Thursday, December 30, 2004

What's in your toolbag?

In working with one of my clients this week all I can say is it helps to have Google as your friend and a bag (or CD in this case) of tricks.

A Windows XP computer booted up with the error:
Windows XP could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt: \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM

Generally this refers to a corrupt system registry according to this Microsoft KB which is pretty easy to search and find based on entering the entire above error into Google Groups (which has a new beta BTW).

Well working through this problem and trying to copy the system registry backup down from the repair directory, which is a great add in to XP, caused a problem as well. While in the Recovery Console when I went to the \windows\system32\config directory I would get the error that the directory could not be enumerated. UH oh, looks like a failed hard disk.

Well for any administrator or consultant I highly recommend Bart's PE bootable XP CD, this is a great little way to startup XP and get all the utilities you need but boot from a CD rather than the HDD in question. Booted up this way and ran the CHKDSK utility that is included. CHKDSK is a pretty forgotten utility now in the world of GUI interfaces but still works great. Come to find out after an hour of running this on the HDD that the system directory was the only one with errors and CHKDSK recreated the index to the directory properly for all files in question and now I could see the entire directory.

Shut down BartPE and rebooted and the client was back in business. Downtime was minimal and the client was needless to say VERY happy again.

So what's the lesson? Always have a bag of goodies to draw from. As a business owner or admin with a network sometimes trouble will come looking for you. Be prepared. Bart's boot CD is a great little item to keep in your sacred CD set. If needed I could have used the boot CD, mapped a drive to the server and done a backup or file copy of all files on the HDD. Great and easy way to keep as much information as possible. And as we know time and data is money in an SMB.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

What's in your email?

An interesting little blurb from a local paper her in Michigan caught my eye. E-mails justify Pandy's firing. Evidently the Board of Water and Light had a little something on his computer from emails exchanged.

This is pretty interesting as well for the small business out there. What is exactly on your corporate email system? Do you really know? It might be appropriate to ask your technology partner to see if something is needed in the order of smart scanning technology or at the very least web surfing software to restrict access to questionable sites.

At the very least do you have an employee code of conduct manual? If your technology partner came up to you today and mentioned what Joe was surfing how would you handle it?

Planning now will help you take the appropriate steps later on.

Are You Using IMF?

Are you sick of spam? Did you realize that on your SBS 2003 server Microsoft provides a free spam fighting engine? Yep the Intelligent Messaging Filter is a nice add on to Exchange 2003.

Here's a step by step process on what you can do to get it going properly and easily manage it:

Go to the M&M site (home of the SBS MVP's Mariette and Marina) and see step by step details on how to install the IMF on your SBS machine.

Then go to either 1: The Exchange Blog and get the web based archive manager or go to 2: The Exchange Team's GotDotNet site and get the DotNet version of Archive Manager . I personally use the second version. It's clean and runs as a simple .exe file that I can easily put on the desktop of my client's servers. You can easily scan entries and resubmit if needed to the Exchange pickup queue.

Don't forget to enable the reg key to get the SCL (Spam Confidence Level) displayed in the archive utility. The IMF deployment guide on Technet can help you in this. But essentially you go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Exchange\ContentFilter and enter a new DWord of ArchiveSCL=1. That's it now you've got Microsoft's SCL listing.

Now what should you set up for the SCL? Well remember that the LOWER you go with the numbers the more spam you catch. I have to say I have initially set mine rather high but have adjusted as I see how much spam and false positives come in. I have my client's set to 7 right now. I think this might be adjusted but I don't know which is worse having a client state "I have too much spam" or "that dang filter ate an email." Remember that email is the lifeblood of a good business nowadays so step lightly when it comes you adjusting your SCL.

Oh and one other point, the Exchange Team yesterday reminded us that an update to IMF is on the way early next year. It'll be eagerly accepted!

So go out and stomp out that SPAM now.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Follow One Small Business IT Journey

RedNova has the start of a series of articles on A Small Business IT Journey by one New Zealand Publishing House.

Really for Small Business isn't that what its all about? A Journey. A journey that starts with one or two pc's hodgepodged together and then another added and another added. Pretty soon there are 10 or 20 pc's running on a peer to peer system that was never meant for such a thing. Sometimes that time goes so quickly that small businesses hobble along thinking that's all that was meant.

Nice to see this firm made the right decision after time. Hey SBS 4.5 had its weaknesses but man at least you could file and print share and run email. And then SBS 2000 came along and sure the install perhaps wasn't the best but doggoneit it worked and was pretty stable.

But now SBS 2003 comes along and SURE NOW you make the switch. OK, OK I here you it is the cat's meow. But in the article did you notice the key reasons for moving to SBS 2003: data security, communications, remote access and collaboration. OK so from the SBS side that's a more stable and secure platform with Windows Server 2003, things like fax sharing and Exchange communication and synchronization, the Remote Web Workplace, and Sharepoint. Yep, SBS 2003 did improve on all those areas and I do see why you're moving in the right direction.

Again, here are pain points for small businesses that are directly addressed with SBS 2003. If you address the pain, then the sale and the resulting increase in small business follows.

It'll be interesting to see the exact reasons they chose SBS in future issues and hopefully how they're using it the RIGHT way.

Microsoft Resource Directory

Are you in need of specific expertise on one of Microsoft's vast products? Then you might want to check out the Microsoft Resource Directory. With Microsoft's new partner program in place a new detailed profile for each partner is in place that lists their expertise and products they work with.

The Resource Directory is a first place you might want to check on to take a look and see if someone specializes in a product in your area. Now we've been told that the Resource Directory is a work in process (yup I totally agree!) and that an update is scheduled for the Resource Directory come the first of the year. It's badly needed from both the partner and small business arenas. How many times have you just wondered who to call for a specific product and be done with it? For instance if you go to the SBS product page you would link to all the SBS partners in your area? That would finally be what BOTH small businesses and partners would like to see. Hopefully it won't be too much longer.

Are you using Sharepoint for your document repository?

One of the cool features that SBS 2003 brought us is Sharepoint. Now we know that the default intranet site included with SBS 2003 is running on Sharepoint. But have you extended your Sharepoint site yet? This is one up and coming item that a lot of Small Businesses are focused on. Right now I'm working with an Insurance Agency that has a TON of paper documents. They are considering moving to Sharepoint for all of their shared storage.

One of the tech savvy employees mentioned to me that she has been comfortable with using Scansoft in the past and the Paperport product. She was impressed that right in the advertising for the new version, Paperport is mentioned as being the seamless integration between the paper document and the content management system. This truly is a great way right now in my opinion for scanners and scanner software to get their items noticed. Sharepoint is something that is a free add-in with SBS and Windows Server 2003 and being able to add real value in your business is being able to get rid of all of those piles of documents and placing it into a full blown searchable repository. Just don't forget that in order to get that full text feature you need SBS Premium with SQL thrown in.

Have a look at Sharepoint. If you've got a networked document scanner, are you really that far away from getting all of your information into Sharepoint and going paperless? Nope didn't think so either.

Friday, December 10, 2004

My new Smartphone is da Bomb!

OK I'm not a rapper but I just gotta spin about my new Windows Smartphone, the Audiovox SMT 5600. I bought it off of eBay for $275 locked for AT&T. Then I went to a site to unlock that was recommended by others on a Smartphone forum. In about 5 minutes I had the phone unlocked.

Now why did I unlock the phone you say? Well I currently had T-Mobile service here in the US and they have a nice data plan that is unlimited for $20/month. To me it's the best out there. Put in my SIM card and voila!

When I first received the phone I couldn't believe how light it is. The battery has lasted me 2 days and it's really nice that it can recharge through the USB connection on my computer while syncing up. Grab the phone and go with all of your updated email, contacts, etc.

Speaking of updated email, for us SBS users out here using Exchange 2003, the mobile features of this phone are incredible. Being able to ActiveSync to Exchange over the GPRS system is awesome. Get your inbox anytime and quickly decipher which emails need attention. This truly is something that is a value add on sell for SBS 2003 to the working small business owner out there.

Already I've had many come up to me and wonder what I've got. I explain it and it starts a chain reaction of what computer system they are using and how they get their email.

With the miniSD holder (unfortunately under the battery) the SMT 5600 has quickly become my .mp3 player. Just drag and drop in XP to the Mobile Device shown and you've got all of your items for listening at a later time. Windows Media Player 10 on board is great as well for this.

The only problem I've had so far is that I'd love to have the phone ring me and vibrate at the same time when a call comes in. Often I'm in the car and have the radio going and don't hear the phone. If anybody knows how to do this, please let me know. Otherwise, its been great.

If you're interested in the SMT 5600 or other smartphones check out Microsoft's Smartphone site where you can demo this puppy. Just think of the possibilities with SBS 2003 and Activesync!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

'R2' Due in October 2005? What about Cougar?

Mary Jo Foley, the true insider and watch of Microsoft reports today about Microsoft letting it be known that R2 of Windows 2003 Server will be targeted for a release date of October 2005. She also mentions rightly so that it will probably slip until at least December.

So what does that mean for SBS "Cougar"? Well obviously as I posted about here that originally Cougar was slated for release in Q3. Well I would wipe that date and put it back to Q1 of 2006.

There's no question that Cougar is on the back burner with Service Pack 1 for SBS 2003 not having been released as of yet. We received word last night from our Partner Tech Specialist at Microsoft that SP1 for Windows 2003 is slated for a March 31, 2005 release so that will probably push SBS SP1 back to perhaps May of 2005. It would be a very aggressive schedule to get a brand new release of SBS out the door in only about 6 months so let's be a little pessimistic here and figure on at least Q1 of 2006 for Cougar. As with all Microsoft products, it'll come when it comes and we'll just have to live with it. Although I gotta say it's hard to have patience for SP1 of SBS since it's including ISA 2004 and all the other patches that we manually do right now. It sure would be nice of Microsoft to release a Service Pack at least one year following the initial release of the product. We going on what 13 or 14 mos of SBS without a Service Pack. I would say that I personally would have appreciated a SP release last month with ISA 2004 and then a six month down the road mini release to add Windows 2003 SP1. Oh well!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1) Release Candidate (RC)

It appears that the Windows Server 2003 Service Pack is well on it's way to making it out the door. Microsoft has put up a Technet site for SP1 Release Candidate.

Well that's good news for us out in SBS land. Once the SP for Windows Server 2003 gets released then shortly thereafter the SP for SBS 2003 should be released. Why will this be nice? Not only will we get the Service Packs for Windows 2003 but also for those of us with SBS 2003 Premium we get ISA 2004 and all of the other bundled service packs.

So it's not too far down the road. It'll be nice to have all of this technology and in a nice wizard bundle that SBS likes.

Just as a side point: REMEMBER, please don't install SP1 RC onto your production SBS box. That's a big NO NO as we don't know what'll happen. Hang in there and patiently wait it out like the rest of us.