Stopping Software Center from restarting your computer

IT-departments may require you to restart your computer to complete updates they have pushed out. This is at best annoying, at worst it can ruin your work if you for example have a long running process in progress. (My personal favorite is when I was forced to restart my computer in the middle of a service window upgrading a company system…)

If your company uses System Center you may recognize the following dialog informing you that Your Computer is About to Restart:

You can’t close this window or ask it to stop the shut down. So what can you do? I’ve seen others talk about shutting down Windows Services. That never worked for me, but I discovered that there was an easy way to stop the process. Simply open a command prompt and type  shutdown /a

This will abort the shutdown:

The countdown window will still be open, but when reaching zero nothing will happen!

Now you can finish your work at your own pace, before restarting your computer.

Update: Since the update window is “always on top” and can’t be closed it blocks your view in a pretty annoying way. Luckily we can use a bit of PowerShell and WinAPI to to hack the window properties to hide it :-)

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Internet Explorer: ScriptImports is undefined

Today I spent way too much time on hunting down a bug that occurred in Internet Explorer 11 running our intranet solution on SharePoint Online / 2016. The problem showed itself by throwing the following error in the console:

SCRIPT5009: ‘ScriptImports’ is undefined
File: eval code (453), Line: 37, Column: 29

The referenced “file” pointed to some internal IE code dealing with Ajax calls. After this error had occurred, other (all?) Ajax calls broke until the page reloaded.

I finally tracked it down to happening when clicking a link with an inline JavaScript handler:

<a href="javascript:void(0)" onclick="javascript:myFunction();">Run myFunction</a>

Nothing special at fist sight, but notice href="javascript:void(0)"  that is supposed to simply stop the default browser action when clicking the link. I’ve seend this before and have assumed it is a proper way to do things. Turns out it’s not! Removing it solved the problem. Here are two alternatives that work:

<a href="#" onclick="javascript:myFunction();">Run myFunction</a>

and

<a href="javascript:return false;" onclick="javascript:myFunction();">Run myFunction</a>

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Beware this limitation when using SharePoint Image Renditions

With image renditions you can specify a pixel size when requesting an image, and SharePoint will deliver the image scaled down to this size for you. This is great, because you don’t have to worry about your users pulling full size pictures from their gigapixel cameras when publishing content. Or do you?

I was recently browsing a customer’s SharePoint Online intranet solution and noticed that some images in the news roll-up loaded slowly. Turned out they had been using high resolution stock photos for a few of their news articles. Even though the news roll-up requested a specific image rendition, SharePoint delivered the original, full size image file. The penalty of this is both downloading large files (10MB in this case) and having the browser scale down the image (which is slow and looks bad). I’m sure you can imagine the performance impact this could have on pages such as an intranet start page where you have lots of images.

I investigated this further by scaling an image to various sizes to see what happened. Turns out, at around 6400 pixels width or height, SharePoint suddenly stops delivering a scaled down image rendition and instead just sends the original file. This is true for both SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2016. My recommendation is that even if you use image rendition, user education is still necessary to avoid problems.

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How to backup and restore tables in Azure storage

There is currently no built in solution for backing up tables in Azure Storage, but we can easily do it with the help of a tool called AzCopy which is provided by Microsoft. Below is a PowerShell script I built to simplify the process of backing up and restoring. It’s a two-step rocket: First it enumerates all your tables and saves a CSV-file with their names. Then it uses this file to perform the actual backup (and restore if needed). This way you can easily edit the CSV-file to “configure” what to backup.

This script is also available at my GitHub repo.

 

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Extending the JavaScript console with history recording

The browser JavaScript console is a web developers best friend. Using console.log()  is essential for debugging your web apps. But there are a few annoyances. Two things that bother me for a while are:

  1. Reloading the page clears the console. Yes, there are settings for keeping the log, but personally I prefer to keep this turned off.
  2. Internet Explorer and Edge will only print to the console once the dev tools window has been opened. The console is always empty when opened, so anything you logged before this is lost.

Fortunately JavaScript is a very flexible language. Let’s make the console better!

Design goals:

  • Record all calls to the console’s log() , error() , warn()  and info()  functions.
  • Recall the console history by calling our own console.history()  function.
    • console.history()  shows the console history since the current page load.
    • console.history(true)  shows everything from the current session.

Here is my solution (also available at my GitHub tutorial repo). I have tried to annotate it to explain what is going on.

 

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Solution to Azure AD App not able to use given permissions

A client I’m working with had trouble adding permissions to their Azure Active Directory Application (AAD App). We added application permissions to allow the app to read all users’ full profiles, read directory data and read O365 unified groups, but no matter what we did our code would get an “insufficient privileges” answer back from the Microsoft Graph. We even added a brand new app, but it too had the same problems, indicating that the problem lied deeper than the app permissions.

Reaching out to Microsoft support they clearly had a hard time figuring out what was wrong, but finally their engineers presented the following solution that worked:

  1. Open PowerShell
  2. Connect-MsolService (sign in with a Global Admin account)
  3. Remove-MsolServicePrincipal -ObjectId [GUID] -TenantId [GUID]
  4. Start an InPrivate browsing window
  5. Open: https://login.microsoftonline.com/common/oauth2/authorize?response_type=code&client_id=[GUID]&prompt=admin_consent

This is supposed to remove the Service Principal and following the admin consent workflow a new Service Principal should be created and inherit the permissions given to the application object.

I hope this is helpful to someone in the same situation.

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I stopped using Google Analytics. Here’s why.

For many years I’ve been using Google Analytics (GA) on rlvision.com, but more and more I started questioning myself why. So a month ago I finally cut the cord. Here are my reasons.

  1. The first reason is simply that I don’t really have any need for advanced analytics. Sure, it’s always fun to see how many visitors your site has had and what the most popular pages are, but for me that’s where it ends. Google Analytics is way to complex for me and my needs, and I never felt that I really understood how to use it properly. Usage statistics sounds very enticing to website owners and stakeholders. And GA always pops up as the first suggestion. But I’m going to be so bold as to suggest that most GA users actually do not need such an advanced tracking system. They would be just as happy with a more simple system. Heck, they might even be more happy, since a simpler system that they actually understand and can fully use would be of more value to them!
  2. The second reason is that I don’t like being tracked by Google (or other “data companies”). I even block the GA JavaScript in my browser. I don’t necessarily think it will do my any harm to be track. But the more I think about how much information Google has about everyone, the more scared I get. That being said I do not mind individual websites to track me. The problem with Google Analytics is that they track an enormous amount of sites, and by combining this data (and data from their other services) they get an eerily complete picture of you. If you choose Google Analytics because it’s free, think again about what you are giving them. It’s not healthy to let corporations have access that kind of data! Considering my stance on this, it’s simply not right to subject my website visitors to something I myself despise.
  3. Third. If I am to track my website users, I want to own the collected data myself. Only then can I offer a real privacy policy. Only then can I dispose of the data if I need to. Only then can I (at least in theory) move my data between services. With Google Analytics, who owns your data? I’m not sure. But I do know that you cannot export you data from GA. You can manually download individual reports, but not all you data.

There are lots of alternatives to Google Analytics out there. Some are cloud service, some are self hosting software. Some are free and even open source, some are paid. For some sites GA is no doubt a very powerful and suitable service. But not for everyone.

Note: At the same time I removed Google Analytics I also stopped using AddThis which I had been using for some years. Turns out AddThis is nowadays owned by Oracle Corporation, another major player in the data field…

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Heads-up if you use ADAL.JS on a site added to the “Trusted Sites” zone

When working on a SharePoint Online solution that is using the ADAL.JS library for authentication, a customer reported strange problems. In our solution, our site sends the client to the authentication authority (Azure AD), which authenticates the client and forwards it to the reply URL which in turn returns the client to the original page in a logged in state.

The problems we saw were mainly that the clients tended to get stuck in an authentication loop, where the client seemed to correctly receive a token from the authority, but our ADAL-based solution did not see the authenticated user and thus sent the browser back to be authenticated, in a seemingly endless loop. The behavior was quite erratic though – sometimes the clients were actually able to log in, either directly or after several tries. Other times it eventually failed and stopped somewhere in the “loop”.

The oddest behavior was however that the browser tab (or whole browser if only one tab) could sometimes simply just close by itself!

I experienced this myself on IE11, but the customer reported that same happening in Chrome too. A clue was that it only happened on the customer’s computers when logged in through their VPN, and only against their own SharePoint Online tenant.

Eventually we cracked the problem. Turns out that the customer had put SharePoint Online (https://customer-tenant.sharepoint.com) in the Trusted Sites zone under Internet Options in Windows. But authentication with ADAL.JS relies on a hidden iFrame working against a different URL. Because the site and iFrame belonged to different security zones, they were no allowed to share cookies.

The solution was to simply put the authentication authority (https://*.microsoftonline.com) in the Trusted Sites zone as well.

This weakness and solution is actually stated in the ADAL.JS readme, but it is easy to miss or forget, and quite hard to figure out the cause if it happens. Hopefully this post will save someone from this agony.

PS: Need to view all trusted sites, but the list can not be scrolled due to being controlled by a group policy? Superuser has the answer!

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Downloading OneDrive documents as PDF

As part of automating a build process I needed a way to download the product documentation from OneDrive and save as PDF files for shipping with product. The result is this PowerShell script with two cmdlets, one that takes an array or OneDrive files to download, and one that converts the downloaded DocX files to PDF (using Word). Here is the script (also on my GitHub):

 

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A drag-and-drop GUI made with PowerShell

The script below shows how to create a simple WinForms GUI in PowerShell, where you can drag and drop files and folders and then process these with PowerShell commands when you click the button. I’ve pieced this together using various online source and my own trial and error, and figured it might be useful as a base for others who need to create an interface.

powershell-gui

I probably won’t win any design prices with this one :-)

Tip: If you are unsure of control names or how to use properties on a control, remember that you can always launch Visual Studio with a WinForms project and then inspect the Properties window and Form1.Designer.cs file for “inspiration”.

Here is the script (or get it at GitHub).

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