Tuesday, 26 October 2010

imageToday marks the release of Office 2011 for the Mac, as described in the official release notice. And in a new feature twist, the software is also available for download to BizSpark (startup program) MSDN subscribers as of this morning. Typically Mac-based software has not been made available there, so this is a pretty cool change.

It’s available to people with membership at the following programs and levels:

  • VS Pro with MSDN Premium (Empower)
  • VS Premium with MSDN (MPN)
  • VS Pro with MSDN Premium (MPN)
  • BizSpark Admin
  • BizSpark
  • VS Ultimate with MSDN (VL)
  • VS Premium with MSDN (VL)
  • VS Premium with MSDN (Retail)
  • VS Ultimate with MSDN (Retail)
  • VS Ultimate with MSDN (MPN)

Of course, use is governed by your subscription license limitations and terms of use, so make sure you know what those are.

Why Office 2011 for the Mac?

There are a few reasons why you might be interested in Office 2011 on the Mac, but for me the number one reason is the brand new Outlook 2011. No more Entourage software, now we get the actual Outlook experience, which is enough for me to upgrade with no other changes in the suite. Add in all the other changes, and it’s a pretty slick new version.

Mac user? Are you going to get Office 2011?

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Apple | Microsoft Office | Tech
Tuesday, 26 October 2010 15:41:27 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 23 April 2010

image I’ve been fighting a bit with my installation of Outlook 2010 (beta) for the past several days. Don’t get me wrong, now: I love Outlook 2010, it’s by far the best version of Outlook ever. The ability to have multiple Exchange account visible at one time is a killer new feature, and there are a lot of other great improvements.

But Outlook can be challenging sometimes. It’s a complicated program, especially when used with Exchange. So. now was just one of those times. Consistently the program would hang and I’d have to wait for what seemed like an eternity for it to come back to a responsive state. I did a lot of analysis and narroowing down the behavior by disabling a lot of account and feature settings, and decided that it seemed to be related to a hosted Exchange account I use for my greghughes.net email service. The more account features I enabled and accessed in Outlook, the more it would hang. For example, if I accessed the calendar associated with that account and then tried to open something, or if I switched from the calendar back to the mail view, or if I tried to look up a contact, Outlook would hang. It was to the point of being ridiculous in terms of getting anything done, since the hangs could last a few minutes or more at times. Outlook actually trained me to walk away and come back in 5 minutes. But that’s better than a busted up laptop, I suppose!

I started troubleshooting this and a couple other issues I was seeing that were affecting performance. One of the problems with trying to resolve Outlook issues is that the error messages the program provides are often very generic in nature and don’t point to a root cause. If I had a dime for every time it told me I didn’t have permission to do something , or for every time Outlook told me it’s trying to connect to an Exchange server and failing, I’d be rich. There are a zillion things that can cause these generic, simple errors. And the funny thing is, sometimes it’s not even an Exchange server it’s connecting to, even though it says it is. It might be connecting to a domain controller name instead to try to go a GC lookup, for example. You have to know what to look for, and how Exchange and Outlook work, in order to solve most Outlook behavior issues. Luckily I have a lot of past experience in that department.

At any rate, I eventually got to the point where I was spending my time looking at the Exchange Server’s connection status window. To see that, you locate the Outlook status icon down in the task bar near the clock, hold down the CTRL key, and click on the icon. Then you can choose the menu option for Connection Status. You only see that option if you CTRL-click the icon, though.

         (Server names omitted where appropriate to protect the innocent)

One of the first things I noticed was the fact that there were communication failures to my hosted Exchange server see the red-outlined numbers above), and that the connections were taking a long time to establish themselves. The status would stay at “connecting” frequently, and that was always the same time when Outlook was hanging. So, I figured was getting somewhere. At least I had a likely correlation. The other Exchange server, which is domain-authenticated and available on the local network, wasn’t hanging. Connections were quick and reliable (as you can see from the numbers above) on that one.

That made me think some more. Every time I start Outlook, I am prompted to enter my credentials for the greghughes.net Exchange Server. Despite the fact that I click the “save password” box when I log in, I am always prompted when starting Outlook. I had planned to see if there was a certificate mismatch problem of some sort, but with the connecting communication failures happening, I wondered if there might be a problem with the credential being passed to the server. As you can see in the connection status windows picture, the connection is an Outlook RPC over HTTPS type, and so I went investigating in the account settings for the greghughes.net account:



Sure enough, I found what I suspected I might: Outlook was prompting me to enter a username and password – behavior that’s associated with basic authentication – but Outlook was configured to use NTLM authentication when connecting. So, logic says that it was trying for a NTLM auth, waiting around for it to time out, and then reverting to the lower-security username and password over HTTPS. That would probably explain the communication hangs, and why Outlook wasn’t saving the plain text credentials when I asked it to.

I changed the proxy authentication setting to use basic authentication, and restarted Outlook. I was prompted to enter my credentials once, and haven’t been asked since. And, the connection to the server is much more snappy and reliable.

I don’t really know why the communication hangs started up a few days ago. Perhaps something changed settings-wise when my svchost.exe file got eaten by my AV software. I have been running Outlook 10 beta for a couple months and it was a new issue (although the credentials pop-up was consistent since installation).

But, regardless it looks like at least one or two of the problems I was having are now solved. And that’s a good thing. Now I’m off to troubleshoot some auto-archiving issues.

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Microsoft Office | Tech
Friday, 23 April 2010 17:07:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 07 April 2010

image Richard and I recently interviewed Nick Simons, a program manager at Microsoft who works on the Office Web Apps. He’s been there quite a while, and can say (with pride) that he killed Clippy, that annoying little character that thought he knew what you were trying to do, but often got it wrong and ultimately got removed from the office suite.

In our interview on RunAs Radio this week, Nick discusses Microsoft’s Office Web Apps and how people can use Office 2010 and the Web Apps to share and collaborate, and how it all integrates with SharePoint 2010 and Windows Live Skydrive.

He also briefly describes how they killed Clippy back in the day, and why.

Nick Simons Puts Office on the Web
RunAs Radio Show #155 -- 4/7/2010 (36 minutes)

  • This week’s show page on RunAsRadio.com (with RSS feeds and various available file formats)
  • Direct link to the MP3
  • RSS feed to subscribe to the MP3 format

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Microsoft Office | SharePoint | Tech
Wednesday, 07 April 2010 14:46:26 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I have two different Exchange Servers and associated accounts open and active at the same time in my copy of Outlook 2010. That’s a new feature in the new version of Outlook, by the way: multiple Exchange accounts visible in one profile – Quite a great change over previous versions!

I’ve had a problem ever since installing this beta copy of Office 14, though. In the to-do bar (that sidebar thing on the right side of the Outlook window that shows you a bunch of info such as monthly calendars, upcoming appointments, contacts, tasks, etc.) the calendar from which appointments were being displayed was not the calendar I wanted. The info being shown there was not useful, because that calendar wasn’t the one I use.

So, I was trying to figure out how to change the calendar displayed there to the one associated with my other Exchange account. How Outlook chose which calendar to display, as far as I could tell, was a matter of which Exchange Server I set  up first when I installed Outlook.

imageI tried a number of things, including looking at every setting available in Outlook’s Options screens, changing the default mail account in the Outlook account properties dialog, and searching the registry for info, but in the end it was something much simpler. It took a bit of trial and error, but I finally figured it out.

What fixed it was calling up the account info screen (File > Info), then opening the “Account Settings” dialog, switching to the “Data Files” tab, highlighting the OST file associated with the account that contains the calendar I wanted to have displayed, and then clicking the “Set as Default” button. Then I closed the dialog box, shut down Outlook and restarted it, and lo and behold the correct calendar was showing. Freakin’ magic, I tell ya.

You’d think this solution might be a bit easier to find (I searched far and wide in the help and on the web), but at any rate it’s fixed now. And since I will probably forget the next time I need to do this, here it is recorded for posterity’s sake.

The Outlook Blog has a bunch of cool info about the Outlook 2010 version that users should find interesting and useful. Anyone know any other cool little tweaking tricks for Outlook 2010 that people should know about?

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Microsoft Office | Tech
Wednesday, 07 April 2010 14:30:08 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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