Blog, Microsoft, Podcasts

Xobni – Changing How You Use Your Inbox

24 Jul , 2008  

I like to talk about innovate products and Xobni, the plugin for Outlook,definitely fits the bill. I blogged about Xobni on my NWW blog back in Februaryand as you can tellfrom that post, I was and still am excited about Xobni. Unlike most thingsthat get installed on my computer only to be removed a few days or weeks later,the "coolness" of Xobni hasn’t worn off. More importantly the usefulness ofXobni causes me to have it stick around and take up real estate in my Outlookwindow. But Xobni isn’t perfect, either. I see some real challenges to be ableto truly gain the benefits it could bring to email, but we’ll talk about that ina moment.

Here’s a video tour of Xobni. Also check out my podcast interview with Matt Brezina,co-founder of Xobni. I’m starting to do more product reviews and strategy workas part of my Converging Network business, which is a pleasure since I enjoyworking with and assessing new products and trends anyway.

(Contact me if you areinterested in finding out more about my Converging Network product strategyservices.)

Xobni – The Movie


Xobni – Email’s New Connection To People

Now that Xonbi integrates with LinkedIn, I find that I use it a lot more.It’s actually the little features I Xobni I like most. Showing someone’sportrait loaded up on LinkedIn when I click on their email makes the connectionto that person even more real. It makes email just a little more personal. And,if I don’t know them well, it’s easy to go learn about the person from theirLinkedIn profile. (You have a LinkedInprofile with a picture uploaded don’t you? Here’s mine. Letsconnect!)

One of the most useful things about Xobni is knowing the email habits of thepeople I converse and work with regularly. The little bar chart showing thedistribution time of emails received from them throughout the day lets me knowwhen they are more likely to read the emails I send, or take my call. This couldalso be invaluable to a sales person looking to reach clients, though I’m notsure people these days answer phone calls from people they don’t know. (Salespeople tell me virtually no one answers their business phone much any more.)

Xobni – Changing How You Use Email

It’s rare for me to keep a gadget or plugin around for long. Their installedhalf-life is usually about 2 days, or no more than two weeks on my computers. Soyou know Xobni must be delivering something of value, especially given thescreen real estate it takes in Outlook.

Changing how you use email is a double-edged sword, as I’ll talk more aboutin a moment. I find the attachments ("Files Exchanged") section of the Xobniplug-in one if it’s most useful functional features. It can prevent a lot ofsearching for the right email with the right attachment, and you can dig indeeper if you want to see the email or email thread the attachment was a partof.

I haven’t found that I use the "XYZ’s Network" section (where it shows youother people who have been in conversations with you and this person) as much asI thought I would. It’s a great idea, but I just haven’t added that capabilityinto my email use thought patterns for some reason. The "Email Conversations"thread is also something that I don’t use much, mostly because I don’t find theway the threads are presented as being that useful. I’ll say some more aboutthis down below.

Xobni – Kudos For Being A Well Behaved Outlook Plugin

My first rule of all plugin is "be useful". I really don’t need an AdobeAcrobat plugin for Outlook or PowerPoint. Is use the print driver to create pdffiles. Same for screen captures. That’s why I have SnagIt. So, unless there’s areally good reason why this plugin is needed, don’t create them in the firstplace, and certainly don’t install them by default. Xobni definitely meets the"be useful" criteria.

The second rule is "don’t create other problems". How many times does yourOutlook crash because of some funky plugin or software incompatibly. It seemsvirtually guaranteed that if any other software other than Outlook touches yourpst and ost files, you’re doomed for the dreaded "Not Responding" message. Ihave to say that I’ve had relatively few problems with Xobni and Outlook. Notthat its never happened, as I have encountered a few situations where Xobni hadthe files open that Outlook needs in order to start properly. But the problemsand crashes have been very, very few.

Kudos to the Xobni team for figuring out how to do this. They should bottleup whatever they are doing and help all the other software guys figure out howto do the same.

Xobni – The Challenge Of Getting The Benefits

Xobni has two big challenges in my view. First, all of Xobni’scapabilities are constrained by being in an Outlook sidebar plugin. There’slimited screen real estate, and it’s mostly vertical. Networks of people(lists), conversations (lists), viewing email threads, all have to be viewed inthis small area and it does detract from its usability and usefulness. Becauseof this, I don’t use the email threads feature much at all, and the relativelystatic content (time distribution bar graph, email stats, portrait and contactinfo) are the things I look at and use most. It’s a tough row to hoe being in asidebar and Xobni would be much more useful if it was integrated into the emailclient itself. Tell me again why Microsoft hasn’t gobbled up Xobni by now?Hmm.

Xobni also implies multiple user behavior changes to access its benefits. Weuse email clients so frequently everyday, all through the day, that the use casehabits we’ve formed with Outlook are hard very to break. Instead of sorting backand forth between sender and sent date in order to locate what I’m looking for,you have to break that habit and look in the Xobni sidebar for what you mighthunting to find. You have to remember "oh, there’s another way to find the lastversion of that attachment sent to Bob", and go over and use Xobni to do that.On the flip side, being an Outlook sidebar plugin is an advantage over being aseparate application from Outlook all together.

Breaking patterns and habit changes are something every product faces tovarying degrees, but email’s so heavily used that those habits are moredifficult to break.

Xobni – Conclusion: Download It. You’ll Use It.

Download Xobni. I think that title pretty much sums it up.

Blog, Microsoft

Join The Microsoft Bloggers Network

8 Jul , 2008  

Msbn_logoAre you a security researcher looking into Microsoft vulnerabilities? Do you do pen testing on networks running Microsoft software? (Pretty likely, I’d guess.) Do you blog about it? Or maybe you just blog about your Microsoft experiences, good, bad or indifferent.

If so, you’re invited to join the Microsoft Bloggers Network. It’s great exposure for blogs and gives users an aggregated feed for all blogs in the network. The only rules I have about joining are that you occasionallyblog about Microsoft related topics on your blog, and that you writeyour own content (i.e. you aren’t one of those sites that aggregatesother bloggers’ content verbatim for advertising purposes.) It’s a free community service and helps promote your blog, so why not, join up now!

If you’d like to join, send me an email.


Outsourced podcast editing – Is it for you?

2 Jul , 2008  

Podcast_editingI was having this conversation with a friend today about working on the things you like to do and have the time to do, and what to do about other tasks you don’t. Recording podcasts? I love to do them and will make the time. Editing them how I like to them put together? Not so much. I dread doing that part of it. Ug.

So, here’s the idea. Anyone out there really enjoy working with Audacity, Audition, Sonar, or whatever digital sound mixing and editing program… how would you like to edit my podcasts as a side project. It would be a great deal for someone like student who wants experience and would like to get their name on the credits for the podcast. (Nice resume fodder too.) Or maybe someone who just plain ol’ likes doing that stuff.

Any-who… If anybody would be interested in doing this as a side project for experience, maybe barter for some work, or just want to do it out of the goodness of their podcast loving heart, drop me a line and lets see if we could work something out.  Email me.Or, if you have a better idea about how to go about getting this done, I’m open to creative ideas (unless you are going to email me just to sell me something. Don’t bother, I’m not buying.)


A place to make technology easier to use

2 Jul , 2008  

Something I’m working on is learning about creating communities. My passion is creating great products, but what really drives this is wanting to make technology easier to use, which is why I enjoy user centered design, customer experience, social networks, etc. I’m trying to figure out how to create a community of those who share this same passion and might want to participate in some way. I’m in the very early stages of working on this.

If you share the same passions, have ideas, or just want to talk, send me an email, IM (AIM: stratmanmashley) or Twitter (mitchellashley) me, so we can start a dialog and exchange of ideas.


Blog, Cloud, Security

Podcast 54: A p00ned FBI network, Barracuda, vulnerable Mac,, fired TJX employee, and Sourcefire walk into a bar…

30 May , 2008  


Alan and I finally got off our duffs and recorded a podcast. Can you believe it? We have the evidence right here in our grimy little podcasting hands to prove it. But, you’ll have to listen to believe it for yourself.

In podcast #54 Alan and I are back to our old antics, and discuss:

  • How the FBI’s network easily got p00ned by a pen tester in just a few minutes, right up to the NCIC crime database
  • Hot off the presses Barracuda unsolicited (serious?) bid for Sourcefire
  • Mac’s nasty track record for security vulnerabilities (we won’t see those commercials anytime soon, will we)
  • Some new fangled service called that Alan’s all hot about
  • The ethics of security issues, or, how to get fired from TJX without really trying

Alan and I also take some time to put a plug in there for the news about the origins of Stonehenge, and NASA’s Mars Phoenix lander. We also pay homage to two greats who passed in the last few days, comedian Harvey Korman and director/actor Sidney Pollack. "That’s Headley!" Thanks for the wonderful years, guys.

Enjoy the podcast and please drop us any suggestions or questions at

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Back From Hiatus, Saved by Web 2.0 Technology

5 May , 2008  

Sos_web_serviceWell, I’m fresh back from my unannounced trip to Hiatus. It’s a long, sortedand torrid story. To make a long story short, I was held captive in a primitivecave in the mountains of Afghanistan. But thanks to my recent training at RSA, Iwas able to communicate an SOS via a crudely crafted, low-fi Web 2.0 webservice. Fortunately, some Yahoo! stockholders happened across my plea, andaided in my rescue in the hopes that after returning to civilization I might beable to use my Network World blog to sway Microsoft and Yahoo back into activemerger talks. Alas, despite my best efforts, Yahoo continues to stumble along onits own, suffering a 14% devaluation in the markets today. None the less, it’sgreat to be back!

Okay, seriously… I wasn’t in Hiatus, but just on hiatus from blogging herefor a bit. ("Back from Hiatus" is an old joke from one of Alan andmy podcasts a whileback.) I’ve just been overwhelmed recently with all kinds of work and personalactivities, that includes attending four different conferences in the last 2months, practicing for an upcoming CD recording project (we’re in the studiothis Friday), launching a new product release for Absolute Performance, setting up several new partnerships, rebuilding a corporate web site, diggingdeep into Microsoft’s Live Mesh strategy, and building up my blog readershipon my Network Worldblog. No excuses, but that’s some of the things which have been occupying mytime.

So… back to more blogging on The Converging Network. I’m really energizedabout what I’ve learned from the SaaS marketplace, and activities by the likesof Microsoft, Google, Salesforce and Yahoo. Some of it also comes from readingNicholas Carr’s book, The Big Switch. And of course, I have a lot to say aboutsecurity, networking, virtualization and creating products.

It’s good to be back.

Blog, Cloud, Microsoft, Podcasts

Trying out new”micro-podcast”format

4 Mar , 2008  

MicropodcastI know that not everyone who reads blogs also likes to listen to podcasts, and visa versa. So I decided to try something different and see how readers and listeners like it. I call it a "micro-podcast". (Let me know if you think of a better name.)

Last week while at the SaaS Summit conference in San Francisco, I interviewed Michael van Dijken, head of marketing Microsoft’s efforts to support the hosting and SaaS software market segments. I posted the interview with Microsoft’s van Dijken up on my Network World Converging On Microsoft blog using this new format. The interview was recorded with my micro-recorder podcast unit.

What I’ve done is break up the interview recording into snippets, or micro-podcasts, wrapped in blog narrative with my lead in and comments for each portions of the interview. The idea is just to listen to the parts of the recording you want to hear, rather than listen through the entire recording just to get to the topic you’re interested in. And, if you wish to hear the full, unedited interview recording, just go to the bottom of the blog post and listen to the full interview instead of the broken up segments.

If you have a moment to check it out, please do so and let me know your feedback about this idea. Do you like it? Is it easier to read and listen to? Does that format work for you? What suggestions do you have for improving it?

Let me know your thoughts. Thanks.


Spiffing up the blog a bit

18 Feb , 2008  

Over the last week I’ve been making a few design and house cleaning changes to The Converging Network blog. I would appreciate any and all comments or suggestions about the changes so let me know any feedback you have.

Tweaked Layout. First, the most obvious change is the layout which I changed to two columns on the right and the site is now fixed width. I did this because I like to know what a blog post looks like when a reader hits the site so this way it looks consistent no matter what size the browser window is. It also stops my own internal debate about what should be in the LH and RH columns of the blog — now everything’s on the RH side, though there’s still two columns so it’s not fully resolved. I also collapsed a few of the widgets to try an make then smaller or use less space when it’s not needed.

Ads. Next, I added a spot for two small ads. Let me know what you think of adding these ads. I thought I’d try them out and see if anyone picks up the space.

Intense_debate_betaComment System. Brad and Alan are using Intense Debate for their comment system. I like the idea a lot. It lets me claim my own comments that I leave on their sites. Hopefully it will catch on since anyone can leave a comment on a blog with whatever name they chose. This at least lets you know it’s really them, or least a better chance of it.

MyBlogLog. Ya, I know. MyBlogLog has been around for ever and I never added it to my blog. So I thought I’d try it out and see what it does. They have a better looking widget now that I like too. I don’t like slow load times on blog sites so if it slows things down at all then we’ll have to see if it stays or not.

Fewer Books. I cut down the Previous Reads section to just the last five books on my list. That again is to help make sure load times are satisfactory.

Twitter Updates. I’ve been using Twitter for the past couple of months and really enjoy it. It’s amazing how it connects you with others who you may not normally talk to that often. I find it fascinating. I may look for a better looking widget but what’s up there will do for now. You can follow me on Twitter if you like at I don’t tweet about every little heartbeat of a thing but usually put up 4 or more per day when something’s going on.


Honolulu 2008

9 Jan , 2008  

I’ll be traveling to Honolulu later this month, the week of January 28, for some meetings. I don’t make it that far west very often but if any security, networking, Microsoft/computer, entrepreneurs or bloggers want to meet up for some coffee or a drink, please drop me an email.

It would be cool to get a podcast interview in while I’m out there too.

Hope to hear from you.

Blog, Network, Podcasts

Podcast #51 – Brad Reese Gets On Cisco’s Case

8 Jan , 2008  

MicrophoneHey, it’s time for another StillSecure After All These Years Podcast! This week, a special treat. I invited fellow Network World blogger Brad Reese to join Alan and me as our special podcast interview guest.

Brad blogs for Network World Cisco Subnet where he covers all happenings in Ciscoland. In addition to blogger Brad also has his own company which repairs Cisco equipment.

Out interview with Brad covers a range of topics but one area I think you’ll particularly enjoy is Brad’s views on Cisco’s new CTO. Brad’s received some flack for his controversial criticisms of former Motorola CTO , now Cisco CTO, Padmasree Warrior. But neither Alan or I let Brad off easy – he has to back up his views about Warrior and I think Brad fairs pretty well. Both Alan and I respect people with strong opinions and the depth to back it up so you’ll find this discussion very engaging.

Please check out Brad’s blogging on the Network World Cisco Subnet. You can also find me blogging at the Network World Microsoft Subnet in addition to my personal blog The Converging Network.

Enjoy the podcast and feel free to drop us any suggestions or questions at

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