Copy2Contact gets contact information into Outlook and CRM

I discovered a really handy utility a while ago called Copy2Contact but have only just got around to writing this article about how I use it to take unformatted information and create CRM Contact data from it. Copy2Contact sits in the system tray and allows you to select a chunk of text in pretty much any application, hit a shortcut key and it will create a new Outlook contact using that information (I use Ctrl+C, C, so this is just a “double tap” on a normal Ctrl+C for copy). Typically this might be text in an e-mail but it does not have to be – it could be from a web page, Word document, pdf file or anywhere else really.

Better still, it uses some pretty clever algorithms to figure out which bit of the text is the name, job title, company, address, telephone, mobile, email and so on. Any data it can’t interpret it adds to the notes section so you can a) see what it was and b) copy and paste it somewhere else if needed.

It’s not perfect, and sometimes gets bits of the information in the wrong places but it is a heck of a lot quicker than creating a new contact by hand then copy and pasting information across by hand, which is usually very painful. While the new contact is still open you can use the program’s “Utils” menu to swap some things round which may be commonly mistaken, such as name<>company or job title<>company, which is easier than copy / pasting these via notes to get them in the right places.

A very common use for this is with someone’s email signature as the source text. Select, hit your shortcut and you have a new contact record pretty much ready and waiting to be saved.

Copy2Contact is not free, but I have easily earned back the $40 cost of the personal edition through the time I have saved by using this. There is a Pro version as well which has additional features to help do things like consistent (US style) formatting of phone numbers, capitalizing city names and so on which I don’t really feel the need for.

To be absolutely clear: I have no affiliation with Copy2Contact and have my own paid-for copy of their software, I have not received any freebies or review copy or anything else in order to write this article.

You can try the software for free for 14 days from the trial download page to see if it suits you. There are versions for Outlook, salesforce.com, Google apps and more PC-based tools, as well as Blackberry  and iPhone/iPod/iPad.

Read on to find to more about using Copy2Contact for capturing data for CRM»

Create your own offline book of TechNet content

If you use the Microsoft TechNet Library at all, you will know it is a vast resource of information for systems administrators and IT professionals. But sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, particularly when a particular topic may have various different scenarios, only one of which really applies to your organisation.

So I was really pleased to read about a great new feature today which will let you collect together load of pages or whole sections that you want to read through later, or perhaps share with your colleagues to save them trying to find the same information.

Browser bookmarks could very quickly get tedious, so this way means you can create your own contents page inside TechNet, which will be remembered for you between sessions. You can also output your collection as a web page to host locally or as a PDF file which means you can read the content on a wide rage of platforms, including e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle.

Read a step by step guide to building your own book of TechNet articles on the Office IT Pro Blog.

Producer for PowerPoint

PowerPoint 2010 logo

The Microsoft Office blog has an article about Producer for PowerPoint, as well as links to the download page, and importantly to the Office Animation Runtime which you will need if you have PowerPoint 2010 (previous versions installed this along with the application, whereas 2010 does not). What is strange here is that the download page describes this as version 2 with a release date of 29th April 2011, yet the actual download page and file is identical to the version released and announced at the beginning of May last year.

The previous release was really a bug fix version which sorted out compatibility for Office 2007 and 2010, and there were vague claims that there would be new features in some later release, although as always according to policy there were no specifics about software in development.

Producer is a great way to turn a presentation file into a polished multimedia show which anyone can view using their browser. This is great for e-learning, tutorials, or any situation where you want to take something which would normally be delivered in person and make it available to a wider audience.

Oddly enough the download page refers to this as version 2, but the program itself claims (through help > about) that it is build 3.0.3012.0, but the MD5 hash for this file is identical to the year-old one. I’ve had a couple of problems with it – for example if you delete a load of slides from the timeline it expands the last one to fill up the space, and when you try to shrink it back down it takes while for no obvious reason, in my case chewing up one of my four processor cores flat out for a couple of minutes (tip: only add slides when you know you need them rather than all at once to avoid this problem).

Windows 7 64 bit experiences, my current software stack and that pesky CSC folder

Recently, like many others, I have been through the process of installing various releases of Windows 7, from the Beta, through RC1 and finally the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) version. I decided to take the plunge and install 64 bit on my Dell D620 and everything went really well, no driver issues or any other hiccups. Had to do a manual download of a driver for my old(ish) Epson scanner, but it still installed straight off first time. RC1 needed a bit of manual intervention to get the NVidia drivers working for some reason (Beta and RTM both just worked, strangely), and it was a bit temperamental with docking and undocking while running, but RTM seems to have cleared this up, and is now way more stable than Vista ever was at doing this (I used to get a full system lock about 1 time in 10).

I did as advised by Microsoft and did this as a clean install every time, rather than doing a hack to allow me to run an in-place upgrade. Thanks to James O’Neill’s blog article I did this from a bootable USB drive, and this was lightning fast since I also recently upgraded my hard drive to a 120GB OCZ Vertex SSD.

Applications, applications, applications

A bit of a pain re-installing applications again each time round, but it does mean I have a nice shortlist of the apps and utilities that I actually need and use regularly enough to merit an install. Without being an exhaustive list, the apps that made the grade every time, in approximately the order they got installed are:

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Excel cell styles – useful feature or waste of ribbon space?

I agree with Simon in his article about the usefulness of cell styles in Excel, where he says:

Styles in Excel are one of those things that sound good in theory, but are significantly worse than useless in reality. In an isolated world they may work but as soon as you start copying a pasting between workbooks…then you get a right royal style mess.

Cell styles as a concept seem pretty weak to me. The built-in ones are hopeless; I know hardly anyone (actually no-one that I could name right now) that uses them.

I have recently done some extensive work for a client on a set of templates, themes, etc for the whole Office suite. For the Excel templates I included some cell styles to make it quick to format things in “corporate” colours for headings and so on (as well as default table styles for the same reason). This provides user convenience and helps them create more consistent documents with more of a “branded” feel to them.

As to imposing a regime of “pink means bad” and “orange double underline means linked” (linked to what?), no chance.

Why styles don’t address the real need for good formatting

I teach students on my Excel training courses that formatting of spreadsheets should be used for three purposes:

  • to highlight (data outliers; estimates as opposed to actuals)
  • to group or associate data together (months in the same quarter or year having a light shaded background say, next group no background; using matching colour for axes and lines in a two-series chart with two different scales)
  • to separate data by category or type (line above the first month of a new year; making the title row bold)

These principles of using formats to help interpret the data, rather than help it look pretty tend to get people focussed on the task rather than the appearance. The built-in cell styles only seem to address the concept of highlighting, rather than being useful for grouping or separating. The highlighting they provide seems arbitrary at best, and quite likely to cause headaches with some of the colours involved.

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Simple online content management from Texty

I found this online Content Management System (CMS) tool today which you can use to maintain the content of a web page without any great knowledge of how to write code.

Texty: The Simplest CMS

The principle here is that you put a script on your page which pulls the information from Texty’s database. You edit the content in that database through a simple online user interface, much like editing a blog post, for example. This is great for small organisations who may be prepared to pay a small amount to a web design firm for a basic site (or an off-the-shelf template) but do not have the skills to maintain well-written HTML themselves. So clubs, societies, and small (or even large) not-for-profits could all benefit from a simple system to help them manage the content of pages which change frequently, such as news or upcoming events listings. Some commercial firms might also welcome the convenience, although I suspect that many smaller businesses simply don’t feel the need to change their website content all that often. The other benefit may be that it is easy to allow multiple people to produce content without fear that they can cause problems for one another.

Why not get a blog instead?

For many people a blog is a handy way to post short pieces of news or information without having to write underlying code. However, the popular free offerings only give limited control over the appearance of the site from a selection of templates.

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How Vista file copy has improved with sp1

Mark Russinovich is very well known within the technical community as an authority on detailed information on the inner workings of Microsoft products. Author of several books including the Windows resource kit “Windows Internals” volume, and founder of Winternals and sysinternals.com, he is now a Technical Fellow in the Platform and Services Division at Microsoft.

In a recent blog post, Mark explains in great detail the file copy process in Vista, why it changed radically from XP and how this impacted real and perceived performance of this basic function. He goes on to explain how some of this has been changed and remedied in Vista Service Pack 1. He makes it clear that some of the code design choices have to be compromises between making things faster in different situations, and that in most cases Vista <> Server 2008 filecopying will be faster using the chosen algorithms than they would be with different choices, or using XP or server 2003 for example.

Copying a file seems like a relatively straightforward operation: open the source file, create the destination, and then read from the source and write to the destination. In reality, however, the performance of copying files is measured along the dimensions of accurate progress indication, CPU usage, memory usage, and throughput. In general, optimizing one area causes degradation in others. Further, there is semantic information not available to copy engines that could help them make better tradeoffs. For example, if they knew that you weren’t planning on accessing the target of the copy operation they could avoid caching the file’s data in memory, but if it knew that the file was going to be immediately consumed by another application, or in the case of a file server, client systems sharing the files, it would aggressively cache the data on the destination system.

The article is also a useful working example of how Process Monitor can help you to see what your machine is really up to. On the same subject, Mark gave a great Tech Ed presentation in Barcelona with some real-world demonstrations of how to use a variety of Sysinternals tools and utilities to detect, find and fix all sorts of system issues. A video of that talk entitled “The Case of the Unexplained…Live!” can be viewed here (it’s just over an hour long).

How to make WordPress’ new Tags work with Windows Live Writer

Windows Live Writer Beta 3 works really well with WordPress and multi-level categories

Windows Live Writer Beta 3 was recently announced and it works really well. That is to say, it “does what it says in the tin”. Writing well-formed blog posts is really simple, it even downloads styles directly from my WordPress blog and allows to me to do proper previews to see exactly what I will get before I publish a post, even when working offline.

There’s even more rich functionality and interoperability with third-party platforms than you might expect from a Microsoft product. For example, WordPress.com supports hierarchical categories. I find this especially useful as I show my categories as a drop-down list rather than take up loads of the sidebar with lots of choices. Windows Live Writer (WLW) provides me the ability to categorise posts, and to add new categories if I need them, including specifying a parent category so they fit into the multi-level hierarchy. Oh, and it does all this offline as well. This is great, and it’s the sort of attention to detail which I appreciate being in a product I use several times a week.

And now the Bad News: WLW does not support the new WordPress Tags by default

WordPress.com have announced a change to the way they use categories and tags. Windows Live Writer Beta 3 was released before this change and does not know what to do with them, so it does not create any, and removes any that already exist if you edit a previous post. However, there is a way to fix this with a registry change, but I found it caused some instability.

» Click here to find out about WordPress tags and how to make them work with Live Writer »

Windows Live Writer Beta 3 and dictionaries

I thought I should make my last post written using Live Writer Beta 2 one about the new beta 3 release. For the impatient amongst you, you can download Live Writer Beta 3 here.

This is supposedly to be the last of the Beta versions of WLW before a final one is released. There are a few changes over Beta 2, most notably where the program gets installed.

More information about switching dictionaries

If you already followed my post about changing the dictionary to a UK English version you may be interested in this article in which the author has done what I wish I had found time for – a follow up on Graham’s work to find those other language files and perhaps a clue as to the engine being used here.

I’ll do a follow up post about the UK dictionary switch once I have Beta 3 installed.

Patching XP and Vista with Service Packs and Hotfix "rollups"

In the last few days a couple of contradictory things seem to have happened:

  • Everyone and his dog seems to have blogged about the release dates for Vista service pack 1 and separately XP service pack 3 -both in 2008
  • Microsoft seem to have requested that the popular patching utility “AutoPatcher” be taken down and no longer distributed.

Ironically, I started reading an excellent post on Scott Hanselman’s Computer Zen blog about his favourite Windows tools and utilities for developers and power users, updated for 2007. He posted this on 23rd August. I started to follow and download several of the applications he linked, in some cases to do something new, in others to see how they stacked up against tools I already used. I was still downloading today, when I found that one of his links, to AutoPatcher, showed me this page

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Group Policy best practice analyser tool available

I have not yet had a chance to try this out, but still thought it was worth giving people the heads up. The description given on the download page for the Group Policy Best Practice Analyzer for Windows Server 2003 is:

The Microsoft Group Policy Diagnostic Best Practice Analyzer (GPDBPA) for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 is designed to help you identify Group Policy configuration errors or other dependency failures that may prevent settings or features from functioning as expected.

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Using British English spelling in Windows Live Writer

I finally found a way to get Live Writer to stop “correcting” my correct spellings, which makes me really happy. It is so frustrating when my screen is covered in coloured wavy lines because I chose to utilise an English spelling rather than an Americanized one. I’m not saying US spellings are inherently “wrong”, but they are wrong in the context of me being British, and if I were to mix my spellings it would be very inconsistent.

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10 great features to use in Windows Vista – part 1

I am going to be very careful in introducing this article. This is my personal view of some features that have been included in Windows Vista and why I like them. I do not claim they are the best features. I have no opinion on whether these are better implemented than in some Linux build or Mac OS. This is simply about the things I have found added to my productivity over the last 6 months of using the RTM version of Vista Ultimate. This is the first 5 of 10 useful things which are right there, out of the box, no third party applications or tweaks required. Items 6 to 10 will follow in a second article very soon.

Note: I certainly do not think these are necessarily big enough to merit an upgrade to Vista on their own. They are probably good enough to choose to have Vista on your next machine rather than sticking to your old ways and asking for XP to be installed. In a follow-up article I may discuss more of the technical reasons why Vista is worth having (and potentially upgrading to if those factors are important to you). Today’s list is built around things the everyday user will benefit from in their daily interactions.

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Why I’m using Foxit reader for Acrobat PDF files

For a while I had been reading good things about Foxit Software’s tools for reading, creating and editing PDF files, but never bothered to actually try them out. I recently switched from using Adobe’s Acrobat reader when I finally got fed up with the oversized, bloated product and it’s constant nagging to go off and update itself online (especially since this causes a UAC prompt on Vista). I used to dig around and kill off the update functionality, but enough was enough – why should I have to struggle to try to make the software behave how I want when it might just be easier to switch to a different product.

So, after a very quick download of the 3MB installation file and a simple, no frills installation, I was ready to go. Compare this with the vast and unnecessary 21MB of Adobe’s Acrobat reader – and don’t get me started on the fact that they force me to first download a download manager before I can finally download the actual setup file, when I could have just used my several highly competent browser plugins to get the install files so much quicker. Foxit also comes as an MSI – so much easier than Adobe’s EXE file when it comes to deployment using standard tools such as Group Policy Software Installation (GPSI) or scripts. These download sizes are reflected in the relative amounts of memory consumed by these two products when opening files to view.

Why do I care about my PDF file reader so much? Well, I actually use PDFs fairly extensively for storing “read-only” copies of my own documents, which I then want to access, print, share or publish as easily as possible.

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Huge PowerPoint files and how to avoid them

I have used PowerPoint for many years in a variety of job roles and it never ceases to amaze me that other people are able to create presentations which are, quite frankly, vast in their file sizes. There are several reasons for this, but the underlying problem is twofold:

a) users don’t think about file size until it is too late (when they realise they can’t email it, nor fit it on their memory stick nor even burn it to a single CD)

b) they don’t know how to avoid or fix the problem even if they did think about it

This means that many common causes of over-sized files go unchecked, files are used and re-used, and by the time you see there is a problem you have a huge clearing up job to do. Much better to tackle the issue at the source – when creating your presentation in the first place.

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Windows Live Writer Beta2 is here

Now, I’m not the most fanatical blogger in the world by a long stretch, but I do like to share titbits of information and interesting things I have found from time to time.

I do read a lot of different websites on a daily basis and often stumble across things I would blog about, but often put this off until I can find a quiet few minutes to comment and expand upon something, rather than write simply “Look at this…”. All too often those quiet moments come when I am out of range of an internet connection so the thought never gets posted.

Windows Live Writer (now in Beta2) now makes this a whole lot easier by allowing me to compose, edit and publish through a single friendly tool, offline or online.

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Making presentations clearer by zooming with NLarge

When I’m delivering training sessions about Microsoft Office and I start a demonstration, I find that it is often hard for the audience to see the detail of what I’m doing. While I can zoom in on a document I can’t easily make the toolbars and other details bigger – such as the formula bar in Excel.

Of course, I could lower the screen resolution, use big fonts and large mouse schemes to address some of the issues, but then the PowerPoint parts of the course become clunkier, and anything which involves seeing the ‘whole picture’ loses some impact due to lack of screen real-estate.

There are several great tools to help with this by providing a magnified area around the mouse. One such tool is ZoomIt by Mark Russinovich, but this does not work for all my machines (partly due to .Net 3 requirement I think). I have subsequently come across NLarge which is based on the same principles but seems to ‘just work’ so it is now my utility of choice for this kind of work.

Turning the Pages software gives new meaning to ‘illuminated manuscript’

At the Vista launch in the UK it was also announced that a collaboration with the British Library and Bill Gates will mean that two of Da Vinci’s notebooks are available for online viewing, as reported in the Register.

These and a few other selected books and excerpts are available online here. The software required to get access to this material requires Vista or XP sp2 with .Net framework 3

As David Overton describes in his blog the Turning the Pages application gets as close to a real book experience as possible – pages actually apear to move like paper as you turn them, and gold-leaf even appears to reflect and glint as the sheet moves. Is this what is meant by an ‘illuminated manuscript’ in the 21st century?

Business Desktop Deployment 2007 released by MS

Microsoft’s BDD 2007 Workbench claims a host of features to help you create an inventory, create and manage system images and deploy these to your machine in a highly managed environment (“Zero Touch” using SMS) or less managed (“Lite Touch”, no SMS) manner.

The workbench includes all the tools you need for this in a single edition (so you get all the same features and guidance, you just choose whether to buy and use SMS) and one download, which also has self-updating features so you don’t miss out on future goodness.

You can create images for Windows XP and Vista, as well as Office 2003 and 2007
Read more on the MS desktop deployment homepage or go straight to the download for BDD 2007.