Microsoft sneaks out Mac Outlook update

Good news: Microsoft just issued an updated version of Outlook for Mac. (I guess that’s the official name, as opposed to the older Outlook 2011). The list of fixes is pretty nondescript: you can change calendar colors, add alt-text to images, and use custom AD RMS templates. I suspect most of the effort for this release was actually focused on the “Top crashes fixed” item in the KB article.

Bad news: you have to manually download it from the Office 365 portal. The AutoUpdate mechanism shipped with Office 2011 doesn’t yet know how to handle updates for Outlook for Mac. I suppose Microsoft could either update the Office 2011 AU mechanism or ship a new one as part of a future Outlook update; presumably the latter choice would actually deliver the Office 2015 update mechanism, since there’s undoubtedly going to be one.

The real news here is how quickly Microsoft released this update. While this is only one release, it’s an excellent sign that we got it quickly, and it makes me hopeful that we’ll see a steady stream of updates and fixes for the Mac Office apps in the future— with a cadence more akin to the Lync Mobile clients releases than the glacial pace of past Mac Office updates.

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Training Tuesday: Upgrading to the Garmin Forerunner 920xt

When I saw that Garmin had a new triathlon watch on the way that included an SDK, I thought “hey, that might make a neat upgrade” and ordered one. Unfortunately, production delays dragged the release date out, so I ended up canceling my original order and reordering. I got the new watch about two weeks ago and have been putting it through its paces since. I’ve used it on the bike indoors and out, for outdoor runs, and while weightlifting. It’s also an activity tracker that tracks steps and sleep and uses that data to estimate calorie burn. Here are a few of my thoughts based on my experience so far.

First, IMHO it is ugly compared to the Suunto. That’s partly a result of the white/red color scheme but also because there are lots of little 1970s-style touches (the GARMIN logo, the little red pinstripes around the bezel) that don’t need to be there. It is substantially smaller than the Garmin 910t and about the same thickness as the Suunto. The band is comfortable enough for daily wear.

Paul robichaux net 20141214 001

Side by side, I prefer the appearance of the Suunto.

Setup was very straightforward. I signed up for a Garmin Connect account, plugged in the watch, and that was about it. Suunto requires that you set up most aspects of its watches (including which activity types will be available on the watch) using their web site. This is very flexible, and generally easier than punching buttons on the watch, but it means that you can’t customize anything on the watch itself— a drawback if you get to a race and notice “oops, I forgot to enable open water swim mode” (which I’ve done!)

As typical, the first thing I did with the watch was play with all the settings. For example, at first I thought I’d want the “auto scroll” option on so that the watch would flip through all available data pages. It turns out that auto scroll means whenever I looked at the watch, it was likely to be showing me anything other than the data items I was most interested in at that point in time, so I turned it back off.

A few things I particularly liked:

  • Garmin’s Connect web site is much more attractive and more useful than Suunto’s. I love seeing weather conditions recorded along with my workout. (Take a look at this workout as an example).
  • Being able to set a target pace, then have the watch buzz / beep any time I deviated from it, is a great help. I’m still not quite sure at what interval the watch checks pace.
  • Wireless sync via wifi is brilliant. I was on the street corner outside my house, walking back in, and the watch buzzed to tell me it had uploaded my workout.
  • It was trivial to pair the watch with my bike sensors, my HRM band, and the TrainerRelay feature in TrainerRoad.
  • GPS acquisition seems just as fast as the Ambit 2s, which is noteworthy for its fast sync.

The watch has a few drawbacks, too. I don’t have a phone that works with the 920xt’s Bluetooth features, which means I don’t get notifications on my wrist, can’t use live tracking, and so on. The chances that Garmin will support Windows Phone are just about nil, so I have to decide if I am willing to switch to a supported platform if I want to have these features. The jury is still out; there are lots of things I prefer about WP compared to iOS, and I am loath to give them up just to have wrist notifications. I suppose that’s not the watch’s fault though, especially since the Ambit 2s lacks those features altogether.

Another annoyance: you can’t customize the data fields in the same way that you can with the Suunto. There I was able to set up a custom screen that had exactly the data fields I wanted, no more and no less. On the 920xt it looks like you can enable individual data pages, but you can’t customize the fields that appear in those pages. For example, when cycling I want a page that shows current speed, current cadence, and total distance. The 920xt has all that data, but not in a single page.

There are some things I don’t understand about creating workouts in Garmin Connect and sending them to the watch, too. It looks like the workflow is to log in to GC, create the workout, then plug your watch in for USB sync. When I do this, sometimes I get the workout on the watch and sometimes I don’t. This may be a watch problem, a Mac sync connector problem, a GC problem, or some combination thereof. I haven’t done it enough yet to have a really solid repro case.

The social features of Garmin Connect are poor, too. In fairness they are no worse than Suunto’s, but compared to the features in Strava, MapMyRun, RunKeeper, and Fitocracy, they stink. It’s hard to find friends, to name just one flaw. I’d love to see them fix this in a near-term update.

A few tips for things that were not obvious to me at first:

  • You turn the backlight on by pressing the power button. By default, it shuts back off after 8 seconds. This is adjustable: go to Settings > System > Backlight and you can change the delay. The Ambit 2s had a lock button that you could use to lock the light on; there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent.
  • On the Suunto, you define a multisport activity on the web site, load it to the watch, and transition between activities. You can do that on the Garmin as well, but you can also just switch modes on the watch— so you can go from weightlifting to running to open water swim to cycling all within a single activity. The Garmin Connect web site still seems to have some issues dealing with multi-activity files, or it’s possible that I have something set up wrong.
  • The activity monitor knows when you’re moving your body, but it doesn’t know when you’re unable to move, e.g. sitting in a car in traffic, so it will buzz you anyway. Such is life.

Overall I’m delighted with the watch so far. Garmin has been the gold standard for multi-sport watches and I expect that, as I learn to use it, I’ll get more useful training data from it. The ability to easily do intervals and to track my pace are already making a different. Bring on race season!

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My first week with Office 365 Clutter

Immediately after Microsoft announced that Clutter was available, I enabled it in all my personal tenants and started training it. As you may recall, you can train Clutter in two ways: implicitly (as it sees how you interact with mail from particular senders, such as by ignoring it or deleting it without reading it) or explicitly (by moving messages into or out of the Clutter folder). Because I’m fairly impatient, I set about explicit training by moving messages to the Clutter folder. I’ve done this with all of the clients I use: Outlook for Mac, OWA, Outlook 2013, the iOS mail app, and Outlook Mobile. Whenever possible I move the message while leaving it unread, so as not to make Clutter think I’m interested.

The upshot: it works reasonably well, but it seems to have trouble learning about messages from some sources. For example, both Strava and Twitter alerts remain resolutely un-Cluttered even though I’ve been moving 100% of those messages, unread, to the folder. I think that’s because the message subject for these messages often changes to reflect the message contents (e.g. “@jaapwess retweeted a Tweet you were mentioned in!”) and that confuses the algorithm in some way. It may be that the algorithm used to categorize these messages needs more data to act on before it can decide. The downside of machine learning systems is that, as an end user, you often can’t see just what the machine has learned, only the actions it takes. In this regard, machine learning is somewhat like owning a cat. I can see that Clutter isn’t moving some messages I think it should, but I don’t have any way to see why, nor any way to effectively correct it. This reminds me of the good old days of training neural networks from HNC Software to do various interesting things and sometimes being bewildered by the resulting behavior.

One bit of good news: I have been very pleased to see no false positives; that is, Clutter has not taken any mail I wanted to read and treated it as clutter. If the price of zero false positives is that some real clutter isn’t treated as such, I’m OK with that.

The junk mail filtering infrastructure continues to catch some messages that might more properly be treated as clutter, e.g. the flood of marketing crap I get from GameStop. I don’t mind such messages being treated as junk, though.

One unexpected side effect is that I have been much more diligent than usual about unsubscribing from newsletters or marketing mails that I no longer care about. This has helped to cut the volume of clutter I have to deal with.

In closing, I note that no matter how many times I tell Clutter that notifications from Yammer should be treated as clutter, they keep going right into my Inbox. I suspect a conspiracy.

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Why the Outlook for Mac folder pane changes colors

I mentioned in my review of the new Outlook for Mac client that the background of the folder list seemed to randomly change colors:

It may also be a feature that there is a color gradient fill in the folder list. At first I thought the color was the same as the color of the category of my current calendar appointment, but after changing all the category colors, waiting for sync, and quitting and relaunching Outlook, the color didn’t change, so I’m not sure what Microsoft had in mind here, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to turn it off.

Thanks to the most excellent Bill Smith, long-time Mac Office MVP, now I know the answer:

You’re seeing translucency in the navigation pane. So long as you have a window or other white object behind Outlook you’ll see a whitish background, but arrange Outlook over your Desktop picture and you’ll see those colors peeking through it. Choose Outlook menu > Hide Others to quickly show Outlook over your Desktop.

Sure enough, that explains it. I use SatelliteEyes to update my desktop background, and as I move around (and thus get new satellite maps), or as change the Z order of other open windows, voilà color changes. I normally don’t mind window translucency, but I don’t care for the combination of OS X Yosemite and this effect. Looks like I’m stuck with it, though.

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The difference between supportability and patching

I’m at the annual MVP Summit this week, and everything we hear and see is pretty much NDA (except for pictures of Flat Tony). However, we just had a really interesting discussion that I think is safe to abstract here.

A couple years ago I wrote a post about what it means to be supported or unsupported. What I wrote then still stands: when Microsoft says something is unsupported, there can be multiple reasons for that label, and you do whatever-it-is at your own risk.

Microsoft’s support policy for Exchange 2013 can be summed up as “N-1″: when they release a new cumulative update (CU) or service pack, that version and the previous version are considered to be supported. So, in the fullness of time, when we get Exchange 2013 CU7, then CU6 and CU7 will be the officially supported versions.

It’s very clear that there’s a lot of confusion about what “supported” means in this context. Microsoft product support will always support you if you call for help with a product that’s within its lifecycle window. Call them today and ask how to configure Exchange ActiveSync on Exchange 2010 RU2, they’ll help you. Call to ask about an issue you’re seeing with DAG failover in Exchange 2013 CU2, they’ll help you. Call for help with Exchange 2003, and they may even help you on a best-effort basis.

What they won’t do is create fixes for bugs or problems in unsupported versions.

If you call them and say “hey, I’m having this problem with Exchange 2013 SP1,” they will help you troubleshoot it. If it’s a known problem, they may tell you “update to CU5 or later”– but Microsoft will not create a hotfix or IU that fixes that problem in SP1, or any other older version that’s outside that N-1 boundary.

So: help always, bug fixes only within the support boundary. Tell your friends.

 

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Microsoft announces data loss prevention, mobile device management for Office 365

Microsoft made a slew of Office 365 announcements at TechEd Europe this week. Taken collectively, they’re clear evidence of how Microsoft is executing their strategy of cross-linking capabilities across Windows, the Office suite, and Office 365.

Let’s start with data loss prevention (DLP), a feature first introduced in Exchange 2013. (Side note: I love it that yet another marquee feature in Office 365 was first shipped as part of Exchange.) The idea behind DLP is that you can have an automated system that will detect when users send out sensitive information (for certain selected values of “sensitive”) and take appropriate action, ranging from warning the user through a Policy Tip to journaling the message to notifying a person or group to blocking the message. DLP shipped with a template engine that allows Microsoft and its partners to build templates for different policies, along with a set of templates for common policies such as US HIPAA and PCI. However, Exchange 2013 DLP suffered from some limitations, chiefly that it only worked with messages sent through Exchange. Users only get Policy Tip warnings in OWA 2013 and Outlook 2013, and the template system seems primarily intended for use by a few specialized partners and not the general population.

Microsoft is addressing these problems by extending DLP into SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business. While they haven’t discussed the specifics of how this will work, it seems reasonable that both SharePoint and ODB will consume the same policy templates used in Exchange, so that you can apply a consistent set of policies across the three products. Conspicuously absent from the announcement was any mention of bringing this capability to on-prem SharePoint. Maybe that was just an oversight.

The OneDrive for Business capability will be of huge interest to several of my large customers. Microsoft’s messaging around large, low-cost personal storage for business users is getting a lot of traction, with both users and enterprises eager to take advantage of it, but organizations have a reasonable concern that users will, accidentally or on purpose, put stuff in their ODB libraries that they shouldn’t. Assuming that you can define a DLP policy that covers what you don’t want stored in ODB, having this enforcement mechanism could potentially be very valuable.

In addition to these DLP extensions, Microsoft is giving Office 365 DLP the ability to recognize and act on tags created in the Windows Server file classification infrastructure (FCI). With this support, the automated metadata tags generated by FCI can be recognized by Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and OneDrive for Business—so if you have, say, an Excel spreadsheet that’s classified as protected health information (PHI), the DLP infrastructure will recognize and treat it as such. I don’t have a good feel for how pervasive FCI is in the enterprise, since I don’t normally deal with file/print deployments, but I suspect that this is a nice 2-for-1 play for Microsoft: they can sell the benefits of FCI to cloud customers and sell the benefits of DLP that’s driven by FCI to entrenched on-prem customers.

Another major DLP improvement is coming in Office: Word, PowerPoint, and Excel will get support for Policy Tips. While it would be technically possible to roll this out into Office 2013, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see this offered as a feature only in Office 16.

I’ll have a lot more to say about the details of these features once Microsoft releases more public details. While I’ll look forward to picking the collective brains of the Office 365 PM team at the MVP Summit, I don’t expect them to share any public details beyond what they’re showing in Barcelona. In the meantime, though, Microsoft is clearly trying to reinforce the ties between their core Office and Windows Server customers and Office 365, while at the same time providing some more tasty cloud-only features in an attempt to entice customers into drinking the 365 Kool-aid.

For another day, a more detailed analysis of Microsoft’s announcement that mobile device management (MDM) capabilities are being added to almost all of the existing Office 365 plans.

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Developing apps for the Garmin ConnectIQ SDK

Early on this triathlon season, I bought a Suunto Ambit 2s. I loved the idea of having accurate workout data for my training, plus more accurate time/distance data for my races, and the Suunto has delivered. But it’s missing a few things: its support for interval workouts is poor, and the Movescount website is less reliable than I’d like. Luckily Suunto added export to Strava, but you still have to use their computer-based app to transfer workouts from the watch to the computer to the Movescount site, so when the site’s down you can’t see your workout data. (There are also various website bugs, including one in computing swim distance that means that the results on the website don’t match the results on the watch, but I digress). Having said all that, I was planning on sticking with the Suunto because I like the industrial design; it’s comfortable to wear, looks good, and has all the basic functionality I need.

Then I read this: Garmin announces ability to develop apps on wearables, with Connect IQ.

Coupled with my native lust for all shiny gadget things, the availability of the SDK opened a whole range of possibilities, not only for apps I could get for the watch but for apps I could write. I immediately started pondering what kinds of useful apps I could build and came up with one that I thought would be very useful: a flight timer. There are at least two different flight times that I need to log for every flight: how long the propeller was turning (because that drives how much money I put into our engine reserve fund) and how long I was actually in the air (which is what I actually log as flight time).

The GPS in 706 can automatically calculate flight time from takeoff to touchdown… provided you remember to look at it after landing and before turning off the avionics master switch. We also have a Hobbs meter that measures the time when the propeller’s actually turning. However, an app that automatically records time in flight, along with the origin and destination airports, would be useful. CloudAhoy does something similar, based on ForeFlight track data (and for all I know, ForeFlight can do this already). However, a timer that’s not tied to the aircraft would have the advantage of not losing its data when you turn off the airplane, and not being tied to a phone, external GPS, or iPad greatly reduces the risk of losing data due to battery or device failures.

So, I ordered a Garmin 920XT and downloaded the Garmin SDK. On first inspection, it looks like the SDK and development model are both pretty tractable for what I want to do. I’ll be blogging about my development efforts as they progress. For now, if I can get basic logging to work in the device simulator, I’ll be happy. There are a few features I’d like to have in the app to make it useful: it should automatically log flight time from takeoff to touchdown, geocode the origin and destination points so that the log file reflects airports and not just GPS points, and provide a timer function for things such as switching fuel tanks in flight. If I can extend that to include automatically logging flights into Safelog, that’d be even better but that might be some time away.

The 920XT itself will be a nice upgrade from the Suunto, which I am going to loan to my pal Jay for use in his training, but it won’t ship until sometime in November, so I’ll be running on the simulator for a while yet (and using the Suunto to log workouts, too!)

The SDK includes a comprehensive set of API docs, the device simulator, an Eclipse plugin that runs the command-line compiler, and assorted sample apps. I’ll have ore to say about it once I get my environment set up and running and start playing with the samples. Garmin’s clearly thinking about this the right way, though; in addition to their own developer forum, they are actively encouraging the use of StackOverflow.

Stay tuned for updates!

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