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Zune 3.0 outside the US – handy podcatching tip (and a bit of a rant!)

I’ve got a Zune 80 which I love even more since the upgrade to 3.0 added Audible audio book support. I mainly use the Zune for podcasts, but being outside the US and not being able to legitimately use the Zune Social and Marketplace, there’s certain features I’m lacking. I know there are work-arounds to access these (like changing your regional settings in Windows), but I have reasons for not doing that.

When I’ve got the Zune software open, it checks all my podcast subscriptions and downloads new episodes. I had to add the RSS feed manually for each podcast since I can’t get to the Zune Marketplace podcast directory – actually, I’m going to digress a minute and say that this is really bad on the part of Microsoft/the Zune team – I understand that there are licensing issues regarding selling music, tv shows, etc, in different territories, but there is NO reason why you can’t provide Zune users around the world (and I’m talking about the software now, which is available for anyone to download, not the devices which are only sold in the USA) with the podcast directory containing content that is free and available wherever you are! There’s also no reason why you can’t enable “The Social” too – it’s ok to let people all over the world share the number of times they played a particular track! The only thing you have to limit is the ability to purchase content. You should be able to do that without restricting the stuff that’s free!!!

…anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, downloading new episodes…

Yesterday when I opened the Zune software, it started downloading over 80 different podcast episodes. Now I’ve always been able to see what these were, if I clicked on each and every podcast subscription it would tell me if there were any episodes of that particular subscription currently downloading or pending download. I’d always thought it would be nice to see all the current and pending downloads in a single list. Recently I discovered this facility does exist in the software, but I guess it’s under Marketplace, and I can’t see that! (I’m guessing that showing someone in the UK a single list of all the free podcasts that they’re subscribed to perfectly legally would anger the RIAA or something!)

Well yesterday, I accidentally clicked on the label saying that an episode was pending download, and it turns out that it’s actually a button that takes me to the download list! A happy accident and a very welcome find. :-) [UPDATE: You can also click on the "Downloading x of y" message at the bottom of the window and get to the same place.] I’m sure that everyone else already knew about this – it’s probably in the documentation/help that I’ve never read, but at least it’s given me an excuse to write this post and grumble about the one issue that really gets on my nerves regarding the Zune! ;-)


It’s almost IT Forum time! (Part 2)

This is the second part of my tips for people attending Microsoft TechEd EMEA 2008 – IT Professionals in Barcelona (previously known as IT Forum, TechEd IT Forum or TechEd Europe/EMEA). You can find the first part here.

These are my recommendations, based on past experience (so things may have changed) for making the most of your time in the conference…

You may already have been contacted to complete the “session voting”. This is basically a survey asking you which session in each slot on the timetable you are most likely to attend. You weren’t in any way committing yourself to those sessions, but it gives an idea of how many people might turn up for each session and lets those planning the event assign them to suitable sized rooms. Whether or not you did the session voting, you can now logon to the event website and use the Schedule Builder to plan your time because…

The Registered Delegate Pages are now live!

When you arrive and register at the conference, you'll receive the full timetable with descriptions of the sessions in your delegates pack – this is really useful and I’d recommend each evening going through the descriptions for the next day and making a note of which sessions interest you – however, bear in mind that there may be changes, so throughout the conference you’ll want to check the screens around the venue for information regarding changes. The event website will have an up to date timetable and is searchable – some sessions are repeated and this is the best way to find repeat sessions in order to avoid clashes between two sessions you’d really like to attend and make the most of your time.

If you’re a specialist and there’s a track that matches your specific interest, then you’ll probably want to start by looking at the sessions in that track before browsing the other options, but you don’t have to stick to a certain track – far from it! You’ve got a lot of options through the week – I’ve seen people do anything from pick out a handful of sessions that were really specific to them and spend the rest of their time sightseeing, through to people who try to hit as many level 400 sessions as they can before their brain explodes! I’d suggest an approach somewhere between these two (and on the subject of sightseeing – Barcelona’s a lovely city, so book a few days there to enjoy it some time, but for the week of the conference, there’ll be more than enough to keep you occupied).

It can be a long and arduous week, so I’d recommend you chose a mix of levels – pick out some level 200 sessions to give yourself a bit of a break. Also, look at who the speakers are as well as the session titles – some are more entertaining than others. I’ll offer one recommendation, but speak to other delegates, especially those in the sessions relevant to you, for their picks; whether you’re specifically involved in security or not (because we’ve all got some interest in it, right?), try to attend one of Steve Riley’s sessions. I’ve often found security presentations to be the most entertaining – I think it’s because they have the best anecdotes – my role isn’t security-specific, but some of my best anecdotes are security related*!

For the sessions that you REALLY want to be in, check on your map of the venue what size room it’s in. If it’s a smaller room, make sure that you get there in good time. Once a room is full you likely won’t be allowed in. If previous years are anything to go by, there’ll be a screen outside the room showing the slides and playing an audio feed, but that’s probably not the best way to experience it! For your must-attend sessions, you may want to think about sneaking out of the previous session early, grabbing a drink and snack and hanging out by the door. Conversely, if there are sessions that you’re only vaguely interested in, remember that most (but not all!) of the sessions will be on the post-conference DVD (ppt and wma at least, so as much as you get standing outside). On that basis as well, you may wish to give priority to attending an interactive session over a breakout session if you have a clash, since the interactive session’s whiteboard won’t be on the DVD.

On the website’s Session Builder, go through and add all the sessions you’re interested in to your calendar (this will have an Exchange back-end and you can access it from the CommNet while you’re there, you’ll probably find yourself receiving messages in your mailbox there too, some of which may be advantageous to you). You’re as well throwing clashing sessions in there first and cutting it down later. You can run off a copy of the printer friendly version now and again whenever you make alterations, or, if you like the trees, you’ll be able to add the item to your own Outlook calendar and sync with your Windows Mobile device. ;-)

Outside of the timetabled sessions, make sure you take advantage of the Ask The Experts Pavilion. I’d recommend going round your colleagues now and finding out what niggling questions they have about various products. If you feel you understand the issue enough to be able to understand the answer, write the question down and take it with you. I’ve been making notes of things that I want to know more about for a while. Bear in mind that although the people in ATE know a lot about the products, you can’t know everything, so you can always wander past again after a shift change and put the same question to a different expert. Also make sure you check out the Hands-On and Instructor-Led Labs. There are loads available and you might find one that covers a specific issue you have. Last year a query at ATE directed me to a Hands-On Lab which included the solution to my exact problem.

Aside from the sessions, labs and ATE, you can learn a whole lot from just talking to other delegates. If you’re giving yourself a break, which I highly recommend you do from time to time, and you’re walking the Exhibition Hall or sitting at the coffee bar, strike up conversations with people. You’ll get a whole lot more from the event by interacting with people. That goes for the whole experience really – the more you put into it, the more you get out of it, and frankly it’s more fun that way!

Hopefully I’ll see you there! (if you’re on Twitter, @jonoble me)

p.s. If you don’t already know about PowerShell, you need to go to Jeffrey Snover’s sessions! If you do already know PowerShell, I know you were already planning on going to those!

* Security-related anecdote: A room is converted to a meeting room and into it are put a fancy a/v rig with a PC, plasma screen, conferencing equipment. You want to secure it, so you make sure the door is locked while the room isn’t in use. Sensible so far. The key for the room is then placed in a “key safe”, which has its own key permanently hanging in the lock, and mounted on the wall of the corridor opposite the door to the meeting room!!! :-|


It’s almost IT Forum time! (Part 1)

I haven’t posted as much as I might have liked recently – that’s partly because I’m splitting what blogging time I have between here and my team’s blog, but mostly because I’ve been offline a fair amount around the birth of my son! :-) I’m now getting back into work and getting caught up on everything. As well as looking forward to getting home to our new addition every day, it’s that time of year again, to look forward to IT Forum, or to use its “Sunday name”: Microsoft TechEd EMEA 2008 – IT Professionals in Barcelona.

In my opinion there’s no more useful way for an IT Pro, working with Microsoft products, to spend a week (in work terms, of course!). The opportunities to learn about new products, meet with your peers and put your questions to experts is far better value than any training course I’ve been on. Add to that the fact that it’s Barcelona, which is a great city, and you’ve got a brilliant event. Actually, I have been known to say to people that even if you weren’t interested in the technical content, the logistics of the event are pretty breathtaking when you look at it!

This year I’m going with two colleagues who are first timers (this is my 4th TechEd/IT Forum, the first was in Amsterdam, another great city, and this will be my 3rd time in Barcelona). I’ve been talking to the guys about the event and answering their questions and realised that it would be a good topic for a blog post in case other first time attendees are looking for tips.

First bit of advice: arrive the day before the conference starts. If you’re flying in to Barcelona, Microsoft will have event staff at the airport to meet you and transport you to the conference venue. UPDATE: The event FAQs have been updated to state that there won’t be delegate transport to the CCIB from the airport. They have provided good information on travel options from the airport, so be sure to read them or the Joining Instructions page. Then you can register for the conference on the Sunday (between 10:00 and 20:00), avoiding the long lines are the registration desks on the Monday, and pick up your complementary travel pass. This will get you on the metro (underground rail network)/bus/tram into the city and you’ve got the rest of the day to explore and check in to your hotel.

On the subject of hotels, I prefer to get one in the middle of the city, rather than near the conference venue.  If you’re near Placa de Catalunya and La Rambla, you’re only a half hour to the venue anyway, but you’ll be near more restaurants and things to see/do in the evenings. Better to have that journey to the conference in the morning and a short walk back to your hotel after dinner/drinks in the evening, than a short walk in the morning and having to find your way back at night if you decide to venture past the hotel bar.

I was asked whether you need much money (bearing in mind we use a different currency, so have to change it in advance or use cards with their associated charges). Going on past experience, I’d say not. If you’ve arrived the day before you’ll want to eat, but once the conference starts, you don’t need to buy much food, especially if you have breakfast included at your hotel. The conference venue will have snacks available all day: fruit, pastries and others, with refrigerators in every corridor providing Coke, Sprite, OJ, water, etc . Each day there’s a hot buffet lunch served for everyone (this is where the impressive logistics come in!). Even if you intend to attend one of the lunchtime panel sessions, you should still have time to grab a hot meal and I’ve always found the food to be great (considering the scale of the operation to feed thousands of people in 90 minutes).

After the sessions have finished on the first day, there’s usually a drinks reception in the Exhibition Hall, which is the first opportunity to grab free schwag, and you’ll probably get by on canapés that evening. Another evening, you’ll be invited to one of the separate county parties. If there isn’t a party specifically for delegates from your country, you should be able to find your way in to one of them. Last year the UK party took over a pretty cool club and provided drinks and food platters a plenty. Being in UK Higher Education, we’re fortunate enough to be invited to a dinner on one of the other evenings, and last year saw the first PowerShell Dinner (although I’m afraid to say that I missed it, having not checked one of my many email accounts and not seeing the invitation until the day after!). I have heard someone say that’s the best reason to go, so I think invites may be hard to come by this year – if you’re active in a specific technical community, it may be worth checking to see if they’re having any events during the conference.

In Part 2, I’ll talk about making the most of the conference sessions and the time in between…


Pin a HyperText Application (HTA) to the Vista Start Menu

This is probably obvious to anyone who has done any amount of work with HTAs (which I’ve got to say, I haven’t used much, but quite like for some things), but took a little bit of head scratching here…

If you want to pin a shortcut to an HTA to Vista’s Start Menu, you can’t just create a shortcut to the .hta file. The shortcut has to be to the HTA engine (mshta.exe), with the .hta file as a parameter.

If you want to script the pinning, check out the guidance here and here (thanks to Shepy and stahler for tweeting those links).


Enumerate Exchange Public Folder Client Permissions for a User/Group

Today I've been consolidating some AD groups as we've unhelpfully accumulated four different groups for the members of our IT department over the years. Seemingly two of these groups have been used to set permissions on various Exchange Public Folders, so I've been looking at which Public Folders each group had permission on. Fortunately, this is very easy to do in PowerShell...

First I'm setting a couple of variables. The first is the name of the group (or you could do the same for a user) that we're interested in. The second is the point in the Public Folder structure where we're starting searching. If you want to look at the whole structure, just use "\", but if you have a lot of Public Folders that's going to take a while, and if you know, like I did here, that the "IT Staff" group is only going to have permissions on folders underneath the IT department's top level folder, you can just look at that branch of the tree.

#requires -pssnapin Microsoft.Exchange.Management.PowerShell.Admin
$groupname = "IT Staff"
$publicfoldersearchroot = "\IT"
-publicfolder $publicfoldersearchroot -Recurse |
%{$folder = "$($_.parentpath)\$($";
-PublicFolderClientPermission $_ |
%{if($_.user -match $groupname){"$folder ($($_.AccessRights))"}}}


This results in output like this:


\\IT (Reviewer)
\IT\Admin\Health&Safety (Reviewer)
\IT\Admin\Forms (Reviewer)
\IT\Admin\Forms\Payroll (FolderVisible)
\IT\Customer Services (Reviewer)
\IT\Customer Services\Projects (Reviewer)
\IT\Equipment Bookings (Author)
\IT\General Information (PublishingAuthor)
\IT\Mail Lists (Reviewer)


This might be all you need, although if you're going to do something programmatically with the output (you'll want to format it differently, but...) be careful with that double \ on the first line of the output. It's there because the parentpath is "\". It's easy enough to trap and remove it.