Windows taskbar on the left [personal productivity]

Windows taskbar on the left [personal productivity]

My Windows taskbar is on the left instead of the bottom of the screen. This works very well for me but it is not a very well-known option in Windows. This post describes how to set it up as well as the benefits of this method of working. The tip and configuration has (mostly) be available since Windows XP.

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Solutions for presentation-worthy Gantt charts and project timelines

Solutions for presentation-worthy Gantt charts and project timelines

As a project manager, I often need a clean, professional way of showing a client what a project looks like via a Gantt chart or timeline, usually in a PowerPoint presentation. Often times, the information needs to be high level, too – so there’s nothing wrong with having a separate tool just for presenting this information. Sometimes you  just want to impress your clients with more than technical knowledge, right? I believe presentations should be useful and shiny.

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Productivity tip: automatically color appointments in Outlook calendar (conditional formatting)

Productivity tip: automatically color appointments in Outlook calendar (conditional formatting)

I did a video/podcast with Modermodemet last week, concerning personal productivity (note: English and Swedish). It was a fun chat that covered your own personal assistant (Jarvis?) to how to manage multiple calendars.

During the conversation, I mentioned two things that seemed to make an impact:

  1. I include travel time in my agenda.
    Especially when you travel to multiple locations, having this time booked means you have a much better chance of not being double booked.
  2. My travel time automatically gets a special color (conditional formatting in Outlook)

This is a very simple example from my calendar:

conditionalformatting1

I am running Outlook 2013 in this example, but I have been using this since Outlook 2007 or so. I know it got a little bit more complicated in Outlook 2010, so here’s an example for configuring appointments with “travel” in the subject to be a specific color.

  1. When viewing the calendar, go to the view tab in the ribbon and click on “View settings”:conditionalformatting2
  2. Click on “Conditional formatting…”
    conditionalformatting3
  3. In this dialog, you manage the conditional formatting rules. Click “Add” to create a new rule. In this same screen, add the type and choose the color. Finally, click “Condition…” to configure.
    conditionalformatting4
  4. For this example, just fill in “travel” in the subject. The conditions can become far more complex if you want to.
    conditionalformatting5
  5. Click “OK” to finalize all changes and return to the calendar view. My travel appointments are now the blue color I configured them to be automatically:
    conditionalformatting6

During the discussion, I also mentioned that my partner and I generally don’t share a calendar. For example, if we have a work obligation in the evening, we create an event and label it with either “H: event title” if it is me, or “F: event title” if it is him. Then we invite the other person to it.  In my calendar, anything that starts with “F:” automatically is turned red so I know it is an appointment for my partner. It’s a very similar idea to the conditional formatting for the travel time.

conditionalformatting7

This is such an easy thing to configure and the automatic colors make it so much easier for me to see what’s in my calendar at a glance.

Wireframing SharePoint with Axure and Balsamiq

I was recently asked to make mockups for a new SharePoint environment so that the client had a better idea of what we were talking about.

What are wireframes? 

If you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume you already know what wireframes are. However, there are so many misconceptions and different definitions that I’d really like to make my position clear.

The emphasis in the following quote is mine.

A website wireframe, also known as a page schematic or screen blueprint, is a visual guide that represents the skeletal framework of a website. Wireframes are created for the purpose of arranging elements to best accomplish a particular purpose. The purpose is usually being informed by a business objective and a creative idea. The wireframe depicts the page layout or arrangement of the website’s content, including interface elements and navigational systems, and how they work together. The wireframe usually lacks typographic style, color, or graphics, since the main focus lies in functionality, behavior, and priority of content. In other words, it focuses on what a screen does, not what it looks like.

Source: Website wireframe @ Wikipedia

Wireframe

A wireframe can take the form of a sketch on a napkin, on a whiteboard, PowerPoint or a program such as Axure or Balsamiq.

When asked to do a SharePoint wireframe, we’re usually most concerned with the main page as this requires the most customisation. At this point, we include elements from:

  • Master page (global layout, top navigation, quick launch, footer)
  • Page layout (page level layout, webparts, field controls)
  • Basic content decisions (which webparts? where? approximately what content will they include?)

As stated above, it is important to keep questions such as fonts, colors and/or graphics out of the question at this point: wireframes are concerned with functionality and basic layout, not design.

Comparing Axure and Balsamiq

It had been so long that I wasn’t even entirely sure what to use anymore.  I’d heard quite a bit about both Axure and Balsamiq, so decided to look into them. I know that some people do use Visio (see Jasper Oosterveld’s SharePoint 2010 Wireframes), but I don’t like using Visio for this purpose.

The best resource I found was Axure vs Balsamiq prototyping by Calvin Pedzai – he does a good comparison of the two products. In his conclusion, he states:

Which one to use is purely situational. Both are supported by strong community-generated components and widgets so the range of work one can do is quite wide. Axure is more expensive and suited for medium-to-large scale projects. Its annonating functionality means that the resulting prototype has useful notes on interactions for developers as opposed to creating seperate documentation. However because Axure RP offers more features than Balsamiq it takes longer time to learn and its HTML prototyping can be time consuming. Balsamiq is for smaller projects and rapid prototyping. Its prototypes are not as interactive as Axure RP but PDF mockups can be created. Very small learning curve and its lack of features is not such a show stopper either.

I’ve used Axure previously and it’s a powerhouse of a product. Particularly masters, which allow you to create things like navigation which are repeated over multiple pages and the ability to add functionality such as onClick are wonderful. You can create an entire prototype and create HTML pages which can be shared with the client. I also really like the functionality that allows you to comment on elements and create a specification from these comments in Word. Axure brings wireframes to a whole new level. However – I think it’s overkill for a lot of wireframing situations.

After having used Balsamiq, I can say it’s very simple. Occasionally, it feels too simple after having worked with Axure, but the simplicity pays off when I just need to make wireframes.

Balsamiq mockups/templates

Balsamiq lets you create mockups, which are basically templates. You can use the entire template or just copy/paste the elements you want to use out of it.

Flucidity – SharePoint 2013 team site mockup

Material SharePoint – SharePoint 2010 Balsamiq Mockup Wireframe Template

Balsamiq Mockups to Go – SharePoint Elements (I ended up tweaking a few of these a bit, but it was a good learning curve)

Balsamiq has a Mockups to Go site, where people can share their mockups; there are many useful general elements available here.

Tips for logging into multiple SharePoint Online environments

Updated 1 March 2014 to include ADFS authentication with Firefox.

I support multiple clients daily with their SharePoint Online environment – plus, our own intranet at Connecta runs on SharePoint Online.  SharePoint Online tends to keep your session, which means I’m constantly logging in and out of sites. These are the tips that I’ve collected to help make this a bit easier.

LastPass as a URL and password manager

Anyone who uses the internet has multiple passwords: email, Facebook, etc. At least, they shouldn’t all be the same password. Add in clients, who often tend to give me multiple users to work with (i.e. an admin user and a normal user, plus maybe a different Active Directory user) and it becomes difficult to keep track of these passwords. I could save them in OneNote, but that isn’t particularly secure – nor does it lend a professional impression to your clients. Conclusion: some sort of password management is necessary.

keepass_256x256I used to use Keepass, synced between multiple computers by saving the database file in Dropbox.  It’s a great, simple little tool that runs on plenty of platforms and is secure. I could save usernames, passwords, URLs and have it remind me when a password was about to expire. I fell in love with the search functionality – why remember what folder something was in when I could search? When I left one of my last jobs, I simply exported the Keepass database related to work and gave it to IT support. I had some issues getting it to integrate into the browser, though, so eventually went looking for a different solution.

lastpass_large_logo_050611A few years ago, I switched to LastPass and haven’t looked back since. LastPass is a cloud based service which allows you to save your passwords. It supports two-step authentication and a bunch of other methods which are enough to make me feel that my (and my clients’!) passwords are safe. There are good plugins for Internet Explorer and Google Chrome, as well as an Android app. I keep everything in here: the only passwords I still manually type have are my Active Directory account for work and the LastPass master password.

Some of the reasons I love LastPass:

  • It generates all of my passwords for me. It’s fast, it’s easy and it helps keep my accounts secure. I usually have it set to 10 characters and allow special characters, but it’s a question of changing a few check boxes around to get a different type of password, depending on the requirements.
  • It works on all the different platforms I use: Internet Explorer, Chrome, Android, etc.
  • As cloud solution, it keeps my passwords synced between all of my devices – I can access the latest version from anywhere.
  • It can handle ADFS authentication (in select browsers).

My only gripe with LastPass is actually with Google Chrome on Android – Chrome doesn’t allow plugins and therefore we can’t use LastPass to auto-fill passwords in that browser. However, I do quite like the Dolphin browser, so it’s all good.

I keep all of my client passwords in LastPass. Since SharePoint is my specialty  a lot of these passwords are for websites. However, they’re often also Active Directory users for remote access, door codes, etc – I might not be able to automatically fill these in, but I always know where they are and that they’re secure.

When I want to open a client’s site, I have a number of options, depending on the browser I’m using:

  • Type in the URL from memory – this tends to happen a lot!
  • Chrome and IE – open the LastPass vault plugin, search for the client’s name and click on the entry
  • Chrome: type “lp” and then “tab” and then start typing the client’s name – it will automatically supply the URL for me

Once I’m there, I’m usually looking at Microsoft’s sign-in page, usually with the username that I used last:

online1

At this point, I choose “Use another account” and then use LastPass to fill in the information for the account I need – either by using the toolbar in Chrome or right-clicking in the form in Internet Explorer:

online2

I choose the account I want, the information is automatically filled into the form and I click “Sign in”.

This saves me so much time in the course of a day.

Browser sessions

online3Sometimes I need to have multiple environments open: a client has an ad hoc issue while I’m actually working on another environment or I need to look something up on our own intranet at the same time. It happens often.

Internet Explorer keeps your session across tabs, so you need to force it to create a new session. To do this, you need to go to File -> New Session – there is no keyboard shortcut that I know of.

This does not always seem to be stable: sometimes the sessions still seem to get mixed up. Also, LastPass does not seem to understand IE sessions.

Use multiple browsers

11111I don’t use the multiple sessions on IE all that often, simply because I get confused which window belonged to which client.

It can be useful to run one environment in IE and another in Chrome. It makes it obvious which environment belongs to which project that is open and it doesn’t ever get the sessions mixed up.

According to Microsoft’s browser support page for SharePoint Online, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera are all supported. I have noticed some issues with things like dragging webparts and Open in Explorer, though.

My best tip: remember which browser you’re using to save yourself testing headache – like the day I couldn’t figure out why Open in Explorer wouldn’t work, then realized I was using Chrome.

ADFS authentication

According to Mats Sørensen’s blog post “How Does ADFS Work With Office 365?“:

You might know something about Microsoft Active Directory Federation Service (AD FS) or maybe not, but basically it’s a Microsoft feature that enables SSO (Single Sign-On) between two domains/forest without using a normal domain trust relationship as many people might know it.

For those of us who do not configure these kinds of things, ADFS is when the Office 365 login screen sends you on to another authentication provider and pops up a dialogue to allow you to login (again):

firefox_adfs

 

Note that you can also select multiple usernames, which is great when you’re testing multiple users or permissions.

When working with SharePoint environments which use ADFS authentication, use Firefox if you want to use LastPass to authenticate! I now use Firefox a lot of the time when facing this authentication.

Conclusions

These are the methods I use to help make it easier to maintain multiple environments.

If you have any tips, please share them in the comments!