Contact Richard:   +44 (0)121 663 0223 +44 (0) 7703 355045

Friday Favourites – 12th April, 2013

Mural from The Highline in New YorkOn a Friday I try to post my favourites from the week – links to cool content and tools that I’ve found or had recommended to me.

Cool stuff I’ve found this week, ending 12th April, 2013:-

  • Yesware – A GMail plugin that allows you to sell more effectively from your inbox. Allows you to know if people have opened e-mails you’ve sent, what links they’ve clicked on, whether they’ve forwarded e-mails, and more. Thanks to Jakob Thusgaard of YourSales for the link!
  • SimpleWa.sh – The Internet never forgets! Do you have status updates, photos or other digital tracks that you would prefer not to have shared with others? SimpleWash helps you hunt down all those little details that you might not want representing you on-line. It is free, and works for both Facebook and Twitter to highlight any dodgy updates.
  • Mural.ly – Google Docs for Visual People.  Useful tool to allow you to collect together docs graphically, then think, imagine and discuss their ideas collaboratively. Worth checking out!

Do you have any cool content or tools to share with me? Why not e-mail me, Tweet me, or share with me on Google+ and I if I feature them in my blog you can be sure to give you credit!

Have a great weekend! Smile

 

This weeks photo is a shot of a mural I took from atop the High Line in New York City while on holiday. Thanks to Mike Judd of Enroute Networks for suggesting I visit the High Line, it was well worth the trip!

Why I moved from Microsoft Office 365 to Google Apps – Part Two


Google AppsIn part one of this blog post, I talked about why I chose to move from Microsoft Office 365 to Google Apps, and how I found the migration process.

Here in part two, I’ll talk about some of the challenges I found and how I feel about Google Apps vs Office 365 post-migration.

Using Multiple GMail accounts

I’ve actually been a GMail user for some time on a personal level – all my non-work e-mail is managed within GMail and it suits me.

But this caused a slight problem when I signed up for Google Apps for my work e-mail – as while I could have combined the accounts, I prefer keeping a strict demarcation between work and home.

On my Android phone this isn’t a problem. GMail for Android can handle multiple accounts with ease.

On my iPhone and iPad, I use the Apple Mail app for my personal e-mail, and the Exchange ActiveSync feature of Google Apps for business e-mail. There is also the GMail App should I choose.

Working from two Google logins within the Chrome web-browser can be a chore though. You’re constantly signing in and out of services as needed. Google Chrome has an interesting workaround for this – multiple Chrome Users. I setup one user logged in with my personal GMail, and the other with my Google Apps for business. I now work from two Chrome windows depending on whether I’m doing personal browsing or work browsing.

The only caveat here is keeping bookmarks synchronised between the two separate profiles. I resolved this thanks to James Kimbley’s suggestion I use XMarks Bookmark Sync which keeps both of my Chrome “windows” concurrent.

So I found workarounds to the multiple GMail accounts issue. But the multiple Google profiles challenge threw up a rather large spanner in the works, and one that I’ve still no resolved.

The inability to merge Google+ accounts

Google PlusThis biggest stumbling block I found wasn’t with GMail or Google Apps – it was with Google’s social networking site, Google+.

I’m a keen Google+ user and signed up for the service with my free GMail account over a year ago. Since that time I have written lots of Google+ posts, left lots of comments on other Google+ users posts, added a lot of +1’s, and built up Circles of people who follow me and who I follow.

Importantly, I’ve also linked my Google+ account to all the blog articles I write through Google Authorship. This basically means that whenever you search on Google, any articles it finds that I have written – whether on my own blog or as a guest blogger elsewhere - you’ll see my smiling Google+ profile picture next to the article search result. I’ve built up a lot of blog traffic through this.

Unfortunately, while Google have a Google+ merge process which combines your follower circles under one Google identity, they provide no way to effectively merge two Google+ accounts without losing all the comments, +1’s and Google Authorship claims you’ve built to date.

This is a huge stumbling block for many bloggers like myself who signed up to Google+ with a personal GMail account and then embraced Google Apps, and I keep my fingers crossed that Google effectively address this issue in the near future. Until then, I’ll be facing the awkward situation of only being able to effectively use Google+, YouTube and other Google sites in one of my personal Google profile, and not my Google Apps one.


Conclusion

So, I’ve made the move from Office 365 to Google Apps. What do I think?

Well – I surprised myself in that after years of being a die-hard Outlook fan, I hardly miss Outlook at all. For the most part I really like the GMail web interface built on powerful search, and I find myself processing e-mail faster and more efficiently than I did before. I definitely don’t miss the bloated memory hungry Outlook desktop application that would crash or pause occasionally for no reason.

I also love Google Docs. It is intuitive to use. It makes collaboration a breeze in areas that Microsoft have always promised to, but which in reality you’ve always needed a high investment in back-end server technologies to make work. Google Docs just works out of the box, with anybody inside or outside your organisation.

Finally, I love the 3rd party integration into GMail. Just about all the cool tools on the market integrate with GMail where they, for the most part, don’t integrate with Outlook or Office 365.

So, it seems I’m a Google Apps fanboi now eh?

Maybe, but not quite.

Google Apps vs Office 365

Office 365As a one-man-band Freelancer and a power-user – Google Apps wins out against Office 365 in almost every area for me. It’s more flexible, it’s more powerful, and it’s much more open to 3rd party integration. It’s just a better fit for people like me who live on-line.

I can see any freelancers, young micro businesses and especially start-up business gaining a big advantage by going with Google Apps – and the solution is scalable, so this isn’t just something that’s for small businesses.

But Microsoft still has the very strong argument that Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office are hugely familiar to people and for the most part, well liked.

I still run Microsoft Office on my desktop. It’s probably overkill for what I need to do, day-to-day, but it’s reassuring that it’s there because it’s very familiar and I know how to use it.

For myself and most 30-something’s and above, Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office has been a part of our working lives for as long as we can remember. Moving to GMail and Google Docs is an upheaval, and most people – well, they don’t like change one bit – so I can see it being a really hard sell to move existing larger Enterprise organisations from Exchange and Office 365 to Google Apps. Hard, but not impossible.

Also, Office 365 is much more than hosted e-mail. It includes Live Meeting, SharePoint and Lync – all tools that I’m not personally a fan of, but I can see how these tools can be leveraged to provide strong solutions for lots of businesses.

So, while I’m more than happy with Google Apps for my business, and would be encouraging IT companies to learn more about it to sell as a solution to their clients, it’d be crazy to ignore Office 365.

Living within the Browser

Google ChromebookBut times are a changing. There are thousands of new businesses springing up who are happy to work in the cloud – entirely. They aren’t running local applications connected to cloud hosting, they are running everything from feature rich applications within their web-browser. Some business are doing away with traditional laptops and deploying Google Chromebooks.

If you’d have asked me a few months ago whether I could have been one of them – I’d have said no.

And while I’m not giving up my Windows 8 notebook anytime soon (there are too many 3rd party desktop apps I still use) if you ask me that question again in a few months time – I could conceivably see myself as a cloud guy.

Thoughts? Opinions? Please leave a comment – I’ll respond to all who do so.


Why I moved from Microsoft Office 365 to Google Apps – Part One


Google Apps

Those of you who follow me on Google+ will know that in January I caused something of a stir by announcing that I had made the decision to move my e-mail and other services from Microsoft Office 365 to Google Apps. It’s well known that I’m a fairly staunch power-user and fan of Microsoft Outlook, and have been an outspoken advocate of Microsoft products both as an MSP owner and an Independent Consultant for many years.

So what prompted my decision to move to Google Apps? In the first part of two blog posts, I’m going to share my motivation for moving to Google Apps, and for those who are interested, the process it entailed.

Microsoft OutlookI love(d) Microsoft Outlook

Since selling my MSP business in 2010, I’m for all intents and purposes now a freelancer – working with a wide variety of IT companies based not just in the UK, but overseas.

For more years than I can recall, Microsoft Outlook has been my “trusted system”. Most of my time was spent within Outlook – replying to e-mails, organising calendar appointments and working through a to-do list.

I’m  a big fan of the GTD time management philosophy, and so kept “Inbox Zero” thanks to the Netcentrics GTD for Outlook add-in as well as a host of other add-ins for social media and more.

The limitations of Office 365

I’ve been using Microsoft Office 365 (O365) and its predecessor BPOS for over two years. My e-mail was hosted in Microsoft Exchange via O365, and despite investigating Microsoft Lync and SharePoint which are bundled with O365, I found them cumbersome in use. I also moved away from Microsoft’s Cloud storage, SkyDrive – preferring the cross-platform nature and ease of use of DropBox.

So when it came down to it, I was only really using O365 for hosted e-mail.

The real catalyst for me moving away from O365 was my need to implement a CRM system to record projects with clients, and effectively follow-up with prospects. Upon investigation, nearly every popular CRM solution integrates with Google Apps with ease, and although many CRM packages had Microsoft Outlook add-in’s – it was a clumsy solution. I didn’t want to have to manually “capture” specific contacts and e-mails within Outlook, I wanted my CRM system to have full access to all my data and pull out all the relevant contacts and e-mails on a real-time basis. Most CRM packages do this with Google Apps, but not with O365.

Despite the fact that both Office 365 and Google Apps are “cloud” solutions, 3rd party developers seem to love the open nature of Google Apps to Microsoft Exchange.


The pre-migration process

Having done my research, realised the limitations of GMail (which we’ll come onto later), I made the decision to migrate from O365 to Google Apps for Business to open myself up to all the 3rd party tools that are available on the market.

Google Apps Authorized ResellerI’m fortunate enough to have one of the UK’s top Google Apps authorised reseller Kimbley IT based in my home town of Birmingham – and so I engaged owner James to hand-hold me through the process of migration.

There is a 30-day trial of Google Apps for Business, and then it costs £33 per user per year (yes, you read that right!) – very competitive pricing. James took care of signing me up for Google Apps, and shared the DNS changes I’d need to make for my domain to use Google Apps. After a few days of exploring the GMail interface and the introductory training e-mails, I started preparing the process of migrating my old e-mail, calendar, tasks and notes to Google.

To begin, I uninstalled all the Outlook add-in’s I use (more on them shortly) and archived off into a .PST file any e-mail prior to the start of the year. I didn’t need to – as Google Apps provides 25GB of inbox storage – but only having a couple of months of e-mails helped to speed up the process.

Google Apps doesn’t have a “notes” feature as I was used to in Outlook, so I migrated my Outlook Notes into Evernote. I’ve since started using Evernote in anger and have found it really useful – but that’s a blog post for another day!

I then changed the MX records, changed my SPF record, setup the appropriate CNAME records within my domain DNS, and shortly observed new e-mails flowing into GMail rather than Office 365. This whole process was painless and the combination of the strong Google Help pages and James pointers made it easy.

I then installed Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook. This is a free tool for Google Apps Business Users (but not available to users of GMail free version) which allows you to continue using Outlook to manage your GMail. The plan was to continue to “live” in Outlook and slowly but surely move to the GMail interface – that plan changed, as you’ll read later.

Migrating e-mails to GMail

Google Apps Migration for Microsoft OutlookThe Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook tool should have also picked up my existing e-mails and fed them into GMail. I say, should have, because it migrated nearly all of my e-mails with no problem – e-mails in sub-folders were re-created as e-mails with labels in GMail – but then the process crashed out with an unhelpful error on my “Sent” mails folder.

Googling the issue, I suspected the issue may have been related to a corrupted Outlook .PST file and so I ran the Microsoft ScanPST utility until all errors were resolved. I ran Google Apps Sync again, and it crashed out again.

Taking an alternative tact, I downloaded the Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Outlook tool. Unlike the Apps Sync tool, the Migration tool should do a “one off” transfer of e-mails and other data.

After exporting a .PST of just my sent items to avoid any duplicate e-mails with those messages already migrated to GMail, I used the migration tool and it did the job – all my calendars, tasks and e-mails were now in GMail.

Replacing Outlook Add-In’s within GMail

By this stage I’d started using the GMail interface quite a bit, and despite this die-hard Outlook fans pre-conceptions, I actually rather liked the GMail web interface. It was easy to read and reply to e-mails, I could quickly find old e-mails from the powerful search menu and it was a lot quicker in use than memory-hungry Outlook. I decided to experiment with leaving Outlook turned off, and working in the GMail interface alone. To really do this though, I’d need to replace the Outlook Add-In’s I was so reliant upon with their GMail alternatives.

First up was GTD for Outlook. I replaced this with ActiveInbox, a free Chrome web-browser plug-in that brings GTD-like facilities to GMail. This initially worked well for me and I plumped to pay to upgrade the free version to ActiveInbox Plus, but at the time of writing I’d disregarded it – it’s lack of integration into Google’s (rather weak) tasks made it cumbersome to use. More on tasks shortly.

My on-line calendar scheduling tool TimeTrade worked as easily with GMail as it did with Outlook. No problems – just a change in my TimeTrade settings from their web-site.

The Outlook Add-In Xobni, which provides social media links and other statistics on my Outlook contacts, I replaced with Rapportive for GMail. Weeks on, I don’t miss Xobni at all and I think Rapportive has stronger integration with Social Networks.

Finally, Sanebox, which helps prioritise my e-mails in Outlook, was also compatible with GMail. Some swift help from the Sanebox Support team later – and my GMail was sane. I could have used the GMail Priority Inbox feature, but Sanebox has become invaluable to me so I’m happy to pay for it.

By this stage I’d replicated nearly all of the functionality I had with Outlook, but minus the memory hungry desktop application. Everything is quicker and faster within the web-browser, and this die-hard Outlook fan was suddenly a GMail fan.


VBA vs Google Apps Scripts

As I’m an Outlook power-user, there was another “nice to have’s” that I wanted.

My good friend and coding genius Mike Hudson wrote a VBA script to delay Outlook mail sending. Simply put, it would delay any e-mails I sent in Outlook over a weekend to the Monday morning to prevent me intruding on colleagues relaxing weekend with my work e-mails.

GMail has a Google Apps script called gmail-delay-send which allowed e-mails to be flagged for later delivery, but I quickly gave up on this tool and moved to the Google Chrome plug-in RightInbox which allows you to send e-mails later.

GMail Caveats

Now for the “gotcha’s” – the little things I expected to find in GMail, but didn’t.

  • GMail has no priority flag for outbound e-mail. You can’t flag an outbound e-mail as “Important”. As nobody pays attention to these flags anymore, it’s a small loss.
  • Google Calendar has no facility to flag appointments as “Out of Office”. I find it more difficult to highlight my external appointments now.
  • There’s no way to natively bulk edit Google Calendar on-line. Lots of my Outlook recurring appointments got transferred across as “Copy of appointment”. I fixed this by paying 49 Euro’s for the GCalToolkit, which allowed me to quickly update appointments from a Desktop tool.
  • Outlook stores contact birthdays within its calendar. Google stores contacts birthdays within a separate calendar. So they end up being duplicated. I used GCalToolkit to go through my “main” calendar and delete these duplicates.
  • I use coloured flags in Outlook to differentiate between personal and business appointments. These don’t get migrated across to Google Calendar, and so I had to manually re-set these.
  • Gmail uses a nice conversation view to allow you to follow the flow of messages. Great, but if two people respond to e-mails with the same subject line (say, a newsletter mail-out) then GMail lumps these into one conversation. I’ve found no way to “split” these conversations into separate threads yet.

All in all though, I found my way around these shortcomings – so they certainly were not show-stoppers.

Cool features in Google Apps

On the flip-side of the coin, I’m loving these features in Google Apps – some of which didn’t have in Outlook.

  • Integrating my Google Calendar to my Android phone means Google Now has sprung into life. I now get reminders on my ‘phone that I need to leave for appointments now if I’m to arrive on time. Google bases this on traffic conditions. Very cool!
  • Google allows multiple calendars, so I now have business, personal, contact birthdays, holidays and many others – all easily overlaid and synchronisable to my Android Smartphone.
  • The 3rd party tools for Google Apps are numerous – I’m particularly loving having direct access from within GMail to MailChimp for my e-mail newsletter, and HelloSign for GMail which makes signing PDF contracts I receive a matter of 30 seconds work.
  • GMail LabsGMail Labs has a lot of nice tweaks for the GMail interface too, such as “Canned Responses” which allow you to insert snippets of text you regularly use into emails.
  • Google Mail and Google Docs both have offline facilities, so I can read and respond to e-mails, and work on documents while disconnected from the Internet. When the connection is restored, any changes I make are synchronised.

I’m also now a huge fan of Google Docs and am slowly but surely migrating documents, spreadsheets and presentations out of Microsoft Office and Dropbox to Google Docs. The ability to quickly collaborate on documents in real-time with clients is invaluable – and I love the reaction people have when they first use it and you can see two people typing on the same document!

It’s all good, right?

So all is rosy in the Google Apps garden? Not quite…

In part two of this blog post I share the biggest stumbling block I found, and one that I have still not resolved.


Friday Favourites – May 18th

Image used courtesy of Sarah Reid under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) LicenseEvery Friday I try to post links to cool content and tools that I’ve found or had recommended to me.

Cool stuff I’ve found this week:-

  • Boomerang for GMail – a Firefox/Chrome plug-in that allows you to schedule when you send and receive e-mails. Thanks Dawud Miracle for the heads-up!
  • Hold on Tight Shelf – if you’ve an avid reader (as I am) then you’ll love this innovative book-shelf design!
  • Cloud Magic – an awesome search tool that works with Google Mail, Twitter, Microsoft Exchange and other to provide you with instant search across all your contacts and communications from within your web-browser. Thanks to Owen Kane at KRS Group for pointing me towards Cloud Magic!

Any cool content or tools to share with me? Contact me and I if I feature them in my blog, I’ll be sure to give you credit!

Have a great weekend! Smile

Google Privacy Updates and the Information Google hold about you

Privacy LogoA heads-up that on March 1st, 2012, Google will be updating their privacy policies and terms and conditions. Google previously had some 70 such policies, which they are now reducing and simplifying.

What does this mean for you as a Google user? Well, Google are being very clear that if you’re signed in with a Google account (which you may well do via Google Search, YouTube, Google+, GoogleMail or any one of a number of other sites) then they may combine information gathered about you from any of those platforms.

This will present itself as you’ll see a much more integrated service from Google. So if you search for a certain technology brand, you may see search results that incorporate videos or blogs that others have shared with you on YouTube or Google+.

How to check the info Google hold about you

On the downside, not everyone is happy about these changes from a privacy perspective.

An interesting site to visit is Google.com/ads/preferences. From here you are shown the type of ads you’ll be served up with on Google sites, based on the assumptions Google have made from the data they’ve collected about you.

This can be a little hit and miss. If you see the screenshot below, Google has correctly guessed I’m a 35-44 year old Male, and that I like Business & Industrial, Computers & Electronics and so on. But I’ve got zero interest in some of the other topics it suggests for me.

Google Ads Preferences Screenshot

Google isn’t always so clever though. One young lady I know was listed as a 35-44 Male… Thankfully you can remove or edit these topics or information, or indeed, Opt-Out of these targeted advertisements altogether.

Be Aware of the value of your data

For the majority of people, they’re totally ignorant to the fact that companies like Google and Facebook are using our private information in this way. For others (myself included) I’m comfortable with this provided I know how the information is used.

It goes back to the saying – “If you don’t pay for a service, you are the product”.

As long as you’re aware of that and the implications, there’s no problem.

css.php

Site by: Dawud Miracle, Business Coach & WordPress Websites