Friday, December 2, 2011

Old Application - New Operating System - Windows 7 Windows XP Mode

I finally had a chance to work with the new Windows XP Mode available in Windows 7 Professional today in an actual production environment. I also did not expect it to work as smoothly as it did. I have to say, I am very pleased with the relative ease I was able to utilize this feature.

Windows XP Mode is a virtualization technology built on Microsoft Virtual PC. It allows you to run applications in a virtual environment, separate from the host operating system & applications. This is a technology that can be utilized the enable companies to take advantage of new hardware and new features in Windows 7 by allowing users to still use older applications.

I was contacted by a small business today that needed some assistance with setting up a new 64bit Windows 7 Professional computer. The computer that was being replaced was an older 32bit Windows XP system that contained a specialized CRM application that is no longer supported on Windows 7. I was excited to have this opportunity to finally try Windows XP Mode in a full production environment.

Luckily, the new computer that was purchased came pre-installed with Windows 7 Professional and already had Windows XP Mode installed, but had not been configured. After spending a few minutes of configuring the software, I was presented with a familiar, trusty old friend; the Windows XP desktop.  I then added the virtual machine to the client's domain, added the client as a local admin, mapped the required network share and installed the old application. Everything worked as if I were setting up a normal system. The client could even use the USB printer that was attached to the host machine in the virtual environment. Needless to say, the client was very happy, and finally turned off the old computer that was still hooked up and being used alongside the new computer.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

When Cloud Computing Fails........

This is just going to be a quick post, but I wanted to make mention of this. Today Amazon's EC2 cloud service took a nap after making extra backups of itself, filling it's storage and causing services to crash. Read more HERE.

I just tried to access a service I use called SpringPad which is a cloud service that provides a quick and easily accessible way to take notes and sync them between multiple platforms. Needless to say, I can't get to my notes which is keeping me from completing a project......see where I am going with this?

Take this as a lesson in cloud computing, do not take a online service for granted and rely on it solely, or else you or your business could be grounded for hours, costing money and resources. Nothing beats having local software on local hardware complimented with a good backup plan, in my opinion.

I backed up my notes a couple of days ago and stored them, I just have to wait until the morning to get them on my work computer.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

10 Tools Every Computer/Network Technician Should Carry - Hardware Edition

A little more than a week ago I posted a article about 10 software tools I believe every computer/network technician should carry while working in the field. Now I am going to discuss some hardware that should be carried as well. Here's what I recommend what should be carried:

1.) Laptop or Net book (whichever is easier for you) - I have been in situations before where a computer I was working on was the only computer around, and it was having problems. I would think to myself, "It would be really helpful if I could download xyz from the web to troubleshoot this broken PC or backup the system to another drive......" , and I would have to lug the system back to my shop, prolonging the time it takes to fix a problem.

Having a laptop or net book handy can be a real time saver when you are in a pinch.

2.) 6 in 1 screwdriver - This is a must have! I am pretty fond of this model, been using one for years. You can pick one up for around $3-$4 USD online.

Not having a screwdriver in your toolkit is like a surgeon not having a scalpel for a surgery.

3.) Flashlight - Having a good flashlight is also a must have. You may find yourself trying to inspect or work in an area of a computer or network closet that isn't lit very well. There are a couple of types of flashlights, LED flashlights being the best but also considerably more expensive. I recommend a Maglite, they are very durable and carry good warranties. They are also easy to fix.

4.) Phone & Data toolkit - There will be times when you have to make a patch cable or a longer phone cable for someone, and you need a tool to do this on the fly. There will also be times when you have to re-terminate a network jack or test cables. I recommend Paladin brand tools for these jobs. They make all-in-one toolkit bundles that are made up of high quality tools. Try to get a kit that contains cable testers, punch down tools, crimping tools, telephone test set at minimum. Of course, if you are on a shoestring budget, there are cheaper alternatives.

5.) Sharpie & Pencil (and a small notepad) - There will be times you need to mark or draw on something, and having these two (okay, three if you count the notepad) basics are a must have for all computer/network technician tool kits.

6.) Electrical Tape - You never know when you may need to tape a wire that has been stripped back or frayed. This is a necessity if you work with repairing electrical wires inside a computer or other devices.

7.) Small Plastic Storage Box - These are great for carrying small parts such as screws, RJ-11 & RJ-45 jackets, telephone splices, small tools such as hex/allen keys, fuses, etc. The best ones I have found can be located in a retail store that carries fishing supplies.

8.) Band-aids - I can't even begin to stress how important it is to carry a small container of band-aids. Working around computers and networks for as long as I have, I have found that quite a few pieces of equipment can have sharp edges, causing sliced fingers. The next item could have included this as well, but I wanted to list this as a separate item.

9.) Safety Gear - If you ever have to do any data/voice/video implementation work in a construction zone, you will be required to have a hard hat and safety glasses. Some sites I have even been on have required steel toe shoes.

If you have ever seen things done wrong in an old building, new construction work gives you a chance to see or do things how they are supposed to be done. Be sure to not spoil it by getting hurt because you failed to obtain and wear the proper safety gear.

10.) A functional tool tote/case - I have listed a lot of little things here, but where are you going to put all of it? You should carry your tools in a small and functional tote to help you keep everything organized and readily accessible. If you are looking for a good place to pick one up, I recommend visiting your local Lowe's location for one, they have some durable tool totes for a decent price.

Everything I have listed here are things that I find myself using the most. There are other tools that you may like to carry based on what you do. This list is just a starting point. Also, only try to carry exactly what you need, it makes it easier to keep track of and easier to carry.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

10 Tools Every Computer/Network Technician Should Carry - Software Edition

It's been a few months since I last posted an article, but as things have calmed down for me a little bit it has given me some extra time to gather thoughts and put them to text.

I would like to talk about 10 software tools that I believe every computer and network technician should carry at all times. I am going to keep this current, so I am going to assume you have a USB thumb drive with plenty of space to store and keep these software tools.

Here are the following 10 software tools every computer/network tech should have:

1.) CCleaner - This is one of my favorites and I keep a portable copy on all of my thumb drives. This tool is great for cleaning up all the muck that accumulates on a average PC. CCleaner boasts many features. It has very thorough cleaning options, a registry cleaner, startup/system restore utilities & uninstaller utility. It even includes a drive wiper with DoD, NSA, and Gutmann wipe capabilities! It truly is a wonderful all-in-one utility to have handy. Available as an install or portable version.

2.) Defraggler - Another fine product from Piriform. By this time I am probably starting to sound like a fan boy of their products, but truth be told, I am. I have been using and recommending them on a regular basis for years now. This defragger seems to do a much better and quicker job than what is built in to Windows. Give it a try, it's available both as a install and portable version.

3.) Over-look Fing - If you were a user of Look@LAN, you need to download this newer version. Fing is a very powerful free network discovery utility. However, it does not have a GUI yet, it's all command line. Install and configuration is very easy, and info is gathered quickly. If you are a Android or iPhone user, there is an app available for those platforms that work well. If you are tasked with performing a site survey or trying to track down a service port running on a node, or just curious, this tool is for you.

4.) Notepad++ - Notepad++ is a great text and code editor that is available as an install or portable utility. I have used this app multiple times to inspect hosts files, make changes to config files, build scripts from scratch or to just take some notes on the go. It supports multiple languages and is governed by GPL license.

5.) Ubuntu Linux - I can't begin to explain how useful a copy of Ubuntu Linux is to have on a USB thumb drive. I tend to carry the latest version with me as much as possible to use in copying files from a dead windows system before reloading it or just using the live version to quickly run some tests that can't necessarily be done with Windows running. It's very easy to create a bootable USB drive with Ubuntu loaded. Check around, there are pre-made ISO's that have targeted tool sets on them.

6.) Memtest86 - Great utility for testing memory modules for errors. Windows 7 has a utility built in and it works great as well, but I like to use at least two tests on memory. I taught a younger co-worker today how to used both of these utilities and pointed out how sometimes you may get false positives from one utility, but another will find no problems. Windows failed the memory test on the extended portion of it's test, Memtest86 ran 3 passes with no errors. Memtest86 has more options to do more targeted tests. Available as an ISO, or bootable USB install.

7.) Secunia OSI - Secunia Online Software Inspector and Personal Software Inspector (PSI, the installable app) is a great tool to check a system for outdated or un-patched software. The newest version scans rather quickly and provides direct links to the vendor's patches while showing you any end-of-life applications that may be lurking on a system. I used this utility quite often, and it's a real eye-opener. I highly recommend using it. OSI can be made an internet shortcut on your USB thumb drive.

8.) Check Lists & Documentation - I preach this all the time to clients and co-workers. This is the part of the job that is the most difficult to start and keep current at the same time, I know, I struggle with it myself everyday. It is very important to keep up to date check lists if you are regularly performing duties that you have to report on and documentation for when you need to make a change to a computers software settings or network configurations. This can be a simple text document that you keep using the aforementioned Notepad++ or a complex spreadsheet or web-based help desk. Carry the shortcuts or documents you need on your USB thumb drive and be sure to back them up regularly. It's a real time saver.

9.) Drivers - I find myself imaging quite a few systems from time to time and troubleshooting the same type of hardware. Every now and then I have to reload a network card driver. As you probably have guessed, that usually means no internet access and a trip to another computer. This is a waste of time. Carry the most common drivers you encounter (mine are Intel Pro100VE and Realtek RL8139 NIC's) that sometimes are not detected by Windows. This is another thing you may want to periodically check for updates and keep the most updated version handy for those types of situations.

10.) Portable Apps - If you don't need to boot to a live version of Ubuntu, but want to use a set of personalized apps, I recommend checking out this site. Lots of common applications ported to USB thumb drives for on-the-go use. Lot's of great apps and I also use this software often. It's easy to install and works well.

Well that's it for my 10 Tools list - Software Edition. These are just tools I have used the most in the time I have spent in the field and have found to be the most reliable and useful. There are many other utilities out there and I recommend trying them all to find out what works best for you.