Zemanta

27 03 2008

Zemanta is an interesting little Firefox extension for blogger’s.

If you write a post in wordpress, blogger or typepad the Zemanta plugin lays out some relevant content (pictures and sites) based upon what you are typing in the post.

This seems like it would be very nice tool. Unfortunately I can’t bring myself to use the online editor in WordPress.

If they ever integrate it with Microsoft Live Writer I’ll definitely give it a go.

Zemanta Blogger integration from zemanta on Vimeo.





Plugins for Microsoft Outlook – Xobni

6 02 2008

xobni

Xobni is the latest Outlook plugin and has enjoyed a rush of very positive press the past several weeks. I have been using Xobni for several weeks and while I do think the product introduces a genuinely new approach to Outlook, it is not the be all end all of plugins.

Xobni’s claim to fame is the speed of the search and the introduction of the social aspect of your email. The product also includes impressive stats on your email such as how many messages are being sent in and out and with whom. They also contain interesting tidbits like the amount of time it typically takes you to respond to a message. Interesting stuff for about five minutes, after that you need to get back to work and quit looking at stats.

xobni2

The most valuable thing this app introduces is the collection of attachments sent to and received from your contacts. This feature alone has saved me a lot of time. Because of this all I need to know is who an attachment came from to retrieve it immediately. I don’t have to know which email it was sent with. It really is just a list of attachments. That simple. Brilliant, but simple.

What I have learned these few weeks is Xobni alone with Outlook is not enough. The social aspect and the way the search results are populated have been too much information in many cases. Sometimes I’m just interested in messages I’ve sent to Jon. Not every message I’ve sent and anyone else we may have in common has sent. The search does not always deliver the right information either, but I guess no search truly does.

For me, the combination of Taglocity and Xobni has been an intriguing one and something I have been working with for approximately a week. This has introduced a bit of lag to Outlook but nothing I can’t live with, nor is it anything that is very persistent. What taglocity brings back is the ability to get granular on a project style basis. Xobni does nothing to answer this need (the tagging and grouping need). For now these two plugins will have to be enough.

Oh, currently Xobni is in closed beta but can be accessed via invite. If you search Google for an invite you’ll likely find one. That’s how I got in. The app is free, for now.





Plugins for Microsoft Outlook – Taglocity

14 01 2008

I mentioned previously that a big drawback to the Outlook plugin ClearContext, for me, was the inability to place a message within multiple topics. The more I wrestled with this and worked around it the more I wished the system simply supported tagging.

aoi_011408_tag

Enter Taglocity.

Taglocity introduces to Outlook just what you would expect, tagging. It seems to get this done by taking advantage of the difficult to use categories already available in Outlook. You can tag items by using a tag cloud or by selecting from a list that populates as you type. The interface layout is very configurable. You can have the tagging pane display below or beside the preview pane while viewing the inbox. You can also float the tag cloud. In addition to the inbox you can tag items from the compose window, task creation or calendar creation.

Taglocity does right what ClearContext will hopefully correct in the next version. This is the ability to assign multiple tags to a single item. This means that the Sales Report email can be tagged with “2007 4th QTR ” as well as “Sales Commissions”. This is good stuff. Taglocity also makes filtering a view pretty painless and quick. You can select filter from the toolbar and select a tag, or multiple tags, and apply the filter. The filter also supports the AND and OR operators. This is a bit awkward to use but the approach seems pretty fresh. It is yet to be determined if this is a good thing or not.

Taglocity also supports AutoTags (the tags learn as you assign them) ActionTags (kick off an event, create a task, when a tag is assigned) TravellingTags (send tags along in the email). Each of these options are pretty compelling and make introducing the plugin into a workgroup environment a pretty easy one.

For the most part I really liked this plugin. My only concern is that it is not as user friendly as it could be and it does seem to impact performance a bit. With that being said, it is relatively safe to assume that most people that understand the value of tagging could figure it out. All in all I can see myself returning to this plugin and the price seems acceptable at $39 for the professional version.





Plugins for Microsoft Outlook – ClearContext

12 01 2008

It was just a short year ago that I really started to look for Outlook plugins that might make email management a little easier. Within the last few weeks I have found three. I didn’t dig into the history of each one of them enough to know how long they had been around but I’m guessing that the availability of Office 2007 has something to do with it.

Below I am going to give my opinion of one plugin, ClearContext. The next two will be covered in separate posts.

aoi_cc_logo

The first plugin I tried is ClearContext

From my experience, the idea behind ClearContext is to organize your email into categories or stages. In doing so the messages can be automatically filed away, deferred, delegated or turned into a task or calendar entry. Once an email has been categorized a dashboard view is available which allows a look at all messages, tasks or calendar entries for the project.

ClearContext does a lot of things right. The options available to you from when composing or reading a message are many, and are truly valuable. These include things like creating a task from the message or showing a related view which opens a window showing all messages within the category of the message you are viewing.

Unfortunately there are a few shortcomings that ultimately led me to uninstall ClearContext in search of an alternative. The first of these was that I could only place a message in a single category or stage. Ideally a message should be able to live in multiple categories without creating multiple copies of the message. The next issue was with the dashboard. While this idea is great, the execution is lacking. The dashboard is simply not as well organized or as functional as it needs to be. The last issue was how the messages auto categorize. If I categorize a message with a subject of “Sales Reports” to the “2007 4th QTR” category each message received with the same subject is also placed in that category. There are many instances when this simply won’t apply and will have to be worked around by resending the message to myself with an updated subject. This equals more work and defeats the purpose.

If these few shortcoming can be resolved (and they have certainly been mentioned by others in the ClearContext forums) this will be a very strong plugin.





When an IT department is too big

8 01 2008

There’s a good article at downloadsquad today titled, “Three reasons IT departments are shrinking.” The three reasons include outsourcing, lack of IT staff and less frequent system-wide changes. I think the reasons cited are very good and speak the truth (You should also read the comments. Some of them are as good as the article).

I would add another reason to the mix and that is that some IT departments are just too big and NEED to shrink.

I am part of an exceptionally small IT department. There are less than twenty-five of us. Nine members make up the support staff, including helpdesk and network support. The remaining thirteen or so are programmers and management. This department supports over two thousand users at more than thirty-five remote locations. We get the job done with current technology and produce solid deliverables.

In comparison, I have worked with many companies that are four to five times our size and the amount of time it takes to get things done is appalling. The various teams don’t talk to one another and in many instances don’t even know one another.

We certainly have our own issues. Being small is not always a good thing and there are times I wish I had more bodies to throw at a problem. When push comes to shove I simply call in a business partner and we do our best to gain from a knowledge transfer when a project is said and done.

At the end of the day we know how to conquer a problem or pursue a solution with the best of them. One of the reasons we can get this done is because we are a small team and working lazy or inside too many layers just doesn’t fly. Not around here anyway.





Secure Login plugin – multiple logins

7 01 2008

I’m a fan of the Secure Login plugin for Firefox. Occasionally when logging into a site I would get a prompt asking me to select which login to use. Both logins were the same with the exception of a number shown to the right of each login. I was able to select either and login just fine.

securelogin_multiples

Eventually I got curious and went hunting for the reason why. It turns out the Secure Login plugin will display a login ID for each login form on the page. There is only one form on the page you say? Chances are very good there is a hidden form veiled by some ajaxy goodness.

To see the hidden form (and prove you aren’t losing it) select View | Page Style | No Style. This will strip all the styling from the page and show everything in it’s HTML glory.

keywords: login selection select user form index firefox plugin secure login





Sandboxie should be your next Windows app

14 07 2007

Sandboxie logo

Sandboxie is an incredible little, lightweight program that allows you to run an application sandboxed which means anything the sandboxed app would normally write to disk is instead written to transient storage which can be easily removed.

From the Sandboxie site

If you run Freecell inside the Sandboxie environment, Sandboxie reads the statistics data from the hard disk into the sandbox, to satisfy the read requested by Freecell. When the game later writes the statistics, Sandboxie intercepts this operation and directs the data to the sandbox.

If you then run Freecell without the aid of Sandboxie, the read operation would bypass the sandbox altogether, and the statistics would be retrieved from the hard disk.

The transient nature of the sandbox makes it is easy to get rid of everything in it. If you were to throw away the sandbox, by deleting everything in it, the sandboxed statistics would be gone for good, as if they had never been there in the first place.

This works great when installing new applications that you aren’t sure you are going to keep. I needed to do some testing with several video ripping apps and installed each of them sandboxed. I tested four separate apps and decided to keep one. When I was done testing I simply deleted the sandboxes and reinstalled the app I liked using the normal process. This meant I didn’t have to worry about malware or dirty uninstalls leaving files on the disk or registry entries. Awesome.

As the excerpt above indicates you can also run apps you have already installed in a sandbox. This is particularly helpful when browsing the internet as any files typically written to your cache will be written to the sandbox instead. Want to try a new browser toolbar but don’t want to commit to it? Install the toolbar while the browser is sandboxed.

While reading through the Sandboxie forum one individual commented that they had installed Sandboxie in a Terminal Server environment sandboxing the browser. Prior to installing sandbox their AV/malware scanners were picking up 200-400 malicious attempts a week. Sandboxie reportedly reduced the number of malicious attempts to 6 and those were done outside the sandbox. Incredibly impressive.

There really isn’t any reason you shouldn’t install Sandboxie. Go get it now.

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