Fixing a “FailedAndSuspended” content index for an Exchange 2013 database

For space reasons, this text is another bit that was cut out of my Exchange 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox and High Availability book. FWIW, here it is…

Imagine my annoyance when I ran the Get-MailboxDatabaseCopyStatus cmdlet on a test Exchange 2013 server and found that three of the databases reported a “Failed and Suspended” status for their content index. Despite the rumors to the contrary, I don’t spend my days idly running commands against Exchange to see what happens. I’d been playing with health sets and health reports in an effort to understand these concepts better and was provoked to finding out why my server was deemed unhealthy for data protection when I ran the command to extract the health report based on the data protection health set:

Get-HealthReport –Identity ExServer1 –HealthSet DataProtection

The content index is necessary to enable fast client searches so it is something to be concerned about. Failed and suspended means that Exchange hasn’t been able to fix any problems that it might encounter with the content indexes during normal operations and a reseed is necessary. I wasn’t all that worried in this instance because only test databases were involved, but it’s good to run a tidy shop so the problem had to be addressed.

The failed index

The failed index

These databases form part of a Database Availability Group (DAG). Normally when a content index fails and needs to be reseeded, you simply run the Update-MailboxDatabaseCopy cmdlet and specify the CatalogOnly switch to request Exchange to reseed the content index from a good copy belonging to another database copy. But when you’re running a single-copy database there’s no other good copy (of either the database or the content index) hanging around waiting to be called into play.

Hmmm… TechNet wasn’t too helpful on the topic of reseeding a single-copy database and the suggestions offered in various web sites all leaned toward a complete rebuild of the index. Eventually I decided to go with that plan because there didn’t seem to be any good alternative. Note that users are able to keep on working with their mailboxes even when a database has a failed index. It just means that searches performed with OWA will be slower.

In any case, I used the following steps to get my three errant databases back to good health.

  1. Stopped the Microsoft Exchange Search service
  2. Stopped the Microsoft Exchange Search Host Controller service
  3. Dismounted the database
  4. Deleted the [guid.single] folder in the folder holding the database file. Guid is the Globally Unique Identifier for the database. You can find this by running Get-MailboxDatabase database-name | Select Guid. For example, the folder you need would be something like d:\Databases\DB2\79c03cca-9b53-4959-982a-8773591c5f70.single
  5. Restart the Microsoft Exchange Search Host Controller service
  6. Restart the Microsoft Exchange Search service
  7. Remount the database

As each database was remounted, the Search service recognized that its content index was missing and began the process of rebuilding the index. The content index status will remain  as “Failed” until the rebuild is complete. A couple of minutes later all was well and the server reported full health. Of course, this was a relatively small database so the Search Foundation didn’t have too much work to do to recreate the content index. The process will take longer as the database size grows; it is definitely not something that you will want to do if the index fails for a large database.

I’m not recommending that you delete folders on a production server. Then again, I hope that on a production server you’ll have more than a single copy of any database within the DAG (remember, two copies provides basic redundancy, three is much better, and four copies provides a warm blanket feeling) and will therefore be able to run Update-MailboxDatabaseCopy. But if you do get into a hole, you might be able to use the steps outlined above to get out of it. And that’s always a good thing, isn’t it?

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Preparing to launch “Office 365 for Exchange Professionals”


As you might know, we closed off the formal writing phase for “Office 365 for Exchange Professionals” on April 15 to be sure that we would have books available for the first day of the Microsoft Ignite conference in Chicago (May 4). I guess it’s natural that some would ask why we would stop writing 19 days before the books are needed. After all, Microsoft has continued to pump out announcements relating to Office 365 on the Office Blog with these posts appearing recently:

Enhancing transparency and control for Office 365 customers (April 21): New security features that aren’t in Office 365 yet, but will be over the next year or so. This was an announcement for the RSA conference, but contained some nuggets that affected chapters 2 and 17.

Evolving Data Loss Prevention in SharePoint Online/OneDrive for Business and Office applications (April 21): Thankfully we knew all about this stuff because we were on the preview program, so DLP for SharePoint and OneDrive for Business is covered in chapter 16.

Enhanced non-delivery reports (NDRs) in Office 365 (April 17): A really nice enhancement that isn’t available yet, so our mail flow chapter (11) survived.

Office 365 Video begins worldwide rollout and gets mobile (April 16):  Video has been available to First Release tenants for a while and we had it well covered in chapter 18, but a number of new details came to light when Video achieved general availability.

Office 365 now supports larger email messages—up to 150 MB (April 15): This was an easy detail to insert into chapter 6. I’ve also commented on the topic on

New Office Delve People Experiences in Office 365 (April 14): This update arrived just before we stopped writing, but it caused some issues because Delve now boasted a new user interface. So we had to get screen shots to insert into chapter 18 as well as check out the new information to make sure that our text was still accurate.

Other stuff has happened to affect the content of the book, but the detail above is enough to give you the picture of the dynamic environment found inside Office 365 and the difficulty often found when writing about cloud services. Every day we have been scanning headlines and our inboxes to figure out what’s happening inside Office 365 so that we can adjust as required. Fortunately, because we are creating an eBook, we can update text much more easily and faster than we would be able to do for a traditional printed book.

At least, we can in the Word documents that we have for each chapter and the overall book file. Word does a good job of generating PDFs, so that part is handled quickly. The fun starts when it comes to generating files in the format used by mobile book readers. We’re focusing on EPUB for the start as this is a free and open format supported by many readers. We might then look at other eBook formats, including Kindle.

The route from Word to PUB is via the Caliber eBook generator. This decision leverages the experience of Paul Cunningham, who has generated quite a few eBooks for his site. However, Office 365 for Exchange Professionals is both larger (18 chapters, 1 appendix, 630 pages, 240,000+ words) and more complex in terms of styles and formatting than Paul’s previous books, so we are running into a couple of interesting challenges.

Based on some recommendations, we looked at using Adobe InDesign to format the Word content for publication. InDesign is used by many professional designers and layout specialists to prepare files for publication. This is especially important when dealing with printers because the RGB colors used for screens need to be translated into the CYMK palette used by printers. InDesign does all of this when it outputs files for printers.

Adobe offers a 30-day free trial to see whether InDesign is for you. There’s no doubt that InDesign is a powerful layout and formatting program for many types of documents but using that power requires a steep learning curve. I have been using various forms of text editors and layout tools since the early 1980s, including VAX Document (think TeX for VAX) and DECwrite, which InDesign reminded me of a lot. DECwrite was a “Compound Document Architecture” WYSIWYG editor that ran under the DECwindows windowing system on VAXstations in the 1989-1994 period. I used it to create my ALL-IN-1 books and generally enjoyed the powerful formatting capabilities that were built into DECwrite, even if the program was prone to crashes (thankfully, its ability to recover work was excellent).

The DECwrite engineer who dealt with many of my cases was Jo-Ann Snover, married to Jeffrey Snover, then also in DEC engineering and since famous as the father of PowerShell (this video tells all). Jeffrey is now the lead architect for Windows… It’s amazing how people are connected in the industry

In any case, two days of dedicated trial and error plus lots of Internet searches and sitting through a number of video tutorials got me to the point where I could import the book from Word in a reasonably efficient manner and generate an EPUB file. The imported content needed a fair amount of fix-up beforehand to make sure that graphics were in the right place and that the flow looked good, but I got there. Many of the problems originated in the source Word documents and needed to be fixed there to ensure that any future import would work smoothly.

But the output I generated was inferior to what Paul is able to create with Caliber, so seeing that we do not need to create files for printing, we decided to revert to Plan A and go with Caliber, which is how we are currently proceeding.

When we have everything done, I’ll publish another post to give some advice of how to format and fix Word documents if you are interested in publishing technical books along this route. It might interest some!

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The cloud means the demise of the traditional file server

One of the most obvious aspects of the adoption of cloud technology over the last few years is the growing amount of storage available at little or no cost to end users. A good example is the way that Office 365 personal plans (OneDrive for Consumers) and Office 365 business plans (OneDrive for Business) include 1 TB of storage per user to be used to store documents and other files.

Taken together with the general availability of better networks and reasonable synchronization to ensure that copies of essential files are available offline, the cheapness of cloud storage makes you wonder just how long people will persist with file servers. In short, unless you have good business reasons to keep on-premises file servers (for example, a desire or need to maintain tight control over confidential documents), it might be time to dump the technology of the 1980s and move

In their time, network file shares were certainly a good way to facilitate the need for users to share documents and other files. But they were designed to work in a world where people use workstations connected on a WAN to access the resources needed to do their work. Network file shares weren’t designed to cope with access from a variety of mobile devices connecting across the Internet using anything from a reliable link in a hotel to a flaky Wi-Fi connection in an airport. In short, network file shares don’t map well onto the current world of work.

Among the features that people need today in terms of flexibility to access files are:

  • On a 24×7 basis on anything from a smartphone to a large workstation running anything from iOS to Linux
  • Anywhere around the world any place an Internet connection is available
  • In such a way that they can be easily shared with people inside and outside the company
  • So that the files can be edited online without having to fire up a traditional desktop application

Pretty well all of the basic cloud-based file services can deliver on these points. More sophistication is available through Office 365 group document libraries, or, if you need even more control, their SharePoint Online equivalents. Both support features such as versioning, check-in/check-out, and offline synchronization. SharePoint libraries also support workflow and the documents held in the libraries provide signals to the Office Graph database that are consumed and interpreted by Office Delve to highlight relevant information to co-workers. This kind of integration and exploitation of information that already exists within the company cannot be accomplished with network file shares.

Many companies who have moved workload to Office 365 concentrate on email first. It’s the easy and most straightforward workload to move to the cloud, especially because Microsoft has done so much heavy lifting in hybrid connectivity to make it easy to move mailboxes and establish a single logical email system that spans both on-premises and cloud platforms. But email is only the start of the cloud journey and it is a missed opportunity if companies ignore the other benefits that can be gained from Office 365. Eliminating on-premises file servers and replacing them with a more modern form of cloud-based repository seems like a pretty good next step along the cloud journey.

It’s more difficult to move documents to the cloud than it is to move mailboxes. Asking users to drag and drop files from shares to SharePoint document libraries or to copy documents to create new versions is never likely to be anything other than a recipe for boredom, drudgery, and long-term retention of those file shares. Some automated method is required to make the process quick, simple, and painless.

Tools are available to help move large quantities of files to Office 365. A quick browse of the net will throw up many candidates for you to consider, some of which are capable of moving data from many different repositories. Here are a few to get started:






[No endorsement is given or extended for any of the migration products offered by these companies – test them and make your own mind up!]

For those fortunate enough to be allowed to attend large technology conferences like Microsoft Ignite (two weeks away), the trade show is a great place to see many products in action and to quiz company representatives. There’s nothing like getting the low down from a human – it’s so much more satisfying than having to interpret product descriptions from web sites or understand whether reviews from others match what you’re trying to accomplish.

But moving documents en masse from one repository to another is not a good thing to do, even if it is automatic. All repositories accumulate debris over time and it’s a good thing (but not a popular task to take on) to have the owners of the repositories review the information held there and remove old and unwanted files before any movement begins. Some file types stored in the old repositories might not be supported in the new, so it’s a good idea to understand what you store and why you store it before you begin.

If you are at Ignite, why not come along to my “Bumps and Blips on the Road to Cloud Nirvana: From On-Premises Microsoft Exchange to Office 365” session at 1:30PM on Thursday, May 7. I have lots to discuss about moving work to the cloud – this is just one of the issues on my list. It’s also a topic discussed in the new “Office 365 for Exchange Professionals” book – we should have some copies to give away at Ignite too!

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Office 365 for Exchange Professionals: The book is built!


I’ve been asked what exactly is in Office 365 for Exchange Professionals, the eBook designed to help Exchange on-premises administrators understand how to transition workload to the cloud. Well, as the eBook has been built to be ready for distribution at Microsoft Ignite, I can tell you what is in the first version. The chapters are:

Chapter 1: An Overview of Office 365

Chapter 2: Making the decision to move to Office 365

Chapter 3: Migrating to Office 365

Chapter 4: Managing hybrid connections

Chapter 5: Managing Exchange Online

Chapter 6: Managing Exchange Online mailboxes

Chapter 7: Managing Groups

Chapter 8: Managing public folders

Chapter 9: Managing addressing

Chapter 10: Managing hybrid recipients

Chapter 11: Managing Mail Flow

Chapter 12: Managing Clients

Chapter 13: Retaining Office 365 Information

Chapter 14: Office 365 eDiscovery

Chapter 15: Information Rights Management

Chapter 16: Data Loss Prevention

Chapter 17: Office 365 Auditing

Chapter 18: Doing more with Office 365

Appendix A: Directory Synchronization

At 626 pages, we ended up with a much larger book than anticipated.  Some sponsors will have copies for distribution at Microsoft Ignite, so if you attend the conference in Chicago next month, you can maybe pick up a copy. I’ll let you know the sponsors and the arrangements that they make for distribution later on in the month.

If you’re at Ignite, make sure to come by my “Bumps and Blips on the Road to Cloud Nirvana: From On-Premises Microsoft Exchange to Office 365” session (BRK2164) on Thursday at 1:30PM. You never know what might happen there.

But if you’re not going to Ignite, you can head over to the book’s sales site and buy a downloadable copy. We will make copies available on May 4.

The first version is only the start of this eBook. Because Office 365 changes so quickly, we plan to make updated versions available on a regular basis. Because we have been heads-down to get the first version out the door, we have not figured out how to price updates, but we will get to that over the next week or so.

In the meantime, now that the first version is done, I think we’ll all have a little rest…

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Exchange/Office 365 MVP sessions at Ignite

Many people have asked me to recommend some sessions to go to at Microsoft Ignite (a good planning tool to build your own schedule is available online). With nearly 800 sessions to select from over five days, there’s enough going on to suit every one of the 15,000 or so people who will be there. I’ll publish my own schedule closer to the event so you know the sessions that I plan to attend, but to start the ball rolling, here are a set of sessions given by MVPs working in the Exchange and Office 365 space. MVPs are supposed to be independent experts, so there should be a reasonable amount of focused, practical, and above all independent advice given in each session.

Scheduling is still ongoing and some change can be expected as Microsoft juggles with the rooms so that the most popular speakers are matched with the biggest rooms. Microsoft is tracking the numbers of people who select each session and add them to their Ignite calendars, so they have a pretty good idea of what should happen. Speakers can see this data too, so I know that at the time of writing 425 people have signed up to attend my “Bumps and Blips” session. It’s also true that some inconsistencies need to be ironed out of the schedule, such as the fact that Paul Robichaux is currently scheduled to speak in two places at 5PM on Thursday. That should be worth seeing.

The session descriptions shown here are not mine – I took the text from the session catalog! Make of it what you will… The two workshops at the end of the list are scheduled for the Sunday before Ignite starts.

MVPs Unplugged: Real-World Microsoft Exchange Server Designs and Deployments

Jeff Guillet, Nicolas Blank, Paul Robichaux and Siegfried Jagott

Monday, 3:15PM

Join this session to engage in a dynamic question and answer session with some of the best Exchange MVPs in the business. We make time for both the moderated questions and your own questions that you can ask during the session. Topics are driven by the audience!

Planning and Deploying Call via Work for Enterprise PBX Users

Brian Ricks

Tuesday, 9AM

Want to know how to take best advantage of your aging PBX system while moving to Skype for Business? Come learn about Call via Work, the new capability that allows everyone in an enterprise to have a great voice experience even with their old PBX phone. We not only review the capabilities of the feature but also the configuration and topology requirements so you can quickly get started planning and deploying.

Ten Ways to Secure Your Office 365 Tenants

Brian Reid

Tuesday, 10:45AM

Do you want to ensure that your data in Office 365 is protected? Then come to this session where we look at ten things to help you further secure the access to the data over and above the security already in Office 365. We demonstrate and discuss features such as data loss prevention (DLP), message encryption , rights management protection (RMS), multi-factor authentication (MFA), client security such as patching and MDM, sharing content internally and externally, network encryption (SSL), AD FS restrictions, and anti-spam settings. But there is more, and we plan to cover that too!

Experts Unplugged: Exchange Top Issues

Jeff Guillet

Wednesday, 9AM

The unplugged panel is your chance to hear directly from product experts in an unscripted, conversational format. The panel includes a mix of perspectives—from engineering to support to real-world deployment experts—so you get answers that range from visionary to practical. Bring your tough questions and hear them answered live on stage, as top experts discuss the issues that matter to you.

Exchange Hybrid: Make Office 365 Work for You

Michael Van Horenbeeck

Wednesday, 1:30PM

Exchange hybrid deployments are one of the most common Office 365 configurations. In this session, we dig into the architecture of hybrid deployments, review the deployment options, discuss the capabilities of the hybrid configuration wizard, and review the co-existence user experiences.

Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Public Folder Migration

Siegfried Jagott

Wednesday, 3:15PM

Learn how to migrate Public Folders from Exchange Server 2007 and 2010 to Modern Public Folders in Exchange Server 2013. This Instructor-led Lab walks you through all of the PowerShell cmdlets to perform a migration. You also learn about administration of Modern Public Folders. Steps to migrate to Microsoft Office 365 are discussed, but not included in the labs due to time constraints. The ILL is led by an Exchange MVP expert.

Bumps and Blips on the Road to Cloud Nirvana: From On-Premises Microsoft Exchange to Office 365

Tony Redmond

Thursday 1:30PM

Come learn from one of the most experienced Exchange MVPs what it’s like to make the journey from on-premises Exchange to Exchange Online. It’s easy to start using Microsoft Office 365 if it’s a fresh start, but things can get more complex when you are moving your existing users and content to Exchange Online. To be successful, you have to get comfortable with the cloud, understand its limits, and be able to embrace and utilize its strengths. The presenter has strong opinions on what works and what doesn’t. You’ll hear what’s good and not so good about Exchange Online and how to make it work for you. Intensely practical and honest, this is a must-attend session for anyone who’s contemplating the move to Exchange Online.

Experts Unplugged: Exchange Online Migrations

Michael Van Horenbeeck with Tim Heeney (Microsoft)

Thursday, 5PM

The unplugged panel is your chance to hear directly from product experts in an unscripted, conversational format. The panel includes a mix of perspectives—from engineering to support to real-world deployment experts—so you get answers that range from visionary to practical. Bring your tough questions and hear them answered live on stage, as top experts discuss the issues that matter to you.

Microsoft Office 365 MVP Panel

Brett Hill, Darrell Webster, J. Peter Bruzzese, Jethro Seghers, Martina Grom and Sean McNeill

Thursday, 5PM

Learn from the Office 365 experts. This session brings together a few of Office 365 MVP experts to share and discuss the hot topics they have seen while working with customers. Bring your questions and expect to interact in this session.

Exchange Online Archiving: Notes from the Field

Paul Robichaux

Thursday, 5PM

Users love email—so much so that their mailboxes can grow almost without limit over time. Archiving old mail helps keep things tidy, and Microsoft has offered personal archives as part of Exchange since Exchange 2010. Moving your archives to Exchange Online Archiving (EOA) gives you flexible archiving, but to get the most from EOA, you’ll need to know how it works, how EOA integrates with on-premises and Office 365 mailboxes, how to efficiently move your users’ data into EOA, and how to manage and troubleshoot both the import process and ongoing operations— luckily, all topics covered in this session.

Servicing Microsoft Exchange Server: Update Your Knowledge

Brent Alinger and Paul Robichaux

Thursday, 5PM

This session takes a close look at the servicing model for Exchange Server. Join us to gain a deep understanding of the update process for Exchange Server, including the support requirement for Cumulative Updates. You won’t just hear the Microsoft strategy but also learn how this strategy is applied in the field with first-hand experience from an Exchange MVP expert.

MVPs Unplugged: The Journey to Microsoft Exchange Online

Jeff Guillet, Michael Van Horenbeeck, Nicolas Blank and Tony Redmond

Friday, 10:45AM

Join this session to engage in a dynamic question and answer session with some of the best Exchange MVPs in the business. There is time for both the moderated questions and questions that you can ask during the session. Topics are driven by the audience!

Get Ready to Deploy Exchange Server 2013 (Workshop)

Nicolas Blank

Learn from Exchange MVP experts and jumpstart your Exchange Server 2013 deployment. The day focuses on building a design for a selected scenario and provides opportunities to test your deployment knowledge first hand. This pre-day session provides deep hands-on opportunities and a chance to learn from experts in the field.

Building a Hybrid Exchange Server 2013 Environment (Workshop)

Michael Van Horenbeeck and Nathan O’Bryan

In this pre-day session, learn how to deploy a hybrid Exchange Server 2013 environment from scratch. Through a mix of tutoring and hands-on exercises, gain experience in how to install and configure Microsoft Azure Active Directory Synchronization Services (AAD Sync) and Active Directory Federation Services for Office 365. Learn how to use the Exchange Server 2013 Hybrid Configuration Wizard to set up a hybrid deployment and then move mailboxes to Microsoft Office 365. The lab is hosted in Microsoft Azure, so all you need to bring is your own laptop!

Whatever sessions you chose to attend, remember to pace yourself and not try and get to everything. The sessions you don’t manage to get to will be available on Microsoft’s Channel 9 video streaming service soon afterwards, so you’ll be able to catch up that way. And of course, make sure that you include some after-hours events in your schedule as all work and no play makes anyone pretty dull.

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Posted in Cloud, Email, Exchange, Exchange 2013, Office 365 | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Ignite sessions and after-hours events

Microsoft’s Ignite conference takes place in Chicago from May 4-8. I will be presenting twice. During the first session, I’ll examine the path taken to move workload from Exchange on-premises deployments to Office 365, including a discussion about the bumps and thumps that can occur along the way. This session is scheduled for 1:30 pm on Thursday, May 7. Rooms have not yet been allocated to sessions, possibly because Microsoft is waiting to see what demand for the various sessions are indicated by people adding them to their personal Ignite schedule. If you’ve registered for Ignite (the session is now sold out), you can create your schedule online.

Nirvana - maybe!

Nirvana – maybe!

The second session is at 10:45 am on Friday, May 8. There are many downsides in having a session scheduled so late in a conference. First, people are tired after four full days of chasing around a conference center going from session to session. Second, people are even more tired because they will have attended the various parties and other after-hours events that occur at major conferences like Ignite. Third, those who do turn up to panel Q&A sessions like “The Journey to Microsoft Exchange Online” often come equipped with questions that no one else has been able to answer during the rest of the conference, which then leads to some entertaining “ohs” and “ahs” from panel members.

MVP panel session

Speaking of after-hours event, I am not a huge fan of attending these events because they tend to be noisy, crowded, and feature pretty poor food and drink (calculated to a low price point). So I avoid most of these events. However, I will be attending two at Ignite. The first is the UC RoundTable organized by MVP Jeff Guillet (who is technical editor for the Office 365 for Exchange Professionals eBook) on Wednesday night.

Before then, on Tuesday night I’ll be at the “ScheduledMaintenance” party, which is organized by ENow Software and sponsored by a group of other companies, including Kizan Technologies. Apparently ENow might run the final of their Exchange Trivia Quiz in front of a drink-crazed audience, which might be fun, especially as I hear that there will be quite a few dollars at stake for the winner. I also hear rumor of some interesting guests at that event, so we’ll have to wait and see.

I’m not sure about the Ignite Attendee party. It might be good – then again, it might be more of the same ‘ol conference hang-around-and drink bad beer kind of gathering that I don’t like. But in any case, I shall have to be early to bed because I have that Office 365 nirvana session to give on Thursday afternoon.

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Slipping standards in how Office 365 is reported and analyzed in the technology press

Those who observe the way that news is reported about developments in the Office 365 space might be uncomfortably aware that standards are slipping. The basic problem is that once Microsoft posts some information about a product announcement or other development on the Office 365 blog, it is recycled over the next few hours in an uncritical and undemanding manner. In fact, some of the reports that appear on so-called independent news web sites are so close to the original that they might almost be accused of plagiarism.

As an example, compare the reports on major web sites about Microsoft’s announcement that basic mobile device management capability is being provided in Office 365 and consider how much text is taken directly from Microsoft’s post and how much thought has been put into the topic by the author. Churning out articles by reusing broad swathes of Microsoft text is certainly a fast way to publish, but how much added value is present?

I wrote about the MDM for Office 365 announcement too, but hope that I didn’t fall into the same trap. You can make your own minds up.

I’m sure Microsoft is very happy to see this trend. Their carefully-crafted text is recycled without challenge and the marketing message is passed unaltered, all without any great effort by Microsoft to convince journalists and bloggers of the worth of their announcement.

I find this trend disturbing and regrettable. It’s important that companies like Microsoft should share information that they consider to be important with the industry; it is equally important that journalists should parse, analyze, and assess that information before reporting their view of what the information means. Ideally, the announcement should be put into context for readers so that they understand its importance and how the new information fits into the overall picture. But that just doesn’t happen as often as it should.

Another worrying trend that is now rife in technical web sites is the use of gratuitously inflated headlines that are barely relevant to the content of the accompanying article. These headlines are there to grab attention, which is fine, but it would be nice if they were in some way related to the text. A recent example is the article proclaiming that “Security survey shows Exchange as a sitting duck for attacks” (yes, I know that this is not an Office 365 article, but the piece really grabbed my attention for all the wrong reasons). The headline is startling and conveys a message that Exchange administrators ought to be worried about, but the article never lived up to the headline and petered out in a sad collection of banal observations that really didn’t amount to much. On the other hand, I’m sure that all the companies mentioned in the article were extremely happy to be featured so prominently.

Of course, I do not mean that editorial independence was compromised in any way here, but sponsored content has a habit of being presented as factual reporting. Even when content is sponsored by a company, it can be presented in a lucid and knowledgeable manner, as is the case with Paul Robichaux’s piece on “The Sony Hack: Vital Lessons for Microsoft Admins“.

The question is why standards are slipping. It’s probably not due to just one reason. Instead, I think there are several influences at work. Here are the top three that I have seen:

The need for speed: Microsoft often posts new items at 8 am (Pacific) and a race begins to see which web site is first to report the news. The site that is first is the site that gets most page views and page views are the critical factor in driving advertising revenue. The need to get something posted fast leads writers to cut and paste from Microsoft’s text and create yet another me-too report. They have no time for analysis or critical review of what has been announced, but the report is deemed successful because it appears ahead of competitors. Tweets inform all and sundry that the report is available first and the cycle starts again as writers wait for the next pronouncement from Redmond.

Poor editing oversight: It would be nice if editors reviewed the text of reports to weigh whether the content adds any value to the discussion, but most do not. Instead, editors want to see a certain amount of new content posted daily and they want that content to look good (in other words, it is nicely formatted and is accompanied by some attractive graphics). This, together with a salacious and often misleading headline is enough to keep an editor happy.

In the past, good editors would parse and interrogate copy provided by writers to hone the content into the best possible shape. Leading statements were struck down, bland assertions were eliminated, and the focus was on fact and analysis. The resulting articles were more informative, but they cost a lot more to produce and were slower to appear, something that didn’t matter so much in a world when monthly print publications were the norm in the technology world and the process was supported by lucrative print advertising. We’re clearly not going back to that world – my point is that quality is achievable if sufficient time is devoted to writing and editing.

Lack of technical knowledge and hands-on experience of the technology: Perhaps the biggest challenge facing those who write about Office 365 is their lack of hands-on knowledge of the technology. A good example is the article headlined “10 Steps for Ensuring a Smooth Migration from Exchange Server to Office 365“, which really doesn’t probe past the basics of approaching a migration. The author might have intended this to be the case, in which case they might have included the word “basic” in the title. However, as everything in the article has been recycled and regurgitated elsewhere multiple times, I suspect that a lack of experience is more the case as the article never demonstrated that the author had actually moved any mailboxes to Office 365.

If someone doesn’t understand a technology, it is terribly difficult to assess the importance of any development. You can accept Microsoft’s view of the matter, which is hardly unbiased, or you can seek advice and guidance from those who might know, which means that your report will be slower and the editor unhappy. The problem is compounded by the rapid development cycle used by the service and the speed in which features appear, are adjusted, and then made available in general release. Anyone who has followed the evolution of Office Delve or Office 365 Groups will appreciate the truth in this assessment.

Office 365 is not going to slow down anytime soon. Microsoft is not going to stop pumping out blogs and press releases to trumpet the release of new features. And writers are going to remain under pressure to report fast to help drive page views and increase ad revenue. No one is going to delay a report for an hour to allow for in-depth consideration of an announcement before deciding how best to communicate the news. Unfortunately it’s the kind of world in which we live today.

Apart from favoring sites where some degree of writing and editorial standards have been maintained (and there are a few). I’m not sure what can be done to improve matters. I doubt the problem sites will pay any attention to any protests that are made. After all, they have other things to be getting on with, such as pumping out more sub-standard articles.

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