Monday, November 10, 2008

The First Actual Meeting of SydneyUC

After announcing the group at TechEd Australia we've been waiting for the right time to kick it off proper.  What were we waiting for?  Content of course!

On the agenda will be Microsoft’s announcement of OCS 2007 R2, a discussion on the recent Microsoft/Telstra S+S announcements, as well as updates on the latest UC and mobility devices and hardware.

Where: Gen-i’s offices at Level 23, World Square, Sydney (World Square is 680 George St).

When: Tuesday, November the 18th.  1:30 Eastern Daylight Time

Hope you can all make it - but if you can't don't fret!  This is a UC user group!  As Johann posted on the Sydney UC site...

However for those of you who can’t make it or have prior commitments – we will also be making the meeting available through LiveMeeting and it will be recorded so you can watch later (details to come later).

See you then - and make sure you subscribe to the Sydney UC Feed

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

At last! Two Exchange profiles open at the same time

While it is possible to have two Outlook profiles on one machine and to configure these profiles to point to different Exchange environments it has always bugged me that you can only have one profile open at one time.  Until now.

Nick Randolph pointed out a really great little tool that allows you to launch a second, independent instance of Outlook in which you can open a different Outlook profile.

So, without further adieu, we are proud to present you with our "ExtraOutlook" tool that allows you to launch as many Outlook instances as you want. All you have to do is configure the profiles you want, and then type: ExtraOutlook.exe "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office12\OUTLOOK.EXE"

ExtraOutlook is available from HammerOfGod.  Groovy.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Unified Communications will Transcend the Language Barrier

There is an interesting new bot available for Windows Live Messenger that provides translation between English and several other languages.

Simply add "mtbot@hotmail.com" to you Windows Live Messenger contacts, then send a message to Tbot.

Tbot will ask you what language you want to translate from and to and then respond with translations when you type.

image Now, you can always invite another person to the conversation, who writes in the language you are translating to and then chat back and forth.

This is very cool, even though it is still a bit clunky.  However, I can see a time in the not too distant future where the translation service will be server side in the corporate instant messaging products.  Imagine a US based employee chatting with an employee in Spain, with both parties typing in their own language.  Or an English speaker collaborating with a business partner in China via instant messaging with real time translation.  It does not seem that far fetched, does it?

Now ask yourself - what about speech?  Today we can turn speech into text with a fair degree of accuracy.  We can also translate text from one language to another and we can synthesise text back into speech.  How far away are we from two people having a real time spoken conversation in which each participant speaks their own language and hears a translated version of the other party?

I believe it will happen one day.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Quick Tip: Testing DNS SRV Records with NSLookup

Office Communicator relies on Service Location (SRV) records in DNS for auto-configuration.  Frequently you can't create the external DNS record yourself so you need to ask your ISP or DNS provider to do it for you.

So if the service provider is swearing black and blue that the records have been created correctly but your external client is not finding the server checking your DNS configuration is a great place to start.

There is a tool in the OCS Resource Kit called SRVLookup that will fetch and parse the SRV records for a given domain for your review.

However if you are out and about and don't have the resource kit handy there is a quick and dirty way to check SRV records using NSLookup.exe in interactive mode from the command line.  The screenshot below shows the sequence of commands needed to test for the _sip._tcp SRV record for the mycompany.com domain.  Click for a bigger view....

nslookup

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sydney UC Kicks off tomorrow

Johann has posted up on the Sydney UC blog the details for the kick off meeting for the Sydney UC Group.

The first Sydney UC meeting will be held at the Harbourside Pie Cafe at 2:15pm on Thursday the 4th of September.

Come along and have a gourmet pie and a cold beverage, and meet your peers.  This meeting is an informal meet & greet so we can catch-up and get to know each other over lunch.

Check out the full post for more details.  See you there.

venuemap

Friday, August 29, 2008

Our Demo Environment Rocks

Derrick and I are putting the finishing touches on our demo environment for our session at TechEd Australia.

It consists of two host PCs each with a Quad Core processor, a pair of 500GB drives configured in a RAID 0 array for speed and 8 GB of RAM.  These have Windows 2008 Server installed and are running Hyper-V.  Between them they host 9 virtual servers.  In addition to that we will be using a number of laptops as client machines.

If you come along you will see what OCS Edge Services can really do!  Remote User Access,  Federation, Web Conferencing and more.  This will be a demo not to be missed.  I can't wait!

We're launching a UC User Group at TechEd Next Week

Johann Kruse, Derrick Buckley, James McCutcheon, Dr. Neil and I are kicking off a new UC User Group at Tech Ed Australia next week. 

Johann has put up an initial post about the event on the group's blog.

If you work (or play) in Unified Communications, we are kicking off a new UC community next week at Tech.Ed in Sydney.

Come along and meet your peers in the industry, and see what we’re planning for the user-group.

This first session will be a meet & greet, and we will also present a roadmap of content in upcoming meetings.  Future meetings will be held at Microsoft in North Ryde, as well as via LiveMeeting.

So if you are going to be at TechEd then please come and join us at lunchtime on Thursday September 4th, from 1:15pm-2pm.  The room is still TBA but we'll keep you posted.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Speaking at TechEd Australia

I am going to be co-presenting a session on OCS Edge Services with my good friend and fellow MVP Derrick Buckley.  The session is on Friday the 5th of September at 11:45.  Here's the details.

UNC316

Office Communications Server 2007 Security: Architecture and Edge Services

One of the core value propositions for Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007, is the fact that unified communications can be used anywhere - at work, at home, or on the road. In this session, we discuss the edge aspects of OCS 2007 for voice, media conferencing, remote access, public internet connectivity and federation, along with the edge server roles. We discuss various edge server deployment topologies. We also discuss NAT and firewall traversal with discussion on how OCS 2007 uses ICE, STUN and TURN for audio and video.

If you are coming to TechEd in Sydney this year then make sure you get it in your session builder now!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Use VBScript to Set the Country for an AD Contact

I was recently asked to produce a VBScript that would take data imported from a very useless CRM system as a CSV and create contacts in Active Directory.

All was going swimmingly until I got to the last field of the contact - country.  The source database allowed free text for this field and AD expects to get a 2 letter ISO country code.

I found a web site with the country codes listed and copy and pasted it into Word.

Next I selected all the text and pressed Shift+F3 to toggle it all into upper case.  This gave me a long list in the format

COUNTRYNAME XX

Where XX is the corresponding country code.  (For example, Australia is AU)

I copied and pasted the resulting list into Primal Script.  This is where Primal Script came into its own and saved me hours.

I created two new Snippets in the Primal Script Snippet manager

image The CountryCase snippet contains the following code:

Case "$SELECTION"

If I select a country name and double click the CountryCase snippet it replaces it with a correctly indented Case statement with the selected text inside the quotes.  The snippet also included a new line character, so the associated country code would be on the next line.

Case "AUSTRALIA"

AU

The CountryCode snippet contained the following code:

strCC = "$SELECTION"

which would create a line of code that sets a string to the selected country code.  Again this was appropriately indented and contained a newline character after it.

Case "AUSTRALIA"

    strCC = "AU"

The result was that I could double click the country name, double click the Country Case snippet, double click the country code, then double click the CountryCode snippet and I had added that case to the SELECT statement.  Within 35 minutes I had added a massive Select Case structure that handled hundreds of countries.

The result is too long to post here, but if anyone needs it drop me a comment or an email.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Interesting post about Outlook/Communicator integration

The communicator team blog has a brief overview of the integration available between Outlook and Office Communicator and how this works.

Communicator Presence can be found throughout Outlook (Presence is the colored bubble that appears next to a person’s name).

In addition, conversation history (as well as missed-call history) is stored in Outlook to allow for a single location to search and review all prior communications.  Finally, Communicator obtains calendar and out of office information from Outlook and/or Exchange and uses that information to affect your Presence state.

An interesting read, I've not given much thought to how this works because it just does.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Help fight spam - configure SenderID

Recently there has been a flood of NDR spam that has been hitting organisations that has been - frankly - a pain in the butt for them.  The way this type of spam attack works is simple.  The bad guy generates anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand bogus emails advertising pills, watches or whatever they are selling.  They send these to bogus users at real organisations, but they create the messages with a valid sender address.  It is the sender address that is the real target of the spam attack. 

On receiving the email the receiving server looks up the recipient address and finds that it does not exist.  No one here by that name...  Most mail servers are configured to "bounce" the email by way of a special kind of email called a Non-Delivery Report (NDR).  This is then sent back to spoofed sender with the spam message as an attachment.  Because the NDR is coming from a real mail server and a valid address it will snake past most spam filtering software and real time blacklist checks, thereby delivering the content as an attachment to the target.

There is a fairly simple way to mitigate the risk of this kind of attack.  It is free to protect your own namespace and it only takes minutes.  If you are running Exchange 2003 SP2 or later you can do even more to prevent your mail server being used as the bounce server.  The answer is called SenderID and it is part of the Intelligent Message Filter installed with Exchange 2003 SP2.

From the Microsoft SenderID website:

The Sender ID framework, developed jointly by Microsoft and industry partners, addresses a key part of the spam problem: the difficulty of verifying a sender's identity.

To put it simply an email server that supports the SenderID framework queries a special DNS record to validate that the computer submitting an email is allowed to send for that domain.

The Microsoft site also includes this overview:

  1. A sender or user sends an e-mail message from an e-mail client or Web interface. No interaction or changes to the sender's client or Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) are required.
  2. The recipient's inbound e-mail server receives the e-mail message. The server uses SIDF and calls the Purported Responsible Domain's (PRA) DNS for the SPF record.
  3. The receiving MTA determines whether the outbound e-mail server's IP address matches the IP addresses that are authorized to send e-mail for the domain.
  4. For most domains and IPs, sender reputation data is applied to the SIDF verdict check.
  5. Based on the SPF record syntax, the pass or fail verdict, the reputation data, and the content filtering score, the receiving MTA delivers the e-mail message to the inbox, a junk or bulk folder, or a quarantine folder. If an e-mail fails, the receiving network may block, delete, or junk the e-mail.

So as you can possibly figure out at this point there are two things you can do in your organisation that would help.

  1. Create a Sender Policy Framework (SPF) DNS record that specifies your permitted mail servers.  This will help protect your namespace as any server that supports SenderID will check this record.
  2. Enable SenderID checking on your inbound mail server.

In order to create the SPF record, Microsoft provide an online wizard to help you generate the text that you need to put into a TXT record in DNS to make your own SPF.

To find out more about configuring SenderID on Exchange 2003 SP2 or later - refer to the Microsoft Exchange Server Intelligent Message Filter v2 Operations Guide.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Communicator 2007 Phone Edition update

There is a new update for the Communicator 2007 Phone Edition devices (aka Tanjay).

This update addresses a number of issues.  Here's a list of the fixes.

A call to a mobile number does not go through correctly for an Outlook contact who has an invalid instant messaging (IM) address.
If the IM address is not understood, callback uses the e-mail address to index the contact.

A call to an Outlook contact from the voice mail screen does not go through correctly.
Calls to the highlighted contact on the voice mail screen were made to the IM address. Calls now use the same method as the contact list. Calls to Outlook contacts from the voice mail screen are made to telephone numbers and not to IM addresses.

User credentials are lost if the network connection is lost after the user signs in to Microsoft Office Communicator.
The condition that causes this issue has been fixed.

The voice mail count may be incorrect for users who have long contact lists.
The sequence of retrieving the voice mail count from Exchange has been adjusted.

Calls to Outlook contacts do not go through correctly if the contact does not have a work telephone number listed.
The preference order for IM and e-mail has been changed to work telephone number, home number, and mobile number.

Office Communicator 2007 does not retrieve a mobile number for an Outlook contact that is also a global address list (GAL) contact.
The contact indexing mechanism on the telephone now processes x400/500 e-mail addresses.

Off-hook dialing fails when the location profile is unavailable.
The condition that causes this issue has been fixed.

Kerberos fails when an Active Directory server that has multiple network adapters installed has only one network adapter connected to the network
Make sure that all provisioned Active Directory network adapters are connected to the network.

Communicator Phone Edition stops responding when you try to end an unestablished call.
The condition that causes this issue has been fixed.

Communicator Phone Edition stops responding when it is in an on-hook state.
The condition that causes the unintended watchdog activation has been fixed.

The date of items that are in the call log view is one day earlier than the actual date of the call log item.
The leap year condition that causes this issue has been fixed.

The update also includes all the fixes from the previous update.

Download the package from Microsoft.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Interact08 Keynote

It's day 2 now at Interact08 and it's my first opportunity to post my thoughts on the keynote delivered yesterday by Gurdeep Sing Pall - Microsoft's Corporate Vice President, Unified Communications Group.

PICT0005

Gurdeep talked about the acceleration in technology adoption rates, pointing out that it took 100 years from the time that the telephone was invented to get 1 billion people using it, but it has taken just 10 years or less to get the same number of people using technologies like email, instant messaging and mobile phones.

He then talked about Microsoft's view of what UC is and emphasised that identity and presence are at the core of Unified Communications. 

Gurdeep also used Maslow's Hierarchy of needs - which is a model used to describe a theory of human motivation. 

maslows_hierarchy2

In brief Maslow's theory states that unless a persons most basic needs are being taken care of they are not going to be in a position to give any thought to creative or abstract concepts.

He drew a parallel to IT Managers in that if an organisation's most basic needs are not in a good state they are not going to be in a position for proactive re-architecture.  If the phones don't have dial  tone they are not going to be in a position to communications enable business processes.

There followed a great demo of the real value of UC. what was great about it was that it was not run from Office Communicator or from Outlook. It was a demo of a Point of Sale application that had been "Communications enabled" and it was run from a Tablet PC.

PICT0009

The demo scenario was a customer asking a staff member if they had a particular product. From their tablet pc the employee can check stock in other nearby stores.  He could then see who in the other store was online and available to take a call.

PICT0008

The call was then initiated from within the PoS app using the tablet's speakers & microphone. On the receiving end the incoming call had a subject indicated that the call was a stock enquiry for a particular product and the app automatically displayed info that was contextually relevant - their stock level for that product. This means that at the time the call is answered the person already knows what it is about and has the information required to help at hand. A very compelling demo.

OCS Support Coming to the Mac

I just attended a blogger's lunch at Interact08 that was hosted by Eileen Brown.  In attendance were a number of influencial bloggers who blog about Unified Communications and some very senior Microsoft people from the Exchange, OCS and Office Communicator teams.  There was some great conversation and I think both sides gained from the conversation.

They also broke some interesting news for us.  There is a new version of Mac Messenger client that will support Office Communications Server, in addition to the Windows Live Messenger service.

The Mac client will support some, but not all, of the features of the Office Communicator client today including:

  • Rich Presence
  • Instance Messaging
  • Peer-to-peer voice and video
  • GAL Search

In addition the Mac Messenger client will support dual login - so the same client can be used with both OCS and the hosted service.

This closes a gap that exists today that I know  some of my customers will be very pleased to hear about.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Great joke from the Exchange Team

LOL - happy April Fools Day from the Exchange Team Blog.  I cracked up when I saw this post - good to see that the Exchange team know how to have a laugh with us (even at themselves a bit).

In order to help our customers configure their servers better, we have been working on a tool that you will be able to run from a workstation and configure your Exchange 2007 servers easier. Some of those options are not easy to configure otherwise, and some of the problems that you might have seen in your environments could be explained by those being turned on accidentally. The scheduled release of the final version of this tool is February 29, 2009. Have a look and give us your feedback: are there any other options that you find hard to configure, or you find that it is easy to inadvertently turn them on?

- The Exchange Team

Passed the OCS Exam

I sat and passed the MCTS exam 070-638 Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, Configuring today.

I have to say I was pretty disappointed.  The question were not at all hard as they were more along the lines of "What component do you need to deploy to achieve this" rather than actually testing to see if you know how to configure particular features. - which is more what I would of expected given the title. 

I had one question on phone  number normalisation rules and one that involved the required ports, but I'd have to say there was a lot left untested.

Hopefully MS evolve this exam to include more real world skills in the near future, but as it stands today it is not a realistic indicator that one actually has the skills to configure OCS.  Of course I hasten to add that I do have said skills, which is why I know they were not tested ;)

Heading to Interact 2008 in San Diego

Next week I'll be packing my bags and heading off to San Diego for Interact 2008.

INTERACT2008BlogArt2

Interact 2008 is:

...an exclusive event for leaders in unified communications held April 8-10 in San Diego, California. This inaugural technology event provides a special opportunity for you to develop deep technical knowledge about Microsoft’s unified communications products, build powerful new connections with leading professionals in the industry, and gain insights into the future of converging technologies.
This exclusive, invitation-only event is aimed at IT professionals who are evaluating and deploying unified communications in enterprise organizations. INTERACT2008 will provide one-on-one interaction with the product teams and leaders for Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Communicator, Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 SP1, Microsoft Round Table, Microsoft Office Live Meeting and Exchange Hosted Services.

I was invited to attend by Microsoft and, as it happened I was planning to be in the US anyway the week after the next for the MVP Summit in Seattle.  I changed my flights so I could go via San Diego.  I am very much looking forward to the event and to catching up with some Exchange and OCS MVPs who will also be at the event.  Should be a great time.  (It might even give me a fair bit to blog about and revitalise this poor neglected little site a bit.)