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Serviceman's Log

It's amazing how something that's relatively trivial can cause big problems. Of course, all problems are simple once you know what the answer is but they can be stressful in the meantime.

Items Covered This Month

• Microsoft Exchange installation

• Fantasy vs reality

• A simple fix for a lawnmower

<• Black & Decker leaf blower repair

*Dave Thompson, runs PC Anytime in Christchurch, NZ.

In this profession, our lives are based around problem solving. However, every now and then we strike a problem that has us struggling to find a solution.

One such problem occurred recently when a major client looked at implementing a new Microsoft Exchange server system. They wanted to be able to work remotely, centralise their data storage, allow others in the office to answer each others’ emails and view and edit each others’ shared calendars and “to-do” lists. And since everyone already used the latest version of Microsoft Outlook, it made sense for them to look at Exchange, which ticks all the boxes.

For those not familiar with Microsoft Exchange, it is a network communications and sharing hub that’s typically installed on a Windows Server system. Setting up and configuring an Exchange system is not for the faint-hearted though and many a technician has lost a lot of hair trying to get things working.

In this case, these guys wanted a whole new office system and gave me the job of implementing it. I told them that it wouldn’t be cheap. Exchange by itself is quite expensive, although it can be sourced at a more reasonable price when bundled with some versions of Windows Server. And so that was the way I recommended they go. Being a group of legal professionals, expense wasn’t a big issue for them but I didn’t want to throw their money away.

Click for larger image

For their situation, I went with Microsoft Small Business Server 2008 with Exchange 2007 and five Client Access Licenses (CALs), all for a run-out, knock-down price of NZ$1500.00. There are four users in their office, plus an administrator (me), which tidily made up the five users. If they expand, more CALs can be purchased as necessary, to allow more users.

I duly built a server box, installed all the relevant bits and pieces and got it up and running. As a result, they now had a central “public” shared folder system which they could all access from anywhere and add client files. Of course, we don’t need some fancy server system to do this simple task; instead, the real magic happens with Exchange. This powerful tool allows everyone in the office to securely share their calendars, contacts, tasks and to-do lists, as well as email in-boxes and other items necessary for the efficient running of the office.

With this system in place, anyone can easily deal with someone else’s emails and appointments without leaving their own desk. And if they are out of the office (in this case the partners work from home one day a week), they can simply log into the Exchange system using any web browser and then access everything as if they were on site. However, one point of interest here is that while the remote system works using other browsers such as Opera or Firefox, some functions do not render properly unless Internet Explorer is used.

Now I can already hear some people arguing that a simple remote desktop connection is all that’s needed to achieve similar results. That’s correct to a point but no other system I could envisage would do everything to the level they required. In fact, I initially offered two other (much cheaper) alternatives, both of which were rejected because they didn’t quite make the grade. What’s more, I didn’t even consider Linux-based or open source solutions as I have no in-depth experience with Linux and learning on a job like this is neither professional nor feasible.

Once everything was up and running, everyone was amazed at what they could do with the system. They were impressed with how simple it was to use and because they weren’t overly computer literate, everything had to be as turn-key as possible.

Unfortunately though, a brain-bender problem cropped up when they wanted to access emails and appointments on their Samsung Galaxy smartphones. I’ve got to admit that I’m no phone guru either but I didn’t think that this would be a problem, simply because Exchange has embedded mobile device support and most smartphones boast auto-configured Exchange server set-ups.

However, try as I might, I couldn’t get the phones to connect to the server. In each case, the phone’s set-up wizard would go through to the point of checking the settings but would then throw up an unhelpful error saying that the set-up could not be completed.

I tried everything I could think of, including connecting via WiFi, Bluetooth and even direct cable but they just wouldn’t connect. Finally, after a few days of frustrating effort, a visitor offered me an iPhone which worked with his Exchange server to see if I could connect it to our system.

Encouraged by this, I went through the set-up on the iPhone. This went smoothly until it eventually threw up a message stating that the security certificate was not verified and asking if I wanted to continue. This did not happen with the Galaxy phones.

Finally, it all clicked. When the server is set up, a local security certificate is created. In order for client computers to connect, either a security exception must be added via the Control Panel/Internet Options dialog or the certificate must be installed on those machines. The Galaxy phones were gagging because the certificate wasn’t present and where the iPhone gave an option to continue without it, the Galaxy phones just tanked with an error.

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