Becoming (or staying) an organized sysadmin (contest with free stuff)

November 18th, 2010 at 11:31 AM  4 Comments

Most system administrators can tell you about the importance of being organized but few can pull it off very well. We’re always being pulled in different directions, by different people. There are always those fires that need to be put out ASAP, sometimes at the least opportune times. So it’s hard to always make the most efficient use of your time and keep things organized.

We’d like to see what are some of the ways our visitors try and stay organized. What are the tools and methods you use to keep track of projects, your personal calendar, tasks, your files, your notes, etc. We welcome our visitors to post a comment in this thread and let us know what are the ways you keep yourself on track. We’ll gather up the best ones and share them in another post, and for a couple of the best ones we have something special to give away to you. (It’s a secret)

To get you started I’ll give you an example of my personal tools:

There is one program I use on every system and mobile device that helps me keep track of things. The main one is Evernote. It’s a great piece of software that runs on all my Windows boxes, as well as my iPhone and Blackberry. It can keep track of screenshots and sync them into the cloud and to all my other devices. I also have the Chrome plugin installed so when I find something I need to remember (for instance, steps to fix a problem) I can highlight it and with a couple clicks instantly import it into Evernote. Since there are clients on both my iPhone and Blackberry when I’m on the go and need to make a note of something I can write it down or snap a picture and sync it up into the system for later use. Evernote also gives you an email address that you can add to your contacts to forward important emails into the system with. I have that setup with both my personal email and business email, so important emails get dumped into Evernote for quick retrieval. Evernote helps keep my thoughts, findings and important documentation easily accessible.

There you go, it’s that easy. So lets hear how you keep yourself organized!

Companies plan to stick with XP past 2014

November 1st, 2010 at 5:40 PM  1 Comment

Windows XP just won’t die. Like the living dead, it has come back to haunt Microsoft. Despite Microsoft’s best efforts to kill it twice with Windows Vista and Windows 7, enterprise IT administrators have continued to allow it to run free on their systems and have no plans to stop.

According to Dimensional Research, 48% of companies surveyed say they plan to continue using Windows XP even after the 2014 date at which Microsoft will no longer support it. By 2014, Windows 8 should be out and Microsoft will be very close to plotting the release of Windows 9. But almost half of the enterprise world will still be on a nearly 14 year old operating system that by then will be four versions old.

Microsoft has already pushed back the drop dead date for Windows XP support multiple times and allowed OEMs to continue offering it on new PCs much longer than they should have. Microsoft contributed to their problem by not making Vista a functional upgrade for a lot of businesses. However, Microsoft has actually delivered some innovation and compelling reasons for total adoption of Windows 7, which is still at about 6% of businesses.

Is the problem that Windows XP is just so dang good that no one wants to move? That Vista and 7 were horrible? Or that the majority of system administrators are lazy?

via Computer World

Two great tools for the low/no budget sysadmin

April 7th, 2010 at 11:30 AM  4 Comments

We all know how in our struggling economy, finding effective tools that help us do our jobs, and not breaking our shrinking budgets, is getting harder and harder. A fellow in Ireland by the name of Dan Cunningham (his website is here, follow him on Twitter here), who just happened to post in post in the comments of our previous articles, has written two very excellent looking tools for the low/no budget systems administrator. Both of these will be going straight into production in my office ASAP.

Dan also has some useful tools for encoding video content on his blog, both of which are worth taking a look at.

Workstation Migration Assistant

wma_mainThe Workstation Migration Assistant is a visual wrapper for Microsoft’s User State Migration Tool, designed to simplify the capture / restore process for your end-users, and at the same time being highly configurable so that it can be customised to suit your organisations needs.

Some of it’s features include:

  • Migrate via a pre-defined network storage location, external USB drive, or user-specified location. USB drive detection is automatic, and you can decide whether drives below a certain size are ignored (ie, memory sticks)
  • Optional Hard Disk Health Check will run a CHKDSK prior to capture and fix errors if any are found
  • Optional Encryption using a pre-defined company encryption key, or per-user customised encryption (for highly sensitive data that can’t be stored on a server without being encrypted)
  • Use different configurations for “XP Only” (XP > XP) migrations via Standard (XP > Vista and Vista > Vista)
  • Automatically run pre and post-capture / restore scripts and programs (very useful to further configure machine settings)
  • Migrate domain only accounts, or domain and local
  • Automatically exclude certain domain or local accounts from the migration
  • Automatically send log files to an e-mail address via SMTP after the migration
  • On-screen status during every stage of the migration, including ETA
  • Option to limit migrations to a certain size, i.e. if over 20GB of data to backup, then fail and inform user. This is also overridable
  • Automatic checks for USMT installation and optional download
  • Command-line automation

It requires .NET Framework 2.0 on both the capture and target machines | Download

Software Compliance Tool

The Software Compliance Tool is a small application designed to reduce the overhead in managing unwanted applications in a business environment. While Windows Vista and Windows 7 have made a lot of headway in easing reduced user rights into the Enterprise, it’s still very common that Local Administrator rights are given to end users. The reasoning for this is usually to work around application compatibility (both external and in-house). However, this introduces the ability for end users to install whatever they want on their computers, including games, peer-to-peer software and security vulnerable applications. It is the company’s responsibility to ensure that copyrights are not infringed, and that their network is secure.

The Software Compliance Tool will try to automatically remove any applications which are contained on your custom-built “blacklisted applications” policy.

Some of the features include:

  • Can automatically remove most Windows Installer (MSI) based installations
  • Uninstall Strings for non MSI-based installs can be supplemented with switches (ie, “/S” for silent)
  • Blacklist allows partial name matches (ie, “Mozilla” will blacklist all Mozilla applications)
  • Blacklist allows version matches (ie, allow all versions greater than v1.6.5, remove all previous versions)
  • Blacklist, but allow exclusions based on Active Directory Users or Groups
  • Blacklist policy is encrypted to prevent tampering or reading by users
  • AD Exclusions list is cached and encrypted, to allow running SCT off-domain
  • Simple SQL logging to allow tracking of policy breaches (and potentially further action for repeated breaches)
  • Extremely fast execution. Can be run from your Active Director login scripts

It requires .NET 3.5 to run, and must be run as a local administrator to successfully uninstall applications. | Download

Why lazy sysadmins and IE 6 make the net unsafe

January 16th, 2010 at 11:14 AM  3 Comments

The number of businesses still using Internet Explorer 6 is painful to see. Coupled with the fact that all of them are on Windows XP or Windows 2000, it turns from pain into terror, especially when it comes to security.

For a lot of system administrators, the reasons to stay outweigh the reasons to upgrade. Websites that break, plugins that won’t load, old software that isn’t updated anymore. Trust me, I’ve been there. However, a lot of it boils down to lazy and poor practices of system administration.

Yes, you’re lazy and you’re bad at your job. Internet Explorer 6 was released in 2001. Yes, 2001, most of us don’t even drive cars that old, let alone unleash people on the “information superhighway” with a browser that old. It was designed at a time when security was not the issue it is today. It was designed to work on operating systems like Windows 98 and Windows ME. Would you let people use Windows ME on your network? No! So why are you letting them use a browser that was built for it?! (more…)