Not all Outlook functions work from a Windows Service
Calling Outlook from a Windows Service can be problematic. Even though many operations work fine, Microsoft has issued some pointed advice for customers looking to run any Office application in the background in Session 0:
All current versions of Microsoft Office were designed, tested, and configured to run as end-user products on a client workstation. They assume an interactive desktop and user profile. They do not provide the level of reentrancy or security that is necessary to meet the needs of server-side components that are designed to run unattended.
Microsoft does not currently recommend, and does not support, Automation of Microsoft Office applications from any unattended, non-interactive client application or component (including ASP, ASP.NET, DCOM, and NT Services), because Office may exhibit unstable behavior and/or deadlock when Office is run in this environment.
If you are building a solution that runs in a server-side context, you should try to use components that have been made safe for unattended execution. Or, you should try to find alternatives that allow at least part of the code to run client-side. If you use an Office application from a server-side solution, the application will lack many of the necessary capabilities to run successfully.
So instead of calling Outlook, which may be unreliable when run in the context of a service, look to one of these alternative solutions instead:
Solution #1: Have your Windows Service call PowerShell to send basic email
If you don’t want to install any third-party utilities, you can leverage Microsoft’s ubiquitous PowerShell utility to deliver your messages. And to help, we’ve created a simple script that, given eight required parameters, will send an email to any address:
Here is some sample C# code (error handling omitted for clarity):
// Compose the message.
MailMessage mailMessage = new MailMessage();
mailMessage.From = new MailAddress("email@example.com");
mailMessage.Subject = "Server down";
mailMessage.Body = "Server <b>FileServer1</b> is down!";
mailMessage.BodyFormat = MailFormat.Html;
// Construct the SMTP object that will send the message.
smtpClient = new SmtpClient("smtp.gmail.com", 587);
smtpClient.EnableSsl = true;
smtpClient.Credentials = new System.Net.NetworkCredential("firstname.lastname@example.org", "PWD8581JG$");
// Send the message!
Get in touch if you need help sending email from your Windows Service
Hopefully one of these three solutions, which don’t involve Outlook, will work from your service. If not — or if you have questions about the methods outlined above — please don’t hesitate to reach out to our support team. We’re here to help!
How can I tell if someone updated the services on our Windows 2019 server? Do you have any tools for that?
— Sheldon P.
Since Windows Services run with high privileges, it’s very important to keep an eye on them. And because of their inherent power, services are a prized target for bad actors looking to hack your system.
Windows Service Auditor makes it easy to enable that auditing in your local policy. To do so, open the Application menu and ensure that the Enable Local Audit Policy entry is checked:
3. Enable auditing for important Windows Services, to track who starts/stops/changes them
Do you care about the activities of a specific Windows Service? Even though we have enabled advanced auditing in step 2, you must enable auditing for each service that you would like to monitor.
To enable auditing of a service in Windows Service Auditor, highlight the service and check the Selected Service > Enable Auditing menu entry:
With auditing in place for a service, the Windows Event logs will record an event whenever someone attempts to start, stop or modify the service. And to save you from hours of digging through the Event Viewer, Windows Service Auditor will collect those records in the lower Events panel:
4. Capture a baseline snapshot of all services running on your machine
This short video shows how to capture a snapshot of all the services running on your computer:
Start Windows Service Auditor;
Select All Services > Export (XML);
Choose a file name where the services should be saved.
The file will contain an XML record for each service installed on your computer:
5. Compare future snapshots to the baseline, to identify changes
Whenever you want to check if any services have changed, you should:
Create a new snapshot XML file, as described in the previous section;
Using your favorite text comparison tool, compare the new snapshot to the baseline you established in the previous section.
The text comparison tool will highlight all changes that have taken place in between the snapshots.
We recommend using WinMerge — a free, mature text differencing tool for Windows.
For example, we established a baseline snapshot on December 29. On December 31, we wanted to see what changed with services so we took another snapshot. Afterwards, comparing the two snapshots with WinMerge identified 8 differences, including one showing that the TrustedInstaller service was stopped:
A file named “Box-2.18.117.log” records the program’s activities when it starts. We noticed these telltale lines inside:
[36;49m2020-12-27 18:45:23.667 7596 INFO MainThread windows_sync_app_dele Calling start_application: [‘C:\\Program Files\\Box\\Box\\Box.exe’] [36;49m2020-12-27 18:45:23.667 7596 INFO MainThread windows_sync_app_dele Current memory usage: 90279936 bytes [36;49m2020-12-27 18:45:23.667 7596 INFO MainThread windows_sync_app_dele A Box Drive installation is in progress. Box Drive cannot continue to run
So for some bizarre reason, Box Drive thinks that an installation is in progress!
Thinking that it may be causing a conflict, we stopped and disabled the Box Update Service (which is responsible for automatic updates):
However, that didn’t make a difference. The “installation is in progress” error continued to thwart us.
So clearly Box Drive is having trouble running with AlwaysUp. But was the problem caused by AlwaysUp? We decided to investigate with an independent, third-party utility.
The problem isn’t limited to AlwaysUp — PsExec fails too
Microsoft’s free PsExec utility can start any executable in Session 0 — the only session available when your machine boots. PsExec is useful when troubleshooting applications that have trouble running at boot.
We ran this command line to launch Box as a specific user in Session 0:
A few weeks ago, our developers reported the problem to Box Support. The detailed message documented all our key findings, including the log messages/files and the two methods of easily reproducing the failure.
The response from the Box Customer Success team was blunt, though not entirely unexpected:
Even so, it’s a bit short sighted of them to dismiss a problem that is impacting their paying customers!
Box Drive version 2.19 is “coming soon”
Apparently version 2.19 of Box Drive will be available very soon, probably in early 2021. Hopefully it will fix this “phantom installation” problem when running as a Windows Service.
News flash: Most of the applications running on your computer were not started by you. Windows launched them automatically — either at boot or when you logged in.
And while most of those programs exist for a good reason — to help you access the Internet, print a document or play a game — some may be unnecessary. Those freeloaders run all the time, hogging precious resources and slowing down your computer.
Indeed, this is a huge problem on new Windows laptops and desktops. A myriad of “free”, manufacturer-supplied applications constantly trying to up-sell you antivirus, office, or cloud storage that you don’t want or need will cripple your once-speedy device. Welcome to a very frustrating experience!
Luckily there is a free and easy way for you to regain control of your computer. Simply follow these steps:
1. Download and Install Autoruns
Autoruns is a free utility from Sysinternals (a subsidiary of Microsoft). The program has a simple mandate — to reveal every single application Windows started without your explicit action.
Installation is straightforward. Simply extract the contents of the zip file to a new folder. We recommend placing it in C:\Apps\Autoruns.
2. Start Autoruns
Launch the Autoruns executable (autoruns.exe). You will have to accept the obligatory license agreement on the first run:
The main window will come up. You may notice colorful lines streaming into the interface as Autoruns interrogates your system:
You will see a whopping 17 tabs — each one representing a location from where applications are launched!
As its name implies, the Everything tab consolidates all tabs.
3. Look for programs you don’t need
Most of the locations will be obscure and unfamiliar. For example, only the most technical folks need to pay attention to “Boot Execute” (low-level tasks that Windows runs to prepare itself) and “LSA Providers” (libraries supporting encryption).
Three tabs may be most useful:
Logon: Programs Windows started after you sign in to your computer. They are usually running visibly on your desktop, either in full-fledged window or squirreled away behind an icon in the task tray area.
Scheduled tasks: Applications and scripts launched at a specific time (or occasion). These are typically short-running maintenance tasks — there to keep one of your main applications in tip-top shape.
We’re closing out the tumultuous 2020 with version 12.5 of AlwaysUp — our “run anything as a Windows Service” utility used by tens of thousands of savvy computer administrators across the globe.
This release delivers a few major enhancements:
File synchronization fixes for Dropbox 105+ running as a service
Dropbox threw us a curve-ball in September. With the advent of version 105, Dropbox suddenly stopped synchronizing files to the cloud when it was running as a service in Session 0.
This issue affected many of our customers, and as the Dropbox automatic updates started rolling out, the emails and complaints started coming in!
After a few days of frantic experimentation, our developers arrived at an effective and simple solution. Apparently setting the QT_OPENGL system variable to software restores all functionality. Dropbox copies files again.
We decided to incorporate the fix into AlwaysUp, to save new Dropbox customers from having to manually set QT_OPENGL. AlwaysUp Version 12.5 and later will automatically set the QT_OPENGL environment variable so that you don’t have to.
One word of caution: If it turns out that setting the QT_OPENGL variable causes problems in a future version of Dropbox, you can neutralize the fix through another environment variable. Set the ALWAYSUP_NO_DROPBOX_OPENGL_FIX system variable to any value and AlwaysUp will not alter the QT_OPENGL value.
Emails include recent service/application activity
Customers who have configured email alerts will notice that messages now contain the service’s last five events from the Windows Event Logs. The idea is to provide helpful context when something unusual happens, to avoid you having to log on and interrogate the event logs yourself.
Here is an email showing the new Recent Activity section:
Specify when Windows launches “Automatic (Delayed Start)” services
By default, services with startup type set to Automatic (Delayed Start) start 120 seconds after the last automatic service is launched.
That two minute gap is fine for most, but what if your server is blazing fast? In that case, one minute may be better.
Or worse, suppose your legacy server is painfully slow to boot? A five minute delay may be more appropriate there.
Looking at the release notes, 20H2 doesn’t include significant changes to the Windows Services infrastructure. The update focused mostly on end-user improvements for the Edge browser, task tray notifications and the like.
Nevertheless, our team tested AlwaysUp 12.5 extensively on the new version of Windows 10. We’re pleased to report that no problems were detected and AlwaysUp remains fully compatible with all versions of Windows 10.
As usual, please review the release notes for the full list of features, fixes and improvements included in AlwaysUp 12.5.
Upgrading to AlwaysUp 12.5
If you purchased AlwaysUp version 11 (after June 2018), you can upgrade to version 12.5 for free. Simply download and install “over the top” to preserve your existing applications and all settings. Your registration code will continue to work as well.