Office Client Connections: Are you covered?

office-365-logo-100047935-largeWhen Microsoft introduced Office 365, subscribers stopped worrying about new versions.  As long as you were a subscriber, your monthly updates would deliver the newest versions of the client applications, and not just monthly patches.  It certainly made life simpler.  Still a lot of people prefer to purchase software, and not subscribe to it.  That is perfectly valid, and Microsoft continues to offer that option.

Where it gets a bit tricky is when customers who purchase the software do so once, and then ride that purchased application suite forever.  Microsoft will, at a certain point, stop supporting older versions.  While there are some critics who would say this is a money grab – just a cheap way of getting people to buy the software again, I definitely disagree with that. 

There is a tipping point in the lifecycle of a piece of software when it becomes more expensive to support than it is worth.  In the 1960s and 1970s, IBM guaranteed that they would support their mainframe computers for seven years.  Those were multi-million dollar systems that  companies were investing in, not a $500 piece of software.  When an application is new – especially an application like Microsoft Office, with over one billion users worldwide – the company has to support it.  They look for vulnerabilities, they create patches, they fix bugs.  They continue to do this for the lifecycle of the application.  For Microsoft Windows the lifecycle is much longer than the application, which is often only 3-4 years.  They include these costs when establishing the price of the suite.

When the vast majority of customers have upgraded to a newer version, it would still cost a lot of money to continue to support older technology… and fewer people will benefit from it.  If the company has promised to provide support for a certain number of years, then despite the fewer customers benefiting, they will still do it.

microsoft365-enterprise-adminstrator-expert-600x600The End of Life date for Microsoft Office 2013 was February, 2017.  There are still plenty of users out there using the older suite, and why not?  It still does everything they needed it to do, right?  They may not have all of the bells and whistles offered in Microsoft Office 2019, but they figure that good enough is always good enough.  Those who understand these things will also have weighed the importance of security patches, and they made the decision (conscious or otherwise) to trust that the majority of security flaws will have been found and patched in the four years of lifecycle.

Now here’s where it might get tricky for some… most of the applications in the Microsoft Office suite can easily live in a bubble.  While I love that Microsoft Office Word and Excel now allow me to open, edit, and save documents directly to my OneDrive for Business, a lot of people still store their documents and spreadsheets on their local hard drives, so the external access features do not appeal to them.  However, a tool like Microsoft Office Outlook is meant to work with external servers.  It’s entire raison d’être is to retrieve information from and send information to external servers.  Even though the Outlook client has not been supported in nearly 3.5 years, it is still able to communicate with the online servers.  Why?  Because Microsoft has a different lifecycle policy for servers than it does for applications.

Microsoft is a very large organization, and it does not turn on a dime.  Likewise, it does not expect its clients to do so either.  As such, when they reminded us in an e-mail this morning that “…Office 2013 clients’ connections to commercial Office 365 services will not be supported after October 13, 2020” they were not telling us “Hey guys, we know it is only three months away, but on October 13 you won’t be able to use your Office 2013 clients with our servers anymore.”  What they were saying was this: “We told you on April 20, 2017 (three and a half years in advance) that on October 13 of this year, you would no longer be able to use the Office 2013 clients with our servers anymore.” (See article)

To be clear, Microsoft is not saying that if you have an on-premise Exchange Server that you will not be able to use the Office 2013 client anymore.  This is about their Office 365 online services, which they are modernizing, and for which maintaining support of the legacy applications would cause an undue burden to them.  As such, in that article posted in April, 2017, Microsoft stated that: “Starting October 13, 2020, it will be necessary to have Office 365 ProPlus or Office perpetual in mainstream support to connect to Office 365 services.”  They will no longer be supporting connections from older application versions that are no longer in mainstream support.

Is that reasonable?  That depends on your point of view.  From Microsoft’s perspective, it is reasonable to say that they do not want to provide back-end support for applications that they are no longer supporting on the front-end.  From the end user’s point of view, it is reasonable to say that ‘Hey, I bought this application from you, and should be able to use it forever.’  Unfortunately, the end user is wrong in one thing.  You never buy software from Microsoft… you license it.  You have the right to install it on your computer, and I suppose if you want to configure Outlook as an SMTP or IMAP client (look them up if you do not know) then you can still use it that way… but in 2017 Microsoft told you that effective October, 2020 you will no longer be able to establish an Outlook Client connection to their servers.

Life moves forward, and so do computers… in fact, computers move forward much faster than most other facets of life.  If you question Microsoft’s decisions in this, I would point out that IBM lost the PC race (to Compaq, HP, Toshiba, and other compatible manufacturers… not to Apple) because they tried to maintain that seven year lifecycle promise in the era of $3000 PCs like they did in the era of multi-million dollar mainframes.  They insisted on maintaining compatibility across all of their software and PCs with the 8-bit Intel 8088 processor… so while Compaq et al went forward with building newer PCs on the 16-bit Intel 80286 processor, IBM stood their ground.  They partnered with a software company to develop an operating environment on the 8088 that would modernize the world… except the limitations of the 8-bit CPU held that program back, so that software partner, while continuing to work with IBM on OS/2 in Tampa and Armonk, spun off another team to build a similar operating environment that would take advantage of the 16-bit bus of the 80286.  The company in question was… Microsoft.  The operating environment they built back in New Mexico? Microsoft Windows.  The result?  A tremendous dive in the value of Big Blue, and Microsoft is now one of the most successful companies in the world.

Microsoft had a front-row seat to why it is important to move forward.  With all that on the table, asking them to hold back for a $500 piece of software you purchased seven years ago is no longer in the same ballpark as reasonable. 

So, if you are one of the customers (and there are probably millions) still using Microsoft Office Outlook 2013, and you are using it to connect to your Office 365 mail server, know that your days are numbered, and in just under three months your connections will stop working. 

Do you have to go out and buy a new package, or worse… subscribe to the Office 365 client?  Not necessarily.  While I certainly prefer working that way, I also know that a lot of people would rather not spend the monthly fees.  If you already have the Office 365 mail account, then you also have access to Outlook Web Access… you can connect to it from your web browser (https://outlook.office.com/mail/inbox) and have all of the functionality… minus the offline client.

Sharing is Caring… but don’t touch the merchandise!

Raise your hand if you still think that the only way to share a document is to e-mail it as an attachment?  Those days are fortunately long gone; Microsoft 365 offers you the ability to share a link to a document that you have stored on your OneDrive for Business.  It offers a few real advantages over the legacy way of doing things… you know, remember when your Internet Service Provider (or e-mail service) would block files larger than one megabyte from being sent across e-mail?  Those limits have increased dramatically over time, but they are still there… and even if they were not, there are storage limits.

Okay, so you have a document that you want to share.  If you navigate your OneDrive documents in a web-browser or with Windows Explorer, it doesn’t matter.  You find the file, right-click it and click Share.

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Now before you just send it to anyone, remember that you might not want anyone else to make changes to your document.  While they are likely recoverable, you don’t want the hassle.  So I am going to make some changes on the window that pops up.  By default, you will see Anyone with the link can edit >… click on that, and you will see the following options:

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Wow… there are some great things I can do here.  You will notice the option for People in Garvis Family with the link… that is because my Microsoft 365 organization name is Garvis Family.  If you work for Bank of Montreal, it would read People in Bank of Montreal with the link.  Yes, Microsoft 365 will know if you are authenticated from the same company.

You can allow editing… or not.  You can set an expiration date, which means that nobody (with the link) can open the file after that.  You can set a password, so even if someone does have the link, they need to enter the password to see it.  And lastly (at the bottom) you can Block download.  Sure, let people see the file online… but they cannot copy it to their computer.

Once you click Apply, you are back at the original window.  You can either enter the e-mail addresses of people you want to share it with, or you can click Copy link or Outlook.  If you click the first, it will give you a link that you can send by e-mail, Teams, Skype, or any other chat program.  If you click Outlook, it will create a new email from your Outlook client that you can send. 

It is that simple… it is the difference between showing someone a file on your computer versus having to print it out and sending it to them.  It saves tremendous resources, and allows you to keep control of your files.  By the way, this is not limited to Microsoft Office files… only to files you store in your OneDrive, which means it can be photographs or anything.

For companies where information security and integrity are key, there are ways to secure it further.  For most of us, the built-in functionality should be enough.

Now go forth and share!

Office 365 Distribution List Question

Hey Mitch! Do you know if we can add a couple hundred users to a distribution list instead of adding them one by one?

One of my help desk techs was asked to create several distribution lists with several hundred users, and they do not want to have to scroll through the user list to click each user one by one.  Of course there is a solution… PowerShell!  It is pretty easy to do…

Firstly, you need to create a .csv file.  Let’s call it DGroups.csv.  Create the following headers: Alias,DistributionGroup.  It should look like this:

Alias,DistributionGroup
Mitch.Garvis,O365-Admins
Fred.Kippels,O365-Admins
Fred.Kippels,HelpDesk-Managers
John.Frinks,HelpDesk-Managers
John.Frinks,Softball-Players
Mitch.Garvis,Softball-Players

Once you have that, open a PowerShell console, and connect to your Office 365 instance.  Make sure you have the credentials to add users to the groups listed in the file.  Now, run the following cmdlet:

Import-Csv “C:\DLAdd.csv” | ForEach-Object { Add-DistributionGroupMember -Identity $_.DistributionGroup -Member $_.Alias -BypassSecurityGroupManagerCheck }

That should be it… You should have your users added to the group.  Have fun!

Microsoft 365 Certified

In mid-September, the recruiting department of my company introduced me to the man who would become my manager at my new client.  He told me he reviewed my CV, and did not see Microsoft Office 365 listed on it.  I told him honestly that while I have worked with the technologies before, I never felt it was one of my areas of expertise.  With that said, if he accepted me for the position we were discussing, I would focus and make sure I got the relevant certifications.

At the time, I did not know exactly what was meant by Microsoft 365, so when I started the new role, I was in for a bit of a surprise.  It seems that the Office 365 certs that I would be pursuing were actually Microsoft 365 certs, and that Microsoft 365 comprised both the modern desktop – Windows 10, which would extend to include a good knowledge of both operating system and application deployment technologies (so I would get to dust off my knowledge of System Center Configuration Manager and Microsoft Deployment Toolkit), management technologies (Config Manager and Intune), and the cloud side of the house, including all of the server components of Microsoft Office (Exchange Server, SharePoint Server, OneDrive for Business), Azure Active Directory, Azure Advanced Threat Protection, and a bunch of others facets used to implement and manage a modern (and secure) desktop and application infrastructure.

I should mention that there was a time that I was really involved with Microsoft Learning, and I knew practically everything there was to know about the certification program… at least, for the infrastructure side of the house.  I was never too involved in the dev side of things.  I fell out of that habit when I ceased being a MCT Regional Lead, back in the fall of 2013.  That may not sound like a long time, but in dog years it is 42 years, and in IT years it is nearly an eternity.  I found out that nearly everything was different… and that is not a bad thing.

microsoft365-fundamentals-600x600Back in the spring, I took my first Microsoft Azure exam, the Azure Fundamentals exam AZ-900.  I wrote about that experience in this article.  When I went to look at the Microsoft 365 certification path, I discovered that there was a similar exam, MS-900: Microsoft 365 Fundamentals.  While it was an optional exam as far as my certification path went, I decided it would be a good way to get my feet wet.  I spent a few hours studying for a couple of days, and then I passed it.  As with the AZ-900 exam, I finished it extremely quickly. 

Energized by my initial success, I decided to go back home and hit the books… and with my manager’s encouragement, I worked feverishly to pass the next four exams, which included:

exam-md100-600x600MD-100: Windows 10.  This one was also theoretically optional for me, as I had already passed both 70-697 and 70-698.  However I did not want to take any shortcuts, and I know it had been nearly two years since I sat those exams.

exam-md101-600x600MD-101: Managing Modern Desktops. This would be a little more challenging, as it would require knowledge of many of the on-line tools that I might have used and managed, but was not fluent in.

When I first started getting certifications, there was a simple path: After passing a single exam, you became a Microsoft Certified Professional.  After that… well, you had a long way to go to earn your next certification, which was Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), and which required six more exams to pass.  And then one day Microsoft Learning announced what I thought of then as an intermediate certification – the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA).  The MCSA only required four exams, which meant that after the original exam, I only needed three more for what I thought of as a ‘senior’ certification.

microsoft365-modern-desktop-administrator-associate-600x600While things have changed a lot since then (apparently you now get a new logo for every exam that you pass), I see that Microsoft Learning has stuck with the concept of ‘intermediate’ certifications.  With these two exams under my belt, I was now Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator.  This is what they are calling Associate certifications, which I suppose is about the same as the MCSA that I earned so many years ago.

Of course, I was far from done.  Once I had those two exams passed, which were essentially Windows 10 focused, I had to go on to the exams that were mostly focused on the cloud technologies.

exam-md100-600x600MS-100: Microsoft 365 Identity and Services was almost (but not entirely) all based in the cloud.  Like it’s partner exam, you need to know all of the cloud services, but you also need to know on-premise features such as System Center Configuration Manager (Current Branch), as well as Active Directory, and even though they are not supported in Azure AD yet, you needed to know Group Policy, and when and how it would be used.

exam-md101-600x600MS-101: Microsoft 365 Mobility and Security spent a lot of time focusing on managing devices and security from the cloud, as well as protecting a company’s data.  There was a bit of a focus on what devices were supported, including Apple iPhones and iPads, as well as Android devices.  You not only needed to know how to deploy them to the managed environment, you also need to know how to implement multi-factor authentication (MFA), conditional access, and how to segregate data on a BYOD device so that users who use the same device for both business and personal could not accidentally share sensitive corporate data.

While it took a lot of studying, I was very happy, after having passed this last exam, to receive an e-mail that read:

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I have received many of these e-mails before… but this one had something that I had never received: three stars.

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Yes, if you look at the modern Microsoft certifications, they progress from the Fundamentals level (one star) to the Associate level (two stars) to the Expert level (three stars).  thinking back on many of the other certification logos I have had, I have to admit, I like these.  Don’t get me wrong, the certification logos were once really snazzy, but over the years the logos went from:

This:      MCP_SE_c

To this:      mcse

To this:      Microsoft-Certified-Solutions-Expert-MCSE-Server-Infrastructure-logo

…yeah, they spent a lot more on style in the old days, and I’m not going to lie… I may like the original MCSE logo, but the most recent iterations of them were somewhat lacking stylistically.  So the new ones, with the multi-coloured shield design is like fresh air breathed back into the program.

So at this point, I will probably take a bit of a break from the certification track.  I do not know what will be next, but I suppose the most likely candidate is going to be something Azure related… but it is not going to happen right away.  I have spent a lot of time studying and preparing for these exams, and my client has been very understanding.  Now is the time for me to get to work, putting what I learned studying for these certs to good use!

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

Surface Pro 3 and Windows 8: Not everybody’s cup of tea

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I do like my Surface Pro 3.  With that being said, I know everyone has different tastes, and some people are not going to like it.  A couple of months ago my sister, a long time Mac user (and Apple Fanboi) told me that her new job would be giving her a Pro 3, and asked what I thought of it.  I told her – it predated my realizing the extent of the network issues – that I loved it, and expected she would too.

Last week she e-mailed me to tell me that she really hated it.  It crashed a number of times in the first week, and she does not have the patience for these errors – she said her Macs (all of them) just work, and don’t have blue screens of death or other issues.

Now to be fair to the Surface team, a lot of the issues she outlined had to do with Windows 8.1, Microsoft Office, OneDrive, and the Microsoft Account.  I understand her frustration – if you take the device out of the equation, those are four different products from four different teams that are all supposed to work together seamlessly… but don’t.  I respect that Microsoft has a lot of different products, but if you are going to stop talking about products and start talking about solutions then you should make sure your teams work together a lot closer to make sure that seamless really is seamless.

I probably know Windows better than 99.5% of the population, and work very fluently across these four products… but one of the reasons for that is because I have come to understand that sometimes the seams between them are going to show, and like a Quebec driver I have learned better than most to navigate the potholes.  However if Microsoft really wants to stay at the top in an era where customers do want things to just work, they had better get off their butts, come down off their high horses, and start making sure that seamless really is just that.

I want to be clear… I am not trading in my devices for Macs (or Linux).  While I do have an iPhone (See article) I would just as soon have an Android or a Windows phone.  I love Windows 8.1, and even now at my office I cringe at having to work with Windows 7 (Ok, cringe is a strong word… I just wish it was Windows 8.1!).  However I have worked with iPads, Androids, Macs, and more, and I know that those solutions do make for a better experience with regard to some features than the Microsoft ecosystem.  I hope that under Satya things get better… but nearly a year into his tenure and I don’t see much progress.

In the meantime I am strongly considering going to open an account at one of the banks that is currently offering free iPad Minis to new account holders!

Outlook Looking Out for me AGAIN!

A few hours ago a deadline was about to pass.  I had promised someone I would send them the final draft of a file before they got into their office this morning.  I also knew that I would not be available to re-send it if there was a problem because of a previous commitment.  I wrote the e-mail and pressed send.  Immediately the following window appeared:imageWow… how often have you done that?  ‘Hey I am sending you this file’ and then you forget to attach it?  Sometimes you catch yourself and sometimes you only realize it when the return e-mail of ‘what file?’ comes through.  Fortunately Outlook 2013 saved me in this case – I was tired and likely would not have realized it, and my colleague would have had nothing to work on this morning.  Thanks Outlook!

Outlook 2013: Take Action!

I have been using Microsoft Office 2013 since it was in early beta mode, and I still find features on a daily basis that I love.  Of course, some of them I have been using all along, like Action Items.

Microsoft Outlook analyzes your e-mails and lets you know if it has found things, like Action Items. So when I received the following e-mail:

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At the top of the e-mail the following option now appears:

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Because there is an address in the e-mail (I think it is LinkedIn’s main offices) the Bing Maps option appears; however it is the Action Items that I like… Outlook’s intelligent analysis determined that the e-mail was asking me to do something, so when you click on Action Items you see the following:

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Nice… you can now see at a glance what is being asked of you in the e-mail.  But that is not the end of it…

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Fred wants to meet me for coffee Thursday morning.  You will notice that the application bar has the option of Suggested Meetings.

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So the good news is it found the meeting.  It did get the time wrong, and I am not quite sure how that happened, but it does make sure you keep on your toes.  You can click on Schedule Meeting and it will create the calendar object, including inviting Fred.  How cool is that?

Try it out… it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good!

The advantages of selling Office 365 and Windows Server

image Many small and midsize businesses today are considering the use of cloud-based software applications for the ease, accessibility, and cost benefits they can offer. At the same time, many still need an on-site platform for a range of needs from hosting applications, to print sharing, to storing sensitive financial data.

As our valued partner of Office 365, we would love to tell you more about how both of these products have enabled many partners to provide valuable and cost-effective solutions to their customers. We will also have Sharon Bennett, a Microsoft Small Business Specialist and Microsoft Certified Trainer join to speak about deploying Windows Server 2012 with Office 365 and how you can help grow your business with these products.

Learn key resources to enable your organization to deliver these solutions and a special offer available to get you selling today!

Join the one hour webinar on September 16th, 2013 from 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM (EST)!

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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! 🙂

Office for Fruit Phones!

5430_2_Excel_EN_300x532_jpg-550x0Microsoft has released today the Office Suite for iOS… which means that iPhone and users can now start using the same tools on their devices that they do on their PCs… and best of all, it is absolutely free to Office 365 subscribers!

Check out the official release article at http://blogs.office.com/b/office-news/archive/2013/06/14/office-mobile-for-the-iphone-is-now-available-for-office-365-subscribers.aspx.

Now for the bad news… it is only available for US subscribers.  Yes, my fellow Canadians, if you are using iPhones you are going to have to wait… it will be available in several markets and languages soon, but unless you are a US user you should still look to your cell phone provider to upgrade you to a Windows Phone 8 device 🙂

This is getting interesting…

Last year I was asked to participate in the Canadian launch tour for Microsoft Office 365.  At first I was hesitant, but I am really glad that I did.  I got to meet and speak to a lot of interesting people across the country who do not usually come out to my sessions on Windows Server, Virtualization, and System Center 2012.

After my presentation and demos in Toronto my friend and local (well… Guelph) SMB-guru Sharon Bennett came to speak to me in the Microsoft booth, and told me that she was surprised by a lot of the features I was able to demonstrate with the new software and SAAS (Software As A Service) offerings from Microsoft.  We had a good discussion during which she confided that she had been a loyal GMail user for years, but based on my demos she was going to try out Office 365.

Like most of you, I get a lot of ‘interesting’ titles in my Inbox, although my spam filter does a great job of keeping most of them out of sight.  So when I saw one this morning with the title ‘50 Shades of Grey’ I was surprised.  When I saw that Sharon’s name was attached to it I decided to investigate… and sure enough, it was a legitimate article from my favorite SMB Blogger 🙂

E-Mail Affairs: My  Version of ‘”50 Shades of Grey” is a very interesting read about a relationship that many of us have – this almost sordid affair with our e-mail provider; how we are expected to be fiercely loyal, but how when we veer from that path it can be exciting and such.  As with real-life affairs it can even lead to an eventual break-up.

I am always happy to read Sharon’s writings, and hope one day to be able to attend one of her sessions.  If you are interested in SMB IT from a fresh and fun perspective I suggest you give her a read!

Virtual Launch Event for the new Office 365 for business

Office arrives in the cloud on Feb. 27th!

Virtual Launch Event for the new Office 365 for business.

Date Wednesday, February 27th 8 am PDT and 5 pm PDT

Why Attend?

  • Learn how the new Office 365 can help people do their best work in a world of devices and services
  • Hear customers talk about how Office 365 is transforming the way they deliver productivity tools across their organization
  • See how Office 365 delivers new experiences combining the power of social with collaboration, email and unified communications
  • Join in a live Q&A with Microsoft executives and product experts

RTA

Get onto my Cloud… a Colossal Contest!

In the past I have had a few contests that have had pretty good response – I have given away some decent prizes, and I know a lot of people have really enjoyed it.

Now, in honour of this blog’s 100,000th hit (Achieved October 30!) I am launching a new contest in conjunction with the Microsoft Office team… it’s so big, I have to create a new e-mail account to regulate the traffic!

I have spoken about Office 365 before, and have been a faithful user since it launched (and BPOS before that).  I have shown it to hundred if not thousands of people, and it is not a tough sell to show them that it is simply the best productivity solution available, combining the power of Microsoft Office Pro Plus with the cloud-based Exchange Server, SharePoint Server, and Lync, all for a low monthly fee which means no upfront costs and no ongoing support costs!

Office 365 ProPlus is the new Office delivered fast to all your Windows devices – including Windows RT! Office 365 ProPlus includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher, and Lync. You will be able to preview Office 365 ProPlus applications and manage up to 25 users with a preview account… at no cost, for up to 30 days. 

When your preview is up you can either discontinue using it or, if you liked it, convert your preview subscription to a full subscription quite easily!

Office 365 Pro Plus has some great features, including:

  • clip_image002Fast streaming installation on up to 5 computers per user
  • Runs side-by-side with your existing Office programs
  • Integrates with in-house email and collaboration solutions
  • Your settings stay with you when you move to a different computer
  • Flexible deployment – use the cloud or your own infrastructure
Register for the Guided Evaluation

Register to access technical product resources—such as forums, solution accelerators, whitepapers, and webcasts—at the Office 365 ProPlus Preview Resource Page.

  1. Review Office 365 ProPlus Preview system requirements
  2. Register for evaluation
  3. Sign up for an Office 365 ProPlus Preview account and install evaluation software for a limited-time trial
  4. Provision up to 25 evaluators within your organization using the Office 365 ProPlus administration interface
  5. Direct your evaluators to log in to their new Office 365 ProPlus Preview accounts
  6. Receive three (3) emails with resources to guide you and notification of the next release
  7. Use blogs and forums to share tips

Now here’s the contest:

  1. Click on this link and download the bits!
  2. Wait for the confirmation e-mail that you will receive when the download is complete.
  3. Forward that confirmation e-mail to Office365@garvis.ca .
  4. Install it and use it!!! That’s it… you are entered to win one of two great prize packages from Microsoft and Jabra!

    PRIZES:

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GRAND PRIZE:

A Microsoft XBox Kinect bundle, including a Kinect device plus THREE hot XBox Kinect games!

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SECOND PRIZE:

A Jabra SPEAK 410 Lync / speakerphone / speaker!

 

 

**Odds of winning depend on the number of entries.  The only restriction to winners is that they cannot be full time employees of SWMI Consulting Group (sorry Theresa!).

Managing Your SMB-IT Without Server

A set of clouds

You have a small business.  You have been running Windows Small Business Server 2003 for six years, and you know that it is time to retire it.  The question is, what should replace it?

Before you make any definitive decisions, why not review what you need your server to do:

  • File Server
  • Mail Server
  • Internet Portal
  • Centralized Management

For the past several years you have paid a consultant to manage the server and your client PCs, and have primarily called him in for break-fix issues.  Maybe you were industrious and decided to learn the basics of IT so you could do a lot of the maintenance yourself.  You might even be a small-business IT consultant who has been managing and maintaining SBS environments for your clients.

You have heard so much about the cloud that you are in a bit of a fog… you know that people are talking about cloud-services, but haven’t quite figured out how they can work for you… to save you money, to earn you money.

Replacing the Server

For most small businesses I still recommend a centralized server; Active Directory is still the best mechanism you will find for centralized user management, and Group Policy allows you to lock down your environment.

With that being said, many of the functionalities offered in Microsoft Small Business Server are now available as part of two cloud-services offerings from Microsoft.  Microsoft Office 365 offers all of the functionality listed above (File Server, Mail Server, Internet Portal) and much more.  It is actually all of the following products in the cloud:

Office 365 allows you to have the functionality of all of these tools… without having to purchase or maintain them.  It also means that you will always have the latest versions of all of these… without having to upgrade.  ‘Your servers’ will be maintained by the Microsoft IT team, without your having to pay them hundreds of dollars per hour.  If any of your services go down (and admittedly they do occasionally) you can rest assured that before you even discover the outage the people who know the products best will already be well on their way to fixing the issues.

Managing the Desktop

Between the operating system and the applications, there is a lot of work that goes into the proper maintenance of your PCs.  That includes anti-malware, patch management, policies, and more.  Additionally being able to generate and view reports is a huge benefit – as I always say If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it!

So Before we get into application side of things,  let’s discuss the benefits of the second cloud-services offering, Windows InTune.  InTune installs as a simple agent on your Windows PC, and the list of benefits is amazing:

  • Upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise
  • Windows InTune Endpoint Protection (centralized anti-malware solution)
  • Centralized Patch Management
  • Policy Deployment
  • Application Deployment
  • Device Reporting
  • Alerts
  • License Management

When you subscribe to Windows InTune (per-PC subscription) you get the right to upgrade your legacy Windows client (Professional/Business/Enterprise SKUs) to Windows 7 Enterprise.  Right there you have the basis for the common operating system required to simplify management.

Windows 7 Enterprise Edition includes two features that Business Edition does not:

  1. Multiple language support; and
  2. BitLocker drive encryption technology

With the preponderance of mobile computing these days, as well as organizations doing business around the world, there is no question that Windows 7 Enterprise is an easier feature-by-feature sell than the lower-priced options, but that lower price seems to be a deciding factor so often.  With the Use Rights in Windows InTune you don’t have to settle.

Once the Windows InTune agent is deployed on a PC it will start populating the individual computer’s information to the InTune system, and you will be able to get a better idea of what you have.  On the Devices screen you will be able to see:

Computer Name Total Disk Space CPU Speed
Chassis Type Used Disk Space Last User to Log On
Manufacturer & Model Free Disk Space Serial Number
Operating System Physical Memory Last Hardware Status

imageIncluded in the Windows InTune installation is the Windows Intune Endpoint Protection engine, which will protect your PCs from malware.  It uses the built-in patch management system to keep the definitions up to date, and offers real-time protection, as well as centralized reporting and e-mail alerts to the Help Desk / Support Team / IT Guy when a computer is infected.

InTune 2.0 added the ability to centrally deploy applications to client PCs.  InTune 3.0 adds an extra to this – the ability for end-users to install published applications on-demand.  The new Company Portal allows users to help themselves on-line, before eventually ‘escalating the call’ to you.

Users can also deploy their own client from the portal, assuming they have the proper credentials.  This allows them to download a client using their corporate credentials, rather than you having to send them the file (along with the ACCOUNTCERT file) which would allow anyone (in theory) to install on any device that would automatically be managed by… you.

By far the most common application suite found on desktops in the workplace is Microsoft Office.  The most common complaint I hear about Office is the cost (followed by the difficult to understand SKUs).  Of course, with Office in the name it is no wonder that it is part of Office 365.

Of course there are several different SKUs to Office 365, and each one has different offerings.  The small business SKU (P1) costs $6/month, and does not include the installable suite.  However it does include Office Web Apps, which means you can create and edit Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and of course use OneNote… all within your web browser.  This is great if you work on multiple systems, or if you are ever remote and need to work on a document.  The convenience loses its thrill when you realize you cannot work if you don’t have an Internet connection.

The E1, E2, and E3 SKUs do come with the client software, so if that is a requirement then those SKUs (which cost quite a bit more) are probably better for you.

Why you should consider maintaining a server on-site

Our mail server is gone… so are our SharePoint and File Servers.  Why then would I still recommend a small server in a small business environment? There are several reasons.

  1. Active Directory.  As I mentioned earlier in the article, AD is a great way to centralize security and credentials.  Additionally there are plenty of hooks from Active Directory into Office 365 (which can be covered in a later article).
  2. Deployment Server.  Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2012 is the perfect companion to your new Windows 7 Enterprise licenses.  In under an hour you can create a deployment point that will deploy Windows and all of your applications (including the Lync Client and the Windows InTune agent) in fifteen minutes (or less).  It is by far the easiest way to deploy Windows to your desktops, laptops, and even tablets!
  3. Hyper-V.  Although many of our applications will be installed directly onto the laptop, many companies still have server-based applications that require an application server.  Hyper-V is the best way to create those servers on-site, for a plethora of reasons that have been outlined ad nauseum previously at www.garvis.ca, and countless other sites.  Of course, your virtualized application servers can run any version of the Windows Server operating system, but they can also run any supported client OS, as well as several iterations of Linux (supported and enlightened) and any other x86-based OS (neither supported nor enlightened).
  4. Group Policy.  Although Windows InTune v3 has much better policy support than its predecessors, there is no denying that Group Policy is the best way to granularly control, configure, and secure your client and server environments.  Whether you want to enforce secure passwords, BitLocker, or simply set a centralized screen saver and desktop wallpaper, the best way to do it is by creating a GPO in Active Directory.

As you see the combination of cloud-based services from Microsoft and an on-line Windows Server are the best way to manage your entire SMB IT infrastructure, but even if you are not going to maintain an on-premise server the cloud-based services can manage most of the needs of most SMBs.

By the way, there is one more advantage to these solutions… you will always have the latest and greatest.  Right now the Windows InTune subscription comes with use rights for Windows 7 Enterprise.  When Windows 8 is released, you will automatically have access to that platform.  Office 365 comes with Office 2010… but when the next version is released you will have that version right away too!

Interested in hearing more?  Drop me a line and we’ll talk… or you can check out www.windowsintune.com and www.office365.com to download 30-day trials of each!