Monthly Archives: January 2006

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Installing CA eTrust EZAntivirus on Windows Vista

CA eTrust EZAntivirus

My usual anti-virus software (Symantec AntiVirus 8 Corporate Edition) does not seem to install on Windows Vista – which is not really a problem as Vista is still in beta and so the PC will be rebuilt every few months anyway, leaving me free to use a trial version of something else. I found that CA is offering Microsoft customers a 1-year trial of the eTrust EZAntivirus product, free of charge, so I downloaded and installed that on Windows Vista (December CTP: build 5270). Installing this was not as easy as I expected – initial attempts to install failed part way through with the following message (even though I was logged in as Administrator):

Setup Error

Setup failed to copy necessary system files. Please make sure you have administrator permissions.

I eventually kicked the installation into life by running in compatibility mode for Windows XP Service Pack 2 (for reference, my EZAntivirus product version is 7.0.8.1 with engine 11.9.1 and virus signature 9633).

Previously I’ve had problems getting the Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware beta to load on Vista but I’m pleased to see that the December CTP includes Windows Defender so I’m already covered.

Now that I’ve got all the requisite IT prophylatics in place, it should be safe to go online…

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Installing the Windows Vista December CTP (build 5270)

For a few days now, I’ve been struggling to get the December community technical preview (CTP) of Windows Vista installed on my notebook PC. I downloaded the DVD .ISO from Microsoft (twice, just to be sure my copy wasn’t in some way corrupt) and it booted fine, but setup.exe kept crashing – sometimes just before product key entry, sometimes just after (in any case it wouldn’t accept even a valid product key), with a variety of memory errors which reminded me of the old Windows 3.x unexpected application errors (UAEs).

I tried the raw disk workaround in the release notes (it’s great being able to access tools like diskpart during an installation) but it made no difference to my setup crashes so I submitted a bug report, but so far have heard nothing back. I couldn’t believe that I was alone with this problem and googling wasn’t doing much for me until I found HazardHawk’s reply to a post on Planet AMD 64:

“Build 5270 will not install if you download it and burn the ISO to disk no matter what program you use and the only way I have managed to get it running was to reinstall XP … from scratch, then install daemon tools and load the ISO to a virtual DVD”.

I’m using the 32-bit release (no 64-bit hardware here yet) and I didn’t use Daemon Tools, but I did use the Microsoft Virtual CD Control Panel to mount the ISO (it doesn’t matter that it’s a DVD ISO and the application is a virtual CD driver), after which I was able to run the installer from within Windows XP by just launching setup.exe.

The option to upgrade from Windows XP Professional was disabled, but that didn’t stop me from installing on the same disk partition – the Windows Vista installer moved my existing \Windows folder to \Windows.old. Like the previous builds I’ve tried (5219 and 5231), installation took a long time (just under 2 hours on my PC, which admittedly only has a 1.4GHz Pentium 4 M processor and 256MB of RAM), in this case even producing an interesting “installation is taking longer than expected, but should be finishing soon” message (after about an hour).

I have to agree with HazardHawk that not needing the DVD once the initial reboot has taken place is useful (this setup approach wouldn’t have worked otherwise) but Stretchboy’s following comment about using Nero to burn the ISO to DVD didn’t work for me (that’s what I’d been doing originally).

Now that I have the December CTP installed (which appears to be a huge improvement over earlier builds), I can go back to testing Windows Vista in earnest – I never felt comfortable with using earlier builds for anything other than transient data and it’s difficult to be an effective beta tester if you’re not using a system on a daily basis.

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Nerd TV (how to play back MPEG-4 video without using Apple QuickTime Pro)

My wife is out tonight, so I’m home alone. I’ve been working pretty hard recently and am very tired so I’m under strict instructions to relax and go to bed early (especially as it’s my turn to get up with our son tomorrow morning… probably at about 5.30am).

The trouble is that I’m also a nerd (as indicated by blogging late at night!) with a geek rating of 40% (this has gone up since I started using Unix) and I have a load of episodes of Nerd TV that I’ve been meaning to watch since it launched last September.

Although the MPEG-4 Nerd TV download is only available at 320×240 resolution, I wanted to watch it scaled to full screen. This was a problem as Apple QuickTime 7 Player only lets me watch it at double size (unless I upgrade to the Pro version) and Microsoft Windows Media Player 10 can’t handle MP4s (Microsoft knowledge base article 316992 has more details).

I tried installing the 3ivX D4 4.51 CODECs to allow MP4 playback in Windows Media Player but playback was too fast (sounded like the Smurfs). The DivX 5.2 CODECs that I had lying around on my external hard disk didn’t work either (and I have a feeling that you have to pay for the latest ones) so I switched to MPlayer on my Solaris box (after first trying the Totem Movie Player, which also failed to play back files with a MIME type of Video/QuickTime).

MPlayer is a really good command line media player for Linux (there are also Solaris and Windows ports available) but I experienced some quality issues when running full screen. Using /opt/asf/bin/mplayer <em>filename</em> -vo x11 -zoom -fs informed me that “Your system is too slow to play this!”, although it did also help out by suggesting various switches to try in order to increase performance.

I didn’t have time to figure out the optimum MPlayer settings so I went back to Windows Media Player with the 3ivX CODECs, thinking I mist be able to do something to fix the playback speed. Purely by chance I found out that simply stopping (not pausing) the playback and starting again corrected the speed and gave a perfect playback.

Finally, I remembered that Apple iTunes is built on QuickTime… I wish I’d tried this an hour or so earlier as I found that my MP4s will play in full screen mode within iTunes. Having said that, Windows Media Player 10 with the 3ivX CODECs looks to provide a smoother image when scaled to full screen; however that could just be my eyesight (or my Microsoft-tinted glasses).

So there you go – three methods to play back MP4s at full screen without using QuickTime Pro: Windows Media Player with 3ivX CODECs, MPlayer, or iTunes.

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Patching systems shouldn’t be this difficult

With tools like the automatic updates client and Microsoft Update, keeping a modern Windows system up-to-date is pretty straightforward.

For those who have a network of computers to manage there are additional tools, like the Microsoft baseline security analyzer (which helps to identify if any patches are missing) and Windows software update services (which keeps a local copy of Microsoft update on one or more servers on a network).

It’s just taken me over two hours to patch a single computer running Sun Solaris 10 x86. Like Microsoft, Sun provides tools that assist enormously in the process, but honestly – two hours! First I had to install the Sun update connection software, then once I’d launched Update Manager, there were 53 updates to download and install (and that was just security patches and driver updates – Sun restricts access to certain patches to organisations with a service plan). After a very long reboot (whilst some of these patches were applied), there were still 15 more updates (probably a subset of the original 53). Then a further reboot (shorter this time), and I was up and running again.

In fairness, Windows updates often require restarts and it can take several visits to Microsoft Update before a system is fully patched but this was ridiculous.

Next time someone tells me that patching Windows is too difficult, my response is unlikely to be empathetic.

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Booting Windows PE from a USB flash drive

Something that I’ve been playing around with for a while now is booting Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) from a USB flash drive and a few weeks back I finally found enough time to have a proper look at this and make some progress.

There’s lots of anecdotal evidence of success (or otherwise) on the ‘net, but because Microsoft restricts access to Windows PE, many people are using Bart Lagerweij’s BartPE as an alternative. I do have access to Windows PE and specifically wanted to get this working using the Microsoft version. Some people (e.g. Niko Sauer and Dag at bootdisk.info) have done similar things with Linux variants such as Knoppix.

It seems that not every USB flash drive is capable of acting as a boot device and not every PC BIOS supports USB boot. If there is no BIOS support, then it’s just not going to work (I think USB 2 is also a prerequisite). It’s also unlikely that a USB stick will work as shipped from the factory – it will need a boot partition to be (re)written and the easiest way to do this is with a USB disk format tool.

I got a Dell Latitude D600 to boot MS-DOS last year using a Dell 128MB USB flash drive (which is a rebadged Lexar Digital Film device) but didn’t get much further because Windows PE was too large to fit on the device. More recently, I’ve been using a 256MB SanDisk Cruzer Mini that I bought from MyMemory.co.uk for £9.99. I’ve use this to successfully boot an IBM Thinkpad T40 and a Compaq Evo D510SFF but can’t test on the Fujitsu Siemens Lifebook S7010D that I use for work because I don’t have access to the BIOS (thanks to my employer’s corporate information systems administrators).

Here’s my process for taking a USB flash drive from new to booting Windows PE:

  1. Check that the PC BIOS supports booking from USB-attached removable media and enable this.
  2. Download and install a USB flash drive format utility – I used the HP USB disk storage format tool v2.1.8 (SP27608) but alternatives include the Dell USB memory key utility revision 1.0.6.25 (R69131) and Martin List-Petersen also recommends MBRTool, which formats a USB flash drive in hard disk mode and installs a FreeDOS kernel (with FAT32 support); however he also reports that it seems to have trouble with USB keys of 256MB or larger.
  3. Format the USB flash drive with a FAT16 file system, including ability to work as an MS-DOS startup disk and with quick format deselected.
  4. Perform a test boot into MS-DOS using the USB flash drive.
  5. Download BootPart and copy this to the USB flash drive (I used v2.60).
  6. Copy a Windows PE installation that is known to work from CD/DVD to the USB flash drive.
  7. Rename the \i386 folder to \minint.
  8. Copy ntdetect.com from \minint to \.
  9. Copy setupldr.bin from \minint dir to \ and rename to ntldr (no extension).
  10. Reboot from the USB flash drive and run bootpart (you can now delete the DOS files on the stick and remove the boot. ini entry for MS-DOS (if really needed, personally I would leave it there).
  11. Reboot from the USB flash drive once more and Windows PE should load.

Some notes I’ve read suggest that there is an extra step – i.e. that of copying winbom.ini from \minint dir to \; however, using a colleague’s pre-built Windows PE 2005 images I couldn’t get the normal PE one to work – only the one which was configured to to use a RAM disk (and that didn’t have a winbom.ini). The downside of this was that it took about an hour to boot! I thought this was because the reference PC only had 256MB RAM but tried on a 512MB machine and no difference. Obviously need to do more work in this area, but the basic principle of booting from the USB flash drive is now proven.

I’ll post an update with the final configuration when I manage to make Windows PE more performant but, at present, the file system on my USB flash drive looks like this:

\bootpart.exe (01/08/2005 02:06 44,544 bytes)
\winnt.sif
\winpex86.iso
\ntldr (25/03/2005 11:00 298,096 bytes)
\ntdetect.com (25/03/2005 11:00 47,772 bytes)
\minint\bootfix.bin (25/03/2005 11:00 1,024 bytes)
\minint\ntdetect.com 25/03/2005 11:00 47,772 bytes)
\minint\setupldr.bin (25/03/2005 11:00 298,096 bytes)
\minint\winnt.sif

The winnt.sif file contains the following text:

[SetupData]
BootDevice = "ramdisk(0)"
BootPath = "\i386\System32\"
OsLoadOptions = "/noguiboot /fastdetect /minint /rdexportascd /rdpath=winpex86.iso"
Architecture = "i386"

Links
USB articles at bootdisk.info
MSFN forum – Boot PE from USB flash drive
Oliver Aaltonen’s USB booting tips
Jacopo Lazzari’s USB pendrive how to
The CD Forum – boot your WinPE or UBCD4Win on USB flash drive

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How not to use e-mail

Jon Boxall’s blog features the sorry tale of a solicitor who clearly hasn’t got to grips with modern technology. Made me laugh, although I do hope Jon got somewhere with his conveyancing in the end… poor bloke.

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BT’s view of networks in the 21st century

Last year, I wrote about the emergence of MPLS as an alternative network technology to traditional leased lines. It seems that everyone I work with is in the process of, or thinking about, dumping their kilostream/megastream/frame relay links and moving to something more cost-efficient.

Thus have a full-page advert in this week’s IT Week for their National Ethernet (a UK-based network with points of presence from the Shetland Islands to the south coast of England, but strangely none in Wales, east or south-west England). COLT, have their EuroLAN (only three UK POPs, but coverage in many major European cities) and BT are touting their global presence, whilst investing heavily in their 21st Century Network (dubbed 21CN).

Last week I was present at a presentation given by BT about what they call the “digital networked economy” (and their 21CN). Although they wouldn’t share their slide deck with me, I’m not aware of any non-disclosure agreement and much of the following information is available from a Google search anyway!

BT explained that the “inter-human web” has arrived. After the Internet had existed for many years as an e-mail and file transfer mechanism, mainly used by government and educational establishments, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web, making the Internet user-friendly. Now we have a collaborative infrastructure built on e-mail, file transfer and the human aspects that the web provides and furthermore, according to BT, “a hurricane is ripping our industry apart”:

  • Traditional voice services face increased market pressure – 4 major US telcos lost 2% of their retail market base in one quarter.
  • Next-generation networks (NGNs) offer greater bandwidth and have taken the first steps towards replacing terrestrial television – viewers of last summer’s Live 8 concerts on AOL outnumbered MTV viewers 2:1 and BSkyB has linked up with EasyNet to offer broadband and telephony services combined with satellite television.
  • Revenue per megabit for broadband connectivity has collapsed – meanwhile UK connections are now pushing past the 10mbps mark, the US has 25mbps, and the far east is looking at 50-100mbps.
  • Network/service separation is expanding the base for traditional telcos’ competitors – using IT, homeworkers can be called wherever they are, and no-one need know that they are not in the office.

BT claims that it’s 21CN is about giving its customers control to enable communications; offering new services (faster than previously); and reducing costs to grow cash. They are betting the company on 21CN (to put this into context, BT is investing more into 21CN than the UK Government is investing in our road infrastructure).

Having said that, they are coming from a pretty poor starting point. The current infrastructure is a mess, with a mixture of networking technologies. 21CN is intended to offer Ethernet right back to the Exchange, with copper (DSL), wireless, and fibre links through to aggregators at 5500 sites, and onwards to BT’s core IP/MPLS/wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) network.

Ethernet has not traditionally been a successful wide area networking technology, so BT is investing in the use of carrier grade Ethernet, looking at fast restoration, auto discovery, scalability, class-based queuing, protection switching, fault and performance monitoring.

BT’s vision sees 21CN to be at the heart of the UK economy, innovating to provide “more than dumb fat pipes” connecting data centres, branches, headquarters campus buildings, home and mobile workers to offer enterprise virtualisation – a global virtual network with virtual applications and ubiquitous access to any application from any broadband location. They cite example technologies (many of which are here today) including:

  • VOIP (BT Communicator).
  • Fixed-mobile convergence (BT Fusion).
  • Broadband home (network-enabled wireless hubs).
  • Multimedia infotainment (BT Livetime mobile TV)
  • Application assured interface (single, robust and flexible platform which is able to prioritise at the application layer, e.g. to offer priority to applications which require low latency).

In the words of BT’s Tim Hubbard “21CN is big, bold, and it’s going to change the world forever”. I’m not sure if 21CN will change the world for ever, but NGNs in general will and BT is well placed to capitalise on this, as it builds a seamless global MPLS network, rolling out a new POP every week.

Waffle and randomness

Incessant infrastructure and tech gossip

It seems that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Alex accuses me of being Microsoft-sponsored and jumps in whenever I dare to criticise Apple (or, to be fair, anything he knows more than me about).

Then, a few days back, Sunny (who knew my blog before he knew me) remarked that I’d “gone over to the dark side” with “all this Solaris stuff”.

Actually, Jamie summed it up best of all when he christened my ramblings “incessant infrastructure and tech gossip” – it just happens that in the past I’ve written mainly Microsoft stuff because that’s what I know best, but there’s always been a bit of industry chatter and stuff about my home network or technology that excites me.

For everyone who has me in their feed reader for Microsoft-related posts, please bear with me – I’ve got a whole load of posts which are in a half-written state – I promise there will be something for you all soon.

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Selecting a UK keyboard in Solaris 10

Since I installed Solaris, I’ve been getting more and more annoyed with my keyboard pretending to be American (mostly with ” and @ being mixed up). Today, I needed to write a post which included a lot of UK currency symbols (£ – pounds sterling) and rather than switching to a Windows PC, I spent a considerable amount of my weekend researching the solution.

It seems that setting a UK keyboard within the Java Desktop System doesn’t make a blind bit of difference, and the answer is to use the kdmconfig utility. After running this and switching the Window system server from Xorg to Xsun (I haven’t a clue what the difference is), I was able to define my keyboard type (Generic UK-English) as well as selecting the correct display and pointing device settings. After restarting the graphical interface (logoff/logon), I was back in action with all the keys in the right place.

Incidentally, there is another setting which, although not related to the keyboard layout, will affect the display language – at logon, ensure that the language option is set to en_GB.ISO8559-15 – Great Britain (Euro) for an English language interface with European currency symbol (€€) support.

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Phenomenal growth in UK e-commerce

Every year, it seems that retailers put out dire warnings of falling sales on the high street and Christmas 2005 was no exception. We’ve grown used to retailers starting the “new year” sales in late December (and I was amazed to hear a friend admitting to being one of the many reported to be queuing outside Next when their sale started in the early hours of the morning on 27 December 2005). BHS was discounting in mid-December this year – I bought one item at a 60% discount (reduced to half price from £12 and then another 20% off making it just £4.80 on the day I happened to be in town and making my final Christmas purchases).

It strikes me that falling high-street sales are only half the picture, and last Friday’s BBC Working Lunch programme confirmed that for me, outlining some amazing statistics on Internet shopping growth over the Christmas period, with online sales up 50% on the previous year to a total of £5bn in the 10 weeks up to Christmas 2005.

Whether or not people really are deserting the high street (I suspect it is all hype designed to get us into the shops), the Internet has become a core part of our lives (and therefore a significant channel to market for retailers) – unfortunately, not everyone is ready to take advantage of this.

In fact, according to Working Lunch, if you look at the growth in UK online shopping as a whole the e-commerce market has grown 2600% from £87m in April 2000 to £2.26bn in December 2005. Some high street retailers (e.g. Boots) are now taking more business through their website than even their largest brick and mortar stores (up 40% in Q3 2005 alone).

For those who doubt that people really do use the Internet, research by Forrester indicates that 33% of of people enjoy spending time online. Working Lunch reported that when asked “which of the following do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?” the results came back as follows:

  1. Listening to music (60%).
  2. Watching films (54%).
  3. Walking (47%).
  4. Travelling (45%).
  5. Gardening (41%).
  6. Restaurants/bars (35%).
  7. Surfing the Internet (33%).
  8. Watching TV soaps (31%).
  9. Sightseeing (29%).

(Maybe I’m not such a geek after all – I enjoy 8 out of those 9 activities, only finding watching TV soaps to be a bit dull).

To those who think that not that many people have fast enough Internet connections to take advantage of e-commerce sites, think again – the UK is third in a table of European online access levels and second when looking at how many people shop online regularly – both figures well above the European average:

  • Sweden: 77% have online access, 49% regularly shop online.
  • Netherlands: 73% have online access, 33% regularly shop online.
  • United Kingdom: 67% have online access, 48% regularly shop online.
  • Germany: 62% have online access, 37% regularly shop online.
  • France: 52% have online access, 28% regularly shop online.
  • Italy: 47% have online access, 12% regularly shop online.
  • Spain: 35% have online access, 7% regularly shop online.
  • Europe as a whole: 56% have online access, 29% regularly shop online.

Looking further at the UK, 60% of those Internet connections are classified as broadband.

It seems that the initial barrier to Internet sales – worries about online security – is no longer inhibiting consumers (my view is that it was always an issue of perception – people are perfectly happy to read their card details over an unsecured phone line) and the figures seem to confirm that it was more of an issue of unfamiliarity; however, as Working Lunch highlighted, there are still some issues for online retailers to overcome, for example:

  • Delivery times (how about evening deliveries?).
  • Quality of service (returns are often at the expense of the purchaser – even if the wrong item is shipped).
  • Product type (people want to try clothes/shoes for size, smell some items, and feel others).

Even if at first some items don’t seem to fit logically with the Internet, the statistics don’t seem to bear that out (and after all, catalogue sales were popular for many years) – when asked “which products have you bought online?”, consumers responded:

  1. Books (52%).
  2. Leisure/travel (41%).
  3. CDs (40%).
  4. Clothing (37%).
  5. Event tickets (36%).

Often, it is the items which have a personal touch that fit best with retailers who also have a shop front, allowing unsuitable items to be returned in store.

So, even if brick and mortar sales are slipping, Internet sales are looking extremely healthy, but as Lorraine Branch, of IT and business consultancy Conchango, says:

“Success will hinge on offering customers as many different ways to buy as possible while maintaining a consistent retail experience [and] retailers who fail to provide a fully integrated channel approach will find themselves left out in the cold”.

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