Customizing the Text ScreenSaver with Group Policy

screensaver settings

“Customizing screensavers?” I hear you cry, “That’s a bit retro isn’t it?”

Nowadays screensavers have more or less disappeared. It makes much more sense to just turn off the screen after 10 minutes of inactivity. However, there are some instances where a screensaver can be useful, for example, an always-on kiosk or even digital signage.

One of the more useful standard screensavers in the Windows operating system is called “3D Text”. Useful because by default it will display the time but can be customized to display some text instead

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Excel Tip: Apply Conditional Formatting to the whole row

Conditional Formatting Menu in Excel 2013

One of the Microsoft Excel features I use quite a bit is Conditional Formatting. This is the feature (introduced in Excel 2007) that lets you re-colour a cell in your worksheet depending on the criteria you specify, e.g. highlight any cells containing the word “Server 2003” in red.

The problem I was having was that I wanted the whole row to be highlighted, not just the particular record. It turns out this is fairly easy to do, even though it looks a bit difficult.

Step 1 – Create a new rule

  • The easiest way to start is to select one cell containing the text you want to highlight
  • Click the conditional formatting button on the toolbar and go to Highlight Cell Rules > Text that contains…
  • Format the text how you like, e.g. Light Red Fill with Dark Red Text
  • Click OK

You should now have one cell in your spreadsheet that is formatted how you want

Step 2 – Apply rule to the whole table

  • Click the conditional formatting button on the toolbar and go to Manage Rules…
  • You will see your new rule listed but the Applies to box will only reference one cell e.g. ‘ =$B$2
  • Change the text in the Applies to box to refer to the whole table e.g. ‘ =$A$1:$H$100 ‘
  • Click the Apply button

Now that rule will highlight any matching text in the entire table, not just one cell

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The MDT and Office 2013 Click-to-Run Jigsaw Puzzle

office 2013 iconsIf you are trying to deploy a click-to-run (C2R) version of Office 2013/365 then it’s time to forget everything you knew about deploying office and start from a clean slate!

Due to Office 2013’s Cloud-based nature it is set up a bit differently to the traditional CD/MSI approach. This is fine if it’s your personal copy but what about deploying it to an whole office of PCs?

IT pros have been using the Microsoft Installer (MSI) technology for years to silently install Office programs. You can use a mix of existing switches to update and patch Office installations using Group Policy, scripts, Office Customization Tool (OCT) or the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT).  However, Microsoft, in their wisdom, decided to offer a brand new deployment methodology for Office 2013, Click-To-Run. There is still an MSI version out there but it is only available for the Volume Licensed customers, which means, if your business was used to buying the much cheaper Product Key Card (PKC) licenses, you are stuck with C2R. Oh, and by the way, WSUS can’t be used to update it either.

We came across this issue when we purchased and job lot of PKCs for Office Home and Business 2013. This includes Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. This seems like an ideal buy for most small businesses as it includes all of the core Office apps that your average user would need. However, when it comes to deploying, customising and activating it is about as far from business-ready as you can get! I struggled for weeks trying to get things working correctly to allow a smooth integration with our Windows 7 deployment, I did finally get there, but I hit so many brick walls I almost gave up trying. The worst part is when you get a stock “You should buy Volume Licenses” response… erm yeh, I wish I knew that 3 months ago before the money was spent.

So here is my ultimate guide to installing, customising and activating Office 2013 C2R editions. It’s not going to be pretty but it will get you someway to a mostly automated and controlled deployment. It is specifically tailored towards Office 2013 Home and Business but should work for any Office 2013 C2R version that needs to be deployed in a Windows Domain

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Legacy: Silently Install Crystal Reports Viewer 2

File this one under PITA.

As part of our #XPMustDie campaign we sometimes come across old software that simply cannot be updated in time. It’s usually some bespoke system that will take a lot of time and money to re-write or upgrade. In my opinion, it is better to get the OS secure and let an old legacy app run, than to keep a dusty Windows XP PC just for the use of one program. Of course, the ideal solution may be to virtualise the app but if you don’t have the infrastructure in place already then that may be cost-prohibitive or time consuming as well.

One such app we need to use is  Crystal Reports Viewer 2.0. This is completely unsupported by the publisher (SAP) and means it is very difficult to track down files or documentation.

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Using Group Policy Preferences to deploy Favorites to Internet Explorer

My previous article, The new way to configure Internet Explorer proxy settings with Group Policy, spoke about how the Internet Explorer Maintenance section of Group Policy has been killed off in favour of ADMX templates and Group Policy Preferences. One benefit of this is that you get rid of the time-consuming “Branding Internet Explorer” section when a user logs on to a PC.

Thanks to the lack of communication from Microsoft, we now need to scramble around to get all of our Internet Explorer Favorites re-deployed for any PC with IE10 or above. Thankfully it is a relatively simple, if tedious task. I used the GPMC on a 2008 R2 member server

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The new way to configure Internet Explorer proxy settings with Group Policy

Internet Explorer 10 was released for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 machines back in February 2013. Nine months later and we are going through it again with Internet Explorer 11. For SysAdmins and IT Pros managing software updates, these new versions led to quite a significant change in how we use Group Policy to manage them.

I only recently discovered that when Windows 8 (and along with it IE10) was released they finally got rid of the “Internet Explorer Maintenance” Section of the Group Policy Editor. This section always struck me as an odd place to configure IE settings and I’m still not sure why they couldn’t just use the normal Administrative Template section.

Internet Explorer Maintenance in Server 2003 Group Policy Editor
Internet Explorer Maintenance in Server 2003 Group Policy Editor

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Converting a folder of text files into a well formatted CSV spreadsheet with PowerShell

We are in the process of changing over our Print Server and the first step on the plan was to get some data from all the computers on my network about which printers they had installed. This needed to grab the data from all users on all PCs so the only logical way to do this was to create logon script below and let it run for a week. In a previous post I discussed how PowerShell Export-CSV turns lovely tables in to garbage but now I needed to get a CSV from hundreds of separate text files …

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Why now is as good a time as any to upgrade to Windows 7

Windows 7 branded mug of teaYou may be wondering why you would bother upgrading your existing Windows XP and Vista machines to Windows 7, when Windows 8 has just been released.

Whether you are a home user or a large company there are great benefits to be  had from upgrading and using your new Windows 7 PC as a stepping stone to Microsoft’s latest and greatest.

Windows XP recently celebrated its 10th birthday, a major achievement for it to keep such a stronghold but also a major issue when it  becomes time to change to something new. The are always scare stories when Microsoft releases a new OS. The fact of the matter is, change often creates such fear-mongering when really its an opportunity waiting to be taken advantage of.

Businesses stayed away from Windows 7 for 2 major reasons

  1. Windows Vista had a terrible launch, fraught with bad reviews and needing an extra expense of upgrading hardware
  2. Due to people sticking with XP, business software wasn’t upgraded and smaller bespoke software would cost a fortune to redevelop for a new OS

Nowadays, this isn’t as much of an issue. Windows 7 runs easily on hardware  over 4 years old and really flies on the latest kit. All major applications have been updated or can be delivered via modern methods like application virtualisation or by using tools like Microsoft’s free application compatibility toolkit or XP Mode. OS deployment technologies have moved on too, meaning you can upgrade people from XP to 7 in a couple of hours.

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Shutting down Windows 8 using only the keyboard

Screenshot of the desktop settings panel One of the issues with Windows 8 is trying to find how to shut it down!

Only the free developer preview has been released so far, so all may change by time the beta comes out (rumoured February 2012). For now it’s been quite tricky to shutdown or restart your PC. One way is to create some shutdown tiles for the Start Screen but I’ve learnt a couple off ways using just the keyboard.

  1. Press [CTRL]+[ALT]+[DEL] then use the Power button at the bottom right of the screen. You can press tab a lot of times to get to the Power icon but the option below is a bit quicker
  2. [WIN]+[I], [LEFT], [SPACE], [UP], [ENTER]

“+” means press the keys together, a “,” means do the next press separately

You’ve got Emoji – Smilie Characters discovered in a font

Screenshot of all of the special characters
To get these simple but cool emoticons/emoji/smilies or whatever you want to call them you will need the Segoe UI Semibold font that comes with Windows 7 (possibly Vista too?).
In Microsoft Word, click the Insert tab on the ribbon. On the far-right click the Symbol button, followed by the More Symbols option

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