Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bluetooth is coming

Not big news to most people but I am very excited about the news that Bluetooth will be enabled on our laptops in the next build of our Windows7.

Up till now, Bluetooth has always been a big security no no in our business, and any Bluetooth devices are automatically disabled by Group Policy, but I have been informed that the next release of the W7 build will enable Bluetooth.

So why the excitement?  Well, I am hoping it means I can connect various devices to my laptop, including:

  • My Jawbone headset, I love my Jawbone, it is the best hands free headset I have ever owned (I will have to do a report about it one day), I can then use it with my Avaya softphone, it will be a lot nicer to use than the Plantronics CS60 I use at the moment.
  • A Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, I am hoping that these will have more range than the existing wireless devices we use today - it might even reach my meeting table, enabling me to turn my monitor round and have a real presentation area for my meeting.  I have already ordered an Apple keyboard and mouse, in the anticipation that I can use them with my PC, the iPAD and my Blackberry.
  • Connecting my Blackberry to my laptop and transfer photos, videos etc.
We shall have to wait and see if the new functionality meets up with my high expectations - the expected delivery date of the new release is the end of July.  Fingers crossed.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Using external support to shore up your Service Desk

You may be aware, we are in the middle of a Windows7 upgrade, which is why the recent blogs have had a leaning towards the W7 area.  When I looked at the logistics of this kind of project, I knew it was going to be a biggie - the last OS upgrade we did, the Service Desk Team worked nights and weekends to get the job done.  Two years on and the team hasn't grown, but the user base has doubled in size and the amount of applications and devices we support has also grown considerably - moving to ITIL helped with the growth of the business, but ITIL was not going to help with re-building 600 PCs.

I knew I would need all 'hands on deck' to rebuild/replace around 600 PCs in 6 months - it is not only just putting an OS on a laptop and kicking it out the door, it entails backing up the users data (this is mega in some cases), backing up their settings, favourites etc. and then putting it all back on a Windows7 platform, so that when they log on for the 1st time everything is still there - we called it the WOW Factor.  The whole process can take 5 hours or, in some cases, a whole day.

I made the decision not to use any of my existing Service Desk team, because I knew they would be best placed in supporting the user community with the little problems that always arise when this kind of change happens, I wanted the users to be able to talk to the same faces they have always done and are comfortable with.  This meant I needed some external support.

I could go down the route of hiring in three temps, but that meant I would have to train them and if one went sick or wanted vacation I would be understaffed.  There was also the consideration of the company headcount, we are tightly controlled on our headcount and it would be better to use our quota elsewhere in the business.  So my boss gave me the challenge of getting the job done without taking any more staff on.

The only avenue I could see, would be to use an outside organisation to do the migrations, in essence outsourcing the project. I racked my brains trying to think of who to use, going through the big operators like IBM or similar, then I remembered the company we use to dispose of our old IT equipment, Abcom.

As I thought about it, Abcom seemed like the perfect choice, they ticked all the boxes:

  • They we local to us
  • The guys spent every day taking apart PCs and laptops, refurbishing them for resale
  • They know how to load an OS
  • They had enough staff to cover off vacations etc.
I called Yann, the Managing Director, and we met up to discuss the project. Yann was really helpful, he quickly understood what I wanted and could see how his organisation could help us.  Within a few weeks, we had set up the project plan, we would train his guys on the intricacies of setting up our builds and they were assigned a workshop for the project.  The price was fair and as I was dealing with an external company it did not impinge on our headcount.

We are halfway through the project now and it is going really well - the Abcom team work well, they integrate with the Service Desk team, they have their own Abcom team leader, who organises the workload for each day and ensures there is enough resource for the next week, I do not have to put a lot of effort into managing them - it is a real partnership to get the job done.

Originally I had my reservations about using an external organisation, I was worried about control, quality etc. but using Abcom has changed my perspective - I now can see the benefit and I already have other projects that I think "ahh I wonder if Abcom could do that for me".

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Issue with Outlook PST files and Windows7

At last I have an evening to sit down and have a go at writing this blog, we have had a couple of issues come into the Service Desk over the past week to do with PST files.

So what is a PST file?  This is an excerpt from the Microsoft Knowledgebase on PST files - "The Microsoft Exchange Server 4.0 team created .pst files in order to let users maintain a copy of their messages on their local computers. The .pst files also serve as a message store for users who do not have access to a Microsoft Exchange Server computer (for example, POP3 or IMAP email users)."

I would point out that your Exchange Mailbox and PST folders should NOT be used as a document store, they were never designed for that.  Think of those little metal mailboxes you always see being driven over in American movies, now think about you trying to cram in all your letters over the last five years into one of those little mailboxes - something will have to give...

The first issue came when we were migrating a user from Windows XP to Windows7 - it was noted that the PST file was over 5Gb, we couldn't actually move the file, it kept corrupting during the move, the scanpst tool kept falling over, therefore all we could do is create another couple of PST files and move the messages from the origional to the new folders.  The maximum supported PST file size in Outlook 2003/7 is 2Gb.

This brought on the second issue, when creating a PST file in Microsoft Outlook 2010, the default location was  the_users_home_drive\My Documents\Outlook Files, this on our network, it is a network share that is syncronised to the users laptop.  Creating the file was fine, but as soon as we started copying messages to the new PST folder, Outlook would freeze, using Task Manager, it was not possible to stop the Outlook Process and you could not shut the laptop down.
My theory on this is that, because Microsoft have improved the Windows7 syncronisation capabilities, as soon as the PST file 'changes' because a message has been copied to it, it starts to automatically sync the file, thus causing a conflict.
The resolution was to turn the laptop off, switch on again, go into the Account Settings and remove the network PST file and create a new one on the local C: hard disk.

Within our organisation, we have chosen to keep all the users local files in the C:\Users\Public\Documents folder.  Keeping the PST files locally on the users hard disk is the recommended location according to Microsoft in its Blog Network Stored PST files ... don't do it!

So if you want to create a PST file, so that you can store Outlook 2010 messages outside of your Exchange mailbox you need to follow thes steps:

  1. Within Outlook, click on the File tab.
  2. Click on the Account Settings Button then click on Account Settings from the dropdown list.
  3. In the Account Settings windows, click on the Data Files tab.
  4. Click the Add button.
  5. The Explorer window now opens. Do not choose this as your location, this could be a network share!  Instead use the left hand navigation to choose the C: drive and navigate to C:\Users\Public\Documents  - put in a filename that suits you and click the OK button.
  6. You should now see a new folder in the Left Hand navigation pane of Outlook with the name of your PST file, you can start draging/dropping messages from your Inbox to the PST folder.
Be aware!  Always keep an eye on the size of your PST files - Microsoft have increased the maximum PST file size in Outlook 2010 to 50Gb - Knowledge-base number 982577 - but from my point of view a 50Gb PST file will take ages to backup and if it gets corrupt you have lost a whole load of mail, so I would tend to keep the sizes to more manageable limits.

Monday, June 20, 2011

MindMeister - Mind Maps anywhere

OK, I have always hated using a computer to create my Mind Maps, being 'old school' and happy with a sheet of quality paper and a set of coloured pencils, I could really get creative... but I decended into the digital age today and tried out - I did do some investigation and this offering looked good and have support for iPhone and iPad.

It was really easy to use - in the cloud (as all my stuff has to be) and I was set up and running within a few minutes.  The instruction video was 4.5 minutes and was one of the best I have seen.

My first map was my 'To Do' list for the office, and it was very easy to create the children and siblings, I could add icons, change colours, add notes and attache documents, all very easily.  After a morning of dipping in and out of it, I had created a very large Mind Map and had a good graphical representation of why I am soo stressed.

My last job was to share it out with my boss. Hey, why should I be the only one stressed?  He gets paid more than I do!

If you are into Mind Maps and you want to have a Cloud offering, this site is a good place to start.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Doing my expenses on my BlackBerry

I can easily put two and two together and make five (or towtow), so thinking on my way into work this morning, I was wondering about the Concur App for the BlackBerry - I had totally forgotten it since the App was not replaced when I upgraded my device a couple of months ago - hmm I thought, I wonder if you can load photos of the receipts instead of having to scan each one in (I see a lot of our field staff hunched over the Xerox machines in the office, with piles of reciepts, diligently scanning each one in), if a photo is good enough, you could do your expenses as you go, instead of spending hours of drudgery every Friday.

So with BlackBerry in hand, I am going to give it a try....

I have already set up my Concur BlackBerry PIN, this can be done on the Concur website. I loaded the Concur App from the BlackBerry App World and logged in using using my username and PIN.

The interface has changed a bit since I last used it, that is not a bad thing though.
Let's click on the Quick Expense icon and see what happens.

The Expense type field is a drop down box, giving you all of the different expense types you would find on the web site.

Putting in the Amount was a bit of a faf because I couldn't figure out how to put in a decimal point, when in this field the keyboard on the Blackberry defaults to numeric and so the full stop doesn't work.

The Supplier and Location fields are free text, although once uploaded the Location may need to be modified on the Web front end, as I didn't get the result I was expecting.

Scrolling down brings you to the Take photo button, clicking this opens up the camera on the BlackBerry and with a bit of adjustment you can photograph the receipt.

Once you have taken the picture, you get the option to Keep or Discard.
Pressing the Keep button brings you back to the Expense screen.

Once you click the save button, it is then uploaded to the Concur server.

Back in the main screen you can click on the Expenses icon, which will take you into the Expenses screen.

The Expenses screen gives you a list of all the Expenses that you have captured, clicking on each expense puts a tick in the top left check-box, ready for the next action.  Clicking the BlackBerry button on your handset then brings up the menu where you can choose the Add to claim option.

This then gives you a choice of adding the expense(s) to an existing claim you have 'on the go' or creating a new claim to work with.

Clicking the Back button on the BlackBerry handset brings you back to the main Concur screen.

The only icon that does not work on the main Concur screen is the Add Car Mileage - I do not think this has been set up.

So, there you go, you can create your expenses whilst having your morning coffee, or sitting in the hotel bar in the evening, capturing the receipts as you go, saving all that scanning time, when you get home.

All you need to do, once you are ready, is log in on the web front end, tidy up the expenses that you have created (you will see a nice little blue phone icon against each one, showing that it has a receipt photo attached to it) and put in your mileage etc.

I hope this helps take some of the pain out of expenses.

BlackBerry App World Concur App

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Setting up my HP Officejet Pro 8500 WiFi Printer

We have had quite a few calls to the Service Desk about the new HP8500 printers we are handing out and how to print via the WiFi, so I thought I would bring one home and have a go; here is the saga....

The 1st task is to make some space on the desk, I find the best way is to push everything onto the floor, that way once I have taken the printer out of the box, I can then shovel it up and use the box as a dustbin - perfect for taking down to the local dump - don't worry if there is anything important in there - if it is that important, they will resend you the letter ;-)

Ye gods! This is a big mo***r fu***r!  It is almost the size of my lunchbox for work, I nearly had a hernia getting it out of the box, well at least the box is big enough to take all the crap from my desk that has been piling up since Christmas (I even found some presents I had forgotten about).

Setting up the Printer
So the printer is in place, I have connected up the power, but not the USB cable, this is all about printing via my home WiFi, so let's push the power button on the front and see what happens....
Ohh a little HP logo on the front screen, some rumblings from inside - ahh it is checking itself (I do that when I come out of the loo) - I must admit, I didn't check to see if the last owner had left me any paper in the tray.

Ok so now all the comotion has stopped, I am left with a printer, with a very slick front panel, with pictures for Copy, Fax, Scan and Apps; there is also a WiFi antenna showing in the top right corner - next to the screen is a ? and an > lit up in blue - intuitive, well me with a brain the size of a planet, I can say I am a bit flummoxed as to what to do next (God forbid that I should ever read the manual).

Ahh so the > goes to the next screen, with Setup, Ink Status, Photo and Auto Answer On - the ? goes to a list screen with Help Topics, Discover, Product Tour and Print Demo Page.
Decisions, decisions....

Setup has got to be the way forward, from the choices under Setup, I will go for Network - good guess, I can see a Wireless option.
Ohh there is now an option for Wireless Setup Wizard (I wonder what that does), seems I may be on the right path here.  It is telling me that it is going to help me to set up a wireless connection for the printer - how nice, I must Continue.
Ahh it is now searching for WiFi connections, and it gives me a nice list to choose from - I can see my network name (SSID) so I press that option. It is telling me that my connection has no encryption, well I set my WiFi up differently from most (I have to be different don't I) - usually I would expect it to tell me that it is encrypted with a WPA passphrase, I would need to have that handy to set up the next step.
So, choosing my network name, and pressing the Continue option, it tries to connect and eventually connects to my network giving a good signal.  A BIG blue WiFI antenna symbol appears in the bottom right of the display - this must be good.  I get the choice of OK or Print - as I haven't printed anything yet I give it a go.  This gives me a nice printout of all the information about my wireless connection, including the IP address that it has picked up from my router - nice touch.

Setting up the laptop
So, with the printer set up, I now need to get my Windows7 laptop to see the printer - I will start with the Devices and Printers option from the Start menu.
Let us Add a printer - and then Add a network, wireless or Bluetooth printer.

Hmm, I get a choice - both the same printer, but if you look at the address, one is a HTTP web address and the other is a pure IP address - I think I will go for the second option Officejet Pro 8500 A910 (HP).

Clicking Next, brings me to the Drivers screen, I had a quick look through to see if I had the drivers for this printer already loaded, it was close but no bannana - therefore I need to rummage through the box of 'stuff' that came with the printer, to find the setup CD - I could then bung that in and choose the Have Disk option.  Unfortunately there is no CD in the box - (my fault for using a printer that came back from a leaver) - so a quick visit to the HP Support site has provided me with the latest drivers.
Note!  Roche employees should have the printer drivers already loaded on their Roche laptops, if they haven't contact the Service Desk, who will assign the drivers to your machine.

So going back to our choice of Officejet Pro 8500 A910 (HP) printer and the Install the Printer Driver screen, I looked under Hewlett-Packard, and found the HP Officejet Pro 8500 A910 - highlighting this I clicked Next - the next screen then told me that the driver was already installed - I was happy to use that one, so clicked Next again.
I was then asked to give the printer a name - OK you can go with the default name supplied, but I called mine Algenon.
I was then asked if I wanted to share this printer - now 1st thoughts would be 'of course I want to share this printer', but be careful, this is about sharing the printer from your laptop, I do not want to have to have this laptop on so that others in my house can print - they can set up their own damn printer as I have just done - so I chose not to share the printer.
At last I came to the last page of the Wizard, I left the box checked as my default printer, I clicked on the Print a test page button, just to make sure it printed ok, then clicked the Finish button.

Job Done!

So now in my Devices and Printers windows I have a new icon.

Double clicking the icon brings up a new window with LOADS of choices to play with, including changing the settings on the printer, scanning options, fax options and the HP ePrintCenter - that should be for another Blog methinks...

So choosing the Scan a Document or Photo option, brought up the scanner window - pressing the Scan button started the printer off on it's scan cycle (I had put a document in the feeder for this already) - it took a while to do an A4 sheet, but got there in the end.

Cool - I have managed to set up my printer and scanner, without attaching a cable from my laptop to the printer or using a CD (I don't count downloading the drivers from the HP website) - in fact apart from putting the printer on the desk, that is the only manual part of the business, the rest of the time I sat on my arse.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What do you have on your Blackberry?

OK, I thought I would put a little post about the Apps I have on my Blackberry, a couple of updates this morning made me think I could share this with people...

Blackberry Messenger - never used it, although I do know that quite a few of the girls in the office love it.
Blackberry Podcasts - Opened it once, but could not find anything of interest, so not have looked at it again.
British Airways - I love this App when I am flying BA - a really useful App, just wish EasyJet would follow suit.
CacheSense - this is a great App for Geocaching, you can read my Blog on Geocaching, it gives you all the necessary information.
DropBox - another well used App, storage of your data in 'the cloud', you can read by blog on this too.
Evernote - this is my scrap book or books, holding information on things like my favorite recipes, wines I have found, travel documents etc. - all those things that you need to remember or might need to hand at sometime.

Facebook - if you into social networking, Facebook is a big part of the cake, although in my eyes it seems to be dwindling, I still visit occasionally.
Fancy Smiley - not used that often, but good for putting some interesting smileys into e-mails and postings.
Memory Booster Pro - a lot of hype for this App, but I am not that convinced that it has made that much of an improvement to my Torch.
Photo Translator - I tried this App after seeing the translator app for the iPhone - this does the job but... it takes absolutely ages to work, even on WiFi.
Screen Grabber - downloaded this App, just to do this blog - it does what it says on the tin - perfect.
Tumblr - I love this tool, it creates my picture blog, I need to play with this some more!

Twitter - this must be my most used App - how could I live my life without the odd Tweet every now and then - and believe me, some of my Tweets are odd!

Why not let us know what your favorite App for the Blackberry is.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dropbox - a cool tool

Ok, I have been a firm addict of Dropbox for about 6 months now, ever since my son introduced me to it.  I liked the idea of having my photos, videos, music etc. stored somewhere away from my home, I also loved the functionality that I could get to any of my files from any computer connected to the internet, my Blackberry and my Archos.
So what is Dropbox? Think of it as a file storage solution in 'the cloud'; it can be accessed by any web browser, and there are clients for Windows, MAC, Blackberry, iPhone and Android; they have really thought of everything.

I have the client loaded on my Windows7 Laptop, which creates a Dropbox folder in my user area, I then use the W7 library function to 'twin' the My Pictures folder and the Photos folder I created in Dropbox, the Dropbox Photos folder is now my default save location, so any pictures I move from my camera to my laptop are automatically syncronised to Dropbox - for me this is really cool - I have also twinned up my Documents and Video folders.  It is so good, I even paid to upgrade the 2GB free storage to 50GB.

A couple of weeks ago I needed to re-build my laptop, did I bother to back anything up? Nah, everything I do now is in 'the cloud', e-mails, blogs, websites etc. - I don't keep anything local if I can help it, but I do like to have my pictures and videos close, due to the download times - anyway I rebuilt the laptop, re-loaded Dropbox and left it to syncronise about 20GB of data - it took about 10 hours, but at the end everything was there - a doddle!

This weekend, the Local Village Store had a fete to celebrate their 1st birthday, I have done a blog on that too - here, anyway, the organiser ran up to me asking if I could take some photos as the local paper photographer could not make it, I had my new camera with me and started snapping away.  Once home I downloaded the photos and of course they started syncronising up to Dropbox, I had no idea which photos the organiser would like and as each one was 5mb there was about 400mb of photos in the folder - no way to just e-mail to her...  then I remembered that I can share out specific Dropbox folders, magic!, I just popped onto the website, shared the folder and put in the organisers e-mail address - job done - she just logged into Dropbox (after setting up her account) and then had access to all of my photos from the day.

So if you are currently one of those people who have an external hard drive connected to your computer, but never remember to copy your files to it as a backup - then have a look at Dropbox, set your default saves to the Dropbox folder and sit back :)