A few weeks ago, I posted a few of my frustrations concerning Windows Vista and why I had decided to switch back to XP for my business and productivity needs. My upgrade to Vista had several noticeable hiccups that I simply couldn't handle on a day-to-day basis. However, in getting ready for Christmas, I had a much more positive experience with Windows Vista.
A month or so back, by dad mentioned to me that he wanted to get my mom a digital camera and photo printer for Christmas. After checking out Consumer Reports online and doing a little research, I recommended he get the Canon SD800 IS (camera) and the Epson PictureMate Deluxe (printer). As I was checking out cameras and printers, I went ahead and downloaded the Windows Live Photo Gallery to see how it would work for managing pictures. My dad's goal had been to get my mom a camera and printer she could use without the computer, but I was hoping to set my mom up with something so simple that she might actually be able to put the computer to good use.
I suggested to my dad that he upgrade the five-year-old computer in the basement, which had begun to make strange noises (never a good sign). He ordered a refurbished HP that came with Vista Home Premium. I was a little leery about Vista (considering my experience), but thought it might be worth the shot.
Unbeknownst to my father, the other reason I had recommended he upgrade his computer was because my brothers and I had intended to get him a Zune for Christmas and wanted to rip all of his CDs to it before Christmas. When my dad got the computer at his house, I told him I'd be taking it back to my apartment to "get the camera set up for Mom." Brilliant.
The first order of business was to rip what ended up amounting to 9 GB (WMA CBR @ 192 kbps, for those who care) of music to 4 different computers and then combining the files on his new machine. This took my brothers and me, working at a clip rate, about 6 hours to rip all of this music. I'm pretty sure we set a Guinness Record for the most Neil Diamond CDs ripped to a hard drive in one day.
The next day, I got busy working on the camera. I set my mom up with her own @live.com e-mail address and also set up the photo gallery on her computer. I set up the computer to automatically go to Live Gallery when she connected her camera or inserted an SD card. To my pleasant surprise, I was amazed at how simple it was to import pictures into albums and tag photos. Using the new printer was just as easy. I even ordered a few prints from the one-hour photo center at the local Wal-mart just to see how easy it was to order prints directly from the software. I was very impressed with how easy it was. I was fairly confident that even my mother can handle this much.
Enter Christmas morning.
My dad was blown away that we got him a Zune and had already ripped all of his CDs to the computer. The $24.99 Zune Home A/V Pack proved to be a worthy accessory for Christmas. I think what I liked most was that because the Zune was plugged in to the T.V. all day, every enjoyed the music and each other's company rather than watching television. It's a Christmas miracle! =)
Part of my Christmas present to my mother was to teach her how to use her new camera with the new computer. If you had ever experienced the labor of trying to teach my mother how to use technology, you would understand just how priceless this gift turned out to be. She was able to use the camera easily enough (there's not much to it) for basic point-and-shoot operation. She really liked how she could print directly to the printer from the camera or by using the card. The next thing I did was to try to show her how to use the computer.
Even though I thought the process of importing pictures couldn't have been easier, my mom did find it somewhat challenging. She disregarding the tagging feature as useless, but overall the import process was painless. I had to explain to her that by storing her pictures in the computer, she could print directly from the source image, which was better than making copies. I think she was impressed with how easy it was to order prints directly from the computer and to print to her photo printer from the computer. With my mother, technology only has value when it's easy to use, and thanks to Live Photo Gallery, it was incredibly easy, and therefore valuable.
As a final note, I'd like to say how impressed I was with the whole set-up of the Zune and Live Gallery for the camera. Even though I was disappointed Vista earlier, I can truly say that Microsoft has a good package when you combine Vista with Zune and Live Services. This blog post is even being created using Windows Live Writer =).
Those who haven't checked out the new Windows Live services should definitely do so.
I was testing out a workflow I created that pauses for a duration of time before sending a reminder. Although I intend to set my pausing duration to 14 days, I set it to 1 minute to test it. I was surprised to find that "1 minute" took 7 minutes the first time and 20 minutes the second time. I wonder why this happens. Does anyone know?
I've been waiting for a long weekend during which I could reorganize my computers and their files. It used to be that every year I would clean up my computer, organize files, and re-install windows and only the programs I was using. I always appreciated the fresh start.
How things have changed! Now, instead of one computer, I'm sporting a desktop and a laptop. I have two hard drives installed on the desktop, one that runs Vista and another for XP Pro. I also have a backup hard drive floating around somewhere with plenty of data on it. I have files all over the place and don't have a good way to organize them all. However, I do have a plan.
Sometime back in January, I installed Vista business on a brand new 150 GB Raptor hard drive. There were some initial hiccups with the Dell drivers which were incredibly frustrating. I got the drivers installed, but still couldn't use Vista because my printer drivers weren't compatible and my VPN client wouldn't work. It was fun diving in to the new operating system, but with so many frustrations, I never was able to get very comfortable using it. Thus I let Vista sit tight for a while while I booted back into XP Pro which was thankfully still fully in tact on the other hard drive.
A few months ago, I decided to give Vista another go since I had upgraded my printer to be compatible. The VPN still didn't work, but I figured I could always boot to XP when needed. Then I kept noticing lots of other little glitches and annoyances. I couldn't get my microphone to work. It's not a terribly big deal, but some of my best friends live in Italy and the only way we communicate is over Skype, so I couldn't talk to them on Vista. I think this was the final annoyance. I booted back into XP and will only check up on Vista occasionally to see if updates have fixed anything. Vista will by not be my main operating system on my PC. I'm sorry, Microsoft, but the "Wow" is definately not what I expected it to be ("Wow, my VPN doesn't work...Wow, my printer doesn't work...Wow, IE 7 is crashing a lot.").
My plan this Thanksgiving is to wipe out my Raptor drive (it's the faster hard drive) and install XP on it. I'll then partition the other hard drive into two sections: one for data storage and the other to test Vista. Then I'll go through all my files and finally get them organized and delete the ones I know I'm not using and will never need anymore.
I wish I could say Vista had worked out for me, especially since I'm usually a fan of Microsoft (esp. Zune and SharePoint), but my experience was utter disappointment. Maybe next time.
With as many as advances that we've seen in computing technology in the past few years, I'm still amazed that old tricks for speeding up the computer still work. My computer was acting up while I was working on a project today so I decided maybe a good old-fashioned defrag was in order. To my surprise, when it had finished, everything seemed to operate much quicker. Outlook loaded faster and overall the computer felt "new" again. Maybe I'll do the same thing to my laptop!
UPDATE: For whatever reason, the mdb file I had uploaded wouldn't work. I zipped up the file and the new link is reflected below. Thanks to Itay for pointing this out to me!
I really like how easy it is to create alerts in SharePoint Designer 2007, but I found a few aspects of it's "send e-mail" feature rather annoying:
- Every carriage return in the alerts is processed as a <BR> or a <P> (HTML code) when the e-mail is sent. This looks really bad.
- You can add style sheets to the e-mail, but because of the above problem, you have to create it as if it were a single line without line breaks. This is annoying.
- You can't copy the entire contents of an e-mail that has workflow lookups inserted to the body. This makes for a tough process of trying to copy code from one e-mail body to another.
I wasn't content with plain text e-mail alerts, so I copied the HTML out of one of SharePoint's default alerts and used that as a starting point. I cut up the contents of the file and put snippets of code in a Microsoft Access Database. I then made a form that helps generate the final formatting of the e-mail alert. You can insert "placeholders" for where you intend to add workflow data lookups to your e-mail alert. After you specify what fields you want, you can preview the alert in Internet Explorer (sorry Firefox users) and copy the code (without line breaks) that you'll need to paste into SharePoint Designer. Here's a look at what the application looks like:
Check out what a "Preview Alert" looks like:
The idea is that you let the application create the code for you and then you copy the code and paste that line into SharePoint Designer. If you added lookup placeholders to your code, you then go through and delete the placeholders and put the actual lookup in its place. Here's what SharePoint Designer looks like after you've added the lookups to your code:
I've included a link the the Access application below, but you should note a few things:
- The file is available as is with no warranties or support, expressed or implied.
- The preview is set up to work only with Internet Explorer (unless someone wants to write a module for me that calls the application for the default Windows browser).
- You'll need to manually copy the contents of the box at the top of the window. The contents of this box are generated when you click "Process Alert!"
- After copying the code into SharePoint designer, you'll need to replace the placeholders with actual lookups.
I'm open to comments and suggestions regarding this tool, but I can't promise to be able to support it. I'll try to fix bugs if I have time.
Download it here:
I originally learned how to do this from a post in Ian Morrish's blog:
I decided to do my conditional formatting by row, since I was showing or hiding the contents of an entire row of data based on whether or not the user had the correct security rights. to select a row, click in the area you want to select and then click <tr> at the top of SharePoint Designer:
To open conditional formatting, right click on the selected area and click "Conditional Formatting."
After you create the rule to show the contents of the selelection (you'll need to click the "advanced" option), add the text ddwrt:IfHasRights([permission mask value]). You can find the values for this field at the link to Ian Morrish's blog that I listed above.
You can see in the above example that I used the value 2048 for those who have permission to manage the list. I believe this applies to people set up as "owners" of the list.
This is a quick and dirty way to trim your pages based on a user's security privileges. If anyone knows how to do it based on whether the user belongs to a specific security group, that would be helpful, so let me know.
Fairly soon, I plan on posting soon my tool that helps create e-mail alerts from workflows in SharePoint Designer 2007.
It's been nearly a month since my last post. Things have been busy here at United Supply, leaving me little time to do any quality blogging. However, because I have to run a report every Monday morning that requires me to download oodles of data (it takes quite a while) I figure I'll try to produce something substantive while I bide my time, rather than check out the latest low-priced Zune offering
Managing Freight Claims at United Supply
At United Supply, we ship many of our orders using third party freight carriers such as UPS or FedEx. When the goods arrive damaged or a package is lost in transit, we as the shipper of the goods are usually responsible for filing a freight claim with the carrier.
The way our phone system is set up, a customer could call customer service and get a representative from any one of our branches to file a claim. In this set-up, a person a customer service representative (CSR) could likely take a call from a customer where the goods were shipped out of our Charlotte branch.
In the past, when a claim was called in to customer service, the CSR would fill out a form (by hand) and then fax that form to a person in Charlotte, who would file the claim with the freight carrier. On occasion, the CSR would call the carrier and file the claim over the phone, which, because it was filed over the phone instead of online, prevented it from being tracked over the internet.
If the customer called in to check the status of their order, the CSR would have to call the freight claim manager in Charlotte, who would then check her Excel spreadsheet to see the status of that claim based whether or not the background of that row in Excel was highlighted.
If the claim was approved, our freight claim manager would put her paperwork together and then submit it to a person in the accounts receivable department who would use that information to create a credit for the customer.
This was a lot of manual work!
Another person in the company was trying to create a form in InfoPath that customer service could fill out and then e-mail to our Freight Claim manager in Charlotte. This might have been great, except for the fact that we don't have InfoPath here at United Supply but for that one person's computer. However, I looked at the scenario and saw immediately that SharePoint would be a great solution.
Here's why I found SharePoint to be ideal in this situation:
- SharePoint gives us one list that can be centrally managed
- SharePoint can be set up so that adding an item to a list has the look and feel of filling out a form.
- Because it's managed on a web site, there's no need to call someone else to check an Excel file managed on their local computer.
- Automated workflows can be set up to alert various people when claims reach a certain status.
With much excitement, I went to work immediately to see what I could turn out. Because I knew I would be training many people who are not entirely familiar with navigating the world wide web, I decided to create custom web part pages in SharePoint Designer that would be used to facilitate the process.
The first step in the process was to create what I called the "Freight Claim Home Page." I wanted to put both look-up and entry features in one place so that customer service would have one point of reference to begin their freight claim pursuits. I used three different SharePoint lists and a Wiki manual combined with custom web part pages and workflows to make the entire process come together.
Here's what the Freight Claim Home Page looks like:
An explanation of the Freight Claim Home Page:
- Freight Claim Links
This part of the page is a Data View web part that links to a list called "Freight Claim Links." Each item in this list is security trimmed so that users only see the links that pertain to them. Take a look at the following image to see how the links list differs based on the security privaleges of the person who logs in:
Although SharePoint has a fantastic search engine built in, I added a search feature to the Freight Claim Home Page that would filter results by a specific parameter of their choosing. This is a simple data form web part linked to the "Freight Claims from Search" web part.
- Freight Claims from Search
This section is fairly self explanatory, as it displays the results of the Search web part. Users can click on the Work Order Number in this results list to see details for that claim below.
- Freight Claim Info, Package Info, Freight Claim History
The information in these web parts all come from the same SharePoint list and are all linked to the "Freight Claims from Search" web part. I layed it out in this way because I thought it gave a better "dashboard" feel to the page.
You'll see in the image that some fields and links are marked as visible only to Freight Claim Managers. Because SharePoint doesn't have security trimming built in to each individual field in a list, you can't easily limit the visibility and editability of fields in a SharePoint list. However, if you use conditional formatting in a data view web part, you can hide fields based on a user's security credentials. Update: Check out my followup post where I discuss conditional formatting and security trimming.
In addition to security trimming the Freight Claim Home Page, I also trimmed the Freight Claim Entry Form:
You'll see a section on that page that says "Administrative Fields Only." The fields only appear to those set up as "Freight Claim Managers."
Another list I use is Freight Claim Roles:
This list is set up so that the workflow e-mail alerts that I set up in SharePoint designer will e-mail the appropriate person in that role. That way, I don't have to make changes in SharePoint designer if personnel change at a particular branch. Update: Check out the followup post I made about creating custom e-mail alerts.
One of the workflows that I wrote is that when a claim reaches a "closed" status, an e-mail will automatically be sent to the receiving person at the particular warehouse if the package is being staged at that warehouse. It's not uncommon that a package that has to be staged for possible further inspection stays on the shelf for months after the claim has been closed because no one notifies the warehouse staff that the goods can now be destroyed. The workflow in SharePoint designer looks up the person in the "Freight Claim Roles" list that matches the branch where the package is located in the freight claim list item. Here's an example of the alert that I created:
I created a little application in Microsoft Access to help me automate the creation of these e-mails, which mimic the automated alerts that SharePoint creates. I'll post a write-up on that little tool at a later time because I believe a lot of people will find it incredibly useful as SharePoint Designer is lacking in its ability to make CSS html e-mail alerts.
Since we implemented this solution, I have received an overwhelmingly positive response to this new way of handling freight claims. We've virtually cut out all paperwork in the process and now have a way that any employee can reference the status of this list without having to flood our Freight Claim manager's voicemail box with status update requests.
I'm very much interested to know what people think about this SharePoint-based solution. Also, let me know if you have any follow-up questions.
I was listening on my new Zune
to a podcast at Michael Gannotti's blog
which was entitled WSS vs MOSS for Internet
). In this podcast, Michael shares some of his thoughts on what appears to him to be shortcomings of Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 (WSS) in comparison to the more complete Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS).
I must say that after having followed Michael's SharePoint blog for some time, I relished a little bit in his difficulties with the core SharePoint platform. Not that I'm rejoicing in some of the difficulties he experienced; rather, I can tell he realizes first hand what it feels like not to have certain things that those who use MOSS sometimes take for granted. I always felt that the professionals who use MOSS sometimes forget about the things WSS is missing. Ok, I'll stop with my grinning.
The reason Michael was using WSS to begin with was because he was doing some charitable work for a youth group at his Church and designing for them a site on a hosted SharePoint platform
. Although he works with MOSS 2007 for his corporate clients, this group obviously needed just a simple site, so WSS seemed the appropriate fit. Here are a few of the things he discussed:
- No RSS aggregator in WSS
He was quick to point out that there's not an RSS web part in WSS that allows you to pull content from other sites in a quick and dirty way. You can use SharePoint Designer 2007, but then you have to have SharePoint Designer, which isn't a cheap product. Thus this kind of limits the ease with which you're able to give the content management aspect of the site to those who will be using it, at least when it comes to aggregating RSS information from other sites.
- No Content By Query (CBQ) Web Part in WSS
Thank you for noticing how frustrating this is! I'm sure the WSS and MOSS design teams at Microsoft had a good reason for leaving the CBQ web part out of WSS, but it sure is frustrating to not be able to mashup data from one list alongside that of another. I haven't even figured out if this is possible using SharePoint Designer 2007. I'm stuck using web part pages, which sort of give me what I'm looking for.
As a self-tought Microsoft Access developer, I've been trying to find ways to things in SharePoint that I'm able to do in Access. Simple queries are one of those things, and it's really hard to imitate without the Content by Query web part.
- No "News" Function in WSS
I've never seen the "News" function in MOSS, but apparently it gives you the functionality to create an announcement and then assign a date on which it will go public. Apparently Michael found this a little frustrating, but I can't imagine it would be too hard to imitate by using SharePoint Designer, but then again, you would need to have SharePoint designer.
At the very least, you could just have the item require Content Approval, and then manually publish the information by approving the content to make it public.
- No [insert something else here] in WSS
Alright, so I can't remember exactly what his fourth point was, but I think it had something to do with page layouts. I've never had the time to really think about needing that or how I would use it, so I didn't pay much attention to that part.
I'm really interested to see where Microsoft is headed strategically as far as shared WSS hosting is concerned. MOSS 2007 no doubts has taken off through the roof, but you're starting to see (or maybe I should say that you're increasingly seeing) those of use who exclusively the simpler WSS, often times in a hosted environment. Small organizations such as church youth groups would never need the full-blown MOSS 2007 product, but more and more people are starting to find ways to make SharePoint work for them in hosted environments, so maybe we'll see some more changes with specifcally that aspect in mind.
Officially, this is not a Zune blog, but for those thinking about getting into the Zune world, you pick up a brand new one for $139 at Buy.com today only.
Check it out:
I've been crazy busy with inventory these past two weeks, so hopefully I'll deliver some SharePoint content next week. I'm really excited to post how we've been using SharePoint in our company.
Update 11/30/07: I think the supply of $99 Zunes might have dried up over the Black Friday weekend, unless Woot runs another deal. The reason I'm still updating this post is because even though this is a SharePoint blog, the search term "$99 Zune" beats all other search terms by ten-fold. By the way, I love my Zune, and Wireless Sync is amazing.
Update 10/4/07: I checked out the deal yesterday and it has expired. How sad =(. I'll keep my eye out for more great zune deals, though.
So maybe this isn't exactly SharePoint related material, but for those of you who are Zune fans, this is HUGE. For a limited time (who knows how for how long), you can get a refurbished Zune on woot.com for $99 plus $5 for shipping. That's incredible! Now I'm going to be a Zune owner.