Words and Software

Technical writing for Windows 10. (old: Intelligent Systems Service, Data Protection Manager, and Operations Manager)

November, 2005

  • Are you going to run DPM with Windows Server 2003 R2?

    Windows Server 2003 R2 is looming on the horizon, and it's time to plan our documentation for running DPM with R2. We decided to compile all R2-related information into a single location, rather than redo the existing technical documentation.

    Our testers are thoroughly checking every aspect of DPM against R2 configurations, and their findings will be reflected in the R2 doc. But there are other questions you might have that we should address, even if only to assure you that there will be no changes. Below is my starting set of questions...if there's anything you'll want answered about R2 and DPM, please let us know in comments, by using Contact on this blog, posting in the DPM newsgroup, or by sending email to dpsfdbk@microsoft.com.

    • Upgrading a DPM server to R2
    • Installing DPM on a computer running R2
    • Upgrading a protected server to R2
    • Installing the DPM file agent on a computer running R2
    • Upgrading R2 clients using end user recovery
    • Enabling end user recovery on R2 clients
  • Need SP2 for XP or SP3 for Office? Order the CD

    I've avoided updating a few family computers, the ones that use dial-up. It just takes too long. And the longer I put it off, the more updates there are to download, and the easier it is to talk myself out of doing it at all.

    My conscience has been bothering me. These people trust me. I needed to figure out some way to get all these updates installed.

    Wouldn't it be nice, I thought, if I could just download everything I needed to a CD? So I searched. I was picturing a webpage that listed all the available hotfixes, patches, and service packs for an operating system, by date, linked to downloads. (One of the computers I keep updated cannot use Windows Update. Just doesn't work.)

    I didn't find that webpage, but I did find webpages on which I could order CDs for Windows XP SP2 and Office XP SP3. Since each of these service packs includes previous hotfixes, etc., this would work for me.

    The order page says to allow 4-6 weeks for shipping -- I received both CDs within a week of ordering.

    Nov 30, update: This is the sort of thing I was looking for! But for XP...

  • DPM Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) updated

    The DPM FAQ has been updated. The changes in this refresh are as follows:

    • Deleted "Can I protect a Windows-based NFS server?" question and answer because information is outdated.
    • Added "Can I enable Shadow Copies of Shared Folders on file servers?" question and answer.
    • Added "Upgrading from DPM Beta or DPM Evaluation Edition" section.
    • Added "Do I select the protection group or the protected volume to change the protection options?" question and answer.
  • Lost product key: prevention

    A surprising number of readers hit my post on John's lost product key problem. So when I came across an article in MCP Magazine on how to find out the product keys in use on a computer, I did a test drive on the tool for you.

    Don Jones, in "Finding the Keys to Your Computers", writes about NirSoft's freeware ProduKey. I downloaded the zip file (contains an .exe, a .chm, and a ReadMe). I ran the .exe and instantly (or near enough as) a window displayed product IDs and keys for my installations of Windows, Office, OneNote, and even Internet Explorer. I didn't know Internet Explorer had its own product key. Saved and printed. I even confirmed the product keys against my software cases.

    Now, this won't help you much if you've crashed and have to rebuild -- that's why I titled this prevention. Do you know where all the envelopes and boxes with your product keys are? Are you sure you've accounted for them all? Perhaps you have multiple computers in your household -- do you know which Windows XP CD goes with which computer? Are you the troubleshooter for your parents' computer and do they have all their keys?

    So, a handy tool to run on all of your computers just in case someday (may it never come), you have to do an emergency rebuild. And if you've read this far, please read the next paragraph.

    I know I have the disclaimer on this site, but I want to emphasize that I'm not recommending this tool on behalf of Microsoft. My virus scanner had no issues with the files; my firewall didn't blink when I ran the tool; I had good results and no problems; it was recommended by a reputable professional publication. However, you should always be cautious about downloading software from the Internet.

  • Informal usability testing

    This error message discussion took place back in 98 - I came across it yesterday when I was looking for something else in my Old Emails folder. (Yes, I'm an email packrat, but it's come in handy too often for me to break the habit.)

    Here's the question that was asked of an internal discussion group:

    Is the following too jargony for the average web user, or is the terminology used widely enough not to matter?
    1. My browser does not support the use of security software.

      If it is too jargony, would any of the following be as clear to the lay person as the above sentence is the the web-savvy? (If so, which one do you think works best? If none, any suggestions?)

    2. My browser is unable to use security software.
    3. My browser is unable to enter a Web site that uses security software.
    4. My browser cannot read a Web site that uses security software.

    At the time, I figured the best way to find out was to ask. So I called up someone I knew fit our profile of "an average web user" and read the options to him.

    1. "Okay, I understand that."
    2. "Okay, I understand that."
    3. and 4. "Wait a minute - does that mean I can't view the web page? Is that what 1. and 2. meant too?"

    My conclusion: "The terminology didn't bother him because they were all familiar terms; he just didn't understand the connection between the error message and what he wanted to do on the web (i.e., read a page). Messages 1. and 2. focus on a cause -- end users are concerned with effect. I vote for 3 or 4."

    The "My browser" terminology jars me though.

  • Certifications: getting hands-on experience

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm working towards the MCSA certification. All of the exams I've taken so far have been on Windows XP -- easy to practice, it's what I run at home and at work. These last two exams are Windows Server 2003 though, with lots of networking and Active Directory skills to learn.

    Ideally, I'd set up a great test lab at home with multiple computers and my own little domain. That just isn't a very fea$ible $olution right now. I've noticed our recent publicity about Virtual Server 2005 R2 and the great pricing (just $99 for standard edition). I considered that idea for a few minutes, but I just couldn't figure out the licensing model changes. (And yes, it did occur to me that if I can't get past the licensing stage, maybe I should hang it up altogether!)

    But I poked around and found another resource: the TechNet Virtual Lab. Now this looks promising...so I'm going to try one of them out right now.

    Waiting for it to load. Getting into the lab was a bit clunky - it kept reverting to a registration page that asked for more info than I feel they need. Ah, now we get to the system check, I have to install an Active X control.

    A window tells me that I might see a dialog box, and to click the box when it turns green. My box is green but not clickable. I "close and return to Setup".

    Hmm...despite my unclickable green box, system check says the Active X control is now installed. I continue. Now I'm to download and print out the lab manual. Okay...continue.

    "Preparing for Lab now. This may take up to 7 minutes." Not a problem, I'm still printing. I peek in at the chat room I also have open - they're discussing physics (light experiments) and the Hokey Pokey.

    "There is a secret hokey pokey society. If you do the hokey pokey 3 times backwards, you will achieve altered states of consciousness."

    Here we go! Start your lab. A new console opens, along with an NTLM authentication warning. I click Yes to continue. I select the virtual machine for Exercise 1, log on, and open Group Policy Management.

    I follow the steps for Exercise 1 for a few minutes, all seems to work as it should. Now for the part I was really curious about: Can I just explore on my own? And I can. I create a new organizational unit (called HokeyPokey, of course). I open a command window and run ipconfig. Funny, running winver at the command prompt opens the About Windows dialog box - I haven't seen that behavior before. Is it a server thing?

    So my question is answered. The virtual labs open a console into a virtual machine - this is much better than a simulation, in which the learner's actions are rigidly limited. Not as good as having your own test lab, but a cool substitute.

  • No more EULA?

    You'll be seeing new terminology from Microsoft: Microsoft Software License Terms, and license terms as the short version.

    It was determined (and I wish I could tell you how, and by whom, but I don't know exactly) that many customers don't know what "EULA" means, so in the interest of clarity, Microsoft official style now is to use Microsoft Software License Terms rather than End-User License Agreement. So if you come across references to license terms, yes -- we mean the EULA.

  • Software installation the right way

    Zman gives some good tips for polite software installation. I sympathize with his gripes because I'm just as territorial toward my computer. And I would add to his list, "Don't add yourself to Startup without my permission."

    But they all do it. It's become part of my install routine: complete Setup and then run Msconfig to remove from Startup. (The UltraAnnoying award goes to the programs that add themselves back in on restart - I uninstall them.)

    And just to give this post a little bit more relevance to my primary topics, Zman caught my attention with this:

    "I will give you a couple of points back since this was in the installation docs but who read them?"

    We do try to document everything the customer needs to know. But we also have to face the fact that some (many, most, all?) users try first, and read when all else fails. Which is why user interface (UI) text can be so critical, and why those of us on the content side push the product team to keep us involved in the product UI.

  • Lost product key

    John writes in with this problem: "I had to reinstall my OS (xp) today. I have completed the install and I am putting Works suit 2002 with money standard. all of the components installed except word 2002 which comes bundled with it. I am being asked for a 25 digit product key. I do not have the product key, the envelope must have gotten thrown out. I've contacted Dell and they told me to contact Microsoft. MS is telling me to contact Dell. I just want to install this so I can start using Word again. How can I obtain the product key for the software that I legally own and have paid for without all of this hassle?"

    The best advice I could find was through Microsoft Office Assistance: Replace lost Office product keys. I hope that helps!

  • How DPM's end user recovery feature works

    Enabling users to recover previous versions of documents isn't new to DPM -- it's part of the Shadow Copies of Shared Folders functionality introduced with Windows Server 2003. What DPM does, with end-user recovery, is leverage that functionality while providing a different target: the shadow copies stored on the DPM server, rather than shadow copies created and stored locally on the file server.

    This can be a good thing for administrators, letting them manage the shadow copies at a central point and freeing up storage space on the file server. (Another plus is that although Shadow Copies of Shared Folders can only be enabled on a computer running Windows Server 2003, DPM can create shadow copies for file servers running Windows 2000 Server as well.)

    To redirect the target for shadow copies on the client computer, DPM has its own shadow copy client that you install on client computers, which modifies the Windows shadow copy client. When the user opens the Previous Versions interface for a folder or file, DPM's shadow copy client looks at the shadow copies on the DPM server (provided that there are no shadow copies available on the file server).

    What does this mean for end users? Absolutely nothing! There is a lot of useful documentation already written on how users can recover documents from shadow copies, and the instructions are the same whether the document will be recovered from a file server or from the DPM server.

    Some good instructions for end users:

  • What the customer wants

    When I spend time in chatrooms online, I get frequent opportunities to answer computer questions. It's good practice, trying to explain something directly to a frustrated user. (And, of course, if it reduces a customer's annoyance with Windows or Office or Internet Explorer, that's good for Microsoft too.)

    But I think I learned the most the night that "Mary" asked for help. "Mary" was a very nice woman whom I'd talked with before, and she came in the chatroom completely fed up with Excel. She just could not get her document to print the way she wanted.

    I asked a few questions. We ruled out the printer as a problem. I checked which version of Excel she was using.

    "Send me email," I told her. "Tell me what you want and I'll set up the spreadsheet for you and send it back."

    "Mary" emailed me that she needed to create a list of items in her household. She figured she would need at least 15 pages that listed items, room, money worth, age of items, and maybe two more columns on each page.

    I asked for clarification: "So, you want a page per room? With these columns on each page? Item -- Age -- Estimated Worth -- what else?"

    "Mary" wrote back: "I feel like a complete idiot. It looks so easy, but when I try to work it, I can't do it. It deletes everything I do. I need a page per room. That's 10 rooms. Yes, I need about 50 lines on each page. And in columns listing item, age, estimated worth, and maybe three more columns on each page."

    I felt I had enough information to go on for the first draft, so I set up a worksheet with the headings. I sent it back to her, explaining that I would make whatever changes she wanted and then duplicate that worksheet in the workbook so she would have one for each room.

    "Mary" emailed me again: "It's not printing the columns. All I get are the titles, like Room: Living Room, etc. That's it. There are no printed columns where I can place items into it."

    No printed columns to place items into...

    Did you figure out what I didn't ask but should have? How do you plan to use this? What are you trying to do? I finally understood what the problem was.

    "Mary" wasn't going to create an inventory in Excel. "Mary" wanted to print rows and columns on paper...blank worksheets...that she could fill in with pen, and Excel looked to her like an easy way to do that, but she couldn't get the lines to print.

    Since that evening, when someone complains about this or that not working, I remember "Mary" and ask questions to make sure that fixing whatever isn't working will actually make the person successful at what she is trying to do.

  • How fast is DPM?

    See for yourself in Veritest's Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager Backup/Restore Performance Analysis.

    Some key findings, quoted from the report:

    • Data Protection Manager’s “Time-to-Protect” was 1.2x faster than Veritas Backup Exec and 1.5x faster than BrightStor
    • Data Protection Manager’s time to restore a 591 KB file was 117.5x faster than Veritas Backup Exec and 71.5x faster than BrightStor ARCserve.
    • Data Protection Manager’s time to restore a 108 MB file was 11.6x faster than Veritas Backup Exec and 9.1x faster than BrightStor ARCserve.
    • Data Protection Manager’s time to perform an incremental backup was 3.7x faster than Veritas Backup Exec and 1.9x faster than BrightStor ARCserve.

    Update: Since I can't do links in a comment, I'm adding my response to Sam's comment to the post:

    Sam, for information that can help you determine whether DPM is a suitable solution for your site, check out Anticipating the Effect of DPM Operations on Performance- lots of good tables about transfer rates. Also, you might want to look at Managing DPM Performance on a WAN.

    I'm not qualified to speak to product comparisons, so I'm checking with the experts to see what information is available. If you'd like to use the "Contact" link on this page to send me your email address, I'll get back to you on that question.

  • A resource for error codes

    I just came across another microsoft.com resource that I didn't know about before, thanks to Tony Soper's blog -- Events and Errors Message Center. On this page, you can search for specific error messages for different products, including SQL Server and SQL Server Reporting Services, which are installed with DPM. If you encounter an error on your DPM server that appears to be generated by either of those products, and our Troubleshooting documentation doesn't cover it, try the Events and Errors Message Center.

  • Online dictionary with a twist

    Sometimes, you're looking up a word in a dictionary to be sure you spell it correctly. Online dictionaries haven't been much help in that area for me. However, I recently came across the ObjectGraph Dictionary which is ideal to use when you're not positive how the word is spelled.

    It does this by immediately feeding you results with the first letter you type. As you type additional letters, the results change to match. Basically, you can skim the dictionary, just as you would in hardcopy. Fun!

  • 3 down, 2 to go

    I passed exam 70-270! My weakest area was security, probably because that isn't something I play with in XP too often.

    Next are exams 70-290 and 70-291 to complete my MCSA requirements.

    Does a technical writer at Microsoft need a Microsoft technical certification? That question can open a lively debate. As a general rule, a technical writer needs a good foundation in the technology he or she is writing about. Even more important, I think, is the ability to learn new technologies rapidly and informally.

    Achieving a Microsoft Certified Professional certification is a method to demonstrate that foundation. And in a way, it's part of "eating our own dogfood", being our own customer.

    The past few years, there has been more emphasis from managers on increasing technical expertise in "non-technical" jobs such as writer, editor, instructional designer. A certification is a quantifiable metric...managers love those.

    On the other hand, a key role of the technical writer is that of translator. For a look at the other side of the question, see my post last month, Can ignorance serve a purpose?