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home :: tech :: windows

Mar 22, 2007

Microsoft Tech Briefing

I attended a Microsoft Technical Briefing last week. I’d never been to one of these types of things before. Being crammed into a hall with a thousand other IT people was certainly interesting if not slightly depressing (wheres the gender balance and why doesn't anyone buck the 'geek' stereotype?).

It was an all day event – most of the sessions were good although the uncomfortable chairs definitely made me lose focus about 2/3 of the way through each presentation. Microsoft could learn a little something from Apple when it comes to holding peoples interest over an extended period of time (‘more demo less talky’ and ‘squinty fonts bad’ spring immediately to mind).

The take away from the event was that Microsoft really are moving to slay the opposition in the next layer of applications and services. If Microsofts offerings are like a cake - the Operating System is the base, Office suite is the cream and then Integrated Services is the next layer of sponge. Essentially they’re looking to do value-add almost everywhere – as with everything Microsoft do version 1.0 might not be that great but by the time they get to version 3.0 they’ll definitely be hurting the competition.

Its also interesting that a lot of the exciting new stuff has been acquired by corporate acquisition rather than developed in house (which seems to just be going through improved iterations).

Interesting stuff included


* Virtual Server is still has a long road to topple VMWare but the new versions certainly look like they’ll give ESX a good run. Particular at the high-end – it looks like their Data-center version will give you the right to unlimited Virtualised servers. If you’re a Windows-only shop the licensing implications alone are pretty huge.


* Forefront seems to be the new catch-all for Microsofts Security stuff. Their presentation had about 16 different products in the ‘Forefront’ bucket – given the range of systems they need to protect this isn’t a surprising figure but it does make their over-all offering a little confusing. What I liked were the hosted Exchange, mail archiving and mail scanning facilities (backed by stringent SLA’s and penalty payouts for passing through known malware/viruses). They also have a new Internet Access Gateway (IAG) which is SSL VPN with endpoint security – lots of VPN vendors are going to struggle.

* As well as the anti-competitive aspect (if you write the OS & application it gives you bit of an edge in securing them) it does raise the spectre of putting all your bags into a single basket which many people will weigh up against ease of use and integration with all their other Microsoft apps.


* They’ve put all their management stuff under the ‘System Center’ banner – SMS is probably the most well known tool but they have MOM (a monitoring solution), Data Protection among others in this category. Most of these have had multiple revisions under various different product names – Microsoft admits they’ve been remiss in improving the management aspects of their products so they’ve been beefing up their resources to greatly improve this line. I’ve tried the new MOM & SMS and they seem straightforward to install and deploy but getting them to do more seems to require some serious specialist knowledge (ie its counter-intuitive and quirky).


* Lots of Vista goodness on show – given Microsoft have done an about-face and are now promoting image-based deployment you’d think they’d make the process foolproof. They’ve come up with some good tools but they seem to be a bit tricky to use – Windows Deployment Services (which supercedes RIS) and Business Desktop Deployment. At least now a single image can go onto a variety of hardware. The license and activation stuff looks straightforward (you need to setup your own internal license server if you want to get a volume key).

So it looks like interesting times ahead in IT land.

[/tech/windows] | [permalink] | [2007.03.22-22:28.00]

Jan 31, 2007

Simple Way to Find Which Role is on Which Domain Controller

I'm sure there's a better way to do this but this works for me -

If you need to find which FSMO roles are held by which Domain Controllers, install the Server Support Tools from the Server CD.

Then run replmon.exe, add in your DC's and you can check replication status on various Active Directory objects. If you select the Properties for a DC you can view which DC in the domain holds a particular FSMO role.

Some more info on replmon.exe:

* Microsoft's Replmon Reference

* Replmon How-to

[/tech/windows/activedir] | [permalink] | [2007.01.31-22:58.00]

Sep 19, 2006

Project 2003 Pro Annoyance(s)

Like many organisations looking to consolidate their workflows via a PMO (Project Management Office) - we're looking into tools which enable collaboration of the various projects and workstreams underway.

Microsoft have a number of tools to facilitate this - primarily SharePoint and Project Server.

I ran up a Project Server for a Pilot program and ran into a few annoying glitches that I thought I'd document for anyone else that came across them -

* First if you install and run Project 2003 Pro and get a "The command is attempting to use a webpage from the site gbui://blank.htm/" error which loops endlessly then you need to check this Microsoft kbase article (ID 887028). Methinks they rushed this product out the door a little quick.

* Second if you try to talk to a Project Server you end up with a blank login screen - because MS Project 2k3 Pro doesn't use a standard MS authentication system - it uses security libraries from Internet Explorer. Nice. There seem to be several reasons why this happens - many people suspect it is due to security restrictions enforced by McAfee VirusScan. In a nice bit of buck-passing McAfee point to this Micrisoft kbase article (ID 899341) - note that the hotfix didn't fix the problem and the fix is only available if you call Microsoft who will send you the details to download it anyway. Even if you uninstall the McAfee product it doesn't make any difference. Sigh.

* A clean PC build worked OK though which got me thinking it had to be a build problem. We got a consultant in to investigate and between us we came up with two fixes - (a) try installing IE7 (or repairing IE6) - this seems to replace a corrupted or old version of a critical IE dll that only seems to be important to Project authentication and a better fix is (b) on the server set server side policy - 'Impersonate a client after authentication' and add in the domain account used to run the Project Server service.

Other than that Project Server looks like an interesting tool - all configuration and data gets stored in SQL so you can run up multiple app servers and point them at the database and they just work. Kind of cool.

We installed in a fairly minimalist mode - just using IIS - instead of SharePoint which would have been overkill (and it broke other apps on the server).

In terms of usage - the idea is that a PM (Project Manager) uploads a project to the server and his 'resources' can update their individual task progress via a web interface (does require an Active X control so its IE only). Updates, approvals and task assignment trigger notification emails to both PM's and Resources.

The catch is of course that you need to have business buy-in and you'll also need a specialist Project-guru or Business Analyst to actually manage the server based projects and do basic administration (eg IT maintain it and the Business administer it). Like most back-end Microsoft products you need specialist skills to administer the product as well as some good domain knowledge to actually make use of it.

There are a few good resource for anyone looking into implementing a Project Server -

* Microsofts Project 2003 Site

* Project Server Experts

* Project MVP FAQ's

[/tech/windows] | [permalink] | [2006.09.19-23:51.00]

Jul 11, 2006

Exchange Tips

It looks like I'll never leave Exchange land - so I'm on the hunt for as many tips and bits of information as I can get. The MS Exchange Blog contains all sorts of useful goodies.

[/tech/windows/exchange] | [permalink] | [2006.07.11-18:38.00]

Jun 01, 2006

ArsTechnica Looks @ Windows Vista Beta 2

A nice overview of Vista Beta 2 over at ArsTechnica - looks promising but not particularly compelling.

Paul Thurrott also looks at Vista 2 in more detail - part 4 focuses on compatibility. Lots more information concerning Vista, the new Office 2007 and Longhorn Server is also available on his Windows Supersite.

See also Twenty things you won't like about Vista. I had no idea they'd shuffled around so many of the controls. This looks like a release that will confuse a lot of people.

[/tech/windows] | [permalink] | [2006.06.01-20:07.00]

Mar 22, 2006

Windows DNS Annoyance 101

Why in this day and age can't you do something as simple as pointing to a share via a DNS alias on a Windows box ?

Apparently it requires a registry hack (even on Windows 2003). Sigh.

[/tech/windows] | [permalink] | [2006.03.22-22:53.00]

Mar 12, 2006

Uninstalling stuff from Windows

Because Windows is really annoying when it comes to keeping track of rubbish that gets installed it can be a pain to uninstall stuff.

Luckily Microsoft realise the aggravation of using its own software inventory mechanism and provide a way to remove an application automatically via command line.

msiexec.exe /x {00000409-78E1-11D2-B60F-006097C998E7} /qn

Where {00000409-78E1-11D2-B60F-006097C998E7} is the unique product 'GUID'. Its stored in the registry at HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall\{product GUID}

Definitely one to remember.

[/tech/windows] | [permalink] | [2006.03.12-23:21.00]

May 07, 2005

Boot Disks

Looks like an excellent utility/troubleshooting tool - Ultimate Bootdisk for Windows.

This CD leverages PEBuilder which lets you roll your own boot CD.

For the old fashioned DOS-types theres a great stash of disk images over at BootDisk. Disk images from DOS 5 up to WinME + network boot disks and bootable CD's. Great resource for running diagnostics or imaging to network shares.

[/tech/windows] | [permalink] | [2005.05.07-21:36.00]

Mar 14, 2005

Misc AD Tips

A look at Profile & Folder Redirection.

Troubleshooting Group Policy with the GP Management Console.

Understanding Administrative Templates.

[/tech/windows/activedir] | [permalink] | [2005.03.14-19:02.00]

Feb 16, 2005

GFI Mail Archiver

Slightly Bigbrother-esque but I can see many organisations needing this level of accessible transparency - GFI Mail Archiver. Essentially archives all email sent and received to an Exchange server in an SQL database and makes it accessible via a web interface.

[/tech/windows/exchange] | [permalink] | [2005.02.16-23:55.00]

Feb 10, 2005

Exchange 2003 Real World Tweaks

These guys are running a two part article on Exchange 2003 Server tips and tweaks - part 1 and part 2.

[/tech/windows/exchange] | [permalink] | [2005.02.10-23:43.00]

Nov 23, 2004

Windows Deployment Tips & Tools

Steven Bink has an invaluable guide to creating bootable Windows 2000 and Windows XP installation CD's. If you slipstream in the most recent service packs and script a few post OS package installs you can end up with a no fuss minimal interaction restore CD to standardise your PC's with.

Hand in hand with the bootable CD is the customised winnt.sif file which specifies as much or as little of the initial install information as you require. There are plenty of good articles on creating and customising this file.

There is also a freeware tool to help strip-out and select the components you need for installation - nLite.

[/tech/windows] | [permalink] | [2004.11.23-06:46.00]

Jun 14, 2004

Useful Windows Tools

Text Tools -

A freeform idea / note taker - KeyNote.

Plenty of good text editors to replace Notepad - Context, NoteTab and MetaPad.

Network -

Firefox and Thunderbird are the browser and mail components of the Mozilla Project.

Mozilla Composer is available as a standalone package called Nvu.

Putty is the must have SSH client.

WinSCP is a gui frontend on SecureCopy for excrypted file transfers.

RSS is the efficient way to browse the web - use SharpReader.

Utilities -

Use 7-Zip for compression.

Dependency Walker shows dll use - depends.exe.

FileMon and ProcExplorer are two of the many useful debugging tools at SysInternals.

For all your Unix needs use Cygwin or a simpler subset of common Unix CLI tools.

Clean away adware and spyware with Spybot or Adaware.

[/tech/windows] | [permalink] | [2004.06.14-08:22.00]

Mar 08, 2004

Useful Active Directory Links

Some Sample Code from O'Reillys Active Directory Cookbook

Two articles on using php and perl to access AD at

Sample Code from Realmen Don't Click

[/tech/windows/activedir] | [permalink] | [2004.03.08-08:42.00]

Mar 04, 2004

HP Utility for USB Drives

Will make any key drive bootable (USB 2.0 only).

[/tech/windows] | [permalink] | [2004.03.04-18:13.00]