Why sharing real-life support tools is so important

I guess that Microsoft troubleshooting utilities are like buses. You wait forever for one to come along and then two arrive at the same time. And so it is with the recent release of two Microsoft tools to help us maintain Outlook clients in robust good health.

On February 21, I discussed the Outlook Configuration Analysis Tool (OCAT), a fine piece of work that should be of great help to administrators who need to debug a misbehaving Outlook 2010 or Outlook 2007 client. And now we have the Outlook Calendar Checking Tool (Calcheck), a command-line utility that is designed to scan for and report on issues that might cause problems in calendar items in a mailbox but not fix them.

The functions of Calcheck are already covered in depth on the EHLO blog and no further comment is really necessary on that point. What I find interesting about these two utilities is that their authors appear to be from the Microsoft support organization, escalation engineers who have to understand and solve the more difficult problems that customers report to Microsoft. I like this very much because you can assume that the utilities address real-world problems. After all, why have they been written if not to help the support organization debug and fix customer problems?

Contributions like OCAT and Calcheck are signs of good health within the Exchange ecosystem. They join similar contributions that have been made in the past, including the famous PFDAVAdmin that greatly assists with public folder management on Exchange 2000, Exchange 2003, and Exchange 2007 servers. Of course, the Distributed Authoring and Versioning (DAV) API was deprecated (a lovely word) in Exchange 2010 and so we now have ExFolders, an even better utility. Bill Long is the author and maintainer of both PFDAVAdmin and ExFolders and he deserves the thanks of many Exchange administrators who have used his programs to get out of a public folder hole over the years.

Microsoft’s support organization also documents parts of the product that others care to ignore. The best example I can offer here is Dave Goldman’s continuing crusade to document all aspects of the Offline Address Book (OAB) from generation to download. I’ve learned a lot from Dave’s many articles over the years and I suspect that others have too.

I should also mention the fantastic work that the Exchange supportability team has done to create the Exchange Remote Connectivity Analyzer (RCA). This tool gets better and better and has now become an essential method to assess whether certificates, Client Access Servers, and other components function properly together in an Internet-facing Exchange 2007 or Exchange 2010 deployment.

Support organizations don’t just take calls and create tickets. Good support organizations are proactive and share information with their customers in as many ways as makes sense for both sides. I like the latest batch of tools from Exchange’s support organization and hope that other programs will be released in time. I’m sure that they have some treasures hidden away!

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