Use Excel 2007 to grab live web data


“Can I use Excel 2007 to grab live web data?”. If that’s a question you’ve ever asked, or been asked, we have an answer..and that answer is yes :-)

I saw this pretty cool video over at Community Clips showing how to do just that, and it’s surprisingly easy! I was expecting it to at least involve Pivot Tables but nope, there’s none of that-just a few logical clicks and away you go. One great feature is that each time you open the Excel sheet, the information will update!

This is one of those things where I can’t actually think of anything I could use this for right now, but I know that one day, for some reason, this is going to come in so handy it’ll be ridiculous!!!

Microsoft Touchless


Touchless is another Microsoft Office Labs project and it is seriously cool…it enables developers to create multi-touch based apps with just a webcam!

It lets you play Pong, control images on-screen and draw within applications using motions-all via a standard webcam :-)

This video features the creator of Touchless, Mike Wassermann showing off the great capabilities of his Touchless SDK, which can be downloaded from Codeplex here

Good skills Mike, good skills!

Microsoft StickySorter


StickySorter is a new development by Microsoft’s Office Lab team, and looks jsut as great and useful as PPTplex.

Sticky Sorter lets you create and arrange virtual sticky notes, as often used for affinity diagramming. There are a number of programs out there that let you do this, but as always, Microsoft have brought something new to the table :-)

The full post with more background info etc is available over at the Office Labs site here, but for a break down of it’s unique features:

·         Import and Exportinformation in csv format, a standard format that is compatible with many other applications such as Excel and Access.

·         Create and Label Groups of notes and save that information along with the notes themselves.
Other virtual note applications allow you move notes close to one another as the only means of grouping. StickySorter goes beyond this: it stores group information as a property of the individual notes so it can be saved and used for other tasks.  It also allows you move and manipulate groups with ease.

·         Display Structured Informationon a note. StickySorter allows you to create notes that have multiple fields—a title, description, and author, for example—rather than a single block of text.  Like groups, this field information is saved with the notes so it can be used for other tasks.

·         Create Custom Views of your information.  In addition to allowing you to define multiple fields on a note, StickySorter allows you to choose which fields you want to display. This is handy when you import information that has multiple fields but you only need to see a couple of them for sorting and organizing.

·         Work with Large Collections of notes.   StickySorter has a number of features that make it easier to work with large numbers of notes, including panning and zooming on an infinite canvas; tiling, cascading, and piling notes; setting note colors; searching for text within notes, and much more.

You can download StickySorter here and see more info, including help videos here.

This is yet anotehr example of Microsoft, especially the Office Labs team, bringing something fresh and unique to the game that’s actually going to help people too!

Adobe Flash on Mobile Devices


Adobe Flash Player 10 is coming to Windows Mobile devices! Over at the Adobe MAX tech conference, they will today demonstrate FULL Flash 10 running on a Windows Mobile device…

This would be pretty great, as I find Flash to be one of the big differences between mobile & desktop browsing. It’s not going to start shipping on devices until late next year (2009) so it looks like it will be a Windows Mobile 7 feature.

There’s going to be an Android version, but quite possible nothing for the iPhone-due to Apple’s objections. Engadget reveal that there was indeed a demo of Flash running on the G1 at the Adobe event yesterday, so for all you Android users it will hopefully be available in the Marketplace within the next 15 months…

You can see more info over at Mobile Crunch.

*UPDATE* According to Engadget, BSQUARE have announced that they’re porting Adobe FLash to the Android G1. It’s unclear how this relates to the demo mentioned above but BSQUARe bought “NEC’s Adobe(R) Flash(R) Technology Consulting and Distribution business 12 months ago, and has done Android work for other customers” so they should know what they’re up to!

Microsoft Online Services


Microsoft Online Services are getting ever closer to being a reality in the corporate world, with the official US launch on Monday (17-11-08). The UK launch will follow in the Spring so around March/April 2009.

The first acronym was SAAS or “Software-As-A-Service” with perhaps the biggest example being Salesforce.com, the CRM system. This is an online only model where the customer doesn’t have anything “on-premise” (installed at the customer site) and instead it is all in the “Cloud” (the internet). Microsoft realised that that doesn’t always suit all customers..they often like to have at least some portion of the software installed on-premise too, be it for Disaster Recovery, integration with other existing systems, high levels of customization and many other reasons so they invented Software+Services. The “Plus” is the key..customers can have the software on premise, in the cloud or a mix of both giving them a greater level of flexibility.

Microsoft Online Services AKA BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) provides corporate users with Microsoft hosted versions of the software, accessed via the internet. The products included in the BPOS Suite are:

  • Exchange Online
  • Sharepoint Online
  • Office Communications Server (OCS)*
  • Live Meeting

*It’s to be noted that OCS isn’t available as yet and will be making an appearance a little while into 2009.

Mary Jo Foley has a new post with info on future S+S offerings from Microsoft. Their stated aim is to have a web-based service to match all their exisitng on-premise offerings and it looks like ForeFront Security and System Center Management tools are the next in the line up. This would likely encompass anti-virus, web/content filtering, firewalls, online backup, disaster recovery and more-quite a good string to their bow.

Some people might wonder what the point of this is and while there are many reasons that customers will looks at BPOS, here are what I see as the 2 key drivers.

The Small to Medium Business (SMB’s)

I first took a real look at BPOS over at the WPC in Houston and right away I could see the potential for SMB’s. These are customers typically around the 50-100 user mark (although they could be smaller/bigger) who love the features of (usually) Sharepoint server and can see that collaboration, enhanced search, wiki’s, portals and more would benefit their business by increasing efficiency. However, they often can’t afford the initial monetary outlay for Sharepoint and/or don’t have the people to deploy, configure and maintain a Sharepoint installation.

Typically this brings an end to the matter until the customer increases in size to make the internal administration do-able or they find a chunk of cash down the back of the sofa ;-) BPOS however, will be a perfect solution as it can resolve both the afore mentioned issues.

Because BPOS is hosted at Microsoft’s DataCenters in The Cloud, the customer doesn’t need to worry about learning the skills to deploy and configure the software at installation, ensuring they have the people and time to perform ongoing maintenance, deploying updates & patches-Microsoft will take care of all that.

Because BPOS is charged on a monthly basis, this allows customers to spread the costs over the course of the 12 months, rather than paying it all in one hit up-front.

The Busy Corporate

In some ways this is similar to the first example but it applies to bigger companies. Most corporates around the 300+ user mark have a very long to-do list..upgrade network switching, implement SAN (Storage Area Network), desktop refresh, move to a virtual infrastructure and so on. Added into/onto a list like this, deploying something such as Sharepoint or Office Communications Server can seem a daunting, perhaps impossible task to system admins. They’ll need to purchase and deploy new servers, perhaps upgrade parts of the network to cope with the increased demand, add extra security and plenty more which can mean that the timescales for deployments such as this are quite lengthy and keep growing.

BPOS can cut through all that. The busy admins don’t need to do anything other than grant users access to the services. As they don’t need to deploy, upgrade or install anything-the implementation timescales can be drastically reduced, which is good for all involved.

BPOS will allow companies to realise the many benefits that these Microsoft products can offer them much quicker than is currently possible.

Although the BPOS suite includes all the mentioned products, they are also available individually which gives customers the flexibility to have, for example, an on-premise Exchange server with a Cloud based Sharepoint server. Alternatively you can have the same product both on-premise and online so a big corporate HQ could have Exchange onsite, while their satellite offices could use the MS hosted version.

As for the licensing side of things, I do have some info. Customers that have current Software Assurance (SA) will be able to purchase the services at a reduced cost to reflect their already increased investment in MS technology, and they will need to keep their SA current alongside their BPOS licensing. This means should they choose to move away from BPOS at a later date, they will still be fully licensed for the most current perpetual versions of the software too. Customers that don’t have SA will have to purchase a User Subscription Licence (USL) to gain access to the BPOS suite. Should they choose to revert back to soley on-premise software, they won’t retain any entitlement to the software (as it is a non-perpetual subscription).

Many people view S+S as a bit of a black art or perhaps a fad but I really think this is a watershed moment for anyone that uses software. The companies that embrace Software+Services from the start, be they MS partners or end users, will really have an advantage over their competitors in the long run. As a Microsoft Gold Partner I’m very excited about the new things that BPOS will bring along :-)

*Update* I heard today direct from Microsoft that Dynamics CRM will be available as an online version in July 2010, so a little while yet.

If you have any questions or comments about moving to a Microsoft hosted solution, please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll help you out as best I can!

Cheers

Rich

Windows Mobile Internet Explorer 6


Windows Mobile Internet Explorer 6 has been announced is is definitely going to be with us within the next 6 months. There are all manner of improvements to give it a “rich, media experience” to make it more akin to a desktop browsing experience.

I’m quite a big user of the web when I’m out and about so I applaud any and all improvements MS make to the new Mobile browser, While I don’t find there to be anything drastically wrong with the current incarnation-there are certain things that can wind me, and I’m sure countless others, up! Still it must be pretty tricky to fit the internet into something so small hehe! ;-)

This was all announced at Tech-Ed on Monday 11-11-08 but it isn’t avalable for mobile devices yet…however you can grab the desktop emulators here. This will add the images to Visual Studio 2005 and 2008 so you can test IE Mobile 6.

The Windows Mobile Team Blog lists some of the new features to be found in IE Mobile 6 which include:

  • Improved fidelity (support for full fidelity desktop rendering)
  • Layout fixes to accommodate a mobile screen (text wrap)
  • Enhanced Script and AJAX support  (Jscript v5.7 from Internet Explorer 8)
  • Improved multimedia experience (Adobe Flash Lite 3.1 for Adobe Flash content)
  • Deeper integration with search
  • Enhanced cursor navigation model
  • Touch and gesture support – pan support
  • Multiple zoom levels
  • Easy switching between mobile / desktop versions of sites by specifying UA strings.
  • One unfortunate thing is that IE 6 won’t be available as an upgrade for existing WinMo 6.1 devices, it will only appear on devices from the end of 08/early 09.

    Microsoft System Center Essentials


    Microsoft System Center Essentials (SCE) 2007 SP1 is a management product suite designed for the medium sized business.

    System Center Essentials 2007 provides a unified management solution that enables IT professionals in midsize organizations to proactively manage their IT environment with increased efficiency.

    • Unified Experience
      Essentials 2007 provides a unified solution to help optimize the experience of performing a broad set of tasks across your entire IT environment. You also get a single console from which you can view and manage your servers, clients, hardware, software, and IT services.

    • Proactive Management
      Essentials 2007 accelerates troubleshooting and problem resolution. It’s a self-managing solution that notifies you as soon as a problem occurs, then helps you proactively diagnose and fix it, accelerating problem resolution. Essentials 2007 also automates system updates and data collection for your IT environment, so it’s more secure and up-to-date.

    • Increased Efficiency
      Essentials 2007 simplifies complex management tasks like packaging and deploying software, adding Web site monitoring, and creating and configuring group policy. Essentials 2007 wizards also help you quickly and easily configure security settings, deploy updates, and discover assets.

    System Center Essential 2007 is limited to managing 30 servers and 500 clients, these can be physical and/or virtual. Microsoft also say that while there are no actual limitations on how many SNMP capable network devices you can manage, performance paramaters may limit you to approx. 75 devices.

    To manage additional devices you can purchase further Management Licence (ML) packs (up to the 30 servers/500 clients limit) but “all purchases of additional ML license packs must be made through the same channel on which the Essentials Server was purchased; additional ML License Packs purchased through Volume License will not work on Retail and OEM Essentials Server installations”.

    If you grow beyond the limit of 30 servers and 500 clients, you can migrate to the full versions of System Center Operations Manager and System Center Config Manager. More info can be found here.

    Windows 7 at WinHec Conference


    This week saw another Microsoft conference, this time WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference) and, as at the PDC, Windows 7 has featured heavily. So too has Windows Server 2008 R2 and it appears Windows 7 and Win Svr 2008 R2 are going to be released on the same day, according to Mary Jo Foley.

    New features will include:

  • Direct Access support, eliminating the need for VPN connections for secure communications
  • Branch-office caching (hosted server caching)
  • Version 2.0 PowerShell and Hyper-V releases
  • Support for .Net and PowerShell in the Server Core role
  • Live migration support within Hyper-V
  • Terminal Services gets repositioned and renamed as Remote Desktop Services
  • The inclusion of Hyper-V R2 with it’s Live Migration feature is a huge thing, really putting Microsoft’s Virtualization offering on a par with it’s biggest rival, VMWare.

    Windows Server 2008 R2 is going to bring a whole host of great features into the business world, to make businesses more efficient, cost effective and streamlined. Once that is coupled with Windows 7, I think Microsoft will again have really changed the game…so many things for so many people are going to be so much better!

    Windows 7 Application Compatibility


    Windows 7 Application Compatibility is a hot topic and will only get hotter as the next MS Operating System gets ever closer. Will there be the same issues as with Pre-SP1 Vista?

    Microsoft have stated that the vast majority of apps that currently work on Vista will work with Windows 7 too, however it won’t (and couldn’t be expected to be) 100%. It an effort to head off any potential problems at the pass Microsoft have released the “Windows Application Quality Cookbook” which contains a list of the aspects most likely to cause problems for developers.

    These are:

  • Internet Explorer 8—User Agent String
  • Internet Explorer 8—Data Execution Protection/NX
  • Removal of Windows Mail
  • Microsoft Message Queuing (MSMQ)—Removal of Windows 2000 Client Support Service
  • Compatibility — Operating System Versioning
  • Server Core — WoW64 Is Now an Optional Feature
  • User Interface—Enhanced Taskbar
  • Microsoft Message Queuing (MSMQ)—Improved Queue Handling
  • Windows Server — Terminal Services
  • User Interface — High DPI Awareness
  • Removal of WPDUSB.SYS Driver for Windows Portable Devices
  • Server — Hyper-V
  • Server — 64-Bit Only
  • File Library Replaces Document Folder
  • New Binaries—Refactoring
  • Compatibility—Application Manifest
  • Microsoft Message Queuing (MSMQ)—SHA-2 Is the Default Encryption Algorithm
  • User Interface—User Access Control Dialog Updates
  • I got this from Mary Jo Foley over at All About Microsoft.

    PDC 2008 Wrap Up


    I think we can all agree that the PDC 2008 was pretty special. Azure, Windows 7, Office Web, Azure Services, Live Mesh..the list goes on. The sheer amount of information given out at these conferences often means that we miss bits that are interesting and/or pertinent to our jobs & lives (this was certainly the case when I was at the WPC in Houston!).

    Fear not, as Mike Swanson over at MSDN Blogs has put together a wonderful collection of all the Keynotes and sessions, and where possible he’s included the Powerpoints and sample code!

    Some of the sessions I’m glad to see are below. The main links go to the video on Channel9, the Powerpoint link will download the .pptx presentation.

    A lap around the Azure Services Platform (Powerpoint)

    Microsoft Office Communications Server & Exchange: Platform Futures (Powerpoint)

    Office Communications Server R2: Enabling Unified Communications (Powerpoint)

    Microsoft Silverlight 2 for Mobile: Developing for Mobile Devices (Powerpoint)

    The whole, wonderful list can be found here. There are countless sessions on SQL, Azure, .NET, Windows 7 and more!

    I really want to give a big thank you to Mike for doing this..there are sooo many sessions on there I didn’t know about that are really interesting and useful!