Tip o’ the Week #113 – Add context to your Lync status

clip_image002One of the biggest cultural impacts of using Instant Messaging and UC technology in a business context is the way that people tend to check the status of someone before contacting them. It’s a relatively rare occurrence to get an internal phone call out of the blue if both parties are online: usually, it would be set up with a quick chat on IM first – then the calling party knows that the call they make isn’t going to drop to voice mail.

To quote UC aficionado Tony Cocks, “it’s all about presents”. 
Or presence, and the value that it gives to anyone trying to contact you.

If you’re set to Do Not Disturb (DND), for example, we probably all know that means trying to send an IM won’t work. Trying to call via Lync or on the internal phone number won’t get through either – setting yourself to DND sends all calls straight to voice mail (or straight to oblivion, for many people). I heard a story the other day about someone who got an unannounced incoming cellular call – the caller saying, “yeah, I saw you were on Do Not Disturb so thought I’d call your mobile…”  Like, duuuuh…

clip_image003Did you know you can allow people you trust to interrupt you when you’re on DND..? Right-click on their name in Lync, choose “Change Privacy Relationship (right at the bottom of the menu). Set them to be part of your Workgroup, and when you set yourself to DND, they’ll see you instead as being on Urgent Interruptions Only. And they can IM you.

Anyway, we can infer a lot from someone’s automatic status – if they’re Busy, then chances are their Outlook calendar has been blocked out or they may have manually set the status to show they’re busy. That doesn’t mean they’re uncontactable – only that if they don’t respond, then you shouldn’t be surprised. If they’re In a Meeting, it means not only is the Outlook calendar blocked out, but it’s being blocked by a meeting with more than one attendee. Maybe that means you could still IM the person, but they probably wouldn’t be able to take a call. If they’re on In a Call or In a Conference Call, then they’ll definitely not be able to take a call as they’re on one already…

clip_image005If they’re Away (like Richard, here), then they’ve probably either wandered off from their PC or else they’ve locked the computer (WindowsKey + L), and you may get some extra context about how long they’ve been away for. If only a few minutes, they could be sitting at their desk talking with someone (or reading a paper etc), and sending an IM might get an immediate response … but if it’s been 30 minutes, they probably are genuinely not there and you’d better look elsewhere, or send an email.

Add further contextclip_image006

As you can see from Richard’s status above, he’s also got a line below his name that says where he is – TVP. Actually, this is just set by the free-text note field at the top of the Lync main window (which asks “What’s happening today?” if you haven’t set anything else). It’s a handy way of giving a little more context if you want people to know, or just provide a pithy one-liner akin to a Facebook status.

If you want to be a little more specific you can also provide a number of custom presence states, so rather than just being Busy you could be Busy writing reports, or instead of being Available you could be Working from home. See TechNet or previous missives on this blog.

clip_image007For place specific info, you could try setting up custom locations – in short, when your PC appears on a particular network, you can give it a name and then whenever you use the PC at that location, it will show up in your own Lync client right under your name and your status. Different locations needs to be named separately (eg Home, CP, Edinburgh, TVP).

It’s not all that obvious to everyone else, however – to see someone else’s custom location, clip_image008right click on their name and View Contact Card (or just click on their name and press ALT-ENTER). If they’ve set a location up, you’ll see it – otherwise they’re either not in a place they’ve named, or you’ll just see their time zone. If you want to make it plain to everyone else where you are, then you may want to stick to custom status and/or using the Lync “What’s happening today?” text status field.

You can see set the Lync status on the above screenshot is Off work – that tells the world that even though I’m online via Lync, I’m not online to do work… and if someone was to click on my details, they could see a whole load of information about whether I’m likely to respond to their IM. If you’ve set your status to Off work and someone IMs you about work, then it’s perfectly acceptable to just ignore the message (press Esc to get rid of the popped-up window in one fell swoop). Well, depends who it is…

Tip o’ the Week #51 – Five Golden Rules for OCS & Lync


A tip this week concerning best practices for using Enterprise Voice in OCS or Lync for making and receiving voice calls…

Participating in OCS/Lync Calls:

  • Use a wired* connection when you are on OCS/Lync calls. (Performance over WIFI will not be as good)
  • Ensure you use an approved OCS/Lync headset (available from the service desk in TVP and CP).

Hosting a OCS/Lync Meeting:

There is also some best practice for hosting a OCS/Lync meeting – the 5 golden rules. In summary:

If you are hosting the meeting, always set-up 5-10 minutes in advance, to upload presentation(s) and to complete the following steps..

  1. Connect network cable to presenter PC first, then start the meeting
  2. Switch off wireless networking on presenter PC.
  3. Always run “Audio Video“ wizard to make sure that your speakers, micro and webcam work correctly after all audio/video devices are connected.
  4. Avoid noise in the meeting room when microphones are not on mute**
    • typing (e.g. email or instant messaging)
    • rustling papers
    • tapping solid objects
    • be aware of fans (e.g. projector) which are close to PC
    • side talk
    • breathing into your own microphone …
  1. Do not start multiple Live Meetings in the same room – use projector to save bandwidth!

             **Also remember to Mute yourself if you are not speaking

*the reason for using a wired connection is partly due to a behaviour that Windows Vista and Windows 7 introduced – where a PC has both a wired and wireless connection, the PC assumes you are using a laptop and needs to be prepared to be disconnected, so it uses the wireless in preference to wired network.

clip_image006You you can set your PC to always favour the wired network, if one is available…

  • Go to Control Panel / Network and Internet / Network Sharing Center / Change Adapter Settings (or just go WindowsKey-R and run ncpa.cpl)
  • Press ALT if you don’t see a menu, then go into Advanced and select Advanced settings (stay with me)
  • Change the binding order so that Local Area is higher than Wireless…

The downside of doing this is that if you do unplug your laptop from the wired network, it might disconnect you from OCS/Lync and any file copying etc might get dropped.

If you want to check what your network is doing, and in particular, which connection is being used, check the Network tab in Task Manager (start it quickly by pressing CTRL-SHIFT-ESC).

OCS Custom Status updates – another update

Some time ago, I wrote on OCS custom status fields and how to implement them…

Well, security changes in the way Office Communicator works mean that, by default, the client needs to download its configuration file from a secure location. This has caused a problem for a good many people who used to rely on the status file being on their hard disk.

If you don’t have access to a web site that can publish a file via SSL, then I’ve posted a few other samples here… thanks to Matt McSpirit for the tip on how to do it 🙂 I struggled for a while by using SkyDrive to do it, but the eventual URL kept changing – now I can host a bunch of these files on the blog server!

Applying the settings
Here is the Registry file which will configure Communicator to use the “Microsoft UK” custom status below. If you’re happy with that, just

  • Sign out of Communicator entirely, close the application (right click on the Communicator icon in the system tray, choose Exit).
  • Click on the Registry link above, choose “Run” from the dialog, then confirm that you want to allow the registry settings to be applied.
  • Restart Communicator again – if everything works, you’ll see custom status appear by clicking on the big coloured blob in the top left…


If you’d rather use a different set of statuses, try downloading the registry file and save it somewhere, drag/drop it it into a new, blank Notepad window, and replace the URL with one of the following ones… then save it, and apply the settings as above.




Microsoft UK








Outlook 2010 beta and E.164 number format updater

Well hello again; it’s been a while.
Normal service should now infrequently resume.

I thought I’d update the instructions of a previous post, after I was showing someone how to use my old “Contacts updater” application to make all their Outlook contact phone numbers be E.164 compliant.

(see blogs passim. eg here, here, or here.)

Now the little app I reference is an Outlook custom form, meaning it gets installed into the Exchange mailbox folder, rather than some client-side Add-in to Outlook. Custom Forms have been available since the days of the Exchange 4.0 client and later Outlook, as the installed forms show up an item on the “Action” menu within the view of the folder.


Now that Outlook 2010 has adopted the Fluent UI (aka the “Ribbon”), things have moved somewhat…

Just like the early days of Office 2007, the initial response from some users might be to get annoyed that things are in a different place, but in most cases, it’s a great improvement.

Since custom forms in Outlook have largely faded into the sunset, this particular one gets a bit more obscure… it’s a question of going to “New Items” within the folder, then selecting the “Custom Forms” pop-out (only available when you actually have some custom forms installed in that folder), and any forms installed will be presented there.

The instructions for the install of the custom form above are pretty much the same on Outlook 2010, except that instead of going to Tools | Options | Other | Advanced to get to the custom forms management, go to “Office button” | Options | Advanced.


Microsoft Roundtable transitions to Polycom

Microsoft & Polycom announced yesterday that the Microsoft Roundtable conferencing device (used with Live Meeting or OCS 2007 to present a 360° view of the room to participants joining from elsewhere), will be replaced.

Polycom are taking over the manufacturing and distribution of Roundtable and renaming it to the somewhat-less-natty “CX5000 Unified Conference Station”.

In many ways, this is good news since it fits within Polycom’s core strength rather than being something of an adjunct product (which is there to support something else, which is pretty much how the Roundtable fitted into the Microsoft world), and it should be available from a lot more places than before.

If you haven’t seen the Roundtable/CX5000 before, check out Forrester Research’s Erica Driver, on her own blog, comparing the experience of using Roundtable to An IMAX Movie after listening to FM radio.

Business continuity – it’s a people thing, not just a premises one

27[1] I had a really interesting discussion with a customer last week, when we were musing over the effects that the snow had on UK businesses. It was another example – like the floods which have hit parts of the country over the last few years – of a threat to business continuity which it’s easy to overlook.

Most businesses have prepared some contingency for what IT should do when it all goes wrong – starting with individual equipment failure (using RAID disks, redundant power supplies & the like), to clustering of services and replication of data to be able to survive bigger losses, either temporarily (like a power cut) or for longer-term outages (like loss of connectivity to a datacentre, maybe even loss of the datacentre itself).

What the weather conditions taught us the other day was that the people are even more important than the premises – the customer said it was ironic, that all their systems were up and running well, it was just that nobody was there to consume them.

Warwick Ashford from Computer Weekly writes about how their publisher, Reed Business Information, has built remote access into their business continuity plans. Interestingly, most of the discussion focussed on how to use VPN technology to connect to the office.

Funny, really. With Outlook & Office Communicator not needing to use a VPN to securely connect back to my office, I spent most of the WFH-time connected, productive, but not using a VPN at all.

Custom presence states in OCS – revisited again

imageI posted a while back about custom presence states (here and here). Well it turns out that a change made to an updated version of Communicator, requires (by default) that the custom state XML file is downloaded from a “secure” URL (so ruling out the file:// URL type).

I’ve posted my XML file to SkyDrive (since it’s available with an SSL connection and tends to be available from everywhere).

If you want to use the same URL, just open the following registry file and it will point your Communicator client at my XML file…

Registry file

Otherwise, add your own URL to the registry at


in a string value called CustomStateURL.

(tip – if you don’t trust me, download the REG file and drag/drop it into Notepad to verify that it’s not going to do bad things to your machine).

When the weather outside is frightful…

… the UC technology is soooo delightful.

OK, it’s cheesy as you can get, but very true. The weather forecast on Sunday night was for heavy snow, and sure enough we awoke on Monday to about 4-6 inches of fresh snow – something that many countries would take in their stride, but in southern England, we just don’t have the infrastructure to cope. [since it’s such a rare event].

I had decided on Sunday night that I was probably going to stay at home, so changed all the face/face meetings I had scheduled for Monday, to phone/video calls.

One director at Microsoft sent an e-mail round to his team on Monday morning:

SNOW CHANGE: Team meeting to be changed LIVE MEETING ONLY! DO NOT DRIVE!

I have been clearly informed that South England does not own snowploughs. And as I look out the window at the 5 inches of snow with no snow tires on my car, as a Canadian who has driven in very big snow storms, I know when not to drive – and this is one of those times. It will be too risky. So, we will probably trim the meeting to the MYR presentation and maybe 2 other topic. More to come – but don’t drive! Looking forward to our meeting – ‘see’ you all there :-).



I also had a half-day partner meeting which had been scheduled for weeks; that was converted to a Live Meeting so everyone could join remotely. In this instance, the actual partners were stuck on motorways, or holed up at the airport, so in the end it was rearranged for another day.

It was amazing to see how, if the infrastructure is in place to allow it, some companies just flick to having (nearly) everyone work remotely and it not drastically affect productivity. OCS Product Manager Sean Olson wrote about the “Snow Day” phenomenon that happens to Redmond every so often.

In fact, in the mid-December incident hit the news over here, with a bus skidding through a barrier and hanging over the I-5 freeway. Here’s an article with a great VR picture of the scene.

As it happens, we released OCS 2007 R2 yesterday. Also, there’s a report which should be published soon, looking into the business impact of deploying UC at Microsoft, using Forrester Research’s methodology for measuring business value.

The outcome? The RoI for Unified Comms is so clear that it paid for its procurement & deployment in 2 months.

Updated LifeCam software

It’s not exactly “news”, since the Microsoft LifeCam web-camera driver & software package was updated a few months ago, but I only picked up the latest version the other day and it brought a few smiles when playing with it today, during a call with James Akrigg.

vidcam natural

lifecam The LifeCam software does real-time manipulation of the video coming from the camera, and should be visible in any application that uses the webcam (eg IM, Live Meeting etc). A few of the effects are potentially useful – like the one which blurs the background but keeps the face in focus, but most are just silly: some hilariously so.

What’s kind-of amazing about the software is the facial tracking it can do; either to zoom in and out as you move around (and follow your head movements), or to attach effects to your face or the background, all in real time.

My favourite funny effect is the “big mouth” one 🙂

vidcam wide

I can’t for the life of me think of a business reason for using this, but it certainly raised a laugh …

Bulk update Outlook Contacts’ phone numbers to be E.164 compliant

Here’s a quick & dirty tool I put together for Outlook to be able to update all the phone numbers of contacts to make them E.164 compliant. It relates back to a post a while back around the challenges of formatting numbers ‘correctly’, particularly important once you get into using click-to-dial technologies such as Office Communication Server.

The tool itself is basic since it’s only really expected that people will run it once, to sort out the numbers of old contacts you might have. It will check all the contacts in a given folder and automatically fix the numbers up, but there are a few caveats…

  • It’s hard coded for UK numbers beginning +44 … though the code is pretty easy to get to if you know anything about Outlook forms, and you can modify it at will.
  • It doesn’t back up the contacts before modifying, so you might just want to copy your Contacts folder somewhere else before running, if you’re of a nervous disposition. I can verify that it hasn’t mangled any of my contacts and nobody in Microsoft who’s tried it has reported a problem.
  • It’s not exactly straightforward to install – but if you follow the instructions carefully, you’ll be OK.
  • The document in the ZIP file explaining how to install & run it, is in Word 2007 format (docx). If you still haven’t either upgraded or installed the compatibility pack to add OpenXML support to your older version of Office, there’s a link in the ZIP file to go straight to the download page.

A final word: this is completely unsupported, supplied “as is” etc. If it does mangle all your contacts up, just revert to your backup copy – and if you didn’t take a backup then you’ve only got yourself to blame.

Harsh but fair I think 🙂


The logic converts “from” the format on the left to the format on the right… (_ denotes a space)

Old format number begins New format number begins
0 +44
(0 +44 (
+44_0 +44_
+44(0 +44(
+44 (0) +44
+440 +44
(0) +44_


old number New number
0118 909 1234 +44118 909 1234
(0118) 909 1234 +44 (118) 909 1234
+44 0118 909 1234 +44 118 909 1234
+44(0118) 909 1234 +44(118) 909 1234
+44 (0)118 909 1234 +44 118 909 1234
+440118 909 1234 +44118 909 1234
(0)118 909 1234 +44 118 909 1234