Tuesday, June 26, 2007

News Brief - Access 2007 Developer Extensions Now Available

If you've been waiting (and waiting) for Microsoft to provide a way to package and deploy solutions you've developed for Microsoft Access 2007, then the wait is now officially over. According to Eric Rucker, one of the bloggers/developers at Microsoft working on future versions of the perennial developer favorite, the developer extensions and runtime version are available as of 25-Jun-2007.

If you don't need to read about it directly, then here are the links for the downloads:

Access Developer Extensions

Access Runtime

Another resource worth considering is MSMVPS.COM: The Ultimate Destination for Blogs by Current and Former Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals. Tony Toews was the first off the mark to comment on the release (although the problem he reported with one link not working seems already to have been resolved).

A few other bloggers noting this event:

Blake Handler: The Road To Know Where

Clint Covington: Software Design, Microsoft Office Access

Alex Dybenko: Alex & Access

"AccessJunkie" of the MDBMakers.com (A Microsoft Access Developers Help Group)

So, it's time for me to gear up and determine once and for all whether I'll continue to develop in Access 2007. I've been having some doubts...until I downloaded and installed Office 2007, saw the new interface, and picked up my copy of Access 2007 VBA Programmer's Reference. At a wrist-bending 1152 pages, this hefty tome with 4 major Access authors contributing sparked my interest once again. Clearly, the new product offers more than I anticipated, despite some of the fall off among Access MVPs over the past few years.

Expect to see a few more entries on this blog about Access 2007 in the near future.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

EnergizeIT Recap

Yesterday's EnergizeIT event at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre is over, and now the reflection and review begins. It's unusual for IT professionals to commit a Saturday to a vendor-sponsored event like this, but evidently 3,000 other programmers, IT managers, and fellow geeks thought registering for this particular Microsoft event was worthwhile. From our own regional IT professional user group (Waterloo Wellington IT Professional User Group - WWITPRO), there were at least 7 people, although in such a large crowd, there were probably more we didn't see.


Overall, the event was a spectacular success. The facilities at the MTCC are world-class. The keynote presentations and break-out sessions were all very well organized. In fact, the PowerPoint slide decks are already available online and will soon be followed by streaming video of the keynote presentations (As an aside, the SharePoint site where Microsoft is coordinating all the materials and information about the event is an example of how appropriate technology enriches and extends the experience of a single-day event like this. Thanks to the Toronto SharePoint User Group.)


In another first, bloggers could do their reviews of the event in real-time, courtesy of free Wi-Fi connections. Photographers could post photographs immediately to Flickr and tag them with EnergizeIT and see the results on the large screens in breaks between sessions. Very hi-tech, very cool, very appropriate. Kudos to Microsoft and their partners for enabling this kind of connectivity and communications during the event. (Note: some of my photos of the Toronto skyline as viewed from the Holiday Inn on King Street as well as a couple other EnergizeIT photos are here - including one of some of us WWITPRO members with Phil Sorgen, President of Microsoft Canada.)

There were a couple other innovations at the event that merit special comment and congratulations. T-Shirts for geeks (and tiny T-shirts for future geeks) were sold with all the money going directly to a charity. There were attempts to deal with environmental challenges through reducing power consumption (see http://www.bullfrogpower.ca/) and an admittedly symbolic innovation of having evaluations of the event done via online forms. I was also impressed with the wide-screen monitors placed outside each breakout session for those arriving late or who were unsure which session to attend. Great idea!


I would recommend more tangible environmental initiatives in the future, including far less vendor paper and brochures in our goody bags. I know that's what sponsors want, but how much of that material gets read before it's tossed in the garbage? I'd far rather a perpetual location like the Sharepoint site with vendor ads than having to carry that stuff around all day.

Hands-on sessions can be a mixed bag. Personally, unless the user has a familiarity already with the broad concepts and layout of the software being demonstrated, there isn't much to be gained from doing a set of exercises. The context is everything. Without that, it's mindless, numbing, and futile.

Thank you's

Thanks to all the TechNet, User Experience, and Developer advisor and product managers for doing this, with special thanks to the support staff who make it all run so smoothly. Thank you to Microsoft Canada for hosting an event like this. You rock, Microsoft! Special thanks to Ruth Morton, the newest IT Pro Advisor for all her help to the WWITPRO executive.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

EnergizeIT Underway

EnergizeIT is underway with a flourish and a flurry of T-shirt tossing, high-profile keynote speakers, a great facility, and a breakfast with Phil Sorgen, President of Microsoft Canada. These events are improving each year, with more IT pros attending (over 3,000 this year) than ever.

We have Wi-Fi for onsite blogging, hands-on labs, various streams, vendor exhibits and an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. As they say, 'get your geek on.'

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Being an IT Influencer

Today, I had the incredible opportunity to be involved in an event hosted by Microsoft Canada called the TechNet Connected Summit. It was an invitation-only event in which selected IT professionals from across Canada met with Microsoft Canada IT Pro Advisors, product managers, and technology enthusiasts for a day of non-technical learning, discussion, workshops, and fun.

We learned about initiatives like the Community Connection Framework, Psycho-Geometrics, Microsoft's forthcoming Windows Home Server, technical presentation do's and don'ts, how to win at X-Box 360's Forza, and what product managers actually do for a living. We connected with other user-group executives and IT professionals representing a broad range of interests, levels of expertise, regions, and technology specialties. And all of this in preparation for Saturday's EnergizeIT event.

I'm not sure I feel comfortable with the moniker IT influencer. After all, it seems like just yesterday that I became an IT manager, although it is true that I've been in the computer technology field ever since IBM first released a personal computer in the early 1980s.

One of the alternative names used to describe who we are and what we do today was IT advocate. That makes me slightly more comfortable. It is, in fact, what I tend to do at Microsoft events, at user-group meetings, in my blog and other online activities, and, of course, in my daily work with users and managers at Pano Cap Canada. I seem always to be advocating technology solutions to users, to advocate on behalf of small business to associations and technology vendors, and to advocate use of advanced technology in general in enhancing work and play.

Good things are on the horizon because of events like that hosted by Microsoft today and the relationships being established between IT professionals across Canada. I have a renewed sense of optimism and excitement which will, I'm sure, only be heightened tomorrow when hundreds more of us gather to get our geek on.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Scoble and Andreessen on Facebook

Blogging got me into this world of social networking and Web 2.0. And it was Robert Scoble and Shel Israel's book, Naked Conversations, that convinced me blogging was a worthwhile endeavor. So, it shouldn't be surprising that those two and other bloggers are influencing me now as I entertain another phenomenon. Facebook has convinced me that we are on the vanguard of something really big, something far larger than blogging.

Facebook is poised, I think, to revolutionize how we use the Internet. One of the reasons I understood this intuitively was by the simplest of measures - how often in a week was I prepared to navigate to Facebook and possibly even update my profile, add an application, visit friends, post messages, or simply browse photo albums and events? Facebook proved its value within a couple days' use. I have been, almost without exception, returning to Facebook every day since I registered.

Then, I happened upon a video of the F8 launch keynote presentation from Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder. Watching that video, I began to realize how quickly Facebook had expanded its audience base to included old guys like me. Within a couple more days, I was reading about Facebook in the local newspaper. Within two weeks, 50 friends had accepted my invitation to join my friends list or had found me and extended the invitation to me. Just today, I began advertising events for our regional IT professional user group meetings on Facebook and extending invitations to IT friends within driving distance.

Other people seem to share my sense of excitement and anticipation. Robert Scoble, for example, pointed yesterday to one of the hottest Facebook applications, iLike, which is reportedly signing up 300,000 people per day. Marc Andreessen, the day before, posted an extensive analysis of the first three weeks since Facebook opened up its platform and APIs to developers.

They both reinforced the lesson that there is a huge difference between an application and a platform, something which ties in with Jared Diamond's insight that the history of technology is often about inventions applied in ways that were never anticipated by their initial inventors.

But the are definitely some gotchas. Andreessen has noticed a few key problems with the applications being developed. One is that success can kill 'ya - unless you have a server farm ready to scale immediately, releasing your killer app for Facebook could mean suicide. He notes some other things too, but take a look at his analysis for details (not to mention his great set of links on everything to do with Facebook).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Play - The Business Imperative

Facebook right now is more about playing around than anything else. Still, as I continue to read one of the most fascinating and mind-bending books (Guns, Germs, and Steel), I am reminded that the history of technology is replete with examples of inventions looking for an application. Gasoline, airplanes, the internal combustion engine, sticky-notes, the steam engine, the phonograph - they're all inventions whose utility was only discovered well after their initial "invention" and mostly by people other than the inventor himself.

Facebook itself appears to be an innovation whose value and application surpassed that of its founders, much like the World Wide Web itself. But what about business and Facebook? Is social networking of value to business? What parts of the technology can be adapted for use in business?

As of today, I have only discovered 2 other people from Pano Cap Canada on Facebook. That's hardly enough to determine whether Facebook has business utility. But if I were to shift the question slightly and ask about professional utility, the question would seem almost vacuous. Certainly, there is professional utility to a social networking tool that allows individuals and groups to organize and share information quickly and efficiently. The social grid architecture of Facebook means that any shared venture can benefit.

Yes, there are many other collaborative tools out there specifically designed for teams and projects, but the open-ended nature of Facebook and the low cost of participation make it unique, I think. That architecture and openness must mean that there is business utility.

This next week I will be attending a Microsoft event called Energize IT. The sessions will deal with Microsoft technology, but one of the things I'm looking forward to is talking to all the Microsoft and professional contacts I've established through Facebook to address this question about using Facebook for business.

This weekend with Microsoft will be partially about play. I think the big guys are getting the message. Play is critical to developing useful applications. It's critical to building relationships. It's critical to lateral thinking and the application of technology to novel areas, to discovering utility for tools made for other purposes.

Play on!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Facebook Phenomenon

Over 24 million active users on Facebook. More than 100,000 new users joining each day. Growth of 3% per week. Doubling every 6 weeks.

Who are these people? Ages 25 and up are the largest demographic group joining. Ten percent of the population of Canada has already joined. I guess this means Facebook is no longer just a college phenomenon. Soon over 75% will be people out of college.

Over 50% of users return every day. Nobody else in the online community world comes even close. I only started last week, and can attest personally that the experience, although admittedly somewhat impoverished graphically, is incredibly addictive. Facebook has recently passed over eBay and is setting its sights on Google for the most user traffic daily.

The way it intends to do so is with applications, photos being the most obvious. Photo viewing on Facebook has more users than any other photo sharing site on the Internet.

Events are another. As we all know, people share information and interests and tend to go to events based on their friends' recommendations. If I have a relationship with someone, I will be far more likely to attend an event if that person plans on doing so, than if I merely discover that event in the newspaper or on television or some other media.

Applications are key. But what makes the Facebook phenomenon phenomenal is the ease with which connections between friends and friends of friends occurs. Instead of sending an email to a friend or acquaintance about what I'm reading or an event I plan to attend or a copy of a photo of my family, I merely add that information to my Facebook site and immediately all my friends can see.

Even the Status application is something like the stand-alone Twitter social networking tool ... only better. Instead of updating an application, I merely update my status on Facebook and friends around the world know what I'm doing or how I'm feeling. Phenomenal!

It is the recent opening up of the Facebook platform that assures its continued success. That openness is key, as my friend Shel Israel has blogged about recently. Microsoft knows all about how important the developer community is to the success of the whole range of its products, not to mention the mind space devoted to its platforms. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Microsoft is partnering with Facebook.

Count in Amazon as well. One the recent applications I've just added to my Facebook site is Books, a place where I can review and recommend books. With this little gem, I can find all the other people in my network who have read the same book, start up a discussion group, or simply chat about the book's contents.

Facebook is changing how I use the Internet. It is certainly changing how I communicate with and relate to my friends and acquaintances.

Monday, June 04, 2007

ITIL for grown ups?

Today's the big day, I guess. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library v3.0 is released today. SearchCIO sent a story to me today explaining how v3 is ITIL for grown ups, possibly because the emphasis of this "best practices" guide for IT services is targeting CIOs.

V2, first released seven years ago, has been replaced by V3, a move from just tactical improvements to strategic improvements. If the hype has legs, then the shift is towards understanding how IT adds value to business objectives and not just organizing the activities IT managers do and manage each day.

Companies like HP are investing heavily in v3, hoping that middle level companies will invest not only in the published guidelines but in consulting services to implement those high-level recommendations.

I'm still left curious as to how ITIL factors into the development and growth of small IT operations such as the one I manage for Pano Cap Canada. Whether it's v2 or v3, how exactly do one- or two-person operations learn from ITIL and improve their operations and strategic alignment with business?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Mystery of 'Milan' - Microsoft Surface

One of my favorite vacation hot spots is Las Vegas. By the end of the year, I expect to find "surface computing" devices floating about in the casinos using Microsoft's 'Milan', essentially a hardware/software combo running Vista and getting input directly by touch from one or several users at a time. Obviously, gaming in the Wynn or the Bellagio or Caesar's Palace with a few friends or drinking buddies gathered around a surface computing table will have a definite cache.

By the way, the screen for Milan is not a touch-screen, typically understood and used today. Instead, the surface is hard, large and "interactive" both in the sense that you can manipulate objects and put Wi-Fi objects like cameras on the surface and immediately download the photographs without doing anything else.

Commercial applications offer tremendous possibilities. T-Mobile applications have already been written that would let a sales associate and a potential customer place phones on the surface and immediately get detailed information on each, adding service configurations, ring tones, etc by moving objects around on the 30" diagonal surface.

Educational potential is amazing. Imagine devices like this in a cancer center where patients are waiting for radiation or chemotherapy and would like to interact with a counselor, a dietician, a nurse, or an oncologist explaining not only treatment plans, but options, diagrams and animations of the process to the patient (check out the University of Calgary's CAVEman virtual human for an example). Or imagine students designing a school newsletter interactively with their photos, articles, banners, etc. all available for joint manipulation. The possibilities of social interaction and training are truly staggering.

Milan isn't mysterious to the imagination. We've "seen" it before in movies like Minority Report. It isn't mysterious that it took a company like Microsoft to pull the ingredients together (things like 5 infrared cameras set below the display top to detect objects like cameras, Zunes, etc; and a custom DLP - digital light processing - engine, not to mention an operating system like Vista that is up to the graphical and input/output demands). What's mysterious to me is why the possibilities of this kind of computing experience isn't seen for what it is; namely, a revolution as significant as the move from text-based to graphics-based computing.

Talk about synchrony! My colleague and friend, Ruth, an IT Pro Advisor, wrote this morning about Microsoft's surface computing at her personal blog. Check it out. Her embedded Popular Mechanics video gives a great illustration of the ease of use and multi-point input technology behind "Milan".