Yearly Archives: 2006

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A lack of business intelligence

Earlier this year, Nationwide, the UK’s largest building society, suffered a massive data theft when a notebook computer was taken from an employee’s home.

At the time, questions were asked about how such things could be allowed to occur but, to be fair to Nationwide, it is common practice for unencrypted data to be stored on company laptops away from the office (I have never been required to encrypt my data and I work from home routinely). Furthermore, the laptop was stolen in a domestic burglary – we are all told not to leave our laptops in the car (which in my case is another company-owned asset) so within the home is probably the safest place for the computer to be stored when away from the office.

To my mind, the biggest issue is how it took so long for the issue to be disclosed, with millions of customers’ identities potentially compromised (although Nationwide stresses that the data was “to be used mainly for marketing purposes” and “did not include any PINs, passwords, account balance information or memorable data”).

Two of my family members are Nationwide customers and earlier this month we received letters warning us of the potential issues, along with advice from the UK Government Home Office and Nationwide on protecting our identities; however, I was very amused by the letter to my two-year-old son, which began as follows:

“Dear Mr Wilson

THIS IS IMPORTANT – PLEASE READ CAREFULLY AND SHOW THIS LETTER TO YOUR PARENT OR GUARDIAN

Earlier this year a laptop computer belonging to the society was stolen…”

The letter was sent to a toddler! How many 2-year-olds do you know who can read a letter and follow the advice to show it to a parent of guardian? All the other communications from Nationwide about his account are addressed to my wife – so why write directly to my son this time? They noted that he was a minor and warned him to show the letter to his parent or guardian but surely their software can cope with a simple date of birth check and establish that this customer may be considered too young to read!

Leaving aside Nationwide’s lack of business intelligence, let’s hope that they have learnt from this massively public loss of data (and the expensive clean-up operation); however as computer users we can all benefit from their unfortunate experience and make sure that our data is secured by more than just a username and password (which provides no protection at all if the operating system can be bypassed and the disk accessed directly). Windows XP and Vista both support disk encryption (as do many Linux distributions and Mac OS X) and it’s worth investigating the use of this technology, although there are complications around key recovery that need to be considered before jumping straight in.

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Upgrading my Mac to run Vista

“Hah! How can installing Windows on a Mac be an upgrade?”, I hear you ask – surely that’s tainting all that Apple wholesomeness with a BSOD-inducing, spyware-ridden, unreliable piece of software – at least, that’s the impression that you will get if you listen to Scott Bourne

Back in the land of all that is operating system-agnostic, my Mac has been running Mac OS X (most of the time) and Windows XP (a fraction of the time) since the end of July and, as it’s the most advanced piece of PC hardware that I have, I decided to upgrade my Windows partition to Vista. The first thing to note is that Apple only supports Windows XP SP2 for Boot Camp (although others have managed to use alternative operating systems successfully), but then Boot Camp is also beta software (i.e. with limited support) so, not to much to lose then!

I booted into Windows XP, inserted the Vista DVD and ran the upgrade advisor (third time lucky as it first insisted that I install the Microsoft XML Parser 6.0 and then the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0) after which was very pleased to see that my hardware would run Vista Ultimate with all the 3D effects so I could finally experience Aero glass first-hand (I’ve seen it demonstrated but all the PCs I’ve run Vista on up to now have had low-end onboard graphics cards). The upgrade advisor warned me about a few devices for which it didn’t have drivers (SigmaTel High Definition Audio Codec, Apple Built-In Bluetooth and Canon CanoScan N650U/N656U) as well a couple of applications that may have problems post-installation (Symantec AntiVirus Client and Windows Messenger) but as there were no show-stoppers I went ahead with the upgrade (Vista also gave me the option to perform a clean installation, but I figured upgrading from an existing Windows XP installation with all the correct drivers would be a good starting point).

The upgrade itself was smooth and after a while I had a running Windows Vista Ultimate Edition system (not yet activated). As could be expected, Windows wanted to locate some missing drivers, but strangely they weren’t the ones previously identified by the upgrade advisor: firstly there was my Nikon LS4000ED film scanner (for which the Windows XP driver seemed to work); and another device that stopped working during the upgrade was my graphics tablet, although Wacom has a beta driver for Windows Vista that was easily downloaded and installed, following which the tablet PC input panel appeared. More worryingly, Mediafour MacDrive 6 stopped working under Vista so I have no access to non-Windows partitions and, annoyingly, there was no mention of this from the upgrade advisor, nor does a search for “vista” on the Mediafour website turn up any results (I have since opened a support request and been referred to an article which states that Vista is not supported – apparently that will be in MacDrive 7 next year, and will cost me some more cash). Although I was able to work through the driver issues (if not the MacDrive application issue) I have to question exactly what is the point of an upgrade advisor that doesn’t identify all the likely issues?

Because I had upgraded from a working XP installation that was using Boot Camp v1.0.2 drivers, most of my Mac hardware was recognised by Windows (and Vista was even able to find a driver online for one device that hadn’t previously worked – the Infineon Trusted Platform Module). Even so, more recent versions of Boot Camp provide additional device support – like being able to use F14 for PrtScr – so I decided to upgrade the Apple Keyboard driver. After creating an updated driver CD using the Boot Camp Assistant v1.1.2 under Mac OS X, Tim Gaden’s article on wrangling Boot Camp v1.1.2 drivers into Windows Vista guided me through extracting the driver files to a location on my hard disk (“D:\Install Macintosh Drivers for Windows XP.exe” /A /v), from where I was able to locate the Apple Keyboard driver (in locationofextractedfiles\program files\Macintosh Drivers for Windows XP 1.1.2\Apple Keyboard\) and run the setup wizard. Tim’s article was written for Vista RC2, but I can confirm that the same fatal error occurs with the RTM build (build 6000) if the /a /v switches are not used to extract the setup files and run them individually.

Feature transfer error: Error -1603 Fatal error during installation

Once the Apple Keyboard driver was properly installed, I could use the extra function keys but as the UK Apple keyboard lacks a # character, I couldn’t type # directly (Alt+3 no longer works) although Alt+035 does the trick (note that the 035 must be typed on the number pad, not using the numeric keys above above qwertyuiop).

There were still a couple of devices with warnings in Device Manager – no driver seems to be available for the performance counters (at least that’s one step ahead of the Windows XP installation which simply referred to this item as a PCI device) and I have a USB Human Interface Device for which the drivers won’t start (hardware ID USB\VID_05AC&PID_8240&REV_0110 – this was also unrecognised under XP and 05AC denotes Apple but I’m not sure which device 8240 relates to). Sadly, the Apple remote still doesn’t work – a shame really as I much prefer Microsoft’s Windows Media Center to Apple’s FrontRow.

During the upgrade, I also noticed a nice feature as I held down the Alt/option key on each reboot to select the Windows partition – as well as Macintosh HD and Windows, the boot loader offered the choice of booting from the Windows DVD (I’m not sure if this is available to Mac users without Boot Camp?).

I have previously criticised the Vista user interface but I’m finding that I actually like the full experience with all the 3D effects turned on (sorry Microsoft). Flip 3D is cool; so is the taskbar thumbnail preview; and I like the way that Windows fade in/out as I maximise/minimise them.

Flip-3D

Thumbnail preview

Extolling the virtues of Vista’s user interface does not in any way reverse the opinion I have previously expressed as a Microsoft business customer – by and large, corporates don’t care about 3D graphics and the main requirement is for a reliable and secure operating system, something for which only time can tell if Windows Vista is or is not.

As for those who point out the similarities between Windows Vista and Mac OS X (I did blog about the spoof videos earlier this year and yes, I have seen David Pogue’s video article on the New York Times site, to which it should be added that Pogue is a well-known Mac user – he even writes books about Apple software!), let’s play that particular criticism back another way (which I haven’t seen anybody comment on)… it’s well publicised that it took many years for Microsoft to write Vista and Microsoft is far less secretive about new features than Apple is – who says that Apple didn’t steal some of Microsoft’s ideas in the meantime and bring them to market first? After all, the much acclaimed Time Machine feature in the forthcoming version of OS X sounds very like a feature we have had in Windows for years (the volume shadow copy service). Or maybe (and more likely in my opinion), consumers expect features like a calendar application and digital media management built in to our operating system (heaven knows that Outlook Express was long overdue an update). As for gadgets/widgets and desktop search (Spotlight) – they are not Apple inventions either (in fact, many Mac users eschew Mac OS X’s Spotlight search in favour of Quicksilver).

I’ll still be running Mac OS X most of the time (at home anyway – I need to use Linux and Windows XP for work) but it’s good to be able to test Vista in all it’s glory and it seems to run well on my Mac Mini. In fairness, I do have a Core Duo processor and 2GB of RAM, but it feels responsive (at least as much so as OS X) and the overall experience is positive – and that’s on a machine which only scores a Windows experience index of 3.0 (dragged down by the built-in Intel GMA950 graphics – the other metrics are all above 4).

Performance information and tools

As I’ve written previously, Windows Vista is a fantastic achievement on Microsoft’s part, although I do wish that there had been simultaneous consumer and business launches (if only to stop all this ¨we don’t support it because it’s not available yet¨ nonsense from software vendors who should have been getting ready for Vista months ago). Now we just need to stop all the noise from David Pogue and others about how Microsoft copied Apple and just live with the fact that Vista will be on hundreds of millions of PCs by this time next year – regardless of whether or not it is the best operating system. Despite my initial reservations, I like running Mac OS X, I also like running Linux, and I like running Windows too – they all have their good and bad points so let’s play nicely together.

(In the interests of my operating system-agnostic credentials, I should add that I started to write this post on a PC running Fedora Core 5 whilst the Mac was being upgraded, then I switched to the Mac, adding details whilst booted under both Windows Vista and Mac OS X!)

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New toys for digital imaging

Blogging may be a bit sporadic for a while as I’m trying to spend some time with my family (I’ve been far too busy at work over the last few weeks and they have been losing out); however I did find 5 minutes to blog about the new toys that Santa (okay, it was Mrs. Wilson) left on our fireplace/under the Christmas tree a couple of days ago…

Wacom Graphire 4 Classic A6 tablet

The first was a Wacom Graphire 4 Classic A6 tablet – I’ve never used a pen for digital work before but I figured it must be far more intuitive than a mouse and whilst I’ve not had much time to play (no more than the basic setup process) this could open up a whole new world of possibilities for digital image creation. Installing it on my Mac Mini (under both Mac OS X and Windows XP) was easy – although I was a bit perplexed when the product registration screen started asking me questions about how I’d found the product’s usability (duh… I’ve just bought it and am registering it as part of the software installation – I haven’t used it yet!). Slightly annoyingly, as I’m writing this, I see that there is a white version available now; however as my Mac, monitor, external hard disk are all aluminium and my scanners are silver-painted plastic, the silver version doesn’t look out of place on my desktop.

Lexar Professional CompactFlash 2GB 133x memory card

Tech present number 2 was a 2GB 133x Lexar Professional CompactFlash memory card – now I have room on my camera for either many more JPEGs, or for the long-awaited switch to raw format photography.

So, what exactly is the point of this rambling? Well, like much of the rambling on this blog, bear with me – normal service will be resumed soon (I have a lot of half-written blog posts to finish writing) and in the meantime, enjoy the Christmas holidays – I’ll be playing with my children, my camera and my computer (in that order).

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Passed the VMware Certified Professional exam

VMware Certified ProfessionalThis morning I passed the VMware Certified Professional on VI3 exam.

VMware’s non-disclosure agreement prevents me from saying anything about the exam itself but I can say that it involved a lot of preparation and this was my strategy:

  • Most importantly, get some experience of working with VMware products (I have been working on a project to implement VI3 since July and also use VMware Server every day).
  • Attend the mandatory VMware Infrastructure 3 Install and Configure course (I don’t believe that making a £2200 course mandatory is a good thing – people with suitable experience should be allowed to take the test without having to either shell out that sort of cash themselves or persuade their employer to do it – often locking them into an agreement to stay with the company…).
  • Book the exam (oh yes, the £2200 doesn’t include exam fees – that’s another £100).
  • Use the week before Christmas, when most of my colleagues were on holiday, to lock myself away and cram like crazy, reading the course notes through again as well as the product documentation. I find that writing notes helps me to taking information on board and I’ve published my revision notes here (note that these were written prior to taking the exam and, to avoid breaking the terms of the exam NDA, the content has not been edited to reflect what I experienced in the exam – the only changes from the originals relate to formatting and grammar).
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Keeping up with the news (plus some tips for Windows Vista)

Clicking through from one of Victor Laurie’s sites, I found Ed Bott’s 10 expert tips and tweaks for Windows Vista – it looks as though there are some nice tips there.

I regularly read Paul Thurrott‘s writing (as well as listening to his Windows Weekly podcast with Leo Laporte) and I occasionally check out what Stephen Bink and Ryan Hoffman have to say but it seems Ed Bott’s Microsoft Report is another useful resource for those keeping up-to-date with the latest news from Redmond (there is also the official Microsoft news is at Presspass, but it’s all so clinical and corporate).

Of course, Ed Bott writes at ZDNet, who have loads of writers churning out news on Microsoft, Google, Apple and others but it’s just so hard to keep up (and RSS feeds are worsening my information overload instead of making it better!) – just thought I’d make a note of it up here on the blog in case it turns out useful for someone.

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Windows for beginners

Earlier today, I was looking for a complete list of Windows environment variables and a spot of googling turned up Victor Laurie’s Computer Education website, which describes itself as “an educational site that is intended for the home user of personal computers… teaching some basic points about how they and their Windows operating systems work”. From a cursory glance, it looks to be a useful resource, with information written in a clear and concise manner.

Among his collection of sites, Vic also has a site called Surf the Internet Safely with advice for those who are worried about security online and a Windows Tips and Tricks blog with “selected tips on making Windows safer and easier to use”.

All of these sites look to be useful resources for those who are just getting started with a Windows computer (and for some more advanced home users too).

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Online personality tests

A week or so ago, I spent two days on a technical leadership course as part of my work. I’m not sure that the course really spent much time teaching me to lead (it’s kind of implicit in my role), but it was an opportunity to take stock of where I am and made me realise that I need to think about where I want to go next.

My higher education was entirely technical but I do find it fascinating to look at some of the business models that other people employ, and some of the behavioural models that are used to categorise people. Particularly interesting on my recent course were concepts such as the Johari Window and the four Cs of leadership (credibility, capability, career management and character), the accelerated learning ladder and the situational leadership model. I was also able to take some online tests including the leader behavioural analysis II (LBAII) self-profile and the occupational personality questionnaire (OPQ32).

Whilst the LBAII was interesting, it is entirely based on my own perception of how I would react in a given scenario (and it’s only natural to answer with what is considered to be the “best” answer – i.e. how I should act), but it does seem that I adapt my leadership style to meet the needs of those I am leading – something which surprised me.

Although it’s also based upon self-assessment (and hence possibly different to the way in which others view you), OPQ32 is harder to fool (not that I deliberately tried to fool any of the tests) – for anyone who has ever taken this sort of test, it’s the one often used for psychometric profiling as part of interview processes, with many questions, each subtly different where you often think “haven’t I answered this already?”. Amazingly though, having read the report from the analysis of my answers, it’s pretty spot on in assessing my personality (as verified by my wife, who knows me as well as anyone).

Both of these tests require payment to the companies that own them; however I stumbled across a free, online, personal DNA report whilst casually surfing from blog to blog last night. My personal DNA report indicates that I am a “respectful leader” (fitting in with my LBAII and OPQ32 responses) – anyone who is remotely interested can mouse-over the graphic below to see how it categorised me:

At the end of the day, you can read as much or as little into these personality tests as you like, but I found the OPQ32 to be frighteningly accurate and the personal DNA test is very similar in some ways. If you still don’t believe it then you can get others to assess you (based on their view of your personality) – now that could be really scary!

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Basic TCP/IP troubleshooting

For the last couple of days, I’ve been mystified as to why I could access a SharePoint site from other Windows servers on the same LAN but not from clients (Mac, Linux or Windows) elsewhere on the network (and on the Internet).

Strangely, the server responded to ping requests, but I couldn’t successfully traceroute ipaddress. Now I’ve realised why… I had the wrong default gateway set in the TCP/IP stack. So simple, yet so crucial. Furthermore, tracert ipaddress on Windows worked (tricking me into thinking it was a Mac OS X/Linux problem) – it turns out that many Unix-derived operating systems use UDP for traceroute whereas the Windows implementation (tracert) uses ICMP. As ping (which uses ICMP) was working, my Windows trace was successful but, because ICMP operates at the network layer in the OSI model and UDP is at the transport layer, the return UDP packets to a Mac OS X or Linux client would have been unable to reach me because of the incorrect gateway on the SharePoint server.

It just shows that, from time to time, it can be useful to go back to basics when troubleshooting TCP/IP issues:

  • Firstly, check that the cable is plugged in. Believe me, it’s amazing how many times that is the cause of the problem!
  • Next, check that the computer has correct IP addressing details. IP addresses starting with 169.254 are link-local or automatic private IP addressing (APIPA) addresses, used when a DHCP server cannot be located. Key settings to check are the IP address itself, subnet mask, default gateway/router address (used to find the next hop) and nameserver (DNS or WINS) addresses (used to locate a server to resolve friendly names to IP addresses).
  • If you think the TCP/IP settings are correct then ping ipaddress from the computer to localhost (127.0.0.1), the default gateway, a known host elsewhere on the network, a known host on the Internet (in that order) – this approach will help to identify whether the issue is local to the computer, the local subnet, further out on the network or on the Internet (incidentally, many web servers will not respond to pings in order to avoid denial of service attacks such as the ping of death – so no reply from an Internet host doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem). If pings from the computer are successful, try pings to the computer from elsewhere on the network.
  • Finally, tracert ipaddress (Windows) or traceroute ipaddress (Mac OS X/Linux) can be used to check that packets are being routed correctly. Windows users also have a utility called pathping which is a combination of ping and tracert.

Some other commands that can be useful include:

  • ipconfig /release followed by ipconfig /renew (Windows) or ifdown interface then ifup interface (Mac OS X/Linux) can be used to obtain a new IP address from the DHCP server (alternatively, just use ipconfig /renew or ifup interface to renew the existing address).
  • The nslookup tool can be used to check the results returned by the DNS server for a particular host. If DNS is working and Internet access is available then further tests can be carried out at the DNS Stuff website.
  • ipconfig /flushdns can be used for Windows users to flush the DNS cache and force a new lookup for a previously visited host.
  • The netstat command can be used to see all the connections that are currently open (strange entries may indicate a problem with certain types of malware).
  • telnet ipaddress portname can be useful to test a connection to a host.
  • If the command line is too confusing, Windows users can use netsh diag gui as a last resort!
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I’m the real Mark Wilson

I got a call this afternoon from an IT recruiter who had found my profile on the ‘net and was looking for a SQL Server developer to fill a role. I politely told him that he obviously had not read much about me and that I don’t know very much about SQL Server (or development).

I found it all a little strange because I’m reasonably easy to track down but the call had been routed to me over my employer’s voice internal network – not to my personal phone or e-mail – but thought nothing more of this until I received a call to tell me that someone was repeatedly calling the company switchboard and claiming to be me in order to obtain various contact details.

Whilst some might consider this to be an ingenious form of social engineering, I consider it to be an underhand technique which is analogous to the current IT menace of phishing.

Reputable recruitment staff will not use such techniques (generally, they will not call you at work). If I find out who this guy is, then I will make a formal complaint to his employer. You have been warned!

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Microsoft EVO launch

Microsoft UK EVO Launch

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 £6m, of which £5m was revenue from Microsoft Mail. SQL Server cost £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 £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).

Bob demonstrated:

  • 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:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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:

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