One of the best features of Office 365 vs BPOS: setting passwords not to expire

Should passwords expire? Most of the best practice guides I have seen say that they should, but there are downsides. The more often passwords expire, the more likely users are to forget them and contact support, or write them down, which is insecure. Further, it is all friction that means users get less work done.

There is plentiful evidence of the aggravation this causes, particularly when the new password has to be entered in several places. Smartphones are problematic because email accounts settings can be hard to find. For example:

guess who missed a super important email last night from my most important customer because unbeknownst to me, my smart phone was no longer receiving messages because the password had expired – even though I never selected a 90-day setting when i set up the account and had no idea such insanity was in place. It wasn;t until I logged into my computer just now and was greeted with none of my services working that I figured it out!

Even IT professionals can run into trouble:

My Office 365 account password expired today and, somewhere in the midst of the password reset I managed to lock myself out. As I only have one mailbox on the account (i.e. I am the administrator), that’s a bit of a problem.

Microsoft’s cloud services, BPOS and Office 365, both set automatic password expiry by default. This was a common complaint about BPOS. Originally you could contact support and get password expiry disabled; then Microsoft decided this was too much hassle for it (never mind the users) and made it impossible to change.

Fortunately Office 365 does allow you to disable password expiry. Here is how.

1. Install Office 365 sign-in assistant. Links are here.

2. Install PowerShell cmdlets for Office 365, downloads also in link above.

3. Run PowerShell, type:

import-module MSOnline

4. Next, type:


Enter your credentials for an admin user. For example, user@mydomain.emea.microsoftonline com and the password.


5. Finally, type:

Set-MsolUser -UserPrincipalName TheUserName -PasswordNeverExpires $true

where TheUserName is the account name concerned, for example

6. Alternatively you can do this in one shot for all users:

Get-MSOLUser | Set-MsolUser -PasswordNeverExpires $true

Note that with all these commands, no news is good news. In other words, success gets you nothing other than return to the flashing cursor. Errors get you red error messages.


What would you like to see in Microsoft Office 15?

Today brings the news that Microsoft Office 15 is now in Technical Preview (also known as private beta).

There is little news about what is in it other than this:

With Office 15, for the first time ever, we will simultaneously update our cloud services, servers, and mobile and PC clients for Office, Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Project, and Visio.


So what would you like to see in Office 15? Here are a few things on my wish list:

  1. Properly integrate SharePoint (and therefore Office 365) with Windows so that you can use it easily without ever opening a web browser. That might mean fixing SharePoint WorkSpace or doing something better, like Explorer integration without the various hassles associated with WebDAV.
  2. Fix Outlook, or better still replace it. I hear many complaints about Outlook, either concerning its performance, or else one of its many annoyances such as how hard it is to reply to an email while quoting sections of the original message – astonishing, when you consider the maturity of the product.
  3. Improve cross-platform support. Office on the Mac is poor compared to the Windows version, particularly in terms of performance. It is also time Microsoft came out with apps for iOS and Android for touch-friendly document editing.
  4. Update the user interface for touch control as far as possible. This will be critical for Windows 8 tablets, especially on ARM.
  5. Improve structured document editing in Word. Styles are hard to use, so are bullets and numbering. I tend not to use the paragraph numbering in Word because it is so fiddly and annoying.

The problem is that Office is a huge and intricate bag of legacy. The work Microsoft did in replacing the menus with ribbon toolbars was admirable in its way, and potentially more touch-friendly, but if you scratch the surface much is unchanged underneath. All the old commands remain.

NVIDIA releases CUDA Toolkit 4.1 with LLVM compiler

NVIDIA has released version 4.1 of its CUDA Toolkit for general purpose GPU computing.


There is a lot in this release, including a compiler based on LLVM, which will make it easier to support other programming languages; 1000 new imaging functions; and a re-designed visual profiler.

There is also an update to Parallel Nsight, for debugging and profiling CUDA applications in Visual Studio. This is free, though you have to register as an NVIDIA developer. You need this update to work with the 4.1 toolkit.

You do have to update your graphics card driver:


using a new build which NVIDIA has not gotten around to signing:


Still, lots of goodies here and a must-have for developers wishing to put their NVIDIA GPU to work for more than just games.

Fixing a Small Business Server 2008 broken by updates

I had a call last night from a small business whose email no longer worked. They had applied updates to the server but Exchange had failed to restart.

Looking at the services it was easy to see why. All the Exchange services and certain others including the IIS web server were set to disabled:


The likely culprit was Update Rollup 5 for Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 3 (KB 2602324) – or rather, the mechanism which applies the patch, since this seems to be an issue that others have run into as far back as 2008 with other Exchange patches, though it is rare:

I installed the Update Rollup 4 and did a reboot of my Exchange Server 2007. But since then, all my services are disabled. Is this a known issue?

My guess is that the patch disables the services in order to update the binaries and then, for some unknown reason not fixed by Microsoft over these last four years, fails to re-enable them.

It seems that no harm was done other than that the services were disabled, but how can you know which services are meant to be running, which should be set to manual, and which should stay disabled?

I contemplated doing a quick test install of SBS 2008 on a VM just  to see how it is set out of the box, but fortunately found this post by Susan Bradley which shows default SBS 2008 running services.

There were a few other things wrong.  SharePoint Services was raising event 5586:

Unknown SQL Exception 33002 occured. Additional error information from SQL Server is included below. Access to table dbo.Versions is blocked because the signature is not valid.

and there was the related event 33002 from the internal SQL Server used by SharePoint. The cause of this was SharePoint Services 3.0 Service Pack 3. When you apply a major update to SharePoint Services, you have to re-run the SharePoint Products and Technologies Configuration Wizard. This is by design, though it seems odd to me that you apply an update and it silently breaks the product it is updating until you run a further manual process. Of course the error itself does not give you much clue about what is really wrong.

The third major issue was a JRNL_WRAP_ERROR from the NTFrs File Replication Service. You have to be careful with this one, since the advised fix in the event log presumes the presence of a good replica elsewhere, which in the case of SBS is unlikely. See this article for details. With SBS which it is the sole domain controller you should set the BurFlags registry key to D4. Further comment on ServerFault here.

The incident reminds me of how prickly SBS can be. It is great value for what it does, but has all the complexity of Microsoft’s server stack plus the further disadvantage of being crammed onto one machine. I prefer a pseudo multi-server approach, even for small businesses, with at least two physical servers and separate VMs for Exchange, SharePoint, domain controller, backup DC on the other physical machine, and so on. Of course this has complexity of its own.

I would guess that when upgrade time comes around, companies like this will be looking carefully at Office 365. Or Google Apps; but the advantage of Office 365 is that you can make the transition from SBS with relatively little impact on users: just migrate the Active Directory, Exchange and SharePoint. You lose flexibility and some local performance, but hand over the maintenance issues to Microsoft.

Nokia results: hope for Windows Phone?

It is almost one year since Nokia’s dramatic announcement that it would transition its smartphone range to Windows Phone. Today the company released its results for the fourth quarter and for the full year 2011, the first since the release of the the Lumia range of Windows Phone devices. How it is doing?

This is one you can spin either way. The negative view: Nokia is losing money. Sales are down 21% year on year for the quarter and 9% for the full year, and the company reported an operating loss of just over a billion Euro for the year, most of which was in the last quarter.

If you look at the quarter on quarter device sales, they are down in both smart devices and mobile phones. The Symbian business has not held up as well as the company hoped:

changing market conditions are putting increased pressure on Symbian. In certain markets, there has been an acceleration of the anticipated trend towards lower-priced smartphones with specifications that are different from Symbian’s traditional strengths. As a result of the changing market conditions, combined with our increased focus on Lumia, we now believe that we will sell fewer Symbian devices than we previously anticipated.

says the press release. As for Windows Phone and Lumia, CEO Stephen Elop says that “well over 1 million Lumia devices” have been sold: a start, but still tiny relative to Apple iOS and Google Android. Elop cleverly calls it a “beachhead”, but given the energy Nokia put into the launch I suspect it is disappointed with the numbers.

Put this in context though and there are reasons for hope. First, Nokia’s speed of execution is impressive, from announcement to the first Windows Phones in nine months or so. Further, the Lumia (judging by the Lumia 800 I have been using) does not feel like a device rushed to market. The design is excellent, and within the small world of Windows Phone 7 hardware Nokia has established itself as the brand of first choice.

Second, despite the dismal sales for Windows Phone 7 since its launch, there are signs that Microsoft may yet emerge from the wreckage inflicted on the market by iOS and Android in better shape than others. WebOS has all-but gone. RIM has yet to convince us that it has a viable recovery strategy. Intel Tizen is just getting started. If Microsoft has a successful launch for Windows 8, Elop’s “third ecosystem” idea may yet come to fruition.

Third, Nokia has already shown that it is better able to market Windows Phone 7 than Microsoft itself, or its other mobile partners. Lumia made a good splash at CES in January, and the platform may gain some market share in the influential US market.

Nokia is not just Windows Phone though, and even if its smartphone strategy starts to work it has those falling Symbian sales to contend with. It will not be easy, even taking an optimistic view.

Nor will it be easy for Windows 8 to succeed in a tablet market owned by Apple at the high end and by Amazon/Android at the low end.

Why Microsoft is scrapping the MIX conference

Microsoft is scrapping its MIX conference, according to General Manager Tim O’Brien:

we have decided to merge MIX, our spring web conference for developers and designers, into our next major developer conference, which we will host sometime in the coming year. I know a number of folks were wondering about MIX, given the time of year, so we wanted to make sure there’s no ambiguity, and be very clear… there will be no MIX 2012.

O’Brien says that MIX started in the aftermath of the 2005 PDC because:

there was a lot of discussion around our engagement with the web community, and how we needed a more focused effort around our upcoming plans for Internet Explorer, the roadmap for our web platform, the work we were starting on web standards (we were shipping IE6 at the time), and so on.

That is not quite how I recall it. PDC 2005 was the pre-Vista PDC, no, not the “three pillars of Longhorn” in PDC 2003, but the diluted version of Longhorn that was actually delivered as Windows Vista. One thing Microsoft really did get around this time was that design mattered. Apple had cool design, Adobe had cool design (and a strong grip on the designer community), but Microsoft did not.

Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) was intended to win designers to the Windows platform, with its graphically-rich and multimedia-friendly API. In order to do this, the company needed to win designers over to the idea of using Expression Blend rather than Adobe Flash and Photoshop.

This was doubly true when Microsoft decided to bring WPF to the browser in the form of Silverlight, a decision that was announced at PDC 2005 and expanded on at the first MIX in 2006.

One of the things I recall at the first and second MIX events were groups of bemused Flash designers who had been bussed in by Microsoft to enjoy the lights of Vegas and learn about Blend.

General web authoring was a factor as well, as Microsoft sought to bring Internet Explorer back on track and to persuade web designers of the virtues of Microsoft’s web platform.

I enjoyed the MIX events. They were small enough that you could easily get to speak both to attendees and to the Microsoft folk there, and once you allow for the fact that Vegas is Vegas, the atmosphere was good.

As an attempt to appeal to designers though, MIX was a failure. It was all too forced; many of the people attending were developers anyway; and Microsoft itself included more and more developer content in ensuing MIX events.

The 2010 MIX was hijacked by Windows Phone 7, an interesting topic but drifting far from the original intentions.

It comes as no surprise to hear than MIX is no more. It is associated with WPF and Silverlight, neither of which are now strategic for Microsoft in these days of Windows 8 and the Windows Runtime (WinRT).

That said, Microsoft still has difficulty appealing to designers.

What next then? O’Brien says:

we look ahead to 2012 and beyond, the goal is to ensure that global Microsoft developer events are of the caliber that many of you experienced at BUILD last September, in addition to the thousands of online and local developer events we host around the world to support communities and connect directly with developers. We will share more details of our next developer event later this year.


Microsoft LocalDB: another option for local databases

Microsoft is launching SQL Server 2012 on  March 7th 2012. In Microsoft’s world “launches” do not always coincide with the availability of release code, which may come before or after, but they are usually not far apart.

The big news in SQL Server 2012 is in new BI (Business Intelligence) features and the ability to import and export from the open source Hadoop framework. Microsoft is also supporting Hadoop on Windows Server and Windows Azure. Robert Sheldon has an excellent article on TechTarget which describes the Hadoop integration.

At the other end of the scale though there is a new approach to local databases, which interests me as this is the kind of thing an application developer might use for local applications. SQL Express LocalDB uses the full SQL Server Express engine but does not require a SQL Server service to be running or even installed. In summary:

  • The LocalDB binaries can be installed with a separate installer or as part of the SQL Server Express.
  • LocalDB instances are isolated to the user.
  • The LocalDB system databases are buried deep in AppData in the user profile. The default location for user databases is the root of the user profile.
  • The old SQL Server User Instances are now deprecated

A driver for LocalDB has to know how to fire up the SQL Server binaries if they are not running, which means that old drivers will not work. Microsoft has patched System.Data.SqlClient in .NET 4 to work with LocalDB.

LocalDB Pros and cons

The advantage of LocalDB over the cut-down Compact Edition is that you get full access to SQL Server features including transactions, stored procedures, geographical data types and so on. It is meant to improve on the old user instances by simplifying matters for the user: no need to run a service, and management of SQL Server completely hidden.

The disadvantage is that your app still has the overhead of SQL Server running in a separate process. A SQL Server LocalDB install also takes around 140MB, which bumps up the download size if your app is distributed on the web.

If you need a local database, it seems to me that Microsoft still has nothing that quite matches SQLite, which runs in-process, is lightning fast, and which does not require any hidden system databases.

On the other hand, it might make sense to use SQL Server if you want to integrate with a server database, or if you are familiar with coding for SQL Server.

I would like to see Windows ship with a local database engine documented as something developers can rely on being there, as with Core Data on the Mac. It would also help if the SQL Server team got together with the Office team and worked out how to get Access and SQL Server Express to use the same database engine – yes, I know Access can use SQL Server data, but it still defaults to its own .ACCDB format and JET database engine.

Adobe sheds more light on its LiveCycle plans–but what is happening to its Digital Enterprise Platform?

When Adobe announced a shift in its business strategy in November, it was not clear what the implications were for the products that were no longer favoured. Since then bits of information have dripped out, presumably as the company itself works out its priorities. In December developers learned that Flash Catalyst would be discontinued and Flash Builder would have features removed. Now VP Arun Anantharaman has posted about what is happening to LiveCycle, the Enterprise Services side of Adobe.

Quick summary: Anantharaman says that the following “core offerings” will be the subject of continuing investment:

  • Modules: Reader Extensions, Forms, Output, Digital Signatures, Rights Management, Process Management, PDF Generation
  • Tools: Workbench, Designer
  • Solutions: Correspondence Management
  • ECM Connectors: SharePoint, IBM Filenet, Documentum
  • Advanced Offerings: Data Services

While it is reassuring to see that Data Services will not be abandoned, and that the most important PDF-based server products still have a future, not everything is clear regarding Adobe’s enterprise strategy. It is telling that Anantharaman’s post is entitled “The Future of LiveCycle”; yet the LiveCycle product page still says that LiveCycle has been replaced by the Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform:

The next evolution of LiveCycle is here. The new Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform (ADEP) brings together core LiveCycle capabilities and much more.

So why not a post on the future of ADEP? If you look at the FAQ about ADEP it seems that many of the modules mentioned above have been replaced by ADEP services.

It would also be helpful to spell out exactly what is being dropped, rather than leaving customers to work this out by spotting what is not mentioned. It does appear that the work Adobe has done on composite applications (“Mosaic”) is a casualty. Collaboration services are another obvious omission. Correspondence seems to be the sole survivor from what was three Solutions Accelerators: the other two were “Review and Approval” and “Interactive Statements”.

There is also the question of what is happening with Adobe’s Enterprise Content Management story. In October 2010, Adobe completed its acquisition of Day Software, thereby acquiring REST pioneer Roy Fielding as well as Day’s core product, CQ (Communiqué). ADEP seemed to bring together the CRX content repository which is used by CQ with Adobe’s previous investment in Enterprise application development, as well including the PDF document services that go back many years at Adobe, before the Macromedia acquisition.

Now, Web Content Management is still a focus at Adobe, being part of what Adobe, with its love of the Experience word, calls Web Experience Management. This is from Anantharaman’s statement last November:

we are now planning to focus our Enterprise efforts on products targeting the digital marketer, including the Digital Marketing Suite and Web Experience Management solution.

That suggests CQ and CRX are alive and well at Adobe; but what exactly is happening to ADEP?

I have asked Adobe for clarification of its Enterprise strategy, and while nobody was available to speak to me on the subject immediately, I have been told that this should be possible in a couple of weeks time, so watch this space.

Microsoft financials: Windows under stress, Server and Office making up

If we are really in the post-PC era, then one of two things will happen. Either Microsoft will make a big success of non-PC products, or it will start delivering shocking financial results. Neither is yet true. Here are the results just announced, broken down into a simple table.

Quarter ending December 31st 2011 vs quarter ending December 31st 2010, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 4736 -320 2850 -64
Server and Tools 4772 +484 1996 +285
Online 784 +71 -458 +101
Business (Office) 6279 +169 4152 +65
Entertainment and devices 4237 +539 528 -138

A few observations. Server revenue (though not profit) exceeded client revenue; I am not sure if this is the first time it has done so, but it is unusual. The Office division enjoyed a remarkable quarter, and the press release mentions 10% growth in Exchange and SharePoint, and 30% growth (from a smaller base) in Lync and Dynamics CRM. Azure? Not mentioned so I presume revenue is small.

Where is Office 365? Somewhere in the Office figures I would guess; and once again, since it is not mentioned, I think we can assume it is not delivering a large amount of revenue yet. I would like to know more though.

What Microsoft calls Online is formed of Bing search and services and advertising income. Another hefty loss, but revenue is up, loss somewhat reduced, and Microsoft claims that  “Bing-powered US market share, including Yahoo! properties, was approximately 27%”. Not bad.

This is the big quarter for gaming and Xbox delivered accordingly. The faltering Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7 are somewhere lost in those Xbox numbers, and again its revenue is not mentioned in the press release.

Apple iBooks Author aims at school textbook market, but beware the lock-in

Apple claims to “Reinvent Textbooks” with the introduction of iBooks 2 for iPad, along with an accompanying free authoring tool for the Mac.

iBooks Author is already in the Mac App Store and I had a quick look. It is template based, so the first thing you do is to make your choice.


I picked Contemporary, whereupon the authoring screen opened and I started to make some edits. If you divide Desktop Publishing (DTP) tools into those that are more oriented towards longer books, and those more oriented towards shorter but more graphically rich titles, then iBooks Author is in the former category. You can write the text in Pages or Word, and then import to iBooks Author. You can also add images, charts, tables, hyperlinks, and a variety of widgets including HTML, Keynote presentations, 3D models and more. The format of some of the widgets seems to be Dashcode, as used by the Dashboard in Mac OS X; certainly that is the case for the HTML widget.


I got a bit stuck on one point. I did not want the astronomy images in the template, but was not ready with an alternative. However I could not delete the image placeholder. It seems that the templates are somewhat restrictive.

Once your work is ready you can preview it. This is interesting. In order to preview, you attach an iPad, open iBooks on the iPad, and then select it in iBooks Author. A nice touch: the book appears on the iPad marked Proof.


There is also an animation as the book opens. In the grab below, you can spot the busy icon: this is because the smart cover disappears automatically so you have to grab it on the fly.


What about publishing? You can export your work in one of three formats: iBooks, PDF, or plain text.


Apple emphasises the licensing agreement right there in the Export dialog. You can only sell your book through the Apple iBookstore. Note also that the book is only for iPad. You cannot read it on a Mac, let alone on an Amazon Kindle, unless you choose PDF and make it available for free.

Here is the agreement in more detail:

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:
(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.

I exported the book in iBooks format and took a quick look at the contents in an editor.


On a quick look, it seems to have a lot in common with a standard epub, but is nevertheless a proprietary Apple format.

Finally, a few observations. I have no doubt that eBook usage will grow rapidly in education as elsewhere, and the iPad is a delightful device on which to read them, though expensive.

I do have nagging concerns though. In typical Apple style, this is an only-Apple solution for authors or publishers who need to charge for their work. Does it really make sense for schools and colleges to recommend and use textbooks that can only be read on Apple devices? Of course publishers can repurpose the same underlying content for other formats, though they will have to be careful how they use iBooks Author to avoid falling foul of the licensing clause quoted above.

Is there no way to reinvent textbooks without an Apple tax and locking knowledge into proprietary formats?