Thursday, August 31, 2006

Troubleshooting: Xp Defrag Quit Working

I received a new PC, which promptly crashed on me, much to my annoyance. However, I fortunately got the OK to create my own custom image for my machine, which is really nice since the SOE images at our job are terrible.

After getting Windows XP installed, I had a particularly annoying issue come up. Defrag did not work. The GUI came up, but the buttons didn’t do anything. I found this article pointing me to a few fixes, which did not seem to fix anything.

After a little more searching, I came across this article that pointed me to a few more things to try, such as registering two DLL’s. This also did not fix my issue.

So what fixed my issue? Starting DCOM of course. Who would have thought a mechanism for distributed computing would affect the disk defragmenter? For reference, the actuate service name is “DCOM Server Process Launcher”.

Monday, August 28, 2006

BIRT: Can BIRT Replace ERD Pro and IServer?

I am just returning from the 2006 Actuate Users Conference. Despite getting a cold and the return flights home having some really annoying technical problems (delayed flights, no air conditioning, thanks American), I had a great time.

One of the questions that I was asked numerous times after my presentation was “can BIRT replace ERD Pro/Iserver?”

This is not an easy question to answer, nor is their a definitive answer. The best advice I can offer is that it depends on your reporting requirements.

For example, lets take our employee transcript report. Here is a simple report that uses two queries in its body, one to retrieve employee information; the other will retrieve the employee’s class history. It is pretty much a dump and retrieve. I might add some basic logic to the report for formatting every other row, or to change the color of a particular type of class, maybe bold classes required for audit purposes. But the fact is, there is no real complexity to the report itself, and no complex interactivity required. In this case, BIRT would be a preferred fit since I do not require “pixel perfect” presentation of data, or any of the complex scripting that ERD Pro’s Visual Basic engine provides.

Likewise, we have a particularly complex report that we use (attendees of the Actuate Conference may have seen this report which was presented in one of the tracks) that had more complex interactivity. This report could not have been done in a single report under BIRT and would have required multiple BIRT reports, JSP Pages, and possibly the use of AJAX and pulling reportlets from BIRT itself. In any event, it would be too complex.

As far as BIRT replacing Iserver, no. While the BIRT technology is definitely cool, it is being integrated into Iserver. Without Iserver, you don’t get some of the better features such as the great Web Service API’s, Page Level Security, or the ability to launch any of Actuates commercial products from the BIRT web API. The BIRT Viewer, however, is integrated into Actuate 9. While BIRT is a great technology, I don’t think Actuate would undercut their own commercial endeavors with it, they do have to pay the bills somehow. But it is as I always tell people; BIRT provides you with the 20 percent of reporting tools you use 80 percent of the time. In reality, I think its more like that 30 percent of tools you use 95 percent, but that’s my opinion, and that’s not how the saying goes.

Friday, August 18, 2006

BIRT: Presenting at the 2006 Actuate Users Conference

I will be presenting at the 2006 Actuate International User Conference on Monday, 8/21 2:00- 2:50 pm at the following location:

Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers64 Arlington StreetBoston, MA 02116.

The topic of the presentation will be BIRT, of course. If you are interested in stopping by, feel free, just pretend to be part of the conference. Sunday, however, is reserved for the Dropkick Murphys festival, so don’t be surprised if I appear a little beaten up at the presentation (

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Linux: VMWare Server Under Ubuntu Dapper

Well, as I continue to rebuild my desktop PC after removing Debian in favor of Ubuntu, there are times where I kick myself for not having the same applications installed. Most applications can easily be installed via apt, however I had yet to reinstall VMWare. Since I have taken up Chess again with a passion, I wanted to get some VM's running DOS for Battle Chess and Windows for Fritz. With a stock Ubuntu install, however, installing VMWare was not nearly as straightforward as it should have been.

(Note: This is under Ubuntu Dapper.)

First thing was to get the VMWare Server files from VMWares site. Follow the directions for registering for an account, and don't forget to get the serial number.

Once you have downloaded the tar file, extract it to a temporary location. Once extracted, you will need to get a few pre-requisite packages for Ubuntu. To get these packages, type in a terminal window:

sudo apt-get -f install gcc g++ linux-headers-`uname -r` build-essential xinetd

or, if like me, you already have the kernel headers installed, just type:

sudo apt-get -f install build-essential xinetd

The build essential option probably isn't necessary, however I used it, it worked, so thats why I am documenting it that way.

Once done, go into your temporary directory, and run the file with:

sudo ./

Follow the directions. Once completed, the program will show up under the Applications/System Tools menu as “VMWare Server Console”.

-Note: When I initially tried to do the install, I did not have the xinetd package installed. This caused the configuration of the kernel modules to fail. Thanks to this Ubuntu forums message, I was given the above command to get the xinetd package, which is why I kept the build-essentials flag in.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Security: Physically Retrieve Windows NT/2000/Xp Local Passwords

From time to time, people will bring me a laptop that they have locked themselves out of. Kind of silly thing to do, but they are not left out in the water. There are three methods I use for retrieving passwords and getting back into the system.

My preferred method is to use OphtCrack (which, I suppose is a play on the L0phtCrack name). It is a Linux Live CD that uses Rainbow Tables to crack passwords. I must admit a complete ignorance of the Rainbow Tables method of password cracking, however this method works incredibly fast compared to other methods I have used in the past, so I will have to read up to understand it a little better. With Ophtcrack, the process is completely automated. You put the CD into the drive, boot off of it, and then when everything loads, click on the launch button. I just used this recently, and it took roughly 30 mins to get all passwords off of a Windows 2000 machine (some passwords were good one, some were incredibly bad ones). Plus, if you’re willing to pay, there are more advanced Rainbow tables available. The one drawback to this method that I have run into is the Live CD’s hardware support is pretty poor, and the video resolution on some machines I have run this on will either cause the program to be unusable, or just force a reboot.

The second method I use is to grab the SAM and System files under the C:\WinNT\System32\Config folder using an external boot disk such as Knoppix and copy it to a USB key drive. Then I can import these into something to de-SysKey the files, such as SamInside, then run something like L0phtCrack to get the passwords. I use this as a second method since it takes a little longer and there are a lot more steps.

If all else fails, I use something like “Offline NT Password & Registry Editor”, another Linux LiveCD that will blank out the Administrator password. I use this as a last resort since it has the potential to cause damage to the system. I have not yet run across that situation, but I am aware of the potential so I use it as a last resort.