go ahead, mac my day

a Macintosh girl in a Microsoft world

November, 2009

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Microsoft's Silicon Valley Campus is ten years old

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    I noticed an article on Internet News today: Microsoft's other campus celebrates year ten. Hey, that's my campus!

    The article focuses largely on the folks here who work for Microsoft Research, but it skips over plenty of other interesting groups on campus. There's my part of the Macintosh Business Unit here, where we develop PowerPoint, Outlook, and Document Connection for Mac. The Windows PowerPoint team is in the same building that we're in (which means that we talk with them quite frequently). Hotmail and some other Windows Live properties are developed here. The MS TV guys are here, as well as some Xbox folks. I'm quite sure I'm missing some groups, so hopefully no-one will shout at me for my bad memory. :)

    In doing some poking around, I found the official Microsoft press release for the SVC 10-year anniversary, as well as a guest post from ex-MacBU PM Dennis Cheung to the Microsoft jobs blog posted in 2004: We're not just in Redmond anymore. (I love that Dennis's post includes the number of air miles from SJC to SEA. It's 678 from SFO to SEA, according to my usual flight on United.) I even found an old article on CNet announcing the plan for us to open here: Microsoft to open Silicon Valley campus.

    Happy ten years, SVC!

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Q&A: how do I become a beta tester for Microsoft's Mac applications?

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    From the open question thread comes this question:

    How do you get into testing Microsoft-Mac software, I have beta tested many Windows programs and was even in the "Butterfly" program.

    Well, you're ahead of me, since I have no idea what the Butterfly program is. :)

    There are two flavours of beta: public and private.

    Public betas are just that: public. We did a public beta when we were working on v2 of Remote Desktop Connection, and we've announced that we'll do a public beta of Messenger v8. When those public betas open, we'll post on Mac Mojo with details for how to participate. We've used Microsoft Connect for our betas in the past, so you could get ahead of the curve by registering there.

    Our private betas are by invitation only. I've written about this before, so I'll provide a link to that post: Q&A: How do I get into a MacBU private beta? In short, there are three groups of people who we invite to take part in our betas:

    • Microsoft employees
    • MVPs
    • large companies

    Another way that you can see early versions of our software is to take part in the usability studies that my team conducts. Right now, since we're doing a lot of studies, they're mostly held at our offices in either Redmond, Washington, or Mountain View, California.

    This only applies to the applications that are made by MacBU. There are other groups who make apps for the platform, such as the Silverlight team, not to mention our web teams who have increased their support for Safari and Firefox. I can't speak to how they do their beta programmes. Whenever I hear about a beta from one of them, I usually post about it here if it's something that anyone can sign up to participate in.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Q&A: are you going to stop making Mac apps?

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    Inspired by the open question thread, someone emailed me this one:

    your 5-year agreement with apple expires soon, and ive heard that you'll stop making mac apps when it expires, is this true?

    This rumour, like so many others in Apple circles, is a perennial favourite. It pops up pretty frequently, and I can't imagine that it's going away any time soon.

    Let's step back and look at the history of Microsoft creating apps for Apple platforms. We're the oldest developer here, other than Apple themselves. We started off with Applesoft BASIC. Both PowerPoint and Excel were originally Mac applications, and Office was released as a suite on the Mac first. One of our PowerPoint developers has been here for over 20 years, and all of that time he's been working on PowerPoint:Mac. We've got a few other old-timers on our hallways as well, including my fellow MacBU bloggers Rick and Schwieb. There's a huge amount of experience and expertise on our hallways, and I'm not sure where else other than Apple where you could find someone who's been developing for the platform since the very beginning.

    The MacBU was formed in 1997, with the specific goal of creating world-class productivity apps for the Mac. When we were created, we put a five-year agreement in place with Apple to continue to create our apps. We renewed that pledge at Macworld Expo 2006. One has to note that after the first five-year agreement expired in 2002, we put out service packs to Office:Mac 2001 and Office:Mac X. We also released Office:Mac 2004, Virtual PC 7, Remote Desktop Connection, and a couple of releases of Messenger.

    Here in MacBU, the technical team is hard at work finishing up the next version of Office:Mac, which will hit store shelves in time for holiday 2010. A few of us are starting to transition from working on it to working on the version after that. We start figuring out what the version after it should look like: defining our goals, working with our partners (both within and without Microsoft) to learn about their goals, and brainstorming ideas.

    The early phase of development of the next-next version of Office:Mac is one of my favourite parts of the job. It comes just when I've been doing deep dives into specific pieces of my applications. This early phase is when I get to step back and think about the forest instead of focusing on a few leaves on a specific tree. I get to think about big problems and big goals. For the next-next version, the canvas is blank, and I get to help to start figuring out what will go on it.

    The 220+ of us here in MacBU are moving full steam ahead with the next versions of Office:Mac and Messenger, and we're working on lots of things beyond that as well. I doubt that anyone here on the technical team will take any notice when that five-year agreement expires because it's not going to affect how we do our job. We're still going to be working on Office:Mac.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Q&A: how do I move data from Access onto my Mac?

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    Via the open question thread:

    I'm about to buy a Macbook as my main computer. But I also use Access a lot, especially the mail-merge function (Word/Access). I've read your comments in MacRumors about the likelihood of Microsoft creating Access for Macintosh. What do you recommend instead?

    It depends on what you're doing with Access. If mail merge is your most important task, then you can likely accomplish the same thing with Word and Excel. Excel 2008 can handle workbooks of up to 1 million rows and 16,000 columns (it's slightly bigger than 16k, but I can't remember the exact number since it's not a power of two). You could also move your address data into Entourage, and do a mail merge from there. For more information about how to do a mail merge in Word:Mac 2008, start with our help topic create a data source for a mail merge, which has links to creating form letters, mailing labels, and envelopes via mail merge.

    For other database needs, depending on how big your databases are and what you're doing with them, you might find that either Bento or FileMaker will meet your needs. Bento is more for consumer needs, whereas FileMaker is good for business needs.

    Alternately, you could use Boot Camp to dual-boot your Mac into Windows, or run a virtualisation application like VMWare so that you have access to Windows. Then you can run Access on your Mac for the times when you need it. This makes the most sense if you have a lot of big databases and you use Access frequently.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Q&A: how do I fix the "Unable to establish a secure connection ..." issue in Entourage:Mac?

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    From my open question thread:

    When opening my inbox from an Exchange 2007 SP1 server with Entourage 12.2.3 I get a dialog saying "Unable to establish a secure connection to example.com because the correct root certificate is not installed."

    There's a few things that you can do to get rid of this dialog.

    One option is to ask your admin for a root certificate. After you receive that certificate from your admin, you can install it. If that solves the problem some but not all of the time, open the Microsoft Certificate Manager application (it's in the Office folder) and import the certificate there.

    Another option is to uncheck the "This DAV service requires a secure connection (SSL)" box. It's on the Advanced tab in your Account Settings for that Exchange account.

    If you're feeling particularly techy, you can check to see if your Exchange server's autodiscover service is set up properly. Amir wrote up some instructions in his blog post SSL warning issue in Entourage 2008. Look down to the note for the instructions that you as a user (and not an Exchange admin) can take to see if it's set up properly. If your autodiscover service isn't set up properly, you can at least inform your Exchange admin about it and ask them to fix it. There's a whitepaper for setting up the Exchange 2007 autodiscover service which has plenty of details for how your Exchange guys can get it set up properly.

    For additional troubleshooting without calling Microsoft tech support (for which you get two free calls with your purchase of Office 2008) or any internal tech support that you might have, you might want to try the Entourage public forum.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Q&A: how do I see free/busy information in Entourage:Mac?

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    From my open question thread:

    I use Entourage to connect to our 2003 Exchange server via the webserver. What do I need to do to get it to see Free/Busy?

    For Exchange 2003 (as well as Exchange 2000), free/busy information is stored in the public folder server. Open up your Entourage account settings (go to the Entourage menu and select "account settings"), then go to the Advanced tab and enter your public folder server. Your Exchange admin should be able to tell you what to fill in here.

    For additional information about this, there's some great resources:

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Q&A: What kind of computers do you use in MacBU and Microsoft?

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    In response to my open question thread, I got this question:

    do they force you to use PCs ? if yes what kind of machine do you have ? and what kind of Macs also ?
    and if not, what about MS employees outside the MacBU ? can they choose to use a Mac (with Entourage of course :-) ) ?

    I do have a Windows box, although there was no force or coercion involved. :) As it turns out, Microsoft is a pretty Windows-centric company, so there are plenty of tools that I need to use that are only available on Windows. As a UX researcher, many of those tools (such as our bug tracking system and our code repository) aren't ones that I use frequently -- it's a strange week if I've accessed my Windows box more than once. The two Windows-only tools that I use the most frequently are for booking travel and submitting my expenses. Since my Windows needs are low, I don't use VMWare or Boot Camp to have Windows on my Mac. My Windows box lives headless under my desk. I exclusively access it via Remote Desktop Connection.

    I primarily use two Macs. I travel a lot, and even when I'm in California I'm not in my office that much, so my main Mac is a MacBook Pro. In my office, I've also got a Mac Mini. The Mini gets most of its use when we're getting early seeds of the next version of OS X, so that I can get a feeling for the UX changes and start to determine how that impacts my work. It also runs iTunes all the time, and I have sharing enabled so that others can listen to my music.

    Other people in MacBU have a different matrix of computers. For example, many of our developers aren't quite as mobile as I am, so they often choose to get a spiffy Mac Pro as their primary workstation. I touched on this in another blog post from a couple of months ago: Q&A: what hardware do you use when testing Office:Mac?

    As for the rest of Microsoft, it's a big company with lots of people and lots of different needs, so there's no blanket policy. It's up to the particular group that someone is in as to what is available to them. I know folks in other groups who use Macs, sometimes as their primary workstation, other times not. It's more about their needs than anything else: what computer, and what operating system, best meets their business needs so that they can do their job more effectively. There are folks for whom running OS X all the time wouldn't make a lot of sense. For example, if you're a developer on Access, your life is lived in Visual Studio and in our tracking system, and using OS X would just get in the way because your tools are Windows tools. There are other folks who use Macs because it does make sense for them. For example, there are some more Macs around the Exchange hallways because both Safari and Firefox get the full experience in Outlook Web Access in Exchange 2010, and it makes plenty of sense for the developers and testers involved in that work to use a Mac.

    I know it always makes the blogs when someone sees a Microsoft employee running Windows on a Mac, or running a Mac at all, which I always find amusing. Microsoft's a big company, with lots of groups that have different needs and different goals. Assuming that Macs are verboten across the company because we make Windows ignores the reality of being a big company in lots of different markets.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    open question and answer thread

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    I haven't done one of these in awhile, and it's a quiet week, so ...

    If you've got a question for me, go on and ask it.  If I've got an answer, I'll share it.  If I don't have an answer (either I don't know or can't say), then I'll tell you that too.  Questions about MacBU, our applications, Mac development at Microsoft, what it's like to work here, my job, and anything like that are fair game.  Short answers will probably go in the comments, long answers are most likely to show up as a new post. 

  • go ahead, mac my day

    thinking about the new MacBook

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    I've been using my new MacBook for awhile now, and there's one thing that completely annoys me: the trackpad.  I've spent quite a lot of time messing about with the preferences, and I still find myself having difficulty using it.  The problem is in fine movement.  If I care about just nudging the cursor a little bit, I'm having a hard time getting it where I want it to go.  This is especially true if I want to nudge it and then click, because the action of clicking (since there's no separate button to click on) often causes the cursor to move a little bit more.  

    Another problem lies in clicking: since I rarely look at the trackpad when mousing around or clicking, I haven't been clicking down far enough at the bottom of the trackpad for it to register as a click.  I still hear the click, but the click doesn't register on-screen.

    Hopefully I'll get used to it over time, and hopefully getting used to it on this MacBook won't mean that I won't be able to use the trackpad on my old MacBook Pro (which still has a button on the trackpad).  We'll see.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    in case you were wondering what to get me for Christmas ...

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    In case you were wondering what to get me for Christmas, or a wedding gift, or for any other reason, I'll point you to this original Apple 1 for sale.

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