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Friday October 15th 2021

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Q&A Monday: Server Disk Defrag

Question:

I was recently promoted to a Junior System Admin role at my company, and server maintenance has recently come under my job responsibility.  I was wondering if it is a good idea to defragment the disk on the servers?  We occasionally do defrags on the local PCs, but does defraging a server really help?

Answer:

Ah yes, the server defrag question.  When I got my first job as Jr System Admin, I ran into this question as well.  The company I worked for at the time, didn’t really have a maintenance schedule, so our server were usually heavily fragmented and we would have some slow server response times because of it.   Though when you’re learning you tend to just get use to that kind of stuff…I did.  When a couple years later I was promoted to System Administrator for that company I implemented a software called DisKeeper on all of our servers.  I was amazed to see that installing the software and scheduling frequent defragmentation jobs on the servers did seem to improve the processing speed of those servers.  Now this improvement wasn’t like night and day, but files did copy a little faster, the databases did run a little faster.  Now on average I saw processing performance from the servers in the area of around 15%-20%.  Though in that company it wasn’t the silver bullet, just for the shear number of data that we housed in the data center, but it did make a difference from what I saw.  Though your results will vary, because as I mentioned the servers were heavily fragmented, but every server can use a little touch-up.  Defragmentation should be one of the many steps you should use in order to make sure your servers are running at the peak of performance.  Each server type will have it’s own ways to optimize output and keep you as sane as possible.

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If  you have any questions that you want Jim to answer, from business servers to home computers, drop him a line at me@jimguckin.com, and he’ll try to answer your question.  Check back every Monday for a new Question and Answer session, and check back Wednesday and Friday for other technical insightes.

Remove the .NET Framework Assistant for Firefox

Like me you may have abandoned the Internet Explorer browser for the more secure Firefox.  Well if you recently updated your computer, Microsoft may have snuck a vulnerability into Firefox without even telling you.  If you take a look at the installed add-ons in Firefox you might notice an add-on called Microsoft .net Framework Assistant. If your like me, you might not have remembered installing it, and it’s because you didn’t Microsoft did. The second thing that you’ll notice is that you cannot uninstall it as it is grayed out.  Well like me, you don’t like Microsoft putting possibly security holes in software that isn’t theirs, so you’ll want to remove it, and here’s how to do it.

NOTE: As always this fix requires you to modify your registry.  It is strongly recommended that you backup your registry prior to making any changes, so that in the unlikely event of problems you can restore the registry back to the way it was.

To remove the .NET Framework Assistant for Firefox from your computer, follow these steps:

  1. Close FireFox (not sure if this is necessary, but a good rule of thumb)
  2. Click Start, click Run, type regedit, and then press ENTER.
  3. Locate on of the keys below (depending on your operating systems) and then click the following registry subkey.For 32Bit computers:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Mozilla\Firefox\Extensions
    For 64Bit computers:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Mozilla\Firefox\Extensions
  4. You’ll see a subkey called {20a82645-c095-46ed-80e3-08825760534b} delete it and reopen Firefox and you’ll see that it’s gone.
  5. Log on with an account that has Administrator permissions.

Now you’re Firefox is purged of the uninvited .Net add on.  I have a problem with things being installed in Firefox without me choosing to install it.  I’ve seen a lot of outrage on it, so hopefully Microsoft has learned their lesson, but something tell me like usual they wont and this is just a start to their installing patches in other operating systems.

Q&A Monday: Change Remote Desktop Port

Question:

Do you know if there is any way to change the port number of remote desktop? I am looking to make RDP more secure by changing the default port on our servers.

Answer:

There is a way to change the default port for all supported versions of Windows and it isn’t really that complicated.  By default for those of you not aware, Remote Desktop works on port 53389.  Jobs where I’ve used remote desktop as the primary means for connecting to servers (though not my ideal way of connecting to computers or servers)  I generally recommended that we use the firewall to assign a different port and NAT the port number to the default one.  Though in today’s’ world you have to be aware of both external and internal attempts to view data.  So if RDP is used, it is smart to change the port that’s used.  This also adds a step to connecting to computers and servers, but makes just randomly connecting to a resource a little more difficult.
To make the quick change you need to modify the registry settings for this to occur.  NOTE: As with every time you make changes to the registry, I recommend you make a backup of the registry prior to making the change. You need to browse to the following Key:

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server\WinStations\RDP-Tcp]

In this Folder you want to find the “PortNumber” key and double click it or right click and modify, to get the edit screen to pop up.  By default, this will give you the Hex value “d3d”, but if you click on the decimal radial, you’ll see the numbers in plain.

For this example I’ll pretend you want to turn the default 3389 to 13389 (you can choose whatever you want it to be), you just need to add the value in here, click back to the Hexadecimal value (which is automatically convereted, in this example d3d becomes 344d).  Click OK, and restart your computer or server.  One the computer/server comes back online, it should be listening on the new port.  Of course you will want to test it out, and get use to connecting to the new port.  One up the Remote Desktop Program and type in the server/computer name, a colon, and the new port.  For my example, like this:

This will make sure that you connect to the server/computer, otherwise the Remote Desktop Program will try to connect to the old port and the computer/server will no respond on the old port.

If you are doing this to many computers, or you just want to be lazy (like I do some times), I’ve included a zip file with a batch script and a registry key.  You could add these to your logon script and run them that way.  Please make sure you backup the registry or thoroughly test the files before deploying.  I can’t be responsible if this somehow messes up your system, every addition to your computer or network should be tested before you make changes.  Please make sure you modify the files to meet your needs.  The script as of now, will make the change to port 13389.

[Batch Script Zip Available Here]
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If  you have any questions that you want Jim to answer, from business servers to home computers, drop him a line at me@jimguckin.com, and he’ll try to answer your question.  Check back every Monday for a new Question and Answer session, and check back during the week for Jim’s other technical insights.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for Viruses

I know that this time of the year, the average home users computer is pretty vulnerable to virus, spyware and malware attacks.  The reason I think this is, is because with most newer computers you get a year of Anti Virus protection, and well that year is coming to an end.  Most people in this tight economy (or even in general) don’t want to pay for continued protection, and this leads to all sorts of problems.  As the software stops updating, your computer starts to become more susceptible to viruses.  There is also the other end of the spectrum, where during the Christmas season people are given new computers for the holidays, and because people are so excited to use these computers they forget (or don’t want to) activate the anti virus protection…and then some of them even forget after the excitement of the year is over.
One of these two scenarios is generally the cause for most of the calls I get this time of the year.  Virus programmers also are aware that online shopping is at it’s highest point this time of the year, and they will take advantage of that, trying to get your information.  It isn’t hard to hear a story about this time of the year, where someone went shopping on a major company’s website to only have their information stolen.  There is also a lot of websites that just pop up for the holiday shopping season, with the intent on stealing the information.
I wanted to share some tips on how to stay safe this season, and by no means is this a complete list.  I generally only use one credit card when I shop online.  I also make sure that every other day I check that cards balance, to make sure nothing I didn’t order shows up there.  It now takes an average of 3 days from when the time your card information was stolen until it is used, so make sure you check constantly.  Another is try to limit your shopping online to stores that you know and trust.  When you get to entering in your information, make sure the site is secure, you’ll see a https:// rather than a http:// at the front of an address.  This doesn’t guarantee that your information is safe, just means your information is encoded.  One of the top ones, make sure that you have a current up to date virus definitions (see your manufactures website to check).  If you have or receive a wireless router this season, make sure that you require a password to join the wireless network.  Having your network open to the world only make sure that inexperienced people have access to your information.
Though this isn’t an extensive list, it is a basic list.  I am sure there are some techs out there whose computer is more like Fort Knox, but the average person isn’t going to have that kind of time or patience, so simple is better in this case.  I just want to make sure that everyone has a happy holiday season, and that your credit and identity stay yours.

Q&A Monday: Blue Screen of Doom

Question:

I turned of my computer normally yesterday and used it for no more than half an hour. I tried turning it on this morning and the blue screen of death showed up. It reset and this time showed me the black screen which tells me that Windows was not successfully shut down along with the choices of booting it normally, in safe mode, in safe mode with networking and so on. So I chose all of them and I keep getting this blue screen. I cant even start Windows. What can I do?

Answer:

A Microsoft Windows based computer can for many reasons start showing what techs like to call, “The Blue Screen of Doom (or Death).  Sometimes this event occurs after the installation or upgrade of hardware or even software, causing the Blue Screen to appear.  Rarely, you will see this error once and a subsequent reboot of the system will clear the problem up, it was only temporary.  Though the vast amount of the time, you will need to attempt to repair your current windows installation.  Below you’ll find the steps to repair your Windows XP installation:

Note for Prior to Install:

Repairing a Windows XP installation is valuable when you need to keep your programs and data in tact but need to restore the Windows XP system files to their original state. This is often an easy fix for complicated Windows XP issues. Even though a repair installation does not alter any programs or data, other than Windows XP itself, I always highly advise that you take precautions in the rare event that something will go horribly wrong and you lose all data. That means that if there’s anything you want to keep you should back it up to a CD or another drive before to beginning this process.

Begin Repair:

To begin the Windows XP repair process, you will need to boot from the Windows XP CD.  Watch for a Press any key to boot from CD… message similar to the one shown below. If for some reason you do not press a key (or miss it), your PC will attempt to boot to Windows XP, If this happens,all you need to do is to reboot  your computer and try again.

Press Any Key to Boot to CD

Press Any Key to Boot to CD

The Windows Setup screen will appear and a number of files and drivers will start to load. This will be similar to when you installed Windows the first time.

Drives will start to load

Drives will start to load

After the necessary files and drivers are loaded, the Windows XP Professional Setup screen will appear.  You want to Press Enter to setup Windows XP now.  Even though you might be tempted to select the second option to repair a Windows XP installation, the Recovery Console is not the way we want to go, because we want to truly perform a complete repair installation.

Make sure you select setup, not repair

Make sure you select setup, not repair

The next screen that appears is the Windows XP Licensing Agreement screen. Read through the agreement and press F8 to confirm that you agree with the terms of use.

Press F8 to accept the license agreement

Press F8 to accept the license agreement

On the next screen, Windows XP Setup needs to know which Windows installation you want to either repair or install a fresh copy over.

If you have a single installation of Windows on your PC it will already be highlighted. If you have multiple installations, use the arrow keys on your keyboard to select only the installation that you are wanting to reinstall. Then we want to repair the selected Windows XP installation, so press the R key to continue.

Repair Installation Screen

Windows XP Setup will now delete the old system files from the Windows XP installation that is currently on your computer. This step usually only takes a minute or so. None of your data files should be deleted during this process. Only system files that Windows XP is able to restore from the CD is being removed.

File Copied

Now the Windows XP CD will start copying back the original XP files, this will make sure that your are starting with a fresh copy of Windows Files without the modifications, though all your programs, data and settings, should all be there.

Installing New Files

Windows XP will now begin installing. You don’t need to do anything here.

Install Files

At this stage you’ll need to reapply some of the settings that the repair wiped out, such as your time zone, your network settings, etc.  Just follow the easy prompts and you’ll be back on your way.

9-xpnew

This is the screen where you set up your workgroup or domain.  If you are not in a business environment, then most likely you don’t have a domain and you can just click next and leave workgroup selected.

Domain Join

More installing.

Installing

When done your computer will reboot.  Just wait for the computer to start up.

XP Boot Screen

The Welcome to Microsoft Windows screen appears next, informing you that the next few minutes will be spent setting up your computer.

New Setup

Registration with Microsoft is optional, but if you’d like to do that now, choose Yes, I’d like to register with Microsoft now, click Next -> and follow the instructions to register.Otherwise, choose No, not at this time and click Next ->.

Register XP

In this step, setup wants to know the names of the users who will use Windows XP so it can setup individual accounts for each user. You must enter at least one name but can enter up to 5 here. More users can be entered from within Windows XP after the repair installation is complete.

XP New User Creation

Thank you screen appears, just click next.

Thank You

Welcome to you repaired version of Windows.

New XP

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If  you have any questions that you want Jim to answer, from business servers to home computers, drop him a line at me@jimguckin.com, and he’ll try to answer your question.  Check back every Monday for a new Question and Answer session, and check back during the week for Jim’s other technical insights.

Check Browser Compatibility Fast and Easy

Now like a lot of businesses now a day rely heavily on websites, and with the explosion of different browsers how can you make sure your site looks as good as it can on as many of them as possible?  Before I would have as many different browsers located on my computer and load up each with a version of my website and check it that way.  Well being that I am not a professional webmaster and most of the sites that I have designed were for personal and for friends, so I didn’t really want to spend all this time testing.  Plus my sites never really never generated revenue for me, they were mostly for informational purposes.
Now when I am in the business world, I’ve come across many instances where the website is everything, so I have done testing to make sure the websites of the businesses that I worked for where as compatible as possible to the most browsers possible.  Well today, I found a site that will drastically help in monitoring the sites appearance over mutipul browsers, that site is:  Browser Shots.
The first thing that I like about the website is that it gives you the option to select which browsers and which versions of the browsers you want to test.  The site isn’t instant as each selection has it’s own time frame for processing your website, as seen below:

See how long your site has before it processes

See how long your site has before it processes

See how long your site has before it processes

As your site starts getting checked, and you refresh you can see a thumbnails of the different browsers like you can see below:

See the sites in the different browsers

See the sites in the different browsers

Even then you can drill down and look at the results of the individual browsers one at a time, in an image bigger than a thumbnail:

A Drill Down view of the site in a browser

A Drill Down view of the site in a browser

While this doesn’t let you click through the site and make sure all features work for all browsers, it does give you a quick overview of the different browsers and make sure your site works with as many as possible.  I chose for my test 54 different browsers to test this site out on, and it took a while, so I suggest you only test the browsers that you know regularly visit you website.  Though if you have the patience like I do, you can always visit the site at a later time by bookmarking the results website and checking back at a later time.  Though honestly this saves me tons of time and it’s now one of my new favorite websites when it comes to web deisgn.

Slow time of the Year?

In most of the jobs that I have had, this time of the year (November to January) can be the slow months of the year.  With most parts of the year sometime we can end up shelving projects or running checks, but this time of year we can easily get complacent with just relaxing and taking things easy.  Yet this is the time of the year where I find it easy to unshelve those things we been putting off during the year, and making sure things run a little more smoothly in the new year.  Here are my top 5 suggestions:

Audit you Software:
Before the new year gets you bogged down, look though all your licensing information and map out what software you have and when/if you software needs to be renewed/upgraded/shrunk/expanded.  Doing this and added a calendar entry when these licenses need to be dealt with (and give yourself enough time to make the decision) will help keep your software up-to-date and even could help you save some money in the long run.  If like many businesses your workforce has decreased in size, then when you renew you may be able to lower the amount of licenses, saving money in your budget for other important things.

Audit User Accounts/Computers:
Throughout the year, I can tell you sometimes when someone is let go, you just disable their account or change the password and move on. This is the time to go through all user accounts and trim off the excess.  Having a clean and accurate user list can help you do many things in the year, like knowing how many active accounts you have out there.  Also you can grab spare equipment laying around and put it back into your storage, so when new people start, you won’t need to look around for a computer, you’ll know exactly where to go.  Also cleaning up unused accounts and computers is always smart in means of security.

Maintain Equipment:
With many people taking off for the holiday season, now is the perfect time to make sure the machines are updated and cleaned.  We’ve all encountered a trackball mouse that is rendered inoperable because of gunky build-up.  By making sure the computer itself is physically clean, you might be able to extend the life of the system.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I could clean a PC or Server to learn that the fan wasn’t running correctly because of dust build-up.  Also make sure to replace any equipment that looks like it’s fraying or about to go bad, doing this during the slow time, can really help when things pick up and those things break.  Now as I note, don’t spend all day cleaning PCs or Servers to a shine, just enough to ensure there aren’t any problems.

Check Backups/Images:
I’ve found this is the time of the year to also look at your data recovery ability.  I’ve been in companies where we’d backup data nightly and never test if the backups would be viable in an emergency. This is the time to run a test and make sure that in a worst case scenario your data is viable.  Also check through any images that you might have to make sure they are up to date, which can save time in the deployment of newer systems.

Review Inventory:
This is the time of the year (if not earlier) to get an updated status on your inventory.  I always tried to do this closer to the end of the year, because it’s generally when budgets for next year are due or starting to be written.  This will give you and idea of what you have gone through and what you may need for the up and coming year.  Plus I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into a situation and didn’t know if I had the equipment or not.  It’s easier to order within this time frame, than to have to rush for it later.
Now this isn’t the definitive list, and I’m sure others out there have their own to-do lists at the end of the year, but these are what I find helpful to use during this slow period.  If you have any ones that you think should be listed here, please send me an e-mail and if it’s good, I’ll mention it here on my site.

Q&A Monday: .html AutoRun CD

Question:

I have created a small (lets call it a web site) and I want to put it on a CD and have it ‘autorun’?

Answer:

Autorun is a feature of the Windows operating systems. Autorun is feature that detects when a CD is inserted and runs an application based on the Autorun.inf file located on the CD itself.

When a CD is inserted into the CD drive, the operating system checks for the file named Autorun.inf in the root directory of the CD (not in a subfolder). This file contains information that tells the computer to run a file.

For most Autorun Cd’s there is an executable file, that will run the CD Program and usually install what it needs.  To Create an AutoRun.inf file for an executable, you would open notepad and type:

[autorun]
open=Filename.exe
icon=Filename.ico

The icon section automatically reads an Icon File (.ico) and places that on the CD’s My Computer image.  The Filename.exe would be replaced with the executable you wanted to run.  The file would then be saved as Autorun.inf and saved in the top directory of the CD ROM (generally that is the D:\ drive) i.e. D:\Autorun.inf

Now when you want to run a CD where a webpage opens up instead of a program, you need to change the code for the Autorun.inf.  You can’t just replace the .exe file with a .htm or .html file and expect it to run, because it just won’t.  You need to use a different command to make the page run.

[autorun]
icon=Filename.ico
ShellExecute=index.html

This will make sure that when the CD autoruns, that it opens the web site for you.

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If  you have any questions that you want Jim to answer, from business servers to home computers, drop him a line at me@jimguckin.com, and he’ll try to answer your question.  Check back every Monday for a new Question and Answer session, and check back during the week for Jim’s other technical insights.

Office 2010 Beta Review

    So the otherday I got an e-mail about downloading the new Beta of Office 2010.  Now prior to this year, I would have just delted the e-mail and never looked back on it.  Yet, as of this year I decided to look forward and be more proactive, than reactive and take pride in my work.  Plus I had great success with the Beta and Release Candidate of Windows 7, that I still have on my laptop…and surprisingly I like it.  So I decided to give the Beta of Office 2010 a chance, so I downloaded it.

Outlook 2010:
Now I spend most of my day glued to e-mail, so the first thing I want to check out in the BETA is the new Outlook.  Now at my jobs I generally used Outlook 2007, because I liked the calendar view in your e-mail pane, but was always disappointed when you couldn’t see all day events.  Yet, that has been corrected in the 2010 release, and you now can see all day events.  When I was an manger, it was important for me to see what was going on, and the fraction of a second that I was saved by not clicking on the calendar icon was well worth it.

msoffice2010outlook-thumb

As you can see above, this is the new Office 2010 Outlook.  As you can see the “Ribbon” is Microsoft’s new way of naigating around the new Office 2010 suite since it’s now in every office application.  At work I decided to upgrade my current Office 2007 Outlook with the Beta version, and ran into a problem.  When outlook 2010 booted up for the first time, I got an Outlook File Corrupt error.  I tried using the built in repair tool, but that didn’t help, in the end I needed to delete my outlook profile and recreate my e-mail addresses for Outlook to start up the first time.  The first thing that I noticed was the Big Round Microsoft Logo in the top corner had changed to a smaller square, which instead of a drop down window, now changed to a page.

Other Office:

word splash_thumb

One new thing most people will notice is that all the Office applications now have loading screens, that like the Windows Boot screen moves when it loads.  I haven’t really noticed if this slows down the process of loading documents, so I don’t think it does.  All the applications tend to have the same feel, and the same look to them.  I guess making the interface easier to navigate, you really only need to know where to look for settings in one, to know where the settings are in all of them.

What’s Missing:
Apparently in the new Office 2010, there will be a web based version for all the applications, making it easy for you to access and save documents via a web browser rather than an application.  I assume there will be some security settings one would need to put in place before using this remotely.

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