Organising email is a daunting task and everyone does it differently. Some have very specific folder structures while others leave every single message they receive buried within their inbox.
The problem with just about any approach is finding things at a later date.
Search folders can help with this and is one of those features you’ll have used every day with actually realising.
Outlook 2003 introduced the concept of search folders.
Search folders are used to create a "virtual folder" that displays only the emails using a criteria you specify. This could be across a whole mailbox or just a couple of folders.
The best example and the most commonly used search folder is the "Unread Mail" folder.
When you click on the unread mail folder in Outlook the messages displayed are messages you haven't opened yet, regardless of the folder the message actually sits in. This is especially useful if you use rules to automatically organise your email as it arrives (rules in Outlook will the be subject of an upcoming tips and tricks post!)
Outlook has other built-in search folders such as.
For Follow Up - Show messages across the entire mailbox that have a follow up flag.
Categorised Mail - Show email that has had a category assigned to it.
Large Mail - Show messages that have large documents attached.
The built-in folders are great examples but you can also create your own search folders.
To do this (these instructions are for Outlook 2010 - but the principle is the same in all versions)
From the mail tab scroll down the list until you find the search folders and right click on the "Search Folders" top level folder.
Select "New Search Folder".
Here you'll see some of the pre-built search folders you can create and customise but we're going to create one from scratch.
Scroll to the bottom until you fnd the "Create a customer Search Folder" option.
Click the "Choose" option to specifiy your criteria.
First you need to enter a name for the search folder. We'll use "Yesterday's Mail".
Clicking criteria displays a screen where we can set our query (below 1).
Clicking the browse button allows us to choose which folders in the mailbox to include or exlcude in the search (below 2).
This dialog is identical to the advanced find dialog and allows to setup complex search criteria.
We're going to keep it simple though and just look for items that we received yesterday.
This dialog allows us to specifiy exactly which folders to work with
We could specify the whole mailbox
Just the inbox and sent items or any combination we need
This is especially useful if we need to exclude the deleted items folder
This would prevent items that have been deleted appearing in our search results
Just keep clicking the OK button until all the we're back at the main Outlook screen.
Once the folder has been created we use it at anytime we need to view only the messages that we worked with yesterday.
We could use this to only display messages from a certain group of people
Messages of certain size
Messages in a certain category
High priority messages
The list is endless!
If you're using rules to automatically sort your messages a good one is to create a sort folder called "Messages while on holiday". Your criteria could be set to only show messages between two dates so that on your return to the office you can seperate what is current at what is older
This product is one of the hidden gems of the Office suite.
Hidden is used quite literally here though because depending on how you buy Microsoft Office depends on whether you’ll have even heard of the product!
Fortunately you can still buy InfoPath as a standalone product.
So what is InfoPath?
The short answer is Electronic Forms, but there is much more to it than that.
If you’ve ever created a form in Microsoft Access it’s along similar lines. What’s great about InfoPath though is that it isn’t tied into a specific database system. It can talk to SQL Server, Access databases, SharePoint (which is is it’s main strength) and more. You can even make use of InfoPath forms within Outlook to gather information via e-mail!
Also when stacked up against a form in a Word document InfoPath wins a lot of the time!
InfoPath allows you to do form validation to ensure data is entered correctly.
It’s biggest strength is it’s capability to “unlock” data which a Word document just can’t do. (Unless you want to do a lot of coding)
This means an simple example is in order.
Lets say you had a Word document that your staff used to enter their weekly hours worked.
It might look like this.
As you can see there is a lot of important information here.
At the top we have data that lets us know who the time sheet belongs to, and when it’s for.
Moving down we have the actual data itself. The hours worked.
Finally we have a brief summary of data so you can see at a glance what’s going on.
So what’s wrong with this?
You would have to trust whoever fills out the form to put a date in right place and numbers in the hours worked fields. What if someone enters 25 hours for single day? What if “Sales” isn’t even the correct name of the department?
Now you can sort of do this in Word 2007. But it’s not exactly simple. In fact, good luck finding how to insert a form field – The developer tab is hidden by default. Then you have to contend with “legacy form controls” and the new Office 2007 form controls. Not fun at all!
Once again you’d need to trust whoever is filling out the form to get their maths right. As with data validation you can get Word to do calculations on tables but it’s not exactly simple or intuitive!
This is the big one!
We’ve only showed you one form. Let’s imagine you’re Mr Anderson’s line manager. Your boss walks up to your desk at 9am Monday morning and tells you that your department is spending a fortune in overtime. He wants to know exactly how many hours your department logged in overtime for the last three months overall and on a per-person basis…..and he wants it for the management meeting at 11am!
So lets say that each person would have 4 timesheets per month. That’s 12 per person.
If your department had 5 people in it that’s 60 Word documents you need to open, read through, check the maths and note the important figures to bring into your total summary.
That’s going to take some time!
How does InfoPath help?
Here’s the same form designed in InfoPath
At first glance you’ll notice it’s essentially the same form as before
But if you look in the first block of data
You can see a calendar control button. This means we can choose a date with the mouse as well as typing one in.
It won’t let us put anything other than a date in the field.
You’ll also notice all the fields in the first section have a red star next to them.
This because I’ve made them mandatory fields. It’s a little visual notification to remind the user to put some data in.
You also get InfoPath to pop up a little message if no data is entered!
The fields that contain the hours worked data also have some validation rules.
This screenshot shows I’ve tried to enter some text in a numeric field
We get the nice red dotted border AND a tooltip to let me know what’s wrong.
What’s really great about this is that I didn’t even need to set this up. Just by specifying that the field was numeric InfoPath setup the basic validation for me.
Each control has LOTS of options around data validation to make sure we get exactly the correct data in.
You may also have noticed that the department field is a drop down list.
This means that we can ensure that only valid departments are entered. You’ll see why this can be quite important later on.
Also, the data is actually pulled in from a SharePoint list.
This means that these lookup lists can easily be managed without having to edit the InfoPath form. We can also set security on the SharePoint list to ensure only specific people can make changes to the department details.
InfoPath also has rules and events we can work with. We could actually set this up so all the staff names appeared in another drop down and that once a department has been chosen only the staff in that department are shown (or vice versa. You choose your name and your department is automatically filled out)
This totally solves the Data Validation problem mentioned above.
So what about calculation?
Same form as above with the same data entered
However this time the summary data is updated automatically.
We’ve set the summary fields to do a simple bit of addition and then made them read-only so they just work on there own without any user input needed!
Data Validation and Calculation all dealt with quickly and easily.
It would understandable if you were still a little sceptical at this point though. As previosuly mentioned lots of similar functionality is already available all across the Office suite. That brings us onto the final point made above.
The real magic happens when this is published to a SharePoint site.
When the form is published we can specify that the summary fields are to be pushed through to the SharePoint form library.
This is called “property promotion”.
Here is the time sheet Tom Anderson just filled out on the SharePoint site.
You can now see how many hours Mr Anderson worked that week without even opening the file!
Multiply this across the whole team and you can see at a glance what everyone was up to!
Let’s throw a bit of SharePoint magic in.
We’ve grouped by Department and then by Week Commencing Date.
Can you see why it was important to get the department entry consistent?
We can now get a real overview of the hours entered by each person.
And one finishing touch.
We’ve changed the view so SharePoint sums the totals fields.
This can look a little confusing when your grouping as it gives you overall totals as well as a total at each group level. You’d be better setting up a filtered view to do this.
Something like this.
We've removed a level of grouping and filtered to only show the Sales team.
You can now see really easily over the last two weeks the Sales team have posted 18 hours of overtime.
Just to show off….you could then dump this out to Excel for further analysis.
This waschart was created with about five clicks of the mouse. Getting that report together for the boss would be nice and simple.
Finally one other cool thing about using SharePoint and InfoPath for a solution like this.
The files themselves are stored in XML format.
This means if you needed integration with another system (your accounts package for example) this makes the whole thing a lot easier.
We’ll stop there….this was supposed to be a quick introduction!
If you’ve made it to the bottom of this post thanks for the reading!
This was just one example of how you can use InfoPath in a real world scenario.
There is lots more you can do, especially when you put it together with SharePoint.
For example, imagine having an expenses form tied into a workflow so that management approval is required when a certain monetary threshold is met?
Hopefully this all makes sense and you can see why we're such fans of InfoPath.
If you'd like to discuss how InfoPath or SharePoint could work for your business, please get in touch
If you’re on our security alert mailing list (and if not…let us know and we’ll add you!) you will have heard about the recent problems McAfee caused massive downtime to systems all across the world.
In trying to protect against a new threat they mistakenly turned on Windows itself!
While the damage wasn’t permanent any PC affected was unusable and couldn’t be repaired manually. We spent the back half of last week clearing the problem caused.
On Wednesday 25th April they released a virus definition file (5958 – April 21st) that incorrectly identified svchost.exe as a threat and deleted it on systems running Windows XP SP3.
Svchost is used for launching services (full description here) and any individual instance can run a group of services. This means its a pretty critical process!
Unfortunately for us a large chunk of our client base is running McAfee anti-virus software, the others run Trend Micro.
We knew something wasn’t quite right when we received several calls all around the same time with similar symptoms. However, while the symptoms were similar they weren’t identical so initially we didn’t quite know what was going on. Unfortunately the one thing they did have in common was a loss of network connectivity which meant we couldn’t fully diagnose the issue.
Later that day McAfee issued a notice, an updated definition file (5959) and details of how to fix the issue.
We had to,
Boot into safe mode
Add an EXTRA.dat to the c:\program files\commonfiles\mcafee\engine folder (or just run the 5959 Super DAT which is quicker)
Recover a copy of svchost from the service pack cache c:\windows\ServicePackFiles\i386\ or if not present, C:\WINDOWS\system32\dllcache\
Restart the computer
McAfee released an automated tool for this the following day (It’s in this KB article)
A simple enough fix to but as previously mentioned every PC we’d seen with this issue had no network connectivity.
This meant we potentially had to physically visit ever single PC we look after.
Only potentially because this only impacts running Windows XP SP3, incombination with a specific version of McAfee VirusScan we do have some clients running Vista or Windows 7. But most of our clients still currently run Windows XP. Also some of the PCs were still running 8.5.
Fortunately we also got a little lucky
We configure the McAfee products to fetch updates from the global McAfee update site every hour. Any servers on site will then check for and get updated every hour.
PCs check every 2-3 hours but we also put a random delay on this. The main reason is so that on larger sites we don’t want lots of PCs all generating network traffic at the same time. By putting in the random offset it’s staggered through the day. So this is in combination with the fact McAfee actually got the DAT update out the same day meant that lots of PCs never actually received the faulty update.
That said. We still had a LOT of work to do.
We visited as many sites as we physically could over a two day period and some other sites that had some tech savvy people on site we managed to go through it on the phone with them.
Obviously for our contract customers this was all at our expense.
As you can imagine there has been a lot of commentary on this and other vendors are jumping in to take advantage.
By having a managed service contract in place many of our customer got this problem identified quickly and resolved fast.
Just about every modern business uses email as one of their primary means of communication. Modern smartphones have helped with this by making email accessible while on the go.
This technology is also available to small businesses and those who have invested in Microsoft Small Business Server have been able to use multiple device types to accomplish this.
Windows Mobile, iPhone, Nokia business phones and even Google Android phones have the ability to integrate with the Exchange mail server out of the box without the need for any extra hardware or software.
Blackberry handsets on the other hand have been a different matter.
Many mobile phone retailers don’t usually point out that traditionally to get a Blackberry to work with an Exchange Server you need extra software, licenses and a whole extra server which is expensive just for a couple of phones.
This usually means a series of complicated workarounds or having to use an inferior replacement service that doesn’t quite do the same thing.
The company that develop Blackberry, Research in Motion recently announced the release of Blackberry Enterprise Server Express
This is a cut down version of the full enterprise product (many of the features wouldn't be applicable to small businesses) but crucially it is able to run on an existing server that is already running the Exchange mail server.
The product is free and doesn't require any additional licensing.
Once installed email, calendars and contact sync are all available on the Blackberry device while out and about.
Any changes made on the device are visible in the mailbox when back in the office without any manual intervention.
We've already had a successful deployment of this with one of clients.
They currently have a broad mixture of devices and the Blackberry users have been frustrated at having a poorer experience than users with different devices so were keen to get the software installed as soon as it was available.
SInce it was new software we ran it in-house on a test server to ensure it all worked as expected before rolling it out to their live server.
If you'd be intererested in taking advantage of this new software release please get in touch.
They say the advance of technology has helped make the world that little bit smaller. When you're dealing with people in different countries for business or in your personal life it pays to know what time it is right now so you don't wake them up in the middle of the night!
Windows Vista and Windows 7 have the capability to display clocks from different time zones quickly and easily.
Click the time in the bottom right hand corner of your taskbar to display the clock and a calendar of the current month.
Then click on "Change date and time settings..."
Click the "Additional Clocks" tab.
Select the timezones you want to display and enter a descriptive label (the city you need for example) and click ok.
The next time you click on the time to display the clock you'll get the extra timezones shown as smaller secondary clocks.
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