Meet “Clutter” – the new Outlook mail clean-up assistant

Yesterday Microsoft rolled out a new feature to Office 365 business subscribers – a tool to help separate the wheat from the chaff in your inbox. The tool is called ‘Clutter’, and you can enable it under Options in Outlook Web App (if your organization hasn’t enabled First Release option for your Office 365 subscription, Clutter will become available later this month):

When you do, it’ll create a new folder called (unsurprisingly) Clutter, and send you a welcome message:

According to Microsoft, Clutter learns from your behavior – whether you use desktop Outlook, OWA, or Outlook on a mobile device – so it may take a bit of time for it to make a significant difference in your inbox. I’ve just enabled mine, and I will post an update about its effectiveness in about a week.

I’m also curious how mail will now be classified as ‘Clutter’ vs. ‘Junk’ – and only time will tell. I do get a fair amount of barely relevant email – stuff that I’m mildly interested in but that’s not at the top of my priority list. If Clutter can successfully filter it, it’ll definitely be a useful tool!

To learn more about Clutter, read the announcement post on the Office Blogs.

What do you think about it? Are you going to use it? Let me know!

Editing SQL Database (Azure) bacpac files

A series of unfortunate events led me to the necessity of restoring a table from a database backup. We configured our SQL Database in Windows Azure to be exported daily and, after retrieving the latest bacpac file, I attempted to import it into a local server to get at the missing data.

Everything was going great until the import wizard blew up on an error:

“Microsoft Restore Service returned an error: Error encountered during the service operation. Could not import package. Error SQL72014: .Net SqlClient Data Provider: Msg 313, Level 16, State 2, Procedure MySproc, Line 5 An insufficient number of arguments were supplied for the procedure or function dbo.MySproc1. Error SQL72045: Script execution error. The executed script: CREATE VIEW [dbo].[MyView] AS SELECT…”

Turns out the database, at the time of export, had a view that used a stored procedure which changed since the view was originally created and the view was never updated to reflect the change. NBD, right? Not so much… Looks like the Microsoft Restore Service cares about that sort of thing, and, rather than failing on the object with the error, fails the entire restore process. Not ideal– especially if what you really want is just some other table that has nothing to do with either the view in question or the stored procedure.

The only way to get around this is to edit the contents of the bacpac file. Thankfully, it’s just a ZIP archive, so rename the extension from bacpac to zip, and you can open and browse the contents. What you’ll find inside are a few XML files describing the database, and, if you open up the Data directory, you’ll find a directory per table, inside which there’s a BCP file containing the table’s data (I haven’t found an editor for the BCP files – know of one?).

Figure 1 *.bacpac root directory

The file that controls the structure of the recreated database is called model.xml and it’s located in the root of the bacpac file – this is the file you need to modify if you want to change the structure of the imported database.

Figure 2 model.xml snippet

 

You can modify the model.xml file to suit your need, although I don’t know if some changes may break the import process in other ways. In my case, I needed to remove the offending view, which I did.

After modifying the model.xml file, we also need to update the Origin.xml file, as that contains the checksum of the model.xml file, and since I’ve just modified model.xml, a new checksum needs to be generated.

Figure 3 model.xml checksum in Origin.xml

 

An earlier search of the interwebs lead me to the checksum generator for bacpac files – luckily for me. To use dacchksum.exe, I had to follow these steps:

  1. Update the zip file with the modified model.xml
  2. Rename the zip file with the bacpac extension
  3. Run dacchksum.exe /i:database.bacpac (where database.bacpac is the name the bacpac file)
  4. Update Origin.xml in the bacpac file with the new value provided by dacchksum.exe

Dacchksum.exe provides the following output:

Figure 4 dacchksum.exe output

 

Once I had the updated bacpac file without the problematic view, I was able to import the database successfully and proceed with restoration.

Microsoft SharePoint Online ups its storage max per site collection

This is a pretty big deal for SharePoint Online. Up until recently you could only have (for Enterprise plans) site collections up to 100GB in size. 100GB isn’t anything to sneeze at, but there are cases – quite a lot of them, actually – where storage accumulated over the last, say 10 years, exceeded that quite a lot. There are also folks who use SharePoint Online for storing lots of high-res imagery, and in any scaled operation, 100GB limit starts to become restrictive.

Good solution architecture and planning can overcome such constraints, of course. In many cases it is preferable to segment a solution across site collections – regardless of storage limits. There are scenarios, however (long term archiving), for example, where it may be preferable to let storage grow (and grow).

Microsoft announced (almost a month ago, actually) that SharePoint Online now supports site collections up to 1TB in size. In addition, you can grow your tenant almost without limits – creating as many of those 1TB site collections as your budget and business will allow (up to 10,000, which is the current limit).

Here’s the original blog post explaining the details: http://blogs.office.com/2014/03/14/sharepoint-online-announces-1tb-site-collections-and-unlimited-tenant-storage-scale/

 

Advanced application crash troubleshooting in Windows

I recently upgraded a company from a mixture of Windows XP and Windows 7 machines to Windows 8. Almost immediately one of the machines (a tiny and awesome Lenovo M93p) started having issues with crashing applications whenever sign-in of some kind was required, and it started happening shortly after install. It was a fresh machine, with no prior issues, running brand new installations of all applications.

The crashes primarily manifested in Outlook, which would crash right when the user was being prompted for their password. The crashes were all pointing to KERNELBASE.DLL (located in C:\Windows\System32), according to Event Viewer, and the error messages had something to do with System.IO.FileNotFoundException. Not terribly helpful.

Thinking that the culprit may be Office 2013 ProPlus, I first repaired the installation (quick repair), then really repaired it (online repair), then uninstalled it and reinstalled – all with the same results.

A few internet searches later, I found this little gem – a crash analysis freeware app written by NirSoft. When you run it, you get a view of modules loaded by the crashing application, and the ones at the bottom of the log would indicate the module closest to the crash – which, at the very least, should give you some further pointers for troubleshooting purposes. In my case, it was Lenovo’s Password Manager (which would explain why anything related to passwords would crash – Outlook, specifically, in this case). After removing the application, the problem went away.

Office 365 Multi-factor authentication is now available

Microsoft has made available multi-factor authentication for the following Office 365 plans:

  • Midsize Business
  • Enterprise
  • Academic
  • Non-profit
  • Exchange Online
  • SharePoint Online

Multi-factor authentication will allow you to use your mobile phone, office phone, or a smartphone app as a secondary authentication mechanism to increase sign-in security. While client application (Microsoft Office) updates are forthcoming to enable seamless integration with multi-factor authentication, for the time being you have to use a feature called App Passwords, which automatically generate a 16 character secure password to use when signing in from applications other than the web – just another reminder that security and convenience rarely go hand-in-hand :).

To learn more about Multi-Factor Authentication for Office 365, read the Office Blog post.

Managing Contacts in your Global Address List

Managing contacts in your Global Address List can be delegated. This “How do I…” article on MSOnlineHelpdesk.com will show your designated personnel how to perform such tasks as adding new contacts, editing existing ones, and performing contact search in the administrative interface.

Note that delegation of permissions isn’t covered in the article – if you need help with that task, create a support request and a pro from MSOnlineHelpdesk.com will help you out!

Read the “How do I…” article: https://msonlinehelpdesk.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/201814163

  

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