Thursday, 12 April 2012

Cisco NCS 1.0/1.1 - Internet Explorer Chrome Plugin Gotcha

If you're like me, then when it's time to use or install a new release of software, you quickly scan through the release notes trying to make sense of the reams and reams of 'new features', 'caveats', 'bugs fixed' etc. without falling to sleep and smashing your nose on the desk in front of you. (Why can't technical writers give those things a plot, a love interest and a gripping ending..?)

The main purpose of this exercise is often to pick up the 'headlines' so that you can fairly comfortably install or implement the new software, armed with a reasonable amount of knowledge to allow you to not fall down any particularly large holes during the process.

One area I'm particularly guilty of 'glossing over' in this release-note-scanning activity is the section that describes the versions of browser support that are provided for web-GUI based products (e.g. network management software).

Sure, I give the browser support section a quick glance and verify that the usual suspects are there (IE, Firefox & maybe Chrome), but never really pay too much attention beyond making sure that there nothing too old there that may cause any issues.

However, I have fallen down a very large hole recently when it came to using Cisco's NCS. To make matters worse, I have to admit to having fallen down this particular hole twice.

The gotcha to watch out for is the browser support for both NCS version 1.0 & 1.1. If you skim the release notes quickly (like I did), then it's very easy to miss a very important piece of information. Here is the relevant extract from the NCS 1.0 & 1.1 release notes:

"The NCS user interface requires Mozilla Firefox 3.6 or later minor version and Internet Explorer 8.x with the Chrome plugin releases or Google Chrome 12.0.742.x. Internet Explorer 6.0 is not supported."

The important piece of information here is : "Internet Explorer 8.x with the Chrome plugin"

The "with the Chrome plugin" doesn't seem too important if you scan over it quickly. But, believe me, you don't want to ignore that particular phrase if your customer uses IE as their corporate-standard browser.

On both of the occaisions when I have installed NCS recently, the customer used IE as their standard browser, with strict policies restricting the download of plugins (or other browsers!). This meant that in both cases, we couldn't install the Chrome plugin. Believe me we tried (..and tried and tried!!!) But, the corporate AV policies wouldn't allow the installer to run as it looks like the Chrome updater, and, it has to have access the Internet to download updates & 'stuff'.

So, in both cases (after much embarrasment, head scratching and silent cursing), we had to admit defeat and get some change controls in place for special dispensation to install Firefox...which was very painful and took some considerable time.

Not having the Chrome plugin (which, incidentally, you can get from here: means that if you login to NCS using IE8 as an admin user, you have very limited GUI functionality. It sort of limps along and gives you access to a few features, but it doesn't take long before you're tearing your hair out with it as you find things that don't work.

If you login with a Lobby Ambassador account, things are even worse. Instead of being presented with the usual Lobby Ambassador GUI, you actually get to see a read-only version of the home page that an NCS admin would normally see! As, I said, it's a read-only version of the page, so there don't appear to be any security risks there, but it's weird (and totally useless) to login as a LA and see the usual NCS home page...

So, the key takeaway from this: don't fall down the NCS/IE/Chrome plugin hole that I did (twice). Make sure your customer is able to install the Chrome plugin before you start putting NCS in, or make arrangements to ensure they can use Firefox or Chrome as an alternative.

Finally, don't scan software release notes...(even if you spend hours and hours and hours reading them that could be better spent with family, friends and picking out those bits of fluff that seem to collect in your navel).

...anyone else remember suffering plugin issues with other Cisco NMS products - dare I mention Java..?