Archive

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review: UC Extend – Set Your Skype for Business Presence Based On Time of Day!

May 1st, 2017 No comments

Description

A common request from Lync and Skype for Business users over the years is to be able to set Lync/Skype for Business presence based on rules. And a common rule is time. So, set my presence to ‘away’ at 5pm every weekday. Well, as is usually the case, the community was listening, and Andrew Morpeth (@AndrewMorpeth), fellow Skype for Business MVP, released a free solution called UC Extend.

UC Extend allows you to set various time of day presence and personal note changes. For example, you can set a presence of ‘Off work’ to start at 5:30pm until 8:00am. And the personal note can be something like ‘It’s currently outside my normal work hours so I may not respond’. UC Extend forces the configured presence and personal note during this time. So, even if you’re working on your computer, which would normally cause a presence of ‘available’, UC Extend will keep it as ‘Off work’. There are 4 standard ‘rules’ that can be enabled and configured, and they apply to every day. There is also a weekend rule that matches based on the day. So, if your weekend is Saturday and Sunday, from Midnight Friday till midnight Sunday, the configured rule will apply, and takes priority over the other rules. See the screenshot below to see how the application lays out the rules and their settings.

UC Extend has several other options as well, including forcing one UI (Skype for Business/Lync), and automatic ‘away’ settings. Andrew has done some work around also adding configuration of unanswered calls, but those features are not yet available. The right-click context menu for the application also supports custom options and custom URLs that are configured in the applications XML file. I did play around with those, but haven’t really found a need for them yet. Other options include the ability to include custom option in the Lync/Skype for Business context menu, which could be nicer. This includes custom support URLs, as well as the ability to launch an application. UC Extend also supports configuring registry keys in the XML, and forcing a value for those keys, such as when a change is detected. Andrew’s site describes these features further, and the XML file has some decent comment notes.

UC Extend will trigger a toast notification and system sound whenever it makes presence changes. For me, that’s a good ‘reminder’ that the working day is over.

Installation

Download the application from the TechNet Gallery. Run through the MSI installer, and you’re up and running. You can right-click on the ‘UC’ system tray icon to adjust the settings.

Conclusion

The application was released a while ago, and some of the dialogs mentions Lync instead of Skype for Business. The bottom of the settings dialog is an example of this. It doesn’t detect the sign-in status of Skype for Business in that location. But the application works great for Skype for Business clients. I really like the solution, and continue to use it to this day. My only real request, other than updating some of the dialogs to support Skype for Business, is to store the original personal note, so that when it’s outside of any of the configured rules, it can restore that. Or, and option to pick the original personal note instead of forcing a configured personal note. Certainly not a show stopper for me – just a wish. Maybe Andrew will get around to finishing the ‘unanswered calls’ config. Still, a cool solution that fills a known gap.

Review: Skyue – Set Your Phillips Hue Lights to Match Your Skype for Business Presence!

April 1st, 2017 No comments

Description

A year or so ago, when I began some renovation projects, I started to really get into home automation. I’ve now got two Nest thermostats, probably a dozen Nest Protect devices, some Next cameras, dozens of Phillips Hue lights, and a bunch of SmartThings sensors, smart plugs, and more. I’m also utilizing things like 7 Amazon Alexa devices, Siri, and IFTTT and Stringify to help tie things together. They really all work great, with the exception of the Ring video doorbell, which, IMHO, is a piece of garbage –

For quite some time I’ve played with some of the presence lights by vendors such as Embrava’s Blynclight and Kuando’s Busylight family. They work really well at letting others see your presence before they interrupt you. I’ve used them both at customer locations (‘cube farms’) and in my home office. The problem in the home office is that I wanted the light to be outside of my office door, so that family members could see my presence if my door was closed. That required a long USB extension cable, and wasn’t the cleanest looking solution. Then one day, I was playing with some Hue bulbs and Alexa, when it dawned on me that it would be cool to change one or more Hue bulbs to match my presence. So I reached out to Tom Morgan (@TomMorgan), Skype for Business MVP, ace developer, and former coworker, with my idea. Not long after that, he introduced Skyue. Skyue is a client side system tray application that controls Hue lights, and sets them to your presence. Brilliant!

I set this up to utilize a light on the main floor, near the stairs. My office is on the second floor, so the light is visible before people come up the stairs. While my family doesn’t know what all the various presence colors mean, they do know that red (busy/on a call/in a conference) and purple (DND) mean that you approach my office with caution. My grandson also knows that it means not to run around the house like a banshee, because Papa is probably on a call (hey – I’m no presence liar!). The app keeps the bulbs in sync, and there is really no delay between a change in presence and the bulb color being updated.

Installation

Pretty easy, really. Download the tool and run it. It will prompt you to press the button on your Hue hub. Once that’s done, click the button in the app acknowledging that you pressed it. Select the Hue light(s) that you’d like to control. Only the color ambience lights should be visible in the pick list. White ambience lights are not – for good reason. You can also set the level of brightness for the lights. This was something that I asked for because a Hue light is pretty bright. So, setting to 20% was a perfect level to be seen but not overbearing. Once you hit ‘Save’, you’re off and running. You can also adjust the settings by right clicking on the little floor lamp icon in the system tray.

Coming soon

According to the website, Tom is looking at adding Contacts so you can show their presence, as well as notifications for incoming IMs, and incoming calls.

Conclusion

I’ve been running this for many months now, and it’s been rock solid. If you’re looking to have a quality solution to leverage existing Hue lights and Skype for Business, Tom’s cool utility should fill the requirement. Highly recommended!

Review: Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e – Your Next Lync Conference Room System

July 8th, 2014 No comments

At the 2014 Lync Conference, Logitech showed their inexpensive conference room device called the ConferenceCam CC3000e. It got a lot of attention for several reasons. The first is the relatively low list price of $999. The second was the features that this unit contained. After seeing a quick demo at the conference, and talking to some folks at Logitech, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one of these to play with. Finally, it showed up and I’ve been using it since.

The system comes with several key components:

cameraCamera. The free-standing camera unit has a 1080p HD camera on a motorized pan/tilt unit that’s controlled by either the control unit, the infrared remote control, or a small client plug-in that supports both local and remote (far end) control. The client plug-in is available for Lync 2010, 2013, Skype, and Cisco Jabber. The camera supports up to 30 frames per second, 10x zoom, and a 90 degree field of view, pans 260 degrees, and tilts 130 degrees. This yields excellent video quality and flexibility. The camera supports H.264 & SVC, which allows for the offloading of video processing onto the unit itself instead of the PC it’s connected to. When not in use, the camera reverts to a position aimed down and away from users. When it’s next used, it returns to its previous “home” position. The camera can be table mounted, wall mounted, or even attached to a tripod with its industry standard threaded insert on its bottom.

console and remoteConsole unit. This is the heart of the unit, and contains two full-duplex omnidirectional mics that pick up conversations for everyone within about 20 feet in your conference room. Unlike other systems, the CC3000e doesn’t require separate mic pods. The unit has both touch controls for common features such as adjusting the camera for pan, tilt, and zoom, as well as on/off hook, mute, volume, etc. Also located on the control unit is a digital display that shows call information including called number or caller ID, and a call timer. The console also support both Bluetooth and NFC connectivity to devices.

Remote control. This is a very simple remote that includes all of the buttons that the console unit has, except for the Bluetooth button. The buttons are large and easy to see in a dimly lit room. The remote sits on the console unit when not in use.

hubHub. This is the center of all physical connections. Among the connections to this hockey puck sized unit are a USB connection to a PC, a cable to the camera, a cable to the console unit, and a small power cable. This can be mounted or located out of sight. A small LED on the front indicates it has power.

Testing. I’ve been playing with this unit for several weeks now. This is one slick unit. It’s easy to set up and get going, and the controls are fairly intuitive. Even without installing the client plugin, I was up and running in seconds. An “idiot proof” pictograph on the inside lid of the box made connecting things simple.

I set my Lync client to default to the CC3000e, and started making audio and video calls. The sound was fabulous on both sides. The camera has great quality, and the ability to pan/tilt/zoom was something I was constantly playing with. I found myself using the CC3000e as my defacto device for all calls. Moving around my office, people in the conference could still hear me clearly, and I could adjust the camera if I decided to sit elsewhere in the room. A company initiative to add video to every call meant I had plenty of opportunities to test the video features. And, a nice, bright, obvious LED indicator shows muted/unmuted status that’s visible anywhere. This is a nice feature, as a common complaint I hear is that people often don’t notice they’re muted when using just the Lync client. With the CC3000e, you can’t miss it.

Updating the firmware of the device requires the installation of a small app, and it’s pretty straightforward. Personally, I’d like to see this rolled into the client plug-in instead of being a separate install/app to deal with.

As with any solution, nothing is perfect. I did notice a couple of things. First, entering a conference where you’re already muted sometimes shows the blue indicator (unmuted) instead of the expected red muted indicator. Pressing the mute button on the console quickly resolves this. But it can be a tad confusing when the client shows muted, but the console doesn’t. At any other time, the mute status on the console was correct.

Second, the console unit buttons can be a little hard to see in low light scenarios. So, when presenting something on a screen, with the lights turned low, the keys are just hard enough to make it difficult to distinguish the symbols on them. I did notice that the symbols on the remote control were easier to see. A possible solution would be backlit buttons on the console unit. But this is just a minor issue, as I don’t often have the lights turned down low.

Everything else worked great on all of my calls. I played around with putting the camera in different locations, at different heights. I tried audio from different spots in the room. And I certainly pushed all the buttons during calls. This is an excellent device that I would recommend to any org that expects up to 6-10 people in moderately sized conference rooms. It is well worth the price.

Donations

I’ve never been one to really solicit donations for my work. My offerings are created because *I* need to solve a problem, and once I do, it makes sense to offer the results of my work to the public. I mean, let’s face it: I can’t be the only one with that particular issue, right? Quite often, to my surprise, I’m asked why I don’t have a “donate” button so people can donate a few bucks. I’ve never really put much thought into it. But those inquiries are coming more often now, so I’m yielding to them. If you’d like to donate, you can send a few bucks via PayPal at https://www.paypal.me/PatRichard. Money collected from that will go to the costs of my website (hosting and domain names), as well as to my home lab.

Review: Logitech H650e USB Headset

December 12th, 2013 3 comments

Logitech H650e USB HeadsetI have to admit that I’m a heavy user of wired headsets for Lync and Skype. This is really due more to the fact that spare power outlets in my office don’t exist. In fact, the fire marshal had better never show up and look behind my desk. Also, I rarely need to move more than a couple of feet from my desk chair. So the wireless benefit is somewhat lost on me. That being the case, I’m constantly checking out new headsets to see which will be the most comfortable and have the best sound quality.

Logitech’s Lync Optimized H650e headset is a dual ear USB wired headset. But not only dual ear, it’s stereo. While I’m not likely to use it to listen to my extensive hair metal music collection through them, it’s a nice touch. The headband is narrow, light, and very comfortable. The padding is soft, but not so soft that I feel the plastic headband itself. The ear cups are also very soft, and remind me of those found on my Bose QC3 noise cancelling headphones. I’ve worn the headset for several multi-hour calls, and it was comfortable throughout. The sound is fabulous.

One cool aspect of this headset is that the USB cable is flat instead of round. This might not seem like much, but take it from someone who routinely has at least four headsets hanging together. This 7 foot cable just doesn’t tangle. And the integrated control head provides for hook and mute buttons – both of which are Lync integrated. Pressing the mute button on the control head mutes the Lync client – not just the headset. There are also volume up/down buttons on it as well.

Logitech H820e presence indicatorThe mic boom is a flexible rubber that’s easily positioned in any angle you need. It has great, natural sound, so I’m told by those I speak to with it. One cool feature on this is that at the end of the boom where it connects to the ear piece, is a presence indicator. This is designed for people who are behind you. They can see your presence and know you’re in a call. One might think that would be evident merely by having the headset on, but I would point back to the headset being stereo. So a user could be listening to non-call audio. It’s only illuminated when in a call/conference/meeting. A neat idea that would be beneficial in a Dilbert style cube farm.

I really like this headset. In fact, my old favorite, the Blackwire 720, has been pushed to standby status as I use the H650e pretty much exclusively. Great sound, comfortable, and a non-tangling cord are all wins. For a list of $89.99 USD, it’s a fabulous unit that should suit most chair jockeys that don’t need to get away from the desk while on the phone.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,

Review: Plantronics Blackwire C720-M Headset

August 9th, 2013 1 comment

I love Plantronics gear. I’ve got plenty of their devices either on my desk or in my backpack. Recently, I had a chance to use the Plantronics Blackwire C720-M headset. The 720 is the dual ear model in the Blackwire 700 series. A single ear version, the 710, is also available. The 720 is a lightweight, comfortable headset that can be worn for hours on end.

The headset includes dual connectivity, which allows for a USB connection to a PC for Lync, Skype, and a bunch of other soft phone clients, as well as Bluetooth connectivity to a cell phone. You can switch back and forth between the two connection methods via buttons on the cable mounted control unit. If you install the Plantronics Control Panel software, you can configure the headset for various options including setting your presence when you put on/take off the headset, mute options, and more.

Some of the device settings available for the Blackwire 720-M headset.

Some of the device settings available for the Blackwire 720-M headset.

The headset can also automatically answer a cellphone call when you put the headset on – a really nice feature.

Blackwire C720-M control unit

Blackwire C720-M control unit

The cable based control unit has your typical volume up/down buttons, the PC and Cell Phone buttons to switch focus, and a mute button that does mute the Lync client – not just the headset. A bright red LED comes on when the Lync client is muted. You can’t miss it. The cable that goes from the control unit to the PC can be disconnected at the control unit so that you can move around while using the headset in Bluetooth mode. Plugging it back in re-enables the USB connectivity, as well as charges the internal battery.

I’ve worn this headset on 4 hour calls, and quick 30 second calls. I’ve used it in Skype, Lync, and with my Windows Phone. It works really great. It’s comfortable, stays adjusted and in place, and the audio is fabulous. Callers have mentioned that it sounds great when I use it.

One thing I don’t care about is that I’ve noticed I can’t really hear my own voice when talking. Now, before you think “this guy’s ego is so big he needs to hear himself talk…”, keep in mind on normal landline/VoIP/cellphone calls, you typically hear your own voice. And you don’t really notice it until it’s gone. It can be VERY distracting. But other than that, I’m a big fan of the headset, and have recommended it for use by our internal folks.

The headset comes with a nice case for storage and travel.

If you’re looking for a nice headset with some cool unique features, the Plantronics Blackwire C720-M is a great choice.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

Review: Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 PowerShell Cookbook

August 8th, 2013 No comments

Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 PowerShell CookbookI like Exchange. And PowerShell. So, when Packt Publishing asked if I was interested in reviewing their latest book “Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 PowerShell Cookbook”, I jumped at the chance. I was even more excited when I realized that it was written by two heavy hitters, Jonas Andersson and Exchange MCM and Microsoftie Mike Pfeiffer. I’ve known Mike since his days as an Exchange MVP prior to joining Microsoft.

I had not read any books published by Packt previously, so I was interested to see how this one was put together. What a pleasant surprise. The book, now in its 2nd edition, wastes no time in dispensing some solid PowerShell knowledge with the first chapter, “PowerShell Key Concepts”. If you’re a complete newbie who has been reluctant to take the PowerShell plunge, this chapter has a substantial amount of information to help you get started. In fact, If you read the first chapter, you’ll have an excellent understanding of the basics of PowerShell. Not only is that a great building block for what comes later in the book, but it’s also a great PowerShell primer just by itself. If you’re an experienced coder, the first chapter will help fill in some gaps.

From there we go to common tasks in both PowerShell and Exchange. Some great info there, as well, as we look at many of the things that help tie scripts together including remote sessions, tasks, dealing with .csv files, etc.

From that point on, each subsequent chapter deals with a different area of Exchange, and how PowerShell can make life easier. These are including topics such as mailbox and database management, high availability, and more. Each area is broken down into a specific subject, and includes information broken into several different sections, including “How to do it..”, “How it works..”, “There’s more..”, etc. These start with a simple task, explain the basics, and build on them so that the reader can develop great PowerShell functions and scripts, and understand what’s happening “under the hood”. In reading this book, I can say I’ve learned several different approaches to things that I had not considered previously.

Some things often get left out of Exchange books just due to the complexity of the product. This is often things like compliance. But, oh no – Mike and Jonas dive into this as well, discussing archiving, retention and legal holds, auditing, and more. There’s also a chapter on using the EWS Managed API, which really opens the door to doing all kinds of things by connecting to Exchange via EWS. Just look at what Glenn Scales is doing with EWS.

Chapters break down as follows:
Chapter 1: PowerShell Key Concepts
Chapter 2: Exchange Management Shell Common Tasks
Chapter 3: Managing Recipients
Chapter 4: Managing Mailboxes
Chapter 5: Distribution Groups and Address Lists
Chapter 6: Mailbox Database Management
Chapter 7: Managing Client Access
Chapter 8: Managing Transport Service
Chapter 9: High Availability
Chapter 10: Exchange Security
Chapter 11: Compliance and Audit Logging
Chapter 12: Server Monitoring and Troubleshooting
Chapter 13: Scripting with the Exchange Web Services Managed API

The book also contains some great reference materials in the appendices. A common shell appendix is a great add-on to what’s in the book, especially chapter 1. I probably learned more from this part of the book than anything.

Appendix B delves into query syntaxes – something that can be frustrating if you don’t know the basics and pitfalls. From AND and NOT to date ranges and more. Solid info that should be kept within arms reach.

I have to say, it’s no surprise that I liked this book. Mike and Jonas did a fantastic job keeping the reader engaged. By taking a simple idea and building on it, each example and section helps solidify a solid PowerShell understanding and how it relates to Exchange. Installation, configuration, and administrative tasks are all made substantially easier by the information in this book. The book doesn’t talk over the reader’s head, and the code provided is solid and clean. I can’t recommend this book enough if you’re an Exchange person looking to get into PowerShell to increase your productivity and enhance your career.

The book is available from Packt Publishing in formats including print, ebook, and .pdf, and from Amazon as a printed book, or Kindle download. Buy it! Now!