Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lean and mean

Now that I have one of my Windows XP workstations running full time on a Microsoft Virtual PC I decided that it was time to reduce the amount of RAM that it consumes. Nearly everyone knows there services in Windows that you can turn off to save memory and generally improve performance. What most people don't know (including me) was exactly what services you can and can't disable.

 

That is now all solved with the Black Viper site. You can choose any current version of Windows and see which services can be disabled. You'll find a table that gives you options for each version and allows you to customize your settings based on what type of system you want to run ( i.e. minimal, power user, etc).

 

After using the information on the Black Viper site, I was able to reduce my Windows XP RAM usage from 415MB down to 305MB. Sure 100MB of RAM may not sound like much but that is greater than a 25% reduction! Best part was that after a reboot the system didn't complain and everything I needed ran.

 

So if you are looking to pare down the amount of RAM Windows is using take a look at the Black Viper site.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What you can't afford to waste

Can you tell me something that you never get back? Something that is gone whether you use it effectively or not? If you said time then you're right. It amazes me these days that people constantly claim they don't have enough time yet they fill their existence with useless and wasteful activities. In a era when technology is supposed to set us free what people don't seem to realise is that they are becoming more and more a slave to it.

 

Most modern technology is designed to be interrupt driven. It is designed to make you stop whatever you are doing and pay attention to it. Don't believe me? What do you do when your mobile phone rings? Answer it. What do you do when an email comes into your inbox? You stop what you are doing to read it. You allow yourself to be on instant messenger not to keep in touch but to allow other people with nothing better to do to interrupt you. Look at things like Facebook and Twitter (which I have been evaluating recently). Are these productivity tools? In some cases maybe but I can tell you I'm sick of getting poked, asked to play Texas Hold'em poker and fight it out in Dope Wars. Don't you people have anything better to do?

 

See what I mean? We are allowing technology to dominate our lives. We are allowing it to dictate what we are doing. How the hell can you hope to produce anything of quality when you are constantly being interrupted? Don't forget it is not just the interruption that you have to deal with it is the requirement to get back to what you are doing that also takes time. The crazy thing is that technology actually allows us to be in control but we don't seem to use it. Mobile phones have voice mail, emails get saved until we need them and so does stuff on Facebook and Twitter. We however seem in such an almighty rush to respond to thing immediately.

 

One of the best books I have read recently is The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. He argues we should be working less and enjoying life more. He argues that most people are simply seeking to interrupt your day because they are bored and need something to do and worst of all they expect an instantaneous response. If you read the book and then step back and think about what he is saying you'll find it makes a lot of sense. We all have a 'dance card' (hours in the day) that only is so big and we can only fit so much on it. You need to decide the highest value items that are going on the card and accordingly the lowest value items that don't belong on the list. The only way you are going to fit more onto your 'dance card' is to be more efficient with your time and guess what? Some stuff just ain't going to fit on!

 

My advice is to start valuing your time more, because if it has no value then you'll give it away for free and people will just keep coming back for your handouts. Focus on what you want to achieve and plan to achieve it. Ask yourself if you are making the best use of your time because, guess what? Even if you aren't you are never going to get it back again!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Without this you're screwed

I think that I have mentioned this topic here before but some recent personal experience has brought the issue to the forefront of my thinking again. All the management, how-to and motivation books that you read these days seem to over look on very important aspect - your health.

 

If you aren't healthy then you can't function, you can't earn a living and you are generally a burden to someone else. Most people skate happily through life not really taking care of themselves until it is too late. Consider if you bought a car ran into the ground. It isn't going to last nearly as long as one that gets serviced regularly. I doubt there are many people out there who would do that to a car they own these days but many let their health slide in a similar fashion. Sure, regular service costs time and money but over the long run the productivity benefits are HUGE. I think that the same applies to your health.

 

If you are an integral part of a small business then imagine how that business would operate if you weren't there? Maybe it wouldn't be able to generate income, then what would happen? This is not to mention any personal costs that may also arise. The older you get the more chances there are of things going wrong, especially if you don't take the time to maintain your health. Ever noticed the difference between when you feel run down and when you feel rested? The better your health the more able you are to cope with life's stresses and strains. Put simply, your constitution is far more resilient with a little care.

 

Problem is I think that nobody is really responsible for your own health expect you. It is something that is all too easy to neglect. The longer you let your health fall away the harder it is to get it back. It is not impossible mind you but it becomes harder with each day that you choose to neglect it.

 

My question to you is, have a regular personal health plan in place? Sure, you may have a business plan but do you have a health plan, because in many cases without your health you have no business. You don't have to train like an Olympian to win a gold medal but you do need to do something on a regular basis to maintain the best health you can. The easiest way is simply to incorporate as a regular part of a day. Sure, doing research on the net for a solution to problem is great but if you are laid up in and can't do that how does that help you. It is important to see you health as a business asset and continue to work to improve it. If you don't then probably nothing else is really going to matter is it?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lest we forget

Ninety three years ago Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) forces landed on Turkish soil at the Gallipoli peninsula to commence a nine month campaign that ultimately would end in military failure but give birth to a legend that we remember with growing reverence every year.
 
Few people would also know that ninety years ago today, Australian and New Zealand foces liberated the town of Villers-Bretonneux in northern France. The retaking of the town marked an end of the German offensive that had commenced at the beginning of 1918 and ended any real chances the German forces had on victory in the First World War. There would still be over six months of bloody fighting till Armistice on November 11, 1918 of which ANZACs would remain intimately involved. (for more info see my Battlefields site at http://www.ciaops.com/guides/battle)
 
Gallipoli is rightly the focus of the nation as it marks a true  becoming a nation in our collective consciousness. It should also be the focus of the contributions made by all those who have served, died, returned and continue to serve. It is heartening to witness this growing recognition of the contribution these people, past and present, have made to the nation we now call home.
 
Lest we forget.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Video 44

Just completed the upload of a video introducing Outlook Web Access. As usual you can view it on our hosted YouTube site at http://www.youtube.com/saturnalliance.

 

I've tried a few more fancy additions using Camtasia which hopefully makes the video more professional. I must admit that when I view it the resolution seems poor (is that just me?). It may have something to do with the bulk video uploader I use. Basically, you upload a video once to the site and then you can upload from there to multiple video hosting sites, including YouTube. It must undergo some sort of conversion process when it gets uploaded from the bulk site to YouTube. Nobody seems to have complained as yet so I will assume that it is just me. Even if they did I think I would still use the bulk uploading site since it allow me to not only upload to a whole swag of sites but also track statistics, which is really handy to know what is being viewed. If someone really wants a better quality file then I'm happy to make that available (be warned, it is >50MB!). So simply contact me (robert@saturnalliance.com.au) to arrange.

 

Take a look and let me know what you think, just remember that I am still limited to creating videos of not more than 10 minutes. This is a YouTube imposed limit and the only way that I can get that upgraded is to have lots and lots (I mean thousands) of subscribers it appears. So tell everyone you know to subscribe so I can get the account upgraded and add more content.

In plain English

Everyone knows the cliche "A picture is worth a thousand word" right? So maybe moving pictures are worth a hundred times this? In so many cases today I find that it is much easier if someone shows me what they are talking about rather than either me reading about it or trying to work it out myself. This was my idea behind my YouTube on line videos.

 

Clearly I am not the only person who has been thinking along these lines. One of the best examples are videos created by The Common Craft Show which can also be found on YouTube. They videos are an excellent example of how to get a concept across in a very short space of time. I love the way they use drawings and cut outs to convey the ideas, it really must take them a while to do this but the end result is great!

 

So if you are looking to understand things like Blogs, Wikis, Twitter, Social networking and the like have a look at the Common Craft Show videos.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

80,000 views and beyond

Well this week my YouTube videos have exceeded 80,000 total views. Quite a milestone I think. In all honesty, when I started doing them almost 2 years ago I did it mainly for client reference. It is much easier to point a customer to a video on how to reboot an SBS 2003 server than it is to send them a document or try and explain it over the phone. Since video files are typically large and it is better if they are also streamed I decided that hosting them on YouTube was the optimal option since there was no infrastructure cost and they would always be available and delivered quickly to all customers.

 

Before long I was starting to receive emails and comments on YouTube that other people were not only watching the videos but that they also found them useful! Wow, the Internet is an amazing place I thought. Inspired by this feedback I created more videos that I though would be of benefit. As the number of videos I uploaded started to grow I began to keep track of their weekly performance via the KPI webpart on my public Sharepoint site (http://supportweb.ciaops.net.au). Each week I track figures like total views, average views, subscribers and so on. Each week I am pleased to say that all these KPI's have been increasing. Although I doubt they will continue on this path in the long run, it does provide some confirmation that people are benefiting in some way from what is produced.

 

So now it is on towards the 100,000 views mark. Unfortunately, YouTube currently has a limitation of only 10 minutes and thus it is becoming harder and harder to squeeze content into this time frame. I did apply to YouTube to have this limit increased but they said that what I present doesn't meet their criteria to warrant an upgrade. My guess is that I need thousand's of subscribers not hundreds. I know there are other mediums that allow videos of greater length but at the moment YouTube is the premier portal for video broadcasting technology so I'll stay there. Hopefully, one day I'll be able to uploads of greater length allowing me to add deeper content and detail on what I present but for the moment I do what I can in the time frame provided.

 

So to all those who have subscribed and all those that continue to watch what I have produced - thank you.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A better place than my inbox

Having recently been working on a section for my Windows Sharepoint Services Operations Guide (sorry, but the more plugs the higher the rating in Google) about Windows Sharepoint Services accepting inbound emails from outside the organization, I was wondering what would be a good application of this feature. BING. I know, how about all those SBS monitoring reports we get sent from customer servers? Not only will they be stored in one location but with Sharepoint they also get index so we can search them.

 

The more I started to think about this idea the better it became. Normally with SBS server reports (and other monitoring reports we receive) they merely end up in our inbox for review. However, if they appeared in a Sharepoint document library then we could add additional metadata. What do I mean by this? Well, I could add a field that allows me to select whether the report has been reviewed or whether it has errors that require further investigation. It also means that we can sort and categorize the information much quicker. Not only that, thinking about this a little more, it would also be possible to kick off a Sharepoint workflow as each item arrived. This maybe sending an alert to somebody to review the reports, then moving them to an archive location elsewhere in Sharepoint and so on. With Sharepoint the possibilities are really endless.

 

I think that this is a really good example of how an IT business like ours can use Sharepoint to improve productivity and efficiency. All you need is a little imagination and Sharepoint of course.

 

The only thing that you need to keep in mind is that if you have installed Windows Sharepoint Services v3 on your SBS server then you WILL NOT have the facility to receive inbound emails to Sharepoint. It is another great reason why a standalone Sharepoint server in a SBS network is a much better idea that one on the SBS server (not always possible I admit but don't forget Virtual PC as an option). But then if you had my Windows Sharepoint Services Operations Guide you'd know that wouldn't you?

Friday, April 18, 2008

I learn something everyday

I have been doing a lot of document creation lately for my Windows Sharepoint Services Operations Guide. This has involved lots of screen shots, which I have simply done via the Print Scrn button and then pasting into a Word document. Problem with that strategy is that it creates REALLY BIG documents since the graphics are so large. One solution is to paste the images into a picture editing tool first, compress them and then copy then into Word again.

 

Surely there must be a simpler way I've been thinking and guess what there is! In the Office document you are working on simply right mouse click on any image to get the following menu:

 

image_2

 

Select Format Picture and you should see:

 

image_4

 

See that Compress button in the lower left of the window? Press that to reveal:

 

image_6

 

You can then set the options for what style of output you desire (i.e. web/screen or print for example). However up the top you'll see the option to Apply this to All pictures in the document. Amazing!

 

The Office document compression tool does a pretty good job as well and works well on those pictures you have simply copy and pasted from your digital camera. In one case a Powerpoint document I was working with went from 10MB to 1.5MB simply using the above compress feature. This feature is in both Office 2003 and 2007 but may have been there for longer. I am annoyed that it has taken this long for me to find this REALLY handy function, but at least I now know!

 

As I said, every day I learn something new.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Taking notes in the cloud

I move between a lot of machines these days, work, clients, home and so on. I am finding it more and more the case that I need to move all sorts of information between them quickly and easily. This is where "cloud computing" come to the fore. If you have access to the Internet then you can use some service out there to store your data.

 

The latest one is Evernote. Much like Microsoft's Onenote, Evernote give you the ability to create all sorts of free form notes, copy and past information, clip stuff from the web and search it all. The great thing now about Evernote is that fact that it has gone on-line. This now means that I can create notes on any PC and upload then to the Internet. Firstly, this means that I have a backup, secondly it also means I can access them from any Internet connected PC. Even better Evernote has mobile and web versions. This means you can create and save Evernote information on your mobile, have it sync with the Internet and then access it from another PC. With the web interface you can simply log into a web page and create and edit notes and again have it sync with your desktop.

 

This is proving to be a real productivity gain because now if I need to make notes or take a screen shot when I'm out at a client's site I can do so in Evernote and know that I will be able to access that information when I return to the office later. No more messy pen and paper or sending emails, I simply access the web interface of Evernote and copy my information there. Simple. I also really like the availability of Evernote on my Windows Mobile device, simply because it can upload to the Internet and then I can access that information from anywhere. Now where ever I am I can document and capture information about what I'm doing, store it centrally but access it anywhere I have a PC or Internet access.

 

So what's the cost? At the moment Evernote is in beta so it is free! Even when it launches I'm pretty sure I'm going to pay money for the service since it so handy. You can sign up for an invite to the beta at the Evernote site or send me an email (robert@saturnalliance.com.au) and I'll send you an invite from my account.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The difference between IT and real people?

One simple word "No". Seems that every time you talk to someone in IT they are always saying "no" or being negative. What do I mean? I was talking to a friend who is a developer and I mentioned that Picasa is not only free and a great way to organize your images BUT also provides online storage. Why the hell would you store those bulky pictures on your own equipment when you can get someone else to do it? I asked.

 

The immediate reaction to my suggestion was "What about this ..." and "What about that...". Come on man, enough with the negative waves dude! But afterwards it got me to thinking about how negative IT people can be. They always seem to be raising issues, always saying that something like that isn't secure and telling you how much trouble it is. Most users can't understand why something simple can't easily be added to a program. Truth be told that in the IT business the simple things are usually the hardest to implement. So any idea a user may suggest will be seen by an IT person as simply more work. It may seem simple to the real person but only an IT person truly understands what's involved.

 

This leads me to believe that these days "real" people are simply bypassing IT people and forging ahead with what they want to do regardless of the consequences. They would say,"I want to listen to music so I'll download and install iTunes" or "I want to communicate with others, so I'll access facebook" and so on. Because the Internet not only allows you to access information quickly but also to find it quickly, those people who think they understand the technology are quickly being bypassed by people "who just can't wait".

 

Will real people and IT people ever see eye to eye? I doubt it. Why? Simple, the Internet is creating a level playing field where people with very little knowledge can do stuff that used to take heap of knowledge. If you are an IT person who reckons you know a lot, consider how many places there are on the Internet that give more detail about anything you care to name. Now consider how fast this amount of information is growing. So no longer do I need the knowledge, I simply need to know how to find it. Yes?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Windows Sharepoint Services Operations Guide - Free download

I have uploaded the first chapter of my Windows Sharepoint Services Operations Guide and made it available for free download. This chapter will give you a better idea of exactly what the Guide contains. To download Chapter 1, simply click here.

 

As the plan for the Guide is to be a work in progress Chapter 1 is now Version 1.00. As additional information is added I will upload updated versions of the chapter. I have decided to release what I have completed so far on the Guide for the simple reason I want to gauge the demand for this out in the market. Hopefully there will be enough demand for me to warrant giving the unfinished parts of the guide more priority.

 

I believe that most people will find the guide to save them a lot of time if they are planning on configuring Sharepoint. There are plenty of tricks and traps that I have discovered over the years from my own experience and from the Internet. A good example is what I have been working on lately. I have been testing the migration from Sharepoint v2 on SBS 2003 (i.e. http://companyweb) into Sharepoint v3 installed on the same SBS machine. The migration to SBS Premium with SQL isn't too hard but on SBS Standard with Windows Internal Database, well that is another story. It has taken me many, many hours to develop and document a procedure that works and is relatively quick and easy. That is where I think the real value of the Guide lies.

 

So, even if you have no interest in the Guide download Chapter 1 and have a look and let me know if there anything else you feel that I should be covering. My aim is to make it the best possible source for Sharepoint (especially on Small Business Server) and appreciate any feedback (robert@saturnalliance.com.au) you can give me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Is knowing how to search more important?

When you need to know something these days where do you go? Google (sorry Microsoft but that's the fact). Now the good thing about Google is that it returns just about everything that matches your search, which conversely is also the problem with it. I know lots of people who say they can't find ANYTHING with Google. The reason why? They have no idea how to use Google properly. I doubt whether many people have read about the advanced search features Google offers. All they do is type the first thing that come into their head into the search box and expect what they want to be on the first page.

 

I think that I am getting pretty good at finding what I want these days. Typically, it does take some time, some refining and bouncing from site to site but eventually I do find it. Case in point. I was looking for some information on using the command stsadm -addcontentdb and Windows Internal Database (microsoft/ssee##) and Windows Sharepoint v3. After some refining I found a site that didn't give me the answer but gave me enough clues to deduct a solution that worked. Yeah. Now, is it fair to say that I'm a good searcher or a deducer? With the power of Internet search these days I'm pretty sure that the answer you are looking for is out there BUT first you have to find it. Then typically the search results you get is usually not a direct solution to your problem, you gotta apply a bit of lateral thinking to find the solution that you require.

 

Now perhaps I do have an advantage being qualified as an Electrical Engineer and perhaps all those years at university did actually provide me some benefit in the methods I use today to locate information. To be an expert these days you don't need to know the answer you just have to know where to look. The faster you can obtain an answer the smarter you are I believe. So if you haven't looked at the advanced search features Google offers then I strongly suggest you do because it will put you ahead of the pack. As for improving you ability to decipher, decrypt and deduce an answer, well that only improves with practice. Remember a craftsman is only as good as their tools and for information workers Google is the tool of choice. So sharpen your skills so you can wield it like a master.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Windows Sharepoint v3 Operations Guide

I'd like to announce the release of my Windows Sharepoint v3 Operations Guide. This guide is specifically aimed at Windows Sharepoint Services (WSS v3) rather than Microsoft Office Sharepoint Services (MOSS) and specifically aimed at Small Business Server (SBS) networks.

 

The Guide is available in three ways:

 

- Any one single chapter for AUD$49

- All chapters for AUD$149

- All chapters and DVD of required files updated regularly for  AUD$249 annual subscription

 

All payments can be made via http://donation.saturnalliance.com.au

 

For more information about the content see:

 

http://supportweb.ciaops.net.au/Shared%20Documents/wssops.aspx

 

Much of the content is till in the final stages of completion but the chapters on installation on a Windows Server and SBS are complete. If there is enough demand for what I'm creating then I'll spend more time working on completing the all the chapters.

 

Each chapter will include a comprehensive step by step process including screen shots at all the relevant stages. As improvements, updates and enhancements are made they will be included in the product and made available to subscribers immediately. For subscribers the DVD will include the actual Sharepoint installation files, SQL 2005 Express as well as all the relevant documents from Microsoft and myself.

 

So, have a look and let me know what you think and what you would like to see as I would like to really develop something that is worthwhile to all those working with WSS v3 out there. Keep an eye here as well as the link above as I begin to post more information about what the Guide will contain.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

No one seems to know

I've been doing some research lately into the different versions of SQL server into which you can store Sharepoint V3 data.

 

Firstly, you can install it into SQL 2000 but as we all know this version is old hat and not really recommended going forward, but if you have SBS 2003 ( as opposed to SBS 2003 R2 ) then you can still use the version of SQL 2000 that came with it to store Sharepoint V3 data.

 

Now the recommended method of storing Sharepoint V3 data is in an SQL 2005 server. Right, if you install Sharepoint V3 you are going to get WMSDE database, which from my understanding is a cut down version of SQL 2005. Why do I say that? Well, when WMSDE installs it ALWAYS installs to C:\WINDOWS\SYSMSI\SSEE\MSSQL.2005 enough said. So you can also install Sharepoint v3 into WMSDE, SQL 2005 Express, SQL 2005 Workgroup, SQL 2005 Standard and SQL 2005 Enterprise.

 

I understand the limitations that have been imposed on each product (which can be found here). Aside from these limitation of database size, memory and processor usage what I don't understand is whether there is really any difference in performance or otherwise between the different versions of SQL 2005. Interestingly, I can't find anything or anyone who can tell me!

 

Why is this an issue? At the high end of the market where there are plenty of dollars it doesn't matter but at the small business end there is a HUGE difference. Let me illustrate. If you use the inbuilt WMSDE that comes with Sharepoint V3 you don't pay anything and you get no database size limitation. The major limitation with WMSDE is that it ALWAYS installs onto the C: drive. So, if you don't want that you need to install Sharepoint V3 onto SQL 2005 Express which can be located on the drive and directory of your choice. But, SQL 2005 Express (which is still free) has a limitation of a 1GB of RAM usage and a 4GB database size. For most small networks this is probably ok but let's say you have a bigger rollout planned. So, to overcome this you must upgrade to SQL 2005 workgroup. Now you are going to have to go out and buy the server software BUT if you are on SBS 2003R2 Premium you'll have it included. Again, you can install SQL 2005 workgroup data onto any drive you want but it still does have limitations. SQL 2005 Workgroup has a 3GB RAM limit but no database size limit. The great thing on SBS 2003R2 Premium is that you don't need any additional client licenses.

 

What now happens if you want to put Sharepoint V3 on a member server? You can still use WMSDE and SQL 2005 Express for free but if you want to use SQL 2005 workgroup you are going to have to buy the server software as you can't install the SQL software that comes with SBS 2003R2 Premium on any other server but the SBS server. Although you do have to have to pay for the SQL 2005 Workgroup server software if you are using SBS 2003R2 you automatically have the client rights for this second server, again saving you money. But let's say that you want to use an SQL version without limitations, then you need to upgrade to SQL 2005 Standard but when you do this you'll also need to purchase client licenses for each network user who is going to access the server or a per processor license. Don't forget that the SQL 2005 Standard edition software is pretty expensive. So as a business at the smaller end of town who wants to implement Sharepoint V3 there are some interesting questions.

 

Putting all that aside, I want to know what is the fundamental performance difference between WMSDE, SQL 2005 Express, SQL 2005 Workgroup and SQL 2005 Standard. I understand all the memory and database limitation but at its most fundamental level can anyone tell me whether there is any REAL difference? Now I can appreciate there is between WMSDE and all the other versions BUT is there really any difference between Express and Workgroup? What about workgroup and standard? Why so I pay so much more for standard just to get no RAM limitation. Surely there must be more to the higher price than that?

 

Interestingly, as I said before, I am yet to find anyone or anything that can give me hard evidence as to any differences between the versions of SQL apart from those imposed database and memory. I sort of get the impression that they are all the same product under the skin but simply artificially hobbled to create a range of versions for a range of prices.

 

Am I wrong? Can someone show me something that demonstrates the fundamental performance differences between the different versions of SQL 2005.