Microsoft Finally Building Canadian Data Centres and Region

by Ed Sparks

We were very excited today with Microsoft's announcement that they will be building data centres in Ontario and Quebec, and creating a Canadian region for Azure and Office 365.

This will dramatically expand the potential to help more of our customers move their data to the cloud, while ensuring they meet privacy and regulatory requirements to keep data in Canada.

Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be live until 2016, but superb news nonetheless.

They even flew Kevin Turner in to help make the announcement.

Microsoft today announced plans to deliver commercial cloud services from Canada. Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online will be delivered from Toronto and Quebec City in 2016, further strengthening Microsoft’s footprint in Canada’s competitive cloud landscape.

These new locally deployed services will address data residency considerations for Microsoft customers and partners of all shapes and sizes who are embracing cloud computing to transform their businesses, better manage variable workloads and deliver new digital services and experiences to customers and employees. General availability of Azure is anticipated in early 2016, followed by Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online later in 2016

The full press release is available here.

We look forward to helping more Canadian customers migrate to the cloud soon!

Contact us today to get planning!

Living Microsoft in an iPhone World

by Ed Sparks

With the continued struggle of Windows Phone to get any kind of market traction, despite finally being mostly on par functionality wise, most of us in the Microsoft world have switched to using iOS or Android mobile hardware.

Surprisingly, these days, it's actually quite an easy coexistence.

Paul Thurrott recently discussed this very topic in an excellent blog post we recommend

Microsoft + iPhone

What surprised most about this article is just how many applications Microsoft makes for iOS. Well worth a read.

Well Played Microsoft, Well Played

by Ed Sparks

April Fools Day seems to be on an upswing of increasingly clever and complex hoaxes the last few years, and Microsoft was no exception for 2015. 

Beautifully skewering their own naming practices, and particularly Apple's over-the-top design videos, Microsoft released MS-DOS Mobile.  

Today Microsoft launches MS-DOS Mobile, a new OS designed especially for Lumia smartphones.
Microsoft is going back to where productivity started for millions of people, launching a beautifully simple OS.
“Turning our back on graphics was hugely liberating. We’ve dropped the resolution, and in doing so re-discovered our roots.”

The best part of this?  You can actually download and run this thing!  Set Blaster=A220! Oh the memories.

Not to be outdone, the Mountain View folks launched

Try it yourself.    !desirprus eb thgim ouY

Microsoft: we have a (patching) problem

by Ed Sparks

Since Microsoft created (and mostly perfected) Windows, and then Microsoft Update years ago, followed by standardizing on the now legendary Patch Tuesdays, Enterprise has been able to rely on consistent and quality monthly patches.

Sadly, this appears to have gone off the rails badly in the past few months.  As Exchange consultants we had clearly noted this with a number of Cumulative Updates for the past year or two that were getting released, promptly making a mess of things, and being pulled and re-released sometimes two and three times.  When we're talking software that supports large corporate installations, this has been concerning and unacceptable.  Now the rot appears to have spread across the company.  Clearly the resource shuffling, and loss of many long-term staff at Microsoft is hitting home.  Not only does this make for a tremendous amount of testing and re-work when things go bad, it undermines the years of hard-earned trust in the company very quickly.

We've been complaining for a while, but a recent quick search of the internet shows the wider community is now beating this drum as well.

This has even culminated in an open letter to (thankfully finally  ousted) Steve Ballmer by Susan Bradley of

"On behalf of everyone in this community, may I respectfully request that you assign someone in a management position to investigate what is going on with quality control with patch testing lately?" 
"This month in particular leaves me deeply disturbed that issues that should have been found before these updates were released are being found by us - your customers - after they are released and we are having to deal with the aftermath,"
"Bottom line, sir, this is unacceptable to all of us in the patching community, and quite frankly, it should be just as unacceptable to you."

Here's just a sample of the growing chorus of discontent:


Generate custom, self-signed, long-expiry certificates on Windows

by Ed Sparks

We recently were introduced to a great utility that a Microsoft IIS Team employee maintains called SelfSSL7.   This is an upgraded version of the old SelfSSL tool that used to ship as part of the IIS Resource Kit.

Self-signed certificates have a myriad of useful purposes for internal uses in testing and staging environment, but are an awful pain to deal with using the (almost completely lacking) internal tools. 

SelfSSL7 to the rescue! 

Thomas has all the details at his blog below, but in a nutshell you simply download the tool, unzip and run from a command line.

For example, to create a self-signed certificate for a web server with a 5 year expiry and automatically export the whole thing to a PFX file for safe keeping, all while adding it to the local computer store and binding it to an IIS site automatically - simply execute the following at an elevated command prompt:

selfssl7 /k 2048 /v 1825 /x /f c:\SelfSSL7\my-5-year-cert.pfx /i

There is no step 2!

Such a time saver! 



Fix All-User Install Agent Errors on Windows 8

by Ed Sparks

Updated July 2014

We're seeing an increasing trend of the following error displaying upon logon to many of our client's computers running Windows 8.0  Oddly this seems to be happening more on Windows 8 "Core" (what you receive on a consumer system), versus Windows 8 Pro or Enterprise in the corporate environment. 

Windows couldn't connect to the windows all-user install agent service. Please consult your system administrator.

An investigation points to what appears to be some pretty buggy code in this particular service, which handles the installation of AppX (Metro/Tile World/Windows Store) applications. Somehow this service is crashing, and then further getting set to a Disabled state.

Most often, this problem will prevent standard (non-administrator) users from successfully logging on to the computer, or running certain Modern Apps or even Desktop software.

To fix this issue, you must be able to logon as an account that is in the Local Administrators group.  Once logged on as an Admin, resolving the issue is relatively simple. 

Open a Command Prompt As Administrator (this can be done from the Start Screen by searching for CMD, and then right click on the Command Prompt tile and choose Run as Administrator from the App Bar).  Then, execute the following three commands:

sc config AllUserInstallAgent start=demand
net start AllUserInstallAgent
sfc /scannow

The first two commands change the startup type of the required problem service, and the third will check for other corrupt file issues in your Windows installation.  It will take a good while to complete.  When all of the above are finished (whether fully successful or not), you must then instruct Windows 8 to do a FULL shutdown, as on most new computers it performs a hybrid shutdown by default which will not reinitialise all the necessary components.  Again, from the same Administrative Command Prompt type:

shutdown /s /f /t 5 

Turn your computer back on after its shut down fully and the errors should be resolved.  Still no word on an official fix from Microsoft yet.

Also of note, this only seems to affect original Windows 8, and not Windows 8.1.  In fact, this service has been removed completely on Windows 8.1.