Archive for March, 2008

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Virtualization without the virtual machine

March 31, 2008

I install and test a ton of software both at my job and at home.  Obviously, the constant cycle of installing and uninstalling leaves the Windows XP registry and file structure pretty messy after awhile.  Now, for several years, I’ve been in love with virtualization technologies.  Normally, to test out some new software, I’d just create a new virtual machine with VMware or Virtual PC and load a fresh copy of Windows on it and set up the virtual environment to test out my software.  But this is a time consuming process and it can require additional licenses for Windows.  Not the best solution for quick tests.

This is where Altiris’ Software Virtualization Solution (SVS) comes in.  SVS is a brilliant piece of virtualization technology.  Instead of creating an entirely separate Windows installation that requires its own hotfixes and service packs, SVS simply places a virtualized layer on top of your existing Windows installation.  All changes to the system are captured in to this layer.  Then, when you’re done, you simply deactivate that layer, and all those changes disappear.  They’re not gone forever.  They’re stored in that layer, which can be reapplied at any time in the future.

For instance, say you want to install some software but you don’t want to mess anything else up.  You fire up SVS, create a new layer, start your software’s installation process, make all the changes you need to to your system, then save all those changes to the SVS layer.  Any registry changes, dll registrations, file copies, etc., are stored in the layer.  When you deactivate the layer, all those changes disappear.  When you want to use the software again, you reactivate the layer, and all those changes appear again as if they’ve been there all along.  If you test some software and you don’t like it, delete the layer and your system is free from all the changes that software made.

This is a much quicker approach to software installs and uninstalls.  Now, I am not an expert on SVS and I’m sure it won’t work in every instance.  For instance, I’m sure there are pieces of software that require some low level access to the operating system, such as device drivers, and SVS might not work properly with those.  However, for the majority of software installs, SVS can be a brilliant addition to any testers’ toolkit.  And it’s free for personal use!

Altiris has a community forum called Juice that is a great place to find help for any problems you may encounter with SVS.

Download SVS 2.1 for personal use at PC Magazine’s web site (requires a free registration):  http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,1941342,00.asp

Just on the off chance anyone is reading this entry, I’ll ask the question:  Does anyone have any cool uses for SVS that they’d like to share in the comments?

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IIS 6.0 and .NET 2.0

March 27, 2008

So, I’m a server administrator who is in charge of a small closed network running a bunch of Windows servers.  The main product we use is a large web app that requires .NET 2.0 to run.  Now, we’ve never had a problem with this app running on our old Windows 2000 servers, but just recently we upgraded a few to Windows 2003, which runs IIS 6 instead of IIS 5 on Win2k.

After installing the web app on the new IIS 6 servers, I couldn’t get the damn thing to run!  The web page would just error out saying the Page Could Not Be Found.  I tried to figure this thing out for a week.  I emailed the web app developers and asked them and they said that their product worked just fine on IIS 6.  Finally, we found the problem.  It looks like IIS 6, by default, prohibits .NET 2.0 apps from running.  We had to manually go in and allow the .NET 2.0 on IIS 6.

If anyone else is having a similar problem, here’s how to check if .NET 2.0 is enabled:

1.  Open the IIS Management console

2.  There should be at least three items on the left hand side: Application Pools, Web Sites, and Web Service Extensions

3.  Click on the Web Service Extensions.  On the right hand side, you should see a list of things that are prohibited and things that are allowed.  Make sure .NET 2.0 is allowed.

Now the app is up and running just fine.  And I learned something new about IIS that I hadn’t encountered before.

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Newegg.com keeps getting worse

March 27, 2008

I’ve been a computer user for longer than I can remember, but it wasn’t until about 1999-2000 that I started to build my own computers.  I realized that I could build better systems than the cheap Dells and Gateways I had always purchased, with more flexibility in the component choices.  When I first started this, I found a great little site called NewEgg.com.  They had a wide range of choices and they ALWAYS had the lowest price I could find on the Internet.  The order would almost always be filled and shipped the same day I placed the order, and FedEx would usually end up delivering the package a day BEFORE it was supposed to be delivered!  All in all, great experiences all around.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed more and more things going wrong over at NewEgg.  First off is the prices.  Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed their prices coming more in line with other retailers, and they’re even more expensive on quite a few items.  Now, I’m not sure if this is because they are raising their prices, or if everyone else is lowering theirs to be more competitive, but it doesn’t matter.  The lowest price was one of the biggest reasons I shopped at NewEgg.

Second, the web site.  Now, I don’t know who the hell designs the NewEgg web site, but the thing is ALWAYS giving me errors.  It doesn’t matter if I use Firefox, IE, or Safari on my Mac or my PC.  The site is just not very well tested.  If I’m not getting logged out at odd times, then the pages either won’t load, load very slowly, or I get 3000 cryptic error messages saying that akamai.net returned an invalid response.

Third, the packaging and shipping.  My orders used to be filled the same day I placed them.  Now, it takes two or three days for my order to leave the warehouse.  That is a big annoyance for me.  I know this may simply be the by-product of massive corporate growth, but this used to be a big selling point for NewEgg.  Now, they’re just like everyone else.  And along these same lines, my orders almost always ship from the California warehouse.  I know in the old days of NewEgg, they had at least a couple different warehouses, one in New Jersey and one in California.  My orders were usually sent from the New Jersey warehouse because I live on the East Coast.  That meant that I would get my package in a day or two.  Now, the only time I get anything from the Jersey warehouse is if it is a small single item, like a stick of memory.  Anything bigger than that and it ships from California.  Did NewEgg scale back their Jersey warehouse recently?  Is it just a memory depot now?

Anyway, all of these things just make NewEgg another generic e-retailer.  They no longer have anything to make me stay a loyal customer.  I’m not saying I won’t still shop there (when I can actually access the web site), but I definitely look around much more at other stores before I click on the PURCHASE button.  In fact, just this morning, I wanted to buy several items from NewEgg, but because of repeated problems with their site (AGAIN), I’m now going to buy the things from Amazon.  The items are a little more expensive at Amazon, but at least their site works and they offer free shipping on the order.

I hope NewEgg regains it’s crown, but they need to step up their game to stand out from the crowd again.  They need to get back to basics and focus on the customer again instead of the bottom line.

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New Sprint Mogul ROM

March 12, 2008

So, I have had a Sprint Mogul for several months now. Up until yesterday, it’s been a mediocre phone. But finally, Sprint released the much anticipated EVDO Rev.A update, which means much faster web surfing! I’m finally happy with this device. Another cool feature that was enabled is GPS. Using Google Maps, I can get street level directions anywhere at anytime.

I just finished getting my apps reinstalled on it after flashing to the new firmware and the thing is running great. Hopefully I’ll get a few more days with the ROM and I’ll know if it truly is the savior ROM I’ve been waiting for. I know the one thing I have yet to test on it is the bluetooth functionality. I have a Jabra BT500 headset and it has never been able to connect correctly with this phone. It would work perfectly on my old XV6700, and it seems to connect to the Mogul, but it doesn’t work for phone calls. No audio.

I’ll have fun messing with this firmware update.

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Vista autologon utility

March 4, 2008

As someone who knows how to secure his workstation fairly well without requiring Windows to babysit his every move, Windows Vista’s user account control and disabled Administrator account really get in the way of me doing my daily activities. So the first thing I do whenever I reload my Vista workstation is I enable the Administrator account, set a strong password on it, set up autologon for that account, and turn off UAC.

There is a registry edit that will enable automatic logon, but it requires you to store your password in plaintext in the registry. Obviously this isn’t the ideal solution. ShellRevealed.com comes to the rescue with a utility that will set up the autologon functionality for you and it will store your password in an encrypted portion of the disk to keep it away from prying eyes.

The utility is called autologon and can be downloaded here. If that site is ever down, I have uploaded a copy to Box.net, which can be downloaded here.

The file is a zip file and contains a command line utility, which you can copy over to your WINDOWS directory. Open up a command prompt utility by going to the Start menu, typing “cmd.exe” in to the Search box, right-clicking on the cmd.exe application and selecting “Run as Administrator”. You need to run the command prompt under an administrative account because of the registry changes made by the autologon utility.

Once you have your command prompt open, type in “autologon /set /username:Administrator”.  The utility will prompt you for the password for the Administrator account.  If the password is correct, the autologon functionality will be set.  The next time you boot up, you’ll be automatically logged in as Administrator.

I don’t recommend this for everyone as any process you create from that point on will be created under the Administrator context which means every process will have elevated privileges on your system, but for people who are comfortable with that and want to get rid of the annoyances of Windows Vista asking for permission every time you want to do something, this will help out tremendously.

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Bypass user account creation during Windows XP setup

March 4, 2008

This is a little late since XP is soon going to lose support from Microsoft, but I figured I’d post it anyways since a lot of people still use XP instead of Vista.

During setup of Windows XP, you are required to create a user account.  This is annoying because the user account you create has all the same privileges as the built-in administrator account, which means that now you have TWO high-level accounts on your machine that are susceptible to attack.  Normally, what I do is create an account during this required setup stage, log on to the newly set up XP, change the autologon settings so that the built-in administrator account will automatically log in during the next boot up, then restart.  After rebooting, when I’m logged in as Administrator, I delete the account I was forced to create during XP setup.  This is an annoying and time consuming process.  However, I have recently found a way around this.

When XP requires you to create a user account during setup, just type in “None” for the user name.  XP will not prompt you for a password, and when XP starts up for the first time, the only account on the system will be the Administrator account.

Unfortunately, this little trick doesn’t seem to work on Vista.  Or if it does, Microsoft has changed the user name from “None” to something else.

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Yet another freaking blog…

March 4, 2008

Well, would you look at that?  Another WordPress blog!  This blog is mostly just meant for my own purposes, as a dumping ground for cool things I find from day to day.  Hopefully these little tips and tricks I post will help someone out there someday, but again, this is mostly for my own benefit so that I can keep track of my own stuff.