Powers Unfiltered

An entrepreneur’s journey into grid computing and partnering with Microsoft, by John Powers

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Microsoft vs. Microsoft — here we go again

June 24th, 2007 · No Comments

I will post another million positive things about the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WWPC) any day now.  Promise.  I love this event.  Honest.  But for now — arrrg.  Microsoft’s use of its own tools is driving me nuts.  Here we go again. 

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of large conferences, under certain circumstances.  But as I’ve posted before, the investment in money and time and travel-based pain is only worth it for Digipede if we put in some time and effort up front, and commit corresponding time and effort to following up.  (See the now-classic “work it or it’s not worth it,” posted one year ago today.)

So here I am, working it.  I’m in Microsoft’s WWPC Web site, trying to build my schedule.  A meaningful day at this event is composed of four things:
– Attending sessions (presentations, labs, break-out sessions)
– Having meetings scheduled through WPC Connect (formerly called “structured networking,” basically a way to schedule meetings at a set of tables with other attendees, etc.)
– Having meetings NOT scheduled through WPC Connect (perhaps elsewhere in Denver, perhaps with people not registered for the conference, perhaps with attendees who I already know have not bothered to sign up for WPC Connect)
– Visiting other partners in their booths on the exhibit floor, or at least reserving time to check out those booths.

And Microsoft has provided me with various tools for arranging my schedule — a searchable course catalog, tools for finding people to meet with, and more.  Of course, for many years, it has been possible to build a Web site that allows one to manage a calendar.  Also, for those managing their calendar in Outlook instead, it has long been possible to create online the calendar item and download it to your Outlook calendar. 

And for many years, Outlook has known all it needs to know about time zones. 

Best practice for a Web site that makes Outlook calendar items, as far as I know, is for the Web application to include in any calendar item it creates information about the time zone in which the meeting takes place, so that when you download that item, your Outlook (which knows your own time zone) can make the appropriate adjustment and put it into your calendar accordingly.  Then, when you travel to Denver (for example), you tell Windows “hey, I’m on Mountain time now,” and voila, everything works.

Second-best practice, equally common in my experience, is for the Web application to include NO time zone information in any calendar item it creates, to assume the user never re-sets his or her time zone when traveling, so that the calendar item stays in the same time in Outlook regardless of where the user is.  Then, when you travel to Denver, you do nothing, and voila, everything works, pretty much (ok, the clock on your computer is not on local time when you’re in Denver, but when you look at your calendar your appointments match what local clocks say). 

Ninety-third best practice is to use best practice for Sessions, and second-best practice for WPC Connect. 

Yup.  That’s right.  Try it.  Sitting here on Pacific time, when I save a 2:00 PM WPC Connect meeting to my Outlook calendar, it lands at 2:00 PM.  When I save a 2:00 PM conference Session to my Outlook calendar, it lands at 1:00 PM.  And when I want to schedule a bit of my own time (for a non-WPC Connect meeting, or for time on the Exhibit floor), I just…umm…I just….what?

Now I am nobody’s idea of the brightest Outlook power user out there.  I’m probably about average for a Microsoft WWPC attendee, and somewhat above average for the general Outlook-using public.  And even I know that the fix is to just decide for myself what system I will use, and (manually) adjust the time of the “other” system accordingly.  So this is hardly a “critical bug,” since it has an easy workaround.  And yeah, I realize that different groups inside and outside of Microsoft are involved in these two pieces of functionality.  But why should I, Joe Partner, have to know that, and why should I care?  Presumably, people with vastly more Outlook experience than I (e.g., many many Microsoft employees who will be attending the WWPC) have already had this delightful experience.  How can this NOT have been one of the first use cases they tested?? 

Oh — and let me add that this is only a problem (and workaround) when the process of downloading calendar items works at all.  Often (half the time maybe?) Outlook just gives me an error that says “Cannot import vCalendar file.”  The workaround for this is — do it all by hand.  (Yes, this really only happens sometimes, some Sessions work fine, others don’t.  And yes, there are numerous references online to this same error, going back years.  Grrrrrrr.)

OK, enough ranting; back to the clunky process of preparing for a great show.

Tags: Events · Partnering with Microsoft · Usability

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