First experience of Git in Team Foundation Server

As part of our expansion plans we recently moved all of our Source control into Visual Studio Online and moved to Git.

Up until this point I had rarely worked with any source control and was a little sceptical about how easy it would be to use.

I run Visual Studio 2013 on my desktops and laptops, so getting into TFS (Team Foundation Server) wasn’t difficult. I’d not used Git before, so needed to install that on my clients, and was recommend Tortoise Git as a UI to help me manage it.

Most of our development is actually done outside of Visual Studio, but I did use Visual Studio to help me set-up the repositories as it seemed easier and was a familiar interface.

Since that point, I have been using git to manage a number of repositories, which coupled with some new PowerShell scripts, keep all my releases up to date.

It has also meant that I can work on files from more than one place at once and only commit them when I’m ready, so I can play around with things, and roll them back with ease if I don’t like it.

All told, I’m still very much a novice with Git, but I have grown to like it over the past couple of months, and expect to be using it quite a lot over the coming years.

Hyper-V in Windows 8.1 – I might be a convert

I’ve been using VMWare Workstation for all of my professional life, and have never really entertained the notion of moving to another platform.

However, last month I received my new Dell Precision laptop and decided that I would give Hyper-V a try, a chance to shine.

I run Windows 8.1 as my primary OS, but regularly use a number of VM’s running Server 2008 > 2012 R2, and the odd TurnKey LAMP Stack.

Setting it up
As you’d expect from a built in Feature, getting it up and running wasn’t too difficult. I’ve used some Servers running Hyper-V before, so have some experience with the Hyper-V manager, which made getting my first VM’s up and running

Converting an Existing VMWare Disk
Although most of the VM’s I’m building for my laptop are new, there is one that I wanted to copy from my desktop (as its a real pain to reconfigure)

After some quick research I found that the easiest way to do this would likely be to use a conversion tool to convert the VHD and then attach that to a new VM.

I found the Starwind V2V Image Converter (free) was more than up to this task and converted my VHD perfectly first time round, making the whole process quite easy.

Performance
I have only been using Hyper-V for a few weeks now on my laptop, but what shows instantly is that the Disk Performance is very good compared to VMWare. This will be partly due to the fact the VM’s are on an SSD on my laptop as opposed to a SATA 3 drive in RAID 10 on my desktop, but I do think that some of this is down to Hyper-V too.

Conclusion
I don’t think I’m going to be ditching VMWare any time soon, but will definately considering Hyper-V as a platform for the future. I want to do some testing with VM’s running multiple Montiors and the graphics performance as I use 2/3 monitors in my VMWare Machines regularly, and love the flexibility of switching between them.

I also want to do some testing around the Virtual Networking as I use multiple set up’s currently and want to make sure I can get them all to work as I need them.

I’m not completely sold, but the disk performance is a huge plus. I’m definitely a lot less sceptical than I was a month ago.

Time will tell.

Salamander Active Directory – MIS Compatibility

Most of our customers know that we can work with Sims, Facility CMIS and some other MIS systems, but did you know that Salamander Active Directory can currently work with over 10 different MIS systems?

Supported MIS systems

We currently (July 2014) support these MIS systems:

Sims.net by Capita
Facility CMIS by Advanced Learning
Progresso by Advanced Learning
iSAMS
Bromcom
Engage by Double First
Integris G2 by RM
ScholarPack
Pass by WCBS
Phoenix Gold
Arbor

Currently, not all of Salamander Active Directories features are not supported in every MIS System, but we will always endeavour to develop the features required for your environment.

Development
We are always looking into how we can improve our products, and provide additional support for MIS systems. If you are interested in a feature or MIS system that we don’t current support, please do get in touch and we’ll see what we can do to support your requirements.

For some information on our products please contact info@salamandersoft.co.uk

What I Use – July 2014

I’m not sure why, but recently I’ve had a number of questions around where i work, and what equipment I use day to day.

The Office
Like many of us that work from home, my office was once a second bedroom. However, this is no longer the case as now I’ve filled it with all my kit, there’s no room for a bed any more.

I live in a rented cottage, so don’t really have the opportunity to build fitted furniture, but have instead turned to Ikea to provide most of the furniture in the office (and indeed the house).

Office-July2014

As this is somewhere i spend most of my working days (and evening’s) i decided to try and make it feel as much like an office as possible, which is why its painted in a dull office like colour. As a home worker, I find i need to have a dedicated space to work which feels different from the rest of the house. I’ve tried to work from the dining table and the sofa, but I struggle to keep any concentration if I’m not somewhere that feels like an office.

Equipment – Hardware

Main PC
This is a custom built workstation. Currently it is running:
Dual Xeon X5560 CPU’s
96GB Ram
1x 256 SSD
4x 1TB HDD’s in Raid 10 and a 2TB HDD
ATI Radeon HD 7800 (driving 3 monitors)

Monitors
Currently, I use 24″ Monitors on my deskop, of 3 different makes and ages, all running at 1920 x 1080.

Various Peripherals
Headset – Sennheiser PC-7 USB
Speakers – Creative T10
Microphone – Samson C01U
Skype Phone – RTX4088

Laptop
My primary laptop is currently a Dell Precision M4600, running an i7, 256GB SSD and 8GB of Ram.

I also use a Surface Pro (1st edition) as my tablet

Phone
My Phone is currently a Nokia Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8.1 Dev Preview

Software
I use a multiple of software, but here I’ve listed the things I most commonly use, and couldn’t work without day to day.

Desktop OS – Windows Pro 8.1
I use Windows Pro 8.1 as my OS of choice on all of my machines (including my Surface Pro)

On my desktop I use 8.1 as my primary OS, but then have a VM built specifically for work purposes (also 8.1), which is hosted in VMWare Workstation.

Virtual Machines
I use Virtual Machines quite heavily in my work day to day. I’ve been using VMWare Workstation for a number of years now and still do on my Desktop. I’m looking into Hyper-V though and am quite liking it on my laptop.

Day to Day software
Every day I use a very similar set of software to do my work…

Notepad ++
I have used Notepad ++ for a number of years now and have always been a big fan of what it can do. It’s one of the pieces of software I would struggle to work without.

Office 2013
Apart from the obvious uses of Office, as a business we communicate via Lync quite a bit, so I use that. I also use OneNote exclusively now as my note taking software, and have almost completely eradicated the humble pen and paper.

File Management and Backup
I use SugarSync as my software of choice currently for managing and maintaining all my files across my computers and VM’s. I love the way that I can sync only the folders I need onto each machine, and also they way I can dictate where the folders should go on each machine (as this varies)

Remote Working
As I do most of my ‘site’ work remotely, I need to be able to access servers all over the world with ease. To do this, I will generally try to use RDP or TeamViewer.

I use Royal TS to manage my RDP connections. Highly recommended.

Worth a mention:
CyberDuck – Free and Easy FTP
Visual Studio 2013 Premium
SQL Management Studio
Windows Snipping Tool – Great for the odd screenshot that I need.
Skype with a Skype Number

Office 365 – User Licensing basics using PowerShell

I’ve been doing quite a bit of work around Office 365 lately, and have been getting a number of question’s around licensing of users.

In this post ill cover the most basic commands needed for managing users. Sometime i’ll hopefully find the time to write a post covering some of the more detailed options available when managing licenses.

Salamander Active Directory
Firstly, I should say that Salamander Active Directory can now handle the Licensing needs for most schools.

It can be used to manage the licenses for existing users as well as new starters and leavers.

Connecting to Office 365
The first step is to connect to Office 365. If your not familar with this, have a look at this post: http://blog.atkinson-it.com/?p=109

List all the License Plans
Licenses are packaged into plans. When you are working in Office 365 online, you’ll see the ‘display’ name for these, but when working in Powershell you need to know their ‘real’ name, or AccountSKU.

You can very quickly get a list of the AccountSKU’s in your Tenancy using:

#Basic command
Get-MsolAccountSku

#More detailed information
Get-MsolAccountSku | Format-Table AccountSkuId, SkuPartNumber, ActiveUnits, ConsumedUnits

Service Plans
Once you’ve established the names of the Plans, it is often useful to look at the service plans inside those. Often it may be that a user doesn’t need to have all the available service plans when configuring licenses.

In my Office 365 setup, i have a number of License plans, including:

SalamanderSoft:ENTERPRISEPACK

In the Office 365 Admin Centre this shows as:

EnterprisePack

In Powershell, you can get a list of these service plans using:

$ServicePlans = Get-MsolAccountSku | Where {$_.AccountSkuId -eq "SalamanderSoft:ENTERPRISEPACK"}
$ServicePlans.ServiceStatus

This will list the available service plans in the Pack selected.

In my tenancy these are:

serviceplan

Seeing the licenses for a single user
Sometimes its useful to view the license status for an exsiting user. This is easily done using the following:

$user = "testUser@salamandersoft.co.uk"
(Get-MSOLUser –UserPrincipalName $user).Licenses[0].ServiceStatus

 

Add a License for a single user
Adding a license with a full pack is very straight forward and can be done with a single command.

Here i am using the variable $user to define the user in question.
You could just add the Full UPN of the user instead.

 

$user = "myuser@mydomain.com"
Set-MsolUserLicense -UserPrincipalName $user -AddLicenses SalamanderSoft:ENTERPRISEPACK 

Adding a License using License Options
Where a user doesn’t need to get the full pack, you can add specific set of plans, by using Licence Options.

In this example, i have used the license options parameter to add the license, with some of the options disabled.

#Set License Options (to disable various plans)
$MyLicenseOptions = New-MsolLicenseOptions -AccountSkuId SalamanderSoft:ENTERPRISEPACK -DisabledPlans OFFICESUBSCRIPTION, RMS_S_ENTERPRISE,MCOSTANDARD

#Set Licenses using the options above
Set-MsolUserLicense -UserPrincipalName $user -AddLicenses SalamanderSoft:ENTERPRISEPACK -LicenseOptions $MyLicenseOptions

This will result in the Office 365 Admin page looking like this:

EnterprisePack

Removing a License for a single user
We can also remove the license for a single user with a single command.

Set-MsolUserLicense -UserPrincipalName $user -RemoveLicenses SalamanderSoft:ENTERPRISEPACK

Windows Phone – New toy :)

In Mid-May I got my hands on a Windows phone for the first time. A Nokia Lumia 920.

Although its not currently my daily use phone, it will be soon and I have been gearing up to use it, and I have to admit, I like it very much.

My previous phone was an iPhone 5, which has been a very good phone, but it was time for a change.

920

Features
In phone terms I’m a fairly basic user compared to many these days. I’m rarely more than 20 feet from a desktop PC or a Laptop, so do most things through those.

I use my phone as, almost unbelievably, a phone. Its calls people, sends text messages and that’s generally it.

I will do the odd email from the Sofa or in bed if i can’t be bothered moving, but they are rarely more than a few words.

I have used office on it though to briefly read some documents, and expect that I’ll use One Note on it quite a bit when I’m not in the office.

It may be missing some of the features of the latest handsets, but nothing that will affect me.

Wireless Charging
My favourite feature by far is the wireless charging ability. I bought the Nokia DT-900 charging pad soon after getting the phone, and haven’t used a cable since.

Even in it’s quite large case (OtterBox Commuter), the wireless charging has been working flawlessly and I dont know how i’ve lived without it.

No longer am I scrabbling around trying to find the charger, just plonk it on the pad and off you go.

I’d read reports that you had to be careful how you placed it on the pad to make sure you get a connection, but so far I’ve just been dropping it on the pad in any position and its been running fine.

Verdict
I’ve now been using my Nokia Lumia as my daily and only phone for over a month now and have found it to be great.

I’ve found somethings that I used to like on my iPhone which are not quite a good, such as the timer (which i used instead on a kitchen timer) and the flashlight.

The first was easily fixed as i know have a proper Salter kitchen timer. The later is slightly more annoying, but as a camper, i’m rarely more than a few feet from some form of torch.

I’m very much enjoying the larger screen, and have found the Sound quality to be very good. In-fact, better than the iPhone’s was.

It may not be quite as ‘shiny’ as the iPhone, but it does make a great phone.

Camping Season is here!

Easter Weekend marked the beginning of the Camping Season for many, and for me, was the first real opportunity of the year to get out and play in the woods. I’ve had a couple of little camping trips this year, but it has also been a busy few months, so it’s been difficult to get out and play.

First trip out
The first trip out was not too extravagant, infact, it was more of a kit check after the winter, camping in the woods just a few hundred yards from the house.

IMG_1054

After a night of making fire, eating burgers and generally playing around, I think I could call the first trip out a success. Next time, ill be getting the Dutch oven out, and being a bit more adventurous with the food.

New Skillet
Unfortunately, my new Skillet didn’t arrive in time for this trip. Its currently on its second run through the oven being seasoned ready for the next trip. It’s only a small 8.5″ skillet, which might sound tiny, but its just the right size to fit on my wood stove at home too, so its a bit of a compromise.
IMG_1056

Lego Mindstorms

Since I moved house, I’ve been meaning to get my Lego Mindstorms set out for a bit of a play, but have only just got round to it.

The set I have is the NXT 2.0 Education Base Set and it’s really quite good. Its old hat now with the EV3 systems, but I can’t bring myself to lay down the cash for that.

The NXT 2.0 Base set though still have enough stuff to get started with a decent robot. You get an 3 motors, an ultrasonic sensor, 2 touch sensors, 1 light sensor and a sound sensor (which my kit is sadly missing), so the opportunities for playing are actually quite good.

Building my first bot
I’ve decided to keep it simple for now and have just built the basic kit as per the destructions. Quite quickly I found my self with a working bot, which was good. Now I just needed to get a couple of sensors hooked up and get it programmed to do some stuff.

IMG_1055

Software
Once I’d got my bot built, I needed to get it programmed and set-up. I put the software on my desktop and had a bit of a play. Within a few minutes, I had it whirring round the office, and responding to light input.

So far, so good…

What’s Next?
Now I just need to find the time to have a play with it properly, and see how much I can get it to do. I’m yet to find a design that will allow it to wake me up with a fresh cup of tea in the morning, but i’ll figure something out.

Salamander Active Directory – Feature focus – Working with Office 365

As we are seeing more and more schools moving towards Office 365, I thought I’d share what Salamander Active Directory can do for you.

Getting users into Office 365
Salamander AD has always been able to provision your users and groups into your local Active Directory and this doesn’t change with a school using Office 365.

We recommend that you use DirSync to push your users in to Office 365, but we can manage them once they are there.

Licensing
By Leveraging the Office 365 PowerShell command-lets Salamander Active Directory can license your users based around their status in your MIS.

Obviously, it can assign different licenses to students and staff, but it could also assign different licenses or service plans to 6th Form, or to Teaching Staff etc.

Location and other settings
The capabilities of Salamander isnt restricted to Licensing. We regularly set the location for users, and set mailbox settings on mass. If you need something doing to a lot of users in Office 365, Salamander Active Directory can probably do it for you.

Calendars
For customers using Sims, Faciltiy CMIS or iSAMS we can also push your Pupils and Staff timetables into Office 365 mailboxes as we can in a local Exchange environment.

Have a look at my post on Exchange Calendar with Salamander

Already a customer?
As with all the Features for Salamander Active Directory, these are available to any Salamander Active Directory, new or existing.

SalamanderSoft and Office 365
As Authorised Education Resellers for Office 365, we can offer you advice and support whether your looking to move to Office 365 or are already there.

Drop me an email for more information, or just to have a chat: jon@salamandersoft.co.uk

Windows 8.1 Update – Thoughts

I’ve been using windows 8 since it was in beta and have always liked it, but it has its issues. 8.1 did a lot to remedy this and now its time for 8.1 Update 1 to have a go at addressing the issues.

Due to a number of leaks its been no secret that this has been coming, or that it what it was going to address.


Although I’m tempted, I’m not going to write about this in-depth, partly because I can’t be bothered, but mostly because there’s already plenty of writing about this and I’d just be copying that. My favourite is Paul Thurrott’s Review:

http://winsupersite.com/windows-8/windows-81-update-1-review

My Favourite Features
There are loads of new features to play with the 8.1 update, but my favourites are.

Power button and Search on the Start screen

8.1U-power
My primary device is a desktop, and Virtual Machines under that, and one of my biggest issues has been easily getting to the power options without fuss.

I regularly run 3 or 4 VM’s on my desktop across multiple monitors, which has made getting to the charm’s for the power options a bit of a pain.

Yes, i could use the quick access menu (WINKEY + X), but this doesn’t always give me the menu for the machine I want and I have, on more than 1 occasion, rebooted my main desktop rather than the 1 VM I wanted to 🙁

As such, I really love having the Power button up on the start menu, and the Search button is great when I’m working on my surface without the keyboard.

Title bar and window Controls

8.1U-storeTitlebar
As I use windows mostly from a desktop with a keyboard and mouse I have found the full-screen metro app a little frustrating at times. With 8.1 Update, the mouse users among us now get a title bar with proper window controls when working in a full screen app.

Boot to desktop
Not a feature I’ve been using, but i know there is much love for being able to boot directly to the desktop, bypassing the start screen.

This, and a couple of other options are now available in the Taskbar properties.

8.1U-taskbar