CIPS CONNECTIONSINTERVIEWS by STEPHEN IBARAKI, I.S.P.
Exchange, Access, Outlook development expert gives her tips
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with the highly respected author, consultant, programmer, and Exchange/Outlook/Access/SQL integration expert, Patricia Cardoza.
Patricia has authored many articles on Exchange and Outlook for TechRepublic, .NET Magazine, and Microsoftís Office Communities page. In addition since 2001, she has been a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in Outlook.
Her most recent book is ďSpecial Edition, Using Microsoft Office Outlook 2003.Ē
Q: Patricia, we thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
A: Stephen, Iím flattered you wanted to interview me.
Q: You graduated from the University of California Davis with a degree in Environmental Sciences. How did you get into computers? Can you detail your major challenges, their solutions and significant milestones in your career?
A: Well, you might say I was born into computers (my mother will be happy I said this). Sheís a math and computer science teacher at a high school in the Napa Valley. Within a few months of its release, she purchased an Apple IIe. My first exposure to computers was playing Oregon Trail on the Apple and writing some Basic code to move the turtle around the screen. I used the computer a lot in grade school and high school, playing computer games and writing papers. When I got to college, I went through a few different majors before settling on Environmental Sciences. I loved the Environmental classes and would have been thrilled to find a job in that industry but when I graduated the market was flooded with qualified candidates. Luckily by then I had already gained quite a bit of computer knowledge through other sources.
The summer after my sophomore year in college I got a job at the UC Davis Career Center. One month they didnít have much for me to do and they had an Access database package that no one had been able to figure out. My supervisor told me I could play around with it in my spare time and see if I could learn how to use it. I had never used Access at that time and Google didnít yet exist so I played around with the software until I could operate it competently. From then on, I was their resident computer expert. I used the software to track all of the students that came into the Career Center for resume and job advice.
When I graduated I took a job on campus with the Information Technology Department. There I participated in several research projects learning how people in the real world used technology. I had a lot of freedom in how I accomplished my research so I used the Internet heavily. I also continued to develop my Access database skills developing a database to track the various subprojects that were part of the research project. After that I moved to the Center for Advanced Information Technology on campus where it was my job to beta test new software for the University and give presentations on that software.
At this time (1 year after graduation) I decided I wanted to leave the education realm and move into industry. My next job was a great challenge. I took a job as the IT Manager for a long distance company. I handled billing, commissions, network administration and e-mail for the entire company. When I took the job I was told, ďWe have this Windows NT Server and no one knows how to operate it. Figure it out.Ē Well, Iím always up for a challenge so I bought some books and learned how to properly setup a Windows NT network. This was also the first time I used Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Outlook. A coworker told me that you could develop custom forms in Outlook and I was hooked. I designed my first few simple custom forms that year. It was also at that job that I learned a lot about administering Microsoft Exchange Server. Since I only had one other part time member of the IT staff and the company was growing, the hours were very long and sometimes required me to work 18 hours straight. I wanted more of a normal life so I left that job for an opportunity with a manufacturing company. My duties there began with developing some Access databases to fill some holes in their business system software. I quickly realized that Outlook forms could help the company exchange focused pertinent information so I started working with Outlook development again. Two years later we had a robust Public Folder application for requesting product pricing.
It was during the development of the Public Folder application that I discovered the Microsoft newsgroups. I used the newsgroups to get help with my Outlook development questions. People like Sue Mosher and Ken Slovak helped me learn the ins and outs of writing code within Outlook. Once I started developing my application I began answering questions on the Microsoft newsgroups. In 2001 I was invited into the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Program. It was a great honor to be invited to the program and it has lead to so many more opportunities.
You asked about significant milestones in my career. Iíd have to list a few turning points that really opened doors for me. First, my participation in the Microsoft newsgroups really helped me focus my energies in the right direction. Once I started posting my own answers, Sue, Ken, and Diane Poremsky really took me under their wings and helped me learn. It was through Diane and Ken that I made my entry into the world of writing. Diane recommended me as a technical editor for Special Edition Using Outlook 2002. About the same time I received the invitation to the MVP program. Once in the program I was able to network and meet an editor for Tech Republic. That opportunity led to the opportunity to do some editing for .NET Magazine. Soon after to started editing for .NET Magazine, their Wireless columnist left and I was asked to step in. Because of my technical editing experience working on Special Edition Using Outlook 2002, I was asked to submit a Table of Contents for Special Edition Using Outlook 2003. The rest, as they say, is history.
Q: As an independent consultant, what lessons can you share with our audience? Perhaps you have a few stories to tell?
A: Timing is everything. I could tell many stories of unrealistic demands and impossible projects. However, because I want to keep working as an independent consultant, Iíll just say that scope creep is probably the biggest potential problem for any independent consultant. The one story I will tell involved a Visual Basic application that was supposed to extract contacts from an Access database and save them in a local contacts folder. The application very quickly grew to a large scale SQL database with the VB application installed on a large number of workstations. Because I had not listed everything my initial quote included in detail, I ended up providing much more than originally intended for the bid price. Iíve since learned to detail exactly what my quotes will and wonít include.
The other lesson I learned was that I needed to set aside separate office space in my home for consulting. When I started consulting I would do my work while sitting on the couch. I quickly discovered that I was too easily distracted. Once I properly configured my office as a private workspace I was much more productive.
Q: What are the major pitfalls in programming Outlook forms and Access databases? Give us your secrets.
A: Thatís a complicated question. Outlook programming isnít inherently hard; it just takes a bit to get started. Outlook doesnít make it easy for you to browse the Object Model. There are only a few good resources for information on the Outlook Object Model. The best resource is www.microeye.com.
Once you have a basic understanding of the Outlook Object Model, you really only have to worry about a few key problems. The first is security. Since the advent of the Melissa and I Love You viruses, Outlook has included tighter security. If you try to write code that accesses email addresses in your contacts folder or tries to send email without user intervention, security prompts will appear on the screen. There are ways around these challenges, including using Redemption (a third party DLL that helps bypass some of the security features) or deploying a custom form and public folder on the Exchange Server to configure the proper level of security for your users. The other major challenge, particularly when developing custom forms, is that they donít work reliably when trying to send them outside an Exchange organization. Both sender and recipient need to have Outlook installed and both must also be able to receive Rich Text messages. Even then, there are no guarantees that custom forms will work.
Access development is a bit more straight forward. Not that there arenít challenges, but programming in Access is definitely more widely used and widely accepted.
Q: You have one in your home. Can you provide comments and then tips for installing an 802.11g wireless network?
A: Security is definitely a consideration when setting up any sort of wireless network. I recently went on a little fact-finding mission for wireless networks in my area. I took my tablet PC with a built-in wireless card and drove around my local business district. I found five different wireless networks within a 10-block radius. Only two of those networks were secure. The other three I was able to use to open www.microsoft.com. Because Iím a law-abiding citizen, I didnít try to access any of their corporate servers, but had I wanted to, thereís a chance I could have accessed sensitive information.
Setting up an Internet for home use requires the same focus on security. I have a number of friends who have wireless networks in their home. Iíve used the following analogy when explaining the need for security on wireless networks. If you leave your house in the morning, you probably lock your front door when you leave. Chances are, even if you didnít lock the door, your house would be secure. The average burglar probably wonít simply go from door to door and look for the unlocked door, but, every once in a while a burglar will decide to try your front door. If they find it open, youíve just made it extremely easy for them to rob your house.
Wireless networks work the same way. The average home user probably doesnít really NEED to secure their wireless network. Chances are no one will ever try to access it. However, you donít want to be that very small percentage of people who are hacked this way. So itís always a good idea to secure your wireless network. Most wireless access points and routers have a fairly easy encryption utility. Most generate the encryption key for you from a word or phrase you choose.
Q: You have a Pocket PC Phone Editionówhat are the pros and cons?
A: I love my Pocket PC Phone Edition. I use the Samsung i700 on Verizonís network. Having the phone has enabled me to leave my laptop at the office when I go out of town for the weekend. I can check my email from anywhere without having to lug the five pound laptop with all its external cables with me. Itís also possible for me to use my Pocket PC Phone to serve as a wireless modem for my laptop. This enables me to have high speed access anywhere Verizonís high speed network is available.
In addition to using the Pocket PC Phone as my cell phone and occasional modem, I have a horrible memory. I need to write everything down. I create notes and tasks for me for everything I need to do. From remembering to buy eggs at the grocery store to remembering to backup my server once a week, everything goes in my PDA.
The only con to having the Pocket PC Phone is that I tend to be too connected. Even when Iím on vacation, I check my email. While that often means I can fix small problems before they turn into big problems, it also means that sometimes I donít relax as much as I should.
Q: Why write the book?
A: Well, I asked myself that very same question every time writing kept me up past 2 am in the morning. I wrote the book because I love a challenge and I love sharing my love and knowledge of Outlook with others. Iíve never backed down from a challenge and this was the biggest challenge of my career. Itís also been one of the biggest risks. After all, I put a large part of my wealth of knowledge into the book. I just hope that the book can help users as much as I want it to.
Three years ago, I decided I wanted to get into writing. When I made that decision, I set a goal for myself. I wanted to collaborate on my first book before 2005. When the opportunity presented itself a full two years before my goal, I had to jump at it.
Q: You have spent considerable time becoming a recognized expert in Outlook. Why Outlook?
A: There are days I ask myself that very question. I suppose I chose Outlook rather than Word or Excel because it was a lesser-known product. When I first started developing in Outlook, very few people were fluent in Outlook development. I saw an opportunity to push the boundaries of Outlookís capabilities and create a true collaborative solution. I know one of the biggest challenges for any corporation is to facilitate communication. No matter how many different ways people have to communicate with each other, there will always be communication gaps. I feel Outlook, used properly, can help any company solve many communication problems. No program or process can produce perfect information exchange, but developing custom forms in Outlook, when used with Exchange Server, can help people communicate effectively.
Q: Describe the evolution of Outlook from 2000 to 2003. What new features were added? Why would businesses want to upgrade to 2003?
A: I feel Outlook 2003 is a significant upgrade from all previous versions of Outlook. From the new Reading Pane to Spam filtering to Cached Exchange mode, there are just so many reasons to upgrade. Cached Exchange mode will make offline users quite happy as their entire mailbox is automatically synchronized every time they are connected to their Exchange Server. Users of Cached Exchange mode will never leave the office having forgotten to synchronize their offline folders.
I think that the timing is perfect for many corporations to upgrade. As much as Microsoft would prefer companies purchase each new version of Microsoft Office, the reality is that a majority of corporations only upgrade every other version. As many corporations purchased new computers around the year 2000, in part to replace non-Y2K compliant machines, Office 2000 was the current version of Microsoft Office. A general rule is that a business computer lasts approximately 3-4 years. So the timing is perfect for corporations to replace aging machines and an aging version of Microsoft Office.
From my experience, Office XP (2002) didnít provide enough significant advantages to impel corporations to upgrade. Office 2000 worked well, why upgrade when there were few clear benefits? The same isnít true with Office 2003. In addition to the new features in Outlook 2003, there are entire new products that werenít available in previous versions of the Office Suite. Products like OneNote, InfoPath, and Business Contact Manager work better when installed with the entire Office 2003 System Suite. When you factor in the advanced collaboration features of Office 2003 when installed with SharePoint Portal Server or SharePoint Team Services, businesses can save time, money, and paper with Office 2003.
Q: Which features do you like best in 2003?
A: I think my favorite feature in Outlook 2003 is the new Spam filter. Since I answer questions in the newsgroups and sign up for technical newsletters, I get a lot of Spam. Itís unavoidable these days. Before Outlook 2003 I had to install a third party Spam filter on my computer. I had to have this product installed on all my computers that used Outlook. That can get expensive if you need to pay for a Spam filter for five different computers.
work for me. I have no need for a third party Spam filter now. Even on its lowest setting, Outlook filters approximately 90-95% of my Spam with almost no false positives. On the high filtering setting, Outlook catches 99% of my Spam with a very low rate of false positives.
If I had to choose another favorite feature, Iíd have to say the side-by-side Calendar viewing available when you either have multiple Calendars in your folder list or when youíre sharing a calendar with an Exchange user. This feature can have several benefits. First, when used with Exchange Server, you can see the calendars of your colleagues in one view. So you can instantly see if everyone is available for a meeting at a specific time. For home users, a soccer mom can put her work calendar and her home calendar on the same view to easily see when she needs to schedule time off to watch her childís soccer game.
Q: Tell us more about those special capabilities that give Outlook its power but are often overlooked or rarely used.
A: I think one of the most underutilized features in Outlook is Categories. Every type of Outlook item (emails, tasks, meetings, journal entries, contacts, even notes) has the ability to utilize categories. You can create as many categories as you need. Once youíve started using categories, you can ask Outlook to show you all the items that belong to a certain category. So if you create a category for your biggest customer, you can use the Advanced Find dialog box to search for all items with that category and display them in one window. No other feature in Outlook allows you to see notes, tasks, contacts, emails, meetings, and journal entries in the same location regardless of folder.
The next underutilized feature is the Journal. I donít advocate the use of the Journal for everyone, however certain business segments can benefit greatly from its use. For example, a lawyer has to track everything they do. Every phone call, email, document, spreadsheet, and task must be carefully documented in order to properly bill the client. Using Outlookís automatic journaling feature, a lawyer can track all of these items with just a few mouse clicks.
Both of these features, categories and the Journal, can be enhanced by custom forms and templates. If you need to track phone calls with a specific client, you can create a custom journal template thatís prepopulated with some basic information related to the client. Creating some basic custom templates can save a user a good deal of time over the course of several months.
Q: Share a few real-world problems that can be easily solved with Outlook.
A: Hmmm, personally, since I use Outlook every day for both business and personal use, I tend to think a good deal of problems can be easily solved with Outlook. However, I realize Iím not a typical Outlook user. I use Outlook to manage my personal and professional lives. With Outlook 2003ís side-by-side calendars I can keep my business and personal calendars in one view. I travel for business several times a year and try not to schedule any personal events or travel within a few weeks of my business travel. I also have several standing commitments every few months. I need to be able to view both calendars at the same time when deciding whether to take on a new project.
I think a typical user can help solve some of their day-to-day organizational issues by making full use of Outlookís calendaring and task features. By setting realistic goals and dates to accomplish those goals, a typical user can avoid conflicts between work and home life (at least as much as possible).
Q: From a development standpoint, what are the strengths and weaknesses of Outlook 2003?
A: One of Outlook 2003ís greatest strengths is trusted COM add-ins. When Microsoft released the Outlook E-mail Security Update in the wake of the Melissa and I Love You viruses, many developers protested that these security features crippled their development. Well, they were right. Any programmatic access to certain aspects of the Outlook object model or programmatic sending of email triggered obtrusive security prompts for the end user. When this security update was first released, I was appalled. After all, half of my applications involved programmatic sending of email to members of my company. But very soon after, Redemption, a third party DLL was released which allowed developers to work around the security update. However, the use of a third party tool is almost never preferable to being able to make the native application behave as you need. Microsoft listened to developers and allowed all COM add-ins that use the built-in Application object to run in a trusted space. Their position was that if someone (a user) is going to install a COM add-in, they trust the add-in so Outlook should as well. An added benefit of trusted COM add-ins is that VBA within Outlook is implemented as a COM add-in. So all VBA code written in Outlook is automatically trusted as long as the built-in application object is used.
The major weakness in Outlook development is the lack of VBA support behind custom forms. True, you can accomplish much of what you need to accomplish with VBScript. However, for a beginner, just getting into programming, VBScript is harder to learn. If Outlook forms had a richer development environment, with a VBA interface, intellisense, named constants, and debugging tools, a beginner could learn Outlook forms programming faster.
Q: What other books and articles are you planning?
A: Currently Iím working on an Access VBA Programming book with several other writers and soon I hope to start a book on Microsoft OneNote, a new notetaking application released by Microsoft this month as part of the Office 2003 System. The book is the Absolute Beginnerís Guide to Microsoft Office OneNote. It should be released next year. In addition to the books, Iím working on a new website exclusively for the support of a new product, Microsoft Business Contact Manager, a COM Add-in that works with Outlook 2003. The website, www.bcmhelp.com should be up and running within the next month.
Q: Whatís unique about your most recent book?
A: I like to think that Iíve provided a resource for a wide audience. The book is long, over 1000 pages, but thereís information included for beginning, intermediate, and advanced users. One of my favorite features in the book is the case study section, Improving Your Outlook, included in every chapter. This section provides real world examples, many from my own experiences, of how to use the various features discussed in the chapter. I think that giving readers some information they can easily incorporate into their own business processes helps drive the information home. Simply knowing that Outlook can display side-by-side calendars is useful information; however, seeing how a typical user can apply that feature often helps a reader feel more comfortable.
Special Edition Using Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 is also one of the only books on the market that contains detailed information about Microsoft Business Contact Manager (BCM), a new product designed to help the small business person manage their accounts, contacts, and opportunities. Primarily designed for those in the sales profession, BCM is relatively easy to use with a myriad of reports and views to help users manage their data. You can link all sorts of Outlook items to your business contacts and accounts. I really think itís a breakthrough product for small businesses and individuals. In its first release, BCM is missing a few features that would be helpful, such as sharing and customization abilities, but Iíve included some workarounds for both of those problems in my book. Iíve also included detailed real world case studies so readers can see how BCM can be implemented in their company.
Q: Can you speak more about programming in Outlook 2003?
A: Iíve already discussed some of the pitfalls for Outlook 2003 programming. Programming in Outlook 2003 really hasnít changed much from previous versions. There is one enhancement to the security features that some developers will find cumbersome. Two Outlook properties that were never subject to the Object Model Guard has been further restricted in Outlook 2003. Item.HTMLBody and Item.Body are two properties that are frequently used by developers for custom forms and add-ins. Many anti-Spam add-ins in particular use these two properties to examine the body of an email item. Any access to these properties will trigger the prompts that developers love to hate.
Because of these additional restrictions, many people are running into problems with antivirus and anti-spam add-ins for Outlook. If youíre receiving the dreaded security prompts and canít figure out why, check what add-ins you have loaded. If you have an anti-spam add-in or an antivirus add-in for Outlook, try disabling it very briefly to see if thatís the cause. If so, contact the vendor of the add-in to see if they have an updated version for Outlook 2003.
Q: You choose the specifics however can you provide additional essential tips from your many articles?
A: Probably the most helpful tip I could provide for anyone is www.slipstick.com. Sue Mosher has created a comprehensive Exchange and Outlook solutions center. Any questions you have about Outlook, from administration, installation, configuration, to programming and add-ins can be answered somewhere on Slipstick. I couldnít have gotten started programming in Outlook without Slipstick.
Q: Predict the future?
A: Well, if I could control the future my book would sell a million copies. But seriously, I see the next 10 years as a very exciting time in technology. I think more and more people will get connected either in their home or workspace. Pocket PCs will continue to decrease in size and increase in power. Already my current Pocket PC has more processing power and RAM than my college computer. Within the next 10 years, I think youíll see Pocket PCs that can run complex applications with a rich user experience. There was a commercial on TV about a year ago that depicted this young stock trader using a pair of eye glasses that displayed all of the stock prices scrolling by. He was using these glasses to buy and sell stocks. Within the next 10 years we could see a device like this become popular.
I think more people than ever will start to work either from home or from other locations than their offices. Already weíre seeing wireless networks pop up in local Starbucks, Borders Bookstores, and airports. The more people who continue to use these locations for work, the more wireless ďhot spotsĒ youíll see. Iím not sure if it will happen, but what I think would be great would be wireless access from the local cellular provider. I think it would be great if one bill from one provider could give you wireless, cellular, and maybe kiosk access to the Internet. That way youíd always be sure of having a connection no matter where you went.
Q: Can you provide a list of the most important issues facing corporations and IT professionals today? How can these issues be resolved?
A: Iíve always believed that the greatest challenge for IT professionals is simply keeping up with technology. Someone asked me once what I did in the evenings when I wasnít writing. They were surprised that my answer was that I read technical journals, and surfed technical websites to keep up with technology. In IT itís very easy to get behind. If youíre out of the loop for even a month or so you can miss a lot of advances. The IT industry is definitely a ďyou snooze you loseĒ industry. If you donít keep up with technology, youíll soon find yourself replaced by someone who is up to date with the latest technology.
The second major challenge for IT professionals is funding. Despite the cheapening of hardware over the past few years, a good server can still cost upwards of $20,000. Many corporations donít want to spend that much money on something that merely sits in a room. The financial decision makers of a company often donít truly understand the technology they are purchasing. An IT professional needs to be able to justify the purchase of a machine robust enough to handle the intended application. Many times that means purchasing a system that exceeds minimum system requirements. Justifying the purchase of a system in excess of the minimum requirements can often be difficult. IT professionals must become very familiar with the concept of ROI (return on investment) and be able to defend their hardware and software choices.
Corporations need to balance the leading edge with the bleeding edge. If a corporation adopts new technology too soon, they run the risk of spending too much money on the technology and too much time working out the bugs in the technology. On the other hand, if they wait too long to implement new technology, they run the risk of falling hopelessly behind their competition. Corporations need to stay somewhere in the middle. I rarely recommend companies adopt new technology as soon as itís released. Office 2003 is the one exception. I believe itís a very stable product and offers great benefits to companies. With the majority of other technologies, such as Windows Server 2003 or Exchange Server 2003, Iíve always recommended that corporations wait at least three or four months (and maybe up to 8 or 9 months) after the product is released to implement. There will always be early adopters of every technology. Let the early adopters work through the bugs and gotchas of the software. Then a corporation can benefit from other peopleís experiences.
Q: Which ten resources do you find the most useful?
A: I canít say I use ten resources on a regular basis. Almost all of the information I regularly need can be found on a handful of websites. Here are the resources I use.
1) www.slipstick.com Ė Slipstick Exchange and Outlook Solutions Center
Q: Why do you do what you do?
A: Sometimes I ask myself that same question; particularly when Iím jetlagged from a conference and have a deadline I need to meet or meetings to attend. I suppose the main reason I do what I do is that I love a challenge. Iíve often thought that I wouldnít know what to do with myself if I had nothing to do. I love learning new technology and I love sharing my experiences with others.
As for why I love programming, thatís a slightly different answer. I grappled a couple of years ago with a key career decision. I needed to decide whether I was going to stay with programming and development or whether I was going to move into systems administration. I chose programming because I loved the challenge of creating something new to solve a problem. Systems administration is challenging, but you donít often get to create something where previously there was nothing. When I implement a new database or a new Outlook Public Folders application, I love knowing that Iíve met a need and helped a company streamline a process.
Q: If you were doing this interview, what three questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?
A: Oh, turning the tables on me now? Well, youíve definitely asked some good questions here in this interview. Iím not sure Iíd have many different questions that Iíd want to ask, but Iíll give it a shot.
Q1: If you could add one feature to Microsoft Outlook 2003
what would it be?
Q2: Whatís the one technology or platform you most want to
Q3: The IT industry has historically been primarily male. Are
there special challenges being a woman in IT?
Q: Do you have any more comments to add?
A: I really appreciate this opportunity. Iíd like to take this time to thank some of the people whoíve helped me in my career. Sue, Ken, Diane, Randy, David, Maureen, and of course my husband, Rob. Iíve been fairly successful in my career. Part of my success is due to my hard work, but a large part of my success has come from help and support of others.
Q: It was a great pleasure interviewing you and getting first-hand, your accumulated wealth of knowledge and tips for our audienceóthank you!
A: Thank you for the opportunity.