New framework for responsive HTML emails

Quickly create responsive HTML emails that work on any device & client. Even Outlook.

Quickly create responsive HTML emails that work on any device & client. Even Outlook.

Ink is a fairly new framework from Zurb, who brought us the Foundation CSS framework, for creating responsive HTML emails.

It’s been a while since I’ve been asked to help put together an HTML email but as news of this new HTML email framework dropped into my inbox this morning I thought it would be useful to share it.

As anyone who has been charged with creating HTML emails, and told that they must look equally good in Google Mail, Outlook and any other client, will attest it’s not entirely straight-forward. Not least because, well, who wants to go back to using tables for layout?!

Newer versions of Outlook (2007 and 2010, I’m looking at you) don’t help either as they use… wait for it… Microsoft Word to render the HTML!?

I don’t have any need for creating HTML email at the moment, but this really looks interesting. I may just have a play with it one lunchtime.

Download Ink from Zurb

Using Trello from within Microsoft Outlook 2010

Trello board

Trello board

If you’ve been following this blog for a while then you’ll know that almost a year ago we moved our Agile board to Trello. It has been a great success.

Last year the University also moved both our email and meeting scheduling software to Microsoft Exchange. I’ve been a fan of Outlook since about 2000, first synchronizing it with  my Psion PDAs and then with a Windows Mobile smartphone. I do pretty much all my planning in Outlook. Or at least I did, until I discovered Trello.

So my question was: how can I use Trello within Outlook? Then I remembered Outlook’s little-used shortcuts feature.

1. Open up a Trello page in your browser. It doesn’t really matter which browser. I’m using Google Chrome 23 beta for speed.

2. Now drag a bookmark onto your desktop from the address bar .

Browser shortcut on desktop

Browser shortcut from Trello page on PC desktop.

3. Next, open up Microsoft Outlook and click on the Shortcuts icon in the left-hand navigation pane; it has a shortcut key of Ctrl+7.

Shortcuts sits beneath Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Notes, and Folder List

Shortcuts sits beneath Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Notes, and Folder List

4. Now drag the icon from your desktop onto the label “Shortcuts”. It won’t work unless you drop it right on the word “Shortcuts”.

5. Next, right-click the new icon (which will by default show the URL) and select “Rename Shortcut” from the context-menu, to give it a more user-friendly name.

Adding a shortcut to the Outlook shortcuts list.

Drag the shortcut onto the Shortcuts label, then right-click to rename it.

6. Click on the new shortcut link. Now you have Trello displaying within Microsoft Outlook. You can have as many shortcuts as you like, to as many boards as you like but remember you can always change boards within Trello too.

As far as I can see (using findmebyIP.com) it’s using the Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 engine to render the page, so obviously if FogCreek Software stop supporting IE7 in Trello then this top tip will stop working.

Trello being displaying within Outlook 2010

Trello being displaying within Outlook 2010

Update

If you want to take the Outlook/Trello integration even further you can now use Emello, which allows you to send emails directly to lists within your Trello boards. I’ve not used the service myself, but it certainly looks useful should you require that functionality, and the website looks slick and professional.

Xobni for Outlook

Outlook 2007 with Xobni sidebar on the right

Outlook 2007 with Xobni sidebar on the right

The University is currently in the process of moving to a replacement service for staff email and calendars, which are currently provided via two separate, locally-hosted applications, including Meeting Maker.

The new service, dubbed Unimail, will be provided by Brightsolid in Dundee and is built on Microsoft Exchange 2010. It will be nice to have everything in one place, and as most of the Web team have been using Microsoft Outlook since we started there won’t be too much of a learning curve.

Xobni

One add-on that I’ve been using off-and-on for a year or two is Xobni, which is described as an “Outlook plugin to search people, email, and attachments instantly.“.  The name, you’ll notice, is simply the word ‘inbox’ spelt backwards.

Once installed Xobni takes a few minutes indexing your email and builds up some interesting statistics about each email recipient, such as

  • who you most frequently email
  • what times of day you most often exchange emails
  • how many emails you’ve sent and received
  • how long it takes you to respond

This is the mini-stat for my boss:

Xobni statistics

Xobni statistics

What I’ve found it most useful for is quickly searching through my email.  It is significantly faster than using Outlook’s built-in search.

The threaded email conversations are also really helpful.  Last week I received an email from someone at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.  I knew that he’d sent me emails a few days before but I couldn’t find them.

With Xobni it was simple.  I selected his most recent email and Xobni showed me the entire conversation, including the messages that I couldn’t find (I’d accidentally dropped them into the wrong folder).  It would have taken me ages to find those messages without Xobni.

Xobni threaded conversations, attachments, links, etc.

Xobni threaded conversations, attachments, links, etc.

As you can see from the screenshot above Xobni doesn’t just group conversations. It also remembers which files and links you’ve been sent, it extracts contact information from people’s signatures, it analyses emails to see who else is copied into emails and it builds up a picture of your contacts’ actual work or social networks.

And if that’s not enough you can explicitly enter your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Hoover’s and Xing login details and Xobni will also pull in your contacts’ profile photos and latest updates so you can see who you’re emailing.

Scheduling time with my contacts is something I do all the time. Xobni helps with that too, checking my calendar to see when I’m next available.  With one click Xobni gives me this to send to colleagues:

Here is my availability for the next few days.  (All times are GMT Daylight Time, GMT+01:00.) Auto-generated Xobni Schedule:

Mon September 27, now to 14:30

Tue September 28, 09:15 to 10:00, 11:00 to 11:30, 12:00 to 12:30, 13:30 to 14:00, 16:00 to 17:00

Wed September 29, 09:00 to 10:00, 13:30 to 15:00

Thu September 30, 09:00 to 10:00, 10:15 to 12:15, 12:45 to 15:00, 15:30 to 17:00

Fri October 01, 09:00 to 09:30, 11:00 to 17:00

Once we’re all using the Exchange calendar Xobni will also be able to tell me when I’m already scheduled to meet with my contacts.

Outlook 2010 Social Connector

Outlook 2010, which we’ll be upgrading to at some point, has a built-in social connector which does some of the same things, but having been using the two together on my PC at home I much prefer how Xobni does it, and it’s much faster too.

Free and plus

Xobni comes in two versions: Xobni (free) and Xobni Plus (US $29.95).  The paid-for version comes with more features such as a really impressive auto-suggest option when adding recipients to an email and it can search unlimited PST files (e.g. email archives).