Author: Adam Fowler

Synology C2 Suite Review

Synology asked me to have a fresh look at parts their C2 suite – I’d previously dived into their C2 Backup for Business solution almost a year ago, and I’m keen to find out how they’ve progressed.

The solutions I was given to try were:

C2 Identity
C2 Password
C2 Backup

Encryption or Passkey Prerequisite

The C2 suite needs an Encryption Key which encrypts all C2 services, or the newly released Passkey option.

For the Encryption Key, there is also a Recovery Code as a backup if the Encryption key is lost – but without either, you can’t access any C2 service and your access is lost. The only option is to reset your C2 Encryption key which is destructive – all data in the service is lost because there’s now no way to decrypt the data Synology is hosting for you on the C2 services. I know this because I almost had to reset it (which would be fine, I was only using my own test data), but managed to remember what I’d entered as the key originally. It’s also worth noting that you can generate a 1 page PDF of your recovery code details – this would be worth printing out and putting in a safe in case of emergency.

Passkeys can be used instead of an Encryption Key, where biometrics/PINs are used, rather than a password. This is the more modern way things are going, so it’s worth setting this up.

C2 Identity

This is where Synology sees the C2 Identity cloud service sitting. Here’s where I can see it providing the best value:

“Sync users and groups from Windows AD or migrate seamlessly from Synology LDAP Server without the need to reset users’ accounts or passwords.” If you have an on-premises Synology device providing LDAP services, then seamlessly migrating it to C2 Identity would be a smooth approach to turning into a SaaS solution. Moreso, a company that has identity solutions all over the place could benefit from having this modular approach. If you were heavily invested and aligned with a single cloud provider, it may be best to use their pure native solutions end to end – but a mix of cloud auth providers, or a company who’s Microft Entra ID based who’s bought out another company that’s Google Cloud Identity based, could use this to bring in a standard and centralised authentication service.

Note that this service does not sync users/identities with cloud services such as Microsoft 365, but you can use that as a source for a one time import:

For my purposes (and because I don’t have a userbase!), I created a user manually – myself.

Managed Devices

C2 Identity isn’t just about usernames and passwords either, you can manage devices using an agent (both Windows and macOS supported)

The connect key has been regenerated since this screenshot :)

The install of the agent for me was very quick and easy, and just runs inthe background. Once registered, the device will show in the C2 Identity portal with some basic information:

Command

What’s better though, is the Command options you can apply to your managed devices. These are commands you can trigger – either any command you want to do yourself, or pick one of the inbuilt ones which will continue to grow. Easily triggering an Auto-update of Windows across your entire fleet, or easily selecting a device to remote desktop to (and ping at the same time – I remember doing this as my first manual step any time I used to RDP to a desktop at work!).

These commands can either be run on demand (manually) or on time schedules/events (event options are at startup or at login):

Although reasonably simple, I can see this being very useful for a small business or a business with light requirements. Giving your 1-3 IT staff a tool like this makes both identity management and computer management easier than using native tooling alone (as well as the cross-platform support of both Windows and macOS).

Application

Another useful option is being able to add external identity providers (a.k.a. Applications). This allows you to use the single identity from C2 Identity across multiple solutions such as Google Workspace, Microsoft 365, Dropbox, and anything that support SAML (which these days is most things!).

The Edge Server option lets you “Set up an edge server that retrieves directory information from your C2 Identity. This server will authenticate C2 Identity users’ access to on-prem resources.”. This can run off either a local Synology NAS, or anything running Docker.

Other options include the Log of actions in C2 Identity, as well as Settings which has many customisations for an administrator of the service – as well as being able to brand your instance of C2 with your company’s logo, or look at setting up Passwordless Sign-in (beta at time of writing).

C2 Password

C2 Password is a password management system, and is actually free for personal use! If you want to give it a try, here’s the link. Also, here’s Synology’s C2 Password Security White Paper for those interested in some of the security specifics of this solution.

C2 Password has many supported platform extensions – iOS, Android, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox and Safari. This should cover most normal business purposes, and is a nice cheap way of providing a managed password solution for both individuals, and a shared vault which can be handy for saving centralised/shared passwords (yes this is never great but you can’t control the password solutions of all your vendors)

The solution offers standard password generation options, as well as a ‘Login Security Overview’ which shows compromised passwords, weak passwords, reused passwords and Inactive 2FA (accounts without 2FA configured). This is visible to each user over their own vault, so is a nice easy way of putting concerns ‘in their face’ and to encourage better account management hygiene practises.

C2 Backup

C2 Backup for Business is a backup solution for both on-premises and cloud workloads. There is also an C2 Backup for Enterprise tier which has unlimited users, teams, and devices with 25TB available storage, and more available to add on. C2 Backup for Business however starts with:

5TB of available storage
250 maximum users
50 maximum teams
Unlimited devices

On-premises devices

This can either be personal computers or physical servers. Again, a backup client is required to be installed onto the device. The default policy is to back up the entire device (including anything plugged in externally such as a USB drive), which may be good for a very small business. However, there’s also the option to target just the system volume, or whichever volume you specify. This can be scheduled on a time basis such as daily, or event driven.

To manage your available space, you can use version control options too – maybe you just want the last 14 days of versions, or only the last 5 backups. You can also do tiered versioning (last day, week, month year) which may be a better option for on-premises servers.

If you have concerns about available bandwidth to a site, you can also define maximum upload speeds.

There is extensive documentation and guides on everything in the Synology C2 solutions, including how to restore a backup. If you want to do a bare metal restore, you can create recovery media on USB, or just recover certain files and folders to another computer which is just navigating through the version of the backup you want, picking the files/folders, and downloading. Easy!

Using the default policy on a home computer may capture a bit too much information!

Cloud Data

You can also backup Microsoft 365 data with the same subscription above – data stored on OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Microsoft Teams. Once connecting to your Microsoft 365 tenant, the setup wizard will ask what you want to back up: which users, which sites (i.e. SharePoint Online), and which Teams. Although as part of setup you pick which items you want to back up, you also have the option of ‘auto-protection’ which will add anything newly created to the backup schedule, so you don’t have to go back each time and add them manually.

Your policy will also let you choose what data is backed up – Email, OneDrive, and Chat data. Again we have retention rules for versioning too.

For a small business, one of the nice aspects of this is a cloud to cloud backup (from Microsoft 365 > Synology C2). The bandwidth used between these two will have no effect on end users, especially important for sites with low bandwidth available.

To restore any of this data, there is a special ‘Recovery Portal‘ you can navigate to and restore the data locally.

Finally, in the Management section for C2 Backup you can look at a few options around notifications for events such as a backup failing, or when used storage is getting low. You can also see the state of each user and their used space for backups.

Summary

The Synology C2 Identity and Backup solutions are a good and relatively cheap priced (compare the prices for Backup and Identity) that are perfect for business that want to keep things simple. This can either be a business that has a mix of on-premises and cloud, or even purely Microsoft 365 cloud that needs a cheap backup somewhere just in case. I found the tools both portals and end user quite simple and easy to understand, laid out quite well. I will call out that being a simple solution, means it may not have the features or complexity requirements that some business may have – but the price of this solution reflects that. This can be a cheap way of ticking certain compliance options around data storage/backups and identity management too. The C2 web interface was incredibly snappy to use with every page and menu loading quickly – not something that can be said about many other solutions.

These solutions also have 30 day trials (Backup, Identity) that you can play around with, to see if they’ll suit your requirements.

I Bought A (refubished) Enterprise Printer For Under $100AU

As part of the Black Friday sales, I saw a company advertise refurbished/secondhand printers (Thanks OzBargain). Always looking for a deal, I browsed through what they had on offer and after finding this, I knew I had to try it. I tweeted (or X’d or whatever Elon’s living fever dream comes up with next) that it would either be amazing, or e-waste. Read on to find out the result!

Konica Minolta Bizhub C3350i 33ppm A4 Colour Multifunction Laser Printer (Second Hand – Used) – $66AU + delivery = $90.75AU

From what I can tell, this printer likely first came out in 2019, at around $7kAU and is still available for sale today. After purchasing and wondering how much I’d regret the purchase – and a few weeks, a giant HP box turned up on my doorstep with images indicating I’d need 3 people to open the contents.

Using the strength of 3 people, I moved the box inside and remembered I hadn’t actually ordered a HP printer (despite the box containing manuals and CD drivers for a certain HP printer), but instead a bunch of broken up foam and the Konica Minolta bizhub 3305i. After removing from the box, I found the power cable with it didn’t fit (It was a L shaped IEC plug from a HP printer that had no physical possibility of being able to be pushed into the plug hole), so I used one of my own and the device powered up:

Getting power and a working display screen was a good start. I also thought the display itself might be burnt out or the touch flaky. The printer appeared to be in good condition, with only 1 annoying problem – the display tips forward 90o as designed, but won’t stay in place. Any pressure applied to the touch screen (for example, pressing a touch screen button!) the screen will move backwards into it’s flat upright position again. I don’t know if there’s a way to tighten this mechanism, but if that’s the biggest problem I have I can live with it.

The display gave me an easy way to test some functionality without any config – Copy. I fed some paper into the tray and started having flashbacks to my days of providing support to printers. It was at this moment I wondered why I’d decided to buy an enterprise printer knowing how many years of pain these devices had caused me and so many others in the IT industry.

Shaking off the regret, the copy function happened within a second or so, and the paper that spat out had a few marks:

Not terrible but not great, a fair few spots and a weird squiggly line. I cleaned the glass plate inside the printer and tried again, with slightly better results but still that weird squiggle. It was at this point I realised someone had drawn the squiggle on the white plastic part that goes down onto what should be a piece of paper on the flatbed scanner. I put a blank white piece of paper in there and scanned again – results pretty good for only a few tiny spots:

It was time to get this device on the network so I could try printing. The printer didn’t come with a wireless option, so I plugged it into my network, found the IP, added the printer by IP (it wasn’t auto discovering – a problem to work out later) and then needed a driver. Waiting for the very long ‘Windows Update’ option to find a driver never completed, so I instead found the driver myself and added it as there was no ‘Konica Minolta Generic’ type driver that I’ve seen other brands have, such as HP or Canon. After being installed, I was able to print a document which spat straight out the printer. Hooray! Quality was great in both black & white as well as colour

OK, so I can copy and print but I wanted to get into the configuration of the printer and see what was possible. As with most enterprise printers, administration settings can be done either on the printer itself (often a smaller subset of the full options) or on the web interface for the printer.

The admin page for the printer required a password which didn’t come with the printer. I spent the good part of an hour looking up ways online of getting into the printer – default passwords (amazingly it wasn’t set to the default!) and maintenance modes – I could get into the maintenance mode by doing a completely unguessable series of touch screen presses, but still could not factory reset or get into administrator mode. Calling the company who sold me the printer during business hours revealed the password they’d set on the device (why they didn’t communicate this to me I have no idea, surely every printer they sell would cause a support call?) but I was finally in and could start fine tuning the device.

To say there are a lot of options is somewhat of an understatement. Menus within menus with a bit of logic applied, but often options hidden in a place you wouldn’t expect is a norm for the printer industry. I was relieved to at least see a function search which seemed quite usable.

Main Administator menu options
Maintenance Options

I’d noticed the printer was going to sleep and waking up a lot despite just sitting idly, so to find the Power options was easy with a search. I would not have guessed that the location for Power Settings was under Maintenance > Timer Settings > Power Settings and this search saved me a lot of clicking around.

After chaning some options that sounded like they’d work, the printer now does got to sleep after 20 minutes and wakes up when something’s actually happening.

I started going through the many other options of the printer, and started to realise this printer had not been reset from it’s previous life. It contained email addresses, the name of the medical practise it had lived at, and a bunch of other information that I’m sure the company would not have wanted left on their printer – so I deleted everything I could find that referenced it. This included saved FTP details to a certain health insurance’s server which I dare not test. This would be one of the chapters in the book of ‘Why IT People Hate Printers’ on the absolute lack of security applied to the device itself and all practises around it – the entire industry. Even the drivers of printers have been such a security hole, Microsoft is trying to finally end printer drivers with a plan that will take many years to come to fruition.

Anyway, one of the things I wanted to do was scan to email. This was going to be a tricky one because ‘security’. Microsoft do have quite a nice writeup of somewhat acceptable options to try and accomodate a printer: How to set up a multifunction device or application to send emails using Microsoft 365 or Office 365 | Microsoft Learn – but for home use where I don’t have a static IP ($5AU a month I could get one for but can’t bring myself to pay!), no relay mail server – so the business type options that may work for this can’t really help. What I did find though, was my ISP lets me create up to 5 email addresses, without MFA.

It worked, but it’s still a terrible idea. I might use this if I have something I completely don’t care about, but also just knowing I ‘control’ an email account that uses pure username/password auth is unsettling. The service at least doesn’t save emails sent to the sent items, but it’s just a disaster waiting to happen. I turned it off again, deleted the email account and instead tested scanning to a USB. When plugging a USB in it nicely prompts you if you want to print something off the USB, or scan something to it – so although a bit painful, at least I can control where my documents sit.

Coming back to the network discovery aspect, X user @judgementus_vw kindly offered me some support via DM. That was fixed by going into Network > DPWS Setting > Printer Settings and enabling an option called ‘Print Function’. As to why it’s called ‘Print Function’ and how I was supposed to connect that to discovery when searching for a printer who knows… but it worked!

With print, scan, and email sorted, all should be good. Except, the printer started having random errors:

These occurred while the printer was sitting in an idle and standby state. Now, I’d love to update the firmware on this device, but Konica Minolta don’t let regular people off the street download it – so I have no idea how outdated/buggy the current version might be, or a way to get new firmware.

I’m hoping the errors are minimal – I haven’t had any when actually using the device, no paper jams or other wackiness.

Also, the black/colour levels with the printer I received are between 25% and 50% – which is fine when a black toner for this printer does 13,000 pages and 9000 for colour.

Would I recommend getting a second hand enterprise level printer?

No. Unless you work with these devices frequently enough, know all the tips and tricks on how to wrangle them, and have access to firmware + troubleshooting resources, this is definitely not what you should have at home. If anything goes wrong you’re screwed. Because I got it so cheap, and it’s so fast to use for printing and copying, it’s going to be useful to me for as long as it stands up. I’ve managed different model printers in the past and it wasn’t overly fun to get paid to manage them, let alone try to do it for free at home!

Also if you are someone who really wants to tinker and spend the time learning about the crazy amount of options these devices have, it’d help you get a helpdesk job anywhere that has a printer management requirement! But it’ll still be difficult to find others online to help you through this.

There’s also OH&S considerations about sitting anywhere near a printer that’s designed for a more open space office environment, as well as the warm air it blasts out when it’s working hard.

For reference, here’s all the default passwords for a Konica Minolta bizhub C3350i:
Admin password: 1234567812345678
Service password: 9272927292729272
HDD encryption password: 12345678901234567890

To get to service mode screen:
Go to home ( copy, scan, user box). Press counter (top left) Press keypad, the press STOP 0 0 STOP 0 1 (stop is the red button on the screen)

To run a full diagnostics:
Turn off the printer by the switch on the bottom right, and while holding the reset button on the left of the screen, turn the power switch on.

AUTO-VOX W7 Wireless Backup Camera Kit Review

The team at AUTO-VOX kindly sent me out this kit to review. It’s a reverse camera for your car, with a wireless connection between the camera and display unit.

Here’s what you get in the box:

5″ LCD Monitor
Monitor holder suction cup
Camera with connector cable
Car Charger Line (3.5m long) – this goes from the cigarette lighter to the LCD monitor
Power box with antenna (this goes from the camera cable to power)
Manual (which was clearly written and easy to follow)

The kit works in two parts – the display just goes into a cigarette lighter and shows the camera feed whenever the camera is on.

The camera however, needs a 12v power source – which is of course what your car runs off of. The way this works is if it’s wired into the same area as your car’s reverse lights, then it’ll come on when you’re in reverse and stay off at other times. Of course you could wire it to something always on when the car is running and always have it on. The camera mount has double sided tape and a moving arm, so it’s pretty easy to find the right spot/angle for it on the car.

The screen has 3 buttons on the side – left, right, and enter, to control the menus. ‘Pair’ will pair the unit with the camera but I didn’t need to do this, it just worked out of the box. ‘B/C Control’ is brightness/contrast so you can have a picture suited to the light in the car. The ‘Mirror/Normal’ option flips the image depending how you mounted the camera. ‘Guide line’ lets you adjust the guide lines if the default setting isn’t quite right, and of course ‘Reset’ will reset the device.

The picture itself was clear enough, reasonable resolution but not 1080p – but more than clear enough to see what’s behind you.

The entire kit is easy to set up overall, with the only tricky bit getting the wiring sorted for the camera. Depending on your car you may have a hole you can feed the camera through behind the license plate.

One of the ideas I had for this unit was to put it on the front of my Tesla to make up for the inability to use the front camera when parking – but the wiring requirement made this a bit tricky. For that scenario, AUTO-VOX do have a different product available on Amazon.com that has hte same idea, but instead of requiring wiring for the camera, it has built in solar: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09Y5MVFN4?th=1.

This unit is more suited to being a reversing camera only.

The AUTO-VOX W7 Wireless Backup Camera Kit is available to buy on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com.au/AUTO-VOX-Wireless-Monitor-Transmission-Suitable/dp/B07Q85NVV7

Meal Kits in Australia

Living a busy lifestyle, dinner time can be a bit of a pain – especially if you aren’t prepared and don’t have your plans ready to go. I’ve been diving into different Food Box options in Australia and thought I’d share my findings so far. I’ll keep this page updated as I try out more, and have my pick of the best (in my opinion) premade meals, and meal kits around price, value, and tastiness.

Premade Meals

Being able to quickly heat up and eat a pre-prepared meal sounds enticing, but if you’ve tried to do this with a frozen meal from the supermarket, it’s normally disappointing. These companies make fresh premade meals which is great for a busy lifestyle – but they need to be tasty enough to stick with them.

– The Rustic Kitchen (recommended #1)

These are my new favourite pre-made meal, beating out YouFoodz (although YouFoodz you can get cheaper with discounts). They are the most tasty of everything I’ve tried, a good variety of meals and they didn’t leave me feeling like I needed more food afterwards. Very fresh and reasonable use-by dates 1-2 weeks on the fresh options, they also have a frozen range.

Price Guide – 10 meal packs ranging from ~$110 to $125
No affiliate/discount deals, just go to their website: https://www.therustickitchen.com.au/

– YouFoodz (recommended #2)

Lots of meal options, change weekly, can pick amount you want. Food is individually portioned and heated in the microwave for a few minutes. Fresh and reasonably tasty (maybe a bit bland, but out of everything so far this is still the least bland!), but mix up your options when ordering and you can always add your own bits on top (sauces/egg etc). Useby dates varied from 1 – 2 weeks.
Price Guide – 12 meals per week | $9.99per serving before discount
Affiliate deal – Enjoy a total of $137 OFF throughout your first 3 boxes + Use/Activate Cashrewards first
Referrals – Easy, sign up and share links

Macros

A huge variety of meal options, but after trying, all were quite bland and the quality of the meat wasn’t as good as YouFoodz. The packaging seemed cheaper too, and all meals had a standard ‘2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes’ heating time where YouFoodz had the specific heating time for each meal (which varied). Feels like it’d be an even healther than YouFoodz too. The meals are fresh and had decent useby dates, all 2 weeks.

Price Guide – 15 Meals Per Week $10.95 per meal
Affiliate deal – Enjoy a total of $137 OFF throughout your first 3 boxes + Use/Activate Cashrewards first
Referrals – Hard, needs to go through third party application

– Lite n’ Easy

I found Lite n’ Easy meals to be too bland, but not quite as bland as Macros. They are more targeted at weight loss so may be a good fit for someone trying to achieve that goal rather than looking for the tasty/healthy mix of food. The meals I had were already frozen, so that may be a factor. Bonus that they came with actual ‘dry ice’ to play with – don’t let the kids touch that though.

Price Guide – 10 Dinners Only Pack $12.10 per meal
Referrals – Monthly cycling code from URL https://ww2.liteneasy.com.au/app_Rewards.aspx – Oct 2023 = RAF30%

– Chef Good

This one I would rate as the second best behind YouFoodz, but still found the meals a bit bland again. There is a wide variety to choose from, and worth trying if you want something a bit different than what YouFoodz offers. The meals were fresh and had good useby dates on them, but did seem a bit more mixed together in each individual container than other options.

Price – 10 Dinners $11.50 per meal
Affiliate Deal – Use code HONEY50 to get $30 Off on the 1st order and $20 off on the 2nd + Use/Activate Cashrewards first

Meal Kits

Meal kits are generally a nice way to not have to think about ‘what am I going to make’ or ‘what ingredients will I need to make something’ as both of these problems get solved. You don’t pay too much of a premium to have easy to follow recipes and matching food ready to go, compared to going to the supermarket. They are a great way to learn how to cook. Generally, these companies have good discounts to get you signed up, and I personally recommend jumping between them all and following the discounts. Once discounts are over, cancel and wait for the next discount offer to come in (you won’t be waiting long) and get back on board.

Usually, the meals take 30-45 mins to prepare and cook, and often need a few food staples at home – salt, pepper, oil, eggs, sauces etc. If you’re not used to cooking dinner every day, buying 5 meals a week and only having 5-6 days to cook them in before they expire may not work to your personal lifestyle and is something to consider due to the price per person per meal dropping the more you order weekly.

Hello Fresh

Hello Fresh is the most popular meal kit option by far in Australia (and the US) based on https://www.statista.com data for Nov 2022 (their most recent at time of writing). Marley Spoon and EveryPlate were distantly behind, but at similar market shares.

Meals are selectable on size – usually 2 or 4 people. The more meals and the more people (size), the cheaper the bundles are. The food is packaged into individual bags so it’s easy to get the ingredients required for each meal. Freshness can be a bit hit and miss, usually expiry dates on items included end in ~5 days. Meals can be chosen beforehand and the variety changes drastically each week.

Price Guide – Classic Plan example: 5 meals for 4 people $8.25 per serving before discounts
Affiliate deal – Claim Your Free Box + Use/Activate Cashrewards first

– EveryPlate (recommended)

Similar to Hello Fresh (and owned by them) but a bit more of a budget option. Meals also selectable on 2 or 4 people for size, and different amounts per week. Food options vary and quality is pretty much the same as Hello Fresh, but not portioned out for each meal. Meals are also a bit more simple – less ingredients and less involved to make.

Price Guide – Classic Plan example: 5 meals for 4 people $6 per serving before discounts
Affiliate deal – N/A, signing up should just give you a discount visible on the first screen + Use/Activate Cashrewards first

– Marley Spoon

Marley Spoon seem to have ingredients that are a bit fresher than others, but the website/pricing is a bit harder to use. It can be hard to tell what costs are coming from where, what meals have different portion sizes etc, and a lot of the premium meals sound good but it gets quite pricey very quickly.

Price Guide – Standard meals 12 portions – ~$12.66 per portion
Affiliate deal – + Use/Activate Cashrewards first

– Dinnerly

TBC! They never used to deliver to Adelaide but now do, so I’ll try them at some stage.

Other Food Boxes I Like

Our Cow

A company that connects farmer’s meat straight to you, so really is just an online butcher trying to cut out middle men. The quality of the meat I had from here was quite good, but ordering $199+ of meat meant a lot went in the freezer and took a while to work our way through. I’d definitely order again when I need a bunch more meat. They have some good deals on trying to get you to keep an active order cycle going, which works if you want a bunch of meat options available.

Price Guide – It seems fairly comparable to a standard butcher, aim for the $199 spend for free delivery.
Affiliate deal – $50 off first order of at least $199

– Tokyo Treat

A Japanese snack food box subscription that contains a bunch of Japanese snacks, usually including some weird KitKat flavour. This is of course indulgent, but a pretty nice way of getting a bunch of random things to try that you’d likely never see locally. Also a really good gift idea for someone. I’ll sign up for this again at some stage as it really did feel like a reasonable price for the variety of stuff you get.

Price – from $37.50 for a single month box to $32.50 per box for a 12 month subscription


Other sources on meal kit information:
Choice (paid) Meal delivery services compared: HelloFresh, Marley Spoon, YouFoodz, The Dinner Ladies and more – unbiased reviews of meal kits and so many other things, worth the yearly subscription fee.

Food Box Mate Your Ultimate Food Delivery Destination – a guy who reviews his food box experiences without any sponsors, so a good source to find what’s out there.

AI Powered Microsoft Q&A vs Bing Chat vs Bing Chat for Enterprise (Copilot)

Update 20th November 2023
Bing Chat for Enterprise has been renamed to ‘Copilot with commercial data protection‘ – General Availability 1st December 2023.

Original Post
Q&A Assist is a new feature Microsoft have launched on the Q&A ‘Ask a question‘ page, where you would normally pose a question to post in the forums and have another human answer for you. Now, backed by the Azure OpenAI Service, you can get AI based answers using data that Microsoft curates.

This is a bit different to Bing Chat (or Bing Chat for Enterprise) where it’s using knowledge from all over the internet, and as per any OpenAI setup, should be tailored a bit more to the sort of questions it expects.

Q&A Assist at the time of posting is in ‘Public Preview’:

I thought it would be worth comparing the two to see how they fare, but it took me down a bit of a different path than I expected.

The Example

Q&A Assist gave a fairly reasonable broad response and expected you to dig more into it only via official learn.microsoft.com content.

Bing Chat however, took me down a bit of an interesting path. It gave a step by step:

But that didn’t scale or have the automation of the above answer, so I tried to clarify:

Not too bad, but not the same answer as Q&A Answers – both valid depending how you buy your Windows 11 Enterprise licenses though. What if I limit Bing Chat to only use learn.microsoft.com content?

Proof that AI doesn’t do everything for you – OK I ask the same question piecing all the bits together:

The same answer as before but only from learn.microsoft.com? This gets stranger when I check reference 1, which is actually a Q&A page with the quesiton “Which Windows 11 version allows multiple remote desktop sessions” and doesn’t have anything about VAMT at all. Reference 2 which strangely tells me to do what I’ve already done on this query, links to another Q&A page which is on topic, but has no content that would have been helpful for this answer. Something wacky going on with those reference links, but I suspect it actually used the information in the same session and then limited the claims on where it could verify those answers to learn.microsoft.com only, which if you only saw this single answer woudn’t be right.

Is Bing Chat for Enterprise Different?

I pumped the same final all-encompassing question in, and received probably the best answer out of everything, great sources and almost only limited to learn.microsoft.com – a Youtube link turned up, but that was from one of the Q&A pages.

Giving Bing Chat another chance, I started a new session and asked the same question again:

Different again, but you can see Bing Chat gives more ‘consumery’ answers while Bing Chat for Enterprise didn’t – I was surprised by this but it does make contextual sense. The references also make sense this time, so this leans towards my theory on using previous answer information in the same question thread – something to be aware of.

Coming back from that tangent, what does this all mean for Q&A Assist? It’s good that it helps define a question and ask in both summary and detailed, needing a category and limiting answers only to trusted sources. You can see the design of it is to hopefully provide a quick answer before someone posts the forum question, or at least supplement their question with extra details on what they might be trying to ask.

Moreso, it’s a good example of what is fairly easy to achieve with Azure OpenAI pointed at a set of data – which could purely be a website. It takes a chatbot to the next level by not needing anyone to give it a set of questions and answers, it’ll work all that out itself. It’s also worth nothing that even in the Microsoft ecosystem there are multiple AI chatbot solutions, such as Power Pages also being able to point a chatbot to a page to do Q&A type work.

The hard habit to break for many people will be years of using a search engine to look up an answer and doing your own work going through it – any AI driven chat system should make this easier and more effiencent to look up detailed questions and follow the sources to get your truth, but it’s something that we’ll all need to get used to while becoming more ingrained with everything we do online.