Colour-coded SharePoint calendars

I needed to create a team calendar in SharePoint which, by default in SharePoint 2010, doesn’t give you an option for colour-coded categories.
So, what follows is a workaround (and a bit of a faff, to be honest) but it gives you what I was aiming for.

Permissions

I’m starting with the assumption that you already have a SharePoint calendar, or know how to make one via ‘Create new content’. But you may not have the rights to do the tinkering: you need access permissions which are sufficient to let you play with list settings:

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Once you’re looking at the list settings you need to scroll down past ‘List Information’, ‘General Settings’, and ‘Content Types’ to find the ‘Columns’ section.

Within ‘Columns’ you’re looking for ‘Category’. Click on that.

Categories

On the right-hand side of the page we’re only interested in the bottom half of the options available. To ensure that every calendar item is categorised, leave ‘Require that this column contains information’ set to ‘Yes’. leave ‘Enforce Unique Values’ alone (set to ‘no’).

Below that, this is where you create the list of categories you want to have available under ‘Type each choice…’. In my case this was for a team availability calendar so I put in entries like ‘Holiday’, ‘Training’, and ‘Public Holiday’. You can have up to ten of these (because of a limitation we’ll see later on the number of overlaid calendars):

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Create calendar views

Return to the calendar and under ‘Calendar Tools’ create a new view, named sensibly to match one of your previously entered categories. Then, underneath it, click ‘Modify View’.

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The things you might want to change are the ‘View Name’, the ‘Default Scope’ (most of the time the week view makes the most sense), and then the Filter. It’s the filter that is crucial to make all of this work.

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In this example, as you can see, the filter only shows items when the  category (which you’ll remember we made a mandatory entry) matches up with one of the ones you’re expecting to see. You will now need to go back and create more views in the same way, with each new view modified to only show entries that match the appropriate category (i.e. the view for Holiday should filter so it only shows entries in the ‘holiday’ category).

Overlay calendars

Now we need to take all of the calendars you’ve created and overlay them. Each one will have its own colour-code, with the available choices dependent on the theme you have for your SharePoint site.

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When you’ve clicked on ‘Calendars Overlay’ you’ll see a ‘new calendar’ button – this is how you get each category to appear on one page – and you’ll see just below that you can have a maximum of ten overlaid calendars. This is why we had a limit of ten categories earlier.

On the righthand side you can give each overlay a name but the important part is the colour selection. Don’t try and remember the URL yourself – the ‘Resolve’ button does that bit of hard work for you – and will then let you pick the overlay you want as the ‘list view’.

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The ‘always show’ button should NOT be ticked, although this seems counter-intuitive, as having it ticked will actually create duplicate calendar entries.

Again, you’ll need to repeat this step several times, adding each category’s calendar into the overlay (with a different colour each time)

Eventually you’ll see the full list of your categories all being visible within the main top-level calendar.

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The final step is to test that it all works as expected, by creating some entries. You should find that the ‘category’ field has a red asterisk to indicate it’s mandatory (and of course shows the categories that you want).

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If you’ve done it right, it’ll look something like this. As an added bonus, if it gets a bit too busy to spot something, the lefthand column isn’t just a key: it lets you see just one particular category of entry at a time:

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BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5 versions

Mostly for my own reference, here are the numbers you’ll see in ‘Add/Remove programs’ and which version of the BES software they correspond to:

The bundle number is important when you need to find out which version you are running. It is listed in “Add/Remove Programs”.

Version Version update name Bundle
5.0 223
5.0 Maintenance Release 1 236
5.0 Maintenance Release 2 244
5.0 Maintenance Release 3 255
5.0 Maintenance Release 4 267
5.0.1 Service Pack 1 70
5.0.1 Maintenance Release 1 82
5.0.1 Maintenance Release 2 117
5.0.1 Maintenance Release 3 139
5.0.2 Service Pack 2 36
5.0.2 Maintenance Release 1 51
5.0.2 Maintenance Release 2 96
5.0.2 Maintenance Release 3 119
5.0.2 Maintenance Release 4 133
5.0.2 Maintenance Release 5 146
5.0.3 Service Pack 3 33
5.0.3 Maintenance Release 1 41
5.0.3 Maintenance Release 2 53
5.0.3 Maintenance Release 3 93
5.0.3 Maintenance Release 4 107
5.0.3 Maintenance Release 5 143
5.0.3 Maintenance Release 6 163
5.0.3 Maintenance Release 7 227
5.0.3 Maintenance Release 8 256
5.0.4 Service Pack 4
(Minimum starting level for those below to install)
38
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 1 52
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 2 70
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 3 86
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 4 100
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 5 116
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 6 128
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 7 160
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 8 183
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 9a 198
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 10 223
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 11 234
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 12 261
5.0.4 Maintenance Release 13 278

SP4 MR13 released 26th January 2016 and still current at 14th June 2017.

Release Notes for Sp4 MR13 (PDF)

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Outlook Anywhere versus MAPI over HTTP

Outlook Anywhere has been around for a very long time now. Back when it was young nobody was really thinking seriously about the future routes from which a desktop client might access Exchange, such as from a cellular phone network or while flying across the Atlantic.

So, Microsoft have done some thinking, resulting in a revamped version of Outlook Anywhere for Exchange 2013 SP1 and Outlook 2013 SP1.

Here’s the good news:

  • That annoying ‘Connecting to…’ message from when you first open Outlook should be significantly reduced. In Microsoft’s tests, a 70% improvement was achieved for monitored clients. That could translate to a 30 second wait on your slow mobile-data connection instead of the 90 seconds it might take now.
  • When resuming from hibernation, or reconnecting, you can expect to shave ten seconds off the usual forty or so.
  • There is better (and simpler) server-side monitoring, via less complex network encapsulation and more useful data in HTTP header information.
  • You can expect an improved Autodiscover response. MAPI/HTTP has no need for us to advertise authentication settings – all you need from the server is the protocol version and the endpoint URLs, which can be used without modification. The authentication settings are requested via a standard anonymous HTTP request, just like other web protocols, so no special configuration (or reconfiguration) is needed when they’re updated.
  • There are fewer concurrent TCP connections required between client and server (and there’s faster renegotiation in the event of a connectivity blip, with sessions kept open for 15 minutes rather than needing to be re-established).
  • The simplification allows multifactor authentication to be more easily added in the future (it’s on the roadmap for later this year).

At the moment Nexus’ system runs Exchange 2010 SP3 so we can only gaze admiringly at these new features until we too get the green light to upgrade to Exchange 2013. When we do, we’ll go straight to SP1 and turn all of this on…

In the meantime, though, let’s deal with some of the inevitable questions.

How have they done this?

Outlook Anywhere has historically relied on a  heavily-disguised MAPI request, encapsulated in an RPC packet, which is in turn wrapped up in an HTTP request. It’s this double-wrapping that Microsoft have been striving to remove.

Nexus’ current Outlook Anywhere set-up requires two long-lived TCP connections to be held open for each session between Outlook and Exchange. This is done via an RPC_DATA_IN and an RPC_DATA_OUT connection, with both required for each client’s RPC/HTTP session. If these are dropped, or lost, they need to be completely re-established from scratch, with all the associated overhead you’d expect. In terms of network overhead, traffic, cost and logic, this represents an overly complex way to do things, with knock-on impacts to perhaps thousands of users simultaneously. Switching from Outlook Anywhere to MAPI/HTTP means that your sessions are retained for 15 minutes; in the event of a blip the client can simply reconnect and continue where it left off, without needing to re-establish the session first.

This new MAPI/HTTP connection supplements Outlook Anywhere with a completely different way of doing things: the TCP connection established between the client and server only needs one long-lived connection and a secondary ad hoc connection. By also removing the additional RPC encapsulation overhead from within the HTTP packets (it’s now just MAPI and HTTP) the entire process is simplified, made faster, and as a further bonus it means that the HTTP headers will contain more meaningful data.

If you’re on a very slow, or low quality, network this is undeniably a good thing. It’s also good for us as administrators: we won’t see a surge of quite so many RPC/HTTP connections all being re-established at once. Less server overhead at times like that equals a faster recovery for Nexus users after, say, a short-lived network issue.

mapihttpmapihttp2

 

 

What do we need to do at Oxford IT Services to get this?

  • All of Nexus’ Client Access Servers will need to be upgraded to Exchange 2013 (and have SP1 deployed to them, since that’s what adds this functionality). Incidentally this new function is disabled by default so that it doesn’t introduce unexpected behaviour for anyone just doing a Service Pack upgrade.
  • End users will need a client that is MAPI/HTTP aware. Today this means you need Office 2013, also updated to run Service Pack 1, as nothing else is yet MAPI/HTTP aware.

 

Any pitfalls?

  • The increase in short-lived HTTP connections will require additional CPU resources on Client Access Servers. This is an issue for anyone who designed their server environment around Exchange 2013’s original RTM requirements, potentially needing 50% more CPU resource. This isn’t an issue for us, however. Exchange 2010 – our current version – has yet-higher CPU requirements so, for us, an upgrade to Exchange 2013 arguably leaves us with over-specified hardware.
  • .Net 4.5.1 will be required on Exchange servers since it fixes issues which would otherwise cause longer wait times for end-users.
  • On a perfect network, with no dropped connections, there is a slight increase in network overhead, of an average 1.2% for 50KB average packets. For larger transers over 10MB this increase could be up to 10%. However on  slow low-quality networks the simplification of the overall packets, and the ability to resume a dropped connection, will more than offset this increase.
  • MAPI/HTTP is a new CAS endpoint, so needs to be factored into namespace design (including certificate handling).
  • MAPI/HTTP is an organisation-wide option and not intended to be a server-specific one (although a registry key can be used to disable it on individual servers,  where required).
  • Unified Access Gateway doesn’t yet support MAPI/HTTP (although support is planned via an update)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sharepoint Access Denied

We’ve had problems reported with some SharePoint sites recently where folks have been invited to view documents in a library and provide feedback.  The complaint is that lots of people simply get “Access Denied” messages.

A quick check of the permissions isn’t always the answer – sometimes it’s SharePoint doing exactly what it was told to do when the site was first set-up, even if that’s not immediately apparent.

In this latest case the ‘access denied’ messages were being generated because, when the site was designed, it had been decided that only a particular Project Team (with ‘Contribute’ access) should see interim versions of documents.  This seems very reasonable, doesn’t it?

Here’s what was happening:

Imagine you’ve started working on the next draft of your Communications Plan – the version may be 1.1 or 1.2.  To keep things simple for site visitors you set-up the site to only let them see the last major version. This makes your v1.2 document an interim version. Being an interim release it may perhaps have pending unapproved edits or spelling mistakes.

However this setting also means that your visitors, those who only have ‘read’ permission (or ‘restricted read’), will only be presented with the last major version – 1.0 in this case.

Here’s the gotcha:

If you have never actually produced a major version – you’re still working on versions  0.1 or 0.2 – then your visitors don’t get to see the document – it’s not a major version, after all.  What has confounded some who investigate this issue is that your close colleagues in the project team can see all the  files. The relevant permissions seem to be in place for the visitors too.

How does this happen?

When you set up your library you may have gone to Library -> Library Settings -> Versioning Settings and set it up like this:

sp

Note the part which says ‘Who should see draft items?’. In this example it is ‘Only users who can edit items‘, not users who can only VIEW said items.

So, if a version of a document is still at 0.2, anyone with Read or Restricted Read access-permissions simply can’t see your document – by design.  If you’d produced documents beyond that crucial v1.0 milestone things would be a little better. You might be working on v1.2 but at least your read-only users will see something – in this case version 1.0.

This may well be what you wanted when you first set up the library but, if this is not borne in mind, has the potential to cause much visitor (and support staff) confusion.

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SharePoint 2010 versus 64bit Office 2013

Earlier today my needed to reset a long list of items in a SharePoint list. This task is best achieved in ‘data-sheet view’, since the alternative is to manually edit each entry. Not my idea of fun.

Now I had the ‘Datasheet’ button but it wasn’t prepared to play:

The list cannot be displayed in Datasheet view for one or more of the following reasons: - A datasheet component compatible with Microsoft SharePoint Foundation is not installed. - Your web browser does not support ActiveX controls. - A component is not properly configured for 32-bit or 64-bit support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SharePoint 2010 does have some well-documented foibles with 64-bit installations and having recently also been looking into a problem accessing Nexus with Internet Explorer 11 (and getting the ‘light’ version of Outlook Web App) I was inclined to assume that this would likely be down to something similar*.

In this case though, the problem wasn’t IE-specific – it applied equally to Opera, Chrome and Firefox  – which wasn’t a huge surprise, given that ActiveX compatibility was cited as one of the potential reasons.

So, what was the issue?

I run a 64-bit version of Windows 8.1, also with a 64-bit version of Office 2013. For reasons best known to themselves, Microsoft have decided that the latest version of Office shouldn’t come by default with the Data Connectivity Components required to use SharePoint 2010’s data sheet editor. Effectively Office 2013 was missing a load of ActiveX DLLs.

Fortunately there is a solution. As a user of Office 2013 the version number on this fix made me wince a little but it does work: what you need in this situation is the Office 2007 System Driver: Data Connectivity Components.

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=23734.

Make sure that you are using the 32-bit version of Internet Explorer once this is installed and your datasheet view should be reinstated.

 

 

* For reference, the issue causing Outlook Web App to load the ‘light’ version with IE11 relates to Microsoft’s (belated) attempts to embrace compatibility standards. The ‘MSIE’ token has been removed from that browser’s user-agent identifier string, to ensure that the old CSS hacks and workarounds required on some sites – to support IE6, 7 and 8 – aren’t inadvertently sent to IE11, now that they are no longer needed.

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Outlook 2013 and ‘slow connections’

I’ve been playing with Microsoft’s new OFFCAT tool, which analyses your Office configuration and recommends improvements or corrections.

The results were mostly what you’d expect – there were a couple of newly-released Office-specific patches I was missing which don’t appear on WSUS, for example.

But I was surprised to see that my Outlook says I have a ‘slow network connection’. Initially I assumed this was based on some server-connectivity test but, no, it’s not. At least not according to Microsoft’s documentation:

Outlook is configured to determine a user’s connection speed by checking the network adapter speed on the user’s computer, as supplied by the operating system. If the reported network adapter speed is 128 KB or lower, the connection is defined as a slow connection.

This is odd. My Operating System reports that I have a 100Mbps connection. Hmmm. More investigation needed, methinks. Searching online suggests that I’m not the only one trying to get more information on how this assessment is made.

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Turing Test commenting

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Mobiles re-revisited

It was July 2012 when I last reported on the University’s mobile users so it seems like a good time to see what’s changed.

So, last summer we had 11,461 ActiveSync devices which connected to the Nexus service. Today that figure has more than doubled, to 24,492. But that’s not necessarily 24,492 different people: the number with more than one ActiveSync device has rocketed too. That figure has gone from 3,031 to 11,151.

Yet another factor to bear in mind is that not all of these devices are mobile ones  – Windows Mail uses ActiveSync but is a feature of Windows 8’s touch interface, widely known as TIFKAM.

As before I’ve not recorded devices which have fewer than twenty users.

Device Number % of total
Android 7623 31.1%
BlackBerry 37 0.2%
iPad 4162 17.0%
iPhone 11049 45.1%
iPod 587 2.4%
Nokia Email 74 0.3%
Palm 20 0.1%
Playbook 48 0.2%
Windows Mail 342 1.4%
Windows Phone 429 1.7%

That means that nearly a quarter of Nexus users are making regular connections via ActiveSync devices. Apple still dominate but Android is also a significant force. The graph below shows the change over time.

usage

Windows Phone shows the largest percentage increase over the last two years, but behind that impressive growth figure is the rather more down-to-Earth one that they only represent 1.7% of the total. Who knows, another year and Windows Phone could overtake the iPod!

Interestingly BlackBerry’s Playbook has leaped from ten devices last year to 48 today. But the tiny number of BlackBerry phones (even if I were to add those 360 BlackBerries using our BlackBerry Enterprise Server – not listed here) shows that their technology is very much in fourth place behind Windows Phone, Android and Apple.

I will finish off with a few final items which caught my eye – Palm lost two users over the last year and are now in a precarious position, just barely scraping onto the table by maintaining twenty active users.

I’d also like to say a big ‘hello’ to the two people who’ve bought Surface RT tablets in the last year. Maybe they’re the same two people who gave up their Palm devices?  🙂

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Mail merging

 

This isn’t something I’ve had to do for quite a while so, mostly for my own reference, here are some of the more common pitfalls after you’ve done the mail-merging legwork.

MAPI32.DLL

If you have the Exchange admin tools installed this DLL gets replaced. It’s usually found in c:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32. But if you place a copy of the correct MAPI32.DLL file version into the same folder as Outlook (usually C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office<version number>) Outlook will find that one first.

This eliminates the nasty MAPI error messages and still allows your admin tools to work.

Security Settings 

At the final hurdle, just as your mail merge is ready to go, you get the ‘Do you want to allow this?’ message. This is then followed by a succession of ‘allow/deny’ dialogue boxes – one per message  – which can get a bit wearing if you’re emailing hundreds of people…

  The fix (if you don’t want to resort to third-party software, such as ‘ClickYes’) is to install the Office 2007 group policy template from Microsoft.  Having downloaded that, launch the group policy editor MMC snap-in. Under ‘User Configuration’ select ‘Administrative Templates’. Right-click, select ‘Add/Remove templates’ and browse to the Outlook ADM file (ADM\en-us\OUTLK12.ADM).

You now have additional settings for Outlook 2007. Under ‘Security’ change ‘Programmatic Access Security’ to ‘enabled’ with ‘Never warn me about suspicious activity’ selected. Don’t forget to reset this afterwards!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Stop, thief! My data is on that…”

We were recently contacted by one of the university’s departments to discuss their concerns about client-side data security. Their worry was that confidential material from their users’ mailboxes would be cached in Outlook’s offline store. This represented a possible data vulnerability in the event that a computer were to be stolen. The department had proposed, as a solution, that Outlook’s caching should be disabled. Users would work online, minimal confidential data would be stored on the hard disk and all would be well…

Now it is true that the locally cached copy of a user’s email  represents a possible target for the malicious. But tackling a perceived data vulnerability issue via Outlook’s offline store is to overlook countless other areas of equal or greater concern. From my team’s perspective a large number of Outlook clients failing to use caching represents higher server load. These users would have poorer Outlook performance and lose offline access to their email when away from a network.

Disabling Outlook’s caching is not a great idea for performance, server or client. It also doesn’t really address the data vulnerability issue anyway. Even if we were able to force the whole university to use Outlook on their desktops1 there is still a vast array of users’ own devices to which data might be transferred.

If you have content that needs to be secured, my experience is that the end-user represents the weakest part of any security environment: servers are very likely to be fully patched, in a secure datacentre, audited, monitored and protected by strong security policies with ‘least privilege’ access. End users, on the other hand, tend to resent and resist security, only complying where it is impossible to avoid or where non-compliance has sanctions attached.

There are countless security options available but by far the most powerful is to require a strong password: naturally the university does this already. But in a form of arms race the end user can respond to this with software which caches this password for them.  The best solutions to the problem are, in my view, ones that are unavoidable by users. Avoiding any additional user inconvenience at the same time is a bonus. However finding that kind of solution needs a more detailed understanding of the problem.

In the case of our department’s query, a bit of probing eventually revealed that the concern related solely to the possible theft of a departmental computer.  The aim was to provide a security enhancement that should ensure that a casual thief would be unable to recover content from a stolen machine’s hard drive.

Preventing Outlook from duplicating mailbox content locally does, sort of, achieve that aim but overlooks the very real possibility that users may still be putting classified material onto their local computers. Saved attachments, PST files, and MSG files represent just a few of the email-related possibilities. But confidential data doesn’t just move around via email. Plugging one possible route doesn’t affect others.

The ideal situation would therefore seem to be something that doesn’t require user interaction or effort yet secures whatever data our users might care to store on their computer’s hard disk. Fortunately technology comes to the rescue – most of the university’s current crop of desktops have a TPM chip which offers a very simple way to secure hard disks. A brief foray into the BIOS might be needed to activate TPM functions but then Windows can do the remaining heavy lifting. The Enterprise / Ultimate versions of Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 all include Bitlocker. This is a hard drive encryption technology that doesn’t generally require any user interaction – they may not even be aware of it.

Bitlocker’s decryption key is held within the computer’s TPM module so, as long as the TPM chip sees unmodified boot files, the operating system will power up normally. From that point onwards of course we do still have to depend on the user having sensible security settings. It is therefore while a computer is turned off that Bitlocker offers a reasonable defence against data loss. It would be foolish to deny that routes still exist to attempt data theft, but those routes need someone who is both highly technical and extremely determined. TPM’s vulnerability relies on a cold-boot attack, extracting the decryption key from the memory of a recently-shut down machine. This is hardly something a casual thief is likely to undertake. Password phishing  probably represents less effort for greater gain…

In the case of computers without a TPM chip, Bitlocker will require the user to supply a USB key or provide a PIN in order to power on. Although this represents a hassle for the regular user, and lacks the transparency of TPM’s approach, it can be even more secure: it makes cold-boot attacks from a really determined hacker that little bit harder.

In my view Bitlocker represents one of those features that, if it’s available to you, you should use it. It’s not perfect by any means but, with a TPM-enabled computer, is completely transparent to the end user. It offers full disk encryption that will make most, if not all, data theft uneconomic.

1 Good luck with that idea.

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