A toolkit for successful Office 365 deployment

Over the last few weeks, I’ve attended a couple of Microsoft Office 365 workshops during which I picked up quite a bit of useful information, not least Malcolm Bullock’s (@MBullock) list of Office 365 deployment planning resources.

Office 365 is straightforward: it’s a service; it does what’s in the service descriptions. But successful migration to the service depends on thorough planning.

Of course, this is the point where I should say, “talk to Fujitsu; I’ve got a team of guys who can help you through this” – and I have* but that’s not why people read this blog! What I’ll do instead, is outline some of the resources that Malcolm shared and which should be considered an essential “Office 365 deployment toolkit”:

  • Office 365 Service Descriptions. These are gospel. If the service description says you can do something with the service, you can; and if it says you can’t do it, you can’t. If the information is not there, you probably can’t. It’s binary; black and white – no grey. Office 365 is not for everyone – that’s why on premise and hybrid options exist.
  • Software Requirements for Office 365. Generally, Microsoft gives 12 months’ notice of changes to system requirements but they’re also introducing an n-1 stance on browser support. Bear in mind that, just because something isn’t supported doesn’t mean that it won’t work but using unsupported software is far from ideal and it’s entirely possible that legacy software may be denied access in order to avoid security issues.
  • Office 365 Enterprise Deployment Guide (MODG). Put simply, this describes how to deploy Office 365 in the enterprise.
  • Exchange Deployment Guide (ExDeploy). This is a software tool to run through for on-premise, hybrid or cloud deployments of Exchange.
  • Solution Alignment Workshop. These workshops are professional services, offered by Microsoft and their partners to make sure that the customer requirements are aligned with the Office 365 service. These workshops (together with a number of tools, such as the Deployment Readiness Tool and the Office Alignment Index Calculator) are now being replaced by OnRamp, a streamlined on-boarding process allowing customers to take a staged approach to their Office 365 migration.
  • Test/demo environment. Register for a trial Office 365 tenant.
  • Office 365 Pro Plus Deployment Tool. A tool to configure the click-to-run functionality for local streaming of Office 365 ProPlus desktop software.

There are also many tools and diagnostic utilities referenced from the Office 365 Community website.

* In all seriousness, I’d be happy to discuss Office 365 opportunities with any UK-based enterprises looking at migrating their email to the cloud, or even looking for a hybrid or fully-managed Exchange/Lync/SharePoint solution but this is my personal blog and in no way endorsed by my employer. If you would like a professional conversation, please do get in touch.

Redirecting users from a PC browser to a mobile app: one of the few good uses for a QR code?

A couple of years ago, QR codes were all the rage. The groovy little black and white hieroglyphs were on every bus-shelter advert, leaflet and even business cards.  Some were in colour, and some either relied on the built in error correction to become a piece of art! I wasn’t convinced that they always made sense though – and it seemed I wasn’t alone…

Some studies showed that consumers didn’t know what they were. Others warned of malware hidden in QR links. Some were cynical. And some analysts warned of their impending demise:

QR codes are ugly. Give me ubiquitous, directional RFID instead. We won’t be plagued with QR codes in 2012

@mgualtieri

Mike Gualtieri

Earlier today I was asked to join a business partner’s Yammer network.  This particular (Redmond-based) partner has a “special” interest in Yammer (ahem), so I dusted off my old, not-used-for-a-couple-of-years Yammer credentials, signed in and accepted the request. Yammer encouraged me to update my profile (fair enough… it was 2 years out of date), and then to download the mobile app (sure, why not?)…

[imagine sound effect of record needle scratching and music coming to abrupt end…]

Some mobile app developers are smart enough to realise that, when you navigate to a page on your PC that advertises their mobile app, you don’t actually want to go to the app store from the PC browser… so, what’s the perfect way to send you there? Exactly! Provide a QR code, which can be scanned with a mobile device’s camera to jump instantly to the appropriate Apple App Store/Google Play/Windows Marketplace location.

Yammer doesn’t do this.

Sure, it’s easy enough to search the App Store and download the app but, meh, why make it harder? Make the user experience simple. Maximise the number of conversions (or whatever the marketing speak is for “make people download your app”).

Here endeth the lesson.

Big boys toys: Griffin Helo TC smartphone-controlled RC helicopter

Last weekend, I tweeted about my “new toy” – Griffin’s Helo TC remote control helicopter, which is controlled from an iOS or Android mobile device:

I got quite a few replies asking me to write about how I got on with it so, here goes.

I already had a BlackGhost RC chopper that I was given by Microsoft at the UK Windows Server 2008 launch.  I flew that when I got back to the office (once, before one of my colleagues got annoyed) and then at home a bit, but after a few crashes it mostly stayed in the loft until my son spotted it and pestered to have a go. To be honest the BlackGhost was a bit big for indoor use, a bit rubbish outdoors and is only made of polystyrene and plastic.  My son was really keen to get something a bit better – only he fancies a decent quadcopter (no chance – it’s me who’s paying for this, not him!) so, when I saw the Griffin Helo TC in the supermarket for £30, I thought we should give it a go.

Firstly, I should point out that it’s an indoor toy.  That’s not clear from the packaging but we took it outdoors and struggled a bit. Even the lightest of breezes would carry the Helo TC out of range and send it crashing to the floor.  Thankfully it’s more resilient than it looks!

“Back at base” (after the boys were tucked up in bed), I had another go and was much more successful inside the house – but you really need a lot of space to get used to flying (more than I have).

Based on my complete lack of prior research I had expected the Helo TC to be Bluetooth controlled but it actually comes with an IR remote that clips on to the iPhone/iPad/Android phone and plugs into the headphone jack.  Engage Airplane Mode (seems appropriate!) and turn up the volume, then control the Helo TC with a free app that sends control signals via audio to the IR unit.  Power comes from a USB charge (approx 35 mins), engineering quality is pretty good for such an inexpensive device and it comes with spare rotor blades (main and tail). If you want a full review though, there’s more detailed online (including Engadget and LegitReviews).

My verdict: definitely an impulse buy; a bit of fun for some father-and-son time – but really needs a lot of space to learn to fly!

Learning Scratch, from an eight-year-old

Much has been written in recent years about the state of ICT education in Britain’s schools, so imagine my pleasure when my wife told me that my son was learning Scratch at school. I’d hoped that he would do something more than Microsoft Office and Google soon but had a suspicion we might have to wait for secondary education (he’s currently in year 3).

I asked him about it and he seemed really enthusiastic, so I asked if he’d like to do some more at home. Then, this weekend, I plugged the Raspberry Pi into the TV, loaded up Scratch, and asked him to show me how it works.

Wow! After two lessons at school, he’s off and away. Within a few minutes we (actually, no, I was a bystander – it was my son doing the “driving”) were drawing shapes on the stage with a helicopter sprite. He progressed from squares, to circles, changing the colour as each pixel was drawn on the screen, then worked out how to draw triangles and within a short while was doing what I can only describe as the modern equivalent of a Spirograph (remember them?), running two scripts in parallel with a single keypress.

Scratch

I was about 12 before I got my first computer (a Sinclair ZX Spectrum+) and took my first tentative steps in BASIC. Meanwhile, my kids are growing up in a world of smartphones, tablets and netbooks. It’s fantastic and I only wish there was some special STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programme at his school as he clearly enjoys it (sadly, he finds writing more difficult and I had to “bribe” him to complete his spelling homework by saying he could have some more time in Scratch if the spelling was completed without any fuss…). Private education is out of our reach but I’m pleased he’s getting exposure to Scratch at such a young age.

I’ll have him on JavaScript and C# next!

Working from home vs living at work

Before one of my recent business trips to Manchester, my eight-year-old son expressed concerns about my sleeping arrangements. It seems that, until my wife explained that I would be staying in a hotel overnight, he thought that I might have a comfy chair to sleep in, in the office!

Sometimes though, it does feel as though that might be the approach I need to take…

Ten or so years ago, working from home was an occasional event – and I could get done in 5 hours at home what took 8 in the office (no distractions), with the added advantage of no travel. Since 2005, I’ve officially been a “home-based worker” with varying degrees of working on customer sites and, in recent years, typically working from home most days with only a couple of days in the office each week.

This has some significant advantages (both to me and to my employer) – I’ve seen my kids grow up, never missed a school nativity play, or sports day etc. but it also re-calibrates the expectation of working at home. The new normal is to be in my home office for a full day – and then to probably go back again in the evening.  I don’t have a desk at the company office (I barely even use a hot desk), and modern communications mean that I’m contactable almost 24×7, if I choose to be (at least 12×5).

These last few weeks have reached a new level and this week was particularly bad.

On one day this week I had no breaks between dropping the kids at school and wall to wall conference calls.  I had to ask my wife to bring me toast and Marmite when it reached 11:00 and I hadn’t managed to get any breakfast, then to do the same for me with a sandwich at lunchtime (munched on mute whilst taking part in a call). At 15:30 I finally got off the phone (mobile phone battery severely depleted, my ear seriously warm) to deal with the day’s email – and it was the evening before I got around to doing something productive.

I’m slightly embarrassed to say that, on one day, I managed to go straight from bed (after working into the small hours the night before) to work, and back to bed again in the evening without having got dressed. I do feel sometimes as though I live at work, rather than work at home.

So, the next time someone is working at home, and you joke about skiving off, remember that the 9-5 has its advantages too…

This weekend, I’ll be continuing my drive to separate home and work IT (just as I do for telephony) in a quest to be able to switch off the laptop at evenings and weekends…

I can but dream…

Want to update your iPhone voicemail settings? Looks like a jailbreak is needed

Last night, I wrote a post about shopping for second-hand smartphones. Of course, that’s only one half of the deal – the other essential element is a subscription to a mobile network. I’ve been SIM-only for a while now (add up the cost of a contract, take off the cost of the “subsidised” handset, and see how expensive it really is) and, for the last year or so, I’ve been using Giffgaff.

Giffgaff is a no-frills MVNO, owned by and operating on O2’s network. Sometimes though, I have to remind myself that you get what you pay for – for example, tethering still doesn’t work properly on an iPhone and there is no visual voicemail service. Whilst tethering is potentially an issue, visual voicemail is not a problem – my Lumia and my iPhone both tell me when I have new messages and I dial 443 (GIF) to get to my voice mailbox. Annoyingly though, iOS includes an icon in the phone app labelled Voicemail – and that’s still set to O2’s 901 number instead of Giffgaff’s 443.

It used to be possible to change this by dialling 500586*443# but Apple killed this feature in iOS4. It seems that now, the only way is to use a third party voicemail app (like Hullomail), or to jailbreak the phone and start messing around with plist files…

…guess what I’m looking into doing now…

Shopping around for a smartphone? Have you considered buying second hand?

It used to be said that nobody got fired for buying IBM. These days it seems to be that, for non-geek consumers at least, the common denominator is iOS.

Now, before the Android and Windows Phone fans (Blackberry fans, anybody?) start flaming, let me explain…

My wife is not what you would call one of technology’s early adopters. To call her a laggard would be unkind but she only took her first tentative steps into social media last year and getting a smartphone was a big deal…

I consider iPhones to be overpriced but as I’ve never owned an Android phone I couldn’t really advise on alternatives. We did spend some time looking around in Carphone Warehouse but I had to leave Mrs W to it for fear of what I might say when the salesperson’s ill-informed “advice” got too much.

Android? Windows?

We liked the look of the HTC One X, but Mrs W was put off by some reviews on the ‘net (moral, never read reviews from non-tech writers…); some of the Samsungs looked OK too but whilst the form factor may have worked for my “man hands”, those of a daintier persuasion may find a large screen just a little too… large.

Indeed, far from helping my wife to choose a mid-priced Android handset, the experience actually swayed her towards the iPhone. I might have said take a look at Windows Phone 8 but my experience with Windows Phone 7.x has left me with little more than apathy for that platform (give me time, maybe I’ll be back in a couple of years if and when it finally takes off).

iPhone?

So, why not get an iPhone? After all, most of her friends have one. I’ve had one since the UK launch, either for personal use or for work. And “my” iPad seems to have become the family iPad now. I guess that means we’re pretty much an iOS household already.

But I still baulked at the price.

Buying second hand

Then, one of our friends mentioned smartfonestore.com. After waiting a few weeks for stock to come in, I managed to pick up a 16GB SIM-unlocked iPhone 4S for around £265, in mint (grade A) condition. Two days later and I had an SMS from Mrs W. saying how she loved her iPhone (yes, “love” was the emotion expressed by this non-geek consumer).

Ever since then, I’ve been admiring the 4S from afar, trying to convince myself that my Lumia 800 was better and that I could make do with the company-supplied 3GS. I tried to get myself another Grade A iPhone 4S but then, in a moment of weakness, I jumped for a Grade B condition unit instead. To be honest, when it arrived last Saturday, I couldn’t tell the difference!

SmartfoneStore send out the phones in their own packaging and both the iPhones I’ve purchased both came with a USB-dock cable and a SIM extraction tool. Mine also came with a screen protector and a bumper (although it’s not the Apple version, and not a great fit). I’ve yet to use the other side of the business (fonebank.com) but it may well be the destination for recycling my Lumia 800).

So now, we really are an iOS family. A 3GS, two 4Ss and an iPad.

(OK, so technically the 3GS is not mine – and I am considering replacing that with a cheap HTC Desire so that I can have a play with Android – but there are plenty of iDevices to go around…)

I’ve been impressed by SmartfoneStore (and remember, they were recommended to us by a friend too) so, if you’re in the market for a second-hand smartphone, they might be worth a look. Unfortunately there is no waiting list for a particular model to come into stock but you can register for notifications and soon enough, you should find something that suits for a lot less than the cost of a new handset.

Eurosport Player lets me watch the Giro, without a Sky subscription

Last year, I developed a new sporting interest. In common with many others in the UK, I found myself glued to the TV highlights for the Tour de France, followed by the various cycling events at the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Vuelta a España, and even taking a day out to watch the Tour of Britain. I haven’t got a road bike yet (hoping to get one soon – I’ve entered a trialthlon later in the year and am hoping to ride London to Paris next year) but I was looking forward to watching the Giro d’Italia. At least, I was until I found out it’s not available on free-to-air TV:

MT @: Extensive [#Giro] race guide. Stage info and TV times here: http://t.co/FJTZfCHs5J ^MW Gutted it’s not on Freeview @

@markwilsonit

Mark Wilson

Tonight, determined not to miss Bradley Wiggins in action in the first of the Grand Tours, I was searching the Internet for Giro highlights and even considered taking out a Sky subscription after reading that I can get a Sky Go monthly ticket and watch via my Xbox.  An online chat with a Sky representative confirmed that I would need to pay £35 for a single month’s TV and even thinking of that as £1 a day didn’t help.

I considered hitting the torrent sites until I learned (thanks to Ian Murphy/@journoian) that the highlights are on Eurosport as well as Sky SportsA little research suggested that, for £4.99 “Crowd Pass” I could access the Eurosport Player for a month (Android, iOS and Kindle apps, PC and Mac, as well as Sony and LG smart TVs – unfortunately not Samsung…). There’s also a £2.99 “Sports Fan” option but that involves a 12 month commitment.

So, despite being delayed by two sullen blokes hitting coloured balls around a big green table, here I am, watching Cav, Wiggo and co. racing on the Italian riviera, just as I suspect I will be for the next three weeks!