Let’s get one thing straight. Over the last twelve-or-so years I’ve built a reasonably-successful career out of working with Microsoft products. At times, I’ve even been accused of bias towards Microsoft; however, I don’t exclusively use Microsoft products. I’m also aware that I’ve been fairly critical of Microsoft of late – but that’s because I am “not backwards in coming forwards” – i.e. I will say what I think. One of those times was a recent blog post about Office Groove 2007 and at the time I chose not to name the Microsoft presenter in question (so I won’t now either); however for an organisation that claims to crave feedback, my comments, written on blog with a relatively-small readership, do seem to have touched a raw nerve. Regardless of the comments I made on that particular presentation, I will also give credit where credit is due – the majority of Microsoft events I attend are informative and generally represent a good use of my time.
I spent today at Ready for a New Day: Microsoft’s Launch of Exchange, Vista and Office (EVO) (there was an earlier UK business launch event held at Arsenal FC’s Emirates Stadium, to coincide with the US launch at NASDAQ) – I’m pleased to say that it was well worth it (and I know that a lot of hard work went into a day where PowerPoint was dumped in favour of back-to-back demonstrations).
Despite being critical of the Windows Vista marketing message (clear, confident and connected), I’ve commented in the past that Windows Vista does have a lot to offer. I’ve also been impressed with Office 2007 (although the ribbon interface does take some getting used to; once you get the hang of it, everything works well) and since last April I’ve wanted to write lots about Exchange Server 2007 but was prevented by NDA (Exchange Server 2007 was released to manufacturing last week and I consider it to be just about the most exciting new version of Exchange Server since the original v4.0 launch in 1996 – more on that in a moment – I’m not alone as it seems that Gartner are pretty fired up about Exchange Server 2007 too).
The event was introduced by Phil Cross, Microsoft UK’s Audience Marketing Manager, who first took a look at the history of Windows, Office and Exchange and whilst it’s a bit of a diversion from the topic of this blog post, it represents a nice trip back down memory lane.
It seems that technology doesn’t always help us to do our work and according to a survey conducted by Microsoft and YouGov, in this ever-connected world, almost 40% of respondents admit to working extended hours and around 25% regularly work through lunch – despite the all-pervasive IT that’s supposed to make life easier. Also interesting is what has been important to information workers over the last 30-or-so years: in the 1970s, 32% considered a telephone on their desk to be the ultimate status symbol and 23% craved access to a computer terminal; by the 1990s the ‘phone was ubiquitous and 56% considered a PC to be essential; and in 2000 58% of respondents consider e-mailed to be an essential business tool.
Looking back to the early 90s, Microsoft MS-DOS 6.22 and Microsoft Windows for Workgroups 3.1 were the desktop operating system and windowing environments of choice, with Microsoft and IBM still working out the future of LAN Manager and OS/2.
In 1993, Microsoft’s UK server business was worth just Â£6m, of which Â£5m was revenue from Microsoft Mail. SQL Server cost Â£100,000 and needed to run on OS/2 and there were only three Microsoft server products (NT Server, SQL Server and Mail). Today, Microsoft has around 30 server products and the associated revenue in the UK is around Â£800m.
Just 10 years ago, in 1996, Microsoft launched Exchange Server – of particular relevance to me as it was the first time I worked with Microsoft. At the time, Phil Cross was the UK Product Manager and I worked for ICL, one of the Microsoft Solution Providers who joined Microsoft on the UK launch tour (I probably still have a t-shirt with our tour dates but I remember driving a van around the country with our presentation materials as we took a stand to every Microsoft event and ran our own events on the days in between).
I’m not going to repeat the whole day’s worth of presentations, but some of the key messages from the day appear below, with demonstrations structured around 4 key tracks, introduced by Eileen Brown:
- Simplify how people work together.
- Help protect and manage content.
- Find information and improve business insight.
- Reduce IT costs and improve security.
Looking firstly at simplifying how people work together, Jane Lewis demonstrated:
- Outlook autoconfiguration – creating a profile based on just the user’s e-mail address, auto-populated from Active Directory.
- Office Groove 2007 – quickly setting up a collaborative workspace and inviting an external contact, then synchronising changes as they collaborated on documents before finally uploading the content to Windows SharePoint Services for long-term storage.
- Exchange Server 2007 proxying links to internal document shares to allow access without a VPN connection and providing web-ready document viewing (HTML rendering of documents, so that no temporary files are left behind when accessed via a public PC).
- The ever-improving Outlook Web Access – now richer than ever – and unified messaging, with voicemail in the Inbox, along with the ability to add notes for searching and indexing voice messages and finally, self-service PIN reset for voicemail access.
Jason Langridge followed this up with demonstrations of some of Microsoft’s mobile technology including:
- The Windows Vista Mobility Center (for quick and easy switches to PC configurations – e.g. presentation mode).
- Outlook Mobile, including folder access, global address list lookup and spell-checking.
- Word Mobile, with full support for document formatting.
- Excel Mobile, with the ability to summarise data in charts.
- PowerPoint Mobile, with read only access to presentations, including animations.
- Setting up a new device, then seeing the application of device policies including mandatory passwords and the ability to wipe a device remotely.
- Exchange Server 2007 self-service management of connected devices including a log of device interaction with the server, the ability to remove devices from the list, password display and remote wipe capabilities.
- The Windows Mobile Device Center – replacing ActiveSync and built into Windows Vista, managed via Active Directory and allowing access to device settings (partnerships/synchronisation settings), file transfer, as well as the ability to tag and rate pictures, music and video.
- Finally, Jason demonstrated OneNote Mobile, creating meeting notes with embedded pictures and audio.
Some key facts from Jason’s presentation included:
- In the UK, 90% of 9-year-olds and above have a mobile phone (we actually have move handsets than there are people… I carry two and so do many others that I know!).
- 250m PCs will be sold this year, but this is eclipsed by the 1.5bn mobile devices.
- The Samsung BlackJack has 4 times the power of a PC from just 5 years ago with HSDPA allowing 1.8Mbps access to data.
- Microsoft supports 46,000 mobile users using just 8 HP ProLiant DL350 servers (it could be less if it wasn’t for the requirement to provide global coverage and resilience).
The next demonstration was given by Arthur Pounder of the Microsoft Unified Communications User Group UK and the Microsoft Messaging and Mobility User Group UK, who started out by explaining the difference between unified messaging (an asynchronous technology from the combination of voicemail and e-mail) and unified communications (synchronous communications with multiple parties simultaneously) before demonstrating how instant messaging (IM) and presence awareness reach new levels in the forthcoming Office Communications Server 2007 (formerly Live Communications Server) and Office Communicator 2007 with multiparty conferencing and voice over IP (VOIP). Arthur demonstrated:
- Replying to an e-mail with an instant message (reply or reply all).
- Inclusion of formatted data (from Excel) within an instant message.
- Multiple levels of presence (i.e. sharing some contact details with certain individuals but not all).
- Documents with smart tags indicating presence information where a name is recognised in Active Directory.
- Enabling VOIP on an organisational or per-user basis, including the routing of calls across the corporate network until they reach a break-out point.
- Policies for control of conferencing settings as well as archival and call detail records for IM, conferencing and VOIP.
- Intelligent IM filter, including URL filtering and file-type filtering.
Moving on to the protection and management of content (brought to every IT Manager’s attention with the recent theft of a laptop, containing millions of customers’ personal details, from the home of a Nationwide Building Society employee), Andy Malone from Quality Training showed how the forthcoming Longhorn Server product implements network access protection (describing it as analogous to a nightclub bouncer enforcing standards for dress) through the Network Policy Server and a number of health validators. He continued by examining Windows Vista’s user account control and the Windows Firewall with advanced security, which now supports, domain, public and private profiles for both inbound and outbound rules, along with connection security and monitoring. Andy then went on to look at the current beta of Forefront client security, analysing and reporting on the security of PCs across the enterprise, as well as Exchange Hosted Services (a development of the anti-spam and anti-malware technologies acquired with FrontBridge) and Forefront for Microsoft Exchange with real-time capture and incident reporting. Finally, Andy showed Outlook 2007 disabling links in suspicious messages as well as Internet Explorer 7’s anti-phishing filter (using a demonstration phishing site).
Brett Johnson is one of my favourite Microsoft speakers – charismatic and full of energy – and, in the first of two Exchange Server 2007 sessions, he examined some of the controls that can be put in place from the view of compliance and records management, in the process highlighting that:
- Exchange Server 2007 is available as a 32-bit application for test purposes only and only the 64-bit version is supported by Microsoft.
- Many organisations have an issue relating to compliance and e-mail as mailbox restrictions lead to a proliferation of personal folder (.PST) files spread around the network, with consequential issues of management.
- With Exchange Server 2003, message journalling (sending a copy of every message sent to a particular mailbox or mail-enabled document store) was either on or off – and it affects server performance. Exchange Server 2007 allows message journalling to be set at the per-user or per-group level within the hub transport as well as controlling the scope to global, internal or external messages.
- The Exchange Server 2007 Exchange System Manager gives details of the equivalent PowerShell command at the end of each GUI operation.
- Managed content folders can be used to control the placement of messages within a mailbox – e.g. expiring Exchange voicemail messages to a particular folder after a number of days (a similar function has been possible in Outlook, but appears to be more granular and is configured by the Exchange administrator).
- Each message can be assigned a message classification (e.g. confidential) and new classifications can be created to, for example, mark a message as being suitable for a particular audience (e.g. internal account use only).
In the last session before lunch, Jessica Gruber took a look at protecting corporate intellectual property (IP). Unfortunately, despite Jessica’s offers of huge thanks when something worked, the demo gods were not with Jessica but she soldiered on and used her witty responses to keep the audience on her side. I have no doubts that had it not been for an incorrect system clock (and consequential Kerberos authentication issues) from a previous demonstration (used to avoid product activation – proving that even Microsoft has problems with keys!) which made life extremely difficult for Jessica, she would have been able to completely demonstrate:
- Exchange Server 2007’s hub transport role being used to create an ethical firewall within an organisation (preventing one part of the organisation from communicating with another) and control what happens to the associated messages (e.g. bounce with a custom reply).
- Even though information rights management (IRM) and rights management services (RMS) are not new Microsoft technologies, Exchange Server 2007 pre-processes the tasks (rather than relying on the client to implement them).
- Device installation restrictions within group policy (e.g. to prevent the installation of a USB key or to control the ability to write to CD/DVD).
- Application of information management policies within SharePoint to enable auditing, expiration, etc.
- SharePoint allowing multiple document types within a single library.
- The information panel within Office exposing document properties for completion (used within SharePoint to organise the data).
- The Document Inspector, which may be used to remove internal comments, etc. prior to publication.
- SharePoint Designer (formerly FrontPage) being used to define control the workflow around approving a document and assigning it to a particular site collection or list, without writing any code.
As the day moved on to the topic of finding information and improving business insight, Melville Thomson did a fine job of demonstrating a SharePoint dashboard with webparts connecting to BizTalk Server and SQL Server providing a sales scorecard. Using this web interface, business data can be exposed to managers who may not have Microsoft Excel on their PC, including the ability to view comments stored with data values and to drill down into the data. For more detailed analysis, the data was then opened within Excel and a pivot table used, along with conditional formatting (with new data bars and colour scales, and now understanding hierarchical data to apply a similar scheme to related cells) allowing the user to visualise the data and identify problem areas. Melville then created a chart which was active, changing dynamically along with the data exposed by the pivot table and published the results to a SharePoint library. Finally, he used the new data mining capabilities within Excel (an add-in from the forthcoming SQL Server 2005 SP2) to examine the demographics within the sales data and identify key influencers, allowing marketing to be targetted to the appropriate group of prospective customers.
I will confess that I was the guy on the front row who fell asleep in the next session (a combination of post-lunch weariness, sleep deprivation and the mention of Microsoft Project letting my mind wander to the stresses of my current assignment and immediate desire to forget it all) as Bob Walker spoke about Microsoft’s Enterprise Project and Portfolio Management products, which facilitate strategic decision making rather than focusing on task-oriented milestones.
(At this point I should make an observation – in my experience, most Project and Programme Managers are completely task-led and think a Gantt chart is a project plan. I’ve never yet worked in an organisation that uses Microsoft Project Server to co-ordinate individual plans and provide a programme-level view of operations).
- Microsoft Office Portfolio Server, featuring a builder, optimiser and dashboard to allow analysis of potential projects to be balanced against available resource at a programme, project or application level.
- Microsoft Project Server, now featuring multiple undo levels, the ability to highlight milestones and to view the impact of timescale changes using colour and reporting, with export to an Excel pivot table.
- Microsoft Project Web Access, which runs on Windows SharePoint Services to provide a lightweight project client for others to view projects.
- Integration of Microsoft Project with Outlook tasks and timesheets.
Next up was Rod Gordon of the Access User Group and Office User Group, who gave a very interesting demonstration of linking Microsoft Visio to a dynamic data source. In Rod’s example, he used an Excel spreadsheet of PC audit data to link it to a Visio diagram with an office floor layout. Key features of the demonstration included:
- Use of the control and shift keys with the mouse to drag a box around an area of the diagram to zoom in on and a pan and zoom window to drag the selected area and highlight different sections of the diagram.
- Using Visio’s data menu to link a Visio diagram to source data from a number of sources including Microsoft Access, Excel, SQL Server and Windows SharePoint Services.
- Selection of data within the external data pane and dragging/dropping it onto the appropriate shape in order to create a link (alternatively, by setting a primary key and populating just that field for each shape, the data can be automatically linked). Once the link has been created, a simple right click on the shape allows the associated data to be viewed and the shape can have conditional formatting defined in order to highlight certain conditions.
- Editing of source data with a manual (or periodical) refresh of the corresponding data in Visio.
- Use of multi-layered diagrams to expose different layers for viewing/printing.
The last topic area of the day was focused on reducing IT costs and improving security and another friendly face from Microsoft UK, Steve Lamb, gave a short demonstration of some of Windows Vista’s security features including:
- BitLocker, which encrypts the hard disk such that a key is required to start up the computer (stored on a USB key, within the computer’s trusted platform module, or entered manually). Using a drive analysis tool (diskscape.exe), Steve showed how an encrypted hard disk looks the same throughout, whereas a non-encrypted drive has definite areas of data that can be detected.
- The Application Compatibility Manager (replacing the Application Compatibility Toolkit), which now incorporates community feedback on the steps required to make a particular application run successfully on a modern Windows system.
- The Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) deployment workbench, which allows the customisation of Windows images to choose the appropriate operating system version, integrate new drivers, create new builds, edit default settings using the Windows System Image Manager and finally prepare the build for deployment using a single server, deployment share, removable media or the Microsoft SMS Operating System Deployment (OSD) feature pack.
- Demonstration of a program’s ability to inflict malware on a system running as a Windows XP Administrator, Windows XP unprivileged user, Windows Vista user (by default unprivileged) and Windows Vista user running with elevated permissions, at which point User Account Control (UAC) intervened.
- (Did we tell you that Internet Explorer 7 has new anti-phishing capabilities?)
Next up was Brett Johnson, continuing his Exchange Server 2007 theme by looking at Exchange Server efficiency:
- Exchange System Manager 2007 is based on the new MMC 3.0 console and exposes more properties in each view – making it easier to find what is required.
- Exchange Server 2007 actually has three default levels of administration – organisation, server and user (e.g. create a mailbox and make limited changes). In effect, the Active Directory and Exchange Server administration roles combine to allow flexibility in managing the organisation’s e-mail infrastructure.
- Resources (e.g. rooms and equipment) now have their own mailbox type (not just customised user mailboxes).
- There are 4 main server roles in Exchange Server 2007 – mailbox, hub transport, client access, and unified messaging (there is also a fifth role – edge services – but that is deployed on a separate server – generally inside the DMZ).
- Exchange Server logfiles are now 1MB in size (down from 5MB).
- Exchange Server 2007 offers two new forms of resilient architecture:
Hub transport rules can be used to customise message flow (e.g. Jessica Gruber’s earlier creation of an ethical firewall, or adding a disclaimer message to all e-mail.
The Exchange Server Best Practice Analyzer (ExBPA) is now available, along with various Microsoft Product Support Services (PSS) tools within Exchange System Manager. Quoting Brett, “We are making this product a cinch to use”.
PowerShell (I still can’t stand that name) offers powerful scripting capabilities, including the ability to perform Exchange Server functions from the command line, using one of the many commandlets provided by Microsoft. It’s also possible to create a log of PowerShell activities using the start-transcript command.
- Local continuous replication (LCR) creates a second copy of the database and log files (e.g. on a separate storage system) for local resilience.
- Clustered continuous replication (CCR) extends this capability to span multiple cluster nodes.
The last demonstration was from Adam Shepherd, looking at how Windows Vista improves operational efficiency:
- There are 700 new group policy settings in Windows Vista (e.g. new settings to deploy printers via GPO or enforce power management).
- After deliberately sabotaging a system by using the Windows Recovery Environment to rename a core system file, Windows Vista detected the fault and repaired it at reboot time.
- The Windows diagnostics infrastructure can be used to warn of impending faults (e.g. utilising the SMART technology in modern hard disks).
- The entire hard disk from a Windows Vista system can be backed up to a virtual hard disk (.VHD) file for later recovery.
- Windows Vista includes guided help, with options to watch as the computer performs the operation or to be guided on a step-by-step basis. What I found really impressive is that the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) includes a guided help studio for creation of custom guided help routines in little more than a few clicks, recorded with a task recorder.
In all the event was PowerPoint light and demo-heavy – with a huge amount of resource involved and a lot of hard work. I found it very worthwhile (although the format wouldn’t suit all events – it’s sometimes good to have the PowerPoint slides as a takeaway).
It was interesting to hear James O’Neill comment to a couple of attendees that the event was originally targetted at Microsoft’s enterprise customers but was later opened to a larger audience after a lack of interest (opening the floodgates and leading to an event with very low levels of “no-show”). It seems to me that Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, Microsoft Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 are all remarkably advanced products with a lot to offer and today’s demonstrations just scraped the surface. Quoting Steve Ballmer, “These are game-changing products. It’s an incredible step forward for business computing in a year of unprecedented innovation from Microsoft”.
Considering Windows Vista in isolation may not be a convincing argument for an upgrade but once you add Exchange Server 2007 and the 2007 Office System into the mix then there is plenty of scope for using IT to support new ways of working (maybe even reducing those long hours). Find out more, by following the links below or check out one of the upcoming Microsoft TechNet UK Technical Roadshow 2007 events: