Upgrade or downgrade?

I’ve been testing the limits of SharePoint Designer of late as I work on an automated vacation calendar that I’ll be making available soon. If you didn’t already know, here are some interesting issues I have found with SharePoint Designer so far.

 

Firstly, you can only use the latest version of SharePoint Designer with the latest version of SharePoint. Thus SharePoint Designer 2007 only works with Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 while SharePoint Designer 2010 only works with SharePoint Foundation 2010. The same applies to the bigger SharePoint Server versions as well. So, if you are like me and need to work with both versions of SharePoint you need both versions of SharePoint designer installed on a machine. Couldn’t have the newer version supported the older version of SharePoint? I know it is completely new technology but….really?

 

Now, the thing that really has my nickers in a knot is the fact that Microsoft seem to have deprecated (read removed) a feature that I make extensive use of. In SharePoint Designer 2007 you can send an email as part of a workflow. Thus an email like this:

 

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allows you to also embed HTML so that the result looks like:

 

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This allows you a great deal of formatting flexibility to improve the presentation ability to end users.

 

BUT try exactly the same formatted email using SharePoint Designer 2010 and this is the end result:

 

image_6_684419C8

 

that is, HTML is no longer rendered. What the hell? How come this was removed from a NEWER version of SharePoint Designer? I can’t see it being because of the newer SharePoint 2010 technology, because all it is doing is sending an email.

 

This makes it very difficult to format professional looking emails from SharePoint 2010 now doesn’t it? I find it interesting that Microsoft touts SharePoint Designer 2010 as the tool for creating workflows yet it removes this sort of basic functionality.

 

There are a few places on the Net where a potential work around is provided for this but that usually requires modifying the web server configuration files on the actual SharePoint server, something not generally possible on hosted SharePoint now eh? What’s the bet that isn’t enabled with the Office365 version of SharePoint when it becomes available either? (Pretty high I reckon).

 

So, the only solution seems to be to design with Visual Studio but that means I gotta go out and buy, install, and learn how to code before I can do something as simple as format an email!

 

Surely there has to be an solution to this, surely?

Need to Know Podcast – Episode 11


The latest episode features Microsoft Security MVP Dana Epp from Scorpion Software (http://www.scorpionsoft.com/) speaking about the insecurities of wireless technology. Dana also delves into topics such as selling security to customers, how to monitor security and what to do if breeches are detected. He also spends some time discussing why ‘community’ is so important to the SMB segment.

You can access the podcast directly from:

http://ciaops.podbean.com/2010/12/14/episode-11-dana-epp/

as well as view all previous episodes at:

http://ciaops.podbean.com

where you can not only subscribe via mediums such as iTunes but also leave comments and ratings on each episode.

If you are interested in, or know a business that is, sponsoring the show please contact me directly (director@ciaops.com). Also if you would like to appear as a guest or would like to hear from someone specifically again contact me (director@ciaops.com). Finally, if you think the show has provided you with value I’d appreciate any donation you’d care to make. All donations go to helping me improve what is offered (http://www.ciaops.com/donation).

No work at work

One of the best books that I’ve read this year is Rework. If you haven’t read it then you should no matter whether you run a business or not. I’ve also posted previously about how the authors are focused on improved productivity, unlike so many other businesses these days. Thanks to Hilton Travis there’s now another video of Jason Fried where he talks about how most people say that the office (i.e. work) is not the place they go to actually do work (i.e. be productive).

 

You’ll find the video here:

 

http://edition.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/12/05/fried.office.work/index.html

 

and it is only 15 minutes or so long but well worth the watch if you want to begin to understand why being at work destroys your productivity. Jason also provides some suggestions for boosting the productivity of the work place by not having meetings and having a period of silence to allow people to concentrate. Now that’s novel eh?

 

It is amazing to me how many businesses, large and small, are still struggling to be more competitive. My advice? Take a look at your environment and see whether you are actually allowing your employees to work. If you are an individual I challenge you to closely examine how much uninterrupted time (no emails, no phone calls, no interruptions, etc) you allow yourself in a day. If you are honest about it then I think you’ll find out that you really are just spinning your wheels.

 

If you want more free time I say then you need to commit to being more productive. Until then you are simply in denial.

iTunes star

I’m proud to say that my podcast series has been accepted by iTunes and now appears in their podcast directory. The web page for it can be found here:

 

http://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/ciaops-need-to-know-podcasts/id406891445

 

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It is also nice to see that someone has already gone in and given it a rating (thanks VM Guru).

 

For all the episodes and easy ways to subscribe visit http://ciaops.podbean.com. A new episode due out next week and this one will be with noted security professional Dana Epp.

My biggest mistake with SharePoint

A long, long time ago when I first started getting into SharePoint I installed just about every addon I could find (yes, I was an out of control addict I admit it). One these was the Groupboard Workspace 2007.

 

Since then it has been the bane of my existence. It has caused no end of problems with the SharePoint box I installed it on. It has cause numerous patches to crash. It has prevent the box being migrated to SharePoint 2010 and worst of all even when I uninstalled it, it remains as the screen below shows.

 

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At the end of the day I’m going to have to probably migrate the data manually using templates and Office applications. After that I’m going to incinerate the box it is installed on and throw the ashes to the wind.

 

In short? Don’t install it on Windows SharePoint.

Too much SQL

On my SBS 7 (a.k.a. Windows 2011 Standard), I’ve been testing some SharePoint functionality of late as you can see from recent posts. I do so on a virtualized server to allow me to easily and quickly roll backwards and forwards. As such I try and run these machines a lean as possible because there is only limited RAM.

 

One of the most common memory hogs is SQL which, by default, has no memory cap. This means that it consumes as much as it can. Using the SQL Management Studio you can go in and set a limit to keep it under control. On SBS 7 (a.k.a. SBS 2011 Standard) I did this for the sharepoint and sbsmonitoring instances which both run on SQL Server 2008 Express R2 (settings it to 256MB). Problem was, when I started getting sluggish performance I found that I had 3 SQL instances running and one was exceeding the memory limit I had set. What the hell?

 

As you can see from the following screen shot, on the right is task manager displaying the three sqlservr.exe instances (sqlservr.exe), with two at the top of my memory consumption values. Now I know one is sharepoint and the other is sbsmonitoring but what is the third one? And why is running at a value above what I limited it to (at 341,828K)?

 

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To find out what’s going on I add the PID column to task manager so I can see the culprit is process 3188. Then at the command prompt I run tasklist /svc (which is displayed on the left) and discover that task 3188 belongs to mssql$microsoft##ssee! This is the embedded edition of SQL Server 2005. What ….would….that…be…running…. Of course, WSUS!

 

Much to my amazement Windows Server Update Services on SBS 7 (a.k.a. Windows 2011 Standard) is still using SQL Server 2005 Embedded Edition. That means another version of SQL installed on the server. That means another program that needs to be updated in the future. That means, as you can see, another SQL application which you’ll have to limit memory on.

 

I can understand perhaps why SQL 2005 Embedded Edition remains, it has unlimited database sizes unlike the SQL 2008 Express R2 version which is also on the machine and limited to 10GB databases. However, even though WSUS in theory could get >10GB does that really warrant not running WSUS on SQL Express R2 and doing away with the Embedded Edition? Surely some sort of warning mechanism could be created is the WSUS databases approach 10GB in some rare circumstance.

 

This indicates to me that SBS 7 (a.k.a. SBS 2011 Standard) is simply a progressive upgrade to SBS 2008 (i.e. more like SBS 2008 R2). Out of the box it is going to try and consume as much memory as it can for the three SQL instances installed by default (sharepoint, sbsmonitoring and WSUS). Unless these are trimmed they are going to affect performance. Again, after all this time I still can’t understand why there is no wizard to allow you to limited the memory of the SQL instances (maybe I just haven’t found it?).

 

To me this adds more complexity to the next release of on site SBS. It increases its maintenance due to the different versions of SQL installed (i.e. more patches). It increases its complexity and makes it harder for the average person to optimize. It also means that out of the box it is potentially going to be a memory hog and therefore have its performance degraded and potentially turn people away from it as solution. This has always been one of the downsides of SBS, running so much on one box. In this case, I honestly believe that one application (SQL 2005 Embedded Edition) could have been removed.

Search Server Story Sequel

In a recent post I detailed how on SBS 7 I needed to know the SharePoint farm passphrase to allow the completion of the SharePoint Configuration Wizard that the following dialog warns you about just prior to uninstalling Search Server Express:

 

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A few people let me know that there is in fact a way to set the password using PowerShell. One such example is:

 

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/raresm/archive/2010/05/26/easy-farm-passphrase-recovery.aspx

 

which says all you need to do at the powershell script console is run:

 

$passphrase = ConvertTo-SecureString -asPlainText -Force
Set-SPPassPhrase -PassPhrase $passphrase –Confirm

 

Yep, great but in this case, after Search Server Express has been removed you get:

 

image_4_6B0A083E

 

Thus, the ability to set the SharePoint passphrase only works if SharePoint is properly configured, which after the removal of Search Server Express it isn’t!

 

So the advice seems to be, at least with what I’ve seen on SBS 7, is that once you have SBS 7 all running go in and use the above powershell script and set the SharePoint passphrase to something you know to avoid the situation I detailed in the previous blog where you need configure SharePoint Foundation 2010. Because unless you know the passphrase you won’t be able to re-configure the farm, all you can do is rebuild it and migrate the data and that is messy by any standards.

 

I have successfully confirmed that by setting the SharePoint passphrase prior to removing Search Server Express and running the SharePoint Configuration Wizard does allow you to complete the wizard and get companyweb back. You still need to do a little more configuration on SharePoint Search after that, but in my testing you can get SharePoint fully operational again, that is PROVIDED you know the passphrase ahead of time!

Search Server Story

So I’ve been playing with the beta of SBS 7 specifically looking at SharePoint 2010 Foundation. At the moment I’m concentrating on search and I have an interesting story to tell you.

 

Out of the box SBS 7 (Beta) comes with SharePoint Foundation 2010. If you upload a document to a document library (in this case a Word document) and wait for it to be indexed you can search on information inside that document.

 

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Ss you can from the above I’ve uploaded my Word document to SharePoint, if I now use the default SharePoint Foundation 2010 search (after waiting enough time for the document to be indexed) and search for something I know appears in the document like the word ‘understand’ say, this is what I expect to see.

 

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Ok, all fine and dandy. As expected my document appears. Take special note of what the search results screen looks like because things are about to change.

 

One of the unsung products from Microsoft is Search Server Express 2010 which is a free download and allows you to index not only SharePoint but also Exchange Public Folders, network shares and other web sites. I honestly can’t understand why it hasn’t been already added to SBS but alas it hasn’t. However, if I do download and install it on my SBS 7 server, configure it appropriately and run exactly the same search I see:

 

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Same result but differ display. This is the result of Search Server Express being installed. Now some people claim that to allow indexing of PDF you MUST install Search Server Express 2010. As I demonstrated in a previous post, with out further configuration this just isn’t true.

 

Let’s now say that you installed Search Server Express 2010 in this mistaken belief it will index PDFs. You find that it doesn’t so you decided to uninstall it. You go into Control Panel, Add/Remove programs, Search Server Express 2010, click, click, click… until it is all gone. You now try and view your companyweb site and you see:

 

image_2_6EA53D0B

 

Oh dear. Not good. Now no SharePoint! You however remember as you were madly clicking to uninstall Search Server Express 2010 that a message popped up saying that you might have to run the SharePoint Configuration Wizard after Search Server had been removed. You run the wizard and you reach a point where it asks you:

 

image_4_6EA53D0B

 

You know that your SharePoint data is already there (somewhere) so it is probably not a good idea to create a new server farm so you go with the first option to Connect to an existing server farm.

 

You now see:

 

image_6_6EA53D0B

 

You know that the SQL instance that runs SharePoint on SBS 7 is called server_name\sharepoint (well now you do!). You enter that in for your server and press the button to Retrieve Database Names and amazingly the SharePoint config database automatically appears. Feeling good you continue and are greeted with:

 

image_8_1C928FC4

 

As the window says – ‘This passphrase is used to secure farm configuration data and REQUIRED for each server that joins the farm.’

 

So what’s the passphrase? You’d know that if YOU installed SharePoint wouldn’t you but you didn’t install it did you? It was already preinstalled on SBS 7. So who did that? Microsoft. So does Microsoft know the password? Good question. Is it documented somewhere? Even better question. Not that I can find.

 

Unfortunately, this story doesn’t seem to have a happy ending now does it?