As a Microsoft partner, one of the most important things I do is show people the benefits of using Microsoft products, my current favorite being Office 365. Office 365 has gone through many iterations, improvements, and additions that enhance collaboration features and really "tie the room together." It all looks great on paper or on a website, but the true clincher is being able to see -- and experience -- the service for yourself.
For a while now, Microsoft has had what is called "MEC," also referred to as the "Microsoft Experience Center." Partners would be able to order a kit with laptops and tablets, and use these products to allow customers (you!) to experience the software in a live, exploratory setting. From a partner's perspective, this is very cool -- but can also be cumbersome. It involves the shipping and tracking of very large boxes (no doubt a big expense) as well as individually setting up each machine before the session. And, of course, what if the customer is halfway across the U.S.? In this day and age of virtual business, there has to be a better way.

In what is awesome news for both individuals and businesses looking to upgrade to Office 365 as well as the partners with the expertise to help implement these solutions, Microsoft has provided a new tool: QuickSessions.
Part of the new CIE (Customer Immersion Experience, formerly known as MEC) program, QuickSessions are essentially a virtual version of the physical kit, hosted in the powerful and growing Microsoft Azure cloud service. Certified CIE instructors can access this tool to easily provide a login "persona" in an Azure virtual machine -- giving customers the ability to experience a full Office 365 environment from anywhere.
How a QuickSession Works

If you're interested in Office 365 and experiencing it and other Microsoft solutions for yourself, contact Magenium and we'll be happy to help!

The first step in a QuickSession is to work with your CIE and Office 365 certified partner to schedule a date for the session. At Magenium, we like to ask questions before the session to not only tailor the session to your business's individual needs, but also help determine the right solutions for you.
Claiming Your QuickSession "Persona"

On the date of the QuickSession, your partner will provide you with a link and credentials. You will use this to "claim" your Office 365 persona -- which is basically a provisioned user that works like a live user in a real environment.

After claiming your persona, you can click the View Details button to obtain the Office 365 login information that you will use to experience the live environment. Once you have these credentials saved, you can click the "Connect" button.
Connecting to Your QuickSession Virtual Machine

The Connect button will download a file for you, which is titled as the first name of your persona. The user will need to add the ".RDP" extension to this filename. Then, it can be opened in the Windows Remote Desktop Connection application.

This will log you or the user in question into an Azure virtual Windows machine, which operates like any other physical machine as far as you are concerned -- in a window on your computer. At this point, you can open Internet Explorer and log into Office 365 at
Getting the CIE Treatment

From here, you're ready to go full-bore into the immersion experience. Your partner will guide you through your session from here. The great thing about this environment is that it works exactly like a "real" Office 365 tenant. Users can chat with each other via Skype for Business, edit documents in real time, the works.

If you're ready to see how Office 365 can help your business, get in touch with us and our experts will show you the way.

Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella is known for his "cloud-first, mobile-first" approach -- and it seems that the latest versions of Microsoft Office are playing directly into this vision... which is a good thing.
Satya's profound commitment to this philosophy brings me back to when we were in what I like to call the "cloud transition" period. This was when cloud-based file services were just coming around to solve the problems highly-connected people were beginning to encounter -- anything from syncing passwords securely across browsers, having files accessible from any device at any time, and so on. I remember being so frustrated at having to develop my own workarounds, and now, consumer and business services in all areas of software are working to close these gaps. Steam now synchronizes my digital game library and even my save progress across machines while OneDrive allows me to store and access my photos from anywhere at any time -- and it keeps getting better.
Fortunately, as personal cloud-based services have risen to the task, business solutions have done so as well and continue to develop according to people's needs.

That being said,
I'm seeing many questions from clients regarding this, and even a few challenges outside the Microsoft world. For example, businesses large and small recognize SharePoint as an industry-best, secure way to store and access documents across teams, but users sometimes have trouble getting a workflow down.

I see questions like:
  • How do I save this directly to SharePoint from (X) application?
  • How can I attach a file to an email right from SharePoint?
  • How do I open a file right from SharePoint without having to download it first?
In the upcoming release of Office 2016 ProPlus for Windows, business customers will be able to (very easily, I might add) attach files directly from their SharePoint Online sites through the file menu. This instantly solves a long-existing problem -- users hate having to navigate to SharePoint and manually download files to attach them in Outlook, or using "different" ways to do this that they aren't used to or that don't fit into how they work most efficiently. As such, it's great Microsoft is stepping up to provide what users want.
Furthermore, the current Office ProPlus apps have the ability to "add new places" to users' file menu, allowing you to simply and easily save to or open from your cloud storage areas such as OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint.
What if, however, you have a user who works in other applications or file types outside of the Windows realm? For example, let's say that your business frequently generates, saves, and distributes PDF files via email. What do you do now? One solution is to sync a document library from SharePoint using the OneDrive for Business client, but this has its pros and cons and may not be the best way to tackle this problem -- especially if the document library is very large, or for compliance reasons cannot be stored on a user's local machine.

Fortunately, other software companies recognize this need for cloud convergence, such as Adobe. Their recent release of Acrobat Reader, dubbed "Acrobat Reader DC," has a built in cloud convergence function called Document Cloud.
Document Cloud offers specific SharePoint Online functionality and enables users to sign into SharePoint directly from the Adobe Reader DC application. Once signed in, users can navigate their document libraries on SharePoint and easily save to or open from their enterprise site. Reader DC even offers an easy way to attach a file to an Outlook email.

I was very, VERY excited to see this in Reader DC, as it is an alternate way for clients looking to take advantage of SharePoint as a cloud based solution to access their data. My feeling is that more and more cloud providers will work to provide inter-connected apps. It's already happening, actually, and it goes both ways. Recently, Box, a leader in online file storage, announced they are working on tighter integration with Office products. Microsoft themselves announced a partnership with Dropbox, another leader in cloud based storage.

These kinds of efforts and partnerships can only be good for all consumers who want to enjoy the benefits of Office, Office 365, and SharePoint, and need them to integrate in specific ways to their individual styles and chosen products.
 For businesses large and small, utilizing Facebook is no longer an option – it’s a requirement. Your customers WILL be talking about you online, and Facebook is one of the top spots for this conversation to be happening… whether you are listening or not.

Leveraging Facebook and other social media platforms to their maximum potential is both a science and an art -- creating a truly cohesive social brand is a major and worthwhile endeavor, something we specialize in at Magenium. However, there are some simple guidelines to follow when dealing with customers on Facebook that everyone should know, even if the business is just starting out.

DON’T: Argue with customers

If a customer posts something about an experience they had with your business, you definitely don’t want to dispute it with them online. It frustrates the customer and will either discourage customers from posting – or even worse, bring out the trolls for a fight.

INSTEAD: Acknowledge the problem and direct it offline

A better way to handle a public complaint is to recognize the customer’s concern and direct them to contact you via private message or email. Even if what the customer says is blatantly false, an argument online will go nowhere fast. A social media consultant can help you find ways to craft responses to simultaneously “clarify” for other customers, while dealing with the complaint at hand.

DON’T: Copy and paste responses

This will make your business look like a robot, and gives a first impression of laziness. Customers will figure this out instantly, and make sure to point it out to your other (potential) customers. Besides, a personal response is the right thing to do.

INSTEAD: Type a personalized response to each customer

Yes, it takes longer, but shows that your business truly cares and is reading each and every post. Posts will sometimes be similar, if they are dealing with the same issue, but an individualized, organic response is the way to go.

DON’T: Make spelling and grammatical errors

Even the most minor of spelling or language errors in a response to a negative post will whip users into a frenzy. In today’s Internet culture, the tiniest of errors will get magnified and used as an “ad hominem” against you – e.g., “They can’t even spell correctly, how can they produce a quality product?”

INSTEAD: Proofread entries 2-3 times for correctness

This mistake is easily avoided through careful posting and use of available tools.

DON’T: Give more details than necessary

The customer doesn’t want to hear the story about how you’ve reprimanded that employee who gave them trouble 3 times already. A key thing to remember is that details often come from “drama,” and drama on your business’s Facebook page will never end well… trust me.

INSTEAD: Keep replies succinct and to the point

Acknowledge the issue and respond in a matter of fact way, leaving extraneous details out of the picture. Resist the urge to insert emotion into your replies – stick to the facts while being friendly and willing to help.

DON’T: Give excuses

Speaking of unnecessary details… offering up an excuse for a poor experience wastes your time, as well as your customer’s time, and looks just plain bad to boot. Plus, we all know that excuses always sound lame, even if they are indeed true. (Seriously, the dog DID eat my homework!)

INSTEAD: Take responsibility

Accept responsibility for the problem, and offer a solution for how you will resolve the customer’s issue.

Finally, the most important tip!

DON’T: Drop the ball

Dropping the ball is where most people fall short, and is perhaps the mistake with the longest lasting and most insidious effects. Replying to a customer is one thing, but following through with your promise is what really matters. I can't stress this enough.

INSTEAD: Follow through and take care of your customers

Replying to your customers in a professional manner is only the first step. Now, it’s up to you – the owner, manager, or social media rep – to make things right. Do it as quickly as possible. If you do, you might see a positive response. If you don’t, expect that angry customer to be very quick to point it out with a follow-up post calling you out.

Microsoft OneNote is a versatile, integrated program that can do much, much more than simply replace those old sticky notes – but many users don’t realize that this fantastic program has some specific features for use in education environments. Frankly, one of these features, the OneNote Class Notebook, is a game-changer… and it’s free with Office 365 for Education.

Increasingly, teachers are bringing students into the digital age with classroom assets such as tablets and interactive lessons. OneNote Class Notebooks take this to the next level with compelling interactive features for students as well as flexibility and organization for teachers. The OneNote Class Notebook feature is built on the power of OneNote, SharePoint, and OneDrive and must be added to the Office 365 environment by an IT administrator or qualified partner.

Once the Class Notebook feature is installed, it’s very easy to get started – I’d like to provide a high level guide on starting a notebook and give a sneak peek of what they can do.

When creating a OneNote Class Notebook, the first screen gives a nice outline of what to expect. Three spaces are created for teachers and students, which I’ll explain in further detail.

Then, you will add the students in the class. Each student will receive their own space, and you can select from some pre-created “tabs” in the last step – then the notebook is created. An email will be sent to every student and teacher who was granted access, and a link will be provided for easy access later. The Class Notebook is accessible via OneNote for Desktop or OneNote Online (the desktop client provides enhanced functionality and is recommended.)

Upon first login to the OneNote Class Notebook, several sections can be noted, which were created in the previous steps:

Collaboration Space

  • This tab is accessible by all students and teachers who were given permission to the notebook. Multiple students and teachers can create new pages, comment and change existing pages, and work together. The Collaboration Space can be viewed as a group working and brainstorming environment.

Content Library

  • This tab is accessible by all students and teachers as well. The content library can be seen as a “file cabinet” from which students can access worksheets and study materials. Everyone can see the Content Library, but only teachers can add, delete, or change the content. Students can copy assignments and assets to their own private spaces.

Student Spaces

  • On the left sidebar, teachers can see each student’s workspace, which contains the tabs created during the original Class Notebook setup. Students can see only their own workspace, while teachers have access to every student’s workspace. These workspaces give students the freedom to work and be productive in the ways that best suit them, as well as giving teachers the ability to instantly view, grade, and comment on assignments.

As you can see, OneNote for Education has limitless potential – and this is merely scratching the surface of the ability of Office 365 to empower your teachers and students.

Click here for information on OneNote for Education.

We all know Office 365 is an incredibly powerful productivity tool for large and small organizations alike, but did you know that certain Office 365 plans come with a free subscription to yet another powerful Microsoft tool?
Paid subscriptions to Microsoft Office 365 come with a free (simple) subscription to Microsoft Azure Active Directory. This powers the Office 365 directory service on the back end. It may not be immediately apparent to many users, but it's quite simple -- add a user in the Office 365 admin interface, and you'll see it in Azure AD.  It's easy to access a connected Azure AD account -- all the admin has to do is sign up for an Azure account with the admin's user ID, and they'll be linked.
Once the setup is complete, clicking the "Azure AD" link in Office 365 Admin will fire up the Azure console where you can manage it. I'm excited to talk more about additional features of Azure AD, but I'll save it for future posts. For now, here's a helpful link on how to register for your Azure Active Directory subscription.
So, back to the topic at hand. It's likely that even if you're brand new to Office 365, you've seen this screen above. This is the Microsoft standard login screen for Office 365. While nice and professional looking, wouldn't it be swell to have something a little more personal? Something connected to your brand identity or your mission? Or, something fun? Here's how to do it.
Above, you'll see the Azure Active Directory console for my personal lab, in which I have an Enterprise E1 license. Once you've clicked on your Active Directory for your Office 365 instance (which should already be there) here's what you need to do. Click on the "Configure" tab at the top, and then the green "Customize Branding" button.
You'll be presented with a popup box where various options can be configured. In this simple example, I've uploaded a banner logo and a sign in page illustration, as well as added some sign in page text. The "?" icons next to each box explains in more detail what each options does. I'd like to see previews on this page, but perhaps MS will add that in the future -- for now, the only way to do this is to make the change and check out how it looks. Fortunately, it's easy to revert if needed.
Once the changes are saved, there's a few ways that the design handiwork can be viewed. The first way is to access the standard Office 365 login screen and type your organization's email into the first box. The page will refresh with the custom branding you have applied.

The second way is to use a custom URL. This URL uses a pattern like this:

Using that second URL will take users directly to the custom branded login page for your organization. I recommend using an approved corporate logo as well as a professional, vibrant image that captures the spirit of your company rather than an adorable picture of a rabbit doing his best James Dean. Unless it's just for fun, of course!
In my previous post, I shared a case where a client wanted to be able to see what was going on in individual employees' OneDrive for Business Sites -- it isn't enabled by default, but it's possible to easily give access to an admin for all sites with some nifty PowerShell scripting.

This is a great solution for companies who have an existing SharePoint Online environment, but what if a company is just starting out? Wouldn't it be nice if there were a way to assign administrator access to all new OneDrive for Business sites automatically? (Because, of course, these are provisioned automatically by default when new users are added.) Not very long ago, there was no way to do this. Fortunately, Microsoft listened to users' pleas and has added the ability to do this automatically.
The first step is to head to the Admin center of Office 365 and click on the SharePoint section under Admin.
Then, click on User Profiles in the sidebar. As I discussed in my previous entry, OneDrive for Business sites are really just fancy "My Sites" built on a SharePoint frame. As such, the next step is to click on "Setup My Sites."
As you scroll through the setting, you'll spot something new -- the My Site Secondary Admin option. The description says it all -- enabling this will automatically add whatever user you put in the box as a second admin to all new My Sites that are created. I professionally recommend that you use a security group to do this, as even smaller companies may have more than one IT employee responsible for OneDrive for Business sites.

After setting the option, simply save the changes, and all new OneDrive for Business sites will have the secondary admin added automatically.
I was recently tasked by a client who, concerned about sensitive documents being accessed by those who were not privileged, to enable them to be notified when a document on an employee's OneDrive was accessed.

This sounds like it'd be easy, and perhaps it is if you only have one or two to monitor, but watching a company of 2,000 people in this way is not such a simple task. To learn why, as IT people, we need to understand how OneDrive for Business works in Microsoft Office 365.

A basic primer on OneDrive for Business
Each employee with the appropriate license will have a OneDrive for Business site that they can access. These are essentially specialized SharePoint sites on the back end, and each individual is the site collection administrator for their own OneDrive for Business site. However, other administrators -- including the global admin -- are not automatically granted access to what's in each employee's site, only what is shared across the organization.
This means that there is no easy way to grant administrators access to every OneDrive for Business site -- changing the settings from the top level only changes the top level and is not inherited to each individual site.

So, how do I see what's going on in my employees' OneDrive for Business sites? I really need to know.
Ok, ok, I get it, you want to see what they're storing in their little hidey-holes. Professionally, I would only recommend doing this if absolutely necessary. There is an element of trust when giving employees access, and breaching that trust (if they were to find out) could jeopardize morale -- and it's not likely that every employee is using their OneDrives for illegal or otherwise unsavory activities.

That being said, let's say we know that Allie Bellew is being a bad OneDrive for Business user. An IT employee walked past her desk and saw her streaming music from her sweet collection of 90's techno, she saw it, she swears! In some companies, this might be OK or even encouraged, but not in this fictional case. No music for Allie.
(Alan Steiner is also reputed to be squirreling away his salacious photo collection in his OneDrive, but we'll leave that for another post.)

An IT admin decides then to snoop on Allie's OneDrive, but is met with this:
Not very revealing, eh?

In short, since there's no simple or straightforward way to grant your IT employees access to Allie's OneDrive to see what she's up to, you have to use PowerShell to make them the site collection administrator.

TechNet has a handy guide and PowerShell scripts available to accomplish this task. The scripts will grab a list of all OneDrive for Business sites in your organization, then assign a user as site collection administrator for those sites. If IT only needs to see an individual site, the list that the first script outputs can be modified to include just that one site location.

This procedure also comes in handy if you need to enable eDiscovery for your company's OneDrive for Business sites on a global scale. If there's a legal issue, it's almost certain that this will need to be done to ensure compliance and discovery of all appropriate documents.
If you're getting into setting up a home SharePoint lab, you may have encountered problems with the .NET Framework 3.5 not installing on Windows Server 2012/R2.

This is a well documented problem, with a well-documented fix.

The DISM command-line tool fixes things up nicely:


I encountered issues where the installation would complete to 66% -- every time -- and fail to complete. This was maddening, until I found the answer (no, I don't remember where.)

The problem was occurring because I had performed multiple updates on the server from Windows Update before installing the software. This caused the "image version" to be different -- this has to be the same for the .Net 3.5 installation to complete properly.

As such, whenever redoing my lab VM's, I always install the framework AS SOON AS POSSIBLE to ensure the tool will run properly.

While I'm still thinking about the all-important email features of SharePoint, here's another handy tool for testing -- this time, it's a good ol' PowerShell command:

When I first started working with SharePoint, I was concerned that I wouldn't have an adequate environment for a home lab.

Google around, you'll see -- the recommendations for running a home lab with Hyper-V are pretty crazy. (Admittedly, this machine would be SWEET! So much RAM...)

Regardless, I tried to make do with what I have. I figured, why not use my gaming rig?

- AMD FX-8350 8-Core Processor

- 16GB RAM

- Samsung SSD (840 Series)

- Various 7200RPM HDD's

- AMD Radeon HD 7870

First, I attempted to run Hyper-V in the native Windows 8.1 environment. It worked, but man, was it pokey.

Next, I decided to dual boot an evaluation version of Windows Server 2012 in its own environment -- now we're talking.

This setup suffices for basic testing of a three-tier SharePoint farm environment, and is surprisingly fast, especially given that all the VM's are running on the same HDD. I set the parameters as follows:

- WFE (Web front end): 4GB RAM, 2 processor cores

- SQL: 6GB RAM, 2 processor cores

- APP (Application server): 4GB RAM, 2 processor cores

- DC1 (Domain controller): 1GB RAM, 1 processor core

Ideally, in the future, I'd love to get a large SSD or hybrid drive to further speed up the environment in the interim before I can get a "real" server! Plus, the SQL Server needs a lot more RAM and processor power, I know...


    Peter Redmer: Online Marketing Specialist, MCP in Chicagoland

    I work with SEO, SEM, online communities, Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint, Yammer, and other digital productivity tools that help companies solve problems and make work easier... and more fun.


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