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Virtualization, Cloud, Infrastructure and all that stuff in-between

My ramblings on the stuff that holds it all together

Category Archives: Office 2007

VMWare Workstation 6.5 Beta – Run Multiple Copies of Outlook/Exchange via Unity

 

I use a single laptop for my day-day use, it has all the stuff i need, I run Vista and Office 2007, for our corporate mail we use Exchange like everyone else and I use Outlook Cached Mode to work online/offline..

My own personal email is also an Exchange mailbox – provided by fasthosts (why – well, because..ok?) the problem with this is that I can’t have a single copy of Outlook connected to more than one Exchange server at the same time or run multiple instances of Outlook (I’ve tried all the hacks and Thinstall etc.), and to be honest even if I could it would probably violate the security policies of all the involved organisations as it would be quite simple for an Outlook-aware worm to try to propagate itself across multiple organisations or harvest confidential details.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that I often work on long-term customer projects and have to have a mailbox on their Exchange system as well… which leads to multiple diary sync nightmare, maybe I’ll blog about that some other time).

So at present I have 4 Exchange mailboxes that I need to keep track of, auto-forwarding mail between them is a no-no, I used to be an Exchange admin and I’ve lost many bank holidays due to corporate->Hotmail NDR mail loops!

So, up until now I’ve had to run one full Outlook client and multiple OWA clients in a browser, which is ok as long as I’m connected to the Internet, but no good if I’m on a train unless I want to close and restart Outlook with multiple profiles, which is a pain especially when you are collaborating on a project between multiple organisations. To be honest as good as OWA 2003 is it’s no substitute for a full outlook client. (still waiting for Fasthosts to go to Exchange 2007, oh and enable EAS!).

So, anyway a solution – VMWare Unity, this is a feature like Parallels for the Mac which lets you “float” an application window out of a guest VM to the host desktop meaning you can use the applications without working within a single VM’d desktop window.

VMWare Fusion also has the same feature, but Workstation 6.5 is the 1st time its been available on the PC platform.

To use Unity you need to have upgraded the virtual machine to 6.5 “hardware” by right clicking on the VM in the sidebar pane (below) and install the latest VM Tools – it also only seems to support XP at present, or at least it didn’t work on the Server 2003 VM I had.

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Boot the VM… and install the latest VM tools.

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VM Workstation Screen – note VM is set to “Unity mode”

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My Vista desktop (yes, I have the start bar at the right hand side – widescreen laptop!) with the popup menu for the VM, showing all the start menu for applications installed within in it.

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the following screen shot is Calculator running from inside the XP VM but in a single window on the Vista desktop – note the red border and the image icon, denoting that its presented via Unity.

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It even shows up on the start bar with the correct icon; although this doesn’t seem to work until its been run a couple of times; I assume it needs to cache an icon or something.

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it also seems to respect the window snapshots you get whilst Win-Tab between applications, even for pop-up windows

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Technically I can use this to run n x Windows XP/Outlook 2003 VM’s presenting Outlook through to my Vista desktop and comply with all organisations security policies, as each VM and its respective copy of Outlook runs in isolation from each other with the relevant company-specific AV client (or at worst, the same level as if I were using a machine connected to a public network in that they all share a vm network) – I don’t enable shared folders between the VMs.

It’s still a beta feature at the moment, and there seem to be a few bugs particularly when resizing windows sometimes it doesn’t work properly and double clicking to expand to full screen overlays the start-bar on my vista machine.

And it does seem to get confused sometimes and not allow keyboard input, so you have to flick back to non-unity mode and then back to continue, and sometimes a reboot of the guest VM but it is an early build so I would guess this will be resolved.

As an added bonus VM Workstation seems to allow the Vista host OS to go into sleep mode even whilst VMs are running, this is something I’ve not had much luck with in the past – it would generally refuse to sleep when I closed the lid (but thats not a scientific comparison… it may have just been bad luck!)

So, the pay-off – 2 copies of Outlook (2003 and 2007) seemingly running on the same desktop, alt-tab works ok and you have access to all the functionality of both without having to switch between or run multiple OWA sessions and from a security perspective it’s not really any different from having 2 physical PCs in front of you (slight memory overhead, but my laptop has 4Gb RAM, so not a huge issue).

Opening attachments is obviously going to be a bit of an issue, as you’ll technically need an individually licenced instance of Office 2003 in each VM as they can’t (yet) exchange data between them… and that would compromise the security principal.

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Useful OneNote Information

 

Eileen also has another post with some some useful linkage for getting more out of OneNote (my favourite MS application!)

I really must set some time aside to review my working practices and try to get some more out of these types of useful applications  (Groove, OneNote etc.)

How to Overlay Multiple Calendars in Outlook 2007

 

This is a really useful feature; I didn’t realise you could do this (until I had a need to do so, thanks Google!); makes it much easier to look and manage multiple calendars (or people’s shared calendars).

Linky here

Shame the UI for this isn’t particularly obvious, or at least maybe I’m blind but the button is quite small 🙂

Microsoft Offering Hosted Exchange & Sharepoint

 

Interesting to note this post and register post here of a beta version of hosted Exchange and MOS (MS Office Sharepoint) offered by Microsoft itself.

Would assume this is one of the reasons they are building out vast new datacentres as they try to keep pace with Google’s range of online applications.

Working for a service provider, I’ve seen the technical challenges of offering multi-tenanted versions of these applications in the past (show stopper for most service providers that need to offer an SLA), even that MS won’t support them unless they have helped build and design it themselves via their consulting arm.

I have to wonder if MS are adopting virtualization under the hood and some kind of on-demand provisioning to handle the isolation required or just piling them onto a shared AD/SQL/Exchange infrastructure. There are a huge number of questionably supportable “tweaks” required to achieve the latter.

Hopefully it’s better in the the current 2007/8 round of products. Microsoft do support some those products under VS2005r2 virtualization for end-customers – so would be interesting to know if they do it in-house or are {planning to} moving to Hyper-V.

Make Your own Offline Windows Update CD/DVD

What a handy tool; if you download the app you can select which Microsoft OS/Applications you need patches for and it will download them all via the Windows online catalog to a source directory and then compile a script to auto install them all – it will even generate a .ISO file and handle dependencies and reboots – v.handy (and more efficient) if you need to quickly present it to a bunch of virtual machines with no Internet access or are on a site with slow internet access.

Excellent; now as far as I know Microsoft have no mechanism for doing this other than downloading all the patches manually… even with the Vista RTM images I built last week it had nearly 100Mb of OS patches alone!

Screenshot of the available options in the app – download it here here (updated 14th Sept’09)

OS Updates – multi-language too

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Office Suite Updates too

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You can even get all the patches for everything and it will compile it into a DVD .ISO image – I’ll definitely be using this – hopefully you can use the info it downloads to slipstream update a vista .WIM image – will have to try that in a couple of weeks.

(original link from a post on slashdot)

Windows Vista SP1 RTM

 

Windows team Blog post here says Vista SP1 has been released to manufacturing so not long to go now until it’s generally available.

I’ve been using Vista exclusively since it RTM’d and from Beta 2 before that. I got a new laptop with a core 2 Duo CPU and went up to 4Gb RAM from 2 and it made a world of difference – much faster and in the last year my Dell D620 has been rock solid.

The file-copy hotfix worked for me; and a recent video driver update (automatically offered via Windows Update..nice) fixed the annoying screen mix-up when I docked my laptop.

Mark Russinovitch has an in depth post on the SP1 improvements to file copying here.

Does make you wonder if MS wanted/did bring forward the SP1 date because of all the “wait for SP1” brigade… M-m-m-m, marketing!

Not looked yet but I wonder how large SP1 will be, on the Vista desktops build I did recently I had to download c.300Mb of Windows (c.98Mb) & Office 2007 Updates (c.200Mb. good think I have a fast connection – you’ve got no chance on a PSTN dial up anymore!

Managing lots of RSS feeds

I’ve been into reading people’s blogs and tracking websites like theregister for a good couple of years. I never really found an RSS reader app that worked for me; I wanted to build custom views of feeds, flag and prioritize them and mark things to read later  – and I could find standalong apps to do these things but not one that did it all – hopefully this post will show you how I do it – if you have some other suggestions feel free to comment & share them.

Outlook 2007 supports RSS feeds out of the box, and it’s ideal as I already use Outlook and it’s calendar/tasks features to manage my workflow. Outlook 2003 and later (I think) added the ability to flag and tag items and even build a custom category list.

It means I can basically add all my RSS feeds as sources of information in the same way as I use it to manage my company emails, and categorise, flag as required and it all merges with into task list.

I can do this categorization manually or I think automatically via a rule

Custom Categories

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Flagging – which passes it into Outlook’s task list

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I have two main folder/sub-folder structures – regular reads, for feeds that have a lot of frequent/interesting traffic and another folder/sub-folder structure for less noisy but important feeds (for example software release notifications etc.)

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Best of all I can build custom views across of all my RSS feeds  using custom search folders – for example I have the following (yes, and lots of unread emails too!)

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And this gives me the following consolidated view across all my feeds, sorted by date (but could be lots of other criteria)

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The add feed GUI components definitely have the feel of an afterthought but using them works brilliantly for me. Clicking on a page’s RSS feed brings up Outlook but doesn’t want to add it as a feed so I’ve always cut & pasted.. I assumed this was a beta bug but have been using RTM for quite a while now – must get round to investigating that.