Windows Recovery Environment for Windows Vista (Build 5384)

Having access to the Windows Vista Beta 2 bits, I decided to take a look at the system recovery options. This isn’t your Windows 2000/XP recovery console: it is a full blown version of WinPE or should I say WinRE. The list of options given are these:

Startup Repair – Automatically fix problems that prevent Windows from starting

System Restore: Restore Windows to an earlier point in time

CompletePC Restore – Restore your computer from a CompletePC backup. Although this sounds exciting, it really isn’t. CompletePC is an all or nothing proposition. You can backup your whole hard drive to another hard drive or burn it to DVD. However, you cannot restore individual files or folders.

Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool – Check your computer for memory hardware errors

Command Prompt – Open a command prompt window

To get to WinRE, first pick System Recovery options when booting from the Vista DVD. You are then given an option to choose your keyboard:

Next, it looks for Windows Vista installations. You are given an option to load drivers for your hard drives if WinRE cannot find them:

I decided first to pick Startup Repair. It states “If problems are found, Startup Repair will fix them automatically. Your computer might restart several times during this process. No changes will be made to your personal files or information. This might take several minutes.”

At the end, it found no problems, so it asked me if I wanted to send more information to Microsoft so they can help create solutions. You can then pick “Send” or “Don’t Send”.

You can view a log at the very end of this procedure. It appears to run some file sanity checks, checks the boot manager, and the event log.


System Restore: Wow, I’ve been waiting for this feature for 4 years! The only way that you can run System Restore in XP if Safe Mode didn’t work was to get a copy of Winternals ERD Commander which runs about $1200. Microsoft now lets you run system restore from the CD. The really cool thing is the format of the list it gave me:

5/25/06 1:12 AM (Install) Device Driver Package Install: Linksys Network Drivers

5/25/06 1:25 AM (Install) Installed Wireless Network PC Card Configuration Utility

You can see, in real time, what action was done last and reverse that option.


Memory Check – Reboots the PC and provides a comprehensive memory check. Test results are given after you log into Windows Vista. You can pick from “Basic”, “Standard” or “Extended” testing by hitting F1 when booted into the testing process.

Command Prompt – There appears at the moment that there is no “help” command and when I attempted to run explorer.exe, I got an error that shdocvw.dll wasn’t found. Basic programs like notepad did work, however.

WinRE, however, leaves me rather disappointed. A GUI front end with registry editing and file copying features would make WinRE so powerful and useful, as would networking support (my guess is that it caches the error reporting data you submit in WinRE until you boot into Windows, then offers to send it later on when you have networking support). A crash dump analyzer and event log viewer would be really neat too. WinRE has so much potential, so hopefully Microsoft hasn’t finished WinRE for good.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Vongo is a No Go

After seeing a commercial on the service “Vongo” on TV, I decided to sign up. It’s a service that lets you download an unlimited number of movies to your PC and play them for $9.99 a month. I picked the PPV option since that lets you browse the movie selection for free (apparently, you cannot browse the movie list without registering, that should have been my first red flag). Even though it’s free, they still want your CC number (red flag number two). They boast a selection of 1500 movies, but after seeing all of them I was quite unimpressed! I decided I didn’t like this service much and I wanted to cancel.

Hmm…how to cancel? Every reputable service has a cancel option online, but apparently not Vongo. To cancel you have to call 1-877-866-4621 and speak to someone in customer service. Excuse me? You brag about not having to drive to the Blockbuster to rent a video and how convenient your service is and I have to call you to cancel? Oh, it gets better. They store your credit card number right in their service! I wonder what the legality of doing so is without giving you the option to remove it? I mean, I had no balance: nothing, zip, zilch. Why can I not remove my credit card information? I tried to change my credit card information to another (non-active) number so they couldn’t charge me, but apparently they are pretty swift on that. It appears they crosscheck your CVV number with the issuing bank’s ZIP code to make sure they match up.

Why make it so hard to remove my credit card information? Why make canceling so hard? So off I went to cancel by phone (I really hate having to explain myself). I was connected relatively quickly to a customer support agent. “Why are you canceling?” asked the customer support person. Why should I have to explain my reasons? This is precisely why an online option is so valuable. I explained I just wanted to cancel. “Oh, but you haven’t any charges” she quipped. I explained her service was storing my credit card information on their service and I didn’t appreciate that. She then preceded to cancel the account asking all of my information (name, address, city, zip, blood type, etc).

This is critically important…if I just let them hold on to my credit card information, what happens if they are hacked into? I have to keep worrying about them charging me for something I didn’t buy or some cracker getting my information.

I urge you to go to www.vongo.com and click on Contact Us. Tell them how crappy this policy is. Vongo doesn’t own my personal information, I DO!

– Soli Deo Gloria

BeyondLogic: Another Sysinternals Type Web Site

After testing the latest version of VNCScan (which is much improved since my last entry on it…they encrypt the local administrator password now instead of storing it in cleartext), I saw they were using beyondexec instead of psexec. This piqued my interest, so I went and did a Google search on “beyondexec” and it lead me to www.beyondlogic.org. The site looks a bit amateurish, but it has some interesting utilities on it, namely PortTalk and Trust-No-Exe. PortTalk lets legacy programs write directly to COM/LPT ports under Windows 2000/XP. I actually could of used this utility about a month ago. I built a Gateway 600YGR laptop for one of our EE’s with Windows XP. He tried his EEPROM program on it (16-bit) and it was a no go. The program wanted to write directly to the LPT1 port and Windows XP doesn’t allow this. I had to put Windows 98 on the laptop to get it to work.

Trust-No-Exe is an interesting concept that could be used for a kiosk type machine. Basically, it allows you to greylist the executables you don’t want running and whitelist the ones you do. Getting back to beyondexec, one advantage of it over psexec is that you can issue shutdown commands to the remote system after executing your remote program. Looks like you can also send messages to the user which could come in handy.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Interesting Fun with Microsoft Access MDB Files

I got a call from a user today having problems opening a MDB file. It appears this file was from a government organization on the West Coast responsible for air quality control. I went to the web site the user gave me and no where does it state what version of Access you need to open the file! My user in question had Microsoft Access 2000 and was getting an error that his version was too old to open this MDB file, so I tried Microsoft Access XP on his computer and got a different error. The error I got was this:

Microsoft Access cannot open this file. This file is located outside your intranet or on an untrusted site.
Microsoft Access will not open the file due to potential security problems. To open the file, copy it to your
computer or an accessible network location
.”

This was quite an interesting error message as the file was being opened from the local C: drive! Upon searching the Microsoft web site, this error message is given and the solution is this:
This behavior can occur because an FQDN or IP address contains periods, which causes Internet Explorer
to identify the Web site or share as being in the Internet zone.

Nothing was listed in the security zones. How was I to know what exact URL it was going after to add it to the security zone? Our local GPOs prevent changing the Internet security settings, so this wasn’t an option any ways. Upon searching further, I stumbled upon this blog entry that says that new features in service pack 2 for Windows XP cause this behavior. The solution is to right-click on the MDB file, select Properties and then click “Unblock”. I tried that and it worked great. Goes to show you that all error messages are not created equal.
– Soli Deo Gloria