29 February 2012

Consumer Preview of Windows 8 released

Microsoft has chosen to call it Consumer Preview instead of Beta, but it was promised to the end of February and it came on the very last, extra day. We recognize the problem – there is always something more you want to improve! compatibility
When the developer preview was released in September the Office applications were tested and found to support the new operating system well. Now when we have access to a more developed version of Windows 8 we will of course test again and make our outmost to not only support Windows 8 but also to take advantage of the new features to enhance the products.

I have written about Windows 8 in earlier blogs, about the technicians' first reactions to the developer release and about the new market the Store integrated in Windows 8 will give us. Therefore I will now mention a few other things rather than the Metro, the Windows Store and the touch screen. Finally I will give you a treat – a photo of a young and rather unknown Bill Gates.
Win 8 screen
Start fresh
All who once have been forced to reinstall an operating system know that it is a tedious process. With Windows 8 that is history. The new operating system gives the option of going back to a fresh installation of Windows without losing personal files or settings or applications installed from the Windows Store. I am not yet sure how it is with other non-Microsoft programs, that do not come from Windows Store, but it is still a good improvement.

With Windows 8 Microsoft introduces what they call “charms”. These are small and easily reached icons indented for quick navigation to features you use often, like Search, Share – which will be easier with Windows 8 – Devices – for example to stream video to a TV, or send files to another device – or Settings. IE 10 Internet Explorer 10
With Windows 8 comes Internet Explorer 10, which is said to be the fastest browser of all. I hope it will be better than IE9, which I and many others have found lacking and which I do not find as fast as Google Chrome.

Easy moving between PCs if you use the cloud
It is possible to connect cloud services like Hotmail, SkyDrive, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to the Microsoft account, and if photos are stored on SkyDrive, Facebook or Flickr you can reach them immediately when you open a PC with Windows 8. This makes it easier to use several PCs and still have all you need at hand.

Windows 1
A long way since Windows 1
Windows has come a long way since the first MS- Windows version, presented in 1983 by a happy Bill Gates in the news clip above. The photo comes from Business Insider, and at that time even the tech section of a business paper had to introduce Microsoft as “a leading producer of microcomputing software”.

Behind Windows 8 we find another genius, Steven Sinofsky, who will probably be Microsoft's next CEO. For a full overview of Windows 8 I recommend Microsoft’s own presentation in the Windows Blog.

Use TimeCard And Report Time And Expenses Directly From Your Outlook Calendar

The Outlook application TimeCard is available in both a Single and a Workgroup version. Today we have released a minor update to fix a bug that showed when users opened a meeting request in a new window.
TimeCard logotype Tag appointments with time reporting data
TimeCard logotype When TimeCard is installed in a PC, the Outlook appointments get dropdowns for Customer, Project, Task or whatever is decided on by the user, and from these dropdowns the correct values for each appointment are selected. Also expenses can be added to the appointment. That way the Outlook calendar appointments are converted into timesheets that can be reported to a database – still from within the Outlook calendar.

TimeCard Single for one person
The Single version of TimeCard is intended for one person only. This user keeps everything in the PC, where TimeCard creates an Access database for the time reports. The settings dialog is reachable directly from Outlook, and it offers many possibilities so that you can easily configure TimeCard for your own personal needs.

TimeCard Workgroup for organizations
The Workgroup version of TimeCard has central reporting, to a Microsoft Access or SQL Server database. Later this year we hope to also add the option to report directly to a SharePoint site. The TimeCard administrator makes a central configuration and decides what properties should be reported on, but each user can also make personal choices and select to only show certain values – to not have so many to choose from.

Extra long trial
Many big companies and organizations have shown an interest in evaluating and using TimeCard Workgroup, but to really get a chance to try how it works for the employee time reporting many have needed more than the usual 30 days trial period. We therefore allow 60 days for TimeCard – for practical reasons also for the Single version.

Welcome to learn more about TimeCard! And if you already use TimeCard and have had a problem when opening meeting requests I recommend you to upgrade. Community Member organizations and Single Support customers have free upgrades, as always with products from Business Solutions.

UNHRC Discusses Internet Freedom Today

The Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has initiated a panel discussion about Internet freedom held in the United Nations Human Rights Council today. This is the first time the Council takes up this hot topic.

Fight about the future of the internet
There is an ongoing fight between countries that want to see a greater government influence over the Internet, for example Russia, China and Iran, and countries like Sweden, who want a more open internet. Sweden prefers that issues of internet governance are debated in forums where civil society, business and others have a real influence.

Fundamentals must be agreed on
The purpose of the discussion is to point out what the member countries of the UN Council can do to protect and promote freedom of expression on the internet, and to highlight the major threats to this fundamental right. “It is important to make sure we have the same respect for human rights and freedoms online as we have offline”, says Mr. Bildt. Getting that message accepted is fundamental to what we can do. With that agreed on we can establish a theoretical base for the global discussion about freedom on the internet.”

Information flow crucial for human rights
In his speech for the Human Rights Council today, Mr. Bildt pointed out how important the internet and social media had been for the so called Arab Spring, and he gave his full support to the people who revolted against tyranny and corruption. He saluted the men and women who fight for human rights all over the world and often take high personal risks. “They are the ones who fight in the front line for the values that we promote”, he stated. Mr. Bildt pointed out how important the free flow of information is for the continued human rights work. “Such access challenges oppression”.

I don’t expect a concrete result of today’s discussion in the Human Rights Council, but it is important that the question is debated at high international levels, and I hope Mr. Bildt’s initiative will at least be one little step in the right direction.

From Engagement Ceremony to G-Drive – Popular Blog Posts in February

Six months ago it became possible for me to spend more time on the blog, and this has led to a significant increase of readers. As I don’t always write about the Office applications but want to discuss other things too, I have a varied group of visitors. It is interesting to see what most of them like to read about.

Engagement and work from home
In the beginning of February Microsoft Sweden proclaimed a “Work from home” day, and my first article about the event was widely spread. I therefore wrote a follow-up post also, to tell how it turned out, but that article was not as popular as the first one. People were probably more interested in the concept than in the result of this special event.

In another much read blog post I congratulated developer Kanak Joshi, who got engaged recently. Kanak and her fiancé are Indian, and as I told some about Hindu customs I assume this post was interesting to more than just Kanak’s friends and relatives. Even if she is a nice girl she cannot have that many of them!

Tips and news
Kanban Task Manager logotype After these two most popular articles in February came articles who are more into the line of business. They are news about a product update – Calendar Browser V7.1 – and about our exciting new project, the Kanban Task Manager for Outlook.

Popular month after month are also the Tips. In February most people wanted to know how to add JavaScript to a SharePoint site and how to archive SharePoint list items. Peter Kalmstrom, our CEO, is a SharePoint expert that has earned all Microsoft’s certifications for SharePoint 2010, so of course he has a lot of useful information to share. It is a joy to see that so many take advantage of it.
 Microsoft Certified Professional logotype

Of interest to the branch
The third group of popular articles are those who concerns the branch rather than our own products. This month my report on useful tools when giving support service was read by many, just as my comments on G-Drive, the Google challenge to Dropbox and SkyDrive. After I wrote that blog post I have seen a massive Microsoft campaign for use of SkyDrive with Windows 8, so I am sure I will have reason to come back to this subject.

28 February 2012

Skype for Windows Phone Beta – Great GUI, But Serious Problems

Yesterday Microsoft finally announced the release of the Beta version of Skype for Windows Phone. The new app will make Skype available on almost all leading operating systems for mobile smart phones. As Skype has around 200 million users this is welcome news.

Chats are important to
Skype for Windows Phone Beta supports common Skype features like audio and video calls and the one-to-one and group chats that are so important to Business Solutions. As our team members are geographically dispersed, we use Skype chats to communicate quickly and safely via our PCs. It would be convenient if we could do the same on our smart phones.

Skype on Windows Phone 7.5 Lead Developer Jayant Rimza uses a Windows Phone 7.5, which is the latest version with the Metro interface. He has been waiting long for a possibility to use Skype with his Phone, so yesterday he was eager to test it. His first impression was good. The graphical user interface is awesome and Skype is very easy to operate on the Phone.

Test chat
I chatted with Jayant yesterday evening, and on my PC it looked fine. I could not see when Jayant was writing, though, and that was a bit annoying as I did not know if there was more to come from his side.

Jayant complained that he could not see my replies while he was typing in horizontal mode. He had to change into vertical again to see them.

He also had hoped that the spell check of the Phone key pad would work well with the Skype chat, as it does with other apps. Unfortunately it does not, and I can understand that. Not even Skype for PC has a spell checker for the chat – which sometimes leads to crazy misunderstandings when team members write too quickly!

Another problem was that Jayant could not see what contacts were online in his Phone. He had to select each person to see the status, which of course is a time consuming task. We want to see that at a glance, as we are used to do on our computers.

Problems list
The issues Jayant experienced are not included in the list of known problems in Skype for Windows Phone that Skype has published. As this is a Beta version we do expect some trouble, and it is a good idea to let users know what problems the developers are aware of. For some of them a workaround is given, but for most we can only hope that they will be solved quickly.

Only foreground capacity
Jayant and I agree that one of the problems mentioned in the list is devastating: the Beta version cannot run in the background. This means that it is impossible to receive chat messages and calls if Skype is not in foreground, so in reality you can only use Skype for calls and chats you initiate yourself. This is a serious drawback that makes the app nearly useless, so we really hope this will be fixed before the release of the gold version in April. As it is now I am not sure Skype for Windows Phone should even be called a Beta when such an important feature is not there. Maybe this release came to soon after all?

27 February 2012

Fast Calendar Browser Fix Thanks To Community Member

Calendar Browser banner
Calendar Browser for Outlook
was recently updated with support for Office 365 and a possibility to group resource calendars. We have now made another release of our popular resource booking application.

Smooth upgrades for most
Version 7.1 of Calendar Browser was released in January, and Community Members upgraded their installations without issues – until one Member suddenly reported a problem.  Mr. Paul Jennings at Wolff Olins LLC got a permission error when he started Outlook, and since all permissions were correct he was invited to a remote session with one of the developers. It showed that this error came due to a saving conflict in the Calendar Browser settings item. It was a bug in version 7.1 that only would affect a few, and it has now been fixed.

One Member report helped another
Very soon after the report  from Wolff Olins another administrator of Calendar Browser contacted us with the same issue, but then we already knew what the problem was. Both Member organizations got help quickly, and now we have released the updated Calendar Browser for all. Even though all Community Members probably have upgraded already, we want to make sure that no evaluator of Calendar Browser will get this error.

Quicker client tool Lead Developer Jayant Rimza took the opportunity to test a new idea, and since it worked as expected he also made another change in the new Calendar Browser setup. This change makes the client tool both load and work faster, and even if it was not slow before it is a valuable enhancement.

Good example
The Community Member who reported this error is a good example on how cooperative users can improve a product for all. Paul Jennings wrote an e-mail that clearly described the problem, allowed a remote session where Jayant could see what caused the issue and last but not least showed a positive attitude when he had to come back for another remote session before the problem was solved for him.

Many of the Community Members have a similar outlook (sic!) on life and work, and that makes our work rewarding and encouraging. Thank you!

24 February 2012

A High Tech Country Celebrates Its Birthday

Siret Toots imageToday I am happy to welcome a guest writer, Sales and Relations Manager Siret Toots. She comes from Estonia, a small country by the Baltic Sea that celebrates its 94th birthday today, and she will be telling us some about the amazingly advanced technological level of this young nation.

Tradition of mechanical industry
"For a long time Estonia has been known as a highly technological country, and already after the first World War Estonia was exporting home equipment, radiators, farm machinery, refrigerators, phones and also ships and tractors. For a tiny nation of about one million inhabitants, this was a great achievement. The image below shows Suur Tõll, the largest preserved pre-war icebreaker in the world. It was built in 1914 and is today moored at the historical seaplane harbour in Tallinn.
Suur Tõll photo

Tiger's Leap
Today Estonia is once again in the forefront when it comes to technology. In 1997 our government launched the Tiigrihüpe, which is Estonian for Tiger's Leap. The goal of this project has been to invest heavily in development and expansion of computer and network infrastructure, and it has been a true success. Today 95% of all banking Suur Toll photois done online, because the country has a 99% wifi and a 100% cellphone coverage. In 2010 public phones were actually removed everywhere, as no one was using them anymore. The first internet elections ever were held in Estonia, and today you can even vote via the mobile.

Emphasis on schools
From the beginning the Tiigrihüpe project concentrated much on using modern technologies to improve the educational system. All Estonian schools have Internet access and most have computer labs. Student records are online, and every teacher has a computer in class. Marks, tardiness, homework, comments ‒ everything is put in the student’s account and updated in real time so that both parents and students can see it. Also if a pupil is at home due to illness, both pupil and parents can see the homework and get test times and other important information via the Internet.

Tall Herman photo
Tiger’s Defence
After several cyber attacks in 2007 Estonia combined its network defense with its common military defense, and Estonian flagthis was so successful that NATO created the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn. The project has been nicknamed Tiger's Defence in analogy with Tiger’s Leap.

Birthday party
Today Estonians are celebrating. The president holds a ball, there are military parades and families gather for traditional meals. It is a bank holiday, and yesterday schools had historical plays and companies closed early. Now I live in Sweden, but this day my thoughts are with Estonia and I share the joy of my countrymen.

23 February 2012

First Baby For Swedish Crown Princess

baby photoEarly this morning Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria gave birth to her first child, a daughter. The little girl is the second in line to the Swedish throne, so she will have a royal upbringing to one day take over the responsibilities as the Queen of Sweden.

Ceremonial duties only
Sweden's monarch is primarily a figurehead, representing the country as the head of state but with no actual power. Most Swedes want to keep the royal family, but in the last years more and more have called for transfer to a republic. The Crown Princess however is respected among the monarchists and republicans alike.

Popular Crown Princess
Victoria,  is next in line to the throne, currently held by her father, King Carl XVI Gustaf. Sweden changed the constitution in 1980, three years after Victoria was born, to allow the eldest child to become the heir apparent and inherite the throne, regardless of gender. Before that female children were excluded form succession. Victoria married Daniel, a commoner, in June 2010, and the couple is very popular among the Swedes.

Summer neighbours in Borgholm
The Swedish Royal family has its summer residence at Solliden very near to the head office of Business Solutions, and it is expected that Victoria and Daniel will build a separate villa on the property now that the baby is born. The town of Borgholm celebrates Victoria’s birthday every year. with the whole royal family being present, and I guess the festivities will be even more popular this summer.

Comment 27 February: the image above is one of three first published photos, when baby Estelle was four days old.

22 February 2012

EU Court To Rule On ACTA

Today  the trade head of the European Union, Karel De Gucht, announced that the EU court has been asked to clarify whether the ACTA treaty complies with the fundamental rights and freedoms agreed on by EU and guaranteed to all EU citizens.

Why this decision?
ACTA is an international agreement on how to combat piracy and counterfeiting, and I have written about it in an earlier article when there were protests against ACTA in Poland.

The ACTA agreement text is finished, and it has been unanimously approved by all member governments in the EU Council of Ministers. It has also received a majority support in the EU Parliament, but after protests in several countries governments started to doubt that the agreement will be ratified. This has now made the Commission seek assistance from the European Court of Justice.

Vital knowledge must be shared
As owners of Business Solutions the Kalmstrom family has a strong interest in protecting copyrights, but there are several reasons to not accept ACTA in its current design. One is that we must also protect  the right for everyone to get access to vital knowledge, such as environmental technology and medicine. Here patents and copyrights may create unfair barriers and prevent countries with less research resources from getting what they would need to develop in the best possible way.

Test for fundamental rights agreement
The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights was agreed upon in the year 2000, and it describes the whole range of civil, political, economic and social rights of all residents in the EU. It will be interesting to hear the judgment of the EU court when it has compared the Rights text with the ACTA.

21 February 2012

Congratulations To Newly Engaged Developer

Engagement photo 1
Our clever developer Kanak Joshi has recently become engaged to IBM R & D Engineer Rugved Ambekar, and the whole team wishes them a happy future.

To the left the happy couple is standing in front of a Lord Ganesha's painting created by Kanak's future mother-in-law.
Around 30 people, family and close relatives, were present at the ceremony. It started with a Hindu ritual for God’s blessing, a pooja, and after that the couple exchanged rings in presence of the priest.   
Engagement photo 2

On the photo below you see the engagement rings and the mehndi on Kanak’s hands. Mehndi is a temporary henna decoration that has been used in India at special occasions for more than 3000 years. It is described even in the earliest Vedas.   
Engagement photo 3

I asked Kanak what was so special about Rugved, and she revealed that she loved that he is so full of fun and joy. “His personality was the first thing that impressed me,” she said. She also told me that her fiancée plays the guitar and is a very good singer. It sounds as if this man will be a good partner for our gem of a girl!
Engagement photo 1
A lot of presents were given after the ring ceremony. Both families gave clothes to each other, which is common in India at important occasions. Apart from the ring Kanak also received other gold and silver jewelry from her future in-laws.   
Engagement photo 3   
Kanak enjoys gardening and flowers very much, so she is happy that her new family owns nurseries. I imagine the wedding ceremony in December will be fantastic when they have such decorating possibilities!

20 February 2012

Business Globalization Leads To Increase Of Swedish Migration

Film poster The United States is the country with most users of products in the world, even more than in Sweden though Business Solutions is a Swedish brand.

However, some of the US users might have Swedish roots, because during the 19th century around 1.3 million Swedes moved to USA. Most of them settled down west and northwest of Chicago. The poster is from the film based on the Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg's Emigrant tetralogy .

Hunger an earlier cause for leaving Sweden
Today I read an in a Swedish leading newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, that 51.179 persons left the country in 2011, which is even more than during the earlier top year of 1887. In those days the reasons for the emigration were population growth and crop failures but also oppression from church and society. The US had no established state church or monarchy and offered good quality farm land at a low cost and high paying jobs in mechanical industries, so even though the journey over the Atlantic was a perilous one, many were willing to brave it for a better future.

Today work is the main reason
Nowadays the reasons for leaving Sweden are different. No one has to starve in Sweden, and we have a democracy where people can express themselves freely. The major cause for emigration today is the general globalization ‒ the world is getting smaller. Swedish companies move abroad, and people have a tendency to look for employment in other countries more often than before.

China new receiving country
The migration mainly goes to Nordic and English speaking countries, but 1.787 people also moved to China last year. Another country popular among Swedes is Spain.

"Climate refugees"
Polar BearSweden is a cold country even if we don’t have the proverbial polar bears walking on the streets. Therefore another reason for immigration is longing for a warmer climate. A group of Swedish pensioners live in southern Spain permanently or during the winter.

Also younger Swedes try to make a living in Spain, and if you can work from home this is no problem. Sigge and I were Spanish residents for ten years, and before that we spent the winters in Spain. As a matter of fact I am writing this post from Spain also.

Many move back again
We enjoyed living in Spain, but as the summers grew too hot for us we decided to move back and we now have a permanent home in Sweden. This is another big difference compared to the 19th century: hundred years ago you stayed in the new country, but today we have other possibilities. As Swedes are not forced to leave their country by political tyranny or hunger they are also free to move back. Many work or study abroad for some years and then return to Sweden.
Living abroad widens your mind
In my opinion this trend of migration is a positive one. After living in Spain Sigge and I have another view on life and a better understanding for other ways of doing things.

I hope we have also given something to the Spanish community, which has been so open and welcoming to us. In the same way other immigrants can bring something good to their new countries and take important experiences back with them when they return home.

15 February 2012

SharePoint Sharing Option For More Applications

The developers are not only adding new features and fixing bugs. They also improve our software on long time basis, to keep them strong in the future. One part of that work is to allow use of Microsoft SharePoint with more products than the current HelpDesk OSP and ShareTask.

SharePoint site instead of database
The first step of implementing the extended use of SharePoint is to add a SharePoint site as a an alternative for sharing data to an Access or SQL Server database in the products. When the SharePoint sharing option is selected the data will be saved in SharePoint lists instead of database tables, and neither a shared file server nor an Exchange server is required - only a SharePoint site that may very well be hosted. Business Solutions uses SharePoint 2010 on Office 365, which works just fine.

Kanban Task Manager first out
Kanban Task Manager logotype The first product to be released with the new SharePoint sharing alternative will be the new product Kanban Task Manager for Outlook. With Kanban Task Manager you can share information about projects and tasks within the workgroup. All the ongoing projects can be seen in Outlook on all PCs, and when one member of the group creates a new task, changes a task or drags it to another phase, all the other group members can see it in their PCs also. The Sharing Options dialog above is from Kanban Task Manager, and eventually similar dialogs will be used in more applications.

KBase V3 coming next
KBase logotype Work with version 3 of KBase, the knowledge base, is well on its way. KBase has up till now worked totally inside Outlook. It is installed in a public folder or a shared mailbox, and everyone who wants to read, add or edit articles must be connected to the local network. You can publish articles as webpages or embed them in a SharePoint site, but KBase V3 will be a better alternative for those Community Members who today have KBase embedded in their SharePoint sites. With KBase V3 and the SharePoint sharing option selected, there will be a direct contact between the KBase installation in Outlook and the SharePoint site. As soon as an article has been added or edited in Outlook it can be read on the SharePoint site.

TimeCard reporting to SharePoint
TimeCard logotype For our more complex products a SharePoint addition will give even more benefits. After the Kanban Task Manager and KBase releases we plan to give the time reporting Outlook add-on the same new option. This will mean that users will be able to report their time to a SharePoint site and no longer have to be connected to a databasen or report via an ASP page. All they need is an internet connection!

Microsoft Certified Professional logotype
Our CEO has all available Microsoft certifications for SharePoint 2010, so I am sure he will develop the new SharePoint alternatives to be both user friendly and efficient. I will of course come back with further info about our development projects in future blog posts.

14 February 2012

Google Challenges Dropbox And SkyDrive On Cloud File Sharing and Storage

Last week Wall Street Journal announced that Google will soon release a cloud service for storing and sharing files, similar to the ones already provided by Dropbox and SkyDrive. As the team has used Dropbox for file sharing during several years we look forward to the new release with interest. Will Google's G-Drive offer something better?

To store and share files in the cloud
Cloud storage is an alternative to disks, extra hard drives and other medias used for backing up files. Instead of connecting a physical device to your computer and save your files to it, you upload them to a server via the internet. If you give another person access to the folders that contain your files, you can easily share them without having to send them as e-mail attachments or using other more troublesome and insecure ways.

Dropbox or SkyDrive?
When Business Solutions looked for a good cloud service for file sharing the most important feature was how quickly files could be transferred from one computer or smartphone to another. We found that Dropbox was superior to Microsoft’s SkyDrive in that respect, so we chose Dropbox, first for our internal files and later also for the setup files of the Outlook, Exchange and SharePoint applications.

The use of Dropbox
When you download a product from the Calendar Browser iconwebsite it is actually not stored there at all. Instead we use a public Dropbox folder, and it has worked just fine. At only three people are allowed to upload files to this public folder, so you can feel sure you will get a clean product. But anyone may of course download the files.TimeCard icon

Also for the Premium, register free copies of the software we use Dropbox. Here there are only a few people with access rights on either side, so the PF HelpDesk icon Premium copy is well protected and cannot be used by anyone but a couple of responsible persons in the Premium Member organization.

The team makes good use of Dropbox for sharing files within the group. In my PC I have a HelpDesk OSP iconnumber of Dropbox subfolders that I share with different team members, and when one of them has dragged a file to the corresponding folder in her/his PC it does not take many seconds before I have it in my own machine and can open it.

The Google challenge
Google already offers several services for storing data in the cloud, so it is a logical step for this giant to take up the fight with Dropbox. It is said that Google will offer 25 GB of storage for free against Dropbox 2GB, but to really compete and make happy users leave Dropbox I think Google has to make their service better than Dropbox also. Microsoft SkyDrive already offers 25 GB, but they are still not as strong on the market as Dropbox is.

Who is the most reliable?
The outcome of the competition is also a matter of confidence. Whom do you want to entrust your valuable files? Lately Google has received some hard criticism for lack of respect for user integrity, a sentiment that Microsoft has encouraged in various ways. Dropbox, on the other hand, has a good reputation for security and protection of data, and I am sure they will do everything to keep this high regard.

The team will monitor the development closely, but today we see no reason to leave Dropbox for any other provider of cloud sharing and storage.

13 February 2012

Swedish Offices Empty During The Microsoft “Work From Home Day”

As I told you in an earlier post, Microsoft Sweden had proclaimed a “Work From Home Day” for last Wednesday. It has been interesting to follow the discussion on social media, in newspapers and in television, and here is a summary and some more of my own thoughts on the subject.

Nearly 50 organizations joined the event
According to Microsoft Sweden nearly fifty companies and organizations joined the “Work from home day”, and that is not bad for a small country like Sweden. Below you see an image from the Microsoft office that day. Note that the offices were still open. The only difference was that the employees worked from their homes. Many of the participants were in the IT business, of course, but also a big organization like The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation closed their office and asked the staff to work from home. For them the benefits of less pollution when less people commuted were decisive.
Office photo
Reactions on Facebook
Microsoft Sweden created a Facebook page for the event, and the comments were many and varied. In my opinion there was too much about unimportant things like how you dress when you work at home and too little about how to solve practical problems. Maybe the reason is that few of the visitors actually work from home on a regular basis? There were also comments from people who can never work from home, like teachers and nurses. And one visitor said “I would love to be able to weld from home!”

Mass media coverage
Many newspapers wrote about the Microsoft initiative, and it was also featured in several television channels. One of the news programs reported that people are not working more from home today than they did ten years ago, in spite of all the new technologies that make it easier. Many employers do not let their staff work from home even if it would be possible. Is it because of lack of confidence? Do they look more at time worked than at what is actually delivered?

Clear instructions make it easier
Sales Director Marie Ygge at Microsoft Sweden recommends clear instructions on what should be done when an employee works from home, so that both parties know what is expected. The SharePoint Task list is excellent for such instructions. We use a customized Task list for the staff, and it is easy to fill out and to check what has been done. And I know that at least one of our employees likes to look at the old, finished tasks also, for the encouragement that only a task well done can provide!

Working from home is not possible or even desirable for all, but for those who can and want to do it employers should cooperate. I firmly believe that happy people are more healthy and do a better job, and if working conditions can be improved to make employees more content it is in the end an advantage not only for the individual people but also for the company.

08 February 2012

Folder HelpDesk For Outlook On Its Way

PF HelpDesk icon Public Folder HelpDesk was the flagship for several years, before sales of our other products started to grow. Today the customer distribution of the products from Business Solutions is more even, but our issue tracking software for Outlook is still one of our best selling applications. Now we are working on version 12.

Installation in any Outlook folder
From version 12 this add-on will be called Folder HelpDesk, because it may actually be installed in any Outlook folder and not just in a public one. Many use it with shared mailboxes, and if the tool does not need to be shared it can even be installed in a personal Outlook folder.

New features
Version 12 will have several new features.
  • Notification to the person responsible for the case on manual addition of an e-mail to a ticket. Today this notification is only sent when an e-mail is automatically added to a ticket via the e-mail threading feature.
  • Search feature like in Outlook. The search result will be shown in the tickets list in Outlook as yellow marks on the found words or phrases.
Old Kanban board
  • Show only Caller tickets. When e-mails are convert into tickets manually you may choose between creating a new ticket and adding the e-mail information to an existing ticket. In the latter case Folder HelpDesk V 12 will have a possibility to directly show earlier open tickets from the caller of the converted e-mail, so that you don't have to search for them.
  • Possibility to give a custom general subject in the templates for Manual e-mail to Caller and FAQ answers. In PF HelpDesk we give a number of templates that may be sent automatically at different occasions. Today we give a standard subject for these automatic e-mails, but in Folder HelpDesk you can decide yourself what that subject should be. Also for FAQ answers you will be able to give a default subject.
  • A mini HTML editor for e-mail templates will make it easier to modify the default templates.
Welcome to the PF HelpDesk Plans page if you want to read more about these changes.

Net icon New technology
In Folder HelpDesk we will use .NET in the Outlook add-on instead of VB6. With this more modern coding we will no longer have to use several additional .dll files. The client will load faster, and it brings the application closer to compatibility with the 64 bit version of Office 2010. With the .NET technique Folder HelpDesk will also handle inline images in RTF e-mails in a better way than before.

The development will take a couple of months or maybe a bit more, but we hope to publish Folder HelpDesk V12 before the summer.

02 February 2012

Microsoft Sweden Proclaims "Work From Home Day"

logo Next Wednesday, 8 February, Microsoft Sweden has called for a national “Work from home day”. Their offices will be closed and everyone will be working from home. Microsoft also urges other companies to follow their example and do the same.

Technically possible
Today people can have conferences over the internet and share information in the cloud, so in many cases physical meetings are no longer necessary. Microsoft is doing a lot to extend these possibilities, with products like SharePoint, Office 365 and now also Skype, so the “Work from home day” is not just an altruistic project. Naturally Microsoft wants people to use more of these tools!

Apart from the Microsoft business aspect there are however several advantages with working from home. I should know, because I always do it. Business Solutions uses the Microsoft platforms mentioned above, as well as some of our own Outlook applications, to make it possible to work with a geographically distributed team of experts.

Working from home gives me several benefits:
  • I don’t have to spend time travelling to my work place.

  • I don’t have to pollute the earth while going there.

  • I don’t have to follow strict working hours as long as I am online and reachable during a better part of the day.

  • I can arrange my work space just as I want it, and it is nice and quiet
  • I don’t have to dress up!

But working from home is not only a bed of roses. The most obvious drawback is perhaps that you feel lonely when you don't meet with your work mates in person. That can be solved, though, if you work only part of the hours from home, maybe two or three days a week.

Practical difficulties
I think it can be harder to solve practical issues like safety measures, security and equipment. If you work from home on a regular basis, you cannot sit at the kitchen table or in a sofa. You need a good space for a workstation with the necessary communication and sharing tools. The place must be efficient, comfortable and secure, and you need backup for internet and maybe also for electricity.

All that costs money, and who pays? In my case it was easy, since I am one of three company owners, but with a big group of employees spread out in their homes you get a more complicated situation. The more security and special equipment an employee needs, the more difficult it will be to find a solution for working from home.

Future way of working?
I think the Microsoft initiative in Sweden is good. It can give people and organizations a kick to start discussing the matter of working from home more seriously than before. If all parties make an effort, I am sure the problems can be solved for more people than today. Many wish to work from home for at least some days a week, and we will probably see more of that in the future. So I wish Microsoft Sweden good luck with the “Work from home day”. I will certainly work from my home that day - and all other days also!