I received an post on a group I follow reminding people not to send out documents in the Office 2007 format of Word. Now, I’ve been using the 2007 suite since the first betas (way before 2007), and have learned this lesson more than once (mostly because of lost settings when I’ve had to do a reinstall).

The new format for files in Office was created by Microsoft in an attempt to create an open file structure. Any file you save in a default install of 2007, will have the letter “x’ appended to the file extension, signifying that it is saved in this new format.

There are many ways to deal with this problem, and the most successful strategy is actually to simply configure your 2007 products to default to saving in the older format.

You can also point the person who is using the older version to the Microsoft dowload pages to get the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack which lets Office 2003 open the new files. The problem with this approach is that many organizations don’t allow their users to do installations (in a lame attempt to keep spyware and viruses out of the company network), so it’s either not possible, or difficult to get done.

You can do a “Save As” to create a copy in Word 97-2003 format, RTF, or even as a PDF (yes, the new product lets you create PDF files). But doing a “Save As”, requires you to remember to do that each time, and you end up with multiple files which could end up with version problems (you start with the docx, save as doc, then make a change – now which one is current?)

So the trick is to go into the options, and set your save format to the “Word 97-2003 (*.doc)” format, and then you don’t have to worry about it.

To change the options in Word (or for that matter any of the Office products), click on the Office Button

You will then see the menu pop up, with the “Word Options” button at the bottom:

Office menu

Click on the  Word Options button button, to get to the options, then click on “Save” in the left hand column to display the save options:

Save options

If you haven’t updated yet, you will see “Microsoft Word (.docx)” as the option for the “save files in this format”. Click the drop down and choose “Word 97-2003 (*.doc)” as shown below:

Choose option

Finally hit the button at the bottom of the dialog that says “OK”, to save your changes.  Create a new document, and save it, and you should no longer see the “*.docx” format.

From now on, whenever you save a document, it will save in the old format unless you do a “Save As”.

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This month has been a bad one for me and computers. First my MacBook Pro died (due to a video card that had been recalled), and then my desktop PC decided to fall over dead.

The Mac failure was another study in why I love Apple service: The video just died one day, no screen, external monitor wouldn’t work. Since a Mac has a real operating system (Mac OS X – a Unix variant), I was able to determine that the machine was actually still working by connecting from my desktop PC using ssh.

I did a bit of system administration black magic, and turned on the remote desktop service (see http://support.apple.com/kb/HT2370 or http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=2081446&tstart=1 for a writeup of how), and was able to connect to my MBP using VNC. That allowed me to validate things were working, and to make sure I had a current backup before doing anything else.

A quick call to Apple’s support desk, and the helpful tech looked up the problem, found there was a recall on the video logic board for certain MBP systems, and walked me through a few things to validate it wasn’t just user error. He gave me a case number, told me to go to the Apple store, and have them check for the recall.

So I made an appointment at the store, got there a little early, and waited for that piece. In a reasonably short time, my “Genius” was testing my MBP for the recall issue, and sure enough that was the problem. Next a few minutes as he got the RMA set up, inspected the machine (noting that there was a small ding on the case), and asked me if I wanted it shipped back to my home address. The usual disclaimer about “if we can’t fix it, we might charge you $100 for looking at it”, and it was off to the races.

A couple of days later, I get a call from the Apple Repair Center. The guy on the phone tells me that yes, the recall is covered, but it appears the machine was dropped (which it was many moons ago), and there are all sorts of things that need to be replaced to bring the machine back to factory specs. This all comes with a price tag of $1,200 … Once I recovered my breath, I tell him “but at the store they said all I needed was the recall”. He tells me that, yes that would give me a working machine, and they could probably have fixed it at the store, but since it’s at the repair center they have to apply quality to it.

I tell the guy I’m not in a position to come up with the $1,200 right now, so can he ship it back to the store and let them do the repair. At this point, he tells me, that since I’ve been nice, and since I’m a good customer, he’s going to waive the fee. So Apple basically solidifies my glowing opinion of their service, and I get what for all intents and purposes is a brand new MacBook Pro.

I’m so relieved that this didn’t happen with my wife’s PC …..

Murphy’s law bites me again …

…. But while my MBP was off for service, I revived an old laptop I have for backup purposes. I had it almost completely configured when I got my MBP back. Then, a few days ago, my desktop PC (a Sony) crashed.

I go to the Sony web site, and do one of those instant chat sessions, and through a little back and forth, the chat agent tells me it is either a bad video card, or my memory has gone bad. In either case, it will require service. Now the wheels start spinning, because I know how much video cards cost, and I know I’ll have to pay a few hundred bucks just to get somebody to look at the machine (no Genius bar to bring my Sony to).

In the old days I would have just replaced the video card and memory with spares, but since I’m greener (and don’t really work on hardware any more) these days, I don’t keep things like that around. So now I have a useless desktop, with an unknown problem, with 500Gb of data that I can’t get to. Worse, the Sony has a RAID card, so I’m not sure the disks will be readable  except in that machine (it’s really 2x250Gb).

So I’m still trying to figure out what to do to recover the PC, but I’m guessing that will wait for a while …

Restoring my wife’s PC

Luckily for me, I had rebuilt my spare laptop, so I’m able to get the most important files onto my spare laptop, and within a few hours, it’s happily driving my big Gateway monitor (with Quicken and email files restored).

This is possible because of two backup strategies: Quicken online backup (which is a remarket of Connected Backup), and Microsoft Live Mesh.

I’ve used the Connected product ever since I learned about it while working at Cisco. They use the enterprise version, and it does a great incremental backup of your PC, that helped me recover accidental deleted files more than once. For a few bucks a month, the home version does the same thing for a few gig of data.

Live Mesh on the other hand, is a synchronization tool, that is a bit like the old Microsoft Briefcase on steroids. You mark a folder as being a Live Mesh folder, and it gets replicated to the Microsoft cloud. You can then synchronize that folder across systems, and even share it with other users. I created Live Mesh folders for all of my web site work as a way to share files with my clients, and to keep data on my Mac and PC in synch.

What I hadn’t really realized was that I was in effect getting a backup with this as well. I simply shared the folders to my backup laptop, and voila, I had all of my important data back and ready to update. For me, this is one more bit of evidence that there will continue to be interesting applications brought about by the cloud: I hadn’t really thought of Live Mesh as a backup strategy, and it lacks the versioning piece, but in a pinch it’ll do.

I’ve been using some of the more interesting “cloud” applications recently: Google Apps, Live Mesh and a few others.

I’m really impressed with the capablities and use of these free web applications. It’s a really interesting marketing tool as well: give away the low end product to build user acceptance, and then add a bit more to give value to the enterprise.

My first foray into the personal cloud was Google docs. This product has to be the coolest idea ever: create your documents on a web site, and let them be shared and simultaneously editable. The concept is awesome, and works really well for some documents (most notably spreadsheets). I can share a spreadsheet with any number of people, and they can all edit it at the same time.

Sort of like Netmeeting on steroids, I open my spreadsheet and there’s a little notification that somebody else is editing or viewing it. As they make changes, I see them in real time, and they see any changes I am making. Now the interface is not quite as friendly as Excel, but for most of the spreadsheet light users like myself, it’s more than adequate.

This is supposed to work for documents as well, but I’ve had less success with them (changes seem to get overwritten if more than one person updates at a time).

The other beauty of this is it effectively gives you a network storage for all of your documents, solving the problem of how to keep them safe and secure. I no longer have to worry (as much) about backing up my hard drive, since I know Google is taking care of the hardware. If a drive crashes there, they are ready with a failover, and I never even know that it was lost.

After using docs for a while, I also started playing with the other apps and found them all well thought out and useful. One of the main reasons that I had a Windows VM on my Mac was to support Outlook because of it’s tight Exchange integration, and ability to handle my calendar well. I combined Outlook with Plaxo to keep my various calendars and contacts in synch, and was very happy with this.

The bad thing about Outlook however is the way it stores its’ data: the dreaded PST file. They’re notoriously tempermental, extremely space wasteful, and difficult to back up. So I started trying other methods for dealing with email, including the built in mail client for Mac, and Entourage. None of these were as easy or as complete as Outlook.

Then I tried GMail‘s client. I’d had an account for years, but had never really tried the mail client. But as I thought things through, the benefits were clear: I get a huge amount of storage for my email, and I don’t have to worry about losing any history ever. I’ve lost years of email in a single PST or drive crash before.

At first I wasn’t convinced. The UI seemed cluttered, and I wasn’t a big fan of the way the conversations were threaded (in Outlook I used to categorize, and had lots of options for sorting folders just so). With GMail, everything is in a big pile, and you filter by tags. After a few weeks, another benefit became obvious: the fact that I could search for anything in my mail.

In Outlook, there was always a find feature, that if you could get it to work, took a very long time. Worse, it wasn’t possible to search across different mail accounts unless you added some search add-on. I had been using Google Desktop for this for some time, which worked well as long as the index had seen the message I was looking for (it only indexes message as they are opened, so when they get archived the search may find them, but you can’t get to them because it’s pointing to the wrong place).

With GMail, everything is indexed, no matter where it is. And interestingly, this also includes your instant messages, so if I remember I talked to Warren about something, I can search for it and GMail will find it in both my email and chat conversations with him. And when I look at a message, it shows me the whole thread of the conversation, with the bits that match the search expanded, making it easy to put the whole thing in context.

So now I’ve got free document storage, free email with more storage than I’ve ever used (a PST with 10 years of email had to be split because it was over a gigabyte in size, yet contained less than a hundred megabytes of data). I don’t have to manage my email any more than to tag it in ways that are useful to me (and I can tag it for multiple things, and there is still only one copy of the message to worry about, unlike with folders where you had to have two copies if you wanted to categorize things that way).

So how does Google monetize this? Well, it turns out they have an enterprise version that they sell for $50 per year per user. Compare that with the cost of hosting Exchange, and a file server, and you have a no brainer for most small enterprises. And even for the standard version, they let you use it for free for up to 50 users, so a SMB can get started for even less than the $50 per user.

Considering the Microsoft equivalent functionality would require the full Office suite, and Exchange server, and some collaboration server, you’d be looking at an outlay of a few hundred dollars per user. The clear win here is that you’ve now got a suite that works for the home user, and can also be used effectively by business users. Google wins on the marketing front, leveraging the lessons of open source to gain customer base and entry into the enterprise market.

Next: Live Mesh …

I was reminded today of the peculiarly clever way that grief occurs over time. I was watching a documentary on Teddy Kennedy yesterday and was struck by the depth of feeling I had to his words at his mother’s funeral. He spoke about how she would be greeted by all the other family members who had gone on before, and I felt that profound grief for every loss that I’ve experienced in my life.

The greatest (and most recent) of these for me was my dog and companion Bo. I lost him a couple years back after 14 years of loving companionship. I grieved as deeply and profoundly as I ever have for him, but from the very beginning, I noticed that the grief came in waves.

At times there are the pleasant memories, then some consolation from kind words about how dogs wait for us in the after life. Other times, there were simple pleasant memories of times with him, things he did to amuse and warm the heart. And sometimes there was the pain of the fading recollection of what he looked like, or how his fur felt under my hand.

But always the relief and sadness taking turns, with each stretch of sadness being more manageable and more level with the good memories.

My belief about this is that we had to develop this way in order to survive. If we simply grieved until we were done being sad, we wouldn’t be able to do anything for months. If we “cried a river“, we’d die of dehydration or starvation. Our minds give us the reprieve from the grief so we can deal with the business of living, and to allow us to continue to connect with the world.

For me, also faith helps in this, since it gives us a way to view death as a transition rather than something final. Feeling that there will be a time to see your loved ones again, takes away the sting at times (although that comfort doesn’t seem to be available at other times, when your heart feels as if there is no point and faith has no power).

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