Been a while

It has been years since I last wrote, way back in 2012 to be exact, when I was writing for a former employer. When I left, I got caught up in my new work, and writing was no longer a priority for me, or I should say my work had me so busy that I just did not have any energy to write. A lot has happened since then – we moved across the country to Flagstaff, Arizona, our kids are both in college, and my job has taken me back into the technical side of my work. As I am catching up on the latest technologies, I am the beneficiary of many people’s blogs and forum posts, and this is inspiring me to start writing again and share this knowledge.

To get this started, I re-published the most interesting articles that I’ve written for my former employer. These were all added December 22, 2015, and the original publish date are at the bottom of the article.

I am in the middle of re-working this website, so there will be some changes. The plan is to start with a focus mainly on Microsoft Dynamics NAV, and I will expand into anything that I think is worth sharing. I’ll share articles that speak to me, like for instance this one by Bill Gates about his favorite books in 2015. I’ll share my thoughts about books, which can be newly discovered classics like Stephen Covey’s book about highly effective people, or more recent ones like Andrew Davis’s book ‘Brandscaping’. I saw Andrew at a business event last year, and he is a great speaker too.

Then there is the ever expanding list of things to figure out, such as how to make Windows shortcut keys work in VMWare Fusion on a MacBook, how to stop underscores to auto-format to italics (drove me absolutely crazy!), or where to find the Powershell ISE in Windows 8. Some of these things are surprisingly hard to figure out (for me at least), so hopefully sharing them will help some folks.

The goal is to make this website a body of knowledge of all the things that I pick up along the way. Hopefully it will be of some benefit for you, the reader, and if not then at least I can search this one site for stuff that I’ve collected. Enjoy the read and let me know what you think. Have a great day!

Adding a Service Tier for NAV 2013

With the new Server Administration Tool for NAV 2013, adding a Service Tier is ridiculously easy.

In the good old Navision days, setting up multiple databases was a piece of cake. Every developer, tech support person, consultant, CFO, or resident ‘computer guy’ with just a little bit of technical skills wouldn’t break a sweat to create a new database for testing purposes, for training, or development. When NAV 2009 came out, things became a heck of a lot more difficult as the new RTC setup required you to also set up a Service Tier. Although there is a large number of blogs, forum posts and other online content available to help and guide you through this process, it remained painfully difficult and complex. In a 75 step process you better not skip crucial step number 32, which you didn’t realize until after irreversible step 58, and you had to uninstall everything, wipe clean the server, and start all the way from scratch. I don’t think it will be a surprise to hear that only the truly geeky NAV professionals enjoyed installing the service tier, and the complaints were always very loud when I listened to people at events like Convergence.

Lucky for us, the NAV team at Microsoft cares a great deal about the users, and it was very important for them to provide a set of tools that is easy to use, not just for technical people but also for admin type people. At the heart of it all is a set of PowerShell commands. These commands can be used separately in a PowerShell Session, and they can be scripted for unattended installation and scheduled maintenance purposes. For people that do not like to write “code-like” commands, there is also a new Windows Management Console snap-in for managing Server Instances. To start the Management Console, click on Start, Run, enter “MMC” and click OK. The NAV Server Management Tool can be added there.

The online help has a lot of information about the Server Administration Tool, which can be found by clicking this link.

When I needed to set up a worldwide NAV 2013 database, I decided to add this under a new Service Tier instance in my existing VM (in which I had a US database already installed), and record my progress to share with you. This video was not scripted ahead of time, I just recorded myself as I went along. It did go wrong along the way, and I had to do some troubleshooting to make it work right. See if you can find the mistake that I did not catch until after I was done editing wink. I hope that you will enjoy this video, and maybe even gather enough courage to try setting up multiple instances of the Service Tier.

First published June 4, 2012

Installing NAV 2013 Beta

Finally, NDA has been lifted, and I can FINALLY start sharing what I know about the new version of the product that we all know and love. Well most of us actually DON’T know it, which is why I love sharing this with you :). I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend some TAP events in Copenhagen, and get access to early CTP versions of the new version of Dynamics NAV. As I was attending these events, I was getting VERY excited about the new technologies. The reason is that the NAV team has worked incredibly hard to address all of the painpoints that we feel in the current version of the product.

Not only that, they have also completed development for the new Sharepoint client, which provides almost all of the standard functionality to Sharepoint. Not only that, they have also completed development for the new Web Client, in which almost all standard NAV functionality is now available through a regular web browser. Not only that, NAV is the first Microsoft ERP system that can be deployed in the cloud on Windows Azure and SQL Azure. Not only that, we now also have a way to expose regular SOAP webservices as well as OData webservices. Not only that, we now have a host of new technological capabilities, such as a solid RTC debugger that we can actually modify ourselves, such as a new Query object that will allow us to define SQL queries as an NAV object type. Not to mention the new testability feature, which gives us the ability to completely automate testing. Not to mention a completely redeveloped data stack. I could go on, but hopefully you are getting my point :). It’s been a long time coming, but personally I think it is absolutely worth the wait. I am absolutely convinced that NAV 2013 has taken a HUGE step forward in maturity for our product, and I think it will provide a LOT of benefits for existing customers as well as new customers.

My plan is to create many YouTube clips to show you as many features as I can, and the first one is where I recorded the installion of the NAV 2013 Beta version into a Virtual Machine. In this video I talk about some of the prerequisites, the various components of a regular RTC installation, and I show you some of the features. It covers the RTC, the development environment, and I quickly go into the server management console. Enjoy and please leave your feedback in a comment.

First published May 17, 2012

Step by Step – Debugging the NAV 2009 RTC

Not too long ago, one of my customers had an issue with the RTC that we needed to debug. Instead of using the Visual Studio debugger, this customer was used to reproducing the problem in the Classic client, and debug the process there. The perception was that running the Visual Studio debugger was very difficult, and they would not be able to read the C# code. I showed them how easy it is to enable the debugger, and how the C/AL code is always part of the C# code in the form of comments. As I was talking to folks at NAVUG Forum and Convergence, I was very surprised to hear that even seasoned NAV professionals are still not using the Visual Studio tools.

The information about how to use the debugger is available here in MSDN online, and it has been discussed many times in the online forums. Since I’m a visual learner, I decided to make a YouTube clip that shows you how to enable the Service Tier for debugging, and how to attach the Visual Studio debugger to the server process.

First published April 27, 2012

New and Improved Page Design in NAV 2013

In NAV 2013, Microsoft has introduced some very nice new features to make designing Page objects for the RTC much easier than we were used to in NAV 2009.

Remember the good old days, when we had a wysiwyg designer for the Form objects, and we could put anything we want, anywhere on the form? This made for some really ‘creative’ (ahem) solutions, but essentially we were used to having complete control over the look and feel of the forms. When the RTC was introduced, we got the first step into a completely independent display target. Instead of defining x and y positions, display elements are now defined by metadata, and the display target should then be smart enough to interpret the metadata when the object is rendered. The intention was to ultimately have a situation in which it doesn’t matter where the page is displayed. The page object itself can be identical, and the display target then decides how to display certain elements based on the capabilities of the display target. For instance, the RTC displays exactly the same page as the Web Client or the Sharepoint Client, they just display the same page differently.

Unfortunately, when all you see is metadata, developing Pages becomes a very abstract exercise. Since there is no direct connection between the development tool and the rendered object, what we had to do was save the object, and hope for the best from there. We had to actually run the page to see what it would look like, and finding individual elements was a very painful thing to do. Lucky for us, the NAV team in Denmark cares a great deal (a GREAT deal) about what we think of the product, and they are VERY proud of the tools. When they were receiving many complaints about the Page Designer, they decided to enhance the development experience in NAV 2013 and address some of the most-frequently-complained-about issues. In my opinion the result is a HUGE improvement over NAV 2009.

What I want to do is focus on two new capabilities in the Page Designer. The first one is the ability to preview the Page right from the Page Designer, without saving the object first. My favorite feature of this capability is that there is a link between the ‘metadata designer’ and the ‘page previewer’. When you click on an element in the ‘metadata designer’, it is highlighted in the preview, and vice versa. You can see a rendered version of the metadata before saving it, and have a visual clue of what you are doing. The second (there is an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ here) is the ability to add columns to the Page object, through a Grid Layout and/or a Fixed Layout. These two new types of group elements make it possible to display multiple columns on the Page.

The NAV 2013 online help has a lot of good information about Page design, with walkthroughs and other tutorials. I’ve created a YouTube video in which I take you through the various screen elements of the NAV 2013 RTC, and then into the Page Designer to show you these new capabilities. I hope you’ll enjoy the video, and hopefully you’ll feel a bit more confident in using the Page Designer.

First published May 31, 2012

Debugging NAV 2013 is Easy

We’ve never had a debugger quite this powerful and versatile. Debugging NAV 2013 is Easy!

By nature I am a pessimist. In any situation I tend to look for problems and point them out to everyone. Since my goal of pointing out the problems is always to SOLVE them, and leave the situation in a better state than I found it, I personally consider my natural pessimism a very positive attribute. One of the things that feeds this pessimism is previous, similar situations. One example of such a situation is the release of a new version of NAV. When this happens, the NAV developers are always hoping that the tools have improved, and for well over a decade, one especially sore point has been the debugger.

When I first started as a Navision developer, version 2.5 had just come out, and most of the customers I worked on were still on earlier versions. The debugger in those days was TERRIBLE. Even then, coming out of a job as a VBA developer, I knew that there were much better alternatives, and I was always surprised just how bad the debugging experience in Navision was. Granted, there have been significant improvements since the 2.5 days, but the worst day in NAV development history surely must have been when NAV 2009 came out, and the only way to “debug” the RTC was the workaround with the Visual Studio debugger (see this video on how to make that work). Given all of these previous experiences, let’s just say that I was realistically pessimistic for the NAV 2013 debugger, and my expectation was actually a continuation of this downward trend ;).

As I’ve said many times before, the NAV team actually cares a great deal about the development experience, and for years they had been wanting to address the development tools. They were well aware of the problems, but the priority to do anything about it was always too low to make it into a new release. With the discontinuation of all the Classic components, however, this changed and there finally was ample priority for a new debugger. The results of years of very hard work are very impressive, and in my opinion the NAV team has delivered something that is well beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations. The new debugger is a great tool, one that gives the NAV developer a lot of flexibility. Not only can we break into any type of session on any Service Tier (given the proper setup), we can even change the appearance of the debugger, and customize it to our own personal preferences.

This is another one of those things that I’ve been very anxious to share, and I am very happy that I finally had some time to put together a YouTube video and write this blog entry. Please enjoy the debugger, and I hope you are as happy with it as I am.

First published August 14, 2012

NAS on the NAV 2013 Service Tier

If you have made heavy investments in automated solutions that run in NAS you can breathe easy, because chances are that it still works in NAV 2013!!

When Microsoft first came out with the news that the Classic Client was history, and that a number of object types were going to be discontinued, there was a LOT of speculation in the NAV world. Most of this speculation was based on unverified rumors, baseless “common sense” applied to unverified assumptions. One of these assumptions was “the Classic Client will be gone, so therefore NAS will be gone too”. Technically, these people were right of course. With a few minor restrictions (no forms, no dataports, no user input, no dialog boxes), NAS was nothing but a Classic Client without a user interface that runs as a Windows Service. Because the Classic Client no longer exists, NAS as we knew it is indeed gone.

What many of these people don’t realize is that the NAV team actually cares a great deal about making the life of the NAV partner channel easier. Everyone that knows about NAS knows how many products are built around it, even standard NAV functionality is implemented through the use of NAS (Job Queue, ADCS, to name a couple). It was in everyone’s interest to have a good alternative for NAS, and I believe the result is a very solid way to provide the ability to automate just about any user task in NAV. Coupled with the ability to create NAV sessions programatically, I believe that there are even more possibilities.

One aspect of your existing NAS implementation may cause some difficulties, and that is the fact that COM is no longer supported in NAV 2013. For instance, the “CP Timer” no longer works, the “Bus Adapters” no longer exist, and many other automation components will no longer work. For every use of COM you will need to find an alternative, whether this is .NET interoperability or whether you will need to find an alternative component. If you have existing NAS solutions, and you are thinking about upgrading to NAV 2013, please get in touch with your partner and start investigating what needs to happen (if anything) to keep your NAS solution running.

For a long time I’ve known about NAS on the Service Tier, and I’ve been looking forward to the time that I would finally be able to share this information. So sit back and relax, grab a cup of coffee and start the video. I’ll explain how to set up an instance of the Service Tier for NAS Services, and I’ll show you a number of ways that you can implement NAS on the Service Tier.

First published August 8, 2012

NAV on SQL – Essential Maintenance

Lack of proper maintenance on SQL Server can lead to severe performance problems. When I am called in to troubleshoot a client’s performance issues, one of the first things that I look at is whether there are any maintenance tasks on their SQL Server for the NAV database. Many times I find that there is no maintenance at all. Putting the right maintenance in place is the easiest thing you can do to help fight performance issues. In this YouTube clip I cover the essential maintenance that should be present for every single NAV database on SQL Server.

Sorry for the bad audio, I didn’t realize that it was set to my computer’s mic instead of my headset.

First published April 18, 2012

NAV 2013 Beta – OData Introduction

With NAV 2013, Microsoft has added the capability to expose data from your NAV system as OData Web Services. Where that differs from regular Web Services (which in the NAV Server management snap-in is now identified as ‘SOAP Services’), is that OData only exposes data feeds, and within the context of Dynamics NAV is read-only. Click here to read all about OData, and here for an overview of OData in NAV 2013.

I’ve put together a new YouTube clip to show you where to find the OData Web Services in the NAV Server Management tool and the Web Wervices table from the RTC, as well as a couple of examples of how to consume them. As you will find out fairly quickly in this video, I have a LOT to learn about OData. I wanted to share what I do know though, and give you an idea of where to start looking.

This provides a new way to expose data from NAV, in an industry standard way, although I am sure that true OData experts will find missing pieces. It is another possibility for us to expand the reach of the ERP application that we know and love. I hope you enjoy the video, and that you will be inspired to start learning about it, and maybe even get some ideas about how to use them for your business.

First published May 23, 2012