BLOB Cache, HTTP 304 Results and F5/Refresh

A few months ago we launched a new website on SharePoint 2010. One of my main foci on the project was performance and caching is one of the most effective ways to achieve that for a WCM solution. We enabled Output, Object and BLOB caching,  configured exclusions as necessary and were quite pleased with the results, especially since issues with BLOB Caching in 2007 have been resolved in 2010.

A few weeks later I was demonstrating these approaches when it was pointed out that we were getting lots of 304 responses. They occurred with each request for a previously-downloaded BLOB Cached asset (more detail added below). Basically, I overlooked the max-age attribute in the BLOB Cache web.config settings. By default, this attribute isn’t present in the web.config file and I simply missed it. Adding this attribute eliminated the 304 results and the caching configuration was complete. Or so we thought.

Edit to provide more detail on the 304 status and Max-Age
A 304 response is a File Not Modified status (not an error), in this case indicating that the browser is making (potentially) surplus checks for each previously-downloaded BLOB Cached file. The max-age attribute gives the file a lifetime in the client’s browser cache in order to reduce these update checks. To be clear, the BLOB Cache stores large objects on web servers to reduce database traffic, but those objects can be served with a max-age attribute that will determine the object’s lifetime in the client’s browser cache. A max-age value of “14400” means that browsers will cache the file for four hours before checking for an update. This means that updates to BLOB Cached content may become stale if this value is set too high. A common value would be “86400” (24 hours) but we were satisfied with the balance at four hours. In our case, making this update has not yielded a perceptible increase in performance with the current levels of traffic, but it’s the sort of thing you want to set appropriately in order to optimise things and to allow the environment to scale.

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SharePoint 2010 SEO Analysis with the IIS SEO Toolkit

The IIS.NET Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Toolkit provides a powerful analysis tool that can generate reports for web editors and can automatically generate sitemaps and robots.txt files as well. These reports not only provide insight in to page rank improvements but also help content editors identify missing/duplicate content and find broken links. This post provides an overview of how the tools can be used by content editors or web managers who do not have access to the server infrastructure and what you can expect to see when running an SEO Analysis against an out of the box SharePoint 2010 Publishing site. I will also review the server tools that generate sitemaps and robots.txt files.

Installing the SEO Toolkit

Although Remote Server Administration Tools can be installed on Windows Vista and Windows 7, I have produced the directions below on my Windows Server 2008 R2 desktop. The instructions should be fundamentally the same for any OS once IIS Manager is available locally, however it is installed. To be crystal clear, the SEO Toolkit can be used by anyone with Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2008 R2. It is not a requirement to have access to the web server and it is not necessary to install IIS locally.

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How Azure improved Groove -> Microsoft Sync Framework

This Microsoft case study reveals how Microsoft’s SharePoint WorkSpace revamps Groove for 2010 using the Microsoft Sync Framework, an Azure technology that can also be used for systems integration – not just off-line synchronisation. This should yield a more reliable synchronisation experience, improve scalability and customisation. It’s worth a quick read. Oh, and did you know SharePoint WorkSpace is also a part of Office 2010 Mobile?

Building a SharePoint 2007/2010 development environment – Part VI: Issues and Results

In the first five parts of this series I covered the project objectives and the system design, then turned my attention to the Hyper-V host image build, automated deployment and the guest virtual machine build. In this post I review some of the questions and issues we’ve encountered after a few months of working this way and some overall reflections on the approach. Continue reading “Building a SharePoint 2007/2010 development environment — Part VI: Issues and Results”

Can a hardened server play a SharePoint 2010 Silverlight Media Web Part?

The answer, obviously enough, is that it can if it has Silverlight installed. Read on if you’re interested in how the web part will behave in its absence.

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Office 2010 image background removal

The Office Engineering blog recently published an excellent overview of Office 2010 image background removal. These image tools in Office 2010 are some of the most useful new features.
“Background Removal is a new feature in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook that makes this process quick and easy for any picture. Unlike similar tools, the Office Background Removal tool doesn’t just select color ranges or trim to a border you draw. Background Removal uses new capabilities and algorithms from the Microsoft Research and Development team in Cambridge, UK to achieve better results automatically with very little effort or fine tuning from the user.”

The search for a good Acrobat Reader alternative

Back in April, Slashdot pointed me to a C-Net article in which F-Secure’s chief research officer recommended moving away from Adobe Acrobat Reader. Personally, I needed little incentive. I’ve disliked Acrobat Reader fairly intensely for some time and I’d already moved to FoxIt Reader.  Acrobat Reader is massive, it constantly prompts for updates and evidently it doesn’t prompt for update enough, given the number of holes that have recently been revelaed.

I thought FoxIt was a good alternative for the first year or so that I was using it, but (like an adolescent) as it matured some things about it started to annoy me and I thought it was worth trying out some of the alternatives on the market. Of the Windows options from the F-Secure recommendation, I didn’t get very far with Okular or Yap but I spent a good deal of time with Sumatra at work and MuPDF with the plugin for Firefox at home. I wasn’t unhappy with either of these options, as my PDF reader requirements are very basic. I love that Sumatra can be run without installing anything and is small enough to carry around on a memory stick. No more PDF readers on servers… However, after inflicting Sumatra on some unwitting recipients, I decided to find a heftier alternative, as they need more than up, down and zoom.

Enter: DocuTrack’s PDF-XChange Viewer. It’s got loads of features, is reasonably lightweight and does the job in every way that I’ve put it to the test. The only thing that irritates me is the size and number of toolbars running by default, but they’re easy enough to turn off. Admittedly my needs are few, but I’ve not had any other complaints about it since pushing it to about 20 other people. If you fancy taking the plunge and take me up on any of these suggestions, I’d love to hear feedback, as I’m discovering that it’s nearly as divisive as the media player question. I <3 Foobar, for the record.

K2, Thematic and a hex colour picking tool

I generally don’t do anything front-end if I can help it, but I’ll get my hands dirty when I need to. I recently played with a number of different K2 stylesheets and the newer Thematic framework while redesigning this site. I could only find one child theme that I really liked for Thematic, which was Second to None, but I wanted a dark version, so I set to work trying to interpret his stylesheet and inverted all of the background and text colours (as a starting point). This probably sounds easier than it is with the complexity of stylesheets today. At any rate, I eventually gave up when I realised that all of the icons looked funny in this inverted scheme, but I thought I’d share the Hex Colour picking tool that I found when bumbling through this, as I would have been lost with out it.