Friday, June 27, 2008

The End Of An Era

Well, Bill Gates is finally stepping down from Microsoft. He built a massive company from his back yard and has created one of the most memorable companies in the history of business. I'd like to pass on my best wishes for his and Melinda's future, which I'm sure will be relatively smooth sailing.

I just wish there'd been someone better to hand it over to - right now the company is in serious need of a leadership with a clue. They are still floundering and directionless on a tide that's starting, very slowly, to turn against them. I hope for their sake that either their current leadership team or a new one appointed by their Board of Directors can once again lead the company in the way Bill Gates lead it up until he handed the rains over a while back.

Focussing on releasing quality applications once again, focussing on the needs of your actual end users not those you imagine are out there, taking an active interest in your partner channel that provides the buffer between the end user and yourselves (those partners, that is, who spend many, many hours dealing with the inadequacies and bugs in your software that are not addressed by better staffed and resourced development teams) and not looking solely at the bottom line - these are the things that will start to turn around public perfection of Microsoft as it is today.

People's reluctance to buy your software is ONLY offset by the fact that you have, to all intents and purposes, a monopoly. Were there any *real* choice, I can bet a vital organ or two that many of "your" customers would be using the alternatives.

Innovation in and of itself isn't going to win you any friends. Innovation in the areas that your partners and end users actually find beneficial will. What's happened over the last few years?


The Outspoken Wookie

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Requesting Australian SBSC Community Input

I posted a similar request to the ANZ-SBSC group about a month back and again this morning, and am posting it here in case there's people reading this who are not a member of that list. This blog is a little more "open" than that list, and therefore I probably should be a little more careful in what I say. But those of you who know me know that I'm more than happy to say this in public - and that I've said this and more in the past! :)

If anyone wants to contact me via email with their response instead of via the comments on this blog, feel free to do so. I'm more than happy to keep your comments anonymous (beyond me) if you wish for that.

Anyway, until I get a better understanding of what an SBSC PAL is actually all about, I see my role as follows (in no particular order):

  • help Microsoft promote WHS/SBS/EBS to the SMB marketplace

  • help to make the SBSC designation actually meaningful, not just another Microsoft Acronym that makes the person in Microsoft who thought of it feel all warm and gushy on the inside

  • help the community at large understand that an SBSC, once we make it actually meaningful, will likely have a better idea of how Microsoft technologies can help their business than someone who hasn’t gone to the effort of learning about these Microsoft products at all

  • Channel ANZ SBSC community feelings and issues back to Microsoft

  • Channel these feelings back in my usual pull no punches way so that people in at Microsoft actually get to understand what it is like for those of us who don’t see “Microsoft” on our paycheques
I know that Robbie has taken a risk putting me in this position, and that he at least has an “out” in 12 months’ time. :) I know that Robbie knows that I’ll go at this like an attack dog on an unsuspecting bunny. I don’t think that many people in at Microsoft know a) what an SBSC is and want to know if they can have cream with it when they get one, and b) what’s coming. :)

Wayne Small may place his money on Microsoft in this battle of the wills, but my money is firmly placed on me. Well, firmly placed on me at least not giving up – I honestly don’t think that I can make much change to the unwieldy, floundering behemoth that is Microsoft in 2008/09, but I know that I’ll not give up trying to see if I can help to make the ANZ SBSCs lives a little easier.

Below is a list of some of the things that I feel need to be brought to Microsoft’s attention during the next year. As part of my role is to represent the SBSCs to Microsoft, I obviously don’t want to wave my own flag all the time, but I’d like to be representative of the ANZ SBSC community and the flags we *all* want to have waved in front of Microsoft. So, I need your input – either reply here or to me personally, whichever you feel more comfortable with. I need to know the issues that you see needing to be raised with Microsoft around the SBSC/SMB issues that you face and that your clients face. What needs to be done better, what needs to be done away with, what needs to be thought about for the first time (real or apparent) that will help you and Microsoft be able to better help your clients? Along with the issue, any information on the possible outcomes that you’d like to see would also be beneficial.

As you all know (or will soon), I’m more than capable of jumping up and down and letting people know how *I* feel. Most of the time I do this on behalf of my clients. Right now, I want to do this on behalf of the large number of Australian SBSCs out there. Actually, my *role* is to do this on behalf of the Australian SBSC community.

Without input from the SBSC community I have only my issues that I can raise with those in at Microsoft who can actually do something about them - *whether* they do something about them is a whole other issue. I need to know what the community feeling is about the SBSC program itself as well as the products and services that Microsoft is releasing for this marketplace – XP, Vista, SBS, WEBS, Office, whatever – and how or even whether they fit into our clients’ needs. With this information I can approach people in at Microsoft with the real world experiences of the Australian SBSC community and see if we can’t help nudge Microsoft onto a course that better suits the needs of our clients.

Some of the things I see as issues needing to be raised are as follows (in no particular order right now, but based on community feedback I’ll prioritize this list):

Issue needing to be raisedPossible Outcome(s)
Microsoft’s utter lack of direction and its increasing inability to a) write decent products and b) release the features they have suggested will make it into any new products.Understand why Microsoft is losing the plot when it comes to being able to deliver relevance in today’s marketplace and what they are doing to change this.
The completely unintelligible Licensing model that Microsoft has. Probably 95% of Microsoft staff and partners don’t really understand it all, and I can bet a crucial body part that not a single customer of theirs understands any of it.Be able to help get MS Licensing to a point where it is understandable, enforceable and profitable to both Microsoft (obviously) and its partners.
Focus. Microsoft has none. Right now they seem to be trying to Borg the entire IT universe instead of concentrating on what they used to be good at – reliable desktop operating systems and great user applications, such as Office. Yahoo? Forget it – concentrate on software. Google? What’s next? They need to keep some focus on what’s important to their customers, not just try and justify their existence to their shareholders – their shareholders won’t like it if their customers stop buying their products because they are all sub-par. Simply for Microsoft to stop trying to spread themselves so wide that they are losing any depth they used to have.
Technical training. Many of Microsoft’s “training” sessions are too salesy and don’t have enough real technical meat in them. A lot of partners are getting to the point of wondering if Microsoft has any technical knowledge to share any more.Deliver more tech-focussed training in the ANZ region, not just during Tech Ed. The SBS pre-day at Tech Ed is a good start, but Microsoft needs to continue this through the local User Groups and other technical training sessions.
WHS. Right now it is an utter joke – it can’t reliably save data and it can’t be easily backed up by the users. And in the PP about to be released, they have dropped the WHS Backup feature they were originally saying they were going to provide.Sort your sh+ out before it hits the marketplace. Understand that the marketplace see your failings as utter lack of support for the smaller businesses out there. Understand that the marketplace is right!
Pricing equity, or the utter lack of it. We’re being right royally shafted on MS pricing here in Australia. $299 for MAPS in the USA, $699 here. Come on! This is not winning you any friends. And then there’s the overpricing of your consumer and business products – look at SBS 2003 R2 FPP/OVL pricing in the US (US$599/US$521 Std, US$1299/US$1128 Prem) compared to that in Australia(AU$1044/AU$927 Std, AU$2257/AU$2008 Prem)!Realise that as exchange rates change, you have to change with them. You cannot protect your own arse by reaming your clients’. When they revolt, you shouldn’t be left wondering why the opposition is getting all the business you thought you would have received.

Ask the VP of SMB

Andrea Russell, our friendly and helpful SBSC PAL PA (as she puts it), has asked for input on what the SBSC community would like to ask the VP of SMB. Michael Risse will be closing the SMB Partner Forum Event at the WWPC with an open QnA session, and as your PAL, I'd like to know what you'd like to ask him.

Feel free to comment here or email me directly.


The Outspoken Wookie

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tim Minchin Revisited

I've updated the YouTube link in as the original video was taken down by its author.


The Outspoken Wookie

SBS 2003 Boot Camp - Forest and Domain Functional Level

Another point that I raised in the SBS 2003 Boot Camp was that of raising Forest and Domain functional levels to 2003 Native. When SBS 2003 is installed, the functional level of both the domain and the forest is set to "Windows 2000 Mixed". If you will not be adding any obsolete servers to your domain (and I'd say that would be the vast majority of people), then raising this to "Windows 2003 Native" will give you additional benefits over that of "Windows 2000" level.

The steps required, assuming you have no non-Windows 2003 Servers in your domain are as follows:

  1. To raise the functional level of the domain:

    1. On the Source Server, click Start, point to Administrative Tools, and then click Active Directory Domains and Trust.

    2. In the console pane, right-click the domain for which you want to raise the functional level, and then click Raise Domain Functional Level.

    3. In Select an available domain functional level, click Windows Server 2003, click Raise, and then click OK in the warning dialog box.

  2. To raise the functional level of the forest:

    1. On the Source Server, click Start, point to Administrative Tools, and then click Active Directory Domains and Trust.

    2. In the console pane, right-click Active Directory Domains and Trusts, and then click Raise Forest Functional Level.

    3. In Select an available forest functional level, click Windows Server 2003, click Raise, and then click OK in the warning dialog box.
The benefits of raising these functional levels includes a) the ability to rename the domain (more difficult, sure, with Exchange 2003 installed on the box, but it *does* make it possible), it is part of the preparation steps to migrate from SBS 2003 to SBS 2008, faster intra-site replication of AD, group nesting and the ability to convert between security groups and distribution groups.

For a more in depth look at the different functional levels, have a read of:

MS KB 322692
Daniel Petri
Daniel again!
Enterprise Networking Planet


The Outspoken Wookie

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Savanna Fauna Destroyers

It seems that some people want to have more native fauna destroyed. These people are those who want to allow the introduction of the Savannah Cat into Australia. All sensible and caring people should therefore have a read of this petition and strongly consider signing it.

I cannot believe that after the massive damage that the Cane Toad and other introduced species have caused to the native fauna in Australia, people are still considering willingly bringing this pest into Australia.

I care for our native fauna. Do you?


The Outspoken Wookie

SBS 2003 Boot Camp - USB F6 Drivers

Another point raised in the SBS 2003 Boot Camp was the issue with some modern server motherboards not coming with a FDD header onboard, therefore requiring the use of a USB FDD, and the issue that some USB FDDs won't allow you to load the F6 drivers.

Well, if you have a read of MS KB 916196 you will see that there are 2 tables shown - the first (and smaller) shows the devices that *are* supported and the second (larger) table shows the devices that are not detected by Windows XP (nor Windows Server 2003) during the boot/install process.

I've found that the IBM option part 27L4226 drive (as mentioned in this table) and also the HP Part Number DC361B both work fine and are actually both the same drive in a different skin and use the TEAC FD-05PUB USB Device.


The Outspoken Wookie

Monday, June 16, 2008

SBS 2003 Boot Camp - Offline Update

Another thing that was mentioned in the Boot Camp was the massive amount of time and bandwidth that can be consumed whilst updating a server or workstation. One excellent way to address this is with the Heise Security tool called "Offline Update". A good description of its use can be found on their website and the latest version of the tool can be found on its Project page.

This is something that we run once a month here at the office to keep our DVD up to date. It downloads the updates for Office 2003, Office 2007, Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows Server 2003. This saves a lot of time onsite.


The Outspoken Wookie

SBS 2003 Boot Camp - Partition Alignment

The Brisbane SBS Users Group recently (as in yesterday) held an SBS 2003 Boot Camp. This was a day when about 25 members sat together in the Microsoft offices (thanks to Peter Fitzsimon who regularly goes above and beyong the call of duty) and all gave of their time and knowledge to create a "Best Practices Installation and Configuration" document. We sat there with our colleagues and competitors and worked as a community, learning from each other, teaching each other, and having a good (geeky) time.

One point I raised was the use of DiskPart (and DiskPar) to align the partitions on the hard drive, something which no-one else seems to do and very few people knew anything about. So here's my reasoning behind it...

In Windows 2003 and below, Microsoft uses the first 63 sectors of a hard drive to store volume information. Most hard drives have 64 sectors per track, at least on the inner zones of the drive, and the unfortunate result of this is that Windows 2003 and earlier by default start the first partition at the next sector - the last sector on a track instead of leaving this 512-byte sector empty and aligning the partition with the start of the next track.

Windows Vista and Windows 2008 both address this unfortunate behavior and align the beginning of partitions to a 1024 KB boundary. And it is about time!

Anyway, the reason I align partitions to tracks is because of a) Exchange and b) SQL tuning. Both servers write sequential data and need high-performing disk subsystems. Any Exchange and/or SQL tuning guide will tell you to align the partitions. Most tell you to use 64-disk arrays and to put the different stores and the logs all on different spindle sets. In SMBland, we don't have the pleasure of a 64-disk array nor 7 different spindle sets in our single server solution, so a number of these tuning tips are not applicable for our end of the world.

Partition alignment most definitely is applicable, is easy to do, and will result in increased performance - especially from streaming data such as Exchange and SQL use.

The speed improvements claimed tend to be between 20% and 40% once partitions are aligned. Whilst we've not seen those figures here, we've seen 10% and higher when we've tested disk subsystems once aligned. And 10% increased performance *for free* is not a bad thing, in our books!

When we perform a system install, we use a PE disk to boot from (pick whichever one you're comfortable with) and load any relevant RAID controller drivers. We then run "diskpart -i" (diskpart can be found here) to determine the current offset. An alternative to this is to use the handy little VBS Script that Bob Duffy wrote that can be found here.

Obviously if the first partition is correctly aligned (which is extremely rare) we leave sleeping dogs lie...

In Disk Management, confirm the disk number that you wish to manipulate, then in the "diskpart" CLI interface, type:

select disk n [and no, I'm not going to explain what "n" is here]
detail disk [which should show an empty partition table, if not, then you need to remove these partitions]
create partition primary size=n align=32 [where size is in MB, if empty, the whole disk is used and the align number is the number of KB to offset from the beginning of the drive]

Re-run "diskpart -i" or Bob's script to see that all's gone well.

There's a *lot* of other information on the Internet about partition alignment that I'm not going to repeat here, however here are a few of the good links (and there's a lot more):
MS KB 300415
MS KB 929491
MS Exchange Team Blog
Hewlett Packard
VMWare Communities


The Outspoken Wookie

Thursday, June 12, 2008

WS2K8 in an SBS 2K3 R2 Domain - CAL Information

In response to a recent query on the Brisbane SBS User Group mailing list, here's a link to the information about what's needed, CAL-wise, when adding a Windows Server 2008 machine to an SBS 2003 R2 domain. Question 12 is the particular question of relevance here.

Now, if you're running a Windows Server 2008 box that's on a different domain, you will need to have separate CALs for accessing that box - the SBS 2003 CALs only cover accessing another server *in the same domain*, not on the same network and not in another network (such as a DMZ).


The Outspoken Wookie

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Small Business Alternatives

So, I mentioned PostPath the other day - a drop-in replacement for Exchange. A comment was made that it is a drop-in replacement for Exchange 5.5 (ie, an obsoleted (by 2000, 2003 and now 2007) Exchange version) and I've not yet been able to confirm this, but I've asked for more information and will post a comment in reply (at least) or another whole blog post - whichever feels the most appropriate when I receive the information.

Anyway, there seems to be some decent competition to Microsoft's products these days, if you're running a small business.

Nitix/Lotus Foundations
Evolution 2.0.4 Novell Edition 2.0.4
Ubuntu Server 8.04
Ubuntu Desktop 8.04
The following have been added post original blog entry...
Kerio MailServer

Now, I'm happy to add to this list if anyone wants to contribute via the comments. We are, after all, here for our clients, to support our clients, and to build their businesses, thereby building our own businesses. If a Microsoft product is appropriate, then we should install that. The same goes with the great many other products out there.


The Outspoken Wookie

Windows Mobile - Redheaded Stepchild?

It seems to me that even as Windows Mobile progresses onwards and upwards through WM 6.1, the rest of the Microsoft Cruise Ship has no idea it exists – it can’t sync completely with Exchange, won’t sync – generally - at all to a Vista PC, can’t sync any Public Folders – like those that come pre-configured in SBS, and so on. I don’t know if it is Bill’s redheaded stepchild or something else, but WM itself is nice, but integration into a Windows network is as loose as a $5 hooker.

A great example of what won't sync properly to Exchange is "Outlook Notes" or "Sticky Notes" or "Notes" or whatever you want to call them. The "Notes" application on a Windows Mobile device will sync to Outlook on an XP desktop running ActiveSync (any version) over USB, to Outlook on a Windows XP desktop running the ancient ActiveSync 3.8 (not the current ActiveSync 4.5) over WiFi, won't sync at all to most Vista installations (because Windows Mobile Device Center is a festering bucket of poo) and simply will not sync "over the air" using 3G/EvDO/GPRS/HSDPA/whatever.

And the performance of WMDC is, well, less than desired by the marketplace (maybe it is fine to have this lemon in the lemon called Vista, as far as Microsoft is concerned, but it is so unreliable it makes Windows 98 ME look like the Rock of Gibraltar)!

Someone in at Microsoft needs a good slapping about to ensure that Windows Mobile gets treated as a part of the Microsoft family and not like a redheaded stepchild. I don't know exactly who needs the slapping, but I'm willing to offer my hand for the purpose when I find who needs it!


The Outspoken Wookie

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Multiple Simultaneous Outlook Instances

As this is an oft-asked question, I thought I'd blog about it here. A number of people have multiple Exchange Servers they'd like to connect to without having to shut down and restart Outlook all the time. The best way I've found of achieving this is by going to this site and downloading the file that can be found about 1/3 down the page.

If you want to look a little further down, there lots more useful information and tools available from Thor on the Hammer Of God website.


The Outspoken Wookie


OK. So as I've started walking and cycling (not enough, but better than not at all) and have finally started getting my vivariums (or is that vivaria) ready to get some snakes after I get back from the WWPC in July, the final thing that I needed to do was to start cleaning up some of the hoarded crud I've collected over the years.

So, I cleaned out the equipment/server room yesterday - I threw out a 2 MB memory board for the Amiga 500, an RLL hard drive controller for an Amiga 500/1000 (both of which brought back memories of an absolutely brilliant computer for its time) and a lot of other miscellaneous crap. I figured the best way to do this...

Up until now, I have always thought "is there a possibility I may need this?" and the answer is almost always "yes" to that question. So I kept it. As of now, the question has changed slightly, to "is it likely I may need this?" and the answer has changed significantly, with the answer now being almost always "no". So it gets dumped, recycled, given away or otherwise disposed of. This doesn't mean I throw out everything I come across, just the stuff I won't actually use! :)

So, what does this mean? Well, right now, it means we have a usable room once again! We have a totally clean desk in there and a totally clean floor (well, almost - there's a few things on it, but neat and tidy things now) which is a first for this room. It also means I need to continue this until I've completely finished and not stop halfway through the process - there's more than just this room that needs the same process applied to it.


The Outspoken Wookie