IT and the law

Some time ago, I stumbled across the About Cookies site which contains a really interesting (and useful) description of what cookies (of the browser variety) are, how they are (and should be) used, and how web site designers need to act in order to comply with the law. was produced by a law firm – Pinsent Masons – and they have another site called OUT-LAW which they claim has “5,000 pages of free legal news and guidance, mostly on IT and e-commerce issues. These issues can affect any organisation, and OUT-LAW is as much for those in a software start-up as it is for the compliance team at a bank”.

It’s certainly true that the legal issues surrounding IT are becoming ever more complex (and are something I find interesting reading – itself a worrying observation!). I’m neither qualified to comment on the law, nor affiliated with any legal firms, but it seems to me that OUT-LAW is probably worth a read for anyone who wants to ensure that their site (and business IT) is compliant with all necessary legislation.

Time for a new feed reader

Ever since I started using an RSS aggregator, I’ve used Feedreader. It’s a simple, but functional RSS and ATOM feed reader and I like it a lot, but twice now it has lost my headlines. The first time was probably about a year ago, so I downloaded the latest version and installed it. Then, a couple of days back, my PC crashed and when I restarted, Feedreader couldn’t read the headlines file. There was no option to retry. It just recreated it, downloaded the most recent headlines again, and I didn’t have a clue what I’d read and what I hadn’t (and of course had lost most of the earliest posts that were cached). I was running version 2.7, build 646 (the latest version is 2.9) but instead of upgrading (that’s the mixed blessing of open source software – there’s always a later version), I think I’ll try something different…

I thought about using Firefox’s Live Bookmarks, but they are just not quite what I’m after (and I couldn’t import my blogroll via OPML). Then I found Sage – a feed reader for Firefox.

Sage: a feed reader for Firefox

One of the things I love about Sage is the “newspaper style” rendering of feeds, as shown above. Another thing that I found out is that the line breaks do actually work in the RSS and ATOM versions of the feeds from this blog (sometimes there seems to be problem whereby the text appeared in Feedreader as one long block and I thought the problem was Blogger‘s ATOM generation).

It’s early days yet, but Sage is looking good so far.

Starting to look at Microsoft Operations Manager

Earlier this year, I was given a boxed copy of Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 Workgroup Edition at a Microsoft event. This was not an evaluation copy but a fully operational boxed copy (I guess the thinking at Microsoft was that once I’m hooked with a maximum of 10 devices to manage, then I’ll go out and buy a grown-up version). It’s been sitting there waiting for me to install it for some time now, and yesterday I finally got around to doing it.

Installation was straightforward enough as the setup program has a pre-requisites checker and once I’d upgraded Windows Server 2003 to an application server (including ASP.NET), installed an instance of the Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Desktop Engine (MSDE) with SP3A, then set the startup type for the Background Intelligent Transfer Service, MSSQL$MSDEinstancename and SQLAgent$MSDEinstancename services to automatic (and started them) it was just a case of following the setup wizard (creating a domain user account to act as the MOM management server action account, although I later relaxed the security and made this a domain administrator as I didn’t have a suitable method of adding the account to the local administrators group on each client).

After I installed MOM, I needed to set up my clients. Setting up a computer discovery rule was easy enough, as was installing agents remotely on my Windows Server 2003 SP1 computers (they still have the Windows Firewall disabled – something which I aim to resolve soon), but the Windows XP SP2 computers just would not play. Every time I ran the Install Agent Wizard, I got the same result:

The MOM Server failed to perform specified operation on computer “computername.domainname“.

Error code: -2147023174
Error description: the RPC server is unavailable.

Microsoft knowledge base article 885726 gave some insight (along with articles 904866, 832017, and 842242) but even though this was on my home network, I wanted to apply enterprise principles – i.e. I didn’t want to disable the Windows Firewall or install agents manually.

I spent hours (well into the night) applying different firewall exceptions via group policy, and even disabling the Windows Firewall completely (disabling and stopping the service) but remote installation just wasn’t working.

Strangely (before I disabled the Windows Firewall), the MOM server was trying to contact my client on TCP port 139 (2005-10-27 00:33:38 OPEN-INBOUND TCP momserveripaddress clientipaddress 1744 139 – – – – – – – – –) so I even installed File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks but all to no avail.

I tried installing MOM service pack 1, but that made no difference (except that I had to approve agent upgrades for my existing MOM clients, taking them from version 5.0.2749.0 to version 5.0.2911.0).

Eventually, I gave up and installed the agent manually, following the instructions in the troubleshooting section of the MOM SP1 installation guide but I find it difficult to believe that it is not possible to do this remotely, provided the correct firewall exceptions are in place. If anybody has any ideas (remember it didn’t even work with the firewall disabled!) then I’d be pleased to hear them.

Finding that elusive Microsoft support site

The Microsoft website is not always the easiest place to find things – especially when in the middle of a crisis.

Blake Hall has published a comprehensive list of Microsoft support resources on the Industry Insiders blog.

Well worth checking out next time you’re researching an issue, if only for the advice on how best to search the knowledge base.

Introducing VMware Player

I just read on Owen’s blog that VMware have released a a free player that enables PC users to easily run any virtual machine on a Windows or Linux PC. According to VMware, VMware Player runs virtual machines created by VMware Workstation, GSX Server or ESX Server and also supports Microsoft virtual machines and Symantec LiveState Recovery disk formats.

I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds interesting. Could this be a master move that leaves Microsoft’s Virtual PC dead in the water?

How to get rich quick

Let’s face it. Some people have really good ideas that make them lots of money. Unfortunately I’m just not that clever/lucky/devious.

A few minutes back I was recounting a story to my wife about someone who sold a leaky tent on eBay, telling people how bad it was, that it had enough water in it when the morning came to make a cup of tea and a boil in the bag meal, starting off at 99p and finally selling it for something like £300 (I wish I could find the link to put it here!), when she told me about another story which appeared on this morning’s BBC Breakfast news.

Basically, a student called Alex Tew came up with the idea of selling advertising space on his home page for $1 a pixel (total 1 million pixels, with a minimum purchase of a 10×10 block) to help him meet the cost of getting through uni’ (and then some, unless Student Union prices have gone up a bit since my days at the University of Glamorgan in the early 90s!). He plans to leave the site online for ever (but has committed to 5 years) and so at the time of writing has sold 437,500 pixels (in just under two months) .

Of course the idea is flawed – it’s all fuelled by the press interest and once the initial interest has died down, there is no reason to visit the site but it’s a great idea. $437,500 is about £236,250 – about what we paid for our 4-bedroom house three years ago! Even with hosting costs and taxes taking a chunk out of the total, it’s still a tidy profit.

Bloody students!

(Of course, I’m only joking. And jealous!)

Actually, I say good on him for coming up with the original idea. As Alex notes in his FAQ page, there’s bound to be copycat sites but The Million Dollar Homepage will always be the first to have made it big – I just like the way he signs off the FAQ piece about copycats: “Am I bothered?” (for those reading this from outside the UK, that’s a reference to “Lauren, the modern-day schoolgirl constantly troubled by current parlance and infecting the country with the catchphrase ‘Am I bovvered?'”, in the BBC’s Catherine Tate Show).

You can read the whole story since the site was set up at the end of August 2005 on The Million Dollar Blog

Up and running with WSUS

I’ve been meaning to upgrade my Software Update Services (SUS) installation to Windows Software Update Services (WSUS) for some time now, but the recent rebuild of my SUS server forced the issue.

I’m pleased to report that the WSUS installation was reasonably straightforward. Because I had already installed Windows Server 2003 SP1, there was no need to install BITS 2.0 or Microsoft.NET Framework v1.1 SP1 and I just needed to make the (Windows Server 2003) an application server (i.e. install IIS, enable COM+ for remote transactions, enable Microsoft DTC for remote access and enable ASP.NET) – all done through the Configure My Server Wizard (because I was feeling lazy). Installing WSUS was simply a case of following the setup routine (which included setting up the MSDE database).

Once installed, I set up the synchronisation schedule and performed a manual synchronisation (just to get things going). I also elected to automatically approve critical and security updates. The WSUS installation had automatically updated the Group Policy template file and because Active Directory already had the GPO settings for the previous SUS installation, it was pretty much configured, although I did need to amend the intranet Microsoft update server locations to include the custom port number (http://servername:8530) and enable client-side targeting for the All Computers group. The final steps were to select the products for which to receive updates and to approve updates for detection/installation.

That was it. WSUS up and running and clients receiving updates. My first impressions are that WSUS is slightly more complex than SUS was, but also more capable. I’m just waiting to get some real world experience with a hierarchy of update servers on a live network now!

Get safe online

I was at Microsoft’s UK campus last night where, since last week, lots of plastic cubes (just like the logo below) and even stickers on the mirrors in the washrooms have appeared displaying the message “Get Safe Online”.

Get Safe Online

No-one from Microsoft was allowed to say what it’s all about yet, but some quick googling turned up the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU)’s Internet safety campaign – Get Safe Online (Project Endurance), which is a joint government and private sector initiative aimed at helping consumers and small businesses to use the Internet safely (due to be launched at the end of October) with partner organisations including the UK Government, BT, Dell, eBay, HSBC, LloydsTSB, MessageLabs, Microsoft UK, the NHTCU, Securetrading and Yell.

So far GetSafeOnline is just a single page, but I’m sure more will follow.

Other Internet safety sites include the United States GetNetWise initiative.

Exchange Server 2003 SP2 is now available

Back in July, I blogged about what to expect when Microsoft ships service pack 2 (SP2) for Exchange Server 2003. I’ve just heard that SP2 has been released for downloadread more on the You Had Me at EHLO (Microsoft Exchange team) blog or check out the top 10 reasons to deploy Exchange Server 2003 SP2 on the Microsoft website.

How to get a free copy of Virtual Server 2005 R2

I blogged a couple of months back about how Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 service pack 1 (SP1) has been repositioned as Virtual Server 2005 release 2 (R2), effectively meaning that existing users need to re-license to take advantage of the new features. There may, however, be a glint of hope for some of us in that I heard a rumour recently that registered Virtual Server 2005 SP1 beta testers will get a free copy of Virtual Server 2005 R2 when it is released.

You can register (using a Microsoft passport) at Microsoft Beta Place, providing vssp1BetaTester as the guest account (this must be entered exactly as shown) and then self-nominating for the MS Virtual Server 2005 with SP1 program. You should receive an e-mail notice when you’ve been accepted into the program.