How Small Business Benefits from Microsoft Office 365

This post was sponsored by Microsoft Office 365 and Cloud Powered Work, but all opinions expressed are mine.

How Your Small Business Can Benefit from Microsoft Office 365
Even the smallest of businesses run by the smallest of people can benefit big time from Microsoft Office 365. [Image shared by Mark Anderson via Flickr]
Small businesses have a lot of competition, so it’s important for you to take advantage of all the technology available to help increase productivity and enhance the workplace. Microsoft Office 365 is a cloud-based subscription service hosted by Microsoft, and it offers your small business many benefits that will help you run your company more efficiently. There are different plans to choose from, so you’re sure to find one that suits your business needs and budget.

Microsoft Office 365 makes it possible for you to continue using all of the MS programs that you use in your office now — even when you’re away from your desk. Just imagine how convenient having Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, OneNote, Access, Excel, and other programs available almost anywhere or anytime you need them would be for your business! Handling daily operations no longer means being confined behind a desk.

One of the benefits you’re sure to appreciate with this service is having access to the newest versions of your business applications as soon as they’re available. The new versions load quickly and all your information is automatically saved, so it couldn’t be any easier to use. Now that you know a little about this service, here are some more ways it can benefit your small business.

You’ll Have Mobile Access with Microsoft Office 365

This service makes it possible for your business to use your favorite applications while on the go. Having mobile access to your documents through SharePoint Online — in addition to your other applications — will make your business more productive. You’ll never be late for a business meeting because you had to make copies of the files you need or work late to take part in an important conference call because you can do all of this through Skype or file sharing using your smart phone or tablet.

Imaging how much more productive your small business will be when you have access to file sharing. You can exchange information between your staff with very little effort to keep everyone updated and in the loop. You can also share information with clients or exchange important documents with business partners. You can stay updated on all the latest news and information concerning your small business no matter where you are and that will greatly benefit your company.

How many times have you run across important information you needed to keep track of or had some amazing idea you needed to remember when you’re out of the office? It’s difficult to keep track of things like this when you’re on the go, but when you have access to OneNote, your problem is solved. Mining Productivity from Mobile Strategies will make your company more productive, set you apart from the competition, and help you build stronger relationships with your clients and business partners by providing reliable and professional service.

You’ll Have More Freedom with Microsoft Office 365

Being flexible and having the freedom to work out in the field without jeopardizing the relationship you have with existing clients and business partners can greatly benefit your small business. This gives you the freedom you need to go out, meet, and socialize with potential clients to enhance your business so you can meet your long-term goals.

You can stay in touch with employees through instant messaging and you’ll never be late or miss an appointment that you forgot about because you’ll always have access to your calendar. You can view and edit documents while on the go without changing the formatting and even prepare for business meetings in the hotel room when traveling because you’ll have access to all of the same information you would have in your office.

You can also sort and respond to emails using Microsoft Office 365 so it can help improve the time it takes for you to respond to clients. This will make a big impression with the clients because people appreciate receiving a response to their questions or problems in a timely fashion. Since you will no longer be tied down to answering your emails just when you’re in the office, you can send a reply anytime it’s convenient for you.

Having this much freedom will also help liberate some of your time when you’re in the office to take care of other important business because you won’t have so many emails to catch up on. Checking and answering emails when you’re out of the office will help you spread the workload out a little. This makes you more productive because you have the services needed to multi-task more efficiently.

Microsoft Office 365 is Safe to Use

Keeping your company’s information — and that of your clients — private and safe is top priority for any business and you won’t have to worry about it when you use Microsoft Office 365. Anti-malware and spam protection is built in to help keep your information safe from unauthorized users. You don’t have to worry about Microsoft using any of your documents or emails for advertising purposes either, because it will not scan any of your information. You can relax and enjoy complete privacy.

Another great benefit of using this service is that you won’t have to worry about viruses sent through emails that can damage your files because everything is scanned before it reaches your inbox. You won’t have to worry about equipment failures or updates because Microsoft’s premier data centers are reliable.

Are You Ready to Enjoy Some of the Benefits That Office 365 Offers?

These are just some of the ways your small business can benefit from Office 365. The exact services you have access to will depend on which plan you choose, but all of them offer you more freedom to run your business in a professional and efficient manner. As Cloud adoption grows, productivity follows and you don’t want to miss out on all the benefits.

Small businesses can struggle just to keep up, so anything you can do to set your company apart from the rest will help you grow and thrive. Increasing productivity and having the freedom to conduct business efficiently when you’re not in the office will greatly benefit your company and that is what Microsoft Office 365 is all about.

Unified Communications Will Increase Productivity

Does your business follow the practice of unified communications? Properly utilized, it can be a powerful and essential tool that will help your business prosper. This post was sponsored by Microsoft Office 365 and Cloud Powered Work, but all opinions expressed are mine.

Unified Communications Will Increase Productivity

Unified Communications Increase Productivity
Does your business follow the practice of unified communications? Properly utilized, it can be a powerful and essential tool that will help your business prosper. [Image shared by Urs Steiner via Flickr]
Unified communications is a very important part of any business because it closes the gap and gives users more control over their companies. When handled correctly, it can help to increase productivity so your company can grow and thrive, which is vital if you want to survive in this very competitive world. What are some communication challenges that your company faces? What tools are you using to combat these issues?

Small businesses face many challenges and how you deal with them determines the future of the company. Therefore, you need ways to communicate efficiently and increase productivity if you want to accomplish your short and long-term goals.

Unified communications is steadily growing in popularity as a business trend. It offers more ways to communicate using modern technology that allows you to stay in touch with and have access to your files and other important information when you’re not in the office. Just think, a few years ago, we would not have been able to communicate so quickly and easily with our business teams.

You can achieve unified communications by using a cloud-based enterprise productivity solution such as Microsoft Office 365. Let’s explore how this business trend can help your company succeed.

Staying in Touch

Communications is a very important part of any business. If communications break down, every aspect of your business will follow, right? On the other hand, if you have the ability to stay in touch with and to share information with your employees, business associates and clients at all times, it will greatly enhance productivity and your company will run more efficiently. It could mean the difference between gaining a new client and missing out on a golden opportunity.

You never know when or where you’ll run into a potential client or someone who could be a valuable supporter of your company and you’ll want to have a way to share information with that person while they’re in the mood to hear it. Having unified communications where you have access to company documents through a mobile device and being able to share this information could make a huge difference in securing the deal.

Implementing mobile services into the workplace is an excellent business strategy, which can help your company reach both your short and long-term goals. These services include but are not limited to email, text messaging, web chat and file sharing. With the right services, you can make mobile productivity a reality for your company and that is what unified communications is all about.

Understanding Mobile Productivity

Making mobile productivity a reality simply means providing you and your employees with a way to access certain applications through mobile devices. When you can share documents, receive and send emails, and even hold meetings and conferences from a mobile device, you have the freedom to handle many tasks associated with daily operations while taking care of other important business.

For example, employees can have access to important documents and share information with potential clients at trade shows and other special events. This will make sharing information more convenient and you’ll look more professional and organized than you would if you’re carrying around a briefcase full of papers.

Take a few minutes to think about how having access to your email where you can send and receive messages anywhere, at any time, will greatly enhance your response time to questions or concerns from your clients or business associates. Responding quickly helps your company build a positive reputation that will increase brand awareness and sales. It will help you maintain a good relationship with all those who help support your company.

Unified Communications Encourages Teamwork and Reduces Downtime

Unifying communications through mobile devices can help to encourage teamwork among your employees and it can help to reduce employee downtime. When your staff can communicate with each other using instant messaging, email and file sharing services no matter where they are, it encourages teamwork because it makes it easy for them to work together. They can also set up video calls between clients to help support your business and to encourage more sales.

Reaching for the brass ring of productivity in cloud apps can take your company to new heights by reducing downtime and helping employees use their time more wisely. Here’s a good example of how this works. Imagine how much downtime you could save conveying important information by holding business meetings between employees and management using video chat or Skype on mobile devices instead of meeting in person.

You could share documents through the file sharing services, exchange information, and hold discussions just like you would do in person. However, employees would not have to leave their workstations to make a special trip to participate in the meetings.

This would also save you time in planning out the meetings because all you need to do is set aside a special time that everyone knows about and they can participate in the meeting no matter where they are. Therefore, using cloud apps on your mobile devices will help increase productivity by helping to reduce employee downtime.

Primary Function of Unified Communications

The primary function of unified communications is to use all forms of communications available to your company in such a way that it will enhance business and keep your company running smoothly. Using mobile devices to conduct daily operations will allow you to do business in real time, which will help you and your employees use your time more efficiently. By doing this, you’ll automatically increase productivity and build a great reputation for your company in the process.

Using a service like Microsoft Office 365 will help your business run more smoothly than ever before. It allows employees to make good use of their time by providing them with access to files, documents, emails, and more using mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones. It allows you to travel to meet with clients or to represent your company at special events while still having complete access to everything you need to run your business efficiently.

Keeping the lines of communication open helps to prevent misunderstandings and it makes it easier to stay organized. It makes you appear more professional in the eyes of the consumers and that will help earn their trust and respect.

What are some ways your business uses unified communications to help increase productivity?

Boosting Business Productivity with Advanced Technology

Are you in search of a way to boost your business productivity with advanced technology? This post was sponsored by Microsoft Office 365 and Cloud Powered Work, but all opinions expressed are mine.

Boosting Business Productivity with Advanced Technology
Business productivity may not be boosted by the advanced technology that dreamers of 1946 imagined we’d be enjoying in the 21st century, but what we do have may be even better than flying cars. [Image shared by x-ray delta via Flickr]
Technology can be both a lifesaver and the bane of existence for a busy company today. No matter how small or large your business, you encounter some forms of technology on a daily basis. We even have technology to protect us for when our technology fails us.

A great business team will be able to work with the technology it has effectively and efficiently. Technology chosen for your company is specifically a strategic business asset. It is an investment and often it doesn’t come cheap. You need to be able to justify the costs for software, hardware, and programs that help your business run more productively. What works for one business may not be the best choice for another, so it’s all about exploring your options and finding the best to reach your needs.

Let’s look at some ways that programs help boost business productivity.

Boosting Business Productivity with Team Collaboration and Organization

Cloud and team collaboration tools can be useful when you have multiple people working on a project or parts of a project together. This allows each individual to do their part simultaneously or in conjunction with other members of the team doing their parts so that it all comes together in the end. You can also easily check on deadlines, status reports of each person, and see progress in real time.

The great thing about team collaboration tools is that they allow you to be productive and communicate effectively no matter where each team member is located. They’re especially great for remote workers and telecommuting employees.

Your team members can also work efficiently while on the go with programs that sync between devices and mobile technology like smart phones. You and your employees can stay connected to the business and communications no matter where you are. This is something that simply wasn’t possible 10 or 20 years ago. There are keys to successful virtual collaboration that will help your team stay on target and complete their goals.

Boosting Business Productivity with Security

Businesses of all shapes and sizes also know that they will face a number of security threats. Online and system security are some of the biggest risks you need to minimize for a successful business. The operating system you choose to run in office/business computers can help boost security, as well as any added programs, firewalls, and spyware/adware software.

Some businesses also choose to run DNS blocking of certain domains and material on their business networks. For example, you might block all social networking tools to worker computers in order to boost productivity and enhance performance.

Drive encryption and anti-malware programs give you the ultimate data protection. If a business system gets infected, you will suffer lost wages and time, lost productivity, and even worse, you could be severely hacked and your data compromised. Prevention is always the best solution versus treating these problems after they occur.

Boosting Business Productivity with Financial Management

Another way that technology boosts productivity within a business is with financial management. You can use tools to aid with accounting processing and procedures, which take a lot of man hours when done manually and can contain errors that would be monumentally detrimental to the financial safety of your business. There are invoicing, billing, and company payroll matters to deal with, not to mention utilities and business expenses, insurance, and more.

A great financial management program can shave hours of time off of bookkeeping efforts and also ensures you have everything done correctly. Some popular programs include FreshBooks, Intuit Online Payroll (formerly PayCycle), QuickBooks, NetSuite, and Microsoft Dynamics.

Boosting Business Productivity with Backups and Data Protection

What’s worse than losing important data with no backup right when you need it the most? There is very little that compares to this in the business sense. We live in a data-driven economy and without direct, constant data availability, your business will suffer.

30% of all businesses that have a major fire go out of business within a year. 70% fail within five years. (Source: Home Office Computing Magazine). Are you prepared for disaster? These businesses fail in part due to lack of backup data or adequate, updated backup data. Depending on the severity of the loss, it can be impossible to ever bounce back if you’re not prepared in advance with protection against data loss.

And it’s not just a temporary loss like fire that can destroy a company quickly. 93% of companies that lost their data center for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster. 50% of businesses that found themselves without data management for this same time period filed for bankruptcy immediately. (Source: National Archives and Records Administration in Washington)

So as you can see, even a short period of data loss can be catastrophic to your business. You need the security that comes with data protection and backups. Knowing that you have data protection and backups will also increase business productivity, which increases your bottom line.

Boosting Business Productivity with Virtual Office Space

Yet another benefit to technology and productivity is the access to virtual office space. We now have the tools needed to work nearly anywhere. Not so long ago, it seemed like a crazy idea, but now virtual offices can be successful. The tools that technology brings us make what was once impossible now easier than ever. Today, it’s likely that nearly every employee you have can do what they do from their home office or virtual office. This benefits productivity in many ways. It also gives you and your employees more flexibility, which also increases success in business.

There are many tricks and tools that technology brings us for business productivity — far too many to list in one article — but these are some of the major pain points for businesses and how technology can help combat these issues and make things easier, more productive, and more efficient for your business and your employees. In the long run, this means an increased ROI and employee security.

What types of technology does your business use for increased productivity?

You Can’t Take My Desktop Away, Windows 8

You Can't Take My Desktop Away, Windows 8
This image is my desktop and the wallpaper is free to use by AliceXZ on deviantART. Check out her amazing BBC Sherlock artwork and contribute!

However you’ve come upon Windows 8 — if you have at all — it’s likely been preceded by at least some history with older versions of the popular Microsoft operating system. My first taste of Windows on a computer of my own was Windows 3.2. It was nothing really to write home about, mind you, but it was like going to a warm, familiar library where I knew the location of every book, every card stack, and every magazine — and even though the magazines were regularly stolen by unscrupulous patrons, it was just an accepted part of library life.

Yes, Windows 3.2 was familiar and warm, and when Windows 95 was released, I warmed to that version and the versions that were released after that. They were great, weren’t they? Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows XP were with me all along the way on my personal journey of computing enlightenment. They provided me with an open and inviting spot from which to learn and grow as well as relax and play.

That inviting spot? The desktop.

Yes, I know. The desktop is just a small part of what comprises Windows and I know that a thousand people will bring their snobbish, tech-savvy pitchforks to my door and proclaim their love for any other thing about Windows, and that’s a-okay. But my favorite thing about Windows has always been that clean (well, mine is clean) place where I can save things to its surface, display images of my choosing, and keep it all sorted and easily accessed according to my personal habits of organization and whimsy.

Desktop Represents Ease of Use

Keep in mind that what is primarily important — to any operating system — is ease of use, you know? Windows gave me the opportunity to use my desktop as a hub while I delicately wove in and out of its brains, and that was what I grew up with. So imagine my surprise when Windows 8 came along and Microsoft had decided that the desktop just wasn’t a “thing” anymore. Instead of it being center stage, you could “choose” to use it if you so wanted, but it was no longer a default feature. In fact, to access it, I had to actually select it and make sure things installed to it instead of a Windows 8 app. Yes, I had to work around those godforsaken apps because I’m a purist. I didn’t want to click on a button and then see my desktop; I just wanted it to be there, like a familiar friend, holding the Steam game icons that I played the most and letting me know that Spotify was merely a click away.

Oh, did I have some files I wanted to peek in on? They were right there, splayed out for the world to see. Image files, notepad files, and even lecture videos that my professor gave to us to study for the week. There you go, Candice!

No Desktop for You!

However, Windows 8 figured that I didn’t give a damn about all that. In the trendy metroblogofashionsphere of the Internet (I made that up. Don’t steal it), I wasn’t hip anymore. People used apps, man! Why would you need a desktop and i… kaunz? Icons? What did they call those? Why would I need those when I’ve got all those apps?

Because some of us didn’t sign up for this Metro style change of apps over icons being brought to my computer. My computer is my computer because it isn’t my phone. Whoah, did that make sense? Hold on, keep it together. I simply mean that my charming Windows Phone 7 is a beautiful piece of machinery because it knows that I have a computer on which to compute. When you turn my PC into a larger, far more expensive Windows Phone, I suddenly start wondering if I need myself another computer.

Okay, You Can Have a Desktop. But Jump Through These Hoops First!

Thankfully, Windows 8 doesn’t want you to abandon all hope and it does allow you to install Windows 7 programs to your desktop. You can re-route yourself away from the apps by simply, well, ignoring them. When I boot up my computer and it puts me on the App screen, I simply act like a snotty, stereotypical white golfer near an ethnic caddy in the 1920s. I put my hand up against my cheek and keep walking until I hit the green, you know? (The green in this analogy is my desktop. Keep up, kids.) It’s not that I think the App screen isn’t valued in the community, but I really just want to get to the green. You understand, right?

I’d like to point out that I would never condone racism. Not even a little. My president is black.

Don’t I Know What’s Best for Me?

Back to the subject of Windows 8 and my desktop: I’m unsure why Microsoft thought “trendy” and “hip” meant that we may not need something as integral as a desktop. Are there truly people out there who don’t think it’s necessary anymore? With all those apps, I’m sure that people can learn to avoid using a desktop, but what about those who were taught all these years that the desktop wasn’t a dirty and cumbersome thing? We were taught by Microsoft to appreciate the desktop in the first place and now we’re told to compute without restrictions, supposedly. “Here, you don’t need this as much anymore,” and Microsoft has suddenly turned my safe zone into a Starbucks.

How about you guys? Do you use the desktop more and find Windows 8 and its focus on apps to be slightly troubling to get used to? Perhaps you think re-routing is too simple to merit any complaint, or maybe you just use a Mac and think this whole thing makes no sense! Sound off below and tell us how you got through the new changes and overly complicated path to the desktop.

Top 10 Free Microsoft Games for Windows 7

Free Microsoft games in Windows 7 are abundant, but not always easy for everyone to find (which is probably how you came to find this page in the first place). To make it less of a chore for you, fair reader, we will outline 10 free Microsoft games that you can find on your Windows 7 machine.

These games come standard with Windows 7 and are free to play. If you want to access them, you can use the Games folder via the Start button and search for games in the provided field.

Here’s a rundown of the top 10 free Microsoft games for Windows 7. Enjoy!

Free Microsoft Games: Checkers

Free Microsoft Games: Internet CheckersThe game of Checkers — otherwise known as draughts to my friends in the UK — is one of the oldest and most popular games in the world. Even newer games with more advanced graphics can’t beat this timeless classic (as a Tetris fanatic, my position on the matter of gameplay over graphics is probably obvious by now).

The Microsoft Windows 7 version comes with the ability to play against people from all over the world with use of the Internet. The difficulty ranges from beginner to intermediate and expert. It’s a great way to spend a lazy afternoon, if you have that luxury.

Free Microsoft Games: Backgammon

Free Microsoft Games: BackgammonLike Checkers, Backgammon is an age-old favorite that can be played over the Internet against an opponent from anywhere in the world. It’s got dice. It’s got a board. It’s got little playing pieces called “stones.” The object is to remove all of your stones from the board before the other player does.

In the Bizarro World, they play Frontgammon and try to pile on as many stones as possible before the opponent gets sick and tired of playing and just gives up. A typical Frontgammon match can last for three or four years, which means there are no free Microsoft games to approximate the experience because new versions of Windows come out too frequently.

Free Microsoft Games: Spades

Free Microsoft Games: SpadesSpades is fast-paced card game that takes place between two teams of two players each (that’s a total of four! Me math good like I write English good!); the goal is to be the first team to get to 500 points… or the last to get to negative 200 points.

If you’re a lousy partner, your teammate suffers for it, so being able to make strategic decisions and guess how many “tricks” — that is, rounds — it will take to win is of paramount importance if you want to make a name for yourself on the international Internet Spades circuit.

Think, McFly. Think!”

Free Microsoft Games: Chess Titans

Free Microsoft Games: Chess TitansAh, Chess! It’s the classic strategy game — excellent for kings in courts and paupers in parks for keeping the old grey matter in working order.

Chess Titans comes with premium editions of Microsoft Windows 7 and brings the timeless strategy game to life with 3D graphics and three materials from which to choose for your playing pieces of choice: porcelain (great for playing on the john), marble (for when you’ve lost yours), and wooden (if you want to beat your opponent into pulp).

Chess Titans can be played from difficulty level one (easiest) to 10 (most challenging).

Free Microsoft Games: Mahjong Titans

Free Microsoft Games: Mahjong TitansMahjong Titans is like a combination of solitaire and the ancient Chinese game of Mahjong.

The idea is to match pairs of tiles from the board and remove them until all of the tiles have been removed from the board. This is a great single player game and the difficulty system varies by tile layout, with some layouts being easier or more difficult depending on your skill.

Mahjong Titans is available in premium editions of Microsoft Windows 7.

Free Microsoft Games: Minesweeper

Free Microsoft Games: MineSweeperMinesweeper is one of the most iconic Microsoft Windows games, and it’s back with a slightly improved UI.

This game is deceptively simple. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to uncover all of the empty squares on the board and avoid the mines that are hidden throughout. Accidentally uncover a mine and Boom! Game over.

For some reason, it’s the simplest games that can be the most addicting, and Minesweeper is among the simplest. Beware!

Free Microsoft Games: FreeCell

Free Microsoft Games: FreeCellFreeCell is among the classic free Microsoft games for your Windows 7 machine; it’s another form of solitaire played with a single deck of cards.

The key to your victory is utilizing the four free cells, hence the name, in the top left-hand corner of the screen.

There is only one difficulty level and one player for this game; in spite of this, there is no guarantee that the game will get boring, because each level will be different and will present you with a myriad of different and unique challenges and obstacles.

Free Microsoft Games: Hearts

Free Microsoft Games: HeartsThis version of Hearts is a bit like Spades (above), but you’re a single player against three computer opponents in a man (or woman, as the case may be) vs. machine battle royale!

The aim of this game is to avoid taking undesirable cards, like the hearts and the queen of spades, to get the lowest possible score.

Hearts is simple and, as such, can be quite addicting. You are warned!

Free Microsoft Games: Solitaire

Free Microsoft Games: SolitairePossibly even more iconic than Minesweeper in the free Microsoft games canon is the one we’ve all played at one time or another (just admit it!): Solitaire.

Solitaire is basically a game played against oneself. It uses one deck of cards, and the object is to order the deck into its four suits — hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades — from ace to king.

Don’t get it right the first time around? Don’t worry. You can just keep playing it again… and again… and again until you do. And then you’ll probably play it again.

Free Microsoft Games: Spider Solitaire

Free Microsoft Games: Spider SolitaireWhat’s wrong? Plain ol’ Solitaire ain’t good enough for you? Fine. We’ll up the ante and make it a little more challenging.

Spider Solitaire is played with two decks of cards. The object of this game is to remove all of the cards from the screen. However, you have to do this in the least amount of moves.

You remove cards by making a complete stack of cards in descending order. This is unlike Solitaire, where you’re making a stack in ascending order.

This game comes in three difficulty levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

Free Microsoft Games: Purble Place

Free Microsoft Games: Purble PlacePurble Place is a three-in-one game that’s designed to teach kids memory, pattern recognition, and reasoning skills. The three games come in the regular three difficulty levels of beginner, intermediate, and advanced. The games are:

  • Comfy Cakes — A game that makes you chef in the Purble Place bakery where you have to complete cakes for the discerning customers of the bakery. The cakes come fast, so you’d better bring your A game.
  • Purble Shop — The game that tests your child’s problem solving/deduction powers. The object of this game is to make your Purble’s face match the mystery Purble behind the curtain. A bit like the childhood favorite of Guess Who.
  • Purble Pairs — Your goal in this game is to find matching pairs. Flip over the tiles until you find two that match. It’s like another childhood favorite called Snap.

As should be obvious by this list, you don’t have to spend a lot of money — or even any — to play games nowadays. If you’ve got Windows 7, you’ve got a bunch of options (and even moreso with premium versions) for free Microsoft games.

However, if none of these are of any interest to you, there is one other option that I can give you from Microsoft that works with Windows 7.

Free Microsoft Games: Microsoft Flight

Free Microsoft Games: Microsoft FlightWhile Microsoft Flight isn’t included with Windows 7 itself, it can be downloaded from Steam for free.

Microsoft Flight is designed to take over from its much beloved Microsoft Flight Simulator X. However, I do know of a few people who don’t like it compared to its predecessor — or even Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004. Since it’s free, you can check it out and decide for yourself!

Do you know of any free Microsoft games that we missed? Do you like any of these games? Let us know in the comments!

Home Office Tools to Transform Your Business

Are you in search of home office tools to transform your business? This post was sponsored by Microsoft Office 365 and Cloud Powered Work, but all opinions expressed are mine.

Home Office Tools
What are your home office tools of choice?

As we’ve discussed, virtual offices are finally being accepted as a way for business owners and employees, alike, to trim some pretty big overhead costs — like space rental and fuel spent commuting — from budgets. Of course, work is still work and making sure that the job at hand gets done is the most important consideration that your business must take into account.

Let’s be honest: some people are more cut out to work from home than others. The line dividing work life from private life can be a little blurry for even the most disciplined among us, and making sure that we have the home office tools to succeed helps sharpen and define that line.

Home Office Tools That You Don’t Need

Distraction is a sneaky beast that haunts us all from time to time. If you find that you’re easily distracted, you want to make sure that your home office tools are optimal toward helping you focus. Television probably tops my list of what not to include in a home office. “Executive” toys like Newton’s cradles or magnetic sculpture blocks can also be distracting, but I do realize that everyone’s got their own process; one person’s distraction is another’s inspiration.

The Tix clocks that you see in my home office may be distracting to some, for instance, but I find them soothing. They really transform my home office into a place where matters of great import are constantly taking place and make me feel like I’m in the control room of my very own spacefaring vessel! The bright lights beckon me toward destinations unknown (and if you watch my videos, you get to enjoy the ride with me). Onward! I mean business!

The rule of thumb here is that you should examine your home office and analyze what works toward your progress and what works against it. Eliminate anything that distracts you more than it directs you.

Home Office Tools That You Do Need

An ergonomic chair, a comfortable desk, a printer, a scanner, a fax machine (yes, some people still use these, and having a fax option on hand will save you trips to the local copy shop), a home office suite like Microsoft Office 365, and a computer with broadband Internet are all pretty standard fare as far as home office tools go — they’re the hammers and screwdrivers in your toolbox.

Let’s take a look at some of the hex keys and needle nose pliers in your toolbox — the home office tools that may not be part of the basic set, but will still come in handy when you’re up against the unforeseen circumstances and surprise deadlines that come with home office territory.

IdeaPaint

Having a whiteboard with an erasable marker on hand or even a chalkboard to sketch out projects is a fine idea, but IdeaPaint takes this a step further by allowing you to turn your very wall into a brainstorming pad.

Sure, your kids may have already taken the initiative and done the same with a box of crayons, but IdeaPaint actually lets you erase your creative spurts and write new ones — again and again, just like you would with a whiteboard or chalkboard.

This is a $200 kit that includes a roller and the special whiteboard paint. All you need to do is add a primer to the wall and, once the primer has dried, paint on the whiteboard paint.

Encrypted Network or Flash Drive

Keeping your data secret and safe is more than just wise advice from some sagely wizard house guest — I’d include it here as a fairly important component to your business strategy. Having an encrypted network or flash drive gives the information generated and stored by your home office a hack-resistant buffer against the evils of competitors and mischievious ne’er-do-wells, alike.

And while protecting your data against the designs of nefarious humans is crucial, this leads us to the next entry in the list of home office tools…

Network Attached Storage or Offsite Backup

At this stage of the game, nobody should have to tell you to back up your data. And while this is one of those things that many neglect until the inevitable hard drive crash happens and the lesson is learned the hard way, even more neglected is the need to have a backup of the backup.

While it may seem like overkill, having your data backed up on network attached storage (NAS) or — I would even say and — offsite backup services like SkyDrive will be much appreciated if anything ever happens to the physical location of wherever that data is held.

Power surges, natural disasters, coffee-spilling mishaps, giant monster rampages, or just plain old hard drive wear and tear from regular usage can strike at any time. Redundancy in triplicate is far from overkill — just be sure to keep those backups current!

All-In-One Wi-Fi Enabled Printer

Sure, this combines some of the basic home office tools I mentioned above as being standard, but an all-in-one Wi-Fi enabled printer is like a Swiss Army knife that does the job of many devices while saving space and cash.

The average models today will scan, copy, and print — some will even fax — with Wi-Fi capabilities giving you the added flexibility of being able to work from your laptop or tablet in another part of the house if your home office is feeling a little too familiar and you need a change of scenery.

Digital Camera with Video Capability

If you’re producing videos for YouTube or you’re selling items on eBay, you will want a digital camera with the ability to shoot video among your home office tools. Luckily, most digital cameras coming out these days are able to capture video (with varying levels of quality, obviously). Shopping for what’s right to suit your specific needs would entail a completely different post, but you’ve got quite a few options available.

Your smart phone or tablet may even fit the bill if your needs are simple enough. Oh! Which reminds me…

Smart Phone or Tablet Computer

Chances are, if you’re technologically savvy enough to have your own modern home office, you’ve probably invested in one — or even both — of these gadgets. If not, you probably have your reasons, but I, for one, can’t imagine being anywhere near as productive as I am without them.

Even if you don’t regularly use data through your phone and you really just use your phone the old-fashioned way (you know, to talk to people and stuff), having the option when you’re in a pinch can really save the day.

Even if you prefer to use a laptop with a “real” keyboard as your device of choice when you need to get out of your home office, tablets are so much more portable and most (if not all) can be outfitted with keyboards. Honestly, I have a hard time seeing traditional laptops and notebooks being on the market at all in the next few years as more people get on board with the tablet experience (and tablets, themselves, get better).

Community Question: Do you have any home office tools that may help other business owners? Please leave a comment below and share them with the rest of us!

Office 365 Versus Office 2013

This post has been sponsored by Microsoft Office 365 and Cloud Powered Work, but all opinions expressed are mine.

Chris Pirillo on Office 365A few months ago I mentioned Office 365, Microsoft’s subscription-based and cloud-integrated version of Office. Now I spend a lot of money on applications, but when it comes to software I’m not using every day (or often enough to justify spending more money on), I don’t see any reason to upgrade to the latest version unless I’m either truly in need of the latest features or truly enchanted by the more polished user experience that is usually being offered with newer versions of software. With only a cursory glance at the software, it didn’t seem necessary for me to provide an Office 365 versus Office 2013 type of study. From my view, Microsoft just seemed to be catching up with Google Docs in the way that it integrates its office suite of applications with the cloud. What else was there to say about it? Even so, I felt the service was undeniably valuable for those who regularly use Microsoft Office as their primary productivity suite.

Has my position changed since I first passed over Office 365? Not entirely, but it’s now much more informed. Having only glanced at the latest implementation of Office back in January, I continued using Google Docs as my main productivity and collaboration platform, not truly considering the full potential of using Office 365 versus Office 2013. Microsoft now truly offers the type of synergistic functionality I’ve been enjoying with Google Docs for some time. I’ve gotten so used to taking advantage of Google’s free (some would say “personal data-gathering” rather than “free”) offerings that until now I just didn’t see the need to make the jump back to Microsoft. The majority of what I do is cut, copy, and paste, and for those purposes I probably don’t even need to use Google’s offerings. There are a lot of other solutions I could use, perhaps even something that involves free/libre open source software (FLOSS) such as OpenOffice. Yet even as I consider what I’m suggesting, I recall the many occasions I’ve gone the FLOSS route only to reach a remarkably well-developed cul-de-sac. And as propertied as that end of the street may be, I typically find myself having to seek out another pathway in order to complete the journey of my work.

FLOSS office suites are great for many purposes, but getting any real amount of collaborative tasks accomplished over the Web using free software usually requires a scenario involving more than one complicated application. Google Docs currently enables me to work on documents with others in a nearly seamless manner, though it’s not quite as polished an experience as Microsoft Office. In other words, it works well enough for my purposes. If I was a regular Microsoft Office user today, I’d be ecstatic to find that Office 365 has reached and perhaps surpassed the level of collaborative value that Google Docs has been offering for some time now. I’m now taking a closer look at Redmond’s latest offerings, and though I recognized Office 365‘s value before, I’m beginning to more fully appreciate the product’s evolution — and how worthwhile an upgrade both Office 365 and Office 2013 offer, particularly for those already accustomed to using the productivity suite.

Office 365 Versus Office 2013: Familiarity and Comfort

Before I run my Office 365 versus Office 2013 comparison, let me go over a few areas I believe Microsoft’s office software trumps its competitors. I’ll begin with familiarity. Who can dispute the familiarity of Microsoft Office, the standard-bearer in office productivity suites for over two decades? Unless you spend most of your days in Chalmun’s Cantina, chances are you’ve at one time or another opened a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet, or a PowerPoint presentation. Microsoft Office is familiar to the vast majority of computer users, and as at least one Forrester researcher recently pointed out, will continue to be the primary office software for millions of PC users. The same researcher also indicated that Microsoft needs to deliver Office to tablets (and sooner rather than later), a point I wholeheartedly agree with. As I said earlier this year, if Office 365 makes its way to the iPad, I’m a subscriber.

There’s the old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.” The generally accepted meaning behind the saying is that we lose respect for the people or the things we have the most experience with. I used to be a heavy advocate of Microsoft products, having grown up with DOS and Windows, and I still test out everything the company delivers and intend to continue doing so. Several years ago, however, I strayed toward the Apple side of things. This culminated in my purchase of a Mac Pro just over five years ago. The overall user experience Apple had to offer at the time seemed more attractive than Windows Vista. Was I unhappy with the familiar? Possibly. It’s often the unfamiliar and mysterious “other” that one desires most. I didn’t feel contempt for Microsoft — I still loved Microsoft at the time, and still hunger for more of the company’s products to test — but my overall experience with its products back in 2008 had reached the point where it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as it had once been.

That doesn’t mean that Microsoft had anything less to offer than Apple. Apple’s offerings were different (apologies for bringing to mind an old marketing phrase), and more suited to my needs at the time. The more I dabbled with Mac OS X and iOS, the more I moved away from Windows Vista and Windows Mobile (the latter being the precursor to Windows Phone). But Apple didn’t offer everything I needed. As much as I’ve enjoyed my time dealing with what was once a relatively unfamiliar platform, I must admit I’ve missed a few of the tools I’d grown accustomed to using on Windows, including Office. I only turned toward Google Docs because Apple didn’t offer the type of online collaboration platform that I was seeking, but Google was. Google Docs also offered an experience that resembled Office enough to suit my needs, more or less, and as the years have passed I’ve grown used to the way Google Docs works — hiccups and all. With Office 365, Microsoft is offering the type of interactivity between applications and the cloud that I wish it had offered years ago. There would’ve been no reason for me to rely on Google to meet my needs if Office 365 had looked as good as it is beginning to look to me now.

Regardless of whether familiarity breeds contempt or not, one thing is undeniable: familiarity brings with it a level of comfort. Both Office 365 and Office 2013 offer the comfort of familiarity, and Microsoft is working hard to maintain that for its users, preferring to work more on polishing the user experience of its Office products than to introduce unneeded features. More on that in a bit.

Office 365 Versus Office 2013: Research and Experience

Microsoft may be perceived as following Google’s lead in the online collaborative platform space, but the fact is that both Office 2013 and Office 365 have been a long time in the making. Since Office is one of Microsoft’s bread-and-butter products, the company took its sweet time developing the latest iteration(s) of what is probably the most-used software in the world. With the resources to take the time improving its product to meet the needs of its customers and with the opportunity to watch how consumers and businesses collaborate using online productivity suites, Microsoft may have developed better products over all than its competitors. Both Office 2013 and Office 365 clearly benefit from Microsoft’s vast resources and years of research and experience in the areas of office software development and cloud computing solutions.

Prior versions of Office weren’t as seamlessly connected to the cloud as the latest versions, but it’s not like Microsoft hadn’t been experimenting with Web-based applications while working on the next iterations. Office 365 is a direct descendant of Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), an earlier foray into cloud-based services that was aimed primarily at business users. And even those who’ve never used Office know that Microsoft’s Xbox platform is one of the most Web-connected products in the world, offering an interactive experience that provided a type of testing ground for the company’s research and development department(s). So although it was slow to perfect the collaborative aspects of its Office products, Microsoft has excelled at implementing cloud-based services for quite some time.

Office 2013 similarly benefits from all this research. The more “traditional” version of Office looks and behaves in a manner quite similar to its forebears while also being more connected to the cloud. Yet although Office 2013 is more cloud-based than previous versions, it still utilizes the cloud somewhat less than Office 365. As mentioned before, Office 365 is descended from other cloud-based services Microsoft introduced some years back. Office 2010, on the other hand, kept it cozy by remaining a product that wouldn’t alienate existing users while gradually introducing more features that took advantage of the increasing number of broadband Internet connections. With the release of Office 2013 last year, Microsoft has somehow maintained the same level of familiarity of former versions of Office while moving more toward the cloud-based Office 365.

Office 365 Versus Office 2013In many respects, both Office 365 and Office 2013 are indistinguishable. But some differences remain. For one, subscribers to Office 365 are able to stream full instances of Office to computers on demand, without installing the software permanently to the computer. In other words, Office 365 is a portable version of Office due to its reliance on the cloud. This can be particularly useful for anyone visiting friends and family who don’t have Office installed on their computers, or for an employee who occasionally hops from one workstation to another. Office 365 also offers installation on five different Windows or Mac machines (though a new version Office for Mac isn’t scheduled to arrive until next spring). Office 2013, on the other hand, is generally intended to be installed on a single computer (though volume licenses are available).

Office 365 Versus Office 2013: Greater Compatibility

Microsoft Office has been the primary productivity suite in both enterprises and homes for generations, and each new version of the software offers the best compatibility with existing Office documents. Within a week of Office 365‘s launch, a billion Office documents were already being stored on SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud-based storage solution (which is integrated with Office). Billions more — heck, kazillions more — are offline, waiting to be imported into the latest version of Office. Though competitors are always working to mimic Office’s features, sometimes they fail. If your word processing software doesn’t produce documents that are easy to open in Microsoft Office, then your word processing software is useless to all but a very small minority of people.

FLOSS is wonderful in theory, but often cumbersome in practice. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great appreciation for the open source community. The fact that the community exists provides the competition that motivates innovation. But in my experience, many open source equivalents to commercial offerings don’t quite meet my needs. It’s not that they don’t offer all of the features I need, as many FLOSS applications match their commercial equivalents feature-by-feature. It’s more a problem of execution. Sometimes the open source offerings simply aren’t skillfully designed, at least not until the software has fully matured (by which time the applications have been shaped by several generations of user feedback). If an application is developed to replace an existing one, it must at least be as easy to use as the one it is replacing. Office applications have been one of the fundamental drivers of computer purchases for decades, and nobody wants to face an entirely new office productivity paradigm.

Microsoft Office helps to ensure document integrityAnd why not? Because having to face a new learning curve is inefficient, and inefficiency is only fun for politicians trying to slow down the progress of a bill through Congress. It’s already difficult enough to interpret the US Constitution without having to worry about the integrity of the document, which has been reproduced in various manners over the centuries since it was first written. Imagine if our only remaining copy of the Constitution was in a digital file format that no longer was able to be read because of software incompatibilities. Fortunately, Microsoft has addressed the unlikely potential of something like this occurring by adopting an open standard specification for its file format in recent editions of Office.

Both Office 365 and Office 2013 offer to consumers familiarity and comfort, the benefit of being developed from years of experience and research, and potentially greater compatibility with existing documents. These terms may seem like catchwords we’ve all seen before, but they’re not headed for the waste bin of overuse (as terms like “game changer”) because these terms are not hyperbolic or misleading. They are factual. Lots of people use Office, and lots of people are comfortable with the software. Microsoft has had not only the benefit of experience but the resources to take the best of what’s out there and build a product that has the potential to meet consumer expectations better than any other product its competitors have to offer. It is nearly an added bonus that Microsoft introduces solutions that ensure compatibility with aging documents (which should be a requirement for all companies’ software, though unfortunately it is not).

Office 365 Versus Office 2013: Pricing Differences

I’ve told you what I think differentiates Microsoft Office from its competition and what the main differences between Office 365 and Office 2013 are, but you’re probably wondering what, if any, other differences exist specifically between Office 365 and Office 2013. The main difference has to do with the pricing. Office 365 offers a subscription model, where Office 2013 is offered as a standalone, pay-once-and-you-own-it-forever purchase. There have been many examinations of this pricing structure, some researched better than others (I love this Computer World price calculator, which compares various pricing scenarios). Many will tell you it’s simple to determine which product to go with, including the author of the video I’m including with this post.

http://youtu.be/qg8dAbx28pE

The video is a fine outline of some of the differences between Office 365 and Office 2013, but it’s misleading to believe that it’s as simple as choosing the option that you’re guessing will be most economical over time. Even Computer World admits that its pricing calculator doesn’t take into account the additional applications the Home Premium edition of Office 365 offers in comparison to its most comparable equivalent, Office Home and Student 2013. When it comes down to it, nobody can tell you which version will be most economical for you in the long-run. If you choose to buy the least expensive option, you’ll be taking a gamble that you won’t need the applications or the functionality available with more expensive options.

What’s more important than price are the actual functional differences between the two products. As mentioned previously, the more traditional Office 2013 is the direct descendant of the previous version of the suite, Office 2010. It has interface improvements (including a more Metro-style look and feel), improved integration with third-party applications recently acquired by Microsoft (including Skype and Yammer), updated support for certain file formats, an improved touch (and pen) experience, and is more integrated into the cloud. Over all, it’s a more polished experience than Office 2010. In fact, one of the Word 2013 team’s driving philosophies was precisely that:

We will continue to focus on polishing existing user experiences/scenarios over “adding new features,” driving ourselves to make improvements in the things that users already do every day

Office 365 was originally planned for business users but now home users are also invited to the club, and for a very reasonable entry fee (and if you’re a student you can take advantage of an exceptional offer). You get a few extras with a subscription to Office 365, including 20 gigs of SkyDrive storage and 60 minutes a month of Skype service. These are all fine added values if you’re going to be using them, but the main thing to consider, to the best of your ability to forecast, is how you will using Office in the coming years.

Office 365 versus Office 2013: which have you used, and which do you think is the better choice?

Virtual Offices Can Be Successful

This post has been sponsored by Microsoft Office 365 and Cloud Powered Work, but all opinions expressed are mine.

Virtual Offices Can Be Successful
Hello, 21st century! Are you working from virtual offices?

Virtual offices once seemed like a crazy idea, but I think it’s safe to say that the idea of a bricks-and-mortar office is sounding more and more like a needless expense to the latest generation of entrepreneurs. If you’re in this boat, you’ve probably wondered why you should spend thousands of dollars to rent in part — or in full — a building to house your employees when technology exists to alleviate this need. In addition, you have to pay for the equipment, Internet, vending machines, and other miscellaneous stuff to keep your employees happy, and none of this usually comes with the rent for the building (unless your landlord is really, really nice).

Really, nowadays, it’s likely that all of your employees can do what they do from home in virtual offices.

But aside from saving thousands of dollars a month, is this a successful strategy for your business? You may be hesitant to give it a shot because you’ve heard all the arguments against letting employees work from home (maybe there’s a coalition of angry office landlords out there spreading lies!), but you can make it happen if you approach the virtual offices strategy carefully. With the help of tools like Microsoft Office 365 to help you collaborate with your work-from-home team, here are some things that I would consider imperative to your business’ success with the use of virtual offices.

In Virtual Offices, Close Communication is Key

You’ve now started a team working together in virtual offices. How do they — or you — know what everyone else is up to? Communication is the simple answer. There are many solutions out there that you can use. Instant messaging, voice over IP, and email are all ways to keep connected over the course of a work project. Even if the distance between team members is physically impossible to close without the assistance of a major airline, Office 365 keeps everyone collaborating in spite of time zone variations; no one is left out of the loop.

Define Goals for the Virtual Offices of Your Team

Make sure that everyone on your team is on the same page and knows what you are working toward. It’s no good saying “you can now work from home” without giving someone very specific details about how they will carry out their tasks and what needs to be done by deadline. Keep your team members moving toward accomplishing the goals of your business and make sure they understand what is expected of them. They are acting individually to carry out the tasks and assignments that you’ve given them.

Train Your Virtual Offices Team Well

While technology is what you’re going to use to keep tabs on everything that’s happening and to allow your team members to communicate with each other, it’s possible that you may find a technological solution with which some members of your team may not be familiar. A team that is poised to succeed is a well-trained team, so make sure that no one’s left behind whenever you add new tools to your home office arsenal. If you’re using Microsoft Office 365, you’re in luck, because there’s plenty of training help available.

Set Performance Standards for Your Virtual Offices

Along with setting goals for your team, make sure to define measures for success so that your team knows it should have project X’s tasks one through four finished by the end of the day. It is your team’s job to keep up with current performance standards, but this is probably going to be a learning experience for you, too. If you expect too much work to be done within an unreasonable time frame, you can actually break your team! Don’t break your team. Try giving your employees as much leeway as possible when assigning deadlines and understand that — whether in an office environment or at home — everyone has their own pace at which quality work can be expected. Reward team members for efficiency when appropriate.

Foster a Collaborative Mindset Among Virtual Offices

When the words “united we stand, divided we fall” were first uttered in ancient times, they probably applied more to one tribe’s need to defend itself from another tribe than home office collaboration, but the concept is the same. While team members are working together toward a common goal, you might find that some are more competitive than others. Fostering the right balance between self-motivation and a collaborative mindset can be challenging, but a team with its eye on the prize for the good of all rather than the glory of one will usually produce better results.

This isn’t to say that you should try and stifle the more outgoing members of your team, but remind them that everyone on the team is valuable and brings something to the table. A truly cooperative team is composed of individuals pulling their own weight for the benefit of everybody on that team — and your business.

Virtual offices are here to stay, and they’re finally being accepted by many in the modern workforce as sustainable alternatives to traditional office overhead costs. Will you be a pioneer in this trend toward streamlining, or do you prefer to cling to the practices of past centuries? The choice is all yours.

How to Group Taskbar Buttons in Windows 7

How to Group Taskbar Buttons in Windows 7Still using Windows 7? Ever wanted to know how to group taskbar buttons? Whether you’re using your computer for work or for play, making sure the Windows desktop is aesthetically pleasing as well as being efficient for navigation and getting to the files and applications can be an endeavor with its own set of challenges. Just as a cluttered work space or living room can impede a positive, streamlined experience in the real world, so, too, can the visible places and spaces in your virtual world.

Aside from a few freaks and weirdos (you know who you are!), who really likes to clean house? Wouldn’t it be great if we could recruit the help of a Samantha Stephens or Jeannie Nelson or press a few buttons and have the house clean itself in times of need, such as when company is on its way over, when relatives are visiting from afar, or when it’s your day off and you want to be doing something — anything — that doesn’t involve brooms, mops, or dusting wands? Maybe we’re not yet so lucky to have this as a real world convenience, but when it comes to Windows 7, dream of genies no more! Here’s how to group taskbar buttons in Windows 7.

An icon appears on the taskbar for each application and open window. If you have similar windows open, the buttons on the taskbar can be grouped. For example, if you have multiple Word documents open, the taskbar can group the same Word buttons to just one button. Doing so both frees up space and organizes the taskbar.

Which taskbar is easier on the eyes and conveys more information in less space? This taskbar?

How to Group Taskbar Buttons in Windows 7

Or this taskbar?

How to Group Taskbar Buttons in Windows 7

If you think the second screen shot is far dandier and keener than the first screen shot, then we’re in agreement! Want to know how you can get your taskbar buttons looking as sharp as a regiment of line-dancing butlers awaiting the Queen’s arrival? Then read on and you shall learn exactly how to group taskbar buttons in Windows 7.

How to Group Taskbar Buttons in Windows 7

  • First, you’ll want to right-click an empty area on the taskbar.
  • Next, click Properties.
  • From here, click the Taskbar tab. So far, so good?
  • Now, click the drop-down arrow beside Taskbar buttons and select Always combine, hide labels.
  • Click OK to apply the change you just made.

Alternatively, you can have similar buttons grouped only when the taskbar becomes full by selecting the Combine when taskbar is full option. And that, friends, is how to group taskbar buttons in Windows 7. It wasn’t so bad, was it? Now that you’ve gotten this properly crossed off your to-do list, you’ll have plenty of time to clean your real-world house before company arrives. Lucky!

At LockerGnome, we’re always glad to help. You’re welcome.

Image: from Our Young Folks at Home and Abroad by Various via Project Gutenberg

Social Enterprise: Is the Enterprise Ready to Be Social?

This post has been sponsored by Microsoft Office 365 and Cloud Powered Work, but all opinions expressed are mine.

Social Enterprise: Is the Enterprise Ready to Be Social?It’s long been said in circles where the actions of one serve the needs of many that there’s no “I” in “teamwork.” But there is an “I” in “social,” so maybe we can move beyond clichĂ©s and agree that there’s room for individuals — with all that they each bring to the table — collaborating with one another in a social enterprise.

Can’t we? Please?

Collaboration is Teamwork

Teamwork is only effective when all components (me and you and a dog named “Boo,” if our personnel department is truly concerned with workplace diversification in the 21st century) are autonomously efficient in tandem with being fully communicative. I’m not a sports guy, but even I know that star players still rely on support from their less applauded colleagues to succeed.

After all, Michael Jordan didn’t get the puck past all those goalies at the Super Bowls all by himself, did he? [A sports expert just confirmed with me: he did not.]

Markets Are Conversations

As businesspeople (and anyone who can manage to get food to the table in this economy is a businessperson), we need to realize that markets are conversations. If we’re not collaborating and communicating in the enterprise climate of the 21st century, we’re just talking to ourselves (and, in the long run, starving). Facilitating and being part of such a conversation is much more important than dominating it. After all, even if you think of yourself as the star player on your team, you already know what you have to say about what’s going on; recognizing the value of what other team members add to the dialogue will add fresh perspective and chart a more reliable course toward the future.

A Successful Enterprise is a Social Enterprise

You can’t do it alone, but luckily, you’re not alone — even if you don’t happen to be in the same room with (or even the same hemisphere as) the rest of your team. Even people who don’t consider themselves “technical” commonly carry smart phones, tablets, and laptops nowadays, so the BYOD (bring your own device) culture is already here — why not make use of it? The concepts of cubicles and phone farms are so yesterdecades, anyway. If you’re trying to pound nails with a wrench or paint your house with colored pencils, I’ll borrow a phrase from the common vernacular and tell you that “you’re doing it wrong.” Nowadays, tools like Microsoft Office 365 stand at the ready to help team members and small business owners succeed in collaborating and communicating within a successful, social enterprise.

Working with Old Friends

Sure, the Microsoft Office suite has been around seemingly forever, with its components Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook long ago entering workforce lexicon along with words like stapler, three-hole punch, and copy machine. Chances are, if you’ve ever worked, looked for work, or gone to school in the past 20 years or so, you’ve used Microsoft Office in some capacity. But have you used it lately? Microsoft Office 365 is a toolbox that’s evolved to handle the tasks of the modern social enterprise intuitively.

Sure, Office 365 includes all of the old, familiar favorites like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook that I mentioned above, but it also incorporates SkyDrive for your team’s cloud storage needs and Skype, so that your social enterprise can stay truly connected — whether team members are in the next room or on the next continent.

Don’t believe me? Have a look! You can subscribe to a version that’s right for you and your business, or you can test out its features with the free trial that’s offered. The flexible needs of your social enterprise are met with flexible solutions in our always on society.

Automatic Login for Windows 7

Configure Windows 7 for Automatic Login
Automatic login for Windows 7 is easy to configure, as long as you don’t have a creepy roommate who, when you’re away, probably uses your computer for reasons that make you shudder to think (like playing the Golden Girls version of Angry Birds).

Whether you find it to be a nuisance or not, automatic login is disabled in Windows 7 by default. Requiring a username and password when you sign on to your computer is one of many security features that Microsoft enables in Windows by default, though such defaults can be overridden — your computer works for you, after all, and not the other way around! If you do not share your computer with other users, or if you use your computer for things that don’t contain secure data, you may not want to be bothered logging in each time you start your computer.

So if you don’t have a creepy roommate who sneaks onto your computer when you’re not home for reasons that make you shudder to think, or you’re comfortable with people potentially seeing what’s on your computer because you really have nothing to hide (or you just have no shame), you can configure Windows 7 to log in automatically. The process is fairly hassle free, too.

To enable automatic login in Windows 7, you need make a few minor configuration changes to Windows.

Configure Windows 7 for Automatic Login

  • Click the Start button.
  • Type netplwiz in the Search field.
  • Press Enter. This displays the Windows User Accounts dialog box.
  • From this Windows User Accounts window, select your user account from the list of computer users.
  • Uncheck the checkbox next to Users must enter a username and password to use this computer option.
  • Click OK once you have removed the checkmark from the box.
  • Provide the password for your user account when prompted, which is the final step to enabling Windows 7 automatic login for your username.

Windows requires you to restart your computer before auto login takes effect. When the reboot completes, Windows 7 automatically logs you in. Each time you restart Windows 7 or turn your computer off and on again, Windows will automatically log on with your user account.

Now that you know how to configure Windows 7 for automatic login, you’ll probably have lots of time to do other stuff with the hours you’re saving in the long run. Learn a new language. Take that vacation to Madagascar you’ve been planning for years. Stow away on a cargo ship for destinations unknown. Open that bed and breakfast in the middle of the desert. But don’t sleep in the subway, baby — bored commuters are bound to use your laptop when you’re not looking.

Image: from Status Quo by Dallas McCord Reynolds (Illustrated by John Schoenherr) via Project Gutenberg

How to Create a Windows 7 Firewall Shortcut

How to Create a Windows 7 Firewall Shortcut
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! (But just for a sec while I check something out.)

Ever wondered how to create a Windows 7 firewall shortcut? If not, you’re probably wondering why anyone would do such a thing. Maybe you’re just smiling and nodding, not even sure what in the heck a firewall is in the first place. Well, without going into too much detail that might bore you before we even get started, a firewall can be hardware or software that monitors your computer’s incoming and outgoing traffic to prevent nasty things from happening to it. Windows includes a software-based firewall as part of its operating system. Normally, this is a good thing.

But if you encounter network problems, one of the first things you should do is disable the Windows firewall to see if it’s the cause of the problem — it’s pretty common. However, disabling the Windows firewall entails so many steps, and you’ll want to enable it again once you’ve identified and resolved the problem.

To make it easier to enable and disable the Windows firewall, you can create a Windows firewall shortcut, as described here:

  • Right click on the desktop, point to New, and click Shortcut.
  • In the shortcut location box, type the following: netsh firewall set opmode disable.
  • Click Next.
  • Type in a name for the shortcut (one that makes it easy to identify what the shortcut is for, like Windows Firewall Shortcut: Disable, for instance).
  • Click Finish.
  • Right click the new shortcut on your desktop and click Properties.
  • Select the Shortcut tab and click the Advanced button.
  • Select the Run as administrator option and click OK.

Now, by double clicking the new shortcut, you can disable the Windows firewall. You should also create a similar shortcut to enable the Windows Firewall. Simply repeat the steps outlined above, only adding the following command in step 2: netsh firewall set opmode enable and naming the shortcut something like Windows Firewall Shortcut: Enable.

Of course, you could name it something like Moose Dandruff Odor Shampoo Paternity Test, but that would be totally silly.

Image: from Child-Land, by Oscar Pletsch and M. Rictor via Project Gutenberg

Add a Videos Link to Your Start Menu in Windows 7

Add a Videos Link to Your Start Menu in Windows 7
You don’t have to use The Force to add a Videos link to your Start menu in Windows 7. Just follow these simple steps.

No Videos link in the Windows 7 Start menu? As some green dame once exclaimed in surprise when things weren’t quite going her way, “What a world! What a world!”

Even many of the bookworms among us would confess that videos — especially in the age of the Internet, serve a pretty broad number of purposes. Videos can be used to instruct others, clarify points, document daily life, entertain, convey information with nuances lost in the written word, solve crimes, plan art museum heists, keep a clandestine eye on your belongings when you’re away, and the list goes on.

Online streaming services like YouTube and Ustream have taken off like gangbusters over the past few years, and their popularity shows no sign of stopping. Since we don’t (yet) have holodecks or truly 3D, interactive television, videos are the next best thing to being there. The quality of video has improved vastly since Thomas Edison’s day, but its ability to delight the child in all of us has never diminished.

And as most of us are consumers of video, there are those who must create that video. And those people who frequently work with videos may have noticed that the Windows 7 Start menu does not include a link to the Videos folder. The Start menu only includes links to the Pictures and Music folders. Not very convenient if you create, save, or watch a lot of videos. Why isn’t there a Videos link in the Windows 7 Start menu? Heck, we could ask “why?” about a lot of things that operating systems designers do and do not do, but that’s probably better addressed elsewhere. Let’s focus on how we can get a Videos link in your Windows 7 Start menu, shall we?

If you use the Start menu to access these folders, you can add a Videos link to your Start menu by using the steps described below.

How to Add a Videos Link to Your Start Menu in Windows 7

  • Right click on the Start menu button and click Properties.
  • Verify that the Start Menu tab is active. Click the Customize button.
  • Under the Video section, select either the Display as a link or Display as a menu option.
  • Click OK to close the Customize Start Menu dialog box.
  • Click OK.

The biggest irony of all? At the time of this writing, there’s no video to accompany this post. This will likely change, but in the meantime, somehow, you’ll manage. Might I recommend checking out the Pirillo Vlog? Or even coming to VloggerFair in Seattle this June? We’d love to meet you!

Image: Sith shared by Juliana Coutinho via Flickr

How to Shrink a Volume in Windows 7

How to Shrink a Volume in Windows 7Ever wanted to know how to shrink a volume in Windows 7? Yes, yes, I know. Many of you are saying, “but, Chris, why are you writing about Windows 7 when Windows 8 has been out for a while?”

I answer because I’m asked. Also, a lot of people — especially if they work for a company that doesn’t have a real reason to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8 — are still using this outdated (but still perfectly fine) operating system! Maria Dorset writes:

Chris, I need to create a new partition on my hard drive, and I’ve been wondering how to shrink a volume in Windows 7. Can you help me?

No matter how much space is on your hard drives, there’s always going to be the wishful desire in all of us that they could be just a little bit roomier. We fill them up with so much junk that it’s hard to believe we once made do with sub-gigabyte hard drives in the not-so-distant past. Now terabytes and multi-terabytes aren’t uncommon, and they don’t cost arms, legs, or even pinkie fingers (unless you’re buying from the suspicious-looking but well-dressed computer shark down by the docks and you miss a payment, but then you’ve probably got bigger problems than trying to squeeze every last bit of storage out of your hard drives).

But let’s pretend that you’re not trading off digits or kneecaps for your tech and that you’re keeping those hard drives organized with partitions. In the past, if you wanted to shrink a volume to make room for a new partition, you had to use third-party tools. The Disk Management Tool in Windows 7 includes a utility that lets you easily shrink a volume. The following tip shows you how to use the Disk Management tool in Windows 7 to shrink a volume.

Your first step is to open the Disk Management tool. Simply click Start, and type diskmgmt.msc in the Search box.

Right click the diskmgmt.msc entry and click Run As Administrator. The Disk Management Tool opens.

Within the Disk Management tool, right click the volume that you want to shrink. Select Shrink Volume from the menu. The Disk Management tool analyzes the volume and presents the Shrink window.

Use the up and down arrows beside the Enter the amount of space to shrink in MB: field to select the amount of space to shrink.

Next, click the Shrink button at the bottom of the window.

When Windows 7 finishes shrinking the volume, you have a new unallocated partition. You can use the unallocated partition to create a new volume.

Now that you know how to shrink a volume in Windows 7, maybe there’s something else you’d like to ask? The request line is always open!

Image: Shared by Robert Glen Fogarty

The Max PC Bundle

The Max PC BundleHey, Windows users! I know that it sometimes feels like the Mac OS X kids get to have all the fun (I know how it feels because I, too, am a Windows user). Recently, we talked about a Mac Essentials Bundle here at LockerGnome that only seemed to reinforce this perception; for this, we’re truly sorry. We never meant to make anyone feel excluded from the Cool Kids Club, and we hope that telling you about the Max PC Bundle may, in some small way at least, make up for it.

The Max PC Bundle (not Mac’s or even Macs’ PC Bundle, which would just be confusing for everyone involved) gives us Windows users seven apps designed to enhance our lives. This is a relief, because I was expecting that some mean-spirited developer would slip at least one or two apps into the bundle that were designed to diminish our lives. I’m happy to report, my fellow Windows users, that this doesn’t appear to be the case! For the bundle price of only $25, we get these seven apps (which would, on their own, total $228):

CleanMyPC (clean PC of unnecessary files, system junk, and application leftovers)
DVD Ranger (copy and convert multimedia)
Teracopy (quickly copy and move files)
Breevy (finds connections between seemingly unrelated files)
Direct Folders (detect trojan horses and spyware)
Pixo (apply awesome effects to your pictures)
Spyglass (disk visualization and duplicate finder).

The Max PC Bundle won’t be around forever. Check it out while it lasts!