Tag Archive | "Microsoft"

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Microsoft PDC big on Azure, quiet on Silverlight

Posted on 01 November 2010 by Alex Katsoulas

During his Thursday keynote, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer made it clear: HTML5 is the future strategy. The only mention of Silverlight was as a development environment and a runtime platform for Windows Phone 7.

See more: player.microsoftpdc.com

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How to run filtered views in MS CRM through ASP .NET in a distributed server environment (DB machine different than web server)

Posted on 13 August 2009 by Spyros Moschovakos

When attempting to play with MS CRM 3.0/4.0 API and build your own web applications over the web services provided, there may come a time when native CRM authorization will be needed, which essentially means that you will need to get the connected user and try to query the SQL server database retrieving only the account/contact/lead/marketing list or any other entity records that the user is allowed to see. And whenever user ownership is applied, filtered views are extremely useful.

However, there are certain requirements in order to impersonate the current windows user into SQL server. Here is a quick checklist of the required infrastructure:

1)      First of all we have to ensure that our ASP .NET application is configured properly to perform its tasks impersonating each time the windows user that makes the request. Therefore, ensure that you have the following parameters in web.config (under <system.web> element):

<authentication mode="Windows" />
<identity impersonate="true" />

2)    Modify your virtual directory settings in IIS to require windows authentication. In order to do this, you will have to disable anonymous authentication and enable Integrated Windows Authentication, as shown below:

Virtual Directory Security on IIS

Virtual Directory Security on IIS

2)  At the application level, ensure that the database connection is done using integrated windows authentication. Here is a sample connection string for SQL Server OLEDB  Provider:

PROVIDER=SQLOLEDB;Data Source=DBServerName;
Initial Catalog=Organization_MSCRM;Integrated Security=SSPI;

The key to the above is the “Integrated Security=SSPI” option which tells us that the connection with the SQL Server CRM Database will attempted using the windows user who is running the current thread. This, combined with the “impersonate=true” parameter in web.config ensures that the windows identity that is grabbed from the server will be running our sql queries. Note that for the data source name, it is necessary to use computer name, not IP address (see hints at the end of the article).

3)      Now the tricky part: the above would be enough in an environment that hosts the SQL Server CRM databases in the same machine with the application server (IIS). If this isn’t true, you will probably get authentication error messages upon DB connection. The most common one is: “Login failed for user ‘NT AUTHORITY\ANONYMOUS LOGON’”, which is typically “solved” once you add the NT AUTHORITY\ANONYMOUS LOGON” to the database logins. However, this workaround -apart from making your database extremely vulnerable- simply will not do in our case, since we need the queries to be executed by the windows domain users themselves.

This happens due to the “double hop” problem. For the lazy devs (like me) who do not wish to go into detailed problem analysis, let’s just say that your web server computer is not granted the required permissions from the domain controller’s active directory to pass the user’s domain credentials to the database server. That means that the authentication takes place well enough on IIS but the latter is unable to pass them correctly to the SQL Server machine. This process is known as “delegation”.

This is solved by the following steps:

a. Open the Active Directory management console on the domain controller

b. Find the computer that hosts MS CRM and IIS. Right click/Properties

c. Select delegation tab, and check the radio button that says “Trust this computer for delegation to specified services only”.

d. Click “Add”, and on the pop up form click “Users or Computers”. Select your Database server that hosts the SQL Server CRM DB.

e. You will then see a list of available services. Find the SQL Server’s service (MSSQLSvc)and add it to the list.

Note: if you cannot find such a service, then this probably means that your SQL server runs under a domain account, see here for details on manually adding an SPN.

f. Click “OK” and you should have the following settings:

Active Directory Delegation Configuration

Active Directory Delegation Configuration

Click OK and you are ready. You could always allow this computer to delegate credentials to any service (and therefore click on the second radio button) but this is generally not recommended due to security restrictions (when dealing with stuff from IT departments throughout large organizations, do NOT underestimate this factor).

5)      Finally, as delegation requires Kerberos protocol we must ensure that IIS treats windows authentication correctly, that is, it first negotiates with the client in order to accept and delegate credentials through Kerberos. IIS 7 (Win2008) supports Kerberos by default, in some IIS 6 installations you’ll have to add the appropriate headers manually. Here’s how (taken from the respective kb article):

a. Click Start, click Run, type cmd, and then press ENTER.

b. Locate the directory that contains the Adsutil.vbs file. By default, this directory is C:\Inetpub\Adminscripts.

c. Use the following command to retrieve the current values for theNTAuthenticationProviders metabase property:

cscript adsutil.vbs get w3svc/WebSite/root/NTAuthenticationProviders

In the above command, WebSite is a placeholder for the Web site ID number. The Web site ID number of the default Web site is 1.

d. If the Negotiate process is enabled, this command returns the following information:

NTAuthenticationProviders : (STRING) “Negotiate,NTLM”

e. If the command in step c does not return the string “Negotiate,NTLM,” use the following command to enable the Negotiate process:

cscript adsutil.vbs set w3svc/WebSite/root/NTAuthenticationProviders “Negotiate,NTLM”

f. Repeat step c to verify that the Negotiate process has been enabled.

That’s all! Some necessary hints:

  • ALWAYS USE DOMAIN NAMES for the servers when applying credential delegation. This means that the database connection string in your application should contain the data source server with its computer domain name, NOT THE IP ADDRESS! If you use IP addresses, the SQL Server authentication will fail because delegation rights are granted at the level of the domain, thus active directory needs to know the source and target machine’s computer names.
  • If your application contain queries to other views also (not filtered ones), then make sure that the users that are connected have the appropriate permissions to execute SELECT on these views/objects. By default, non-administrative users in CRM have access only to the filtered views of entities where user ownership is applied, so be careful with your joins!

Test it!

You are now all set to run any CRM filtered view through ASP .NET. In order to test it, create a new web page, and place the following code on Page_Load event (after modifying the connection string of course):

    Protected Sub Page_Load(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As System.EventArgs) Handles Me.Load
        Dim conn As New OleDb.OleDbConnection
        Dim table As New System.Data.DataTable()
        Dim ConnectionString As String = _
        "PROVIDER=SQLOLEDB;Data Source=MyDBServer;Initial Catalog=MyOrganization_MSCRM;Integrated Security=SSPI"
        'first get logged in user
        Dim w As System.Security.Principal.WindowsPrincipal = Threading.Thread.CurrentPrincipal()
        Response.Write("<b>connected user is:</b>" & w.Identity.Name)
        Response.Write("<br /><br />")
        Response.Write("<b><u>CRM DB User details</u></b><br />")

        'now query for the details of the user in the CRM DB
        Dim cn As New System.Data.OleDb.OleDbConnection(ConnectionString)
        cn.Open()
        Dim da As New System.Data.OleDb.OleDbDataAdapter("select systemuserid as id, fullname, " & _
        "domainname as username from filteredsystemuser where systemuserid=dbo.fn_FindUserGuid()", cn)
        da.Fill(table)
        da.Dispose()
        cn.Close()
        If table.Rows.Count > 0 Then
            Response.Write("<b>User ID:</b>" & table.Rows(0)("id").ToString() & "<br>")
            Response.Write("<b>User Full Name:</b>" & table.Rows(0)("fullname").ToString() & "<br>")
            Response.Write("<b>User Domain Name:</b>" & table.Rows(0)("username").ToString() & "<br>")
        Else
            Response.Write("<i>User Not Found</i>")
        End If
        Response.End()
    End Sub

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Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2010, the upcoming release

Posted on 05 July 2009 by Alex Katsoulas

The upcoming version of MS dynamics CRM just completed Milestone 1 in development cycle. There are some discussions/rumors
http://demiliani.com/blog/archive/2008/11/11/6526.aspx
http://blogs.msdn.com/ukcrm/archive/2008/11/10/what-s-new-in-crm5.aspx
http://nitindhawan.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/new-features/
http://crmdynamo.com/2008/11/preview-screenshots-and-whats-new-in-crm-50/
http://dotnetdeveloper.co.uk/blogs/mscrm/archive/2009/02/11/microsoft-crm-5-0-features.aspx
about the feature list and we are presenting a summary of them followed by some personal comments.

Functionality for end-user
Ribbon UI: The new Office like bar will be placed on the top of the page and it will be fully customizable. A gift for both users and developers.

Single page form: Tabs are replaced with navigation shortcuts in left navigation (outlook style) bar and all data is displayed in one page. I am afraid that users will scroll up and down more. On the other hand, common fields may be placed as header or footer to be visible in any time.

Data filtering: Excel like filtering in data grids supported by Save Filter As functionality.

Numeric Data visualization: Drilled down enabled charts based on Dundas charting solution. A feature that was missing from current version.

Additional ownership model:  The functionality that all Business Analysts were expecting. The Team ownership model is introduced supporting the creation of more complex security roles.

WSS integration: Document management including site & document library provisioning, meta-data and item security support, enriched with check-in/check-out functionality. Finally, Microsoft works on its competitive advantage and enters in a world that all MS products will be integrated (something like 360 application integration). This is a killer feature that competition cannot overcome easily.

Ad-hoc Relationships between any two entities: In case that new version support customization on relationship will give an enormous boost to establish MS Dynamics CRM as Enterprise Development platform.
Functionality for administrators
Flexible form layout: Form controls would be placed side-by side, on top, left or right to others and grids could be displayed inside a form without iframe and javascript. In case, that next version supports multiple role based forms, MS Dynamics CRM will be ready as an Enterprise Development platform.

Filtered lookups: Our requests will come true. A filter lookup property could be placed on all lookup controls. Till this moment, it will not support role based filtered lookups, hope that they will change their mind.

Solution Management: A set of entity customizations, workflows, e-mail templates, security roles, plug-ins etc. will apart a solution and it will be managed as a single unit.

Global Picklists: These global lists will be defined at the solution level, and will be available across multiple entities.

Drag & Drop Form Editor: New version will support drag and drop on all elements of a form, facilitating the design process.

Audit: There are some rumors that new version will provide auditing on attribute level. This feature is a “MUST HAVE” for all enterprise wide installations.

 

Functionality for Developers

Custom Code Sandbox: There will be available a new server role for running custom plug-in code and custom workflow activities without requiring full trust.

Plug-In Transaction Support: New version will provide transaction support between a CRM operation and a plug-in. The plug-in registration tool will be modified to support this.

Automatic Plug-In Profiling: New version will keep track of how a plug-in is executing, what resources it consumes, if it is causing unexpected exceptions and whether or not it is violating security constraints. If a particular plug-in fails a number of times it is automatically disabled from executing, helping to maintain system integrity.

In case that you want to suggest features to Microsoft Dynamics CRM team you may use Microsoft Connect Directory

MS Dynamics CRM Connect Program

at url:
https://connect.microsoft.com/dynamicssuggestions/feedback/CreateFeedbackForm.aspx?FeedbackFormConfigurationID=3392&FeedbackType=2

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MOSS no more…

Posted on 06 May 2009 by Andreas Vamvatsikos

The announcement by Microsoft for the naming conventions of the Series “14” Server products marked the end of our beloved MOSS acronym! The Office buzz world is not a part of SharePoint’s name anymore , since it will now be called Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010.

This does not mean that Office integration will be left out, it just means that Microsoft decided that the “Office” brand name will now be only related to client side products (a wise decision that will reduce some of the confusion that was caused by the “Office Servers” product line). The beta or a partner preview will be available in the last quarter or 2009 but no features were confirmed. So all conversation was about the new acronym (no serious Microsoft Product has been left without an acronym for a long time). MS is out of the question, MSS is taken by Microsoft Search Server and as Thomas Rizzo wrote on his blog  (“SharePoint is SharePoint is SharePoint”) we are left with no acronym.

I have a real hard time accepting this, so what about …. MSPS ?

 
SharePoint is SharePoint is…

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To folder or not to folder? That is the question.

Posted on 30 March 2009 by Andreas Vamvatsikos

Since most of us grew up in a word of DOS and Windows, our desire for folders and tree-like hierarchical structures is vast. We just make folders and subfolders to categorize information it has become … natural. Most of us do not want to let folders go, even when migrating to a new world like document management and SharePoint.

SharePoint provides the functionality to create folders within document libraries and so the most natural impulse when migrating from that dusty file server, is to just recreate the folder structure.
But to really get the most out of MOSS one must utilize metadata (custom columns). Metadata create a dynamic categorization system within document pools and allow for infinite personalization through views. Metadata use also turn search from guesswork to an intuitive task.

To be frank the folders we all use in file systems are metadata for the files they contain, just single dimensional. The “Projects” folder denotes that all documents contained in it are project related documents. Since this is not enough we rely on subfolders (client name or project type perhaps) and info in the filename (specific project name f.e.) to add more “metadata” to the document. This process that can quickly be chaotic and as the number of files grows it becomes unusable.

This can easily be alleviated by using a true metadata structure in SharePoint (two custom columns “Client” and “Type” in the ProjectFiles document library would be enough for the above example). So the document visibility is increased but also the structure can be “re-organized” (through views and filtering) without any manipulation of the documents files themselves. Teams working on the same file-set can also benefit from this approach. So the Sales department can view documents sliced per client or budget, but the IT department can view the documents per Product or Project type. Metadata is the way to keep everyone happy while at the same time avoiding multiple copies of files (and emails flying around trying to find the correct version).
Another thing against folders is that even if they are there, they cannot be used for filtering.

Just to add a technical limitation to all the business and design ones, the maximum document url length in SharePoint is 260 chars. This can be easily reached if the existing folder structure is big or really descriptive.

So it is obvious. No folders in document libraries, just metadata. Well … there is one single detail that folders have on their side, you can define access rights on them. So if you want to reduce the number of required document libraries or you have trouble dealing with access rights maybe a single layer of folders is ok. You will have to add metadata anyway probably just to get the views your users will desire (yes you can add metadata to a folder through customization, but it is not copied automatically to the documents that are placed inside it).

To conclude, in my opinion try to avoid folders at all cost unless access rights management makes them an unavoidable necessity.

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SharePoint 14 feature wish-list

Posted on 26 March 2009 by Andreas Vamvatsikos

With the next SharePoint Version (referred to as vNext up to now, it is going to be v14 it seems) getting closer, it is a good time to post my personal wish list of new features.  So here goes in no particular order:

·        Cleaner Page Rendering so that pages render faster, in more browsers and coding for MOSS is easier.

·        More “Polished” look for lists and especially for the forms that are produced automatically by the Workflow engine. It would make them a worthy offering for more solutions if f.e. silver light was utilized.

·        More flexibility in List functionality (it seems MS are working on something as was mentioned briefly by Bill Gates here http://www.microsoft.com/Presspass/exec/billg/speeches/2008/03-03SharePoint2008.mspx)

·        Better offline support, especially for mail archiving solutions but for simple document lists as well. Microsoft should get a lesson from the excellent Colligo addon on this.

·        Mobile client support, mobile browsers must be supported with a limited view of libraries at least. I would even be fine with a native Windows Mobile client, it is better than nothing.

·        Out of the box PDF support, yes I know it easy enough right now, but should be there by default!

·        Groove integration, just to get rid of the annoyance to explain to customers why on earth this is not already implemented :)<

·        More themes and master pages available out of the box.

·        Full site-collection backup/restore/migrate functionality (preferably with an UI) on a farm level. Really required for large scale installations or scenarios with different development and production systems.

·        Column (metadata) security filtering, it would be nice to be able to define which columns a specific security level can view.

·        Dynamic Update of related fields when a field changes in the form, for forms that are produced automatically by the Workflow engine.

·        Permissions on views, a real must have.

·        More customization possibilities for Search and search results, available without coding.

The big pain point of BI seems sure to be resolved now that a large segment of PerformancePoint will be integrated in SharePoint’s Enterprise version but this is a completely different rant! 

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New SharePoint Themes

Posted on 26 March 2009 by Andreas Vamvatsikos

Microsoft released 10 new SharePoint Themes a few days ago. The themes are an improvement over the already existing ones but not really anything to be very exited about.

Here is the download link from MS: New MOSS Themes

A better way to get then (and the way MS should also have provided them) is through a single WSP. Daniel Brown did it for us! :

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Increasing your chances for a successful SharePoint project

Posted on 24 March 2009 by Andreas Vamvatsikos

There are five rules of thumb that every SharePoint Project team must keep in mind in order to have a clear chance for success.

Plan big, start small
Microsoft Office SharePoint 2007 is a platform with a vast array of capabilities and features which is a good thing … until someone tries to use them all in an single project. So plan big since MOSS gives you the background to do so, but pick a couple of business focused quick wins for your first project. Don’t try to solve all of the client’s data, search, collaboration and process problems at once, the project will just never end. Get an ally within the client team, pin-point one or two problematic areas with their document or process handling and provide a solution just for that, either as a small start-up project or even as a pilot of a broader implementation.
This makes it much easier to keep the project on time and in budget but also to get the “buy in” from the end users that you will need later, when trying to deliver solutions to more complex problems.

Educate your developers
As I already noted MOSS is a platform. As such it has a wealth of Out Of the Box features that can be utilized in any solution. It has even more features that can be downloaded through Microsoft and the Codeplex Community in the form of application templates and web parts. You can even buy components from various vendors to facilitate a solution. All of the above components and features are extremely customizable according to your solution design and the user requirements.
This is something your development team HAS to understand and embrace. It is sometimes difficult to convince a developer with .Net mentality to try and find a way to implement things in the above described “SharePoint way”. If you find the team launching Visual Studio and going through the “Dim x as …” routine something is probably wrong.
With that said, there are actually some extreme cases where coding is indeed needed but they must be treated as exactly that, extremes.

Educate your users
Starting from pre-sales, users must have a clear view of how SharePoint will benefit themselves and the company, how it is going to take some effort and stress away from them, so that they are willing to go a little out of their way (and their established habits) to use it. They have to be educated to the whole metadata and search paradigm (don’t be shy to give the Google example even if they are an MS competitor) but at the same time assure them that they will still perform most of their tasks through their beloved MS Office.
After Roll-out do not try to train everyone in everything! Prefer role-based training according to how users are expected to utilize the SharePoint implementation. Finally be prepared to communicate the positives of the implementation and get ready for a storm of questions that must be answered. Unanswered questions tend to lead to a lot of user resistance to system adoption.

Plan for business not for IT
Since IT is usually vocal, you may end up designing a business system based only on IT input, which is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing (I should know, have been guilty of this a couple of times). SharePoint was designed with business data and processes in mind and is built in a way that some of the customization and the administration can be handled by business users.
So you must set up a group of key users in the requirements phase, that can close the gap between the business needs and IT, that can describe processes, define roles and responsibilities and bring some specific “company know-how” into the project, since every business is unique in its structure, function and needs. Document the processes, templates and metadata (avoiding IT complexity and terminology) and get a consensus before proceeding to implementation. Missing process steps or messed up templates and useless metadata will lead to an unusable system.

Design for user friendliness, be prepared for change
A user friendly implementation is key to success. Try to keep as much of the offered functionality as you can within MS Office, users love the impression that nothing really changed in the way they proceed with their everyday tasks. Site Structure and navigation must be simple and – got forbid- nice looking! Spice up sites and site collections with some images or charts, don’t just pile up lists. Even in lists provide intuitive views, don’t rely on users to create them. Set up a site for social interaction within the company to lure users in increasing adoption and acceptance.
However build all that with a well thought out structure of Content Types, Site Columns List templates and Web Parts at the site collection level. This way you are going to be ready to adapt quickly
to the unavoidable change that all businesses undergo sooner or later.

Lastly remember that even if MOSS is a platform offering solutions to many business problems it does not offer solutions to ALL the business problems!

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SharePoint success reasons and future headaches

Posted on 20 March 2009 by Andreas Vamvatsikos


Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) is a great success and its 2007 version (the third iteration of the product) has even become Microsoft’s Best Selling Server. MOSS was made such a success by a combination of four things:

  • A well defined set of business-focused capabilities and features
  • Integration into a well known, widely used and liked framework
  • The ability to extend its functionality by customization and programming
  • Microsoft’s powerful marketing

The first two points make MOSS attractive to enterprises because it gives them the features, manageability, desktop integration and scalability to meet corporate needs. The Microsoft Brand name also helps as well as possible licensing deals that are in place for other Microsoft Products and make MOSS an easy executive decision.
The third makes MOSS attractive to end users that more or less continue to work the way they were used to, but also creates an entire ecosystem in the market for specific add-ons and vertical solutions.

Microsoft with SharePoint actually invented a market segment that was previously covered with combinations of different products filling the Document management, collaboration and portal management roles. MOSS integrates all three components into o single offering bundled with excellent Microsoft Office and Active Directory Integration. Helped by massive Microsoft marketing and an (almost) free basic version, it dominated its own market segment.

And that is how problems start emerging. As MOSS finds its way into more corporate environments and IT departments acknowledge its flexibility and start customizing it, they start coming close to its design boundary. SharePoint was designed to offer MS Office integrated document management with easy to use collaboration features and workflow support. Surely the product can do many more things through customizations but the further away from its core, the more difficult implementations get.
So if the Microsoft Marketing machine keeps pushing MOSS as the one tools to solve all enterprise problems, publicity around SharePoint could start getting less positive as overoptimistic projects based on it fail.

New features in the next version are surely needed but there is also a need to strengthen existing features and functionality and not to add even more breadth to the product, blurring its boundaries even more.

SharePoint is an excellent platform for the things it was designed for, it would be a shame for Microsoft to negate that by trying to make in into the Application Server it never had.

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Azure down

Posted on 16 March 2009 by Andreas Vamvatsikos

Microsoft’s Windows Azure “cloud” platform, still in pre-beta, had its first crash this past weekend. Azure stayed offline for almost 22 hours leaving a large number of deployments offline, and applications unreachable in “stopped” or “initializing” states.

It is not yet clear what caused the outage but in his post in the MSDN forums, Azure team member Steve Marx said he expected a root cause analysis would be conducted to “understand exactly what went wrong and what we need to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Once we have that sorted out, I’ll put together a summary.”

Amazon Web Services had a similar insident earlier this year.

Steve Marx post

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