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Review: Logitech H650e USB Headset

December 12, 2013 3 comments

Logitech H650e USB HeadsetI have to admit that I’m a heavy user of wired headsets for Lync and Skype. This is really due more to the fact that spare power outlets in my office don’t exist. In fact, the fire marshal had better never show up and look behind my desk. Also, I rarely need to move more than a couple of feet from my desk chair. So the wireless benefit is somewhat lost on me. That being the case, I’m constantly checking out new headsets to see which will be the most comfortable and have the best sound quality.

Logitech’s Lync Optimized H650e headset is a dual ear USB wired headset. But not only dual ear, it’s stereo. While I’m not likely to use it to listen to my extensive hair metal music collection through them, it’s a nice touch. The headband is narrow, light, and very comfortable. The padding is soft, but not so soft that I feel the plastic headband itself. The ear cups are also very soft, and remind me of those found on my Bose QC3 noise cancelling headphones. I’ve worn the headset for several multi-hour calls, and it was comfortable throughout. The sound is fabulous.

One cool aspect of this headset is that the USB cable is flat instead of round. This might not seem like much, but take it from someone who routinely has at least four headsets hanging together. This 7 foot cable just doesn’t tangle. And the integrated control head provides for hook and mute buttons – both of which are Lync integrated. Pressing the mute button on the control head mutes the Lync client – not just the headset. There are also volume up/down buttons on it as well.

Logitech H820e presence indicatorThe mic boom is a flexible rubber that’s easily positioned in any angle you need. It has great, natural sound, so I’m told by those I speak to with it. One cool feature on this is that at the end of the boom where it connects to the ear piece, is a presence indicator. This is designed for people who are behind you. They can see your presence and know you’re in a call. One might think that would be evident merely by having the headset on, but I would point back to the headset being stereo. So a user could be listening to non-call audio. It’s only illuminated when in a call/conference/meeting. A neat idea that would be beneficial in a Dilbert style cube farm.

I really like this headset. In fact, my old favorite, the Blackwire 720, has been pushed to standby status as I use the H650e pretty much exclusively. Great sound, comfortable, and a non-tangling cord are all wins. For a list of $89.99 USD, it’s a fabulous unit that should suit most chair jockeys that don’t need to get away from the desk while on the phone.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,

Review: Plantronics Blackwire C720-M Headset

August 9, 2013 2 comments

I love Plantronics gear. I’ve got plenty of their devices either on my desk or in my backpack. Recently, I had a chance to use the Plantronics Blackwire C720-M headset. The 720 is the dual ear model in the Blackwire 700 series. A single ear version, the 710, is also available. The 720 is a lightweight, comfortable headset that can be worn for hours on end.

The headset includes dual connectivity, which allows for a USB connection to a PC for Lync, Skype, and a bunch of other soft phone clients, as well as Bluetooth connectivity to a cell phone. You can switch back and forth between the two connection methods via buttons on the cable mounted control unit. If you install the Plantronics Control Panel software, you can configure the headset for various options including setting your presence when you put on/take off the headset, mute options, and more.

Some of the device settings available for the Blackwire 720-M headset.

Some of the device settings available for the Blackwire 720-M headset.

The headset can also automatically answer a cellphone call when you put the headset on – a really nice feature.

Blackwire C720-M control unit

Blackwire C720-M control unit

The cable based control unit has your typical volume up/down buttons, the PC and Cell Phone buttons to switch focus, and a mute button that does mute the Lync client – not just the headset. A bright red LED comes on when the Lync client is muted. You can’t miss it. The cable that goes from the control unit to the PC can be disconnected at the control unit so that you can move around while using the headset in Bluetooth mode. Plugging it back in re-enables the USB connectivity, as well as charges the internal battery.

I’ve worn this headset on 4 hour calls, and quick 30 second calls. I’ve used it in Skype, Lync, and with my Windows Phone. It works really great. It’s comfortable, stays adjusted and in place, and the audio is fabulous. Callers have mentioned that it sounds great when I use it.

One thing I don’t care about is that I’ve noticed I can’t really hear my own voice when talking. Now, before you think “this guy’s ego is so big he needs to hear himself talk…”, keep in mind on normal landline/VoIP/cellphone calls, you typically hear your own voice. And you don’t really notice it until it’s gone. It can be VERY distracting. But other than that, I’m a big fan of the headset, and have recommended it for use by our internal folks.

The headset comes with a nice case for storage and travel.

If you’re looking for a nice headset with some cool unique features, the Plantronics Blackwire C720-M is a great choice.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

Review: Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 PowerShell Cookbook

August 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 PowerShell CookbookI like Exchange. And PowerShell. So, when Packt Publishing asked if I was interested in reviewing their latest book “Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 PowerShell Cookbook”, I jumped at the chance. I was even more excited when I realized that it was written by two heavy hitters, Jonas Andersson and Exchange MCM and Microsoftie Mike Pfeiffer. I’ve known Mike since his days as an Exchange MVP prior to joining Microsoft.

I had not read any books published by Packt previously, so I was interested to see how this one was put together. What a pleasant surprise. The book, now in its 2nd edition, wastes no time in dispensing some solid PowerShell knowledge with the first chapter, “PowerShell Key Concepts”. If you’re a complete newbie who has been reluctant to take the PowerShell plunge, this chapter has a substantial amount of information to help you get started. In fact, If you read the first chapter, you’ll have an excellent understanding of the basics of PowerShell. Not only is that a great building block for what comes later in the book, but it’s also a great PowerShell primer just by itself. If you’re an experienced coder, the first chapter will help fill in some gaps.

From there we go to common tasks in both PowerShell and Exchange. Some great info there, as well, as we look at many of the things that help tie scripts together including remote sessions, tasks, dealing with .csv files, etc.

From that point on, each subsequent chapter deals with a different area of Exchange, and how PowerShell can make life easier. These ars including topics such as mailbox and database management, high availability, and more. Each area is broken down into a specific subject, and includes information broken into several different sections, including “How to do it..”, “How it works..”, “There’s more..”, etc. These start with a simple task, explain the basics, and build on them so that the reader can develop great PowerShell functions and scripts, and understand what’s happening “under the hood”. In reading this book, I can say I’ve learned several different approaches to things that I had not considered previously.

Some things often get left out of Exchange books just due to the complexity of the product. This is often things like compliance. But, oh no – Mike and Jonas dive into this as well, discussing archiving, retention and legal holds, auditing, and more. There’s also a chapter on using the EWS Managed API, which really opens the door to doing all kinds of things by connecting to Exchange via EWS. Just look at what Glenn Scales is doing with EWS.

Chapters break down as follows:
Chapter 1: PowerShell Key Concepts
Chapter 2: Exchange Management Shell Common Tasks
Chapter 3: Managing Recipients
Chapter 4: Managing Mailboxes
Chapter 5: Distribution Groups and Address Lists
Chapter 6: Mailbox Database Management
Chapter 7: Managing Client Access
Chapter 8: Managing Transport Service
Chapter 9: High Availability
Chapter 10: Exchange Security
Chapter 11: Compliance and Audit Logging
Chapter 12: Server Monitoring and Troubleshooting
Chapter 13: Scripting with the Exchange Web Services Managed API

The book also contains some great reference materials in the appendices. A common shell appendix is a great add-on to what’s in the book, especially chapter 1. I probably learned more from this part of the book than anything.

Appendix B delves into query syntaxes – something that can be frustrating if you don’t know the basics and pitfalls. From AND and NOT to date ranges and more. Solid info that should be kept within arms reach.

I have to say, it’s no surprise that I liked this book. Mike and Jonas did a fantastic job keeping the reader engaged. By taking a simple idea and building on it, each example and section helps solidify a solid PowerShell understanding and how it relates to Exchange. Installation, configuration, and administrative tasks are all made substantially easier by the information in this book. The book doesn’t talk over the reader’s head, and the code provided is solid and clean. I can’t recommend this book enough if you’re an Exchange person looking to get into PowerShell to increase your productivity and enhance your career.

The book is available from Packt Publishing in formats including print, ebook, and .pdf, and from Amazon as a printed book, or Kindle download. Buy it! Now!

Review: Lync BusyLight by Kuando

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m sure you’ve had this happen. You’re sitting at your desk, deep in thought on a serious issue, and someone walks into your area and just starts talking. You don’t want to be rude and ignore them, and you really need to restrain from your desire to strangle them for causing that great troubleshooting thought to leave you head. If only they could see your Lync presence and know that you’re in Do Not Disturb. Well, now they can!

Lync BusyLight Introducing the BusyLight for Microsoft Lync from Kuando. This slick little device has a multicolored light on the top, and indicates your Lync presence using one of four colors. It does this via a USB connection and a simple little application that runs in the system tray. Available? The unit glows green. Do Not Disturb? Deep red should keep people away. And, of course, the normal green for available and yellow for away.

Also built into the unit is a call alert feature that blinks blue to indicate an incoming Lync call, and a small speaker with customizable ring tones.

The unit is adjustable for angle and can be attached to a wall or cabinet with the included velcro fastener.

I’ve had mine for several months now, and everyone in my house knows that while my home office door may be open, all hail the BusyLight before interrupting. I’ve taken it to client sites, too. In my current cube farm, my cube is a considerable distance from my team mates. So I placed it on top of my cube partition, and they can see it before making their way towards my cube.

The unit works great, but there is a little issue that it causes. The “what’s that?” issue. People who come up to my cube, point at it, and wonder what it does. So I take my time to explain what it is and what’s it purpose is. I even made a little sign with a little blurb about the device, complete with color coded indicators.

BusyLight

BusyLight

This is a neat little unit that has really helped me stay focused and uninterrupted. The only problem I’ve had with the unit is that over distance, the colors can be a bit washed out. The red for busy and the deep red for Do Not Disturb are a little too close together. And the “available” green fades a little towards the yellow of “away”. The only other suggestion I’d make is that the USB cord be a little longer. But that’s just my personal preference.

The BusyLight works with Windows XP SP3, Vista, and 7. A Windows 8 driver will be available soon. It is available from many resellers for about $49.00 USD.

Categories: Lync Server Tags: ,

Review: Jabra UC 250 MS Headset – Great Lync Travelling Headset

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Do you do a lot of travel and need to stay connected via Lync or Skype? The Jabra UC 250 MS headset is a nice addition to the travelling arsenal. The “MS” designation is for Microsoft Lync. It’s a simple mono over-the-ear design with an unobtrusive microphone and USB cable. The cable includes one of the better control units I’ve seen. Many control units have a basic mute switch that just cuts the audio to the computer. The UC 250 MS control unit has a button that mutes the Lync client. So, not only can you unmute from the control unit, but you can unmute from the client as well. Very nice, as I’m sure most people who use the typical mute option on a headset find themselves scrambling to unmute in a hurry. The mute button has a nice bright red LED to indicate the headset is muted. It also has your typical volume controls, and  a handy on/off hook button. The device is supported by the Jabra  PC Suite software. The UC 250 MS comes with a taco shaped zippered case for storage. It’s available online in the $40 range.

Jabra UC Voice 250 headset

Jabra UC Voice 250 headset

DSP Digital Signal Processing yields great sound in applications such as Lync or Skype. Recipients have reported that my voice was clear and accurate, and didn’t have that typical cheap headset sound. The cord is long enough for my use, but was a bit stiff for me. I didn’t need to use the PC Suite software, so I can’t comment on it here. One thing I did notice is it was a tad cumbersome to get it on my ear. But once it was on, it stayed in place, and the gel style insert was comfortable even for longer calls. My laptop quickly found the headset and had the drivers installed without issue. A simple selection change in Lync and I was off and running.

I’ve used the headset for many calls and can say it’s a great headset for its price point. Simple, inexpensive, and it works. It doesn’t hurt that it takes up hardly any room for storage. If you’re looking for something to toss in your backpack or use at your desk, check out the Jabra UC 250 Voice MS.

Categories: Lync Server Tags: ,

Review: Jabra Speak 410 – a Great Lync Companion!

August 17, 2012 4 comments

I’m always looking for gadgets. Especially UC related gadgets. Enter the Jabra Speak 410. This little gem is a great speakerphone for VoIP solutions like Lync and Skype. It has phenomenal clarity, is simple to use, and won’t break the bank. This small round unit uses USB, and installs automatically. LED indicators circle the unit, and show volume level and mute. Up/Down volume control, Mute, and On/Off hook buttons are all that are needed. Plus, it has a standard 1/8″ headphone jack so you can listen to calls in privacy. The attached USB cord wraps around the base, and the unit fits into a supplied zippered pouch and into your laptop bag. It’s relative small size and lightweight make it a perfect travelling unit.

Jabra 410 Speak - top

Jabra 410 Speak – top

I can say, you’d be hard pressed to find fault with this unit. Its omni-directional microphone easily picks up clear audio from those in a room, whether one person or 5, and delivers great clear sound when listening to people on the other end. The built-in Digital Signal Processing (DSP) gets rid of the hiss, echoes, and other garbage that lesser units don’t. If you need a speakerphone for a small room, the Jabra 410 Speak is for you.

And it works for other things, too.

I rely on Microsoft OneNote a lot for note taking. But one problem when attending conferences and training is too much time taking notes of what people are saying, and not enough time to actually enjoy things. So I started using a small microphone plugged into my laptop to record audio as well. OneNote does great audio recording and can synchronize the audio with what you’re typing at the time. The problem is that you’re locked to whatever quality microphone you have. While reading about Jonathan McKinney’s journey through the Lync MCM rotation, I noticed he used a 410 Speak to record audio into OneNote. Sure enough, after trying it during some recent sessions, I can say, this little unit is perfect for this purpose. You get clear audio from your session speaker, and it picks up those in the room who are asking questions.

The unit also has pretty darn good audio for listening to music. While not stereo, it does a good job of playing your beats and the simple touch sensitive volume and mute buttons come in handy when the boss shows up at your cube.

The unit is available from your favorite dealers for just under $100.

Review: TechHit TwInbox – Full Twitter Integration in Outlook

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment

With social networking being so popular these days, it can be difficult to keep track of all of the various messaging streams having different clients installed, etc. So I was real happy when I stumbled across an add-in for Outlook that brings full Twitter capabilities right to my Inbox. And, it’s free. FREE!

TechHit’s TwInbox product does just that. It adds a set of options to the Outlook ribbon that allow you to tweet, retweet, DM, and more.

Outlook toolbar with TwInbox options (click for larger version)

Outlook toolbar with TwInbox options (click for larger version)

It will retrieve new tweets every few minutes, and deposit them into a folder of your choice. Tweets show up as a post in Outlook, as shown below:

Sample tweet as seen in Outlook (click for larger version)

Sample tweet as seen in Outlook (click for larger version)

Hotkeys can be assigned to make the various options even more convenient. For example, CTRL+ALT+P brings up my New Tweet dialog:

New tweet dialog box (click for larger version)

New tweet dialog box (click for larger version)

TwInbox has full support for attaching photos, bit.ly URL shortening, and more. It even builds a list of all Twitter names and hashtags in tweets you receive as sort of a Twitter address book.

This is a great app. I’ve been using it since the beginning, and have had very few issues with it. It makes sending tweets much more convenient, and gives me a full view into what’s going when I use the Unread Mail view in Outlook (my default view). I can forward tweets via email, and added benefit.

My only issue with the app is that if you install it on multiple machines, and have each configured to automatically download tweets, you can end up with duplicates in your mailbox. This is a minor issue for me. I leave one machine running with Outlook open anyways, so that’s the one that gets my tweets. And I just point them to a folder with a retention policy assigned. So tweets only stay in my mailbox for 7 days before being deleted.

Check out TwInbox and I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a great app.

Categories: Exchange Server Tags: , ,

Review: Microsoft Touch Mouse

October 12, 2011 1 comment
Microsoft Touch Mouse

Microsoft Touch Mouse

My favorite mouse is the Microsoft Presenter 8000 mouse. It’s comfortable, gets great battery life, and has the presentation buttons and laser pointer built into the bottom. Unfortunately, after many many trips through airports, my mouse finally died.

I decided to see what else was available. I’d tried the Microsoft Arc mouse, but didn’t find it that comfortable, and the “back” button on the side wasn’t in an ideal location, and was quite stiff. A colleague had reported that the newer Arc Touch mouse was kinda cool, but he didn’t like it after trying it.

Microsoft recently released the Touch Mouse. This is a uber cool mouse that has no real buttons on the top or sides. It uses finger gestures and the entire top is a giant button. The unit supports one, two, and three finger gestures in a variety of directions, as well as thumb gestures in two directions. The unit includes a micro dongle that stores in the bottom of the unit. It is powered by two AA batteries, and has an on/off switch on its belly.

Setup was a breeze. The mouse is designed specifically for Windows 7. I inserted the dongle, and within seconds, a tutorial popped onto the screen demonstrating the various features and gestures. It walks you through each gesture, shows you what it controls, and then has you do the same thing to get the hang of it. I found the tutorial to be the perfect combination of information and length. There are certainly a lot of gestures you can use. Single finger gestures include the normal scrolling up, down, and sideways. Two finger gestures include docking apps to the left and right side of the screen, restoring and maximizing apps, etc. Three finger gestures include minimizing and maximizing all apps. And the thumb gestures work great for forward/back movements, such as those in your Internet browser. Button clicking is based on which finger is touching the unit when you press the forward part of the unit down.

This is a nice mouse. It works great, although it did take some getting used to when I needed to right-click on things. I’m not sure how often I’ll use some of the gestures, but it’s nice to see the availability of them. Scrolling up and down really gets going if you swipe quickly, and lift your finger off the unit – something else I had to get used to since I typically used a wheel that would only turn so far when I’d let go of it.

The $50 mouse was a great addition to my travel tech gear. It would have been nice if it came in a plastic shell, like the Presenter Mouse does. I just use the cloth pouch from the Arc mouse and it works great. I’d recommend the mouse if you’re looking for something slick. I think I’ll get another one for my desktop at home.

Categories: Personal Tags:

Review: Toshiba 14 Inch USB Monitor – Perfect for Travelling

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment
Toshiba 14" USB monitor

Toshiba 14″ USB monitor

These days, I spend more time at client sites than I do in my home office. My home office has four monitors for my desktop. When at a client site, I’ve been stuck with just a single screen for my laptop. This can be tough getting used to, and be quite limiting.

Toshiba came out with the perfect solution. Their $200 14″ USB monitor that folds completely flat, and takes up less room than my laptop in my backpack.

The monitor comes with a dual plug USB cable to ensure that it gets enough power to operate. From my Dell Precision M4500, I find that it gets enough from just one port. I keep the original cable in my backpack, and use just the Griffin mini USB to the monitor. This is essentially a 2″ cable that works perfectly. Toshiba does sell an optional power supply, but I’ve yet to find a need for it.

The screen gives me 1366 x 768 resolution, and provides perfect screen real estate to keep my Outlook and other apps open while I use the laptop’s main screen for my current focus, such as documents, etc.

Setup of the monitor each day is trivial. Open the unit like a book, close the flap, and stand it up. Connect the USB cable, and you’re done. Initial setup merely required the CD-ROM for the drivers, and took only seconds. From unboxing to operational took me less than five minutes. Front panel controls include power and brightness controls. There is a little velcro flap in the middle of the case to store the cable.

I absolutely love this monitor. It provides extra working room for me to be more efficient. It takes up very little space and adds very little weight (3.7 pounds) to my overall carry load. Setup is a breeze, and the unit just works.

The only thing I could complain about is that the bezel along the bottom, which includes the control buttons, is a bit large. It would be nice if it were smaller, and provided more screen space instead. But that’s trivial.

I would recommend this unit to anyone who would like to have more working room, but need to travel with it. It’s available from Amazon.

Categories: Personal Tags: