Technical Preview 1807– Work-surfaces and Documentation

One of the things I’ve noticed over a couple of decades as a contractor who eventually turned into a roaming consultant, is that my customers, their engineers, ranging from complete novices to experts, a troubling percentage have no idea the documentation library exists, or they know it exists, but it is out of sight and thus out of mind (most fall into this grouping), for a few it’d be easier to visit Mars than that Library. Most have seen it in their wanderings from links taking them their, or in the first few weeks of their exposure to ConfigMgr, but it vanishes off their radar.

I’ve heard quite a selection of replies when asking about the Documentation and their level of interest or awareness, from “I’ve no need for that” to “That’s for novices”, peppered with the correct replies such as “That is frigging amazing thanks”, “OMG this is Amazeballs” or “How did I live without this”. It’s for everyone of all levels, including legends, definitely including legends.

I had the notion that somehow we should be driving engineers towards the documentation from within the Console. In sight in mind, bridging the gap between the two. I thought that perhaps I could build out a tweak to the Console so as to add a new page in there and point it at a URL but didn’t get around too it.

Rolling forward, I visited visited a few ConfigMgr Hackathons over in Seattle hosted by the most awesome DJam (David James, Director of Engineering, ConfigMgr, Microsoft), I remember on the first visit documentation + console came up, so I pushed for it hard, and voted for the resulting mock-up which didn’t get enough votes by the Friday sadly, several other MVP’s voted for the idea but not enough of us to carry it forwards, the second time the PG had another go at the idea, and this time it got through the voting rounds and became a feature in Technical Preview 1807 (superb bling\feature-loaded build) that not only includes the Documentation but UserVoice, and something pretty innovative, the Community Hub.

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* Where’s the Documentation? It’s in the Console.

Subtle changes like this tie up loose ends nicely for me, my ever-annoying journey of introducing the documentation to engineers who are relatively new to ConfigMgr or should already know of it is, hopefully, over.

Documentation is now “in sight and in mind”, which is what the default position should be, not to let engineers wander off and find the documentation on their own. And for the rest of us, we can quickly dip into the documentation without much time wasted, although a browser is probably going to be a better setting for the use of multiple tabs for when we need to go off-road (vote for multiple tabs on UserVoice here).

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* UserVoice is accessible from within Console, nice move!

Adding UserVoice to the Console. Yet another subtle aspect of the Community feature that will have a big impact on the shaping of the product and its features going forwards. It should increase the traffic to that site at the least, and keep the notion of suggesting ideas or voting on them in the ‘fore’, which is important. If you take a look through UserVoice and use some of the filters, you’ll see that a lot of suggestions are now in the product, I haven’t much experience with other enterprise management products and their communities, but I hear that this is pretty unique to ConfigMgr. You can literally begin a conversation with the Product Group, which leads to a feature appearing, just by suggesting something on the web, you only need to register on UserVoice and you’re voice will get heard, and judged fairly, often leading to change. This use to be the near-exclusive domain of MVP’s, TAP participants and MS engineers teams (PFE). Nowadays it includes you.

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* The new Hub feature, home to community created content, Scripts, Reports, Configuration Items and ‘more’, currently a construction site, nothing showing today.

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* At the time of writing this post there was no response coming back from configmgronline.visualstudio.com

Configuration Manager console, Community workspace, Hub node

* Image taken from the Documentation Library

Configuration Manager console, Community workspace, Hub node, details page

* Image taken from the Documentation Library

The Hub is currently closed for submissions, but when the gates open it will get a lot of attention, with people including myself trying to host their content in there, and most likely it’ll contain links back into whatever tooling the PG releases for ConfigMgr, this is a really big step forwards, an in-console store. There’s an interesting story evolving around repositories for content, that story won’t finish with community contributions.

I wrote a pretty decent tool which I have neglected for a year plus, System Center Store, to do just this, present a store to engineers. I went forwards on a journey of much harvesting, and put everything I could find at the time into an easy-to-use store front including all my own content, and hosted it on TechNet Gallery. There were alternatives even then, with Chocolatey being one of them, but I made one specifically for System Center, which then devolved into just ConfigMgr. It got quite a few downloads and still does to this day, which is a hint to bring the manifest up to date. It is rewarding to see my ideas eventually appearing in the product, however, even though I dreamt up System Center Store and was proud to see others in the community produce similar tooling, I wasn’t the proponent behind the implementation of a store in ConfigMgr. Some other MVP’s were chasing that one down at the last summit. Pretty rad feature, it gets 4 out of 5 stars right off the bat, with the 5 just waiting for when it hits Current Branch and community contributions are allowed. Joking aside I’m keen to see where this goes, and happy we even have something like this in the product now.

And there is more.

When it comes to modifying the Console to include a new web page node that is designed to be pointed at the Documentation and UserVoice, aside from the Store component bolted on, there is another feature that I voted on at the last ConfigMgr Hackathon in Seattle, that extends the ‘surface’ of ConfigMgr in a similar way to the Community Hub but client-side, and that was to modify Software Center to include the ability to add custom tabs, or I should say a custom tab, as right off the bat we only get to play with one. Be ideal if we can have multiple, have to wait to see how this feature develops.

I love the flexibility this gives, the intranet and even internet can be slotted into Software Center to enhance the user experience. It came up for vote, and I gave a standing ovation at the end of the presentation given by the product group engineers, who had coded the idea by the Friday, consisting of myself and then eventually a horde of MVP’s. I really like these kinds of changes, very enabling for the admin and the user.

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* Before the Custom Tab is configured in Client Settings > Software Center

* Configuring the custom Tab in Client Settings

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* Client Policy updated (via the Notification Channel) and Software Center restarted, after the custom tab is configured in Client Settings > Software Center

As you can see I’ve put my blog into Software Center using a HTTPS link, a more serious use will be the intranet IT Support webpage, or practically anything you want. A very nice extension to the Software Center surface. Enabling.

You can check all these features out in Technical Preview, which can be downloaded here (docs).