Tip o’ the Week #192 – What does your customer run?

If you are in the tech industry and dealing with a customer or partner on pretty much any aspect of their relationship with you, it can often be valuable to have a bit of forewarning about what technology they’re using. In larger managed environments, that knowledge might come from other resources (account manager, technical pre-sales, support contact etc), it may be tucked away in your email from an old thread.

Who knows, it might even be in CRM.

Even if you’re working with a well-engaged entity, it can still be helpful to do a little background research, and that’s near-mandatory if the org in question is new to us all. Here are some thoughts on how to get ahead of the game without needing to spend hours at the task.


This is now an essential business tool for a lot of people, as it both projects their CV into the world so a potential next employer can see it, and it helps them connect with people in other organisations they’re trying to reach. Before you meet your customer, it’s worth looking up the company and seeing who else works there, what skills the individuals have (eg do they position themselves as an Open Source or Linux expert? Are they certified to the hilt in your stuff already, and therefore maybe a friendly face?). Who did they work for previously?clip_image002

One tip for the practiced LinkedIn stalker is that it’s possible to switch off the breadcrumbs that let people see who’s looked at their profile, so if you check someone out and decide to have nothing more to do with them, you won’t end up getting a connection request in return as they’ll never know it was you.

Go to the Privacy & Settings option by clicking your mugshot in the clip_image004top right then Select what others see when you’ve viewed their profile, whereupon you can choose full disclosure, partial anonymity (so they’ll see it was someone at Microsoft, for example – might freak them out if they are LAMP fiends) or the full kahuna of diplomatic immunity.

You might also want to think about who gets to see your connections – if you get lots of requests from people you don’t know, they may just be trying to harvest your own connections (as they’d see more details of those users, since they’d now be 2nd degree connections to the recruitment consultant connection spammer). We’ll come back to using LinkedIn in a future ToW.

Mxtoolbox – www.mxtoolbox.com

This one is useful for checking what your customer is using for their email, or at least which service they’re using to clean and filter their in- and out-bound email. Simply enter the customer’s email domain name (the bit after the @) and you’ll find out how they send and receive mail. Sometimes, it’ll be their own address (meaning, they operate their own relay) but often, it’ll be one of a variety of 3rd party “hygiene” services from the likes of Microsoft (Frontbridge, Outlook), Google (Postini), Symantec (MessageLabs) and more.

Netcraft – www.netcraft.com
Their “What’s that site running?” tool and web site survey made Netcraft well known years ago – ostensibly telling you what operating system the web site in question is running on. A useful side effect in these cloudy days is that it can tell you not just what the site is, but where it is running. Handy to know if your customer’s site (or maybe a subset of it which is presenting a web application to their customers?) is running on Azure, AWS, Rackspace etc. Just head over to netcraft.com and paste the URL into their “what’s that site running” box in the lower right – no need to strip it of http:// or any other superfluous guff; the site takes care of all that for you.

Is it really on Azure? – http://www.kloth.net/services/nslookup.php
Here’s a neat service which lets you check for CNAMEs of a particular URL – in other words, when you enter a URL into your browser, that name may just be an alias for another name, which you’ll never see. Knowing that such a thing exists can be handy, though – it might let you figure out that one part of the website is hosted in one place, but another part is somewhere else.

In this case, you do need to trim any leading or trainling gubbins off the URL, so you’re left with simply the main part. Sometimes the real meat of what a website is offering – the bit of the site you need to log into, for example – might be on a different URL (like login.company.com). If you plug that URL into this handy name lookup tool, and set the option to be looking for ANY or CNAME, then you may see that login.company.com is just an alias for something.cloudapp.net – the clouapp.net bit meaning that it’s a service running on Windows Azure. Not a very efficient way of looking for Azure users en masse, but if you think your customer is already on Azure, it is a handy way of confirming that fact.

Tip o’ the Week #191 – Lync meeting updates

clip_image002Lots of people (including Office365 users) should have been moved to Lync 2013 by now, though the impact may not be all that obvious, since some of us have been using Lync 2013 client for a while, even if the back-end wasn’t running the latest and greatest.

Some of the changes will only be apparent when you join a Lync 2013 meeting – for example, when an application is being shared, one view will show you a line of photos of active participants in the meeting, and when each is talking, a green bar is shown under their mugshot, so you know who’s making all that noise, heavy breathing into their microphone, sniffling etc. Subtle.

[NB: in the photo below, the only highlighted person was actually talking at the time, and if fact, was the only one showing real video rather than a static photo]


clip_image006There are a bunch of incremental improvements which the server upgrade provides, and some which subsequent updates to the client light up – one of which is the “Meetings” section which appears under the your status section at the top of the main Lync window (and somewhat confusingly, is depicted like a pie chart). The meetings tab shows you the remainder of your diary for the day (refreshed every 10 mins), and helpfully highlights any Lync meetings in blue, so you can right-click to Join. No need to go back to Outlook, open the calendar appointment, click on the link etc.

Other tweaks include the ability to set whether the IM and participant list shows up when you join a meeting (both of which were previously hidden by default until you clicked around inside the meeting). And if you’re the meeting organiser, you could decide to stop IMs or video in a meeting/call altogether.


The behaviour of the Lync client when you join a meeting is set under the Options icon (towards the top right, or you can press the ALT key to show the menu bar and go in throught Tools / Options if you’re old skool). clip_image010There’s also the new ability to choose which Lync client to use for joining meetings – handy if you also have the Lync Modern app installed and would rather use it, for example.

Oh, and don’t forget to install and configure the fab Lync 2013 for Windows Phone, too. As before, but with more panache and pizzaz, the Lync client allows you to join conference calls with a single click (no typing in participant numbers and the like), as well as adding some cool new functionality – like using Wifi for VoIP calls if you set it to.

Tip o’ the Week #190 – PowerPoint slide picks

clip_image002Everyone in the developed world seems to have been subjected to PowerPoint at some stage. PowerPoint is an unusual tool – one that is immensely popular by the people who use it, and one which invokes shudders amongst some of the victims of bad presentations down the years. One even coined the term “Death by PowerPoint” in 2001.

The presentation tool of choice (be it PPT slides, old IBMers’ acetate “foils”, or any other prop) can form as a useful aide mémoire for competent presenters, however it’s all too easy to put everything you want to say onto a slide, thereby negating the audience’s need to listen to you saying it, as they strain to read it in 14pt Arial Bold behind your head.

Great presenters often show slides with few words but great visuals – if you’re on the Microsoft network, search for the Microsoft Story deck by Steve Clayton and his team, as an example of well-crafted slides that reinforce a story rather than telling it for you. Or look at this illustration of “Flat Design” as published on SlideShare.

PowerPoint 2013 added a really nice function to the little icons that appear in the bottom left of a presented slide, if clip_image003you put your mouse in that general direction. As well as navigating back and forth between slides, you can annotate the currently presented slide, zoom into it (great for highlighting something to your audience), the new “Slide Navigator” icon is of particular interest.

Have you ever sat in a presentation where the speaker drops out of presentation view, so they can ferret around inside PowerPoint to get to a different slide…? Normally a great deal of scrolling up and down, exposing speaker notes (if they are ever written up – and who does?) – it just doesn’t look good.

You should never expose the workings of your presentation, and ideally, never refer to it – don’t talk about “on this slide…”, don’t refer to the clicker being problematic, don’t ever say “this is an eye test, but…” (just don’t show it).  Referring to the presentation mechanism is PaNAMBiC. Like this.

clip_image004Talk as if you don’t need whatever is behind you, unless you’re showing screen shots or diagrams that you have to refer to in order to make sense.

The new Slide Navigator icon is available either in Presenter View (see here) or in the standard duplicate-everything view (which can be easily re-activated if you find yourself in Presenter View against your will).

clip_image006Clicking on the icon itself will show a nicely ordered overview of all the slides in your presentation, so if you need to jump to a particular slide you can do so, without opening clip_image008your kimono and showing your goods to the expectant audience. In Presenter View, the section-by-section thumbnails are shown on your own private screen, so you can easily find your slide and jump to it without even letting the viewers realise it wasn’t contiguous in the original flow of your slides.

If you’re in duplicate screen view, it shows the Slide Navigator on the main view, but that’s much preferable to exiting the presentation altogether, navigating to the slide you want, then fishing about with the mouse to find the “Slide Show” button on the lower toolbar to restart the show.

clip_image010TIP: to start a PowerPoint slide show with the currently-selected slide, just press SHIFT-F5.

Tip o’ the Week #189 – Outlook View Tips

clip_image001Outlook 2013 introduced some changes to the way the standard inbox view is presented. It’s basically a good thing, though if you have a lot of email and a small screen, it will certainly reduce the number of items on your default view. This means that once an email is (say) 15 from the top on your mailbox, then it’s off the screen and, for some people, it might as well be dead.

You could adopt an Inbox Zero policy and keep your inbox to as few items as possible, or you could admit defeat and become a piler like most people. We have computers to search stuff for us, so why does it matter if we delete or file things away? Meh.

Anyway, there are a few tweaks you can make to your Outlook view if you don’t much like the new version. Let’s look at a comparison between Outlook 2010 and 2013:


Outlook 2010                                     


Outlook 2013

It’s easy to see the screen real-estate effect – though 2013 is clearer, it’s a little larger.

clip_image005If you’d like to restore the view to more like 2010:

  • In the main Outlook window, go to the View tab, and look under View Settings
  • Click on the Conditional Formatting button.
  • Create a new rule (Add), and call it something like “Look like 2010”. Choose a Font by clicking on the Font button, and select “Smaller”. You may want to try some italic and bold settings just to spice things up a bit, but you can always go back and change it later.
  • Press OK, and when you are prompted, say that it’s OK for this rule to run on everything (since we haven’t created a condition for it to apply).

Now this will apply to all messages and will reset the default view to have smaller “From” lines.

clip_image007If you’d like to change the way unread messages are displayed (where, in Outlook 2010, they were just emboldened and with an appropriate message icon), repeat the exercise above but instead of creating a new rule, just edit the “Unread Messages” rule – set the font and colour, and party on!

There are many other inbox formatting tips which will take the views back into the mists of time – if there’s demand to find out more, maybe I’ll cover them in future ToWs.