Category Archives: sharepoint

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OpenOffice moving to Apache; next step reunification with LibreOffice

Oracle has announced that it is contributing the OpenOffice.org code, the source for the free productivity suite that competes with Microsoft Office, to the Apache Software Foundation’s Incubator:

Incubation is the first step for a project to be considered among the diverse Open Source initiatives overseen by the ASF. A submitted project and its community will join the more than 50 projects in the Apache Incubator, and will benefit from the Foundation’s widely-emulated meritocratic process, stewardship, outreach, support, community events, and guiding principles that are affectionately known as "The Apache Way".

Everybody love the Apache Foundation so this is good news for the future of the project, though the Document Foundation, formed by renegade OpenOffice.org contributors fed up with Oracle’s stewardship, says the event is neutral from their perspective. The Document Foundation welcomes the ability to reuse code that will now but under the Apache License, but adds:

The Document Foundation would welcome the reuniting of the OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice projects into a single community of equals in the wake of the departure of Oracle. The step Oracle has taken today was no doubt taken in good faith, but does not appear to directly achieve this goal. The Apache community, which we respect enormously, has very different expectations and norms – licensing, membership and more – to the existing OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice projects. We regret the missed opportunity but are committed to working with all active community members to devise the best possible future for LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org.

It seems inevitable that the two projects will be reunited, and it seems that dialogue has already begun:

TDF is therefore willing to start talking with Apache Software Foundation, following the email from ASF President Jim Jagielski, who is anticipating frequent contacts between the Apache Software Foundation and The Document Foundation over the next few months.

A curious story, but one that seems likely to end in a good way. IBM, which is a big supporter of the ODF XML document formats used in OpenOffice, is welcoming the move:

Over the long-term, we plan to work with other Apache contributors to extend the vision of productivity beyond documents. We are learning much more about the semantic web through our additional work on LotusLive Symphony, and the vision in the research and lab teams has to extend productivity into new realms. Meanwhile, the Apache community can be expected to accelerate adoption of ODF as a primary set of document formats, and to drive ODF compatibility in other products and solutions in the future.

says Ed Brill. It is good to read about new approaches to productivity, because this has been a weakness in OpenOffice which is sometimes perceived a a kind of inferior-but-free equivalent to Microsoft Office. In the meantime, Microsoft has worked to make its own suite more distinctive, to defend a territory that accounts for a significant share of its profits. The ribbon user interface is part of that strategy, but more significant is its integration with SharePoint, and the emergence of Office Open XML as a unifying format for editing documents in desktop Office and within the browser using Office Web Apps.

Unifying the open source teams behind OpenOffice and getting it away from Oracle are both important steps towards making the project more compelling.

Perforce is developing a content management system called Chronicle, says we should version everything

I spoke to Christopher Seiwald, founder and CEO of Perforce Software, on the eve of the company’s 2011 user conference which starts today.

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The Perforce product manages source code, dealing with version history, check-in and check-out, branching, merging and so on. It is excellent software, lightweight, fast and reliable, and there are Perforce clients for a wide range of development tools across multiple platforms. The company has been able to compete successfully against the likes of IBM and Microsoft by offering a tightly focused and vendor-neutral approach, with few dependencies, low management overhead, and fast performance.

Now Perforce is doing a web content management system, but why? “We thought the web content world was a very easy step for us, in terms of what we knew and what our customers are already using the product for.” says Seiwald. “We’re building a web content management system to sit on top of Perforce. It’s going to be open source, so our customers can extend it, and it’s built using PHP, Zend and Perforce. Our APIs are also open.”

If you look under the covers of a CMS system like WordPress, every post and comment is an entry in a database. In Perforce Chronicle, the database is abstracted by Perforce, and of course everything is versioned. “It is all hosted by Perforce, using more of a document model,” says Seiwald. “A database underlies everything, we have a database underneath our system. But the world shifted a long time ago, for certain things, from regularly indexed relational databases to things more like documents where you index everything, you index every word, because you can.”

Although the CMS system will be open source, the Perforce back end “remains our proprietary company jewels,” Seiwald told me. “I’m a big fan of open source. If we could figure out a way of funding our operation in an effective way with open source then we would, but we’re not that clever. The business model just seems to support having a proprietary back end.”

Nevertheless, there will be a free CMS server for small sites. The approach will be similar to that used for the version control system, where up to 2 users can use it for free. Sites with few authors and/or small amounts of content will likely be free. “My attitude has always been, get from people who are willing to pay their money, and if they’re not willing to pay, make sure they can use it anyhow.”

The features of the CMS are not yet available in detail, and Seiwald says the first release will be “as simple as possible. My goal is to get it out of the door so that you can manage a simple web site in Perforce. The guys who are working on the CMS are pushing to put more in; I keep pushing to get it out earlier.” However, since it is open source it should be possible to plug-in additional features.

Perforce Chronicle is part of a wider strategy, to embrace the cloud and to encourage users to version more of their content, perhaps all of it. “People are putting just about everything online somewhere, not just source code, because they think online is better than offline. Data sitting on your local desktop, that just makes people scared. Online, whether corporate online or out in the cloud online, is becoming more appealing.”

I am reminded of Microsoft SharePoint. In January 2009 I wrote a post SharePoint – the good, the bad and the ugly. Since that time SharePoint use has grown, but it still has that mix of great features, over-complex setup and maintenance, and parts that rarely seem to work as they should. I use SharePoint myself, and sometimes SharePoint decides that the document I have open is read-only, for no apparent reason. I have to save my changes locally, and then copy it back to SharePoint overwriting the original.

SharePoint may be awkward, but the problem it solves is huge: reasonably secure access to your content from anywhere, without VPN, and with versioning, programmability, and a bunch of other features. SharePoint is a way of storing content in the corporate cloud. Yesterday Apple released its iWork apps for iPhone, including Pages and Numbers. Using SharePoint web storage, I can open, edit and save documents and spreadsheets in Pages on the iPhone, for example.

Perforce source code management succeeded against ClearCase and PVCS by being simpler, faster and easier. What if Perforce web content management could do the same thing versus SharePoint? Although the Chronicle CMS has a narrower focus, listening to Seiwald it seems that his vision does extend beyond web sites and source code to embrace all corporate content. “You are all going down the road of versioning everything,” says Seiwald. Note that Perforce is getting a new web services API and a Javascript API. Seiwald describes a project his team is working on called “The Commons”:

It will provide the simplest of access to Perforce for the simplest of uses. Need to work on a document? Drag it to your desktop. Need to check it in? Drag it back to Perforce. Done. It not only is an example app for our new web services, but also takes advantages of the trend for simple, online document management – backed by the power of versioning in Perforce.

That is actually not quite enough. Users need to be able to double-click a document to open it, and save it directly from Office, before it is really seamless; and yes, SharePoint has that. Nevertheless, I think this is an interesting direction for Perforce, and done right could find a ready market.

There is a little more on Perforce Chronicle on the company blog, which is where I grabbed the screenshot, but expect more details soon as the conference proceeds.

SharePoint Workspace 2010 – what a mess

For some time I have been meaning to post about SharePoint Workspace 2010. This application was introduced as part of Office 2010, though it is partly based on the older Office Groove software. Its purpose is to allow users to work with documents stored on SharePoint servers even when they are offline. I regard this as an important feature, and since I now store many of my own documents in SharePoint I was quick to install and use it.

I hate it. I am surprised that the Office team released software that is so unreliable, bewildering, overcomplicated, and hard to use even when working as designed. Given that it came out at a time when Microsoft had supposedly got the message about design and user experience, it really is surprisingly bad.

What is wrong with it? All I want to do is to work offline with my SharePoint documents; but the first annoyance is that SharePoint Workspace is designed to accommodate multiple different SharePoint servers. That is not a bad thing in itself, but it means that every time I want to get to my Workspace, I have to go through two steps. First, open the SharePoint workspace Launchbar:

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Then double-click Home to open my actual Workspace:

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The workspace is Explorer-like, but it is not Explorer. I think this is a mistake. Microsoft should have made this just another folder in Explorer, that works online and offline, and synchronises when connected. Like Dropbox, in fact. But it did not.

Still, I could cope with this if it worked well. Unfortunately it does not. Here was the first unpleasant message I encountered:

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“You are storing 196 more documents than SharePoint Workspace supports,” it says. The phrasing is odd. If SharePoint Workspace does not support that number of documents, how come I am storing them?

If you are lucky enough to find it, this document attempts to explain. Here are the limits:

SharePoint Workspace cannot synchronize any files that are larger than 1 GB. Additionally, SharePoint Workspace will stop synchronizing any shared folder that exceeds the following limits: More than 5000 files or a set of files that exceeds 2 GB in total size.

I am way below this though. Why do I get the warning? Maybe because:

For optimal performance in a shared folder, keep the following in mind:

  • Avoid adding large files (>50 MB) to a shared folder.
  • Avoid adding large numbers of files (>100 files) at once.
  • Avoid storing large numbers of files (>500 files) in a shared folder.

Perhaps then I am within the absolute limit, but above the recommended limit for “optimal performance”. However, this article tells a slightly different story:

You can store approximately 500 documents in SharePoint Workspace. If you exceed this limit, a warning message appears on the Launchbar whenever you start up SharePoint Workspace to remind you that you need to free up space. You can ignore this message and continue to do all SharePoint Workspace activities, though with degraded performance.

If you attempt to create a new SharePoint workspace that would exceed 1800 documents across your SharePoint workspaces, a warning message appears to inform you that only document properties will be downloaded to the workspace.

What then are the limits? 5000 per folder? 500 per folder? 1800 overall? or 500 overall?

If it is 500 overall, that is rather small. What is worse though, SharePoint Workspace lacks any common-sense way to control synchronisation. For example, I would like a global setting that said: Synchronize all documents that changed in the last 90 days, plus others I individually specify.

No such luck. You can connect or disconnect entire libraries, otherwise you can manually set a document to download headers only by right-clicking and choosing Discard local copy. That’s it.

I am not done yet. I get other puzzling errors and messages from this thing, which rarely works as expected. In particular, it is rather bad at its primary function, synching offline changes. To demonstrate this, I decided to record exactly what happens when trying something simple like creating a SharePoint document when offline.

I open SharePoint Workspace when offline. I right-click in a folder and choose New Document. Word opens, which is good. I type my document and hit save. Word opens the Save dialog at the default My Documents location – not where I want it.

However, I can click at top left of the Save dialog where it says Workspaces.

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Then I have to navigate back down to the location where I want it and click Save. Eventually I get this notification:

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Great, I have managed to create and save a SharePoint document when offline. Except, if I look now in the location to which I have just saved it, it is empty:

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However, it does appears in Word’s recent document list and I can open it from there.

Perhaps it will sort itself out when I reconnect. I reconnect. Oh no, here comes an unwelcome notification:

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On investigation, I now find my document in another thing called Microsoft Office Upload Center, with a warning mark:

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I click Upload all. Nothing happens. I drop down Actions and select Upload. Nothing happens. No error, no upload.

Oddly, if I open SharePoint Workspace, it says it is synchronized. I guess it means synchronized but with errors.

So what is the problem here? Sometimes the problem is that Word is still running. Even if the document is not actually open in Word, some file lock is  not released and it prevents the upload, though you do not get an error message that tells you what is wrong. Not this time though. I could not get it to sync.

I rebooted. Still no joy. I re-opened the document in Word by double-clicking and hit save. Something fixed itself.

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I am so conditioned to this kind of rigmarole that I rarely try this now. I store the document locally and copy it to SharePoint when it is online, bypassing the Workspace.

Why do I bother with it? A couple of reasons. One is that the ability to get at your SharePoint documents offline, and to have a kind of additional backup, really is a huge feature, and I prefer one that works badly than to be completely without it. Second, I like to live with these things so that I can assess how well they work. Otherwise we are at the mercy of the press releases that state the existence of the feature but do not describe its limitations.

I hope Microsoft comes up with something better for Office 2012 (or vNext).

Cloud is identity management says Kim Cameron, now ex-Microsoft

Kim Cameron, formerly chief identity architect at Microsoft, has  confirmed that he has left the company.

In an interview at the European Identity Conference in Munich he discusses the state of play in identity management, but does not explain what interests me most: why he left. He was respected across the industry and to my mind was a tremendous asset to Microsoft; his presence went a long way to undoing the damage of Hailstorm, an abandoned project from 2001 which sought to place Microsoft at the centre of digital life and failed largely because of industry mistrust. He formulated laws of identity which express good identity practice, things like minimal disclosure, justifiable parties, and user control and consent.

Identity is a complex and to most people an unexciting topic; yet it has never been more important. It is a central issue around Google’s recently announced Chromebook, for example; yet we tend to be distracted by other issues, like hardware features or software quality, and to miss the identity implications. Vendors are careful never to spell these out, so we need individuals like Cameron who get it.

“Cloud is identity management,” he says in the interview.

Cameron stands by his laws of identity, which is says are still “essentially correct”. However, events like the recent Sony data loss show how little the wider industry respects them.

So what happened at Microsoft? Although he puts a brave face on it, I am sure he must have been disappointed by the failure of Cardspace, a user interface and infrastructure for identity management that was recently abandoned. It was not successful, he says, because “it was not adopted by the large players,” but what he does not say is that Microsoft itself could have done much more to support it.

That may have been a point of tension; or maybe there were other disagreements. Cameron does not talk down his former company though. “There are a lot of people there who share the ideas that I was expressing, and my hope is that those ideas will continue to be put in practice,” he says, though the carefully chosen words leave space for the possibility that another well-represented internal group do not share them. He adds though that products like SharePoint do have his ideas about claims-based identity management baked into them.

Leaving aside Microsoft, Cameron makes what seems to me an important point about advocacy. “We’re at the beginning of a tremendously complex and deep technological change,” he says, and is worried by the fact that with vendors chasing immediate advantage there may be “no advocates for user-centric, user in control experience.”

Fortunately for us, Cameron is not bowing out altogether. “How can I stop? It is so interesting,” he says.

Apple iPad, Pages and Microsoft SharePoint – it works

I’ve been trying out an Apple iPad 2 recently, and one of the topics that interests me is the extent to which it can replace a laptop.

That is a nebulous question of course – it depends what you use a laptop for – but one essential from my perspective is the ability to create and edit documents. Therefore I installed Apple’s iWork apps in their iPad guise: Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

Now, one iPad annoyance is that accessing its storage is more awkward than with a laptop. You cannot simply copy files to and fro over a network. You can copy files to the iPad using a network browser app like Stratospherix FileBrowser, but that works by opening recognised file types.

As for Pages, how it stores documents is opaque to the user. They save as you type, and you can manage them in a My Documents view within Pages, but if you want to move them elsewhere you have to use one of five options: email, iWork.com which is cloud storage for iWork apps, send to iTunes for synchronization, copy to iDisk which is cloud storage for MobileMe, or copy to WebDAV.

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The options for opening a document are similar, but without the email or for some reason iWork.com options.

None of these options appealed greatly, except possibly the last one. I use SharePoint, which supports WebDAV, might this enable me to open and save documents from Pages direct to SharePoint? This is convenient for me, since I have SharePoint as a mapped drive in Windows Explorer, and it works both on the internal network and over the internet.

I typed a document in Pages, then went to My Documents and chose Copy to WebDAV. I chose Word format. Then I entered the URL, username and password for my SharePoint server.

Rather to my surprise, it connected immediately, and performance was good. I then went to my mapped SharePoint drive in Windows Explorer and there it was.

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It works the other way too. I typed a document in Word 2010 and saved it to SharePoint in the default .docx format. Pages can import .docx, and the document opened smoothly.

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I appreciate that I am in a small minority of individuals running SharePoint – I do it for test and review – but for business users this is a handy feature. Individuals might want to check out DropDAV, though I’ve not tried the service.

Update: I have tried this successfully with both SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2007. If SharePoint is using a port other than 443 for secure access, then you enter the full URL in Pages, for example https://sharepoint.yourdomain.com:444

However I have not yet been able to get this to work with SharePoint in Office 365.

Hands on with Office 365 – great service, some hassles

I have been trying Microsoft’s Office 365 which has recently gone into public beta, and is expected to go live later this year.

This cloud service provides Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2010 with Office Web Apps, and Lync Server to provide a complete collaboration service for organisations who prefer not to run these servers themselves – which is understandable give their cost and complexity.

Trying the beta is a little complex when you already have a working email and collaboration infrastructure. I chose to use a virtual machine running Windows 7 Professional. I also pre-installed Office 2010 Professional in an attempt to get the best experience.

Initial sign-up is easy and I was soon online looking at the admin screen. I could also sign into Outlook Web Access and view my SharePoint site.

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Hassles started when I clicked to setup up desktop applications. This is done by a helper application which configures and updates Outlook, SharePoint and Lync on your desktop PC. At this point I had not configured my own domain; I was simply username@username.onmicrosoft.com.

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The wizard successfully configured SharePoint and Lync, but not Outlook.

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There was a “Learn more” link; but I was in a maze of twisty passages, all alike, none of which seemed to lead to the information I needed.

Part of the problem – and I have noticed this with BPOS as well – is that the style of the online help is masterful at telling you things you know already, while neglecting to tell you what you need to know. It also has a patronising style that I find infuriating, and a habit of showing you marketing videos at every opportunity.

I did eventually find instructions for configuring Outlook manually for Office 365, but they did not work. I also noticed discrepancies in the instructions. For example, this document says that the Exchange server is ch1prd0201.mailbox.outlook.com and that the proxy server for Outlook over HTTP is pod51004.outlook.com. That did not match with the server given in my online account for IMAP, POP3 and SMTP use, which was a different podnnnnn.outlook.com. I tried all sorts of combinations and none worked.

Eventually I found this comment in another help document:

Currently, the only supported scenario for configuring Outlook to work with Office 365 is a fully migrated environment.

I am not sure if this is true, but it did seem to explain my problems. Of course it would be easy for Microsoft to surface this information in a more obvious place, such as building it into the setup wizard. Anyway, I decided to go for the full Office 365 experience and to set up a domain.

Fortunately I have a domain which I obtained for a bright idea that I have yet to find time for. I added it to Office 365. This is a process which involves first adding a CNAME record to the DNS in order to prove ownership, and then making Office 365 the authoritative nameserver for the domain. I was not impressed by the process, because when Microsoft took over the nameserver role it threw away existing settings. This means that if you have a web site or blog at that domain, for example, it will disappear from the internet after the transfer. Once transferred, you can reinstate custom records.

Still, I had chosen an unused domain so that I did not care about this. I set up a new user with an email address at the new domain, and I amended the default SharePoint web site address to use the domain as well.

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That all worked fine; but what about Outlook? The bad news was that the setup wizard still failed to configure Outlook, and I still did not know the correct server settings.

I could have contacted support; but I had one last try. I went into the mail applet in control panel and deleted the Outlook profile, so Outlook had no profile at all. Then I ran Outlook, went through the setup wizard, and it all worked, using autodiscover. Out of interest, I then checked the server settings that the wizard had found, which were indeed different in every case from those in the various help documents I had seen.

A few hassles then, and I am not happy with the way this stuff is documented, but nevertheless it all looks good once set up. The latest Exchange and SharePoint does make a capable collaboration platform, the storage limits are generous – up to 25GB per Exchange mailbox – and I think it makes a lot of sense. I expect Microsoft’s online services to win huge amounts of business that is currently going to Small Business Server, and some business from larger organisations too. Migration from existing Microsoft-platform servers should be smooth.

The biggest disappointment so far is that in Lync online the Enterprise Voice feature is disabled. This means no general-purpose voice over IP, though you can call PC to PC. To get this you have to install Lync on-premise:

Organizations that want to leverage the full benefits of Microsoft Unified Communications can purchase and deploy Microsoft Lync Server 2010 on their premises as part of Microsoft Office 365. Lync Server 2010 on-premises delivers full enterprise voice and premises-based, dial-in audio conferencing, enabling customers to reduce costs and increase productivity by replacing or enhancing traditional PBX systems.

though it is confusing since Enterprise Voice is listed as a feature of the high-end E4 edition; I believe this implies an on-premise server alongside Office 365 in the cloud.

Perhaps the biggest question is the unknown: will Office 365 live up to its promised 99.9% scheduled uptime SLA, and how will its reliability compare to that of Google Apps?

Office 365 is priced at $10 per user per month for the basic service (E1), $16 to add Office Web Apps (E2), $24.00 to add licenses for Office Professional, archiving for Exchange (E3) and voicemail, and $27.00 to add Enterprise Voice (E4). The version in beta is E3.

The future of Google Apps: social features, high performance spreadsheets, working offline

Yesterday I spoke to Google’s Global Product Management Director for Google Enterprise (whew!) Matthew Glotzbach, at a press briefing for Google Apps which included the announcement of Google Docs Discussions, as covered here.

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One of the issues discussed in the briefing was Cloud Connect, which I reported on here. Cloud Connect automatically copies and synchronises Microsoft Office documents with Google’s cloud storage. There are some performance and usability issues, but the biggest problem is that you cannot edit the documents in the browser; or rather, if you do, Google makes a second copy leading to versioning issues.

Google says this is a file format issue. The online Google Docs applications cannot edit documents in Microsoft Office formats – “the document models are completely different” says Glotzbach – though it can import and export those formats. Could Google develop the ability to edit Office documents online? “It is a technical challenge, something we haven’t built yet,” he added.

It is an interesting point. Microsoft’s Office Web Apps have flaws, but they do let you maintain the same document whether edited in the browser or in the Office desktop applications. It is an example of friction if you try to live partly in Microsoft Office, and partly in Google’s cloud. It may be better to stick with one or the other.

What about offline capability, something I hear a lot as counting against Google Docs. Google had a solution for this based on its Gears add-on, but then withdrew it.

We are actively working on offline. It is extremely important. Gears was a precursor. A lot of the ideas embedded in Gears have become part of HTML5.

says Glotzbach. I asked whether this will extend to the Chrome OS netbook operating system, and he said that it will:

Chrome, as the most modern browser based on HTML 5, has the capabilities built into its core. Chrome OS as a derivative of that has those offline capabilities baked into it, so it is a matter of having applications take advantage of that.

We also talked about the new discussions feature. I observed that it seems to be just one part of a bigger story. What about discussions spanning multiple documents? What about discussions without documents? Is there any way of doing that?

“Yes, email,” he said, chuckling. Clearly Google has taken to heart that email remains the de facto mechanism for most corporate collaboration. “We’ve also got Google groups. Obviously the manifestation of a group for many users is email, that’s how they interact with it, but there is also a destination site or page for that group.”

Might Google develop its own equivalent to Salesforce.com Chatter, for Twitter-like enterprise messaging?

The idea of eventually being able to pull in other streams, the idea of social media inside the enterprise Is a powerful idea. I think Chatter is a good example of that, and others such as Yammer. I think those ideas will likely find their way into businesses. It is not clear to me that social will be a destination within an Enterprise. Rather I see it as, features will emerge in various products that leverage those social capabilities. Discussions is influenced heavily by a lot of those social media ideas, and so you can see that evolving into more integrated social capabilities across the app suite.

What about Google spreadsheets, which seem great for simple tasks and collaboration, but suffer performance and scalability issues when used with large data collections that work fine in Excel?

There’s always work to do. We have today some limitations in terms of spreadsheet size. Those are things we are actively working on. With browser technologies I actually think we have an advantage over desktop applications. If I told you I had a spreadsheet that had 5 million columns and a billion rows, there’s no desktop spreadsheet in the world that can handle that kind of volume, but because we have in essence supercomputers on the back end processing that, what you display is just a window of that large data. So we’re using clever technologies like pre-fetching the rows and columns that are just off the edge of the page, similar to some of the technologies we use with Google Maps.

But it’s an example where we have some artificial limitations that we are working to remove. Imagine doing really sophisticated non-linear calculations in a spreadsheet. We’ve got a supercomputer on the back end that can do that for you in seconds.

Hands on with Google Cloud Connect: Microsoft docs in Google’s cloud

Google has released Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, and I gave it a quick try.

Cloud Connect is a plug-in for Microsoft Office which installs a toolbar into Word, Excel and PowerPoint. There is no way that I can see to hide the toolbar. Every time you work in Office you will see Google’s logo.

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From the toolbar, you sign into a Google Docs account, for which you must sign up if you have not done so already. The sign-in involves passing a rather bewildering dialog granting permission to Cloud Connect on your computer to access Google Docs and contacts on your behalf.

The Cloud Connect settings synchronise your document with Google Docs every time you save, or whenever the document is updated on Google’s servers.

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Once a document is synched, the Cloud Connect toolbar shows an URL to the document:

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You get simultaneous editing if more than one person is working on the document. Google Docs will also keep a revision history.

You can easily share a document by clicking the Share button in the toolbar:

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I found it interesting that Google stores your document in its original Microsoft format, not as a Google document. If you go to Google Docs in a web browser, they are marked by Microsoft Office icons.

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If you click on them in Google Docs online, they appear in a read-only viewer.

That said, in the case of Word and Excel documents the online viewer has an option to Edit Online.

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This is where it gets messy. If you choose Edit online, Google docs converts your Office document to a Google doc, which possible loss of formatting. Worse still, if you make changes these are not synched back to Microsoft Office because you are actually working on a second copy:

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Note that I now have two versions of the same Excel document, distinguished only by the icon and that the title has been forced to lower case. One is a Google spreadsheet, the other an Excel spreadsheet.

Google says this is like SharePoint, but better.

Google Cloud Connect vastly improves Microsoft Office 2003, 2007 and 2010, so companies can start using web-enabled teamwork tools without upgrading Microsoft Office or implementing SharePoint 2010.

Google makes the point that Office 2010 lacks web-based collaboration unless you have SharePoint, and says its $50 per user Google Apps for Business is more affordable. I am sure that is less than typical SharePoint rollouts – though SharePoint has other features.  The best current comparison would be with Business Productivity Online Standard Suite at $10 per user per month, which is more than Google but still relatively inexpensive. BPOS is out of date though and an even better comparison will be Office 365 including SharePoint 2010 online, though this is still in beta.

Like Google, Microsoft has a free offering, SkyDrive, which also lets you upload and share Office documents.

Microsoft’s Office Web Apps have an advantage over Cloud Connect, in that they allow in-browser editing without conversion to a different format, though the editing features on offer are very limited compared with what you can do in the desktop applications.

Despite a few reservations, I am impressed with Cloud Connect. Google has made setup and usage simple. Your document is always available offline, which is a significant benefit over SharePoint – and one day I intend to post on how poorly Microsoft’s SharePoint Workspace 2010 performs both in features and usability. Sharing a document with others is as easy as with other types of Google documents.

The main issue is the disconnect between Office documents and Google documents, and I can see this causing confusion.

Update: I uninstalled Cloud Connect after a couple of days. Two reasons. First, the chunky toolbar is annoying and takes valuable working space. Second, I had performance issues when working with documents opened from SharePoint. I guess the two do not get on well together.

Microsoft has its own unsurprisingly negative take on the product here. Apparently Cloud Connect uses the Track Changes feature under the covers, hence breaking this feature for any other purpose. If so, I would like to have been warned about this. On the other hand, I still like the usability of Cloud Connect. Microsoft is right to observe that auto-sync could result in inadvertent document sharing; but the simple and prominent sharing dialog is easier to use than SharePoint permissions.

Server and Tools shine in Microsoft results – so why is Bob Muglia leaving?

Microsoft released quarterly results yesterday:

Quarter ending December 31 2010 vs quarter ending December 31 2009, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 5054 -2139 3251 -2166
Server and Tools 4390 412 1776 312
Online 691 112 -543 -80
Business (Office) 5126 612 3965 1018
Entertainment and devices 3698 1317 679 314

Microsoft highlighted strong sales for Xbox (including Kinect) as well as for Office 2010, which it said in the press release is the “fastest-selling consumer version of Office in history.”

Why is Office 2010 selling better than Office 2007? My hunch is that this is a Windows 7 side-effect. New Windows, new Office. I do think Office 2010 is a slightly better product than Office 2007, but not dramatically so. SharePoint Workspace 2010, about which I mean to post when I have a moment, is a big disappointment, with a perplexing user interface and limited functionality.

Windows 7 revenue is smaller than that of a year ago, but then again the product was released in October 2009 so this is more a reflection of its successful launch than anything else.

What impressed me most is the strong performance of Server and Tools, at a time when consolidation through virtualisation and growing interest in cloud computing might be reducing demand. Even virtual machines require an OS licence though, so maybe HP should worry more than Microsoft about that aspect.

I still think they are good figures, and make Server and Tools VP Bob Muglia’s announced departure even more puzzling. Just what was his disagreement with CEO Steve Ballmer?

Server and Tools revenue includes Windows Azure, but it sounds like Microsoft’s cloud is not generating much revenue yet. Here is what CFO Peter Klein said:

Moving on to Server and Tools. For Q3 and the full year, we expect non-annuity revenue, approximately 30% of the total, to generally track with the hardware market. Multi-year licensing revenue which is about 50% of the total, and enterprise services, the remaining 20%, should grow high-single digits for the third quarter and low double-digits for the full fiscal year.

This suggests that 80% of the revenue is from licensing and that 20% is “enterprise services” – which as I understand it is the consulting and enterprise support division at Microsoft. So where is Azure?

Online services, which is Bing and advertising, announced another set of dismal results. Another part of Microsoft’s cloud, Exchange and SharePoint online, is lost somewhere in the Business segment. Overall it is hard to judge how well the company’s cloud computing products are performing, but I think it is safe to assume that revenue is tiny relative to the old Windows and Office stalwarts.

Windows Phone 7 gets a mention:

While we are encouraged by the early progress, we realize we still have a lot of work ahead of us, and we remain focused and committed to the long-term success of Windows Phone 7.

It looks like revenue here is tiny as well; and like most corporate assertions of commitment, this is a reflection of the doubts around Microsoft’s mobile strategy overall: how much of it is Windows Phone 7, and how much a future version of full Windows running on ARM system-on-a-chip packages?

Still, these are good figures overall and show how commentators such as myself tend to neglect the continuing demand for Windows and Office when obsessing about a future which we think will be dominated by cloud plus mobile.

Fixing slow access to SharePoint mapped drives in Windows 7

I’ve heard recently from a couple of people who found that accessing SharePoint folders via mapped drives in Windows Explorer had suddenly become very slow – even taking several minutes to open a folder. This is in Windows 7, but the same might (or might not) apply to other versions of Windows.

SharePoint folders in Windows Explorer use WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) under the hood, so although it looks like just another shared drive it is actually using HTTP calls to list the files. It is useful if you are out and about, because you can get at documents on your internal network over the internet, using SSL to secure the connection.

The fix that has worked in both cases is a mysterious one. You open Internet Explorer (even if you use a different browser), go to Tools – Internet Options – Connections, click LAN settings, and uncheck Automatically detect settings.

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I am not sure why this works but presumably with this option checked there is some sort of useless auto-detection going on which times out and then repeats.

No promises; but making this change can dramatically improve performance.