Tip o’ the Week #17: Broadcast PPT to customers & partners

Many Microsoft folks have experienced the joys of scheduling Live Meetings with customers and partners, where they get an email or meeting request with lots of links, asking them to install software on their PC before they try to join the meeting. How often do the attendees not manage to click the right link, or fail to install the software beforehand, or even when they do, join the Live Meeting and can’t hear audio, or see slides?

Well, thanks to Microsoft UK’s irrepressible John Noakes and courtesy of Office 2010, here’s an easy alternative…

We would like to start using our Office 2010 technology in these meetings now by using PowerPoint Broadcast – a great feature of PPT 2010…

With this technology, all you need to set up is the voice conf call (arranged via simple Outlook addin, using Office Communication Server or Lync Server). See here for Microsoft IT’s own case study on using UC technology to save money and increase flexibility…

clip_image001Once we have the customer on the line we can then broadcast our PPT deck direct to the customer over the web by starting PowerPoint Broadcast on our client. This then generates a simple URL that we email or IM to the customer.

All they have to do then is click on the URL and……… hey presto……….they see the slides and they hear the audio via Communicator!

If you want to try it for yourself, open PowerPoint, go to the Slideshow menu and look for Broadcast Slide Show

From the dialog which appears next, choose “Change Broadcast Service” and set it to Powerpoint Broadcast Service. Sign in with your Windows Live ID, and your URL is generated……… copy, paste, email/IM to recipient. And we’re off. SIMPLE.


OCS Custom Status updates – another update

Some time ago, I wrote on OCS custom status fields and how to implement them…

Well, security changes in the way Office Communicator works mean that, by default, the client needs to download its configuration file from a secure location. This has caused a problem for a good many people who used to rely on the status file being on their hard disk.

If you don’t have access to a web site that can publish a file via SSL, then I’ve posted a few other samples here… thanks to Matt McSpirit for the tip on how to do it 🙂 I struggled for a while by using SkyDrive to do it, but the eventual URL kept changing – now I can host a bunch of these files on the blog server!

Applying the settings
Here is the Registry file which will configure Communicator to use the “Microsoft UK” custom status below. If you’re happy with that, just

  • Sign out of Communicator entirely, close the application (right click on the Communicator icon in the system tray, choose Exit).
  • Click on the Registry link above, choose “Run” from the dialog, then confirm that you want to allow the registry settings to be applied.
  • Restart Communicator again – if everything works, you’ll see custom status appear by clicking on the big coloured blob in the top left…


If you’d rather use a different set of statuses, try downloading the registry file and save it somewhere, drag/drop it it into a new, blank Notepad window, and replace the URL with one of the following ones… then save it, and apply the settings as above.




Microsoft UK








Outlook 2010 beta and E.164 number format updater

Well hello again; it’s been a while.
Normal service should now infrequently resume.

I thought I’d update the instructions of a previous post, after I was showing someone how to use my old “Contacts updater” application to make all their Outlook contact phone numbers be E.164 compliant.

(see blogs passim. eg here, here, or here.)

Now the little app I reference is an Outlook custom form, meaning it gets installed into the Exchange mailbox folder, rather than some client-side Add-in to Outlook. Custom Forms have been available since the days of the Exchange 4.0 client and later Outlook, as the installed forms show up an item on the “Action” menu within the view of the folder.


Now that Outlook 2010 has adopted the Fluent UI (aka the “Ribbon”), things have moved somewhat…

Just like the early days of Office 2007, the initial response from some users might be to get annoyed that things are in a different place, but in most cases, it’s a great improvement.

Since custom forms in Outlook have largely faded into the sunset, this particular one gets a bit more obscure… it’s a question of going to “New Items” within the folder, then selecting the “Custom Forms” pop-out (only available when you actually have some custom forms installed in that folder), and any forms installed will be presented there.

The instructions for the install of the custom form above are pretty much the same on Outlook 2010, except that instead of going to Tools | Options | Other | Advanced to get to the custom forms management, go to “Office button” | Options | Advanced.


Exchange 2010 beta & high availability strategies

Today, the Exchange team released details of Exchange 14, now to be known as Exchange Server 2010. [download here]. There’s plenty of new stuff in the box, but I’m just going to look at one: high availability & data replication.

[My previous missives on Exchange 2007 HA are here, here and here]

There are some interesting differences between 2007 and 2010, particularly in the way databases are handled and what that means for clustering.


Single Copy Clusters, or the traditional way of deploying Exchange onto a Windows Cluster with several nodes sharing a copy of the data held in a central SAN, have quite a few downsides … like there being that Single Copy, or the fact that the storage hardware is typically complex and expensive.

There are other pretty major changes, like storage groups going away (it’s just a database now, a move that Exchange 2007 previewed by the advice that you should only have a single DB per SG), or the fact that databases are now the unit of failover (rather than the whole server…), or the ability now to install multiple roles on servers providing high availability – so you could deploy highly available, clustered/replicated environment to a small number of users, without having lots of boxes or VMs.

Oh, Local Continuous Replication goes away too…

Well, reading the documentation explains a bit more about how Exchange 2010 will change the way that high availability can be achieved – no more the need for a MSCS cluster to be set up first should make it simpler, for one. From that site:

Changes to High Availability from Previous Versions of Exchange

Exchange 2010 includes many changes to its core architecture. Two prominent features from Exchange 2007, namely CCR and SCR, have been combined and evolved into a single framework called a database availability group (DAG). The DAG handles both on-site data replication and off-site data replication, and forms a platform that makes operating a highly available Exchange environment easier than ever before. Other new high availability concepts are introduced in Exchange 2010, such as database mobility, and incremental deployment. The concepts of a backup-less and RAID-less organization are also being introduced in Exchange 2010.

In a nutshell, the key aspects to data and service availability for the Mailbox server role and mailbox databases are:

  • Exchange 2010 uses an enhanced version of the same continuous replication technology introduced in Exchange 2007. See the section below entitled “Changes to Continuous Replication from Exchange Server 2007” for more information.

  • Storage groups no longer exist in Exchange 2010. Instead, there are simply mailbox databases and mailbox database copies, and public folder databases. The primary management interfaces for Exchange databases has moved within the Exchange Management Console from the Mailbox node under Server Configuration to the Mailbox node under Organization Configuration.

  • Some Windows Failover Clustering technology is used by Exchange 2010, but it is now completely managed under-the-hood by Exchange. Administrators do not need to install, build or configure any aspects of failover clustering when deploying highly available Mailbox servers.

  • Each Mailbox server can host as many as 100 databases. In this Beta release of Exchange 2010, each Mailbox server can host a maximum of 50 databases. The total number of databases equals the combined number of active and passive databases on a server.

  • Each mailbox database can have as many as 16 copies.

  • In addition to the transport dumpster feature, a new Hub Transport server feature named shadow redundancy has been added. Shadow redundancy provides redundancy for messages for the entire time they are in transit. The solution involves a technique similar to the transport dumpster. With shadow redundancy, the deletion of a message from the transport database is delayed until the transport server verifies that all of the next hops for that message have completed delivery. If any of the next hops fail before reporting back successful delivery, the message is resubmitted for delivery to that next hop. For more information about shadow redundancy, see Understanding Shadow Redundancy.

Outlook Thread Compressor download now available

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about Thread Compressor on here – it’s an add-in to Outlook which removes unnecessary emails, on the assumption that most people reply to mail and leave the original intact, so you could keep the last mail in each branch of a thread, and remove all the others.


Way back when I was still developing TC, I tried to get it included on the Office Downloads section of Microsoft.com, but our legal department was (with some justification) very nervous about us offering a download which would go through the end user’s mailbox like a dose of salts, deleting stuff. So it stayed (more or less) an internal tool: I even started developing a “version 5” with a much groovier UI and some extra features.

Included in the v5 beta (which is a real pain to install nowadays – the previous v4.2.030 version has nearly the same feature set and is a lot more self contained), was a piece of logic which captured stats on TC usage and emailed them back to me.

Since many people at MS are still running that beta (it’s a long story, but the source code went south so it’ll never get out of “beta” state), I still get maybe 20-30 statistics mails a day…

Since August 2003 when the first statistics email arrived – from me, kind-of naturally – until 24th April 2007 (when I last did an analysis of the stats), TC v5 beta had scanned over 400m email messsages and had compressed over 30m, worth nearly half a terabyte of email data.

To the reader, the spoils

Well, I finally decided – in an “ask forgiveness rather than permission” move – to make the last complete and stable version available for download.


It’s not particularly elegant looking by modern standards (given that most of it was written 7 years ago in VB6) but it does work, even on Windows 7 (x86 and x64) and Office 2007. Basically, anything post-Office 2000/Windows 2000 should be OK.

A reader called Mark Ruggles emailed me the other day and said:

“It is fantastic and it works like a champ in Outlook 2007. I turned it loose on my Inbox and my archive and I deleted 103Mb of redundant data. I sent it out to some of my colleagues and my manager used it cutting his archives down by 2Gb.

This is the coolest utility I’ve found in a long time.”

So, thanks to Mark’s comment, I’ve now registered www.threadcompressor.co.uk and posted install instructions and a download file up there.

Microsoft Roundtable transitions to Polycom

Microsoft & Polycom announced yesterday that the Microsoft Roundtable conferencing device (used with Live Meeting or OCS 2007 to present a 360° view of the room to participants joining from elsewhere), will be replaced.

Polycom are taking over the manufacturing and distribution of Roundtable and renaming it to the somewhat-less-natty “CX5000 Unified Conference Station”.

In many ways, this is good news since it fits within Polycom’s core strength rather than being something of an adjunct product (which is there to support something else, which is pretty much how the Roundtable fitted into the Microsoft world), and it should be available from a lot more places than before.

If you haven’t seen the Roundtable/CX5000 before, check out Forrester Research’s Erica Driver, on her own blog, comparing the experience of using Roundtable to An IMAX Movie after listening to FM radio.

Business continuity – it’s a people thing, not just a premises one

27[1] I had a really interesting discussion with a customer last week, when we were musing over the effects that the snow had on UK businesses. It was another example – like the floods which have hit parts of the country over the last few years – of a threat to business continuity which it’s easy to overlook.

Most businesses have prepared some contingency for what IT should do when it all goes wrong – starting with individual equipment failure (using RAID disks, redundant power supplies & the like), to clustering of services and replication of data to be able to survive bigger losses, either temporarily (like a power cut) or for longer-term outages (like loss of connectivity to a datacentre, maybe even loss of the datacentre itself).

What the weather conditions taught us the other day was that the people are even more important than the premises – the customer said it was ironic, that all their systems were up and running well, it was just that nobody was there to consume them.

Warwick Ashford from Computer Weekly writes about how their publisher, Reed Business Information, has built remote access into their business continuity plans. Interestingly, most of the discussion focussed on how to use VPN technology to connect to the office.

Funny, really. With Outlook & Office Communicator not needing to use a VPN to securely connect back to my office, I spent most of the WFH-time connected, productive, but not using a VPN at all.

Custom presence states in OCS – revisited again

imageI posted a while back about custom presence states (here and here). Well it turns out that a change made to an updated version of Communicator, requires (by default) that the custom state XML file is downloaded from a “secure” URL (so ruling out the file:// URL type).

I’ve posted my XML file to SkyDrive (since it’s available with an SSL connection and tends to be available from everywhere).

If you want to use the same URL, just open the following registry file and it will point your Communicator client at my XML file…

Registry file

Otherwise, add your own URL to the registry at


in a string value called CustomStateURL.

(tip – if you don’t trust me, download the REG file and drag/drop it into Notepad to verify that it’s not going to do bad things to your machine).

When the weather outside is frightful…

… the UC technology is soooo delightful.

OK, it’s cheesy as you can get, but very true. The weather forecast on Sunday night was for heavy snow, and sure enough we awoke on Monday to about 4-6 inches of fresh snow – something that many countries would take in their stride, but in southern England, we just don’t have the infrastructure to cope. [since it’s such a rare event].

I had decided on Sunday night that I was probably going to stay at home, so changed all the face/face meetings I had scheduled for Monday, to phone/video calls.

One director at Microsoft sent an e-mail round to his team on Monday morning:

SNOW CHANGE: Team meeting to be changed LIVE MEETING ONLY! DO NOT DRIVE!

I have been clearly informed that South England does not own snowploughs. And as I look out the window at the 5 inches of snow with no snow tires on my car, as a Canadian who has driven in very big snow storms, I know when not to drive – and this is one of those times. It will be too risky. So, we will probably trim the meeting to the MYR presentation and maybe 2 other topic. More to come – but don’t drive! Looking forward to our meeting – ‘see’ you all there :-).



I also had a half-day partner meeting which had been scheduled for weeks; that was converted to a Live Meeting so everyone could join remotely. In this instance, the actual partners were stuck on motorways, or holed up at the airport, so in the end it was rearranged for another day.

It was amazing to see how, if the infrastructure is in place to allow it, some companies just flick to having (nearly) everyone work remotely and it not drastically affect productivity. OCS Product Manager Sean Olson wrote about the “Snow Day” phenomenon that happens to Redmond every so often.

In fact, in the mid-December incident hit the news over here, with a bus skidding through a barrier and hanging over the I-5 freeway. Here’s an article with a great VR picture of the scene.

As it happens, we released OCS 2007 R2 yesterday. Also, there’s a report which should be published soon, looking into the business impact of deploying UC at Microsoft, using Forrester Research’s methodology for measuring business value.

The outcome? The RoI for Unified Comms is so clear that it paid for its procurement & deployment in 2 months.

Unified Communications licensing made easy

Well, hopefully.

I get asked a lot about what licenses customer need when they want to deploy Exchange & Office Communications Server, in order to keep themselves legal & compliant. It’s sometimes a bit confusing that there are several versions of the core products, and often add-on licenses such as external connectors and the likes.

Taking Exchange & OCS separately, the basics are pretty straightforward, really, and (as ever) the devil is in the detail. That detail is on the “How To Buy” pages for Exchange and OCS, respectively.

Server/CAL basics

Like most Microsoft server products, both Exchange and OCS operate on a “Server/CAL” model, where you buy the actual server software, then acquire the access license to give you the rights to use that software from a client machine. CALs can be assigned to people (“users”), meaning the holder of a CAL can access the software from any machine, or they’re assigned to a machine (“device”), which could allow any number of people to use that machine.

In businesses, the “per user” model is the most common model, since you could license users to be able to connect to the server from their home PC or from an internet cafe, or several devices at a time (including PCs, browsers, phones, Blackberry devices etc). In some circumstances (eg shift workers, or students sharing lab PCs), it makes more sense to license “per device”, and you can mix the two together – so you might have 200 users licensed “per user” but then buy 25 “per device” licenses for the call-centre workers who might actually number 75, but working in shifts and only 25 at a time. Clear?

Along with Sharepoint, Microsoft introduced a new CAL type to Exchange & OCS in the 2007 wave of servers – the Enterprise CAL. The deal here is that some of the most advanced, new, functionality in the server software needs an Enterprise CAL to be in possession by the user or device, and it is an add-on to the Standard CAL which everyone will have anyway. You don’t need to buy Enterprise CALs for everyone – only the users or devices which will make use of that additional functionality.

There’s no actual installation of a CAL, and there’s little real tracking of CAL usage: it’s a legal requirement for the organisation operating the software to ensure that you have enough licenses, and that in itself can sometimes be a challenge. Using software like System Centre Configuration Manager, you can keep check on what users are doing, and with partner services such as Software Asset Management, you can get help with keeping track of what you’ve bought and who’s using what.

Standard vs Enterprise Edition servers & CALs

Where some confusion sometimes lies is that, for years, we’ve had Standard & Enterprise Edition servers, where the more advanced functionality (like clustering) was often part of Enterprise Edition, and cost more. Now that there are Standard & Enterprise CALs, things start to look murky. Some literature even refers to the CALs as “Client Access License Standard/Enteprise Edition” which only heightens that confusion.

There is no dependence on CAL versions vs Server versions: ie you could use clustering in the Enterprise Edition server, but still use just Standard CALs to access it. Or you could deploy a single, Standard Edition server, and have all the users taking advantage of the most advanced functionality that comes as part of the Enterprise CAL. And, of course, you can have a mixture of all of the above, as you see fit.

Exchange 2007

The Standard edition of Exchange 2007 is a good bit more capable than Standard Edition previously – there is now effectively no data storage limit to the server (compared to a 16Gb and later, 75Gb, limit in Exchange 2003), though you can only have 5 databases per server (compared to a single one in earlier versions at Standard Edition, and a 50-database limit in Exchange 2007 Enterprise Edition). Apart from some exceptions in how Messaging Records Management works, the only other real difference is that Standard Edition server doesn’t support clustering.

If you want to run clustered Exchange, you need Exchange Enterprise Edition on top of Windows Enterprise Edition (which actually provides the clustering technology that Exchange uses) for the clustered mailbox servers themselves, but all other Exchange boxes can be Exchange Standard Edition running on top of Windows 2003 Standard Edition.

When it comes to CALs, the Standard CAL gives you everything (and more) that Exchange had in the past; but some of the new functionality, like Unified Messaging or Managed Folders, requires the Enterprise CAL. See the CAL Comparison for more information

Office Communication Server 2007

OCS follows a very similar model to Exchange; Standard Edition server does everything that Enterprise Edition does, except it isn’t clusterable and isn’t designed to scale out to the same degree.

OCS Standard CAL gives you the basics of Instant Messaging & Presence/identity, whereas Enterprise CAL adds voice capabilities (which were previously a separate license for LCS2005), along with new stuff like on-premise Live Meeting data conferencing.

There are other options with OCS… if you want to extend the presence/identity piece out to the public networks (AOL, MSN and Yahoo), there’s a subscription license called Public IM Connectivity.  PIC subscriptions are collected by Microsoft then paid to the public networks in lieu of the adverts that you’d be seeing if you’d been using their own client, rather than Office Communicator).

There are also external connectors for both OCS and Exchange which could allow you to provide services to external users who aren’t part of your organisation (eg giving your clients a mailbox/presence entity).

When Microsoft people say “Enterprise CAL” they don’t always mean it

I often hear MS folk talk about “Enterprise CAL” or “E-CAL”, but they don’t mean the Exchange Enterprise CAL which allows you to use Unified Messaging, or the OCS Enterprise CAL which gives you voice & data conferencing. They’re talking about something that should really be referred to as the Enterprise CAL Suite. It’s a collection of both the Standard and Enterprise CALs for a number of different products, available to buy as a package, depending on what licensing agreement you have with Microsoft.

The idea with Enterprise CAL Suite is that if you decided you wanted the full gamut of Unified Communications, rather than having to buy Exchange Standard CAL + Enterprise CAL (since the Enterprise CAL is an “additive” to the Standard), and also buy OCS Standard + Enterprise CALs, you could acquire all of them along with various others (like Sharepoint Enterprise CAL, Forefront Client Security and many more), for a packaged cost.

In true economic terms, the more you want to buy, the lower the unit costs of each becomes. In buying OCS Standard + Enteprise CAL and Exchange Standard + Enteprise CAL, you’ll have almost spent as much as the Enterprise CAL Suite costs, so going to the Suite will add a whole slew of additional licenses and services that you could take advantage of.

Now, I hope that’s all clear. I think I’m going to go off and lie down now.

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