Getting to know Vista better.

July 23, 2008 at 3:17 pm (Microsoft, Sysadmin, Tech, Tech support) (, , , )

I admit it, I was initially skeptical of Vista, I bought into all the negative hype surrounding it and avoided it like the plague for close to a year after it came out. Then a few months back I was building a new PC for home use and I decided I would give it a try, though I told colleagues at the time that I’d probably end up uninstalling it within a week.

Well, it’s several months later, and not only have I not uninstalled Vista, I have grown to really like it. I know my experience may not be typical, but so far Vista has given me less grief than any version of Windows I’ve worked with. The initial install went smoothly and I was pleasantly surprised to find Vista finding the correct drivers for all my hardware right away. Of course, this might have something to do with me using pretty much all-new parts that had been manufactured after Vista was released, but I can’t recall any other time in history I haven’t had to do a bunch of driver updates after the main OS install was done. Also the install process is much much faster than previous versions of windows.

My  install was of the 32-bit Business edition of Vista.  This is the version of Windows I suspect will be most common in Small to medium sized businesses. All in all I found it to be a very stable and dependable product. My only issue with it was that as with other 32-bit operating systems it is limited to 4GB of physical memory. I suspect this will not be a major issue in most corporate environments, except for some higher end workstations used for software development, AutoCAD etc.

In the next couple posts I will focus on some of the nice new features of Vista that will make life easier for techs and sysadmins. I will not be discussing the more widely discussed features of Vista like the UAC, Aero etc, but rather focus on the things most of us may not be aware of, but which will make  administration easier.

Stay tuned


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Blog ressurection

July 21, 2008 at 11:45 am (Microsoft, Tech, Tech support) (, , , )

Somewhere out there I’m sure there are some statistics on how most blogs never make it past 5 posts or so. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me most blogs die after the first post. It definitely seemed like this blog was going to die a quiet death as my life and career became too hectic for me to really focus on it anymore.

Since my last post a number of things have happened. I’ve completed my Server 2003 MCSE, I’ve switched jobs from being the all-around IT guy at a small company to being a small cog in the great IT machine of a very large company, I’ve gone from being a Vista naysayer to becoming an enthusiastic Vista supporter (more on that in later posts) and I’ve rearranged my life to have time to update the blog more frequently.

Despite working in a more specialized role currently, I still consider myself a Generalist at heart. I will mostly be focusing on Microsoft technologies in the foreseeable future, but may drift into Linux, Cisco or other areas as well. The first thing I will be covering is Vista and some of the really nifty features you don’t see mentioned all too often. Yes I realize Vista was released a year and a half ago, but it really hasn’t been adopted widely in Business environments yet and  a lot of admins and techs are still unfamiliar with it, so I hope I can provide some useful information. After that I’ll be covering Server 2008, which is one of the most impressive Microsoft products I’ve ever seen.

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Certs and stuff

September 28, 2007 at 12:48 pm (Active Directory, Exchange, Microsoft, Sysadmin) (, , , , , )

So I haven’t posted in a while, just been too busy to focus much on this blog. I’ve managed to get my MCSA 2003 Certification with both the Messaging and Security specializations so now I’m just three exams short of my MCSE which I hope to have completed in a few months. Alot of people have negative attitudes towards Certifications, pointing to the horders of “Paper MCSEs” ad the like out there.

Personally I’ve found that studying for these certs has been extremely informative for me, and I’ve learned a lot of useful information that I’ve been able to apply to my job. Learning more about things like CAs, IPSec, Securing DNS etc has benefited both me as an Admin and of course the Company I work for. I feel this is an often overlooked aspect of certifications – ideally studying for them means you actually LEARN something.

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The even greater wonders of Process Explorer

May 23, 2007 at 2:57 pm (Microsoft, Networking, Sysadmin, Tech, Tech support, Troubleshooting)

Last week I wrote about ;The Wonders of Task Manager. This was to highlight some of the lesser-known yet immensely useful features of the Microsoft Task Manager. Task Manager is one of the most common tools I use and over the years I’ve learned to love it with the special kind of love a craftsman reserves for his favorite tools. Well wouldn’t you know? The very next day fate decided to play a little game with me and introduce me to what has become my new flame. Yes, it’s true, my faithless heart has discarded the faithful task manager, replacing it with a newer, shinier and even more useful tool. – Process Explorer.

It’s been a week, and while some might say my judgment is clouded by immense feelings of bliss, I will say that Process Explorer is the new love of my life (and by “life” i Mean an indeterminable time period spanning from last week until something even better comes along.) Developed by Well-known Microsoft developer Dr. Mark Russinovich. It is designed to duplicate many of the functions of Task manager, allowing you to see performance statistics such as the amount of CPU cycles being used, How much memory is currently being used by applications, What apps and processes are running etc. In fact it even comes with an option that allows you to replace the older task manager with the new tool so that it will launch every time you would normally launch Task Manager.

The difference between Task Manager and Process Explorer is in the detail you can view. Process Explorer allows you to get far more details about not only which processes are running, it will also let you get the skinny on what files,registry keys , threads etc are used by the process. This can be very useful when trying to troubleshoot why a certain process is consuming an inordinate amount of resources. It can also be extremely useful if you’re analyzing a process to determine if it’s legit or possible Malware.

Process Explorer also has a System Information screen closely resembling Task Manager’s Performance tab, the main benefit being again more detail, another nice benefit is that it displays I/O bytes as well as CPU and Memory usage.

I strongly recommend trying it out for yourselves. The tool is freeware and can be downloaded from Microsoft. I’d be interested to hear other views on this great tool, so feel free to leave a comment.

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The Wonders of Task Manager

May 17, 2007 at 8:19 am (Active Directory, Microsoft, Networking, Sysadmin, Tech, Tech support, Troubleshooting)

Any person who’s done any kind of Windows troubleshooting, from experienced admins down to common end users has probably at some point dealt with the Windows Task Manager. This tool is not only incredibly useful, but also fairly simple to use, even for novices. It can list running applications and processes as well as CPU, memory and network usage. I don’t know a single tech or admin that doesn’t use it close to daily.

However it sometimes surprises me how many techies don’t know some of the more advanced features of Task manager. Some of these features may not get used so often, but they can REALLY help a troubleshooting scenario. So I figured I’d cover some of them here in case anyone’s interested.

The first feature I’d like to mention is known as “Go to process”. This feature is accessed from the application, and can be very useful if you a hung application which won’t shut down when you select “end task”. By right-clicking on the application and selecting “go to process” it will switch you over to the processes tab and automatically select the process that’s being run by the app so you can end the process. This is very useful for applications that run under unusual or generic process names or in cases where you run multiple instances of an app such as MMC consoles (I usually run bunches of these) and you need to know which instance of mmc.exe you need to close.

Another common scenario I witness is a tech or admin that’s looking at the Performance tab to see how much memory is being used and then looks at the Processes tab to determine which processes are consuming the amount of memory that task manager reports being used. Often this leaves them stumped because the amount of memory shown in use seems far greater than the total memory shown used by various processes.

While most Admins know tocheck the “Show processes from all users” check box to show all the processes run on the machine, many fail to realize that the numbers in the “Mem usage” column only show the amount of physical RAM used. In the performance tab both physical as well as virtual memory usage is shown which can be confusing. To get a clearer picture of the total memory being used by a process (both physical and virtual) you can simply go to “View” and “Select columns” then check “Virtual memory size”. This will let you know how much of the pagefile any given process is using. I’ve found that certain apps like virus or spyware checkers can hog up massive amounts of virtual memory while consuming relativly little physical memory.

There are many other options you can select under the “Select column” option such as “CPU time, Page Faults, Thread count” etc, many of these can be incredibly useful in various troubleshooting scenarios, but Virtual memory size is by far my favorite and I sometimes wonder why it’s not selected by default.

The last feature I’ve learned to love in certain situations is “New task”. This feature pretty much duplicates the normal “Start – run” that all techs should be familiar with, the reason I mention this feature is because it can often be used in cases where you just can’t get to the start button. Most often this is the cases when there’s a problem with explorer.exe, say your windows GUI has become unstable or non-responsive, but you can still access the task manager. In this case I’ve found that killing the explorer.exe process through task manager will often correct the problem, but will leave you without a start button or taskbar which of course can be very problematic. Using Task manager’s “New Task” feature to restart explorer.exe will bring everything back to normal and save you the hassle of rebooting the system.

These were a few of my favorite task manager tricks. Anyone else have any they would like to share? Comments and questions always appreciated

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WSUS 3.0

May 9, 2007 at 8:19 am (Active Directory, Microsoft, Sysadmin, WSUS)

Aaaah, the second Wednesday of the month…The day after Microsoft Patch Tuesday…..The day I get to spend testing and deploying all the new critical little patches and fixes Microsoft has released for it’s multitude of products.

Like most smaller Windows shops we used Microsoft’s Windows Server update services (WSUS) to manage our Microsoft automatic updates. This allows us to download all the updates through a synchronization process to our server, then selectivly deploy these patches to the systems that require them. This technology goes back quite aways and is one of my favorite MS products, especially considering it’s free.

This was my first time synchronizing new updates after downloading the latest versions of WSUS (3.0) and I was looking forward to experiencing all the benefits MS has been touting about the new interface. Whereas WSUS 2.0 and earlier forced you to go through a Web interface and could be kind of a pain to Navigate, the new versions is administered through a very snazzy looking MMC console. This makes it much easier to view status of updates and computers, it gives greater reporting capabilites and allows for far more fluid and efficient navigation.

Overall I found the new interface to be very user friendly and intuitive and a great improvement on previous versions. One thing to note is that you will need to uninstall previous versions of WSUS on your update server before installing the new version. Take care and read the uninstall instructions carefully so you don’t end up deleting your database and log files as these can be easily imported into version 3.0. The Installer file will let you install both the administration console and the full server, and the install process is very simple. I recommend it to any Administrator out there who wants to simplify their Patch deployment and make life a little easier the second wednesday of every month.

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First post

May 8, 2007 at 4:04 pm (Active Directory, Exchange, Microsoft, Networking, Sysadmin, Tech)

Welcome gentle readers,

This is my first wordpress blog, and the first time I’ve done something that could be considered a “professional blog”, at least in the sense that this is about my Professional life, not in the sense that I’m a professional blogger (I’m certainly not).

I’ve been a ravenous tech-blog consumer for years now and have learned so much from the various authors who take the time and effort to share their knowledge through their blogs. I decided it would be time to give something back by sharing some of the tools, tricks and insights I happen to come across in my day-to-day life.

Let me start by telling you all a little something about my techie background. I’m no world-renowned expert on anything, I’m no Microsoft MVP or Cisco CCIE (yet), I don’t work for some exciting cutting-edge Silicon Valley company or hold a PhD in Computer Science.

I’m just a rather typical computer geek, the kind of kid who grew up loving computers, from my commodore 64, through various other systems that came and vent until I got on the PC bandwagon and got into Networking.

In my career I’ve done end-user Tech support for both Hardware and software, IT Helpdesk for a number of large companies, Desktop support and Systems Administration. Currently my official title is “Systems Support specialist” for a small company you’ve never heard of. In reality this means I’m a “Generalist”, the guy who deals with anything that’s even remotely connected to computers, phones, printers and other technomalgical thingies.

We have about 100 end-users all using WIndows XP and about 20 servers running Windows Server 2003. Basically I handle All end user support, Active Directory, Exchange, our Routing and switching, some SQL and our Avaya PBX system. It’s a fun job, and immensely challenging, I like the people I work with and for, and overall I’m very happy with my job. However, like any tech job I occasionally run into issues and problems that can be frustrating, annoying or downright maddening. My hope for this blog is to share with others some of the solutions I’ve come across, and to provide some helpful links to sites, blogs and people I’ve found helpful.

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