Jun 26

Are you backing up your data?

I often come across customers who have lost their important  documents to a computer disaster. Most times they didn’t have a backup strategy in place, or they did, but they weren’t implementing it. I always stress this to my customers. Backup your data. Set up a backup strategy and stick to it. One key aspect of a successful backup strategy is keeping your data in as many places as possible.

Most operating systems include some sort of backup feature that allows you to set up a backup schedule. There are also services that backup your important documents online (services such as Mozy Backup or Carbonite for instance). You can always purchase an inexpensive external hard drive and copy your files manually or with a backup utility. Anything you choose to do is better than not doing anything.

If you are running any flavor of Windows 7 on your computer, you have access to an easy to use and reliable backup utility. It takes a few minutes to set up, and you just need to plug in an external hard drive. Getting two external hard drives and alternating between the two is not a bad idea either. As I said, keeping your data in as many places as possible is a key part of a successful backup strategy.

If you run a business, it is a good idea to hire a professional to help you come up with a reliable backup strategy that fits your business needs and policies. You can always give us a call. I may post something related to business backup strategies in the future.

On your personal computer, a backup strategy is something simple to set up.You just need to use a backup utility to set up a schedule and make sure the backup runs.

You can always use a third party utility or copy the files your self, but, if you are running any version of Windows 7, you can set up the backup schedule in a few easy steps.

Click on the start menu and type “Backup” in the search box. One of the items you will find is called “Backup and Restore” – click on it. This will open the Backup and Restore center. In this window you can check the status of your existing backup schedule if you already have it set up. You can also modify the backup settings or set up up a new backup schedule.

Plug in your external hard drive or thumb drive (make sure there is enough space to hold your data or complete system drive). Click on “Setup Backup.” This will open the Setup Backup Wizard. The wizard is pretty straight forward. Just select the destination on the first section (the external hard drive.) Select what you want to back up (you can let Windows choose for you or select the option to choose yourself if you want to add locations outside of your libraries – documents, pictures, videos, etc). Modify the schedule on the next window. Then click save settings and run backup. That’s pretty much it. Now you just have to make sure the computer is on and the hard drive is plugged in whenever the backup will run.

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Jun 24

Find out what caused a Blue Screen of Death in Windows.

If you’ve used a computer with any flavor of the Windows Operating System, you’ve certainly experienced the infamous Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). These BSODs or Stop errors, as Microsoft calls them, occur when the Operating System detects a problem with either hard-ware or software, and it “stops” to prevent damage to the system. Depending on the computer configuration the computer may restart or simply wait for your input. It also writes a file to the hard-drive. This file is called a memory dump file, small memory dump file, or minidump file. This file contains information that may help you identify why your computer stopped responding.Your computer has to be configured to write this memory dump. It also needs to have a paging file of at least 2 MB on the boot drive.

To verify that your computer is set to write the minidump file and that the paging file is the correct size and in the right location follow the next steps:

  1. Click the Start Menu, Right Click “Computer” or “My Computer” and click “Properties…” Alternatively you can press the Windows Key and the Break key at the same time. This will open the System Properties.
  2. Click the “Advanced Tab” if you are using Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Server 2003, or click “Advanced System Settings…” if you are using Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008.
  3. Click the Settings button under the performance section.
  4. Click the Advanced tab and click the Change button under the Virtual Memory section.
  5. Make sure the boot drive is selected and that the size of the paging file or virtual memory is 2 MB or more. I like to set it at 1.5 times the size of your RAM or 4096 MB, whichever is less. It is also safe to let Windows manage the paging file for you.
  6. Click Set and then OK to set the paging file size.
  7. Click the Settings button under Startup and Recovery.
  8. Select “Small Memory Dump” under debugging information and click OK.

Microsoft offers tools to read and debug this memory dump file (Dumpchk.exe, WinDbg, and KD.exe), but there are other tools available that are a lot easier to use. One of the tools I like to use is called Blue Screen View. This utility is lightweight and easy to use. You run it and it detects and debugs the memory dump files for you. The information provided in these dump files is really useful when troubleshooting these kind of errors. Most of the times you will be able to find out what driver was causing the problem. The next step would be to remove or update the driver that caused the BSOD. Some times the cause of the problem may not be so clear even when looking at the contents of the minidump file. In these cases, more tests will be required, but that is a conversation for another day. These simple steps should help you pinpoint the cause of the issue if the issue is caused by a bad or corrupt driver – most stop errors are. When the errors are caused by a hard-ware malfunction, running a hard-ware diagnostic utility will usually help you pinpoint the problem (Memtest to test the memory modules for instance.).

You can get the Blue Screen View utility from the www.nirsoft.net website.

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Jun 21

Services fail to start and you may lose network connectivity after installing MS08-037 on a Windows Server 2000, 2003 or 2008 Computer.

This is an old issue. I first came across it about two years ago. Most Sys Admins or IT Consultants are probably familiar with this issue, and they probably know how to fix it already. Still, I thought it would be a good idea to write about it. In the past few months, I’ve had three calls from new customers that were experiencing issues caused by this update. They either didn’t update until now, the issue didn’t present itself until now, or their previous IT Consultant didn’t  bother to make the required configuration changes to prevent the issue.

In any case, after installing the Microsoft Update described in the Knowledge Base Article 953230 and rebooting the server, some network services will fail to start and your server will lose network connectivity.

MS08-037 is a security update published by Microsoft designed to prevent DNS Spoofing. This update is described in the KB953230 article.

The update changes the way the DNS Server Service allocates the UDP source port  for DNS queries. DNS by default will randomly pick 2500 ports when the service starts up. If another service is already using one of those ports, the service will fail to start. This problem occurs when the MaxUserPorts registry entry is present. This registry entry is added by default by Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, Microsoft ISA Server, and Microsoft Small Business Server 2003.

Microsoft is aware of this issue and they’ve published a Knowledge Base article detailing the instructions to solve it. The steps are outlined in the KB956189 article .

The following steps are taken from the previous article:

To resolve this problem, add the port that is needed by the service to the ReservedPorts registry value. This prevents the DNS Server service from listening on that port. The following ports are known to cause conflicts:

Collapse this tableExpand this table
Ports Program that uses the ports
1645-1646 IAS
1701-1701 L2TP
1718-1719 H.323 Gatekeeper (ISA 2000 only)
1745-1745 ISA Server 2000 or ISA Server 2004
1812-1813 IAS
2883-2883 AUTD
3500-3619 ISA Server 2000 only
4500-4500 IPSEC

To configure the ReservedPorts registry value, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, click Run, type regedit, and then click OK.
  2. Locate and then click the following subkey:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Tcpip\Parameters
  3. Right-click ReservedPorts, and then click Modify.
  4. Type the range of ports that you want to reserve.

    Notes

    • You must type the range of ports in the following format:
      xxxx-yyyy
    • Do not replace the existing values. Instead, add the additional values.
    • To specify a single port, use the same value for x and for y. For example, to specify port 4000, type 4000-4000.
    • If you specify the continuous ports separately and if one port is reserved and is not used, the next port is not reserved correctly, and the port is used.
    • ISA Server settings only apply to Small Business Server 2000 or to Windows Small Business Server 2003 Premium Edition.
  5. Click OK.

    Note If you receive the following warning message, click OK

    Warning:
    Data of type REG_MULTI_SZ cannot contain empty strings.
    Registry Editor will remove the empty string found.
  6. Exit Registry Editor, and then restart the computer.

Notes

  • You must restart the computer after you make these changes for the changes to take effect.
  • If you are using any third-party applications on the server that might require you to use a static UDP port that is higher than port 1024, you should also add it to the list of reserved ports.
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Mar 21

Use WebDAV folders to manage Sharepoint Libraries in SBS 2008.

Microsoft Sharepoint is a powerful product that allows companies to collaborate using a web based medium. It is installed when you deploy Windows Small Business Server. It can be used out of the box by employees and members of an organization. I’ve deployed Windows Small Business Server to most of my customer’s networks, and they love using Sharepoint.

One of the features Sharepoint has is Document Libraries. You can upload, modify, and mange documents right in Sharepoint, and it becomes a really powerful and efficient tool when you use it right. Working with folders and files from within Sharepoint can be cumbersome and inefficient when you are used to the usual “Windows Explorer” that comes with all versions of Windows. Wouldn’t it be nice to work with Sharepoint libraries using this familiar interface? Well, it is possible. Sharepoint supports a technology called Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV).

WebDAV makes it possible to modify and work with documents in Sharepoint libraries as if they were on your computer.

Here’s a Wikipedia description of WebDav:

Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning, or WebDAV, is a set of extensions to the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that allows computer-users to edit and manage files collaboratively on remote World Wide Web servers. RFC 4918 defines the extensions. The group of developers responsible for these extensions was also known by the same name and was a working group of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

The WebDAV protocol allows interactivity, making the Web a readable and writable medium, in line with Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision. It allows users to create, change and move documents on a remote server (typically a web server or “web share”).

Microsoft didn’t make WebDAV available on all versions of Windows by default. So make sure your version supports it. Also, Microsoft released an update that fixes some issues with WebDAV folders. You can get this update here

Download and Install the update before proceeding.

The following steps walk you through configuring web folders for Sharepoint libraries:

  • First, click on the start menu, right-click “computer,” and click “Map Network Drive.”
  • On the Map Network Drive Window choose a drive letter, type in the path to the Sharepoint Library (http://companyweb/<library name>, in this case http://companyweb/workorders). Make sure the “Reconnect at Log On” option is checked. Then click the “Finish” button.
  • A window asking for credentials will show up. Type in your domain credentials in the format DOMAIN\username and your password. Click OK.
  • After doing this, the Sharepoint Libary will show up in “My Computer” as if it was a drive. You can work with folders and files as if it was a drive on your local computer. Any changes will show up in the library when you browse it in Sharepoint.

This procedure assumes you are working on a computer with local access to the Sharepoint server. In Windows Server 2008 you can access the Sharepoint Website from a remote computer. To access the Sharepoint Library from a remote computer type the remote path to the library instead of the local path. The remote path may be different depending on how it was setup by your network administrator. The path is usually https://remote.<yourdomain.com>:987/<library name>. You enter this path in the map a network drive window.

There you have it. This will make it easier to work with Sharepoint Libraries in your organization.

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Mar 14

Creating and using a password reset disk in Windows 7

It happens to all of us. We forget our passwords. Whatever the reason is, forgetting your password isn’t pretty. If you forget your Windows password and you have no other accounts on the PC that can reset your password, you have no way of accessing your account other than resetting the password.

Depending on the network  environment your computer is on, the password reset process can be simple or complicated. If your computer is part of a domain, and the account you lost the password to is a domain account, then your Network Administrator can reset the password for you.

If your account is a local computer account and there are no other accounts on the PC with administrator access, the process gets a little bit more complicated.

There are third party utilities that allow you to reset the password in this situation. The most effective utility I’ve used in these situations was ERD Commander by Winternals. This utility allowed you to boot on to a disk and attach your self to the Windows installation. This effectively allowed you to run certain tools and utilities on the installation. This was useful when you wanted to troubleshoot boot and other ralated issues. There are other free utilities similar to ERD commander that allow you to do just this, but I haven’t used a lot of them. the ones I’ve used haven’t been very successful. I may write an article in the future about these other utilities.

Winternals was acquired by Microsoft back in 2007. Microsoft made most of the utilities offered by Winternals available free of charge. They stopped offering ERD commander as a stand alone product and started offering it under the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack. They also changed the name to Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (DaRT). The only problem is that they made this software available only  under the Software Assurance program or to holders of an MSDN or Technet subscription. This means that most end users who may have this problem don’t have access to these tools. I may write an article about creating a DaRT boot disk and using it to solve specific issues in the future.

Now back to what this article is about. Microsoft made it simple for an end user to get out of a lost password situation if the necessary steps are taken. Windows allows you to create a password reset disk. Most versions of Windows have this option, and the process for creating the disk is similar in Windows Vista and Windows 7.  I will focus on Windows 7 in this article. If you want a guide for older versions of windows, email me or post it in the comments, and I will create one.

A password reset disk allows you to recover your password if you forgot it. It is a simple process to create and use, and everyone should have one.

What do you need to complete this process?

  1. Windows 7 Installed on your PC
  2. Removable Media – a USB flash drive or a Floppy Disk. I recommend a USB flash drive.

To create the password reset disk follow the next steps:

  1. Insert your USB flash drive or Floppy disk in the computer.
  2. Go to user accounts by clicking on the Start Menu > Control Panel > User Accounts and Family Safety > User Accounts.
  3. Click “Create Password Reset Disk” on the left pane to open the Forgotten Password Wizard.
  4. Click Next on the Welcome to the Forgotten Password Wizard Page.
  5. On the next window select your removable media and click next.
  6. Type in your password on the next window and click Next.
  7. On the next window the wizard creates the reset disk. Wait until the progress bar reaches 100% and then click next.
  8. Click Finish on the last window and you are done. Store the flash drive in a safe place.

To use this flash drive to recover your password click on the Reset Password link that appears after you enter the wrong password on the Windows Log In screen. Insert the password reset disk and follow the instructions on the screen to create your new password. If you lose this password again, you can use the same reset disk to reset the password. There is no need to create a new one.

I hope this proves useful. If you have any questions feel free to email me or to post a comment.

Until next time.

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