Windows 7 – Network Drive Alphabetti Spaghetti

It’s been a long time since my last post on here, time hopefully well spent! During the last 18 Months IT Services have been hard at work on the biggest single change to Edge Hill’s IT infrastructure ever attempted. It’s taken untold hours of hard graft but we are finally able to implement these changes.

If you take a walk to one of the student classrooms or open access areas then you will find yourself looking at a new Windows 7 Desktop. (I suggest going to the library and enjoying the new computers we fitted in there last week, with massive 23 inch monitors!). These machines not only have the new version of Windows and Office installed but also use Microsoft Active Directory to log you in. I could give you a long geeky breakdown of why this is awesome but we’ll settle on the fact that it should be a LOT faster than the old Novell client we had to use on Windows XP.

At this point we come to the title of this post.. your Network Drive.. Once you login to Windows 7 and navigate to the computer button (replacing the old “My Computer” icon) You’ll see some significant changes. The drives you are used to using on XP are gone and in their place are some brand spanking new network shares, all now running on our SAN via a Windows Cluster. The most important difference to you as an end user is the naming of these drives. Gone are F: G: and M: and in their place we have our new shares Stushare1 (X:) Staffshare1 (Y:) and your homedrive (Z:).

This might seem a bit confusing at first but allow me to explain the move. Firstly we wanted to differentiate between the old Novell and the new Windows shares. Things like the user homedrives have been copied file for file to the new share so for them it’s just a change of letter. The staffshare will be a lot more significant a change as we take the time to restructure the folders inside. As for why we changed the drive letter, well that has been on the cards for quite a while! Unfortunately the popularity of USB devices has had a real impact on drive lettering. We had endless conflicts with USB devices trying to install themselves on F: and G: drive letters. So with the chance to change things around we opted to follow best practise and put our network drives as far away from the local drives as we can. Hence our Z: X: Y: drives!

In the first instance I’m sure it will cause a bit of confusion for staff and students alike. My advice would be to stop thinking of your shares as the G: and F: drive rather think of them as the shared and home drives. To learn more about the upgrade to Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010, Staff can attend one of our overview sessions on either Friday, 19th August at 10am or on Thursday, 25th August at 3.30pm To book a place on one of these, please contact Staff Development on staffdevelopment@edgehill.ac.uk or visit https://go.edgehill.ac.uk/wiki/display/hr/Staff+Development

Windows 7 – The tip of the iceberg

Whenever Microsoft first release a new version of Windows there is always a massive debate on the subject. Is the new release an improvement or is it just a fancy new interface filling the cracks? Unfortunately Windows Vista was widely regarded as a step in the wrong direction and industry and education alike were unenthusiastic to replace the tried and tested Windows XP. Vista was somewhat of a system resource hog and many institutions weren’t keen on migrating as a lot of desktop hardware would have to be replaced or upgraded just to provide the same desktop performance in Vista that XP users expected. As with most organisations Edge Hill evaluated Windows Vista and concluded it wouldn’t be a worthwhile change while XP was still an option so the decision was made to depend on XP and hope that the inevitable Vista sequel is a game changer.

Fortunately Microsoft were very aware of Vista’s shortcomings and there were soon alpha releases of their latest OS circulating the internet. Soon dubbed Windows 7, the new version carried the many hopes for businesses who were facing the inevitable end of Microsoft support for XP. Windows 7 turned out to be the answer to our collective prayers. Keeping the majority of the positives from Vista but maintaining the stability and performance of XP, Windows 7 was soon on the agenda.

IT upgrades in Higher Education are usually saved for the summertime when the majority of full time students are on their summer break. With term time only staff and a lot of the academics also on leave it is the perfect time for any significant changes to be made. Windows 7 came too late for us to perform the upgrade during the summer of 2010 so it was pushed on to 2011. We spent the time in between testing software packages and getting up to speed on what needs doing to make the upgrade as simple as possible. As it happens the back end systems were also being reconsidered and our Core Services team started investigating the replacement of our Novell Edirectory services with Microsoft Active Directory. With Novell support for Windows 7 unlikely to be adequate for our deployment we could well be looking at our Windows 7 desktop deployment being supported by a Active Directory server 2008 infrastructure.

Needless to say there is a lot of work ahead for all the teams in IT Services and a very busy summer to look forward to. I’m sure there will be a lot more to post on here once we have a final schedule arranged and we can begin work on a live Active Directory environment.

Eee Day for Graduates Court

The new academic year is fast approaching and all over IT Services teams are running around like crazy to make sure everything is ready. For the Technical Services the current focus of attention is the installation of equipment for the new Graduates Court residencies. As with Founders Court, the rooms in the new halls will be fitted out with a high definition television attached to a small desktop PC.

When Founders Court was originally planned we look at a number of small desktop pc solutions. Eventually it was decided that the best machine for the job would be the ASUS EeeBox, specifically the B202. Since their installation last year the Eee boxes have proven to be very reliable. While not as powerful as a standard pc found in the open access rooms or on staff desks the Eee is perfect for its role, specifically the task of web browsing and providing a means for students to do their work from the comfort of their own rooms. Attached to the HD television, the Eee box also becomes a media center ideal for watching online video content or listening to music. The one thing that always bothered me was that the video input for the EEE was never native HD but now with Graduates Court we have an opportunity to improve on that.

From the success of the Eee B202 we naturally took a look at the latest offerings for ASUS. After comparing specifications and checking availability we settled on the new EeeBox EB1012P. Offering full HD support with an HDMI port the 1012P is a significant improvement on the 202. A dual core Atom processor and 2 gig of memory make for a pretty impressive performance and I can’t wait to see what they can do once they are setup in the halls.

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There is still a lot of work to be done to have the new rooms installed in time but the students arriving in the new halls can look forward to having some swish new equipment in their rooms. As with all the other halls around campus Graduates Court will have full wireless coverage so anyone bringing their laptops from home will be able to connect. When you connect to the network and login you are ticking a box to agree to the university acceptable usage policy. While the fast internet speeds in your halls might seem great, remember that downloading any copyrighted material is against this policy as well as the law and if caught you doing this you could face serious consequences.

Firefox 3 – release later today!

At around 6pm today (BST) the final version of Firefox 3 will be released onto the web. If you happened to read my previous post you’ll be aware that Mozilla are trying for a Guinness World Record for the most downloads within a 24 hour period. So if you are a firefox fan or just curious to find out what the fuss is about then make sure you get a copy downloaded from the official firefox site by 6pm tomorrow!

I’d like to take this chance to remind staff that IT Services do not currently support firefox 3 and having it installed on a staff pc. If you do choose to install it then it must be configured to use our proxy server or you could be breaching the acceptable use policy. To configure the proxy settings go to Tools -> Options -> Advanced -> Network -> Connection (click settings). On this screen set Manual proxy configuration to webcache.edgehill.ac.uk using port 3128 then tick use this proxy server for all protocols. As this isn’t fully supported by IT Services you may find you have issues with certain Edge Hill intranet sites which don’t recognise you as an internal visitor. Currently I would recommend staying with Firefox 2 in work and only downloading 3 to your home computer. IT Services will be looking to upgrade staff and students to the latest version once we are able to secure it for use on our network.

Firefox 3 – Download day coming soon

With the impending release of the new Mozilla Firefox 3 web browser there is a unique opportunity being presented. Mozilla have been in contact with Guinness World Records and are looking to set a new world record for the most downloads of a software application in a 24 hour period. They have recently started a massive online campaign to promote the browser and try and get as many users as possible ready for the big day. I’ve long been a fan of Firefox and I thought I would do my bit by giving it a plug here.

I’ve been using the release candidate of Firefox 3 for a while now and I’m very impressed. There are loads of improvements from the initial look of the browser to a redesign of the bookmarks system and all sorts of other changes. Even from this pre-release version I can say that it will without a doubt be my favourite browser and I hope everyone who uses it currently will upgrade (and more importantly that anyone who hasn’t tried it yet will take this chance to give it a go).

firefox 3 small

No firm date is set for the release at this stage but Mozilla expect a date in the middle of June. So get yourself over to the Spread Firefox record site and join the 800,000 already signed up for release. Enter your details and you will be emailed the day it’s released and can take part in helping to set a new world record.

Download Day - English

Office 2007 upgrade part 3: Something worth a note…

office 2007 logoWhen you think of Microsoft Office the same old applications always come to mind: Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Access (maybe Outlook if you use it for your mail client). But what about the other applications packaged in the Office suite? Many have come and gone (Frontpage anyone?) but very few become regular additions. Publisher was probably the first big application to be added to the “core four”. Originally a standalone app, Publisher finally became proper part of the office suite with Office 2000 and has remained there ever since. So what will be the next application to make the jump and become an Office regular?

If I were a betting man then my money would be firmly staked on OneNote. In case you haven’t encountered it before OneNote is a virtual notebook application designed to simulate a filofax notebook for jotting down information and brainstorming. Now while I can’t see it replacing our lovely Edge Hill diaries (aren’t the new ones slick?!) I do think it could become an important part of our note keeping processes. I have been playing with the software for a few weeks now and using it for keeping track of several projects we have in the works (including the office 2007 rollout) and I have found it to be very useful. As with most new software the biggest problem is remembering to use it all of the time. When it is so easy to just scribble on a post it note why do we need software like this at all? Well if your office is anything like mine then I’m sure you are familiar with the post it note graveyard that soon forms. I often lose little bits of paper (sometime with import things on!) so taking a few seconds to type it up and have it permanently saved on my F drive is making all the difference!

OneNote tabs

So let us have a little look at OneNote. Above you can see the tabbed layout of the virtual notebook, each of these tabs represents a single section which can contain multiple pages (think of them as dividers in a folder that split up the pages into sections). These tabs form the basis of organising the notebook, in my notebook I have different tabs for each project I’m working on and then pages of notes stored under each one. This is a very effective way of organising your notes and lets you keep all of the information relevant to a single project or task all in one place. There are also options for having a rough area for random thoughts or quick notes. Maybe you could have a section for meeting minutes or for brainstorming, the options are very open.

While I have yet to test the function out there is also an option for creating shared notebooks. These allow a team of people to all share the notebook on the G drive and collaborate on the notes inside. To me this is a brilliant way of working on large projects or for keeping staff or procedure guidelines. IT Services use a wiki based system for sharing technical documentation and it has been very useful for keeping track of what we are working on and for leaving instructions on how to perform specific tasks. OneNote could allow for a similar system with any team around the Campus with extensive (and searchable) notes allowing a new member of staff to have easy access to a huge library of useful information. Whatever happens I hope that people will try out this fantastic piece of software and have a look at what it can offer for themselves and their teams.

OneNote small

Sun Ray (part 5) Six months on….

It’s now nearly six months since my first post about the Sun Ray project and the following Faculty Of Health (FOH) deployment and it seemed to me that it would be a good time to have a little look back at what we achieved and see how things are now everything has settled down. I’m pleased to say that from my perspective things have gone very well. We now have around 250 Sun Ray devices deployed around the campus with large numbers being used in the FOH, Academic Registry and IT Services. We also have a number of open access Sun Rays running in the FOH to provide quick access web terminals for the students or visiting staff, I’ll talk more about those in a moment.

FOH

First and foremost I’d like to mention how much our back end services have grown as a result of the project. Our Core Services team have worked exceptionally hard over the last six months to build and maintain all of the infrastructure required for the Sun Ray project. To give you an idea of scale, the Sun Ray system alone current requires: 4 Solaris Sun Ray servers, 2 Windows 2003 2X Load Balancers and 9 Windows 2003 Terminal Servers. This represents the single largest growth in new servers since our Novell Cluster went in several years ago.

From a Technical Services point of view we have physically installed the 250 Sun Ray devices, monitors and peripherals. From that point we have been supporting our users in familiarisation with the new system and dealing with any teething problems that they experienced during the implementation. While each Sun Ray might not take as much maintenance as a computer we still have to deal with occasional faulty units and other issues such a network connectivity and printing problems. We have also been very busy fitting the open access Sun Rays in the FOH. If you have been over there you might have noticed them mounted on the back of the seating areas. These were quite tricky to fit as the Sun Rays are mounted under the seating with cabling fed up to the monitors and keyboard. This leads to the quite fun task of lying on the floor under the seating while a colleague tries to feed down cabling inside of the wood seating frame. We also fitted two accessible Sun Rays with monitors mounted on adjustable arms.

So far the Sun Ray project has been a great success, hopefully this summer will see us making them available to other areas around the campus and further expanding our capacity. For those of you who still aren’t sure that a Sun Ray is for you I can tell you quite happily that I’m writing this blog on one right now and that I have been using it for 80-90% of my work (which considering I fix computers all day is not bad at all!). User feedback has been very good and most people are very impressed with their performance. If you would like to try one then go and grab a coffee from the FOH and have a sit down on one of the stations in the cafe. Just to close I’d like to show you a few before and after pictures of the FOH, the before photos were taken on the first day we were able to access the building. As you can see we weren’t the only ones working frantically to get everything done and I think you will all agree at how amazing the finished building looks.

Reception beforeReception afterLecture theater beforeLecture theater afterCafe beforeCafe after

Office 2007 upgrade part 2: The Ribbon Effect

office 2007 logoIn this post I wanted to talk a bit about the most significant change in Office 2007, the newly “ribbon” user interface. As I mentioned in my previous post the ribbon is designed to make Office products more accessible to new users but can take a little getting used to for MS Office veterans. There is however nothing to worry about, all of your favourite functions are in there somewhere and for most people it’s just a case of finding out where the button or menu you want has been moved to. In most cases the location of a specific function is much, much more logical. So take a step back and forget everything you know about Office for a moment (well maybe not everything..)

Excel Ribbon

Here is our nice new ribbon in all of its glory, isn’t it lovely? Kudos to Microsoft for their nice design, as with Windows Vista the interface is looking pretty slick. For this example I’m going to show you the ribbon interface specifically for Excel. Click the picture above to have a proper look.

The first thing I would like to draw your eye to is the “Office Button” in the top left corner. This button represents the old “File” menu from previous versions of Office and is Microsoft’s attempt to create a Start Menu style interface for Office. This button will probably be the most important change for people to get used to as behind it we have a lot of the most vital functions of any Office application. I am of course referring to the “New Document”, “Open”, “Save” and “Print” buttons which will be used by everyone who has the application. Again click the picture for a better look.

Ok so we have found the File menu.. what about everything else? Well I’m not going to show you where every single function has been moved to. Luckily for me Microsoft have created some rather handy tools to help users find a specific function. You can download these tutorials here: Word | Excel | Powerpoint
Each one runs an interactive window that lets you click a button or menu option in Office 2003 and then shows you where this feature has moved to in 2007. Once we start installing Office 2007 on staff computers I’ll make sure these tutorials are available on our network for quick reference.

The Office 2007 interface shouldn’t be that intimidating. Things really haven’t moved around that much so to finish this post I’ve put together pictures showing the same file open in both Excel 2003 and 2007. The last picture shows the interfaces side by side and I’ve highlighted a few random buttons and menus to show how they have been re-arranged. The only significant change in these examples comes from the insert menu. In Excel 2007 this has been split up into common functions (such as insert pictures or word art) and application specific functions (such as insert row or columns). Stay tuned for some more information shortly.

Excel 2003Excel 2007Excel Comparison

Office 2007 upgrade part 1:

office 2007 logo Over the next few weeks IT Services staff will be putting the finishing touches to our Office 2007 installation packages with a view having upgraded the majority of staff and student areas by August. Here is the official IT Services statement:

IT Services Update: Microsoft Office 2007 / Vista Operating System

The Information Strategy Group agreed at the last meeting in March that the University would upgrade to Microsoft Office 2007 during July and August this year.

MS Office 2007 has a significantly different look and feel to MS Office 2003 which is currently in use. Colleagues in Staff Development will be offering awareness sessions in due course for University staff.

There will be a phased roll-out by IT Services, including aninitial MS Office 2007 installation in one of the LINC IT rooms. This will provide an opportunity for colleagues to familiarise themselves with the product early on.

Please note that in line with other Universities, we shall not be deploying Vista this year, but will retain the XP Operating System as the standard University desktop environment. However, a small number of Vista installations will be available for staff engaged software evaluations, research and development, and those involved in supporting use/access from off-campus and non-university devices.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the IT Services Helpdesk on 01695 584424.

I wanted to post something to explain a bit more about the why and the how of this upgrade. As far back as I can remember Microsoft have consistently released new versions of Office every 2-3 years. I’ve used every version released in the last decade since Office 4.0 on Windows 3.1 and I have to admit it has changed quite a lot. So why is it constantly changing? How different does the application has to be to justify a new release and really do we need all these new improvements just so that we can type out a memo?

Office features have come and gone over the different versions (remember the annoying paperclip?) but the core components haven’t changed that significantly. Whatever version of Office you run you’ll be sure to see the familiar shortcuts for Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Access. The applications might be called the same thing from one version to the next but there can be some quite drastic differences. Office 2007 introduces the first major rethink of the user interface in a long time, the new “ribbon” system shows a quite drastic redesign of all the menu systems everyone is familiar with, so why did Microsoft change it?

The Word 2003 user interface:
Word 2003

The Word 2007 user interface:
Word ribbon

Well as with most changes that have been made to software packages over the years, the main goal of this redesign was to rationalise all of the additions made over the last few versions and make the whole interface much more logical for new users. While this might mean that users of previous versions might take a while to get used to the interface, most people should find it easier too use and less time consuming to master. These changes are likely to be a part of Microsoft’s long term software strategy and from recent press releases it seems that the ribbon system is not only here to stay for Office but likely to become a core part of all new Microsoft software. With that in mind it makes good sense for everyone to become familiar with the new interface style sooner rather than later.

I’ll be posting some more information shortly and outlining some of the differences between Office 2003 and 2007, along with some of the benefits we can look forward to from the new release.

WSUS – Making Windows updates nice and simple

Back in June last year we started to look at the feasibility of implementing WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) on our network. We had originally hoped to implement the system during the last summer period but unfortunately other work and the approaching FOH moves over took us and the project was put on the side. Luckily summer is nearly here once again and WSUS is back on the agenda.

One of the big advantages of our virtualisation programme is that we are starting to free up spare physical servers that we can then use for new services such as WSUS. Core Services have kindly given me the loan of the old server “Lee” so that I can run up a WSUS test server. The WSUS plans became even more important when Microsoft released Pack 3 for Windows XP earlier this week. The prospect of having several thousand workstations all downloading a 300mb file and having to face nearly an hour long installation didn’t seem particularly appealing. WSUS can make this whole process a lot easier for both IT Services and Edge Hill staff/students. Once setup we will be able to control the update process and (in the first instance) stop Service Pack 3 from automatically installing. Every summer the IT staff spend a lot of time re-ghosting and updating the staff and student computers so that they have the latest software installed and ready for September. This year we will be rolling out Office 2007 so it seemed logical to update to Service Pack 3 at the same time. Once our manual re-ghosting has been completed we can then mop up any other computers by having the WSUS server force down the Service Pack 3 update. So how do we do that??

I wanted to give a little breakdown of how WSUS works. The package is installed on a Windows server (in our case 2003) and downloads the Windows Update catalogue to the server’s hard drive. We then attach computers to the server using registry or group policy settings and from there we get a report of their status. How is that useful you ask.. well from the console we can see which updates our computers have installed and which they are missing. We can then authorize new updates and then distribute them to all of the computers attached to the WSUS server. If you look at this picture you can see some my test clients connected to the server reporting their various update statuses.

wsus clients small

Once we have a number of clients reporting their status we can get more detailed reports so that we can identify which computers have no updated and keep an eye out for any that have had problems installing a certain update. On the image below you can see a simple report which tells us the number of updates successfully install, the number pending and other useful information such as the service pack status and pc name.

wsus report