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Month: November 2010

The Cloud Computing Landscape

Last night I delivered a talk to the Waterloo Wellington IT Pro (WWITPro) Users Group at our office in Kitchener Ont. on cloud computing. My aim was to walk through a little bit of the why, what and where of cloud computing, with an emphasis on the consumer space. The slide deck for the talk is available here. There was a fair bit of time spent in demos,  but the deck does contain a link summary to many of the current cloud computing offerings available. You may find it useful.

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Bye Bye Blackberry

It’s old news by now, but I didn’t want to write about this until I had a little usage under my belt. I’ve also been too busy to write, I have about 5 other posts queued up that I just need to get to, but I wanted to document my experience with my new Windows Phone 7.

In a nutshell, I absolutely love it. I couldn’t imagine going back.

I’ve been a Blackberry user since around 1996 with the original RIM 950. For years Blackberry was not only an innovator in mobile messaging, but their devices were rock solid. I don’t know how much abuse my Blackberries took over the years, including being dropped in water (yes that kind of water), dropped kicked, whatever. After a fall that cracked its window, my 8800 kept on ticking. The Blackberry was also top notch for message delivery through it’s BES for years. Other contenders came on the scene, but I always felt that all I wanted in a mobile device was email.

If you’re reading this, you know that I live in a Microsoft centric world,and although it would have been politically expedient of me to use a Windows Mobile device,I was never impressed with them. I was never tempted by the iPhone, which I regard as more of a toy than anything else. I was beginning to become interested in the Android, but remained leery from a reliability standpoint.

I was however becoming increasingly frustrated with the performance of the BlackBerry, particularly when it came to consuming web content, which was increasingly becoming a requirement. Web content was also very hard on the battery, and when travelling, I was lucky to get 8 hours without a charge. Another big cloud of doubt to me was the relevance of BES (Blackberry Enterprise Server) in a world of Exchange ActiveSync. It just seemed like way too much overhead and licensing to support mail/contact/calendar sync.

Everything changed when I heard about the Windows Phone 7 this past spring. Finally, Microsoft would have a product that not only competed, but in my opinion leapfrogged the competition. In my opinion, RIM wasn’t doing anything particularly innovative, so I resolved to try it out when it became available.

My biggest concern is that the vision that was spelled out in the original announcements wouldn’t be realized, or would be in some way compromised (we’ve seen this before from our friends in Redmond). I was thrilled to find that this wasn’t the case.

I received my Samsung Focus 2 1/2 weeks ago. I removed the SIM card from my Blackberry, put it in my Focus, and the Blackberry (a curve) hasn’t been turned on since. The first thing that I was asked was my Windows Live ID, and it immediately started to fill up with contacts and pictures from Facebook and Windows Live. A quick configure of 2 Exchange accounts (one on BPOS and one on premise) and everything was centralized nicely.

I have had precisely no problems with it in the past 2 weeks. Most interestingly to me, is that I’ve experienced no dropped calls in that period. My running joke was always that it wasn’t a mobile call unless it got dropped at least one. I always blamed the carrier, but I’m using the same SIM! It’s anecdotal, but the phone itself is at least good.

Working with office apps is very very slick. I particularly like the way that it works with OneNote content in the cloud (on Windows SkyDrive). In fact, the phone itself is a really nice demonstration of the overall benefits of cloud computing, in particular device independence. Combining the phone, the PC, and the new EXOPC slate that I recently acquired, makes for a pretty slick demonstration.

It’s not perfect – I have yet to be able to get the Office hub to talk to SharePoint, something pretty important to me…. but it does render nicely in the browser.

Reliability is of course something of a question mark yet. I have managed to drop it twice with no ill effects, and I’m not really anxious to put it to the test. I am however pretty hard on stuff, and if it’s fragile, you’ll likely hear it here first.

I just find myself pleasantly surprised by the way it works as I discover them, and that’s nice. It’s also pretty nice having something from Microsoft that’s pretty much the coolest thing in its space. At least for now. A big tip of the hat to the designers from here.

I don’t leave the Blackberry angry… it’s served me very very well over the years, but we appear to have gone our separate ways, and I wish it well. Given that I live in RIM’s back yard, it really is too bad, but I have made my choice, and I’m very, very happy with it.


How to Replace the Built in SharePoint Approval Workflow

We use Nintex Workflow all of the time. It compresses project times, and reduces, if not eliminates the need to develop custom code. One of the problems that we run into though is that the Approval workflow that comes out of the box appears to be hard wired for the SharePoint approval process.

As it turns out, it doesn’t need to be. Christian from iLoveSharePoint has a great solution that lets us replace the built in workflow with a Nintex workflow. It would also work for workflows built with SharePoint Designer. As opposed to rewriting it, I’ll just say that you can link to it here:

I will add two things to it. Christian has some sample code that if you just copy and paste won’t work due to wrapping, etc. Here’s what the code should look like:

#workflow must be associated with the target list
$workflowFileName = "Nintex Test.xoml"
$targetListTitle = "MyListName"

function ItemUpdated()
    if($item.DisplayName -eq "$($workflowFileName).wfconfig")
        $binFile = $item.File.OpenBinary()
        $wfConfig = [xml][System.Text.Encoding]::UTF8.GetString($binFile)
        $baseId = [Guid]$wfConfig.WorkflowConfig.Template.BaseID

        $library = $web.Lists[$targetListTitle]
        $assoc = $library.WorkflowAssociations.GetAssociationByBaseId($baseId)
        $library.DefaultApprovalWorkflowId = $assoc.Id

He also mentions one way to get the GUID of the Workflows list. You can also get it by navigating to it with SharePoint Designer, drilling down into your declarative workflow, and opening the workflowname.xoml.wfconfig.xml file, and looking for the DocLibID tag.

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Performance Point Dashboard Designer Won’t Launch for a New Installation

We’ve been observing a problem in a few PerformancePoint installations that we’ve done recently. You create a new Business Intelligence Center, and then you want to create a new dashboard. You navigate to the PerformancePoint content library and select the Add new item link. You get the “Loading Dashboard Designer” Ajax prompt, but then nothing happens. If you open up the ribbon, and try to create any of the PerformancePoint items, you see the same behaviour.

If there’s existing PerformancePoint content, there is no problem, but new stuff won’t work. As far as I can tell, the problem appears to be that the SharePoint URL is not yet set. You can access the Server setting by clicking the pearl in the upper left of the designer surface, then clicking the Designer Options button, and then the Server Tab


The trouble is, how can you get Dashboard Designer to launch? We’ve found that although it won’t launch from the PerformancePoint Content library, it will from the Data Connections library if you create a new PerformancePoint data connection. You will however need to use the ribbon to launch it.

First,navigate to the Data Connections library and click on the Documents tab in the ribbon. The ribbon should open up,and then you want to click the New Document dropdown (not the button) and select PerformancePoint data source.


At this point, Dashboard Designer should launch. You should then be able to set the SharePoint URL setting.

We have seen issues with setting up the URL however. Occasionally the following error will be displayed:


You can’t then save the value. Our solution to this problem thus far has been to close designer, repeat the process above, and the value gets set automatically.

Once this is done, you can create new PerformancePoint items from the PerformancePoint content library.

If anyone has any additional insight to this, I’m all ears – I consider this to be a workaround.