What to do with a busted laptop?

Broken Laptop 1 My wife’s 17” HP Pavillion laptop broke; when I say that it broke I do not mean that the OS crashed or that the hard disk was defective, or even that the motherboard fried, which are all legitimate reasons for computers to stop working.  It seems that a couple of people liked to carry the open laptop from place to place by the screen, and eventually the hinge broke.  The screen still works, the system itself is great, but it neither closes nor opens properly, and to top that off much of the plastic frame is broken and bits of wire and electronics are exposed where they should not be.  Add to the damage caused by humans there is also damage  done by dogs… Gingit at one point decided to learn to type, and when she got bored ATE the F3, F7, and T keys.  _ry _yping a le__er wihou_ _he le__er _ and you will unders_and my frus_ration.

We looked into getting the damage fixed but the quotes were over $500… not worth it for a three year old laptop that is one of 5 laptops and 13 computers in the house.  It has been sitting on a shelf in my office for months.

As I prepare for my Windows 7 Launch Party (http://www.houseparty.com/party/175335) this week I am planning all sorts of demos… Media Center, Deployment, and more.  As I planned it out  I realized I did not particularly want to use any of my primary machines lying around… although I can do a pretty good job of securing them I really don’t want just anyone playing with them; I plan to mingle and do not want to spend my time (or assign people to) watching my laptops for funny business.  So I looked on the shelf to Broken Laptop 3seek alternatives.  I decided to spin up the HP and see how it worked… and of course it worked flawlessly.

I popped in the USB key that I created in my last article (Creating a Multi-OS Installation USB Key) and booted from it – I knew I had already moved all data off the disused laptop – and installed Windows 7 x64 Ultimate.  Fifteen minutes later the only error message I received was that the Microsoft Security Essentials could not be installed because I had only included the x86 installation file… everything else worked flawlessly!

So what do we do with a busted laptop?  It is certainly not worth paying to fix… but is it worth throwingBroken Laptop 5 out?  Absolutely not.

The first question I asked myself is if the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts?  Simply put, if I were to cannibalize it would the components be worth more to me than the unit as a whole?  As the system itself is functioning perfectly (including the screen) the quick answer is no… the interchangeable components are just too inexpensive these days for them to be worth more separately.

So what is the real damage?  The computer works fine, the screen is  great, it is simply the hinge that is unusable.  Thus the only part that does not work is the portability!  What was once a portable laptop is now destined to be a stationary desktop.  I should mention that if the screen was NOT working this would still be a good solution, only I would need an external monitor for it to work.

Broken Laptop 6Next came the question of the keyboard… It made me think for a few minutes because I actually had a few options, now that I knew that the system would be stationary… I could add an external keyboard to it of course, but there are also a number of systems that do not require a keyboard… servers!  I would never make a busted up laptop a full production server, but what about a test environment?  A Terminal Server?  A Home Server?  I even briefly considered, knowing that it is how it  started its life converting it into a Media Center PC to run my TV!  All viable options, but as my wife and I just bought a PVR, and because I have a really good server already, that it was destined to become a desktop PC.

So I now have an extra demo unit for the launch party.  But what should I do with it after the launch?Broken Laptop 4

I do not spend a lot of time there but I actually do have an office… desk and all!  The only thing I do not have there is a computer, because I always come and go with my laptop.  Starting this week that will not be the case; I will install the former laptop there, set up remote access, a keyboard and mouse, and for about $60 in hardware I will have a perfectly functioning – though not necessarily pretty – desktop computer.  I laugh not because of my ingenuity, but because no fewer than five people and charitable Broken Laptop 3organizations refused it as a donation saying they didn’t want junk.  What they call junk I now call a very reliable high-performance Windows 7 machine!

Creating a Multi-OS Installation USB Key

Back when I was a computer support technician I used to carry a binder of CDs and DVDs, including (but certainly not limited to!) every version and edition of Windows client and server.  This came in handy every time I replaced a hard drive because I could reinstall the OS without having to take it in to the lab.

Fast forward to 2009.

Earlier this year I wrote in an article that Tim Mintner and I created a USB key from which we could install several different versions of the Windows operating system.  I know a lot of techs who liked the idea, so in this article I will explain how to do it.

My Tools

For the purpose of this article I will use my Windows 7 laptop, the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010, and a SanDisk Cruzer Micro 16GB USB key that I borrowed brom Bradley Bird at TechEd and never returned (thanks Brad!).

Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010

Although I usually install the MDT on a server I installed it on my laptop to demonstrate that a server is supported but is not required.  My laptop is running the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Ultimate so I downloaded the x64 version of MDT 2010… but there is a 32-bit version as well which works the same way.

MDT is one of those tools that is relatively small (9.76MB) and can be downloaded in seconds.  One of the requirements for the MDT however is the Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK) which in its current iteration weighs in at 1.7GB.  Make sure you have it ready when you want to start!

Once you have installed the MDT 2010 and the Windows AIK you have to create a Deployment Share.  Being the imaginative guy that I am I called mine MDT Deployment Share.  I linked it to the local directory D:\Deployment, and assigned it the UNC path of \\MDG-E6500\Deployment$.  Even though it will never be a network deployment server it is necessary to assign a share, which by default and best practice should be an administrative share.

image 

Now that my deployment share has been created I need to import my Operating System files. 

  1. Click on Operating Systems in the navigation bar.
  2. In the Actions pane click Import Operating System.  The Import Operating System Wizard will launch.
  3. In the OS Type window ensure that Full set of source files is selected and click Next.
  4. In the Source window click Browse and navigate to the directory where your OS is located.  Normally this will be the root of your DVD drive; if you use .ISO files like me then mount the file (I use MagicISO) and then navigate to the root of the virtual DVD, and click OK.  Back in the Source window click Next.
  5. The wizard should automatically identify the OS version and edition; in the Destination window ensure the Destination directory name is appropriate (i.e.: Windows 7 x64) and click Next.
  6. In the Summary window make sure that the details are correct, and click Next.

Once the import process is complete you should have a number of different OS editions in your MDT.  That is because the .WIM file contains multiple editions.  Although you can delete some of them for the sake of organization (I generally delete all of the Home editions for business deployment points) it is not necessary.

image

You have to repeat the above steps for all of the operating systems that you want to deploy.  In the end you might have a list that looks like this:

image

Next you should import any applications that you install often:

  1. right-click Applications under the deployment share in the navigation bar and click New Application.  The New Application Wizard will open.
  2. In the Application Type window select Application with source files and click Next.
  3. In the Details window enter the appropriate information and click Next.
  4. In the Sources window click Browse and navigate to the directory where your OS is located.  Normally this will be the root of your DVD drive but it can also be the directory where the installation files are stored, and click OK.  Back in the Source window click Next.
  5. In the Destination window ensure that the name is correct (it is based on the information you specified in the Details window) and click Next.
  6. In the Command Details window the Working directory should already be populated; for the Command line you should enter the command that you would use to install the application, including command-line switches.  So you could either type setup.exe, or get fancier and enter setup.exe /adminfile Custom2.msp.  When you are satisfied click Next.
  7. On the Summary page ensure the details are correct and click Next to import the files.

When you are done importing your applications they will all be listed in the Applications list.

Now you might want to import Packages and Out-of-Box drivers, but that I will save for another time.  Let’s move forward and create our task sequences.

A Task Sequence is a list of commands that must be performed by the deployment point.  These are the instruction sets that make our deployment work.

  1. In the navigation pane click on Task Sequences.
  2. In the Actions pane click New Task Sequence.  This will launch the New Task Sequence Wizard.
  3. In the General Settings window enter a Task Sequence ID(3 unique characters) and a Task Sequence Name that you will recognize and understand.  You can also enter comments if you wish.  Click Next.
  4. In the Select Template window select Standard Client Task Sequence from the drop-down list and click Next.
  5. In the Select OS window choose the OS that you would like this TS to deploy.  Only one OS version and edition can be installed by a single task sequence.  Click Next.
  6. In the Specify Product Key window ensure that Do not specify a product key at this time is selected and click Next.  This will ensure that you are prompted for a unique key every time you deploy.
  7. In the OS Settings window you must enter a name and organization name; if all of your deployment will be for you then use your own name, but some people may want to use more generic names like ‘IT Department’.  Click Next.
  8. In the Admin Password screen you should specify the local administrator password, although you have the option of selecting Do not specify an Administrator password at this time.  Click Next.
  9. On the Summary screen ensure the information is correct and click Next to create it.

You will have to repeat these steps for each OS that you would want to deploy from your USB key.  In the end it might look like this:

image

Next you have to update your deployment share.  In the navigation pane right-click on your deployment share and click Update Deployment Share.  In the Options window for a first-time share you would leave the default; click Next.  The Deployment Share will populate and you are in business!  (This is actually a very time consuming step… expect to wait!)

Once your Deployment Share is updated all that is left is to create the media files.  The wizard will create two sets of files (the files themselves and an ISO of the files), each one roughly equivalent to the total size of everything you have created – i.e.: really big.  My first attempt exceeded not only my 16GB USB key, but also the free space on my hard drive!  Remember that if your files come to 9GB then you need at least 18GB free on the Media Path drive.

  1. Under your Deployment Share in the navigation pane expand Advanced Configuration and click Media.
  2. In the Actions pane click New Media to launch the New Media Wizard.
  3. In the General Settings window enter a Media path.  The path must be an empty directory.  Click Next.
  4. In the Summary window make sure that all of your details are correct and then click Next to create the files.

Once the files have been created on your hard disk you can copy them to a bootable USB key.  To create a bootable key follow the instructions I wrote in the article Bootable USB Media for Windows 7.

Conclusion

The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 makes deployment simple.  In this article I have essentially held your hand through the process of creating a USB deployment point… but that is only part of the magic of the MDT.  Now that you have worked with it through this article you can expand on that and create network deployment points, capture existing images using MDT, and much more.  Take what I have given you and run with it, and you too can be a deployment guru!

Meadow Green Academy: A Case Study of a Modern OS Deployment, Part 1

If a tool is cumbersome, unwieldy, inefficient, and difficult to use, would you use it? Would you look forward to the experience? Neither would I; so when at the end of last year my son’s Grade 5 homeroom teacher told me that the computers in the school were unreasonably slow, extremely cluttered, and that the students did not look forward to using them, I wanted to see for myself how bad they really were.

The school I’m describing is a small private school in Mississauga called Meadow Green Academy. Class sizes range from 12-20 students with one campus location for students in grades 4-8 and another campus for Junior Kindergarten – grade 3 about 7 kilometres away. The upper school has approximately seventy-five students, a staff of maybe ten teachers, and a handful of administration staff. With fewer than ninety bodies it is reasonable that their computer lab should consist of twenty workstations and a server.

Four years ago the school made an investment in its computers – a server running Windows Server 2003 that is both domain controller and file server, as well as brand new workstations running Windows XP. At the time, the 512MB of RAM in both the workstations and server were quite sufficient. In fact as they were still running Windows XP the specs as I saw them should have run reasonably well. However it would not be the first time computers that were supposed to perform well did not, so I decided to investigate further.

My first thought was a DNS issue; Nine years ago I administered a network where user logon took 10-15 minutes – unreasonable by any measure – and when the Domain Naming Service on the server was properly configured and the workstation network settings were tweaked that logon time dropped to under a minute. I started to doubt this as the cause when local operations (such as loading applications) took unreasonable time as well.

Because all twenty computers presented identical symptoms, I expected the cause would have been central but I was wrong and understood why reasonably quickly. Twenty identical computers with identical symptoms began to make sense when I discovered that none of them had been managed or monitored on an ongoing basis, and considering each was used similarly over an extended period of time it made sense that they were sluggish beyond comfort.

· The hard drives were all full, by which I do not mean reasonably full but rather the free space on each was counted in kilobytes;

· Although some of the systems did have Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, most did not. (Service Pack 3 had been released over a year earlier.)

· Although there was a centralized anti-virus solution in place it was not regularly monitored, and there were a number of infections of different sorts discovered in thirteen of the workstations.

I asked for a meeting with the school’s administration and laid out my findings. There is an old adage saying that the shoemaker’s children go barefoot. I don’t make shoes… but I know a thing or two about information technology. I asked if I could offer my help as a concerned parent, and went to work.

Although I spend most of my time writing and teaching, I am still a reasonably successful IT Professional; I have two principles that I live by when taking on projects:

1. Measure twice, cut once; and

2. If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.

The first of these sayings originates in carpentry; simply put, a good measure of proper planning can save time, money, stress, and headaches. I knew that before I purchased a license or memory chip, cleaned out a machine, patched an operating system, I had to know what materials I had; based on that I could determine what we could do, and what we would need. I first heard the second philosophy from the owner of a security company where I used to work. By profession he was an accountant, and he said it at an otherwise boring and uneventful management meeting. I did not appreciate it until later.

This article is the first part of a series that will take the valiant IT department of Meadow Green Academy from zero to hero over the course of a summer. For the users – students and teachers alike – it is a true Cinderella story. It Is also a textbook case of transitioning the IT of a small business – possibly a small business just like yours, certainly with some of the same pains and needs as any small business – from a cost center, break-fix model to a rational, managed model that makes it a strategic asset to the organization.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because it is a school it is somehow unique; it is unique, of course, because every small business is, but it also has users who produce work – ranging from reports, schedules, documents and spreadsheets to homework and class assignments. There is a boss that is at the same time responsible for all these users, but also responsible both to them and to their clients (parents). They have standards that have to be met, and, like you, want to get home to their families. Like most of us they want to use their computers as a means to an end, and not be hindered by them. They also want to learn the latest technology and not be stuck in the 90s with yesterday’s technology.

Over the course of the series, I will explain the goals we set, the hurdles we encountered, the opportunities we discovered, and the headaches we endured. I’m going to let you in on a secret right now; I know how the story ends, and it ends well. I will discuss many of the tools involved behind the scenes, as well as the operating systems (Windows 7) and applications that would be installed using those tools. I will even try to give you a glimpse into the discussions we had in trying to choose these tools.

The series is more about the process used than it is about Windows 7, although Windows 7 was the impetus for taking on the project. In the end, it is about how the right technology can help us all to work smarter and not harder with the minimum hardware purchases, the right consultant, and the right attitudes.

This is the story of how Meadow Green Academy became the first school in Canada to run completely on Windows 7, and how it has benefited them.

Creating a new Domain Forest on Server Core

This article explains how to install a new domain forest on Windows Server Core, or in the Windows Server CLI (Command Line Interpreter).  I will not discuss any other option for RODCs, existing domains, child domains, and so on… there are a plethora of articles out there that describe those already.

It astounded me the first (several) times I tried to create a new domain using Windows Server Core installations as my first domain controller in the forest.  There are, I should mention, copious articles on creating additional DCs in an existing domain, but I have not come across too many (any?) that explained creating the FIRST… i.e.: creating the forest FOR the trees :)

This evening Steve Syfuhs and I sat down and attempted to do just that.  Actually our original intentions had very little to do with that, but as we discovered along the way we would have two choices:

  • Create a new physical server with Windows Server 2008 FULL install, create a new domain on GUI mode, join our Server Core machine to that domain, promote it to Domain Controller, transfer all Operations Master Roles to the Server Core machine, and continue on; or
  • Figure out once and for all how to create our domain in Server Core.

I should point out that between us we read several dozen articles (including some written by some very reputable IT Pros) that CLAIMED that it was possible, but none that elaborated.

So we started clawing our way through the tidbits we gleaned from various sources and came up with the following unattend file that did the job:

[DCInstall]
InstallDNS=yes
NewDomain=forest
NewDomainDNSName=swmi.ca
DomainNetBiosName=SWMI
SiteName=Default-First-Site-Name
ReplicaOrNewDomain=domain
ForestLevel=3
DomainLevel=3
DatabasePath="%systemroot%\ntds"
LogPath="%systemroot%\ntds"
RebootOnCompletion=yes
SYSVOLPath="%systemroot%\sysvol"
SafeModeAdminPassword=Pa$$w0rd

Now: Once the file was created we put it in the root of C: on the server core machine, and typed the following command:

dcpromo /unattend:c:\unattend.txt

The next user interaction was (after a reboot) a logon prompt for the SWMI\Administrator account.

I hope this helps the next group of IT Pros trying to claw their way through the process… Creating AD Forests and Domains is something I have done a thousand times but always in GUI mode; from now on I can do it either way… and so can you!