Microsoft Windows Vista Pre-RC1

Microsoft has changed a few things since the days of Windows 2000/XP beta testing. RCs or Release Candidates usually came within days of RTM (Release to Manufacturing). From various articles, it seems Vista RC1 will come to us on September 7 and the final version will be released in November! There are some really nice features in Windows Vista. Running as standard user is MUCH easier in Windows Vista. With UAC turned on, even administrators run under standard mode. If you need to do an action that requires administrative privileges, a login box comes up for you automatically. Previously, things such as changing file permissions or changing network properties under standard user mode were impossible, even with RunAs. Not so with Windows Vista.

The WIM format is very cool…I made my first custom image a few days ago. My articles on making hardware independent images will become a thing of the past. Windows Vista also comes with really nice driver support in the box. I was able to make a WinPE image capture disk and did not have to provide network drivers for it at all.

However, there a few things things I don’t like. Windows Defender seems to prevent anything that is not “classified” from running from the Run key in the registry. Even logged in as administrator does not allow me to override this. Speaking of the administrator account, Windows Vista disables that by default! I guess this is some security wizard’s dream, but in reality anyone with two brain cells can figure out what the administrator account is by looking at the account SIDs (the administrator account always ends in SID -500).

The boot loader also looks daunting, with replacement of NTLDR and boot.ini. The only way to edit the boot configuration is with a command line program called bcdedit. If you want to backrev to XP/2000, you have to use bootsect from the Vista DVD with specific command line switches.

– Soli Deo Gloria

DirectX Out of Memory?

Here’s an interesting problem that stumped two techs before the problem got routed to me. It seems that one of our sales people was running a program that utilized DirectX. Unforunately, when they loaded the program none of the DirectX graphics would come up. In addition to this, dxdiag would come back with an “Out of Memory” error message. This was quite interesting as this Dell (GX280 I believe) had 128 MB of video memory and the program ran fine on two other Dells within the same department. The proverbial task of updating the video drivers and reinstalling DirectX was already done before I hit the seat. My plan of attack was to use a DirectX uninstaller (3rd party…Microsoft doesn’t want you uninstalling DirectX) and then use the full 52 MB version of Direct 9.0c I downloaded from the Internet (veruses the lite web version).

Upon looking at the Device Manager of the affected PC, I saw a device under video adaptors named “Webdialogs Mirror Driver”. Hmm…we don’t use anything like that on the image. I promptly removed the suspect driver and lo and behold: DirectX was back up and working again!

After returning to my desk, I decided to check out this Webdialogs thing. Turns out its some type of conferencing software. Makes sense: sales reps conference with their customers all the time. Usually, a mirror driver on a PC allows a remote user to see your desktop. Perhaps he was working with a vendor on a issue on his local PC and offered the vendor to remote into his PC (interesting security implications here).

Remember the priniciples of K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple Silly

– Soli Deo Gloria

Windows Continues to Dominate

Interesting article from Paul Thurrott’s WinInfo Newsletter Today:

OneStat: Windows Continues to Dominate

Microsoft’s next-generation OS, Windows Vista, continues to be horribly late, but that hasn’t stopped the current version, Windows XP, from dominating the OS market. Web analytics company OneStat.com says that XP is responsible for almost 87 percent of all Web usage, while all Windows versions combined account for 97 percent of Web usage.

“Microsoft’s Windows dominates the operating system market with a global usage share of 96.97 percent,” OneStat.com reports. “The leading operating system on the Web is Microsoft’s Windows XP with a global usage share of 86.80 percent. Microsoft’s Windows 2000 has a global usage share of 6.09 percent and is the second most popular OS on the Web.”

You read that right. Windows 2000 is the second most often used OS on the Web, with almost three times the usage share of all Macintosh versions combined. During an event keynote last week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was quick to point out that Mac OS X was “gaining market share,”
but Apple has made only concrete gains in very specific markets, such as “retail sales of notebook computers in the US.” In reality, Mac OS X usage is still below 2.5 percent worldwide. Even the 8-year-old Windows 98, with 2.68 percent of the market, accounts for more users than OS X does.

Many had expected Apple’s recent successes with the dominant iPod MP3 player and the move to Macs that use Intel chips to increase the company’s share of the OS market. That hasn’t happened yet, although it still could: With Vista not scheduled for general availability until early 2007, Apple has an opening during which it can sell Mac OS X systems to Windows converts while pushing its next-generation OS, code-named Leopard.

According to OneStat.com, the following are the most frequently used OSs on the Web in the world:

1. Windows XP – 86.80 percent
2. Windows 2000 – 6.09 percent
3. Windows 98 – 2.68 percent
4. Macintosh/ Macintosh Power PC – 2.47 percent
5. Windows Me – 1.09 percent
6. Linux – 0.36 percent
7. Windows NT – 0.24 percent

– Soli Deo Gloria

Installers Gone Wild

OK, so the title isn’t as exciting as “Girls Gone Wild”, but at least I tried. The company I work for as recently started to upgrade all of our machines from Office 97 to Office 2003. Did you say quantum leap? Thankfully, most of the Office 2003 suite (which I will refer to as O2K3 from this point) handles most of the old Office 97 formatted files quite nicely. That is except for Access 97 and earlier databases. Microsoft Access is a funny thing. When you have a Access 97 database, everyone that uses that database must use Access 97. If you try to open it in Access 2000 and convert the database to the 2000 format, no one with Access 97 will be able to read the database. To top it off, not all databases can be converted to the new version. Since we are talking about a database that could have been created up to 9 years ago, anyone who worked on the database is probably long gone from your company (the IT field does have a high turnover rate…a joke I once heard was that if you were at a company for more than a year you were an IT veteran!).

For the O2K3 install, we are using a custom transforms file which removes the previous versions of Office, then installs O2K3 with certain settings defined in the transforms file, such as macro security settings. On one machine in HR, they were using a Child Support Database from the state. This database needed Access 97 to work. I decided to let our custom installation script run and install the whole O2K3 suite. I then was going to remove Access 2003 and re-install Access 97. I did just that and when I tried to open the database it seemed to worked fine…until 3 days later. There is a import function in this database which pulls in a CSV file which contains the amounts of child support that is to be paid per employee. The problem is that when the HR person hit the import button, she was getting a “3170: Couldn’t Find Installable ISAM driver“. Gulp! I looked up this error message and followed the instructions from Microsoft’s knowledgebase, but this did not work unfortunately. I was kind of in a panic, because we have 5 days to submit these payments to the state. I called the vendor and he stated he could snail mail me a newer version of the database. I asked if he could send it electronically because I was in a pinch and he stated no.

The only saving grace was that it appeared that the tech that originally installed the program had copied the installation CD to the hard drive. The problem was that this installation was missing files and it kept trying to go to a D: drive. Why was it trying to go to a D: drive? That’s where the installer assumed (incorrectly) I was running the setup program from. How do we fake out the installation program so it thinks it is running from D:? First, we need change the drive letter of the CD-ROM drive from D: to something else. We can do this by right-clicking on “My Computer”, go to “Manage” and then click on “Disk Management”. Locate the CD-ROM, then right-click it and choose “Change Drive Letters and Paths…”. Choose a drive letter not used. Now comes the fun part! We need to trick the computer so it thinks that these files are on D:. How to do that? Well, my friend, this is where MS-DOS skills come in quite handy. There is a program called SUBST that first appeared in MS-DOS 3.1. This maps a drive letter to a path or re-routes requests for a drive letter to another one. My guess is that SUBST was created because very early programs were hardcoded to run from an A: drive. Hard drives weren’t supported until MS-DOS 2.0, so this theory stands up nicely. SUBST still comes with every Windows version, including Windows XP. Enough history, we can do this from a command prompt:

subst D: C:setup

Any requests for D: get re-routed (unknowingly to the program) to C:temp. When you are done, just issue “subst D: /d” and it deletes the D: drive. You can then use “Disk Management” to change the drive letter of the CD-ROM back to D:.

Now back to this “installer gone wild”. I had made a copy of the setup program and placed it on my hard drive. I got it to the point where the install was now working, however when I ran the uninstall portion, the setup removed some of the setup components! Once you uninstalled the program you couldn’t reinstall it. Again, this is sloppy programming. The programmer probably assumed that the setup routine would run from read-only media, so why not try to remove everything? I copied the files from the user’s back to mine and re-installed and viola the import function worked on my PC! I performed the same steps on her PC and got her up and running.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Finally Back Online!

After getting a replacement CPU from Newegg and popping it into my system my computer still wasn’t working! System would power on for 2 seconds and then power off. I stripped it to bare bones and still got the same thing. I ripped another power supply out of my test box and again it would only power on for 2 seconds. As I pulled the cards out, I noticed each had coolant on the contacts. The sockets must be soaked with this nasty stuff. Any ways, I had an Asus motherboard overnighted from Newegg and I’m back online! The fix I have posted for the STOP 0x7B error message in the HOW-TO section works quite nicely for motherboard exchanges.

Update: Not quite up as I thought ..3 hours after assembling the system the AGP card took a crap.  Switching it with an older Geforce 2 MX 400 worked, so I went to CompUSA and got a cheapo Geforce 5200FX card.  However, that doesn’t work after POST, so I had to put the older AGP card in.  Both cards work in other systems?!  I’m going to try a PCI card from Newegg and see how that goes!

This week at work I played with Windows Vista with the AIK (Automated Install Kit) and WDS (Windows Deployment Services). I actually got Windows Vista to push down via PXE boot in my test lab. Even got a partial unattended setup going via PXE, but as soon I as used the System Image Manager to script in an addition of a local admin account, the image now bombs towards the end of the image download.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Watercooling: Never Again

This weekend I attempted to install a watercooling kit from Danger Den, kit 4200. Took me about 3 hours to strip everything out of my PC and get the water blocks mounted. I turned it on and it was alive! Today, I wake up and start putting all my cards back into the system and boot it up. I moved my DVD drive up one bay to make room for the coolant reservoir. Now the IDE cable doesn’t reach to the motherboard. Drats! I head to Best Buy to find a IDE cable. They only have one for $22. Give me a break! So I head to CompUSA and find one from Belkin for $35. You kidding me? I luckily find a conductor 80 CompUSA brand for $10: now that’s more like it! I come back home to find coolant all over my desk! Eek!

The coolant smells really bad too (I mean really bad) and it is sticky! I find the leak on the CPU block and try to fix it: no go. Eventually, my whole computer stops booting because the coolant is dripping into my AGP port and this type of coolant is not conductive. I really get tired of this, so I yank the cooling system out which made a bigger mess.

In the process of taking the waterblocks off, I managed to bend the pins on my CPU. Eek! The waterblock came off so easily on the GPU that I tried the same trick on my CPU and it failed badly. Had to go to Newegg on my spare PC and order up another CPU.

It’s been 6 hours since I eaten, so I better go eat before I get sick. Watercooling? NEVER AGAIN!

– Soli Deo Gloria

Fun with SMS 2003 OSD

I’ve been playing around with Microsoft Systems Management Service (SMS) 2003 because there was talk of implementing at my company, even the OSD part! OSDFP is the OS Deployment Feature Pack for SMS 2003 SP1. Basically, it uses the management forces of SMS to upgrade existing computers with ease. For example: you can upgrade a Windows 2000 to Windows XP hands free, having SMS 2003 migrate all the user profile data. This does require a fair amount of work on the back end, but in the end it will save you lots of work! You can also do “bare metal” and “replacement” scenarios all from a Windows PE CD.
The first task in using the OSD is creating a Windows PE CD. This is pretty much done for you, except you have to provide the network drivers. As you know, I’m quite lazy and rather not have to download, extract, simply and organize the drivers myself. Let’s go find someone that has already done this for us! We want the Ultimate Boot CD 4 Windows Drivers by LittlBUGer. Now, the OSD PE wizard expects all of the *.SYS/*.DLL/*.INF to all be in one folder with NO subdirectories. Unforunately, the driver pack extracts with a full folder structure. We can get around this by zipping up the whole folder structure with ZipCentral. Now extract the ZIP file, but tell the program not to preserve the folder structure. When it asks if you want to overwrite files, say yes to all.

Drivers names for different NICs are pretty unique, so you will be pretty safe here. Viola, you now have support for at least 25 different NICs! You didn’t even have to break a sweat!

– Soli Deo Gloria