Secret to skip DHCP check in SBS2011 CTIW

I’ve sat on this far too long.  In 2013 I was setting up SBS 2011 (rebuilding it for a Slingshot client, actually), and hit the classic gotcha where the Connect To Internet Wizard insists on being the DHCP server.  My workaround was usually to temporarily disable the router’s DHCP, finish the wizard, then re-enable the router’s DHCP.

Unfortunately, this time I was working remotely after hours, and had no access to their router or its admin to do anything about it, so I was at risk of losing the night’s work and the client finding their stuff still down the next day.

Fortunately, I already had Microsoft support on the line for other matters.  They knew a workaround for this — when I asked about it, this is the registry screenshot I got:
secret to skip DHCP check in SBS2011 CTIW

For the record, that’s HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\SmallBusinessServer\Networking and a DWORD of SkipDHCPConfig = 1

I asked if this was public knowledge, and the answer was no.  I’ve saved this for a while, but with SBS 2011 now abandoned I think the knowledge should benefit others.  So I hope this helps someone else!   (I actually just needed that info myself, for a similar situation :)

 

Upgrade HP Stream to Windows 10

 

Last December I grabbed a deal on a cheap HP Stream laptop for my family.  It’s been a nice little convenience screen, but with gotchas:
1) Tiny hard drive – 30GB total, with 10 gone to Windows (as expected).  Then HP took another 10 for their partition.
→ So just 10GB for you!  A few apps later and even OneDrive cannot save you.
2) Tiny RAM – 2GB, but only 0.7GB available idling.  HP complicated the 2GB also by bizarrely installing 64-bit Windows (against Microsoft’s recommendation) and wasting its limited RAM.
→ Multiple users?  “Please log out instead of switch user, honey”.
3)…and none of it is upgrade-able.
→ Well, you can do like I did and add a big fast SD card for more storage, but that’s about it.

TWindows 10 on a Streamhen Windows 10 came out, and it’s generally great.  It extended Win8’s unified Microsoft logins, and rolled in what was formerly Live’s Family Safety features, making it great for families.  And with the Start Menu back, I now have no worries about moving cheese for business users.  So to me, the Windows 10 upgrade is an automatic yes for any Windows 8 systems or new PCs.

Add 10 to the above challenges, and of course I wanted to kill seven in one blow!   Specifically, 1) move to Windows 10, 2) reclaim drive space from HP’s extra partition, and 3) reclaim RAM from HP’s dumb 64-bit choice.  (Alright, 3 in one blow, whatever).

That brings us to a month ago, when I started this blog post….
TL;DR: 2/3 ain’t bad.  Success on #1 for drive space.  No-go on RAM.  

Problem: HP provides NO 32-bit drivers for the Stream.  Result: non-working touchpad.
Many hours of reinstalling various editions of Windows, and every other trick I’ve learned over 20+ years, and I got Device Manager looking happy, but with no valid chipset drivers (I believe Intel’s Trusted Execution Engine Interface is the main culprit) to expose the touchpad device to Windows.  Actually, I saw a dramatic difference on RAM usage (about 25% more available), but no working touchpad (which is critical for a convenience device like the Stream).  I’ll leave that sad story there — if you want more, lemme know.

But there’s still the upgrade and the drive!

Problem #2: Not enough free-space to do the upgrade.
I ran into several snafus with this, but we can get around that!  Here’s how:

  1. Get an empty 16GB flash drive.
  2. Backup all your data to OneDrive.  Just do it now.  It’s built-in!  And now your stuff is backed up and can just self-load into any future Windows installs.
  3. Use Windows built-in “Reset this PC” feature to return your Stream to factory defaults.  This will wipe everything and free up a ton of space.
  4. Download and run MediaCreationTool64.exe, and let it download and check away.  (FYI, the 32-bit MediaCreationTool.exe will NOT work, and will just pop up an empty or useless error message…)
    When the tool still(!)  complains about not having enough space…
  5. Plug in an empty 16GB USB flash drive and point it at that for temporary storage.  This should let it run.  Be patient, it’s downloading an entire DVD and replacing your OS.  Maybe let it run overnight, but it should work.
  6. You now have Windows 10!
    Login with your Microsoft account and turn on OneDrive.  Your stuff will appear.
  7. …And HP’s partition disappeared!  This is a nice surprise, as I otherwise would have given about 20 more steps to capture product key, capture drivers, repartition the drive, and scratch-install Windows.
    I suspect it means “undoing” the upgrade probably won’t really put it back the way it was, but that way stunk, and this saves you tons of trouble.

Unfortunately, it’s still high RAM usage (I’m currently at 72% with a single Chrome tab open and nothing else running), but it’s significantly more free drive space and Windows 10.   Heck of an ordeal, but a worthwhile improvement.

“I Remember Now” – Windows 10 finally got Num Lock right

My wife, handier with money, loves leaving the num lock on.smash_capslock
I, handier with prose and software coding, want it off. (In fact, I always set the BIOS default to off on any computer).
Our kids could go either way, and have complained about it not being “right” when they switch user.

But since I moved our family PC to Windows 10 a couple months ago, I noticed it remembers each users’ last num lock setting.  Hey cool!  …But Google admits no knowledge of this feature. Am I just the lucky first guy to notice?

Regardless, this is another fine UI touch that Windows has invented in the last 5-10 years.
(Now if OS X would just get off their laurels and notice/copy them — oh hey Aero Snap anyone?)

Decrapify NCH VideoPad

NCH VideoPad is an excellent “free” video editor.

I would recommend VideoPad heartily if NCH didn’t crap on their own work.

But unfortunately “free” needs those scare quotes, because its installer just behaves badly.  Here’s how, and my answer to each:

  1. The installer tries to sneak on several irrelevant crapware apps.
    → This is unfortunately common.  Always click “custom” and uncheck the extras.
  2. Without notice or permission, it pollutes your start menu with web links to other products.
    → Less common, but easy to just delete.
  3. It gets worse: The add context menu links which prompt you to download and install their Express Zip tool.
    → Download ShellMenuView to remove the menu entries.
  4. The topper: It associates a raft of file extensions to their “Install On Demand Component”.  So when you click on a .DOC or PDF file, you don’t get Word/Wordpad or Adobe Reader, you get railroaded into downloading and installing their Doxillion app.
    → Nobody else had an answer, so I tracked down the registry entries to remove.  Here’s what it looks like as a .reg file:

    Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
    
    [-HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\docfile\Shell\NCHconvertdoc]
    [-HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\docxfile\Shell\NCHconvertdoc]
    [-HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\htmlfile\Shell\NCHconvertdoc]
    [-HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\NitroPDFReader.Document.3\Shell\NCHconvertdoc]
    [-HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\odtfile\Shell\NCHconvertdoc]
    [-HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\rtffile\Shell\NCHconvertdoc]
    [-HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\wpdfile\Shell\NCHconvertdoc]
    [-HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\wpfile\Shell\NCHconvertdoc]

    (Save as a reg file and run it, or manually delete those paths yourself.)

It’s a shame — VideoPad has a paid premium version with more features, and I would recommend it heartily if NCH didn’t crap on their own work.

Possible alternative: it looks like <a href=”http://portableapps.com/node/19682″>you can make VideoPad Portable.</a>  That certainly keeps it clean.

 

RIP Reader Google

Google is shutting down Reader.

Crap.

6 years ago, I made a lengthy search and was happy to find it, and I happily use it daily for 454 feeds on various computers and devices.  So I’m not sure what comes next.  Everyone seems to be sharing lists or gimmicks of Reader alternatives, but they all look like steps back to me.

For now, I’ve left a flower for Reader at the The Google Graveyard.

Beyond that, my strongest next inclination is to stop trusting Google with my stuff.

Dear Acer: It’s your own fault

So Microsoft is about to sell its own hardware running Windows.    And Acer is unhappy, because Microsoft is effectively competing with its own partners.

Now, working for a Microsoft Partner, I can understand the feeling.  I have my beefs with Microsoft, like how they’ve just disenfranchised Small Business Specialists and cut down Small Business Server at the knees
(The 30-day discontinuation of SBS on SA is really throwing us for a loop now, since we relied on TechSoup to provide affordable solutions to non-profits, and Techsoup only has SA software, not OEM).

But consider this:

Acer and their ilk have been making Windows suck.

How so?   What do you think you should get to do after first powering up your brand-new computer?   Hours manually uninstalling paid Norton or McAfee trials, a dozen manufacturer addons, and a dozen more partner promotions?   Me either.    Here’s our experience:

  • Once upon a time, we manually removed the junk, as a labor of love. 
  • A few years ago we started using PC-Decrapifier to help automate the process, followed by CCleaner for the remnants.  Down to an hour or so…
  • Last year, we started wiping the (brand new) systems, and scratch installing from Microsoft’s own media.   It’s some upfront work, but actually faster, and the result is so much better.  (The only downside is tracking down weird laptop drivers).

 

Last week we bought an Acer netbook, and (for some crazy reason) gave their install a shot.   After powering up and doing some standard Windows configuration, Acer started their first-run customization process .   Now I’ve done this a LOT, and know this process should take about minute or two.  

Instead, it took 45 minutes, and crashed with a BSOD.

Then, after finally getting past “buy me” promos, it was sluggish.   Task Manager showed 35% CPU gone to a McAfee trial, and 67% RAM used overall, when I HAD RUN NO PROGRAMS YET.   Did we buy a pet to run for our amusement, and do nothing useful?

 

Dear Acer, I don’t like the idea of Microsoft taking their ball back either, but you dropped it, and someone’s gotta run the bases.  

 

P.S.  Also noteworthy about the Microsoft shift is that’s how Apple sells:  unified software AND hardware.  Other criticisms aside, Apple delivers a pretty tight package. 

How to redirect OWA HTTP to HTTPS (the actually easy way that works)

 

With SBS 2008, if try to open Outlook Web Access at http://remote.example.com/owa, you’ll get “Error 403 – Forbidden: Access is denied…”, because SSL is required in IIS.   The proper URL is https://remote.example.com/owa, but most users don’t remember that little “s”.

 

 

As a note, SBS 2011 already redirects this for you.  But if you’re stuck with SBS 2008, there are tons of articles that show how to automatically redirect users :

 

Microsoft has 4 different articles on the topic, but the forums are still covered with it.  The solutions vary on a few themes:

  • Redirect in IIS on the Default website (doesn’t work since that site doesn’t actually answer those HTTP requests in SBS).
  • Disable Require SSL, and edit OWA’s default.aspx to Response.Redirect (doesn’t work because it’s precompiled and handled by DLL).
  • Set a redirect or custom 403 page on the actual OWA directory to a custom SSLRedirect.html with a Meta redirect (might work, but clunky & straight outta 1998!)

Other solutions either forget you can’t get past “Require SSL” to reach the redirect, or they don’t know you’ve already been redirected (creating an infinite redirect loop and “Too many Redirects” error).

 

I think I have a much simpler solution — Just set the OWA directory’s 403 error to redirect to the right URL.  Here’s how:

  1. Start the Internet Information Services (IIS) Manager snap-in.
  2. Expand the local computer, expand Sites, and then click SBS Web Applications.
  3. At the bottom of the SBS Web Applications Home pane, click Features View if this option is not already selected.
  4. In the IIS section, double-click Error Pages, and double-click 403 in the list.
  5. In the Edit Custom Error Page dialog, select Respond with a 302 redirect.
  6. Type the Absolute URL of the /owa virtual directory. For example, type https://mail.contoso.com/owa.

 

OWA’s Error Pages list should look like this when you’re done:

image

 

Hope it helps someone.

Vista/Win7 Solution: Skip the Switch User screen

So I’ve been happily using Windows 7 for a couple years (since the beta), but just finally moved my family into it, and discovered a new issue in the process:

Like XP, the “Win+L” key combination locks your profile so the next person won’t “be you.” But instead of the main Welcome screen with the list of accounts, you get the Switch User screen, with a button to take you to the real Welcome screen. This a confusing extra step when you’re the next guy just looking to login.

I did some research, and it looks like a LOT of folks have wondered how to skip the Switch User screen, but without luck.

Not sure, but I may be the first with a decent solution. The ingredients are tsdiscon.exe (which does the “Switch User”), and Task Scheduler (which hooks it up to the Win+L combination), both of which are built into Windows. Here’s how:

  1. Click Start, type taskschd.msc, enter. Confirm any UAC prompts you get, and Task Scheduler will open.
  2. In the Action menu, click Create Task.
  3. In the Create Task dialog > General tab, type a meaningful Name like “Lock » Switch User”
  4. In the Security options section, click the “Change User or Group” button, type _Users_ in the dialog and click OK.
  5. On the Triggers tab, click the “New…” button. In the New Trigger dialog > “Begin the task” list, choose “On workstation lock” and click OK. This takes you back to the Create Task dialog.
  6. In the Actions tab, click the “New…” button. In the New Action dialog > “Program/script” field, type tsdiscon.exe and click OK. This takes you back to the Create Task dialog.
  7. Click OK again and enter the password for the administrative account it offers.
  8. Test it! Press Win+L and you should see the Switch User screen for a moment, then the main Welcome screen.

2011-01-17 UPDATE:  As I was setting up this tweak on a new system, I noticed Windows 7 HOME doesn’t include tsdiscon.exe. It’s easy enough to copy from a Win7 Pro machine (from/to %windir%\System32), and then works as I described.

2011-02-10 UPDATE:  It looks like I was on the same track as Duncan Smart.  He didn’t make automate it with Task Scheduler, but he did write a downloadable substitute for tsdiscon.exe (handy if you have no access to a Windows PRO machine.)

Shiny things for my gearhead peeps

  • Tool – Exchange 2003 SP2 IMF Keyword Manager
    Now I don’t have to edit raw XML and double-check that I didn’t screw it up (open in IE to verify well-formedness, wait/worry for 7513/7514 logged events).
  • Picture – Computer hardware poster
    Reference of over 170 different computer connectors, RAM, CPU sockets, etc.  I put a giant version on my office wall.
  • Article – 10 CSS properties missing in IE6

    1. Rounded or Curved Corners
    2. PNG alpha transparency
    3. Opacity
    4. Fixed Position
    5. Min-width & Max-width
    6. Hover for non anchor elements
    7. Min-height & Max-height
    8. Bicubic scaling for images
    9. Negative text indent for input button
    10. Text shadow

    Good article on what most browsers offer designers these days.  I would just add box-shadow.I happily got to use about half of these features on my most recent site, thanks to some great IE shims:

  • DD_roundies and DD_belatedPNG
    Excellent IE shims for Rounded Corners and PNG Alpha transparency.  There are tons of other IE shims for these, but after much homework, I say these are the best and you want them.  (FYI, I’ve made peace with requiring Javascript for design enhancements, which these are).Now if Drew could port box-shadow to IE, my heart would sing.
  • Article – Universal Internet Explorer 6 CSS
    Article lays out the basic ways to handle IE6 design in 2009, and a fascinating new suggestion.  To wit, not to waste hours in time and a client’s money on lengthy workarounds in an unnecessary attempt at cross-browser perfection.