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Archives / 2009 / May
  • Honey, Where Did I Put My Product Key?

    Not a Microsoft Product Key Microsoft has released this important announcement about the recent releases of Service Pack 2 for MOSS:

    We take product quality seriously and make every effort to avoid and resolve issues that adversely impact our customers. Unfortunately, we have recently discovered a bug with Service Pack 2 (SP2) that affects all customers that have deployed it for SharePoint Server 2007.

    During the installation of SP2, a product expiration date is improperly activated. This means SharePoint will expire as though it was a trial installation 180 days after SP2 is deployed. The activation of the expiration date will not affect the normal function of SharePoint up until the expiration date passes. Furthermore, product expiration 180 days after SP2 installation will not affect customer's data, configuration or application code but will render SharePoint inaccessible for end-users.

    We are working to release a hotfix to automatically fix this issue. A manual work-around is currently available and involves customers re-entering their Product ID number (PID) on the Convert License Type page in Central Administration. For more information and detailed steps please read this KB article.

    We want to assure our customers that this issue does not impact data integrity or their SharePoint deployment in any other way.

    For your convenience, below are some answers to questions that you may have and we will update this blog post with a link to the hotfix as soon as it's available.

    We apologize for any inconvenience this issue may cause you.

    Note, this is only for MOSS (and other products like Project Server 2007) but WSS installations are not affected. You can read the full blog post here which contains some additional Q&A.

    Oops.

  • Internet Explorer Keyboard? Shortcuts

    I can’t say I’ve ever looked at the Internet Explorer help file (or any help file for that matter) but I turned to it when I wanted to see if there was a keyboard shortcut for switching between tabs. Here’s what I found:

    InternetExplorerKeyboardShortcuts

    Okay, sure. If you’re using the keyboard assist mode you can use some keystroke to simulate a “click” (can’t remember what the keystroke is in that mode) but reading this just makes me wonder if anyone proofs this stuff.

    Fail.

  • TechEd Day 1 via the BizTalk Blog

    My co-worker buddy Kent Weare (yes, a company where two, count them two MVPs sit side by side and don't beat the crap out of each other) is down at TechEd 2009 this week in Los Angeles. Hopefully he'll be giving a blow-by-blow report on the happenings on down there (as most bloggers are doing, all except me) so I'll live vicariously through him.

    He's posted a good recap of the first day here. He talks about MEDV and APPV, two virtualization techniques that are available with Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 (which has it's own offerings via Hyper-V). MEDV is the "Windows XP Mode" reported back in April where you can run XP applications on non-XP systems. It's just a virtualized version of XP which will ship with the Business and Enterprise versions of Windows 7. APPV is very similar to this but works on portions of the application rather than the entire app. Both are basically the same as what you might see with Citrix or Fusion on the Mac. Kent also talks about BizTalk 2009 and integration with "the cloud" (via Azure services). We've been looking at the cloud for awhile for using it as a service provider and deliverying regulated energy information to end users without having to be the sole keepers of the infrastructure. The cloud technologies are also very interesting from a SharePoint perspective as you can have each web front end living in the cloud sharing the load of serving up centralized application information. More details on this stuff as things get more solid in the Azure space.

    BTW, if you're looking for some quality BizTalk content Kent's yer man. His blog is chock full of oodles of cool techno BizTalk babble and while the quantity of posts isn't huge (he's no Ayende, but then nobody is) his quality is top notch.

  • Riddle Me This, Riddle Me That

    110229-189654-riddler When it comes to SharePoint surveys, there’s a lot to explore. And a lot missing.

    A survey can be for a variety of reasons. They can be there to collect quantitative information about something (like a census);  an opinion poll for an informal collection of thoughts; marketing research; or a basic series of questions to gather information.

    SharePoint offers some basic functionality for surveys. Like most of SharePoint, it does a lot of things well (some say mediocre) and few things really, really well. Surveys falls in that midpoint where they’re pretty good, but not great. They serve the purpose if you want to gather information and provide a little bit of flexibility with branching.

    If you’re looking for online surveys that are the Cadillac then you might check out SurveyMonkey. It probably offers the most features for a survey out there giving you complete control over look and feel, multiple ways to collect information; and a bevy of analysis options to process your results. However it’s not SharePoint and doesn’t run in your organization. Some people are cool with hosting surveys outside the organization, others are not. It depends on your situation.

    Will SharePoint ever be a SurveyMonkey? Probably not. You can get some features with 3rd party tools, but as with most SharePoint setups you have to concede and accept a few compromises in features to get your message out there.

    One thing surveys can be for are quizzes. Simple quizzes where you’re asking a question and looking for a response. The quiz can be completely informal or something more structured where points are awarded for correct answers and total scores results in a pass/fail condition. Quibblo is a popular site where you can create quizzes online. Like SurveyMonkey for surveys, Quibblo is specifically made for creating quizzes and offers a variety of options. Again however, it’s not SharePoint.

    Here’s a rundown of your options with SharePoint surveys when it comes to doing quizzes (with or without the survey infrastructure).

    Configure Your Own

    OOTB

    Using just the survey list template you can certainly create your own quiz. Quizzes can be setup so users can only take them once, be any number of questions and for advanced features you can create a series of questions using branching in order to “simulate” the idea of getting right or wrong answers. Given an option (say a multiple choice) you can branch off from option 1 to a series of questions and option 2 to an entirely different path. This feels more “survey” like more than a quiz, but if you structure your questions correctly you can get away with it. However it is limited. For example you cannot score a right or wrong answer. Also there’s no overall ranking or scoring system to count how many correct or incorrect answers you got. So as a quiz infrastructure, it’s not so hot.

    InfoPath

    InfoPath forms can be created as quizzes and delivered via SharePoint. This is entirely doable and offers a rich client experience. If you have MOSS, then you can deliver the forms via a web browser via the InfoPath Web Services, otherwise users must have the InfoPath client installed to complete a survey. The client experience offers a nice UX where you can create a multipage form, forms with hidden areas (that appear based on choices users make) and some simple scripting can provide pass/fail features on questions. When the form is submitted to a SharePoint Form Library, you can run some custom script at the end to tally up the pass/fail values. It’ll take some effort to get a good quiz form going, but it can be done with a little elbow grease and headlight fluid.

    Build Me A Quiz

    If you’re not into configuring a quiz with the OOTB survey or InfoPath there are a couple of great HOWTO blog entries (or series) that walk you through them.

    Over at SharePointBlogs JoeD has a two-part post on creating a quiz using surveys, SharePoint Designer, and a whack of customization via JavaScript and editing some of the *.aspx pages tied to that survey. It’s a short series but gets you most of the way to a custom quiz. However results are not tallied so you can’t internally “grade” the quiz but the second part of the series goes into details on how to use Excel to get this info out of SharePoint. This could be packaged up as a nice feature and deployed (not sure why he didn’t do it but the series is more about how to build it).

    app-preview Brendan Clarke has a more robust series (5 posts) on building a complete Quiz system for SharePoint. Like JoeD’s version, this one uses all OOTB web parts (mostly the DVWP), SharePoint Designer, XSLT, and custom lists. It’s very well documented and easy to follow. Again however he provides the HOWTO but not a completed package for you to just use.

    Both of the build options are great because they require no deployable code to the server. This is perfect for hosted scenarios or situations where you don’t want to/can’t deploy custom DLLs.

    If you do have the ability to deploy custom DLLs, then you can accomplish creating a quiz application using the standard survey list template and Event Handlers. My MVP buddy Sahil Malik wrote up a good example of this on how to do this. The disadvantage to this is a) you can only attach one event handler to a list b) you would have to create a new event handler for each list you create. With a little more design than what Sahil provides, you can have your event handler fetch values from the list say in a field called “PotentialAnswers” or something. In any case, it’s a bit of work and probably not too scalable or maintainable but a good read.

    Buy American!

    Or Canadian, or Chinese, or German, or whomever is selling the latest and greatest quiz web part for SharePoint. The SharePoint after market is always a plethora of 3rd party goodness to fill the Microsoft gap. Here are a few options for survey enhancements.

    ACAR

    The German company Professional Solutions (not sure if this is their name or not) has a Quiz Web Part which can be used for competitions, online exams, and testing. Some of the features of this $500 web part are points that can be added to questions; passing score for the quiz; email validation; and top ten users. 

    They say they have a 2007/WSS 3.0 version available but all of their demos and videos show 2003 versions. Also the last update on the site was 2007 so caveat emptor. I was also not able to find a trial version on their site and emails to them have yet to be returned.

    I was however able to find a trial available on a site called doubleclick.com (yeah, it makes me cringe too) but I haven’t looked at it in depth yet to see if it’s the 2003 version or 2007 version.

    KWizCom

    KSSP_result These guys (pronouned as one work, “kwizcom” not “k-wiz-com” as I thought) have a whole bevy of SharePoint solutions and offer up a Survey Plus Web Part. When installed it allows you to add a custom web part to a page and point it at a stock SharePoint survey (anywhere in a site collection or by direct URL).

    The features are really to enhance the survey web part. Creating a single question survey results in a Poll which can be used on a home page. Users can see the poll then participate in it, seeing the results displayed graphically in the web part. Very typical behaviour of any poll. There are two modes to surveys (one is a survey and one is a quiz) but I failed to see what different a quiz was to a survey. Unfortunately it really doesn’t work like a quiz (for example there are no right/wrong answers or a passing score for the quiz). However the web part does offer the creation of graphical charts in displays and works pretty good that way. I was unable to get it working correctly (normal users could not submit poll answers via the web part but could by going directly to the one-question survey, I’m working with support to figure out what’s wrong). As a simple survey enhancement it looks good, but not really useful for quizzes.

    Summary

    So there are a few options out there. If you’re looking to build a quiz, I recommend Brendan Clarke’s 5 part series. If anything, after going through it not only will you have a nice quiz application built in SharePoint but you’ll also be exposed to a lot of great features that will be useful down the road. If you’re looking for just a better display of surveys (mostly for poll usage) then try out the KWizCom stuff (30 day trials are available for download from the site). There’s also a free, open source polling web part up on CodePlex here by Phil Wicklund which offers basic display functionality. Also Bamboo has a $400 poll web part with pretty graphs. Again, nothing for quizzes but poll features are useful too.

    Let me know if you find additional options, products, or ideas and happy quizzing!

  • The Knights who say I'm taking my toys and making my own sandbox

    Yesterday Joel Oleson, ex-MSFT SharePoint dude, posted an entry about a "new order" he wants to form called The SharePoint Knights. I seriously thought this was a joke and had to check my April Fools calendar. "An unique ranking Knight icon to put on your business card... that sets you apart as a Knight who provides a service of SharePoint chivalry". Are you kidding me? Is this really a true SharePoint community or Joel's SharePoint popularity contest?

    Jeremy Thake, another blogger, posted a follow-up of his own to this. In Jeremy's post he outlines problems with the MVP program and how apparently this Knights program is going to make up for the deficiencies. I'll give Jeremy credit as he doesn't take one side or the other and is pretty neutral. Joel on the other hand seems to be the angry un-MVP and on this rant.

    I'll be the first to admit the MVP program has it's own share of problems. Do all people who deserve to be an MVP get the award? No. Do all people who get into the program deserve the award? I don't think so. The MVP program is about working for the community but not doing it as a chore but out of passion. I have a lot of passion for the SharePoint technology and .NET in general. I think it's the best time in the world to be a developer right now. And for the type of person I am, I like to share that knowledge and passion. When I stumble on a cool new idea, or write a new web part, or just want to bitch about some forgotten feature in SharePoint I use my blog to do that. The MVP program saw this and recognized me for it and has continued to do so every year since 2004. Do I keep posting because I want to keep my "status" and keep getting re-awarded. Hell no. I keep posting because the product and technology stack is a daily challenge for me and I see it grow every day with new ideas and new versions.

    Rather than asking what's wrong with the MVP program some people are asking what's wrong with Joel? Since his departure from Microsoft he's gone on to be some kind of evangelist for Quest software (a company with a lot of SharePoint products). Frankly, I don't see any difference here. Now he's promoting the Knights as a "true community comradery unmatched and unequaled" (his words, not mine). Frankly I smell two things here. Joel didn't recieve the MVP award and now he's building his own community. How much money is anyone willing to bet this "community" is going to be 100% Joel and not related, sponsored by, or tattooed with Quest products, freebies, and marketing content.

    Today's post took the cake with his Luthers 10 Points to the MVP Program. These are apparently 10 problems with the MVP program that the Knights program will apparently fix. Let me play doctor for a bit and dissect them here for you.

    1. Unrecognized people. Okay, like I said the program has flaws and I'll admit there are some great people out there (Michael Gannotti whos aces in my books springs to mind) that should be MVPs but are not. There are a many reasons why someone is or is not an MVP and they range from politics to the number of people recommended (and physical limits on MVP leads to herd their existing cats). So apparently the Knights program is going to sweep through and fix all this?
    2. Non-MVPs who ask to be MVPs. I don't find people standing up and yelling "I should be an MVP! I should be an MVP!" to be very mature or responsible. The program exists to recognize people for what they do. Do you think Scientists should stand up and say "I should get the Pulitzer prize for this" or actors (well, maybe some) that say "I think my performance deserves an Oscar". I'm not comparing the MVP award to the Pulitzer prize or Nobel Peace Award, just the principle of recognition. So I guess the Knights program is going to allow, nay, encourage this? Great, watch for my "I think I deserve to be a SharePoint Knight" post coming soon [not].
    3. MVPs voted off the island. i don't know where Joel is living but I regularily converse with ex-MVPs and lots of developers and architects who are not MVPs. For those that directly violated the NDA and blately posted things like screenshots, source code, and internal tools that's a different story. You voilated your NDA and broke the trust level between yourself and Micrsoft. Whatever reason, the NDA is something I'm very fond of and ensure that I'm not voilating it in my day to day job. For others that don't get reawarded, that's the program working it's stuff but it doesn't mean you can't hang with those people anymore. In some cases they go on to pursue non-SharePoint stuff so really the commonality we had betwen each other is gone and while some of them are cool dudes (hey Brad!) we might not share common interests. Not sure how the Knights plan to fix this problem. Are you going to force me to know people who have left the program (or maybe membership is eternal?). 
    4. MVP social exclusivity. I don't know what he's talking about here. I do know that at the MVP summit there were times where you were not allowed to bring your spouse but that's because the discussions around dinner were NDA material and not something that the entire family gets to share in (or would want to). Social events though like the "after parties" were open to all. Again, I guess the Knights are going to have these glorious open social events that anyone and his brother can attend. Whatever.
    5. Politics. Every company or organization has them and they'll continue to exist in any organized group of individuals. Sometimes they're painful, other times they're easy sleazy. Again, I think this point stems from whatever bridges Joel may have burned during or after Microsoft. If the program doesn't award me, it's their perogative and I may jump up and down and scream but it's just that. Personal? Yeah, not being awarded has a personal twist on things. If I don't get re-awarded one of these years it'll be depressing but of all the things to worry about in the world, this would be pretty damn low on the list.
    6. Exclusivity and distribution lists. Frankly I fail to see what this has to with a problem with the MVP program. If the Knights are truely there to uphold the Microsoft NDA as they state, how can you conduct NDA discussions on a list external to Microsoft? Yahoo and Google groups both, in small print, say that all conversations on their hosted lists can be taken and claimed as their own property and used in any way they see fit. That's the agreement you have with them and if you don't like it then don't put your list up there. A special list? Sure, but again if NDA conversations go outside of Microsoft even to a private list there's issues of compromise. Imagine that list is attacked and stolen (as many credit card records are these days). So now that IP from Microsoft entrusted to you is out in the open and perhaps is something damaging to the bottom line. In any case, the Knights are not going to be able to fix this. No MVP in their right mind who is under NDA will post NDA material on an external list. Doing so voilates the NDA itself. The Knights do not have any power over this (unless they convert some rogue MVP over to the dark side and posts NDA content which in turn is a voilation of the Knights proclaimation). A bit of a conundrum I can't see being fixed by the Knights.
    7. Not being included in speakers for conferences because you're not a MVP. Again, this is Joel whining about not being an MVP and not being picked for some conference. So your Knights organization is going to carry so much respect and honor that conference organizers are just going to bow down at your holiness and take you to the front of the line? Joel, I'm sorry you didn't get into some conference but that's between you and the conference organizer and whatever reasons they decided to not include you. Stop blaming the MVP program for your misfortunes.
    8. Regional crowd. I agree that sometimes you don't get MVPs into the program because of density but I don't think it has anything to do with how many MVPs there are, just the fact that there's limitations on regionally organized leads who have to keep the MVPs happy (not to mention the budget for shuffling MVPs to Redmond every year). There's one MVP lead in Canada and that's for about 20 or so MVPs (I've lost count sorry). I think that's too many to handle so I don't blame the program for not accepting new people. Would you want a) 50 MVPs with 1 lead and no time to help them out at all or b) 10 MVPs with 1 lead who can help the MVPs be the most effective they can in deliverying content to the public? BTW, how is your coveted Knights program going to fix this?
    9. Company politics are company politics. If you have an Oracle guy and a SQL guy, they're going to talk and maybe beat each other up or whatever. It's all based on the maturity of the person. You're blaming the MVP program for the diversity of awardees corporate relations? Joel, this is going to happen no matter what. Children will be children as bloggers will be bloggers. You're not going to change that with your magical sword.
    10. More "How do I get into the MVP program" crap. Joel, you know what the formula is and you didn't get in? Know why? Because you expected it. You're like Rocky Balboa at the begining of Rocky III (the one with Mr. T as Clubber Lang). You're expecting to be great but not realizing that you can achive this all by your lonesome by doing it. Stop expecting to be an MVP and just do what excites you. If it's SharePoint then maybe the program will recognize that, but does it really matter? Do you need that certificate and button to acknowlege you're doing a good job or can you get that through your own self-satisfaction by applying passion and desire to something you love. Eye of the Tiger Rock, Eye of the Tiger.

    Bottom line, IMHO, Joel is peeved because he didn't get the MVP award after he left Micrsoft and is now taking his toys and building his own sandbox where he can make the rules that work for him. Joel, get a clue and stop yer bitching. This kind of behavior is exactly what gives MVPs a bad rap.

    Joel, give yer head a shake.

  • She Ought To Be In Pictures

    Shel Silverstein wrote he wanted to be famous by getting his picture on the cover of The Rolling Stone. How about getting a photo spread in Fortune Magazine before you’re two years old?

    gsegal_vista1

    This months Fortune Magazine is running a 12 page photo article called True Obsessions. It’s a series of portraits of people who take their favourite brands seriously. We’re both pleased and proud that our daughter Vista made the article. You can see her two pages of fame starting here. Sharing the spotlight with Vista are are couple that live the Mountain Dew dream; a family with a passion for John Deere products; a Harley Davidson headstone; a 25 year veteran Coors collector; and Weird Al Yankovic and his crazy shoe collection. The web version of the article is online now and the print version comes out in a few weeks. Needless to say you won’t be able to buy a copy of Fortune Magazine in Calgary in May. Sorry about that.

    The Setup

    On March 30th I got an email from a reporter, Beth Kowitt, at Fortune Magazine. They were working on a story about loyal customers and people who go above and beyond in showing loyalty to a brand or product. Beth and I exchanged emails and I said I was interested. After a brief chat on the phone the wheels started turning and the machine began. Let me tell you they don’t waste time with these articles. I suppose it must be the speed of the Internet but within 4 days the photo editor contacted me, they had lined up a photographer to “hussel up to Calgary” by the 11th of April and the article would be online by the end of the month and in print for early May. Internet speed indeed!

    There was little we had to do to get ready. It was just a waiting game. Beth and I exchanged emails about logistics and whatnot and we provided her with the back story on why she was named Vista, my connection to Microsoft, her middle name, and all that good stuff. Finally it was Easter and the shoot was upon us.

    Shooting Up

    The day came and the photographers were here. The photographer for the shoot was Gregg Segal and in tow was his trusty sidekick, Dylan. For the shoot we opted to use Grandma and Grandpa’s house. This was out of convenience (they only live 10 minutes from the airport) and the fact that we have two over ambitious cats and two equally obnoxious dogs. Shooting at our house would have been Doctor Doolittle meets The Spanish Inquisition. It’s an hour drive in from our house but in the end I think it was worth the effort.

    The magazine sent along some props for Vista to use, namely a set of diapers with the Windows Vista logos on them and some onesies with the words “I’m a PC” on them. There was also a necklace with Vista’s name spelled out in blocks and stuff like that. It all sounded great too. Unfortunately when the photographers showed up, the props were nowhere to be found. They were enroute via courier. The problem is that here in Canada, Easter Friday is a holiday so no delivery for you!

    We shifted into creative mode. I headed out to Future Shop to buy a Microsoft mouse and keyboard, Jenn headed out to the craft store to get some letters and other props. We also got the bright idea to see if we could get our own T-Shirts made up. In the end we picked up a set of iron on transfers that we printed out the Vista logo onto and made our own. By the time we got back, the boys had unloaded what seemed like an entire truckload of equipment. I knew there was going to be lights and such, but sheesh. There was enough stuff there for 10 photo shoots!

    Descending into the in-law’s living room like an army of ants, things were setup, plugged in, and wired together. It looked like Kodak threw up in their living room, but hey it was impressive. Vista didn’t mind either. BTW, if you notice below on the TV the curling championships were underway (with Canada leading the charge). The photographers were curiously fascinated at the curling and couldn’t take their eyes off of it, much like a weird car crash but with ice and stones.

    Setting up the shot

    The shoot went well and a bit of an out-of-body experience. We shot for 2 or 3 hours on Friday as the team had to head off to Pittsburgh on Saturday. The initial shoot was against a backdrop and ended up producing the main photo for the article. I think the boys must have snapped about 200 pics that night, burning through memory cards like kindling. Vista was an absolute superstar that night. At one point she had a bit of a “Diva” moment. I think she had enough of the mouse dangling in front of her face and said “All done” (Signing Time style) and walked off the set. Literally.

    The next day we had two setups, one with her sitting at a small table we have for her (along with Jenn’s very pink laptop). Luckily we grabbed a copy of BabySmash to load up on it and both Vista and the photographers got a kick out of the laughter coming from Vista and the computer. Another couple of hours of shooting but I think V was catching onto this whole photography thing. She wasn’t too into it but was a real trooper. We finished a setup at the dinner table with two laptops, Vista, myself, and a box of Techie Crunch cereral (a prop from my Tech Days presentations). It went over well (we had real food in the bowl for her to much on) but of course time took it’s toll and she was done. 6 hours of photography over 2 days is about her limit but the guys got some great shots for the article.

    The props? Well, one box did show up on Saturday via FedEx. They contained some “Vista” branded diapers (basically the same thing we did with the t-shirts using iron on transfers) and the necklace with her name spelled out. Unfortunately we have a ginormica child so 24 month diapers don’t cut it for her. She’s reaching Amazon status (the race, not the website) and wearing size 6 diapers. The other props showed up at our house about 3 weeks later. They came from Cafe Press and were nice, but again, fit for a “normal” 24 month old. Vista is a wee bit bigger than that so they’re making for some nice teddy bear and doll clothes. Thanks Fortune!

    Coming Soon To A Magazine Near You

    So what’s next for Vista? Time? Life? National Geographic? Nah.

    Wired baby. Wired.