Use The Problem Steps Recorder

Problem Steps Recorder

A print screen or some dialog cutout with the Snippet Tool provides a clue for troubleshooting. However, there is usually more to the problem and most people aren’t aware of the Problem Steps Recorder built into Windows.

You can recreate a problem by recording the steps and then send to Support, eliminating unnecessary explanation and providing thorough information for quick resolution.

  1. Click Start, then Run.
  2. Type PSR and click OK.
  3. Click the Start Record button.
  4. Walk through the steps to reproduce the issue. Remember that every click will create a screenshot. Reproduce the issue all the way to the error message that is being received.
  5. Once the issue has been reproduced, click the Stop Record button.
  6. The Save As… dialog window will pop up. Save the file in a spot that it can easily be retrieved. The file will be saved in .ZIP format.
  7. Once the file has been saved, attach it to an e-mail to Support for further investigation.
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Windows Intune Overview

Windows IntuneLet’s face it, security is not sexy. Fear doesn’t sell and someone built that network and has very strong reactions to any suggestions of vulnerability. For most IT departments, it’s a struggle just to service the needs of users. Monitoring and updating systems is a distant last after the next 2 dozen things that are infinitely more fun and supposedly important. The problem is that everyone is struggling with the same issue: users are often more mobile and not getting back to log into the network and even if you have an update system, it’s either neglected or is just another thing not being maintained.

Enter Windows Intune, cloud based PC management. You see if you add up the cost of workstations (hardware, software, support, and training) you’ll come to the often startling realization that the big money isn’t in servers, storage, or related equipment. What’s more is that everyone knows that workstations are just the beginning of cost and usage challenges with the addition of tablets and smartphones. So Windows Intune offers a device client and cloud portal. In a nutshell for $11 per month, Intune includes the following:

  1. Forefront Endpoint Protection anti-virus client.
  2. Security update and software distribution policy enforced anytime users are connected to the web, including those pesky Adobe and Java updates.
  3. Built-in remote assistance for end-users regardless where they are located.
  4. Mobile device PIN security and wipe capability for Windows, Android, and Apple.
  5. Hardware and software asset tracking
  6. Upgrade protection for the next Windows OS

Your gut reaction may be that the price seems high. However, just add up the cost for a new Windows OS, much less the systems for remote assistance, updating, anti-virus, asset tracking, and mobile administration. As usual, you heard it here first. Contact us about a demo or try a Windows Intune free trial for 30 days.

Windows XP BITS Pandemic

It’s amazing how many computers are still running Windows XP, which was released in 2001. Typically, the Microsoft product life cycle is 5 years standard support, plus another 5 years of extended support in which no major enhancements are released (10 Years total). The OS was so wildly popular that Microsoft extended the deadline, so that Windows XP Support ends in 2014. In comparison, the Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah of 2001 was only supported through 2002 as is the standard 1 year support policy from Apple today.

In recent months, customers that utilize Windows Server Update Service to centrally managed and update workstations (something Apple also hasn’t done for Mac in the last 10 years) have begun to notice that some Windows XP machines are not getting updates. Even when you try to run Windows Update locally, you may receive an error message that contains the “0x8DDD0018” code or the “0×80246008” code when you try to download updates from the Microsoft Windows Update web site. While there seem to be various causes, it appears the OS may be so old that new policies change permissions for the Background Intelligent Transfer Service that must be running to download updates.

To fix problem Windows XP workstations, run the following locally or create a login script or group policy (does not affect Windows 7 workstations):

  1. Click Start and Run, type cmd, and then click OK.
  2. Type the following  command, and then press ENTER:
    sc sdset bits D:(A;;CCLCSWRPWPDTLOCRRC;;;SY)(A;;CCDCLCSWRPWPDTLOCRSDRCWDWO;;;BA)(A;;CCLCSWLOCRRC;;;AU)(A;;CCLCSWRPWPDTLOCRRC;;;PU)
  3. Then type net start  bits, and hit ENTER.
  4. Close the cmd window.

As of this writing, you have less than 18 months before XP is not supported – but at least you’ll have current updates. See http://support.microsoft.com/kb/910337 for the long version.

Technology Tax

Whether you have a full-blown audit or simply get profit and loss information for the accountant, it’s time to reflect on last year and seek advice going forward. You’ll look at your top expenses and evaluate business goals while trying to get the most tax breaks possible.

But who is checking your technology, advising you on trends, and helping you to lower costs? Technology is your #4 business expense after salaries, taxes/benefits, and rent. Just like everything in your business it’s time to cut the fat and stop repeating the same old mistakes.

Your IT Department is obviously trusted, but they are paid to maintain systems and keep users happy. New things are always on the back burner and the technology is constantly changing. To make a sharper point, do you provide your IT an annual budget, regularly certify them on the latest technology, and measure their cost or performance to the financials? No.

We generally find companies have:

  1. Inadequate documentation for maintenance, disaster recovery, or business evaluation.
  2. Too much hardware and mis-matched software.
  3. Minor to significant system configuration problems and pending failures.
  4. No understanding of pending or future needs and associated costs or risks.

A regular review of systems and network security prevents businesses from flying blind and prevents IT conflict. This review should be done by a qualified IT firm rather than an Accounting firm. It should include a breakdown of the top business/technology categories, specific issues for resolution by system, and immediate to future recommendations.

Be prepared to hear some things you may not like, but it’s better to know and react than remain oblivious. You also should be open to new ideas to lower cost like managed services, virtualization, cloud computingremote monitoring, and online backup. Your IT likely needs help and would much rather have expert input and focus on helping the business than mundane maintenance tasks. If you chose to do nothing, you’re resigning your business to regularly paying a high technology tax.

Hardware Firewalls Lacking

A firewall is a part of a computer system or network that is designed to block unauthorized access while permitting authorized communications. Since their creation, a battle has raged between those who believe a hardware or software firewall is better. In truth, even the hardware devices utilize some type of software and every product has its own strengths and weaknesses.

No matter what your opinion, the fact remains that Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) is the best protection for a Microsoft environment. The reason is because ISA authenticates access at the edge of the network rather than allow traffic to penetrate the firewall and access a server directly. For Outlook Web Access, Terminal Services Gateway, or SharePoint, ISA authenticates logons before any servers are accessed. For hardware devices, the appropriate port and URL is opened and direct access is provided to the server through the firewall. Conceptually, once you have access to the server it’s much easier to do harm.

Typical arguments tend to follow:

ISA is not a real firewall.
It has more than a 10 year history of use in all sectors including high security Government and Financial customers with highest certifications in the industry.

Windows has too many vulnerabilities.
Every system has discovered flaws and Windows/ISA has no more than any other offering. Further, ISA has Microsoft Update for security patches and enhancements while hardware updates are manual.

Hardware firewalls are faster.
Server processor, RAM, and NICs all offer higher performance and more expandability.

Hardware firewalls are cheaper.
Like everything in technology, it depends upon the offering and configuration on what is more expensive. Microsoft software generally has a 5 year standard and 10 year extended life cycle with servers warranted for 4 years. Most hardware firewalls have a warranty of 3 years with annual maintenance, so total cost of ownership over life of the equipment tends to be higher.

If you prescribe to the notion of having two firewalls from different manufacturers, you can put a hardware firewall in front of ISA and still enjoy the edge authentication and perks like Active Directory integration to filter by user/group instead of just IP address. If you must have a box to put in the rack, then purchase an appliance that has ISA. In 2010, ISA runs on Windows Server 2008 with more features and a new name of Forefront Threat Gateway.