

We use them at work for a number of purposes but once common use is as a repository for licence certificates, agreement details etc that can be accessed by the software team, sales account managers, customers services dept etc-without there being any duplication. Different people have different permissions so us in the software team have full permissions while others have just read only access. Sure, we could do this with Sharepoint (and for some things we do) but as these documents are all emailed-it is, at the minute, easier to keep them within Outlook.

A good guide to Public Folders can be found here.

Other things that aren’t technically Public Folders tasks but are inextricably linked are:

E-Mail Delegates: Delegate access to your mailbox to another individual, or delegate access to particular data with particular privileges. For example, allow an administrative assistant to accept or create calendar appointments on behalf of a manager.

Send As: Allow someone else to send mail from your mailbox. Your name will appear on the sent from line. For example, allow an administrator to send e-mail as a user (not on behalf of).

Shared Mailbox: Provide a group of people common access to a specific mailbox. For example, allow a single support alias to be monitored by multiple users.

Up until a few days ago-these were all impossible to do with Exchange online and that was often a stumbling block in discussions with customers. As the beginning of that sentence suggests-this has now changed 🙂

I was speaking to a customer last week who was looking for the Shared Mailbox functionality and, after a call with MS, I was able to determine that this feature will become available “this quarter” so by the end of September. This made the customer very happy 🙂

Shared mailboxes and email delegates will be available as standard functionality whereas Send As will need to be enabled via a Support escalation request.

A great whitepaper on Public Folders and BPOS can be found here.

Exchange Online & Sharepoint Online:

While the lack of Public Folders can at first, seem like a big hurdle to adopting BPOS-in many cases using Sharepoint Online instead is as good if not better!

Scenario Description

Exchange public folders are frequently used to set up calendars, task lists, and contact lists for team or company-wide collaboration. People with appropriate permissions are able to view and edit the lists.

While the Shared Mailbox feature is the traditional way of doing this and, for many people, will continue to be-it can also be done with Sharepoint Online:

Benefits
  • SharePoint lists provide more contexts for the data, and more flexible ways of working with the data, including combining data from multiple lists and rolling up summaries for reporting.
  • Moderation workflows are built into SharePoint lists, so items can be optionally made visible only after they are approved.
  • Item-level version history can be optionally enabled to track changes to individual items in these lists.
  • Users can subscribe to alerts and feeds to have change notifications automatically sent to them.

There are many different ways of using Sharepoint Online as a replacement for Exchange Public Folders which are covered in the whitepaper here.

Sharepoint & Outlook Oddity Number 2


After finally getting around to setting up Alerts in Sharepoint for our users, I’ve come across a new issue where users can’t open the alerts in Outlook.

This is Sharepoint 2007 sending alerts to Outlook 2007 and yet they alerts can’t be opened at all, which struck me as quite odd. However it only took a quick Bing search to uncover the issue…it all comes down to Exchange.

Even though Sharepoint & Outlook are on 2007, if the alerts are being sent via an Exchange 2003 server this problem will occur “because Exchange 2003 cannot convert the MIME-type properties to MAPI-type properties correctly if the names of the properties begin with X-.”

Although Outlook needs to be running in Cached mode for this to occur I believe…

There is a hotfix that needs to be applied to the Exchange 2003 server (with SP2) and that is available here.

Big thanks to Joel Oleson for his blog post which gave me the answer here.

Microsoft Online Single Sign On Oddity


I’ve been working with MS Online (BPOS) for quite some months but it’s only now, with more and more customers looking into it for their environments that we’re seeing the odd little questions etc we didn’t anticipate.

This is one that came up today and, while it might be obvious to some of you, it probably won’t to others 🙂

BPOS provides users with a Single Sign On (SSO) client that logs them into the online services when they log into Windows, thus removing the need for repeated entering of credentials. If you right click the SSO icon in the System tray-it will launch you right into the app…unless it’s Outlook Web Access. When you try and run OWA, it requires you to enter your username and password each time; the reasoning behind it is a lack of pass-through authorization for increased security.

The upshot is…if you use Exchange Online but don’t have Outlook-you can’t use the Single Sign On to access your email. Maybe not the most common request but I’ve already have it once so you  never know 😛

Outlook 2007 Forgotten Attachment Detector


The Outlook 2007 Forgotten Attachment Detector (FAD) is amazing; it’s an add-on for Outlook 2007 that helps prevent emails being sent without their required attachments.

I have been saying for years that something like this should be made, as I am forever forgetting to attach files to emails, both at home and at work. If I had the programming skills I would’ve made this myself…but I haven’t so I didn’t…and instead we have Bhavesh Chauhan of the Office Labs team to thank.

How it works:

It scans the body of the email for words and phrases such as “the attached email”, “the email attached”, “please find attached” and then checks to see if there is anything attached. If there isn’t, it flags it up and gives you the chance to recitfy it.

More information is on the Office Labs site here and you can download the FAD here.

Big up to Bhavesh and I can’t wait to install this at work ASAP 🙂

Microsoft BPOS to support Office 2003


Yesterday I was part of a technical roundtable regarding MS Online Services/BPOS and there was a lot of great information revealed, unfortunately I can’t say much as it’s all under NDA…suffice to say it’s a great product that is going to keep on getting better.

There is however, one piece of info I CAN share and that is that BPOS will-from June (next month)-start to fully support Office 2003.

This is brilliant news as the Office 2007 only requirement was preventing a lot of people from being able to seriously consider MS Online Services which was a shame! BPOS is positioned as a great way to reduce the impact on budgets and to help keep costs down but then having to upgrade to the latest version of Office didn’t tend to go down too well…I think a lot of people saw it as “giveth with one hand, taketh with the other”. It is often the smaller companies, who would most benefit from MS Online, that are still on Office 2003 so now a whole new arena is opened up…good skills Microsoft 🙂

Outlook Auto-Complete


This isn’t a problem I’ve ever experienced but I had to help a colleague out with it today, and it seems to be relatively common.

The problem is where Outlook’s AutoComplete feature for remembering previously used email addresses just doesn’t work, each time you open Outlook-they’re all gone which is pretty annoying. It all comes down to the “.NK2” file that Outlook 2003/2007 uses and there are 2 likely causes:

1) Your .NK2 file has become corrupted somehow

2) You upgraded from Outlook 2000 and the new file wasn’t created.

Outlook 2000 used a “.NICK” file which is unreadable to later versions of the email client, but it seems that an upgrade from 2000 to 2007 doesn’t replace it with the required “.NK2” file. This was the case at work so we simply closed Outlook/deleted the “.NICK” file (some prefer to rename the file rather than deleting it)/re-opened Outlook/sent an email/hey presto a new “.NK2” file appeared and all was well 🙂

The file can be found here:

C:\Documents and Settings\<your username>\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook

I hope this helps!

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