Technical blog and writings by Micah Webner.

Another One of Those Microsoft Days

Okay, this is a silly rant, but Jason Powell said on the Church IT Discussion Podcast to just do it. Blog about something, at least once a week. So here it is...

Last night was another one of those Microsoft days. A friend of mine got one of those cool Treo 700 phones that would drive me crazy, and needed me to come help him get it talking to his Exchange server.

When he had tried to set it up himself, he'd encountered an SSL certificate problem (which in part turned out to be an expired self-signed cert on the Linux server that's sitting between OWA and the Internet), but the first thing I saw in his little booklet was that we needed to upgrade his Exchange server to Service Pack 2.

Going through the correct procedure meant that we should first get current service packs for Windows Small Business Server installed, and that's where the nightmare began. WindowsUpdate was offering Service Pack 2, but the download size was pretty horrific, so I downloaded it manually and did other tasks while I was waiting around. Once it was there, SP2 failed to install. I fiddled and searched and fiddled some more, and then started downloading the pieces of Service Pack 1, which had not been applied either.

Now, if you've never had the joy of installing Service Pack 1 for Small Business Server, you must know that it's a joy. First you must download and install SP1 for Server 2003. This is a huge (250MB) download that breaks all of the administration scripts for SBS. So you also have to download fixes for SharePoint and then SP1 for SBS, which is another 125-150MB. The instructions also say you need to download the server-deployable version of Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, but I ignored that because all of his XP workstations already have SP2 installed. (Stop snickering, I'll get back to this.) This was all on Monday. I had to come back last night to try the installations again.

The short version is that SP1 failed with about the same problem that SP2 was giving me. And the cool part was that both installations had to run for about five minutes before they got to the point where they bombed. All roads lead to KB822798, but even so, I spent several hours dinking around with it until I finally fired all of the guns at once (performing essentially all of the available steps in one pass) and got the service pack to install.

So now I'm finally ready to install SP1 for SBS. But will it let me install? No. Having the XP service pack (which I don't even need) is required. Gaaahhhh. Okay, read the release notes for Exchange SP2 (I'd already installed Exchange SP1 a long time ago.) Alright, it looks like all I need is a couple of small hotfixes and we're good to go. One of the required hotfixes no longer exists (I assume it's now in Server 2003 SP2) but hey, I'm not going to enable SenderID, so nevermind. (Are you still with me on my fun little rant?)

So after all that, Exchange SP2 goes without a hitch and we can start fiddling with his phone. As I mentioned, this involved renewing a self-signed SSL certificate on the Linux box that's acting as an accelerator, and then finally, we get the phone to sync over the USB cable.

So now the moment of truth comes. We unplug the phone and I send him an email from the conference room to his regular inbox. While we're trying to figure out how to set up a wireless sync, the message arrives. He's got Outlook open on his desktop, so of course we see the message there, too. Okay, it must be already working because of his wireless plan, and other than getting everything to the right patch levels, we really haven't done anything special to make this work, so let's send another test message. Okay, that worked too.

Then an email from someone else appeared on his phone, but not in Outlook. What? Wait a minute! What's going on here? And then it did appear in Outlook about a minute later. Oh wow, that's cool!

And that's what drives me crazy about Microsoft, right there. Despite all of the quirks, all of the administrative hassles and headaches, all of the security bugs, all of the everything that we all love to hate about Microsoft. They get the features right. And when stuff works, it works very well, with very little setup and detail for the end user. Just stick this CD in and install some software, plug your phone into the computer and give me the login info from your mail server and away it goes.

If Microsoft got the features wrong, we could all walk away in disgust and that would be the end of it. But they keep hooking people in with really cool features that actually make life easier for people (once some IT guy comes in and gets you over the hurdles) and so you can't really get away from them.

Take my setup for example. I run Windows out of necessity, but have merged Linux and Cygwin into my work flow, use Firefox for my browser, eschewed Media Player and Zune and embraced iTunes and my iPod, use Pidgin for IM and IRC. But doggone it I can't get away from Lookout Express for email. Nothing else comes close feature-wise to the way I work against multiple IMAP4 servers with a zillion folders. Sure, it's cheesy, and generates such awful HTML that I often compose in Dreamweaver (or joe) and then paste as source into OE, but nothing else lets me manipulate and store messages the way I want to.

So Microsoft, please do me a favor. Either improve your software (from an administrator's point of view) or stop having good features. The current combination is hurting my head.