Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Relocating a Database (Shelby)

If you've ever had to relocate your Shelby Systems database to another server then you might want to continue reading.  Shelby Systems is a Church Management database used by a lot of churches and non-profits.  I've had to move our Shelby database to a different server twice.  The first time I had to move it was in crisis mode because the hard drives in the server had failed.  Once we rebuilt the data we relocated it to a new server and the following article was very helpful.

The second time we moved the database to our new virtual sequel server cluster.  This move was a bit more challenging as the above article was written for Windows XP clients and not Windows 7 clients, which is what we run.

Ideally the above article on their Community is all you would need to know but for Windows 7 the location of some key files changed and that made the process a lot more challenging.  The biggest thing to note that is not in their article are the changes to various INI files in the DAT folder.

All Shelby installs have an ssv5.dat folder and an ssv5.prg folder.  Inside these folders are a few INI files that it would be good to check and confirm that you've changed the server paths and IP address to point to your new server.  Then all you would need to do to update the clients is change the shortcut on the client to point to the new database server.  This works well except on Windows 7 machines.  Depending on how you have Windows 7 configured for your users (local admins, not, redirected profiles, etc.) there is another set of INI files that need to be updated.

I did everything listed in the article but I couldn't get any reports to run.  This is the error I kept getting.

The client Event Viewer then showed an application event stating that PowerMerge could not find the report path.  It then listed the wrong report path.  It wasn't until I found this second copy of the INI file that I knew why the wrong path was being used.

In C:\Windows there is a formsetini file that I had manually updated.  There is a second copy of the file located in the user's profile at C:\Users\%usersname%\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Windows.  This file is the one that was not being updated by the application and it wasn't until I manually updated this file that the clients were able to run reports again.

The C:\windows\formset.ini file can only be changed if you are running Shelby as the admin.  Otherwise the local profile version of the file is what the software looks for.  The C:\Windows version is used when you login to Shelby as a new user and is copied to that users profile on the local machine.

We have many clients running this program so to make it easier I used Group Policy Preferences to automatically update the files on all our clients.  This policy will then allow me to easily make this change again should we for whatever reason have to relocate to another SQL server.

It took me hours to figure this out and get our reports working again, if I was smarter it might not have taken so long.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Window 8 - Thirteenth Pass: Windows To Go

Another creative way to handle the hardware issues I mentioned in my last post is Windows To Go. This basically allows you to place your entire Windows 8 environment on a USB drive and take it with you wherever you go. Regardless of the hardware you are using so long as it has a USB drive you can run Windows 8 with all of your settings and apps booting off the USB port.

It's a pretty cool concept that could help you work around hardware issues as well as take your environment easily between home and work regardless of hardware changes. At the launch event however the demo for Windows To Go failed. Plus I'm sure many network admins will prevent corporate users from taking their entire environment, including apps, home with them for numerous valid and invalid privacy and security reasons.

Regardless the potential is there for this to be very cool. I could keep using my Lenovo T400 with a 250gb SSD HD, 8gb of RAM and run Windows 8 in my work environment while still keeping the local version running that I have now. Granted this doesn't solve any immediate hardware issues or allow me to take advantage of the touch screen options but it does make trying new hardware much easier. I can get a device; take my environment with me from device to device until I find something I like without having to set everything up over and over again.

The future of this is exciting.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Window 8 - Twelfth Pass: New Hardware Options

If you're a regular reading of this blog, and why would you be, please let me know if you are, you know that I have a 6 year old Lenovo ThinkPad T400 laptop. As you also know Windows 8 has been released and presents a whole bunch of new features that are hardware related, like touch screens.

That puts folks like me in a real dilemma when it comes to upgrading hardware. Do I upgrade now with what's presently available or do I wait and see what new hardware options come out over the next few months? The Microsoft Surface is of definite interest to me but it is very limited in growth potential. It is a one-size-fits-all piece of hardware that has no future growth potential. It can't be upgraded, you can't get it with a bigger processor or more RAM, the screen size is set, etc. That may work well for most but I'm trying to find a piece of hardware that is both the best tablet experience out there but also the best laptop experience out there.

Windows 8 is best experienced with a touch screen. The upside of having both a desktop OS and a tablet OS together in a single operating system is that with the right hardware you can use it in any environment. On a plane I exclusively use my iPad. It is small, light, and easy to use no matter what seat I'm in or if the person in front of me is reclined or not. I'm also pretty quick typing on glass so not having a keyboard allows me to enjoy my beverage and keep working with room to spare on my tray table.

This changes when I get to my hotel room or am working at home. There I prefer a regular keyword and mouse. I have much more space on my desk and can get a lot done in a more traditional setting. Doing more complex tasks is simpler having access to traditional desktop style hardware.

Taking advantage of the beauty of everything combined into one in Windows 8 means that if there was a piece of hardware that could do all the above would mean I'd have one less device weighing down my backpack. I'd have a device that had 6-8gb of RAM, a screaming processor, at least 4 USB ports, a keyboard, a tablet screen for portability that detaches from the keyboard, a decent graphics processor, a long life battery, at least a 150gb SSD HD, and very light weight.

It doesn't appear that I'm dreaming. There are some new pieces of hardware that are starting to come out but it seems we are on the beginning of these releases. Again, the Surface is too limiting for what I'm looking for in terms of a full powered laptop replacement that functions as a tablet. While the Windows 8 touch screen options really mess with a typical desktop user in a combo configuration they start to come to life.

Toshiba, Sony, and Lenovo currently have hybrid devices on the market with many more to come. The challenge becomes do I wait or do I buy something now? If I buy now which one is best? I've played with a few of the options and I like what I've seen but I also like what I'm hearing is coming next.

Granted new technology is a moving target. The software part of this has landed, at least for the time being, now to see what the hardware will do.

If you have hardware that you like please comment and let me know what you've got and why you got it. I start to hit the road pretty hard again later next month. Do I buy something out there now or would it be worth it for me to wait until later this spring to get a device that will better meet my needs over the long haul? I can handle a few more months of my heavy T400 and my iPad.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Windows 8 - Eleventh Pass: Start Screen Email vs Desktop Email

One of the challenges with Windows 8 is that many of the same apps we use every day come in two flavors for Windows 8. One is the Start Screen, or old Metro style, that runs on the Surface RT, and the other is a full desktop version of the app.

A few examples include Skype, SkyDrive, and Email. So what’s the difference between apps for the Start Screen and apps for the desktop? Do you need both? What about disk space of running the same app twice on your traditional laptop or desktop?

For starters, there is a big difference. Start Screen apps work on a small cache and prefer to be online. Start Screen apps are also the only apps that can provide notification icons on the Windows 8 lock screen. Those are the little icons below the time and date when the computer is locked. However, these apps are also limited in functionality, as they need to be online and designed for touch screen functionality.

In terms of email, you have the default Start Screen email app and you have Outlook. Outlook is my preferred email client however, Outlook (any version) doesn’t have Live Tile that can update to show you recent messages, Outlook can’t update a lock screen icon with the number of new messages you have, and Outlook can’t provide a fade in/fade out notification on the Start Screen in Windows 8. Outlook can only provide a fade in/fade out notification down above the taskbar if you are in the Windows 8 desktop.

Conversely the Windows 8 Start Screen email app can do all of the above but how much disk space does it take up? My Outlook profile is 3-4 GB and I definitely didn’t want to have two PST files containing the same Outlook profile on my laptop.

The default Start Screen Email app doesn’t take up any disk space. I set it up to access the same Exchange account that Outlook accesses and my disk space didn’t change at all. The reason being the email app works online and doesn’t cache very much. The downside to that being if you aren’t online you won’t see much of your email but the Start Screen email app assumes you are always online via a Wi-Fi or cellular connection on a touch screen type device like the Surface.

So my recommendation is if you have a cloud based email account that you run both the Start Screen Email app and Outlook so you can have the best of all the above worlds. That way you can access your email whether you are online or offline, can take advantage of all the Windows 8 notification mechanisms, have easy access on a traditional piece of hardware, and maximize your access to email if you are using a touch screen only or hybrid device.

Oddly enough, the Start Screen app notices pop up several seconds before any Outlook notices.

Similarly, you may want to run both the desktop version and Start Screen version of Skype and SkyDrive. For example, with SkyDrive, the Start Screen app doesn’t download and store anything. It simply provides you with online access to your SkyDrive files. If you want your files downloaded and updated to the SkyDrive folder on your laptop/desktop then you will also need to run the desktop version of the app.

There are also benefits to running both version of Skype especially as Windows Live Messenger will be retired the first quarter of 2013 according to Microsoft.

In other words, with the variety of hardware types available to run Windows 8 and the various methods of interacting with it you will want to research based on the type of hardware you plan to use what the benefits are to running each type of Windows 8 app. This is all part of the fun when you try to combine too many uses into a single platform.