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Monday Morning Technologist
Good morning everybody, time for another edition of the Monday Morning Technologist.
Ribbon Hero 2
One common bit of feedback I hear from firms reluctant to upgrade from Microsoft Office 2003 is that they're not keen on The Ribbon. The Ribbon, for those of you not fluent in it (little joke there)(very little)(forget about it), is the strip of commands across the top of the screen in Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010 that replaces the old "File, Edit, View..." menu structure.
It's understandable that firms would be reluctant to change, after all their staff is comfortable and familiar with the old menu structure. The new Fluent interface (get it?) which includes the Ribbon means a learning curve for staff and learning curves mean lost productivity.
However, now there's a new hero to the rescue (I got a million of 'em!).
A Little Background
Way back in the day, before graphical user interfaces, we used to have DOS-based systems with text based menus. Users ran one program at a time and a "mouse" was still something your cat chased around the basement. Then Windows 3.1 found it's way into offices and users were stuck trying to figure out how to use this odd new "mouse" thing. At first it was pretty awkward, users had trouble pointing at exactly what they wanted and using the correct button. I can't count how many times I had to counsel users "No, you want the LEFT mouse button" at which point they had to deliberately reposition their hand on the mouse to get their fingers in the right place.
Well, some clever person at Microsoft realized that people tend to learn things if they are forced to do them in games, and two things found their way into every installation of Windows: Solitare and Minesweeper. Both of those addictive games were best played with the mouse and the seemingly wasted hours users spent furtively playing them at their desks were actually training the users to become mouse maestros. Today most computer users can mouse quite intuitively.
Well, here we are almost 20 years later and we have a new interface that needs a little instruction. Once again, Microsoft is turning to games to make that happen. Ribbon Hero debuted for Office 2007 and the premise is pretty simple - you perform specified tasks in Microsoft Office and you score points. Even though that sounds sort of mundane I have to admit that I found the game to be kinda fun AND...true to it's purpose even a 15 year Microsoft Office veteran like myself learned a new trick or two.
The new version of Ribbon Hero builds on its predecessor, adds a lot more story (which I didn't care for, actually) and a new set of interesting tasks to perform. If you want to learn to use Microsoft Office (2007 or 2010) better or if you have a staff you want to help train then I encourage you to give this game a try. Ribbon Hero works in Word, OneNote, Excel and PowerPoint and you can get it for free from Microsoft here: http://www.ribbonhero.com/
Spying On You? There's an App for That!
If you thought that the iPhone location tracking scandal was the extent of the SmartPhone spying situation then I'm afraid you're about to be disappointed. The Wall Street Journal did some checking and found that a LOT of the apps that you have been gleefully downloading to your smartphone while waiting in line or sitting in a boring meeting are keeping a closer eye on you than you might expect. Even the uber-popular "Angry Birds" app is actually doing quite a bit more than letting you hurl little cartoon birds at insolent animated pigs. In fact it searches your phone's address book for friends and transmits data not just to Rovio (the makers of Angry Birds) but to third parties as well.
Angry Birds is far from the most egregious offender - your SmartPhone has become a veritable treasure trove for marketers to learn about you (and your friends) and try to sell you things. So before you install another app on that Droid or iPhone you may want to check out the Wall Street Journal's "What They Know" page here: http://blogs.wsj.com/wtk-mobile/. After reading it I went through my SmartPhone and uninstalled a few unnecessary apps that turned out to be more useful for marketers than for me.
That's a Feature?
"Manual duplex printing?" Really? So what you're saying is that I can print on one side of the page, then put that piece of paper back in the paper tray upside down and then print on the back side of it? Wow. What will they think of next! I wonder if this printer will print both capital AND lower case letters....
Clever fellows those Xobni people. First they had an add-on for Microsoft Outlook that let you quickly search your messages and mine metadata about the people who sent you e-mail. Then Microsoft shipped the Outlook Social Connector which did most of that for you and with less overhead than Xobni has. Now Xobni has turned themselves into a platform for adding other useful gadgets and tools to Outlook. Actually does look like some useful stuff here (some of it free, some of it not). Check out the Xobni gadget store here: http://blog.xobni.com/2011/05/03/introducing-the-xobni-gadget-store-kick-your-email-up-a-notch-with-evernote-yammer-salesforce-chatter-dropbox-jira-webex-and-more/
NOTE: As is often the case with computers try not to load your machine up with too many things. The more little add-ons and gadgets you have running the slower and less stable your machine becomes. Install what you'll actually use, uninstall what you're not going to use.
Speaking of Outlook...
Outlook is one of those apps that almost everybody in business uses and isn't always a source of joy to people. If you're having trouble with Outlook you might find something useful in this article: Troubleshooting Outlook - http://www.officeforlawyers.com/outlook/tsol.htm
Remind Everybody of My Password
Here's a common scenario: you have web-based accounts like your bank, travel agency, various other websites. And, perhaps to reduce the amount of spam you get, when you signed up for those accounts you gave them a webmail account like Yahoo or GMail or Hotmail as your e-mail address. Well, at some point you forgot your passwords so you used the "Forgot my password" feature on the site and it dutifully e-mailed you your password to that webmail account. Cool. And you kept that e-mail, either for future reference or just because you didn't bother to delete it. But then...some time later, that web mail account got hacked. Happens a LOT more often than you might think (see: Palin, Sarah). The hacker was mostly looking to use your account to send out spam or scam e-mails. But they've also stumbled into a treasure trove of...your user IDs and passwords for other sites.
Can't happen? Has happened. Read here: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/356025/When_Email_Gets_Hacked?
What should you do?
1. Make sure you have a very good pass phrase on your webmail account. Yes, I'm looking at you Mr. "Pizza" and Ms. "letmein".
2. If you use the "remember password" feature to send it to you....don't keep that e-mail. Allow yourself to remember your password, then delete that message (and empty your Deleted Items folder from time to time) so that it isn't just hanging around. Don't worry, if you forget your password AGAIN then you can always use the "Forgot my password" feature again and have it resent.
3. Try doing a search of your webmail mailbox for the word "password" and see what comes back. You may be surprised to see how many old messages you still have hanging around, just waiting to expose your information to miscreants.
O.K., that's enough for today, get out there and get stuff done.
You can reach Ben M. Schorr at email@example.com or by phone at 808-782-6306.