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  • Useful Outlook Tools

    One the great things I love about reading blogs is the things you stumble across

    Dave Overton had a blog post today about software we rely on

    What software could you not live without – tell Windows Vista Magazine? – David Overton’s Blog

    Other than the Microsoft stuff he mentioned a program called EZDetach

    I clicked through to take see what it was and there are some very useful paid for utilities on that site I’d be taking a close look at (have a look yourself!)

    There is also some free stuff that looks interesting too

    FBLook = Facebook + Outlook – Update your status, see your friend statuses and be notified about new requests directly in Outlook.

    OutTwit = Outlook + Twitter -  With OutTwit you do not need to open any other applications or the browser. Plus you will be able to archive, manage and search your tweets the same way you manage your email.

    EZDelete – Purge Messages – EZDelete places a button on the Outlook toolbar which lets you delete messages without moving them to the Deleted Items folder with one click of a mouse.

    Interesting!

    So what couldn’t I live without?

    IE7PRO

    I’ve blogged about this IE add-in before and I use it that often I notice straight away when I’m at PC that doesn’t have it installed

    I’ll be keeping an eye on the comments to Dave’s post to see if any other cool tools appear

  • Mojave Experiment – My Thoughts and consumer perceptions

    I stumbled across the Windows Mojave website on various blogs last week (I think I saw it on Steve Clayton’s blog first)

    Here’s one description

    “Microsoft last week travelled to San Francisco, rounding up Windows XP users who had negative impressions of Vista. The subjects were put on video, asked about their Vista impressions, and then shown a "new" operating system, code-named Mojave. More than 90 percent gave positive feedback on what they saw. Then they were told that "Mojave" was actually Windows Vista.”

    A couple of days after this the site had a teaser with the date July 29th marked as the release date

    So that’s today and the Vista Team Blog has a post with some more details

    Here’s the bit that annoyed me a bit (maybe that’s too strong a word but it’s all that springs to mind right now)

    Finally, some people have asked if Mojave is the big marketing project we’re working on – it’s not. The Mojave Experiment is just that: an experiment we conducted on the fly that yielded interesting results. We’re publishing the video today because we think you’ll also find it interesting.

    Why not make this a marketing project??

    The experiment proved that the average consumer has preconceptions about Windows Vista that need to be put right.

    Advertising and brand are areas where Microsoft are really losing out at the moment in my opinion and as this shows too many people make judgements based on what they have heard

    Just another example,

    When I was getting ready to come into the office this morning there was an advert for the new iPhone on the TV

    The main message of this particular advert was that the iPhone was now 3G and that meant faster Internet access

    If you went and asked the average consumer what HSDPA is I’m sure they would have no idea but because of adverts like this one they’ll have the preconception that the iPhone has the fastest mobile browsing speeds. 3G “sounds” faster and is more marketing friendly than HSDPA

    I’m not the only person to say this sort of thing but please Microsoft, advertise just a little

  • We’ve Got Wheels

    I’m certainly not the first person to have done this but couldn’t help post about it

    We’ve had an awful lot going on here recently

    I posted a couple of months ago about our latest recruit. The main plan was to get him up to speed on how we work and develop his role to help to take a lot of the day to day problems we get (You know the sort “I can’t print”, “why can’t I send this 25mb attachment?”)

    This also involved going out to client sites to install PC’s and printers, memory upgrades, etc

    For him to do this he needed to be mobile so we’ve invested in a van. As well as the company logos we’ve had small business specialist logos added as well

    How does it look?

    The pictures were taken on an iPhone so if the quality is low…blame Apple 🙂

    Van Side - Copy

  • SharePoint, Incoming Emails, Automatic Workflow’s, SORTED!

    Yesterday’s post talked about how I’d tried to apply the Infrastructure Update for WSS so that I could get workflow’s to start automatically from incoming emails (history here and here) and I ended up killing my server!

    This morning I applied service pack 1 and then the update (after taking a complete backup of course 🙂   )

    I was expecting it to all work this time around as I’m basically doing it on a brand new install and I’m pleased to report the updates applied ok!

    So this then led me back to the original reason for applying the update in the first place.

    In the Description of the Infrastructure Update for Windows SharePoint Services 3.0: July 15, 2008 page there was another link, Issues that are fixed in Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 by the Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 Infrastructure Update in here there was one specific issue I was interested in

    A declarative workflow that is configured to start automatically when e-mail enabled items are created does not start automatically after you install Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 Service Pack 1

    This describes the exact problem I was having.

    When an e-mail arrives from an external source they are submitted as the system account. SP1 stopped the service account from being able to run workflow’s automatically

    The fix is to use impersonation. The workflow will run under the account of the user who initially created the workflow association. As there may also be security implications to consider they don’t turn it on by default

    The KB article I mentioned above (KB953289) states the following

    “To enable workflow’s to start using the impersonation scheme, a network farm administrator must understand the impersonation scheme and its implications. The network farm administrator must enable the workflow with the following command by using the Stsadm.exe command-line tool:

    stsadm -o setproperty -pn declarativeworkflowautostartonemailenabled -pv true

    Administrators can also create a special user account for creating workflow’s that all workflow authors can use. By doing this, administrators can prevent other people from impersonating specific workflow authors.”

    If your happy with that disclaimer run the command on your server

    I’ve done it and I can confirm it works!

    image

    Finally!!

    The joy after the pain 🙂

    You can download the update from here – Infrastructure Update for Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 (KB951695)

  • Lucky Lucky Boy!

    Yesterday I was supposed to be spending the day thinking about SharePoint at an event Combined Knowledge were running (Vijay posted the details here)

    I did spend the day thinking about SharePoint but for different reasons

    First a little bit of background

    We run two SharePoint sites internally that pretty much run our business

    There is the SBS “companyweb” SharePoint site (WSS v2) – we’ve been using this from the beginning and we have a ton of information in here. Contract details, company calendar, contacts, customer network information, etc (you get the picture)

    Not that long ago I did the side-by-side install to get WSS v3 up and running

    (David Schrag has an excellent post on this and there is also the official white paper on the SBS blog)

    The idea long term is to move everything over to the WSS v3 site but we’re doing it a bit at a time with the main function of that site currently being our helpdesk system

    So back to the story!

    I’d blogged a couple of times about problems I was having with emails and workflows so when I saw the details of an “infrastructure update” on the Microsoft download site I thought this may be the answer I’d been looking for

    So I eagerly downloaded the update and this is where I made a fatal error

    I’ll hold my hands up and say recently I haven’t been treating our internal systems with the same attention we would one of clients systems. We keep drumming into our clients that their systems run their business and why you need to look after them properly so I’m really disappointed in myself

    So I installed the update and it failed

    The “friendly error message” message was MOST unhelpful.

    “Configuration of SharePoint Products and Technologies failed”

    I was then informed that nothing would be rolled back and that I should correct the problem and re-run the update

    This is where I first failed. Instead of taking my time and trying to figure out what the problem was I did a couple of searches and found solutions that seemed to fit some error messages I found in the logs and tried those

    It made it even worse. I couldn’t get to the WSS v3 site or the v2 site (I still don’t understand why that was the case)

    So at this point you’d think. Ok go back to the backup you took before you started.

    Second failure. I’d just jumped in at the deep end on this one. Very careless of me

    However, the overnight backup had taken a full copy of the v2 site so it wasn’t too long before I was able to get that up and running

    My main panic was over as so much data was in there. Since a lot of the WSS v3 stuff is still work in progress most of the data was available somewhere else. If the worst came to the worst I’d have to start over and build it from scratch

    Then I realised my next failing.

    I’d been getting some notifications from the backups recently telling me “backup completed with exceptions” – basically it couldn’t backup some files so just skipped over them

    I’d had a quick look and added it to my “to-do” list.

    This is when I wished I’d treated the problem the same as I would a clients system and given it immediate attention. The files it skipped just happened to be the WSS v3 SQL database files…..argh!

    This was when I got lucky. Before I’d started the update I had SharePoint designer open as I’d been working on some workflows and even though I wasn’t expecting anything to go wrong I took a backup from here – just in case

    The difference between this and the WSS v2 site though was that it didn’t matter that the site was down. The restore fixed that!

    To restore my SharePoint designer backup I needed a working SharePoint site!

    Since I’d been so careless up till now I decided to get back to doing things right

    I fired up a virtual machine and configured a SharePoint installation from scratch, then connected to it using SharePoint designer and verified my backup would restore ok

    Once I was happy with this it was just a matter of removing SharePoint and reloading it back onto the SBS where I was then able to create a blank site and restore my backup file

    It may sound so simple but it took up the whole of my day and I did my final restore at 1am

    My workflows are now broken and all the alerts have gone but it could have been a lot worse

    So another lesson learnt. I’ve added our internal systems onto our help desk system so it will now be treated in the same way as any other system we look after. I won’t jump in head first “just because it’s our system” and treat it no differently to any other server we look after

    The next question I asked myself is why I did I get into this situation?

    Impatience I guess.Things have been very busy lately and there were a ton of other things I wanted to get on with instead of testing a patch in a controlled environment to then put it on our own server. My attitude to the running of our own network was very wrong here

    As with any mistakes I make I’ve certainly learnt from this one

    I was a bit dubious about posting this but I’m treating it as my punishment (even though I feel like I’ve been punished twice as I missed the SharePoint event as well! :-)  ) 

  • BT Investing In Fibre

    Two words on this one

    WOO HOO!

    Here’s the story on the BBC site

    There had been rumblings a while back about BT not wanting to invest in the infrastructure and get fibre into the “last mile”

    While this isn’t going to happen overnight (2012 from what I can see) it’s a step in the right direction. I made the move to Virgin for cable broadband a while back as my ADSL connection speeds were pitiful

    Hopefully this will spur Virgin on to push forward with their plans to get faster speeds which in the long term will be great for the consumer and business alike

    Bring it on!

  • Some News

    I know this has already been done but after the day i’ve had i don’t care!

    A few weeks ago i briefly mentioned i’d had some big news

    This is it

    Another parkes on the way

    Baby number two on the way!

    Picture is from the 12 week scan and we got to see the little one kicking it’s legs around which was fantastic!

    Currently expected January 2009 so still a long way to go

    Better make some more deals to pay for all the mouths i have to feed!

    So what could have ruined my day after such a happy afternoon?

    I arrived home to a letter from the bank telling me i’m overdrawn

    I thought this a bit odd as i’ve not had any major purchases recently

    I logged onto the online banking and i found a transaction from Brighthouse that i certainly didn’t make

    I spent fifteen minutes on hold to an 0845 number (further to my post a couple of days ago about not having a landline, i was calling on a mobile and this isn’t included in my free minutes!)

    I then had to jump through a series of hoops (including being asked if i wanted to buy identity theft insurance!) until i was put through to the “fraud team”

    I was told that the purchase had taken place over the phone from the Bransholme branch (in Hull…hundreds of miles from where i live)

    The result is i’ve had my card cancelled and i’ve got some paperwork to fill out and i’ve also got to ring my branch tomorrow to let them know about the situation and stop me getting charged any further

    I’m still puzzled as to how this happened. Also surely the fact the card billing address is nowhere near the store would raise some eyebrows?

  • HP ML350 G5 Resetting on Power Failure

    We learnt quite a lot on the last SBS install we did recently

    Normally when we’re putting in a network we try to ensure we’re only working with equipment we know and trust. Normally this isn’t a problem as we recommend certain hardware to the client they just decide which specific items they want

    On this particular install there was an IT person in-house who was looking after the day-to-day running of system and was in charge of managing the new server installation project

    He decided that he wouldn’t need the UPS we had quoted for as they already had one and it was “fairly new”

    We also know the in-house IT manager well as we’ve worked closely with him on various other projects for other companies so we had to trust him on this one

    So towards the end of the install we wanted to make sure the UPS (of a brand I’d never heard of!) behaved as expected so we performed a simulated power failure (I pulled the plug out!)

    Normally we’d expect the server to stay on and the software to shut the server down safely when needed

    This isn’t what happened

    The server stayed on for about two seconds and then restarted. Not good

    Worried we had too much load on the UPS we took everything else off and tried again with just the server connected. Same thing and we also noticed a weird clicking noise coming from the back of the rack

    As this was a UPS we didn’t trust we decided it best to replace it. The in-house IT guy disappeared and returned with a price for an APC UPS from one of his other suppliers at price he was happy with

    Though we’d have preferred him to use the model of UPS we usually recommend the “customer is always right” (and he had budget he wanted to work to) so he ordered the UPS (APC Part number – SC1500I)

    It arrived the next day and we tried again. Exactly the same problem!

    We couldn’t possibly have two faulty UPS’s could we? So we thought it must be the power supply. What else could it be? We’d also determined the weird clicking noise (like a relay constant switching) was coming from the power supply so this seemed to make sense

    After getting the power supply changed we tried again and had exactly the same issue

    This was getting frustrating so went back to the UPS. We were getting some odd communication issues between the UPS and the server so maybe we were really unlucky and have been sent a faulty UPS so we sent that back and asked for replacement

    The UPS arrived and once again we had the same issue

    We had some dealings with HP support and they were pushing us in the direction of UPS (though at the time we felt like they were doing this as it wasn’t a HP component and they weren’t exactly confident about it)

    Now we’ve got other ML350 G5 servers with APC UPS’s that are working just fine so we pulled one of our UPS’s out of the office so we knew we were working with equipment we knew and trusted

    The problem went away!

    After a bit more digging we think we’ve found out why

    When using APC we usually use this part code : SUA1500I (the part number varies slightly depending on the load we’re expecting and if we need it rack mounted but it’s still the SMART UPS range)

    The APC website allows you to do comparison between products which illustrates what we think is the problem

    clip_image001

    Look at the last entry

    The UPS we normally use has a true sine wave output, the other UPS doesn’t (I’m guessing the first UPS didn’t either – it was so obscure I struggled to find out anything about it)

    This website gives a decent explanation of the difference between the two waveform types

    I’ve since been back with a brand new UPS (of the type we normally use) and there are no power issues. I did full calibration via the APC software and the system stayed on battery for about twenty minutes and a manual test (pulling the plug out!) gave similar results

    So what did we learn?

    Be very wary of components you don’t know. This is a great example of why we work with a specific group of products as it makes support easier and we don’t have to stayed trained on several different products that do the same thing (that doesn’t mean we stay fixed on specific items and push clients into products they don’t need or not give them any choice, for example, we work with Leibert UPS’s too).

    We possibly should have brought in a trusted component earlier. We ended up chasing after the server power supply when this had nothing to do with the problem

    Also be careful of how you "manage" the in-house IT guy. While we knew this particular person very well I think we could have been a little more insistent to try a product we knew and trusted once we’d decided the original UPS was to be replaced

    The best way to deal with any mistake or set back is to learn from it and i think we certainly have here

  • Landline? Not me

    I spotted an article over on Ars Technica a couple of weeks ago that i’ve only just gotten around to blogging about

    Landlines? One quarter of Europeans go without

    I’ve one of them

    I cancelled my landline about six months ago as i couldn’t really see the point in keeping it. I get my broadband via cable instead of ADSL and my mobile contract gives me more minutes than i know what to do with

    My wife rarely makes calls anyway so i was paying for line rental on a service that for most of the day i couldn’t use as everyone in the household is away at work!

    I hear similar stories when speaking to other people but they talk about needing the line for their broadband access

    In addition there is also the option of various VOIP services that could take the place of a fixed landline if i really really needed one

    Where do people see this trend going?

    I wonder how many of the other three quarters of Europe are only keeping their landline active because of ADSL

    Cable service providers are possibiliy missing a trick as they don’t seem to push this angle. When doing their marketing campaigns they usually compare their month broadband prices on a like for like basis. If i were in charge of their marketing i’d also be makiing a big deal of the fact that you could potentially lose the fixed landline saving more per month

    But what do i know?

  • Bitter? or just a difference of opinion?

    I just found an article on the BBC News site titled,

    It’s not the Gates, it’s the bars

    As I started to read down this I thought it was a journalist with a Microsoft grudge who hadn’t done his research and it wasn’t until I got to the end that I realised this wasn’t exactly the case

    The article was written by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation.

    The name rang a bell so I looked up his wikipedia entry and he’s the guy who launched the GNU Project and developed EMACS

    Go read the whole thing yourself but here’s a couple of the sections I’d like to take issue with

    “Microsoft’s software is distributed under licenses that keep users divided and helpless. The users are divided because they are forbidden to share copies with anyone else. The users are helpless because they don’t have the source code that programmers can read and change.

    If you’re a programmer and you want to change the software, for yourself or for someone else, you can’t.

    If you’re a business and you want to pay a programmer to make the software suit your needs better, you can’t. If you copy it to share with your friend, which is simple good-neighbourliness, they call you a "pirate".”

    I’m sorry Richard this is called BUSINESS

    Firstly, if I create something and expect to be financially compensated for it I expect every person who uses/owns it to pay up. Not just the first person who then passes onto everyone he knows who then in turn pass it on to everyone they know, etc, etc

    Currently the same applies to DVD’s and music. If you copy those and pass them on for free then you are a pirate it’s not “good neighbourliness”. The fact that it’s software is irrelevant

    Your obviously a big fan of free software. Well am I too. But I don’t believe that ALL software should be free. People still need to earn a living so if they decide they want to make money from their software. Good for them

    If someone makes some similar software and charge less for it (or makes it free!) then that first person has to make their software even better. That’s called competition!

    Do you work for free Richard? How do you pay for your house? Your food? Your computer hardware? At some point money comes from someone working. People make money from the skills they have. If that’s making software then so be it

    Secondly, the bit where you talk about not being able to pay a pay a programmer to make the software suit your needs is way off the mark

    Microsoft make a big deal out of the fact they are a platform company

    Let’s talk about one of their flagship products as an example, Microsoft Office

    For some years office has come bundled with Visual Basic for Applications. It allows you to turn the program into a platform where you can then add on extra functionality where making use of the products core functions as part of that. It’s so simple even I can do it!More recently we’ve also had the Visual Studio Tools for Office which perform a similar function but allowing you to take full advantage of the .NET framework

    Next,

    “In the UK, Microsoft established a major office in Gordon Brown’s constituency.”

    So what? Microsoft have offices all over the UK. In the same way they have them all over the US and all over the world?

    Then,

    “There’s also the Digital Restrictions Management: software features designed to "stop" you from accessing your files freely. Increased restriction of users seems to be the main advance of Vista.”

    Is DRM Microsoft’s fault? How does it “stop you from accessing your files freely”?

    YOUR files that YOU create are completely under your control. You’ll need to explain this one to me I’m afraid

    I think what your talking about goes back to the pirating issue. Media companies want to protect their property (music, video, etc). They ask Microsoft (and Apple, have you used iTunes on the Mac recently?) to help them do that.

    I’m no fan of the restrictions we get when buying media online nowadays but your blaming the wrong people I think

    Finally (I could go on but as I’ve ranted enough)

    “In 1992, when the GNU operating system was completed by the kernel, Linux, you had to be a wizard to run it. Today GNU/Linux is user-friendly: in parts of Spain and India, it’s standard in schools. Tens of millions use it, around the world. You can use it too.”

    and there is the problem

    As you said in 1992 you had to be a wizard to run GNU/Linux. At that time you didn’t need to be a wizard to run Windows 3.11 not long after that Windows 95 arrived and you sure didn’t need to be a wizard to run that. My mom was able to use Windows 95!

    If the user friendly version of GNU/Linux your talking about had been available back then maybe the Microsoft we know today wouldn’t exist. But that’s not what happened

    I applaud the promotion of choice but not in attacking the way someone else has done it without a decent argument

    Go make a better O/S and shout about why it’s better than the rest.

    Your article gives no compelling to move to Linux (or any other O/S) other than “it’s free”

    How many free cars, homes, computers are there in the world?

    Tell me about features and benefits. How it will help my parents get the pictures from their digital camera?

    I’m sure Linux has plenty to offer in that respect but your not talking about any of them

    I’m not ranting about this purely because I’m a Microsoft fan

    I’m all for a choice and freedom. I use open source software too (I used Notepad2 for the first time yesterday….why haven’t I used this before?! It’s great!) but it’s not the solution for every scenario. What got me riled here is the way your going about your argument

    You can check out Richard’s personal site and his blog if your interested in seeing his other causes

    That is all