Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Review’ Category

7
May

Windows 7 RC FTW

windows_7_graphic I think Microsoft may have finally created an OS that can replace Windows XP. Of course I’m only speaking about my personal experiences with the latest incarnate of Windows, but it’s all pretty positive.

Same spec’ed laptop as the Windows 7 Beta review I posted a while back. Running its native Vista 64bit installation, I decided to try the upgrade path instead of a clean install. The worst result is an unstable install that I would nuke and do a fresh 7 install.

The upgrade took damn near 2.5 hours, mostly thrashing the hard drive moving files around. The installer was detailed enough to give me a percentage of completion on each task plus an overall progress bar – but never an estimated time (that has never been correct in the history of any Microsoft progress bar anyway).

After the upgrade – everything worked. The laptop was still a member of the domain, fingerprint scanner, graphics driver, network adapters, bluetooth… heck even iTunes and Outlook 2007 was working.

I’m fairly impressed and it seems to be catching on around the office – two others have upgraded or installed a VM to see the buzz. I think we made the right choice to skip Vista on the desktops and wait for 7 to bake in the Microsoft oven long enough to be a worthy replacement.

1
May

Sophos ES4000 Active Directory Fun

The college recently purchased a new Sophos Email Security appliance model. It was very easy to setup and I’m looking forward to having PureMessage filtering our spam and crapmail attacks, it’ll be a good thing.

The Active Directory integration is not a polished as their Web Security appliances’ are. We have two WS1000 appliances, also from Sophos. Both hooked right into AD and pulled down both students and staff accounts without issue. Even indicated what sub-domains it found during the process. Top notch, no brainer installation.

The problem I’m writing about is the ES4000 appliance’s inability to detect our second domain in the same forest as the domain our service account is in. First off, it couldn’t even automatically detect settings using the same service account using the “Detect Settings…” feature. An undocumented bug was documented on experts-exchange.com with the workaround being you have to use an account with Schema Admin privileges in the domain’s original Users OU. Once detected, you could move the user and modify the DN used to authenticate.

Okay, that one was fixed. But I still couldn’t sync both staff and students – even if I pointed the Base DN to the top domain or left it blank.

I opened a case with Sophos and went through first level support. After 48 hours (plus a weekend) of remote support they kicked me to second tier.

Second tier connected remotely and continue the troubleshooting. After an hour or so they found a workaround and had me test it. Success.

Fix: Replace the Base DN for users/groups with a single space. Done and now it works. I’m not much of an LDAP junkie, but I would consider that a bug.

Anyway, it works for me and I hope it helps someone else out there scratching their head wondering why the eff their ES4000 is not working.

Side note: All in all, Sophos support is pretty good I just wish they would read my entire email before firing back the first canned response that essentially was exactly what I had already done. For anyone absolutely buried with this product, I can highly recommend leveraging their consulting services. Well worth the small price to get it done right the first time.

18
Jan

Seven days of Seven

After using Vista for the last few months, I was eager to test the new Windows 7 beta. It was released on Friday, but with typical Microsoft distribution – their servers were overloaded. I was able to obtain a copy from the MSDN distribution site on Sunday.

I wanted to leave myself with a comfortable weekend just in case I wanted to revert. I could have dual booted, but I want to force myself to make it work and see what doesn’t.

Test Platform

I need to make sure I have a working Windows machine for work and home, so I decided my ThinkPad T400 was a good candidate for this beta test. I have a working desktop at work and one at home just in case I need it in a pinch.

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 2.53Ghz
  • Memory: 4GB PC5400 DDR
  • Hard drive: 200GB 7200RPM Hitachi (full disk encryption, hardware based)
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3400 – 256MB
    • the secondary low power onboard Intel video adapter is disabled for this trial until drivers are released
  • 14.1” Widescreen LED backlit WXGA

Installation

Today is day 1 of actually using it. The installation went smooth and uneventful. The esthetics of the installer have been tweaked slightly but that’s just marketing. I was glad I didn’t have to change my SATA settings to “Compatible”, now the installer has AHCI drivers to allow me to leave the hard drive controller in its higher performing state.

I did notice the installer created a 200MB partition during installation. There’s about 33MB of data on this partition right now, but after further review, it appears this was for the EFI System Partition. Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) is the attempt at moving PCs away from using 16bit PC BIOS limitations.

Wireless, wired networking, and sound worked right out of the box. Intel gigabit Ethernet and an Atheros based 802.11b/g wireless card aren’t devices too far off the beaten path. Vista did require me to have these drivers available before installation as they weren’t built into the installer.

ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3400 video drivers were also included with installer, however they are labeled “prerelease WDDM 1.1” and Lenovo hasn’t made updates available yet. ATI has published beta versions of its Catalyst software which I’ll be installing shortly.

 image

Lenovo has already published a Windows 7 Beta drivers site for those of us willing to be subjects of Microsoft. As of today they have only posted the drivers for active hard drive protection system for 32 and 64 bit installations. If I had a choice, this would have been one of the first on my list for obvious reasons – thanks Lenovo.

imageFingerprint reader drivers were not available from Lenovo, but beta versions of the  drivers were available directly from the fingerprint manufacturers (Upek and AuthenTec x64 or 32bit) . After locating the correct drivers, Windows 7 now handles the biometric enrollment and authentication from within the OS without requiring additional software hooks and compatibility issues cropping up.

Gotchyas

I did have a few gotchyas though. Originally my laptop was using a biometric single sign-on. Which would unlock the computer, hard drive, and then log me in to Vista with my domain account. After installing Windows 7, the biometrics were still working to allow me into the computer, but would error out during the OS start. I disabled the computer password and hard drive password until I could start Windows and adjust the biometrics settings. After further review it appeared that this was actually expected behavior and disabling the hard drive and computer password is recommended when you install an OS.

The wireless light on the screen bezel isn’t lit up, even during use. This makes it a bit tricky to see which network I’m actually using now. The icons on the status bar do not flash with activity – so now I don’t have a good network traffic indicator. I’m sure a driver update from Lenovo will resurrect this LED, but I wish Windows 7 gave me the option (like the previous four versions of Windows) to have the network icons flash in response to traffic.

Two unknown devices are listed in the device mangler, but both are directly related to Intel AMT features that I don’t use, so I’m not worried about them.

Antivirus software is limited, although a few providers have stepped up with demos and beta versions for Windows 7 users to download.

iTunes is functional – barely. iPod sync is not functioning correctly and causes iTunes to behave very strangely.

I’ve had Internet Explorer lock up a few times – once requiring a hard power off to clear

Interesting observations:

When downloading in Internet Explorer, the taskbar button becomes the progress bar. Handy when the download is forced to the background and no task bar buttons contain text.

image

I won’t repeat what’s already published elsewhere, but here’s a good list of wizbang stuff Windows 7 is bringing to the table:

http://blogs.msdn.com/tims/archive/2009/01/12/the-bumper-list-of-windows-7-secrets.aspx

Another interesting feature that IE has began to display is to highlight the actual domain name and TLD. This will help users avoid falling for phishing scams that obfuscate the domain of a trusted site, for example… www.paypal.com, but the user is actually at www.paypal.com.trustedwebsite.au which is just a fake site setup to steal your identity…

image

I hope more browser begin to provide this simple function.

So Far

So far, it’s been a good beta evaluation. It’s obvious 7 is based on Vista, even though Microsoft is slapping a new number on it, but they took a lot of shit feedback from Vista users and look like they’re making the operating system the foundation again – not the “we will do everything for you” software bloat.

Yes, having nifty features like photo editing and email are nice – but wholly unnecessary. People shall be allowed to use their own choices in software and not get in the way with what the corporation thinks is best. After all, this isn’t OS X we’re talking about.

23
May

Guitar Hero Robots… rock on, geeks!

A few hardcore geeks have solved the latest problem holding back their community – how to beat some of these insane Guitar Hero songs on expert or Dragon Force’s Through the Fire and Flames on any difficulty.

Well a few ideas are looking promising.

Kevin Herron developed Tom Hannu, a Guitar Hero bot and a YouTube user he uses to post videos of the bot slaying songs on expert with 100% accuracy. The songs are preprogrammed into three applications which then spews out the strums and notes out to a breadboard wired into a dissected Guitar Hero controller. Very cool and very accurate.

Demo Video:



Second bot:

Jeremy Blum, went with more of a hardware attack on this problem.

This slick bot that actually watches the live video using optical sensors to pickup incoming notes and then relaying the strums and notes to a dissected Guitar Hero controller. It’s not infallible, but pretty darn good for not knowing what the next note is going to be until it shows up on screen. Some of the effects in the game mess with the optical sensors – but a few tweaks and I think this will be almost perfect.

Here’s a sample:

24
Jul

First impressions of GrandCentral

I signed up for this free service a few days before Google bought them…

Grandcentral.com gives you a local number… for life. It acts as a “front end” for your other phones. So even though your cellphone or work number changes, people can still reach you at your GC number.

So far, it’s saved me a fair amount of long distance phone charges from home. My work and work cell are a long distance call, but I have a grand central number that’s local to home. And because I live in a monopolistic broadband internet supply market, my only choice other than cable internet was DSL – but I have to maintain a land line to get it… so at home I still pay the occasional long distance charges.

For example: My wife calls the grandcentral number from home. GC recognizes that home is calling, so it doesn’t ring that number – it rings all the phones it’s been programed to. So my work and cell ring. Which ever I pick up, I get a prompt asking me if I want to accept the call from “home” press 1 – then I get the call.

You can enter in people from that you would normally get calls from into the GC Address book and then assign them groups or specific settings per user. Or, if you’re lazy, just wait for them to call. Then go back and fill in the info later in the call log.

Which leads me to another insanely useful feature – the Call Log. Everyone who calls you is logged here with a time stamp. I have a call log on all of my phones too… but what if I’m at home and they called my work phone? Or what if they were the thirtieth call and the log has dropped them? Well no more – you now have a detailed history with options to flag a call or just click the “Call” button to have GC patch you in!

Patching in calls is awesome. When you click on a “Call” button, you get prompted for a phone. You can chose your pre-programed phones or enter in a temporary number for just this call. And the phone rings, instantly patched into to the number you wanted to call.

How can you setup call routing? After you’ve assigned your contacts into groups or just given them access to the phones you wanted them to call the caller ID drives the system.

  • Grandma rings home only
  • Wife rings work and cell only
  • kids ring home, work, and cell
  • boss goes directly to work and cell, but has a different voicemail announcement.
  • customer A goes directly to voicemail with special voicemail announcement.
  • customer B goes to work phone
  • and so on.

    I currently have three groups… the default ones: Work, Family, Friends, and Other. I could easily setup additional groups for clients or break that down into contacts per company so they get their own ring back tone “Hello Joe, your call is getting routed to the phone closest to me if I’m available”

    If I decline or don’t answer – it goes to a personalized voicemail greeting “I’m sorry I wasn’t available to take a call from you, Joe. The company X project is very important to me. Please leave me a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. “

    It may sound cheesy, and needs a bit refinement – but having a personalized greeting in my own voice for clients is not a deal maker – but shows that I actually have a place for them in my calendar – even if I don’t answer this call. I sure beats three rings and a generic voice mail prompt.

    You get your voice mail emailed to an email address via an attachment, or you can listen to them online. As you can see, this could be very helpful in keeping customers, work, and family in the loop and in contact with you – without having to give out a ton of numbers and phone rules.

    How much is this going to cost me?
    So far it’s free… Google bought them and turned them into a Beta service with no changes in billing or reduction in features. Given this status, I wouldn’t run your business on it yet. I did submit a support request asking about how I’ll get charged for using various parts of their service, but even the support people are in the dark. Here’s the response I got:

    Thank you for contacting us.

    I apologize but the pricing has not been disclosed to us. Once the pricing and feature structure is set I am sure we will post the information on our site. GrandCentral is free during beta.

    Please feel free to contact us if you have any additional questions.

    The only thing that you can get charged for is by making outbound VoiP calls through the service from your PC. When I signed up I had a $2 credit in my account. Not sure if I’ll ever use it, but I may find a use for it.

    Some of the useful power features:

    Call routing: Being able to route callers based on group or individual numbers to various phones or voicemail is insanely cool.
    Spam blocking: no more unknown / unlisted callers… the call can be screened or just dumped into a spam message playback “Sorry, this caller does not accept unlisted calls”.
    Call screening: The caller (if the caller ID isn’t picked up) will have to give their name, that is then played to you – where you have the option to press 1 to accept the call or not accept it and let it go to voice mail. If the caller ID is picked up, the name is played for you.

    Some fun fluff features that are available:

    Uploadable Ring back tones: Your callers will hear what ever ringback tone in place of the normal American telephone ring tone. I sent a short clip of a music mp3 for family to hear. So far that’s been well received.
    Webcall Buttons: html code to embed on your web pages for people to call you directly.
    Visual Voicemail: you can login and see all of your voice mail messages from any browser, including mobile browsers. Take that, iPhone.

    Final verdict

    A very useful product, but currently a “Wait and See” recommendation. I can easily see this as a “must have” service for multi-phone number people like myself. Since my cell and work numbers have changed three times in as many years, this bring some stability back into my life. The only problem is, the service has been slapped with a Google “Beta” tag… So I’m not completely comfortable giving that number out for all my contacts or changing any of my listed numbers. In August, the system will be fully assimilated into Google. Hopefully we’ll know more about costs, features, and services they’ll be offering. We’ll also be able to watch for obtrusive ads to appear. The last thing I want a client to hear when they call me is an audio Google adsence assault before they get to talk to me. Don’t worry, I don’t think it’ll happen – but I’d rather sit back and watch before handing out the number to people that directly affect my wages!

    I also wanted to mention that Grandcentral has a charitable side to them. Here’s a quote from their site:

    GrandCentral is commited to helping those in need stay connected by offering individuals a local phone number and voicemail box for life. Through our Project CARE initiative, GrandCentral is providing, free of charge, a local phone number and voicemail box to members of the homeless community in San Francisco. We hope to extend this program nationwide as we build out our services.

    Read more about it here: http://www.grandcentral.com/about/projectcare/

    %d bloggers like this: