Category Archives: Office 365

Office Customization without VL Media

Over the years I have written quite a bit about Desktop Deployment, especially using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT). It allows us to install not only our operating system but also our drivers, patches, and applications with little or no user interaction.

Recently I did some consulting for a small company of seven users. They are a Microsoft Partner, and took advantage of one of the best deals going, the Microsoft Action Pack Subscription. In essence, this gives them use rights for most Microsoft software (for up to ten users) for a small yearly fee. Now before you get your hopes up, I am sorry to tell you that it is only available to Microsoft Partners.

One of the recommendations I made to them was to create a Deployment Server using the MDT. I demonstrated the value, and they thought the idea of lite-touch installation was great (they are far too small for zero-touch, which requires a System Center infrastructure). They got right to work. Unfortunately when they got to creating the Application Package for Microsoft Office 2013 they ran into a snag.

“We tried to run the Office Customization Toolkit but it doesn’t work!”

I took a look, and sure enough they were getting the following error:

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Just to be sure, I tried it myself. In a command prompt I navigated to the network share where they had copied the source files for Office 2013, and I typed setup /admin. I got the same error.

I had seen this problem before… when trying to use FPP (Full Package Product) media for a deployment… the OCT is not included. Drat.

So here’s the way around it:

1) Download the Office 2013 Administrative Template files (ADMX/ADML) and Office Customization Tool. You can find them here: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=35554

2) Extract the files as directed; you will now have two directories – Admin and ADMX. You will also have an Excel file called office2013grouppolicyandoctsettings.xlsx.

3) Copy these files into the network share (or local directory) to which you copied the Office 2013 source files (because neither the DVD nor the ISC is writeable).

4) From a command prompt navigate to that directory, and execute the command: setup /admin

Congratulations, you can now run the Office Customization Toolkit on your non-VL media, and use it to create your custom .MSP files. Now go forth and deploy!

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Note: The same process would work for Office 2010 and Office 2007, but you will have to download the appropriate OCT version.  Just look for it online Smile

Surface Pro 3 and Windows 8: Not everybody’s cup of tea

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I do like my Surface Pro 3.  With that being said, I know everyone has different tastes, and some people are not going to like it.  A couple of months ago my sister, a long time Mac user (and Apple Fanboi) told me that her new job would be giving her a Pro 3, and asked what I thought of it.  I told her – it predated my realizing the extent of the network issues – that I loved it, and expected she would too.

Last week she e-mailed me to tell me that she really hated it.  It crashed a number of times in the first week, and she does not have the patience for these errors – she said her Macs (all of them) just work, and don’t have blue screens of death or other issues.

Now to be fair to the Surface team, a lot of the issues she outlined had to do with Windows 8.1, Microsoft Office, OneDrive, and the Microsoft Account.  I understand her frustration – if you take the device out of the equation, those are four different products from four different teams that are all supposed to work together seamlessly… but don’t.  I respect that Microsoft has a lot of different products, but if you are going to stop talking about products and start talking about solutions then you should make sure your teams work together a lot closer to make sure that seamless really is seamless.

I probably know Windows better than 99.5% of the population, and work very fluently across these four products… but one of the reasons for that is because I have come to understand that sometimes the seams between them are going to show, and like a Quebec driver I have learned better than most to navigate the potholes.  However if Microsoft really wants to stay at the top in an era where customers do want things to just work, they had better get off their butts, come down off their high horses, and start making sure that seamless really is just that.

I want to be clear… I am not trading in my devices for Macs (or Linux).  While I do have an iPhone (See article) I would just as soon have an Android or a Windows phone.  I love Windows 8.1, and even now at my office I cringe at having to work with Windows 7 (Ok, cringe is a strong word… I just wish it was Windows 8.1!).  However I have worked with iPads, Androids, Macs, and more, and I know that those solutions do make for a better experience with regard to some features than the Microsoft ecosystem.  I hope that under Satya things get better… but nearly a year into his tenure and I don’t see much progress.

In the meantime I am strongly considering going to open an account at one of the banks that is currently offering free iPad Minis to new account holders!

Outlook Looking Out for me AGAIN!

A few hours ago a deadline was about to pass.  I had promised someone I would send them the final draft of a file before they got into their office this morning.  I also knew that I would not be available to re-send it if there was a problem because of a previous commitment.  I wrote the e-mail and pressed send.  Immediately the following window appeared:imageWow… how often have you done that?  ‘Hey I am sending you this file’ and then you forget to attach it?  Sometimes you catch yourself and sometimes you only realize it when the return e-mail of ‘what file?’ comes through.  Fortunately Outlook 2013 saved me in this case – I was tired and likely would not have realized it, and my colleague would have had nothing to work on this morning.  Thanks Outlook!

Outlook 2013: Take Action!

I have been using Microsoft Office 2013 since it was in early beta mode, and I still find features on a daily basis that I love.  Of course, some of them I have been using all along, like Action Items.

Microsoft Outlook analyzes your e-mails and lets you know if it has found things, like Action Items. So when I received the following e-mail:

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At the top of the e-mail the following option now appears:

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Because there is an address in the e-mail (I think it is LinkedIn’s main offices) the Bing Maps option appears; however it is the Action Items that I like… Outlook’s intelligent analysis determined that the e-mail was asking me to do something, so when you click on Action Items you see the following:

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Nice… you can now see at a glance what is being asked of you in the e-mail.  But that is not the end of it…

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Fred wants to meet me for coffee Thursday morning.  You will notice that the application bar has the option of Suggested Meetings.

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So the good news is it found the meeting.  It did get the time wrong, and I am not quite sure how that happened, but it does make sure you keep on your toes.  You can click on Schedule Meeting and it will create the calendar object, including inviting Fred.  How cool is that?

Try it out… it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good!

The advantages of selling Office 365 and Windows Server

image Many small and midsize businesses today are considering the use of cloud-based software applications for the ease, accessibility, and cost benefits they can offer. At the same time, many still need an on-site platform for a range of needs from hosting applications, to print sharing, to storing sensitive financial data.

As our valued partner of Office 365, we would love to tell you more about how both of these products have enabled many partners to provide valuable and cost-effective solutions to their customers. We will also have Sharon Bennett, a Microsoft Small Business Specialist and Microsoft Certified Trainer join to speak about deploying Windows Server 2012 with Office 365 and how you can help grow your business with these products.

Learn key resources to enable your organization to deliver these solutions and a special offer available to get you selling today!

Join the one hour webinar on September 16th, 2013 from 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM (EST)!

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Activating Office 2013 Headaches… Here’s your Aspirin!

Hey Mitch, why is it that every time I install Microsoft office 2013 for my customers I have to log in with a Microsoft Account (Formerly Live ID)?  Why can’t I just use a product key like I used to?  I always use my own Microsoft Account, and I am now the registered user for hundreds of installations of Office 2013!

imageI have been confronted by partners, customers, and end users with variants of this question for months, and I always tell them the same thing… there is NO requirement to log onto a Microsoft Account when installing Microsoft Office 2013.  Unfortunately people don’t read the fine print!

Microsoft Office 2013 was designed to work with the cloud – Office 365 is of course the answer, and gives you so much more than just the client software.  In fact, with Office 365 Microsoft is moving to a subscription-based service, rather than an up-front purchase model.  Especially in the enterprise but also in smaller businesses and the home it is easier on the pocketbook to pay monthly than up front.

Not all of you agree… Okay, that is fine; if you do not want to work with Office 365, and would rather buy the FPP and not integrate with any of the on-line services (including licensing and activation!) then it is simple… in the Activate Office screen under the big NEXT button there is a little option to ‘Enter a product key instead.’  I admit it, the font size makes it easy to miss, but it is indeed there (note the highlighted section in the screen capture).

Now here’s the fun part… at least from a Deployment standpoint.  There is a better way of installing Microsoft Office that does not require you to type in a product key every time: create a .MSP file with the Microsoft Office Customization Tool.  It is only available with the Pro versions of Microsoft Office, and even at that only with media attached to a volume license.  However if you have that, your life will be much easier:

  1. image Attach the media to your PC (either by inserting the DVD or by mounting the .ISO file).
  2. Open a Command Prompt.
  3. Navigate to the root directory of the media (as pictured it is D:\)
  4. type setup /admin
  5. This will open the Microsoft Office Customization Tool

    You will be prompted to select the product that you want to customize (in this case Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2013 (64-bit)), or to open an existing customization file.  Click OK.

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While this tool gives you a lot of options that you can configure (and I encourage you to explore!) I will focus on two specific options.

Installation location and organization name

I like the fact that the OCT allows me to enter my organization name (as well as the default installation path).  If I am installing Office on a small number of computers then it really doesn’t bother me to type in the organization name, but if I have to install it on dozens (or thousands) then this really helps me out.

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Licensing and user interface

If I am going to the trouble (okay, it’s not that much trouble) of customization, then I might as well do it right.  Let’s click in the Navigation Pane to Licensing and user interface.

If you have a Key Management Server (KMS) in your organization then you should let it manage your licenses, but most smaller organizations won’t have this, so we are going to select the radio button Enter another product key to enter our Multiple Activation Key (MAK).  In the appropriate box you can enter your key, which will be 25-characters.  You will also have to check the box ‘I accept the terms in the License Agreement’ if you don’t want your end users having to do it.

Speaking of end users, the same screen lets you change the Display level of the installation… so they can see it happening, or not.  I like to set the level to None, but send a Completion notice so they will be advised when the installation is complete.

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**NOTE: The product key used herein is obviously not a legitimate one.  The OCT does verify that your Product Key is valid, else it will not let you navigate from this screen.

imageOnce you have completed all of the customizations you like (as I said, please do not feel restricted by these!) you have to save your customization file.  In the File menu click Save As…

Navigate to where you plan to save it and enter a file name, and press Save.  You are almost ready!

Now that you have created your .MSP file, all you have to do is place it in the updates directory of your installation media.  If you are using an .ISO file then you can simply mount the file and copy it in.  If you are deploying from a USB key or network share then you can simply copy the file.  If you are still deploying from CDs then I am afraid you are going to have to create a new disc… and suffer the ridicule of people who think that CDs are so last decade :)

Conclusion

Microsoft goes to great efforts with every new product release to make it easier on end users and IT Pros alike to deploy and use their technologies.  While the cloud connection is great (and some of us love being able to activate our applications by entering our Microsoft or Organizational Account!) it is not the only game in town, and so the old ways are still available to you.  You just may have to dig a little deeper, look a little harder… or ask someone like me! :)

Office for Fruit Phones!

5430_2_Excel_EN_300x532_jpg-550x0Microsoft has released today the Office Suite for iOS… which means that iPhone and users can now start using the same tools on their devices that they do on their PCs… and best of all, it is absolutely free to Office 365 subscribers!

Check out the official release article at http://blogs.office.com/b/office-news/archive/2013/06/14/office-mobile-for-the-iphone-is-now-available-for-office-365-subscribers.aspx.

Now for the bad news… it is only available for US subscribers.  Yes, my fellow Canadians, if you are using iPhones you are going to have to wait… it will be available in several markets and languages soon, but unless you are a US user you should still look to your cell phone provider to upgrade you to a Windows Phone 8 device :)