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Arranging to sit an MCAS exam.

I received a comment from Adam Vero saying that he couldn't find where he could book an exam on the Certiport website. I am lucky that my employer is registered as a test centre for the MCAS (Microsoft Certified Application Specialist) exams so, for me, it was easy to arrange.

For anyone not in my position who wants to book an MCAS exam you can organise this via the Certiport website here: Certiport Locator. The Microsoft Learning site also points directly back to this page.

UPDATE: it seems that the Locator page only does exactly that - locates a test centre. You can't book the exam directly so you will most likely have to contact the test centre directly.

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Passed MCAS: Using Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 (77-604)

I've just gotten home after passing the Microsoft Certified Application Specialist (MCAS) . Having been an Outlook specialist during my time with Microsoft UK Support (outsourced) I would be deeply disappointed if I had failed this - things, however, nearly conspired to make that happen.

About 15 minutes in to the exam I came across a question that referenced a Calendar folder within a Personal Folder file, only problem was that the Personal Folders were completely empty. I skipped the question to investigate later and carried only to find a total of three questions that it was impossible to answer due to problems wit the exam.

I finished the rest of the questions and went to get the exam proctor with about 20 minutes remaining of the allotted 50. I was given the option of restarting or finishing the exam and hope that I would still pass - I chose the later.

Despite not being able to answer those three questions I still scored 851 out of a possible 1000 with the pass mark being 700, not a bad result considering.

To top it all off the proctor then asked me to discuss the issue with a member of Certiport staff via their online chat - the only advice they could offer was to update Flash on the test PC and reboot if it happened again - not very helpful but I'll take my pass and move on to the next one.

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Outlook 2007 options inconsistency.

While trawling through the Outlook menus and options I noticed an inconsistency with the Editor Options depending on how you reach them. Unlike earlier versions of Office, Outlook 2007 always uses Word as the email editor so the editor options are therefore a subset of the Word 2007 options and you can reach them in the following ways:

  • Tools | Options | Mail Format tab | Editor Options
  • open an item that uses the Ribbon and select Editor Options from the Office Button menu

Going via the Tools menu you get this:


but going via the Office Button you get:


I initially wondered if the additional settings were due to the instance of the editor being item specific but the extra sections contain only generic settings.

Does anyone know why these are different?

Passed MCAS: Using Microsoft Office Excel 2007 (77-602).

That's right, after two weeks of waiting because of work and then the PC with the Certiport software breaking down I have finally taken the Microsoft Certified Application Specialist exam for Excel 2007 and passed.

If you're not familiar with the MCAS exams (and the MOS ones before them) they are completely scenario based (no multiple choice with these ones) so you have to complete a set number of given tasks within a 50 minute time frame.

I'll admit I went completely blank on one question about formulae but still scored a reasonably healthy 854 which is way beyond the required score of 680. Only another 5 exams to go (Vista, Word, Outlook, Access, PowerPoint) to go to complete the set.

From the front line: don't overlook the obvious.
A user was getting an error in Outlook 2003 whenever he tried to drag any email:
  "An ole registration error has occurred. The program is not correctly installed."
While being a very common error with earlier versions of Outlook when Outlook Express is in use on the same PC this scenario does not relate to any conflict or actual installation problem with Outlook itself. The clue really is in the error message: ole registration.
You guessed it, a simple regsvr32 ole32.dll fixed the problem so never overlook the obvious.
The Office as SaaS debate rolls on.
Looks like I've started something here.
Rather than my vision of a functional web UI for Office, the discussion elsewhere is regarding application virtualisation or streaming as the means to run the SaaS infrastructure.
Since Microsoft acquired Softricity the emphasis has been on the development and promotion of the Softgrid platform, now called Microsoft Application Virtualization.
Keith Mallen commented along similar lines with regards to Endeavors Technologies offering a similar setup - you can even sign up to their AppExpress Lite to get a demo of this in operation.
Also, curiously, my initial post on the subject has been used to start a thread over at the Interactive Investor website discussions groups about Tadpole Technology PLC (part of the same group as Endeavors).
Now the key difference between application virtualisation/streaming and a "web Office" would be the usage scenario. With streaming you download parts of the application from the server as you use them - all well and good in an environment where your network is geared up for this to happen but I doubt you will get far from home or an internet cafe should it even be possible to access your virtualisation server over the web.
Yes, you can use application virtualisation in conjunction with terminal servers and could access your terminal server across the internet but a self contained web based productivity suite would negate the need for the terminal server to even be there. I envisaged a solution for the extranet/internet rather than application virtualisation for the internet - there is the key difference and the usage scenarios would demand very different products.
Bear in mind that I am just talking about Microsoft Office here and not a whole application virtualisation strategy as a whole. Based on the technology Microsoft already has at it's disposal I would not expect it to be a big leap to create a web UI for Office and integrate it with the messaging and collaboration tools we already have.
Randall Kennedy at InfoWorld has linked to the Microsoft Press Release outlining the "vision and strategy to accelerate virtualization adoption" which includes the paragraph:
"Microsoft announced today that the 2003 and 2007 versions of the Microsoft Office system are supported when running in both Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 and SoftGrid Application Virtualization 4.2. This support enables customers to run multiple versions of Office on the same device side by side, easing and accelerating the deployment of Office, reducing total cost of ownership, and enhancing mobility and business continuity for millions of information workers"
Great within the workplace but I am talking about empowering your staff wherever they may be. I know what I'd prefer.
What are your thoughts? Is my vision realistic?
More thoughts on office suites as Saas.
When looking at online document creation I think it is plain to see that Google will tie up the consumer market - Google Docs is free and quickly becoming well established. As with Google Search and Reader it will become the de facto standard and community offerings/mashups will draw from it, further reinforcing its position.
Even if Microsoft made a consumer offering (read Live Service) it would most likely be badly marketed and suffer from poor branding - it would get lost.
Instead, any Microsoft offering in this area would be in the form of a full Office Server Suite. You could do away with a lot of the need for VPN, terminal servers etc. Simply go to one website and do it all: Outlook Web Access, Groove or some other collaboration tool, office applications to create/edit documents etc. in an online repository such as a SharePoint library.
This would be the ultimate in cloud computing except that everything is held on your own servers rather than being trusted to a third party. Businesses that currently block Google Docs due to security concerns could then easily enable their staff whilst mobile.
Being able to, not just access but, actually work on your documents from anywhere irrespective of the PC you are on and the software installed on it would be fantastic.
Ben left a comment to my previous post saying that MS may not have yet gone this route to the income they would lose from the desktop suite. If their SaaS offering is a server based product rather than a free-to-web service then they will get the initial product cost and CALs (as well as a possible Internet/Extranet licence fee).
OK MS, do you want to pay me now or later ;)
Why haven't Microsoft started producing Office as SaaS?

We have Google Docs but that is limited. We have the Office Live stuff for web presence.


Why have we yet to see, or even hear, anything about Microsoft making its Office suite available as SaaS (Software as a Service)?


It is a natural extension for the Office platform. Office currently interacts with SharePoint and Office Servers but you still need the client application tied to the desktop. Imagine the experience of being able to log in to your workspace from anywhere, check out a document and begin working on it on any machine even if you don't have the Office suite installed.


Yes, Google docs is on the right track but an online client linked directly in to a SharePoint workspace, Excel services and Groove would seriously rock!


It is obviously Microsoft's intention to head in this direction as the Office 2007 servers indicate but I'm surprised at the lack of progress.


The Exchange team has shown that you can have an almost fully functional online recreation of a desktop application with OWA which has just been getting better and better but what about the rest of Office?


Perhaps this is something under wraps for Office 14 but it is too early to say anything. All I can say is, that if Microsoft don't take this area seriously they will beaten to punch by someone like Google who will only develop Google Docs even further.

One mans meat...
The old saying goes that one mans meat is another mans poison and this certainly seems to be true in the world of software development and standards.
We have recently had Becta advising UK schools and colleges to avoid Office 2007 due in part to the interoperability issues surrounding Microsoft's creation and implementation of OOXML (Office Open XML) as opposed to the existing standard ODF used by other applications such as OpenOffice.
Hot on the heels of this we have the Burton Group concluding in an independent study that OOXML is the way to go. There conclusions include that OOXML is more capable that ODF in it's current form.
Now, however, we have the ECIS (European Committee for Interoperable Systems) investigating, among other things, those afore mentioned interoperability issues despite Microsoft working with third parties to establish reliable translators such as the open source translator project on SourceForge that I mentioned in my previous post.
Now those behind ODF feel that Microsoft is trying to muscle in on the ODF standard and, as the Burton Report puts it, "go to extremes to protect its phenomenally profitable Office business" but the report goes on to say that "Microsoft appears to be sincere in its efforts to make OOXML a meaningful and global industry standard" rather than a tool to simply further their own ends.
Of course Microsoft is going to invest in ways to encourage us to upgrade from one version of an application to another but why, I hear you ask, didn't they just go with what was already there? Simple, Microsoft have been treading the XML path long before ODF actually became an OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) standard in 2005. If this was the other way round Microsoft would be hung, drawn and quartered for suggesting that another organisation drop what they are doing and go with their standard. Add to that the fact that ODF currently can't do what Microsoft are aiming at and you have reason enough for Microsoft wanting to go their own way. As long as interoperability is addressed then there should not be much of an issue.
As far as standardisation is concerned we must remember that all Microsoft can do is submit the proposal, it is the ISO (International Standards Organisation) who make the decisions and they are certainly no Microsoft lapdog as was displayed when they rejected the request for fast track approval with, conversely, thousands of improvements being suggested.
The bug bear with all of this is that regardless of ISO standardisation or not ODF advocates are, quite rightly, concerned that OOXML is going to become the de facto standard due to it's inclusion with Office 2007. The thing we must all remember, however, is that Microsoft will not be solely responsible for the death of ODF should that occur; Apple and Novell have both already built their own Open XML implementations with Novell even providing "translators that make it possible for users to save to OOXML on non-Microsoft platforms". How can you blame Microsoft for that?
The final ISO ballot is next month but as the Burton Report says we should not expect it "to have market-altering ramifications" as standardisation will merely make it easier for Microsoft to do business with organisations and governments that demand an ISO standard - there is still no guarantee that these organisations will make the switch; if interoperability issues are resolved then there is no real need.
Opinion: Why cloud based office suites will not take over, at least not yet.
There is a lot to be said for the convenience and portability offered by things like Google Docs. No matter where you are you have a consistent platform to work on and access to your data. It is envisioned that over time we will move toward a more service based working environment as opposed to a strictly local one and, as part of this, many believe that we could do away with the desktop based office suites in favour of their online cousins. For many this will be perfectly fine but we are far from achieving this in certain areas.
I merely need to say two words to illustrate my point: sensitive data.
Currently, there is no way that certain sectors would ever dream of switching to a cloud based system due to the nature of the data that they use. I have been working in support within the financial markets for over the 3 years and the response in this area to Google Docs is to block it on the proxies. All data is strictly controlled and retained within the safe confines of the network.
We are dealing with organisations that block the use of USB ports to prevent data leaving the office on USB sticks. The tightest security must be retained at all times and trusting data to the cloud is just not going to happen.
Companies like Google will have to go a long way to convince us that data in the cloud is completely safe, completely secure and just as ring fenced as it is on your own server in the office - a very tough job and it is going to take a long time to achieve.
Opinion: Is BECTA right to warn schools away from Vista and Office 2007?
You may recall around this time last year I was a bit scathing about the interim report from Becta (British Education Communications and Technology Association) advising schools not to upgrade to Windows Vista and Office 2007 as there was not a demonstrated business case for doing so and that Office 2007 had file compatibility issues.
My argument was that education should be a high priority and if we continue to hold back on new technology then we as a nation will fall behind and be not able to compete. I still believe this and think that schools should take any opportunity to lead the way and keep our kids one step ahead.
Becta have now released their final report but it's not really that different. They still say that there is no case for Vista and that Office 2007 still unfairly favours Microsoft over competitors with it's Office Open XML format as opposed to ODF used by other applications.
To be fair, Becta do say that a main reason for not rolling out Vista is that a large proportion of computers in UK schools do not even qualify as "Vista Capable" and that the cost of upgrading would not be offset by the benefits. This, however, is indicative of the state of things in the UK now (sorry to get political for a second).
One annoying comment in the report is that schools should steer clear of mixed Windows environments. Why? If schools can afford to update some PCs then let them - give the kids the opportunity to learn.
It was refreshing to see that Vista should be considered where "where new institution-wide ICT provision is being planned" but if schools can't afford to update their existing PCs to make them Vista Capable then there's going to be even less money to perform a full hardware refresh.
Becta advise that schools and colleges should only look at Office 2007 if they can adequately deal with the issues of interoperability and the digital divide different standards create. Is it just me or should we be actively creating scenarios where these issues be addressed head on? Different standards are a part of life and the sooner kids understand that the better. If Becta are worried about interoperability then why not promote a solution instead of setting up barriers? What about the Open XML/ODF translator add-in on SourceForge?
Open source advocates may not like to admit it but, despite the best arguments that businesses are dropping Microsoft, Office is still the most popular platform out there and is unlikely to be surpassed. Unlike with, Vista businesses are seeing a case for going to Office 2007 and are not holding off as they are with the adoption of the the new OS - another good reason to be teaching our kids the skills they need once they leave school.
The harsh reality is that money is short and, unless things change, our schools will be without the resources they need to give our kids the competitive edge that they need. Because of this, time is wasted later on learning the things that could have been taught at an earlier opportunity.
2007, the year in review: January - March.
Also see: April - June, July - September, October - December.
2007 has been a very mixed year for me with some very good times tempered with some dire times and a string of bad luck for the family. I am going to be running a series of posts looking back at the last 12 months from a tech perspective and a personal one. I'll be looking at the things I consider to be the most important developments in the tech world as I have covered it.
Let's get started with the first quarter:
January saw me open the year with my "open letter to Micrsoft" which was a plea for MS to lead the way in the UK and actually try to get technology to the masses. UK tech adoption always seems stunted - we don't have the major OEMs with a presence here, there are no opportunities to get hands on with new devices etc. - so I thought that MS would be in a perfect position to start partnering with OEMs or even retailers to get the technology out there by way of road shows, demos, decent retail opportunities etc. Some great products have come our way from the MS stable (Tablet PCs, UMPCs, and now Windows Home Server) but even the best products fall flat without the marketing to support them and this was sorely lacking, and still is.
January was also dominated by CES and MacWorld with two big announcements. Firstly, Windows Home Server was officially announced and got a lot of people (myself included) very excited about what was to come. Next, however, came the big one - the story that took over the web: Steve Jobs revealed the iPhone at MacWorld and I ran some initial thoughts about the device.
We also saw a report from Forrester Research giving details that companies were finding the move to Office 2007 harder than expected and having to invest in more training for the new "Fluid Ui" than first thought. Around the same time we caught a first glimpse of an add-in being developed internally at Microsoft called "Scout" which would help users migrate to the new UI but this failed to materialise. A big shame.
The start of the year witnessed an explosion in the Vista/Lexmark saga that began at the end of 2006. The issues that I, and many others, experienced with Lexmark printers drivers on Windows Vista were indicative of the problems faced by many when OEMs did not do a good enough - or quick enough - job of getting their drivers out of the door in time for Vista to go RTM. In my case there were repeated delays in releasing a driver for my printer and when they finally did materialise they wouldn't work. Not only that but an uninstall utility from lexmark trashed my system! Lexmark printer driver issues on Vista are probably the single biggest reason people find my blog in search engines.
January ended on a low note, on the 30th we were burgled and had our keys, wallet/purse stolen which meant we had to cancel cards etc. and get the locks changed on the car so that the thieves couldn't come back and steal it. This coincided with the RTM launch of Windows Vista which meant I obviously had far more important things on my mind than blogging about the launch of the new OS from Microsoft.
After the Vista launch the tech press was full of "should you, shouldn't you" articles which all seemed to be saying the same thing: that it just wasn't worth the upgrade yet. One particular magazine which caught my eye was Micro Mart here in the UK running the cover story "Is this 2007's most pointless upgrade?" I blogged a knee jerk reaction not having read the actual article (bad form I know) but felt incensed that customers would get a wrong impression. In response to my post I was contacted by the editor of Micro Mart about writing a piece for them so it all worked out okay in the end.
February included the beginning of the Windows Home Server beta program on Connect. I was lucky enough to have been contacted when it was invite only but the program was opened up and people registered in their thousands - 40,000 by the end of Feb to be exact, with 10,000 invites being sent.
I finished my article for Micro Mart and now just had to wait for it to be published but March was HTC Shift month. The news about HTC's UMPC offering was everywhere and, having both Vista and Windows Mobile 6 on board, really captured the imagination. The Windows Mobile 6 side of things turned out to be a cut down offering called SnapVUE and there are concerns over battery life - even now the device still hasn't made it to production.
Second quarter to follow.
From the front line: unable to sync Outlook with a SharePoint calendar.

I have been looking at an issue with a user trying to connect a SharePoint calendar to Outlook but getting the error:

"The link could not be created. You cannot connect to a Windows SharePoint Services site with an Outlook 97-2002 personal folder file."

As the error suggests SharePoint is unable to use the old type of PST and requires a Unicode format PST in order to connect with Outlook.

When you choose "Connect to Outlook" from a SharePoint calendar it automatically tries to create a new PST to hold the SharePoint items but if the default PST type is set to the old 97-2002 format it will fail.

While Unicode PSTs are not disabled here at work a policy is set to make the 97-2002 format the default type and so fails to connect every time. The policy is set by the registry key:

HKCU\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Outlook\NewPSTFormat which is set to 1 (Default ANSI format)

Renaming/removing this key enables SharePoint to create a Unicode PST and everything works as expected. The only problem is that this is a company wide policy so I have escalated.

Office 2007 Service Pack 1 RTW today.
Darren Strange has confirmed that Service Pack 1 for Office 2007 will be Released to Web and available for download later today.
He gives us a list of things to expect from SP1:
  • Stability. Using data from the Dr. Watson bug-reporting system, we've fixed the top software issues for each application in the 2007 Office system. The 2007 Office system SP1 also improves the stability of server components in the 2007 Office system and delivers compatibility with Windows Server® 2008, so you can confidently plan for future upgrades.
  • Performance. The 2007 Office system SP1 improves performance in applications and servers. Performance improvements can be found in Microsoft Office Excel® 2007, Microsoft Office Outlook® 2007, Microsoft Office PowerPoint® 2007, and Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server 2007.
  • Security. By incorporating incremental advances in security and results from application testing, the 2007 Office system SP1 offers home and office users better protection against malicious software and potential threats to privacy
For a full list of features check out the Service Pack 1 whitepaper.
Steven Bink gives us the full list of links so you don't have to track them down here: Microsoft Office Family 2007 Service Pack 1.
Cleaning out the Inbox.
I have been reading Marc Orchant's book on and off for a while - flicking through, picking bits out etc. It's a great read in a real easy to digest style and I urge anyone to pick it up if they want to know anything about Outlook 2007.
Marc shows where his allegiances lie with plenty of references to Tablet PCs and UMPCs ;) but he also asks one interesting question about managing your email in general:
"Do you open and read a number of newly arrived pieces on mail, put them back in their envelopes, and take them back outside to place them back in your mailbox?"
He is asking why so many people just use the Inbox as a dumping ground for anything that comes in and do not file it away. Why treat your email and snail mail any differently?
I must admit, I have been very guilty of this so decided that it was time to put things in order. So, over the course of a couple of days moved or deleted nearly 3000 mails that had been languishing in my Inbox.
I now have a better folder structure and a few new rules in place to manage things more effectively and am already noticing that things are easier to find as they will be in their associated folder.
Thanks Marc.
7 tips to get the most out of Word.
This is being liked to by a number of blogs but I want to file it here for a self reminder.
Web Worker Daily have 7 great tips to improve your Word experience and productivity. There's some pretty good one's in there that, I must admit, I just hadn't come across before and I use it all the time!
Check out the list here: .
Outlook Quick Parts follow up.
In response to my posts about using Quick Parts in Outlook 2007 Mats asks if it is possible to share the parts with other users.
As the parts are held in the NormalEmail.dotm template the only way I can think of sharing them would be to point the User Templates in Word to the same location for all users:
User Templates
Please, correct me if there's another way.
Using "Quick Parts" in Outlook 2007.
Part of what makes Office 2007 so great is "Building Blocks" - the ability to reuse content easily. This content is simply accessed via one of the new galleries and includes OOTB items as well as the ability to create your own.
Quick Parts in Outlook 2007 ties in with Building Blocks and is essentially a new version of Autotext.
Using Quick parts couldn't be easier - just highlight all of the text in an email that you will want to re-use (you could highlight the whole of a standard email to use it as a template) then select Quick Parts from the Insert Tab and click "Save selection to Quick Part gallery"
Save Quick Part
(click thumbnails to view full size)
You can modify the properties of the Quick Part when saving it (and also later on)
Quick Part properties
Inserting a Quick Part is just the simple matter of selecting it from the Quick Part Gallery on the Insert Tab
Quick Part Gallery
Now, I had read that editing your quick parts required you to go in to NormalEmail.dotm in Word and use the Building Blocks Organiser but this doesn't actually appear to be the case. Right-clicking the Quick Part Gallery gives an option to "Organise and Delete" which let's you manage your parts easily
Organise and delete     Building Blocks Organiser
So, there you have it, a nice easy way to re-use common emails or components without having to install any third party clipboard-style software.
From the front line: tracking down lost PSTs.

We had an interesting issue at work yesterday, a user from HR had a PST in her Outlook profile a few days ago but it went missing and she needed to access some data within it.

PSTs are managed on central servers here (yes, I know - PSTs over a network connection!) and the ability to create one manually is disabled (the old disablePST registry key trick). There was no sign of a local PST and no records existed of a PST being created centrally for this user.

So, how to find it?

Outlook profile details are held in the registry in the key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Windows Messaging Subsystem\Profiles\

and the details for each profile include each PST in use at the time.

The user hive of the Windows registry is held in raw format in the file NTUSER.DAT but, obviously, the local copy will be the current one so is of little use. Digging through back ups of the user profile on the server side gives us historic NTUSER.DAT files so we can open these in Notepad and search for "P S T" (without the quotes and making sure the spaces are in there) in order to find any PST files that were attached to the Outlook profile at that time.

The PST was identified and re-added to the profile so problem solved and one happy user.

Thank you for the thank you!
I mentioned a few days ago that I was going to be receiving a copy of Office 2007 and Vista as a thank you for taking part in the Microsoft At Work reader surveys. Well, today they turned up
Thank you
Vista and Office
So thank you for the thank you :)
Test post from Word 2007 at work.

As I'm testing Office 2007 at the office I thought it was about time I made sure that this works.

How did they manage that? Crippling Outlook 2007!
I am involved in testing Office 2007 in the corporate environment here at work (they would like to roll it out quite soon) and was surprised to find that clicking any Search Folder gave the error:
 Search Folders disabled
A quick call to one of the teams involved with packaging and it turns out that someone made a mistake when setting this up.
Now, they can't just fix the mistake - that'd be too easy. Instead it's got to go through the change control process, approved and signed off before they can be enabled even though Search Folders are allowed in Outlook 2003. Crazy!
Search Folders are one of the most useful things in Outlook and it is quite crippling once you get used to working with them.
Office 2007 "Getting Started" tabs.
Microsoft recently released three "Getting Started" add-ins for Office 2007 which add a new tab in the ribbon for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The command on this new tab "give you easy access to free content on Office Online that helps you learn Word 2007 quickly".
You can get them from here:
The Word tab looks like this:
Word Get Started Tab
Notice the first item on the tab - the Interactive Guide. This fires you off to a web page where you can view an interactive representation of the Word 2003 interface which shows you how to find a command in Word 2007 when you hover over it in 2003.
 Interactive Guide
(click for full size image)
OK, so Microsoft should be congratulated for making it easier to learn the new version of Word but surely the "Scout" add-in would have been a better bet here. The when you click the Interactive Guide button it takes you to a web page where you can open the guide and NOT the guide itself.
It was argued that the Scout add-in would be too confusing but surely it would be more intuitive than forcing a user out of the application and on to the web. It would be so much quicker to just search for a command right with the Word UI than have to navigate through the Word 2003 menus.
Using the ODF Add-in for Microsoft Word.
The ODF add-in for Word can be used with all version from XP to 2007 with varying requirements; for Word 2007 .NET Programmability Support must be enabled and the .NET Framework 2.0 is needed (included in Vista anyway).
After installing the add-in it gives you an additional item in the Office button menu:
 Usinf ODF add-in
Saving a document as a .ODT file is quick and easy. You can't right click the resulting file and choose open with Word (the add-in obviously doesn't work at the OS level or get called when triggering Word itself) but it is simple enough to just choose "Open ODF" from the menu.
Opening an ODF file prompts you that some elements of the document may be lost in translation an you can view the potential issues by clicking the Details button on the warning dialog:
 Lost elements
A full list of unsupported features can be found here:
I performed a direct comparison between the same document as a Word file and .ODT file, the results are pretty good with only a couple of minor differences but I'd imagine that once you start using some of the new features in Word 2007 there might the potential for a few more discrepancies to creep in.
DOC - ODF comparison
(Click for full size image)
Barriers to adoption.
If you really want people to upgrade to the latest and greatest version of you product when they are happily working with the old one then you MUST give them compelling reasons to do so.
One such compelling reason is removing the barriers to adoption.
As I mentioned yesterday, Microsoft have already removed one barrier for Office 2007 (the ODF converter) but it looks as though the ideal opportunity to remove another is being ignored.
Mary Jo Foley and Long Zheng report that the "Scout" command search add-in is just a proof of concept application and looks set to never see the light of day.
Big mistake!
The reasoning behind this is that the Ribbon UI is supposed to be intuitive enough as it is and, according to Chris Capossela - a corporate vice president in Microsoft's Business Division, "adding another search tool on top of it would be superfluous and potentially confusing".
If training time for the Office Ribbon (Office Fluent) is longer than expected then everything possible should be done to ease the transition, reduce the training time and remove that barrier to adoption.
How about this as a suggestion: Microsoft, you may not want to release the add-in officially but why not make it available for download on the MS Research website? I guarantee you that the feedback you receive will convince you to change your minds!
Now that this concept is in the public domain, if it is not made available by Microsoft, someone else will create essentially the same thing, package it as a training aid and sell it for a ridiculous fee. I have no doubt that the backlash against Microsoft will ensue when they could have got in there from the word go and given consumers and business a great tool to ease the pain of migration.
Another barrier to Office 2007 adoption removed.
One of the reasons people were advised not to upgrade to Office 2007 yet was that they should wait for it to inter operate with other office suites that support ODF (Open Document Format) such as OpenOffice.
This recommendation was welcomed by the OpenOffice crowd calling it "common sense" but then they also say just because it looks good would you want to use it as your office suite?
Whilst seeking the recognition that supporting the ODF format would provide I think that the hope was for more people to adopt OpenOffice because of this shortcoming, but this was all academic as Office 2007 hadn't actually been released to consumers yet and let's face it, that's when things start to happen and not when enterprise customers get it early.
the availability of "a translator between OpenDocument format (ODF) and Open XML document formats" which is great news for the end user but has probably been received with mixed emotions by OpenOffice. On the one hand it is excellent news that anyone running Office 2007 will be able to save documents to the ODF format and that this format was considered important enough that it may delay adoption, but on the other hand more schools, consumers etc. may now go straight to Office 2007 because of this.
The converter comes in the form of an add-in and currently supports Word. The release states that phase 2 - which includes a converter for Excel and PowerPoint - will begin in February.
Considering that the Office launch was Jan 30th I really wasn't expecting a converter to be released this soon so hats off to Microsoft on his one. They've answered the critics and worked with open source developers to enhance the ecosystem surrounding Office.
To get the add-in go to sourceforge here: OpenXML Translator (ODF Add-in for Word).
Office eLearning materials - free for a limited time.
Microsoft have made a collection of Office 2007 eLearning materials free for a limited time including an ebook called "First Look 2007 Microsoft Office system" (PDF).
You can get access to a number of "what's new" courses for 90 days.
Find it all here: .
RSS consumption.
You may recall that I was experiencing an issue with RSS feeds in Outlook 2007 where most of the subscriptions became 'lost' and only about 20 remained.
As such, I decided to keep only my 20 favourite feeds in Outlook and then my full OPML in Bloglines.
Well, not any more. I have decided to drop RSS collection from Outlook altogether and stick with Bloglines for everything. Here's the reasons why:
  • saves having to have Outlook open at home all the time if I want feeds up to date
  • keeps mailbox size down
  • avoids duplication between Outlook and Bloglines
  • even on the mobile, Bloglines presents feeds correctly without long strings of code where images would be
Also, should I move to Exchange 2007 at some point, reading the feeds on the mobile will be harder work as there is no OMA.
Reading all feeds directly on the web is truly portable so, in the absence of a better solution, is how I'm going to keep it.
Launch day came and went.
So, the launch day for Windows Vista and Microsoft Office System 2007 came and went yesterday but, for obvious reasons, I couldn't keep up with what was going on.
It's great that these are now out there, available for the public to buy at last - I think we'll all agree that it's been a long 5 years as far as Vista is concerned.
It's been great fun to watch both Vista and Office grow during the course of the betas and I'm glad that others can now share in their delights.
The latest edition of the Microsoft At Work newsletter popped in to my Inbox this morning (the online version hasn't updated yet) and it was good to see the following:
"The best way to appreciate the improvements is to try the software yourself. From today, you'll be able to experience Windows Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office system in an interactive demo that will be running on desktops and laptops in the PC aisles of PC World, Currys, Currys.Digital, Comet, John Lewis and Staples.

Live demonstrations will also take place on Fridays and Saturdays up to the end of April in many stores."
I'm not sure what format these demos are going to take but it is great to see this sort of thing happening.
If you are still wondering what sort of things in Vista can improve your computing experience then why not check out this article at the Windows Vista Magazine website: 19 essential get-started tips for Windows Vista (why couldn't they have made it a nice round 20?) which includes things like Photo Gallery, Search and Search Folders.
It's not the ribbon, it's Fluent.
So, Microsoft has decided to give the Ribbon UI in Office 2007 apps an official name and it shall henceforth be called "Microsoft Office Fluent".
According to a Microsoft spokesperson it is because "the new UI helps people be more fluent in their use of the applications".
Fair enough, but it makes it sound like an extra application - Microsoft Office Word, Microsoft Office Excel, Microsoft Office Fluent...
Marketing these days, however, dictates that everything needs a "cool" name to catch the imagination so who am I to argue.
More on the Office Scout.
Mary Jo Foley has reached a similar conclusion with regards to the forthcoming "Scout" add-in and says:
"the Redmondians should be showing off this interesting-looking search appendage — especially if the company wants to silence critics who say the Office 2007 Ribbon user interface".
I quite agree, this should be a high priority as we rapidly approach the consumer launch.
As I commented to Mary's post, it's almost as if the add-in is a direct response to the Forrester report and the criticism that has been directed towards such a radical change in UI.

I must admit, however, that I am not surprised about the conclusions drawn with regards to training requirements for Office 2007. The upgrade from Office XP to 2003 caused enough of a stir where I'm working at the moment and a lot of time was devoted to just the changes in Outlook. I hate to think of the impact that Office 2007 will cause on the same users.
Is Office 2007 harder to learn than anticipated?
Paul Thurrott refers to a report from Forrester Research which details that "companies migrating to Microsoft Office 2007 are experiencing 'more intense' training experiences than they had expected".
The big emphasis with Office 2007 was, of course, the usability improvements brought about by the new Ribbon interface which is designed to make applications more intuitive by grouping related commands on Tabs and making more things instantly visible rather than having o route through a menu structure.
Forrester reports that:
"Most business users will require two to three hours of formal training, according to Forrester analysts, followed by a two to four week period of decreased efficiency while they get used to using the new UI".
Ouch! That's not was originally expected.
Well, perhaps this may be part of the reasoning behind a new add-in being developed called "Scout" which let's you search the Office 2007 UI for particular commands.
Long Zheng has posted about this new add-in being developed which will create a "Search Commands" tab on the ribbon which - you guessed it - allows you to find commands by typing a few characters.
 Scout - click for full size image
(click for full size image)
This is going to be a great asset and will really assist in helping people make the transition from the menu driven system to the Ribbon.
Windows Vista and Office 2007 will be available to download - legally!
Last week, the Windows Marketplace Team announced that both Windows Vista upgrades and Office 2007 SKUs will be available for purchase and download directly from the Windows Marketplace website.
This is a major step forward and, to be honest, it's about time Microsoft opened up this avenue. In a way, it's a shame that the Vista offerings are upgrade only but at least the Office SKUs are full version.
There are no details as to how they will be offered (will the downloads be in ISO form) so we shall have to wait and see exactly how this operates. It would be a shame if this great idea was ruined by having to re-install XP first and then re-do the download to upgrade back to Vista should you need to wipe your PC for any reason.
UK schools advised not to upgrade.
The British Education Communications and Technology Association (BECTA) released a report last week advising UK schools that there was no reason to upgrade to Vista and Office 2007 at present.
BECTA argued that a "persuasive business case for the level of investment needed to deploy the products" was needed before they would change their recommendation.
The reasoning behind the recommendation is as follows:
Office has no "must-have" features for education and is geared towards businesses and there are concerns over file compatibility with the new version (despite being able to set Office apps to save in current 2003 formats by default). Also, schools should not deploy Office 2007 until it will interoperate with products that use the ODF file format such as OpenOffice.
Because security in XP took a while to develop the implication is that Vista is going to be high-risk to begin with even though it has been hailed as more secure than XP SP2 and even had input from the NSA. They also argue that around a quarter of the new features (such as IE7 and WMP11) can be downloaded for XP so why upgrade?
BECTA is due to release a final report this time next year but by that time UK schools will already be behind their counterparts in other countries. Personally, I find this short sighted and the arguments a bit thin.
What better excuse do you need than to educate. Surely, keeping our schools up to date should be a high priority or how can we expect to compete. The education system in the UK is constantly criticised for under performing so why not go out on a limb and provide our students with an advantage.
New Outlook, same old bug.
Must admit, I completely forgot to test and log this during the Office 2007 beta program but, ever since Outlook 2000, the Winter Outlook Today theme has had a bug where the "Customize Outlook Today" link does not always show in certain screen resolutions/window sizes.
Okay, it's easy enough to get round it - you just press ALT+U to activate the link - but surely, after 6 years, you'd expect this to be sorted!
Before ALT+U:
 Winter 1
After ALT+U:
 Winter 2
Personally, I think that the Winter theme for Outlook Today really fits best with the look of Outlook 2007 (and also did with 2003) so it's a shame they didn't invest just a few minutes in getting this sorted once and for all.
Office 2007 RTM leaked to web.
Well, it was bound to happen and was just a case of when not if. Reports indicate that an RTM build of Office 2007 Enterprise Edition has hit the various download channels (BitTorrent etc.)
The question now is: how long will Microsoft take to block the VLK key that is being shipped with it?
The same thing happened before the launch of Office 2003 but, as far as I recall, the CD key leaked with that version was an internal MS key and was never blocked! (Is that really the case?)
With Vista expected to hit MSDN accounts on the 17th it won't be long before that appears but there are already rumours of a workaround which replaces key files with those from RC2 thus enabling an RTM build to be activated online just as though it was the release candidate.
The products aren't even available and MS have already got problems!
Still here...
Wow, has it really been three weeks! It's just so easy to get out of the blogging groove and at such an exciting time.
So, what's been happening? The list goes on:
  • Office 2007 RTM
  • Windows Vista RTM
  • loads of gear to drool over and not afford
  • looking for a new job
The past couple of weeks have seen a few of my bugs lined up for consideration for a servoce pack etc. so they were obviously not deemed worthy of being blockers - more annoyances ;)
I hope to get the chance to play with the final builds of both Office and Vista through work sooner rather than later but I don't know if it will actually happen - I'll ask a few questions.
Gear to drool over? I was specifically thinking about the Asus R1F Tablet and their UMPC (see Hugo's blog). That tablet looks nice, and with a Core 2 Duo inside will be awesome. Hey, Santa - I've been good. Honest! And the Zune looks pretty interesting.
I've also been vaguely thinking about how much it will cost to build a Core 2 Duo desktop for Vista and it's not at all bad - I could probably do it for between £400 - £500 (with a lower end processor nicely overclocked).
I'm still in love with my Vario II Pocket PC and am constantly tweaking it and installing/uninstalling software. OK, perhaps a bit too much as I've had to do a couple of hard resets to tidy things up ;)
Yes, the CV has been updated and I am looking around to see what other jobs are out there. I'm not entirely sure what I'm after at present but one thing I DO know is that I'm going to maintain a work/life balance. Yes we all want a big fat pay rise but it's not going to come at the expense of time with my family.
Right, that's a little catch up for now. I hope to keep things moving along a bit better.
Final word on the Outlook RSS issue.
I've been meaning to post this for a few days but just not gotten round to it.
So, what's the upshot of the issues? First, let me summarise for those that have come to the story (saga) late:
- upgrading to the B2TR build of Office can cause Outlook issues with your RSS feeds
- the advice from Michael Affronti was to clear out your feeds using the /cleansharing switch before re-importing
Despite taking the steps advised by Michael, I still experience a problem where Outlook only wants to retain about 20 feeds when they are being delivered to my Exchange mailbox.
I have had a good 'back and forth' conversation with Greg Mansius (poster to the Exchange Team Blog) and it does look as though there is an issue which should be resolved come RTM.
Outlook does not have a problem when delivering RSS feeds to a PST and you can force this even when using an Exchange Server by adding the registry key:
  Key: HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Office\12.0\Outlook\Options\RSS
  DWORD: DisableRoaming
  Value: 1
Thanks to Greg for the great deal of time he gave to looking at this, and roll on RTM!
5744 installed.
I installed the Vista RC2 build on Friday night and was initially very concerned. It blue screened once and froze after the next two restarts - not a good sign.
I currently have a bug logged for Vista failing to see my second SATA drive unless the SATA control is set to RAID in the BIOS and this issue still exists in build 5744. This may be in part a possible cause of the installation problems. I switched the SATA control in the BIOS from IDE to RAID and re-installed - all went through OK.
I found a particularly interesting issue when installing the Office B2TR upgrades for the core Office system and SharePoint Designer which I will bug later (although the Office Beta is coming to a close).
After installing Office 2007 B2 I restarted and then installed the B2TR - everything was okay up until this point. The B2TR installing requires a reboot after which I noticed that my hard drive was constantly churning. A quick of the Resource monitor in Vista revealed that the Office B2TR installer (office2007b2tr-kb000000-fullfile-en-us.exe) was constantly being read and remained so permanently until I restarted the PC over 15 minutes later!
The issue kept occurring until I renamed the exe, but then the SharePoint Designer update file (SharePointDesigner2007b2tr-kb000000-fullfile-en-us.exe) did the same thing - again until I renamed it.
Yes the B2TR upgrade requires a reboot but I doubt that it will want to hold the file open to this degree even after multiple reboots and when the Office applications all work correctly without prompting for anything.
Anyone else had a similar issue? I'll get the bug in and see what is said.
Outlook RSS update.
My bug report was closed with the standard "not reproducible" but the problem still occurs.
Due to repeatedly clearing out about 200 folders and 2500+ items the Exchange database had swollen somewhat so I decided to do an offline defrag with eseutil - this brought the databse size down from 849MB to 146. Not bad!
It just seems that in my environment Outlook or Exchange has an issue checking and retaining this many feeds. This may also be manifesting itself in another way. After importing the full list of feeds Outlook takes a long time to be fully usable. if you try to go to Tools - Account Settings you are warned that Outlook is still trying to find shared folders and takes a while to settle down.
 OL B2TR Shared Folders
Anyone else having similar problems?
Outlook 2007 RSS bug resolved - or maybe not!
I blogged a few days ago that the upgrade to the Outlook Beta 2 Tech Refresh had screwed up my RSS feeds - culling them from about 200 to 21. I had bugged the issue and later the same day received a response pointing me to Michael Affronti's blog (Microsoft Outlook Program Manager).
He explains that Microsoft have "made a significant amount of changes to the way that are RSS Feeds are stored internally inside of Outlook" and this causes all sorts of problems requiring you to clear out your Feeds using the Outlook /cleansharing switch. The only downside is the need to remove your existing RSS folders prior to reimporting your feed list.
My feeds are now all being retained and updating correctly.
If you're having any RSS issues in OLB2TR then read Michael's full post here: RSS in Outlook - upgrading from Beta 2 to B2TR.
UPDATE: I spoke too soon, the problem happened again last night so I've created a new MAPI profile and gone back through the steps advised so we'll see what happens.
Relieved to see the blogging from Office working.
I was unable to blog from Office 2007 B2 apps before but now that both the client and backend are running the Beta 2 Tech Refresh things are working like a charm.
Test post from Word 2007 B2TR

Just a quick test – if you're reading this then it's worked J

OK, that's worrying!
I have just checked Account Settings in the new build of Outlook and my list of 200+ RSS feeds has been shredded. I now only have 21 feeds listed.
This is quite a bug. Good job I've got an OPML file.
The only problems with this, however, is that re-importing the OPML file makes Outlook think I've got almost 200 new feeds resulting in approx 2,500 unread items. And if that wasn't bas enough it's put each "new" feed in "Folder Name (1)" as "Folder Name" already exists!
Looks like I've got a lot of tidying up to do.
UPDATE: looks like I'm not the only one to have problems.
Office 2007 Beta 2 Tech Refresh coming tomorrow.
Great news (and as predicted by Volkan's Blog).
Jensen Harris, a Lead Program Manager on the Microsoft Office "user experience" team, has confirmed that the much anticipated Beta 2 Technical Refresh of Office 2007 WILL be available for download tomorrow, 14th September. In his words, some of the more significant changes for B2TR are as follows:
  • Improved support for the minimized Ribbon
  • Visual redesign of the "Northwest" corner of the programs
  • Double-click the Office Button to close the window
  • Silver color scheme
  • Redesign of the PowerPoint Home tab
  • Improvements to default styles for all objects (pictures, tables, charts, SmartArt, headers, footers, etc.)
  • Quick Customize Menu
  • New product icons
  • Usability improvements to the Office menu
  • Send button in the form in Outlook
  • Over 1000 changes (most minor) to the content of the Ribbon
Check out his post for more details, here: Beta 2 Technical Refresh Available Tomorrow.