Countering disinformation

There is plenty of unjustified negative press out there about Windows Vista but the saddest part has been how Microsoft has let these myths perpetuate. Well no more! Take a look at the Mojave Experiment.


The best way to prove what a ‘croc’ most of the anti-Vista propaganda has been is to bring in some people who profess a dislike for Vista (although never having seen it themselves), show them a ‘new’ version of Windows (called Mojave), then tell them they are looking at Vista.


The results speak for themselves.

Romeo Charlie 1

Well, I’ve just finished installing SBS 2008 RC1. Again, it is such a piece of cake I don’t see how anyone is going to make money out of installing the software myself. All you have to do basically is provide a server, domain and login name and everything else is done automatically.


I did however notice that with this version you MUST have at least 4GB of RAM installed to allow the installation to complete. This is a little strange since you don’t really need that amount of RAM to get it running. Because I’m running SBS 2008 RC1 on a Hyper V machine I just allocated 4GB of RAM during the install and then reverted back to 2GB once the installation was complete. Geeze, I love virtualization (as you should know by now).


Apart from the RAM issue the other thing I noticed was that SBS 2008 RC1 wanted to set itself to the highest screen resolution it could. Simple enough to change back after the fact but a bit of a pain during the installation. I had a quick look at Sharepoint and all that looks identical but can’t be 100% sure until I have a more in depth look shortly.


It hasn’t been long between RC0 and RC1 has it now, also factor that SBS 2008 isn’t due for release until November (still 4 months away) and I’ll be interested to see whether any more releases become available. I’m guessing we’ll see RC2 but probably no more. SBS 2008 is going to be the most ready to market version of SBS I reckon we’ve had.

Thanks Wayne

I recently gave our resident SBS Guru and MVP, Wayne Small, a look at my Windows Sharepoint Operations Guide so he could give me some feedback based on his own extensive experience with Sharepoint and publishing technical material. I am pleased to say that he has written a nice review in one of his recent blog posts.


In it he says:


“It gives great overview in how to perform many of the tasks that you will need to do in a SharePoint installation, along with real world experience where it varies from the official Microsoft line.  I’d suggest you check it out if you are doing work with SharePoint as it will save you time and money.”


I’d just like to say thanks to Wayne for taking the time to firstly have a look at what I have created and secondly to give my work such a positive wrap, I really appreciate it.

Why the bad guys will always win

Seen an email like this lately? Now to most techie types we would know that this certainly smells like some form of malware, but what about to a “normal” user? The following scenario really happened, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

User – “My machine says that it is infected with spyware”
Techie – “Where does it say that?”
User – “Down the bottom right hand side of the screen. It says Windows has detected you machine is infected with spyware”
Techie – “Do you have anti-virus and is it up to date?”
User – “Yes, I have PC-cillian and it is up to date”
Techie – “Ok, I’ll remote in and have look”

Sure enough the machine appears to be infected with spyware, however after running a full system scan with PC-Cillian nothing is detected.

Techie – “Did you open email attachments today?”
User – “Yes, I opened one from UPS”
Techie – “Why? Did you send a parcel via UPS?”
User – “No”
Techie – “Are you expecting a parcel from UPS?”
User – “No”
Techie – “So, why did you open it?”
User – “I thought I was getting a surprise package”

Well, ladies and gentlemen the user sure did get a surprise package. For when they opened and ran the attachment it installed a hidden service in multiple locations on the disk, in the registry and so on. Thus, the machine was now infected.

Techie – “What did you do after you ran the attachment?”
User – “I went and did my Internet banking”

This story just keeps getting better and better doesn’t it? Firstly, the user gets their system infected with spyware by actually RUNNING an unknown attachment, which infects their system. Then, even though the system warns them there is an issue they simply ignore that fact and go and do Internet banking. We pick up the story again….

Techie – “I think you had better go and check your bank balances because there is chance someone has stolen your passwords”
User – “They can do that?”

Sure enough, checking the bank balances on a “known” clean machine, it turns out the maximum daily withdrawal amount has been transferred to an unknown account today, strangely not that long ago.

Techie – “You had better go and change all your Internet banking passwords”
User – “I don’t want to do that it is such a pain”
Techie – “Well if you don’t they are going to keep taking money out of your account”
User – “They can do that?”
Techie – “They have your password remember?”
User – “Better go and change my password eh?”
Techie – “Very good idea and in the meantime I’ll try and clean up this machine”

Very interesting that this UPS_service.exe spyware had completely slipped through PC-Cillian. After searching the web there didn’t appear to be much about how to clean up the infection. So it had to be manually removed from the registry, the disk system and then the system restored to a previous time. After running multiple scans on the machine it WOULD APPEAR to be clean, but you can never now be 100% sure.

User – “Whatta you mean you can’t be 100% sure”
Techie – “Look, I have done everything I can think of to remove it but if PC-Cillian isn’t even detecting it how can you be 100% sure?”
User – “But I want to be 100% sure?”
Techie – “Wipe the disk and start again”
User – “WHAT???”
Techie – “Sorry. Once a bad guy has control of your system, it ain’t yours anymore. You can try and throw them out but who knows what other tricks and back doors they have created for themselves”
User – “All that because I opened an attachment?”
Techie – “Yup”

This is why the bad guys are ALWAYS going to get around any technological protection you put in place. If they can fool the human being to over ride all these safe guards then why even attempt to try and circumvent the technology? Go straight for the human weakness because you know it will work EVERY time.

Education is the key. NEVER EVER trust something unsolicited from the Internet and THINK before opening ANY attachment.

You have been warned!

More SBS 2008 videos

No, these are not from me but from a business called NetoMeter (which I came across while reading the Small Business Tech Ramblings blog). The videos cover quite a range of SBS 2008 topics which should help with many common topics, including adding SSL certificates and doing bare metal restores.


Having done my own videos on similar topics I am interested to understand the business motivation behind creating such videos. They would appear to be aimed at driving business towards the remote support options provided by NeoMeter. I think this a very innovative business model and indicates to me that SBS 2008 support is really going to be able to be provided almost anywhere in the world.


If you are a reseller don’t be fooled into thinking that business owners are going to keep coming to you for support or to set up their systems. Using resources like these videos they will probably buy some bundle at the local PC supermarket, get their systems operational (that being quite easy to do with SBS 2008 now), then when they need assistance where are they going to turn first? I’ll put my money on NetoMeter first and someone in the yellow pages second.


It’s a competitive world out there and the skills required to install SBS 2008 have dropped in my opinion, not increased. This means life as an SBS reseller has gotten harder, not easier. Unless you have some angle or “special sauce” as I spoke about in a recent post you are going to be the poorer for it.

What seems obvious

To me at least, is the fact that there are going to be plenty of iPhone users out there who are going to get a very nasty surprise when they get their first bill. This article says how the Australian consumer watchdog is getting involved to keep an eye on the data offerings from our telcos.


The article says:


Optus, Telstra and Vodafone’s iPhone pricing plans have attracted particularly harsh criticism for being too expensive and not offering a high enough web data quota for comfortable internet browsing.




Some Telstra plans offer 3GB of data but the cheapest is $149 a month and the most expensive is $219 a month. The other carriers’ plans max out at 1GB for Vodafone and 2GB for Optus, which isn’t enough for intensive web browsing.


Data charges are the cash cows for telcos today. They stand to make huge profits as more and more people become connected wirelessly and use their mobile device as freely as they use their land based Internet connections. The people who don’t take great care in how much they use the Internet wirelessly are going to pay a very steep price for such convenience.


Just remember, the telcos are NOT doing you any favours signing you up to a plan. They will put you on the one that makes the most money for them. Shop around, understand how much you download and how to control what your mobile device downloads. Failing that, turn the device OFF when you don’t need to use it, because a device that is off can’t download anything!

Small Business Specialist Certification

Came across this interesting video interview with Harry Brelsford. In it he says that his business, SMBNation, is packaging up his Small Business Specialist training material and delivering it as a set curriculum that “anyone” can use to obtain their Small Business Specialist Certification. He cites the examples of high school kids as well as community colleges as the intended targets for this material.


Like most technology certifications, it is clear that the Small Business Specialist qualification is now far too common and no longer could effectively be used as a differentiation point for your business. Sure, it is good that the qualification perhaps ensures all Small Business Specialists have a minimum level of qualifications but is that really true? I’m pretty sure, like most other technology qualifications, you can still obtain the certification without knowing anything about Small Business Server.


Combine this growing legion of Small Business Specialists with the greater simplicity of SBS 2008, now what is your businesses point of differentiation? Most claims along the lines of “we do it better” or “we fix the mess others leave behind” don’t seem to work. Once an owner has been bitten by a bad technology provider they are going to be pretty gun shy of the next one who comes along, no matter how good they are. In many cases you as the new technology provider is going to be lumbered with the residual poor installation implemented by the previous incumbent. Worse than that, chances are the business owner isn’t going to want to spend much more money “fixing” the problem, simply because they have already shelled out a pretty penny for what they already have. So beware, following some previous IT provider into a business, you may simply end up being the whipping “boy” for an owner is looking to take their previous frustrations out on.


As a technology provider you are generally selling status quo. That is, today nothing happened on the server just like yesterday and the day before and the day before and so on. Most customers don’t understand the value of this and therefore get lulled into a concern that they are “paying you for nothing”. Its hard to sell the status quo, especially when you look and sound like everyone else claiming to sell it. So what’s your “secret sauce” (as Harry Brelsford would say) that helps you stand out from the crowd to customers and prospects?


You need to help prospects and customers understand the VALUE you bring to their business. If you simply “fix” technology then there are others out there who’ll do it cheaper, quicker and against whom you don’t stand a chance if you fight on their terms. Why do people but something like a Mercedes when a Fiesta basically does the same thing? Understand that and you are well on your way to understanding VALUE in the eyes of the prospect or customer.

Snap, Patch, Pop

I was reading Andys Techie Blog about some recent dramas he had when applying Sharepoint patches. Now, I’m no stranger to those problems and a few months back I had a similar issue where a patch creamed all my Sharepoint sites. Since then I’ve taken what I reckon are some pretty simply steps to reduce potential downtime.


The first step is simply to virtualize all my servers. Originally, I used Microsoft Virtual PC but I have since migrated all these virtual machines to Hyper V on Windows 2008 64 bit edition. So prior to applying recent patches I simply used the Hyper V manager to take a snapshot of the machine (i.e. image backup). I then applied the patches, made sure everything was working and if so deleted the snap shot backup. In the event of problems, I could easily restore the previous snapshot in a matter of minutes.


I also maintain a “clean” virtual Sharepoint server for disaster recovery. All I need to do it fire up the “clean’” server, join it to my domain and restore my stsadm –o backup file and I’m basically up and running again. Because the “clean” machine is virtual I can leave it suspended until I need it.


Another great thing about virtualization is that you can tune many of the attributes of the virtual machine. Let’s take memory for starters. If I determine a machine needs 1,012MB of RAM then I can allocated exactly that amount. I know RAM is cheap but I’d rather allocate it so I get the best utilization out of the memory in the host machine. Next, let’s look at hard disks. All virtual hard disks are stored in a compressed format so even though my host machine has 300GB of disk space I can run virtual machines that use over 300GB of disk space. Need to add more hard disk space? Simply allocate another hard disk to the virtual pc and you’re away. No need to open a case, connect wires, etc, just attach and use. Finally, I can have any number of networks on my host machine. I can easily assign any machine to a different network connection without the need for plugging cables at a patch panel. This comes in extremely handy if you want to isolate a machine from the network to work on. Simply change the connected adapter and viola, isolated.


Now, I’ve been using virtual machines for a long while but with products like Hyper V and VMServer I think we will start to see virtual machine hits mainstream. If you aren’t using virtual machines then I think you REALLY need to look at them. If you are planning an upgrade of your own infrastructure then you REALLY need to consider Hyper V as an option, simply because it just provides so much flexibility and ease of use.


I can see the day when most clients will simply access a remote facility to get access to their data. In most cases, their machine and good deal of other customers, will all be running on a single piece of hardware but thanks to the wonders of virtualization, will appears to be multiple machines. I would also seriously consider selling clients a Hyper V solution to run their next server upgrade in their own offices. Sure, I know its not a perfect solution, but these days in IT what is? In my experience virtualization make infrastructure management much simpler.


My message? Go forth and virtualize.