Entries Tagged as 'Windows'

Remote Access

I’ve been using a combination of bitvise WinSSHD and Tunnelier for remote access to my home network.  It basically allows me to tunnel a RDP (or simple command shell) via SSH to a Virtual machine running on my server (actually each “user” has a virtual machine all to their own, so there’s no contention).

I really like the simplicity of the SSH tunnel, and find that running it on port 22 and port 443 provides me with a very good likelihood of being able to connect through all but the most draconian firewalls.

You will want to make sure that you implement good security policies on your SSH server, and that you either use pre-shared keys or certificates OR that you make sure you have a strong password.  There are a number of bots out there that try to break into an SSH server using a list of well know user names and dictionary attack for the password.

WinSSHD will lock out IP addresses after a number of failed attempts; but I created a test account called “test” with the password “password” just to see what the bot would try to do (the account was jailed without any write priviledge in a safe sub-directory with no files).  The bot got frustrated and went away, but I was trying to upload files, and I would guess execute them (probably propagating itself).

You can black list IP addresses, and if you’re like me you run the DynDNS client (I use DynDNS.org for my dynamic ip naming service; it’s free, and it works well) on your notebooks so that you “know” their IP address via a fixed host name (though in WinSSHD the IP black list superceeds a DNS name white list).

http://www.bitvise.com/

http://www.dyndns.org/ or http://www.dyndns.com/

Desktop Sharing

Maybe I’ve become spoiled, but I just expect desktop sharing (remote control) to be easy and fast.

Nothing, absolutely nothing compares to Microsoft’s RDP; and virtually any Windows machine (except home editions) can be accessed remotely via RDP; and all Windows machines and Macs can access a remote Windows machine.

Apple has their own Remote Desktop Client, and it works well — but it’s far from free (OUCH, far from free).  And Apple does build in VNC into OS-X (can you say dismally slow)… but they don’t provide any Windows client.

Linux and other *nix operating system you can use an X session remotely; or VNC (zzzzzzzzzzzzz again, slow).

As a “universal” desktop sharing solution VNC isn’t horrible (and it’s certainly priced right, and there’s plenty of different ports and builds of it to choose from), but it’s old school and old technology.

I personally think it would be a great standard to have an efficient remote desktop sharing standard, that all computers (and PDAs) could use… one ring — eh, got carried away there; one client could talk to any server, and operating system vendors would only need optimize their server and their client, other operating system vendors would do the same…

Windows 8.1

The Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT updates are out, and the start button is back (though you could re-enable it with a number of hacks) if you want it — Metro is still available (and always there).

While those with touch devices may not see why the start button might be preferred, those who still have to use a mouse or other pointing device definitely will appreciate not needing to emulate finger swipes any longer.

The other big change is that SkyDrive is now installed by default (but no greater storage for free to Windows 8.1 users than anyone who just installs SkyDrive or just sets up a SkyDrive account).

The Windows 8.1 update is easy and free to install for Windows 8 users; however, Windows 7 users (or previous) will need to install Windows 8 first.

You can find a number of lengthy reviews of Windows 8.1 on line, but if you’re a Windows 8 users it’s an update you’ll probably want to install.  If you’re a Windows 7 user there may be no real motivation to upgrade.


Update to Windows 8.1 from Windows 8

Office Applications for Windows 7

Microsoft has announced the release of Office 2010 first quarter of next year available in both 32-bit and 64-bit; and I’m sure it will be a fine application suite; I’m sure it will also be expensive.

I tried Office 2007 when I first moved to Windows Vista, but I found it very difficult to figure out how to do even simple tasks; so I stuck with Office 2003.

Now I’m at the point that I’m reconsidering my needs in an office suite, and I’m finding that I really only use very basic features, and I value a consistent, simple interface over most anything else (well, that’s assuming that the software works).

A good friend of mine has been using OpenOffice for quite sometime now, and he’s been extremely happy with it.

I’d looked at OpenOffice a few years ago, but I’ve never really been a fan of any software written in Java that requires the JRE (I’ve always found it to be sluggish).

Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say.

I downloaded OpenOffice (for Windows) and installed it on my work station.

My initial test was to open up some of the more complicated documents I had; not that I really have any documents that are that complicated.  It worked, it worked well, and it was fast.

I played with it a little more, and then I decided to take a look at how much disk space it consumed… it was tiny compared to Office 2003.

Then I decide to create a few new documents and spreadsheets with it — no problem, it seemed to do everything I needed.

WOW.

I just don’t know what else to say… why would I pay Microsoft for a huge suite of office applications that I rarely use; and use only a small fraction of the features???

OpenOffice is available for a number of operating systems, and works fine on Windows 7.

A good way to save some money on your computer needs is switch over to OpenOffice when you upgrade to Windows 7.

OpenOffice.org

Linux – Desktop Search

A while ago I published a post on Desktop Search on Linux (specifically Ubuntu).  I was far from happy with my conclusions and I felt I needed to re-evaluate all the options to see which would really perform the most accurate search against my information.

Primarily my information consists of Microsoft Office documents, Open Office documents, pictures (JPEG, as well as Canon RAW and Nikon RAW), web pages, archives, and email (stored as RFC822/RFC2822 compliant files with an eml extension).

My test metrics would be to take a handful of search terms which I new existed in various types of documents, and check the results (I actually used Microsoft Windows Search 4.0 to prepare a complete list of documents that matched the query — since I knew it worked as expected).

The search engines I tested were:

I was able to install, configure, and launch each of the applications.  Actually none of them were really that difficult to install and configure; but all of them required searching through documentation and third party sites — I’d say poor documentation is just something you have to get used to.

Beagle, Google, Tracker, Pinot, and Recoll all failed to find all the documents of interest… none of them properly indexed the email files — most of the failed to handle plain text files; that didn’t leave a very high bar to pick a winner.

Queries on Strigi actually provided every hit that the same query provided on Windows Search… though I have to say Windows Search was easier to setup and use.

I tried the Neopomuk (KDE) interface for Strigi — though it just didn’t seem to work as well as strigiclient did… and certainly strigiclient was pretty much at the top of the list for butt-ugly, user-hostile, un-intuitive applications I’d ever seen.

After all of the time I’ve spent on desktop search for Linux I’ve decided all of the search solutions are jokes.  None of them are well thought out, none of them are well executed, and most of them out right don’t work.

Like most Linux projects, more energy needs to be focused on working out a framework for search than everyone going off half-cocked and creating a new search paradigm.

The right model is…

A single multi-threaded indexer running in the background indexing files according to a system wide policy aggregated with user policies (settable by each user on directories they own) along with the access privileges.

A search API that takes the user/group and query to provide results for items that the user has (read) access to.

The indexer should be designed to use plug-in modules to handle particular file types (mapped both by file extension, and by file content).

The index should also be designed to use plug-in modules for walking a file system and receiving file system change events (that allows the framework to adapt as the Linux kernel changes — and would support remote indexing as well).

Additionally, the index/search should be designed with distributed queries in mind (often you want to search many servers, desktops, and web locations simultaneously).

Then it becomes a simple matter for developers to write new/better indexer plug-ins; and better search interfaces.

I’ve pointed out in a number of recent posts that you can effective use Linux as a server platform in your business; however, it seems that if search is a requirement you might want to consider ponying up the money for Microsoft Windows Server 2008 and enjoy seamless search (that works) between your Windows Vista / Windows 7 Desktops and Windows Server.

REFERENCES:

Ubuntu – Desktop Search

IMAP Utilities

I generally prefer to interface to my mail via IMAP, and I store my mail archives in a local IMAP repository (which allows me the ability to search the repository quickly using Windows Search).

With the old email server I was using it was fairly straight forward to make a backup of the IMAP store and preserve the IMAP folder paths; the new mail server I’m using stores messages far more efficiently and uses a database to record the IMAP folder association of every folder and message.  Yes I could backup the files and the database, but that seemed fairly rigid and a solution that would likely not be portable in the future.

And before I sat out on writing my own tools, I prefer to look at what’s out there — either to use it as a solution, or learn from it.

I happened to stumble upon IMAPSize by Broobles, and while it’s not exactly what I was looking for it has a number of useful features.

It’s billed as the “Swiss Army Knife” of IMAP utilities by many reviewers.

Rather than go through all the features it has, I’m just going to talk about some of the things that most everyone will probably find useful.

The first thing it does is show you how much mail is in each mailbox, so if you’ve got quotas you can figure you where you need to prune.

  • I has some search capabilities (particularly useful if you don’t have your own IMAP server, since IMAP search, even when properly implemented in server and client, isn’t all that powerful).
  • It allows you to do regular IMAP management (much the same as your client will do).
  • It allows you to copy messages from one account to another (there’s lots of scripts that will do that as well).
  • It will do incremental backups of folders or entire accounts.
  • It will search through and flag SPAM.

The program is a fairly straight forward GUI application for Windows, and probably my biggest complaint is that it doesn’t allow command line options to use it in a script.  Personally I would prefer to do my backup on a schedule, unattended.

I will probably write my own tool to do backup; I’ve already written an IMAP object library — so I really only need to decide how to store the configuration information (probably in an XML file); but this is none the less an extremely useful program, and if you use IMAP you should take a look at it.  And it’s FREE to try, and FREE to use, but you might want to donate something to it’s author, particularly if you’re going to ask for an enhancement.

LibreOffice announced for Web, iOS, Android

The Libre Office project announced today that they will officially support web browsers, iOS, and Android according to The Document Foundation.

Libre Office which formed from the community open source of Open Office and the work done by go-oo.org has primarily focused on being an office suite for the current times rather than trying to compete with or take market from Microsoft Office, and expanding into venues to support phones and tablets is a reasonable path, and one that many have been asking for for quite some time.

No specific time line has been announced, but there had already been some work done on porting to mobile platforms.

Cloning a VirtualBox Hard Disk

Sure it’s easy to install an operating system from scratch in VirtualBox, but it’s much easier (and quicker) to keep a base library of OS images and simply clone the disk and add the specific software you need (want).

You cannot just simply copy a disk file, all disks in VirtualBox contain a unique identifier (a UUID) and two disks with the same UUID cannot be in the media catalog at the same time.

VirtualBox, however, provides the ability to change the UUID (from the command line) using vboxmanage; the syntax is simply vboxmanage internalcommands setvdiuuid <disk file name>.

You can easily create a script for cloning a VirtualBox disk by doing something like this in windows (I put it in a file called clonevdi.bat)

@echo off
REM clonevdi <source> <destination>
set v=%ProgramFiles%\sun\virtualbox
copy %1 %2
“%v%\vboxmanage.exe” internalcommands setvdiuuid %2
set v=

or this in ‘nix (I put it in a file called clonedvi and it needs to be set to have execute [x] mode)

#!/bin/bash
# clonevdi <source> <destination>
cp -p $1 $2
vboxmanage internalcommands setvdiuuid $2

Then you just call it with the disk file you want to clone, and the new name for the clone.

Remember, if you’re cloning a Windows OS disk, you should download a tool like NewSID (from Sys Internals, now Microsoft) and run that after you boot your cloned disk to change the security identifier (SID).

NOTE:  Pay attention to the licensing requirements from Microsoft on duplicating Windows OS disks (even virtual ones) and as of Nov 2009 the only “official” way Microsoft supports changing SIDs is through the use of SysPrep (Microsoft System Preparation Utility for Microsoft Windows operating system deployment).

Google Music – Release

Back on the 17th of November Google announced the generally availability of Google Music…

We’re excited to announce that Music Beta by Google is officially graduating from beta today! Google Music will remain a free service, and you can continue to store up to 20,000 songs in your personal music library.

As well as an updated terms of service, and a music store (that works via Android Market).

The terms of service clarifies that each individual uploads and maintains his individual copy of a music file (unlike Apple’s service which may well substitute your copy with one from the iTunes store).

And while I think Google Music is a great value (it’s free), I think it might still be a little buggy…

My music library has in excess of 30,000 MP3 files, and while I understand that Google will not upload all of them, and that I might not be able to control exactly which 20,000 songs they upload without creating a copy of the songs I have in a separate directory structure, I’m at a loss as to why I only have 19,088 from my collection uploaded — and the error I see in the load is “too many files in account”…

While I wouldn’t have been shocked if I got 19,999 songs uploaded, it seem to me that there’s definitely a deficiency in Google’s uploader and it’s logic for determining when you’ve reached 20,000 songs in your library.

Like I said, I think the Google Music service is a good value; but it does lack the ability to use it as a “backup” of your music library (there’s really no facility to retrieve the music you upload, other than the very painful, manual effort you’d have to put into retrieving files from the cache it builds as you play them and renaming them).

An alternative is the Amazon Music service; they only provide 5GB free, but for a modest yearly payment they do allow unlimited (Google hasn’t even set pricing for raising the limit on their service); and with both the song you purchase don’t count toward your limit.  The upside of the Amazon service is that it does work nicely as a backup; you can retrieve the music you upload.

For the time being, I’ll use the Google Service; but my guess is that I’ll just migrate to Amazon if Google doesn’t really focus on making the service work correctly, and provide for additional storage.

Windows 7 – Virtualization, Revisited

I posted yesterday on Windows 7 virtualization, and suggested that if you’d purchased Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate you’d probably just want to use the built-in Microsoft Virtualization (based on the Virtual PC 2007 code line).

However, after doing some testing, I’m not convinced.

Now if you have Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate and a machines that supports hardware virtualization, Microsoft will provide you not only a virtualization system, but also a copy of Windows XP to run under that virtualization system — so it might be a good choice from that standpoint. But…

Performance and features… well — VirtualBox has every feature in the Microsoft product, seems to run substantially faster, and supports more modern hardware emulation.

I need to do more testing to be totally sure, but at this point my feeling is just run VirtualBox on _all_ Windows 7 editions; and find an old copy of Windows XP to install in a virtual machine (you’ll have to read over the license agreement in detail from Microsoft to figure out if you can use the VHD they provide for XP Virtual Mode in another virtualization host).

Had Microsoft used the Hyper-V code base rather than the Virtual PC 2007 code base for virtualization in Windows 7 it would be a very different beast; but I guess the kids in Redmond can’t imagine someone actually wanting to do real virtualization on a desktop machine; but they can certainly justify raping you some feature in Professional and Ultimate verses Home Premium.