Archive for the ‘Windows’ Category

Text is Best and other Remote Access Tricks

Posted on October 18th, 2011 in Linux/Unix, Windows | No Comments »

No no, that’s not “txt” as in OMG – LOL – BFD txting; but rather my return to the romance of the CLI. Don’t get me wrong – I never stopped appreciating the unadulterated power of the command line, it’s just taken my need to leverage outbound SSH from multiple locked down networks to fully embrace the simple elegance of my home server ala putty.

Challenge – IMAP access from a restricted network

As I’m increasingly, “taking my show on the road”, I sometimes find myself in work enviormnets with limited, blocked or proxy access to the outside world (DAMN you PROXY!! – but that is a topic for another day.) Solution, get connected to my home server and connect to fire-walled resources from there. On a recent engagement I found that while most outbound traffic was allowed, IMAP was not. Web and SSH were being passed however; so in concept, the solution is basic enough – make an SSH connection to my home server, and run an IMAP client from there.

Already having an Mint Linux server (loves me some Mint), setup primarily for file serving, I simply opened SSH port 22 to the outside world. After connecting via Putty I required a textual mail client that would support IMAP. I’ll be honest, it’s been years since I’ve used PINE, so I was a bit unaware of what other CLI email clients are out there – fortunately I discovered “MUTT” – http://mutt.sourceforge.net/

Mutt can be a bit intimidating. While easy to install, like most Debian packages (sudo apt-get install mutt), the “Devil in the details”, is the not included by default, .muttrc config file. Yes you can read the project wiki or grab a sample one from others, but I found a web based automated builder tool – http://www.muttrcbuilder.org/ – it does the trick quite nicely, just add your custom elements and bingo. Within a few minutes I was able to check and clear mail with no client side setup other then establishing an SSH session – pretty slick!

Challenge – Secure VNC access of the Internet

So let’s say you only have that same SSH connection, but you need more visual goodness then a CLI email client can provide? Sounds like a you want a VNC connection – but how unsafe would that be to run over the Internet? Enter VNC (Port 5900) Tunneling via Putty.

First, launch Putty and enter the address you would like to connect to via SSH. Before establishing a session, look on the left hand side, you will see various configuration options. Expand the categories -> Connection -> SSH -> Tunnels. Select Tunnels add the following information under add new forwarded port:

Source Port 5900
Destination Port 127.0.0.1:5900

Now establish your SSH connection (Login), once connected open your VNC client and point the host back at your local machine – 127.0.0.1 and Bonus you’re all set.

So regardless your UI preference there’s an SSH solution out there for you – Enjoy!

FOG you, Ghost

Posted on February 18th, 2009 in Internet & Networking, Linux/Unix, Windows | No Comments »

Some of you who follow my twitter ramblings know that I recently completed an evaluation of Ghost Solution Suite vs FOG for a major system cloning project we have at work. Below are my final findings and recommendation that lead our organization to select the Open Source package FOG over our existing Symantec product. Please note, that we were already using Ghost Solution Suite version 1.0 not the most recent 2.5. Therefore this evaluation is really weighing whether to upgrade to 2.5, stay on 1.0 or migrate to FOG.

To FOG or not to FOG, that is the question?

So I’ve spent most of the day evaluating Ghost Solution Suite to better understand just what capabilities it offers. I’m ready to report those findings, and I’ll say upfront, while I don’t want this to appear like a “bash fest” it might start to sound that way. None-the-less, here is what I’ve found in several key areas we should consider.

Manageability: Ghost uses a tried and true File Based Image management system, accessed behind an MMC plugin. The MMC does appear to offer remote capabilities, so once this tool is loaded on a third machine you can access the server remotely. This model is similar to the SAV 10 and below model (a model that has been discontinued in favor of a Java approach beginning with SAV 11. It is also worth pointing out that this MMC model precludes access from any clients other then Windows. FOG utilizes a Web browser access front end atop a database driven model, therefore any computer with a browser can manage the cloning server.

Manageability Advantage: Neither

Platform Support: Ghost really starts to show its age here, OS support only extends up to XP in the core product and only up to Windows 2000 for the accompanying 3Com PXE services (more about these below.) Since there are no patches for version 1.0 the only recourse for additional OS and File systems would be to purchase an upgrade to the a newer version. While Vista support is not key to us now, at some point we will need to migrate to Vista or Win 7, both of which use a newer version of NTFS than XP. FOG presently supports Vista, and has a track record of regular updates.

Platform Support Advantage: FOG

Hardware / Network Interoperability: Since Ghost 1.0 is already a few years old it suffers from a lack of current H/W and NIC support. This is compounded by the fact that it outsourced the PXE Network Boot tasks to an OEM software package from 3Com, which was even older then Ghost. 3Com Boot Services 1.02 is so old it does not officially support Windows XP, just up to 2000. On top of this, the built in Ghost method for adding network cards is NDIS driver based, meaning that if we are imaging a system with a new / different model NIC, the driver must be found for it and then a custom boot image must be loaded on a USB or DHCP/PXE server for each different NIC. Compared to the FOG methodology where a single generic Linux kernel is pushed out, that then has custom behavior on a system by system basis – there is no comparison.

Hardware / Network Interoperability Advantage: FOG

Inventory Functionality: Unlike FOG, Ghost has no H/W level inventorying system. Since FOG treats each piece of hardware it encounters as a unique record (ala the NICs MAC address) in a MySQL DB, it provides detailed hardware level reporting, independent of the image loaded on the system.

Inventory Functionality Advantage: FOG

Training and Learning Curve: Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of Ghost is its familiarity. It has been in place here for some time and running atop a consistent Windows interface makes it operator friendly. FOG is a Linux only application and therefore some training will be necessary. This should be minimal as all management is web based and with PXE Netbooting on clients, there is no requirement, once the server is operational, for any deep Linux knowledgebase.

Training and Learning Curve Advantage: Ghost

Licensing and Cost: Since it is possible that Ghost 2.5 (the current version) addresses many of the current versions shortcomings, price does come into the picture, as we would be required to get on support or worst case re-purchase the whole product. Comparatively FOG is bound by its GPL 3 license to always exist in a free and open form. FOG’s version history goes back 25 steps right now, and there is no indication that the project will soon be discontinued.

Licensing and Cost Advantage: FOG

Conclusion

Given the overwhelming feature superiority of the Open Source package, FOG, and it’s low barrier of entry, financially and in training, I’m confident in recommending we migrate from Ghost to FOG.

Revenge of the Windows 7 SKUs

Posted on February 3rd, 2009 in Business & Industry, Windows | No Comments »

Just when you thought it was safe to Install the greatly simplified Windows 7…. Oh not so fast! ZD Net is reporting there will be at least six flavors available:

Windows 7 Starter Edition (for emerging market and netbook users)
Windows 7 Home Premium (the main “Media Center” equivalent)
Windows 7 Home Basic (for emerging market customers only)
Windows 7 Professional (the business SKU for home users and non-enterprise licensees)
Windows 7 Enterprise (for volume licensees)
Windows 7 Ultimate (for consumers who want/need business features)

Additional reading on this subject can be found at….

Dwight Silverman’s reporting on Microsoft’s many SKU’s and his experience loading Windows 7 on Netbooks.

Story from Engadget, complete with Screen Shot.

VMWare Goodness – no make that Greatness!

Posted on October 2nd, 2008 in Business & Industry, Internet & Networking, Linux/Unix, Windows | No Comments »

I’ve been an ardent VMWare user and proponent for some time. But only recently have I had the opportunity to work with the VMWare flagship product, ESX Server. Let me just say…. Oh Good Lord!

Disclaimer: ESX is not for everyone, it is first and foremost a dedicated server product; not something you are going to load and play around with on a desktop pc. And until more recently, it has been a rather expensive endeavor, recently however, with the introduction of a freeware option (ala VM Server and Player), that has changed. VMWare ESXi is now free to use, and boosts the same Core Hypervisor as its costly big brother ESX. There is even an upgrade path to the fully licensed version, should you require the full VI3 management suite. If you have the datacenter class gear, and are in need of a full time Virtualized platform I can not stress enough how wonderful a solution ESXi is. I’m presently deploying ESXi on Dell servers (on select new models it is even available as a flash based boot module – for no charge!)

If your needs do not necessitate full time data center VM operations, you still should look at the latest incarnation of VM Server. Version 2.0 just went golden, and after playing with it on both Linux and Windows platforms the last week, I am equally impressed. Be forewarned, if you are a current VM Server 1.X user you are in for a shock – the new web based interface can be a little disorienting at first, but new and better functionality awaits. Just as before this product is completely free and absolutely suitable for production use.

Virtualization is unquestionably the wave of the future, both in servers and even on the desktop. If you have been waiting to dip a toe into the VM waters, wait no longer – with these new offerings from VMware now is the time to Virtulize!

This Border Crossing brought to you by the RIAA

Posted on June 4th, 2008 in Apple, Linux/Unix, Windows | 2 Comments »

“Your Papers Please?”, says the homeland security officer with an accent reminiscent of something from a WWII Nazi Germany checkpoint. Corny, yes but this is how the inquisition is starting to feel upon your entry into the land of the Free.

Where once your greatest customs concern was staying under the limit of alcohol, tobacco and designer fragrances, now beware as your MP3s, ripped DVDs, Porn and illicit Warez are likely to land you and your computer in the pokey!

Now more then ever digital privacy is sounding like a good idea. Truecrypt, to the rescue! I’ve been playing with the free cross platform encryption now for a few weeks and I’m impressed!

Regardless whether you need to secure documents of a professional or personal nature, configuring a Truecrypt vault is the way to go. While the sensational nature of the RIAA and MPAA’s co-enforcement at US borders grabs headlines, striking a nerve with the tech savvy, the local security that Truecrypt offers is useful for many who have no plans of international travel anytime soon.

With over 50% of new system sales in the form of highly portable (easily stolen) notebooks, data encryption is not only desirable to keep out the prying eyes of governments and corporations, but thieves as well! Bear in mind that Truecrypt can be used on SD Cards, USB drives and other removable media.

Regards less your need for encryption, Truecrypt is a powerful, effective, easy to use and best of all Open Source solution – check it out at http://www.truecrypt.org/

French Fried BIOS!

Posted on May 26th, 2008 in Internet & Networking, Windows | No Comments »

Once in a while I pull a truly bone-headed move; last week I proved my own fallibility once again. It was a simple goal really; patch up my media center system. This included applying the new Vista SP1, updating my Nvidia and other system drivers, and hey, while I’m at it, might as well bump up to the latest motherboard BIOS.

How hard could this be, right? After all I’m an experienced IT professional. Over the years I have flashed literally hundreds of system BIOS, and up till a few days ago, without incident.

In retrospect there were some warning signs I should have headed. For starters, 1AM when you are about ready to turn in for the night – not the best time to flash your BIOS. Next, when looking up the new version of your BIOS on the manufacture’s web site, it’s helpful to know the exact model number of the motherboard rather then just “doing it by memory.” Finally, when you are at the command prompt and it warns you to be sure you have the right BIOS for your MoBo, get up off your butt and grab the manual or box for the motherboard and double check that you have downloaded the right one!

As you probably have guessed by now, I did not adhere to any of this great advice. And when the system rebooted after having flashed the wrong model BIOS, it became rather clear to me exactly what I had just done – Son-of-a-….

The Flashing Threat

While I managed to do this damage all on my own, some alarming news surfaced this past week indicating that malicious hackers are now contemplating the use of BIOS flashing attacks. These “Permanent Denial of Service” (PDOS) attacks would be used to infect routers and other such core network devices; and unlike other maliware and viruses, the goal of PDOS attacks is to cripple or completely destroy systems and networks.

Judging from my recent experience with an incorrectly flashed motherboard, I can attest to the lethality of such a scheme. A compromised system could not just be “re-formated” to factory defaults, as a messed up BIOS will leave the system totally inoperable.

BIOSMAN to the Rescue

After realizing my bush-league mistake I did what any technology professional would do – Cry. Ok, maybe that is an exaggeration, but I did start whining on Twitter about the situation, to which I received many concerned and compassionate replies. One particularly thoughtful suggestion was that I should simply enjoy my new piece of attractive wall art! :)

Thanks, but after the initial desperation and panic subsisted, I was able to locate several physical BIOS (Eprom) recovery/replacement services. I quickly settled on http://www.biosman.com/. After entering the requested information in the easy to follow online forms (step, by step asking about the make, model and other motherboard info), I was charged a modest fee. Even without selecting an express shipping method, my replacement BIOS chip arrived in the standard mail in under a week. Popping the new chip in was easy on my socketed motherboard, and presto! My media center was back up and at them.

While BIOSMAN is a wonderful service and deserves to be on your tech “oh shhhiiittt” goto list, I can’t stress enough how important it is to take care when patching your firmware. That, and the old axiom applies, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Podcast Picks Part II

Posted on May 14th, 2008 in Apple, Business & Industry, Gadgets, Internet & Networking, Linux/Unix, Tech & Science, Windows | No Comments »

As promised, I’m back with part two of my personal podcast selections.

Grammar Girl – http://grammar.qdnow.beta.libsynpro.com/rss

If your reading this blog post there is a good chance you are a blogger yourself, in which case this cast is a must for you. But regardless how you use the English language, Grammar Girl has helpful tips for you. Each installment of GG is quick and to the point, focusing on all kinds of grammar usage issues.

Linux Action Show – http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheLinuxActionShow

Begin tired old Cliché: “If you only listen to one Linux Podcast, this should be it!” Chris and Bryan are not only incredibly insightful and up on all the latest happenings surrounding the Open Source community, they put on one darn entertaining Podcast.

And if you want all the casts put on by this resourceful duo (like the afore mentioned CastaBlasta) you can subscribe to the unified Jupiter Broadcasting Feed at – http://www.jupiterbroadcasting.com/?feed=rss2

Linux Basement – http://feeds.feedburner.com/linuxbasement

Great Tutorials, Fantastic close-nit community and as if that is not enough, you get and Open Source Song every episode! Yes, you heard right an OSS “Song” performed by the ever talented Chad Wollenberg, host of the the Linux Basement.

Slashdot Review – http://slashdotreview.com/wp-rss2.php

Don’t have time to sift through all the great content on Reddit, Digg, Slashdot or a myriad of others, no worries, Andrew McCaskey does an amazing job editing and reading them to you. Under 15 minutes and you are up to date with the day’s tech/geek news.

Super Average Podcast – http://feeds.feedburner.com/SuperAveragePodcast

Looking for a great down to earth spiritual talk show? The interestingly named “Super Average Podcast” is a weekly round table of four everyday guys from different walks of life, talking about what faith means to them.

This WEEK in TECH – http://leoville.tv/podcasts/twit.xml

Leo Laporte, nuff said! Ok seriously if you have not ever heard of the “Twit Army” this is the Leo’s flagship podcast – part punditry, part news, part interview show, and plenty of random thoughts, This Week in Tech features a weekly round table (guests change from show to show) discussing the state of all things tech.

This will have to do for now, but you have gobs of stuff to listen to now, so find some new podcasts already.

Podcast Picks Part I

Posted on April 17th, 2008 in Apple, Internet & Networking, Linux/Unix, Tech & Science, Windows | No Comments »

Last week I blogged about the state of the Satellite radio landscape and the many great alternatives to fee based subscription radio. But let’s face it no matter how many MP3s you have at some point you may want to listen to some talk radio style programming.

To that end I have found an assortment of audio podcasts that inform, educate and challenge me on a regular basis. Hopefully you will find something new in this list that sounds interesting (sorry no pun intended.) Note: these are all audio programs, there are some wonderful video casts that warrant consideration – perhaps I’ll save those another post.

CastaBlasta Show – http://www.castablasta.com/?feed=rss2&cat=1

Newer show I’ve started to enjoy that centers around geek/nerd/sci-fi and entertainment culture. Three regular hosts, the same creative team that developed the Linux Action Show, put out this weekly review/recap of the stories ranging from movies to video games, book reviews to toys for the not so grown-up.

CNET’s Buzz Out Loud – http://www.cnet.com/i/pod/cnet_buzz.xml

“Welcome to CNET’s podcast of indeterminate length episode number 5,294,387!” Ok well maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but Molly Wood and Tom Merit, should be awarded some kind of medal for consistency and longevity! BOL is a daily, yes DAILY, 30 – 40 minute tech news and commentary show, summarizing the happenings of Silicon Valley, Redmond, and the greater tech world. High production values, methodic consistency and great hosts make this a must listen for every techy.

Cranky Geeks – http://feeds.ziffdavis.com/ziffdavis/crankygeekspodcast

“Arg – visit my blog @ www.dvorak.org/blog/” Love him or hate him Dvorak is a fixture in the computer journalism world, if you look up tech pundit in the dictionary, you’ll the host of the Cranky Geeks there. If there was any doubt in your mind, the show name it truth in advertising, each week John assembles a panel of feisty technology specialists for thirty minutes of banter (ala his old Tech TV show – Silicon Spin.)

Daily Audio Bible – http://feeds.feedburner.com/dailyaudiobible

Less is more, and in the case of bible study Brian Hardin provides daily readings from the scriptures with heart felt passion, high production values and minimal commentary. Refreshing and simple Brian has been reading various translations every day for three years now. Regardless of your spiritual position, incorporating 15 minutes of the Bible into your day is always positive.

FLOSS Weekly – http://leoville.tv/podcasts/floss.xml

Open Source Software is changing the way we use technology in our everyday life; whether you know it or not you are most likely already working with OSS. To this end Randal Schwartz and Leo Laporte host this weekly show that focuses each episode on an Open Source technology, usually via an interview with the inventor or author.

Fresh Ubuntu Podcast – http://feeds.feedburner.com/freshubuntu

If you “Heart” Ubuntu – this is the show for you! Don’t me wrong, other Linux Distros are welcome, but Harlem and Peter’s first love is for Ubuntu. This weekly Linux round-up features news and helpful tips along with a health dose of whatever is irking the hosts all in fast passing hour long show.

Next post I’ll continue this list with six more great podcasts, till then – happy listening!

Good Cheap Hardware, the Wisdom of a Child and Wireless Woes

Posted on March 3rd, 2008 in Business & Industry, Linux/Unix, Windows | No Comments »

As a parent of three teenagers it seams like every time I turn around I’m paying for something, couple this with the fact I’m turning into a real miser these days – and I’m all for any bargain I can find! With this in mind, it was less then thrilling when my son came begging for a new notebook for his birthday, but after a couple of weeks of working mom and myself over, we succumbed to the pressure, and off to the Best Buy we went.

Good Greif that’s Cheap!

Sometimes a good slap in the face is what a jaded IT guy like myself needs, and the trip to a big box retailer to purchase a prebuilt system, rather then the Fry’s do it yourself approach, was indeed enlightening. Illuminating that is, as to just how clueless the average retail sales guy is; but he was efficient enough to take my money and get us out of the store with a shiny new HP/Compaq. It was a Compaq Presario C751NR to be exact, with decent specs – AMD X2 Mobile chip, 1 Gig of Ram, and an ample 120 GB HD. But the shocker – Out the door under $500!

Just Say No – to Vista that is

On the drive home my son began to question which OS he should run on the new system. Of course it was preloaded with some Vista Home Shit edition, and I suggested that we reload it; figuring on a version of XP Pro. He heartily agreed, say that he (my non-geek son) had heard nothing but bad things about Vista. But he shocked me when he asked, ”Dad, I want that cool looking one you run, what’s it called… Ubeny?” I grinned on both the inside and out, as I corrected him, Ubuntu, to which quickly agreed that was the one he wanted, as it, “Just looks so cool!”

What the Duce? Wireless always just works…

Now at home the hard drive wiped of the vile interloper, Vista, we quickly loaded Gutsy, Ubuntu 7.10 (possibly the most gorgeous release of any distro, I’ve ever used.) Install was uneventful and all the hardware was detected on this very new model notebook, but no WiFi. Not that the Atheros nic was not detected – it appeared in the Restricted Drivers – but just didn’t work. However, after about an hour of searching around on Ubuntuforums I did find a solution (Click here if you are interested.) This was a bit surprising though as device detection has been on of Ubuntu’s strong points.

All and all this has been a Win/Win/Win. Junior has his new notebook and is happy, I got out of the deal relatively unscathed in the pocket book, and perhaps best of all there is one less system out there running Vista.

One SPAMtop per Child: Raise of the affordable Subnotebooks

Posted on February 21st, 2008 in Business & Industry, Gadgets, Linux/Unix, Windows | No Comments »

Thanks to the OLPC initiative’s XO device rolling out to emerging markets, you can look forward to some changes on your desktop even if you never own one yourself.

The Good, The Bad and the Slender?

There is no doubt that getting technology into the hands of impoverished, and developing youths in these markets will empower a new generation to strive for a prosperity that families and whole villages have never know – that’s certainly good. But while this technology is inherently neutral, these new found skills and tools will present individuals with the opportunity to employ them for positive or nefarious purposes!

“The lure of easy money has a very strong appeal”, Glenn Frey mused in the 80’s classic, Smugglers Blues. And while the illicit activity might be different, in the case of these SPAMtop syndicates compared to that of the crime lords on Miami Vice, the motive to exploit hapless users is strikingly similar. Armed with new found knowledge, computing power, free time and an untraceable “mess” internet connection, just mix in some abject poverty, lack of social morals and two bit governments with no principals, ethics or will to enforce local laws, much less international ones, and you have all the ingredients necessary for a new wave of fishing and bot-nets the likes of which we have never seen before.

If you think that assertion is a bit alarmist consider this; they don’t call them Nigerian scams for nothing. Heck forget automated spam attacks as we know them today, these can be detected, intercepted and prevented. But not this new generation of attacks, with this kind of man-power, organized cyber-crime rings can just pay kids with XOs to write personal emails to their unsuspecting marks around the world. Not to be overly dourer, but imagine the pour souls that will be duped by these young scammers with the time and tools to not just email, but build phony web sites, hack credit cards, employ social network sites, even hold IM conversations all with the goal of building up the trust of the victim. Mercy, and we thought the Islamo-terrorist where a threat to Western Civilization!

What about the Slender?

Take heart, its not all bad. Another positive upside is the recent availability of affordable and innovative mini and micro sized notebooks. In addition to XOs offering, there are Intel’s classmate PC initiative, and the very well received Asus EEEpc, which unlike the OLPC is targeting the retail market directly with a sub $500 all flash based unit. But more then these specific units, there are new incentives to bring down prices on this segment of the market; which has been very pricy in the past.

So the next time you delete a get rich quick scam email or are contacted by a member of a foreign royal family, enjoy it on your inexpensive sub-notebook and just remember to say thanks OLPC!