Behind the presentation: Office 365 apps

Last Monday evening I presented “Office 365 apps” for the Dutch NGN-NGI interest group. And obviously the presentation was interesting, I think a little behind the scenes look for this particular presentation is worth a blog post. Actually, they might complement each other!

So, I was asked to present something about apps on an Office 365 themed event. That was basically the assignment and please notice the very broad scope it could have. That was the first challenge.

The first thing was to determine how I would present this. I had about an hour and while you could discuss all aspects of apps, I think it could be much more exciting and insightful to have live demo’s. But those kinds of presentations are quite risky compared to just a PowerPoint slides only presentation. I had to prepare this and have back-up plans for each dependency… the second challenge.

Obviously the Office suite would be part of it, but there are certainly other applications. The first one that came to mind is obviously OWA for Devices, as it has something to do with Exchange. Currently it’s only available for iOS, but an Android version will be here soon (no Windows Phone version announced though, Tony Redmond talks about this app here. Insightful read IMHO).

But as all the application basically require Office 365 access (like duh), I was also dependent on internet access and the quality of the connection. That was the third challenge…

Devices, devices, devices

In any case, it became apparent that for a decent presentation on Office 365 apps I had to approach it with multiple devices. Every ecosystem has their own set of apps and from an user perspective, it’s important to know what you can do with each of those devices (and apps for that matter).

My demonstration setup with all devices (except for my Windows Phone)I already have a Windows 8.1 laptop, a Surface RT 8.1, a Windows Phone 8.1 and an iPad 2 with iOS 7. To represent the Android ecosystem I chose to buy a very cheap tablet with 4.1.1 on it, the Yarvik Noble 7c. It cost me about €60, so for a demo tablet this would be okay.


As I was unknown to the location, this prompted my to try and get all screen information of my devices on my laptop. This way I was ensured that I had the option to use HDMI, DisplayPort or plain old D-Sub. That would limit cable switching hassles and connector issues.

For Surface RT I couldn’t use RDP or anything like that, but it has a fine micro-HDMI output. Previously I bought an micro-HDMI to full HMI adapter *and* an HDMI to VGA converter cable. Not all venues have HDMI, mostly it’s D-Sub only. Because I installed the Windows Phone 8.1 developer preview on my phone, I could use the Screen Projection feature. My Nokia Lumia 920 doesn’t support it in combination with Wi-Fi, so I used an USB cable. This was my only option.

For the iPad I used an trial edition of AirServer, which did the trick neatly. It uses the AirPlay functionality of your iPad, so no Apps on your device except for the Windows machine. Airplay uses Wi-Fi. As a backup I purchased the VGA cable (not the HDMI, as I expect D-Sub to be the standard).

And for the Android ecosystem I’ve used BBQScreen. It can use either Wi-Fi or the USB cable, the former is easier to use. The Android app itself costs €2,99, which is acceptable. The tablet had an mini-HDMI output, which I could use in the event the app wouldn’t work. I bought an mini-HDMI to HDMI adapter just in case.

Do note that every solution with Wi-Fi requires your presentation device (my laptop) to be in the same network in order for it to work. I assumed the location would have Wi-Fi, an reasonable assumption as it is the main office of an IT services company. But because I’m an pessimist, I had also an backup for internet connectivity: my phone with tethering. As it was near Amsterdam, I hoped I would get a fast 4G connection.

This is me starting my presentation. Picture by Jaap WesseliusI’ve tested all solutions in various combinations during the days leading up to the big day. All issues that I’ve encountered had been fixed and I was ready for it!

Oh right, I do have make some sheets to introduce the subjects and stuff. Let’s not forget that! Smile

Zero Hour

As I was the first presenter, at arrival at the scene I immediately started to setup my gear. I wasn’t familiar with the possibilities of the site, but I was relatively confident I had thought of everything and had backups for the issues I didn’t think about.

But the first hurdle presented itself immediately: they only had HDMI connections and no VGA/D-Sub. Well, that eliminated my iPad VGA adapter backup Sad smile. AirServer was my only option and as Office for iPad was IMHO the most important non-Windows “Office 365 app” I wanted to demonstrate, I was getting a bit nervous.

So, after getting Wi-Fi credentials and setting up my devices and testing them, I noticed I couldn’t get AirServer and BBQScreen to connect to my devices… It hit me: most public Wi-Fi setups are (and should be) configured with AP isolation, meaning connected devices cannot “see” each other. Security wise a wise choice, but it didn’t help me.

I had to initiate my backup: phone tethering. Luckily this didn’t have AP Isolation so I could connect to my devices and present as planned. I even had 4G, but it doesn’t have bandwidth guarantees and I was getting a bit more nervous. The initial test I did at that moment, showed that I could open documents etc..

Now my setup was up and running, I decided to check whether the beamer could handle everything. During my tests at home, I noticed that my monitor couldn’t handle the resolution the iPad VGA adapter provided. I hoped this would be an issue here. But unfortunately it was!

My Surface RT’s resolution wasn’t something the beamer couldn’t handle, extending didn’t work so mirroring was the only option. Downscaling the resolution was the only option to get something without distortion, but it meant that I couldn’t start Modern Apps. Luckily that wasn’t my goal, Office 2013 RT is a desktop app which doesn’t have that issue. Pffieuuwww Smile

After this test, I had to start the presentation. All issues I already encountered were no issue. Me (in a very healthy posture, ahum) demonstrating Android applications. Picture by Jaap WesseliusBut then I started both the Windows Phone projection and the AirServer application on my laptop. These aren’t windowed applications, but use the full screen. It appeared that this was an issue with extended desktop and thus with presenting it on a beamer. Eventually I did manage to get their image on the beamer but don’t ask me how! But I can tell you that were some tense and very very long seconds!

Despite these challenges, the actual presentation went pretty well considering (IMHO). Even the demos did what they had to do, but unfortunately downloading documents was sometimes too slow due to the 4G connection via my phone. But that is a risk even with the best internet connection available. I improvised and mentioned that this is a downside of using cloud services: dependency on internet connectivity and bandwidth. When life gives you lemons… Open-mouthed smile

So, this was it! Looking back this was technically the most challenging presentation I’ve ever given, but because of that it was also quite gratifying. I’ve took a lot of time in order to make sure my demonstrations went as smooth as possible. And I hope that the audience got a good glimpse of what apps are available for the three ecosystems: that was the goal of this presentation and the live demos.

Most important lesson presentation wise: have tested backup plans in place!

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