Well, not really. But it does make for a catchy headline. Let me explain. I work for a small, but growing, company with; seven admin/support people, a bunch more in marketing, a handful of installers, and a gaggle of independent sales reps. So not a very big organization And as we are small (but growing), a $0.00 IT budget. That means dealing with XP machines (inherited from a previous enterprise) and avoiding spend wherever possible. Fortunately Microsoft was good enough to stop supporting Office 2003, and I had full licensed versions of Office Pro 2003. So now, everyone else has it too. No need for Open Office or Google Docs. Aside from spending a few dollars to get at least 1GB RAM into every workstation to support my Access applications, everything else just has to last for now.
Our CEO is a no-nonsense kind of woman, who her soul mate affectionately refers to as, “The General”. It’s not unusual to see this 100lb. woman push a desk twice her weight across the floor, because she wants it moved “now”. So, when I got the email below, I knew the clock was already ticking. And The General’s clock ticks a bit faster than yours and mine.
I am sure she added the “buy” just to make me feel better, but “use” is more common in our office. My first thought was Google Calendar, which sent a chill down my spine. I have worked hard to personally avoid Google (for reasons not relevant to this article), and the thought of me having to setup a GMail account had my head spinning. Sent a quick plea for help to our StaffNotify email thread and one option presented was Office 365, for $4/per user / per month. Hmm, $4 x 7 users = $28 x 12 months = $336. Nope, never gonna happen. I needed a cheaper solution. Then I remembered that our CEO recently setup a new Outlook account (on my suggestion) to compile mail from all of her accounts. Additionally, one user had an @Outlook account, another had an @MSN account, while another had a @Hotmail account. Add that to my @Live account (our whole Go Daddy domain mail thing is a mess that I still don’t have access to after a year, so don’t ask) and 5 of 7 users were covered by Microsoft. Never shared a calendar in Hotmail before, but figured it had to work. Right?
When the @Outlook.com domain was released a few weeks back, I snatched up “firstname.lastname@example.org”, so I could use it for registering with social services (already had a hotmail address that i didn’t like much), Vimeo, and also SkyDrive to share documents and files with our Sales representatives. I created a new Calendar in the primary account and shared it with my @Live account. Looked and worked wonderfully. I had a solution. And just in the nick of time as The General walked in at that very moment and asked if I had it all worked out yet. Yes sir….I mean madam. I showed her what I had done and she got excited. OK, now make me Calendars for; Birthdays, Installs, Service, Shows, Recruiting, Other Stuff, Training…….. Woah, I hoped there were no limits in the number of Calendars you can share.
An hour later, all of the Calendars were created and distributed to the five existing Microsoft mail users without any issues. They can add their own charms to each Calendar, change colors and setup alerts, reminders and daily schedules. It’s nice that I can manage all of the Calendars with the the @outlook.com business account. Everyone gets to see and touch everything right now, but over time that will probably be fine tuned, limiting access depending on each users needs. And I am sure that more Calendars are on the way. Still need to finish up with the two remaining users, currently on GMail and Yahoo. I already created new Outlook accounts for them and synced up all the Calendars, but getting GMail to play nice with Outlook has not been as simple as I expected. Going to work on the Yahoo account next week.
I have not caught up with everyone else’s; iPhones (2), Androids(2) and Blackberrys(2), but my L900 is now displaying all of these shared Calendar’s in vivid color. Nice to be able to see everything at a glance, and get alerts for things that are important to me. We have been using Outlook/Hotmail/MSN/Live Calendar for less than two days, and still have some tweaking to do, but so far everything looks and works great. Oh, and The General loved the price.
So, have you done anything creative or interesting with a Microsoft “free” service? I think most users equate Microsoft with $$$$$, but there is plenty of good stuff out there for the taking.