Category Archives: Cloud Computing

With Microsoft Teams, Office 365 Groups Can Now Have Multiple Planner Plans

Microsoft Planner went into general availability in June of 2016. It allows basic project and task management for organizational teams. Like most products in the Office 365 suite, Planner makes extensive use of Office 365 Groups, which provides membership services through Azure Active Directory, and Storage through SharePoint. Creating a new Plan in Planner is one of the ways to create and Office 365 Group – each plan gets a Group. Conversely, each Group gets a Plan.

Adding Members to a Plan – Adding to the Office 365 Group

One of the more requested features on the Planner User Voice site is to break this 1:1 relationship so that a Group could contain multiple Plans. It’s currently marked as “Thinking About It” in user voice, but it appears that far more work has gone into it than that.

Microsoft Teams was released into preview earlier this month, and included in Teams is very tight integration with Planner. Teams is also tightly coupled with Groups (each Team gets Group), and adding the Group’s Plan to the interface is relatively straightforward. Simply click on the “add tab” icon, and choose Planner.

And then give the plan a name and save it.

However, there’s more to it than that. From the Teams interface, it’s possible to create additional Plans. To do so, simple add another tab and repeat the process.

How is this possible? If there is a 1:1 correspondence between Groups and Teams, and a 1:1 correspondence between Groups and Plans, then there must also be the same correspondence between Plans and Teams. As it turns out, that the relationship between Groups and Plans is no longer limited to 1:1. The plans created in Teams are not (or do not appear to be) a part of the group. This can be seen if you open Planner on its own, and these plans will not appear in the “All plans” list, because this is just a list of Groups. The Group itself has a Plan associated with it, but it’s not any of the plans that are created in Teams. However, if you have tasks from these Plans assigned to you, they will appear in the My tasks list.

Conversely, in the Teams interface, I cannot find a way to have this default plan appear in the Teams interface. This is something that could be very confusing for any users that use bot the Planner ands the Teams interfaces. Given that Teams is only in preview now, I can only assume that these user interface inconsistencies will be remedied.

The bottom line to all of this is that it appears that the bulk of the work has been done to allow multiple plans in a single Office 365 Group. You simply need to use Microsoft Teams in order to access them.

Microsoft Teams and the New Microsoft Social Landscape

Today, Microsoft debuted Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Teams allows teams of people to quickly get together to collaborate in real time. If you’re keeping count, this represents Microsoft third tool in the Social Computing space.

Why would Microsoft want to introduce yet another social computing tool? They already have Yammer, Skype (for business and personal), and Outlook Group conversations. What would be the reasoning for this new product? At one level, Microsoft Teams is aimed at the same group of users that find value in Slack, which is a social tool that has grown in popularity recently and is particularly popular with developers.

I was first exposed to Slack a little over a year ago. I had heard about it, and the buzz around it was that it was the “next big thing”, so my expectations were high. When I did first use it, my thoughts were, “That’s it? That’s all there is to it?”. Functionally, Slack doesn’t really bring anything to the table that we didn’t have 30 years ago with IRC chat. Now, given the demographic that Slack is popular with, they are likely not old enough to remember IRC. Of course, none of this really matters, what matters is that Slack fills a need for immediate, almost synchronous communication with very little structure. Slack doesn’t even support threaded discussions. However, it’s simplicity is its strength and its value proposition, and Microsoft hasn’t had anything in the market quite like it. Until now.

So how does this product compare with its existing Social tools, Yammer and Outlook Groups? When would you use one vs the other?

Microsoft bought Yammer in 2012 and quickly championed it as the cornerstone of its social computing strategy moving forward, replacing the social features of SharePoint Online, and making them optional in SharePoint on-premises. However, at Ignite 2015, Microsoft introduced Groups for Office 365, which included a conversation platform based on Exchange (Outlook conversations). This was essentially a group inbox with a number of social features added such as likes, etc. It was pretty clear that Groups were going to be the underpinning of the next generation of features in Office 365, and this led to quite a bit of uncertainty about Microsoft’s social strategy. The recent Ignite 2016 made it pretty clear that Microsoft is doubling down on Yammer as its social strategy, but that does little to clear up the confusion. What happens now with Outlook conversations? Microsoft Teams would seem to only make it worse.

The reality, in my opinion, is that these tools are not exclusive. Although there are some areas of overlap, I see them at complementary, with each serving a niche depending on requirements, or at the same time. The problem is that they tend to be positioned as competitors. In my opinion, we have an “or” vs an “exclusive or” situation.

I have used Yammer, Outlook Groups and Slack (used here for comparison purposes) of these platforms fairly heavily in the past year. At UnlimitedViz, we have moved most of our collaboration and document management away from Team sites and into Groups. On a side note, we’re very happy to see Team sites now following us over. Yammer is the platform that we primarily used for our threaded discussions. Slack is used by the MVP community for quick and easy chats. I like all three and dislike all three for different reasons.

Once we moved most of our customer focused content into Groups, the value of having an inbox for each group became readily apparent. When going through email, I could simply forward important ones to the group, where it would be retained, and accessible to other members of that group. I could now delete customer email with impunity. From a feature standpoint, this is gold. We also decided to run one of our more significant projects using Outlook conversations alone, and that aspect wound up being a very poor experience. The email infrastructure simply wasn’t built for threaded conversations.

Yammer can infuriate me from time to time, particularly with its unread mark handling (which has admittedly gotten better) and its poor to non-existent search capabilities. Content stored in Yammer is effectively gone as far as I’m concerned, which makes it particularly difficult to have conversations around context. Keeping the content in Office 365 Groups requires a lot of URL copying and pasting if you want to socialize or discuss it in Yammer. A “group” in Yammer is not the same thing as a Group in Office 365. With all of that said, Yammer delivers a superior threaded discussion experience. Its similarity to Facebook makes adoption relatively easy, and its threading keeps relevant content at the top.

Slack is the simplest of the bunch, which makes it the easiest to get up and running. It is almost totally unstructured, meaning that while anything goes, it’s not too long before it disappears. Messages are kept, but I grow weary of scrolling back through the pile of previous messages to find something that I think that I saw. Slack lives in the “now”, and the more current the content is, the more appropriate Slack is. However, it doesn’t take long for a Slack channel to become noisy, with several conversations going on at the same time. It’s like having ADD while being at a noisy cocktail party.

None of these tools on their own deliver everything necessary for a complete social experience, although they are suitable on their own for their own niche. I think that my biggest pet peeve about using these different tools is that I need to jump from interface to interface to complete the experience. This, I believe is where Groups comes in.

Office 365 Groups is (I so badly want to use “are” here… but Groups is the name) designed to be an integrating construct. Groups really has no interface of its own, but when it was originally released, it backed the interfaces of Outlook, OneDrive, and OneNote. Outlook Groups is the Exchange based conversation interface. Shortly afterward, Office 365 Groups became an integral part of Power BI and Planner as well. Integration of Modern SharePoint Team Sites with Office 365 Groups provides a logical entry point for the Group, as SharePoint can integrate disparate UI elements. At Ignite 2016, both Yammer and Power BI content was shown in pages in a Modern Team Site through web parts. It’s not hard to see how these things can coexist in the same container.

Yammer embedded in a Modern Team Site

Power BI embedded in a Modern Team Site

The introduction of Microsoft Teams would seem to muddy the water a little. The important thing is to understand which tool to use under which circumstance. This is a much-discussed topic, and there are hours of presentation material available that discuss it. The decision is a combination of personal preference and applicability to the task at hand, but far too often it becomes a matter of familiarity. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I wince every time that I’m asked to build click throughs into an SSRS report, or to design a Power BI report to optimize printing – these are two different tools that are good at doing different things. Often, if it can be done with the tool that you know, often time we don’t look elsewhere, even when that other tool is better at that task. Further to this, the “difference” can often be a matter of perception, and in the case of an online service like Office 365, of branding.

These components can be used within team sites as appropriate wherever suitable. With the team site providing the “glue”, it will be possible to surface content from any or all of these tools as appropriate. All the products already require, or use an Office 365 license already, so that is not a consideration. The question is where would you use one versus the other?

As mentioned above, Outlook Groups makes for an excellent Group inbox, but is not great as a conversation platform. This Group inbox also provides the destination for content brought in from Office 365 Connectors. It’s a logical and effective landing spot for content that is sent to the group. If the group needs an inbox, this is it – straightforward. Less straightforward is the difference between Microsoft Teams and Yammer.

I’ve been using Slack thus far as an example of group chat simply because it’s what I have experience with. Microsoft Teams is new, and while it compares favourably with Slack, it also includes threaded discussions. Threaded discussions are something that Slack does not have, but Yammer does, and this makes the decision between the two a little less clear than between Yammer and Slack. IN fact, looking at the UI, it’s a little difficult to spot the difference.

Microsoft Teams threaded conversation interface

Even with threaded discussions, Microsoft Teams has more in common with Slack than it does with Yammer. Microsoft Teams is highly appropriate for small groups that get created, have a relatively short or defined life, and are then retired. Yammer groups are more structural – they are typically managed by someone to help foster participation. Microsoft Teams follow a bottom up approach, where Yammer is more top down. Small groups will participate in a single Team, but too many users will likely make it too noisy to be useful. Conversely Yammer groups can reach the entire enterprise, and like most networks, their value increases with the number of nodes. Microsoft Teams are focused of chat, and Yammer is focused on conversations. If you need to get a quick group of collaborators together around a specific goal, Microsoft Teams is likely the right tool, but if you’re trying to build a community, Yammer is likely a better choice. There are of course other technical factors that may dictate one versus the other, but these factors are subject to change.

This leads me to my suggestion. We can see that the technology is emerging that will allow us to work with these tools simultaneously, as appropriate. Office 365 Groups along with Modern SharePoint Team Sites will become the containers for this convergence. However, if these products maintain their own identity, there will continue to be confusion around which one Microsoft is “betting on” or which one is “the best”. I believe that a rebranding exercise is in order.

  • Outlook Conversations becomes Group Inbox
  • Yammer becomes Group Conversations
  • Microsoft Teams becomes Group Chat

While this branding may not become a reality, I think that it’s helpful to think of the 3 tools in this manner.

How to Migrate a WordPress site to Azure Using In-App MySQL

Did this site load a little faster than it normally does? You may not have a basis of comparison, but I have noticed that pages load between 2x and 5x faster since I moved the site to Azure hosted WordPress using an In-App MySQL database. Previously I was running it on Azure as well, but it was using the 3rd party ClearDB database server. The performance increase is therefore entirely due to the difference in the database engines.

I have been running this blog as a web app on Azure for the last couple of years, ever since it became available. In fact, I wrote about how to enable hosting for multiple users on the same database when I first set it up. At the time, setting up a WordPress web app involved also provisioning a MySQL database through a third-party hosting provider, Clear DB. The initial offering was free, but as I quickly found out, the initial offering also doesn’t provide much, and I needed to upgrade it through the third party. This arrangement was fraught with difficulty. Aside from the unwelcome additional costs, managing the billing cycle was difficult. In addition, all my WordPress sites were a little to a lot sluggish, and increasing Azure resources didn’t seem to help much.

Over time, I learned that I wasn’t the only one, and the performance problems seemed to be with latency between Azure and the third-party provider. However, I didn’t want to start messing around with standing up my own, and it was usable if a tad expensive. However, a month or so ago I was listening to my friends Andrew Connell and Chris Johnson on the Microsoft Cloud Show, and they mentioned that Azure had put out a preview of a native MySQL implementation. This was of course music to my ears, so I tried it out, and it appears to work quite well.

I have since moved all our WordPress properties over to this new architecture, and documented the procedure. The approach that I tool should work for any WordPress site, whether it is hosted on Azure or not, but the examples I use will of course be going from Azure to Azure. I essentially create a new WordPress site, migrate the site assets to it, configure the new site to match the old one, then point the address to the new web app. There are quite likely third party add-ons that facilitate this process, but this process is manual. I am in no way saying that this approach is a best practice, only that it worked for me. Finally, as noted above, the In-App MySQL is in Preview, not production, so if your WordPress site is critical, it would likely be a good idea to hang on for a bit. I however like to live dangerously, and if my blog goes offline for a few hours, it’s not the end of the world.

Here are the steps required to accomplish this.

1. Upgrade the existing site

The new site that will be created will use the latest version of WordPress, and any plugins that get installed will also be the most recent. To avoid any version mismatches, it’s a good idea to make sure that your WordPress version, and all your plugins are up to date.

2. Retrieve the WordPress Assets from the existing Site

You can use the built-in export feature in WordPress to retrieve all the database assets. Open the tools section, select “Export”, and choose “All Content”.

The types of content will vary depending on your WordPress installation, plugins, etc., but make sure that you select all of them. When ready, select “Download Export File”. You’ll get prompted to download an XML file – put it somewhere safe – you’ll need it later.

Next up, you’ll want to retrieve your file system based assets. These will be all your uploaded files, unless you currently use and externally hosted provider, your WordPress themes, and your plugins. Strictly speaking, this step isn’t necessary. You should be able to re-download your themes and plugins, but I have found that they aren’t always available, and that this process is faster. However, if you don’t have access to the file system of the existing site, you may not be able to do this. The upload files can be gathered through the import process later as well, but this approach provides an added level of safety.

For Azure, you’ll use FTP to connect to the file system and copy the files locally. For Azure hosted sites, you can set the FTP credentials by logging into the “new” Azure portal, selecting the web app for your site, then navigating to “Deployment Credentials”. You then enter a user name and a password, and save them.

Next, scroll down to “Properties” for the web app, and take note of the “FTP Host Name” and the “FTP/Deployment user”. You will use these values to connect to the file system.

Now open Explorer on a Windows PC, right click in the “This PC” node, and select “Add a network location”.

Follow the prompts entering the FTP host and the user name when prompted. Do not attempt to log in anonymously. Also, take note – the user name has the form web app name\username. When the node opens, enter the password, and you should see 4 folders. Open “site”, then “wwwroot”, and finally “wp-content”. The folders that you need are here.

Specifically, you are looking for the plugins, themes and uploads folders. Copy these folders locally and keep them handy.

3. Create the new WordPress Site

From the Azure admin portal, select “Create New”, and search for “WordPress”. There are several WordPress options to choose from, but the one we’re pursuing is published by WordPress.

Once selected, you will be prompted to fill out the details. Give the new app a name, select the Resource Group, and most importantly, the Database Provider. ClearDB is the one that we are moving away from, so “MySQL In App” is the one that we want to select.

Once you click OK, the App will be created, and WordPress will be deployed to it. The App creation happens almost immediately, but it takes a few minutes for WordPress to be fully deployed. Don’t be alarmed if there’s nothing there for a little while.

Once deployment is complete, you can simply click on the URL of the app in the “Overview” section. The URL will take the form of http://webappname.azurewebsites.net.

A browser will open and you will be prompted to complete the initial WordPress installation. One that complete, you will be able to login to the WordPress administration portal.

4. Upload the Older Assets to the new WordPress Site

The next thing that we want to do is to upload the assets that we downloaded in step #2 to the new site. To do this, simply connect to the new file system via FTP by following the same steps that were used to connect to the old site in step #2. Once connected, upload the 3 folders to the wp-content folder of the new site. If there are folders that already exist, or that you don’t want to use in the new site, simply omit them from the upload. Once uploaded, we can activate the features.

5. Activate Assets in the New Site

It is important to activate and configure the plugins before the content from the existing site is imported. This is because some plugins extend the schema of the WordPress database, and any content that depends on those schema extensions will fail to import if they are not present.

Login to the administrative portal in the new site, and activate all the required plugins. If you don’t know which plugins should be activate, simply login to the administrative portal of the old site for reference. It’s a good idea to have these portals open side by side as you complete the next few actions. Once the plugins are active, go to the appearance section, and select the same theme as the original. Once the theme is selected, it needs to be configured. Walk through all the configuration options for your theme matching with the original site. Any options that depends on content will need to be set after the content is imported. Once the theme is configured, the plugins should all be configured. This is a very manual process of going through all the configuration screens and comparing the settings to those of the existing site.

Finally, recreate all necessary users from the old system. You will need to match blog posts with authors during the import step. The import step will offer another opportunity to add new users, but it’s a good idea to do this prior so that complete information is added for each user.

6. Imports Content from the Existing System

From the administration portal of the new WordPress site, navigate to the Tools section, and select import. A number of options will be presented, the option that you’re interested in is “WordPress”. If you don’t already have the WordPress Import Plugin, you’ll need to select “Install Now” and allow the plugin to install and activate. Once activated, select “Run Importer”, and the Import dialog will appear. Select the export file that was downloaded in Step #2 above, and then click the “Upload file and import” button to see the Import WordPress dialog.

WordPress Import is author aware, and will automatically assign posts to users that exist in the new environment based on who they were in the old, you simply need to map them at this point. If you forgot to add a user in Step #5, you can do so here as well. Once authorship is assigned, the only other decision is whether to select the “Download and import file attachments”. Strictly speaking, if all assets were brought across in step #2, this shouldn’t be necessary. What this option does is to download all referenced assets from the existing blog during the import process. This doesn’t always work, particularly on larger blogs, which is why step #2 is so important.

In addition, if the content of the site results in a particularly large export file (as was the case with this one), you’ll need to increase the upload limit for your WordPress site. This can be done by creating a “.user.ini” file in the root of your WordPress installation as described here. Additionally, you may also need to increase some of the application timeout values.

7. Test

Test the new site to ensure that it works. This cannot be stressed enough. Open all the sections to ensure that everything looks right. Ideally, use browser windows open side by side with the new and the existing sites

8. Make URL Changes to the Existing WordPress Site

It is important to follow these steps to avoid being locked out of the existing site. There are ways to correct it if it happens, but the situation is beast avoided.

Open the administration portal of the existing site, and navigate to “Settings”, General. If the WordPress Address (URL) and the “Site Address (URL)” values do not match the default URL for the Azure Web App, they will need to be changed to that value here.

The address will take the form http://azurewebappname.azurewebsites.net. It’s also a good idea to navigate to that URL to ensure that it works before saving.

8. Make URL Changes to Azure

If your existing site isn’t running on the default Azure address, you’ll need to repoint it to the new site. This will cause your site to be unavailable for a few moments. To begin, you need to remove your custom domain from the existing (now “old”) site. Navigate to the Web App for the old site in the Azure portal, and select “Custom domains”. Your custom domain should appear there along with the default address (that was used in step 8).

Click on the ellipsis beside the domain, and select “Unassign”. This will remove the custom address from the old site, freeing it up to be used by the new site.

At this point, you will need to make changes to your domain with your domain registrar. You will need to change any references (A records and/or CNAME records) that you currently have for your custom address to point to the new Azure Web App. Details for those settings can be found under “Custom domains” for your new Azure Web App. Once complete, navigate to “Custom domains” in the new Web App and click on the “+” button beside “Add hostname”. Enter your custom address and the click the “Validate” button. The custom address will be tested, and if there are any issues with it, remediation steps will be provided. The Azure portal is quite good at helping to manage this step.

Once the new URL has been registered, it should be tested to ensure that it is accessible from the outside environment. Prior to testing, the old site should be stopped (but not deleted!) to ensure that it is not responding to any requests.

If SSL was used on the old site, at this point they should be brought in to the new Web App and bound to the site.

9. Make URL Changes to the New WordPress Site

If the custom domain is working, follow the steps in step 7, but on the new WordPress site, and use the custom address for the URL values. Save, and login again.

10. Final Testing

At this point the site is live, but it is worthwhile to do another round of testing with the old Web App in a stopped state. This will identify any URLs hardcoded with the old Web App default URL, and missing assets, etc.

At this point, the new WordPress site is set up and working with the In-App MySQL database. I would recommend waiting a week or so before going back and deleting the old site and its assets, just in case.

OneDrive, TwoDrive, ThreeDrive

I’m calling it ThreeDrive now.

The much ballyhooed “Next Generation Sync Client for OneDrive for Business rolled out with the Windows 10 November update. You’d be excused for not noticing, because it looks pretty much the same as the old OneDrive consumer client. In fact, it IS the new OneDrive consumer client as well but it supports OneDrive for Business too. It’s not obvious that it supports OneDrive for Business because as of this writing, it requires a registry key entry. If you sign up for the OneDrive for Business preview, you’ll get the new sync client and the instructions, but for convenience, the key is:

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\OneDrive] – “EnableAddAccounts”=dword:00000001

Presumably, at some point that registry key will be switched on for everyone by an update. Once it has been added, when you open the OneDrive settings, you will now see an option to add a business account.

Once added, your Office 365 OneDrive will be synchronized using the same (more robust) engine as the consumer client, you’ll be able to do selective sync of folders, etc. Once you add your business account, you’ll see two sync “clouds” in your system tray, one blue, and one white. White is your consumer OneDrive, and blue your OneDrive for Business.

I’m pretty sure that this brings us to TwoDrive. You’ll also get (at least) two entries in your Windows File explorer, one for Personal, and one for your corporate OneDrive. If you connect multiple Office 365 accounts, you’ll get multiple blue cloud icons, and multiple explorer entries.

I don’t know why the consumer client icon is blue, but it is what it is. To me, white would help with understanding. We do however have a single sync client! Well, not so fast. If I need to sync SharePoint libraries from either on-prem or Office 365, I will still need the older OneDrive for Business sync client, with all of the same limitations. This is also true for the OneDrives contained in an Office 365 group.

Once that’s installed, by syncing a library, you’ll get another blue cloud icon that is indistinguishable from the icons created by the new sync client, and you’ll get an entry in File Explorer for SharePoint.

Everything should be working at this point. However, although I have gotten my head around this, I find it pretty confusing, and I work in this environment for a living. I know that I’m not alone, I recently spent about an hour with my friend and fellow MVP Marc Anderson helping him get his head around it, so it’s certainly not simple.

I am quite happy to see the new sync client, and the harmonization that it brings. I also know that the need for the old OneDrive for Business sync client will go away as the new client gains the ability to sync with SharePoint libraries and Group based OneDrives. I personally use cloud based storage solutions from a number of vendors, and they all have strengths and weaknesses. OneDrive is still the best deal out there, and it’s also the best solution for corporate sharing. I am however concerned about the complexity. I can imagine the following future conversation with a customer.

Me: You should really look at OneDrive for Business for offline access to your content

Customer: Oh, I have OneDrive already. Didn’t Microsoft just limit its storage capacity?

M: No – they had only turned on unlimited storage for a small test group. They just decided not to move forward with it as earlier announced. Besides, that’s only for the consumer OneDrive, not OneDrive for Business.

C: So they’re not the same thing?

M: No – OneDrive is a consumer product, and you log into it with a Microsoft account. OneDrive for Business is a business product, and you get it with an Office 365 business account. You need a corporate account to use it. It gives each person that uses it 1 TB of storage.

C: So if it’s they’re different things, why are they both called OneDrive?

M: I know. Never mind.

C: OK, so how do I get them both working?

M: Well, you have the November update for Windows 10, right? All that you need to do is to go into your OneDrive settings, and add your business account.

C: Oh, so they use the same sync client?

M: Yes. That’s fairly new. There used to be an exclusive OneDrive for Business client, but you don’t need it now.

C: OK. (adds the business account) So how do I work with it?

M: You see those two cloud icons in your tray? The white one is your consumer account, and the blue one is your business account.

C: I thought that it was one sync client. Why are there two icons?

M: That’s so you can see the two different repositories. They are both driven by the same sync engine. It makes sense.

C: OK, cool. And how do I access my files?

M: Just open up File Explorer. The one that says OneDrive – Personal is your consumer account. The one that says OneDrive – your company name is your business OneDrive.

C: So the business one is my personal OneDrive in Office 365?

M: Yes. I know… the term “Personal” is a bit confusing, but it is what it is.

C: That’s fine. Why is personal cloud icon blue in File Explorer but not in the tray?

M: I have no idea

C: OK – so how do I sync my Office 365 Group OneDrives?

M: Oh. Remember when I mentioned the old sync client? You’ll need that to sync those. The new client doesn’t support them yet, but it will.

C: I thought the old one doesn’t work very well?

M: It’s not as good, but it’ll do for this purpose.

C: OK, how do I install that?

M: You have Office installed, so you already have it. Just open up the OneDrive in your browser, and click on the sync icon.

C: OK (does it). So how do I know it’s working?

M: Open up your tray. See that you have another blue cloud icon? That’s the older sync client.

C: How do I tell the difference between this and the other one?

M: Just hover over the icon. The one that’s just called OneDrive for Business is the older engine. The one that contains your company name is the new one.

C: Am I going to get another icon for every OneDrive that I sync?

M: No – in this case, they all use the same icon. If you hover over and select open the folder, you’ll see what’s syncing.

C: OK. So where do I find my files?

M: Open up File Explorer. Under your two OneDrives, you’ll see a new entry for SharePoint. Click on that, and you’ll see your content.

C: What’s SharePoint?

M: *sigh*

I really quite like OneDrive, and what it can do. It’s even more valuable to me when the people that I interact with use it too, and after walking through this explanation over the past few days, I can see a few barriers to entry. I’d love to see this whole thing simplified.

Diving with Sway (or What I Did on my Autumn Vacation)

Although I threaten to do so in the description of this blog, I rarely talk about diving. I think that the last time that I did so was about 3 years ago. However, I recently encountered an intersection of my vocation and my avocation that I thought was worth sharing.

In September/October this year, my wife and I went on a liveaboard dive trip down the entire Sea of Cortez (or the Gulf of California to you folks in the USA). A liveaboard is a cruise of sorts where you live on the boat and go diving multiple times per day. You get to see some amazing things that would otherwise be unavailable.

I like to document my dives using mostly photos and simetimes video.  The GoPro given to the Office MVPs last year (thanks, Microsoft!!!) at the MVP Summit has increased my use of video. Ultimately I return from these dive trips with a large collection of pictures and video, which I share out via Flickr, Facebook, OneDrive and YouTube. The problem is, these collections are disconnected, and while i try to tag and title the items, none of these collections really tell the story.

Thats where Sway comes in.

I’ve had access to Sway for a while, and while I did dabbble in it a bit originally, I didn’t really “get it”. I had a lot of video this time, and the trip warranted more “narration” than a simple collection of pictures could provide. I decided to give Sway another shot, with (I think) good results. You can see for yourself below. Click on the “Made with Sway” icon at the bottom left to open in full screen.

I found the Sway was exactly the right tool for this task. I was able to bring together diverse media elements from the trip, and organize them in ways that suited the narrative (not always chronologically). Adding the narrative itself completes the picture, and the presentation can stand on its own. I think, to sum it up, that Sway adds context to content.

Sway is an online tool. There are native clients available for Android, iOS ans Windows 10, but you are always working with online content – there are no files stored locally. Creation is simple. There are a number of preconfigured layouts which can be tweaked to some degree, and content addition is a simple matter of dragging and dropping from a set of cloud based repositories. You can share (and collaborate) at any time, and when ready, you can publish it on docs.com, where it will be available in galleries, search engines, etc.

In addition to travelogs, I can see this having great usefulness in the education space. I don’t think it will be replacing PowerPoint anytime soon – they serve different purposes. I would say though that in the absence of a presenter, I would likely rather have access to a sway than a PowerPoint deck – the Sway can do so much more on its own for explanations.

Finally, Sway is free. You’ll need a Microsoft account (either consumer or organizational) to use it, but you can simply point your browser at sway.com and get going on it. Give it a shot! I think you’ll like it. I do, and I think I’m going to dip into my back catalog to create more. WHen I do, I’ll be posting them in my diving collection on docs.com.