Scouting UK Web Colours

For any regular readers here, this is a pretty off-topic post, however, I decided it was worthy of submission. As some may know, I volunteer with a local Scout group, the 1st Chineham to be specific. As a group, we are exploring getting a website up and running; I will have more to post on this subject in the future.

Whilst navigating the branding guidelines and documentation for Scouting UK at http://members.scouts.org.uk/comms_centre/zip/Brand_Guidelines.pdf, I discovered that the official colour palette for Scouting UK is only advertised in RGB and CMYK and Pantone. This is great for working in Office apps (RGB) or print (CMYK) but does not help for web implementation. Using an online RGB to Hex converter, I have pulled together all of the colours. If you are struggling to find them yourself, please feel free to use this as a reference:

  • Scout Purple #4d2177
  • Scout Green #84a40b
  • Scout Mauve #8b0066
  • Scout Orange #ed7703
  • Scout Blue #006990
  • Scout Brown #9d552d
  • Scout Grey #415a68
  • Scout Black #001323

Introducing Microsoft Forms

In the ever expanding world of Office 365, Microsoft has introduced another, new, compelling product to the lineup. As with a number of the recent releases, Microsoft Forms is a free product, available to customers with a compatible license for existing services. Microsoft Forms is still in preview and is not production yet; this does not mean that it is viable to be used in anger though. We are all accustomed to Microsoft releasing features in preview with Office 365 and Azure.

Next, do not be fooled by the name as I was when I saw it. My first reaction was that Microsoft Forms is a replacement for InfoPath. InfoPath is a form filing application from the Office desktop suite which has long been marked for the end of life. Microsoft Forms is not an InfoPath replacement. Microsoft Forms offers two key pieces of functionality:

  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Quizzes and Test Taking

Each of these two areas offers slightly different modalities for client use and slightly different features that can be consumed which we will look at next. Read past the break to find out more.

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Using Mentions in Outlook 2016

In what feels like a long time ago, Microsoft released Office 2016 which includes the Outlook client. In the 2016 release of Outlook, Microsoft introduced a new feature called Mentions.

For anyone who is a user of Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms, the notion of a mention will not be something new. For those two are not familiar with these platforms, a mention is the process of name-dropping somebody within a message. The objective of a mention is to draw the attention of somebody to something. An example of this could be during an email exchange between two parties, introducing a third party to the conversation. This could be to ask the third party to respond to a specific question.

One of the reasons I really like mentions is due to the misuse of To and CC fields in an email today. In an idyllic world, messages sent to you require your action or consultation. Messages which you are copied on (CC) are sent for informational purposes. In theory, you should be able to delete any message you have ever been copied on and nothing would be lost. The CC field takes its name from traditional carbon copy paper where writing on one piece of paper would press through multiple layers; these were very useful for sales order paperwork or contracts where multiple parties need a copy of one document.

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Sending Email to Office 365 Group Members

Office 365 Groups is a feature of Office 365, designed to provide a modern alternative to Distribution Groups in Microsoft Exchange. Distribution Groups still exist; Office 365 Groups offer a lot more features. Features lit up by Office 365 include group-based calendars, task lists, team mailbox and more. One could argue they behave more like a shared mailbox than a traditional Distribution Group.

When Office 365 Groups were first introduced, an email sent to the group would be sent to both the group mailbox and the group members. This duality was welcome for existing distribution list users who wanted to maintain legacy behaviour and confusing for modernists who wanted to dispel bulk email from their inbox and focus areas for specific group communication. Back in April 2017, Microsoft introduced a change to the behaviour of Office 365 Groups to disable the legacy behaviour. In changing the behaviour, an option was introduced to allow administrators to control the behaviour.

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Failed Azure Web App Auto Restart Runbook

Let me start by painting a picture. You are using Azure. You have an App Service configured with a Web App that is hosting a website; this website for example. The website could be single-instanced or it could be multi-instanced using Azure Load Balancer, Azure Traffic Manager, Azure Application Gateway, or any other number of load balancing and traffic distribution technologies. One day, your web application fails to respond and you get a dreaded HTTP 500 or another error code. As a dedicated Azure consumer, you use Azure Application Insights to monitor your website. Application Insights not only gives you user metrics akin to Google Analytics but also gives you performance and availability metrics.

The picture I painted just then explains my scenario. I use Azure App Service with an Azure Web App to host this blog. I use Azure Application Insights to provide me with all of the metrics and data I need to understand the site. The availability monitoring feature is quite excellent. It allows me to monitor the website availability from up to five locations around the world with performance data for each region so I can see how the site performs for each geography. If the site goes down for any reason, I get an email notification to warn me.

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The Case of the Failed Azure Automation Runbook

In a post I will be publishing shortly after this one, I wrote an Azure Automation Runbook to automatically restart an Azure Web App when Azure Application Insights reports the site as being offline. The solution is not foolproof, but it offers a good first line of defence against issues that bring the site down. I originally wrote the runbook some time ago, however, with pressure elsewhere, it has been a while since I have been able to re-visit it and complete it.

Whilst testing the workflow this morning, I found that it was generating an error at the Login-AzureRmAccount stage; the stage where the workflow should be logging into Azure using a service principal to obtain permissions on the relevant Resource Groups. A screenshot of the error log from the automation job is shown below.

The error had been puzzled as I know this had previously worked and I have not made changes to the Azure credential nor to the runbook since. A quick Google of the error message brought me to the answer at https://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/c38e01df-dac8-4095-9658-7b1d981fe8e6/azure-automation-error-run-loginazurermaccount-to-login?forum=azureautomation. The problem lay in the fact that my Azure Automation account was referencing old versions of the Azure PowerShell Module. The old version of the module generated a failure to use the Login-AzureRmAccount command.

Updating the Azure PowerShell Module in Azure Automation is painless and can be performed from the Modules blade in the Azure Automation account.

After a short wait, the modules are updated to the latest version. Re-running my workflow in Azure Automation completed successfully proving the issue as being an out-of-date module version.

An interesting point is that there is currently a banner message in Azure Automation warning that Azure PowerShell modules will be automatically updated in Azure after the 17th July 2017. The screenshot below illustrates the message in Azure Automation. I think this is a very good move by Microsoft. As an author of automation, my workflow and runbook should not be beholden to the version of the module. If a new module is required to allow my code to continue to function, do the update automatically. If features are being deprecated in the Azure PowerShell modules, I hope that Microsoft will notify us in advance. This will give us all time to revise our code to work on any deprecated commands.

 

Office 365 Pro Plus and Visio or Project Co-Existence

Office 365 co-existence with volume licensed products is something which has been a bone of contention for many Office 365 users. Traditionally, an enterprise, we have installed Office 2016 ProPlus using a Windows Installer package. The license for this would have come from your Enterprise Agreement (EA) and would typically be licensed using a KMS host. When you move to Office 365, this model changes. These changes can have a major impact on Project and Visio applications for some customers.

To read out what the changes are and how we can work with them, read on below the fold.

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Changes to Azure Certificates and HPKP

An email landed in my inbox this morning from Microsoft Azure regarding HTTP Public Key Pinning, a subject I have posted about at some length recently. If you don’t know what HPKP is or how it is used, refer back to some of my previous posts on the subject.

A normal HPKP implementation would see you configure your website to pin your own public certificate. Whilst I would advise against it because you have no ownership or control over the certificates, it would be entirely possible to pin the Microsoft Azure Websites certificates using HPKP to your site. The email from Microsoft this morning was an advisory that Microsoft is changing the certificate it uses.

If you are using HPKP and think there is a chance you may have pinned the Microsoft certificates, I would strongly advise you to read the Microsoft Knowledge Base article at https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/kv/2017/04/20/azure-tls-certificates-changes/?WT.mc_id=azurebg_email_Trans_33716_1407_SSL_Intermediate_Cert_Change for more information.

If you are unsure if you are using HPKP or if you are unsure of which public keys you have pinned, I would suggest you use the Qualys SSL Test site as this will report the certificates in use with HPKP and whether it is enabled.

Add Brotli Support to an Azure Web App

Deflate and GZip compression have been with us on the web for many years. They do a decent job but as times move on, so do compression algorithms. This is something I have talked about before using services like TinyPNG to squeeze the spare bytes out of your images to reduce page load times but this only applies to images obviously.

Brotli is a Google project for a newer, more modern compression algorithm for the web. According to the claims of Google, using Brotli over GZip not only increases the content compression reducing page size but also reduces CPU usage in the decompression process too. With the ever expanding usage of mobile devices, both of these are great things to have.

If you are interested in reducing your page size to improve load times and reduce your outbound bandwidth on your site then read on to learn now. I will cover the requirements, fallback compatibility and also how to get Brotli for Linux and Windows as well as the main point, how to enable it for an Azure Web App.

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