Business Automation

Actually, I’d say that Teams is Killing Slack

A recent article from Medium explained how Slack’s amazingly successful IPO prompted Microsoft to ban Slack internally in a seemingly jealous rampage. The article’s author, Michael Spencer, cited Friday’s report from GeekWire which revealed Microsoft’s internal Slack ban (at least bans on Slack versions other than Enterprise Grid) as well as the discouragement of other competing platforms such as Google Docs and AWS.

But I think the big picture is being missed here – I believe that Microsoft’s tactic was to help drive home the point that Teams is superior to Slack in terms of security. Security might be the single biggest advantage of Teams that Microsoft continues to dangle over Slack; and the internal ban is just another way to draw attention towards it. The timing was well-planned on Microsoft’s part; everyone is talking about the successful IPO, but Microsoft wants the conversation to swing back towards Slack’s deficiencies.

Further, the fact that they specifically call out Slack’s free/affordable versions (Free, Standard, Plus) while the expensive Enterprise Grid is exempt from the ban? That’s another good dig at Slack – Microsoft wants people to remember that affordable Slack = insecure Slack. Microsoft maintains the advantage of pricing, in many cases, due to the number of organizations that are already subscribed to Office 365’s plethora of other cloud services. Teams is a no-brainer for those organizations, who either gets Teams included completely included in their existing subscription or have it at least partially included. There’s also the free version which Microsoft introduced to compete directly with Slack’s free version.

So let’s not get too caught up with the idea that Microsoft is a jealous little kid throwing a temper tantrum in front of all of its employees. I think they’re better than that – and frankly, why would they be jealous when Teams seems to be product coming out on top anyway? Spiceworks conducted a study in December showing that more organizations reported using Teams than Slack. That same study showed that, while many companies are still using Skype for Business, many more will be switching to Teams very soon.

Google Docs and Amazon’s AWS are also discouraged from use according to Microsoft’s internal list. This is simply expected – why would Microsoft want to incur the costs of services that it already provides a competing solution for? What should be noted here is that their use is discouraged, not prohibited. Microsoft is allowing these competing services to be used when needed – perhaps for keeping up on their new features – but avoiding unnecessary costs of using them when Office or Azure will do the trick. But with Slack (and Grammarly, also) it is a complete ban on the lower versions and not just a discouragement. Sorry Slack, Microsoft says you’re not secure enough to play with the big boys.

Microsoft, sometimes you annoy me

Microsoft Teams celebrated its 2-year birthday in March of this year. I really like Teams overall, but Microsoft has seriously slacked in some of the areas where it continues to need support. Whether these problems should be blamed on Teams or blamed on other products, they’re all still Microsoft.

Connectors for Flow are still in Preview?

One of Teams’ big selling points is integration with other apps. Above all else, I’d expect Microsoft’s own internal integrations to be fantastic and work flawlessly. Sadly, Microsoft has let me down in this regard. 2 years after general availability, the 11 actions that Flow can support when connecting to Teams are still listed as being in ‘Preview.’ Further, the capabilities that they give us are half-baked. I can’t use Flow to @mention a user unless it comes from the Flow bot? What?!

Hidden Annoyances – They Don’t Piss You Off Until You Find Them

For example: Cards are a great concept in Office 365, but they’re a real PITA to get working correctly. If you’ve ever tried to send more than the most basic Card to Teams you probably know what I mean. For instance, sending a card to Teams via Flow requires us to send a generic HTTP POST (see previous section – don’t get me started on why there isn’t native integration for this). This works, however it only works if you have the exact right template to use anything else just fails. MessageCardPlayground helps but still leaves a lot of usefulness to be desired. I haven’t tried AMDesigner yet but maybe it will help fill some of those Card-shaped holes in my heart?

Still on the subject of Cards, don’t go quickly thinking that you can easy POST back from Teams into Flow! No, that’d be too easy. For some reason Microsoft, in its ultimate wisdom, decided that when you click an action button in Teams that sends a POST back it will include a JSON Web Token (JWT) that completely breaks Flow’s ability to receive the message (it sounds like what technically happens is that Flow sees the JWT and then completely disregards the additional bearer token which is what it actually needs). Stack Overflow has a thread about this where it sounds like Microsoft is aware of the issue but really has no sense of urgency to make their products work well with each other. I’ve been forced to come up with a intermediary – a proxy of sorts – that my Card buttons can target, be stripped of the JWT, and then be sent to Flow for it to actually work properly.

Lack of Administrative Capabilities

Teams does offer more administrative capability that Skype ever did – but it still isn’t enough. Where is our ability to restrict posting permissions to individual channels within Teams? Sure we can do that for the General channel, but that isn’t enough. Where is our ability to have new Teams members auto-follow (not just auto-favorite) certain channels? Microsoft needs to remember that Teams is being used for organizations where people are not always (actually, are seldom) technically inclined – they don’t care to spend their time going into each channel and clicking “Follow this channel” even if it is something that would help them. PS – anyone reading this who wants to help get this changed, get on UserVoice and help bump it up!

Creatively move Mac OS X 10.6.8 Wiki to SharePoint Online

Isn’t it frustrating when it’s nearly impossible to find information on moving data to new systems? This is one reason I shy away from recommending data systems that are not business-class… such as the Wiki server feature found in OS X Snow Leopard. I wanted to share this post due to my frustration of not being able to find an easy migration path away from this Wiki software and onto something more business-friendly. Hopefully it can help someone in a similar situation.

I’ve been working a lot lately in Microsoft Flow – an automation tool that works great for workflows and connecting different software packages to make them work together. Because Flow is designed for repetitive tasks, it seemed like it could be a candidate for this function even though you wouldn’t normally think of it for this purpose.

Here’s a little background on the native state of the Wiki, and what we’re dealing with:

  • The raw files are stored on the Mac server in  /Applications/
  • Each is basically an individual post.
  • The files in each of these folders that you’ll want to work with are the .plist files. You’d think that you’d want the .html files, but Apple doesn’t make it that easy for you. Looking at the .plist in a text editor we see that the .plist is where almost all of the post detail is stored in an HTML-like format.
  • If the post included attachments such as files or images, they should also reside in this folder.

Let me start off with a couple of caveats before I go into the technical detail of how this will work. First, this is a basic migration solution. There is no native compatibility between the OS X Wiki and, well, pretty much anything else. This process at least allows us to grab some of the more useful information from the Wiki and take it to a system which will hopefully be a more future-proofed home; in this case, SharePoint Online. But because of this, we’re going to lose a lot of the features that were used on the Mac Wiki: user comments, inline pictures, and file attachments are some of the things that will not carryover (or at least nicely). If the Wiki was used as a knowledge base of sorts, which my example was, then this may be OK. The frequently-accessed KB articles can be easily mended by hand and the others can be handled by attrition.

OK, lets get to it. We’re going to start with a blank Flow. Now right off the bat you’re going to have some choices to make; the first of which being how to get Flow access to the .plist files to begin with. I chose to accomplish this with a OneDrive folder. This worked really well for a couple of reasons:

  • Flow can access OneDrive for Business with a native connector, and you can trigger your Flow when it sees new files in the specified OneDrive folder. This is just straight convenience.
  • If you have Flow you should have OneDrive, so why not?

Whatever you choose, one more catch with Flow that hung me up for a second was the file format. It didn’t want to try to read the data from a .plist file. So before you bring them into Flow, change the file extension to something less Apple-ish such as .txt or .html.

Once you have your file import method sorted out then we need to start pulling the data out of the .plist’s. I first identified the data fields that were most important to me that I needed to make sure pulled over into our new Wiki. For me, these were:

  1. Title
  2. Author
  3. Created Date
  4. Body
  5. UID (I’ll explain this one more later)

It’s important to understand the layout of the .plist files. Within the .plist each of the fields we want is encaspulated in <key></key> tags. Then, the content that corresponds to that field will immediately follow it within <string></string> tags. Within Flow we can use this to our advantage to use the particular key tags to determine where in the file to pull content from.

In Flow, I started with initializing a string variable for each chunk of content that I wanted to end up with:

For the Title, I used substring() to extract the data between certain points starting at the phrase “>title<” as shown below:


Basically all we’re doing here is calculating the position of the start of the data (we know where it starts because it begins with <key>title</key> and is immediately followed by the next content tag <key>tombstoned</key>. Notice in my expression above that I chose to use >title< and >tombstoned< rather than <key>title</key> and <key>tombstoned</key>. This is because I found that the substring() function in Flow did not seem to like the expression if it was built with these full tags, something with the extra special characters made it throw an error basically stating the there was zero-length content.

Luckily for us the date is in a format that is easy for Flow to consume. Since it does come over in UTC though, after we grab the content using substring() we send it to the ‘Convert Time Zone’ action to get it into our local time zone:

The actual body of the Wiki post posed a new issue for us; look closely and you’ll see that it is typical HTML, but uses character entities for the greater than/less than symbols: &lt; for < and &gt; for >. If you want to leave them you can, however for my purpose I took them out using a couple of quick expressions using the replace() function:


Now that we have our data, it’s time to start inserting it into HTML that we can usefully take wherever we want. I accomplished this by using a number of Compose actions that brought the content into the correct places between HTML tags:

… and further brought individual pieces together with concat(variables(‘strHeaderHTML1’),variables(‘strHTMLBeforeTitle’))

Take note in the image above that I included the original page’s meta data as part of the HTML header. What this does for us is allow us to very quickly match one of our new Wiki pages with the old folder from OS X. This gives us the ability to go back and grab attachments, images, or the raw files again if needed.

Now that we have our HTML content all brought together, in order to build the file itself I once again turned to OneDrive to build a brand new file with the HTML content. I also saved my files as .aspx since I wanted to ultimately bring them into SharePoint:

We’re technically done with the conversion at this point; but why not use Flow to also get the converted file to its final destination? I mentioned earlier that, for me, this was SharePoint Online. Good thing we used Flow, we can do this part automagically too:
We can do a little better than this, though. I brought the files into a Wiki page of SharePoint, so I’d really like them to be as useful as possible to the staff who will be using these pages. Sadly I still can’t make it work to where they could be natively-edited in the new format and in the new Wiki, but the best I can do is give my users a table of contents so they can at least get to the pages quickly and easily. To help me accomplish this I used Flow to build the hyperlinks that I’d need for this and dump them into an Excel spreadsheet that I can copy from. I can build the table quickly and easily and then just copy and paste it into the Wiki Home.aspx page so that at least it looks nice and native for our users:
In the end, we have something that is at least useable. This is quite a hack to automate the migration of the OS X Wiki into something else, but I honestly did not have any luck finding 3rd-party software to do it for me. If you know of something, please let me know. Good luck!