Free Remote Control Via the Web!

Here’s a company doing something really slick: giving away remote control services over the Internet for FREE! Now it is free for only personal use: if you use it for commercial purposes, you need to purchase a license. Each session can be 30 minutes in duration and you are allowed to use 10 hours of the service per month. Now you can help all your friends without leaving your house!

Setting up the remote control session is dangerously simple: download the program on your PC. Your party can either download the client or you can generate a URL within the program you have on your PC to give them. Basically, the program connects directly back into their service and drives the whole experience. The URL method is slick because the end user just has to enter a URL: the web site delivers a Java based client so no installation on their part is necessary.

If you go for the free license, you are obligated to recommend the product to 7 associates or link an ad to your site. I have opted to link an ad to my blog below since it gets 200+ visits a day.

Update (4/30/07): It gets even better…they removed the session limit, bumped the time per month from 10 hours to 25 hours and you do not have to register to use the software anymore!


TeamViewer Remote Control
Free Remote Control

Utility Review: SWI – System Information for Windows

AIDA32 use to be my dearest love for system information, until it turned into Everest Home and then it vanished from the freeware scene into payware. The Ultimate edition is $30 up front, with $20/year maintenance to get updates. They recently offered an “Engineer” edition that is $199/year. However, maybe you want something that is freeware to check your own system or some elses, but you want the power of Everest. Introducing: SIW!

The web page for the program is here and is cleverly laid out as a Windows desktop. The author goes into a lot of detail into each feature with screen shots: very classy! The program is one executable: no installation, no DLL or INI files. I like the simplicity very much. Now some programs will just give you very generic information (ahem, Belarc Advisor), but SIW goes in depth like Everest does. The first page I go into is the Operating System tab. My Windows Vista product key is there: very nice! However, it only seems to be able to determine the activation status on Windows XP. When I ran it on Windows Vista, it was completely missing. Clicking on Licenses brought up my keys for Office 2003 and 2007: impressive. It does, however, misidentify my Office as being the Enterprise edition. It’s actually a copy from Technet using a retail key, but it’s close enough.

Upon clicking on Domain Groups, I was presented with all the groups in my company’s AD structure. That’s a bit unsettling given that I have regular user access to AD. Likewise, clicking on Domain User Accounts gives me a listing of all the AD user accounts in the DS and which groups those accounts are in, including Domain Administrators! I’m very tempted to try running this utility on another network to see if would pull up the same information.

Clicking on the Secrets tab makes my jaw drop: all of my Firefox passwords are presented to me in cleartext! VNC passwords are also presented here and those are supposed to be encrypted! Wow, I’m really starting to like this utility! Clicking on PCI under Hardware presents a listing of information regardless of what driver is installed. That feature alone makes this program a keeper and definitely a replacement option for Everest. SIW is unable to get the SPD information of my DIMMs: Everest has no problem. SIW is able, however, to identify the size in each bank of memory.

Embedded within the program is a program called Eureka! This allow you to reveal passwords behind asterisks. I tried it on both Windows Vista and Windows XP and it does work! Yet another reason not to save passwords in Internet Explorer or Firefox. Oh look, an embedded Windows 9x password cracker! Move over Cain and Abel (if you ever tried cracking PWL files you know what I mean, wink, wink)! There’s even ping, trace and network built in to this rig, along with remote execution goodies. Again, all of this is in one little 1.4MB file!

You have to remember that SIW is written by a freelance programmer in his spare time and does not have the resources of a corporate entity. For that, I have to say he’s done one hell of a job making this thing! Now if you want to use this for commercial purposes, there are licenses that you need to purchase. For a technician license it is $75 for unlimited use. Very reasonably priced vs the perpetual $200/year that Everest charges.

I give this program my highest rating and recommendation:

Do you have a utility that you find useful in your tech work? Send your information on it to web..(at)..leinss.com and it could be featured here!

– Soli Deo Gloria

Windows Activation Attacked Again

Amazingly, pirates have once again claimed victory over Windows Vista’s activation requirements. The hack centers around SLP (System Locked Preinstallation) or OEM copies. Basically, if you have the “Dell edition” of Vista it will not require activation on Dell hardware. Well, some crafty people have figured out that by editing BIOS strings you can make one system look like a Dell or a HP. In yet another method, someone wrote a driver to emulate various BIOS setups. There is something called a SLIC table in the APCI standard for BIOS setups that tell programs what hardware they are running on.

Appears from the comments I read that it works…that is until Microsoft releases a “security update”!

It appears that Vista’s anti-piracy measures only lasted a month before being defeated. I have to say I am amazed at the speed and diligence of the pirates!

– Soli Deo Gloria

Response to “Windows Vista: I’m Breaking up with You”

Update 3/13/07: Chris Pirillo recently wrote an article for the magazine Computer Power User. In this April 2007 issue, Chris wrote an article called “An Open Letter to Jim Allchin”. In this article he states:

“I’ve been using Vista pretty much exclusively for the past few weeks and have had my fair share of ups and downs with it. I haven’t been compelled to switch back to XP (or OS X, for that matter), so take that for what it’s worth.

I guess it’s not worth much, as Chris had a change of heart sending droves of people to his blog stating: “Windows Vista: I’m Breaking up with You”. So Chris, which is it? I guess Chris hates chocolate ice cream one week and then loves it the next.

Original blog entry continues…

Chris Pirillo recently wrote an article about why he’s sticking with Windows XP. He even made a 53 minute video about it. Sorry, I can’t stomach watching that, but he did list out the problems he had with Vista. So, let me take them point-by-point to calm his FUD:

1. My scanner doesn’t really work (Hewlett-Packard Laserjet 3052). HP hasn’t caught up with support yet, and software updates won’t be available until SP1 time-frame. The software works like a charm in XP – amazingly well, as a matter of fact.

Hewlett Packard has been notorious for slow driver support for new operating systems. Here’s a thread from Google Groups back in the year 2000 about how HP wasn’t supporting their scanners when Windows 2000 first came out. HP was also trying to charge their users $20 for upgraded software for the Scanjet 4200 so it could be used on Windows 2000. Instead of breaking up with Windows Vista, maybe you should break up with HP for their crappy support?

My Agfa scanner did not work with Windows Vista off the bat either: I had to use Vuescan to get it to work. Since my scanner is 7 years old, I think this is fair.

2. Windows Movie Maker crashes on a regular basis.

Can’t say either way whether he has a point or not. Did you submit your feedback to Microsoft Chris?

3. My IPFax software doesn’t work (the driver will likely never be updated to be Vista-compliant). Never, EVER caused me a problem in XP. I need this software to work, and dual-booting to use this is not an option.

Again, not a Windows Vista problem. It’s a manufacturer problem.

4. I still can’t get my Lifecam to work, but wound up purchasing the vastly superior Logitech QuickCam Ultra Vision instead (which puts Microsoft’s new webcam software AND hardware series to shame).

Yet again, not a Windows Vista problem!

5. On the same machine (AMD Quad FX), XP trumps Vista in terms of performance. I don’t have specific benchmarks on hand, but I can tell you the difference is quite palpable. This is even with most of Vista’s eye candy tuned to a dull roar. We’ll see if it runs just as quickly when everything’s reinstalled there. I only discovered this after rebooting to try my scanner in XP – blazing differences, similar tasks.

Shock, horror! You put a newer operating system with more features and programming code on your PC and it runs slower? Well, so does mine. Again, software has to be written to take advantage of your Quad architecture: you are likely not even tapping into all that power you have. For the record: AMD Quad is not really 4 cores on one chip: you have two processors with dual cores on them.

You also need newer hardware to see some of Vista’s performance improvements such as ReadyDrive. If you buy new hardware that is Vista engineered, your experience will be faster than that of Windows XP’s.

6. NVIDIA chipsets and video cards. Need I say more?

Probably, because not everyone reads Vista message boards on a daily basis. If you’re talking about what I think you are talking about, this is actually a bug within the NVIDIA NForce chipset that Microsoft is working around in their software code. Of course, all of the longhorn news groups detailing this have long since pulled by Microsoft, however I did find this news article from the Techreport:

Last week, we learned about a compatibility problem with Nvidia nForce3-based motherboards involving Windows Vista, ATI graphics cards, and dual-core processors. Nvidia informed us that its only chipsets certified for Vista were the nForce4, nForce 500, and nForce 600 series, suggesting that nForce3 users suffering from compatibility problems in Vista would have to suck it up and either stick with Windows XP or buy new hardware.

However, the company seems to have changed its mind somewhat. Nvidia Platform Products PR Manager Bryan Del Rizzo has e-mailed us saying, “There is a known issue with ATI AGP cards and nForce3 and Vista. This is currently being looked into and will most likely be resolved with a MCP driver update.” Del Rizzo adds that nForce3- and nForce2-based systems can run Vista using built-in Microsoft drivers and third-party audio chipset drivers. There is one notable exception, though: storage support. Nvidia RAID is just plain not supported, and Del Rizzo says there are “known Vista issues with some ATAPI devices.”

Yet again, not a Windows Vista problem, but a manufacturer problem! I run straight Intel hardware and I’m not having any issues.

7. I simply can’t get to my OS X machine from Vista (or mount a WebDAV server).

Doesn’t OS X do file sharing via HTTP services? How is this a Windows Vista problem?

8. Copernic Desktop Search, a far superior desktop search client to Microsoft’s, either doesn’t like Vista or Outlook 2007 – not sure which, yet. Either way, I can’t run it right now – and the Windows Desktop Search tool is still as lame as ever (sorry, Brandon). I’ll miss the new Start Menu, but I think there’s similar third-party software that’ll keep me happy in the meanwhile.

I used Copernic long before Google came on the scene and was not impressed. I’m not quite fond of the file searching in Windows Vista either: I usually drop down to a command console to do my file searching. However, the text based searching in Windows Vista is awesome. Plug in a keyword and it brings up all of the files, e-mail messages , etc. with that word. What’s so special about Copernic?

9. Explorer keeps losing my view settings. THIS IS DRIVING ME UP THE FARKING WALL! Now, I realize that XP suffers from this problem as well, but it’s never been this bad. There are so many new options that it’s difficult to reset each window’s view every time – including column headers, which are now permanently stuck on “Tags” and “Date Taken” (even though I may not be in a folder with objects supportive of these fields). Yes, I realize this problem stretches back centuries – but it seems to have gotten worse, not better.

Not a Windows Vista issue: I don’t have that issue on any of the PCs I run, whether it be Windows Vista or Windows XP. Now, the idea to remove “Date Modified” from the explorer view was pretty retarded: I’ll give you that. However, I’ve been able to force a view with “Date Modified” for all my folders. In case you didn’t know: setup a view that you like in Windows explorer. Then go to Organize>Folder and Search Options, click on the View tab and then click “Apply to Folders”, then “Yes” to change all the folders to that view. Simple, really.

10. My workaday software still seems to suffer from weird quirks now and again. I really don’t have the time or patience to wait for each developer to catch up just so I can go on living my life. All these little annoyances are starting to add up to one major headache. Instead of detailing each one separately (and extending this list exponentially), I’m just wrapping all of ‘em together into one point.

So your point is that you are using software by companies that are not interested in supporting their product for Windows Vista, so dump Windows Vista? Your headline is just an attention grabber: every operating system release is going to have issues with older software and hardware, especially with system specific software like disk defraggers, antivirus, video, etc. Of course you’ll need to work through these issues.

I’ve had a few application issues on my own system with Windows Vista: sound and scanner drivers. With a little research and tweaking, I got all of them working. These manufacturers had plenty of time during the Windows Vista beta to develop compatible software. Why develop compatible software for older products when you can just get the customers to buy new hardware and software? Do you want Microsoft to re-write Hewlett Packard’s scanner software?

The fact is that Windows Vista (and every Windows version proceeding it) is very compatible. Microsoft even works around vendor software bugs by using application shims. I’ve tested 30+ company core applications and most work with little or no problem on Windows Vista.

– Soli Deo Gloria

The Final Chapter on Windows XP Images

Recently, I rebuilt my company’s standard Windows XP Ghost image and decided investigate the HAL issue once again. I wrote how to make universal images by forcing the APCI HAL. Perhaps, however, you are a “best practices” kind of fellow and rather not force an APCI HAL, yet want a universal image. With a little work, you can get there. One thing I recently noticed is that the HAL is not changeable in Windows XP from the device manager. In Windows 2000, you could change the HAL to anything you wanted, but I guess Microsoft thought that feature was too powerful for us. In Windows XP, the only way to change HALs is:

  1. Specify one in sysprep.inf
  2. Do a Windows repair on the PC in question

There’s two little tricks you can use to work around this. The first one I found is from the Jimmy Bondi in the VMware forums. In C:windowsinfhal.inf, change the section [GENDEV_SYS] to the following:

[GENDEV_SYS]
%E_ISA_UP.DeviceDesc% = E_ISA_UP_HAL, E_ISA_UP, MPS_UP, MPS_MP, ACPIPIC_UP, ACPIAPIC_UP, ACPIAPIC_MP ; Standard PC
%ACPIPIC_UP.DeviceDesc% = ACPIPIC_UP_HAL, ACPIPIC_UP, ACPIAPIC_UP, ACPIAPIC_MP ; ACPI PIC-based PC
%ACPIAPIC_UP.DeviceDesc% = ACPIAPIC_UP_HAL, ACPIAPIC_MP, ACPIAPIC_UP, ACPIPIC_UP; ACPI APIC-based PC (UP)
%ACPIAPIC_MP.DeviceDesc% = ACPIAPIC_MP_HAL, ACPIAPIC_MP, ACPIAPIC_UP, ACPIPIC_UP; ACPI APIC-based PC (MP)
%MPS_UP.DeviceDesc% = MPS_UP_HAL, MPS_UP, ACPIAPIC_UP ; MPS UP PC
%MPS_MP.DeviceDesc% = MPS_MP_HAL, MPS_MP, MPS_UP, ACPIAPIC_MP, ACPIAPIC_UP ; MPS MP PC

This ingenious situation basically tells Windows: “hey, you can use any driver for this specific HAL”. Now you can go into the device manager, right click on the HAL and do an update driver. The PC will require two reboots after doing this.

The other thing you can do is just leave your image configured with a APCI Uniprocessor HAL, which is newer then just the plain old APCI HAL. If the system refuses to boot, boot into BartPE and copy over hal.dll, ntoskrnl.exe and ntkrnlpa.exe from a system already running an APCI HAL into C:windowssystem32. Reboot and viola, the system boots! This later method requires the work of a semi-skilled technician, so pick the method accordingly to your organization’s needs.

I’ve also found that you can change the IDE drivers in the image to “Standard Dual Channel PCI IDE  Controller” in the device manager before closing the image and your image will boot on pretty much any hardware.  You can then add the correct IDE drivers later for better performance.  Using this “hack”, your image will still change the IDE drivers to the “correct” ones during the mini-setup if you have them defined in [SysprepMassStorage]. This might come in handy if you want to image an older PC, yet do not want to update and recreate your image just for one PC.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Combating Image Spam

Spammers are ingenious little devils. One piece of spam that always has been near impossible to filter out is image spam. Quite simply, image spam is where they make an image with the spam message inside. Since most spam analyzers only look at text, not images, you get the spam in your mail box. To combat this type of spam, you need an e-mail service that will analyze images for spam. That service should also let you dictate where that e-mail goes based on the results that it finds. Tuffmail fits the bill on both accounts. Let’s take a look at an e-mail that I get daily to one of my e-mail addresses:

Do you notice the text on the bottom of the e-mail? If I take parts of this text and throw them into Google, I get some interesting results. “emma davenport, a quiet, bright-eyed girl” comes from Chapter 11 of the book “An Old Fashioned Girl”. “bess vanished from the room, seeming to take all the light with” comes from Chapter 2 from Parnassus. The spammer is adding legitimate text at the bottom of his e-mail to make his e-mail less “spammy” for Bayesian filters. Bayesian filters look at the whole e-mail and give it a score based on how many spam words are contained in the e-mail. By adding more legitimate, non-spam like text, the message gets a lower spam score. Clever, very clever.

Looking at e-mail header at webmail.tuffmail.net, I found this under the line X-Spam-Report:
X-Spam-Report: Content analysis details: 0.0 BAYESSCORE 0.502318 0.0 BAYES_50 BODY: Bayesian spam probability is 40 to 60% 1.1 EXTRA_MPART_TYPE Header has extraneous Content-type:…type= entry 0.1 FORGED_RCVD_HELO Received: contains a forged HELO 4.0 RCVD_HELO_IP_MISMATCH Received: HELO and IP do not match, but should 1.5 RCVD_NUMERIC_HELO Received: contains an IP address used for HELO 4.1 FUZZY_OCR BODY: Message contains an image with common spam text [price with fuzz 0: score 0.50] [browser with fuzz 0: score 0.50] [ambien with fuzz 16: score 0.10] [click with fuzz 0: score 0.50] [type with fuzz 0: score 0.50] [click with fuzz 0: score 0.50] [browser with fuzz 0: score 0.50] 0.0 HTML_MESSAGE BODY: HTML included in message [score: 0.5000] 0.0 TM_IMG_ATTACH FULL: Email has a inline image 0.8 SARE_GIF_ATTACH FULL: Email has a inline gif 2.0 RCVD_IN_SORBS_DUL RBL: SORBS: sent directly from dynamic IP address [85.16.21.168 listed in dnsbl.sorbs.net] 1.9 RCVD_IN_NJABL_DUL RBL: NJABL: dialup sender did non-local SMTP [85.16.21.168 listed in combined.njabl.org] 1.1 MY_CID_ARIAL_STYLE SARE cid arial2 style 0.7 MY_CID_AND_STYLE SARE cid and style 0.7 MY_CID_AND_ARIAL2 SARE CID and Arial2

Most of that is probably Greek to you, so I highlighted the important part we can filter on. The analyzer engine found an image with common spam text, including ambien and price. Therefore, we can make a rule like this in Tuffmail’s IMP4 webmail interface:

Viola! Good bye image spam!

– Soli Deo Gloria