The Single Best Improvement in Outlook 2016

Ok, maybe I haven’t been using Outlook 2016 long enough to say this is the single best improvement. In fact, I really hope it isn’t. But, I breathed a long-awaited “Finally” the first time I didn’t have to close an Office Reminder, switch to my calendar, and then double-click an event to see the details. Reminders have always taken up an excessive amount of screen space and, up until 2016, most of this space was wasted. You couldn’t click on any of that yellow expanse to view more information. It just sat there, taunting you. I recently referred to it as the second worst UI choice I had ever encountered. But, no more in Outlook 2016! Now, you can click anywhere in the blue expanse to open the event. The level of excitement I feel is on par with that of our CRM users who just learned SugarCRM finally allows resizable columns.

What’s more interesting is that after sharing my elation with a coworker, he pointed out that in 2011, you can actually open an event from the reminder pop-up. However, it is not in the great yellow expanse. Instead, it is the small calendar icon–which does not present itself as a button or anything remotely clickable–which holds the key. He knew this because two weeks before we upgraded to 2016, he got fed up and went searching. So, for a whole two weeks, he was able to open his events in Outlook 2011 without having to go through the already described process. Here is a visual representation of what Microsoft decided to do with that pop-up in 2011:

outlook-2011-reminder-arrows

Note how their little secret is safely tucked away, surrounded by everything you can’t click. Fast-forward five years and we find that Microsoft decided to put all that extra space to work:

outlook-2016-reminders-arrows

Oo. Ah!

Now, what is still a bit odd is that you have to double-click in the blue area, while the little calendar icon still gets special treatment. You only have to click once on the calendar icon to open the event. Maybe it is a nod to those “in the know,” which is probably a far greater number of people than my ego would care to hear.

It is funny and frustrating what impact a minor UI decision can have. However, I write this not with frustration, but with honest fascination. Of course, it might be a handy tip for someone using 2011 or 2016, but how much more interesting it is to consider the journey this small, but critical feature must have endured thus far.

Skills to Consider for Aspiring Help Desk Techs

A couple years ago, I typed up a list of skills for someone who was interested in working at a Help Desk (in somewhat of a help desk/desktop technician role). This is not an exhaustive list, but I thought I should share it here. Things to consider if you are handy in tech support and want to start an IT career:

Active Directory (AD): Know the basics of what it does and what it is used for at the Help Desk.

  • What is an Organizational Unit (OU)?
  • What is group membership, how is it used?
  • How is email forwarding performed, how are are email aliases/addresses managed?
  • What kinds of object types exist in AD?
  • What is a domain controller (DC)? What is its primary function?
  • What is a logon script (you do not need to know how to make or interpret one, but be familiar with what they are used for)?
  • What does it mean to enable, disable, expire, or delete a user?
  • Describe in plain terms what a domain, forest, and trust are (very basic view)

Printers:

  • What kind of features do Multi-Function Printers (MFPs) offer?
  • Learn about basic network settings: ports, DHCP.
  • What options are available through a driver? Why is it important to understand driver architecture (x86 vs. x64)?
  • What management features are available form a print queue?
  • What can be accomplished through a printer’s web server? How is it accessed?
  • What are the basic hardware elements of a printer and what do they do (NIC, toner, fuser, rollers, etc.)?
  • What is a cold reboot?
  • How would you change the lines per page (focus more on HP models than Kyoceras or Sharps at this point)?

Networking:

  • What are DHCP/DNS?
  • What is a client?
  • What hardware is involved in networking?
  • What is the difference between a hub, switch, and router?
  • What do these commands accomplish: ping, tracert/traceroute, arp, ipconfig?
  • What is the difference between share and NTFS permissions?
  • What are the common wireless protocols?
  • What are the common network speeds?

Email:

  • What is Outlook Anywhere and how is it configured?
  • What are Exchange NDR codes and how can they be used?
  • What tools (basic and advanced) are available in Outlook, Entourage, and Outlook Web Access (OWA)?
  • What are Outlook rules and out of office assistant rules? What is a client rule vs. a server rule?
  • What is spam? Why does spam get marked as spam, and why does it sometimes slip through?
  • What are shared resources and folders in Outlook?

Operating System:

  • What remote control options are available? How are they used? How are they enabled on the client?
  • How are network resources accessed on a Mac? On a PC?
  • What tools and configurations are available in the operating system?
  • What protection and maintenance options are available? How are they used? What is the best tool for which job?
  • What is the registry (basic view)? How is it modified? Why should it be modified as little as possible?
  • What is Group Policy (basic view)?

Customer Service:

  • How do you feel when someone makes you feel stupid, foolish, etc.? Avoid making others feel the same way as much as possible.
  • Can you share bad news in a helpful and compassionate way?
  • Can you empathize without sympathizing?
  • At what point do you give up?
  • When do you go in alone and when do you function as a team?
  • Can you remain calm and courteous regardless of the situation and personal biases?
  • Will you respond to people quickly, completely, without creating more confusion, and with grammatically correct communication?
  • Are you willing to diplomatically raise disagreements with co-workers and your boss in the interest of customer service?
  • Should good customer service result in poor security, system performance, policies, etc.?

And, of course, patience, humility, creativity, curiosity, leadership qualities, generosity, teachability, and the ability to teach others are all important.

“Google” Really Dropping ActiveSync?

The web and enterprise support is buzzing (FYI, not the axed Google service) with news of Google dropping ActiveSync. However, I quickly learned that one must tread carefully amongst all the reactionary panic. The biggest problem I have seen is the unrestrained mixing of the terms “Google” and “Gmail.” When you say Google will drop ActiveSync support, it is a very broad sweeping statement. Howver, “Gmail” is much narrower. At this point, all Google has said is they will no longer provide ActiveSync as a method for syncing with Gmail (except for business, education, and government users). As the text reads, Gmail is the only service impacted by this decision. The announcement says nothing about Android’s support for syncing to an actual Exchange mailbox. Unless something changes, Android will continue to offer EAS for connecting to a Microsoft Exchange organization.

So, when asked what will happen to my users on January 30, 2013, my response is “virtually nothing.” Google says they base this decision off the fact few users sync Gmail over EAS or even use the Windows platform, which stands to be completely cut-off from Gmail (aside from IMAP). From the sounds of it, they are concluding that business users are the primary users of the service and it is time for them to pay a premium for business class service. That sounds like a reasonable conclusion for a business to make. This will not disrupt syncing with Androids connecting to an Exchange organization. Plus, if you are an educational institution using Gmail, ActiveSync will still be available. The only people who will be impacted are the–supposedly few–Gmail users syncing with a Windows device. They will either need to settle for IMAP without calendars and contacts, get a new device, never ever get a new device, or plead with Microsoft to adopt CardDAV and CalDAV, which is probably the route Google wants you to go.

Like Java, Microsoft’s proprietary protocol has been targeted by Google.

Disable the Internet Explorer 9 Tour

Updating the image is always great. You get to learn all the new annoying things Microsoft added to the latest flavor of Internet Explorer. In this case, I was updating our Windows 7 “Academic” image with IE9. Aside from having to fix problems with video rendering that caused IE to continually crash, the most annoying “feature” was the “IE 9 Tour.” This is the screen that opens and informs you of all the new features in IE9 (http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/internet-explorer/products/ie-9/welcome-upgrade2). Group Policy was already suppressing the RunOnce wizard, but the tour kept appearing for all new users. Generally speaking, this is not a problem. It should not appear the second time the user launches IE (though there were apparently instances mentioned online where the tour’s URL had been added to the user’s home page list). However, in a student lab environment where profiles get wiped out with each reboot, the tour becomes an annoying recurrence. Not to mention, having it only run once when you log into 60 different computers is still annoying.

I scoured the web and Technet and found very little. Solutions I found were either unrelated or incomplete. So, I turned to the time-honored tradition of clicking through the Registry. Following Microsoft’s logic, I drilled down to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\InternetExplorer\Main and found four settings related to the tour and RunOnce:

  • IE9RunOnceLastShown
  • IE9RunOnceLastShown_TIMESTAMP
  • IE9TourShown
  • IE9TourShownTime

(Michael from the comments also points out the following. Thanks!)

I found that we also needed this to be already set in the same key

“PrivacyPolicyShown”=dword:00000001

I played around with setting IE9TourShown to “1” and “0”. As you might expect, “0” means the tour has not been shown and forces it to run when IE is launched. “1” means the tour has already run and will prevent it from running again… sort of. As I played with applying various settings to the Default User hive, I found that simply changing IE9TourShown was not enough. After exporting some registry settings and running a diff, I found two new values that appeared after a new user had opened IE for the first time:

  • IE9RunOnceCompletionTime
  • IE9RunOncePerInstallCompleted

Once I exported these two values and dropped them into the Default User hive, the IE9 tour no longer appeared for new users. So, if you have been in search of this like me, here are two ways to deploy the change…

Local Deployment

  • Log into the computer as a new user and launch Internet Explorer for the first time
  • Run “regedit” and navigate to “HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\InternetExplorer\Main”
  • With the “Main” key selected, click File -> Export and save the registry values somewhere you can get to later
  • Open the .reg file you just exported with Notepad and trim it down to just the IE9 settings
  • Change the key location to “HKEY_USERS\Default User\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main” so you have a file that looks like this:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
[HKEY_USERS\Default User\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main]
“IE9RunOnceLastShown”=dword:00000001
“IE9RunOnceLastShown_TIMESTAMP”=hex:e6,a6,9b,ee,a7,5f,cd,01
“IE9TourShown”=dword:00000001
“IE9TourShownTime”=hex:60,be,b1,a8,60,63,cd,01
“IE9RunOncePerInstallCompleted”=dword:00000001
“IE9RunOnceCompletionTime”=hex:68,99,b0,a8,60,63,cd,01

  • Close the .reg file and log in to the computer as a local admin
  • Run regedit again and select the HKEY_USERS hive
  • From the File menu select Load Hive
  • Type “C:\Users\Default User\ntuser.dat” into the “File Name” field and click Open
  • For Key Name, type “Default User” (make sure your typing matches exactly the key location we changed earlier)
  • Note that if you expand HKEY_USERS you should see a node labeled “Default User”
  • Without any particular node selected, click File -> Import
  • Navigate to and double-click the exported .reg file you modified earlier
  • This will copy the registry settings into the expanded Default User key, which will later be applied to all new users who log into the computer
  • IMPORTANT! With the Default User key selected, click File -> Unload Hive. If you do not do this, new profiles will not be created properly.
  • Close regedit and test your settings by logging in with a new user/profile

Domain Group Policy Deployment

Now for my prefered way of doing things to multiple computers. It is important to note that I needed to make changes to user settings on computers that are in a specific OU. This means loopback processing is required and the settings I adjusted were under the User Configuration section.

  • As with the steps above, log in with a new user account (It will make it easier if this computer has GPME enabled and the user has permissions to change domain GP)
  • Open Group Policy Management from Administrative Tools
  • Create a new GPO in the computer OU of your choosing
  • Under Computer Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\System\Group Policy, open “User Group Policy Loopback Processing Mode” and set it to Enabled (“Replace” mode should be fine)
  • Expand User Configuration\Preferences\Windows Settings\Registry
  • Right-click in the blank Registry pane and choose New -> Registry Wizard (you could obviously create individual items, but this seemed easier with 6 values)
  • With Local Computer selected, click Next
  • Expand HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\InternetExplorer\Main
  • Put a check next to the 6 IE9 values listed above and click Finish
  • Close the GPO
  • Restart or boot a test computer and login with a new user/profile to test

My Windows RT Letdown

I remember some months ago reading that Microsoft was developing a version of Windows 8 to run on the ARM architecture. My mind immediately turned to ideas of cheap VDI through means of the Raspberry Pi. True, the Raspberry Pi’s Broadcom chip was not on the supported list, but supported is different from possible. Of course, with Microsoft’s recent announcement of Windows 8’s upcoming flavors, these dreams were dashed to the wind. Windows 8 for ARM, or Windows RT as it has been branded, has a few crippling limitations in this regard. Each one is enough to squash the plan by itself.

First off, Windows RT will only be available pre-installed by the manufacturer (think tablets). Next, it cannot boot from a VHD. Third, a Windows RT client cannot join a domain. Fourth, and rather obviously, it will not be able to run x86 applications. That’s somewhat obvious, but I imagine it could be possible with some emulation.

Oh well, perhaps I was overly optimistic.

Virtualizing the Imaging Process

This may only serve as a guide to keep me on track. I have setup a virtual XP machine using Hyper-V on Server 2008 RC2 (very nice process). Next, the plan is to create an ISO for WinPE and boot from the ISO in the virtual machine. From here, I should be able to capture an image of the virtual XP machine and push it to a network client using WDS.

Fingers crossed… sleep lost.

Wow, that’s nerdy.

Glory

As I just tweeted, I watched “Glory” for the first time in its entirety. It is one of those films that I set aside as one I wanted to watch, but never got back around to it. Watching it reminded me of a great experience I had last year.

I was raised in a town with little to no diversity. Last year, I took an early American history class with a more diverse crowd. While we talked about the founding fathers and what great things they did, someone slipped up their hand and said, “Yeah, but they had slaves.” It brought to the forefront the fact that the founding fathers went into great discourse about freedom for all people, but had the antithesis of freedom in their own homes.

I still have great respect for what our founding fathers accomplished, but we cannot overlook the facts. It makes me wonder who I am hurting. Who I am oppressing without realizing it. For the founding fathers, it was considered perfectly normal to have a slave. What is perfectly normal for us that hurts other people?

For me, this especially rings true in technology. Resources like coltan are required for our technology and have very negative implications for the well-being of people in the Congo. Not to mention the mass amounts of pollution created by the production of the latest and greatest gadget. As I support and use technology, I also support these things. In some small way, I hope that my assistance will lead to longer life in technology and require less production.

Does this mean abandoning technology completely on morals alone? Maybe. But the very last thing we can do is close our eyes to injustice. When the first African-American soldiers were allowed to fight in the Civil War, did people not say “It’s about time”? What else is it time for?