Short takes: Symbols in Office applications and converting numbers to text in Excel

A few snippets I found on scraps of paper whilst sorting out my office this week…

Shortcuts to symbols in Office applications

Many people will be familiar with typing (c) to generate a © symbol in Microsoft Office applications but you can also use (R) or (TM) for trademark symbols ® and ™. One more that’s useful to know is (e) for the European currency symbol € (at least, it’s useful if your keyboard doesn’t recognise the Euro!).

Another useful code to know is the shortcut to create the symbol used to denote “therefore”, which is ? (and doesn’t appear in any dialogs I’ve seen to insert a symbol/special character). In Office applications running on a Windows PC, it’s possible to type ALT+8756 to generate the symbol.

I’ve tried these in Word and OneNote but see no reason why it shouldn’t work in other Office applications.  Unfortunately the functionality is limited to Office rather than part of the operating system – it doesn’t seem to work in a browser, or in NotePad for example.

Converting numerical data to text in Excel, or SharePoint, or something like that…

A few months ago I was creating a SharePoint list and wanted to display a unique ID for each entry but couldn’t use calculated values in the title column to base it on the actual ID for the list item (at least not when provisioning via the GUI). I can’t remember the exact circumstances but, looking back at my notes it appears I used the following formula in Excel to create a text version of a numerical cell:


I probably then uploaded that to SharePoint as a list and messed around with the columns displayed in a particular view… although it’s all a bit vague now. I no longer have access to the list I was working on, but it might jog my memory if I have to do something similar again…

Side by side installation of Office 2013 – watch out for Outlook

For a while now, I’ve been running two versions of Office on my corporate laptop with no problems – Office 2007 from our corporate “gold brick” image and Office 2010 (mostly for functionality I’ve got very used to in Outlook).  After a recent “Patch Tuesday” I started to see some strange behaviour whereby, depending on the method of invocation used, sometimes a 2007 version of an Office application would open, and sometimes a 2010 version.

I’ve had the media and keys for Office 2013 for a while (a properly licensed copy but not supported by our IT department) so I decided to remove 2007 and install 2013.  Because I figured the new UI would take a while to get used to (actually, it hasn’t) and because I wasn’t sure if any macros, etc. would run in the latest versions of Word and Excel (still a possibility), I elected to install 2013 alongside the existing 2010 installation.

It all went swimmingly, until I was having issues with Outlook, which is quite happily connected to our Exchange servers but telling me it isn’t when I want to update my out of office settings or view a colleague’s calendar.  I started to look for Outlook 2010, and found it wasn’t there any more…

Of course, being me, the first thing I did was tweet my bemusement and, being Twitter (and despite being 9pm on a Friday night) I quickly got some responses which told me why (thanks Aaron and Garry).

For those who can be bothered to RTFM, check out Microsoft knowledge base article 2784668 (“Information about how to use Office 2013 suites and programs (MSI deployment) on a computer that is running another version of Office”) or, for a workaround, there’s a TechNet forum post called Outlook 2010 gone in side-by-side installation with 2013″.


Outlook 2013 cannot coexist with any earlier version of Outlook. Unless you want to try a complex click-to-run setup…

Microsoft’s message to UK partners for FY13 (#PBBBirm #MSPartnersUK)

I spent most of yesterday at Microsoft’s Partner business briefing in Birmingham. The afternoon workshops were especially good value (I was in the Public Cloud session, learning more about Office 365) but the morning keynote (delivered by Janet Gibbons, Microsoft’s UK Director for Partner Strategy and Programmes) had some interesting messages that are worth sharing further:

  • 95% of Microsoft’s global revenues are generated through it’s channel partners.
  • 2012 is the biggest launch year in Microsoft’s history with almost every product having a major refresh or a new iteration (from Windows 8 to Halo 4).
    • Microsoft is spending significant volumes on product advertising.
  • Microsoft is still a software company, but increasingly a devices and services company.
    • Many of those services relate to software subscriptions.
    • Interestingly, there is a 26% piracy rate for software in the UK (20% of Office users are illegal/mis-licensed) – and no piracy with online services.
    • There are new partner opportunities for selling Office 365 and managing the customer relationship (billing, etc.) to expand the revenue opportunity with value-added services.
  • Microsoft’s FY13 priorities are:
    • Excite customers, businesses and advertisers with Windows 8 devices and applications.
    • Win against Google every time with Office 365 and launch Office [2013].
    • Build application ecosystem for Windows 8, Windows Phone and Windows Azure.
    • Win the datacentre with private, public and hybrid cloud.
    • Grow SQL Server through BI, big data and mission critical [deployments].
    • Drive deployment for Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, Active Directory.
    • Win with business solutions.
    • Grow Windows Phone market share.
    • Drive Xbox profit and grow Kinect and Live Attach.
    • Grow reach, search and monetisation of our consumer online  services.
Interesting to see the Microsoft FY13 scorecard in public: great openness at #PBBBirm - to be applauded #MSPartnersUK
Mark Wilson

Of course, there was the obligatory Windows 8 marketing message (maybe I’ve been through too many new operating system release cycles and it all feels like another turn on the merry-go-round so I switched off a little in that part) but it was also interesting to hear Intel stand up and say (I paraphrase), “we’re still friends with Microsoft and even though Windows runs on another platform too x86 is better [does anyone remember when Windows NT supported DEC Alpha and ARC-MIPS alongside Intel x86?]. Don’t forget that Atom is power-optimised too [not just underpowered] and we have all this lovely built-in security stuff in our hardware platform”.

As for Office and Office 365 – probably too much for this post but some of the changes coming up in the next release look fantastic. I’m certainly glad I made the switch from Google Apps, although maybe a P1 plan wasn’t the best idea…

Removing backgrounds from images in PowerPoint 2007

One particularly useful feature in PowerPoint 2010 is the ability to remove backgrounds from images. Unfortunately for me, since I returned to using a corporate PC build (after years of building my own, I succumbed to the standard build as the bureaucracy of adding a machine to the domain, installing encryption software, etc. became too much to bear) I’ve gone back to  Office 2007 and that feature is no longer available to me.

But there is a way – last week I found out how to remove the background from an image in PowerPoint 2007.  By selecting the image, then chosing Recolor from the Format menu, it’s possible to Set Transparent Color.

Obviously this is not as simple as in PowerPoint 2010, and it will only work for plain backgrounds, but it can still come in useful at times…

“5 reasons to avoid Office 365?” Are you really sure about that?

It’s not often these days that I feel the need to defend Microsoft. After all, they’re big boys and girls who can fight their own battles. And yes, I’m an MVP but if you ask Microsoft’s UK evangelists (past and present), I’m sure they’ll tell you I’m pretty critical of Microsoft at times too…

So I was amazed yesterday to read some of the negative press about Office 365. Sure, some Microsoft-bashing is to be expected. So is some comparison with Google Apps. But when I read Richi Jennings5 reasons to avoid Microsoft Office 365 , I was less than complementary in my reaction.  I did leave a lengthy comment on the blog post, but ComputerWorld thinks I’m a spammer… and it was more than 140 characters so Richi’s Twitter invitation for constructive comments for his next post (5 reasons to embrace Office 365) was not really going to work either.

Picking up Richi’s arguments against Office 365:

  • On mobility. I’ll admit, there are some issues. Microsoft doesn’t seem to understand touch user interfaces for tablets (at least not until they have their own, next year perhaps?) so the web apps are not ideal on many devices. Even so, I’m using Exchange Online with my iOS devices and the ActiveSync support means it’s a breeze. We don’t have blanket WiFi/3G coverage yet (at least not here in the UK) so it is important to think about offline working and I’m not sure Microsoft has that sorted, but neither does anyone else that I’ve found. Ideally, Microsoft would create some iOS Office apps (OneNote for iPhone is not enough – it’s not a universal app and so is next to useless on an iPad) together with an Android solution too…
  • I don’t see what the issue is with MacOS support (except that the option to purchase a subscription to Office Professional Plus is Windows-only). I’m using Office 365 with Office for Mac and SharePoint integration is not as good as on Windows but there seems nothing wrong with document format fidelity or Outlook connecting to Exchange Online. I’ve used some of the web apps on my Mac too, including Lync.
  • Is £4 a month expensive for a reliable mail and collaboration service? I’m not sure that the P1 option for professionals and small businesses (which that price relates to) is “horribly crippled” either. If the “crippling” is about a lack of support, I left Google Apps because of… a lack of support (after they “upgraded” my Google Apps account but wanted me to change the email address on my then-orphaned “personal” account – and you think Microsoft makes it complex?)
  • Forest Federation is a solution that provides clear separation between cloud and on-premise resources. It may be complicated, but so are enterprise requirements for cloud services.  If that’s too complex, then you don’t probably don’t need Active Directory integration: try a lower-level Office 365 subscription…
  • As for  reliability, yes, there have been BPOS Outages. Ditto for Azure. But didn’t Google have some high-profile GMail outages recently? And Amazon? Office 365 (which was a beta until yesterday) has been pretty solid.  Let’s hope that the new infrastructure is an improvement on BPOS, but don’t write it off yet – it’s only just launched! Microsoft is advertising a financially-backed 99.9% uptime agreement

The point of Office 365 is not to move 100% to the cloud but to “bring office to the cloud” and use it in conjunction with existing IT investments (i.e. local PCs/Macs and Office).  If I’m a small business with few IT resources, it lets me concentrate on my business, rather than running mail servers, etc. Actually, that’s the sweet spot. Some enterprises may also move to Office 365 (at least in part) but, for many, they will continue to run their mail and collaboration infrastructure in house.

Richi says that, if he were a Microsoft Shareholder, he’d be “bitterly disappointed with [yesterday’s] news”. The market seems to think otherwise… whilst Microsoft stock is generally not performing well, it’s at least rising in the last couple of days…

Microsoft stock price compared with leading IS indices over the last 12 months

To be fair, Richi wasn’t alone, but he was the one with the headline grabbing post… (would it be rude to call it linkbait?)

Over on Cloud Pro, Dennis Howlett wasn’t too impressed either. He quoted Mary Jo Foley’s Office 365 summary post:

Office 365 is not Office in the cloud, even though it does include Office Web Apps, the Webified versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Office 365 is a Microsoft-hosted suite of Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online €” plus an optional subscription-based version of Office 2010 Professional Plus that runs locally on PCs. The Microsoft-hosted versions of these cloud apps offer subsets of their on-premises server counterparts (Exchange, SharePoint and Lync servers), in terms of features and functionality.”

Yep, that’s pretty much it. Office 365 is not about competing with Office, it’s about extending Office so that:

  • It’s attractive to small and medium-sized businesses, so that they don’t need to run their own server infrastructure.
  • There are better opportunities for collaboration, using “the cloud” as a transport (and, it has to be said, giving people less reason to move to Google Apps).

Dennis says:

“Microsoft has fallen into the trap that I see increasingly among enterprise vendors attempting to migrate their business models into the cloud: they end up with a half baked solution that does little for the user but gives some bragging rights. All the time, they seek to hang on grimly to the old business model, tinkering with it but not taking the radical steps necessary to understand working in the cloud.”

Hmm… many enterprises are not ready to put the data that is most intimately linked to their internal workings into the cloud. They look at some targeted SaaS opportunities; they might use IaaS and PaaS technologies to provide some flexibility and elasticity; they may implement cloud technologies as a “private cloud”. But Office 365 allows organisations to pick and choose the level of cloud integration that they are comfortable with – it might be all (for example, my wife’s small business) or none (for example me, working for a large enterprise), or somewhere in between.

Office 365 has some issues – I’m hoping we’ll see some more development around mobility and web app functionality – but it’s a huge step forward. After years of being told that Windows and Office are dead and that Microsoft has no future, they’ve launched something that positions the company for both software subscriptions (which they’ve been trying to do for years) and has the ability to host data on premise, in the cloud, or in a hybrid solution. “The cloud” is not for everyone, but there aren’t many organisations that can’t get something out of Office 365.

Justifying a Windows/Office update – those “little things” add up

It’s often hard to justify a Windows or Office upgrade, but I think I might just have found a way to identify some of the advantages – try going back to an older version.

A few weeks ago, my company-supplied notebook was rebuilt onto the corporate standard build. I realised that it’s been about 4 or 5 years since I was last in that situation, as I’ve always been in a position to be trialling new versions of Windows and Office but these days my role is largely non-technical (so I have no real justification to be different to anyone else) and my team actually sits within the IT department (so I guess I should be setting an example!). I do have local administration rights on the machine, and I did install some software that I need for my role, but which is officially unsupported (examples would be TweetDeck, Nokia PC Suite and the drivers for my company-supplied HP OfficeJet printer). I also tweaked some power settings and turned off the corporate screen saver (thereby keeping my green credentials intact by balancing the lack of automatic shutdown with the lack of increased processor/fan activity to run a screensaver) but I’ve been trying to stick to the company build where possible/practical. That means I’m back to Office 2007 (with Visio 2003) although I am at least on a Windows 7 (x64) build in order that I can use all 4GB of RAM in my notebook.

I have to say that it’s been driving me insane. I had a similar experience when I went back to XP for a couple of days after a hard drive failure a couple of years ago but I’ve really missed some of the newer functionality – particularly in Outlook 2010:

  • I’ve lost my Quick Steps (I use them for marking an e-mail as read and moving to my archive folder in one action, or for sending a team e-mail).
  • Conversation view is different (I can’t tell you how, but I’m missing some new e-mails as a result).
  • When I receive a meeting request, I don’t see my other appointments for that day in the request.
  • [Update 15 April 2011: Access to multiple Exchange accounts from one Outlook instance.]

These are just examples off the top of my head – I should have noted each feature I’ve missed in recent weeks but I didn’t (maybe I’ll come back and edit the post later) but, for a knowledge worker like me, they are significant: a few minutes extra in Outlook to triage email 7-8 times a day, represents half an hour of lost productivity – every day.

…none of this is likely to convince a company to invest in an upgrade, even if they have the software (software costs are generally quite insignificant in relation to resource costs), but it’s all part of the business case – employee productivity is never easy to measure, but the little things do add up.

I’m now running Internet Explorer 9 (I need to test certain websites on the latest browser version), although I’m ready to revert to 8 if there are issues with any of the business applications I need to use, and my PC is fully patched including the latest service pack. I am resisting the temptation to install my own (licensed) copy of Office 2010 though… at least for now.

Office 365

Office 365 logoYesterday, Microsoft announced Office 365 – a rebranded and consolidated version of its existing Office Live Small Business, BPOS and Live@edu online services.  It seems ironic that this should come in the same week that the company announced the loss of Chief Software Architect, Ray Ozzie, the man whose Internet Services Disruption memo has, arguably, led to Microsoft’s reinvention as a software plus services company, embracing online services as a key part of its portfolio (even if the majority of its revenues still come from traditional models) but it is an acknowledgement that Microsoft is serious about cloud services.

Encompassing SharePoint, Exchange, Lync (formerly Office Communications Server) and Office (Web Apps and Professional client), Office 365 is certainly an interesting proposition for small businesses.  I use Google Apps (free) right now, but at $6 a month, Office 365 is almost free, and if that price really does includes a full copy of Office Professional (for as long as I’m a subscriber), it’s a steal.

Microsoft says that Office 365 is suitable for an independent professional, for a small business (up to 25 users) or for a larger enterprise. How can one product suit all needs?  The answer, is that it can’t.

Instead, what Microsoft has done is to package the Office 365 service for two distinct markets:

  • Office 365 for Small businesses and professionals is aimed at 1-25 users, with Exchange (including a 25GB mailbox), ActiveSync, SharePoint (single site collection), Office Web Apps, a public website, Online Access databases, Lync client, online meetings, desktop sharing, multiparty instant messaging and PC-PC calling, a 99.9% uptime guarantee, and self-help/community support.  All for $6, per user, per month.
  • Office 365 for Enterprises is aimed at larger organisations, and those where they need ActiveDirectory Sync, e-mail archiving (e.g. for legal compliance), Blackberry connectivity (Blackberry Enterprise Server), more than 50 users in the organisation, and 24×7 phone support.
    • Furthermore, the Enterprise plan is divided according to worker roles, so that Microsoft can provide different services for different groups of users (at different price points between $2 and $27 per user per month, list price – although volume discounts will be available).

So, what were the other highlights in yesterday’s announcement?

  • Microsoft is claiming that Office 2010 is the “fastest selling version of Office in history” [really?]
  • Microsoft’s existing online services serve millions of customers in 40 markets worldwide.
  • 167m messages are sent per day from Microsoft’s cloud services [I’d be interested to see the source/scope for this… Microsoft often includes everything right back to Hotmail in its interpretation of cloud services].
  • Office 2010 was designed for on-premise and cloud capabilities.
  • Office 365 is currently in a limited beta and will “ship” worldwide next year.
  • Office 365 always runs the latest version of Microsoft’s Office software (SharePoint, Exchange, Lyn, Office Web Apps and Office Professional Plus).
  • Microsoft sess software as 15% of overall IT spend.  By moving into online services they increase market share by picking up some of the infrastructure revenue; but claim cost savings of 10-50% for customers.
  • Partner opportunity is to expand reach and grow revenue by helping customers to use the software and not just deploying it.  Hybrid on-premise and cloud solutions could be an opportunity.

Office 365 is an interesting development.  As a customer, I think it’s very interesting and a more than credible alternative to Google Apps.  As a partner, I’m less convinced but that’s not a conversation for the public Internet.  Either way, it shows that Microsoft is serious about competing and the move to subscription-based services is starting to get moving.

Office 2010 is released to manufacturing

After much speculation (including some from myself), Microsoft has announced that Office 2010 has been released to manufacturing. I’ve been using the community technology preview, beta, and release candidate versions of the product since last summer and I have to say that there are quite a few features that have become productivity enhancements for me – and that it’s pretty unusual for a mature product to include this sort of innovation.

I’m not going to run through all the features in this post (I did talk about a few of them in an earlier post and I hope to expand on that when I get time) but I thought I’d call out a few pointers that might be useful for organisations looking at deploying the new Office products, based on the presentation by Reed Shaffner, Senior Product Manager for Microsoft Office, at the UK TechDays Office 2010 event on 13 April 2010.

First up, is the fact that, aside from a slightly larger memory footprint, the specifications to run Office 2010 are unchanged from 2007.  That means that the same Windows Vista-class PCs that can run Windows 7, will also cope well with Office 2010 – although there are other reasons to look at updating PCs as the age of the device is a factor in overall TCO, at least according to Gartner.

All volume licensing editions of Office 2010 require activation – that means that enterprises need to be looking at deploying a key management service (KMS) in order to avoid abuse of multiple activation keys (MAKs).

Office 2010 has a new 64-bit product edition – although, unless the ability to access large amounts of memory is important, Microsoft recommends running 32-bit (even on 64-bit versions of Windows) due to incompatibilities with plugins.  And, talking of incompatibilities, Office 2010 is designed for tighter integration with App-V such that, if App-V v4.6 is used to deploy Office applications, many of the previous application virtualisation issues are fixed (e.g. the hooks to open files in SharePoint, send to the OneNote print driver, send to mail, etc.) by uses proxies to activate them when Office applications are running virtualised.

Office 2010 has a number of security features – recognising that, as the operating system is better protected, malware attacks have moved up the stack to the application layers, concentrating on weaknesses in file formats and document parsing.  For example, if the Office file validation checks fail, a warning is displayed and the user has to go into Office back stage and explicitly select to ignore warnings and edit anyway.  More commonly, documents that have originated elsewhere may open in Protected View and give the user the option to enable editing.  In addition, applications such as PowerPoint remove any content that they do not understand (i.e. which is potentially harmful) from the document structure.

When preparing a document for sharing, in addition to the option to inspect a document for hidden properties, there is a new accessibility checker that can ensure a document complies with various accessibility standards – including the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) v2.0.  This accessibility checker educates the user on how and why to fix a document – and is enforceable via group policy.

Document compatibility is another concern and, whilst third party tools are available from partners such as Converter Technology, there are Microsoft tools that can help too:

Finally, just as with Office 2007, Microsoft plans to produce an Office Productivity Hub – in both standalone HTML and SharePoint 2010 format – to provide self-help content for end users (effectively a help portal for office) along with an interactive command reference guide (for help with getting to know the fluid/ribbon user interface) and an enterprise learning framework (to helps organisations develop a training and communication plan for employees during deployment of Office).  All of these are expected to become available over the next few weeks.

Removing crapware from my Mac

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been rebuilding my MacBook after an increasing number of “spinning beachballs of death” (the Mac equivalent of a Windows hourglass/doughnut/halo…).  Unfortunately, its not just PCs that come supplied with “crapware” – it may only be a couple of items but my OS X 10.5 installation also includes the Office for Mac 2004 Test Drive and iWork ’08 Trial.  As it happens, I do have a copy of Office for Mac 2008 but I don’t need it on this PC – indeed the whole reason for wiping clean and starting again was to have a lean, clean system for my photography, with the minimum of unnecessary clutter.

“What’s the problem?”, I hear you say, “isn’t uninstalling an application on a Mac as simple as dragging it to the trash?”  Well, in a word: no. Some apps for OS X are that simple to remove but many leave behind application support and preference files.  Some OS X apps have installers, just as on Windows PCs.

I ran the Remove Office application to remove the Office for Mac Test Drive and, after searching for installed copies of Office, it decided there were none, leaving Remove Office log.txt file on the desktop with the details of its search:

Found these items:
OFC2004_TD_FOLDERS: /Applications/Office 2004 for Mac Test Drive

It seems that, if you’ve not attempted to run any of the Test Drive apps (e.g. by opening an Office document), they are not actually installed.  Diane Ross has more details on her blog post on the subject but, basically, it’s safe to drag the Test Drive files and folders to the trash.

With Office for Mac out of the way, I turned my attention to the iWork ’08 Trial.  This does not have an uninstaller – the application files and folders for Keynote, Numbers and Pages can be dragged to the trash but there is another consideration – there are some iWork ’08 application support files in /Library/Application Support/ that may be removed too.

These resources might not be taking much space on my disk, but I don’t like the idea of remnants of an application hanging around – a clean system is a reliable system.  At least, that’s my experience on Windows and it shouldn’t be any different on a Mac.

What (and where) is SharePoint Server 2009?

I came across an interesting dialog box last week whilst trying to connect to a Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 site with the SharePoint Designer 2010 technical preview.

Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer cannot be used to edit web sites on servers prior to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2009. To edit these sites, you need to use SharePoint Designer 2007.The dialog told me that Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007 is needed to work with older versions of SharePoint Server but interestingly it referred to the version it wanted as SharePoint Server 2009… I’ve never heard of this (there is a new version of SharePoint for 2010, and presumably a new WSS 4.0 at the same time) but I guess no-one got around to changing the error message before the bits were shipped for the Office 2010 technical preview.

In the meantime, Bjørn Furuknap raises an interesting point… where’s the value in a technical preview of a product that doesn’t work with the existing server platform? There is a Technical Preview for SharePoint Server 2010 – but until that opens up to a wider audience it does seem a little strange that SharePoint Designer is part of the Office Technical Preview instead of the SharePoint Server one!