Headphone shoot out – Microsoft Surface Headphones vs Jabra Evolve range

Modern headphones are called upon to fulfil many distinct roles across personal and business needs and in multiple environments: high quality music and podcast playback, audio chat/calls, conference calls, shared workspace distraction reduction and more. This could be on a train, on a sofa, at the gym. in a personal office or a noisy shared workspace. The range of  features to meet these needs has resulted in a somewhat complex market; it’s no longer a matter of audio quality and budget; portability, connectivity, control, noise reduction and even style need to be weighed as well.

This article places 4 high quality headphones to the test, taking into account business and personal use. I review each on their technical merit and features and also provide a collective audio quality review.

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A Decade of Change – and a Simple Message — Read Ed Reid

Good morning, Happy New Year and welcome to the new decade. 2020 sounds like a year when we should all achieve something significant. But – as we all know – a business career is built over far more than just a year. So let’s use this first blog of the 20s to look even further […]

via A Decade of Change – and a Simple Message — Read Ed Reid

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14/01/2020 · 08:51

Welcome to the RoArIng Twenties and the 4th industrial revolution

That’s it – 2019 became 2020 and ushered in a whole new decade. At last we can stop battling with the awkward ‘Noughties’ and ‘Teenies’; the ‘Twenties’ rolls off the tongue more comfortably.

The language may be one of the few things that is comfortable about this new decade. Humanity shows little sign of enlightenment or wisdom. While many of us are fortunate enough to live in nations that are more liberal, accepting and egalitarian than ever before, the global stage amply demonstrates that stupidity, to quote Frank Zappa, remains more plentiful than hydrogen in the universe.

However human ‘stupidity’ is defined, the new decade ushers forth the counterpart, ‘artificial intelligence’. These new Roaring Twenties will undoubtedly be the decade of AI; accelerating what is already cited as the 4th industrial revolution.

I have been contemplating the role of real-world AI for half a decade now. While I, amongst others, am enamoured by Alexa (there are said to be approaching quarter of a billion Alexa enabled devices in use), these consumer level experiences hide the real roles AI is aiming to take on. Be in no doubt: in my opinion, AIs will have profound effects on society over the next ten years, displacing skills (and, thereby, people) who currently believe that their expertise is immunised against the march of technology. White collar workers; professionals such as Solicitors, lawyers, accountants; all manner of knowledge workers and more who make their living by what they do with their brains rather than their hands will, for the first time in history, find themselves impacted, displaced or even superseded by technology. Nor will the arts be exempt from this, despite the protestation of talented artists.

Ironically, manual jobs, especially crafts and trades, will be largely protected; general robotics is very much in its infancy (I love our shiny new robot vacuum, but it can’t do stairs). Equally, (for now), any role that thrives on human interaction will be protected. Noting that AI may support and supplement what these people do.

treat each AI as an employee, with a line manager, objectives and performance reviews

We are going to have to think long and hard about how we want our societies to accommodate these changes. There are the questions of AI ethics, of course; the community debate about how we want our AIs to respond will say much about each society and perhaps allow us to objectively compare different cultures. How we regulate AIs and their impact on the workplace is equally pressing; do we protect workers’ rights or allow a dystopian future where ‘big corporate’ controls most of the wealth; or do we create a new world where a fair standard of living is assured and people find purpose other than through work? How we make AIs accountable for their actions, just as we do with employees is equally valid; with one suggestion shared with me would be to treat each AI as an employee, with a line manager, objectives and performance reviews.

There are big changes coming and it’s going to be profound. However, amidst the tabloid headlines of doom-mongering and hand wringing and calls for public displays of ‘Ludditism‘ to come will be much more subtle stuff. Behind the scenes, AI will help make lots of things just a little bit better; will assist people without the cost of a therapist or personal coach or expensive consultant; will diagnose your health needs better than a human doctor and will drive your car more safely than you can. Amanda, an AI business coach, might help develop a new generation of entrepreneurs; while  Microsoft has already quietly introduced an AI powered presentation coach into PowerPoint to stop those awful sessions where slides are read to you word for word (and a bunch of other common failings). What’s interesting is that Microsoft launched this with no fanfare or major publicity; it’s just there as a feature (check the Slide Show menu in PowerPoint Online). These are all happening today, even if you didn’t know about them.

The unremarked creep of AI into our day to day lives is the real insight. It’s not just the stuff of headlines and press releases that we should pay attention to. It’s the quiet, relentless adoption within our day-to-day lives. Like technology revolutions throughout the age, while some technologies are making headlines, it’s the almost invisible stuff that really changes the world.

 

Twenties

 

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SharePoint Site Swap – an adventure for a party of medium to high level players

I spend an inordinate amount of my time reviewing the Microsoft roadmap and the many elements in the Office 365 Admin Center Message Centre; partly because there’s so much new stuff coming out all the time and partly because I’m a masochist like that.

Digital Workspace technologies is my sweet spot; I tend to read up on everything Microsoft is doing around that and play around with them as soon as the chance avails itself. I use this to incorporate the knowledge and features into our products & services and so I can keep our clients up to date (and keep us one step ahead of our competitors). I supplement this with my annual trip to the huge Ignite conference in the US, where I get to talk to some of the Microsoft programme managers and engineers and simultaneously attend every session I can squeeze in over the 5 days (I walked 74.5km during Ignite this year. In brogues). Invariably, I then spend the next couple of months frustrated that the new features that were showcased and promised aren’t available on our tenant for me to evaluate.

So, with considerable excitement, I noticed that the SharePoint Admin Center updates, described in the Ignite 2019 blog, became available at the end of November for us.

This is what the Message Centre announcement promised:

“Replace root site – You can replace your root site with another site from the SharePoint admin center. The original root site is moved to a different URL and can be restored, if necessary. This feature will only be available for limited customers. For more information, refer to Message Center post MC189866.”

 

Setting the scene “You are sitting in a bar when…”

With only mild trepidation we set about swapping out our internal intranet Classic Site (with a Modern landing page) for our shiny new Modern site linked to an ‘All Company’ Teams Area. This was something we had wanted to do for many months and looked like it was super easy. We used the new PowerShell cmdlet: Invoke-SPOSiteSwap, though Microsoft are promising a Swap site button in the SharePoint Admin Center.Site Swap

Using PowerShell, it was super easy:

  1. Connect to SharePoint Online as a global admin or SharePoint admin using the SharePoint Online Management Shell
  2. Run Invoke-SPOSiteSwap.
Invoke-SPOSiteSwap -SourceUrl https://contoso.sharepoint.com/sites/CommunicationSite -TargetUrl https://contoso.sharepoint.com -ArchiveUrl https://contoso.sharepoint.com/sites/Archive
SourceUrl is the new site you want to use, TargetUrl is the old root site you are replacing and ArchiveUrl is the location where you want to archive the current root site.

Watchouts – challenge rating 1

A couple of immediate gotchas that Microsoft publicise:

  • The source and target sites cannot be connected to an Office 365 group
  • The source and target sites cannot be connected to a SharePoint Hub site. In the latter case, it’s a fairly simple matter to remove the association, do the swap, and then re-associated with your preferred Hub. Note that this means that the root site need not be a Hub and can be a ‘child’ site (if you want to think hierarchically). Equally you can make the newly swapped root site into a Hub site; this hurts my head less, but it’s still useful that it doesn’t have to be the ‘parent’ n the relationship, just because it is the first thing that people encounter.

 

So, the site swap happens pretty seamlessly and without initial drama. We just let people know what we were doing and asked them not to mess with things for half an hour. We even provided a nice link to the old home site, which was now to be found at:

https://<mydomain>.sharepoint.com/sites/oldrootsite/pages/home.aspx

End of level boss encounter – challenge rating 9

It didn’t take that long to realise that we had made a mistake…

red cross of dreadThe first thing I noted was that a document I had open was warning that it couldn’t complete its autosave. Then I spotted the Red Cross Of Dread on my OneDrive sync client icon. The penny dropped…

When we designed our intranet, we valued interaction and sharing of content between sites over the competing view that everything should be a separate disconnected site collection. Consequently, almost everything was a subsite of our master site. This let us do clever things by referencing assets and lists etc. that were mounted at the home level. It worked very well for us for many years. Until we did a site swap.

What happened is this: all our department sites and their content had absolute addresses based on our old root site. So our Sales site, for example, was:

https://<mydomain>.sharepoint.com/TeamCentre/Sales/Pages/Home.aspx

Key documents, many of which we have pinned or wired up to buttons and navigation tiles, have paths such as:

https://<mydomain>.sharepoint.com/sites/Sales/Shared%20Documents/GCloud/O365Services.docx

All these instantly became broken as the post-site-swap address became something like:

https://<mydomain>.sharepoint.com/sites/oldrootsite/TeamCentre/Sales/Pages/Home.aspx

 

Even some of our webparts broke

web part broke

In hindsight, Microsoft did give us fair warning:

“The previously designated root site automatically gets archived along with any subsites that may have existed.”

We weren’t thinking ‘archive’ just new location, but the effect was the same.

Picking up the pieces, healing the injured

We are now enjoying a rapid re-architecture of the site (using the rather excellent Sharegate tool to promote subsites to site collections), while fending off the withering glares of our inconvenienced colleagues.


Learning from other people’s mistakes

I leave you with this helpful advice, in the hope that you cunningly avoid the boss level encounter (and still gain the experience points):

RTFM

Microsoft provides some pretty decent guidance here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint/modern-root-site. We really should have read it carefully and thought about it first. In our defence, we may have made the same mistake, since the only real warning was a single bullet point, hidden in plain sight under Limitations:

All subsites contained with the source and target sites will be swapped.

Restructure first

Subsites were always going to break, regardless of how much we read. Before doing the site swap, promote all your subsites to new site collections. You could just recreate them and copy the content across if your environment is simple.

Warn your staff of the pain to come

Favourited links, pinned documents, local sync, shortcuts, inter-document links; they are all going to die, horribly (except where you made them relative links). Prepare your staff for the pain, get your support desk doubly ready.

Remember people mostly have multiple devices, so the pain is multiplied (using Edge or the new Edge Chromium helped, as at least browser favourites synchronise across all devices).

Re-index

Make sure that you force the indexing process so that Search very quickly finds all the stuff in its new location – it’ll save your bacon when staff can’t remember where the things they linked to actually were.

Permissions and governance

Think about what permission inheritance might now be broken. It’s not just user permissions; any ‘up the tree’ references to master lists etc. are going to be in trouble.

Navigation

SharePoint’s global navigation is rubbish. It’s also very easy to lose sites as the only place to see every site collection is from SP Admin, and that’s going to be full of random Microsoft Teams sites etc. Make sure you document all your sites and design a replacement global navigation before you start (we were lucky; our navigation was embedded as a termset, plus we have a rather excellent global navigation megamenu we built for our Hadron product that we could simply update with the revised URLs).

Re-sync

You are going to have to walk everyone through how to fix their locally synced content, since all their synchronised libraries are now broken. Firstly, make sure that they DO NOT save anything to the local drive as they will no longer update to the cloud. They will also see a bunch of errors in the OneDrive sync client in the tool tray (bottom right). To sort those out:

  1. Open Windows Explorer and click the company’s Sync group, the one with the building icon. This shows the sync’d libraries in the right pane. Note any that don’t have a status icon as these are the ones that are now broken: Sync
  2. Open the OneDrive sync client settings (right click and choose settings). On the Account tab, click Stop Sync on the folders identified in step 1. This should remove the sync errors.
  3. Now go back to Windows Explorer and delete the folders

URL edit

Another new feature is the ability to edit SharePoint site URLs. This is handy when you find you have conflicting site names, probably because of Microsoft Teams again.

Page upgrades

Now that you have survived the site swap and dealt with the snagging, it’s time to ensure all your classic pages are converted to lovely, shiny (and fast) Modern pages. At Ignite 2019 I asked lots of Microsoft people and migration people (Sharegate, AvePoint et al) if there was any way to do page conversions. It was a resounding no.

This morning I came across this, just announced by Microsoft (post Ignite):

Transform classic pages to modern client-side pages

Automatic conversion of classic pages to Modern, via Powershell, .NET and (Preview) user UI. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint/dev/transform/modernize-userinterface-site-pages

Maybe you don’t need to get a student in after all.

 


Please drop me a line or comment if you have feedback on this. If you just want to comment on the RPG references in order to reveal your inner geek then that’s good too.

 

 

 

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Folders are dreadful. Teams is great. Teams uses folders. Discuss…

A while ago I wrote a (carefully considered) rant about the evil that is the Folder. I dislike folders so much that I wrote a song about them (well, part of a song, but in this I am definitely allowed artistic license.) Yet I am clearly on record as a bit of a Microsoft Teams convert, and Teams uses folders, not grown up metadata. See if you can spot what’s wrong with this picture…

“Microsoft Teams… the Saviour of the Universe (ah aah)”

If you have had any interaction with Microsoft of late, you would be easily forgiven for thinking that. While I am an ardent lover of the power, sophistication and flexibility of SharePoint, I would concede that it is a complex platform and it’s very easy to develop ‘bad’ solutions on it that do not get great engagement from staff (unless done really well, which is what we do in Cloud2, but that’s a different story). So complex that MS were close to abandoning it as even they didn’t really understand what they had created. Then Jeff Teper came along and painted a new vision and the SharePoint garden is flowering nicely; however, that doesn’t get around the issue that it is a serious application that needs developing into a solution before it can be used. I even wrote a blog on how SharePoint is like Lego, but that was long ago in a galaxy far away. Meanwhile some folk at MS were playing and invented what became MS Teams, which provides a really simple experience for users, combining team chat (like Skype for Business chat, but with Slack like persistence and for persistent groups of people), combined with a Files tab and some other useful stuff. But you knew all that, didn’t you? You probably also knew that the Files tab is actually a SharePoint library and the act of creating a Teams Area spins up a full, linked SharePoint site collection. Teams Areas can have additional Channels, usually orientated around a work stream, activity or sub-team and these also have their own Files tab. However, go exploring these in SharePoint and it’s quickly apparent that each channel’s files are simply in a folder in the SharePoint library, with the same name as the channel. You can add metadata, views, content types etc in the library as normal; however these resolutely fail to appear in Teams (unless you manually add additional tabs that point at the libraries). Instead, the only way to organise your files within a Channel is to create folders and these become sub-folders in the channel folder in the library. Following so far?

In Teams it’s all pretty simple; end users wedded to the noxious horror of folder structures can carry on regardless and no one has to train, encourage/threaten them to experience modern thinking on knowledge management (it’s only been 20+ years after all). Perhaps I’m being unkind; Teams is rather nicely pitched at the ordinary ‘Joe User’ who just needs to have a simple experience and do stuff quickly; there is nothing initially wrong with that. Except that these systems always end up growing to the point of dysfunction as more and more content is added; it’s a sort of Digital Peter Principle. Despite years of best practice, evangelism and dire warning about the issues of folders (and everyone’s’ personal experience of how badly broken all shared drives on file servers are), MS have created a brand-new monster. How we laughed.

 

One of the cool things about Teams, is that it is fairly extensible; you can add new tabs, link stuff together, use content from other applications via connectors; even fire up workflows and embed applications in tabs. You can also bounce people up into ShrePoint for all the sophisticated stuff about 20% of use cases will ultimately need. But if you allow your information architecture to be screwed up then it’s a nasty, soulless job to fix it for that 20%. What you really need is some way to bridge the gulf between a fast-adoption, simple-to-understand Teams experience and an enhanced, life cycle-managed, compliant SharePoint one. Your users (mistakenly) want folders, your organisation needs metadata.

This issue has vexed me for some time, until a timely conversation with the redoubtable Jon Burton about this exact issue (how he laughed). Being a kind soul, I like to not only offer things to fear, or be intrigued by, but also provide solutions to real-world issues. So, I present to you… ‘Content categorisation based on Folder names’

This is his not actually a new concept. In the Folders blog, I talk about how most folder names are really just a crude and somewhat ineffective way of categorising things. In fact one of our earliest clients, Paul Kendrick, bemoaned that Microsoft had no function that let users drop documents into folders and turned that into metadata. We have even used this concept in Hadron Migrate, our file system to SharePoint rapid migration tool. The trick, in this case, is to write a Flow. It works like this

It is triggered overnight or whenever new content is added to the Teams Area library.

It uses the Is Folder function to identify the Top Level folder name in the folder tree (which will be the Teams Area Channel) and use the Update function to write this into a Channel column in the library for each document.

It uses the same Is Folder name of the immediate parent folder of the file and Update that into a Category and/or Keyword column.

Before this we would deploy content types to the libraries that contain the required columns. We would also create a set of metadata driven views that are set to ignore folders  and show content Grouped by Channel. Filtered as needed

Until such time as Microsoft do provide full metadata and view support in the Files tab (it’s coming, they claim) then we would add the library into a further tab, to allow a rich navigation of content as required.

It’s pretty neat; combining the simple and sophisticated worlds. You could even use it in SharePoint without Teams being involved. How about having a Drop Off folder, that users can create their own sub folders in and the content is then tagged, moved, or otherwise processed. If you want to get really sophisticated, then we would use some cognitive services stuff to extract keywords from the document content and use that to further tag the documents. But that a different blog entirely (but like the one on autotagging images)

 

 

 

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Is Check in/Out still relevant in 2018?

The thing with blogs is that one tends to write about subjects that one is interested in, or even passionate about. Often this results in excessive evangelism, sometimes it can turn into a rant. It would be a stretch to classify this as the former (but if you want an unequivocal rant read what I think about Folders)…

SharePoint is a marvellous piece of technology, offering a massive breadth of tools and some especially neat ways of managing documents and other content. It also includes some legacy features which have become largely superfluous, but which some organisations cling onto, not realising how best practice has moved on. This blog considers one of these, Check In/Check Out, why it should almost never be used and the few occasions when it still has a role to play.

 

As with most things Microsoft, the level of integration between different elements of the Microsoft stack is outstanding, and it often seems that the entire suite of Microsoft products advances in strict lock time, each taking advantage of the new features of other parts. There have been notable exceptions over the years, or course, but that’s the subject of a future blog.

Frequently, the collective improvements border on being a revelation, if not a revolution; they offer the possibility of radically changing business processes and supplanting previous good practice with better practice still.

One such ‘aha’ moment was the introduction of multi-author editing into Microsoft Office, and especially Microsoft Word, using the capabilities of SharePoint and OneDrive to handle the streaming of document updates in almost real-time. This is such a brilliant thing that it’s hard to imagine a world without it. However, prior to its introduction 10 years ago, we were burdened with a world where we either emailed documents amongst people and hoped to reassemble them, painstakingly and not without error, from the arbitrarily edited and often conflicting versions; or else we did the smart thing and saved them into an early version of SharePoint so that we could all work on a single copy of the document. Best practice, back then, was to check a document out while you’re editing, this locked the document and ensured that we didn’t experience the pain of conflicting edits where someone else saved their changes over yours, eradicating hours of important work. However, best practice or not, ‘Check Out’ and ‘Check In’ are, much like folders, an invention of Beelzebub, historically necessary but deeply evil. They serve their purpose to protect the document from overlapping changes, but they do nothing to protect hopeful document editors from colleagues who check a document out, forget about it and go on holiday, usually for two weeks (often more in Europe).

Time and again, check out has been demonstrated to erode efficient editing processes and to create a real governance and compliance risk. Checked out documents cannot be further updated by others; when such updates are needed in a hurry (usually not long before an audit is due), the only recourse is to create a copy of the document and work on that. This practice deeply undermines the single-source of truth philosophy that should underpin good content management. Of course, you could call a SharePoint administrator and ask them to cancel the check out; but that’s slow, burdensome on the admin and inevitably means that whatever updates that the check-out miscreant had (lovingly?) crafted are lost.

Thankfully, we are living in a new decade, where multi-author editing is a standard feature of the Microsoft technology stack and operates so slickly and transparently that it’s a doddle to use and it’s comparatively hard to screw up. When using Word and its kin, you can see who else is working on a document, see which bits they are editing and see their changes appear almost as they type in most cases. You can even contact the other author directly from the document to clarify wording etc. or flag a point to them using an @mention in a comment. Documents are never locked, version control and version history ensure that previous versions remain accessible and roll back is simple if required, tracking of edits ensures enhanced visibility and review. It’s bloody impressive and major step forward in productivity and compliance, doubly so if you have a distributed team or ‘agile’ timelines.

So why, oh why, do some organisations still insist on using Check In /Check Out? Here are some thoughts, excluding the obvious “They are blithering idiots” option which I wouldn’t dream of putting in writing anywhere:

  1. A lack of active learning about the technology across the organisation has resulted in no one realising what the new tools can do. This is a shame, especially as you are paying for all those new features on an annual basis if you have a cloud-service subscription. Given that the technology costs can run to £manyhundredsofK for larger organisations it seems that a bit of investment in getting ongoing and increasing value from the tools would be wise.
  2. Inflexible culture might to be to blame; I do come across “it was good enough for my grandfather” organisations, where they hang on to the old ways because they were fine in the old days. However, I don’t see so many of these any more, since most of them have gone out of business. It’s a rapidly changing, hugely competitive world and organisations need to flex with it. Including public sector ones, who owe the tax payers a duty to spend money wisely.
  3. Inflexible processes, where it’s so hard to change something that has been written into a policy or procedure that only critical changes are pushed through. Actually, this is often another symptom of the culture and has identical outcomes.
  4. Someone in IT or the outsourced services department decides that Check In is the right thing to do, that it is somehow safer or better. I can think of a handful of scenarios where this is actually true. But the other 99% of the time it’s nonsense and professionals or consultants who are paid to know better telling organisations that they should base their policies on it should be a criminal offense (I would make it a capital offense, but I’m a liberal kind of guy and reserve that for only the most heinous of crimes, such as Folder abuse); or at least ground for renegotiating contracts.

 

The bottom line is that organisations should have Check In/Out turned off as the default position. Version Control is generally already on (almost certainly true already if you are using SharePoint Online) and every version of Microsoft Office from 2010 onwards supports multi-author editing which ensures that changes are seamlessly managed.

 

So, go and check all your libraries now and turn that option off. It’s in Library Settings, Version Settings. Think about your version control settings while you are there.

Version Control settings

If you think you might need to use Check Out then have a conversation with someone about the specific use case and see if you can really justify it. If you are stuck for someone to ask, drop me a line – but don’t expect an easy ride.

 

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