Posts Tagged ‘MS Office’

Helpful Computer Hacks

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2017 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

I grew up in an age when a ‘hack’ was someone who was incompetent. In those days there were no personal computers or mobile devices. Now everyone has access to multiple computers and various mobile devices. And wouldn’t you know it– ‘hack’ has a new meaning! Today a hack can be a clever way to get things done well.

Following are some hacks that can really help improve your efficiency on a computer!

Hacks for Computer Users
The following hacks are especially helpful for computer users.

Keyboard shortcuts. In today’s world of Windows and Mac operating systems we have become dependent on pointing devices. Granted, those devices are very helpful. But before these current operating systems, we used keyboard combinations to do some of what we now do with a mouse or track pad. Those keyboard shortcuts are still available to use, and they can save time! Here are six I still use often:

Function

Windows

Mac

Print

Ctrl + p

⌘ + p

Copy

Ctrl + c

⌘ + c

Cut

Ctrl + x

⌘ + x

Paste

Ctrl + v

⌘ + v

Italics

Ctrl + i

⌘ + i

Bold

Ctrl + b

⌘ + b

Multiple Monitors/ Displays. For those who’ve always used one monitor or display, having two or may three seem excessive. But the increase in productivity with two or three is surprising! I always recommend at least two now; the cost is minimal and the benefits are significant! My desk is configured with three: the one on my left always has Outlook running on it, the one in the middle is where I do most of my work, and the one on my right is for research references (browser, database, etc). I also find it helpful when opening large spreadsheets to stretch them across my middle and right displays!

Recurring Tasks. We all have them: recurring deadlines that are due every Wednesday, once a month, quarterly, etc. I use Outlook’s task functionality to set the reminders I need to help me hit my deadlines. This is one of the most helpful and least used tools available. I also use Outlook tasks to remind me to do things I’ve promised to do, helping me avoid them falling through the cracks of my active schedule.

Managing Email. Email consumes a larger part of our days than most of us want. I have three email hacks that help me stay focused and efficient, even though my average daily email count is well over 100.

  • Inbox. I keep my Inbox as empty as possible so I don’t waste time reading the same emails over and over. When an email comes in I either respond and then delete the original (a copy of the original is in my response!), put a flag (due date) of when I want to respond by and drag it to a subfolder based on the type of email it is (personal, business, etc), or delete it if it’s one I don’t care about (like an ad).
  • Sent Items. Once I send an email I delete it unless I need a reminder that I’m waiting for a response or it was a topic that could have legal ramifications (if it was, I make a PDF copy and store it).
  • Trash. I empty my trash at the end of every day. In the rare case that I need to find something I deleted, I log into our email server via browser (using Outlook Web Access), search deleted files, and restore it.

Automatic Backup. I always feel bad for someone who says a hard drive crashed and they lost all of their files, including photos that were irreplaceable. Losing important files is painful. There are many cloud services available to consumers that will automatically back up files to their cloud servers. There are also utilities in the Windows and Mac operating systems that will automatically back up files to an external drive.

Hacks for IT Professionals
The following hacks are especially helpful for IT professionals.

System setup checklists. As IT pros, we often set up new systems. If the process isn’t automated, I recommend creating a checklist to help achieve standardization. In addition to improving setup consistency, checklists save time because you don’t need to review your work to determine what you’ve already done after an interruption.

Professional Relationships. It’s so helpful to build friendships with people you can turn to when a challenge comes up that stumps you! Those ‘lifeline’ calls can save so much time! The best professional organization I’ve found for those in church and ministry IT is The Church IT Network (http://churchitnetwork.com). They have a low-cost annual gathering in the Fall, and low-cost regional gatherings in the Spring.

Monthly Backup Test. Set a task in Outlook to test your backup monthly. A good test is to restore a file or folder structure and then open the file(s) to verify the backups you’re relying on are good.

Those are some hacks that can really help!

O365’s Email Solution – Caution!

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2017 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

Microsoft’s O365 has many features that interest churches and ministries– especially because of the generous charity license Microsoft provides. Some aspects of O365 are good, but we found enough problems with their hosted email service that it’s worth posting an Enter at Your Own Risk sign.

O365’s Charity License
Microsoft is willing to give to nearly any non-profit a license to use their hosted O365 solutions and services for free! The only exception we’ve experienced is for pregnancy centers and clinics; Microsoft has been unwilling to extend the charity to license their way.

Microsoft, in its desire to be as inclusive as possible, recently modified some language in their application process to give comfort to religious organizations who legally discriminate in their hiring and employment practices. That is worthy of our appreciation!

O365 Hosted Email Service
My firm is a Microsoft Cloud Partner. We have many clients using various aspects of O365, and we think some of those aspects make great sense.

Because many churches and ministries turn to us for recommendations, we test solutions as carefully and as thoroughly as possible. So, we moved our Exchange server into Microsoft’s hosted email server solution to see how it performed; we expected it to do at least as well as Microsoft Exchange. What we experienced, however, was very disappointing. Here are the details:

  1. Email often stopped moving. We saw times during which no email would move; the longest of which was about three hours. The stoppage was not always to our entire domain (whoever@mbsinc.com), but was sometimes just one person in the mbsinc.com domain. As a Microsoft Cloud Partner, we can look at what’s happening when there’s a support need and try to resolve it, but the most we could ever determine was that Microsoft was aware of email flow stoppage and was working to resolve it. We could never learn anything more specific than that, nor were we allowed to resolve it.

    I’ve spoken with other Microsoft Cloud Partners, and they have seen this too. Like us, they also found they could do nothing more than learn Microsoft was aware of it.

  2. We started getting a lot of SPAM. Microsoft has SPAM protocols protecting its hosted email servers, but a much higher amount got through than we were used to when using our Barracuda SPAM Filter with our Exchange Server. Our first conclusion after talking with Microsoft about this issue was to start using our Barracuda SPAM Filter again with their hosted email server. Doing so prevented a lot of the SPAM that had been getting though, but we continued to get a lot of obvious and potentially dangerous SPAM. Further analysis determined that it was being generated by other users of O365 hosted email servers. Talking with Microsoft about this, we concluded they didn’t have a way to stop SPAM that was generated from within their email ecosystem, perhaps because it was sourced behind their SPAM protection solution.
  3. Data started disappearing. I use Outlook for more than just email. I rely heavily on Outlook’s calendar and task management functions; in fact, the calendar is a part of my income tax documentation for mileage logs and business-related expenses. I was shocked when about six months of my recent calendar data disappeared! Then I noticed my tasks were randomly disappearing, causing me to miss fulfilling promises I had made to clients and publishers. We contacted Microsoft, and that led to the fourth issue.
  4. Microsoft does not backup its hosted email servers. There was no way to recover data that disappeared. If I had deleted the data, it could be undeleted within a reasonable period, but because it just disappeared, there was no way to undelete or recover it. Apparently, they decided their email ecosystem had so much redundancy that it didn’t need backups!

In fairness to Microsoft, it’s appropriate to say the experience we had is not typical. I was talking with an IT engineering colleague about that, and told him sometimes the Lord uses us in this way to help protect The Church. As a small firm, we are often amazed at how He uses us to uncover hardware and software system weaknesses and then gives us the opportunity to help the solution provider resolve those weaknesses. We’ve done that with Microsoft many times over the years, but on this issue Microsoft told us they had no interest in working with us to identify the cause of the O365 email server issues and fix them.

Our Conclusion & Recommendation
Microsoft’s O365 has many good features, but their hosted email service is not ready for enterprise users. I told our engineering team that if any of the Exchange servers we set up for our clients were as unreliable as the O365 email server, our clients would fire us! And appropriately so! So, we moved our data back into an Exchange Server, where we once again enjoy stability without an onslaught of SPAM.

Nick’s Software Picks

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2016 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

Our team is privileged to have served many hundreds of ministries nationwide as IT strategists, engineers, and consultants. We don’t sell or profit from any of the software we recommend, but in those IT roles we’ve found that some software works better in church and ministry offices than others. It is with that perspective that we make the following recommendations.

Software comes in three general categories: operating systems, applications, and games. Although games are the most fun, in this article we will only look at operating systems and applications.

Workstation Operating Systems
Operating system software (often called the OS) is what helps computers know what to do with the commands they receive from users and programs. Desktop and notebook OSes today are mostly from Apple or Microsoft.

Our current Windows OS preference is Windows 10 Pro. Win10 is consumes fewer computer resources (processor, RAM, etc) than its predecessors, but to run it well we recommend buying the fastest processor you can afford with at least 4Gb of RAM. We also recommend avoiding Home and Student editions in office environments, and Microsoft agrees.

Our current Mac OS recommendation is 10.11, El Capitan, but that will likely change this Fall when Apple releases Sierra.

Network Operating Systems
The discussion of Linux vs Novell NetWare vs Microsoft Windows Server has been settled, and Microsoft has won the NOS (Network OS) wars. Our current recommendation is Windows Server 2012r2, but that may change once we’ve seen and evaluated the final release of Windows Server 2016 (due out this Fall).

Hypervisors
Hypervisors turn computers we’ve historically called servers into hosts for many virtual servers. Though it sounds complex, it’s actually simple once seen.

Some of the reasons this new category of software has gained so much acceptance in corporate America are:

  • The computer’s processor chip is the most expensive component in the computer. Most servers’ processors only use 5% – 10% of their processing capacity after they’ve started, and so this very expensive component usually goes mostly unused. By installing a hypervisor and then hosting virtual servers on top of it, you are able to get more use out of your physical server computers, achieving a much higher return on your investment.
  • Windows Servers function best–most reliably–when they only run one service, like Exchange, for instance. That means in a Windows network you’re best to have many servers, which can be expensive if they’re physical servers. Using hypervisor technology reduces your cost significantly because you’re able to run many virtual servers on one host, and the only additional cost to configuring a host is that it may need more RAM.
  • In most church and ministry networks, the version of hypervisor software needed is completely free!

Hypervisor software is the latest battle focus for IT domination, which is good for consumers. The company that invented the technology for the PC platform is VMware, and their software is currently the best—no contest. Microsoft, Citrix, and others are also in the marketplace, so that may change someday. But for now, VMware is the software to go with. You can download it for free at www.vmware.com.

Network Utilities
The simplest tool for distributing standardized workstations across a network is still Symantec’s Ghost. It allows you to create an image of a workstation hard drive, store it, and then distribute it to other similar workstations; in effect, cloning them.

Our favorite network back-up software is from Veeam. There’s no better protection available today to help protect the valuable data on a Windows network—virtualized or physical.

The best anti-malware for churches and ministries is Thirtyseven4 (www.thirtyseven4.com). It is capable, works on Windows and Mac computers and servers, and it is affordably priced for churches and ministries.

And speaking of protection, we recommend purchasing uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) with software that communicates with each server. This kind of protection keeps the server and those logged in to it aware of any power changes that could impact the network. The best is PowerChute, which ships for free with American Power Conversion’s Smart UPSes.

Applications
The programs we use to get our work done (I refer to this category as productivity software) can come in separate modules or in suites.

Microsoft Office 2016 dominates the productivity software field.

Word Processor & Layout
Church word processing is highly layout and mail-merge oriented, as opposed to simple document processing. If your team uses Microsoft Word, then you probably augment the layout function with a light desktop publisher like Microsoft Publisher (Windows only). The most capable and preferred desktop publisher suite, however, is Creative Cloud from Adobe. Creative Cloud includes many powerful tools like InDesign, PhotoShop, LightRoom, and Acrobat that can take your publications—print and online—to the next level.

Spreadsheet
The best spreadsheet available is Microsoft Excel. The formula, charting, pivot table, and diagnostic functions are powerful and easy to use. And Excel spreadsheets and charts paste easily into Word documents. Excel can also link to databases (using pivot tables), providing real-time diagnostic charting to help make good management decisions.

Presentation
This software lets you put together lessons, sermons, classes, and more in outline form. Those outlines can be presented as attractive slide shows that can be projected through monitors or projectors with attention-getting graphics and animation. The best app in this area is Microsoft’s PowerPoint.

The two greatest benefits are:

  1. Reduced preparation time since the software works in outline form; and
  2. Enhanced delivery of your message because it involves more senses and can be graphically memorable.

Email, Calendars, & Task Management
Outlook and Exchange are the combination of choice for this category. Exchange is the email server, and Outlook is the client that presents Exchange’s contents to the user. Beginning with Office 2011, Outlook is included in Office for Mac, allowing better collaboration among all team members!

Database
Most ministries are best to buy a ministry or church management system (ChMS) that is designed to serve the needs of ministries rather than to buy a database engine and develop a database of their own. There are many good ChMS providers listed in this journal. But don’t try to buy a database engine and develop your own; it takes too much time and is too hard on the staff.

Bible Study Tools & Libraries
There are many good tools to help in this area. My favorite two are Logos for study and prep (www.logos.com), and YouVersion—free!—for devotions and reading on the go (runs on any SmartPhone). YouVersion can even be incorporated into your live events! See www.youversion.com.

Brainstorming / Note Taking Tool
A great tool for brainstorming and note taking is iThoughtsX. It runs on any platform and is terrific for meetings, workshops, sermon preparation, and more.

Electronic Wallets
There are many electronic wallet solutions available today. My favorite is eWallet from SPB. The data is stored on my devices rather than on someone’s server (those servers are big hacking targets), and each of my devices synchronize changes made with each other. Great security and convenience!

Happy Shopping!
Churches and ministries qualify for steep discounts for many of these solutions! If you’re a church or ministry, never pay retail without first checking with others or the manufacturers to make certain you’re not overspending.

Microsoft O365 – What You Need to Know

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2016 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

Last year I reported a charity license issue breakthrough that now has many considering migrating to Microsoft Office 365 (O365). There are some limitations you need to know about, and there are ways to save considerable dollars. Here’s what you need to know.

The Charity Licensing Issue
Until last Fall Microsoft had this restriction in its O365 charity licensing program:

“Organizations that engage in discrimination in [employment practices] based on… gender identity or expression… [or] sexual orientation… other than as allowed by law are not eligible to participate in this program.”

This was an issue for many Christian churches and ministries. Thankfully we were connected with the right people in Microsoft (no small feat– and possibly even miraculous!) to address the concerns of those who had issues with that language. The result was that Microsoft made some changes in October that eased those concerns!

  • Microsoft added a statement to their website that says, “The only exception to this [anti-discrimination] policy is for religious organizations that are exempt from laws that prohibit such discrimination.” (see https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/nonprofits/eligibility under “Anti-Discrimination Policy”)
  • Microsoft also added some FAQ points that explained its intention. The FAQ clarifies why Microsoft is excluding religious organizations from the anti-discrimination policy. It also answers two important questions about how to determine if an organization may be exempt from discrimination laws and whether Microsoft will be policing compliance. The FAQ can be found at https://www.microsoft.com/about/corporatecitizenship/en-us/nonprofits/faq under “Program Eligibility”.

Organizations interested in O365 charity licensing discounts must still be 501(c)(3) tax exempt, or under the umbrella of a larger organization (like an association or denomination). But the non-discrimination language issue has been solved for most.

What About Google Apps?
Google still has LGTB employment non-discrimination restrictions in place for charity licensing, which can be found at https://www.google.com/nonprofits/account/signup/us. Churches that want to use Google’s business tools under their charity licensing program should note these restrictions.

O365 Limitations
O365 is a great option, but it is not for everyone. Here are some limitations we’re aware of that, if important to your organization, may mean avoiding or limiting the benefits you choose to implement:

  • Passwords must be complex and at least 8 characters, but cannot exceed 16 characters (unless integrated with your local network’s Active Directory — AD).
  • If you have a local area network managed by AD:
    • Integration between local network AD and O365’s AD is problematic unless the local AD has been appropriately cleaned up; you may be best off not trying to integrate the two. Ideally, though, they should be integrated.
    • Changes to AD, when integrated, can take awhile to replicate across both ADs, though password changes and disabling accounts are supposed to happen instantly.
  • OneDrive (in place of an on-site file server)
    • Many churches and ministries rely on a large file folder structure for shared files that may have departmental security.
      • OneDrive currently doesn’t handle that. There is a beta client showing promise, however.
      • Another possible solution is O365 Sharepoint.
    • OneDrive does not work well for Mac users. In its current version, the beta client does not resolve this issue.
    • Not nearly as simple to use as Dropbox or Owncloud.
  • Exchange (email, contacts, calendars, etc): For churches that send large group emails, unless using a 3rd party communication service, relay, or mailing list product, O365’s Exchange Server limits sending when emails:
    • 30 messages per minute, and
    • 10,000 recipients per day.

Best O365 Practices that Save
Even with the limitations mentioned above, it is likely your church or ministry would benefit from O365 at some level! Here are some best practices approaches.

  • For non-academic charities, there are basically two licensing options (see https://products.office.com/en-us/nonprofit/office-365-nonprofit-plans-and-pricing):
    • E1 – FREE!
      • Does not include the fully installable version of Office, but does provide online browser-based versions.
      • File storage in OneDrive, up to 1tb per user.
      • Exchange Server.
      • IM, teleconferencing, video conferencing.
    • E3 – $4.50/month per user – Everything included in E1 plus:
      • The fully installable version of Office and mobile apps.
      • AD management.
  • There’s another option that may make the most sense for many.
    • Combine the free E1 with O365 ProPlus for Nonprofits (only $2.00/month per user), listed at the bottom of the web page!
    • The O365 ProPlus for Nonprofits option includes the fully installable version of O365 and mobile apps.

Can You Still Just Buy Office 2016?
Many prefer to just buy their Office app, paying a one-time fee with no further subscription fees. You can still do that, and the charity licensing cost is still about the same; just contact your preferred vendor.

So whether you only want the installable version of Office, or want to add to that an Exchange server and more, Microsoft O365 now makes a lot of sense for many more Christian churches and ministries.

Microsoft Resolves O365 Charity Licensing Issue for Churches!

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2015 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
Ministry Business Services, Inc. President
Reprinted from CT's ManagingYourChurch.com online magazine

Many Christian churches and ministries have been uncomfortable with the Microsoft charity licensing program for Office 365 because it requires them to certify they don’t discriminate in their employment practices regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. On October 8, 2015, Microsoft addressed these concerns and posted changes to its policy on their website!

The Original Problem?
Microsoft previously placed this restriction for its Office 365 (O365) charity licensing program:

“Organizations that engage in discrimination in [employment practices] based on… gender identity or expression… [or] sexual orientation… other than as allowed by law are not eligible to participate in this program.”

Many organizations that discriminated in these areas applied for the program and were approved. The reason they were approved is that Microsoft felt this was a self-certification. Microsoft never intended to police it, since even Microsoft couldn’t identify exactly where the law was on these issues. Its intent was simply to be inclusive.

In my role as a speaker, journalist, and consultant, I have been raising awareness of this issue– not saying an organization needed to be on one side of it or the other, but simply making certain that if an organization did discriminate in their employment practices regarding LGBT issues, that it needed to be aware of what it certified.

Many responded by saying they love those in the LGBT community and want to minister to them, so they weren’t sure this was an issue for them. My response would be to ask them how they would handle a senior member of their church’s leadership coming out of the closet. For those who did discriminate in employment regarding LGBT issues, but wanted to certify that they did not, it would raise questions about integrity, and possibly even some questions about legal liability (the risk of certifying no discrimination to maintain eligibility for the charity program, but then terminating someone because of this issue).

The Resolution Process
After speaking on the topic at The Church Network annual conference this summer, an individual came forward and told me he knows a VP at Microsoft who goes to their church and might be able to help resolve this. He asked if I would be interested in pursuing a conversation. That led to a teleconference with Microsoft’s director of business operations and its lead counsel for corporate citizenship, the very two people who could address this! (As big as Microsoft is, that in itself was miraculous!)

In the call I suggested there were two reasons Microsoft might want to consider changing its wording:

  1. Microsoft is a business with a conscience, and that’s good. But Microsoft was, with the existing wording, making it very uncomfortable for hundreds of thousands of Christian organizations to use its solution, and that may not be the business decision they intended.
  2. Microsoft was pursuing inclusion by excluding a large percentage of the population.

We talked through many scenarios of unintended consequences. They thanked me and said they’d let me know what they decided.

The Final Resolution
On October 7th they emailed me to let me know the changes they were making, and asked that I wait for the changes to go live on their website before making an announcement. Microsoft added a statement to their website that says (see http://www.microsoft.com/about/corporatecitizenship/en-us/nonprofits/whos-eligible/ under Anti-Discrimination Policy):

“The only exception to this [anti-discrimination] policy is for religious organizations that are exempt from laws that prohibit such discrimination.”

Microsoft also added a three-point FAQ that explained its intention. The FAQ clarifies why Microsoft is excluding religious organizations. It also answers two important questions about how to determine if an organization may be exempt from discrimination laws and whether Microsoft will be policing compliance. The FAQ can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/about/corporatecitizenship/en-us/nonprofits/faq/ under Resources for Nonprofits.

This allows churches to act in accordance with their legally protected religious convictions and not feel required to certify something that may not be true for them.

The value of the program cannot be understated. The Office 365 program has a variety of options, but the two most commonly used by churches either reduce the cost from $8/month/user (E1) to free, or from $20/month/user to $4.50 (E3). (See https://products.office.com/en-us/business/compare-more-office-365-for-business-plans.) The savings are substantial.

What About Google Apps?
Google still has its restrictions in place for charity licensing, which can be found at https://www.google.com/nonprofits/account/signup/us. Churches that want to use Google’s business tools under their charity licensing program should note these restrictions.