Welcome to the QA Tech-Tips blog!

Some see things as they are, and ask "Why?"   I dream things that never were, and ask "Why Not".  
Robert F. Kennedy

“Impossible” is only found in the dictionary of a fool.  
Old Chinese Proverb

Friday, December 10, 2010

This is *NOT* a drill - Repeat, this is *NOT* a drill.

You've seen 'em.  E-mails that claim things like: "If you don't send this to 20 people in the next 10 minutes, a big hairy monster will crawl out of your monitor and STICK HIS TONGUE OUT AT YOU!!!!!!!!!!!"

And yes, if that happens, you can honestly claim a Real Bigfoot Sighting.  Be sure to let the Enquirer know too. . . .

If I had $20 for each of these idiot messages I received, I would be a Gazillionaire, and would be sending you this Tech Tip while seated in my chaise-lounge, sipping margaritas, on my private island in the Mediterranean.

However, this one is different.

My wife got an e-mail today from her boss - which contained a link to a news story.  Having worked with RFID technology for years, I would believe this so fast it would make your head spin.

The gist of it is this:

First:  Do you have any credit-cards with this symbol on them?

Here is an example of a credit card with that symbol on it. . . .

(I just received this to replace my Midwest Airlines credit card.  I like it because it has a cat. . . a BIG cat. . . on it!)

Note the RFID symbol circled in red

Second:  Do you carry them with you?

If so, than there are ways that people with simple, inexpensive scanners in something as small as a fanny-pack can grab your credit card info without you even knowing that they grabbed it.  It's a new technique called "Electronic Pick-Pockets"

If you carry a newly issued passport, they can grab more than just your credit card number too. . . .


Go visit this link if you don't believe me.


I normally don't go for stuff like this, but THIS one scares me.
  1. Wrap your card(s) in aluminum foil
  2. Slip them into a small metalized anti-static sleeve.
  3. Leave them at home, and ask your credit card company for one that's NOT RFID.

I really don't want to see you get ripped off for Christmas


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is it Time to Reinvent the Wheel?

Note:  The following article originally appeared in the November 18th issue of the uTest Newsletter.
If you're curious, you can find it HERE.

Our latest guest post comes from Jim “JR” Harris, Principal Engineer and Owner of Arrowhead Computer Consulting, and one of the most entertaining tester bloggers out there (you’ll see what I mean shortly). You can find more of his writings at qatechtips.blogspot.com. In this post, he addresses why the value created by testers is not always fully recognized in the world of business. Enjoy!
In the October issue of the uTest newsletter, Matt Johnston led off with the title “Are Testers the next Endangered Species” – and I blew my stack!  Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I was furious or anything like that, but I will admit that I did bite the heads off of about a dozen or so thick framing nails before I could compose a coherent reply.

And I let him have it – with both guns blazing! – eager to defend the honor and integrity of those of us in the Software QA community.

“Oh, it’s the idiots in Management who don’t recognize the need for quality software!”

“Those idiots in Marketing ALWAYS leave us with too much to do and too short a time-line to do it!”

“If the developers would send us software releases that were at least testable; we wouldn’t be in this bind all the time!”

Now Matt has a sick and twisted sense of humor, not unlike my own.  So instead of getting offended, he offered me the chance to express MY views on his bully pulpit.  “Ok Einstein, you’re so smart?  YOU write the next one!”  No he really didn’t say that, but his invitation was clear:  Put up or shut up.

I got ready.  Cleaned both pistols, checked all my ammo and was ready to sit down here and burn a hole in his newsletter servers.  Pistols cocked, take careful aim and. . . . .

Then I started thinking.  (Always a good idea, that – thinking, that is.)

What was I aiming at?  Management?  Marketing?  Developers?  Or maybe, just maybe, it was at my own two feet.

Then I started thinking some more.

What is management’s mandate?
Their job is – first and foremost – to make money for the company.  You know, Money.  Moola.  Cash.  As in “to pay your salary”, or to be able to afford that nice new Blade Server you need for the next round of testing.

What about marketing?
Nope.  “Make QA happy” does not appear anywhere in Marketing’s job description.  It reads more like “Make past, (and future), customers drool over the thought of shelling out huge dollars to buy our next release.”

Who are YOU kidding!  They get it as bad as we do – six months’ worth of coding due in six weeks.  Then pray to the Blessed Virgin that it doesn’t fall into a million pieces when QA gets it.

So where does that leave us?
Let’s look at it from upper management’s perspective:

To them the world is black-and-white.  Things either cost money, or they make money.
  • Of course, Management is always important.
  • Marketing drives sales.  Sales = Cash.
  • Development actually creates the product that the company sells.  Product = Cash.
Then, there are the expenses:
  • Housekeeping.
  • Electric, gas and water.
  • Rent.
  • Capital equipment.
  • Maintenance.
And waaaay down at the bottom of the heap:
  • Tech Support.  (They gripe too, but not as bad as QA.)
  • QA:  The guys that are never satisfied and always gripe about SOMETHING!
And you wonder why we’re not popular in the corporate world?  Puh-leeeze!

So there you have it.  It really does make sense when you look at it this way

Our problem is this:  We have never really presented ourselves as an asset to the company.  Rather we’re seen as being more like “going to the dentist”; you gotta do it, but you aren’t expected to be overjoyed about it.  We’re not only viewed as a “sunk cost” – we’re a “sunk cost” that complains all the time!

So why are testers expendable?  Because we’re not perceived as driving value to the company.  And that’s the problem.

Next question:  How do we go about fixing this?

Answer:  Change. Grow. Demonstrate to the rest of the company that we’re assets that drive value, not just “the gripe-and-moan department.” It won’t be easy, but it’s something we have to do if we want to survive.

First:  Lose the whining and complaining.  The next time you get riled up at something and want to start complaining, put your hand in your mouth and bite. Hard. Then remember that the pain you’re feeling is just a small sampling of the pain you are causing others.

Second:  Trim your claws and fangs.  If YOU had spent three or four sleepless nights getting that code segment finished on time, would YOU want some “idiot from QA” coming to you and telling you it’s a piece of junk?

Next:  Try to become a pleasure to work with, not a pain in the butt.  Think of how you can present your issues as something other than a gripe-session.
  • Can you offer the developer some positive feedback too?
  • Can you offer a constructive suggestion to improve it?
At your next team/department meeting:
  • Ask if there is something QA can do to actually HELP the development process.
  • Maybe participating in early stage code reviews would help?
  • Maybe participating in early stage design or requirements reviews would help?
By doing this you may be in a position to recognize a mistaken assumption, or a misunderstood requirement. When we solve these problems early on, we help reduce the pain felt in both Development and QA later. More efficient and accurate work = More Money.  More Money = We drive value.

We need to be vigilant in reminding our boss, (and our boss’s boss), how critically important a firm commitment to quality is in today’s litigious world.  (i.e. Toyota, etc.)  By reinforcing that commitment we reduce legal risk and expense.  Reducing expenses = More Money.  More Money = We drive value.

We need to be vigilant in reminding ourselves, as well as others, that we’re not the only fish in the pond. If we produce shoddy products, we drive our customers to our competition.  Likewise, excellent products drive the competition’s customers to us. More Customers = More Money.  More Money = We drive value.

Maybe, just maybe, we need to take a good hard look in the mirror. Maybe the reason that “testers” are becoming “endangered” is because we’re driving ourselves to extinction by not changing to keep up with the needs of the companies that hire us.

Maybe it IS time to get out that stone axe and re-invent the wheel.

What say ye?


Friday, October 22, 2010

Quality *IS* Important! (Believe It or Not)

Today's topic is one that is a lot like the weather:  Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything. . . .

Toyota recalling zillions of cars, people afraid to eat eggs or peanut-butter because of some bizarre disease it's probably carrying.  Other manufacturers in hot pursuit of Toyota's massive recall record.  And so on.  You can hardly open a newspaper, (or go on-line), today without hearing about how something, somewhere, is causing untold grief.

Then, Matt Johnston over at uTest sent out a newsletter with the subject line: "Are Testers the Next Endangered Species?"

And WHY might "testers" be an "endangered species"?  Easy.  Most companies pay only lip-service, if that much, to the idea of actually producing a quality product.

To them, QA's job is to lick the development manager's boots, praise him to the sky, and be willing to take a beating whenever something goes wrong.

I've been looking for QA work for more than three years now - and I've seen many QA positions cross my inbox.  From the way the requirements for the position were written, it's easy to tell that they really don't want trained QA people, they want burned out developers.

So, in my humble opinion, the biggest threat to the software industry isn't the lack of COBOL programmers as one pundit put it, but rather the lackadaisical attitude that most companies, and most managers, take toward quality.

This is a picture taken in January of 1990 after an Avianca airliner crashed into a hillside in Cove Neck, Long Island after running out of fuel.  (See the source web page at http://www.airdisaster.com )  Experts say that better training for both the pilots and ground controllers would have likely eliminated this accident.  Wikipedia has an article about it HERE

Here's another one.
Back on April 10th, (2010) one of the best people I ever knew smashes into a centuries-old oak tree in Spencer, Ma., travelling fast enough to absolutely obliterate the heavy-duty Toyota Tundra pickup he was driving.  A software glitch?  We'll never know, but Toyota was recalling Tundra pickups, including this one's model year, for "unexplained acceleration".  (Photo by Melissa Mckeon - The Landmark newspaper)

I could go on and on - these are ones from my own personal experience.  I was working for a company on Long Island that manufactured fuel systems for planes like this when the Avianca airliner crashed.  The man driving the truck was a good friend of mine, he never hesitated to offer a hand whenever needed.

People think it doesn't matter.

"Oh, it's just a browser crash."
"Damned Windows O/S!  Reboot and it will be OK."
"Stupid network glitch. . . .!!"

I hate to break the bad news to you folks - take a look at those pictures again - quality DOES matter.  The "little details" DO matter.  Those little things that get swept under the rug in the name of "meeting deadlines" and "not slipping the schedule" DO have consequences.

Sometimes fatal ones.

What say ye?


Monday, September 27, 2010

Gimme that Old-Time Religion! (er. . . Technology!)

And just when you thought it was safe to toss some of those old techniques out, they come to the rescue when the newer technology fails to deliver.

Case in point:
I have an ancient Palm IIIxe that I bought back somewhere around '99 or so, that I use to sync with Outlook so I don't forget Important Meetings - as I tend to get absorbed in what I'm doing - and this beastie makes a racket to wake the dead when I set a reminder.

Computers have come-and-gone since then.  Operating Systems have come and gone since then.  Technologies have come, flourished, and withered away since then.  Back when I bought my Palm III, USB ports were either not available, or very rare, so Palm used the Universally Available Technology known as the Serial Port for it's "HotSync" cable.

Now, ten or so years later, computers with RS232 ports are scarce as hen's teeth, (unless you just happen to be looking in my basement!), and USB ports have not only arrived with a vengeance, they've gone through (at least!) three technology revisions since then.

So, that brings us to today - where I am sitting here with my dual-core, 64 bit laptop running Windows 7, next to both my venerable IIIxe, and a newer Palm M130 I just received.

The Palm IIIxe has a serial hot-sync cradle.
The Palm M130 has a USB hot-sync cradle.
My laptop has never even THOUGHT of RS232 serial.

So, which one do you think I was able to get working?  If you guessed the M130, you'd be dead wrong, as crazy as that sounds.

Why?  The M130 requires a special, and very specific, USB driver in order to function.  Which, by the way, is true for all USB devices.  If your fancy new USB device has a device ID that your system hasn't heard of yet, you're just plain old Out Of Luck.  There's really not a doggone thing you can do, except pray that someone, somewhere, has written the driver you need.

When Palm's M130 USB driver was written, Windows 7 was not even a gleam in it's Daddy's Eye yet - and coding for a 64 bit operating system?  The DEC Alpha was about the only game in town - outside of something costing bazillions of dollars - and absolutely nobody even considered porting something as trivial as a PDA to a heavy hitter like the DEC Alpha.

So. . . Not only are there no drivers for this beast, there isn't even a good, bad, or ugly workaround for it either.

But "On the other hand. . . .!"
Several companies, including Best Buy, sell a USB to Serial adapter.  You plug one end into your computer, the other end into your serial device's cable, install a driver, and away you go!  That old 1200 baud Atari modem you have collecting dust somewhere can ride again.  Or that old EPROM burner, or embedded micro-controller development kit, etc. etc. etc.  All of that stuff that you lovingly laid aside when technology outpaced it can return to a new, useful, existence.

Unlike USB, RS232 serial is RS232 serial is RS232 serial.  Once you get down to that connector, everyone is equal.  Everyone uses the same seven signal wires, everyone plays by the same rules.  And even if a device was particularly fussy, there was usually a "tweak" or an "adjustment" to a serial setting you could perform to make it happy.

Now yes, you are right, these things don't have 64 bit drivers either.  However, unlike the Palm, the folks at Prolific - the folks that make the USB-to-Serial chipset - DID port the serial driver to 64 bits and all it took was a little judicious web-searching to find it.

Once the 64 bit drivers were installed, the port came up like a champ!  I was then able to install the original Palm IIIxe desktop sync software without a hitch.  Even the old '90's vintage sync-to-Outlook conduits they had back then installed and worked.  Worked with Outlook 2010 - the latest and greatest version too.  Looks like maybe the folks at Microsoft actually did something right for a change? :-)

So now, I have my venerable old Palm IIIxe, fully sync'd with Outlook 2010, sitting there all snug and warm in my pocket while the whiz-bang M130 sits and waits.  Waits for the brand-new SERIAL hot-sync cable I ordered for it; waiting so that it too can return to a happy and useful existence.

You just gotta laugh sometimes!

What say ye?


Monday, September 13, 2010

WindowsUpdate_80070103 - WindowsUpdate_dt000

Last post, I handed out one of my semi-famous "Hot Smokin' Weapon!" awards and I've been asked if I have a similar award for Stupidity Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.

Sorry.  I'm afraid I don't have one of those - at least not yet. . . .

If I DID have a "Smokin' Hole in The Foot" award, (Hey!  That's not a bad name!), today's post would definitely be a contender.

Today's post is about a Windows Update / Microsoft Update error:  WindowsUpdate 80070103 - WindowsUpdate dt000

According to Microsoft's KB article 952032:

This issue occurs if the following scenarios are true:
  • Windows Update or Microsoft Update tries to install a driver a second time for an additional piece of identical hardware such as a graphics adapter.
  • Windows Update or Microsoft Update tries to update a currently installed driver to an unsuitable version of that driver.
The "workaround" suggested by Microsoft is to "hide" the offending update so it does not get offered again.

. . . . Say WHAT?!

Strange, I thought that this was the entire reason behind Windows Update in the first place - it (supposedly) scans your system for needed updates, grabs them, and then installs them.

I would have thought it would have skipped it the 2nd time.  At least it caught itself and threw an error!

Oh, and by the way, if any of YOU would like to make naming suggestions for my "stupidity" award, please post them here and/or e-mail 'em to me.

What say ye?


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hot Smokin' Weapon Award for June '10 - mailhop.org!

Today's post is another one of my semi-famous "Hot Smokin' Weapon!" awards.  This award goes to DynDNS for their outbound mailhop service.

What's The Problem?

Some people, like myself, keep their e-mail, contatcs, etc., on a laptop they carry with them everywhere they go.

There are these lunatics, like myself, that use a third-party e-mail client - like Outlook - to manage their e-mails, contacts, appointments, etc., while on the road.

These lunatics want the convenience of a centralized store for all their e-mail, (on their laptops), with the ability to send e-mail no matter where they may be - be it at home, Russia, Singapore, or sitting on the beach sipping Margaritas in sunny Mexico.

The problem is that if you attempt to use your own ISP's mail server to send mail, (receving e-mail works regardless of where you are), you rapidly run into all the blocks and restrictions that ISP's use to avoid becoming spam-cesspools.

In a nutshell:  You can receive e-mail no matter where you are, but if you want to use your ISP's mail servers to send mail, you darn sure better be at home, (or at work, as the case may be), on their own network for this to work.

The Solution:

The solution is to use a subscription mail relay service, like the one offered by DynDNS (my dynamic DNS service provider - the subject of a future article in itself!)

A subscription mail relay service is used to replace the normal ISP provided SMTP service - and it allows you to send e-mails via their secure server from anywhere in the world you can scrounge an Internet connection.

The Good News:
It works.  From literally anwhere.  It's secure and you don't get mistaken for a slimy spammer because you are using them.

The Bad News:
It's not free - you do have to pay for this service.  However, for the casual user - like myself - who sends less than 150 e-mails per day, (!!!), the service costs something like twenty smackers - $20 - once a year for the privilege.  Even *I* can afford that!

Why is this a "Hot Smokin' Weapon!"?

If you are like me - and tend to be all over creation at any one time and still want the convenience of a local e-mail client on your computer rather than the crazy web-mail clients, (and their attendant security risks!), this is a Godsend.  I've been looking for a service like this for - literally - years.

Go check them out!


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Houston, Tranquility Base here - the Eagle Has Landed. . . ."

". . .one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Astronaut Neil Armstrong - First person on the Moon

A defining moment in history is a moment when something happens - and that something, when it happens, leaves the world changed forever.

"Watson!  Come here!  I need you!"
Alexander Graham Bell - Inventor of the telephone.

There is the moment when Alessandro Volta discovered how to create an electric battery for the first time.  Or the time Hans Christian Oersted discovered the relationship between electricity and magnetism.

Or when Greg Simon Ohm developed the single, most fundamental, mathematical relationship in electricity and electronics; which for the first time allowed people to determine the exact relationship between voltage, current, and resistance - named "Ohm's Law" in his honor.

Or, more recently, when Dr. Lee De Forest discovered the three element electron tube; literally inventing the entire science of electronics at one stroke. Or when the Wright brothers made the first powered airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.; having created or discovered the fundamentals of aeronautical engineering, still in use to this day.

Each of these moments in time was a defining moment; leaving the world forever changed in its wake.

This year, in the April 8th, 2010 issue of the scientific journal Nature, scientists at Hewlett Packard reported the discovery of a fourth fundamental electrical component - the memristor - joining the resistor, capacitor, and coil as fundamental electrical components.

This discovery had been foreshadowed in 1971 by Professor Raymond Chua, at the University of California, Berkeley, who mathematically postulated the existence of this fourth fundamental component. Due to the lack of any techniques to create it, it has remained theory - a mathematical curiosity - until now.

Scientists working at Hewlett Packard accidentally stumbled upon this discovery while investigating some weird anomalies in certain nanometer scale semiconductor experiments they were doing.

Why is this important?

The discovery of a fourth fundamental electrical component - which does something none of the other three fundamental components can do - allows scientists and engineers to do things that, until this discovery, were either impossible or insanely impractical.
  • True solid-state RAM for computers that takes micro-watts of power, is extremely fast, and never forgets what was written there, until changed. Computers might never need to be re-booted. You could shut your computer off right in the middle of doing something - restart it weeks, months, or even years later - and pick up exactly where you left off.
  • Computer memory that is a tiny fraction of the size of current memory.
  • Computer memory that can also do the job of the CPU chip.
  • Extremely sophisticated analog computers now become possible.
  • Because memristors behave in ways that are very similar to a neural synapse, it is now possible to do fundamental research in neural networking that was impossible before now.
And so on. . . . Literally the sky's the limit! Within five to ten years, I predict we will see new technologies that were not even imaginable before today. As professor Chua said when he heard about this new discovery, "Now all the EE textbooks need to be changed."

I'm excited!

What say ye?


Nature:  Issue 464, pages 873-876 (8 April 2010) - http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v464/n7290/full/nature08940.html

ieee Spectrum: "The Mysterious Memristor" - http://spectrum.ieee.org/semiconductors/design/the-mysterious-memristor

Tech Republic: "Memristors open new possibilities in storage and computing" - http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/datacenter/?p=2610

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The More the Merrier!
Outlook 2010 as an e-mail juggulator?

This Tech-Tip is one of those "shake my head in wonder" blog entries.  Microsoft has - apparently - whipped out BOTH of its trusty six-shooters, taken careful aim at BOTH its feet and pulled the triggers. . . .

Now, fair is fair, and Microsoft HAS been trying to be more sensitive to customers needs.  This is made especially obvious in Office / Outlook 2010 - where there is a major paradigm shift in the way mail-files are handled on local machines.

To make it easier to migrate Outlook 2010 from machine to machine, Microsoft has decided to encapsulate a lot of the mail preferences in the user's e-mail, (.pst), file - instead of scattering them willy-nilly all over the user's system.  You pick up the .pst file from the system you are migrating from, drop it onto the system you are migrating to, and Voila!  90% of the work is done.

Except for one teeny, tiny, little thing. . . . .

Certain mail-account metadata is now being captured in the .pst file too.  And, usually, that would be a good thing - the .pst file contains not only your mail and preferences, but a record of what mail has been read from the server, etc. etc. etc.  This way, when you start up Outlook on your new computer, you don't necessarily get twenty-thousand e-mails all over again.

But there is a small hiccup with this idea:  Someone clever at Microsoft had the brilliant idea that no-one would ever dream of associating multiple mail accounts to a single mail, (.pst), file - right?  And because absolutely NOBODY would be that stupid, there is no reason to store more than one mail account's data in the .pst file!  Of course, if you DO have multiple mail accounts, the metadata that gets stored is the data from the last account accessed.

Unfortunately Outlook has allowed multiple mail accounts to be aggregated into a single .pst file for decades.  They even support it by asking if you want to re-use a pre-existing mail file when you create the 2nd or 34th, mail account.

So, if you're sharing e-mail between two computers, (as I often do), I set the "master" computer to delete e-mails when read - but the "slave" computer is set to "leave messages on server" so that the master computer can - eventually - get them.  This makes all my mail-file migrations one-way affairs, master-to-slave, so I don't accidentally obliterate my mail files if I screw this up.

The problem should now be obvious!

If we assume that I have three different e-mail accounts; "a", "b", and "c" - they all get frequent e-mails, and the slave machine is set to not delete them from the server, then we have a big problem. . . .

I launch Outlook 2010 on the slave machine, and it reads e-mail accounts a, b, and c; gathering new e-mails from each account.  Since "c" was the LAST account read, the read list for "c" is preserved, while the lists for "a" and "b" are discarded when Outlook exits.

The next time I launch Outlook on this machine, it realizes that all the e-mail from "c" has been read, so it leaves that alone - but since it has NO CLUE about account "a" or "b" - it blithely re-reads all that mail again.

The next time Outlook starts, since "b" was last, it re-reads all of the "a" and "c" e-mails!

So, depending on which account "just happened" to get the last e-mail, you end up with a round-robin re-reading of every blasted e-mail on those servers - until they get deleted.

The TechNet forums discuss this - and Microsoft says that having more than one mail account associated with a single .pst file will cause this because of the "new" way Outlook 2010 associates mail-account metadata with the .pst file.

Sigh. . . .  Out comes the 9mm Glock and they take aim at their feet. . . .

There's a whole host of complaints about this on the Office/Outlook forums - hopefully Microsoft will come up with a patch or fix for this REAL SOON.


What say ye?


Thursday, May 6, 2010

A key is a key is a key is a key . . . . . .

This is one of those "Doh!" moments - when I've been made to feel like a total ass - and I'm almost ashamed to post this. However, if I stuck MY foot in MY mouth over this - it's an even money bet that someone else will too. Hence the post.


I'm installing a 64 bit copy of Windows Server 2008 on this wonderfully excellent Dell PowerEdge 2850 server that I picked up at the Trenton Computer Festival on the cheap. Excellent system, six wide/fast SCSI drives on a BUTT-KICKIN' hardware RAID card, Dual Xeon's, tons of memory, I'm ready to hunt BEAR with this rig!

So, I do the install. I enter the product key, answer all the questions, put it on my domain, and - so far - everything seems just peachy-keen wonderful. Of course, my TechNet supplied activation key slides in like a champ. That is, until I went to actually activate this beast!

I try to activate it and it pauses for a moment or two, then tells me the activation procedure failed.

Huh?!! Wahappened?!! These keys normally activate as smooth as a floor waxed with silicone oil!

OK, obviously a network glitch, or the activation server was having a tough time. So I try again. No good. Activation STILL fails.

At this point I'm really scratching my head, as these things normally activate like a champ.

Eventually I get around to looking at error messages, ("Doh!" #1: RTFM - Read The Fantastic error Messages), and it tells me that it can't find a Key Management Server on my network anywhere.

Now that really puzzles me because - as I've been told and read on TechNet - Key Management Servers are typically used in HUGE enterprises with ZILLIONS of machines to coordinate their own licensing since Microsoft really doesn't want to try to keep track of every computer owned by Toyota, G.M. or Hughes Aerospace.

OK, you win. Maybe Win 2008 Server wants a KMS server as a matter of principle, so I look it up. And I discover that unless I have a particularly special kind of Volume Licensing Agreement - I can't even LOOK at a Key Management Server, let alone install one.

At this point I'm totally stumped. I go to bed, vowing to get some shut-eye and maybe, just maybe, things will look brighter in the morning.

Several Days Later. . . . . .

I try activation again - and it fails. In fact, since I'm getting ready to run "dcpromo" on this machine to make it a domain controller, I check the event logs as I have learned through bitter experience that your event logs have to be spotlessly clean if you want a successful Active Directory Domain Controller promotion. The event logs are filled with "SLS" errors from System Licensing Service – “cannot activate”.

I read up on the Web, check TechNet, search Microsoft, and dig just about everywhere - only to discover that there seems to be NO ONE who has had a problem like this. Microsoft has no clue. TechNet has no clue. The usual Fountains Of Wisdom on the web have no clue.

I start thinking - could it be a bad key? No - the key was accepted when I entered it. I know if I enter a "bad" (mis-typed, or for the wrong product) key - the "enter your product key" dialog barfs and won't let you proceed further.

Then I think a little further:
Windows Server 2008 comes in a whole rainbow of flavors, sizes, configurations, and such - for every possible taste and budget. And they're all "Server 2008", but they all have different keys.  Hmmmm. . . . What if I put in a 2008 R2 key by mistake? Or a Win 2008 with Hyper Server key instead of the key for 2008 without Hyper Server? Heck! I can't even remember WHAT key I put in! So, let me try something. . .

Right next to the "activate Windows" setting on the "Computer" property-sheet, there is a "change product key" link. I go to TechNet, re-open my key list, and re-copy the exact key for the 64-bit Win2k8 Server (Without Hyper Server) Standard Edition that I was using. I write it down very clearly and legibly, and I go back to the Win2k8 Server and re-enter the product key.

I carefully type in all the groups of letters and numbers and - with trepidation - click on "next" since this is a one-shot deal. If you try to change your product key and crap-out, your copy of Windows is locked down tighter than the Strategic Air Command's command post at Cheyenne Mountain!

Windows pauses, swirls the key around in the glass, sniffs the key's bouquet carefully, takes a small sip, and - with cocked head - ACTIVATES!

"Doh!" Moment #2: Obviously, if a key works when entered, but fails to activate later on, maybe it's the wrong 'naffing key!!

I was surprised. Normally, if you enter a key that doesn't match what you're installing, it stops you right there. Since this particular install DVD was a multi-level install, capable of installing everything from the bare-bones VW Beetle version of 2k8, all the way to the Testosterone Infused Maserati version of 2k8 - maybe the keys are handled differently. Or maybe it's just the way W2k8 Server works. Obviously if the key doesn't match what it thinks should match, it tries to find a Key Management Server to verify that everything is legit.

Beats me. Strange problem.

What say ye?


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Showdown at Tombstone
How to Resurrect An Active Directory

In a somewhat weird coincidence, it is interesting that in the week before Easter I should be writing about how to bring something back to life. . . .

Active Directory has a feature common to all complex databases that can be replicated from machine to machine - it implements a feature called "Tombstones"

Tombstones are a way of marking data that has been removed as "deleted" - without actually removing the data - so that the request to delete can spread to all other computers sharing this information.  Then - after a period of time long enough for all computers to have heard about it, the tombstoned data is actually and physically deleted.

This is needed because it is very difficult for databases to replicate the absence of data - to make replication more efficient, the only thing that gets replicated is the actual data itself.

In Windows*, the default tombstone lifetime is two months - 60 days - which under normal conditions is plenty long.  What this means is that if data has been unused for 60 days, it's automatically tombstoned, (marked for deletion), and after another 60 days, it's actually removed.  Note that when data is tombstoned, it's physically removed to a special place in the Active Directory - and for all intents and purposes, it's gone forever.  It's possible to "reanimate" a tombstoned object, but most of the characteristics of the object were stripped away when it was tombstoned, making "reanimation" a dicey proposition at best.

However - QA test environments are often used in ways that are much different from "normal conditions".  My friend Andy, for example, has a special test domain using two computers as domain controllers - one parent and one child - with other computers connected to them.  And it is not unusual for him to set this system up, perform a series of tests, and then need to tear that system down and restore the pristine network to do other testing on.  And there are some very nifty tools that allow him to do this in a very painless manner.

Unfortunately - some of these tests can take several months to complete.  Or he might get distracted by his boss to work on something More Important for a while.  The result is that the next time he "restores" the two computers in the domain from his most recent pristine backup, it's been longer than 60 days.  This results in the entire Active Directory tombstoning itself - in essence comitting ritual suicide - while he watches his network automagically reduce itself to a quivering lump of rubble.  And once that happens, there is little else to do but manually re-create everything from scratch - again! - to restore the pristine non-tombstoned status to the Active Directory.

There is a solution!

There is a special parameter within the Active Directory itself that tells Active Directory how long to wait before clobbering things, called the "Tombstone Lifetime", and it can be set to values that are reasonable for your situation.

Here's an example showing the problem and how to work around it:

I recently needed to restore a server - and my most recent backup was six months old.  If I just restore it and fire the computer up, it will destroy itself by tombstoning.  I can reset the computer's clock, but as soon as it gets on the network and gets the correct time - I'm dead again.

What you will need:
1.  A server running active directory.
2.  The "resource kit" or "support tools" distributed with your version of the server.  Don't use earlier or later tools, they won't work properly.

What I did:
1.  I set the computer's clock to a date six months ago that was just a bit later than the date the backup was taken.
2.  I restored the backup image.
3.  I removed the computer from the network (by unplugging it)
4.  I restarted the computer.

Once the computer came up, I logged in and waited for it to settle down.

5.  In the support tools for this server there is a program called ADSI EDIT - that can be used to make changes to the Active Directory in a manner similar to what REGEDIT does to the Registry.

You invoke it by either typing in "adsiedit" from a command line, or by finding the adsiedit executable and double-clicking on it.

6.  Once it opens, you have to navigate to the correct object:
  (a)  Configuration Container ---->
  (b)  CN=Configuration,DC=[your domain name],DC=com  (or net or whatever) ------->
  (c)  CN=Services  ------>
  (d)  CN=WindowsNT

7.  Once you get to the WindowsNT container, you will notice on the right an object called "Directory Service"  Right click on that object, and select "Properties"

8.  Inside the property sheet for that object is a drop-down list of properties. (a LONG list of properties. . .)  Select the property called "tombstonelifetime" and note what it is set to.  By default, on my machine, it was blank.  Change it to some value that is reasonable for you - I selected 360 - to represent 360 days, and then press "Set".

9.  Click OK a few times to get all the way back out, and you're set!

10.  You can now re-boot the box, catch it at the BIOS settings, reset the system clock to the correct date and time, and continue with your life unaffected by the tombstone lifetime setting.

What say ye?


* UPDATE (5/12/10)
This is actually true for the versions of Active Directory prior to Server 2003 - SP1. (See the TechNet article here.)  Windows Server 2003 SP-1 and later versions of Windows Server have Tombstone Lifetimes extended to 180 days by default.  This came about because Microsoft's many customers discovered that systems being built in one centeralized location, then shipped to distant branch offices - or built-to-spec abroad then shipped elsewhere, would end up Tombstoning themselves while in transit.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

When Worlds Collide
Windows 7 and Driver Conflicts

Hello again!

By now, most everyone knows about Windows 7.  You've either seen it, (and maybe messed with it a little bit), or you now have a machine that runs it.

Like it or not, it's here to stay.

Another thing that everyone knows about is that Windows 7 marks a major paradigm shift in their security model.  And it's not just the 3rd-party application developers that are getting caught in the shift - Microsoft's own in-house products also fall into this trap.

I guess the take-away here is that, even if it's from Microsoft, don't necessarily believe what they say about Windows 7 Compatability.

Here's a case in point:

  • My 2Ghz Athlon XP system with 2 gigs of RAM running Windows 7 Professional
  • My NVIDIA 7800 series video card.
  • A Microsoft LifeCam Cinema (their top end web-cam - for almost $100!)
  • A Phillips WebCam SPC1300NC (a mid-line web-cam for about $40-$50)
  • A Vivitar ViviCam 35 web-cam (a fairly old and crummy web-cam I bought for $9 somewhere)
  • Microsoft's very own LifeCam software - version 3.1.0.something
  • The supplied Phillips drivers for their web-cam
  • The ViviCam 35 drivers that were not even thinking about Vista, let alone Windows 7!
  • The latest release version of Skype (4.1)
When I built up this Windows 7 box, one of the first applications I added was Skype 4.1 and the ViviCam web-cam because I use Skype a LOT - to associate with friends in far off places, and to communicate with the family members abroad.  Both Skype and the web-cam functionality are important to me and I would have been much less likely to stay with Windows 7 if this did not work.

Fortunately for me, that crufty, ancient, el-cheepo $9 off of the bargin rack at Christmas Tree Shops, webcam worked like a champ!  I only get 320x240 at about 3fps, but it's enough to get by.  And what the hay, it's a crappy, crummy, low-budget web-cam.

Later on, I purchased the Phillips web-cam, and installed it on my Athlon x2 64 bit, dual-core laptop (running XP), with skype, and it worked like a champ there too.

Yesterday - wanting to get "up to the minute" with my video on my big desktop machine, I went out and planked-down Heafty Bucks for the latest-and-greatest Microsoft LifeCam Cinema.  16:9 aspect ratio, HD quality video, stunning detail, frame-rates that would make the networks jealous, etc. etc. etc.  It promised the moon and the stars - AND the rocket-ship to get me there!  Of course, the quid you pay for that pro-quo was a price tag closer to $100 than I'd really like, but - hey! - you want a Mercedes, you can't expect to pay for a Hyundai.

So. . . .

I bring it home, carry it lovingly downstairs into my "dungeon" where all the computer stuff lives, unpack it and proceed to install.

The install goes like a champ.  Of course, I politely declined their generous offer to load my machine up with the latest Window Live Essentials and Silverlight, figuring I have enough crap-ware on this box as it is.

I launch the LifeCam application and play with the camera.  I really can't do much better than 640x480 with my hardware and video card, but I play with it anyway.  I test the video, the sound (it comes with a built-in mic.), the pan-and-tilt, etc. etc. etc.

Once I was satisfied that it worked, I closed LifeCam and launched Skype.

Skype immediately recognized the new camera and cautioned me that since it has a built-in mic, I would probably have to re-configure my audio settings to use it.

So - I do just that.  I re-configure the audio and make a test call to verify it - and it's all Golden!

I then go look at the video. . . . .  And all I see is a black screen.  I fiddle with it.  I try a couple of adjustments, I fiddle with it some more, and still no video.

An article on the web says that I may need to re-reconfigure certain audio settings if I have video problems.  So I go back to the Audio settings to check it out.  And!  About five seconds later, Skype crashes.

Huh?  Wahappened?

I re-launch Skype, look at the video - still gone - and go back to the audio again.  Blammo!  Skype dies.  Apparently if I launch Skype 4.1 with this camera installed, go to the video settings page, and then go to the audio settings page, Skype crashes.

Skype's web site recommended an upgrade to Skype 4.2 Beta - so I upgrade and try again.

OK - now Skype does not crash when I go from Video to Audio - but still no video.  And opening up the tools --> options dialog causes any call in progress to freeze solid.

Looking on the web, I discover that owners of the Phillips 1300 web-cam, as well as some Logitech web-cams were having the same troubles as those that owned the LifeCams by Microsoft.  And - of course! - it's all Skype's fault for releasing such a piece of junk to an un-suspecting public.

After fighting with this until the wee-hours of the morning last night, and the weeeeeeeeeeeeeee-hours of the morning this morning, (before going to bed), I decided I'd had enough.  Fuzz this!!  I'm gonna yank that piece of GAGH! right outta there and ram it down someone's throat!!

(Later on, after some serious shut-eye, I try again.)

I disconnect the web-cam, un-install the drivers, make sure everything's cleaned up, and reboot.

I'm getting ready to re-install the crummy 'ole ViviCam's drivers when - just for the S's and Grins of it - I decide to plug in that blasted 'naffing LifeCam again.  Without the included drivers. . . .

Baaa-BING!  USB Hardware device recognized!
Baaa-BING!  USB Imaging Device (Microsoft LifeCam Cinema 1393) recognized!
Baaa-BING!  USB Digital Audio Interface Device (Microsoft LifeCam Cinema 1393) recognized!
(pregnant pause)
Baaa-BING!!  Your Hardware is Installed and Ready To Use!!

Huh?!!  (shaking my head - the instructions are very specific about NOT plugging the device in BEFORE installing the software. . . .)

I look in the device manager - and it's all there and it's all happy.

Acid Test:  I launch Skype.  I get the dialogs about my "new" webcam and needing to check the audio properties again, but this time not only does the audio work, but I have working video!!

Hmmmm. . . .  Interesting. . . . . .

After placing a test call to a friend of mine (and chatting for about 30 min or so!), I shut down and remove the webcam.  I restart and then plug in the Phillips webcam I have (which I have been told will NOT work with the drivers installed by a whole chorus of posters on the web), and wait. . . .

I get the familiar two-toned chime that Windows gives when it recognizes - and corrected configures! - a new USB device.  Two or three chimes later, it's "installed and ready to use", just like the LifeCam.  And it works in Skype just as well.  Just to make sure, I call my friend back and spend about another hour or so chatting about stuff - and conviced that Skype won't crash no matter what I do to it (including opening tool and option windows), I hang up and ponder.

What I suspect is happening here is this:
Unlike earlier versions of Windows, and that includes Vista, Windows 7 has a lot of these device drivers built in as "native driver support" items.  Just like XP with external USB hard drives and the USB thumb-drives - you plug 'em in and they just work.

Normally, when a manufacturer supplies an updated or enhanced version driver for a device - to enable special features like the HD resolution, for example, the internal drivers get disengaged for that device.   This prevents two different drivers from trying to work with the same device, which is the fast boat to a crashed system.  Or - if it does NOT disengage the native drivers, it adds a functionality layer to the device, working with the existing drivers that are already there.

In this case - what appears to be happening is that both Windows 7 *AND* the LifeCam/Phillips/Logitech (etc.) drivers install themselves, but do *NOT* disengage the native versions, resulting in a huge driver conflict reminicent of Windows 95, and a crash.  Maybe a crashed app?  Maybe a crashed box?  According to the Skype Garage (forum) on Windows 7 and Skype - both can, and do, happen.

I guess that we've been lulled to sleep by how well Windows XP has worked with it's drivers and such, that the idea of a massive driver collision has faded from memory.  We forget the primary maxim of computers and installations of stuff:  If everything is working wonderfully, you then do something new, and then everything, (or certain things), go to hell - the first thing to do is to back out all the recent changes.

Also.  Just because Microsoft says it works, doesn't mean it REALLY works.  Not even with Windows!

What say ye?


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Windows 7 / Windows Vista Virtual Store Bug

In previous blog postings here I have talked about Windows 7 - as compared to Vista and XP - and all-in-all, (IMHO), Windows 7 is a pretty slick operating system.

Not unlike other "new" operating system releases, there are - and will be - teething problems that will eventually be worked out.

There IS one issue that - though probably "by design" - is sufficiently evil that it borders on being a really nasty bug: Neither Vista nor Windows 7 refresh the Virtual Store's image of a file when the target file changes.

At this point you may be saying "Virtual Store"??! What the. . . .!!!

A little bit of an explanation is in order:

Vista was Microsoft's first real serious attempt to tighten up their security model and they did this in several different ways . . .
  • They implemented the now infamous UAC - User Access Control, (or User Account Control depending on who you're listening to).
  • They designated several important areas within the operating system as "protected" areas - you are unable to write to these areas without specially elevated privilege levels.
  • However - to maintain backward compatibility with older programs written for XP - they allowed a special exception: If a non-privileged process attempted to access a privileged (protected) area, a write-enabled copy would be created that would be accessed as if it were the original.
  • They way they accomplished this is by using a special directory called the Virtual Store.
  • This directory is located at:
    C:\Users\[current user]\AppData\Local\VirtualStore
    and it contains an image (copy) of any protected items that were accessed by non-privileged processes.
The idea has merit. Older programs written for XP or before, that automatically assume that EVERYONE is an Administrator level user and write all over the system willy-nilly will be given access to the Virtual Store instead of the Real Application. Virii who wish to install themselves into the Program Files directory get side-tracked to the Virtual Store - or raise a UAC - instead of just sneaking in.

The Virtual Store operates according to some very simple rules:
  • If a non-privileged application attempts access to a privileged area (C:\Program Files\MyApp, for example), a copy of the thing they tried to access is copied to the Virtual Store.
    Viz. It would be copied to:
    C:\Users\[current user]\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Program Files\MyApp
    . . .and the application would be given access to the Virtual Store instead of the real program path.
  • If a non-privileged application tries to access a protected area, AND there is already an image of the object requested in the Virtual Store - the application is automagically re-directed to the copy instead of the original. In other words, if C:\Users\[current user]\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Program Files\MyApp already exists (in the Virtual Store), then any reference to C:\Program Files\MyApp will automatically be redirected to the copy in the Virtual Store - AND - as far as the executing process is concerned, it will actually appear to be executing out of the C:\Program Files\MyApp directory!
  • Pivileged applications - running as true administrator equivalents via the UAC or by inheriting elevated privilege - always get access to the real file, not the copy in the Virtual Store.
 This is all well-and-good, but if you're paying attention, you will have noticed a subtle issue has crept into the system:
  • If I publish a periodic (or bug fix) update to MyApp\. . . . the updater or .MSI file that does the updating will actually and truly write to the real Program Files folder.
  • However, once the update is done and the non-privileged application starts to run again, it only sees the cached version of the file in the Virtual Store's folders.

    - AND -

  • The presence of an updated version in the Real Folder does NOT trigger a refresh of the cached data in the Virtual Store! 
There's the problem. Stale data in the Virtual Store will cause your program to run amok, even after a patch or bug-fix has been installed.

The solution is simple:
  • Never store data or user-generated configuration files in a protected area, such as Program Files.
  • When the non-privileged application begins to run - before it does ANYTHING else - it should check the Virtual Store manually - via the explicit path - and see if there is a "MyApp" directory there.
    • If there is a virtualized copy there, delete it.
  • Installer software or .MSI updaters should follow the same rule when they begin running.
This will force Windows to update the Virtual Store so that when the non-privileged application runs - and accesses data in the Virtual Store - that it will always get the latest-and-greatest version.

Note that this workaround will also work on a legacy system running XP or earlier - since the path to the Virtual Store will NEVER exist on these earlier systems, the program's logic will simply skip past that and go on to launching the application.

What say ye?


Monday, January 11, 2010

How to migrate Outlook mail from XP to Windows 7

One of the issues that's sure to come up, now that Windows 7 is gaining traction, is how to take your Outlook settings, e-mails, and such-like and move them to a Windows 7 machine.

 In my own case - I have Outlook 2003 installed on Windows XP and I am building up a "new" machine with Windows 7 on it, so I needed to figure out how to migrate my stuff.

Also - I tend to swap computers back-and-forth.  For example, when I travel, I take a Compaq laptop with me, but I use my AthlonXP powered desktop when I'm at home.  So, I periodically "syncronize" (swap back-and-forth) the e-mail files between the two machines.

In XP the correspondence is relatively easy to follow, since most of the Outlook data is located in two places:
  1. C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Application Data\Microsoft\
    There is an "Outlook" folder that you copy in its entirety to the new location.  This folder has stored settings specific to your e-mail stuff.
    There are also "Signature" and "Stationary" folders here as well, if you have pre-defined signatures or stationary you use.

  2. C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\
    There is an "Outlook" folder that you also copy in it's entirety.  This folder actually contains your mail files and such.  Depending on how much e-mail you have, these files can get pretty darn big!

  3. Certain other data about your e-mail - such as account information, logins, server preferences, etc. - are (supposedly) located somewhere in the Registry.  I haven't gone looking for them yet.  And to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I want to just go cutting, hacking, and pasting from XP's Registry into Windows 7's Registry.  I'd really want to know a whole lot more about what I'm doing before I start that kind of Open Heart Surgery on a computer.
  • I am talking about Outlook - not Outlook Express.
    • I've never used Outlook Express, so I cannot comment on it.

  • I'm talking about Outlook 2003.
    • If you have Outlook 2007, I have heard rumors that it is essentially similar.  I haven't installed Outlook 2007 yet, so I can't speak directly to that from my own experience.
    • If you have an older version of Outlook, you will have to first upgde to 2003 (or better) before you can even think of doing any of this stuff!

  • I am talking about a personal installation of Outlook, using ISP provided mail servers - usually POP and/or SMTP mail servers.
    • If you have Outlook set up to use an Exchange Server for your e-mail, you probably have a system administrator that should be helping you with this.  Migrating Exchange hosted e-mail is outside the scope of this article.  It's not difficult, it's just a totally different beast.
    • Sysadmins:  The user's localized settings and .ost /.pst files might well be located in these same places, based on the installation's configuration.

  • I am talking about a manual migration, dragging files and folders around "brute-force", so to speak.
    • The good part about this is that it costs you absolutely nothing, whereas the payware migration software out there can hit you up for $60 or better.
    • The bad part about this is that - bottom line - YOU own it.  At the risk of mangling a great line from Blazing Saddles:  "One false move, and the e-mail gets it!"  The bottom line here is that if you know enough to do this, you also know enough to not come crying to me if you accidentally clobber your e-mail.  Can YOU say "backups"?  Ahhh!  I KNEW you could!
    • If you have a LOT of machines to migrate, (and if you have that many, you should really consider a centralized mail-store like Exchange), the payware solution might end up saving you money and grief in the long-run since they supposedly migrate everything - including registry settings, etc.

  • You will have to have "show hidden files and folders" as well as "show hidden system files" enabled on both XP and Win-7 before you will see these paths. 

 Migrating Outlook from Windows XP to Windows-7 Executive Summary:

The basic folder-to-folder correspondence is as follows:

The XP folder:
C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\ (as well as ..\Signatures\ and ..\Stationary\)

Is located in the Windows 7 folder:
C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Outlook\ (as well as ..\Signatures\ and ..\Stationary\)


The XP folder:
C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\ (where all the mail files reside)

Is located in the Windows 7 folder:
C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook\

 How I accomplished the move:
  1.  The first thing I did was to install Office 2003 (which included Outlook in my case) on the target Windows 7 machine.

  2. Once the installation completed, I shut down the computer and attached the old "XP" drive as secondary.  You can attach it directly to the hard drive controller - (I have several drive-bays on my main machine for just this reason) - or you can attach it through a hard-drive-to-USB adapter.

  3. Once you restart the machine and launch Outlook, you are prompted to set up an e-mail account. I set up a bogus@bogus.com "fake" account so that Outlook would build the appropriate directory structures.
    1. I didn't set up a REAL account yet, because Outlook gets pretty darn agressive when it comes to sucking e-mail off your servers - and I wanted to get the "where to put it" set up first.

  4. I then closed down Outlook and opened up File Explorer windows in Windows 7 - one for each drive.

  5. I copied the
    C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\ (as well as ..\Signatures\ and ..\Stationary\)
    folders off of the XP drive and placed them in the
    C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Outlook\ (as well as ..\Signatures\ and ..\Stationary\)
    folders on the Win-7 machine.
    1. You will get some prompts to overwrite things - go ahead and let it.

  6. I copied the
    C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\
    folder off of the XP drive and placed it in the
    C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook\
    folder on the Win-7 machine.

    1. You will get some prompts to overwrite things - like Outlook.pst, or Desktop.ini - go ahead and let it overwrite.
    2. Because you are moving your main mail files here, this copy may take a LONG time to complete.  Maybe even measured in hours.  Go get a cuppa coffee.  Read the paper.  Take a nice loooong walk outside.  You get the idea, right?

  7. Once the copies are complete, shut down and disconnect the XP drive - just in case!

  8. Restart the computer, and restart Outlook.

    You should notice that Outlook comes up with all your mail folders intact.  If this does *NOT* happen, stop right here and review your steps.  This has to be right before you can move on.  Hopefully you copied from XP to 7, and not vice-versa, as that will have clobbered the mail-files on the XP box.  This is why backups are so important!

  9.  Now, you need to go to "Tools --> E-Mail Accounts" and begin to configure your actual e-mail accounts, both send and receive, just the way you had them before.  Passwords, server names, the works!  (This is the stuff in the Registry that we didn't hack with, remember?)

  10. When you are setting up your e-mail account, or accounts if you have more than one, I usually go to the "More Settings" button to open up an advanced settings window, and then select the "Advanced" tab.  On this tab you will find the check-box "Leave e-mail on server", and check this box to enable that feature
    1. I usually check "Leave e-mail on server" to "ON" when I'm testing a new e-mail client as a saftey precaution.  This way if I accidentally screw something up, I can always go back to the old client on the old machine and everything's still working just fine!


Because we did not even try to mess with Outlook's Registry settings - certain information and preferences does not automatically come across when the move is made.  However these things can be fixed-up rather quickly.
  • In my case, I have a great many individual mail folders - and sub-folders! - along with a whole host of rules set up to automagically sort my e-mail upon arrival.
    • Though the rules - and their associated folders - survived the migration, sometimes the correspondence between the folder within a rule - and the actual mail folder itself - gets un-linked.  Probably because of the big differences in paths between the two systems.
    • What will happen is that you will generate Rule Errors complaining that it could not move the mail to the respective folder - and the affected e-mails will remain in your Inbox instead of being moved to the correct folder.
    • To fix this, go to the  "Tools" menu, select "Rules and Alerts", and then on the "E-mail Rules" tab, select the rule that had the problem.  Double click on the underlined folder name Outlook could not find, (it may appear to be absolutely correct!), and re-select the corresponding mail folder from the list.  Click "OK" to close the rule and save changes.  Next click "Run Rules Now" along the top, select the rule you just edited, and run that rule on the Inbox.  All the offending e-mails should now get moved to the correct folder.
    • Repeat this for any other rule errors encountered.

  • The Outlook "reading" format will default back to the original screen layout.  In my case, I greatly prefer the "reading pane on the bottom" layout, so I go to "View" on the top menu bar, select "Reading Pane" about half-way down, and then check "Bottom".

  • If you moved your Signatures folder, all your custom signatures will have made the move with you, but the associations between the signatures and your e-mails may not have.
    • To fix this, go to "Tools" on the top menu bar, then select "Options" (all the way down at the bottom!), and then select the "Mail Format" tab.
    • Down at the bottom of this tab are the fields where you set the signature for new mails as well as replies.  If you have more than one e-mail account, you have to select each one individually from the "Select signatures for account:" drop down, and set signature preferences for each one.
    • Select "OK" to exit.

  • You may notice that Outlook now starts out on the topmost, most global, folder view called "Today".  Usually people have Outlook configured to start with their Inbox showing, (or their Calendar, etc.) rather than the, (IMHO, totally useless), "Today" page.
    • To fix this, if you have the "Tools" --> "Options" page still open, click on the "Other" tab, and then near the top click on the "Advanced Options" button.  Otherwise, navigate back to it, click on "Other" then "Advanced Options".
    • At the very top of the Advanced Options page is a browse selector labeled "Startup in this folder:".  Click on "Browse" and select the Outlook folder you wish to open when you start Outlook.
    • Click on the "OK" button twice and you're done!
What say ye?


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Windows 7 - Patience is Rewarded - Drivers

I've already taken the time to review Windows 7 and my general impression was that it was not only much better than Vista ever hoped to be, but it could be considered a worthy successor to the venerable Windows XP.

However - as with any shiny new toy - there is a bit of a dark spot to contend with, and that's finding drivers for stuff more than a very few years old.

  • My wonderful Sound Blaster Live! card that I bought a while back - and paid hefty bucks for! - was declared "end-of-life'd" by Creative and they said they'd not support it for Vista - OR Windows 7.
  • NVIDIA didn't even want to consider looking at drivers for my GFX - (7800) video card.  I wasn't too disapointed there, Vista (and 7) picked it up nicely.
  • My Microsoft fingerprint reader(s) - apparently there was a licensing scuffle between M$ and the folks at Digital Persona - who are the actual end-product manufacturers - and M$ could not get licensing for either Vista or 7. . .  This really broke my heart because I have adopted the Fingerprint Reader extensively - I own about seven of the beasties! - and I use them just about everywhere.
And as I continue trying to build up a Windows 7 system that mimics my fully-tricked-out XP install, I am sure that I will find other issues.

Lest anyone get the impression that Windows 7 is a real headache when it comes to drivers, let me assure you that - in my case - about 90% of the stuff I had drivers for fell into one of three broad categories:
  • Windows 7 picked it right up and it didn't need additional driver support - or it picked it up well enough so that Windows Update could provide a decent driver.
  • A web search at the manufacturer's site showed a driver (or program version) that would work with Windows 7.
  • The pre-existing driver for XP installed without a hitch.
However - the few items that I could not find drivers for, were a big dissapointment.

Fear Not!

Apparently Windows 7 is doing so well - compared to the debacle that was Vista - that manufacturers are having second and third thoughts about withholding driver support!

Case in point:
  • Today, I just discovered that Creative has released Sound Blaster Live! drivers for Windows 7.  I don't know that they were released today, but I found them today. . . .
    (I can't wait to remove the CRAPPY SIIG SoundWave 5.1 PCI card I bought and slide that Sound Blaster back in there - the difference in playback quality between the two is immense.  Unfortunately not in favor of the SIIG card.)
  • NVIDIA has released to Microsoft - for inclusion in their Windows Update packages - updated drivers for the 7800 series video cards.
Additionally - and this is something that was conspicuous by its absence with Vista - I'm beginning to see realistic workarounds being developed by outside users for those things that won't be able to get support - like my fingerprint reader!  It turns out that there are a few hoops you have to jump through - certain ones deliberately placed in Windows 7 by M$ because of the licensing issues I mentioned - but having done so, you have a wonderfully working fingerprint reader.

Likewise, I'm seeing workarounds for things like my ancient HP ScanJet 3300C - a wonderful scanner, it would be a pity to have to trash it simply because HP won't support it on "7"  (Which, IMHO, is an absolute disgrace - even if there were something "un-official" that could be done to help people out, it would be a lot better than having to shell-out for all new hardware devices just because you swapped operating systems.)

There is one big cavaet here - most of this applies ONLY TO 32 BIT VERSIONS of Windows 7.  I have read repeated reports of the 64 bit versions not accepting the driver workarounds.  Which is a real crying shame.  In a way though, this doesn't surprise me.  I remember fussing with the 64 bit versions of XP, and getting driver support for it was - well, let's just say it was something of a challenge and leave it at that!! 

Maybe there are fundamental architecture differences that preclude 32 bit drivers from working in the 64 bit environment?  I remember back when Microsoft moved from Windows 3.n to '95, and then to '98.  Driver compatibility between the "old" 16 bit drivers and the "new" 32 bit operating systems was a real issue.  Some worked if you faked it, but many didn't, and there were numerous reports of people who crashed their systems trying to fit a 16 bit driver into a 32 bit slot.  I suspect we're going to see that same thing again - except (hopefully) by now process fault preclusion has advanced far enough to prevent an errant user from totally trashing their hard drive.

In any event - hopefully the manufacturers will have mercy on our miserable souls and will help us with - at the very least - some kind of workaround, even if it's "on the down-low", until this older hardware goes the way of the full-hight Rodime 20 meg MFM drives - and 8" floppies!

What say ye?


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Windows 7 Easter Egg - "God Mode"

Windows 7 is out in dead earnest - and the Easter Egg Hunt has begun!

For those who may not be familiar with the term, an "Easter Egg" (within the context of a piece of software, or a game), is a "hidden" feature or capability that can only be accessed by knowing some (supposedly) secret command that unlocks the feature.  Most previous versions of Windows have had some kind of "Easter egg" or another - ranging from clever tricks to silly animations.

In some cases, Easter Eggs are clever "short-cut" features that are used during in-house development and testing to speed the development process - or make the developers / testers lives easier.  They might even be seperate "special" apps - that let the development teams do something clever and convenient.

I don't know this for a fact, but I suspect that a lot of the previous Windows Power Toys were just this kind of thing - Easter-egg kinds of links, or special clever helper apps - that eventually went main-stream.

The "new" God Mode in Windows 7 is just this kind of thing - it's a way to collapse all the features within Windows 7's various control panel features into one convenient folder.

Accessing this special "God Mode" is easy:
  • Create a new folder somewhere.
  • Change the name to GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}
Once you do that the folder's icon will change into something like a control-panel and it will - automagically - contain dozens of icons to various system controls.

Note:  This information was originally posted on the CNET column "Beyond Binary" by Ina Fried (http://news.cnet.com/8301-13860_3-10423985-56.html) on Jan 4th, 2010.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

We're Generating some Buzz!

OK - maybe a small humming noise? ( :-) )

I heard from a former colleague who had this to say about the QA Tech-Tips Blog:

Thank you again for the QA tech tips - they are very much appreciated.
I liked the site, I will re-read all of the tips soon - I did read most at the time you emailed them.
Just so you know, I have actually quoted the latest ("The case of the vanishing internet") in one of the bugs that I logged recently.

Keep the good info coming!

Ahhh! Nothing I like better than a little well-directed praise!

Seriously now - that's the entire point of these posts and this blog:  I like to mess around with stuff and poke my nose into the nooks, crannies, and dusty corners of technology.  And I believe what confuses me will likely confuse others.  What interests me - and piques my curiosity - will likely pique the curiosity of others.  What I believe to be important "real-world" information to me, may well be just as relevant and important to others too.

And that's the point.  As far as I am concerned, I have already done the head-banging, hair-pulling, voodo dances and sacrifice of small rodents to the Technology Gods to get the information I got.  Why should everyone else have to do the same head banging?  One concussion per group please!

I have been blessed with the opportunity to learn much from some of the most talented people I know.  So it is my pleasure to pass along what little I can to others as well.

"So it shall be written - so it shall be done!"
(Yul Brenner - The Ten Commandments)

What say ye?