Useful Links: June 2009

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

Displaying more than 20 items in my Flickr feed

By default, Flickr only displays 20 items in a feed. I wanted to display everything, so I started to dig around in the API. Reading a Flickr forum post gave me the idea of using the Flickr API to pull out the contents of my Photostream so, after applying for an API key, I tried out the following URL:

You can start to get an idea of the various parameters in the Flickr API explorer but it seems that the per_page limit is 50. Even so, by adding a &page=pagenumber to the URL, I can return the next page of results:

Now all I need to do is work out how to cycle through all the pages and string them together to produce a feed with all of my images in it.

Copying files to/from a Hyper-V Server or Windows Server (server core) computer over RDP

It’s reasonably well known that it’s possible to expose local resources (including local drives) on a remote computer when connecting using the Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection client. Using this method, the local drives are exposed on the remote computer using Windows Explorer (e.g. drive on computername).

Last week, I was working with a Hyper-V Server 2008 computer (the principle would be the same for a server core installation of Windows Server 2008) and, even though I’d connected via RDP, I couldn’t work out where the drive connection was on a machine without Windows Explorer. Then I ran the net use command and saw that there was a remote mapping called \\tsclient\d with a network name of Microsoft Terminal Services, representing my local D: but without a remote drive letter assigned.

I ran net use * \\tsclient\d and the connection was re-mapped – this time with a drive letter assigned (in this case, the system chose Z:) following which, I was able to copy files between to and from Z: (i.e. to/from my local computer’s D:) using the remote host.

Some alternatives to the Cisco VPN client

Installing Cisco’s VPN client on Windows 7 requires a bit of hacking and I found it increasingly unreliable on my connection to my company’s corporate network. It’s also a 32-bit only solution and, thanks to comments left on this blog, I’ve been trying out a couple of alternatives on my 64-bit Windows 7 release candidate (build 7100) machine, namely:

This isn’t really a review as such, but it is a short summary of what I found. Please bear in mind that I’m an end user of the Cisco VPN infrastructure and not a network administrator – those who know more than me about this stuff may have their reasons not to consider one of these two clients.

Shrew Soft VPN client logoI installed the Shrew Soft client first and then found that I couldn’t connect to my VPN server. That was no fault of the software – it was just that the .PCF file I had for the VPN connection contained an encrypted password, which I needed to track down, and the current version of the Shrew Soft client can not import these files. NCP Secure Communications logoIn the meantime I decided to use the NCP client for a 30 day trial period. This installed without a hitch, was able to use the PCF file provided by my administrators and had me connected to the corporate network pretty quickly. It also made me reconsider whether my frequent disconnects with the Cisco client really were down to my ISP as it seemed far more reliable than the Cisco client had been on Windows Vista/Server 2008/7… and there’s not much more to say… it worked for a month, it nagged me to activate it as the trial period came to a close, then I uninstalled it. The uninstall failed but after a restart (and a few German error messages), a second attempt was more successful.

The NCP Secure Entry client does the job but it costs £80 (+VAT) and, at the end of the day, if I need to convince my budget holder that I need to spend money on a VPN client (whilst the majority of my colleagues manage with 32-bit XP systems and the Cisco client) then I figured it was worth taking a second look at the Shrew Soft VPN client. This time I was armed with the password for the VPN group and, following Shrewsoft’s Cisco PIX Howto, I was able to connect to my corporate network. It seems just as reliable as the NCP client and has the advantage of being free (so no business case or other such hurdles to jump through).

So, Shrew Soft it is, at least for the time being – but if you have an aging Cisco VPN infrastructure that’s not due for replacement for a while and you need a client that runs on all versions of Windows, as well as Windows Mobile and Symbian, then the NCP Secure Entry client is worth a look. On the other hand, if you have a heterogeneous network, the Shrew Soft VPN client is also available for Linux and BSD (I haven’t tried using that). Some companies love open source software – others are nervous of it, so really it is just horses for courses but both are an improvement on a Cisco VPN client that doesn’t work with modern operating systems.

What happened to Coalface Tech?

Coalface Tech podcast graphic
Last year, James Bannan and I launched a podcast called Coalface Tech
. At the time we thought we were the only guys doing a podcast for IT Pros, by IT Pros (since then, I’ve discovered and started listening to RunAs Radio) but, to be honest, we broke the golden rule of podcasting/blogging and didn’t post regularly (frequency is less of a concern, but if you post monthly, then that’s what people expect you to continue doing).

The main problem was one of hosting. APC Pro Magazine, who were hosting our episodes, closed down. Episode 3 was recorded and edited, but had no-where to go to. There were also scheduling issues (two guys on opposite sides of the planet, with limited time for recording), and some fairly major family events for each of us.

We do hope to get the podcast going again at some point, and I was heartened when a listener dropped me an e-mail to say “where have you guys gone?” All I can say is, please keep our feed in your reader and, hopefully, there will be a new episode there one day.

Turning off Adobe Photo Downloader in Mac OS X

I used to use Adobe Bridge with Photoshop on my Mac for all my image editing, until my friend Jeremy Hicks extolled the virtues of Adobe Lightroom to me. Nowadays, Lightroom forms the basis of my photographic workflow, with Photoshop CS4 called in to do any advanced editing, but all the basic stuff (raw image conversion, cropping, minor adjustments and filtering) is done in Lightroom.

Lightroom includes its own photo import tool, so I was getting annoyed when two downloaders popped up every time I connected a camera or memory card… eventually I found out how to turn of the Adobe Photo Downloader – there is a checkbox in the general preferences for Adobe Bridge.

General Preferences in Adobe Bridge

I’ll still need to use something else for video files (as the Lightroom importer only recognises images) but 95% of what I shoot is photos and there’s still the option of using the Image Capture program that ships with OS X for video on those devices that are not recognised by the Finder (e.g. my Canon Digital Ixus 70).

Hyper-V Manager cannot find the MSVM_VirtualSystemManagementService object

A couple of days ago, I was working with a colleague to build a Windows 7 proof of concept lab with a number of servers running Hyper-V and some virtualised server instances to provide the supporting infrastructure. The physical servers running are a mixture of Windows Server 2008 (full installation) and Hyper-V Server (the free of charge version of Hyper-V) but, after installing the Hyper-V role on one of the full Windows Server 2008 machines, we were still unable to manage the remote (Hyper-V Server) host – even after following John Howard’s 5-part series of blog posts to enable remote management.

Whenever I tried to connect to the Hyper-V server (or indeed the local instance of Hyper-V), Hyper-V Manager complained that:

The ‘MSVM_VirtualSystemManagementService’ object was not found

It turned out that the problem was related to not having the RTM version of Hyper-V installed on the server (a schoolboy error!) – Windows Server 2008 shipped with a beta of Hyper-V. After installing the update described in Microsoft knowledge base article 950050 (downloading Windows Server 2008 service pack 2 to bring the server completely up-to-date was a slow process over a poor Internet connection) the server was able to manage both local and remote Hyper-V resources.

A few notes on the Hyper-V Server configuration script

Hyper-V Server comes with a handy script to assist administrators who don’t like the command line with key configuration items such as domain/workgroup settings; computer name; network settings; adding a local administrator account; Windows Update settings; downloading and installing updates; Remote Desktop connection settings; regional and language options; date and time; logging off, restarting and shutting down a server.

This script is automatically run at first logon but, if you need to run it again later (rather than use the standard commands that hardened server core administrators are now used to!) then the command to run is [%windir%\system32\]hvconfig.cmd (which calls hvconfig.vbs from the appropriate language-dependent subdirectory, e.g. %windir%\system32\en-us\).

Incidentally, the hvconfig script can also be used on a server core installation of Windows Server 2008, as described by Sander Berkouwer (and linked from this blog back in October).

Manually invoking the Windows Server 2008 Initial Configuration Tasks Wizard

This afternoon, after installing the Hyper-V role on a Windows Server 2008 computer, a server I was working on restarted and went straight into to Server Manager (without displaying the Initial Configuration Tasks wizard). Whilst Server Manager is a perfectly acceptable way of configuring a server, I wanted the administrators for whom I was preparing some build notes to use one tool (i.e. to provide some consistency) – and the Initial Configuration Tasks Wizard also serves as a handy quick reference. This is not the first time I’ve seen the wizard disappear after installing Hyper-V, so I decided to investigate running the wizard manually and it turns out to be quite straightforward.

Simply navigate to the Start Menu and in the search box type oobe. Once you know the filename (the full path is %windir%\system32\oobe.exe) it seems logical (OOBE stands for Out of Box Experience) but, until today, OOBE was something I’d equated with client operating system releases.

Microsoft surrenders to the bureaucrats in Brussels

A few days back I commented about the madness that is going on in Europe with the European Commission taking up the case of a minority web browser company and making life difficult for Microsoft in the courts.

Let’s get this straight: Opera may be a fine browser but, as far as I can tell, almost no-one uses it on the desktop. Part of the reason for this is that, long after most other browsers became free, Opera were still charging users so they failed to capitalise when Firefox grew its market share at the expense of Internet Explorer. Basically, Opera’s business strategy failed… so they went to court and other minority browser vendors piled in (e.g. Google).

As a result of componentisation of Windows, Microsoft gave us the ability to uninstall Internet Explorer from Windows 7 but that wasn’t enough for the bureaucrats in Brussels so now, in order to avoid costly delays in shipping Windows 7 as a result of legal action, Microsoft has decided to offer an E edition of Windows 7 in Europe, without Internet Explorer.

As I wrote last week:

“Personally, I would like to install Windows quickly with the least possible user interaction. Then, once the base operating system is installed, I’d like to select roles/features (as I do for Windows Server 2008) and install any third party software that I choose – independently of the Windows setup routine. If we have to have something to please the minority browsers (Opera, Chrome, Safari, etc.) then Windows already lets me choose search providers, media players, mail clients, etc. – why not use the same mechanism for browsers?”

Instead, I have multiple Windows versions for multiple markets. Thanks to the EU I have one version of Windows 7 in Europe and another for the rest of the world (what’s not clear is whether I can still buy the normal version in Europe, should I choose to do so). Gee, thanks. I’m glad to see my taxes are being used to tackle the real issues of the day… like financial meltdown, rising unemployment, global warming, world poverty…

It seems that, if I have a company with a product that no-one wants, I can go to the European Commission and have them stop the large, successful, companies from competing with me. Presumably Apple will stop shipping Safari with OS X and Linux distros in Europe will come without Firefox, etc.? No. I thought not.