Monthly Archives: November 2007

Uncategorized

Calendar synchronisation… shouldn’t it all be a bit easier than this?

It was supposed to be easy. All I wanted to do was to synchronise Microsoft Outlook 2007 (at work) with Apple iCal or Microsoft Entourage 2004 (at home) using Google Calendar (GCal) as a broker (also allowing access from the web, wherever I am). I know that there are three software companies there who are largely competitors, but surely someone has done this before and anyway, isn’t that what iCalendar (RFC 2445) all about – the exchange of calendar data between applications?

Outlook 2007 also includes the ability to subscribe to other calendars using a process known as Internet Calendar Subscriptions but it’s a one-way process. The reverse process is known as publishing a calendar, either to WebDAV server (which I don’t have) or to Microsoft Office Online, which (in theory) is accessible from anywhere. This works, sort of, as long as I log in with a Windows Live ID or make my information public. The Windows Live ID option is fine from a browser but doesn’t work for other applications, such as iCal, which returns the following:

Error subscribing to the calendar
Unexpected secure name resolution error (code -9813). The server name calendars.office.microsoft.com may be incorrect.

Meanwhile, making my information available publicly is not a great idea (although iCal can subscribe to this, albeit read-only).

Next up, I tried getting GCal to subscribe to my Office Online calendar. Google refuses to read the webcal:// version of the address:

Error
Could not fetch the URL

and if I try the https:// variant then it says:

Error
Could not fetch the URL because robots.txt prevents us from crawling the URL

So that rules out the Office Online calendar.

I had some success with RemoteCalendars following the advice on Jake Ludington’s Mediablab site with a couple of changes for Windows Vista/Office 2007:

Unfortunately there wasn’t anything coming back the other way even though I was using version 6.3, which does include support for two way synchronisation and, despite checking the advice in the Grinn Productions post on incorporating Google Calendar into Outlook (there are lots of useful comments on this post), I didn’t get very far (the advice is to use a separate calendar in Outlook for a 2-way sync and that defeats the object of merging my individual work and private calendars into one universal calendar that I can access anywhere). I also noticed that somewhere along the way, my GCal entries were getting bumped forward an hour, probably as a result of timezone differences somewhere along the chain.

Next I looked at GCALDaemon (complex configuration and lots of articles for how to use it with other mail clients but not Outlook… which I suspect illustrates a contempt for working with anything from Microsoft).

SyncMyCal seemed to need me to make my GCal public (the opposite problem to syncing iCal with Office Online), so that’s a non-starter. It also threw an error during installation (probably because I had missed one of the many prerequisite applications that it requires) but then said installation had completed successfully, not exactly filling me with confidence in the error checking built into the product. Uninstallation also seemed to remove the buttons from the RemoteCalendars toolbar – possibly something to do with the fact that they both use the Microsoft Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) second edition runtime.

SyncUpwards seems to be a dead project as the website says the latest version is 7 August 2006 (over a year ago) and that it doesn’t work with the Outlook 2007 beta.

I’d been avoiding one approach that appeared to be the holy grail of calendar synchronisation – using ScheduleWorld/Funambol to manage the synchronisation. it did look pretty good, but I didn’t really want ScheduleWorld (or any other Funambol server) in the middle of my architecture. Nevertheless, I gave it a go and it was reasonably successful but I had some issues with the Funambol client (v6.0.14), which seemed a little problematic with unhelpful error messages like:

Sync not completed. Network Error.

Most critically the Funambol Outlook Plugin kept on prompting me for agreement to use or register a product called Outlook Redemption which it was obviously using to work around some of the Outlook security restrictions. That meant three products working together… as well as Outlook, GCal and the others – this was all starting to look a bit too Heath Robinson.

Then I panicked – all of a sudden Outlook had duplicate appointments, all an hour out of place and without any category information. It seemed that despite having supposedly uninstalled RemoteCalendars it was still working (I hadn’t rebooted) and I had a synchronisation loop from Outlook to Funambol/ScheduleWorld to GCal and back to Outlook. I quickly stopped Funambol and took full advantage of ScheduleWorld’s flexibility, deleting all entries in that calendar and forcing a one-way sync to GCal (effectively emptying that calendar too), which RemoteCalendars picked up and used to remove all the duplicates from Outlook. Phew! Once that was over, I rebooted the PC, removed Funambol and VSTO, and rebooted again, just to be sure that nothing was still running (I also manually deleted the RemoteCalendars VSTO toolbar from within Outlook).

Googling for other products that might help me, I looked at GMobileSync, Goosync and GCalSync, but they all seem to be primarily for synchronising between GCal and a mobile phone. There was also the cleverly-named Calgoo but it required me to register for an account and (much like ScheduleWorld that I tried earlier).

Then I found a link to David Levinson’s gSyncit. Not only is it a tidy Microsoft.NET application with minimal prerequisites that integrates well as an Outlook plug-in but its options appear to be well thought out and it is very clear about being able to perform single or bi-directional synchronisation between Outlook and GCal. I tried it out on a limited date range and synchronisation worked, including no timezone issues between the two platforms. Although I found the version that I used (v1.9.19) to be a little temperamental at times (sometimes clicking the sync button doesn’t seem to do anything, and annoyingly the GCal feed path changes of its own accord), when it works it does exactly what I need it to – bi-directional synchronisation between Outlook 2007 and a private GCal, although it would be nice if it also worked with Outlook in cached mode. I’ll was going to give it a bit longer and see if it settles down, thinking that if it works well enough then it would only be $9.99 to register but after waiting over an hour for it to synchronise almost 1500 entries with GCal, I noticed that some were missing. After a resync it didn’t copy the missing appointments to Google, instead it removed them from Outlook! Arghhh! If I can’t have 100% confidence in a synchronisation product then I might as well not bother.

I decided to have a look at another product I’d found – Oggsync. Oggsync tries to install the Office 2003 PIA (even if the Office 2007 PIA is already installed) as well as VSTO and shared add-in extensibility/support updates for Microsoft .NET framework 2.0 (see Microsoft knowledge base article 908002 for details) but unlike some of the products I tried earlier (RemoteCalendars and SyncMyCal), the OggSync installer does the work for me (much better than having to install a bunch of individual packages before installing the application I’m really after). I really wanted to like OggSync, and then it started doing weird things like moving events out of Outlook and into Google and syncing only a fraction of my entries across a wide time frame. I was not impressed. Thankfully I was able to pull them back from a PST export of my Calendar that I had made earlier today.

At this point, I was ready to give up on the whole process – but I decided to try one more option – CompanionLink for Google. Despite some initial synchronisation errors, the support team at CompanionLink were really helpful and I got it working quite well. I was seriously considering buying this product but my confidence in calendar synchronisation had been shattered by the earlier failures and I still hadn’t got everything working on the Mac end of things…

I found that Apple iCal can subscribe to a GCal calendar (to private calendars too – not just shared calendars as shown in the article) but I still needed to work out how to get iCal to sync with a GCal private calendar (iCal can subscribe to GCal calendars but only for read-only access). Calgoo or Spanning Sync may have been able to help me out there. iCal automatically detects the presence of Entourage and can edit the Entourage calendar but I still needed some further work on 2-way synchronisation (not just display) between iCal and Entourage (it looks as though there is another product that could help here)

In all, the whole experience was… problematic. I didn’t think I was trying to do anything difficult, but clearly there is still a long way to go before simple calendar synchronisation using the iCalendar protocol will be a reality for me.

Uncategorized

Getting Vodafone Mobile Connect and Windows Vista to play nicely together

VodafoneIn order to be effective, I need to be online for a large part of my working day. Right now I’m spending a big chunk of my week either travelling or at a client site where their policies prevents me from connecting my notebook PC to the LAN and the only access I have to the Internet is via a Wyse terminal to RDP onto servers (which don’t have any of the software installed that so many websites need – for example Flash/Silverlight plugins, Java, etc.).

I’ve been given a Vodafone PC Express Card (one of the new 7.2Mbps HSUPA Option Etna cards) but I’ve been struggling to get it working with Windows Vista. Vodafone’s website indicates that Vodafone Mobile Connect (VMC) version 9.1 will work with Windows Vista and that’s certainly the experience of a colleague with an older card but each time I installed the Vodafone Mobile Connect software, the wireless LAN connection failed to obtain an IP address, falling back to automatic private IP addressing (which Vista reports as local access only).

The Option Express card is supplied with Vodafone Mobile Connect 9.2.1.6545, which is reported to resolve issues with previous VMC clients including application conflicts and failing LAN/WLAN connections. I’d tried a custom installation without Vodafone’s WLAN components as Windows Vista is perfectly capable of managing my notebook’s built-in Intel PRO/Wireless2200BG (Centrino) chipset and was just about to try Vodafone Mobile Connect Lite v3.0.3.112 instead when I stumbled across a comment on a blog post that suggested installing VMC without the optimisation software – that seemed to resolve the issue and allowed me to use the WLAN connection with the VMC software installed.

Screenshot of Vodafone Mobile Connect v9.2.1.6545 with a working (but weak) 3G connectionI still couldn’t get a data connection; however that problem turned out to be a little more basic – swapping SIMs with my mobile handset confirmed that the new SIM that Vodafone had supplied with the data card was not activated (despite the shipping note stating that it was). A quick call to Vodafone this morning resolved that particular issue and I now have a working 3G connection (seamlessly dropping back to GPRS as required).
Vodafone USB Broadband

Uncategorized

Passed Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist exam 70-624

I’ve just come out of a Prometric testing centre after taking the Deploying and Maintaining Windows Vista Operating System and 2007 Microsoft Office System Desktop exam (exam 70-624).  I’m please to say that I passed – with a 100% score – but I feel cheated somehow.

You see, the thing about certification is that, ideally, you should know something about the subject.  I used to do a lot of operating system deployment work but that was in the days of Windows 3.1, then NT 4.0, following which the principles didn’t change much up to Windows XP but now there are a lot of new tools and methods that make a huge difference.  I needed to get up to speed on these new tools (and pass this exam) in order to deliver desktop deployment planning services, so I spent a week reading up around the tools, working through hands on labs, installing and testing BDD on my own computers, and then used a practice exam that had been recommended by a colleague to be sure that I was ready…

Microsoft’s NDA prevents me from commenting on the contents of the exam but what I can say is that the week of revision/labs/testing was probably not worth it and that I now know why my colleague recommended the practice exam…

I suppose at least I know that I put the work in to actually learn the subject.

Technology

Office 2007 Customisation and Deployment using BDD 2007

Over the years, the various methods available for customising and deploying Microsoft Office have advanced considerably and so here are a few notes on customising and deploying the 2007 Microsoft Office System using the Microsoft Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) 2007:

  • The first step is to create a network distribution point.  This is easily achieved using the BDD 2007 workbench (Distribution Share, Applications, New), with the additional advantage of integrating the Office 2007 files into the BDD distribution folder structure (e.g. D:\Distribution\Applications\Office2007).
  • The BDD workbench will also enable the application (by default) and allow the entry of additional information on the General tab.  The Dependencies tab can be used to control the order of application deployment within the BDD logic.  There is also a tab for Office Products which can be used to configure the deployment of Microsoft Office.
  • To save disk space, additional Office System components may be added to an existing distribution point.  Multiple languages may be integrated in the same manner – i.e. by adding the files to the application within BDD Workbench.
  • Office 2007 is always installed via setup.exe rather than with individual Windows Installer (.MSI) packages.
  • The Office Customization Tool (OCT) is used to create or edit Windows Installed Patch (.MSP) files to customise Office installations:
    • It may be launched from the command line using setup.exe /admin or within the BDD Workbench using the Office Customization Tool button in the application properties.  The OCT replaces the Custom Installation Wizard and Custom Maintenance Wizard tools in previous Office versions.
    • The OCT language interface will match the regional setting for the application (rather than the operating system language).
    • OCT allows the specification of multiple network sources (in case the primary is not available). By default, all necessary files are copied locally first and setup is launched from this cache – the local installation source (LIS).  If the installation is modified later then setup with use the LIS before attempting to locate network sources.
    • By default, .MSP files are saved in the Updates folder on the application distribution point.  Setup scans this location when it runs and will retrieve application settings from .MSP files.  If multiple .MSP files exist then the first one (in alphabetical order) will be used.
    • When editing .MSP files with the OCT, those areas that have changed from the defaults are highlighted in bold.
  • Microsoft Office updates and service packs can be copied to the Updates folder on the application distribution point for automatic application during installation.
  • Settings may be specified within a config.xml file (via the application properties in BDD Workbench) or using a .MSP file:
    • Sensitive values such as product keys should be stored within an .MSP file rather than as clear text in config.xml.
    • The command line to use a config.xml file is setup.exe /config <em>applicationsubfolder</em>\config.xml.
    • Settings in config.xml will take precedence over duplicate settings in a .MSP file.
  • Office setup writes a log file to %temp% on the destination machine.  The filename for this log will be prefixed with setupexe.
  • Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 can also be used to deploy Microsoft Office 2007:
    1. Create a package using the source files from the BDD distribution point.
    2. Create a program for Office 2007:
      • Within the package, create a new program and edit the properties to include the program name (e.g. Office 2007) and the appropriate command line (setup.exe /config <em>applicationsubfolder</em>\config.xml).
      • If the program is hidden (on the General tab) and the installation requires user input then it will never complete.  Similarly if the option to allow users to interact with this program option (on the Requirements tab) is not selected then installation will fail, unless the package has been created for silent installation.
      • If users have local administrator rights on their workstations then he program may be configured to run with user rights; however this is generally not desirable and a run mode of run with administrative rights should normally be selected.
      • The Windows Installer tab can be used to define a .MSI file that is used when clients with the package installed make updates to the Office installation (e.g. install on first use or repair).
    3. Create a distribution point (within SMS – not to be confused with the BDD distribution point) and copy the package to the distribution point.
    4. Check the distribution process using the SMS report for the distribution status of a specific package.
    5. Define a collection to receive the package based on membership rules and specific resource attributes.
    6. Create an advertisement for the package/program and schedule accordingly.
    7. If clients are taking a long time to receive an advertisement, check the schedule and also try initiating both machine and user policy actions within the systems management applet in control panel (installed by the SMS client).
Uncategorized

BDD 2007 overview

It’s been almost three years since I wrote a post about the Microsoft Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) and since then it’s been updated twice – first with BDD v2.5 and now with BDD 2007 (the latest version of which is now known simply as Microsoft Deployment).

According to Microsoft:

The Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) is best-practice guidance for desktop deployment. BDD is targeted at companies that want to reduce deployment time, effort, and cost by increasing the level of automation. It allows administrators to deploy desktops with Zero Touch and Lite Touch interaction at the target PCs. This solution also helps organizations move to a managed environment with standardized desktop images.

Effectively, BDD is a framework that brings together a variety of deployment tools with business logic in order to implement best practices.  In it’s simplest form, known as Lite Touch Installation (LTI), BDD allows administrators to create/capture operating system images, customise these and deploy them to other workstations.  This requires very little infrastructure and as such is suitable for small and mid-size business; however there is also a Zero Touch Installation (ZTI) option that integrates with Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 or System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007 for enterprises that have the required infrastructure in place.

Supported on Windows X, Server 2003, Server 2003 R2 and Vista, BDD can be used to deploy Windows clients, together with applications (e.g. Office 2007) and customisations.  Available in both x86 and x64 editions (with both versions supporting installation of clients on either architecture), BDD 2007 is finally looking like a product, rather than a collection of tools glued together with scripts and HTML applications.  There’s still a few strange interfaces, but the hub of BDD 2007 is the BDD Workbench – an MMC 3.0 snap-in.  Other requirements for BDD are Windows Script Host (WSH) 5.6 and it also makes use various other tools that may be downloaded from within the BDD Workbench:

  • Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK).
  • Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) 5.0.
  • User State Migration Tool (USMT) 3.0.
  • MSXML 6.0.
  • Key Management Server (KMS) (and associated management pack).
  • Volume Activation Management Tool.
  • Office Migration Planning Manager.
  • Windows Vista Hardware Assessment

Screenshot of the BDD 2007 Workbench

After installation of BDD (supplied as Windows Installer .MSI file, together with a quick start guide and deployment tools overview – both of which are worth reading), the primary folders are held in %programfiles%\BDD 2007\ and consist of:

  • \BIN – BDD Workbench console and supporting files.
  • \Documentation – documentation.
  • \Downloads – storage for components downloaded by BDD 2007.
  • \ManagementPack – BDD management pack files.
  • \Samples – sample task sequence scripts.
  • \Scripts – scripts used by the BDD Workbench.
  • \Templates – master template files used for defaults in unattended Windows installations.
  • \Temporary – temporary storage space.

Other tools (e.g. the WAIK and ACT) add their own folders to the BDD file structure.

The installation also creates a \Distribution folder on the drive with the largest amount of free space (or at a custom location supplied during installation).  This contains the following subfolders and except \Scripts and \Tools are empty at installation time:

  • \$OEM$ – files and folders to be copied to the destination computer during Windows Vista setup.
  • \Applications – any application files that are installed as part of deployment.
  • \Captures – images captured using ImageX.
  • \Control – storage of files used by the BDD execution engine.
  • \Operating Systems – any operating system files that are installed as part of deployment.
  • \Out-of-Box Drivers – driver files not delivered by default with Windows Vista.
  • \Packages – Windows Vista-compatible packages for installation with the operating system (security updates, language packs, service packs, etc.) in cabinet file (.CAB) or Windows Update (.MSU) format.
  • \Scripts – scripts used by the Lite Touch deployment engine.
  • \Tools – tools used by the deployment engine and the location of USMT source files.

Configuring BDD to deploy an operating system and applications consists of:

  1. Install BDD.
  2. Update/install additional components (e.g. WAIK, USMT) from within the BDD Workbench.
  3. Add one or more operating systems to the distribution share from within the BDD Workbench.  This could be a full set of source files, a custom image (.WIM) file (i.e. an image captured from a reference computer) or an image from a Windows Deployment Services server.  This operation can either copy the installation or move it from another location.
  4. Add any applications to the master image from within the BDD Workbench – applications can be moved/copied to the distribution share or existing locations may be referenced via a UNC path.  Specify any application settings (e.g. command line switches for a silent installation, or a working directory).
  5. Add any additional device drivers that are required within the master image, using the BDD Workbench.  The BDD tools will look for .INF files in the process of scans all subfolders in the specified directory.
  6. Add any additional packages, such as operating system updates and language packs, using the BDD Workbench.

Once the master image is established, it’s necessary to define one or more builds.  Each build has an identifier (which must not contain spaces) as well as a name and a number of associated comments.  The build defines an operating system, along with key details such as product keys and the Administrator password and, once created, the build properties can be amended to customise settings, optionally launching the Windows System Image Manager to edit the unattend.xml file that controls the Vista installation.

Finally, the deployment point must be configured:

  • Builds may be deployed using the local BDD distribution point (shared as \\%computername%\Distribution$), a separate share on the local or a remote computer, as a .ISO image for use on removable media (DVD, USB flash drive, etc.), or via SMS 2003/SCCM 2007 (which facilitates ZTI installations).  Note that SMS 2003 requires the SMS 2003 Operating System Deployment (OSD) Feature Pack whereas SCCM has OSD functionality built into the product.
  • Various options exist to control the user experience during deployment (e.g. the selection of other applications during installation).
  • It may be necessary to create/update the Windows pre-installation environment (WinPE) images that are used to connect to a deployment point.  The resulting .WIM files (found on the distribution point in a \Boot folder) can be added to a Windows Deployment Services (WDS) server as a bootable PXE image for bare-metal deployment whereas the .ISO file equivalents can be mounted in a virtual machine or booted from removable media.  During the creation of these images, tasks are logged in %temp%\DeployUpdates_x86.log.  Generic images are generic_x86.wim and generic_x86.iso.

At this stage, BDD is ready to deploy builds to workstations; however there are some additional capabilities:

  • It is possible to define a SQL Server database to store details of deployed computers.
  • Images may be captured using BDD deployment points such that there is no requirement to separately run SysPrep or ImageX.  The Windows Deployment Wizard (invoked from the Windows PE images created earlier) automatically runs both of these utilities in order to prepare and capture an image.
Uncategorized

Now is the time to start planning for Windows Server 2008

I recently attended a presentation at which the CA (formerly Computer Associates) Directory of Strategic Alliances, Dan Woolley, spoke about how CA is supporting Windows Server 2008.

CA is not a company that I associate with bringing products to market quickly and I understand why companies are often reticent to invest in research and development in order to support new operating system releases.  Hardware and software vendors want to see customer demand before they invest – just look at the debacle with Windows Vista driver support! There are those that blame Microsoft for a lack of device support in Windows Vista but they worked with vendors for years (literally) before product launch and even now, a full year later, many items of hardware and software have issues because they have not been updated. That’s not Microsoft’s fault but a lack or foresight from others.

It’s true that some minor releases are probably not worth the effort, but supporting a new version of Windows, or a new version of a major server product like Exchange Server or SQL Server should be a no-brainer.  Shouldn’t it?

It’s the same with 64-bit driver support (although Microsoft is partly to blame there, as their own 64-bit products seem to lag behind the 32-bit counterparts – hopefully that will change with the "Longhorn" wave of products.

Dan Woolley’s presentation outlined the way that CA views new product releases and, whilst his view was that they are ready when the customers are ready, from my perspective it felt like a company justifying why they wait to provide new product versions.

CIOs expect infrastructure to be extensible, stable, flexible and predictable

He made the point that CIOs expect infrastructure to be extensible, stable, flexible and predictable (they abhor change as the impact of change on thousands of customers, users, and servers is difficult to understand) and how they:

  • Deliver services to facilitate corporate business (so require a stable infrastructure platform).
  • Work to maximise IT investments.

That may be true but Woolley didn’t consider the cost of running on legacy systems.  Last year I was working with a major accounting firm that was desperate to move away from NT because the extended support costs were too high (let alone the security risks of running on an operating system for which no new patches are being developed).  As recently as 2005, I worked with a major retailer whose back office systems in around 2000 outlets are running on Windows NT 3.51 and whose point of sale system depends on FoxPro for MS-DOS!  Their view is that it works and that wholesale replacement of the infrastructure is expensive.  The problem was that they were struggling to obtain spare parts for legacy hardware and modern hardware didn’t support the old software.  They were literally running on borrowed time (and still are, to the best of my knowledge).

CA’s view is that, when it comes to product deployment, there are five types of organisation:

  • Innovators – investigating new products in the period before it is launched  – e.g. Microsoft’s Technology Adoption Programme (TAP) customers.
  • Early adopters – who work with new products from the moment they are launched up to around about the 9 month point.
  • General adoption – product deployment between 9 months and 4 years.
  • Late adopters – deploying products towards the end of their mainstream support (these organisations are probably running Windows 2000 and are only now looking at a move to Windows Server 2003).
  • Laggards – the type of customers that I described earlier.

Looking at the majority of that group, there are a number of deployment themes:

  • Inquiring (pre-launch).
  • Interest and testing (post-launch).
  • Budgeting (~4 months after launch)
  • Prototyping and plots (~1 year after launch)
  • Deployment (~18 months after launch)
  • Replacement/upgrade programmes (~5 years after launch – co-incidentally at the end of Microsoft’s mainstream support phase)
  • Migration (7+ years after launch – onto another platform altogether).

What is interesting though is that there are also two distinct curves for product deployment:

  • Sold licenses.
  • Deployed enterprise licenses.

This is probably because of the way that project financing works.  I know from bitter experience that it’s often better to buy what I need up front and deploy later because if I wait until the moment that I need some more licenses, the budget will not be forthcoming.  It seems that I’m not alone in this.

CA view their primary market as the customers on a general/late adoption timescale.  That sounds to me like a company trying to justify why it’s products are always late to market.  Windows Server 2008 will launch early next year and serious partners need to be there with products to work with the new operating system right from the launch – innovators expect a few problems along the way but when I’m trying to convince customers to be early adopters I don’t want to be held back by non-existent management agents, backup clients, etc.

Windows Server 2008 is built on shared code with Windows Vista so the early hiccups and device adoption should already have been ironed out

CA’s view supports the "wait for service pack 1" mentality but then Woolley closed his presentation by stating that CA builds on Microsoft platforms because they consider them to be extensible, stable, flexible and predictable and because they will allow the delivery of service to facilitate corporate business imperatives and maximise IT investments.  He stated that CA has been working with Microsoft on Windows Server 2008 architecture reviews, design previews, TAPs and logo testing but if they are truly supportive of Microsoft’s new server operating system, then why do they consider their primary market as not being ready for another year?

Once upon a time hardware led software but in today’s environment business is supported by software and the hardware is just something on which to run the software.  In today’s environment we have to consider a services model.  Microsoft’s move towards regular monthly patches supports this (they are certainly less focused on service packs with the last service pack for Windows XP – the client operating system with the largest installed base – having shipped over three years ago).

Windows Server 2008 is built on shared code with Windows Vista so the early hiccups and device adoption should already have been ironed out.  That means that Windows Server 2008 should not be viewed as "too new", "too disruptive" (it will actually ship at service pack 1 level) and, all being well, the adoption curve may be quicker than some think.

Uncategorized

First post from Windows Live Writer

I have a strange relationship with Microsoft’s Windows Live services.  To some extent, I have the same issue with Google in that sometimes I find them really useful but then I get uncomfortable with storing all of my information "in the cloud", rather than on a server that I control (and don’t get me started on the data that the UK Government stores on me…).

Well, for once, Microsoft seems to have the right idea.  It may all be based around shoring up their traditional cash cows of Windows and Office, but instead of saying "forget the desktop… switch to the webtop", they are developing applications that bridge the gap between desktop and web (as are Google with Google Gears).

A few months back I wrote about blogging from within Microsoft Office and this is my first post using Windows Live Writer.  Although I’ve only been using it for a few minutes I’m impressed – and this is why:

  • Firstly, although the installer told me about the other Windows Live applications that I might like to try, it didn’t force them on me.
  • Secondly, it was perfectly happy to accept that I don’t use Windows Live Spaces for blogging.
  • Thirdly, it was able to detect the settings for my WordPress site without me supplying any more than a URL, username and password – and then the advanced settings were quite happy with the idea that I publish images via FTP rather than storing them in the WordPress database.
  • It also downloaded the stylesheet that I use, so as I write this (offline), I can see what the post will look like when I publish (there are options to view unstyled, with the layout that I use on the site, preview the post on the site, or view the code).  I can also see that it’s also using valid XHTML.

For the last few years, I’ve been writing on the train using Windows Notepad or gedit, then coming home and finishing the post with weblinks and additional information.

Now I can streamline the process with Windows Live Writer (including setting categories and a publishing date) so that the rework when I get home should be fairly minimal.

Links

Windows Live Writer team blog

Uncategorized

25 million people caught up in UK Government data security fiasco

I’m treading carefully here to avoid political comment but, for those who haven’t seen tonight’s news, a UK Government department has lost the personal details for 25 million people including names, dates of birth, national insurance/child benefit numbers and bank details. On a CD. In the post.

So, I’d like to thank HM Revenue and Customs for making such a monumental **** up with my family’s personal information. In this day and age, I find it amazing that two government departments have to transfer data between one another on CD (isn’t that why they have a Government Secure Intranet?) but to send that in the internal mail (unregistered) is amazingly inept (and, according to tonight’s BBC News, against Government guidelines). Furthermore, the news report I heard said that the passwords protecting the data could be cracked in seconds, so I’m interpreting that as a statement that the data wasn’t even encrypted.

What makes it so galling is that the information was being transferred to the National Audit Office. Surely they can be trusted to access the Revenue’s systems directly without needing a database extract on CD? And why did it take nearly 3 weeks for someone to report that the data was missing?

Fair enough, names and dates of birth are public information and bank details are not exactly top secret (my bank has told me it’s not something to be too concerned about) but it puts my own attempts to maintain data security into perspective. If the Government can’t keep my identity safe, who can?

Anybody who is concerned about the implications of this data breach should check out the HMRC and APACS information on the data loss.

Uncategorized

A clear virtualisation licensing and support statement from Microsoft

I’ve commented before about the licensing implications for Windows Server in a virtual infrastructure but yesterday, I was at a Microsoft partner event during which Microsoft UK’s Clive Watson gave an extremely clear explanation of Microsoft’s position and I thought that it was worth repeating here:

  • The current version of Windows Server (Windows Server 2003 R2) is licensed by association (not installation). This means is that, regardless of whether the operating system is actually installed or not, a purchased operating system license can be associated with a device. In practice I can run any operating system I like on a server and, if I associate a legally purchased copy of Windows Server 2003 R2 with it, then I’m licensed to run Windows Server 2003 R2 on it.
  • Each Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition license also allows up to four virtual copies of Windows Server 2003 R2 – so if I associate a Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition license with a server, I can run any virtualisation product on the server and I am licensed for 4 virtual machines (VMs) running Windows Server 2003 R2.
  • Multiple licenses can be associated with a device, so if I associate two Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition licenses with a server then I can run 8 Windows Server 2003 R2 virtual machines, 3 licenses allows 12 VMs, etc.
  • There is a point after which it becomes more cost-effective to use Windows Server 2003 R2 Datacenter Edition, which is licensed per physical CPU. This allows unlimited virtual instances of Windows Server 2003 R2 to be run. Datacenter Edition used to be available exclusively from OEMs but that is no longer the case.
  • There are also grandfathering rights, so the Windows Server 2003 R2 licenses can be used for previous versions of Windows Server, as long as they are still supported (i.e. back to Windows 2000, which is currently in its extended support phase). For client operating systems (i.e. Windows 2000 Professional, XP and Vista) and operating system versions that are out of support (e.g. Windows NT), a separate non-OEM license must be owned in order for a virtual machine to be legally licensed. For volume license customers, there are arrangements to allow upgrade from an OEM copy of Windows and there is also the Vista Enterprise Centralised Desktop (VECD) programme for customers who are looking at running a virtual desktop infrastructure.
  • Only active VMs need to be licensed – so an unlimited number of virtual machines can be held in a library for activation on a host server (subject to the limits on the number of running VMs at any one time.

The long and short of it is that I can run VMware ESX Server, Citrix XenSource or any other virtualisation product and by associating one or more Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise/Datacenter Edition licenses with the physical server(s), I am licensed for a number of active (and unlimited inactive) Windows Server 2003 R2/Server 2003/2000 Server virtual machines. A licensing calculator is also available.

With regards to support, the situation is less clear. Microsoft’s common engineering criteria ensures that all products since 2005 have shipped with support for Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 and this has now been updated to include Hyper-V. There are a few exceptions to this (products that are in the process of being retired and products with hardware requirements that cannot be met through virtualisation). Microsoft knowledge base article 897615 discusses the support policy for Microsoft software running in non-Microsoft hardware virtualisation environment and, crucially says that:

Microsoft does not test or support Microsoft software running in conjunction with non-Microsoft hardware virtualization software

Effectively, Microsoft will use commercially reasonable endeavours where a customer has a Microsoft support agreement but may require an issue to be replicated on physical hardware (or using Microsoft virtualisation).

One more point that’s worth mentioning – Microsoft doesn’t just support its own operating systems in a virtual environment – Microsoft knowledge base article 867572 lists the supported guest and host OSs including Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server – and Microsoft are keen to stress that support is end-to-end (i.e. Microsoft applications, any supported operating system and the Microsoft virtualisation product) with agreements in place to back off Linux operating system support to XenSource/Novell where required with Microsoft remaining the primary point of contact.

Uncategorized

Windows Live OneCare 2.0… proof readers required?

Overnight, I received an e-mail from the Windows Live OneCare team announcing the end of the OneCare 2.0 beta. That’s good news (OneCare is not exactly inexpensive and new features would be welcome) but then I read a bit more closely:

[…] Beta to Close at End of December 2007
We wanted to give you an advance notice that the (v2.0) beta will be closing at the end of February […] To thank you for your participation, we’re extending a special introductory offer […] at 39.95 AUD for a year[…]

[Emphasis added by the author]

Let’s just hope that the beta testing was better than the proof reading and mail merge on the communications. I have a .co.uk e-mail address and I haven’t lived in Australia for six years. At least when I click on the link the special price is £14.99 (i.e. pounds sterling).

%d bloggers like this: