Category Archives: Technology

Technology

Some tools in Outlook 2013 for diagnosing Exchange connectivity issues

I’ve just been looking at some of the diagnostic information that’s available for Outlook connections to Exchange (including Exchange Online in Office 365) and one “hidden” feature (actually, it’s not hidden but it’s not very well known) is the ability to Ctrl+right click on the Outlook icon in Windows’ notification area to bring up two extra menu options:

The first of these is handy for bringing up information about the various client-server connections open between Outlook and Exchange (for example the connection protocols being used, port numbers, session types, etc.):

The second allows testing/diagnosis of AutoDiscovery functionality – again, providing a host of information to track down issues:

Combined with the Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer, these are a few tools to help IT admins track down the cause of connection issues.

Technology

Administering Office 365 using PowerShell: updated information on the required components

I’ve written before about administering Office 365 from PowerShell but the process has changed slightly over the years.  There are various articles out there on the web with methods and links but the key information (as at August 2014) is in a TechNet article titled Manage Azure AD using Windows PowerShell.  Yes, that’s right – Azure AD – because Windows Azure Active Directory is the authentication service used by Microsoft Online Services such as the Office 365 services.

On my Windows 8.1 computer I already had the necessary .NET framework and PowerShell pre-requisites but I did need to download and install two more components before Get-Command -Module msonline would do anything for me:

  1. The Microsoft Online Services Sign-In Assistant for IT Professionals RTW (the version I used was 7.250.4556.0, published on 17 February 2014).
  2. The Windows Azure AD Module for Windows PowerShell* (which depends on the Microsoft Online Service Sign-In Assistant), which doesn’t come up in a search on the Microsoft Downloads Center but is linked from the TechNet article I mentioned above (32-bit and 64-bit versions).

With these components installed, I could authenticate against the service using my normal credentials with Connect-MsolService and run administration cmdlets from within PowerShell.

 

* The Microsoft Azure Active Directory Module for Windows PowerShell cmdlets were previously known as the Microsoft Online Services Module for Windows PowerShell cmdlets.

Technology

Synchronisation with your WP8 failed for … items

For the last couple of days, I’ve been getting strange messages from our mail server telling me that

“Synchronization with your WP8 failed for 1 items.
Microsoft Exchange was unable to send the following items to your mobile device. These items have not been deleted. You should be able to access them using either Outlook or Outlook Web Access.”

I thought this was odd – why just this one appointment? And then the penny dropped.  I’d marked the item in my Calendar as “Working Elsewhere”.  This location wasn’t available in earlier versions of Outlook and presumably Windows Phone 8 (or Exchange Server 2007) didn’t know what to do with it, so stopped attempting to sync the item with apparently-invalid data.

Microsoft has always had a good/better/best model when it comes to functionality available when combining different versions of software. Our Exchange servers are due for an update but this may be something to watch out for with my combination (Windows Phone 8, Exchange Server 2007, Outlook 2013)…

Technology

Exchange support and cumulative updates

Microsoft’s Support Lifecycle has been published for many years now – and most people are familiar with the concept of 5+5 support – i.e. 5 years mainstream support, followed by 5 years extended.  Some products (e.g. Windows XP) had a slightly longer period of support as they were introduced before the 5+5 policy but, as a rule, we can assume 10 year support for a product and be making plans to move up in the second half of that period.

It’s not quite that simple though – service packs need to be considered.  Often the support lifecycle has a note that says something like “Support ends 12 months after the next service pack releases or at the end of the product’s support lifecycle, whichever comes first.”.  That’s OK - service packs should be applied as part of regular maintenance anyway, so keeping up to date will keep you supported.  And, anyway, service packs only come along every year or two…

…until recently.

With the growth in Microsoft’s online services, for instance Exchange Online (sold under the Office 365 banner), we’re entering a period of cumulative updates.  New features and functionality are rolled out online, and then made available for “on premises” deployments.  Now, I’ve long since argued that new features and software fixes should be separate – but the world has moved on and we now see a cumulative update for Exchange Server every 3 months or so.

So, unlike the rollup updates (RUs) with previous versions of Exchange, Exchange 2013 cumulative updates (CUs) are effectively mini-service packs (CU4 was actually released as SP1).  And, critically, CUs go out of support 3 months after the next one comes out.  That means that we all need to get tighter on our application of CUs – and, because of the new features and functionality they introduce, that means testing too!

Exchange 2013 support gotcha!

My colleagues, Keith Robertson and Nick Parlow (@hagbard), recently highlighted a little anomaly that the Exchange CU support situation exposes in Microsoft’s documentation:

  • The Microsoft Support Lifecycle information for Exchange Server 2013 says that the RTM release (i.e. Exchange 2013 with no service packs or CUs applied) will no longer be supported from 14 April 2015. Except that’s not correct: CU1 was released on 1 April 2013 and so the RTM release actually went out of support on 2 July 2013!
  • Fast forward to Exchange 2013 SP1 (remember this was also known as CU4) and you’ll see it was released on 25 February 2014.  CU5 was released on 27 May 2014, so Exchange 2013 SP1 installations need to be updated to CU5 before 27 August 2014 in order to remain supported…

Microsoft’s Exchange Product Group has a blog post on Servicing Exchange 2013 but the key point is that Exchange Server installations need to be updated on a quarterly cadence, in line with new CU releases.  Added to that, be aware that custom configurations will be lost in the update so re-applying these will need to be factored into your plans – and that testing is critical – especially where third party applications are in use that Microsoft will almost certainly not have tested in their Exchange Online service.

Technology

Short takes: Grabbing streaming video; and installing troublesome Chrome apps

A few more snippets from my recent brushes with technology…

Grabbing a local copy of a Windows Media stream

I found myself watching a streaming video that I thought would be nice to take a copy of for posterity and it turns out it’s rather easy to grab a local copy of a Windows Media (WMV) stream using my old friend, wget.exe.

Simply download one of the many Windows-compiled versions of wget.exe, and supply the HTTP link as the source… a few minutes later you should have a copy of the file on your local hard disk.

Installing NPAPI plugins on Windows 8

I also needed to install BitTorrent Surf in Chrome on my Windows 8 machine (using BitTorrent is not illegal – using it to download copyrighted materials would be very naughty though).  Unfortunately the Chrome Web Store told me to get lost as BitTorrent Surf uses the Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface (NPAPI), which is deprecated.  Thankfully, there is a workaround, as described by John Bruer and you can run Chrome in Windows 7 compatibility mode to install the app with no intervention at all (although I used John’s blog post, I later found the same advice directly from BitTorrent).

Technology

Geeking out at Microsoft Research

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to join the Microsoft Technical Community Council (MTCC), which is described as “a group of external IT professionals influential in the IT Pro world, who are engaged and interested in sharing their opinions and meet once a month via a Lync call”.  Basically, the Council is an opportunity for Microsoft to gain feedback from IT Pros with real-world experience of implementing Microsoft technologies and for those involved to understand a little more about the road ahead.

After some frantic NDA-signing, I was privileged to join the MTCC for a face-to-face meeting yesterday at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.  Last time I visited Microsoft Research, they were on a different site, on the outskirts of the city, and some of the stuff I heard about, quite frankly, blew my mind.  I was under NDA than (as an MVP) and under NDA again yesterday, so still can’t talk about what was discussed but the Microsoft Research website showcases some of the projects that have made it from the labs into the real world and describes the current areas of research.

We didn’t just learn about Microsoft’s Research operations though – there were other sessions – and the day also gave me a chance for me to meet with some of the people I’ve known for years but sort of lost touch with whilst my work was focused less on Microsoft and more on IT strategy – as well as to connect some faces to names – either from Twitter or, in once case, from my customers!

We also had rather a lot of fun, geeking out with Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer - a former Microsoft Research project described as:

“A rapid prototyping platform for small electronic gadgets and embedded hardware devices. It combines the advantages of object-oriented programming, solderless assembly of electronics using a kit of hardware modules, and quick physical enclosure fabrication using computer-aided design.”

Paul Foster (@PaulFo), whose antics I’ve written about before (on a home-made Surface table, among other things – and on PhotoSynth and Community Games) led us through an exercise more commonly carried out with school children, using Visual Studio with Visual C# Express and .NET Gadgeteer.  Using modular kits we were soon building simple digital cameras, before going on to add LED indicators, current sensors, motion detection, etc. - with a drag and drop design surface and a few lines of C#.  Even though I left it to the guys from Content and Code to crack out the code (I’ll do the infrastructure piece and plug things together!), I would confidently say that even I could have written the code that was required and it’s a very accessible way to get children doing something real with electronics.

Sadly, whilst the software is free, the hardware is a little on the pricey side, with an FEZ Spider starter kit coming in at around £200 (which is almost Lego Mindstorms EV3 money).  Compared with an Arduino and some raw electronics components, that’s quite a lot more money but it should be said that the graphical design surface provided in the Visual Studio IDE is easier to use and the modular electronic components do make the Gadgeteer-compatible kit easier to work with.  So, on balance, where the Arduino is great for “makers”, the Gadgeteer-compatible kit is probably a better solution for teaching kids the basics of controlling components with code.

Either way, it’s a lot of fun – and inspired me to start playing with electronics again… maybe I’ll even let my kids have a go…

Technology

Messing around with maps

Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself making quite a few conversions of maps between different formats, for different uses (mostly cycling-related).  The things I’ve found might, or might not, be useful to others… so I’m writing them down anyway!

Firstly, I wanted to see what the profile of a route was like. I had a GPX file for the route and used the excellent GPS Visualizer site to create an elevation profile.  And then quickly decided it had far too many bumps!

Next up, one of my fellow riders wanted to be able to view the route in Google Maps (not Google Earth).  This wasn’t quite as straightforward but, again GPS Visualizer comes to the rescue. Using that site, it’s possible to convert to a KML file that Google Maps can work with.  Unfortunately, the “new” Google Maps doesn’t have an import option so you need to switch back to the “classic” Google Maps (it might be enough to use this version of the URI: https://www.google.com/maps?output=classic), after which you can use the Google Maps Engine to create a map (like this one, which was stage 1 of my recent London to Paris ride):

Finally, I bought a Garmin Edge 810 (cycle computer).  After months of saying “I don’t need a Garmin, I have Strava on my iPhone”), I gave in.  And I’ve been pretty glad of it too – already it’s been great to monitor my stats as I climbed Holme Moss last week (does 98% maximum heart rate mean I’m 2% off a heart attack? </joke>) and last weekend I decided I was 20-odd miles from home and bored of my ride, so the sat-nav could show me the best way back to my starting point (even if it did mean cycling along some trunk routes…). Added to that, Mrs W has been glad to track my rides using the Garmin 810′s Live Tracking (although it didn’t work last time I was out…).

The Garmin comes with “base maps” but these are really just the main roads.  As they’re probably not the ones you want to use for cycling, it’s handy to load on some more detail. Ordnance Survey 1:50K maps (GB Discoverer) may be great (the 3D view in particular) but at a penny shy of £200 I wasn’t prepared to pay that much, with Open Street Maps available for free.  ScarletFire Cycling has made a video with an interesting comparison of the OSM and OS map options:

Downloading the Open Street Maps to a Garmin Edge 705/800/810 is brilliantly described by DC Rainmaker and Forgot has a write-up for getting turn-by-turn navigation working on the Edge 800, as does ScarletFire.  It can take a couple of days for the maps to be generated though and I did find a direct download link with maps that had been generated fairly recently (July 2013), so I used that.

Technology

Using the Lync 2013 client with an OCS server

I have to admit that this one is not something I found myself: one of my team alerted me to the fact that I could use the Lync client against an Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 back-end with a few configuration changes and it’s been very handy. It’s not always smooth, but it does the job and might be useful for others:

First step is to make the following registry change:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Lync]
"DisableServerCheck"=dword:00000001

Then, in the advanced connection settings, set the OCS pool manually.  The value there will depend on your organisation’s infrastructure.

Exercise Technology

Finally gave in and bought a Garmin

Many of my cycling buddies tell me how great their Garmins are and I just didn’t “get it” but, after having to neuter my iPhone to get through a day’s riding, I decided that it was time to take the plunge.  Actually, there were a few reasons…

Increasingly, I live by the stats.  If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen. And I want to work on my cadence and on training in particular heart rate zones.  I can use a dongle to get ANT+ connectivity on an iPhone, but I decided to buy a dedicated cycle computer instead.

Secondly, my wife worries when I’m out and about on my bike.  Some of the recent Garmin cycle computers have a connected features like live tracking, using a Bluetooth-connected phone with the Garmin Connect app (iOS or Android, not Windows) and, after watching this video (yes, I’m a sucker for marketing), I thought that it might be just the thing to give her the peace of mind from knowing where I am (Find my iPhone was just a little too much of a pain with a complex password set on my Apple account):

There are some good deals around on the Garmin Edge 800 at the moment but that doesn’t have the connected features found in the 510, 810, and the new 1000.

Finally, I decided that, as my distances increase, riding in unfamiliar places means a map can be useful.  Whereas in the car I have a £9.99 map-book and a good sense of direction, the time had come to get myself a sat-nav for the bike.

Technology

Short takes: hosts files; C#; Azure VMs; sleuthing around Exchange; closing Windows 8 apps; and managing tabs in Google Chrome

Another dump of my open browser tabs to the web…

Unable to edit hosts file in Windows

One of the tools (read Excel and lots of macros) that I use for financial forecasting said it couldn’t find a server.  Of course the network’s never broken – it must be the end users’s fault - so, faced with the prospect of telling an angry admin that there is a DNS mis-configuration, I decided to hack my hosts file instead…

Windows doesn’t make that easy (even as a local administrator) – so I ran Notepad as Administrator instead… being an old skool kind of command line guy it was an elevated cmd prompt  from Start, cmd, then shift and click (which dumps me into C:\Windows\System32), followed by the cd drivers/etc and notepad hosts commands.

What versions of C# are out there?

One thing I wanted to know whilst teaching myself to write in C# a few months back (i.e. to select a course that was up-to-date!) was which versions of C# are out there. Of course, Stack Overflow has the answer.

And, one day, I really must have a play with CShell, the open source C# read-eval-print-loop (REPL) IDE

What Microsoft server software is supported in an Azure VM?

Ever wondered what can be run up (and supported) in a Microsoft Azure VM? Quite a lot, but also some big omissions (Exchange, obviously) and some caveats (like no DHCP).  The formal list is in Microsoft knowledge base article 2721672.

Finding the Exchange Server that actually hosts my email

Exchange AutoDiscover means that, most of the time, end users don’t need to know where their email is – just the single address that lets the email client find the server – but several times recently I’ve found myself needing to know which server hosts my email.  One time I was diagnosing intermittent issues with out of office replies and access to colleagues’ calendars.  Another time I wanted to use PowerShell to list members of a distribution group programmatically (and later to rename a distribution group after the IT department said it wasn’t possible). Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to run PowerShell commands against our servers (but that’s probably a good thing)!

Anyway, it seems that the details I needed were available via Outlook Web Access:

  1. Logon to OWA
  2. Click options
  3. Click About
  4. And find the line that reads “Client access server name” – that’s your connection point.  There’s also a line for “Mailbox server name”.

I tested this with Exchange 2007.  It may vary for other releases and I haven’t checked.

By the way, a couple of links that looked hopeful for my distribution group issues (the ones I had to find another way to resolve):

Closing applications in Windows 8

Our family PC runs Windows 8.1 but, as my work PC runs Windows 7, I have to admit sometimes there are things I haven’t got used to.  One of those is closing full-screen apps.  I usually resort to Alt-F4 but if the kids have left the computer in touch format, then it seems that a simple top to bottom drag is what I need (there should also be a close button if I touch the top of the screen).

Managing tabs in Google Chrome

As I go through my work, I often come across things I’d like to go back to later, or leave side projects part-done, blog posts half-researched (and half-written), etc. Over time, they build up to hundreds of tabs and I my bookmarks folder is a plethora of In Progress yyyymmdd folders (another job to sort out one day).  It also means that, every now and again, my PC slows right down and I need to reboot because Google Chrome is using 14 gazillion GBs of RAM and a Flash plugin (probably serving ads on a website) has gone haywire again. Add Symantec EndPoint Prevention and BeCrypt DiskPrevent into the mix and a reboot could be a half-hour inconvenience.

Last night, I spent hours working through the various open tabs, closing some, pasting some to blog posts (this one… and others still work in progress) and I happened to post a little tweetette, to which Garry Martin (@GarryMartin) happened to respond:

Awesome indeed. Less than 5 seconds to install and the remaining handful of tabs are now under control.

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