Words and Software

Technical writing/user assistance in Microsoft.Azure Intelligent Systems Service (ISS). (old: Data Protection Manager and Operations Manager)

Words and Software

  • Would you use an Operations chm for SCOM?

    Currently, we post all of our Operations Manager documentation for download in doc format, and also post it on TechNet. And lately I've been thinking about whether we should also post .chms for download.

    I know .chm is a rather old-fashioned format, but personally I like it. I like the left nav for browsing, I prefer the .chm search to Word's, and unless it's a long narrative, I find it easier to read. I'm more comfortable following internal links in a .chm than a .doc because it's easier to find my way back to where I was. I also like the freedom of the offline experience (that's in comparison to TechNet rather than .doc format).

    For operations, Operations Manager has a User's Guide and an Administrator's Guide. If a .chm version of each of those guides was offered for download, would you download it? Would you find it useful?

    I haven't worked out all of the how-to details yet, but with a local .chm, you can create a console task to open the .chm from inside the Operations console. Is that something you would be interested in?

    If you are in favor of .chms of our operations content, what other content would be more useful to you in .chm format?

    Leave a comment or email momdocs@microsoft.com!

  • "I don't read instructions..."

    Yesterday, while I was watching a usability session, the participant mentioned that he prefers to open up a new tool and just poke around, rather than reading the documentation. I can empathize with that approach -- I do it myself sometimes.

    "Explorer" types like to jump right in and poke around. Maybe try to do something to see if they can, maybe try to do something just to see what will happen. Can they figure it out just by following the clues? That's a fun quest. Metaphorically like hitting the open road and taking turns on impulse. And if you get too lost, (yes, there are degrees of lost!) you can always reach for the map.

    So for explorers, documentation is useful when it satisfies the same purpose as a good map: contains both the big picture and the details, clear labels, easy to navigate, and most importantly, is complete. (Maybe I don't need to know there's a river alongside the road, but I want to know.)

    Fortunately, explorers are usually accustomed to adjusting to the arbitrary limitations of linear information. They realize that an unfamiliar term is only undefined because they skipped the previous five chapters. I can't count the number of times I've read a manual backwards because I found the information I wanted on page 236, but to understand it I needed the explanation on page 198, and it relied on a definition on page 147...you get the idea.

    I don't expect that the content designer can predict what I will want to know in the context I want to know it, not for me and also the zillion other people who might use that content. A more reasonable expectation is that the content designer will try to include everything I need to know, much that I want to know, and make it all easy to find.

    Not too much to ask, is it?

  • DPM SP1: Error 2043

    If you are running DPM 2006 SP1 and encounter error 2043, "insufficient shadow copy space", the alert details refer you to Knowledge Base (KB) article 922510. The product team is working to publish that KB article as soon as possible, but in the meantime, here are the instructions for resolving the issue:

    In DPM 2006, when the amount of space required for shadow copies exceeded the allocated space, all shadow copies could be deleted without notification to the user. DPM SP1 will ensure that at least the latest shadow copy is retained and generate an alert to increase the disk allocation for shadow copies.

    However, DPM will stop protection of the affected protection group member, and you must manually change the disk allocations and create a new shadow copy of the affected protection group member to continue protection.

    To continue protection of the affected protection group member

    1. In the Protection task area, select the protection group that contains the affected protection group member and then click Modify disk allocation.
    2. In the Modify disk allocation dialog box, select the affected protection group member and then click Change.
    3. Modify disk allocations for the protection group member as follows:
      • Increase the replica area to 150% of the size of the protected data.
      • Increase the shadow copy to 20% of the modified replica area.
        For example, if the protected data is 100 GB, increase the replica area to 150 GB and increase the shadow copy area to 30 GB.
    4. In the Protection task area, obtain the replica path information for the affected protection group member from the Details pane.
    5. Create a new shadow copy of the replica volume on the DPM server by running the following command:
      vssadmin create shadow /For=<<REPLICA point Mount>>

      The replica mount point is the replica path, truncated to the GUID. For example, when the replica directory path is:
      c:\Program Files\Microsoft Data Protection Manager\DPM\Volumes\Replica\FileServerName\E-1ed88a75-1b71-11da-b87c-806e6f6e6963\ReplicaDir\Test

      The resulting replica mount point is:
      c:\Program Files\Microsoft Data Protection Manager\DPM\Volumes\Replica\FileServerName\E-1ed88a75-1b71-11da-b87c-806e6f6e6963
    6. Run Consistency Check.
  • Really destroying a hard drive

    The phone rings. Cue ominous music. And you hear the dreaded words..."I Just Bought Your Hard Drive".

    What a creepy thought! Yet it happened to the poor gentleman in the story, who had made a good faith attempt to make sure his supposedly damaged hard drive was handled properly.

    I've worried about that, when recycling old computers. I have a Wipeout!-type program that I picked up years ago and I use that, after manually deleting everything and then running Format C:\. Probably still has recoverable data if someone tried hard enough, but I hope to confuse the hard disk enough to make it not worth the trouble. Is it really clean though?

    I never thought of drilling a hole in the physical disk. I wonder if my drill is up to it. On the other hand, one of the commenters insisted even drilling a hole was insufficient...so what would be enough? How do you "clean" your hard drives before discarding or recycling them?

  • 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 not to write a user manual

    I have to disagree with Tony Soper's admiration for the Pong user instructions:

    • "Insert quarter
    • Ball will automatically serve
    • Avoid missing ball for high score"

    Tony and I worked together on the same team, so he's used to my contrariness. :-) I don't object to calling Pong's instructions "succinct", but I just don't think they're useful.

    The key to manuals and instructions is who you are writing for. If you know how to play Pong, you don't need those instructions, so the instructions must be intended for someone who has never played it. But if you've never played Pong, you still don't know how. "Avoid missing ball" gives me no idea how to manage that feat.

    Less is not always more.

  • "Jericho" returns!

    This doesn't fit any of the topics I usually write about here, but I'm so tickled that this is my way of shouting it out: CBS is giving "Jericho" another chance!

    If you didn't watch "Jericho" when it first began, or perhaps just caught an episode midway through the season, the fuss fans made when it wasn't renewed for the fall might seem over the top. But it really was one of the most intelligent, discussion-provoking shows I've watched in a long time.

    How would modern people manage if suddenly all society's structures and laws and systems became nonexistent? If it was just you and your neighbors, basically cut off from the rest of the world - how would you all act? What choices would you make? What aspects of human character would be revealed?

    If you didn't watch "Jericho" before, give it a chance next season - it's worth it!

  • From DPM to Ops Manager

    If you read this in an RSS feed, you won't have seen that my blog description has changed -- I'm moving from the Data Protection Manager (DPM) team to the Operations Manager team, focusing on management packs.

    This opens up a whole new world of stuff for me to blog about. I need to learn things like: what makes a good management pack? What makes a good management pack guide? How do administrators use the management pack guides? If you have any thoughts on these questions, please drop me a line at mpgfeed(AT)microsoft.com.

    If you read this blog primarily for DPM information, the DPM posts will still be available by clicking the System Center Data Protection Manager tag, and of course the DPM product team's blog is a great resource.

  • DPM 2007: compatible tape libraries

    As you may know, DPM 2007 adds support for tape to DPM 2006's disk-based protection. So with DPM 2007, you can configure protection disk-to-disk, disk-to-tape, or disk-to-disk-to-tape. But an important question you'll have is, will DPM work with my existing tape library? Or, what tape library should I get to work with DPM?

    For your answer, take a look at the list of tape libraries that have been tested and found compatible with DPM so far. Keep in mind that just because a tape library is not listed there, it does not mean that it is not compatible--only that it has not yet been tested.

  • Spamming for computer equipment?

    Sometimes I read spam email before I delete it, just to see if anyone is getting more inventive. The recent trend is to claim to be from the FBI and to assure me that they've cleared my transactions with the foreign government.

    I got a new one today, though. All this person wants, to release "my" funds, is two 120GB USB hard drives.

    "I am Engineer Richard Mongo A Central Processing unit, known as computer scientist with African Development Bank. I am 29 years old, presently working with African Development Bank. I came across your file which was marked X and your released disk painted RED, I took time to study it and found out that youve met VIRTUALLY all fees and certificate but the fund has not been release to you. The most annoying thing is that they cannot tell you the truths that on no account will they ever release the fund to you; instead they let you spend money unnecessarily. I do not intend to work here all the days of my life, I can liberate this fund to you if you can abide by the rules and regulations to make this transfer successful to which ever method suits you, also promised to pay compensation of 10% percent of the total fund if I make you recover all what you might have lost in the past and help to re-establish your precedent bliss. The only thing I require to release this fund is a special HARD DISK we call it HD 120 GIG USB. I will need two of it to enable me recopy your transfer information, which I will destroy the previous one, and punch the computer to reflect in your bank within 24 banking hours and clean up the tracer then destroy your file, after which I will apply for resignation for my trip to your country for my percentage, or better still an ATM-CARD method payment can be granted if you are interested don't hesitate to get back urgently. You ought to send a convenient Tel/fax number of yours for uncomplicated communications and also reconfirm your banking details so that there won't be any inaccuracy. Note with the intention of your fund payment which has been taken to offshore for payment in other country are now mandated to offset by the Development Bank Of Africa due to the originator of your fund payment which is located here in the Africa continent."

    I'm afraid I'm going to spend some time trying to figure out what precedent bliss is, and whether I really want it.

  • Is your IE8 slow to open a new tab?

    Whenever I would open a new tab in IE8, whether by control-clicking a link or simply clicking the New Tab tab, everything would go dead for a good 10-20 seconds until IE8would finally show a new tab and then begin trying to open something in it. (Yeah, it always feels like longer.) It finally began bothering me enough that I started searching for a fix.

    The first suggestion I came upon had to do with the restricted sites list. Checked -- didn't have one.

    The second suggestion was to run regsvr32 actxprxy.dll. Tried it -- no improvement.

    (That doesn't mean that either of those fixes are wrong, it just means I have some other issue.)

    I finally came across the fix that I needed in the comments to a post criticizing that second fix above. Add-ons! Clicked Tools -> Manage Add-Ons and there it was: ZuneIEPlugin.ZuneBHO, with a load time of 7.62 seconds. I disabled it and voilà! My tabs work nicely again.

    If you too suffer from sluggish tabs, try those three suggestions and hopefully one of them will work for you as well!

  • Need volunteers: Operations Manager documentation survey

    Do you use Operations Manager? Would you be willing to complete a short email survey about operations documentation? If so, please send email to momdocs@microsoft.com.

    More details: The survey will be sent out approximately 21 March. We will use your responses to help us make decisions about organization and terminology so that the Operations Guide for the next version of OpsMgr will be easier to use. There won't be any information about the next version in the survey, so a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is not necessary. We hope to get input from OpsMgr novices, experts, and everyone in between.

    edited to add: We'll ask that you reply to the survey by 1 April, so that will allow plenty of time for those who are busy the week of the 21st with MMS

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Check out our new TechNet page!

    The DPM TechNet page is sporting a new look and lots of new links. There's the usual "Contact us" link, but we invite you to email us directly at Dpmfdbk@microsoft.com with any feedback or suggestions for the site.

  • 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...

  • User interface (UI): content scrub

    UI scrubs are now my favorite part of the product cycle. I joined the DPM team too late to participate in the UI scrub for DPM 2006, so this is my first experience with it. It's not quite as much fun as puppies, but close.

    The approach our content team took was to divvy up the new UI sections and work through them individually, then meet to review each section and the suggested changes as a team. Redundant? Not at all -- the extra eyes in the group review notice much more than one person can, but the work done in the individual review provides the group with an "expert" who has already thought through most of the issues, looked questions up in the specification, researched applicable standards for an item, and so forth.

    We look for much more than grammar and spelling, of course. The whole reason for user interface design guidelines is to achieve a consistent interface approach that works best for users. So our discussions included the order of check box options, for example, and the placement of imperatives, and what goes beneath the name of a wizard page.

    We've done two UI sections so far as a group, and each one took about four hours. The only thing I can think of that would make the scrubs even more fun would be to have the program manager or developer in the room to explain things when we get in a muddle, or have it all wrong...

  • Paean to Paint

    With Valentine's Day drawing near, Jensen Harris posed an interesting question on his blog last week: What software do you love? The fun part is reading the comments (up to 145 of them so far). Some of the software mentioned by the readers brought back very fond memories; some descriptions intrigued me into making note of the name to look into later.

    So I started thinking about the question. There were quite a few contenders, but I finally recognized that my favorite of them all is...Microsoft Paint.

    Yeah, I know, nobody respects Paint and a list of all the graphics things it can't do would go on and on...but there it is, number one on my list. Why? It does what I need, simply and quickly and without a fuss. Anthropomorphically, I see Paint as a sturdy little mule.

    I can open a digital photo in Paint, resize the image file, and save it under a new name, in about the same time it takes my more robust graphics application just to launch and open the file. I can customize screenshots quickly and effectively, without the "noise" generated when I work in a more complex app. Paint just does what I want.

    There have been very few improvements to Paint over the years, and I'm glad. Dear Paint, don't ever change.

    Is there software that you're especially fond of? Head over to Jensen's and add your favorite to the growing list.

  • Identifying Systray icons

    My daughter's computer is sick. It's partly my fault, I turned off the firewall the last time I was troubleshooting her wireless, and I forgot to turn it back on.

    Killing the virus would have been quicker if I'd been able to identify it sooner. But the main symptom was an icon in Systray that blinked furiously and popped up vius warnings, yet provided no info on mouse-over and no right-click menu. Because my daughter had just switched to a cable modem, I couldn't be sure that this wasn't some support feature provided by her new ISP (although the lack of information made that doubtful).

    I caught myself muttering that there ought to be a tool that would tell me which program owned each Systray icon...which means there probably is one. Couldn't find it on the Web, though.

  • DPM V2: protection of Exchange data

    Interested in how DPM protects Exchange data? One of our program managers recently did a presentation on it, and his slide deck is now available on the DPM Connect site for download (https://connect.microsoft.com/Downloads/DownloadDetails.aspx?SiteID=205&DownloadID=4777&wa=wsignin1.0&wa=wsignin1.0). Enjoy!

  • Tab tragedies

    I installed the msn search toolbar. I was really looking forward to the tab feature, which I'd heard so much about from Firefox users.

    This is my fifth day. Just now is the fifty-zillionth time that I have inadvertently closed the browser window rather than the tab...thus losing all the other pages I'd so carefully chosen "open in new background tab" for so that I could read them later.

    Maybe I need to paste a piece of paper on the monitor where the Internet Explorer close button is, so I have to stop and think when I whiz the mouse to the upper right corner of the screen...<sigh>

  • DPM and 64 bits

    A question came up in the DPM newsgroup that made me go "interesting! I hadn't thought of that possibly being an issue!", and of course I love being surprised by that sort of thing.

    The question was about SP1's support for 64-bit computers. "Can the same DPM server protect both 64-bit and 32-bit servers?" the customer asked, "Or do I need one DPM server protecting 32-bit servers and another protecting 64-bit servers?"

    I hadn't thought of it till then, but once the question was asked, I could see how one might wonder if that's how the 64-bit support would work. So I scanned through the posts eagerly to find the answer -- I was pretty sure the same DPM server would protect both, but not sure enough...

    Karandeep had already answered, of course: "With V1 SP1, the same instance of the DPM server will be able to protect 64-bit and 32-bit servers. You would not need another DPM server to protect 64-bit servers."

    (We tend to call DPM 2006 "V1" because we're working on "V2", which has no official name yet.)

  • KB 922510 published

    I recently posted about an SP1 error that refers the user to a Knowledge Base article, KB 922510. Sometimes the wheels of publishing seem to turn slowly, but at last I can announce that KB 922510 is live.

  • Vista and 2007 Office suite packaging stumps Microsoftie

    I picked up OneNote 2007 today at the company store and brought it home to install. Interesting new packaging; I like the curved edge, although the case is three times wider than it needs to be. Tough durable plastic. How do you open this thing?

    I figured out the "peel here" sticker, and got that off, but then I got stuck. Just below the curve on the upper right are two...things...that really seem like they should do something useful. Like open the case. But they don't.

    There's a little red sticky poking out of the top, looks like those protector strips on inkjet cartridges. I give it a tug; nothing. I decide I have to get the case open before dealing with the red sticky.

    There's more tape along the top, protecting the certificate of authenticity. No "peel here", and repeated attempts convince me it will never peel.

    Finally I turn to the web, which never seems to fail me. And here I find: How to open your Windows Vista Box. With pictures, even. Seems that the little red sticky was the key. Thanks, Sidebar Geek!

    Note: the instructions don't mention the certificate of authenticity tape portion. I used a seam ripper.

  • Cheap and easy hot/cold pack

    I've noticed that the one item I can almost guarantee will be in any given freezer in any refrigerator on campus is the ubiquitous ice pack. It makes sense: hours spent at computers, thinking about your project rather than your posture...many sore necks at Microsoft, and many more throughout the world of computer-users, I'm sure.

    Cold feels good. Heat can also feel soothing to sore muscles. Combine either cold or heat with a nice distribution of weight for even more relief. And a really cheap and easy way to get that combination is rice.

    Yes, rice. And a sock. Long tube sock.

    Roll a sheet of paper into a tight cylinder. Stick one end into the (clean!) sock. Let the roll of paper expand to form a funnel into the sock. Pour in dry rice or small beans or seeds. Fill the sock about 2/3. Remove funnel and tie a knot in the end of the sock.

    These socks can be stored in the freezer to be used as cold packs, and also microwaved (about 2 minutes) for moist heat. And they can be reused over and over. The dry rice shifts around in the sock as you drape it around your neck, to provide a comforting even weight on the muscles.



    Naturally this post is not intended to offer medical advice, and you should always consult a physician for health issues.