Saturday, October 31, 2009

System Adminstration - The "YouTube" Way

Don't miss the Windows 7 72-Hour Film Fest on YouTube. All the videos had to include a character called “CIO Wiggins”, the line of dialog “The guys in IT are going to like this” and mention “Windows 7”. My favorite is Installation, a fun mix of Office Space meets "Flight of the Concords" with a little throw back to the 80's hit, "Say Anything", touting the joys of system administration and Windows 7.

Speaking of fun tech videos, there have been some great ones over the years. If you are looking to kill a little bit of time, I've got some "classics" for you. First off, no one can forget Internet Tech Support, harking way back to 2001 from deadtroll.com. And then there is the ever popular Medieval Helpdesk. I'm hoping Windows 7 isn't as difficult of a transition!

Also, don't forget this great, gamer-themed performance by Tripod - "
Gonna Make You Happy". It's about 3 years old, but never ceases to entertain me. Txt Msgs is also good one.


Enjoy!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Drive Safer with DriveSafe.ly

I'm addicted to my Blackberry and thus addicted to text messaging and the instant access to my email. I've overcome some of my need to check it obsessively with each "ding" or "beep" by assigning different sounds to different email accounts, txt messages and UberTwitter so I can better identify what arrived without looking. But it's still hard for me to avoid sneaking a peak when I'm at a stop light. I've considered setting the phone to silent or to my custom "phone only" sound scheme when driving, but I often forget to do that until the first SMS message arrives after I'm already well on my way.

A post about a potential solution to this crossed my twitter feed via @mamamezlove the other day and I think it might do the trick - Drivesafe.ly, an application that reads your incoming texts and emails outloud. The free version only reads 25 words of your messages, but that's often more than enough for a text message. For those who need more, there are two levels of paid service - monthly and a one-time "life of the phone" license.
And because it's not always appropriate for your messages to be spoken outloud, it's easy to toggle on and off and adjust the volume of the speaking voice.

Right now this software is only available for Blackberry OS 4.5 and Android OS 1.5, but iPhone, Windows Mobile and Symbian are expected to be coming soon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Enabling Terminal Services ActiveX on IE7

As great as Windows 7 is turning out to be, many companies with Server 2008 Terminal Services Web Access (or plans to move to Remote Desktop Services in the near future) will likely have users connecting from home with Windows XP and Internet Explorer 7 for foreseeable future. However the Terminal Services ActiveX control required by TSWA is disabled by default in XPSP3 as a security measure. This control in needs to be explicitly enabled in IE7 in order to use the web access features of Server 2008.

Usually you can enable or disable an ActiveX control in IE using the "Manage Add-Ons" tool, but it's likely that you willl be unable to see the TS specific control in IE7 on XP SP3 in that tool. The workaround is to delete the two following keys from the registry:
  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Ext\Settings\{7390f3d8-0439-4c05-91e3-cf5cb290c3d0}
  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Ext\Settings\{4eb89ff4-7f78-4a0f-8b8d-2bf02e94e4b2}
Once you delete these keys, the required ActiveX control should be enabled in IE7.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Deactivating Kindle WhisperSync

I discovered after some additional poking around, that it's possible to turn of the automatic syncing of the last read page (and bookmarks and notes) on shared books. There is an option all the way at the bottom of the Kindle management page that allows you to turn off that feature.

It doesn't give me all the content control I'd like, but at least the "sort by most recent" lists won't be affected by the activity on the opposite Kindle.

The Kindle 2 - Still Room for Improvement

I surprised my husband with a Kindle this week for our anniversary. Because I already have a Kindle and there are books on it he'd like to read, it made sense to buy another Kindle so they could be hooked to the same account and we could share books. Sharing my Kindle was out of the question, as its rare when I don't have it with me. I debated swapping the new Kindle 2 for my own and giving him my first Kindle, but I decided to stick with the first generation Kindle for myself.

The Kindle 2 does solve some of the annoyances of the Kindle 1. The "next page" and "prev page" buttons are smaller so it's easier to pick up without accidentally turning pages. The keyboard has uniformed sized keys and the navigation cursor is on-screen instead of on the silver bar on the side. The five-way toggle button gives the navigation menus more flexibility.

The Kindle 2 is both powered and synced with a single USB cable with a removable electrical prong adapter. However, much like the iPod/iPhone, it has a proprietary connector on the device end. The Kindle 1 has a separate proprietary power cord, but the USB connector is standard - great for when I decide I need to sync on a Word document or converted PDF at the office and can use any mini-USB cable within my reach.

The Kindle 2 doesn't have any way to expand the internal 2GB memory, but Amazon worked around that by making "archived" purchased content (content that you removed from your Kindle) available directly from the Kindle instead of having to log on to the Kindle management page and have those items pushed out to your device again. This allows you easily to swap books on and off the device if you run out of space. This is a convenience feature I have a bit of an issue with and would like to see some kind of "content control" option for it.

For example, a parent in a family with several avid readers (whom all have Kindles on the same account) might not want their teenager to be able to easily see or download the same books that the adults are reading. And a parent might not be interested in having scroll past the latest slew of "vampire" books when looking for their particular archived content.


This "hive mindset" around the shared content means that if two people have the same book downloaded, both Kindles continuely try to keep track of what was the last page read was - as if the same person read on either device. Also, I'm a big fan of the "sort by most recent first" option for my book menu, so having something that my husband is reading, but I'm not, floating to the top of my book list is a bit irksome.

The ability to specify which content is available to which devices or providing sub-accounts per Kindle would be a great feature addition that could help work around some of these issues. Not only could you better control sharing of content between devices, one might be able use different payment options per Kindle, instead of having all linked Kindles charge to the same credit card.

Overall, I think the Kindle 2 does make some nice improvements to the Kindle 1, but not enough of them to make me want to replace my original Kindle any time soon.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Potentially Troublesome Windows 7 User Profiles

While at "the New Efficiency" event last week, I was tapped to see if I had some insight to a problem someone was having migrating and duplicating local user profiles on Windows 7. I'll admit I haven't much bothered with user profiles since my NT 4.0 days. Even at my current job, we doesn't copy or use customized default profiles as a starting point for desktops. We distribute key icons and settings for users with group policies or scripts and don't worry about maintaining any customizations that each user does for themselves.

My first recommendation was that for migrating existing desktop profiles from XP to Windows 7, Microsoft provides the User State Migration Tool (for large deployments) and Windows Easy Transfer (for a few computers) to move the local documents and settings for users from XP to Windows 7. These tools help ensure all the necessary files are getting moved to the proper locations.

However the question also involved issues copying existing profiles for other users. I didn't have a good answer for someone having this type of problem in Windows 7, but I promised I'd see if I could come up with something.

After some research, I learned that others were having profile duplication issues with Windows 7 - specifically copying an existing profile to the default one. I found a quite extensive thread on the TechNet forums and an IronGeek.com posting which offered a workaround. I didn't delve into experimenting with any of these things, but I did pass them along with the hopes that they might point the requester in the right direction.

The next day, I got an update thanking me for providing the information and that he'd been able to solve the majority of his profile related issues. He also mentioned a program called "Windows Enabler", which I haven't used myself but I suspect might have been recommended by someone contributing to the TechNet thread or another forum. We all know the web can lead you to many things.

So if you are struggling with an issue similar to this, perhaps those same links will lead you to the answer you need. As with anything on the Internet, your mileage may vary.
-------------------------
EDIT 10/30/09 - Here's a link to a great blog post from the Springboard Series with the how/why for Windows 7 profiles work the way they do and the Microsoft recommended way to handle customized default profiles -
Configuring Default User Settings, Full Update for Windows 7.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Free eBooks for Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2

Wondering where to get started with Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2?

If you are looking for some fresh reading material, don't miss out on two free eBooks by Microsoft Press. Get more information about the "
Deploying Windows 7" eBook at the TechNet Flash Blog and "Introducing Windows Server 2008 R2" at the Windows Server Division Blog.

Friday, October 23, 2009

In My Inbox - An "Enterprise PBX Comparison Guide"

I get a lot of emails for seminars, white papers and other information from a variety of vendors and other marketing venues. Some catch my eye, many don't. I have a very low tolerance for spam, so I usually remove myself from excessive mailing lists as soon as they start to annoy me.

Recently, a email subject line comparing Shoretel to Cisco caught my eye. Turns out it was a comparison chart covering about a dozen VoIP PBX vendors and not just a Shoretel v. Cisco showdown, but interesting none the less. You'll be signing up for marketing emails for sure, but if you are shopping for VoIP this might be a nice summary to start with.

Personally I'm a Shoretel girl and I'll leave it at that. However I will point out that Shoretel did manage to hold it's own against Cisco in this particular 18-point comparison chart, especially if you are looking for a solution for under 10,000 users. (The Giants' AT&T Park sure thought so earlier this year!)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Windows 7 - It's Official

In case you've managed to miss it, today is the official launch of Window 7.

Some great websites to check out if you haven't already are Talking About Windows and the Microsoft Springboard for Windows Clients. Also, check out the Windows Team Blog post from yesterday listing out some additional events and purchase offers.

Finally, if you missed out on one of live "the New Efficiency" events, there is a free virtual event on October 27th, produced by Windows IT Pro magazine.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Takeaways from "The New Efficiency" Tech Series

Yesterday, I attended Microsoft's "The New Efficiency" technical series, as part of the Windows 7/Server 2008 R2/Exchange 2010 product launch. I was a little disappointed at the turn out, since registration had been closed so early. I expected more people and generally "more" from Microsoft with all these new products coming out in just days. But I guess not every event can be hit out of the park.

That being said, there were several sponsor-led sessions that were interesting and then tracks for Windows 7, Server 2008 R2 and Exchange 2010. My original plan was to hit something from every track, but that proved difficult as the presenters from each track didn't always keep to the scheduled break times. Thus I stuck with the server track, which was presented by Chris Henley.

Here are a few of the features that were touched on during the sessions:

  • The integrated Best Practice Analyzer covers more areas, such as Active Directory Domain Services and DNS. The BPA was mostly known for it's use with Exchange, so it's nice to see it expanded to other critical areas.
  • The Recycle Bin for AD. This feature makes it easier to restore deleted objects in Active Directory without having to resort to an authoritative restore, effectively extending your recoverablity of objects to nearly a year. While possible, its not recommended to reduce the lifetimes for deleted object and tombstone object below the 180 days each. Also, it's important to note that the recycle bin feature is a schema change and it can't be turned off once implemented. Finally, while item in the recycle bin can't have their UPN used again until it moves out to a tombstoned object, but you can manually force items to be moved earlier.
  • In Server 2008 R2 there were changes in the core architecture which affected the networking stack to support IPv6 and IPv4 native to same Windows core protocols.
  • The Server Core installation option supports an additional role for WoW64 and IIS 7.5 also supports ASP on Server Core. Server Core has also gained a text menu environment called "S-config" to make it easier to configure basic server settings.
  • New features in Remote Desktop Services, such as virtual desktops via Hyper-V, improvements in RemoteApp, multimedia support and bi-directional audio.
  • DirectAccess as an alternative to VPNs for corporate network access. DirectAccess requires at least 4 servers and includes a setup wizard that details out how it all hooks together.
  • Improvements in Hyper-V, such as Live Migration and the ability to add some "hardware" (like Hard Drives)to virtual machines without powering them off. Don't forget the Microsoft Assessment & Planning Toolkit, which can help minimize capital costs and reduce operating costs in your data center.

At the end of the day, the software giveaway was a copy of Windows 7 (32-bit) and the swag bag had the ever-popular XL t-shirt. Hidden among the product pamphlets in the bag was a cool gift from NetApp - a free copy of the book "Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V: Insider's Guide to Microsoft's Hypervisor". Request your copy by November 20th. I'm sure the request will get you on a mailing list of some kind, but I'll live with that for a free book.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Because It's Already Here

A colleague of mine asked a valid question about my last post regarding how my office IT department uses ImageRight for document management instead of something else, like a Wiki. Of course a Wiki would work just fine. So would SharePoint or any other software the helps manage documentation and allows for collaboration.

I'm not saying that ImageRight is the end-all, be-all for document management. It's just that ImageRight is what we have. One of the big topics that came up at the Vertafore Connections conference I attended a few months ago was that many companies using the product only deploy it to one or two departments to perform very specific business functions. I've found that it can be used by many other business areas if one just takes the time to carve out a place for their specific documentation and processes.

There is that old "law of the instrument" that can make a familiar tool look like the panacea of all problems, but I'm not trying to make an unsuitable piece of software meet our needs. We are simply using a product that our company has already invested in, instead of looking outside our existing infrastructure for a new solution. Not only does this save licensing, installation and maintenance costs for an additional product, it encourages members of our department to use ImageRight regularly, making us better able to support the other staff members in the office. We are not only supporting the backend of the program, but interacting with it as an end-user as well - a win-win for everyone.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Document Imaging Helps Organize IT

Since our implementation of ImageRight, our Network Operations team has embraced it as a way to organize our server and application documentation in a manner that makes it accessible to everyone in our team. Any support tickets, change control documents, white papers and configuration information that is stored in ImageRight is available to anyone in our group for reference.

This reduces version control issues and ensures that a common naming (or "filing") structure is used across the board, making information easier to find. (For reference, an ImageRight "file" is a collection of documents organized together like a physical file that hangs in a file cabinet.) Plus, the ability to export individual documents or whole ImageRight "files" to a CD with an included viewer application is a great feature that I'm using as part of our Disaster Recovery preparations.

I have a single file that encompasses the contents of our network "runbook". This file contains server lists and configuration details, IP and DNS information, network maps, application and service dependencies, storage share locations/sizes, support contact information, etc. It consists of text documents, spreadsheets, PDF files and other types of data. I keep a hard copy printed at my desk so I can jot notes when changes are needed, but ImageRight ensures I have an electronic backup that I can edit on a regular basis. Plus, I regularly export a updated copy to a CD that I add to the off-site Disaster Recovery box.

The value of ImageRight in a disaster scenario expands beyond just our configuration documents. In an office where we deal with large amounts of paper, encouraging people to see that those documents are added to ImageRight in a timely manner will ensure faster access to work products after an event prevents access to the office or destroys paper originals.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Configuring Server 2008 AD - Traditional vs. Virtual Lab Exam

There has been some recent chatter on the web about the 83-640 exam, which is the "virtual lab" version of the 70-640 exam, TS: Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuring. Both of these exams are available by Prometric (at least in CA), but 83-640 is not currently listed as an official exam option for the MCITP: Enterprise Administrator or for the MCITP: Server Administrator if you refer to the MCITP certification list. However, the exam details for 83-640 note that it DOES count toward them. It's hard to say if or when this new version will officially replace the traditional exam.

I did have the chance to sit for the pilot of this test held in late 2008, when it was numbered as 70-113. While the test did have a multiple-choice section, the sections that were done in the virtual lab were actually fun. Yes, I thought the test was fun.

It really gives someone who works a lot with Windows a chance to showcase their skills without having to memorize the exact name of the tab or screen where a setting is located, as is often the case with the regular exam format. Instead, you worked on a fully functional server, making about 10 configuration changes in each test segment. I had access to everything I would have on a "real" server - I could click around to review all the tabs, settings and tools and even had access to the help files. Once all the tasks were completed, you close out that segment and move onto the next.

The experience was as close to a true work environment as you could possibly get for a test. We all know that on any given day, we may not know exactly where to go for what needs to be done, but we certainly know it when we see it. And browsing a few tabs or pressing F1 is part of the process to jog our memories and get us back on track.

If I was given the choice to take 70-640 or 83-640 to meet my certification requirements, I'd look to take the "virtual lab" version, hands down. I hope Microsoft looks to this new format for future exams.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Catalog Error with Backup Exec

The disaster recovery project has been moving along with fits and starts. I was certainly expecting this to be a learning experience and it hasn't failed to disappoint in that regard. Today, I kicked off a catalog of a new tape and promptly received this error:

The requested media is not listed in the media index and could not be mounted. To add the media's catalog information to the disk-based catalogs, run an inventory operation on the media and resubmit the Catalog operation.

I ran another successful inventory of the tape for good measure, but the error remained. I rebooted the server and the tape drive. No love. Frustrating since I've been successfully cataloging tapes for the last few weeks.

Following the links from the error report, I turn off the option to "Use storage media-based catalogs." By clearing the check box for this option, Backup Exec was forced to ignore any catalog information on the tape itself and build the catalog by reviewing each file on tape individually. This process takes longer, but in my case, was successful.

This is the recommended change to make when normal catalog methods fail. It's also something you'll need to do if you must catalog the contents of single tape from a backup job that spans multiple tapes, which can also fail if you don't have all the tapes from the set in inventory. For more information about the differences between storage media-based catalogs and on-disk catalogs for Backup Exec, check out this additional explanation of the "storage media-based catalog" option at Symantec's website.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Restoring IIS 6.0

I love the Internet. I use it every day. But when it comes to making websites work, it's just not one of my strong areas. I've gone through a good portion of last decade working for smaller companies where being the "network administrator" meant being a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. While I don't mind having to search for solutions to issues with software that I don't use often, I've also learn which bits of the tech realm I'd rather leave to someone else. One of those is IIS.

However, this isn't all about me hating on Internet Information Services. Last week, I actually had a experience restoring IIS 6.0 that was remarkably smooth and successful - restoring our company intranet to a different machine.

In order for this to be successful, I needed to have a portable backup of the metabase, my web folders and ASP 2.0 (which we needed for some small web-based applications). I was missing the ASP 2.0 on the base installation of IIS on the new server, but that was easy enough to correct. The web folders were getting backed up nightly, but I was missing the metabase, which was key to making this all go well.

Microsoft Technet had a rundown of how to backup and restore the metabase
and this post from IT Solutions KB even includes screenshots of the process. All in all, the whole process took less than 10 steps, including making the initial backup. I was pleasantly surprised, since I expected IIS to be far more complex. I understand that IIS 7.0 is even easier, but I doubt it'll make me what to deal with IIS regularly!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Windows 7 Beta Exam for Pro: Enterprise Desktop Admin

Through the middle of the month, IT Pros will be taking the beta exam version for the 70-686, Pro: Windows 7 Enterprise Desktop Admin. My exam slot was in the middle of last week and as far as testing goes, this one hit on every possible area you could run into Windows 7 in the enterprise.

Obviously, I can't rattle off exam questions and this test had more than the average share of them due the the beta nature. However, I can tell you that there was at least one question for EVERY bullet point in the skills list in the exam catalog.

Because this was geared to the enterprise, general experience with AD and group policy were important, as well as WAN/LAN networking concepts and security methods. And because this is a new OS with plenty of new features, don't plan to empty your pockets at the testing center until you know the differences between the various options for application compatibility, the range of deployment methods (including image and licensing management) and how the newer features in IE8 and Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 can affect the desktop experience.

This exam, combined with the 70-680 exam, make up the MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7 certification. While this certification doesn't require as many tests as the MCITP: Enterprise Administrator it's certainly gearing up to be challenging in it's own right, as the desktop client is the portal through which the majority of workers experience your company network.