Customizing the Text ScreenSaver with Group Policy

“Customizing screensavers?” I hear you cry, “That’s a bit retro isn’t it?”

Nowadays screensavers have more or less disappeared. It makes much more sense to just turn off the screen after 10 minutes of inactivity. However, there are some instances where a screensaver can be useful, for example, an always-on kiosk or even digital signage.

One of the more useful standard screensavers in the Windows operating system is called “3D Text”. Useful because by default it will display the time but can be customized to display some text instead

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Why now is as good a time as any to upgrade to Windows 7

Windows 7 branded mug of teaYou may be wondering why you would bother upgrading your existing Windows XP and Vista machines to Windows 7, when Windows 8 has just been released.

Whether you are a home user or a large company there are great benefits to be  had from upgrading and using your new Windows 7 PC as a stepping stone to Microsoft’s latest and greatest.

Windows XP recently celebrated its 10th birthday, a major achievement for it to keep such a stronghold but also a major issue when it  becomes time to change to something new. The are always scare stories when Microsoft releases a new OS. The fact of the matter is, change often creates such fear-mongering when really its an opportunity waiting to be taken advantage of.

Businesses stayed away from Windows 7 for 2 major reasons

  1. Windows Vista had a terrible launch, fraught with bad reviews and needing an extra expense of upgrading hardware
  2. Due to people sticking with XP, business software wasn’t upgraded and smaller bespoke software would cost a fortune to redevelop for a new OS

Nowadays, this isn’t as much of an issue. Windows 7 runs easily on hardware  over 4 years old and really flies on the latest kit. All major applications have been updated or can be delivered via modern methods like application virtualisation or by using tools like Microsoft’s free application compatibility toolkit or XP Mode. OS deployment technologies have moved on too, meaning you can upgrade people from XP to 7 in a couple of hours.

Continue reading Why now is as good a time as any to upgrade to Windows 7

Installing Linux via PXE using Windows Deployment Services (WDS)

Tux hearts Windows

A couple of our servers, and even more laptops, are coming with no optical drives installed. This can be a problem when it comes to installing an operating system. I use the excellent Windows Deployment Services role on Windows Server (2000-20012 R2) to accomplish this. It works very well in deploying Windows Server and Windows 7 over the network via a pre-execution environment (PXE) and can even deploy Windows XP images if the need arises (see my “how to” article here). The one limitation it has is that you cannot install Linux distros. This is a problem because you are only allowed one PXE server on the local area network (LAN), so you would have to choose either a Linux PXE server or a Windows one.

Fortunately, I found a solution that lets both work together to give you every kind of boot solution you could dream of 🙂

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Tips – Finding the right Group Policy setting

UPDATED – see below for info on the new Group Policy Search web app

Now Windows Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) is nearing the end of it’s beta process it won’t be long before SysAdmins will be deploying it out across their networks. Something that occurs with any new Microsoft software is the need to update Group Policy to control any new features and lock down as appropriate. I thought I’d share a few tips on how I find discover and configure these new settings.

It seems that with each new Administrative template (ADMX) there are an ever-increasing amount of settings that can be managed (Over 1500 for IE9 alone!). While great for security it can be a headache to navigate. Microsoft usually lists the group policy settings for each product on the TechNet site, like this page for IE9, but did you know there is also an MSDN website (hosted on Azure) called Group Policy Search. This is a godsend policy administrators because not only does it allow you to search the contents of all the Microsoft Windows & Office policies but it also gives you the info like what the policy is supported on and even the registry key that the policy changes. This is a great place to copy details if you need to report to a manager on what a certain setting can do.

Group Policy Search Cloud App
Group Policy Search Cloud App

 This site does work on smartphones but I can see this working really well as a reference app on a mobile device. UPDATE: I just found that somebody has made this into an app for Windows Phone 7/8. Find it in the web store or search on your phones marketplace for Group Policy Search. Now it’s up to another dev to make one for Android and iPhone!

If you use Windows 7/Server 2008 R2, or later, you can also download a Search Connector (from the site’s Settings menu). This lets you search the Group Policy Search website from Windows Explorer, giving you an excerpt of the description and link to the relevant webpage. UPDATE: Unfortunately, due to the change of host for the web app, the connector is broken. Luckily, it is easily fixed by editing the OSDX file. Download the GroupPolicySearch.osdx connector from the site and open with a text editor. Change line 5 to the code below, save and then double-click the file to install to your userprofile/Searches folder

<Url type="application/rss+xml" template="http://gpsearch.azurewebsites.net/gps/rss.ashx?search={searchTerms}"/>
Group Policy Search Connector
Group Policy Search Connector in Windows 7

Another task that becomes complicated is to find settings you have previously changed. I may open up the Group Policy Editor knowing I need to modify a previous setting change but it can be like finding a needle in a haystack digging through all the non-configured settings. You can find it via a report in the Group Policy Management console but did you know you can also filter policies in the editor? Go to the View menu and choose Filter Options. Here you can set up a number of criteria on what you want to see. I typically would change it to only show configured settings and also any policy with my initials in the comments. This makes it really easy to see the changes I have made and adjust them appropriately.

Group Policy Filtering
Group Policy Filtering

I hope that’s given you a bit of help in discovering and managing group policy settings. Let me know your tips in the comments.

UPDATE: I discovered this great page in the increasingly useful TechNet Wiki – Group Policy Survival Guide. It contains links to anything and everything to do with Group Policy

Fixing the HP Scanjet 5590 Front Panel Buttons with Active Chat debacle

[if you are looking for the solution to the problem jump to the bottom of the article]

We recently purchased what looked like a pretty decent scanner for our company. It had all the features we wanted without having to splash out on the expense of a full blown photocopier multi-function device. The HP Scanjet 5590 ticks all the right boxes, colour, ADF, TMA, Duplex, Copier etc. You can take a look at it on HP’s website.

A lesson in finding the right type of support

imageIt arrived, looked sturdy enough, and so I began install the software on the PC that was going to control it, a decent enough XP desktop PC that easily meet all the system requirements. However the software wouldn’t install properly. I uninstalled and reinstalled it at least 3 times, each with varying degrees of success. Sometimes just the TWAIN driver would install, other times the software loaded but crashed. I decided to give it a go on a spare laptop we had lying around and thankfully it installed without a hitch, or so I thought. I put it in the correct location in the main office and gave the “Copy” button a press on the front of the scanner. Now, this should just scan the document and print it out on the user’s default printer. Unfortunately it didn’t. In fact none of the buttons worked. After the problems I had on the first PC I was beginning to despair. Turning to my faithful servant, Google, I began searching to see if this was a common fault. As usual Google threw up numerous results to the badly monitored HP forums, as well as other sites. The problem seemed common enough but the answer was nowhere to be seen. So the next stage was the official HP support pages for the scanner. It turned out I had all the latest drivers, there where no relevant patches and the support articles where all irrelevant. It was time to bite the bullet and launch an online help request from HP. I say bite the bullet because, in previous experience, you get someone with a script in an offshore call center treating you like you’re a 500 year old invalid who has never touched a computer before, when all you really want is to talk to a like-minded techie who can point you in the right direction of the solution. The “chat” takes place online in a chatroom/IM style way. I’m posting the transcript below with my comments as it was possibly the most frustrating time spent

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How to Migrate Windows Deployment Services to a new Server

When we first started using Windows Deployment Services (WDS) it was installed as a test on our backup server. It came to the point where we wanted to put it on a more permanent server with some built in hardware redundancy. Luckily this was easy to do.

In the following example I migrated WDS from a Windows 2003 R2 x64 server to a Windows 2003 R2 x86 server

Step 1 – Install WDS

Install WDS from the component wizard

  • On the new server open the Add/Remove programs control panel (appwiz.cpl)
  • Click the Add/Remove Windows Components button to open the “Windows Component Wizard”
  • Scroll down the list and tick the “Windows Deployment Services” box
  • After the wizard is completed, set up the WDS as you did on the old server. Make sure you untick the box to “add images” at the end of the wizard.

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Changes in how Network Adapters are shared from Hyper-V to Hyper-V R2

Setting up a Virtual LAN is one of the initial tasks when getting started with Hyper-V. It involves dedicating a physical network adapter (NIC) in the host machine to be used by the any VMs you create. You are able to create as many virtual LANs as you have NICs in the server. This process converts any NIC into a virtual switch to be used connected to as many VMS as you like.

As most servers nowadays come with at least 2 NICs built in you are presented with a number of choices for how you utilise them

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How to merge two small active directory domains quickly and easily

This article describes the steps I took when we decided to merge to sister companies into one domain. I have, in the past, used the Active Directory Migration Tool. The ADMT, currently at version 3.0 “provides an integrated toolset to facilitate migration and restructuring tasks in an Active Directory infrastructure”. It works great and has loads of guidance on how to go about the daunting task of migrating 200 users from an NT 4 domain to Active Directory, merging domains or restructuring numerous sub-domains. However, it involves a lot of planning and background fiddling to get it working. In my current situation I needed to migrate only 20 users to our main domain so I didn’t really want the hassle of reading through the mammoth migration guide. Neither did I want to add everybody one by one. Therefore, I created the following method that did everything I needed as quickly as possible, without making my brain hurt 🙂

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Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Technical Launch, Wembley: The new efficiency?

View Microsoft's New Efficiency
Click to view the full album

I have just spent the day at Wembley stadium for the technical launch of Windows 7, Server 2008 R2 & Exchange 2010 dubbed as “the new efficiency”. The launch demonstrated what the latest offerings from ms can do in order to help streamline your infrastructure in order to save time and money. i guess this is the bottom line for every windows launch ever but it was good to see something aimed at the it pros rather than a PDC or full on tech:ed event. I am pleased to report that the latest produce from the MS market actually will help you to achieve your goals.

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Computers make me sidetracked

Today at work I had to remove a date from the school website.
I ended up spending two hours sorting it out.
Still, I found out how to get the latest news feeding on to the home page so that was something. Hopefully a gap student will be managing this from september WooHoo. See my changes at www.biddenham.org