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.

Controlling the view on diagrams generated with Visio 2007’s Save As Web feature

I’ve been doing some work recently with a “taxonomy” of technology “building blocks”. Even though a taxonomy is technically expressed as a hierarchy, technology terms do not really fit into a hierarchical structure – what we really need is a network diagram but management want it to look like an organisation chart (some cynical people might say that’s all they understand)!

My colleague, Alan Dodd, who understands TOGAF (I’m not an enterprise architect) has been instrumental in defining a structure that we can slice many different ways, generating views based on particular metadata and he’s also the one who came up with the idea of using Visio 2007’s Organisation Chart Wizard to import data from an Excel spreadsheet and use the column headings as metadata. Excel data for importing into Visio with the Organization Chart WizardFor example, if I have columns of: Item; Parent Item; Vendor; and URL, I can build the hierarchy using the Item and Parent Item columns and the Vendor and URL columns can be defined as metadata on the shapes in Visio, from where I can save the whole diagram as a web page (and the URL data will actually work as a link). Add a bit of conditional formatting and we have something that’s actually quite usable as a navigational tool for linking to the various technology building blocks.

The problem I had was that my diagram was huge and needed to be zoomed it to 500% in order to be legible. Increasing the font size didn’t help either, as that just needed larger shapes, making the overall diagram larger (and so the default, whole page, view was just as tiny). What I needed was a way to adapt the zoom factor on the diagram… for instance to set the initial view to 500%.

It turns out that’s perfectly possible using ?zoom=500 on the end of the URL to load the diagram. After a brief conversation on the Microsoft Discussion Groups, John Goldsmith has helpfully posted the four basic URL parameters accepted by Visio-generated diagrams served via HTTP.

The next steps will be to make the diagram zoom closer than 500% and then the big one… to automatically generate the Excel data from a SharePoint document library. Answers on a postcard…

Changing the product key for Microsoft Office applications without reinstalling

The notebook PC that I use for work has Microsoft Office Enterprise 2007 installed. Office Enterprise includes most of the applications that I need but not Visio, so I also have Microsoft Office Visio 2007.

The 2007 office products can be used a certain number of times before activation is required and, unfortunately, when I tried to activate my copy of Visio I found that the product key had been used too many times and activation failed (the Office Enterprise key was fine). After watching the number of trial uses of the product slowly decrement, I needed to change the product key, but didn’t want to have to re-install Visio.

Microsoft knowledge base article 895456 provides details for changing the product key for the 2007 Office system (as well as other releases).

It’s important to note that:

  • For a 64-bit version of Windows, the registry location to edit will be HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Office\version\Registration rather than HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\version\Registration.
  • If multiple Office products are installed, multiple GUIDs will appear in the registry – the important entry to look at will be the ProductName – in my case one GUID had a ProductName of Microsoft Office Visio Professional 2007 and the other had a ProductName of Microsoft Office Enterprise 2007.

Once the correct GUID had been tracked down and the associated DigitalProductID and ProductID entries removed, I fired up Visio, entered a different product key and successfully activated the software.

Searching for a Visio stencil or template?

A couple of nights back, I was documenting the rack configuration for a client’s data centre. Easy enough using a rack configuration tool from one of the major hardware vendors, except that most of us have multi-vendor rack contents and use Microsoft Visio to record the details. Enter the index of Visio download sites. Using this I was able to locate and download Visio stencils for Compaq/HP hardware, although Visio stencils for Dell servers seem to be a bit thin on the ground…