Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is PowerShell only for the Nerds?

An interesting question, to say the least. This blog carries a lot of PowerShell content – and much of that content is aimed at IT Pro types. I think it’s clear that IT Pro nerds working in the Microsoft need to know PowerShell. PowerShell is central to Microsoft’s current and future management roadmap – so, yes, PowerShell is for nerds.

That begs the question though - should home users have to learn it? Well – yes and no. There are certainly a number of PC enthusiasts out there that want to learn more about how to manage their home computer – and PowerShell can help much like they once used Cmd.exe (and may still do). Learning PowerShell does involve a learning curve. And much of the documentation and a fair share of blog posts do tend to be on the dense side until you become more familiar with PowerShell. So persevere.

But should your grandmother have to learn PowerShell? No. No more than she’d need or even want to learn C, the .NET Framework, DNS, TCP/IP! Those technologies, and PowerShell too, is built into the “system” so she doesn’t have to use them directly. Of course, developers may well begin to use PowerShell as part of building their GUI – and I hope they do so.

So if you’re a nerd, take a moment to download PowerShell V2 (assuming you haven’t already done so) and get cracking!


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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Exchange 2007 Updated Help File

For some products, suggesting someone read a help file is like suggesting they take a long walk on a short pier (albeit less wet). But for Exchange 2007, this seems good advice. Microsoft published an updated version of the help file for Exchange, available for download from the MS Downloads site.

I hope they continue this approach with the advent of Exchange 2010.


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Unified Communications Developer Portal

Microsoft's push into the world of Unified Communications continues with the launch of the Unified Communications Developer Portal.  This MSDN portal is part of the Office Development Center, and is designed to feature links and resources for developers wanting to get into UC.

As I write this updated post, there some interesting feature articles, including Detecting the State of the Office Communications Server and Building UCMA Installers.

This is a great site for developers (and admins that secretly want to be developers!) to learn more about developing in the UC space.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas – One and All

It’s time to rest and hang out with my family. For those of you on line today: Merry Christmas – now get back to the folks that matter. For the rest of you, I hope you had a great day.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

PowerShell V2 Download

If you are running Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2, then you will have PowerShell installed by default. On Windows 7, both the PowerShell console and PowerShell ISE are installed by default. On Server 2008 R2, PowerShell console is installed by default, whilst the PowerShell ISE is a feature you can add using Server Manager. And of course, for any Server 2008 R2 core installations, you would need to add both the .NET Framework and PowerShell – virtually nothing extra gets added to Server Core!

For downlevel (aka older) versions of Windows, Microsoft has released a KB article which directs you to versions you can download. Go to the page http://support.microsoft.com/kb/968929 where you can find PowerShell V2 for Windows XP, Vista, Server 2003 and Server 2008 (RTM) – in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Note that in Server 2008 RTM, PowerShell is not supported in Server Core.

In addition to PowerShell V2, the downloads also include the RTM version of Windows Remote Management (WinRM). WinRM is Microsoft’s  implementation of the standards based WS-Management Protocol. WinRM is based on Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and provides a firewall-friendly protocol enabling hardware and operating systems from different vendors to interoperate.

If you are are using an older OS, i.e. Windows 2000 or earlier, then there is no supported version of PowerShell for you. You can probably hack some or even most of PowerShell V2 into those older OSs. But things may not work – and it’s not ever going to be supported.

Want to REALLY Understand What PowerShell Remoting Does On The Wire?

Well, maybe not everything, but the document entitled PowerShell Remoting Protocol Specification contains 179 pages of details of what Powershell Remoting does! It’s not for the faint of heart, to say the least as it very detailed – just the sort of hard core techie details that the true PowerShell addict will lap up!

This document is one of the many Communications Protocols that Microsoft has been publishing. You can download the specific PDF for the PowerShell Remoting Specification, or download a zip file with all the PDF files for all the published specifications. The latter might be overkill even for the most hardened network geek.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Microsoft Releases the PowerShell v2.0 SDK

The Systems Development Kit, or SDK, is a download of stuff you need to be able to develop applications around a particular technical area. The Windows SDK is huge and there are SDKs for almost every technology MS produces. Other vendors produce SDKs too.

Initially, Microsoft shipped a PowerShell SDK. Then some time ago this changed and the PowerShell SDK was subsumed into the Windows SDK – which meant finding  just the PowerShell stuff was challenging. I saw any number of complaints around this in the newsgroups etc.

Well –the PowerShell team have just released the Version 2.0 SDK – as an independent (and small at 2.4mb!) SDK. The SDK contains the reference assemblies and 45 samples that help you to better understand how to use PowerShell. There appears to be no documentation (and the installation process doesn’t seem to add in any shortcuts or start menu items.

More holiday reading!

OCS R2 Training Materials

Earlier this year, Microsoft released an OCS R2 learning Portal – you can find this at:  http://www.microsoft.com/learning/ocs2007/r2/default.mspx. It contains some training resources for OCS R2. However, the page is both out of date, and is short on links. I have some more details to add to this page:

  • As noted, the OCS R2 Resource Kit is available. This is a must have book!  The book is excellent, but it appears rushed and needed a better technical editing. Hopefully that will happen in the next release of the book!
  • The Portal discusses the OCS 2007 R2 exam. The exam number is the same exam number as for the RTM exam, although the contents have been updated to reflect the new features in R2. If you have already passed the earlier RTM exam there’s no need to re-sit it. There is also a voice exam,but it’s not listed in the OCS Learning Portal (yet).
  • The portal describes the training available for OCS (on a linked page). This page  lists 5177/8/9 (and clinic 6447A) which was RTM courseware (and fairly poor) and should probably be avoided. An updated version of the official courseware, released as CWL course 50214, was released, but the quality was so poor it has been withdrawn until remediation can be completed and properly tested. When this updated course is available, I’ll post here! I am anxious to see the updated courseware. The updated labs look good.
  • The portal also lists the OCS Ignite course (50024A), but this material is both RTM only and not being run very often (although I can certainly offer it if clients really want it). A much better course is the OCS 2007 R2 Ignite content – course 50232A. This focuses on the R2 release, although it can be used to teach new to product folks. I teach this a lot and love it – but beware trying to do it in 3 days. With the right instructor, this course can easily fill 4 days and 5 (if the delegates are new to OCS). The labs are great too.
  • Finally, the page does not mention the updated Voice Ignite workshop. Voice Ignite for OCS 2007 R2 has bee been created and is available.
  • Note that all the courseware discussed here is Courseware Library content, content authored by a 3rd party with MS just acting as a reseller. Quality of CWL material has been variable, but MSL and the UC team are ensuring that all the courseware is good and fit for purpose. So you can book this training with confidence that the material is good.

OCS 2007 R2 is now in the field and customers should start to evaluate it for your organisation. If you have not yet deployed OCS at all, R2 is a natural next step. A new version of OCS, OCS “wave 14’ will be going into beta some time in the new year and is scheduled for release later in 2010 – dates are not yet firm on either the beta or RTM. Once I get more information, I’ll post it here.

OCS is a rich and complex application – if you are planning on deploying it, you could usefully do with some training. But before booking on the course, make sure you get a good trainer – someone who has been working with the product for a while and can explain the product and it’s values and can dive deep into deployment, configuration and support. Investing in some training would be a good thing!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Office Communications Server 2007 Virtualisation Support

Earlier this year, Microsoft confirmed that it would now support OCS 2007 in a virtualised environment. This has been a big ask by clients pretty much ever since OCS was launched. Just about every time I’ve taught OCS in the past couple of years, as well as in the OCS newsgroups, the question of why it’s not supported comes up over and over again. Along with anecdotal evidence that it worked in at least a VMware ESX environment. And in the classroom, we see OCS working (well as least the server components) just fine.
The support Microsoft is providing caters for OCS server roles running in VMs hosted on both a single server (a typical classroom scenario) or hosted on a number of servers (a scenario more likely in corporate deployment). Support is limited to a subset of OCS Server roles, i.e. Front-End Servers, Back-End SQL Server 2008 (64-bit), Group Chat Channel Servers, Group Chat Channel and Compliance Servers, and Access Edge Servers. This means no support of other server roles - Microsoft say these roles are not supported due to “possible quality issues” with real time media.
It took MS a while after R2 was released to support this - I understand that part of the delay in announcing full support was testing. MS always wants (needs!) to test anything it offers to support, and OCS is no different. In announcing VM support, MS has tested a fully distributed topology with 40,000 users and 10,000 group chat users. This means, says Microsoft that: “audio/video/web conferencing servers, audio/video/web edge conferencing servers, dial-in conferencing, Communicator Web Access, enterprise voice, or Remote Call Control may not be deployed as part of the virtualized pool.” The impact of this means that you can not (at least in a supported fashion) virtualise a Standard Edition pool (or for that matter an EE consolidated pool), a consolidated edge server or a CWA server.
Microsoft also published an interesting whitepaper detailing the tested architecture. The white paper also looks at OCS performance and how you can use the Capacity Planning Tool.
This is a great move forward but it comes with some strings. Namely, the roles that are supported only work in an administratively complex environment. Or to put it another way, all the easy installations of OCS (SE, consolidated EE pool, consolidated edge) can not be virtualised in a supported way. And since, with R2, Microsoft has de-emphasised the distributed architecture, to deploy OCS in a virtualised environment, you would need to use the command line tools which makes the deployment potentially more work. I am hoping we’ll see a better story with the next wave of product.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Office Communications Server 2007 R2 Ignite

I’ve been running a lot of OCS training over the years – and Office Communications Server 2007 R2 Ignite is one cool course! I’ve taught this several times around EMEA and find it to be well received.I will be teaching it again this week coming. The technical level as advertised is also pretty correct – although one can go deeper as needed!

The content is OCS 2007 R2 focused, with fairly limited marketing fluff! The labs are rich and complex – and the troubleshooting opportunities abound. In my view, this is a 4  day class – especially given the richness of the labs. AND – if you are new to product, it can be a great 5 day class with the right instructor.


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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Some Thoughts on the Microsoft Certified Learning Consultant Programme

I was in New Orleans over the summer of 2009 at the WPC Microsoft Partner Conference. At the conference, I got to ask Microsoft Learning’s leaders what was up with the Certified Learning Consultant Programme. This programme was launched with much fanfare a few years ago, and I was asked to sit on the MCLC Review Board. The Review Board reviewed MCLC applications and failed or passed them. For the first few years, there was quite a lot of work. Of course, this always seemed to co-incide with other work related complications – but such is life.

I enjoyed the opportunity to look at the applications, but frankly was quite disappointed in many.  All too often, the application form was filled in such that information was just plain missing. One simple example I cited was the request for 100 words about project – and to me that means round about 100 words. I’d be happy if the word count was anywhere between 85 and 115 – and a bit longer if there was anything particularly complicated. But an entry of 43 and 252 words do not make it to 100. But there were some good applications from folks that clearly demonstrated their abilities. It was a pleasure to approve their application.

I like the idea behind the MCLC certificate and the current application process. An MCLC basically reviews the current competency level of a group of people, typically some sort of project team, to determine the gaps in their skills. The MCLC then designs and rolls out a training plan designed to address the key skill gaps and to achieve some soft of return on investment. During the roll out, the MCLC is expected to look at how the training is going and adjust accordingly. Finally, the MCLC needs to analyse the results and ensure that the ROI has been achieved (or not). A hurdle in some cases was that the candidate was required to have the client acknowledge the ROI achievement in writing.

One example was where the MCLC was working with a technical support team about what is required to support the next version of Windows and Office and Exchange in their organisation. The MCLC looked at all the available Microsoft learning products as well as other non-Microsoft products to determine what would be best for that team. This included some in-class work, remote labs, e-learning and some other reading. During the execution of the programme issues, such as redundant modules in the training, or difficulties with attendance at events, etc would be looked at and the programme adjusted to meet reality!

The issue of ROI on the training was one that confused a lot of us – both candidates and review board members. Initially, I understood ROI to be in terms of pounds/euros/dollars. I was never very comfortable about this and was constantly reminded of the annecdote about an accountant. When asked what two plus two should equal, gave the reply: whatever you need it to be. But then I saw a number of really good projects that had non-dollar amounts cited as ROI.

The key point was, for me at least, that if you can’t measure it, it’s not important. Leading from that, basing ROI on less tangible things was OK – as long as it was measured and either the measurement “improved” or there was a good explanation why not.

In the case of the company I noted above was that the project was performed to train a company’s small IT group. That company was in the process of doing a major corporate restructuring deal and really wanted to keep the IT group as a whole. The company had unique home grown applications that needed the trained staff currently in post. So the ROI measurement was based simply on staff satisfaction and their likelihood to want to leave. Each employee was sent a questionnaire and had an interview with their employer and the MCLC before and after the training. And the satisfaction levels measured. A very interesting project. I suspect that one could have put some dollar amounts into some equation and “measure” it in cash terms. But I liked the simplicity of it – and it was something that could be (and was) measured.

But I thought this programme was dead – and hence asked the question at WPC. Turns out the programme still lives. I understand some consideration was given to closing the programme down, but thankfully the axe has been spared. The question now is how to breathe some life back into it.

Some years ago, I gave a talk at a MSL event around how to prepare a successful MCLC application. If there’s any real interest, I’ll ask MSL to organise a Live Meeting and repeat the talk. If you are interested – then mail your MSL contact(s). Or post a comment here. I’d love to hear of any enthusiasm from the community around this programme.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

PowerShell’s Popularity and Search Engines

I was searching for some information on how to add custom menus to PowerShell ISE. I’d been meaning to play around with this for a while and had some time last night. So I went searching and came across what looked at first sight to be the perfect answer: a blog post by Jeffrey Snover entitled My PowerShell_ISE Profile. It did just want I wanted – so I added to my ISE profile and restarted ISE. WHOOPS – there were some really weird errors.

To make a long story short, PowerShell changed post CTP3 – in this case the $psISE.CustomMenu.Submenus.Add calls at the bottom of Jeffrey’s post no longer work. After tweeing my confusion, I got pointed to: http://powershellers.blogspot.com/2009/05/what-happened-to-custommenu-property.html which resolved the issue for me. Sadly, that page had not come up at all in the searching I’d done. While it’s not the point of this post, here’s the erroneous and corrected lines of Jeffrey’s script:

At the end of his script, the lines:

$null = $psISE.CustomMenu.Submenus.Add("Edit Selected", {Edit-Selected}, 'Ctrl+E')
$null = $psISE.CustomMenu.Submenus.Add("Export Session Files", {Export-SessionFiles}, 'Ctrl+SHIFT+E')
$null = $psISE.CustomMenu.Submenus.Add("Import Session Files", {Import-SessionFiles}, 'Ctrl+SHIFT+I')

Should read:

$null = $psISE.CurrentPowerShellTab.AddOnsMenu.submenus.Add("Edit Selected",{edit-selected}, 'Ctrl+E')
$null = $psISE.CurrentPowerShellTab.AddOnsMenu.submenus.Add("Export Session Files", {Export-SessionFiles}, 'Ctrl+Alt+E')
$null = $psISE.CurrentPowerShellTab.AddOnsMenu.submenus.Add("Import Session Files", {Import-SessionFiles}, 'Ctrl+Alt+I')

But that’s not the real problem – and I sure do not want to criticise the PowerShell Team! The problem is wider than this one post.The problem is that there’s been so much blog and web traffic around PowerShell that the Search Engines are promoting old content. For example: try searching for “PowerShell V2 dowload” – On Google the first three hits return links to Pre-RTM downloads. Bing is no better at present!

I think the solution is twofold. To some degree, the issue will tend to go away – as new content is created, indexed, referenced and used, the search engines will ‘learn’ the new content and ‘forget’ the older stuff. So let’s get going and start pointing to the updated key content! At the same time, it’ll be useful for bloggers to update their older content – either dropping it totally, or updating the content somehow. I’ll do what I can on that front!

In some respects, it’s a nice problem and one almost worth having! The search engines are just a reflection of the creators and consumers of content – if PowerShell wasn’t so popular, the links would be even worse!

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Friday, December 18, 2009

PowerShell For Visio

I was looking tonight for add-ins for PowerShell, and I came across a pretty neat tool: PowerShell for Visio. This is a free tool that provides a visual designer for PowerShell. This is a small free download for Visio 2007 – so far as I know, it’s not supported yet on Visio 2010. The download comes with source code, which is a nice touch.

After installation, you’ll find some new PowerShell Templates included:



You select a template then create a workflow using the template. Here’s a really simple example



Then look at the tab and you’ll see a script:


It’s pretty limited, but a great start. What would be really cool is if this tool wsa taken to the max and included (with FULL support for all of PowerShell) into Visual Studio.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Yet another Microsoft MCT Courseware Download Site Outage

As a Microsoft Certified Trainer, I am able to download courseware – both for study purposes and for the courses I deliver. Sadly, the site has been somewhat less than perfect of late. The latest incident is today: I simply can’t get to it at all:


Now another great benefit is the Regional Support centre. There’s a nice web form for reporting errors. But when I do, I get a canned reply, typically 2 days later, saying “we need a screen shot” – and without screen shots they just close the case. If a screen shot is needed, then why don’t a) they say so and b) provide me a mechanism to input it when I report the latest issue. I suppose this is more proof, as if it was needed, of MS’s internal/outsourced support being sub-optimal.

This is not the first time this site has failed – it’s doing it best to emulate a yo-yo. As a paying customer (MCTs have to pay for the privilege), I find these continuing issues to be unacceptable. Having complained privately, things just seem to get worse. It looks lik the only way to get this fixed is to go public. I will include the link to this blog post in the report to the support centre. I await their response.

If you have problems with this site, please post a comment here!

[Later] The problem resolved itself. After a couple of reboots, I tried again and it worked fine. I got a call 2 days later from the RSC saying they could not reproduce the issue.

Google DNS

Last week,  Google announced a new service, Google DNS. The idea is simple – instead of using your own, or your ISPs DNS, you use theirs. Most readers of this blog will know what DNS is, why it’s really important and how to configure and manage it, at least I sure hope so! But that leaves a great percentage of the Internet-using population who both don’t know and  probably don’t care as it all just works.

The idea of an independent DNS network is not new. Several years ago, I wrote about the ORSN, the European Open Root Server Network. I sometimes set systems up to use it, but like most folks, the DNS that most of I use is a part of the huge distributed network that comes as part of the Internet. Personally, I have my own internal DNS server which serves as a resolver for the  systems in my network, as well as hosting the records for my AD domain.

The Google DNS service is just a resolving DNS cache – they host no zones  (other than Google’s own zones) and they do not host any root domains. They just resolve the names you send it, and cache those results for others to use. Google say their goal is “to benefit users worldwide while also helping the tens of thousands of DNS resolvers improve their services, ultimately making the web faster for everyone.” A laudable goal, but is it actually a useful service. On Google’s code blog, they cite three main advantages: Speed, Security and Validity. I’ve spent some this morning looking at the speed claim.

Google DNS is hosted at several servers. In their configuration instructions, they :there are two servers (at and at, although another document shows 5 servers (ns[1-4].google.com). I have been doing some testing, using PathPing.Exe this morning to look at performance. Access to these servers from the UK (where this article is being written) is quick and has no packet loss. The path to the servers goes first via my ISP to Google-Lon.Google.Com and then via a few un-named routers to the DNS server. The RTT to was 38 ms.

I then ran a PathPing against my own ISP’s DNS server and another DNS Server run by Demon Internet. For both UK servers, I see a shorter route (10 hops vs 12) – not surprising as these servers are in the UK, and Google’s I suspect are not.I also see a faster path (31 ms to Demon, 28 to Clara.Net vs 38 to Google). Packet loss to both UK servers is also zero although the route to Demon’s name server goes via  tele-service-22-s267.router.demon.net which drops 100% of the ICMP packets (no such issue to Clara.Net. So on path grounds, using Google does not seem to provide much benefit as it’s slower and has more hops.

As for security, Google makes the valid point that DNS is vulnerable to attach – it can be spoofed routing users to malicious sites rather than the intended site. The DNSSEC protocol is meant to attack that problem through cryptography, but DNSSEC is not yet in widespread use (and is a lot more work to setup). I’m not sure I entirely buy the argument that they are any better at protecting DNS than my ISP. We’ll have to see.

The validity advantage that Google cites seems even less interesting. They say their DNS servers comply with DNS Standards. Well I’d sure hope so – a non-standards compliant DNS server would be a bit a a waste of time. They also avoid blocking, filtering or redirection. Doing some testing using NSLookup, it looks like they don’t do wildcard DNS – thus trying to resolve (hopefully!) non-existent domains gives teh expected error. I tried resolving x.microsoft.com and foo.foo.foo – both queries were “refused” since ns1.google.net could not find those domains.

All in all, this looks to be a reasonably fast and competent DNS solution. For many users, using this might benefit their web surfing. For me, it looks a tad slower – so ‘buyer’ beware. As for the security argument, I accept they intend to make their service secure, but experience will show whether this is a good argument, or not.

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