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Technical Hired Guns Need to Communicate

How many times have you heard the phrase, "consistency is the key"? I've seen this proven true time and again, especially when configuring computers that will be used by non-technical users.

Recently I helped a relative who needed to recover email messages from her computer. She has a small business with a dozen employees, and although I try not to consult for relatives, I did this time because her own consultant had left the business. The problem wasn’t a simple loss of email; her system was pretty much fried. Windows wouldn't boot and there were far more problems than just the need to recover data stored in Microsoft Office Outlook Express. But that’s actually not the point of this column.

While I worked to recover her data, she asked me, in passing, why she couldn’t get her email messages from the Web, as most of her employees do. A little investigation revealed that although her employees used the same email server, two-thirds of them used a Web interface to access the ISP-hosted mail, and the remainder had Outlook Express configured to use POP/SMTP to download mail to the client. She used two separate email accounts: Outlook Express for the bulk of her business-related correspondence, and a Web interface for more personal mail and for access at home. She didn’t realize that she and her employees were accessing the same email server; she had never asked about this, and her consultant had never explained it.

When she started the business, the ISP she used didn't offer Web-based email access, so her consultant configured Outlook Express for her. A year or so later, when she started to expand the business, the same consultant simply configured a link using Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) to the ISP's mail service to give the additional users email access via the Internet. Even though she had been using her business computers for years, she didn't really understand how they operated. She asked me if she could just use IE as her email application in the future, and after we discussed her email use, I set up a link to the Web mail service so she could have Web-based email access at home as well as at the office. Given the lack of consistent backup policies for her business (don't get me started on that), it made more sense for the business's email messages to stay on the ISP's servers, where they were somewhat protected. This setup also lets each user access email by using an identical process, simplifying the situation and ensuring one less potential problem in the future.

This experience showed me how little most users, especially in small non-technology-related businesses, know about computers. If everything works as it's supposed to, users see no reason to learn more, and when they encounter problems, they hire the appropriate skills. But business owners' total lack of awareness of what their hired technical guns are doing, and the feeling among some consultants that they don’t need to document and explain the things they've done, can make for a difficult time when a new consultant is called in to clean up problems.

Editor's Note: We're changing our name, but more than that, we're sharpening our focus. In February, we'll re-launch this newsletter as Vista Update. We want to be your resource for all things Vista, from deployment to security to virtual PC and beyond. Even if adoption of Vista is far off in your company's future, you'll still find the useful, client-side information you've valued in Client Update, but with the added benefit of staying current with what's happening in Vista. To that end, please don't hesitate to let us know what you'd like to see covered in our new, twice-monthly issues. We plan on offering David Chernicoff and Kathy Ivens's features as before, with a new twice-monthly commentary by Karen Forster. On a practical note, please whitelist this new address to ensure the new issues send as seamlessly (we hope) as the old: [email protected]

Tip--Use Group Policy to Disable System Tray

A client mentioned that some of his users were confused about the behavior of the Windows system tray, or taskbar. Because the default behavior of the system tray is to show all icons and yet enable the "Hide inactive icons" capability, many of his users spent time trying to figure out why the taskbar kept changing on them. I pointed out to my client that although it's a simple matter to disable "Hide inactive icons" by using the taskbar properties, perhaps he should disable the system tray notifications completely on all the client computers, so the interface on all his systems would look the same.

There's a Group Policy Object (GPO) for system tray notification, and you can disable the notifications by taking the following steps:

1. Launch Group Policy Editor (GPE) 2. Open User Configuration, Administrative Templates, Start Menu and Taskbar 3. Select hide the notification area 4. Enable the policy 5. Exit GPE

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