Welcome to the QA Tech-Tips blog!

Some see things as they are, and ask "Why?"   I dream things that never were, and ask "Why Not".  
Robert F. Kennedy

“Impossible” is only found in the dictionary of a fool.  
Old Chinese Proverb

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The More the Merrier!
Outlook 2010 as an e-mail juggulator?

This Tech-Tip is one of those "shake my head in wonder" blog entries.  Microsoft has - apparently - whipped out BOTH of its trusty six-shooters, taken careful aim at BOTH its feet and pulled the triggers. . . .

Now, fair is fair, and Microsoft HAS been trying to be more sensitive to customers needs.  This is made especially obvious in Office / Outlook 2010 - where there is a major paradigm shift in the way mail-files are handled on local machines.

To make it easier to migrate Outlook 2010 from machine to machine, Microsoft has decided to encapsulate a lot of the mail preferences in the user's e-mail, (.pst), file - instead of scattering them willy-nilly all over the user's system.  You pick up the .pst file from the system you are migrating from, drop it onto the system you are migrating to, and Voila!  90% of the work is done.

Except for one teeny, tiny, little thing. . . . .

Certain mail-account metadata is now being captured in the .pst file too.  And, usually, that would be a good thing - the .pst file contains not only your mail and preferences, but a record of what mail has been read from the server, etc. etc. etc.  This way, when you start up Outlook on your new computer, you don't necessarily get twenty-thousand e-mails all over again.

But there is a small hiccup with this idea:  Someone clever at Microsoft had the brilliant idea that no-one would ever dream of associating multiple mail accounts to a single mail, (.pst), file - right?  And because absolutely NOBODY would be that stupid, there is no reason to store more than one mail account's data in the .pst file!  Of course, if you DO have multiple mail accounts, the metadata that gets stored is the data from the last account accessed.

Unfortunately Outlook has allowed multiple mail accounts to be aggregated into a single .pst file for decades.  They even support it by asking if you want to re-use a pre-existing mail file when you create the 2nd or 34th, mail account.

So, if you're sharing e-mail between two computers, (as I often do), I set the "master" computer to delete e-mails when read - but the "slave" computer is set to "leave messages on server" so that the master computer can - eventually - get them.  This makes all my mail-file migrations one-way affairs, master-to-slave, so I don't accidentally obliterate my mail files if I screw this up.

The problem should now be obvious!

If we assume that I have three different e-mail accounts; "a", "b", and "c" - they all get frequent e-mails, and the slave machine is set to not delete them from the server, then we have a big problem. . . .

I launch Outlook 2010 on the slave machine, and it reads e-mail accounts a, b, and c; gathering new e-mails from each account.  Since "c" was the LAST account read, the read list for "c" is preserved, while the lists for "a" and "b" are discarded when Outlook exits.

The next time I launch Outlook on this machine, it realizes that all the e-mail from "c" has been read, so it leaves that alone - but since it has NO CLUE about account "a" or "b" - it blithely re-reads all that mail again.

The next time Outlook starts, since "b" was last, it re-reads all of the "a" and "c" e-mails!

So, depending on which account "just happened" to get the last e-mail, you end up with a round-robin re-reading of every blasted e-mail on those servers - until they get deleted.

The TechNet forums discuss this - and Microsoft says that having more than one mail account associated with a single .pst file will cause this because of the "new" way Outlook 2010 associates mail-account metadata with the .pst file.

Sigh. . . .  Out comes the 9mm Glock and they take aim at their feet. . . .

There's a whole host of complaints about this on the Office/Outlook forums - hopefully Microsoft will come up with a patch or fix for this REAL SOON.


What say ye?


Thursday, May 6, 2010

A key is a key is a key is a key . . . . . .

This is one of those "Doh!" moments - when I've been made to feel like a total ass - and I'm almost ashamed to post this. However, if I stuck MY foot in MY mouth over this - it's an even money bet that someone else will too. Hence the post.


I'm installing a 64 bit copy of Windows Server 2008 on this wonderfully excellent Dell PowerEdge 2850 server that I picked up at the Trenton Computer Festival on the cheap. Excellent system, six wide/fast SCSI drives on a BUTT-KICKIN' hardware RAID card, Dual Xeon's, tons of memory, I'm ready to hunt BEAR with this rig!

So, I do the install. I enter the product key, answer all the questions, put it on my domain, and - so far - everything seems just peachy-keen wonderful. Of course, my TechNet supplied activation key slides in like a champ. That is, until I went to actually activate this beast!

I try to activate it and it pauses for a moment or two, then tells me the activation procedure failed.

Huh?!! Wahappened?!! These keys normally activate as smooth as a floor waxed with silicone oil!

OK, obviously a network glitch, or the activation server was having a tough time. So I try again. No good. Activation STILL fails.

At this point I'm really scratching my head, as these things normally activate like a champ.

Eventually I get around to looking at error messages, ("Doh!" #1: RTFM - Read The Fantastic error Messages), and it tells me that it can't find a Key Management Server on my network anywhere.

Now that really puzzles me because - as I've been told and read on TechNet - Key Management Servers are typically used in HUGE enterprises with ZILLIONS of machines to coordinate their own licensing since Microsoft really doesn't want to try to keep track of every computer owned by Toyota, G.M. or Hughes Aerospace.

OK, you win. Maybe Win 2008 Server wants a KMS server as a matter of principle, so I look it up. And I discover that unless I have a particularly special kind of Volume Licensing Agreement - I can't even LOOK at a Key Management Server, let alone install one.

At this point I'm totally stumped. I go to bed, vowing to get some shut-eye and maybe, just maybe, things will look brighter in the morning.

Several Days Later. . . . . .

I try activation again - and it fails. In fact, since I'm getting ready to run "dcpromo" on this machine to make it a domain controller, I check the event logs as I have learned through bitter experience that your event logs have to be spotlessly clean if you want a successful Active Directory Domain Controller promotion. The event logs are filled with "SLS" errors from System Licensing Service – “cannot activate”.

I read up on the Web, check TechNet, search Microsoft, and dig just about everywhere - only to discover that there seems to be NO ONE who has had a problem like this. Microsoft has no clue. TechNet has no clue. The usual Fountains Of Wisdom on the web have no clue.

I start thinking - could it be a bad key? No - the key was accepted when I entered it. I know if I enter a "bad" (mis-typed, or for the wrong product) key - the "enter your product key" dialog barfs and won't let you proceed further.

Then I think a little further:
Windows Server 2008 comes in a whole rainbow of flavors, sizes, configurations, and such - for every possible taste and budget. And they're all "Server 2008", but they all have different keys.  Hmmmm. . . . What if I put in a 2008 R2 key by mistake? Or a Win 2008 with Hyper Server key instead of the key for 2008 without Hyper Server? Heck! I can't even remember WHAT key I put in! So, let me try something. . .

Right next to the "activate Windows" setting on the "Computer" property-sheet, there is a "change product key" link. I go to TechNet, re-open my key list, and re-copy the exact key for the 64-bit Win2k8 Server (Without Hyper Server) Standard Edition that I was using. I write it down very clearly and legibly, and I go back to the Win2k8 Server and re-enter the product key.

I carefully type in all the groups of letters and numbers and - with trepidation - click on "next" since this is a one-shot deal. If you try to change your product key and crap-out, your copy of Windows is locked down tighter than the Strategic Air Command's command post at Cheyenne Mountain!

Windows pauses, swirls the key around in the glass, sniffs the key's bouquet carefully, takes a small sip, and - with cocked head - ACTIVATES!

"Doh!" Moment #2: Obviously, if a key works when entered, but fails to activate later on, maybe it's the wrong 'naffing key!!

I was surprised. Normally, if you enter a key that doesn't match what you're installing, it stops you right there. Since this particular install DVD was a multi-level install, capable of installing everything from the bare-bones VW Beetle version of 2k8, all the way to the Testosterone Infused Maserati version of 2k8 - maybe the keys are handled differently. Or maybe it's just the way W2k8 Server works. Obviously if the key doesn't match what it thinks should match, it tries to find a Key Management Server to verify that everything is legit.

Beats me. Strange problem.

What say ye?