XP to Windows 7 Migration in Schools

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Sunday, April 03, 2011 | Published in

I've been doing a fair amount of rolling out of new systems recently, both OS X and Windows based. While the OS X based stuff has been an interesting look at a reasonably recent and up to date operating system (10.6), it occurred to me that the Microsoft side of things was the same old irritating process of fighting with Windows XP that I've been doing for God knows how long. With Windows 7 now at nearly 2 years old and boasting a full service pack, is it not time for us to ditch an increasingly clunky 10 year old operating system and start making our school domain environments work with the newer technology?

I know this is a fairly well looked at point of discussion with plenty of documentation covering it, but I was thinking about how the various arguments affect my own situation.

A large amount of what's stopping this will be the time and effort that would be involved in safely testing the effects of managing Windows 7 systems from the existing infrastructure. I realise that time is not always available to do these sort of things. Unfortunately things may well reach a stage where that excuse won't run any more and it just has to be done. Hopefully the schools will do this for us. A lot of the existing servers really need replacing - A good chance to get some decent Server 2008 R2 boxes in there and start upgrading.

The next problem to be looked into will be the running of legacy software. A lot of schools continue to use very old software. Sometimes it's because their license only covers them for a particular version and they don't want to pay to upgrade. In other cases it's software titles that are very good, but are no longer being maintained. Can Windows 7 run this stuff straight out of the box? Or are we going to have to spend ages building virtual machines and installing software in XP Mode? Which would kind of defeat the point of this and would also spoil my argument somewhat... We're in a bit of a Catch 22 situation where the software maintainers haven't fully gotten around to making their products Windows 7 compatible because the vast majority of the schools that buy from them still use XP, but the schools won't use an operating system that won't run their software.

It's a difficult call to make. Do we force the schools to come up to date, but possibly make them ditch some software in the process? Do we continue with the venerable Windows XP and all of its inherent bugs and security flaws? Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with XP. It is a brilliant OS for it's time and it has stood the test of Microsoft's in ability to replace it well, but I believe that has now been done.

Glad it's not my decision to be honest.

I'm sure there will be some schools out there that have already done this. What was your experience of the switch?

Some documentation and guides I've looked at:

The Microsoft Windows 7 Upgrade & Migration Guide
Microsoft Tutorial: Upgrading from windows XP to Windows 7
How-To Geek: Migrate XP to Windows 7 with Easy Transfer and a USB Disk

Ubuntu Server - Scripting Virtual Box Machines to Suspend and Restart on Server Reboot

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Saturday, March 12, 2011 | Published in

I run a headless VirtualBox instance of Server 2k3 on my Ubuntu 10.04 Server and I wanted a way to be able to cleanly startup and shutdown the host machine without having to manually control the virtual one. The following is what I've come up with after cobbling together various things found on Google. Particular thanks to Brendan Kidwell on Glump.net for his info on setting up VirtualBox to behave as a service. This guide basically updates and simplifies his how-to.

Throughout this guide USER indicates the user on your system that is part of the virtual box management group and is able to run the 'VBoxManage' commands. The guide assumes that you already have a working virtual machine and so doesn't cover setup or configuration. The following can be applied to any guest, not just a Windows system.

The first thing to do was to create a script for starting your virtual machine.

This example is called server03start.sh:

#!/bin/sh
#Script to start Server03 VBox machine in vrdp mode
su USER -c "VBoxManage startvm Server03 -type vrdp"


Once you have the script you need to make it executable:

chmod +x SCRIPTNAME


The next step is to copy your script to /etc/init.d/ and edit /etc/rc.local to run the script on system boot. Your rc.local file should look like this:

#!/bin/sh -e
#
# rc.local
#
# This script is executed at the end of each multiuser runlevel.
# Make sure that the script will "exit 0" on success or any other
# value on error.
#
# In order to enable or disable this script just change the execution
# bits.
#
# By default this script does nothing.

./etc/init.d/server03start.sh
exit 0


Your system will now start the virtual machine at boot.

Now we need to configure cleanly suspending the machine on system shutdown. Fortunately VirtualBox provides this facility for us.
If you look through /etc/init.d/vboxdrv you will find a section that reads

# enter the following variables in /etc/default/virtualbox:
# SHUTDOWN_USERS="foo bar"
# check for running VMs of user foo and user bar
# SHUTDOWN=poweroff
# SHUTDOWN=acpibutton
# SHUTDOWN=savestate
# select one of these shutdown methods for running VMs


Do "sudo nano /etc/default/virtualbox" to create the required file and then enter the following:

SHUTDOWN_USERS="USER"
SHUTDOWN=savestate


I chose "savestate" as I decided that pausing the virtual machine during reboot was quicker and more efficient than fully shutting it down.

So, there we have it. Your system will now cleanly and quietly deal with your virtual machine during system reboot.

Interesting Times

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Tuesday, January 25, 2011 | Published in

Looks like I might actually have some Interesting stuff to do ahead of me. Two bits of training, and one of my schools being the pilot school for the first of our new virtual server builds.

The training is on two separate things:

The first lot is on doing Mac OS X builds properly, on both desktop and server, and then efficiently rolling them out. I've done builds and deployments before using Deploy Studio but that was very much a case of working it out as I went along, so some perspective on the 'best practice' will be nice, particularly on the deployment side. Deploy studio is obviously a fairly powerful and flexible bit of kit, so knowing how to make full use of it will be nice.

The next bit of training we're looking at is the FITS framework. As an educational ICT contractor, the company I work for is obliged to be fully compliant with the FITS IT support framework for schools which was (IIRC) originally brought about by (the now defunct) Becta. The basic idea behind it is getting people to work in a more structured and professional fashion (really no bad thing for some...!) and to ensure that everyone within the organisation is singing from the same metaphorical hymn sheet. Strangely, I'm actually looking forward to doing this one more than the OS X one as I think it will be a really interesting look into how things are supposed to be done, and should hopefully provide a kick up the backside for those who aren't really working to the level they should be.


The server build I mentioned is something I'll try and post more on as it develops. The gist of it is that it will be a single physical server running a (I think) four virtual ones. This will separate things out nicely as currently we have everything running from one thoroughly overworked DC, and a NAS server. It will also provide an opportunity to start building a framework for how the systems are supposed to be. The current systems are domains that have been around for nearly 10 years and are running on networks that have been cobbled together and added to as necessary. This tends to get a bit crazy and messy, so a sanity injection will be welcome.

As I said, interesting times. Hopefully it will motivate me to post more!

Using a Wireless NIC from a Backtrack VMWare Guest

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Tuesday, May 11, 2010 | Published in

To use a wireless adapter from within a BackTrack (or indeed any other) virtual machine using VMware Workstation, get a USB wireless adapter and once inserted go to VM > Removable devices > USB > Your USB Wireless Device. Bingo. Guest machine drivers permitting, you now have a wireless card in your virtual machine. I'm pretty sure this solution would work with the vast majority of the virtualization platforms out there.

Whilst the above solution seems to be immediately obvious, it's not. Once the idea clicked I was kicking myself for not thinking of it sooner, but I had previously spent about an hour and a half Googling for a solution with little success. Clearly I'm not going to be the first person to have come up with this, but I failed to find it documented anywhere and I hope this post saves someone the same head scratching ;)

Now to play with all those wireless pen-testing toys :)

Graphic.ly

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Sunday, April 18, 2010 | Published in


I meant to do a post about Graphic.ly a while ago when I joined the beta testing program. Graphic.ly is an app for buying and reading comics. There are two versions of it - What they describe as a desktop installation for Windows which is currently still only available to beta testers, and the recently released Adobe Air based version, currently in a public alpha testing phase. There is also an iphone/WinMob 7/Android version in the works which I'm looking forward to testing if possible.


The app includes the currently ubiquitous "shout out" feature with facebook/twitter linking. There's a steadily growing range of thoroughly decent comics, with plenty of free ones to whet the appetite. Once you've ploughed through those, the comics start at a very reasonable $0.99 (or about 70p in real money) and can be paid for using either PayPal or the usual range of cards. Once downloaded the comics save themselves to a folder in your Documents folder and take up somewhere in the region of 60 to 100 megabytes each.


The Air version of the app that I've just been playing with is a great improvement over the beta. The panel transitions are nice and smooth, and the comics are quite speedy to download. There are a couple of bugs here and there, but this is to be expected really in a test edition. Bug reports and support are handled via GetSatifaction.com.


With some bug-fixing, UI tweaking, and a larger product catalogue this app could be great. There are a few features I'd like to see added - the ability to manage you comic collection (as in, delete stuff) from within the program would be good. The other thing I'd like to see is the ability to import other comic file types, such as .cbr archives. I know they wouldn't display in the same manner, but having your whole catalogue together would be useful.

One to keep an eye on, and a must see for comic lovers.

Connecting to a Ubuntu Shared Printer

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Sunday, February 07, 2010 | Published in

I've recently had to rebuild my Linux server following a hard drive failure and have had to go through the hassle of once again getting my file and print shares correctly configured. As with all system rebuilds, you learn from the process of last time and add in the improvements and extra features that you wish you'd thought of then. This time around I've gone with the x64 version of Ubuntu Server 9.10 and tried to keep it much more minimal than last time with as few services running, and as much crap removed as possible.
Admittedly my Linux knowledge has improved somewhat since the last time I did this a couple of years ago, but this time round the process of getting things how I want them has been much less torturous. Setting up the file sharing was a breeze and getting the printer installed and shared, while not exactly easy was not as bad as last time.

Anyhow, I'm digressing from the point of this post. All of the above was fairly straight forward and non-bitchy. The irritations started when I started trying to connect Windows clients to the printer. The two that I set up initially are both Windows 7 Professional. One is x64, the other x86.

The x86 machine connected to the printer fine, but I hit problems when it came to selecting a driver. Obviously the my model wasn't included in the list of pre-installed drivers, that would be far too easy. For some reason Windows 7 doesn't give you the option for searching Windows Update for drivers when you're connecting a network printer and the printer manufacturer doesn't supply one. They tell you to use Windows Update. After much hunting around, swearing, and trying to extract the driver from manufacturer driver releases for earlier OS' I stumbled upon this Microsoft support article telling you how to manually download Windows updates via the web. Yes, it should be obvious that such a useful site exists, but I had no idea it was there, so I'm guessing quite a few others don't either. We learn something new every day, and all that... Anyhow, a quick hunt around on here found me the driver files I needed, and problem solved.

The x64 version however was altogether bitchier. Trying to connect resulted in a typically descriptive error of "cannot connect to printer". A little help here. Why can't you connect? Just a hint? Cue more hunting around on Google. Whilst this failed to produce a direct fix, I did discover quite a useful workaround:

Open up a command prompt and type

net use LPT2: \\servername\printer

Then start the 'Add Printer Wizard' and choose to connect to a local printer. Select LPT2 and you will then be presented with a driver selection screen that actually lets you use Windows Update to acquire your driver. Imagine that!

I also have to get around to adding this printer to the Vista Home and XP Pro machines we have here. Lets see what problems that throws up...

Evony, Interupted

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Thursday, February 04, 2010 | Published in

Players of the online RPG Evony have apparently logged on today to find there's something missing. Something as in everything. Nothing left. Gone. The forum dwellers are going mental.

The game has been running for quite some time now and people plough real cash into it, so there's going to be some seriously pissed off gamers out there! The companies' main site says that they are doing some server upgrades. One can only assume that someone screwed up.

Haven't played it my self, but if everybody's being dropped back down to the same level I may just have a look...

I'd say that it's very unlikely that they'll not have backups, but who knows. Sillier things have happened.

Edit: And they're back. Ah well, drama while it lasted ;)

Logitech Touchmouse App

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Wednesday, February 03, 2010 | Published in

For my media centre at home I have pretty simple system of a PC connected to my TV via S-Video and the sound run through my stereo system. I'd previously been controlling it either via a wireless keyboard and mouse, or by using the free version of VNC. Both of these have drawbacks. The keyboard and mouse are an absolute bitch to keep paired. They both run through the same receiver and every time the batteries go on one of them it takes large amounts of time resetting, swearing, resetting again and more often than not, failing to get both to pair. This is were VNC usually comes in. For the most part it's OK, but it does get really laggy when watching streaming video (Youtube, iPlayer, etc.). This gets really annoying when you start watching something and it takes 20-30 seconds of frantic scrabbling before the volume can be pursuaded to go low enough for the building to stop rattling. I had been thinking of trying out keyboard and mouse with seperate receivers to cut down on the bitchiness, but obviously this is an outlay of cash that I would rather avoid.

Enter my latest iPhone based toy. At the end of last week the Logitech Blog announced an iPhone app and corresponding computer service that allows you to use your iPhone as a touchpad mouse, and includes the usual iPhone keyboard. The app offers a three button mouse with configurable tracking speed (I found the default needed turning down a bit), and two finger hoizontal/vertical scrolling (again with ajustable speed). The app apparently works on the iPod Touch as well and is available for free from the Apple App Store.

The app and server seem to work very well. There is the occasional stutter, but I expect this will be ironed out through performance tweaking in later realeases. The only major thing that's missing that I would like to see from this is the ability to create access lists on the server end of things. As it stands, anyone joining the same wireless network will be able to connect and control any computer on the network running the service. The app doesn't give any sort of visual feedback, so actually doing anything would rely on guesswork, but being a picky, security minded type, it's a hole I'd rather wasn't left open. The other minor niggle is that the connection seems to drop when the iPhone goes to sleep, meaning that you have to disconnect and reconnect to keep using it. Again, hopefully these minor issues will be corrected.

Overall, an excellent app that provided a much needed scratch for my mediacentre itch.

Edit: Just in case any of the good folks at Logitech happen to see this, I have another addition to my feature wish list, this time on the UI front. It would be good if there was an option to choose the screen position of the mouse buttons. I think I would find using the app more intuative if the mouse buttons were at the bottom of the screen, in a similar position to those on a laptop trackpad. Having them at the top feels awkward and can require two hands to perform tasks that could be done with one with suggested layout.