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Group Policy Loopback Processing

Subtitled – “Wow, I learned something new today!”  [:)]

So in the Third Tier support queue today, Jon posed an interesting question:

How do I exclude Folder Redirection from applying to one domain-joined laptop that is out of the office & disconnected from the domain most of the time?

To revisit Group Policy basics for everyone – GPOs can apply to either computer accounts or user accounts.  GPOs that apply to computer accounts are processed when computers boot up (we’ve all seen the “Applying Computer Settings” message during startup), and GPOs that apply to user accounts are processed during login.  Obviously, Folder Redirection is a user setting in Group Policies, and GPOs don’t have the same targeting options that Group Policy Preferences do.  So how do we have different GP user settings implemented when users log in to specific machines?   Via User Group Policy loopback processing, of course . . .

So what is User Group Policy loopback processing?  It is a Group Policy setting that applies to Computer accounts.  When enabled, it effectively tells a computer to process User Settings in GPOs that apply to the computer account whenever a user logs on to that computer.  As a result, we are able to define user GP settings in a GPO applied to computer accounts instead of user accounts.

User Group Policy loopback processing can be enabled in one of two modes:  merge or replace.  In merge mode, both GPOs applying to the user account and GPOs applying to the computer account are processed when a user logs in.  GPOs that apply to the computer account are processed second and therefore take precedence – if a setting is defined in both the GPO(s) applying to the user account, and the GPO(s) applying to the computer account, the setting in the GPO(s) applying to the computer account will be enforced.  With the replace mode, GPOs applying to the user account are not processed – only the GPOs applying to the computer account are applied.

In Jon’s specific case, he wanted to exclude Folder Redirection for one remote laptop.  The folder redirection settings in Group Policies do not have a “disable” option – only “Not Configured” or enabled via the “Basic” or “Advanced” modes.  Since there isn’t an option to explicitly disable Folder Redirection, the merge option would not meet Jon’s needs, since the user GPOs would be applied and Folder Redirection would remain enabled on the laptop.  By using the “Replace” mode and not defining Folder Redirection in the GPO that applies to the computer account, Jon is able to achieve his desired result.

Take-aways on User Group Policy Loopback Processing:

  • This is a COMPUTER setting, which is found under Computer Configuration | Administrative Templates | System | Group Policy | User Group Policy Loopback Processing Mode
  • You want to create a new OU in AD that is dedicated to computer accounts that will have loopback processing enabled.
  • Create a new GPO in your new OU to enable User Group Policy Loopback Processing and set the appropriate mode (merge / replace).
  • You will define the user settings you want to apply to the loopback-enabled PCs via GPOs in this same new OU.  You can define these settings either in the same GPO where you enabled the User Group Policy Loopback Processing setting, or you create another new GPO in the same OU for your user settings.
  • Remember that when using the REPLACE mode, none of your other user GPOs will be applied when a user logs in to a machine that has loopback processing enabled.  ONLY the user settings that are defined in the GPOs that apply to that machine will be applied.

The Savvy-Tech’s Hardware-Independent-Restore

Ok, so I thought I’d share a real-world support scenario that happened to me today:

So I have a new contract customer I just signed a couple weeks ago, and they went live as of 9/1.  I was doing various maintenance tasks on their network over the weekend, removing unnecessary apps from PCs to improve performance, getting patches installed, etc.  So about the only thing that was left last night was patching their Windows 2003 terminal server.  So I push the patches out via Kaseya, patches install successfully, the server initiates a reboot – but never comes back.  Now, I’ve been doing remote patching / reboots for years now, and this has only ever happened a handful of times.

I log in to their SBS and attempt to ping the TS – no response.  The TS is a whitebox server that is about 4 years old and doesn’t have a remote access card or IP-KVM connected.  The client is in bed, and not having the TS really isn’t going to be an issue until their approx half-dozen remote users try to access Great Plains in the morning. So I didn’t bother calling to wake anyone up – instead, I more or less surprised the VP when I walked in at 7:30 this morning to address a problem they didn’t know they had yet. 

Short story was that the server was pretty much on its deathbed – the alarm LED on the case was coming on whenever the processor tried to do anything.  It took 5 attempts before I was able to get the server to boot, and when I did get logged in the CPU was grinding constantly with the error LED lit, but looking at the task manager I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, besides the fact that the system was so slow it was virtually unusable for one user at the console, let alone a half-dozen plus remote TS users trying to use Great Plains.  Quick diagnosis & gut instinct told me this was a hardware issue.  Being a 4-year old whitebox, it was long out of warranty.  I knew the server just needed replaced, but the remote users couldn’t wait a week to 10 days for me to get approval, get a box ordered from Dell, and get it installed.  Additionally, for the state of the machine, it would probably take days to get an image-based backup using Shadow Protect, since this is a new customer and they aren’t backing up the TS since there’s no data on it.

SO – I ran back to my office and grabbed a spare PC I use for random stuff on my bench (Acer – about 3 yrs old, but has a dual-core Pentium CPU @ 2.8 GHz & has been upgraded to 2GB RAM).  I also grabbed my old Adaptec 1205SA PCI SATA host controller off the shelf and returned to the client.

The TS in question was running a RAID 1 array using an on-board SATA RAID controller.  I shut down the TS, and installed the Adaptec SATA controller in an open PCI slot, then after 4 tries the server finally booted again.  I logged in, the OS found the Adaptec SATA controller & I installed drivers from my thumb drive.  Once the driver installation completed successfully, I shut down the TS again.

I removed the Adaptec SATA controller & drive 0 from the TS.  I installed the Adaptec SATA controller in the Acer PC, inserted & connected drive 0 from the TS to the Adaptec SATA controller, then disconnected the existing SATA hdd in the PC.  I powered-on the PC, and since drive 0 was connected to the Adaptec SATA controller, AND the Win2k3 OS on drive 0 already had drivers for that controller installed, the Win2k3 TS OS booted successfully in (almost) completely different hardware.  On the first login, the OS detected the various new hardware (on-board boot controller, DVD drive, on-board NIC, etc.).  Once drivers for new hardware were installed & onboard NIC configured, I powered down the Acer PC, removed the Adaptec SATA controller card, & connected drive 0 to the on-board primary SATA port.  Powered on the PC – the Win2k3 OS again booted successfully, and we verified that remote users were able to successfully log in and launch Great Plains.

Obviously, using a 3-yr old desktop PC as a terminal server is not a long-term solution.  But – this minimized downtime for the remote users (having them all online before noon), and provided both myself & the customer with valuable breathing room / time to resolve the root issue and get the ball rolling on replacing this server.  And given the small number of users and basic Dynamics GP use, the performance of this temporary hardware is more than sufficient for the remote users (and beats the alternative smile_regular )

And yes, there is more than one way to skin a cat – and multiple ways this problem could have been addressed.  In this particular situation, I felt this was the best approach to get to a working system in the least amount of time possible, considering the severe instability of the original hardware, the lack of an existing image backup of the TS, and the fact that I could easily break the mirror to run off a single HDD from the server.


I have a tendency to be a bit behind the curve on some things.  For example, just last week I finally got a chance to load up Windows 7 for the first time.  My initial impression after a few days:  Wow.  No really . . .  WOW

I decided to sacrifice my Vista Ultimate box for the test.  Being a glutton for punishment, I did try an in-place upgrade of Windows Vista Ultimate (x86) to Windows 7.  The upgrade took an exceptionally long time, and ended up hanging on the last stage of the install as it was bringing back in my settings from my Vista installation.  I let it sit for 3hrs at that spot, noticing that the file count was not changing.  At that point, I cancelled the process and decided to do a clean install.  Since this is beta code of Windows 7, I’m not overly concerned about the upgrade failing.

First impression with the clean install was that it completed much faster than I remember a clean install of Windows Vista taking. 

So the install finished, I tweaked my SBS 2008 to allow me to connect Windows 7 using SBS 2008’s connect computer wizard, and joined to the domain.  I noticed that the SBS connect computer wizard was unable to rename the Windows 7 PC – again, being beta code I’m not overly concerned – especially since all other aspects of the wizard completed successfully and joined the machine to the domain.

I installed my normal applications: the Trend WFBS client, Office 2007 Ultimate, Peachtree 2008 Complete, Quicken 2007 Deluxe, Adobe Acrobat 8.0 Pro, Firefox, Windows Live utilities (Mail, Messenger, Photo Gallery, & Writer), and my Zune application.  All of them installed and have so far worked flawlessly.  The only issue I have encountered is with accessing AutoTask via IE8 in Windows 7 – the sub-toobar in the main application doesn’t fully display, and a toolbar in a few of the grid lists doesn’t display properly – Luckily AutoTask is still usable despite this.  The Windows 7 beta build that I’m running (7000) does not include the final IE8 bits, and IE8 has some unique features only available in Windows 7, so it’s not surprising that an extensive web application such as AutoTask might have a few unexpected behaviors in a beta browser on a beta OS 

So the big question in my mind before installing Windows 7 was how was it going to perform?  Especially since my test machine is about 3 years old and has modest specs: 

  • Single-core Intel P4 processor @ 3.6 GHz
  • 120 GB 7200 RPM SATA HDD
  • nVidia GeForce FX 5500 AGP video
  • 1GB DDR RAM @ 400 mHz

Yes – you read that right.  I was running Vista Ultimate on a PC with only 1GB RAM.  I told you I was a glutton for punishment . . .    And I’ll be honest – Vista ran decently on this box after some tweaking.  Startup & login was slow.  I couldn’t run the Windows Sidebar without the experience being painfully slow.  And even then, if I got multiple applications open, the system would slow down noticeably.  It wasn’t un-usable, but the various wait times were definitely noticeable.

So how does Windows 7 compare?  Wow.  Windows 7 running on the same box is noticeably faster than Vista was.  Obviously the Windows Sidebar is gone in Windows 7, with gadgets being directly integrated into the desktop.  I’m running several gadgets in Windows 7, and my usual contingent of multiple applications, and the performance is noticeably better.  Quite honestly, performance and responsiveness feels on par (if not a bit better) than XP Pro on this hardware.  Obviously this is anecdotal – and I haven’t done any sort of benchmark testing – just user impression.  Now admittedly there are a few spots where there is a noticeable delay – primarily opening Control Panel, and the Uninstall Program window.  It does seem faster than Vista, but not as fast as the rest of the Windows 7 experience.

After several days, I find that I’m quickly adapting to the changes in Windows 7:

  • Customizable power button on the Start Menu.  OK, this was a big annoyance for me in Vista.  I never Shut Down my machines – I normally lock or log off.  Now we can set the default action of the power button on the start menu.  Yay!
  • Quick Launch is gone:  Well, only sort of.  The separate Quick Launch toolbar is gone, but we have the ability to pin items to the taskbar, which effecitvely gives us the same functionality of launching applications.  The difference with pinning items to the taskbar is that the pinned items are not only shortcuts to launch those applications, but once launched the pinned item is the application on the taskbar. 
  • Aero Peek:   When similar application windows are grouped on the taskbar, you can hover your mouse of the application group on the taskbar and see previews of each window in the application group.  BUT – if you hover over one of the previews, you can peek at that window – effectively all windows minimize to only show you the window you are peeking.  Move your mouse away and you go right back to whatever active window you were working in.  This ROCKS – being able to reference other applications / windows without clicking and without losing your cursor / focus in your current application.  Another added bonus – if you have IE open with multiple tabs, you can actually peek at each individual tab – not just the current active tab in each IE window.  NICE!
  • Show Desktop:  Now instead of separate shortcut on the Quick Launch – we get a little slice to the far right of the task bar, just to the right of the clock.  Not only does this give us better utilization of the taskbar real estate, but we can also peek the desktop by hovering over this slice as well.  This is great when I want a quick glance at my calendar or weather gadgets.
  • Jump Lists.   After only a few days, I’m wondering how I ever lived without jump lists . . .   For example, the built-in Documents jump list can be customized to include multiple folders.  I’m using folder redirection to my SBS, and I also have my user share on the SBS as well.  When I open the documents jump list, it now shows me contents of both my redirected My Documents and my user share on my SBS – all in one view.
  • Taskbar context menus:  Right-clicking on certain items in the taskbar gives you access to relevant items.  For example, right-click on the Windows Explorer item, and you get a jump list showing your recent places.  You can also pin folders / jump lists to this jump list to quick & easy access to common places.  Also, right-clicking on the Internet Explorer taskbar item presents you with a jump list showing recent browsing history.

So far, the only hiccup I have ran in to is that for some reason I can’t seem to create a network location pointing to a SharePoint site or library.  This isn’t a show stopper to prevent me from using Windows 7 – but something I’d like to figure out.  Overall, my experience with Windows 7 has been positive enough that I decided to try loading Windows 7 on my trusty 4 year old Acer TravelMate C310 laptop as well.  I had tried running Vista on this machine previously – but reverted back to XP shortly thereafter.  With a mobile processor and 1 GB RAM, Vista just wasn’t usable on that machine – and I couldn’t get the Aero display to work with the built-in graphics.  I did a clean install of Windows 7 on the laptop this weekend and again – WOW.  The performance matches XP on the same hardware.  The bulk of the hardware devices were detected automatically (although I did have to install Vista drivers for the Bluetooth adapter, card reader, and Intel 2200 b/g wireless adapter) – but that went off without a hitch.  And surprisingly – the Aero display works as well!

I’ve also found blog posts here & here explaining some additional functionality, improvements, & usability enhancements that are coming with the RC release. 

To summarize – I find that I’m actually excited about Windows 7 – in a way I wasn’t excited about Vista.  Not only that, but I can see myself easily recommending this upgrade to clients still holding on to Windows XP . . .

The View from the Dark Side

I have a confession . . .   I took my first step moving to the dark side three months ago.  You see, my beloved Treo 700w had finally died for the last time – it had lived a long, hard life of just over 2 years and had been dropped countless times.  I was looking for a Windows Mobile 6 device that had a touch-screen and a vertical orientation like the Treo (I for one dislike the slide-out keyboards because it requires two hands to type).  I was surprised at the lack of options available for those three criteria.  As a matter of fact – Verizon did not have a single device that met all three criteria – they still had the Treo 700w with a touch screen, but running WM5.  They had the new Moto Q with WM6 and the vertical orientation, but no touch-screen.  Or the Samsung isomething that had a touch screen and WM6, but had the horizontal slide-out keyboard.

So on a whim, I did an abrupt face and bought myself an iPhone.  This was back in March, and I admit that what finally pushed me over the edge was the announcement of the iPhone 2.0 software update that would include support for push email via Microsoft ExchangeSync.  Admittedly, there are days that I still miss my Treo  (I still prefer a physical keyboard over the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard – but I eventually discovered the trick to fast composition on the iPhone is to just get close and trust its auto-correct to fix your typos – and 98% of the time it gets it right).  The biggest pain over the past 3 and half months has been the lack of over-the-air calendar and contact sync.  After having that for over two years with my Treo, having to dock my iPhone every few days or remember to look at my Outlook calendar before I ran out the door was getting old. 

But anyway, today was d-day – when the iPhone 2.0 upgrade was officially available to the masses.  I didn’t get a chance to really try the upgrade until late this afternoon.  I started earlier this morning, but I could not get iTunes to backup my phone prior to the upgrade (unknown error -43).  Of course, it gave me the option to continue without a backup – I would just lose little things like my text messages, favorites, mail accounts, etc. – basically anything that wasn’t sync’d with my PC.  So I stuck it out and eventually tracked the issue down to iTunes not playing nicely with folder redirection in a domain environment.  My music lives in a redirected folder and syncs ok, so I’m assuming the issue is with a redirected Application Data folder.  But anyway . . . )   So late this afternoon I finally got the phone backed up and initiated the upgrade.  The entire process took about 30 minutes to download, install, restore & activate.  Luckily, I did not run in to the mess this morning where Apple’s activation servers were overwhelmed and couldn’t be contacted, leaving a lot of people with a nicely upgraded phone that could not activate and thus had no service . . .   but again, there’s a reason it’s called the bleeding edge . . . smile_regular

But the big news for me is the Exchange integration.  I removed my previous IMAP account, and set up my Exchange account.  Biggest surprise for me: the iPhone will sync with Exchange over the air if you’re using a self-signed SSL certificate on your SBS / Exchange server.  It complains a bit that it can’t authenticate the certificate when you’re setting up the account, but you can acknowledge the warning and it will start synchronizing.  Naturally, if you select to synchronize your contacts and calendar, any contact & calendar data on the phone itself will be overwritten by data on your Exchange server.  For me this was no big deal as I was manually synchronizing this data anyway. 

I still have to play around a bit, especially with installing some of the new apps, but so far the Exchange integration is working just as I would have expected.  The contacts feature even handles multiple contact folders in your Exchange mailbox very nicely – even additional top-level contacts folders, and even allows you to search the GAL

Anyway, I’m off to go play on the dark side a little more . . .

Moving a WSS 3.0 site to a new farm

If you haven’t heard already, I am going to be at Jeff Middleton’s SMB Disaster Recovery Conference in New Orleans at the end of this month, and at some point during the weekend I will be discussing Windows SharePoint Services in the context of Disaster Recovery – not only how to recover from a SharePoint disaster, but how SharePoint can be a valuable technology in the face of a true catastrophic disaster.

Well, it just so happens that I have had my own little SharePoint disaster on my hands.  A little over a week a go, I was testing a SharePoint upgrade scenario on my web server and proceded to blow up WSS 3.0 on that box.  The good news was that I had a disaster to fine-tune my recovery skills.  The bad news?  Being a bit lazy I actually had a production SharePoint site on that server (oops smile_embaressed  )   Luckily, the production site was non-critical (just the site for my family – and while they’re used to me blowing things up, I really didn’t want to have to mess with recreating that site and it’s 20GB of data).  And I’ll also admit that I was slightly behind on my SharePoint-based backups for that site as well – far enough behind that I really didn’t want to have to go that far back if I didn’t have to.

I’ll admit that I’m not making much progress with repairing the WSS installation on the web server – I’ve tried just about everything, and it looks like I’m going to break down and call PSS to get it working again, assuming I don’t just re-install.  Naturally, the only thing holding me back was this one site that I really wanted to salvage.  Well I’m happy to say that after some trial & error (and the help of Google), I have the site up and running on a separate SharePoint farm – and it was actually quite painless.

First – for the sake of clarity, I’m going to talk about this process in terms of moving a site to a different SharePoint farm, for the simple fact that we can have multiple front-end servers running SharePoint in a single farm, and moving a site to different servers in a single farm is a separate process.  Most SBSers are going to be running a single server farm, and as such will often talk about moving a site between servers, when they’re really talking about moving between farms. 

So to accomplish this task, here’s what I did:

1)  On the database server for the current farm, I performed an offline backup of the content database for the site I wanted to move.  (Easiest way to accomplish this is to stop your SharePoint database service and copy your .mdf & .ldf files).

2)  I restored the .mdf & .ldf files for the content database to the SQL data directory on the database server for the new farm.

3)  I attached the restored database to the SQL instance for the new farm.

4)  On the new farm, I opened SharePoint Central Administration.

5)  On the Application Management tab, I created a new SharePoint Application.  In doing so, I created a new web site that used the same port and host header the site on the original farm used.

6)  When the application creation process completed, I did not run the Site Collection Creation Wizard.

7)  Within SharePoint Central Administration Application Management tab, I clicked on Content Databases.

8)  I verified the Web Application, then clicked on the content database (which should be an empty content database created during the Web Application creation process)

9)  On the Content Database Settings page, I changed the database status from Ready to Offline, clicked to select the option to Remove Content Database and clicked OK.

10) Back on the Manage Content Databases page, I verified the web application then clicked Add a content database.

11) On the Add Content Database page, I entered the name of my SQL server where I attached my restored database, as well as the database name.  I verified Windows Authentication was selected, selected the appropriate Search Server, and clicked OK.

12)  Once that process finished, I was returned to the Manage Content Databases tab and could see that the restored content database was now associated with the web application I had created minutes earlier.

13)  I edited my local hosts file so the URL of my site would resolve to the local server

14)  I opened a command prompt and ran an iisreset, then ran an  ipconfig /flushdns, then pinged my site URL to verify it resolved to the local server.

15)  I opened Internet Explorer and browsed to my site – and voila! there it was smile_regular

So in the big picture, what is the big deal here?  The significance is that with WSS 3.0, you can actually restore one or more SharePoint web applications to a new farm with nothing besides a file-level backup of your content database.  And if you ever tried accomplishing the same feat with WSS 2.0, you can appreciate just how significant this functionality is.  Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t going to be the preferred method (I still recommend you take a look at native backup/restore functionality either from within SharePoint Central Administration or via the command line using stsadm.

Teaching an old dog new Trix

Some of you know that I’m a big fan of Trixbox – which is an VoIP solution built on the ever-popular linux-based open source Asterisk PBX.  We’ve been running it in our office for about 18 months (when it was originally Asterisk@Home).  I’ll admit that it started out more as an experiment than anything else, but we ended up liking it and using it in production, and have started selling it as well.  Admittedly, the hardware we’re running it on leaves a little to be desired, so we’re looking to replace our current hardware.  Well while doing some research, I discovered that Trixbox is now offering a Trixbox appliance:

Now you’ve got to admit, that there is just cool . . .  and would look so good in our server cabinet smile_regular

You do know about GroupBoard?

Just like they did with SharePoint Services 2.0, Microsoft has released application templates for SharePoint Services 3.0, which can be found here.  And while you’re there, take a minute to read through the list of Server Admin Templates that are coming soon . . .  there’s several things in there that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

So far, the most exciting of the offerings is the GroupBoard template:

This single template has standard many of the most popular functionality requests that I’ve had from clients and end users over the last couple years, including:

*   In/Out Board

*   “While You Were Out” messaging

*   Resource Grouping / Organization Chart

*   Timesheets

Definitely worth taking a look at.

Companyweb & Sharepoint v3 – Part 1

This is the first in a short series of running Windows Sharepoint Services v3 on your SBS 2003 / R2 server.

First the caveat:  Upgrading and/or running your companyweb site with Windows Sharepoint Services v3 is not supported – neither by Microsoft nor myself.  Just because I’m blogging about it doesn’t mean I’m supporting it.  Microsoft does support installing WSS v3 in parallel with v2 on your SBS – but only supports the companyweb site running as a WSS v2 site.  Microsoft’s official document on installing Windows Sharepoint Services v3 on SBS can be found here

What’s the fuss?

The first thing to talk about is why you want to move up to WSS v3.  Being a long-time Sharepoint junkie, there are some impressive features in v3 that address many of the complaints and wishes we all had with previous versions.  The key items:

Recycle Bin    All most WSS admins can say is FINALLY!  No more juggling with multiple stsadm or smigrate backups to allow for individual item restores.  And when you need to restore, no more needing to restore those backups to parallel sites.  Granted it worked – but was cumbersome and painful.   WSS v3 gives us a dual-layer Recycle Bin.  Each user gets their own Recycle Bin which allows them to easily recover anything they may have deleted (a document, a photo, or even a list item).  In addition to the individual user recycle bins, there is a site-level recycle bin as well.  So even if your users delete something from the site, and then empty their recycle bin only to come to you the next day to ask if there is any way of getting that item back – well now there is.  The administrator can access the site collection recycle bin and restore items that users have deleted even if they have deleted their recycle bin.  This is configurable so you can specify how long you want to keep deleted items in the recycle bin, so you don’t have to manually empty the site collection recycle bin.

Offline Access to Document Libraries     Yes, you read that right.  So you’re finally getting your users to store their documents on your Sharepoint site – but you’ve still got those roaming users who are keeping files on their laptops so they can have access to them anywhwere, even if they don’t have an internet connection.  Well now you can have the best of both worlds.  With Outlook 2007 and WSS v3, you can now keep a copy of your document libraries within Outlook – so your users can have offline access to their Sharepoint files.

Mobile Access.     Do you have users who are out of the office a lot?  Do they have internet-enabled phones?  WSS v3 includes a mobile page format optimized for web-enabled PDA’s & smart phones – which presents an experience somewhat similar to OMA.  Regardless, you can now access your Sharepoint site, including documents and lists right from your phone.  I only migrated our companyweb a few days ago, and I’m already finding myself taking serious advantage of this mobile access on a regular basis.   

Tighter integration with Office.     WSS v3 and Office 2007 are a match made in heaven.  With WSS v2 & Outlook 2003, we could link Sharepoint calendars and contact lists with Outlook.  However, anyone who used this functionality realized this was a one-way connection:  you could only view the calendars and contacts in Outlook.  Any additions or changes had to be made via the Sharepoint web interface.  Not any more – with WSS v3 and Outlook 2007, you have full two-way integration, allowing you to add/edit appointments or contacts from either the Sharepoint web interface OR from within Outlook.  And an added bonus – if you delete a Sharepoint contact or appointment from within Outlook, it actually gets sent to your Recycle Bin within Sharepoint.

Improved Versioning.     WSS v2 allowed us to keep versions of items stored in document libraries.  WSS v3 allows us to keep track of both major & minor versions within document libraries, and even allows us to keep track of versions of list items.  So you can now see version histories within your lists, and just like with document libraries, restore any previous version at any time.

Improved Security.     WSS v3 gives us true item-level security on documents and even list items.  So for you somewhat Draconian admins out there, you can control what your users can see, change & delete at a granular level.

There’s a lot going on with WSS v3 – both on the surface and under the hood.  So far our migration has met with positive results from our users – it’s cleaner, quicker, and just flat out prettier.  But now that you know why you want to migrate, in the next segment we’ll address how to plan such a migration and what gotchas and pitfalls to avoid. 

The Winds of Change . . .

Can you believe that this Wednesday, October 25th – marks the 5 year anniversary of the launch of Windows XP?  5 years!  Wow, no wonder things have been pretty comfortable and cozy on the help desk front – work with an OS for that long and you’re bound to know it inside and out.

But alas, progress marches on and we’re in for a whole new learning curve on the desktop (or more accurately, our users are in for a whole new learning curve, and we’re in for a completely revamped traning ciriculum)  

First, IE7 RTM’d last week – and there’s a bit of a learning curve there as well (honestly, how many of you cussed like a sailor the first time you tried to install a self-signed cert?)  I’ve been running the beta for several months now, and have become addicted – especially with the full-screen functionality when using web apps.  And I will admit that yes, IE is not only my primary browser, it’s the only browser I currently have installed.  Sure, I’ve read Vlad’s rants – but what can I say, I actually like IE  (yeah, I know – I’m sick & twisted). 

With IE7, Microsoft has been pushing out tons of add-ins, and free little applications, all using the Windows Live branding.  One of which being the Windows Live Writer, that I am actually using for the first time to compose this post.  So far, I have to admit that I’m impressed with this.  If you want to take a look, you can get it here – or read Vlad’s thoughts on it here  (after all, we all know that Vlad has a clear-cut opinion on EVERYTHING    )

And then we have Office 2007.  Of course, with what I do on a daily basis, Office for me is pretty much defined by Outlook, with Access and FrontPage (oops, SharePoint Designer) being a distant second & third . . .   I’ve also been running the Office beta for several months – and was totally sold until a few hiccups with the Beta 2 Technical Refresh (B2TR) – which resulted in Outlook crashing when I tried closing it, and getting a corrupt OST every time I opened Outlook . . .  this has been resolved – but more on that later.  So far the built-in RSS capability in Outlook, combined with the new kick-ass shared calendars view, the To-Do bar, and ease of adding Exchange accounts (users only have ONE choice to make – then it automatically detects the username, email address, and finds the Exchange server on the LAN – no more having to walk users through typing in the internal FQDN of their Exchange, blah, blah blah . . .  (at least, it worked that slick on a domain PC on the LAN)  Of course, there’s much more to Office 2007 – but those are the tidbits that affect me on a daily basis

Finally, our biggest change right around the corner is Vista.  Again, I’ve been running beta builds for quite some time – but admittedly on my home PC that I rarely ever use for anything besides the occasional web browsing.  Well, I was a few builds behind, and decided to take a serious plunge into the Vista experience – so I reinstalled my primary machine (Acer TravelMate C314XMi tablet) with the Vista RC2 bits yesterday . . .    I did download & run the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor before starting the process – which was great for identifying what hardware and software I might have issues with.  So far, I have to admit that based on my previous experience with various Vista beta builds, I am very impressed.  The installation was painless – with all of the required information being entered up front, and the rest of the process being completely automated – reboots and all. 

After having lived through the migration experience from Win98 to 2000 Pro, and then from 2k to XP – I’m still scarred from application incompatibility, and driver issues (most notably a glaring lack of drivers) . . .   But, that doesn’t appear to be the case with Vista.  So far, I’m only having a couple hardware issues – most are pretty insignificant, but one – while not necessarily a show-stopper, is close.  My integrated Intel 2200BG wireless adapter is not cooperating.  Vista includes drivers for this wireless adapter, and it is installed, and when enabled it detects available wireless networks.  However – it refuses to connect to any secured network (WEP or WPA-PSK) – and while it will connect to an unsecured network – the connection only holds for ~5 minutes until it’s dropped and the adapter reports that there is no signal for that network any more.   Tad bit annoying . . .  especially since I only ever work wirelessly at home.  But on the flip side – my Verizon Wireless aircard works flawlessly.  As for the minor hardware issues – my function buttons to enable / disable things like WLAN & Bluetooth, or shortcuts to email, web, etc. are not working – neither is the On-Screen Display for these buttons, or my generic function keys (so I need to figure out how to disable NumLock when I’m in a remote assistance session  )  And finally, while my sound worked – Vista kept complaining that the audio drivers were not compatible with Vista – so I downloaded the Vista beta drivers for AC’97 audio from Realtek’s website – and I’m good to go.  (Of course, dealing with Realtek’s slow download site was a bit annoying in itself – almost 2hrs to download 26MB)

What really surprised me was that there were drivers for our printers here at the office.  Granted, they aren’t anything overly special or bleeding-edge – but again, I remember the issues obtaining print drivers in the past.  Adding our HP LaserJet 4200tn was a snap – I entered its IP, and Vista did the rest – queried the printer, determined the make/model and selected the appropriate driver and voila!  Now, it wasn’t quite that simple installing our Okidata C5150n color laser – Vista tried querying the printer – but wasn’t able to get the info it needed – so I had to select the driver the old-school way.   Now, the driver list didn’t include a driver for the Oki C5150n – but it was available via Windows Update – so all is well.

On the application front – so far just about everything is behaving itself.  Naturally, Office 2007 B2TR is playing very nicely with Vista – but the latest versions of other necessities like Adobe Reader, Java engine, Flash player, etc. all installed and ran without a hitch.  Notably, some of the little things that I use and depend on daily are working without issue.  The AutoTask for Outlook add-in installed and is running perfectly (which is a huge relief since that would have been a show-stopper for me if it didn’t) – and the AstTapi driver (that let’s me dial out from Outlook using our Trixbox phone system) is working nicely as well.

A few applications required a workaround to cooperate – most notably the Firewall Client for ISA 2004, and the connectcomputer wizard for SBS 2003.  You can get the details on getting these to work over at Sean’s blog – here and here . . .

The only application that is throwing me a bit of a fit is QuoteWerks – which is throwing an error when it tries to log in to its back-end SQL database – so I can’t really do anything . . .   but if I absolutely need to access a quote, QuoteWerks is installed on our Terminal Server – so I can get to it there. 

Finally, performance-wise – I have to say that this machine boots up and shuts down WAY faster than it did with XP Pro – and overall performance seems to be right on par, if not better than XP Pro. 

So, here’s to change ! 

Swinging Your Companyweb

So, with my last post I talked about using smigrate to backup and restore your SharePoint sites.  With this post I’m going to go one step further and attack a specific scenario that I seem to be getting more and more questions on – migrating your companyweb SharePoint site from on existing SBS 2003 installation to a new one.  This may be because you’re swinging your SBS to new hardware, or just starting over for whatever reason.

The idea is quite simple – you have a working companyweb on your current SBS, complete with tons of documents in various document libraries, a few custom lists, maybe a forms library, etc. – you’re moving to a new server and you want to move that site completely in tact . . .   it’s not an unreasonable request by any means – and luckily enough it is rather simple to accomplis – provided of course you know how to do it.  That’s where this post comes in  :^)

Obviously, the first step to making this happen is to backup your existing companyweb site using smigrate as I’ve outlined in my previous post.  The restore part is where everyone seems to be stumbling, so here’s what you need to know:

First, it is important to understand part of what the smigrate restore does.  When it connects to your SharePoint site to perform the restore, it is going to set the site template for the site based on the template that your backed up site was using.  Now, with SharePoint – setting the template for a site is a one-time thing – once you’ve set a template for the site you can’t reset it.  The only time a Sharepoint site is clean (e.g. does not have a template assigned to it) is right after Windows SharePoint Services has been extended to a website.  The first time you access your new WSS site, you have to choose your template before you can begin using the site. 

Most people who try to migrate their companyweb site using smigrate (or FrontPage) run in to this problem – their restore fails because the site is already in use.  Specifically, the smigrate restore process cannot set the site template for the new companyweb site because it already has a template set.  Sure, it’s the same template as the one you want to use – but the restore process still needs to set it to be sure.  As a result, the restore fails before it ever gets started. 

So – how do we get the restore to work?  Simple – we take the new companyweb site back to a clean state (where no template has been set).  To do so, we simply need to remove WSS from the companyweb virtual server, then re-extend it.  Now, before we remove WSS from the companyweb virtual server (on the new SBS server) – you need to be aware that this process is going to destroy this site (and all content).  Most of the time this should be an empty companyweb – but just in case you have some content in there, either extract it or back it up first :^).  So – your step-by-step process to get your new companyweb in a state that will allow an smigrate restore: (all steps are on the new SBS – assuming you have already completed the smigrate backup on the old server and moved those files to the new server).

1)   Open SharePoint Central Administration ( under Start | Administrative Tools )
2)   Click on ‘Configure Virtual Server Settings’
3)   Click on ‘companyweb’
4)   Click on ‘Remove Windows SharePoint Services from virtual server’
5)   Click to select ‘Remove & delete content databases’
6)   Click OK to acknowledge warning that you are deleting all content for the site
7)   Click OK
8)   When you return to the SharePoint Central Administration page, click ‘Extend or upgrade a virtual server’
9)   Click on ‘companyweb’
10)  Click on ‘Extend and create a content database’
11)  Select to ‘Use an existing application pool’
12)  Verify that the app pool selected is ‘DefaultAppPool (NT AUTHORITY / NETWORK SERVICE)
13)  Under the Site Owner section, enter the administrator email address for your domain
14)  Click OK to extend WSS to the companyweb virtual server.
15)  Once you see the page indicating the the virtual server was successfully extended, click OK to return the SharePoint Central Administration
16)  Navigate to http://companyweb, and verify that you get the Template Selection page.  Be sure and close this window – DO NOT click the OK button as this will apply a template to the site and you will have to repeat these steps before you will be able to restore your existing companyweb site.

At this point, your new companyweb site is in a clean state, and you can use smigrate to restore your existing companyweb backup to the companyweb on your new server.  Now, if you were using any 3rd party web parts on your old server, you want to be sure and install those on the new server before starting your restore.  And if this is a swing migration, your original AD will be in-tact, and the smigrate restore will also restore all permissions for the site as well.  Once the smigrate restore process has completed, there is nothing left to do – your companyweb will be back exactly how you left it – all permissions, settings, templates, etc. will all be there and you’ll be good to go  :^)

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