Entries Tagged as 'Software'

Windows 7 – Virtualization

So you’ve upgraded to Windows 7 and now your considering the options for running virtual machines…

If you have a PC that’s capable of hardware assisted virtualization (I-VT or AMD-V) and you’re running Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate the decision is fairly easy; use the virtualization technology from Microsoft that provides you with Virtual XP mode (as well as generalized virtualization).

However, if you don’t have a PC capable of hardware virtualization or you didn’t spring for the more expensive version of Windows you have some good (free) choices.

While Microsoft doesn’t officially support Virtual PC 2007 SP1 on Windows 7, since it was designed to run under Vista it will work.  The real downside is that you have fairly old virtualization technology emulating an antiquated hardware.

You could consider buying VMware or Parallels, but why spend money when there’s a better free alternative for personal use…

That would be – VirtualBox (yes, I’ve harped on VirtualBox for the Mac before, and now it’s time to harp on VirtualBox on the PC).

VirtualBox is a project sponsored by Sun Microsystems.  They’ve actually been working on virtualization technology for a very long time, and their virtualization technology is top notch. 

VirtualBox will run on several different operating system, you can even share the virtual machine files between operating systems if you like.  But one of the really nice things about VirtualBox is that it will support machines with or without hardware assisted virtualization and it emulates very modern hardware (which makes the paravirtualization of devices much more efficient).

Unless you have specific requirements that force you to choose other virtualization software, I would recommend you take a good look at VirtualBox.

VirtualBox

Originally posted 2009-11-14 01:00:43.

Virtualization Best Practices, Using UnDo

One of the most powerful features of virtualization is the ability to use undo disk (also called snapshots and checkpoints).

What this allows you to do is set the machine in a mode where you can decide at a later date whether or not you want to keep the changes — which is a great way test out new software in a virtual environment (NOTE:  Acronis TrueImage provides a similar capability in physical machines).

The penalty of using undo disks is that you have to commit all the changes or none of the changes; and the system will run slower.

An alternate to using the built in undo technology of the virtualization system is to copy the disk before you start the machine (it’s just a file on your hard drive), and restore it back afterwards.  Sometimes this is a better solution, particularly if you need the virtual machine to run as fast as possible and you’re not worried about the time it takes to make a copy of the disk before you run the virtual machine (NOTE:  you can simply delete the modified disk and move the copy into place when you’re done — that’s almost instantaneous).

One other thing you’ll want to be sure of is that you start the machine with undo disabled when you want to update the operating system and do maintenance.  You’ll also want to make sure that any checkpoints the operating system has created (Windows calls them “restore points”) are deleted before you complete your maintenance cycle; there’s certainly not any reason (generally) why you’d want multiple levels of “undo”.

I often use the “undo” feature to try out software I download from the internet.  I have a test machine setup with a virus scanner and I can monitor the changes the installation and running of the software attempt to make to the machine.  Plus I can try out the software and decide if it’s something valuable of not.  And there is the case where I will only need to run it once (or very rarely) and don’t want it polluting my real machine.

Developing the discipline of using virtualization with “undo” enabled can save you from a number of headaches, and is in itself a great reason to consider installing and using virtualization technology.

Originally posted 2009-01-14 12:00:42.

Fix It

About a year before Microsoft Windows 7 hit the street, Microsoft had started to introduce the “Fix It” logo associated with “solutions” to problems in Windows.

In Windows 7 Microsoft incorporated the solution center to partially automate finding and fixing issues that could cause problems with Windows.

Now Microsoft has expanded “Fix It” to include Windows Vista and Windows XP…

Thank you for your interest in Microsoft Fix it. We’re working hard to automate solutions to common software problems in an easy, intuitive way that is available when and where you need it. So whether you are looking for a solution in help or support content, or an error report, Fix it provides a way to apply automated fixes, workarounds, or configuration changes so you don’t have to perform a long list of manual steps yourself.

Microsoft Fix It

Fix It

Originally posted 2010-04-27 02:00:21.

Hyper-V Server

With the release of Windows Server 2008 Microsoft made a huge step forward in releasing thin, high-performance hyper-visor for machine virtualization – Hyper-V.

Microsoft has also baited the market by offering a free version of Windows Server 2008 specifically designed to be a virtualization host; Hyper-V Server.

I decide to play with Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V and Hyper-V Server to get a feel for what it could do.

Installation is a snap; much the same as Vista.

With Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V everything goes very smoothly and just works.  You can use the Hyper-V manager to setup virtual machines, run them, stop them, etc.  But one thing you want to while you have Windows Server 2008 up and running is figure out everything you need to do to remotely connect to manage Hyper-V and Server 2008 from your workstation because Hyper-V server isn’t going to allow you to do much from the console.

To say it’s a little complicated to get remote Hyper-V management working is an understatement; after I figured it out I found a tool that can help automate the setup — makes like much easier.

The one thing I never got working from Vista x64 was remote management of Windows Server 2008 – and you really need that as well (remember you don’t get much capability from the console).  I’ll probably play with that a little more; and certainly I’ll get it working before I deploy any Hyper-V servers (it’s not a huge problem if you have a Windows Server 2008 machine already, remote management of other Windows Server 2008 boxes just works).

Now after the headache of getting everything configured properly it was time to put Hyper-V through it’s paces.

First task, migrate a machine over from Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP2… piece of cake — copy over the VHD files, create a machine, hookup the disks (back track since Hyper-V seems to have a fairly set directory format for machines and disks — so if you create a new machine on Hyper-V first you’ll see the layout).  Boot the machine, connect, remove the virtual machine additions, reboot, install the new virtual machine files — asks to update the HAL (say yes), reboot, and finally install the new virtual machine files, reboot, re-generate the SID and rename the machine (I still have the old one, and I don’t want confusion)… and everything works great.  Shutdown the machine, add a second processor, start it up… and a dual processor virtual machine is born.

I migrated over 32-bit XP Professional; did a test install of 64-bit Server 2003… and every thing worked just fine.

Don’t get carried away just yet.

There’s a couple gotchas with this.

  • To effectively use the free Hyper-V Server you either need a Windows Server 2008 (full install) or you need to get the remote tools working from your workstation; that’s non-trivial.
  • To run Hyper-V Server or Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V you need a machine with hardware virtualization and execute disable (which really isn’t that uncommon these days, just make sure your BIOS has those features enabled).
  • Once you migrate a machine to Hyper-V there’s no automated way to go back to Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP2 (sure you can probably do it — but it’s going to be a pain).
  • To get performance out of Hyper-V you really need to use SCSI virtual disks; right now Microsoft doesn’t support booting from SCSI disks in Hyper-V since they only support the para-virtualized SCSI interface.  So to get performance you have to have an IDE boot disk and run off SCSI disks (not exactly a common installation, so you probably won’t be converting any physical machines like that — and seems like it’s a nightmare just waiting to unfold).

Fortunately I’m not in a huge hurry to move to Hyper-V; I’m fairly certain since it’s a corner stone of Microsoft’s push to own the virtual infrastructure market I suspect we’ll see the issues that prevent it from being all that it can be resolved quickly.

And I’ll close with an up-note… WOW — the performance was very impressive… I really wish I had a test machine with lots of spindles to see what kind of load I could realistically put on it.

Originally posted 2008-11-15 08:00:52.

Microsoft Security Essentials

A few years ago Microsoft® provided a free Beta of it’s Anti-Virus solution; and Beta users were provided with one free license to continue to use the “One Care” branded Anti-Virus.

Now (as of 29 September 2009 – yesterday) Microsoft is once again providing a free Anti-Virus for “genuine” Windows.

Personally I use Avast’s free version; I’d consider using the Microsoft AV on servers, but the free version only support desktop versions of Windows (like Avast).

http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/

Originally posted 2009-09-30 01:00:29.

Browser Spelling Check

If you use Firefox you’re set, build of that have included a spell check add in for quite sometime; however, if you use Internet Explorer you’re going to want to look into a spell check add-on.

Some of the spell check add-ons depend on the presence of Microsoft’s spell check (you get that with Office products, like Word); but one of the better ones does not.

ieSpell works well, and some javaScript add-ins on web pages will automatically detect it (as they do Firefox’s spell check) and work the same; but when they don’t you have the ability to use the context menu to spell check the contents of a edit box.

For personal use ieSpell is toally free, for commercial use you should check the licensing.

Originally posted 2008-12-13 12:00:34.

Virtualization Outside the Box

I’ve posted many an article on virtualization, but I felt it was a good time to post just an overview of the choices for virtualization along with a short blurb on each.

Obviously, the operating system you choose and the hardware you have will greatly limit the choices you have in making a virtualization decisions.  Also, you should consider how you intend to use virtualization (and for what).

Microsoft VirtualPC (Windows and a very outdated PowerPC Mac version) – it’s free, but that doesn’t really offset the fact that VirtualPC is aging technology, it’s slow, and it had been expected to die (but was used ad the basis for Windows 7 virtualization).

Microsoft Hyper-V (Windows Server 2008, “bare metal”) – you can get a free Hyper-V server distribution, but you’ll find it hard to use without a full Server 2008.  Hyper-V is greatly improved over VirtualPC, but it implements a rather dated set of virtual hardware, and it really doesn’t perform as well as many other choices and it will only run on hardware that supports hardware virtualization (I-VT or AMD-V).

VMware (Windows, Mac, Linux) – I’ll lump all of their product into one and just say it’s over-priced and held together by chewing gum and band-aids.  I’d recommend you avoid it — even the free versions.

VirtualBox (Windows, Mac, Linux, bare metal) – Sun (now Oracle) produces a commercial and open source (community) edition of an extremely good virtualization solution.  Primarily targeted at desktops it implements a reasonably modern virtual machine, and will run on most any hardware.

Parallels (Windows, Mac, Linux, bare metal) – a very good virtualization solution, but it’s expensive — and it will continue to cost you money over and over again (upgrades are essential and not free between versions).  You can do much better for much less (like free).

QEMU (Windows, Linux, etc) – this is one of the oldest of the open source projects, and the root of many.  It’s simple, it works, but it’s not a good solution for most users.

Kernel-based Virtual Machines (KVM — don’t confuse it with Keyboard/Video/Mouse switches, the TLA is way overloaded) – this is the solution that Ubuntu (and other Linux distributions) choose for virtualization (though Ubuntu recommends VirtualBox for desktop virtualization).  KVM makes is moderately complicated to setup guest machines, but there are GUI add-ons as well as other tools that greatly simplify the tasks.

Xen (Linux) – an extremely good hypervisor implementation (the architecture of Hyper-V and Xen share many of the same fundamental designs), it will run Xen enabled (modified) kernels efficiently on any hardware, but requires hardware assisted virtualization for non-modified kernels (like Windows).

XenSource (bare-metal [Linux]) – this is a commercial product (though now available at no cost) acquired by Citrix which also includes a number of enterprise tools.  All the comments of Xen (above) apply with the addition that this package is ready (and supported) for enterprise applications and is cost effective is large and small deployments.


My personal choice remains VirtualBox for desktop virtualization on Windows, Mac, and Linux, but if I were setting up a virtual server I’d make sure I evaluated (and would likely choose) XenSource (it’s definitely now a much better choice than building a Hyper-V based solution).

Originally posted 2010-05-03 02:00:58.

Hackers

I’ve noticed that here lately my SSH server has had an increasing number of hackers trying to log in.  Mostly they’re from the APNIC (Asia-Pacific) region, but a fair number from other regions (include North America) as well.

Since I have no plans to travel abroad in the near future I went ahead and blocked out all IP addresses registered through any registrar except ARIN, and I also added several hosting companies that seem to to have customers that either don’t secure their servers well or they themselves launch cyber attacks.

It’s generally a good idea to make sure that any server that can be used to gain entry to your network is as secure and limited as possible.  Obviously you don’t want to go overboard and make it impossible for you to do what you need with relative ease; but that said, you don’t want to make it easy for others to do things to your computers.

Originally posted 2010-01-25 01:00:43.

Microsoft Streets and Trips 2008 with GPS and Connected Services

I picked up a copy of Microsoft Streets and Trips 2008 with GPS and Connected Services; basically the package includes the same Pharos (re-branded) GPS module that Microsoft has been using along with a Pharos (re-branded) FM side-band receiver (similar technology as to what you can get on a number of all-in-one GPS units that provide real time data).

I haven’t tried all the wizzy new features for real yet, but in service areas I should be able to get real time data on traffic, construction, gas prices, weather, etc… the real question is how well S&T uses that data to auto-magically re-route.

I have a Pharos all-in-one GPS-150 receivers that’s a nice little unit, but it’s difficult to enter address information (there is not a sync to the PC option), and it doesn’t get real time data feeds. The Pharos all-in-one uses their Ostia software rather than Streets and Trips; but you can hack Tom-Tom PDA software to run quite nicely on it (the problem is getting the maps).

__________

A bit of trivia for those that don’t know the connection between the word “Pharos” and mapping / navigation. Pharos was the name of the light house at Alexandria, Egypt. And “Ostia” was the ancient port of Rome at the mouth of the Tiber river.

Originally posted 2008-07-08 00:15:45.

Vista Activation

Over the past couple weeks I’ve had to “reactivate” two copies of Vista; now I did update the video cards and the optical drive (which is likely what triggered it), but interestingly enough, these are the two oldest copies of Vista (the first two computers installed with it).

It’s not difficult…

You try the online activation, it fails.

You call the automated telephone activation system, it fails.

You request a transfer to a Microsoft activation specialist, you read them the codes, answer a couple simple questions, and they give you the activation code which you type in and then you’ve activated.

Hopefully my activation is good for another twenty months (or more)!

NOTE:  While I’m sure that changing the hardware triggered this, I suspect that Microsoft has implemented a more rigorous inspection of the computer fingerprint to defeat bulk copies of Vista by questionable computer manufactures.

Originally posted 2008-12-28 12:00:06.