Office Client Connections: Are you covered?

office-365-logo-100047935-largeWhen Microsoft introduced Office 365, subscribers stopped worrying about new versions.  As long as you were a subscriber, your monthly updates would deliver the newest versions of the client applications, and not just monthly patches.  It certainly made life simpler.  Still a lot of people prefer to purchase software, and not subscribe to it.  That is perfectly valid, and Microsoft continues to offer that option.

Where it gets a bit tricky is when customers who purchase the software do so once, and then ride that purchased application suite forever.  Microsoft will, at a certain point, stop supporting older versions.  While there are some critics who would say this is a money grab – just a cheap way of getting people to buy the software again, I definitely disagree with that. 

There is a tipping point in the lifecycle of a piece of software when it becomes more expensive to support than it is worth.  In the 1960s and 1970s, IBM guaranteed that they would support their mainframe computers for seven years.  Those were multi-million dollar systems that  companies were investing in, not a $500 piece of software.  When an application is new – especially an application like Microsoft Office, with over one billion users worldwide – the company has to support it.  They look for vulnerabilities, they create patches, they fix bugs.  They continue to do this for the lifecycle of the application.  For Microsoft Windows the lifecycle is much longer than the application, which is often only 3-4 years.  They include these costs when establishing the price of the suite.

When the vast majority of customers have upgraded to a newer version, it would still cost a lot of money to continue to support older technology… and fewer people will benefit from it.  If the company has promised to provide support for a certain number of years, then despite the fewer customers benefiting, they will still do it.

microsoft365-enterprise-adminstrator-expert-600x600The End of Life date for Microsoft Office 2013 was February, 2017.  There are still plenty of users out there using the older suite, and why not?  It still does everything they needed it to do, right?  They may not have all of the bells and whistles offered in Microsoft Office 2019, but they figure that good enough is always good enough.  Those who understand these things will also have weighed the importance of security patches, and they made the decision (conscious or otherwise) to trust that the majority of security flaws will have been found and patched in the four years of lifecycle.

Now here’s where it might get tricky for some… most of the applications in the Microsoft Office suite can easily live in a bubble.  While I love that Microsoft Office Word and Excel now allow me to open, edit, and save documents directly to my OneDrive for Business, a lot of people still store their documents and spreadsheets on their local hard drives, so the external access features do not appeal to them.  However, a tool like Microsoft Office Outlook is meant to work with external servers.  It’s entire raison d’être is to retrieve information from and send information to external servers.  Even though the Outlook client has not been supported in nearly 3.5 years, it is still able to communicate with the online servers.  Why?  Because Microsoft has a different lifecycle policy for servers than it does for applications.

Microsoft is a very large organization, and it does not turn on a dime.  Likewise, it does not expect its clients to do so either.  As such, when they reminded us in an e-mail this morning that “…Office 2013 clients’ connections to commercial Office 365 services will not be supported after October 13, 2020” they were not telling us “Hey guys, we know it is only three months away, but on October 13 you won’t be able to use your Office 2013 clients with our servers anymore.”  What they were saying was this: “We told you on April 20, 2017 (three and a half years in advance) that on October 13 of this year, you would no longer be able to use the Office 2013 clients with our servers anymore.” (See article)

To be clear, Microsoft is not saying that if you have an on-premise Exchange Server that you will not be able to use the Office 2013 client anymore.  This is about their Office 365 online services, which they are modernizing, and for which maintaining support of the legacy applications would cause an undue burden to them.  As such, in that article posted in April, 2017, Microsoft stated that: “Starting October 13, 2020, it will be necessary to have Office 365 ProPlus or Office perpetual in mainstream support to connect to Office 365 services.”  They will no longer be supporting connections from older application versions that are no longer in mainstream support.

Is that reasonable?  That depends on your point of view.  From Microsoft’s perspective, it is reasonable to say that they do not want to provide back-end support for applications that they are no longer supporting on the front-end.  From the end user’s point of view, it is reasonable to say that ‘Hey, I bought this application from you, and should be able to use it forever.’  Unfortunately, the end user is wrong in one thing.  You never buy software from Microsoft… you license it.  You have the right to install it on your computer, and I suppose if you want to configure Outlook as an SMTP or IMAP client (look them up if you do not know) then you can still use it that way… but in 2017 Microsoft told you that effective October, 2020 you will no longer be able to establish an Outlook Client connection to their servers.

Life moves forward, and so do computers… in fact, computers move forward much faster than most other facets of life.  If you question Microsoft’s decisions in this, I would point out that IBM lost the PC race (to Compaq, HP, Toshiba, and other compatible manufacturers… not to Apple) because they tried to maintain that seven year lifecycle promise in the era of $3000 PCs like they did in the era of multi-million dollar mainframes.  They insisted on maintaining compatibility across all of their software and PCs with the 8-bit Intel 8088 processor… so while Compaq et al went forward with building newer PCs on the 16-bit Intel 80286 processor, IBM stood their ground.  They partnered with a software company to develop an operating environment on the 8088 that would modernize the world… except the limitations of the 8-bit CPU held that program back, so that software partner, while continuing to work with IBM on OS/2 in Tampa and Armonk, spun off another team to build a similar operating environment that would take advantage of the 16-bit bus of the 80286.  The company in question was… Microsoft.  The operating environment they built back in New Mexico? Microsoft Windows.  The result?  A tremendous dive in the value of Big Blue, and Microsoft is now one of the most successful companies in the world.

Microsoft had a front-row seat to why it is important to move forward.  With all that on the table, asking them to hold back for a $500 piece of software you purchased seven years ago is no longer in the same ballpark as reasonable. 

So, if you are one of the customers (and there are probably millions) still using Microsoft Office Outlook 2013, and you are using it to connect to your Office 365 mail server, know that your days are numbered, and in just under three months your connections will stop working. 

Do you have to go out and buy a new package, or worse… subscribe to the Office 365 client?  Not necessarily.  While I certainly prefer working that way, I also know that a lot of people would rather not spend the monthly fees.  If you already have the Office 365 mail account, then you also have access to Outlook Web Access… you can connect to it from your web browser (https://outlook.office.com/mail/inbox) and have all of the functionality… minus the offline client.

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

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! 🙂

Virtual Launch Event for the new Office 365 for business

Office arrives in the cloud on Feb. 27th!

Virtual Launch Event for the new Office 365 for business.

Date Wednesday, February 27th 8 am PDT and 5 pm PDT

Why Attend?

  • Learn how the new Office 365 can help people do their best work in a world of devices and services
  • Hear customers talk about how Office 365 is transforming the way they deliver productivity tools across their organization
  • See how Office 365 delivers new experiences combining the power of social with collaboration, email and unified communications
  • Join in a live Q&A with Microsoft executives and product experts

RTA

Get onto my Cloud… a Colossal Contest!

In the past I have had a few contests that have had pretty good response – I have given away some decent prizes, and I know a lot of people have really enjoyed it.

Now, in honour of this blog’s 100,000th hit (Achieved October 30!) I am launching a new contest in conjunction with the Microsoft Office team… it’s so big, I have to create a new e-mail account to regulate the traffic!

I have spoken about Office 365 before, and have been a faithful user since it launched (and BPOS before that).  I have shown it to hundred if not thousands of people, and it is not a tough sell to show them that it is simply the best productivity solution available, combining the power of Microsoft Office Pro Plus with the cloud-based Exchange Server, SharePoint Server, and Lync, all for a low monthly fee which means no upfront costs and no ongoing support costs!

Office 365 ProPlus is the new Office delivered fast to all your Windows devices – including Windows RT! Office 365 ProPlus includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher, and Lync. You will be able to preview Office 365 ProPlus applications and manage up to 25 users with a preview account… at no cost, for up to 30 days. 

When your preview is up you can either discontinue using it or, if you liked it, convert your preview subscription to a full subscription quite easily!

Office 365 Pro Plus has some great features, including:

  • clip_image002Fast streaming installation on up to 5 computers per user
  • Runs side-by-side with your existing Office programs
  • Integrates with in-house email and collaboration solutions
  • Your settings stay with you when you move to a different computer
  • Flexible deployment – use the cloud or your own infrastructure
Register for the Guided Evaluation

Register to access technical product resources—such as forums, solution accelerators, whitepapers, and webcasts—at the Office 365 ProPlus Preview Resource Page.

  1. Review Office 365 ProPlus Preview system requirements
  2. Register for evaluation
  3. Sign up for an Office 365 ProPlus Preview account and install evaluation software for a limited-time trial
  4. Provision up to 25 evaluators within your organization using the Office 365 ProPlus administration interface
  5. Direct your evaluators to log in to their new Office 365 ProPlus Preview accounts
  6. Receive three (3) emails with resources to guide you and notification of the next release
  7. Use blogs and forums to share tips

Now here’s the contest:

  1. Click on this link and download the bits!
  2. Wait for the confirmation e-mail that you will receive when the download is complete.
  3. Forward that confirmation e-mail to Office365@garvis.ca .
  4. Install it and use it!!! That’s it… you are entered to win one of two great prize packages from Microsoft and Jabra!

    PRIZES:

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GRAND PRIZE:

A Microsoft XBox Kinect bundle, including a Kinect device plus THREE hot XBox Kinect games!

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SECOND PRIZE:

A Jabra SPEAK 410 Lync / speakerphone / speaker!

 

 

**Odds of winning depend on the number of entries.  The only restriction to winners is that they cannot be full time employees of SWMI Consulting Group (sorry Theresa!).

Office 2013 Social Connectors

I was really excited when Microsoft released its Social Connectors for Microsoft Office Outlook 2010 (Outlook Social Connectors Make it Easier to Keep Track).  In Office 2013 they have, in my opinion, made them even better.

For reasons that defy logic my main contact list (the one I have been maintaining since 1996) has 2,882 contacts in it… many of whom, I am sure, could be deleted without causing any issue or notice.  Some of those contacts, however, are people that I will one day need to speak to again… even though by looking at their e-mail address (or even name) I have no idea who they are right now.

I get a lot of e-mail from a lot of people.  Not that infrequently I get an e-mail from someone who I should know… but don’t.  If an e-mail looks important, but I don’t know who it is from, I will do a bit of research.  Before I delete the e-mail (I never delete it, I just mark it as read which means it is gone forever unless I actively go searching) I go to LinkedIn and see if the person sending the e-mail is a contact of mine.  Next I go to Facebook and see if they are a ‘friend’.  You would be surprised how much you can tell about a person you are not sure you have ever met just from these two sources.

Of course, with 1,000 ‘friends’ on Facebook and 1,200 contact on LinkedIn, that may or may not help… but it is a start.

Now here’s the thing… there is a lot of crossover between my two networks.  I find it hard enough to believe that I know 1,200 people, but 2,200 people would be really hard to believe.  So let’s assume that the people that I deal with are more accurate with their LinkedIn profile than with their Facebook (Or might have a picture of a butterfly on Facebook and a professional headshot on LinkedIn.  So new in Outlook 2013 is the ability to prioritize your networks… ‘Show this network information when available, instead of information from other networks’.  If nothing else it limits the number of people whose pictures in my Outlook are of butterflies.

I still love the fact that when I have a meeting or conference call planned I can see in advance who I am meeting with.  In this case I know Damir, but I sat in on a call on Wednesday with 125 other people, and it was nice to be able to see the faces that went along with the names.  This goes equally well when someone sends me an e-mail… I have the option of seeing who I am communicating with, if I so choose.  Of course you can minimize this or even turn it off if you want – it is all up to you.

 

Outlook Social Connectors have been making my life a bit easier for three years, and they will continue to do so into the future.  I am glad that Microsoft is still innovating and finding new ways to stay fresh.  I would have liked to have seen a Twitter connector included in 2013, but that would have only been for updates, and so many people are cross-posting their tweets to Facebook so it doesn’t really matter.

Office 2013: First cool new feature for me!

Like so many geeks I have been patiently waiting for the beta release of Microsoft Office 2013.  I downloaded and installed it this week, and have been liking it.  I will start posting about new features as I discover them, and here is the first such post.

Like many people I live in Outlook… or at least in my Exchange calendars, which when I am on the PC means Outlook (see my article from February 3rd, 2010 on Connecting to Multiple Exchange Servers within Microsoft Office Outlook 2010).  That means that any time they add clarity and relevant information to Outlook I am happy.

I have been on the road this week so I have not had a lot of opportunity to play with the new Outlook, with the exception of checking my mail.  This morning however I went into the calendar for the first time (I love the look and feel… as you can see I have five calendars open simultaneously, and being able to manage them all the way I want to is important… four of them on one side together, and my SWMI calendar separate on the right in this case). 

I noticed something new at the top of the calendar… a cloud icon.  At first I figured it had to do with my cloud-based e-mail, but that didn’t make sense.  I quickly realized that Outlook (within the Calendar context) was showing me the local weather, along with a three-day forecast. image

Nice!  By default it detected New York City, but it did not take much work to click on the drop-down arrow and select my home town of Oakville, Ontario.

Now when I turn on the computer from my basement I will be able to see what the forecast is for the next few days… wherever I may be Smile.

I’ll be in Chicago next week… any bets that it will be windy? Winking smile