Tip o’ the Week 332 – Failing to plan is, eh…

clip_image002[1]If you’ve ever tried to source the real originator of some popular quote, you might come across the same old names that are supposedly responsible for it – Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Jeremy Clarkson, etc. One such quote that has been widely attributed to any number of people (including self-styled 1970s time management guru, Alan Lakein) is, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”.

clip_image003[1]A new tool has been rolled out to Office365 users to help – Microsoft Planner. It’s a relatively simple-looking yet deceptively powerful group project / task management application that lets you assign and collaborate tasks amongst team members, all the time maintaining an easy to use and very visual overview of the projects.

clip_image004[1]Planner has been in preview for a few months but was released generally in early June and will automatically show up in the grid icon set on the top-left of browser-based Office365 applications.

To get the gist of what Planner does, check out the overview video, here. For tips on getting up and running, see the Getting Started guide.

There is a degree of functional overlap with other task-management systems like Wunderlist or even Outlook on its own, but Planner is designed very much to be a team-based thing and is particularly aimed at businesses or for educational use.

Comparisons are inevitably made with other tools, most notably Trello, and SharePoint’s own Tasks capability has had the Sword of Damocles hanging over it, if you believe the chat, so Planner is a welcome addition.

Tip o’ the Week #242 – File favourites and Explorer

clip_image002Office365 offers a great way of hosting documents in the cloud, using SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business (which is really SharePoint under the hood) as its publicly facing storage offerings.

Office apps themselves are well versed in supporting SharePoint as a location to open and save stuff to, however other clip_image004apps – and websites – are not always so supportive.

If you’re lucky, applications will offer you a newer file dialog box >> which at least lets you navigate to shortcuts that can take you to your fave places – even good ol’ Notepad lets you pick from a Favo(u)rites list, and can access other groups of links to your PC or the network to which you’re connected.clip_image006

You could choose to disable the “OneDrive” tree from this file chooser (see the instructions, here). It’s a pity that OneDrive for Business – where you should be storing all your work-related files, vs OneDrive for your own personal stuff – can’t be exposed as an expanding tree. Oh well, there’s always Threshold

Well, if you want to make your favourite SharePoint sites show up in file dialog boxes, there are a few simple steps you can take…

  • clip_image010Navigate to your SharePoint library of choice in the browser, then click on the library tab, then on the Ribbon clip_image008which appears, click Open with Explorer… which will open said SharePoint library as if it was just another file share using Windows Explorer.

    Now, the road is rocky here if you are not using a domain-joined PC to access the library – for Windows to authenticate you automatically to open a library in Explorer, if you’re on a home PC, you may need to make sure you’ve appropriate saved the password (clicked Remember Me in authentication dialogs, even though they rarely do, etc).

    clip_image012It’s also worth adding the website to your intranet sites if you’re on a non-corporate machine – in the desktop Internet Explorer, first copy the site URL to the clipboard, then go into Tools | Internet Options (by pressing the ALT key to show the menu bar) and add the site to your Intranet zone by clicking the Sites button, then the Advanced button, to paste and include this site in your Intranet zone. You don’t need to do this is on a corporate, domain-joined PC.

  • clip_image014Now, once you have the requisite Explorer window showing you the contents of the SharePoint site (just click on the address bar if you’re in any doubt as to clip_image016whether it’s coming from SharePoint or not), then try right-clicking the Favorites menu in Explorer and adding the current location to Favorites. Now, it’ll show up in the list and can be renamed by right-clicking it, perhaps giving it a more uniquely identifiable name than “Shared Documents”, for example.
    Once you’ve created the shortcut in your Favorites, you could try jumping to your preferred text editor (or paint program, sound recorder etc) and try to open or save something – you should see your newly-created shortcut showing up.

There are numerous other ways of getting your favourite sites to appear in common-or-garden dialog boxes; from the library tab as above, you can choose to Sync SharePoint sites (and they’ll all show up under the SharePoint favourite), or if you copy the clip_image018URL/UNC to the clipboard, it can then be added to clip_image020Network Locations by right-clicking on This PC within Windows Explorer and choosing Add Network Location to make the link show up in that group of shortcuts.

Even the oldest binary apps and websites tend to support a file picker that will let you choose from This PC, and you should be able to navigate down to your new Network Location shortcut.

All of these tips are relatively self-explanatory for tech savvy folk like Microsofties – even if relying on old-fashioned style Explorer shortcuts might seem a little backward. If you’re helping to set up Office365 for a family member to use, however, this kind of short-cuttery could make the transition much smoother, and could be the difference between you getting asked numerous times how to save files, or being left blissfully alone.

Tip o’ the Week #225 – Surveys R Us

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Have you noticed an increase in online surveys asking if you have a few minutes to complete them, when you visit web sites? Do you duck & dive when walking along the street and are confronted by a just-a-little-too-friendly student in high-vis and brandishing a clipboard?

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Surveys are undoubtedly useful to the people collecting the information (as long as they screen out the loonies) though there’s always the possibility that the people who bother to fill in surveys might not always be the typical user – who has a spare 5 minutes in their day to tell some website what they think?

All that said, there are many tools that can be of use if you’re the surveyor and you want to ask people their opinion. In SharePoint Online (see here for a tutorial) it’s really easy to create surveys that contain structured and unstructured questions, even branching logic (eg. If you answer “No” to one question, jump to the next relevant one rather than asking you further questions about the thing you didn’t do).

Thanks to Phil Cross for pointing out that there has been a super-simple solution available for more than a year, courtesy of SkyOneDriveExcel Surveys. Ready for your Mum and Auntie to use, it’s a really simple way of asking a few questions and collating the responses you get – here’s an example survey.

It looks nice, but there are few fancy features like branching, however it’s really easy to set up a survey and it’s on OneDrive, so anyone can fill it in.

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One thing to note, though – the originator doesn’t get any more information than what’s entered in the actual survey, so you might want to add questions about who the respondent is, what date it is etc. Answers are retrieved in a straightforward Excel table, and can use Excel functionality to filter and analyse – if you think you’re going to get enough replies that you’ll need to do that.

Still, Excel Surveys are easy to initiate, simple to complete and can be filled in by anyone who can access OneDrive.

Tip o’ the Week #111 – Sharing PowerPoint in Lync?

clip_image001If you’re regularly part of a Lync call which involves presenting slides, here’s some best practice that everyone should know about. In a nutshell – don’t share your whole desktopto show the PowerPoint slides; don’t even share PowerPoint  as a single program (something that Lync would allow you to do), but it’s really not the best way.

Why not?In general, the user experience is better if you show slides by uploading them into the meeting/call. Showing slides by sharing the whole desktop is inefficient on the network too; if the network isn’t so great (eg when attendees are on slower lines), it can be practially unusable. Also, unless you’re really smooth in the way you operate the PC, you’re in danger of showing more than just the slides – email alerts, incoming IMs from other people popping up etc. A slicker way of sharing slides is to use Lync’s built-in functionality designed to do just that.

If you have slides sitting on your PC, the quickest way of adding them into your meeting is to click on the Share clip_image002button within the conversation window, and select PowerPoint Presentation, which will then give you the option to choose a PowerPoint file to be shown – the Lync software will then upload the PPT to the server, and convert it to an HTML format that can be shown in a browseror in the Lync client. This process of uploading & conversion can take a little while if you have a large or complex PPT, so it’s best to start uploading as early as you can.

The nice thing about using this mechanism to share slides is that they are now in the meeting, and other attendees could take over as presenter quickly – you clip_image003could even leave the meeting and let them continue.

If you store your slides on a SharePoint site, there’s a trick to quickly uploading the slides to your meeting. One way would be to navigate to the document library in the browser, and then Open with Explorer – another would be to simply open the SharePoint site in Windows Explorer, by using the UNC – eg instead of going to http://sharepointemea/sites/love-it/tipoweek, go to the start menu and simply type \\sharepointemea\sites\love-it\tipoweek.That way, you could browse to the document just as if it’s on your hard disk.

If you go back up to the point earlier in this tip, to where you’d add a slide deck from your PC – you could type the \\sharepointemea\sites\etc link into the file dialog and then select the appropriate PPT, or else you could prepare in advance by opening the library using explorer, then re-use the tip from ToW#101on how to copy the full path of a file name to the clipboard, and just paste that into the dialog when it comes time to upload the PPT.

Once you’ve converted to using this approach, you may freely mock anyone who still does it the (admittedly, easier, with one click) old fashioned way of just sharing out their whole desktop to show a single slide deck. Live the dream – upload the slides to the meeting  using Lync!

There’s a really good explanation of some of the other benefits to using the PowerPoint sharing method on this blog.

Tip o’ the Week #101 – Finding files for dialogs

clip_image001How many times a month do you have a file (a picture, maybe, or a document) that you want to upload to some website, or attach to an email. and you know where the file is, but then have to navigate through a dialog box to locate it from within the application? I can sometimes think of 2 or 3 such scenarios in a given day.

There are lots of alternatives, of course – if you want to attach a document that’s on your desktop to an email, then you can just drag & drop it. But many dialog boxes don’t give you that flexibility – some apps will make you point to a file, by navigating to the file’s folder and selecting it from there.

clip_image002[4]This can be complicated if you have lots of documents in the folder, especially ones whose names don’t mean a lot – think about a folder with 100s of pictures, all called P0001234.jpg or similar. When you’re previewing the picture in Explorer, it might be easy to see which one you want to share, but if you’re uploading it through a dialog box that doesn’t give you a preview of the pics, then you’ll need to remember its location & name, so you can point to the file.

clip_image003[4]One approach would be to just click on the address bar within the Explorer window, and copy that to the Clipboard – CTRL-C – then you can typically paste that into the upload dialog box, and at least you will be pointed at the folder where the files exist. If you start typing the name of the file at the end of clip_image005[4]the path in the Address bar, then it may let you select the full name (using the up & down arrow keys to select) and copy that to the clipboard (CTRL-C again) too. All very well for the keyboard jockey but there is an easier way.

Copy as path

If you’ve selected a file in an Explorer window, hold down the SHIFT key and right-click, and you’ll see a new option shows up – Copy as path. This somewhat cryptic command copies the name of the file and it’s full path into the clipboard – so you can pick exactly the photo or document, and can easily paste that full path and file name into any dialog box.

Here’s an example of a SharePoint 2010 Upload Document dialog; just right-click in the “File name” box, paste the full name and hit Open.

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On the face of it, this might not seem like a revolutionary function – but start using it and you’ll be amazed at how much time and aggravation it saves you. ZDNet’s Ed Bott said, “I use this shortcut constantly. It’s amazing how many times it comes in handy. It will save you many, many clicks.”

Tip o’ the Week #92 – Take and Share better meeting notes

clip_image002[4]Be the scribe

OneNote is a great audit tool.

When you’re in meetings with customers and partners why not offer to take the notes on your tablet, slate or laptop and then when the meeting is done simply save the notes as a PDF to create a simple, (almost) non editable version of the notes that you can share with colleagues, customers and partners.  This is especially useful if you hook up your device to a projector (using duplicate screen mode) and use your tablet as an electronic whiteboard. 

To export your results to PDF, choose “File”, “Save As” and then “PDF”. When the save dialog is displayed you can choose to save selected pages, the current section or even the whole notebook. If you don’t want the PDF step you can share your notes even more quickly by using the Share tab and selecting the “E-mail Page” button to send the page as a picture. The “audit” part comes in because both you and the customer has a permanent copy of the notes – this has extricated me from a number of potentially taught situations?

For collaborating with colleagues, an even better option is to use shared notebooks. Using SharePoint 2010 (e.g. your MySite) you can create shared notebooks which are synchronised between team members and always kept clip_image002up to date.

This is great for going to a customer meeting, taking notes and then automatically having them shared with your extended account teams. The only thing to be aware of is that shared notebooks (especially with ink) can take up a fair bit of disk space – but don’t worry, a call to 5000 or through ITWeb can get your quota increased easily.

To share a notebook that already exists go into “File”, “Share” and then choose the SharePoint server (“Network” option) server where you want to store it. When you’ve done this make sure that the location you stored the notebook has the correct permissions for your colleagues. To share a new notebook on SharePoint, go into “File”, “New” and select “Network” and choose the SharePoint. This is great for collaboration but even better for showing customers how we “live the dream”clip_image003.

Did you know you can create a meeting note directly from an Outlook Appointment, and that note will contain the date, time, location and names of all the attendees of the Outlook item?

Just go into the meeting in Outlook and you’ll see a nice big OneNote icon – click that and the rest is obvious.

Using and creating templates

clip_image004One way of gettng better organised might be to use a common template for meeting notes – if you click on the down-arrow next to the New Page command in the sidebar, you’ll see available templates and a link allowing you to set up new templates or find others online.

Some templates on microsoft.com.

Tip o’ the Week #86 – Jump into SharePoint sites

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Following last week’s IE9 “turn websites into apps” tip in ToW#83, here’s an early Christmas present, showing a couple of nifty ways of working with SharePoint 2010. It’s possible to add clip_image002SharePoint sites to your taskbar or start menu in exactly the same way as in that tip – open the site up in your browser, then drag the icon to the left of the site’s address and drop it onto your taskbar.

If the administrator of your site loves you very much, maybe they’ll follow the instructions below to add the ability to expose Jump Lists too. If your favourite SharePoint site doesn’t already have Jump Lists activated, maybe you could plead with the site’s administrator to do so…

If you don’t know who administers your SharePoint site, you could try “Request Access” from the drop-down box next to your name on the very top right of a site – in the “justification” section, explain what you’d like to do and if the wind is blowing in the right direction then your email will reach whoever is listed as the site admin…

Admins: get your site timezone right!

SharePoint sites have a standard “locale” which sets the way they behave in different languages, time zones,  different ways of measuring the calendar etc. The default when a site is created is (at least in the way it’s clip_image004been implemented in Microsoft), that the site locale will be English (US) – in most cases, not something that will really affect the end users, except for in one important aspect – date format (assuming you’re not in the US…).

That document you’re looking at, created on 07/08/11 … was it the 7th August or the 8th July? Was 01/08/11 the 1st August or 8th January…? In the first example, it might not matter a whole lot but if the document is 7 months older than you at first thought, it could be important.

clip_image005Changing the locale of your site takes only 1 minute – but will require you to have admin rights on the site, denoted by you being able to see a Site Actions button at the top of the page, and on clicking the down arrow button, the menu would offer you a Site Settings option. Click on that, then look for clip_image006the Regional Settings option under the Site Administration heading. Set the local as appropriate and check that any sub-sites will also inherit the same settings.

clip_image007Enable Jump Lists

There’s a sweet little addin to SharePoint that also takes moments to add to a site, but which automatically exposes all of a site’s lists, libraries etc as a jump list to a taskbar-pinned icon. There are detailed instructions, and a walk-through video, on the SPJumpList site, but essentially:

  • Download the SPJumplist.WSP file to your PC
  • On the root site of the Site Collection (eg sharepoint/sites/yoursite), go into Site Settings, and under the Galleries section, go into Solutions and upload the WSP file
  • Click on the arrow to the right of the SPJumplist item and choose Activate, then click on the Activate option in the following screen

This should now make the SPJumplist solution available to any sites within the collection, and it’s just a matter of switching it on – for each site you want to enable it on, go into Site Settings and under the Site Actions heading, look in Managed Site Features. Scroll down to the SPJumplist item, click Activate, and a jump list should appear, showing everything in the site’s navigation list.

Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

Tip o’ the Week #77 – Saving docs straight to SharePoint

clip_image002Here’s a simple tip inspired by Luke Debono, who was asking how he could save directly from within an Office application to our departmental SharePoint site, using Office 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010.

clip_image003Now, if you open a document from a SharePoint site then you might get to view/edit it in a browser, or perhaps open and edit within an Office application. On the backstage/File menu, you’ll see a few clues that the document is on a SharePoint site – like the location, or (depending on whether the functionality is enabled on the SharePoint) the ability to check the document out & in, see previous versions etc.

clip_image005If you’re writing a new document and want to publish it directly to SharePoint, you can do so directly from within Word, Excel & PowerPoint – go to the File menu and select the Save and Send option, at which point you’ll be able to save it straight to the SharePoint of your choice, maybe even one of the more recently used sites…

URL or UNC? U B the judge

If you’re working outside of Office applications but still want to save your stuff straight into SharePoint (your MySite for example?), then it’s still possible. SharePoint is clearly accessible via a URL (eg http://sharepoint etc), but you might not know it’s also available via the old-fashioned “UNC”…

clip_image006universal naming convention
A naming convention for files that provides a machine-independent way to locate the file. A UNC name usually includes a reference to a shared folder and file accessible over a network rather than a folder and file specified by a drive letter and path.

UNCs were used in the old LAN Manager and NT days, to connect to file servers. They took the form of \\server_name\share_name, characterised by the phrase “whack whack” – as in “connect to “whack whack server_name whack share_name”…

In this instance, you can generally convert the SharePoint URL into a UNC by ditching the http:// piece and substituting forward slashes to back-slashes. If you’re in the File dialog of any application, you can type a UNC into the “File Name” box and hit Save or Enter, then the File dialog will be re-pointed to that location… allowing you to save your file (under a chosen name) into that location.

Once you’ve pointed the File dialog to browse into your SharePoint, you could even add it to Favo(u)rites to make it easy to get there in future… bearing in mind if you jump straight to \\sharepointemea\00sites\sitename then you’ll see all the other SharePoint folders that go to make up the site.

Tip o’ the Week #65 – SharePoint 2010, a starter for 10

clip_image001There are many advantages to SharePoint 2010 if you’re coming from 2007, especially from a usability perspective, and there are a few nice tips to get the best out of it. SharePoint guru Jessica Meats provides a couple and will have more in weeks to come…

Update your MySite profile & picture

Head over to the new MySite (simply enter “my” in IE9’s address bar†) The default view gives you information about what’s been going on with people you work with. You can an activity feed which displays things your colleagues have been doing, such as adding new colleagues, joining groups, updating their status, leaving people notes, harvesting their Farmville crops and other interactions. So you can keep up to speed on the actions of people you’ve listed as your colleagues.

As well as seeing what your friends and co-workers are up to, you can add some information about yourself. If you click on profile, you see information about yourself that’s on your profile. Some of this stuff, like your job title, is filled in for you. There are other fields though that are all yours.

Click on the edit profile button and add your skills, interests, external blog link, even projects you’ve worked on. By adding a bit of information here, you can make it easier for people to know what you do, both inside Microsoft and outside.

If there’s a bit of information you don’t want to broadcast too loudly, you can choose to show it only to your manager, team, colleagues, or even just to yourself.

clip_image003 Last week’s IE9 tips ToW spawned a micro-tip, courtesy of Neil Cockerham. You can set IE9 to assume that any single word you enter in the address bar is the name of an intranet site – that way it will always try first to go to the website, and if it fails, it will fall back to searching Bing for that word… rather than the default, which searches Bing and asks you if you’d like to go to the website instead.

To enable this option, go to the Options in IE9 by clicking on the little Cog icon in the top left, then go into Advanced, scroll down and look for the appropriate option

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Sync your documents

Got a document stored in a SharePoint team site you want to work on? Got a long train ride where you won’t have an internet connection?

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If you go to a SharePoint 2010 document library, there’s a button in clip_image006the Library tab called Sync to SharePoint Workspace (as above).

Note that the new UI of SharePoint 2010, akin to the Ribbon that’s been in the last couple of versions of Office, needs to be switched on for every site that’s been upgraded. If you’re using an existing site and the administrator hasn’t yet switched it over, then the option to sync to SharePoint Workspace is in the Actions menu – if you select either of these options and you haven’t already configured the new SharePoint Workspace software that’s part of Office 2010, you’ll go through a wizard which will recover your account and email you a temporary password to get things moving.

SharePoint Workspace, as well as being the new name for Groove, allows you to pull SharePoint content offline, work on it locally and then synchronise up your changes later. By clicking on this button, you will launch SharePoint Workspace and it will start saving a local copy of the documents in the library.

You don’t have to lock the document first. SharePoint Workspace is clever enough to only synchronise up changes. So someone can work on the document from the library while you’re offline working on the local copy. When you get back to the office, your version will merge with the updated version in the SharePoint site.

So now no internet connection is no excuse to take it easy. Sorry…

Tip o’ the Week #22: Sync SharePoint data into Outlook

This week’s tip comes from a reader: over to Microsoft UK’s Rob Orwin…

clip_image001In order to help my forecasting, I synchronise the appropriate documents to my Outlook so that when I send and receive they are automatically updated.

To do this I simply:

1) Go to the SharePoint site where the documents are held

2) Click, “Actions”

3) Click Connect To Outlook – As per screenshot

4) The spreadsheets magically appear in my outlook folder, cunningly named TPAM ISV as per screenshot
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5) Whenever I hit “Send & Receive” I get the latest version

Net result: This means that when I’ve no access to SharePoint, I can quickly get the latest, synchronized copy of the forecast spreadsheet and have up to date info at my fingertips giving my notably more time to work on my excuses …

clip_image004Rob’s highlighted a great way of taking SharePoint files offline, which not only makes them available when you’re not connected, but also speeds up opening them if they’re big files… since you’ve already got them on your machine, in Outlook’s data files. The one downside is that they’re read only if using SharePoint 2007 – thought SharePoint 2010 gives the ability to do bi-directional…

There are other areas of integration that you might be aware of, too… like taking a SharePoint calendar or contacts list, and exposing it in Outlook – but this time, you can can edit the data in Outlook and it flows back to the SharePoint 2007 site…