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)…

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.

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).

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…

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:

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0McZlDi6Yis]

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.