Tag Archives: Microsoft

About Microsoft Office.

Using Google Drive without Google Docs

If you are using Kerika with Google, you don’t have to convert your documents to the Google Docs format in order to use Google Drive.

Google Docs Format Preference
Google Docs Format Preference

You can use this preference setting to ensure that your Microsoft Office documents, for example, are retained in MS Office format even while they they are stored and shared using Google Drive.

 

Managing multiple versions of files just got a lot easier

With our latest update we have made it much easier to manage different versions of files, across all your Task Boards, Scrum Boards and Whiteboards.

(This was inspired by our recent fix to a bug that didn’t properly download the latest version of a file attached to a card or canvas; while fixing this we started thinking deeper about how to make file management even easier for our users.)

Here’s how file management works now: when you hover your mouse over a file attachment, a new action called +NEW VERSION is available:

Uploading new version of document
Uploading new version of document

Clicking on the +NEW VERSION button will let you pick any file from your computer that’s of the same type, and Kerika will add that and track the file as a new version of your old attachment.

This is possible even if the new file has a different name altogether, as long as the two files are of the same type.

For example, a filed called Budget.xlsx can get a new version that’s called Plans.xlsx — both are tracked as different versions of the same file, even though they had different names.

This makes it even easier to manage all your files using Kerika!

Internet Explorer on Windows 7 is too retro for us

If you are still using Windows 7, please use Chrome or Firefox instead of Internet Explorer 11 (or, worse yet, an even older version of Internet Explorer).

We are not in a position to support Internet Explorer on Windows 7 anymore: for one thing, we don’t have any PCs running Windows 7 anymore.  And Microsoft itself has stopped selling Windows 7 several years ago, and mainstream support ended two years ago.

We realize that some of our enterprise customers are forced to stay with Windows 7 because of legacy systems that don’t work well with newer versions of Windows, but supporting Windows 7 is not something we are in a position do, or have any interest in pursuing.

Too retro for us
Too retro for us

Chrome is the workaround.

Bug, fixed: adding SharePoint URLs as attachments on cards

Thanks to one of our users at Washington State’s Employment Security Department, we found and fixed a bug that was causing problems when users tried to add SharePoint URLs as attachments on cards, for Task Boards and Scrum Boards.

The problem turned out to be in some code we have that tries to check whether a user is entering a valid-looking URL.  SharePoint’s URLs are somewhat unusual in that they include the “{” and “}” characters, which most other web servers don’t use.

Our old code was treating these characters as invalid, thereby rejecting URLs coming from SharePoint.

This has been fixed now.

Thanks!

How Project Settings Work in Kerika (A Preview of Coming Attractions)

Here’s a teaser video of the new Kerika user interface, which we are getting close to releasing…

Among other things, we will consolidate and improve a bunch of project management features under a new “Project Settings” button.

Check it out:

From Export as CSV to Export as Excel

We used to have Export as HTML and Export as CSV as options for our Task Boards and Scrum Boards, and with our latest version we are tweaking the Export as CSV to become Export as Excel instead.

There are a couple of reasons we did this:

  1. We now include chat and document links in the export: this was done specifically to help our many government users who need to respond quickly to Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
    (See our separate post on how Kerika makes FOIA-compliance one-click easy.)
  2. Everyone who uses the CSV export wants the data to end up in an Excel file anyway, so why not put it in that format to start with? (After all, it’s easy to go the other way as well, from Excel to CSV…)

Export as Excel

Export as Excel

Using Kerika, but not using English

Right now, the Kerika user interface is entirely in English, but we have users worldwide and many of them use Kerika with other languages, e.g. Greek, Japanese, Korean, etc.

When you export data from a Task Board or Scrum Board that includes non-English characters, the foreign characters are actually preserved correctly as part of the exported data, but if you need to then import data into some other program, like Microsoft Word or Excel, you need to make sure the other program correctly correctly interprets the text as being in UTF-8 format.

WHY UTF-8?

UTF-8 is a coding standard that can handle all possible characters, so it works with languages like Greek, Japanese, etc. which don’t use the Roman alphabet.

For a long time now, UTF-8 has been the only global standard that works across all languages, because of its inherent flexibility in handling different character sets.

When you do an export of data from a Kerika Task Board or Scrum Board, we create the CSV files in UTF-8 format, and include what’s called the Byte Order Mark (BOM) in the first octect of the exported file.

Including a BOM is the best way to let all kinds of third-party programs know that the file is encoding in UTF-8: it’s a standard way of saying to other programs, “Hey, guys! This text may contain non-English characters.”

And for the most part, including a BOM works just fine with CSV exports from Kerika: Google Spreadsheets interprets that correctly, Microsoft Excel on Windows interprets that correctly, but not…

EXCEL ON MACS

Many version of Excel for Macs, going back to Office 2007 at least, have a bug that doesn’t correctly process the BOM character. Why this bug persisted for so long is a mystery, but there we are…

The effect of this bug is that an exported file from Kerika, containing non-English characters, will not display correctly inside Excel on Mac, although it will display correctly with other Mac programs, like the simple Text Edit.

There’s not much we can do about this bug, unfortunately.

THE TECHNICAL BACKGROUND TO ALL THIS:

BOMs are used signify what’s called the “endianess” of the file.

Endianess is a really ancient concept: in fact, most software developers who learned programming in the last couple of decades have no idea what this is about.  You can learn about endianess from Wikipedia; the short summary is that when 8-bit bytes are combined to make words, e.g. for 32-bit or 64-bit microprocessors, different manufacturers had adopted one of two conventions for organizing these bytes.

For Big-Endian systems the most significant byte was in the smallest address space, for Little-Endian systems the most significant byte was in the largest address space.

(If you have a number like 12345, for example, the “1” is the most significant digit and the “5” is the least significant. In a Big-Endian system this would be stored as “1 2 3 4 5”; in a Little-Endian system it would be stored as “5 4 3 2 1”. So, when you get presented with any number, you really need to know which of the two systems you are using, because the interpretation of the same digits would be wildly different.)

(About a dozen years ago Joel Spolsky, former PM for Excel, wrote a great article on the origins and use of BOM, for those who want to learn more about the technical details.)

Why this affects Kerika at all? Because when you do an export of cards from Kerika, the export job is run on a virtual machine running on Amazon Web Services.

We have no idea what kind of physical hardware is being used by AWS, and we are not supposed to care either: we shouldn’t have to worry about whether we are generating the CSV file using a little- or big-endian machine, and whether the user is going to open that file with a little- or big-endian machine.

That’s the whole point of using UTF-8 and a BOM: to make it possible for files to be more universally shared.

Lenovo did something really rotten

The news that Lenovo pre-installed adware on all consumer laptops sold in the US for the last three months of 2014 (yup, that would be the Thanksgiving through Christmas prime shopping season of the year) is being sadly under-reported by the mainstream press, although the tech press has a better idea of just how much mischief Lenovo did.

The really outrageous point here isn’t that adware came along with the other bloatware that all Windows users suffer from: it’s the fact that this adware was deliberately designed to undermine SSL, which underpins all security on the Internet.

Here’s how SSL is supposed to work: if you connect to Kerika, you are using a secure, encrypted connection to somebody that you genuinely believe is Kerika, Inc. of Issaquah, Washington, United States.

But how do you really know that it’s Kerika on the other end, and not someone pretending to be Kerika?

The only reliable way is to click on the lock icon shown in your browser (whenever you are on a secure SSL connection to any website), and your browser will then tell you who you are connected to, and more importantly, why the browser believes you are actually connected to Kerika and not somebody pretending to be Kerika.

Kerika SSL certificate
Kerika SSL certificate

The image above is the actual SSL certificate shown when you connect to Kerika, and then click on the lock icon in your browser.

It says, in effect, that a company called Symantec Corporation is the one that vouches for Kerika’s identity: in other words, it is Symantec Corp. that is assuring you that it really is Kerika that you are connected to, and not somebody pretending to be Kerika.

These SSL certificates could be issued by anyone, for example Facebook relies upon a company called DigiCert:

Facebook SSL
Facebook SSL

And Bank of America relies upon a company called Verisign:

Bank of America SSL
Bank of America SSL

Unless you happen to be using a Lenovo computer that you bought last Christmas, in which case there is a “man-in-the-middle” that you weren’t aware of:

Lennovo's fake SSL
Lennovo’s fake SSL

(Above image captured by security researcher Kenn White, @kennwhite)

On this Lenovo computer, an adware company called “Superfish” is the one that’s vouching for Bank of America, which isn’t right at all!

This is a classic “man-in-the-middle” attack scenario: most people would see the lock appear on the browser when connecting to a secure website, like Bank of America’s, and assume that they are safe. Instead, their communications is actually being intercepted by Superfish before it gets to Bank of America.

This is inexcusable, even for the “very minor compensation” that Lenovo got from Superfish.

(And, by the way, this is pretty much how most Windows PC manufacturers make money: there is so much price competition in the Windows market that they all resort to bloatware and adware to juice up their profit margins…)

And because the same piece of adware was distributed on literally thousands of machines, the same private encryption key is being used on all of these machines, which makes it easy for people to use these bogus SSL certificates to create man-in-the-middle attacks on any number of banks and other secure websites.

(And, of course, the private encryption key has already been decrypted, just hours after the news about Lenovo broke this morning.)

All this makes for appalling news for anyone who bought a Lenovo PC towards the end of last year. Merry Christmas.

Why we are integrating with Box; Part 5: The OneDrive Option

(The fifth in a series of blog posts on why we are adding integration with Box, as an alternative to our old integration with Google Drive.)

This post is shorter than the others in this series for one simple reason: the OneDrive API has no way for third-party apps to manage permissions on folders, and that’s a show-stopper for us in terms of providing a really good user experience.

This limitation was probably more frustrating for us than the case with Dropbox:

  • We are next door to Microsoft: Issaquah is just 15 minutes away from Redmond, which means its easy for us to find people to talk to at Microsoft.
  • Microsoft has a great history of working with third-party developers and a very robust partner program.
  • Nearly all enterprises who are interested in Kerika are long-standing users of the Microsoft stack (SharePoint/Project/Exchange); a Kerika+OneDrive solution would have been a relatively easy sale in terms of internal IT politics within most enterprises.

We hadn’t taken OneDrive very seriously when it was available only as SkyDrive, i.e., when it was available only as part of the full Microsoft stack, but once Satya Nadella became CEO and (coincidentally?) Microsoft decided to un-bundle their cloud platform and create OneDrive, the platform became much more interesting for us.

(We had seen only lukewarm enthusiasm, at best, for the full SkyDrive package, but OneDrive as a standalone alternative to Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, etc. was more interesting.)

Interestingly, the feedback we got also pointed to why adoption of OneDrive might be slower than Microsoft would like: OneDrive is being marketed as part of the Office 365 solution set, and many of organizations we were talking to seem slow to adopt Office 365.

One big reason for dragging their feet is that few enterprises that we talk to are enthusiastic about the implied upgrade to Windows 8.x.

(Upgrading to Win 8.x isn’t a technical requirement, but the sales push from Microsoft is for the full Win 8.x/O365 deal.)

One cause for this, of course, is that there isn’t any great love out there for the new Win 8.x user interface: few end-users seem enthusiastic, and IT folks are very worried about training and support for a radically different user experience.

Even within Washington State’s government agencies — where one might expect Microsoft to have a home field advantage — we haven’t seen any real enthusiasm for OneDrive; in fact, Box is the only cloud service provider to have a master services contract with Washington!

The full series: