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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The new way to configure Internet Explorer proxy settings with Group Policy

Internet Explorer 10 was released for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 machines back in February 2013. Nine months later and we are going through it again with Internet Explorer 11. For SysAdmins and IT Pros managing software updates, these new versions led to quite a significant change in how we use Group Policy to manage them.

I only recently discovered that when Windows 8 (and along with it IE10) was released they finally got rid of the “Internet Explorer Maintenance” Section of the Group Policy Editor. This section always struck me as an odd place to configure IE settings and I’m still not sure why they couldn’t just use the normal Administrative Template section.

Internet Explorer Maintenance in Server 2003 Group Policy Editor
Internet Explorer Maintenance in Server 2003 Group Policy Editor

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My Toolbox – Quick and easy driver backup with Double Driver

Just a quick post because I wanted to give a worthy bit of software a shout-out.

Double Driver from http://www.boozet.org/dd.htm

This little free program lets you back up all of the drivers on your PC for safe keeping. This is really handy if you want to save them all before a major update or re-installation. I also use it a lot on PCs with older operating systems (like Windows XP) because sometimes they are a real pain to try and find from the official OEM website (HP, I’m looking at you). It’s the kind of utility you wished Microsoft had just built directly into the Windows Device Manager.

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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.

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How to Troubleshoot Windows Update Errors

windows update iconWindows Update (a.k.a. Microsoft Update) is normally pretty reliable in terms of keeping your computer up to date and secure. Unfortunately, there are times when an update crashes your PC (usually due to a conflicting OEM driver) or the update process just stops working. Since Windows Vista, Microsoft moved away from using the update.microsoft.com website and now has a dedicated app in the Control Panel. However, the underlying technologies are still the same. Even if you have the Windows Software Update Services (WSUS) server, controlling 100s or 1000s of computers in a corporate network, you are still going to come across the same kind of problems. You would hope that WSUS had some easy troubleshooting/rollback tools built in but unfortunately that is not the case.

I thought it would be a good idea to gather all the various methods and tools I use when troubleshooting Windows/Microsoft Update to help both Home and Enterprise users alike

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Using PowerShell to send a Windows Service Recovery Email Alert

recovery dialogue boxEach Service that runs in Windows features a Recovery tab in the Services.msc management console. Normally I only ever set this up to restart the service after 5 minutes in case something had conflicted with it’s initial start-up attempt. However, we recently had a problem with an IBM service that caused our Windows 2003 R2 x64 server to reboot if it crashed. I thought it would be very handy if we could get an email sent to the IT department if the service was failing. I had dabbled with using BLAT in the past but seeing as all of our servers already have PowerShell installed I thought that would be a more efficient option.

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Configuring Firefox proxy settings for all users

Spread Firefox Affiliate ButtonI recently had an issue with the latest version of Firefox (v3.6.15). Normally, when we install Firefox on our network, we have to change the proxy settings from the default “No Proxy” to “Auto-detect proxy settings for this network”. This doesn’t normally cause much of an issue as we only use Firefox on a few select machines and can be changed by the individual user. However, it seems the default install behaviour has slightly changed to add a new option that seems to muddy the water. There is now a “Use system proxy settings” option (similar to Google’s Chrome) that seems to be selected by default for new users. Although this may seem to make sense, on our network this causes terribly slow page load times, e.g. 10 minutes to load google.co.uk. Luckily I found a way to set the “Auto-detect” option for all users.

WARNING: This seems to have changed again since Firefox 4 was released. If anyone knows how to change it please add a comment.

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Using Saved Queries to filter Active Directory Users and Computers

imageJust a quick article here for a late Friday afternoon article.

If you managed Microsoft Windows Active Directory based domains you should be very familiar with the management console Active Directory Users and Computers (ADUC). When you have a sprawling OU design it can be difficult to find the user, computer or group that needs your attention. I set up a few saved queries to give me an easy to read list view of certain object types. If you can’t figure out how to create a new saved query then you may be in the wrong job but the is a comprehensive guide over at the Petri IT Knowledgebase. The 3 I use most often are set up as follows

  • All Devices
    • A simple query where just the computer object must have a value to display
  • All Users
    • Same as above, just make sure you are focussing on Users not Computers
  • Locked accounts
    • My most useful time saver. This one is only slightly more tricky as you need to enter a custom search string. Credit goes to an article on WinodwsNetworking.com for this one. By using the string below, when somebody calls to say they have been locked out, I can quickly bring up this saved query and unlock them in a matter of seconds
    • (&(&(&(objectCategory=Person)(objectClass=User)(lockoutTime>=1))))

You can really go to town on these queries and there is a great list already created for you, back over on the Petri IT Knowledgebase

Fixing a failed Hyper-V Guest Network Adapter

Sometimes you have a day when you think, “Why did I ever get into IT?”. Just when everything seems to be running smoothly an unexpected “blip” happens that seems to have no logical explanation. Then you remember that you sadistically enjoy solving these ambiguous problems and you start to dig.

spider-senseI had such a problem this morning when I get an email from our overseas office telling me that they can’t log in. No problem, I thought, just a simple password reset and all should be fine. I fired up remote desktop to get to the Domain Controller but it wouldn’t let me log in under my admin account. Suddenly my server-spider-sense started to tingle. I knew this wasn’t going to be a quick fix. Oh, and I should say the DC is a virtual machine hosted in Microsoft’s Hyper-V (2008 R2 edition).

read more after the jump

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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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