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Social Media’s Trojan Horse for the E… June 27, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Enterprise, social networks.
1 comment so far

Don’t look now but social media and social networking tools have begun its assault on the enterprise! They have successfully penetrated company firewalls and have started to infiltrate corporate email systems without anyone noticing yet!

How have they accomplished this impressive task despite all of the security measures that anti-social media administrators have set in place? Well, very simply and quietly via plug-ins such as the clever Outlook email service called XOBNI which has been covered on here previously.

The latest version of Xobni (inbox spelled backwards by the way) includes a hook into LinkedIn which means whenever you are viewing an email in Outlook you can now see their LinkedIn profile and information! This includes their photo, title, current emplorer details and much more! It might not look or sound like a big deal but trust me, this is a game-changer folks!

This is a major breakthrough for the future of the enterprise and incorporating the best of social media into the workplace. It is the shot heard round the world wide web. Ok, maybe it’s more of a small ripple in the ocean which ultimately becomes a tidal wave down the stream!

The concept of sneaking social media into the enterprise has been covered on here before but that process was far more obvious than this new stealth method. Talk about sneaky! Xobni has established a blueprint for all other web 2.0 services that want to go to work with corporate America and world wide for that matter. They just need to figure out how to present their service in a similar subtle and useful manner. Sometimes a whisper is far more powerful than a shout.

For the record, Xobni isn’t the first service to attempt this invasion of the enterprise, but they have come up with the best and most useful service. Some others have managed to scale the walls of IT defense.  Here are a couple that come to mind that I used a great deal:

Breaking & Entering Innovators

Plaxo was actually the first service that I can recall that plugged into your Outlook client and connected you to your online account and all your contacts and friends. When they added their Pulse technology you then had your entire social network in your Outlook toolbar! Think FriendFeed for your email client. Here’s the Outlook plugin for Plaxo.

Outwit was another Outlook plugin that allowed you to read and post Twitter messages. It didn’t have all the bells and whistles of other Twitter clients such as Thwirl but it was and still is a very clever way to sneak in a web service that blended well with your existing business communication tool, in this case your email client.

The Ultimate GateKeeper February 27, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Enterprise, Freeware.
Tags: , , , , ,

In all my years working in I.T. the thing that has always made me cringe is the way that people handle their login account information and passwords. I cannot tell you how often I’ve seen login names and passwords attached to monitors on sticky notes or taped to their desk or keyboard. The more security conscious ones actually try to be more safe by storing their passwords in their drawer, which still isn’t that smart really. The next level of security is taken by those who store all of their passwords in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, which is better than the post-it method of protection, but it’s still vulnerable because their isn’t any encryption which makes opening the file very easy. This is a serious matter that should be addressed by every organization, no matter how large or small they are. One security breach and any company can be exposed to devastating results from a potential hacker.

So what’s the answer? What can be done about this all too common problem that occurs in every company in America? Well, the first thing to do is provide some basic security training for all employees. Make sure everyone understands WHY this is so important. It isn’t just for the company’s safety but for their own safety as well. The next thing to do is provide a simple method for storing all of their login account information and passwords, perferably one that also provides encryption for added security.

Obviously, expense can be a concern so this solution shouldn’t be too expensive either. Now, there are countless password managers available these days, but to me there is only one ultimate gatekeeper.

KeePass is the best password manager available today because it doesn’t require installation, it’s easy to use, and it’s free! The best part of all is that you can keep thousands of passwords in one safe place with encryption. This means that you can have instant access to all of your accounts by remembering just one password from now on. Here’s a screenshot of the main interface (Click to Enlrage):


There’s a version for different operating systems, such as linux, Mac OS and of course all flavors of Windows. However, my favorite is the Portable version which doesn’t require any installation and can be launched from a USB stick! This means you can save the keepass program and the password database that it creates and encrypts for all your passwords in one safe place and with you at all times. Here’s the Keepass download page.

Companies and especially I.T. departments need to stop sticking their collection heads in the ground when it comes to this grievous security risk and address it as soon as possible. Don’t assume that your users know better and would never be stupid enough to do such things. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen these things done by individuals with extremely high levels of intelligence, multiple degrees and usually good common sense. It only takes a few minutes and the Keepass utility is free and easy to use.

Create Your Own LinkedIN Network for the Enterprise February 21, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Enterprise, Networks, Semantic Web, social networks.
Tags: , ,

LinkedIN is a fantastic networking service for business contacts, but wouldn’t it be even more useful if you could build your own version of this service within your own enterprise? Obviously, you would start with the relationships internally among all employees and then have links to their external contacts outside your firewall to other companies, social networks and other email systems. Everything would evolve from within your internal Outlook or other corporate email system and ultimately extend to external email systems such as Yahoo, Gmail and more.

Well, you can do this and start for free thanks to Visible Path which has launched an innovative new service that does exactly this. Seeing is believing and a picture is indeed worth a thousand words so checkout their 2 minute screencast. I think you will be impressed as I was with what they do. I truly believe that they are onto something big here which will all be part of the future of the Internet and the Semantic web. Another positive move is Visiable Path’s decision to embrace OpenSocial standards which is a great sign for its future on the web as well as on the Enterprise.

How to save big bucks on mobile phone bill February 14, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Enterprise, Finance, Mobile.
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I recently spent a great deal of time with our company’s account representatives for our mobile phone cariers, AT&T and T-Mobile. I learned some eye-opening, jaw-dropping yet simple tricks that will reduce our company’s monthly mobile phone bill by hundreds of dollars. The changes to make are simple little things that truly add up to a great deal of savings. Here are some ways that you can help your company reduce their monthly mobile phone bills by a significant amount by simply making a couple of minor changes in the way you use your company provided cell phone.


Directory Assistance (411)
Companies can save substantially if every employee uses Google directory assistance from their cell phone instead of calling 411 which charges for every call made that way. It’s approximately $1.79 plus airtime per 411 call made from a mobile device which adds up quickly if a company has many employees on their plan. It’s free to use Google directory assistance via text messaging for addresses and numbers. Simply save Google’s directory assistance number (466453) under contacts as Google. When sending a text to GOOGLE just enter the name of the business and city and state or zipcode. For example, Pizza Hut Atlanta, GA. Google will then immediately start sending you the contact information that matches your request.


Google also offers 1-800-Goog-411 (1-800-466-4411) as well for free information calling.

There are several other similar free services, such as:
Microsoft’s TellMe 1-800-555-TELL (8355)
1-800-Free 411 
Try each one to see which one you like best.

Change your voicemail number
You can also save a great deal when it comes to checking voicemail on mobile devices. By default, you are charged whenever you check your voicemail because you are dialing a special phone number. In order to be able to check voicemail for free, all you have to do is change that voicemail number to your own cell phone number. Here are the instructions for Blackberry and non-blackberry cell phone users.

Blackberry Users

1. Open the phone application.
2. Click the wheel and go to Options.
3. Click on Voicemail and it will display your Access Number.
Change it to your own number.
4. Go into your Address Book and add an entry for ‘Voice Mail’ and put in the access number from step 3 as one of the phone numbers for that contact (it doesn’t matter which phone number slot you put it in).
5. Go back into your phone app. Click the wheel and select ‘View Speed Dial List’.
6. Select the [1] spot (or wherever you want the speed dial for voicemail to go).
7. Click the wheel and select ‘New Speed Dial’ (or ‘Edit’ if there is already something in that slot).
8. Select the Voice Mail contact you created in step 4.
9. Save your changes to the speed dial list and go delete the Voice Mail contact. The phone number will be left in the speed dial list.


Non BB users

1. Save your own number in contacts under yourself such as voicemail or “name” Jane voicemail.

2. Call the saved contact name and do not push 1 or 123 to call voicemail.

3. Depending on device:

a. Find phone options in device

b. Go to voicemail number

c. Select menu – edit voicemail number from default +8####### to your own seven digit mobile number.


WiFi Whenever Possible
Thanks to exciting new devices like the iPhone and the Skype Phone, mobile phone cariers such as AT&T and T-Mobile are offering models with WiFi capabilities such as the Blackberry Curve.
This is a significant move because it now enables mobile users to save airtime minutes by using “free” WiFi hotspot connections instead! There’s even a way to setup the phone to automatically switch to WiFi mode whenever one is available without user intervention. Look for mobile devices with WiFi features to become extremely popular.

Every Minute Counts!

This tip is just a matter of changing a habit and just common sense. Whenever possible, do your best to make and return phone calls from an office landline instead of your mobile phone. This will save a great deal of minutes and thus reduce your phone bill.


Final Thoughts
These are just some tips and ideas that can help you and your company save substantially every month. There are other things you can do to save hordes of cash such as adding your users to a pool of minutes instead of letting them each expense their monthly phone bills individually. Mobile cariers are much more flexible these days when it comes to porting phone numbers from personal accounts to corporate accounts and back out to personal accounts again so there isn’t a valid reason why an employee couldn’t join the company plan anymore. It also allows you to phone usages and control any financial bleeding that is taking place in your monthly phone expenditures. Each mobile carier provides powerful online account systems that allow you to examine how you are using your phones and minutes.




Networks 101 February 8, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Education, Enterprise, Networks.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

A friend of mine said to me, “Sorry you have to work late tonight. I have no idea what a core switch is.” It made me chuckle and remember that most people don’t know the terms or jargons we geeks in I.T. use on a daily basis. Even technically savvy users like my friend don’t always understand how a network works. After all, it isn’t their job to know this stuff anyway.

Still, I always like to provide a little basic networking 101 to my network users just so they can get an idea of how it all works. I will give them a quick and dirty tour of the network operations center (sometimes called the Computer Room or Data Center, depending on the ego of the IT Manager). I like to demonstrate what happens every time you power on your laptop or desktop computer and log into my network. I want to show them that it isn’t just voodoo or magic or just dumb luck whenever things work.

Here is a basic diagram that I like to share with my network users that shows a simple overview of the entire process. Keep in mind that this map was designed for the average network user so please stop chuckling you I.T. knuckleheads. 🙂
For a larger image click this: networks101


Here’s what goes on every time you power on your laptop or desktop on a network.

1. Laptop/desktop powers on and loads operating system

2. The computer’s network card establishes connection with the network via an ethernet cable plugged into the wall jack or via wireless access point and wifi card.

3. The user enters their login information and it is sent back to the network server for authentication and verification.

4. Note that everything flows thru the network switch which connects all desktops/laptops, printers and servers inside the firewall which protects everything from the Internet and outside world.

5. Once a user is connected to the network, then they can access whatever has been assigned to them. For example, they can send print jobs to the printers they have permission to print to and access files on the file servers.

6. All emails enter the network from the internet after the firewall inspects it and forwards it to the company’s email server(s). The emails are then routed to the mailbox owners after being screened for viruses, spyware and spam. (It’s not an exact science, but most harmful elements are caught in time).

There you have it in a nutshell. The core switch is the hub of any network. It is the traffic cop that controls the flow of bits and bytes that travel across the network continuously. Even untethered items like laptops that use WiFi to connect to the network wirelessly still use an access point that ultimately connects to the switch via a network cable.

I hope this simple explanation and diagram gives a glimpse at the complexity of your local area network and perhaps a little more appreciation for the unsung heroes in your I.T. department (cough cough). Next time you see them, why not give them a hug? OK, scratch that. You don’t want to freak them out or anything, so a simple smile and head knod will suffice.

How to Build Your Own Social Network in the Enterprise for Free February 1, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Enterprise, social networks, Web 2.0.
Tags: , , ,

Believer it or not, you can actually build a social network for your enterprise for free. Thanks to Microsoft’s free Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) and free SQL Server 2005 Express database, you can design and deploy an entirely new collaborative intranet or social network for your company that features many of the hottest web 2.0 features such as wiki’s, blogs, RSS feeds, calendar sharing, document sharing and more. Not only is it all free, but it can all be setup and ready in just a couple of hours. I know because I’ve done it.
There is confusion when it comes to Microsoft SharePoint. Most people automatically think of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 Server which is extremely expensive and not Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) which is free! Obviously, you get what you pay for when it comes to features and performance, but WSS is perfect for many companies, especially small to medium-sized organizations that cannot afford the expense that a fullscale SharePoint deployment costs. One of the reasons that makes SharePoint so expensive is its reliance on Microsoft SQL server, which isn’t cheap. The good news about the free WSS is that it uses the free Microsoft SQL Express 2005 database, which is robust enough for most environments.Here are the most important differences between WSS and MOSS.

  • Search across site collections – In WSS, each site collection is an island unto itself.  MOSS adds the portal umbrella that pulls together those separate site collections and allows for searching across them.
  • Personalization – MOSS allows users to have individual, personalized sites; WSS doesn’t.
  • User Profiles – MOSS allows you to import, store, and update personal data on your users, it’s not available in WSS
  • Audience Targeting – MOSS allows you to target content to specific user groups; WSS doesn’t.
  • Crawl and Index sources outside of SharePoint for searching- MOSS allows you to return search results for indexed sources such as file shares, web sites, Lotus Notes databases, and much more; WSS can only crawl and index WSS sites.
  • Search administration and customization – MOSS gives its admins much more control over the configuration of its search engine; WSS doesn’t.
  • Extra Site Templates – MOSS provides additional site templates (and workflows) for content management and portals
  • Business Intelligence – allows you to track key performance indicators and build BI dashboards into your team site. The dashboards can assemble and display business info using Excel spreadsheets, SQL, or integrate with line of business applications. Excel Services in MOSS go beyond simply displaying Excel spreadsheets, you can actually stream parts of a spreadsheet, showing or hiding various parts.

Note: The crawling, indexing and searching “weaknesses” of WSS can now be resolved by using Microsoft’s Search Server 2008 Express which is also free! Here is an exhaustive feature comparsion matrix for all SharePoint versions. Also, keep in mind that you can always upgrade from WSS to MOSS if/when the time (and BRINKS truck) comes!

Best Features for the Enterprise Intranet (Social Network)
It is amazing just how many features there are in the free SharePoint version (WSS 3.0 SP1). Most companies make SharePoint their intranet, thus becoming ground central for communication for all employees. Here are the most popular and useful features that you can use with your new SharePoint intranet.

Top Navigational System
There is usually a tab for the main home page and each department. This is merely an example, so the names of the departments and tabs will be different for each company. Here is what the typical navigational system for a SharePoint intranet looks like:

Quick Launch Components
Here are the most popular components used in SharePoint on the leftside of the browser and called the Quick Launch. Keep in mind that these components can all be used within each department’s portal! For example, you will find all of these elements on the intranet’s home page for all employees as well as in each department’s private area. Thus, H.R. can post public news and events on the main site for all employees to see and private information within their locked down area.

  • Announcements: Usually placed on the home page at the very top. Company news and announcements go front and center here.
  • Calendar: All company events and activities go into this public calendar. Holidays are usually added as well.
  • Contacts: All contact information is centralized in this public address book. It can include information on employees, vendors, partners, clients, etc.
  • Tasks: Action items and people assigned to them.
  • Projects: Basic tracking information for project tasks, including Gant charts
  • Wiki: Yes, you can launch wiki’s at will in the enterprise! They can be public wiki’s or private wiki’s for projects.
  • Blog: Yes, blogs are part of this free SharePoint as well. Companies use them for news updates or for project status updates.
  • Message Board: If you need a good old fashioned message forum then here it is.
  • Image Library: Control all authorized images, logo’s, etc.
  • Forms Library: Maintain all official forms and templates in the forms library.
  • Shared Documents: Ah, my favorite feature of them all. Companies can now have their own ECM (Enterprise Content Management) system for free!
    Create centralized depositories for all company documents and files and let SharePoint control versions and updates. Makes searching and finding documents much easier.
  • Surveys: Excellent way to take company polls on any subject matter.
  • Meeting Workspace: Powerful feature that assists with meetings. Documents decisions made, task assignments, agenda notes, and more.
  • RSS Feeds: Just about everything can have its own RSS feeds and email alerts!

Note: These are just some of the many features and components that are available for Windows SharePoint Services! See the links section below for more template examples available for free from the web!

Outlook Integration
WSS allows users to access just about any information thru their Microsoft Outlook 2007 client with seamless integration and synchronization.
Users can link SharePoint calendars, tasks, contacts and document libraries. Watch the videos below to see just how easy it is to do.

SharePoint Links
Here are some useful links that will provide information and tools that will make your new SharePoint intranet more stable and powerful.
Official WSS Homepage
WSS Overview
Download WSS 3.0 with SP1
Download All Free Templates
Template Previews
SharePoint TechCenter

SharePoint Videos
Windows SharePoint Services Overview:
Here’s how to setup a SharePoint Wiki.
Here is a video that demonstrates how easy it is to link a SharePoint calendar with the Outlook calendar.
Here is how to link Outlook 2007 with SharePoint Document Libraries.

Final Thoughts
Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) is powerful set of tools for the enterprise at any cost. The fact that WSS is free and easy to install makes it a no-brainer when it comes to deploying a versatile intranet or social network in the enterprise. If nothing else, WSS can help lead the way to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 solution which has even more enterprise class features with greater levels of load balancing, availability and complexity. In the mean time, deploy your own Enterprise 2.0 today!

Free Search Engine for Your Enterprise January 31, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Enterprise, Microsoft.
Tags: , , ,
Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express is a free (for now) search solution for the enterprise. It’s easy to install and can be up and running within minutes. It looks and feels like search engines we use every day. Includes subscription service that sends update notifications of your search results via e-mail and RSS alerts. Watch this brief video to see how it works.

What can You Search?

Network File Shares
Local Intranet
Corporate Website
Microsoft Exchange Public Folders
Federated Search Connectors

What are Federated Search Connectors? (See video)

Federated Search Connectors allow your Microsoft enterprise search solution to pass search queries to a target system and accept and display results returned from that system.

They are based on the Open Search standard, making it easy to configure federated searches for a wide variety of existing information services. The configuration data for a Federated Search Connector can be packaged and reused as a Federated Location Definition (.FLD) file.

Here are just some sample connectors you will be able to search within your enterprise:
News: Live.com News, Yahoo News, Google News, Wired, The Register
Information Resources: MSDN, TechNet, Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, Yahoo
Media: Flickr, Yahoo Images, YouTube, PodScope
Blogs: Technorati, Google Blog Search

Technical Resources
Here’s a
6 minute video that demonstrates what the user will see.
Here’s the Installation & Configration video.

Comparison of Microsoft Search Solutions
The chart of features will show the differences in features for Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express, Search Server 2008 and their flagship SharePoint Server 2007. The free express version does everything that the commercial Search Server solution does except for High Availability and Load Balancing.

Microsoft Search Server 2008 Release Candidate is free. The RTM (Release to Manafacturing) version will also be free. Will it always remain free? Don’t count on it, bub! However, by then everyone in your organization will be so hooked on it that there shouldn’t be any problems getting the purchase order approved by the powers that be.

Free Download and System Requirements:

  • Processor: 2.5 gigahertz (GHz) (minimum)
  • Memory: 2 gigabytes (GB) RAM (minimum)
  • Operating System: Any of the following editions of the Windows Server 2003 or newer operating system with the most recent service packs: Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, Datacenter Edition, and Web Edition.
  • Hard disk: NTFS-formatted partition with 3 GB of free space (minimum)
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0 with ASP.NET 2.0 enabled
  • Windows SharePoint Services 3.0
  • Microsoft Windows Workflow Foundation Runtime Components 
    Note: Search Server 2008 Express can be installed on one computer only. It supports an unlimited number of Web front-end servers, but only one application server.

Final Thoughts:
No matter how you feel about Microsoft or their operating systems, their Search Server 2008 Express is worth a look if your organization needs a way to index and search volumes of documents and other bits of information. Besides, the price is right!

By the way, Microsoft’s Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 3.0 is also free and commonly called SharePoint-lite.
Here is how SharePoint can help you build your own social network for the enterprise for free!

How to Sneak Social Media into the Enterprise January 10, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Enterprise, social networks.
Tags: , , ,
Something strange happened today. Earlier in the day, I had posted a comment on Chris Brogan’s blog in response to his excellent piece “Challenges of Social Media Types in the Workplace“. I shared how torn I was as a Systems Administrator because I had to block access to many popular social networking sites that I enjoyed and appreciated on a personal level. I also believe that these technologies can and will become commonplace in the workplace of the near future. We just have to figure out how to get upper management to let down their guard and give these new ideas a chance. But the trick is, how?Well, here’s where it got interesting. I spent most of my day after that point working on what used to be a dull and mind-numbing experience: Composing SOP (Standard Operating Procedures)!

I had to complete five new ones, no less! What I didn’t realize was happening was the fact that I was sneaking Web 2.0 in thru the backdoor and into our company and embedding it into our network!

How you might ask? Well, quite by accident or was it subconsciously? You be the judge.

Making the Connection

As I was creating the first SOP, I came to the section where I had to list referencial materials such as forms that must be filled out for all procedures mentioned in the document.

I knew I had all of the forms stored on my SharePoint 2007 Enterprise system in the IS Forms folder. I also had the SOP documents stored on SharePoint in the SOP folder right near the forms. Hmmm, I thought. Why don’t I just use hyperlinks on the form names that could actually launch the Word or Excel application and open the form required? Simple habit from my blogging experiences.

I added more hyperlinks not just to the forms but to all other resources referenced in the document such as the list of authorized Vendors with contact and account information, computer inventory databases, spreadsheets used to track Blackberry numbers and so much more.

Strengths in Numbers

There were many sections where I needed more information and feedback in order to complete. Instead of the usual emailing back and forth of documents with colleagues trying to complete a document, I thought it might be more efficient if we somehow collaborated on the document in realtime. Since SharePoint didn’t have this feature and we didn’t have our own solution in place yet, I decided to use Zoho Meeting. Within minutes I had a few of my colleagues all looking at the same documents and screens that I was looking at it, right from their own desks. We took turns making changes to the procedures and in no time at all completed what would’ve taken days previously!

Seeing The Light!

OK, so now this usually boring activity is becoming more fun and becoming alive because it could actually turn out to be a useful tool. I was only beginning the process of smuggling Web 2.0 in thru the kitchen.I arrived at a difficult section in the document where I had to describe a process that I could do with my eyes closed but it was hard to explain in words. I wondered, how would I explain this on the web? As I was staring at the screen I saw a lightbulb. No, not the proverbial idea lightbulb but something at the top of my screen that looked like a lightbulb. It was the icon for the Jing Project screencasting program that I had recently installed! I smiled as I put web 2.0 and 2.0 together. I would create a screencast of the difficult and detailed sections of my SOP! Talk about perfect timing!

After creating the screencast and creating a hyperlink to the movie from within the document, I couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying the once tideous and excruciating process had become!

The document that used to be a listless static piece of paper was now a supercharged webpage with images, hyperlinks to forms, spreadsheets, databases, contact lists, websites and more.

Tip of the Iceberg

Needless to say, this was a rather simplistic example of how we can incorporate some of the best features of social media and social networking into the enterprise.

There are countless other ways to do this limited only by the imagination. I’ve already begun to think of ways to add live group chat to the process and video conferencing, perhaps with twitter feeds and flickr embedded images. We just need to look at the way we’ve always done things from a different perspective.

Think Web 2.0 which doesn’t just mean FREE, my friends. I think it means thinking outside the box and towards making everything more collaborative, effective and heck, even fun! What’s wrong with breathing some life into the stale, musty business world? Who says we have to let all the kids on Facebook and MySpace have all the joy? We each have the choice to do something differently or do them the same way we’ve always done them. In the end, it’s up to you which path you take.

Me? I’m taking the road to funville!

Excuse me, there goes my snitter. What did Scoble get himself into this time?!