Monthly Archives: April 2007

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Microsoft SharePoint products and technologies

Over the last few years, I’ve had a couple of attempts at learning about the various Microsoft SharePoint products and technologies but I’ve never really had the chance to implement SharePoint for a customer. Recently though, I’ve had the opportunity to get involved with some work around Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 (which replaces SharePoint Portal Server 2003) but unfortunately, much of this work is commercially sensitive so I can’t really write much about it here. One thing I can write about is that in the course of this work I learned that my long-time colleague Andy May has a blog with lots of useful information about SharePoint products and services (I should probably point out that the Andy May that I work with shouldn’t be confused with Andrew May, who works at Microsoft and writes about SharePoint).

I’ve found Andy’s posts on WSS and MOSS client access licenses and feature differences between [Windows SharePoint Services] WSS and MOSS 2007 particularly useful as I’ve attempted to cut through the differences between WSS and MOSS (which is just as complex as it was with previous versions of WSS/SharePoint Team Services and SharePoint Portal Server). Microsoft has a description of the relationship between the various SharePoint products and technologies but the diagram Andy uses (from Mart Muller) makes it all a little clearer.

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Running VMware Server Console on a Mac

Last year, I bought a 20″ wide-screen monitor which I run at a resolution of 1680×1050 pixels. Working with all that screen space is fantastic (especially with 4 virtual desktops), except that I’ve got so used to it that the standard 1024×768 pixels on the notebook PC that I use for work seems too small and an upgrade is out of the question as the PC is only 18 months old.

For a while now, I’ve been running the notebook on the desk next to my main display but I’m running out of desk space. As I virtualised my corporate Windows XP build a while back, I thought it would be great if, when I’m working at home, I could run the Linux VMware Server Console on my Mac (which is connected to the large display). The virtual machine would still be limited to 1024×768 but I could access corporate applications in the VMware Server Console and do the big screen stuff (web, e-mail, document edits, etc.) natively on the Mac, using the whole display. Yes, I know that if I used Microsoft Virtual Server I could run it in a browser, but I’d need ActiveX and I’m not using Internet Explorer. Similarly RDP is an option, but I find it to be a bit flaky on an Intel Mac. Anyway, I’m a (pseudo-)geek and so I need to feed on problems like this from time to time!

Actually, much of the hard work has already been done for me – googling for vmware console mac soon turns up Rui Carmo’s article at The Tao of Mac on how to run [the VMware Console] remotely with Apple’s X11; however Rui’s article was written a while ago now and my VMware Server (v1.0.1-build 29996) installation on Fedora Core 5 doesn’t use the command vmware-console – instead I have to use vmware. Nevertheless, it got me 90% of the way there:

  • On the (Linux) VMware Server:
    • Configure SSH and X11 forwarding (my original post used a Windows client and public/private keys but the principles are similar – this time I used password authentication, making sure that the PasswordAuthentication yes and X11Forwarding yes lines were present in /etc/ssh/sshd_config and restarting the SSH daemon with service sshd restart).
    • Locate an appropriate keyboard map in /usr/lib/vmware/xkeymap/, edit the map if necessary (there is a VMware article about keyboard mapping on a Linux host that may be useful – don’t worry that it’s a VMware Workstation document) and edit ~/.vmware/preferences to include xkeymap.language="<em>keyboardmap</em>" (I used gb101 for my Apple UK keyboard).
  • On the Mac:

At this point VMware Server Console ran successfully under X11 on my Mac; however whenever I powered on a virtual machine all I saw was a black screen and a message in the xterm window which read:

X11 connection rejected because of wrong authentication.

After trying a remote VMware Server Console connection to localhost and restarting the Linux host (I’m not sure which, if either, of these made a difference) I found that the virtual machine was actually starting but that for some reason the display wasn’t being repeated in the X11 VMware Server Console on the Mac; however this time there was a different message displayed:

Unable to connect to the MKS: You need execute access in order to connect with the VMware Server Console. Access denied for config file: /var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/virtualmachinenname/virtualmachinenname.vmx.

After setting execute permissions to the virtual machine configuration file chmod +x <em>virtualmachinenname</em>.vmx (changing the permission set from 640 to 751), I was able to successfully view the VM on the Mac (and simultaneously on the Linux host) – the only (very minor) issues are that the mouse pointer is solid white when accessing the virtual machine (so sometimes I lose it) and that the sound is not forwarded (no big deal). Now my notebook PC is docked on a shelf away from the desk, with the lid closed, and I’m running the VMware Server Console from the Mac, having reclaimed some space on my desk.

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What was that password again?

In the course of my daily computing activities I have to remember hundreds of username and password combinations. Literally. Just at work there are two (yes two!) timesheet applications, then there’s my corporate domain credentials, remote access, mobile phone billing portal, etc., each with their own username and password complexity/expiry policies; then there are all the systems at home; and finally the plethora of websites at which I have an account.

There are those who say that writing down credentials is a bad idea, whilst others say that using a single username and password combination is bad practice – these people are absolutely correct as, once compromised, an attacker has access to all the systems that use those credentials but we also need to be pragmatic – how can any user seriously be expected to remember all the usernames and passwords for the multitude of systems that they access? Indeed, many of the credentials I used are stored in my browser’s password manager – I haven’t a clue what my password is and I just open up the page and let my browser auto-complete the fields for me.

If we cast our minds back a few years to the launch of the Microsoft.net Framework, Passport.net was supposed to take away a lot of the hassle for web service authentication and we all know what a failure Passport was (outside Microsoft) – people just didn’t want Microsoft holding the keys to all their systems – InfoCard could well succeed where Passport failed but I have an identity crisis right here, right now!

One of the systems that I access regularly was recently moved to a new server – hence to a new URL and so the stored username and password didn’t work for me. This is where one of the handy system utilities that I wrote about a while back came in useful – I went to the old URL for the application, let the browser auto-complete the details and Nirsoft AsterWin IE was able to scan for the stored password, which I could then manually enter at the new site.

Of course, this advice comes with all the usual caveats when using third party applications to probe for security details… I haven’t checked for any unwanted side effects of using this application and you have been warned!

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Creating a FAT32 volume in excess of 32GB

A few months back I wrote about some of the issues I was having with using FAT32-formatted disks for data transfer between Windows, Mac OS X (and Linux) PCs, because although FAT32 supports file systems up to 2TB in size, the format utilities within Windows support a maximum partition size of 32GB and FAT32 only supports files up to 4GB (which doesn’t sound like an issue until you start copying .ISO DVD images and digital video files around).

Even though I use MacDrive for reading OS X disks on Windows XP, I still find it useful to have a FAT32 disk to back up the VMware Server virtual machine which I use to run Windows XP on a Linux notebook PC for my daily work. I did find a great utility a few weeks back for reading ext3 disks on Windows (I think it was Explore2fs), but it’s the universal acceptance of FAT32 that makes it so easy to use everywhere. The trouble is that my virtual machine is about 31GB in size and growing – consequently I needed to create a partition larger than 32GB.

In my original post, I mentioned that FAT32 volumes in excess of 32Gb can be created – Windows is able to read or write larger volumes it just can’t create them natively (the workaround is to use another operating system or third-party tools). In my case, I used the Mac OS X Disk Utility – the important point is to ensure that the disk options are set to use as master boot record (not a GUID partition table or an Apple partition map) after which MS-DOS File System becomes available as a formatting option, allowing me to create a FAT32 disk which filled my entire 55.89GB disk – plenty of room for my virtual machine files and more.

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ThinkBook? MacPad?

Firstly, let me point out that I am not publicly condoning software piracy. To run Apple Mac OS X 10.4 on anything other than a properly licensed Macintosh computer would be very, very naughty.

If, however, you did have a spare copy of OS X and you wanted to install it on a well-built black notebook PC (say, for example, an IBM ThinkPad T40) without shelling out extra cash for a black MacBook, this is how you might do it. I’m not sure if the end result should be known as a ThinkBook or a MacPad…

Following Profit42’s advice for installing OS X 10.4.x on a “normal” PC (and assuming that all data on the target computer’s hard disk can be wiped):

  1. Make sure that the target computer supports at least the SSE2 instruction set (if you are running Windows then CPU-Z will help).
  2. Obtain a pre-patched OS X install DVD image (available to Apple developers… although I understand that googling for JaS OSx86 may help out a little…).
  3. Burn the OS X install image (e.g. 10.4.6.install.dvd.iso) to DVD.
  4. Boot the target computer from the DVD and press a key when prompted to install OS X.
  5. After the grey screen with the Apple logo, follow the installer prompts until there is a blue screen and a menu bar at the top. At this point select Disk Utility from the Utilities menu.
  6. Create a single partition on the disk formatted as Mac OS X extended (journaled). Then close Disk Utility.
  7. Continue with the installer prompts, customising the installation after selecting the target hard disk and ensuring that all appropriate patches are selected (e.g. 10.4.6.Combo.Update, Intel.SSE2 and 10.4.6.Radeon.Mobility.Support).
  8. Continue until the installation is complete and reboot into OS X.

If presented with a b0 error message, then there are a couple of methods to work around this. The basic problem is that the partition has not been set active (bootable). Live CDs such as GParted (or even an MS-DOS boot disk with FDISK) may help but one method is to boot from the install DVD again but this time don’t press a key. OS X should boot and once set up it should be possible to launch Terminal (from the Utilities folder, under Applications) and set the appropriate partition to be active, following the advice from Rammjet at Insanely Mac:

  1. Type diskutil list and verify which disk holds the OS X partition.
  2. Assuming that the disk is disk0, enter the command sudo fdisk -e /dev/rdisk0 (note the r in rdisk) and enter your password when prompted.
  3. Ignore the fdisk: could not open MBR file /usr/standalone/i386/boot0: No such file or directory error.
  4. At the fdisk: 1> prompt, type p and verify which partition holds OS X.
  5. Assuming that it is partition 1, type f 1 – the response should be Partition 1 marked active and the prompt should change to fdisk:*1>.
  6. Save the changes with write then enter y to confirm that a restart will be required, followed by exit.
  7. Remove the install DVD and reboot.

Finally:

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A few iTunes and Front Row tips

Apple iTunes has supported podcasts since v4.9 and I stopped using a separate podcatcher soon afterwards but earlier today I wanted to add a podcast subscription manually (i.e. not through the iTunes store). It turns out that’s easy enough – simply select Subscribe to Podcasts… from the Advanced menu but it took me a bit of research to find that particular option (I had been looking for an appropriate command on the File menu and eventually found this out from Apple’s essential tips for podcast lovers).

Whilst writing about iTunes, I might as well add a few more tips that I’ve discovered in recent days:

There are still a couple of iTunes items that I’m trying to work out:

  • How to get my old (pre-iTunes native podcast support) podcast files to be recognised as podcasts (rather than sitting in my music library) – there is a script to re-add tracks as podcasts but I figure there must be a simpler way.
  • How to mark a track as explicit – for example I have a copy of a recent Madonna concert and whilst I may share the views on American politics that she expresses during her performance of I Love New York (which is great song but has just about the worst lyrics I’ve heard from an artist of Madonna’s calibre in a long time), my 2-year-old son does repeat a lot of what he hears right now so I’d probably better avoid playing explicit tracks in the car. One way to do this would be to exclude explicit tracks from a playlist but the explicit/clean tags only seem to be possible on podcasts and purchased music.

If anyone knows the answer to these, please leave a comment on this post.

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Could this be the beginning of the end for DRM?

My friend Alex thinks that DRM is a good thing (he believes that it’s the only way that content producers can protect their investments). I disagree with Alex on this and agree with Robert Nyman’s argument as to why using DRM to protect content is fundamentally flawed. Consequently I was very pleased to hear that EMI’s digital catalogue will be available at Apple’s iTunes Store from next month, DRM-free and at a higher bitrate.

EMI is not the largest of the music publishers but it is one of the big four. Whilst it’s easy to see the attraction of this deal for Apple (who have been facing some legal challenges in Europe over interoperability between iTunes and other vendor’s media players), it remains to be seen what it means for EMI (apart from a 25%-30% increase in digital revenues for each DRM-free track sold via iTunes). It could actually increase legal digital music downloads and I’m sure Sony BMG, Universal and Warner will be watching to see what the effect is before they make a similar move; it’s also worth noting that 13,000 independent labels already sell DRM-free content via eMusic (albeit at at lower bitrate and using the MP3 file format).

The EMI deal will also allow iTunes users to pay £0.20/€0.30/$0.30 to upgrade the music that they have already purchased – it may be money for old rope from the point of view of Apple and EMI but it’s also attractively priced (and it allows the record labels to increase the price of music sold via iTunes – something which they have wanted to do for while now). Digital music sales may only represent a 10% share of the worldwide market for music but are expected to grow to reach 25% of earnings by 2010 (although the recording industry is still fantasising about matching digital revenues to the decline in CD sales – a market phenomenon brought about by music collectors replacing portions of their vinyl collections with “digitally remastered” CDs and unlikely to be repeated for todays new media formats).

Personally, I’m pleased about this deal for another reason. Until now, there has been little incentive for me to buy albums online (even with the recent addition of the complete my album feature). I buy single tracks online (I stopped buying CD singles a few years ago) but have become increasing frustrated as certain tracks are only available if I buy the whole album (note to greedy record companies – this strategy actually drives people to seek out illegal downloads – if I was so inclined then I could download the tracks that I want from The Devil Wears Prada soundtrack via BitTorrent as they are not available to me on iTunes unless I buy the whole album).

At present, if I buy a CD (from the supermarket, play.com or elsewhere) then I have the DRM-free media and can rip it for playback on my iPod – alternatively I could pay Apple for inferior-quality DRM-protected content but from next month, I can buy 256kbps AAC-encoded albums, without DRM, for about the same price as a CD (and for the same price as the existing 128mbps AAC files with DRM) and, because the whole iTunes experience is so simple, I probably will. This is what Apple and EMI are banking on; however it will also make me more aware of which label I am purchasing tracks from (at the moment I neither know, nor care).

Incidentally, I recently heard that teenagers and young adults are the section of society most likely to copy CDs and use peer-to-peer networks to share files. That’s nothing new. The technology may have changed but I started recording chart shows to listen to music when I was about 12. If I hunt around in the loft, garage, or somewhere similar, I’ll probably find a box of cassette tape copies of friends’ albums from when I was a teenager and my time at Uni’. Only once I started to work for a living could I finally afford to buy CDs (and I bought a lot of CDs over the following 10 years or so, right up until just before I got married, at which time my money started to be spent on “sensible” things, like a huge mortgage…). So what’s changed? Nothing really, illegal file sharing is just the modern equivalent of the high speed dubbing that we did on our twin cassette decks 20 years ago – the only difference is that today’s technology allows a perfect digital copy and most of us have stood next to too many speaker stacks at gigs to notice the difference in quality anyway!

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