Office Customization without VL Media

Over the years I have written quite a bit about Desktop Deployment, especially using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT). It allows us to install not only our operating system but also our drivers, patches, and applications with little or no user interaction.

Recently I did some consulting for a small company of seven users. They are a Microsoft Partner, and took advantage of one of the best deals going, the Microsoft Action Pack Subscription. In essence, this gives them use rights for most Microsoft software (for up to ten users) for a small yearly fee. Now before you get your hopes up, I am sorry to tell you that it is only available to Microsoft Partners.

One of the recommendations I made to them was to create a Deployment Server using the MDT. I demonstrated the value, and they thought the idea of lite-touch installation was great (they are far too small for zero-touch, which requires a System Center infrastructure). They got right to work. Unfortunately when they got to creating the Application Package for Microsoft Office 2013 they ran into a snag.

“We tried to run the Office Customization Toolkit but it doesn’t work!”

I took a look, and sure enough they were getting the following error:

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Just to be sure, I tried it myself. In a command prompt I navigated to the network share where they had copied the source files for Office 2013, and I typed setup /admin. I got the same error.

I had seen this problem before… when trying to use FPP (Full Package Product) media for a deployment… the OCT is not included. Drat.

So here’s the way around it:

1) Download the Office 2013 Administrative Template files (ADMX/ADML) and Office Customization Tool. You can find them here: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=35554

2) Extract the files as directed; you will now have two directories – Admin and ADMX. You will also have an Excel file called office2013grouppolicyandoctsettings.xlsx.

3) Copy these files into the network share (or local directory) to which you copied the Office 2013 source files (because neither the DVD nor the ISC is writeable).

4) From a command prompt navigate to that directory, and execute the command: setup /admin

Congratulations, you can now run the Office Customization Toolkit on your non-VL media, and use it to create your custom .MSP files. Now go forth and deploy!

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Note: The same process would work for Office 2010 and Office 2007, but you will have to download the appropriate OCT version.  Just look for it online Smile

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Activating Office 2013 Headaches… Here’s your Aspirin!

Hey Mitch, why is it that every time I install Microsoft office 2013 for my customers I have to log in with a Microsoft Account (Formerly Live ID)?  Why can’t I just use a product key like I used to?  I always use my own Microsoft Account, and I am now the registered user for hundreds of installations of Office 2013!

imageI have been confronted by partners, customers, and end users with variants of this question for months, and I always tell them the same thing… there is NO requirement to log onto a Microsoft Account when installing Microsoft Office 2013.  Unfortunately people don’t read the fine print!

Microsoft Office 2013 was designed to work with the cloud – Office 365 is of course the answer, and gives you so much more than just the client software.  In fact, with Office 365 Microsoft is moving to a subscription-based service, rather than an up-front purchase model.  Especially in the enterprise but also in smaller businesses and the home it is easier on the pocketbook to pay monthly than up front.

Not all of you agree… Okay, that is fine; if you do not want to work with Office 365, and would rather buy the FPP and not integrate with any of the on-line services (including licensing and activation!) then it is simple… in the Activate Office screen under the big NEXT button there is a little option to ‘Enter a product key instead.’  I admit it, the font size makes it easy to miss, but it is indeed there (note the highlighted section in the screen capture).

Now here’s the fun part… at least from a Deployment standpoint.  There is a better way of installing Microsoft Office that does not require you to type in a product key every time: create a .MSP file with the Microsoft Office Customization Tool.  It is only available with the Pro versions of Microsoft Office, and even at that only with media attached to a volume license.  However if you have that, your life will be much easier:

  1. image Attach the media to your PC (either by inserting the DVD or by mounting the .ISO file).
  2. Open a Command Prompt.
  3. Navigate to the root directory of the media (as pictured it is D:\)
  4. type setup /admin
  5. This will open the Microsoft Office Customization Tool

    You will be prompted to select the product that you want to customize (in this case Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2013 (64-bit)), or to open an existing customization file.  Click OK.

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While this tool gives you a lot of options that you can configure (and I encourage you to explore!) I will focus on two specific options.

Installation location and organization name

I like the fact that the OCT allows me to enter my organization name (as well as the default installation path).  If I am installing Office on a small number of computers then it really doesn’t bother me to type in the organization name, but if I have to install it on dozens (or thousands) then this really helps me out.

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Licensing and user interface

If I am going to the trouble (okay, it’s not that much trouble) of customization, then I might as well do it right.  Let’s click in the Navigation Pane to Licensing and user interface.

If you have a Key Management Server (KMS) in your organization then you should let it manage your licenses, but most smaller organizations won’t have this, so we are going to select the radio button Enter another product key to enter our Multiple Activation Key (MAK).  In the appropriate box you can enter your key, which will be 25-characters.  You will also have to check the box ‘I accept the terms in the License Agreement’ if you don’t want your end users having to do it.

Speaking of end users, the same screen lets you change the Display level of the installation… so they can see it happening, or not.  I like to set the level to None, but send a Completion notice so they will be advised when the installation is complete.

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**NOTE: The product key used herein is obviously not a legitimate one.  The OCT does verify that your Product Key is valid, else it will not let you navigate from this screen.

imageOnce you have completed all of the customizations you like (as I said, please do not feel restricted by these!) you have to save your customization file.  In the File menu click Save As…

Navigate to where you plan to save it and enter a file name, and press Save.  You are almost ready!

Now that you have created your .MSP file, all you have to do is place it in the updates directory of your installation media.  If you are using an .ISO file then you can simply mount the file and copy it in.  If you are deploying from a USB key or network share then you can simply copy the file.  If you are still deploying from CDs then I am afraid you are going to have to create a new disc… and suffer the ridicule of people who think that CDs are so last decade 🙂

Conclusion

Microsoft goes to great efforts with every new product release to make it easier on end users and IT Pros alike to deploy and use their technologies.  While the cloud connection is great (and some of us love being able to activate our applications by entering our Microsoft or Organizational Account!) it is not the only game in town, and so the old ways are still available to you.  You just may have to dig a little deeper, look a little harder… or ask someone like me! 🙂

Office365 Outage: It happens… know about it.

I have been using Microsoft Office365 to manage my e-mail since the beta program, and last month purchased the full program for SWMI Consulting Group.  Office365 includes, among so much more, the mail service in a cloud (Exchange 2010).  I have had few complaints – someone else manages it for me, and I can focus on my business.

This afternoon my e-mail went down for a couple of hours.  It is easy to detect if you are looking – the indicator at the bottom of the Microsoft Outlook client changed from Connected to Microsoft Exchange to Disconnected. I tried to connect to the Outlook Web Access site, but got a 503 Error.

At the same time I noticed several of my friends and colleagues on Twitter complaining of the same sort of outage, and not sure what to do.  Fortunately I have been down this road before, and knew just what to do.

I logged onto the Office365 Portal Page (https://portal.microsoftonline.com) and clicked on Admin along the top.  Along the left there is a Support link for Service Health.  The Service Health screen gives the current status of all of the services, and the one-week history.  The screen had a lot of green checkmarks, but under E-Mail and calendar access under Today was a red flag (seen below).

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The red flag was a hyperlink, so when I clicked on it there was a three minute old notice that there was an open incident, that the status was Investigating, and the details said: ‘We are investigating a service issue and will provide updated information when it becomes available.’

I kept my eyes on this screen, and watched the progress. Over the course of the next couple of hours or so I was able to get my e-mail and my calendar.  It was fortunate, because people had told me to expect e-mails – and there were several outgoing e-mails waiting to be sent out.  Because of these communications I knew what was going on, and that it was being dealt with.  I continued along with my day.

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End of Days for Windows XP.

Quite a number of people have asked me why I continue to tweet the number of days until Microsoft ends support for one of it’s most successful operating systems ever, Windows XP.  Especially knowing that we seem to be a long way off – today is Friday August 12, 2011 and we are 969 days away from that day, nearly three years as someone recently pointed out.

The truth is that if you have one or two or even ten computers under your responsibility then planning and implementing the deployment plan of a new operating system is not that difficult or time consuming.  However if you have hundreds or thousands of them – numbers not uncommon even among small business IT consultants who service several clients, let alone IT Pros managing desktops for MORGs, LORGs, and Enterprises – then it is something that takes a great degree of forethought and planning.  Issues such as application compatibility, hardware lifecycles, and licenses must be determined, managed, and accounted for. 

How many companies are out there who don’t actually know what they have?  I often ask at my seminars what reasons people have for not having moved to Windows 7 yet, and among the most common (along with cost and application compatibility) is that it is daunting.  The thought of what people need to consider for such a project can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you have, because frankly how can you know where to start?

I used to work for a man named Jacob Haimovici who always said that if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.  It is absolutely true, especially in the world of IT where so often you cannot touch your assets, and the assets you can touch may contain any number of disparate components (hardware). 

The Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit is a free tool from the Microsoft Solution Accelerators team is your first step to having an easier life as an IT Pro.  It is an agentless inventory, assessment, and reporting tool that can securely assess IT environments for various platform migrations—including Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, and even virtualization with Hyper-V.  It inventories your environment including hardware and software, and lets you know what you have.  It creates spreadsheets for you of all of your assets, and lets you know what components are ready for Windows 7, which need mitigations, and which will need upgrading or replacing. 

I ran the MAP tool on the network at Meadowgreen Academy in Mississauga, Ontario before I embarked upon my migration plan, and determined quickly that none of their video cards supported Aero Glass; also a number of the machines did not have enough memory.  These were easily mitigated with a purchase order, and the school administrator was pleased that I discovered all of this up front, and did not wait until it was too late and they had to decide with a proverbial gun to their heads.

The MAP toolkit will also prepare the proposal documents with graphs and charts that speak the language of CxOs, which so many IT Pros cannot do.  Even those who do to a man hate preparing reports and proposals, so the MAP toolkit can be a real godsend.

I was golfing with a client in California a year ago and he told me he had to do a network inventory that afternoon for a new client.  When I asked him what tools he used he told me ‘a pen and paper.’  After I told him about MAP, he told me that before he took me to see the client he needed to run it by the boss.  The boss wanted to see it in action, so I pulled out my netbook (that’s all it takes – fully contained on a 1 GB netbook!), plugged it into their network.  Once they supplied me with the credentials the tool took a few minutes to run and generate the reports.  They were astounded to see the cost savings they could realize by virtualizing their servers!  When we looked at the count of client computers they told me I was off by five… until we determined that the sales team were at an off-site… with their laptops.

Of course, you may need more, and if you do, there are plenty of courses available to help you with your skills, including the highly popular ‘Updating Skills for Windows 7’ by Raymond Comvalius and myself, published by MVP Press.  There are certifications for Windows 7 as well as for Windows deployment, and if you look up the exam 70-681 you will see what the prerequisites are to become an MCTS: Windows 7 Deployment.  If courses aren’t right for you, check out books like Mastering Windows 7 Deployment by Aidan Finn, Darril Gibson and Kenneth van Surksum, which covers everything you will need, and more!

If you are the type to just hack away and figure it out, Microsoft has a whole plethora of free and simple tools that will help you with your deployment plan, including MDT, WDS, WAIK, SCCM, App-V, ACT, and more.  As we say, you can’t spell Deployment without them!  Believe me, once you take the first step, deployment is not as daunting as it might seem now.

Defective Microsoft Access? I don’t think so! Ask the Community!

Earlier today a LinkedIn contact asked me a question about Microsoft Office Access.  I don’t know a while lot about Access, but here is why I am such a huge proponent of the IT Pro Community.

The contact is someone who I met at a community event – an event I did on Windows Vista at the Association of Independent Consultants in Mississauga, Ontario.  We haven’t seen each other since, but we exchanged cards, and I remembered who she was.  She remembered me as the Microsoft MVP, a group of awardees that Microsoft bills as ‘Independent Experts, Real World Answers.’ 

Now, I honestly don’t know a lot about Microsoft Office Access.  Once upon a time I learned how to program simple databases, but that was about it… and in 2001.  However what I do know is how to reach out to the community, so I shot out a quick call to my community peeps on Twitter that I had a question about Access.  A bunch of people replied that they could help, including a member of the Krewe… a group of crazy nuts who know how to party at TechEd, but also do a LOT of great stuff… and they know their technology!

Brian Bell currently serves on the Syndication and Outreach workgroups with the Real Estate Standards Organization, The Microsoft International Consumer Advisory Board, The Krewe of Tech-Ed, and is VERY active as a leader and volunteer with The Boy Scouts of America (along with his son, Dillon).  Outside of that, Brian enjoys boating, fishing, whitewater, the beach, Cape Fear River, anything outdoors related, and most importantly, Brian enjoys spending time with his family and friends.  You can check out his entire blog at http://ageekblog.com

So Brian and I took the conversation off-line.  I sent him the question, and he asked me to give him a few hours to get me the answer.  Sure enough, a few hours later he came back with a whopping answer!  It could never have happened without community.

The question was:

There is a conflict I’m dealing with trying to resolve. It relates to the use of an Access database to facilitate furniture and equipment asset information. There are claims that the database is “defective” and I know that this term may have different meanings in the software industry. I also wondered if I could discuss the scenario with you to see if you think it is something they can legally claim is defective or if the issues they encountered were “human error” which I think it is or could queries from the database just disappear or become corrupted while the file was being transferred from a USB storage device to their private mainframe. The tables are intact.

The answer from Brian Bell is:

USB Drives have been proven problematic in the JET database world…. And it is so that Microsoft Access uses Microsoft JET…..

The proper sequence AFTER writing the DB to a USB drive is to COMPLETELY close Access after the save with the USB drive still plugged in and wait about 20-30 seconds AFTER you THINK Access is closed (or go to taskman (I use the task monitor from Microsoft Sysinternals ) and make sure it has completely closed. Once completely closed, The USB drive must be “ejected” from the USB control panel and NOT unplugged until after the “it is safe to remove your device” has appeared..

Not following those guidelines specifically can cause issues and even IF that is followed correctly, problems can still occur. (Think back to our glory days when access databases almost always corrupted themselves when writing to a floppy)

If it is a multi-user environment where multiple users are trying to access the data off of the flash drive, that will also cause issues… This is because access uses Microsoft JET. SQl is required for multi-user accessing of data in a database so it is safe to assume these issues can also occur in a virtualized environment as well. This also includes if other users are attached (not using, just even attached in some way) to the database you are trying to save it will or can corrupt. You can use the UserRoster JeT tool to verify thie user count or attachment see http://support.microsoft.com/kb/285822

Opening and / or saving the dabatase in another program other than the same version of access (including the use of 3rd party apps) can cause corruption.

So,the basics which you already know.. Access is simply a tool. It’s essentially a database management system… Nuts & Bolts, it’s a container of objects that simply contains a table or multiple tables of data.

As long as the database you are using was created within Access and not another program imported into Access, there cannot be a defect as the relational objects were created by their own parent within its own container of table or tables.

While Access is not defective, there are parts that work WITH access that can be problematic.

These can include a poorly designed database table, corrupt connectors, odbc emulators or drivers /etc. Defective software.

Common problems with Access are issues surrounding its attributes.

With an Access 2007 or 2010 database the database cannot exceed 2gb minus the system object space.

The database has a max number of just over 32000 objects. It cannot have more than 1000 modules when HASmodule = true is set.

An object name can’t have more than 64 characters, no more than 14 characters in a password, no more than 255 users concurrently using the database, no more than 20 characters in a user or group name, (See bottom of email for the complete attribute table)

Exceeding any of the capability attributes can cause problematic issues with the database.

Now from your email, it looks like the database “appears” to be ok but when the data is moved (I am assuming saved as database) to a usb drive, it then appears to be corrupt?

Things to look for when things aren’t saving correctly are the obvious.. Is BitLocker running? Does the USB drive contain any encryption or other software? (Have you tried a different brand/style/size USB drive that has been newly formatted) Are the versions the same on the read PC as they are from the PC writing the file to the database?

I would also look at UAC, Group Policy and NAP settings if on a network. If on a network I would look on both the master GP server and the client PC to make sure something isn’t replicating the GP rules in the LAN or WAN.

I have seen corruption on DBs also if pulling over VNC, RDP and/or VPN.

If pulling by using a query or call, has it been triple checked? If so, try the call and remove the full call and just pull a small portion off of the same database to see if a “smaller” query returns good data…

Doyou have logging and debug on so you can see when the failure occurs exactly what is failing or can you send me the details of the error?

The bottom line is, Access is not defective however there are hundreds of things around access that can cause issues and be problematic…

If any of the attributes in the table below are exceeded, (assuming you are running access 07 or 10 , if not and you are running 03 0r 00 or 97, then the attributes are much lower the earlier in versioning you go…)

If you copy (save) the DB to the drive are you opening FROM the drive and not copying from the drive back to the computer? Depending on read/write rates for i/o that could perhaps cause an issue..

General

Attribute

Maximum

Total size for an Access 2010 database (.accdb), including all database objects and data

2 gigabytes, minus the space needed for system objects.

Note You can work around this size limitation by linking to tables in other Access databases. You can link to tables in multiple database files, each of which can be as large as 2GB.

Tip For more information on reducing the size of your database, see Help prevent and correct database file problems by using Compact and Repair.

Total number of objects in a database

32,768

Number of modules (including forms and reports that have the HasModule property set to True)

1,000

Number of characters in an object name

64

Number of characters in a password

14

Number of characters in a user name or group name

20

Number of concurrent users

255

Table

Attribute

Maximum

Number of characters in a table name

64

Number of characters in a field name

64

Number of fields in a table

255

Number of open tables

2,048 including linked tables and the tables opened internally by Access

Table size

2 gigabyte minus the space needed for the system objects

Number of characters in a Text field

255

Number of characters in a Memo field

65,535 when entering data through the user interface;
1 gigabyte of character storage when entering data programmatically

Size of an OLE Object field

1 gigabyte

Number of indexes in a table

32 including indexes created internally to maintain table relationships, single-field and composite indexes.

Number of fields in an index or primary key

10

Number of characters in a validation message

255

Number of characters in a validation rule including punctuations and operators

2,048

Number of characters in a field or table description

255

Number of characters in a record (excluding Memo and OLE Object fields) when the UnicodeCompression property of the fields is set to Yes

4,000

Number of characters in a field property setting

255

Query

Attribute

Maximum

Number of enforced relationships

32 per table, minus the number of indexes that are on the table for fields or combinations of fields that are not involved in relationships*

Number of tables in a query

32*

Number of joins in a query

16*

Number of fields in a recordset

255

Recordset size

1 gigabyte

Sort limit

255 characters in one or more fields

Number of levels of nested queries

50*

Number of characters in a cell in the query design grid

1,024

Number of characters for a parameter in a parameter query

255

Number of AND operators in a WHERE or HAVING clause

99*

Number of characters in an SQL statement

Approximately 64,000*

*Maximum values might be lower if the query includes multivalued lookup fields.

Form and Report

Attribute

Maximum

Number of characters in a label

2,048

Number of characters in a text box

65,535

Form or report width

22,75 in. (57.79 cm)

Section height

22.75 in. (57.79 cm)

Height of all sections plus section headers (in Design view)

200 in. (508 cm)

Number of levels of nested forms or reports

7

Number of fields or expressions that you can sort or group on in a report

10

Number of headers and footers in a report

1 report header/footer;
1 page header/footer;
10 group headers/footers

Number of printed pages in a report

65,536

Number of controls and sections that you can add over the lifetime of the form or report

754

Number of characters in an SQL statement that serves as the Recordsource or Rowsource property of a form, report, or control (both .accdb and .adp)

32,750

Macro

Attribute

Maximum

Number of actions in a macro

999

Number of characters in a condition

255

Number of characters in a comment

255

Number of characters in an action argument

255

Project specifications

The following list of tables applies to Access 2010 and Access 2007 projects:

General

Attribute

Maximum

Number of objects in an Access project (.adp)

32,768

Number of modules (including forms and reports that have the HasModule property set to True)

1,000

Number of characters in an object name

64

Number of columns in a table

250 (Microsoft SQL Server 6.5)

1024 (Microsoft SQL Server 7.0, 2000 and 2005)

Form and Report

Attribute

Maximum

Number of characters in a label

2,048

Number of characters in a text box

65,535

Form or report width

22 in. (55.87 cm)

Section height

22 in. (55.87 cm)

Height of all sections plus section headers (in Design view)

200 in. (508 cm)

Number of levels of nested forms or reports

7

Number of fields or expressions that you can sort or group on in a report

10

Number of headers and footers in a report

1 report header/footer;
1 page header/footer;
10 group headers/footers

Number of printed pages in a report

65,536

Number of controls and sections you can add over the lifetime of the form or report

754

Number of characters in an SQL statement that serves as the Recordsource or Rowsource property of a form, report, or control (both .accdb and .adp)

32,750

Macro

Attribute

Maximum

Number of actions in a macro

999

Number of characters in a condition

255

Number of characters in a comment

255

Number of characters in an action argument

255

Office 365–Complex or Options?

Last week Microsoft officially launched its cloud-based infrastructure offering, Office 365.  As a virtual insider I have been using this solution for the past six months for my IT consulting firm, and frankly had forgotten that it was a beta offering.  That is because while the packaging may be new, all of the applications – both client- and server-side – are mature products that released to manufacturing long since.

I am not surprised by the number of negative reviews; the different offerings and price points are complicated to understand, owing to the sheer number of them.  For the do-it-yourself guy who is not very technical it may be difficult setting up the DNS records properly.  Some of the features available in the rich client versions are not available in the on-line applications.

While I may disagree with some of the criticism I want to be clear that I share your pain; this morning I finally opened the e-mail that essentially said that ‘The Office 365 beta program is over; we hope you have enjoyed using it… now it’s time to start paying for it!’ I was disappointed that there was no link in the e-mail that would lead me to where I could do that.

When I did log into my management site (portal.microsoftonline.com) I was greeted with a simple, discrete line up top reminding me that I had 42 days remaining in my free trial subscription.  I was pleased by this because it takes the pressure off somewhat… until I click ‘Buy now’ and am told immediately that I need the E3 level subscription for my company. 

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Fortunately a closer read let me know that I had other options… I have already purchased the Office Professional clients for my computers, so that would save me a ton of money.  So now I had to look at my other options:

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These are the bundles available… but there are so many components, what if I only want to pick and choose the ones I want?

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What… there’s more?  Wow, keep scrolling!

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Ok at least I am near the end… all I have to do is expand Additional Services and I’ll know everything…

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All of a sudden this is looking daunting and expensive… maybe I should just buy a license of Windows Small Business Server 2011 to run my infra… wait a minute!  I had one of those ‘smack my forehead’ moments.  Doesn’t Microsoft usually put together special packaging and pricing for small businesses?  Certainly the six of us who use our corporate e-mail (and SharePoint, and and and) would qualify as an SMB… let’s see if I can find that anywhere on the page…

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Okay, let’s click here and see what turns up…

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Now wait a minute… $6/month per user?  There has to be a catch… scrolling down I see this plan offers me all of the services I need (and still many that I don’t)… I am still looking for a catch!

I haven’t found one… If you have the Office client (which I do) or are willing to use on-line apps (which have most but not all of the functionality, and have the pesky disadvantage of not being available on airplanes) then smaller organizations are in luck. $72 per user/year is not a lot considering the time I would have to spend installing, configuring, and maintaining my own Exchange and SharePoint servers.

So what about the confusing options for Enterprise?  There are absolutely a lot of choices.  There are people who will always say that Microsoft can’t get anything right, and the people who poo poo these editions and tiers are the same people who would complain that if they had fewer choices they would be restricted in their options.

For smaller businesses it is a no brainer, and for larger organizations they will have to sit down and plan what options they need.  Does Office 365 need more thought than competitive options?  Sure… but it also offers more choice.

The Wonder that is TechEd

The quiet of the Exhibitor Hall is disturbed by the sounds of preparation.  To my left there is a crew frantically working to fix something with a carpet.  There is some hammering, more yammering, and the sounds of carpet tape being unfurled. To my right there are two security agents talking, but they are too far off for me to know what about.  Somewhere in the distance the beeping of a crane reminds us that conference centres are a weird mix of indoors and out. Slowly… VERY slowly, the vendors and the booth bunnies are filtering in, mostly sitting around, many checking e-mail, others chatting quietly.

Day Two of TechEd North America is underway upstairs, with sessions and breakouts and hands-on-labs.  I rather suspect that many of the people attending those sessions are moderately hung-over, which would be par for the course for any major IT convention.

Thirteen hours ago, midway through my last shift in the Microsoft Springboard Booth, there were thousands of people milling about.  A great mixture of people wanting to learn, wanting to teach. A lot of people were out to collect swag for sure – at our booth they would range from asking for a box, reaching in and taking a box, to reaching in and trying to take a handful of boxes.  A few actually asked what was in the boxes, but to many that mattered less than getting something for free.  Some people, when they asked, would get a spun yarn about the contents… it breaks up the monotony. 

In truth, the best thing that we are giving away at the Springboard booth does not come in a box.  It doesn’t even come on the lanyards in the form of passes to the hottest party at TechEd (the Springboard Community Event!) but rather a link… www.microsoft.com/springboard, which is the link to the Springboard site, the best place for the IT Pro to learn about all things related to Windows 7, Office 2010, Internet Explorer 9, Desktop Deployment, Application Compatibility, and the Optimized Desktop.  It has articles, KBs, forums, and blogs.  Whether you are just now thinking about transitioning to Windows 7 and you need help planning your deployment, or if your entire org is on Windows 7 and you have questions about support, it’s there.

Of course TechEd is much bigger than our booth… the Microsoft pavilion is the center point, but if you look to the left and right (as well as the front and back!) you will see vendor booths, community booths, and more.  HP is here in full force, as is EMC… I count at least three CPLSes represented as well as several on-line and video learning companies – companies that sell practice exams and other exam-prep material.  There are vendors demoing their hardware, others selling software.  Of course the new trend is people selling cloud-based solutions, which until recently was geek-speak for vapourware, but now is a very real and viable solution, and critical in this day and age.

There is an entire section of the Exhibitor’s Floor dedicated to community… the MCT Lounge, the MVP Lounge… Blogger’s Row, Microsoft Learning, GITCA and other User Group services.  There is a stage where I saw Richard Campbell interviewing Mark Minasi yesterday, and of course the Microsoft Company Store, your one-stop shop for Microsoft-branded crap, but also a 20% discount off all books which ROCKS!

Upstairs there is a section devoted to exam-crams, as well as an entire exam center where I know of several people who have taken my advice to GET CERTIFIED!  One friend, I hope, will be taking his FIRST EVER certification exam exam today or tomorrow… and I will be there to be the first to congratulate him and welcome him to the MCP fold.

What are you looking for? If it has to do with IT then it is here in Atlanta, at Microsoft TechEd 2011 North America!

Get on the Bus!

For the third year in a row the Springboard Bus Tour will hit the road leading up to TechEd.  If you have never met the bus you are missing out, because it delivers expert advice, great learning, and huge career benefits to IT Pros.  It delivers answers to questions you may have been having about desktop deployment, virtualization, managing consumer-devices in the office, cloud solutions such as Intune and Office 365, Application Compatibility, and much more! MSW-Tour-CityBanners

This year I am very excited, because my city (my adopted city, really…) has been chosen as the launching point!  That’s right, on May 2nd we will be taking over the MaRS Centre, South Tower at 101 College Street in downtown Toronto, CANADA!  (Yes, I know there’s a typo on the registration page… we’re fixing it!

So if you live in the Golden Horseshoe – or really anywhere from London to Kingston, Buffalo to Orillia, come join us for a great day of Windows 7, Office, MDOP, and more!

REGISTER NOW and save your seat for this free day of technical demos, Q&A sessions, and real-world guidance from Microsoft experts. We’ll see you on the road… and make sure to come say hi to me, Sean, and the rest of the STEP MVPs!

Oh, and remember… if you are not in or around Toronto, the Springboard Series Tour Bus is making stops in Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Dallas, and Columbus… so you still have a chance to catch up and learn!

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Mitch Visits One Police Plaza

A couple of weeks ago one attendee was a detective with the NYPD, and he offered to take me behind the scenes at One Police Plaza so that I could take a look at a few of the units that use information technology (IT) for a lot more than just paperwork and filing.

I had read about Detective Travis Rapp and his involvement with the Real Time Crime Center, which was our first stop.  Respectful to the television portrayals of this and similar units, it really is something to see.  From here police from anywhere in the city can call in and get information and support tracking suspects.  Imagine a thirty foot monitor controlled by a pit of computers manned by detectives who are expert in tracking suspects, licenses, cell-phones, weapons… and more importantly how these all fit together – where a suspect’s car and cell-phone are the suspect is surely not far, and if he (or she) has a history of weapons and/or violence may be the difference between officers being injured or coming away from an arrest safe.  I couldn’t help but think that if I was a ‘perp’ I wouldn’t want these systems (and the people who make it work!) on my trail…

Next we stopped in Computer Crimes, and I got to meet some of the skilled detectives who handle computers confiscated during arrests or seizure.  For obvious reasons I won’t disclose any of the tools of the trade that they use (many of which are discussed in some of my classes but some are not!) but as a veteran of the forensic side of IT I am suitably impressed by the professionalism of the team.  It is easy to imagine a room filled with geeks with thick glasses and pocket protectors.  The first thing I noticed when entering the back room was that they were first and foremost cops… badges, side-arms, and all.  Later I asked Detective Rapp as we discussed some of the stars of the team (of which he is a veteran) if the NYPD trained most of them from scratch, or did they look for officers with a background in IT.  I couldn’t imagine having a high success rate trying to train beat-cops to do what these people do.  At the same time I want to reiterate that these are all professionals, and there are no ‘former criminal hackers’ in the group.  Sorry Kevin, you’ll have to look elsewhere for your next job J

The last stop we made (I’m skipping a few floors) was the garage where we took cruiser Unit 1956 out for a spin – not a ‘ride-along’ that some people would crave, but a spin of the Panasonic Toughbook laptop that each cruiser has, and the software and communications tools they use to give every mobile unit another advantage on the job, whether chasing down suspects or issuing traffic citations.

The new DataMaxx software package that each unit has revolutionized the mobile unit, and seeing it in action was interesting; however the part that most appealed to me was that Detective Rapp would be making a video, user manual, and PowerPoint deck to train officers in the tool.

I should mention that Mo, who is responsible for deploying these ToughBooks, has done a brilliant job of locking them down.  He uses Microsoft Deployment Toolkit to create, manage, and deploy the images, customizing them and locking them down – both in the CMOS (blocking USB and such) and in the image itself.  He knows that a locked-down user environment not only prevents users from installing software – by definition in a secure, well-managed infrastructure unsanctioned – but also prevents tampering; both of these result in a more stable environment over the long term. 

In order to create the training materials that were required we used one of my favorite must-have tools – TechSmith’s SnagIt.  Even though you can screen-shot individual app windows with Windows 7, the SnagIt tool adds incredible functionality – editing, resizing, adding effects, and much more – before sending the image directly to either Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or an e-mail (either as an attachment or an embedded image).

For the document Detective Rapp was creating he needed the screen shots sent to Word, but would eventually be creating the PowerPoint deck as well.  SnagIt maintains the screenshots in memory so that you can reuse them over and over – after exporting them to Word we could then export several captures shots to different slides or, even better, to a build-slide with animation.  The images will be properly sized and positioned automatically, all thanks to SnagIt and without having to resize and adjust any of the images in PowerPoint (which is not difficult, only more work).

The next step of building the training material will likely be to record training videos of the system, for which Detective Rapp will likely rely on another TechSmith tool, Camtasia Studio.  Unfortunately that will happen after I have left, but I know that he will have no problems with it because I have used the tool before and you have heard me rave about how easy and powerful it is.

As I walked back to my hotel from 1PP I couldn’t help but think that when they talk about ‘New York’s Finest’ they are not only talking about the bravest… they have some of the finest IT forensics and cyber-crimes people, some fine Windows Deployment guys, and use some fine tools all around.  For security reasons I only mention two of them in this piece (Microsoft Deployment Toolkit and TechSmith SnagIt).  I felt safer knowing that if they had taken the time to make sure they used the right tools for their IT, they were probably using the right tools for feet-on-the-ground law enforcement as well. 

Stay safe out there guys… New York’s Finest indeed!