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Spanning Solutions – IT Consultants Honolulu, Hawaii http://www.spanningsolutions.com Wed, 14 Feb 2018 04:11:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 Outlook 2013 – First Few Days http://www.spanningsolutions.com/2013/02/10/outlook-2013-first-few-days/ Mon, 11 Feb 2013 09:57:18 +0000 http://www.spanningsolutions.com/?p=817 sorryforIE6

One of the IT philosophies that we promote on a regular basis is that you should update your hardware and software — on a regular basis. Or at least have some sort of schedule, rough plan, half forgotten dream, or crayon doodle on a dinner napkin about when things should be replaced. Normally people tend to, at best, replace hardware. Most likely because hardware is what shows the most visual signs of aging, i.e. computer won’t start because something died inside of the box. What commonly gets left behind is software. For the most part, software doesn’t show the obvious signs of aging that hardware does. Aging software is sort of like a man growing older – it was such a gradual process that he didn’t realize how much hair he lost, how much nose hair had replaced it, and how much weight he gained until he compared himself to his high school graduation photos. The point is, like hardware, software also needs to be upgraded periodically.

Now, we don’t advocate upgrading just or the sake of upgrading. But what often happens with software is that people will continue to use the version that they have until they are forced to upgrade. And here is where it gets ugly. Most software manufacturers understand that their users get accustomed to how their software operates. So changes are usually implemented incrementally from version to version, to ease their users into the new version. The problem is if too much time has elapsed and you are suddenly forced to upgrade, not only do you have to deal with a couple of visual or functional tweaks, you are catapulted years into the software future. And for most users, that sucks. But like many things which are good for us, it’s not always fun, and sometimes is uncomfortable, but something that is necessary.

So why am I talking about this? Because I was recently forced to upgrade a piece of software which I had become complacent with, because honestly, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. And when I say “forced” I mean that Brandon told me that I should upgrade because I was using software that was 6 years old (which in the software world is eons, to give you an example, 6 years ago there was no Android phone), and that “you are the one that always says that people should upgrade their software.”

Microsoft Office is the software that I upgraded, to the latest version Office 365 Home Premium to be specific. And rather than talk about all the features, and changes, etc, etc, which I’m sure has been thoroughly reviewed somewhere else on the Internet. I’ll just focus on Outlook, a program which I use extensively, and my first impressions, thoughts, likes, and dislikes.

And if you are still here reading, wow, really? Nothing better to do today huh?

What I don’t like

Let’s start out with what I don’t like, because let’s be honest, everyone always points out the things they hate first. Don’t they?

  • The default color theme in Outlook is way too white, there’s no contrast, and actually makes it difficult to differentiate between the different sections, and to quickly scan and identify what you are looking for. Fortunately this is easily changed in the Office Themes option.
  • The titles in the Ribbon are all uppercase and makes it hard to read. There are a lot of opinions on readability in typography, uppercase vs lowercase, color contrast, etc., etc.. In fact, it’s a pretty big deal when it comes to choosing a typeface, like when the US DOT chose a new font for the highway signs. Not that we’re going to be reading the Ribbon titles while passing at 60 mph, but at a glance, I think the all caps is still harder to read.
  • The header in the Reading Pane takes up a stupid amount of vertical space.
    • After reading through the Office 2013 Preview forums, it appears that Microsoft in all their wisdom removed the option to hide the header because it would confuse most users if they accidentally hid the header. Basically, Microsoft wanted to make Outlook as stupid-proof as possible. Boo.
  • Shared overlay calendars still not “fixed”. Damn it Microsoft… Brandon and I share our calendars with each other to facilitate easy and accurate scheduling. Outlook 2007 introduced the ability to overlay multiple calendars which gave a very comprehensive view of multiple calendars. Super. But when Outlook 2010 rolled around we noticed a behavioral change in the way the overlay calendars worked. In Outlook 2007 my own calendar would always be on the top of the overlay stack, which made sense, because if I added an appointment, it would, by default, add to my own calendar. That behavior changed in Outlook 2010; each time you close and open Outlook 2010, the last shared calendar you added is on top. Which means each time I open Outlook 2010, I have to select my own calendar, to make sure it’s on top of the stack. I was really hoping that Microsoft would fix this in Outlook 2013 to make the calendar stack order persistent, but sadly they didn’t.
    • From my reading around, it appears that an Internet shared calendar will maintain it’s position in the stack hierarchy,  but not a shared calendar within the Exchange organization.
    • Actually, I stand corrected, even in the same session (left Outlook open), periodically when I go to my calendar, Brandon’s calendar will jump to the top of the overlay stack. Wtf Microsoft?

What I like

  • Basically the same layout as Outlook 2007. Don’t have to learn how to walk again.
  • When Ribbon is collapsed, a “New Email”, “New Appointment”, or “New Contact” button is readily available at the top of the left navigation bar eliminating the need to expand the Ribbon, then click to create a new item.
  • Skype integration.
    • When I started Outlook 2013 for the first time, I received a prompt from Skype to allow Outlook to interact with Skype. Now, without the need for a toolbar or Add-in, I can initiate a Skype call right from Outlook.
    • Just by hovering over a contacts name, you get a pop up menu. If you click on the phone-icon drop down, you can select which number you want to dial.
  • Shows a reply status in the email header in the Reading Pane.
    • Ok, so I guess that “stupid amount of vertical space” is used for something useful.
  • The Reply, Reply All, and Forward buttons are all in the Reading Pane header.
    • Gives quicker access to the most common tasks for the message. Though it does take up vertical space, and if you don’t hide your Ribbon (like I did) they are redundant controls.
  • Exchange offline sync settings. Much like on your phone or tablet, Outlook 2013 by default only keeps 12 months of mail offline. This is great for those who have an SSD in their computer which is typically much smaller than a standard hard drive, so storage space is at a premium. And just like on your phone or tablet, when doing a search, both the offline and server content will be searched.

What I meh

  • Animated pane transitions and smooth animated cursor.
  • Weather widget in Calendar.
  • The new navigation to move between different sections of Outlook.
  • The Peek feature on the Calendar.
    • When hovering your cursor over an appointment, it gives a pop up summary of the appointment, the start and end time, the location, reminder, and meeting organizer.

Things I immediately changed

  • Changed the Office Theme to Dark Gray.
    • File > Options > General > “Office Theme”
  • Re-ordered my email accounts/mailboxes in the left navigation.
    • In addition to my Exchange account I have a Gmail account, as well as my Archive PST. When opening Outlook for the first time, my Gmail account was last in the list.
    • Simple drag-and-drop sorting.
  • Added my Gmail Inbox to the Favorites for quick access.
    • Right-click on folder > “Show in Favorites”
  • Minimized the Ribbon to give me more vertical space.
    • Right-click on a Ribbon tab > “Collapse the Ribbon”
    • Or double-click on a Ribbon tab, though getting the clicks right is a bit tricky. Better just do the right-click method.
  • Hid the user photographs
    • File > Options > People > “Show user photographs when available”
  • Re-enabled the check for duplicates when saving new contacts.
    • File > Options > “Check for duplicates when saving new contacts”.
  • Turned the Reading Pane back on.
    • View > Reading Pane > “Bottom”
  • Turned the To-Do Bar back on.
    • View > To-Do Bar > “Calendar” and “Tasks”
    • You need to enable this for each Outlook section, e.g. on Mail, Calendar, People, etc.
      • This allows you to customize which parts of the To-Do Bar you want on each section of Outlook.
  • Disabled hardware graphics acceleration.
    • Apparently my graphics card is getting on in its years. I have an Nvidia Quadro NVS 420 pushing 2 monitors, a Dell G2410, and a Dell E228WFP, and I guess the nifty smooth transitions in Outlook are too much for my card. The transitions will stutter sometimes, or there will be a delay before the transition happens. So I disabled hardware graphics acceleration, which disables the smooth transitions. So, doesn’t look as cool, but also doesn’t delay and make me want to throw my computer out the window.
    • File > Options > Advanced > “Disable hardware graphics acceleration”

What I’m still undecided on

  • The new “People” view in Contacts. Traditionally I’ve always used the “Business Card” view for my Contacts. By default Outlook 2013 uses the People view which has a split screen (2 column) view, with the list of contacts on the left, and the details on the right, kind of like the Reading Pane for email. It’s kind of nice, the People view shows more of the contact information. I’m still undecided if I like it better than the Business Card view.
  • Replying-to or forwarding an email is embedded in the Reading Pane. You do have the option to pop-out the message into a new window. You can still navigate between the Outlook sections, and go back to your in progress reply. Still haven’t decided if I like that or not.
  • The visual changes in Outlook 2013 clearly take its cues from the Microsoft mobile-OS-formerly-known-as-Metro, now generously applied to Windows 8. The lines are clean, there are no superfluous gradients or shadows, the typography for the most part is modern and clean, and Microsoft seems to be taking more advantage of the effect of white space on a user interface.
    • I still question some of the design choices, like the large header in the Reading Pane; and the default all white color theme which is just terrible to read. I suppose MS was trying to go for the minimalist super-clean look, but there is a balance between clean design and functional design.

That’s it for now. I’m actually cheating a bit with this post. I did start writing this post the day I installed Office 2013, but it sat uncompleted in my Evernote for a couple of weeks *gasp*. So I’m trying not to adjust any of my initial thoughts now that it’s been a couple of weeks. I suppose I’ll have to write a follow up post to this, because there are things that I have just gotten used to, and some things which still bug me but there’s nothing I can do about. I will say that I am happy that there isn’t anything about Outlook yet that makes me want to throw my computer out the window. And again, if you’re still reading this, wow, you really need to consider finding a hobby, or I guess you really like reading the incoherent ramblings of an IT person.

Real Men of Genius http://www.spanningsolutions.com/2013/01/30/real-men-of-genius/ Thu, 31 Jan 2013 08:37:53 +0000 http://www.spanningsolutions.com/?p=782 Though, some would say that’s debatable…

Holy crap. It’s literally been over a year since I’ve posted something new. That’s terrible. The problem when you’re a small company is that you have a very flat organizational structure (side-story: Some years ago, I used to wear dress slacks and long sleeve dress shirts to work every day, mainly out of habit from my time spent in incarceration at the UH College of Business. Someone once asked Brandon if I was the boss and got paid more. When Brandon said no and asked why they thought so, they said because I dress nicer. Lol.).  I still dress nicer, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, flat organization. Because of our flat organization I often get distracted (or lazy) and sometimes busy and I let my will to write relevant and engaging posts fall by the wayside. And in this case, by the way, way, waaaayyyside. So one year later here I am re-engaged and re-motivated to write something, though I’m not sure what.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never be able to write as thoroughly as a major tech blog, mostly because that’s what they do full time, and fortunately or unfortunately I don’t write full time. That and I really started this whole blog-thing in the first place just as a way of putting some of my thoughts out there about our company, about IT, and really anything that I think our customers might appreciate. What I have decided, or at least decided to do for now, is to write about what’s currently engaging me. I figure it’ll be a slightly more entertaining read if I’m writing about something that’s making my life easier, or making me happy, or making me want to take my computer out into a field and introduce it to a Louisville Slugger ala Office Space, rather than writing some soulless tech babble about the latest iWindowBBaDroidCamPrinterPhone (unless of course I have some deeply personal and insightful views on the iWindowBBaDroidCamPrinterPhone).

To sum up, I hope to start posting again on a regular basis, and hope that something I post helps you out, makes you think, or just makes you briefly exhale sharply through your nose as you do when seeing something mildly entertaining on the Internet.

Brandon dug up and oldie but goodie the other day. Here’s to your company computer guy.

Real Men of Genius – Company Computer Guy (opens in new window, and is sound, so you probably don’t want to open this at work. Why are you reading this at work?)

We totally don’t own the copyright to this, and are posting it for funsies. Please no one sue us. 

A Bit of Nostalgia http://www.spanningsolutions.com/2012/01/06/a-bit-of-nostalgia/ Sat, 07 Jan 2012 04:24:18 +0000 http://spanningsolutions.com/?p=714 It’s a new year, and we’re all getting just a little bit older. As we approach the end of civilization this year, take some time to geekily (geekishly?) walk down memory lane and reboot a bunch of old operating systems. You know, just for funsies.

[The Restart Page]

Windows 8 Explorer Design Changes, etc. http://www.spanningsolutions.com/2011/08/29/windows-8-explorer-design-changes/ Tue, 30 Aug 2011 01:52:10 +0000 http://spanningsolutions.com/?p=707 Interesting in depth article from the Windows 8 design team about the changes/improvements to Windows Explorer that are coming with Windows 8.


For anyone else who has been following the Windows 8 development (probably no one reading this article, sigh forever a geek), it has been interesting seeing the change in their design paradigm toward a more touch driven UI (user interface). This change in design is primarily to unify the OS experience across all hardware platforms (PC, tablet, and phone), and I can’t argue with them, this makes sense. Apple is doing this with iOS and OSX, particularly with the latest version of OSX, where they brought over many UI elements from iOS over to OSX. Windows Phone 7, at least in my opinion, has an extremely successful UI design, and it makes sense for Microsoft to bring over some of that clean, information friendly design over to the desktop OS as well.

In this Windows 8 unveil video you can see Microsoft demo a new dashboard type interface which is very similar to the Metro UI used in Windows Phone 7. This dashboard has live tiles like in Windows Phone 7 providing live information about weather, email, stocks, etc. at a glance, which is nice. And no, the entire OS doesn’t look like this, you can hide this dashboard and see your desktop like normal, so don’t start panicking about how different it is.

The problem I see with all of this is that the way users interact with a touch device is very different then how users interact using a mouse and keyboard. For example, for those of you who have used an iPhone, iPad, or Android device, have you noticed that to scroll down on a screen you push up, but on a desktop or laptop you pull the scroll bar down? In fact, in the latest version of OSX (Lion) Apple changed the default scroll method to a touch-interface like mode. Unsurprisingly this confused the hell out of many people after upgrading to Lion, but fortunately you can switch back to a more traditional desktop like scroll method in the preferences. Also, on a phone or tablet type device there is limited screen real estate, and generally fingers are pudgier and less accurate than a cursor, so on screen buttons need to be bigger, and layouts need to be finger friendly. Whereas most modern desktops and laptops have screen resolution galore, and for the most part we use a mouse or trackpad to interface with the computer which means that big spaced out buttons may not be the best design choice.

What does all of this have to do with the original link that I posted above, not a whole lot really. The article briefly mentions that the ribbon is more touch friendly than dropdown menus, which I agree with. But other than that the changes to Explorer in Windows 8 don’t really have anything to do with the last 3 paragraphs that I just wrote. The point is that this is what happens when your train of thought derails and rerails (rerails?) while writing the same article.

Bookmarks Bar Space Saver http://www.spanningsolutions.com/2011/07/07/bookmarks-bar-space-saver/ Fri, 08 Jul 2011 08:42:05 +0000 http://spanningsolutions.com/?p=693 The bookmarks bar is a useful browser feature to have quick access to website favorites. Fortunately or unfortunately most browsers use the website title as the title for the favorite link, and this tends to take up a lot of space. Your bookmarks bar probably looks something like this.

Chances are that you have more favorites that you want quick access to, but they get pushed off the bookmarks bar because the titles are too long.

Good news everyone! There is a way to shorten the titles, or in some cases even remove the titles altogether to compact the favorite link, and thus making more room for favorites on the bookmarks bar.

In Google Chrome, simply right-click on the bookmark and click Edit in the pop-up menu. Here you can either rename the bookmark or eliminate the title entirely. Here is what the Gmail favorite looks like with a shortened title, and without a title.



And here is what my  bookmarks bar looks like with more titles removed. In some cases the icon may be generic, or may not be distinctive enough for you to recognize what it is without the title, in this case the American Express icon is a bit too generic and I might forget what it’s for if I completely remove the title. Or if the website doesn’t have a distinctive favorite icon you might just see the generic browser shortcut icon.

Chrome bookmarks bar


Other browsers have the ability to edit or shorten the bookmark favorites. In Firefox, right-click on the bookmark and select Properties. Here you can edit or delete the name.

Firefox - bookmark properties window



Internet Explorer is somewhat limited in its favorite bar customization. Here you can only select, Long titles, Short titles, or Icons only. Here in this screenshot you can see the long titles. In Internet Explorer, right-click on a bookmark, click Custom title widths, then choose your option.

Internet Explorer 9 favorites bar


And here is the Internet Explorer favorites bar with Short titles, and Icons only.



A Bit of Geek Humor http://www.spanningsolutions.com/2011/06/23/a-bit-of-geek-humor/ Fri, 24 Jun 2011 08:25:10 +0000 http://spanningsolutions.com/?p=674 Haven’t posted anything in quite a while, so here is a quick video on how to install AOL on your computer. Video after the break.

Ok, in all seriousness, it is not necessary to use the AOL desktop software. If you still have an @aol.com email address, you can access your email by going to webmail.aol.com. In the past the AOL desktop software has been notorious for being heavy, cluttered, and at times conflicted with other software like PDF readers, and anti-virus software. Modern Internet browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer 9 are good, lightweight browsers that will provide a secure browsing experience without all the in-your-face clutter of the AOL desktop.



Angry Birds on the Web http://www.spanningsolutions.com/2011/05/12/angry-birds-on-the-web/ Fri, 13 May 2011 08:10:38 +0000 http://spanningsolutions.com/?p=664 Here is your totally time-wasting, useless-knowledge, productivity-killing, knowledge for today. Angry Birds, one of the most popular iOS and Android games, the game which it seems everyone and their grandma has played, and the game until today I had not played, is now available on the web.

You can play it here, chrome.angrybirds.com; but don’t click this link if you plan to get anything done today.

Gmail Motion http://www.spanningsolutions.com/2011/04/01/gmail-motion/ Fri, 01 Apr 2011 13:06:06 +0000 http://spanningsolutions.com/?p=658 Google once again is revolutionizing how you interact with your email. Gmail first introduced the concept of labels, storage that grows with you, and threaded conversations. Google is now introducing… Gmail Motion.

I’ve been beta testing this for the past couple of months, and honestly I am pretty impressed. It took a little bit of adjusting to get the motions down, but once I did, creating emails, and manipulating messages was never easier. Watch the videos to get an idea of how Gmail Motion works.

In a word – amazing.



World Backup Day 2011 http://www.spanningsolutions.com/2011/03/31/world-backup-day-2011/ Thu, 31 Mar 2011 22:16:26 +0000 http://spanningsolutions.com/?p=650 It’s serious business. I know that we’ve covered the subject of data backup ad nauseam, but the fine folks at reddit came up with the brilliant idea to declare March 31 as World Backup Day, so we’re going to talk about data backup again, and again, and again, and a…. you get the point.

The idea for World Backup Day was conceived by a reddit user, and soon the idea spread with other redditors joining in and creating an official World Backup Day website, an official twitter account @worldbackupday, and #worldbackupday hashtag. Several tech blogs (Lifehacker, GigaOM, ReadWriteWeb, Engadget) have featured World Backup Day to help spread the word.

The WBD website provides information about why you should backup, how to backup, and also has partnered with several online backup providers for a chance to win free storage, yay!

So, seriously, no more excuses, do it, do it now.


MSE Website Redesign: A Rant http://www.spanningsolutions.com/2011/03/31/mse-website-redesign-rant/ Thu, 31 Mar 2011 10:11:35 +0000 http://spanningsolutions.com/?p=646 This is more of a rant than anything, so bear with me. Microsoft recently overhauled their Microsoft Security Essentials website. And normally a website redesign is nothing more than a small part of a larger marketing campaign to refresh a brand identity, but in this case, I think Microsoft dropped the ball. You can’t just make a radical sweeping visual change to your anti-virus software website at the drop of a hat. With the amount of phishing websites out there, and browser hijacks which redirect unsuspecting Internet surfers to illegitimate versions of trusted websites, I find it astounding, and appalling that Microsoft would completely overhaul their Microsoft Security Essentials website without any notice whatsoever. In fact, Microsoft should be even more wary of massive branding changes especially in light of recent rouge versions of MSE which looked very much like the genuine article. 

I am not sure exactly when Microsoft made the change, but here is what the Microsoft Security Essentials website looked like in February 2011.

MSE website Feb 2011

And here is what their website looks like now, at least as of March 30, 2011.

MSE website Mar 2011

In fact, Brandon called me to verify that the MSE website was legit, and that the computer he was working on wasn’t still infected and redirecting the browser to a phishing site.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things, this change really isn’t a big deal. The problem I see is that Microsoft so far has done an excellent job with Microsoft Security Essentials. It is a fast, lightweight, accurate and free anti-virus software, which is, or at least was well on its way to building a strong identity and reputation of trust. Part of building that user trust is an easily recognizable brand, which can be easily identifiable as genuine. Understandably we visit this website significantly more than the average user, so while the change was drastic to us, it may not be to the average user.

This is not to say that other anti-virus software companies don’t ever update their websites. Symantec, McAfee, ESET, AVG, etc, have all gone through their various website refreshes. The difference is that those websites kept some sort of theme constant to their core brand, whether it be the color scheme, typeface, or logo. In the case of the MSE rebrand, there is nothing similar to the old site, save for the typical Microsoft pictures of people looking like their are enjoying the Microsoft product.

This rant of a post shouldn’t take away from the fact that MSE really is a good anti-virus software. We use it on a regular basis, and so far has served us well. And again, despite my strong feelings about this redesign, in the grand scheme of things, this brand refresh is just a small hiccup for an otherwise successful Microsoft product.