And so it begins

I’ve been hounded for many moons to begin blogging but never really got around to it for various reasons; too busy, too lazy, no initiative to name a few. If ever there was something that would spark my interest enough to begin this is it, (it- being Adobe bought Macromedia!).

For years I’ve said the main tools for a web “designer” – are generally Flash, Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Illustrator, the thoughts of them being bundled made all the sense in the world, that is of course if they were not by two seperate (and once very much cut-throat) comptetitors. Well I guess that possibility is now very much a reality and I’m quite stoked about it! The thoughts of these great programs possibly being bundled is just fabulous!

Now that I have that out of the way, I guess I’ll explain what my Blog will generally be about. For the most part it will cover SharePoint Customization (gulp!).

I’ll try and cover as many aspects in the creation and UI customization of SharePoint as possible. Those that are starting know the pains, those that are fairly seasoned veterans are still well aware and feel the not-so-fresh wounds.

A small summary of the things I’ll likely cover: Creating SharePoint sites that look like (REAL) websites. DataView’s, Theme creation and setup and all the other quirky little things I’ve learned along the way designing in and for SharePoint using FrontPage 2003.

For the record my “Title” is Creative Lead/Marketing for the Information Worker Solutions division at Infotech Canada. Our main focus over the last several months has been SharePoint development and customization.

As per my nature my Blogs may seem like incoherant ramblings but if you can stick it out I’m sure you’ll find some neat tips.

I’ll try and post step-by-step tutorials whenever possible.

That’s it for now!

MindManager

What a great application! Let me say that again. What a great application!

This past few months have had me writing up a frenzy at work. In fact, I really wish I had a word count on everything I have written because I am sure it would have been a record. The crazy thing is – the topics and types of documents have been all over the place. One minute I am documenting the functionality of an application we are building, the next I am writing instruction lists for Project Server roles, and then I find myself writing a proposal on how SharePoint could help an organization solve their collaboration and communication problems. No kidding – I did all those in the span of 2 days last week. It gets even crazier than that but who wants to go there.

One thing that has kept me sane through all of this is the fact that I have the tools onhand to keep my focused and productive. One of those tools has been MindManager. I find myself starting every writing task the same way. What are my goals? What are the main topics I need to cover? Who I am writing to? Just one big massive brainstorm. Then when I am done I drag things around on the screen till have a reasonable layout of ideas. I then proceed to add notes to each branch to draft out my major thoughts on each item. Finally when things finally start to come together and I see that I have filled out each branch – I export my map to Word and start the real writing process.

It sounds simple but it has made everything SOOO much easier. MindManager integrates with some of my favorite Office apps really well – Word, PowerPoint, Project, and Office. Furthermore it works excellent in both mouse and pen mode, which means it’s an excellent tool whether you have a desktop or a tablet. I have to say – the handwriting in the application is extremely smooth. I would compare it to Windows Journal, which was an application I really loved to write in but abandoned once I became a hardcore OneNote user.

Which brings me to my next point – if MindManager offered an “Export to OneNote” feature – I would be totally hooked. Maybe a future version? Anyhow if you are brainstorm addict like myself – give it a try. My guess is you won’t be sorry.

My Tablet PC is Gone

Not forever…but possibly for a week or so. But after just one day without I am definitely noticing it’s absence.

I haven’t blogged about my Tablet in such a long time. It’s not because I don’t love my tablet – in fact I am pretty sure I will never be without one now (this present week excluded). However I guess with all my excitement over other technologies lately (SharePoint, InfoPath, Project Server, Whidbey, Team System) – some things tend to fade in the background and appreciation for my Tablet is one of them.

I am currently on my third Tablet PC. My first was a Acer C100 and I loved it. However it didn’t quite have the “umph” I needed to make it a permanent weapon in my productivity arsenol.

I then moved onto an Acer C300 and I’m currently using the C302 model that has just a few extras (dvd-rw / extra memory / slightly faster processor). It’s a tablet but it doesn’t mind if I want to run Virtual PC, Photoshop, Illustrator etc… Unlike my previous models.

Overall my satisfaction with both machines from the 300 series is high. However there are a few things that bother me.

In particular it’s the fact that I had to send my Tablet back to Acer today for the 2nd time this year. The first time I returned it – the latch on the back had cracked so bad that I couldn’t open or close it without hearing a MASSIVE snapping sound. This was the 2nd time I had experienced that same issue. This first C300 I had was starting to develop the same issue just before I finished with it. In the end, when I got it back from Acer – it was fixed but there were still some noticable flaws in the latch so I am not 100% sure how long it will be before I experience the problem again.

Today I had to send it back because the power button had become extremely flakey over the past month or so and this morning I couldn’t actually turn it on. Ironically when I checked – there was 1 day left on the warrenty. PHEW! The button had started to fail about 3-4 weeks ago when I was on the road. Not a nice situation. But I found that if I jingled the button slightly it would eventually come on. I wasn’t happy with that solution but I have come to depend on that machine so much over the past year that I really didn’t want give it up for any length of time. Plus the past few months have been so busy – I really couldn’t deal with any hassles associated with returning it.

Another complaint that I have had with the 300 series is that both machines I have had wore extremely fast on the keyboard and surrounding areas. The first 300 I used had virtually no letters left on the keys. After just 3 months, the machine looked older than any laptop I have ever owned. My current model is slightly better but still noticably worn. Not really acceptable for a machine that is less than a year old.

However all those things aside – my tablet is a beast and I love it. The performance of the machine is superb and I really love the fact that is a very powerful laptop in addition to being a Tablet PC. The increased screen size (14″), 1gb of memory, faster processor and dvd-rw drive mad it a massive improvement for me over my original.

The important thing for me to point out however is that for ME a tablet is the optimal choice for a laptop / computer in a work environment. This was something I had decided 2 years ago and it still stands true today.

From a previous post explaining why I love using a Tablet:

I am a note taker. I take a lot of notes and I make a lot of lists. Being a process minded person, I have to document steps for just about everything. A tablet pc allows me to take notes anytime, anywhere. I can share my notes with anyone who wants them, in electronic or hard copy. As well, instead of having 23 different post it notes all over my desk and 5 different note pads blocked full of scribbles, I can have all my information stored in an easily accessible and convenient location.

I like diagrams. Sometimes I can’t see how something is going to look in my head so I draw it out until it feels right. Sometimes I can see something in my head but I still draw it out because I may want to show someone else or by the time I get around to working on it, I may not be able to see it anymore. The tablet is great for drawings and mockups. I can directly paste notes from another document directly next to my diagram to illustrate.

I like being able to multitask or obtain information fast. Sometimes in a meeting it would be inappropriate to be typing away and visually clicking around the screen. The tablet offers discretion.

I enjoy having a personalized whiteboard that I can project notes, drawings or images onto a screen while working with a team. But I enjoy even more being able to save this information for everyone’s reference later rather than having members of the team distracted with recreating it on paper. The shared sessions in OneNote have really improved on this as well.

More importantly I hate paper. But I was never overly comfortable as a screen reader. This has changed drastically for me with the tablet. I now print things for other people usually but use the tablet for reference or notes myself.

In particular, OneNote has helped me consolidate all my information and notes from the past 2 years into a single location. Every client meeting, team gathering, diagram, piece of documentation, every important screenshot – it’s there. And between the search feature and note flag summaries – I can retrieve anything in seconds. You just can’t put a price on that.

So in summary, while I do have some peeves regarding how the Acer C300 is packaged – I love my Tablet and really cannot wait for it to come home. :-a)

Tech*Ed 2005

A busy but productive week. Not only did I manage to clear a few major things from my plate at work but I also finally got my travel and registration confirmed for Tech*Ed 2005 in Orlando. Thank you INETA / Microsoft!!

So if are going to Tech*Ed as well – let me know! I want to swing a GIANT SharePoint gathering while I am there where a bunch of us can go out to dinner, hang and chat about all things SharePoint – let me know if you are interested.

Last Developer Standing

Have you got mad dev skills in .NET? Think they are worth $25K? If so you will totally want to check out the new contest being launched by MSDN Canada called “Last Developer Standing”. We were introduced to the contest during the Deep Dives but they have finally launched the official site. If you live in Canada – this is an AWESOME contest!

First off – let me start by saying that even if you don’t consider yourself skilled enough to win the main prize – you should still sign up. There are lots of totally cool instant prizes and this is an excellent chance to get some solid training and good experience. Any day you can learn something new and walk away with a free Xbox or Portable Media Center equals a very good day!

Secondly – if you think you are good. Now is the time to show it. Not only could you win a prize of $25K but you could gain some excellent recognition and exposure out there as one of the best. And in this market…it pays to get noticed.

So for more details check out the site…but don’t wait too long – you only have till May 2nd to sign up!

From Site…

Every two weeks, for 16 weeks, you’ll have the opportunity to strut your stuff while learning about Microsoft Visual Basic development system or Microsoft Visual C# development tool. It’s a great opportunity for you to get valuable hands-on training, education and resources.

If you answer all the questions in every module correctly or answer the highest percentage of questions right out of all contestants, you could be crowned the Last Developer Standing and receive $25,000 from Microsoft. Even if you get knocked out of the running for the grand prize, you can still receive the learning modules and have many chances to win.