Sep 20 2010

Goodbye Windows 2000 Server

Category: Linux,WindowsTeknovis @ 6:12 pm

I have been happily using Windows 2000 in my home network for many years. My setup was fairly simple – I had a Windows 2000 Server that acted as a domain controller with roaming profiles enabled, and as a file and printer server for approximately six computers and six mobile devices. It also doubled up as a workstation.

All of this worked very well in my home network, although it was starting to show its age and limitations. However, about two weeks ago the server refused to boot properly after it crashed :( Instead of getting the normal login screen, I got the following error message:

Security Accounts Manager initialization failed because of the following error: Directory Service cannot start. Error Status: 0xc00002e1. Please click OK to shutdown this system and reboot into Directory Services Restore Mode, check the event log for more detailed information.

It appears that the reason for this is that my Active Directory became corrupted due to the crash (see Directory Services cannot start” error message when you start your Windows-based or SBS-based domain controller and Err Msg: Security Accounts Manager Initialization Failed Because of the Following Error: Directory Service Cannot Start).

Unfortunately, I do not have a backup of my Active Directory. More importantly, I do have a complete backup of all my data :)

Rather than rebuilding everything in the same way I have decided to use the opportunity to do some upgrading :)

So now I am going to install Ubuntu Desktop on my server. I am then going to install VirtualBox. This will be my host server.

Next I will create two virtual machines to run on my host server:

  • The first virtual machine will be Ubuntu Server, and it will act as my domain controller (using Samba).
  • The second virtual machine will also be Ubuntu Server, and it will act as my file server (again using Samba).

My main motivation in doing this is that it will make backup trivial (just copy the entire virtual machine), and it removes my dependence on hardware!

Now all I need to do is start implementing this great plan :)

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Mar 14 2010

Virtualising my Laptop

Category: Hardware,Linux,WindowsTeknovis @ 2:41 pm

I want to buy a new laptop for myself. I need it! My old one is too big and heavy, the screen is losing its contrast, and the battery lasts for approximately 30 seconds :(

In the past I tended to buy high-end laptops on the basis that they would last for longer. This worked to a certain extent, but this time I want to try a new approach. I am going to buy a relatively low-end laptop, but replace it more frequently. The disadvantage of this approach is that it is very time consuming to setup a new computer.

Last year I started experimenting with using Ubuntu within VMware as my main desktop operating system on and old computer. I was very impressed with its speed and stability. So I have decided that I am going to virtualise my entire desktop on the new laptop. The advantages of this approach are:

  • Moving my computer from one piece of hardware to another becomes trivial. This is useful for when I want to upgrade my laptop in the future. It also means that I can put my computer onto an external hard disk.
  • Backing-up my computer also becomes trivial. I am thinking about backing it up automatically every night!
  • Snapshots can be taken before I install any software on a test basis. I can then roll-back my computer if I do not like the new software.
  • It provides my computer with a lot of extra security from network based attacks.

My overall requirements for my new laptop are that it supports three different virtual machines:

  • I want to start using the Ubuntu based virtual machine as my main computer. I am waiting for Lucid Lynx 10.4 LTS.
  • I am currently using Windows 2000 as main my operating system. I think it is great ;)
  • Unfortunately, I have one program that I need to use regularly, and this program requires Windows XP (or later) :(

I will use NAT to network all three virtual machines most of the time. However, sometimes I will need to use the Windows 2000 virtual machine in bridged mode so that it can be a first class member of my domain.

Therefore, the overall architecture of what I am trying to achieve should look like this:

Laptop Virtual Architecture

Laptop Virtual Architecture

Now that I know what I want to achieve, I just need to find the best way to realise this!

Hardware

I am currently considering buying either a Dell Inspiron 1545Inspiron 15 Intel Core i, or a Studio 15. I am a Dell fan, and a 15″ screen is the best size for me. I will get 4GB of RAM, and either a 350GB or a 500GB hard disk.

I will get one of the cheapest processors available. I am currently considering either the Intel Pentium Dual-Core Processor T4400 or the Intel Core i3-330M. I will probably choose the latter, because it seems to have better support for virtualisation because it supports VT-x according to its specification. In practice I do not know if this will provide a noticeable benefit.

In terms of form-factor, I dislike the idea of a number keypad on a laptop. Therefore, I will probably go for a Studio 15.

I am going to have to buy an external card reader, because none of these laptops support Compact Flash cards :( My cameras all use Compact Flash :o

I wonder how the host operating systems sees the integrated web camera. I hope that it appears as a standard USB device, so that it can easily be shared with the virtual machines.

Host Operating System

My requirements for the host operating system are:

  • It must be very secure, because I will use my laptop in a lot of public networks.
  • It must be easy to connect to file servers. This is important, because I will need to back-up my virtual machines.
  • It must have a software based firewall that is very easy to configure precisely.

I think that the clear winner here is Ubuntu with Firestarter. If my Linux skills were better I would use Debian instead :o

The only question I have is whether I should use the 32bit or the 64bit version of Ubuntu?

Virtual Machine Software

The two options that I am considering for this are VMware Workstation and VirtualBox. My main requirements are that the virtual machine software is secure, and that it supports VT-x. I think that both do!

However, there are still some issues that I have not resolved:

  • Should I use the 32bit version or the 64bit version?
  • Which offers better performance?
  • Will they both support my hardware equally well?
  • Is there a risk of becoming locked into one of these products?
  • How is Hyper-threading supported? Presumably, the virtual machine software would think that it has four cores to distribute to the virtual machines. However, in reality it would only have two. This makes me think that I should disable Hyper-threading.
  • Does the virtual machine file format change with each new release of the virtual machine software?

Cost is not really an issue here.

Guest Operating Systems

As I wrote above, I will use Ubuntu, Windows 2000, and Windows XP on my virtual machines.

My questions relating to the guest operating systems are:

  • Should I choose the 32bit or the 64bit version of Ubuntu?
  • Will the OEM version of Windows XP that I got with a previous Dell computer install into a virtual machine without lots of registration issues?

If anybody has any opinions, experience, advice, or answers relating to any of this then I would love to read them!

Thanks!

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Jul 01 2009

Firefox Default Browser

Category: WindowsTeknovis @ 7:28 pm

The other issue (besides Removing Windows Media Player Icons) that I spent a lot of time trying to resolve over the weekend was setting Firefox as my default browser!

I have several Windows 2000 Workstation computers that are setup identically, and I use roaming profiles so that I only need to maintain a single profile. Firefox is configured as my default browser, and the option to Always check to see if Firefox is the default browser on startup is enabled (see Default browser).

Everything worked perfectly, except on one computer! This troublesome computer would always ask me if I wanted to make Firefox my default browser the first time that I ran it in a single login session! This made me think that the problem must be somewhere in the Registry under HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT. However, I could not understand why I was only prompted the first time I ran Firefox.

I eventually found a very explanatory article called How Does Your Browser Know that It’s Not The Default? that describes how Firefox associates itself with protocols and file types. I could see the values of the relevant keys in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT changing when I ran Firefox. I was surprised that these values could be changed using a normal user account!

The thing that I did not know until I read the article was that HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT is actually created dynamically when the user logs in by merging the computer’s settings in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Classes and the user’s settings in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes. This is described in more detail in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT Key.  So Firefox was not configured as the default browser in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Classes.

Ultimately, the solution was very easy :o I used the Add/Remove Programs setting in the Control Panel of the Administrator account as described in Setting default browser manually.

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Jun 29 2009

Removing Windows Media Player Icons

Category: WindowsTeknovis @ 7:21 pm

I spent a lot of time over the weekend trying to resolve some very small, but very annoying, issues with my home computers. After many hours I resolved my issues, so I will document them here!

First let my briefly describe my setup. I have a Windows 2000 Server that I also log into locally to use as a workstation. I also have several Windows 2000 Workstations (some are desktops and some are laptops). All of these computers are setup identically, and I use roaming profiles to minimise my administration! It all works very well!

However, something that really annoyed me was that if I logged in and out of a workstation, and I subsequently logged in locally to the server, I would have Windows Media Player icons added to my desktop and my start menu. So what was causing these icons to constantly reappear?

The first thing I checked was the Add/Remove Programs setting in the Control Panel of each computer. These were not configured to show any icons on my desktops.

Next I checked to see if there was something in my Startup folder. Specifically, I checked the following two locations:

  • C:\Documents and Settings\Teknovis\Start Menu\Programs\Startup
  • C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

There was nothing unusual there, so next I checked the Registry. Usual disclaimer: Do not manipulate the Registry unless you are certain of what you are doing! In this case the following locations need to be checked:

  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Runonce
  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Runonce

There was nothing unusual in these either :(

In fairness, all of that was the easy part, and I did not expect it to yield any useful results. I thought it must be significant that the icons only reappeared when I logged in locally to the server. I searched the Internet extensively, but I could not find any solutions :(

So next I started searching for information about other Registry locations that cause applications to be executed when a user logs in to the computer. I found two such locations:

  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Active Setup\Installed Components
  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Active Setup\Installed Components

Windows compares the contents of both of these to determine if it needs to install any additional software when a user logs in. This is described in detail in Active Setup and how to implement it and Active Setup and how to implement it. I then looked for references to Windows Media Player. The location HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Active Setup\Installed Components\>{22d6f312-b0f6-11d0-94ab-0080c74c7e95} caught my attention!

On my workstation it contained the following keys and values:

  • ComponentID="Windows Media Player"
  • Locale="*"
  • DontAsk=dword:00000002
  • Version="9,0,0,2980"
  • IsInstalled=dword:00000001
  • Stubpath="C:\WINNT\inf\unregmp2.exe /HideWMP"

On my server it contained the following keys and values:

  • DontAsk=dword:00000002
  • Version="9,0,0,2980"
  • IsInstalled=dword:00000000
  • Stubpath="C:\WINNT\inf\unregmp2.exe /ShowWMP"

So it was the last key and value that were causing my icons to reappear! I finally found the cause of the problem!

There are numerous solutions to resolve this, and some of these are described in the documents referenced above. However, the option I chose was to change the value of the IsInstalled key to dword:00000001. I can confirm that this solution works :)

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May 18 2009

Patched Windows 2000 Installations

Category: WindowsTeknovis @ 8:19 am

I had to install Windows 2000 on some computers over the weekend. The last time that I installed this operating system was several years ago! My main concern was figuring out what service packs and hot fixes needed to be installed. This is what I installed:

  1. Windows 2000 (from original CD)
  2. Service Pack 4 (W2KSP4_EN.EXE – 129MB)
  3. Rollup 1 for Windows 2000 SP4 (KB891861) (Windows2000-KB891861-v2-x86-ENU.EXE – 31MB)
  4. Conficker Protection MS08-067 (KB958644) (Windows2000-KB958644-x86-ENU.EXE – 1MB)

These computers are operating on an isolated network that does not have Internet access. However, other laptops are regularly attached to the network.

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May 07 2009

Ubuntu or Kubuntu – The Verdict

Category: LinuxTeknovis @ 8:28 pm

I recently wrote that I intend to start using either Ubuntu or Kubuntu as my desktop operating system in Ubuntu or Kubuntu. Since then I have downloaded the 9.04 version of both operating systems. I installed both of them simultaneously on my main computer as guest operating systems using VMware. I also installed each of them as the main operating system on a spare computer that I have. Both operating systems install very easily with very little user interaction, and they both correctly identified all of my hardware. That impressed me, because I often hear horror stories about Linux and hardware!

After using both operating systems for the last few days I have come to the conclusion that they are both excellent. However, I need to choose only one of them! So ultimately I am going to choose… (drum roll) … Ubuntu!

My reasons for choosing Ubuntu are mainly:

  • It seems to have much more official support.
  • It seems to have a greater user-base, and therefore there is more information about it online.
  • I felt that the applications that came with Ubuntu were more complete. I generally prefer applications that have very limited, but specific, functionality.

The greatest appeal of Kubuntu was the lovely KDE interface. I thought that the default GNOME interface was very bland, but luckily it is very configurable. I will blog about the changes that I made to it.

I found solutions to all of my initial problems online. The Internet really is great for these things! However, there are some deployment type issues that I do not know how best to deal with them.

  • On my Windows installations I like to create three logical drives: The C drive is used for the operating system; the D drive is used for the applications; and the E drive is used for the data. Ideally the C drive is on its own dedicated physical disk for performance reasons, and all other logical drives can be on a single physical disk. The use of these logical drives makes upgrading very easy. I do not yet know the best way of configuring an Ubuntu installation with multiple physical and logical hard disks.
  • On my Windows installations I store all my data in a single logical drive. Therefore, there are two locations that are associated with my user account: my settings and my data. My current understanding is that my user settings and my user data are all stored in the same location in an Ubuntu installation. This seems a bit messy to me!
  • I currently use the roaming profiles features of Windows so that I can log into any computer on my network and I will have my most recent settings. I do not know how to implement this on an Ubuntu installation.

My current intention is to keep using Ubuntu as a guest operating system until I feel confident enough to wipe my hard disk and use it as my host operating system! I will keep blogging about my progress here!

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Apr 11 2009

Yoggie Computer Security Solutions

Category: Networks,SecurityTeknovis @ 10:35 am

I tend to connect to the Internet a lot with my laptop in public places. I have no confidence in the security provided by Windows (2000 or XP), and I am am extremely sceptical of any software based firewalls for Windows. I am a firm beliver of hardware based security!

So I am very interested in some products by Yoggie that I saw recently. This video explains them:

In particular, I like the Gatekeeper Pro in inline mode. I think that this would be perfect for me if only it also included WiFi.

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Jan 19 2009

a.exe

Category: SecurityTeknovis @ 10:08 pm

Today is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year. This is supposed to be due to a combination of credit card bills relating to Christmas shopping, pay-day still more than a week away, and bad weather :o

I am not sure how true this is, but the last few days were a bit depressing for me :o I think that one of my Windows 2000 computers might have become infected with a virus, and I cannot figure out how!

It all started when I noticed a file called a.exe that suddenly appeared in one of my folders. The creation time of this file was a few minutes before I noticed it. So my first reaction was to upload the file to VirusTotal. This is a really great web site that allows you to email or upload a file for free, and this file is then scanned by the most up-to-date versions of 39 different virus scanners. VirusTotal reported that 21 of the 39 virus scanners found a virus in my file :( You can read the full report.

VirusTotal most frequently identifies the worm as Pinit or Spamuzle. The best information I can find about these is from ThreatExpert and Symantec.

However, based on these descriptions my computer is not infected. This does not surprise me because only my administrator account has the privileges to make those changes. Furthermore, my hardware firewall would prevent the virus from communicating with the outside world. Blacknight also correctly identifies the file as a virus, and prevents it from passing through the email system.

So everything looks great, and it appears that I was not infected. However, the fact still remains that a.exe came from somewhere! This is really annoying me that I cannot find its source :|

The other aspect of this that is adding to my unease is the current rampage of the worm known as Conficker, Downadup, or Kido. See Windows worm numbers ‘skyrocket’ for more details about this worm. Is this a coincidence, or is my problem somehow related to this?

I would really appreciate if anybody can provide me with any insight in relation to any of this!

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Jan 08 2009

Windows 2000 Alive and Well

Category: WindowsTeknovis @ 9:22 am

I previously wrote about the demise of Windows 3.11 in Goodbye Windows 3.11!. I have not used in it many years, so this news did not concern me.

However, I still regularly use Windows 2000 because it does everything that I need. It also gives much better performance on older computers than its successor Windows XP.

I have been thinking recently about how popular Windows 2000 remains. I started thinking about this after reading an article describing how the UK’s Royal Navy has started using a mix of Windows 2000 and Windows XP on its nuclear powered submarines. This is instead of the traditional custom designed software. The full article is Royal Navy completes Windows for Submarines™ rollout.

During the Christmas holidays I was in several airports, and I was in many department stores. I was really surprised to see that many of the computers in these locations (boarding gates and customer information desks) were using Windows 2000. It is easy to spot this when the computers are not being used, because both the login screen and the default screensaver of Windows 2000 are distinctive.

It must be the case that the benefits of using the newer operating systems do not yet justify the massive additional costs of upgrading so many computers.

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Oct 28 2008

Running Windows Programs as another User

Category: WindowsTeknovis @ 5:44 pm

I like Microsoft Windows, and in particular, I love Windows 2000 and Windows XP. They are the perfect desktop operating systems for my needs. I think that the other main operating systems are great (and maybe even better than Windows in many respects), but I just do not like them so much.

Like all good users of multi-user operating systems, I use a normal account for my daily activities. I occasionally use the administrator account when I require elevated privileges. If the task is small, then I normally use the runas command from a Command Prompt.

Today I came across a description of launching applications with elevated privileges from within Windows Explorer. The process consists of pressing the SHIFT button before right clicking on an application! An extra “Run as…” option then appears in the context menu. I think that this is a small, but brilliant, time saver!

For more complete details see the Microsoft Knowledge Base Article.

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