FreakoutITGeek's Blog

Random IT postings from Freakz

Tag Archives: Windows

Cisco / Linksys E4200 router (Update)

For those of you who read my original posting on My home network setup and my upgrade to the Cisco Linksys E4200 may be wondering what has happened to my further testing?

Well I’m glad to say that I have some positive and negative news.

After purchasing a Virgin Super hub on e-bay and spending over an hour on the phone to them, only to find that Virgin Media won’t connect Virgin Super hub devices unless they supply them directly (some legal and technical reason that appears to me just to be a reason to try and force people to pay for an upgrade). I managed to get Virgin Media customer services to send out a super hub for free (which is better than the £20 they wanted to charge, better than the £4.50 per Month upgrade price and better than the £70 fee they wanted to charge only a few months ago.)

Now if you are thinking of getting a super hub (model VMDG480 [made by Netgear]) from Virgin Media I would warn you that it is very basic compared to Wireless routers that you can by online from Cisco/Linksys, Apple, Netgear and other related companies, but it is essential if you want to connect your own wireless router to Virgin’s network. The super hub supports the 802.11d, 802.11g and 802.11n standards but you must choose either the 2.4GHz (older, up to 42Megabits per second) or the 5GHz (more recent, up to 300 Megabits per second) frequencies, which may cause issues if you have a mix of old and new kit in your house (as we do). The router does allow ‘guest’ networks to be set up but these have to be on the same band as the normal network (so no chance of having both 2.4MHz and 5MHz).

After all this is said I would like to point out that in order to be able to use your own router (such as the Cisco Linksys E4200) that you need this (or it’s new upgraded Super hub 2), which can be switched into ‘modem’ mode to allow your own wireless router to be plugged onto virgin’s cable network without loosing some of the enhanced capabilities. In addition to that the Superhub has 4 Gigabit ports in the back which is essential for anyone looking to connect any network kit to the device (including a router), this is a big change from the old Virgin Hub (VMDG2800 By Netgear) which only acted as a 802.11b router and only had 4 10/100 Megabit connections which is, in my opinion, not sufficient nowadays. One big issue is that the LEDs at the front of the router are too bright, with no way to turn down or disable them. this has been such a issue that mine are now covered in electrical tape to make the device bearable.

Virgin do offer the newer Super hub 2, which appears to offer the ability to broadcast on both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz ranges at the same time and has 5 antenna (2 for the 2.4MHz range and 3 for the more recent 5MHz range, which is better than the Cisco Linksys E4200 2 [2.4GHz] and 2 [5GHz] combination) and it’s capable of up to 450MHz (comparable to the Cisco Linksys E4200) however the USB port on the back of the device has been disabled and there is no option to enable it ) *(details from expertreviews.co.uk). Saying all that, it does allow you to at least dim the LEDs at the front of the modem ( the Cisco Linksys allows you turn off the lights altogether, although I haven’t found them to be any issue).

So, this article was supposed to be about the Cosco Linksys E4200, so
lets get back on track.

Well now that I have a Virgin Media router that I can put into Modem mode, I can finally test the functions of the E4200.

Firstly The public wireless, this works at a basic level, where a secondary set of networks are created on the same frequencies that are enabled on the main network. The guest network
is given a different IP range from the main network (strangely it shows in the DHCP Client Table report as a ‘LAN’ connection instead of a ‘wireless’ connection ?), it’s probably best described as ‘temperamental’, this may be because my devices are usually connected to the router so it may be getting confused when I change the wireless to the Guest one (which starts with the same name but tags ‘-guest’ to the end). The settings allow you to restrict the number of uses on the guest WI-FI and you have to specify a password of between 4 to 11 characters. To access the guest network the user has to choose the network and then they should get an Web page prompting for the password.
All In all I don’t like this setup, if you have to have a password I’d prefer to be able to use a longer length ( to make it more secure) and I’d like
to be able to change the guest network
screen to something that welcomes and provides contact detail to friends, family and people that need emergency access (I believe that this is important in today’s connected world – More on this in a possible future post).

Now that I have that rant out of the road, What about the wireless it’s self. Well so far the router (acting in both router and bridge mode) has worked well with the wide range of devices connected to it. Now that I have a Virgin Media Router set up in ‘modem’ mode I can now connect it to my 1TerraByte USB drive, which I can now browse on my 13″ MacBook Pro (retina display) and saving files is easy, however best performance is when I’m connected to the 5GHz frequency (obviously).

The main issue I have is that, despite the drive being connected to the USB port and showing as USB2.0 and the MacBook Pro being on the 5MHz frequency, TimeMachine will not use the device as a backup. Numerous attempts see TimeMachine attempt a backup only to see it fail. Now since I’ve used this USB drive to perform TimeMachine backups when it is connected locally to the MacBook Pro, I suspect that the issue is with the Cisco Linksys router. My attempts
to resolve this issue have been futile as the support site advises that the firmware is the last supported and the software provided for Apple OSX only supports older versions of OSX (which is frustrating as my old imac couldn’t run the software as OSX was to old to be supported by the software ?) , these issues appear to be because I possess version 1.0 of the router. The later version of the router may support TimeMachine better, but I’m not in the position to be able to test this.

So what about the streaming media capabilities?
Well I’m glad to report these appear to be working better.

I can connect to the Streaming media capabilities of the Cisco router using my iPhone 5 ( using the Twonky app, Twonky Beam app, Media Connect or FlexPlayer apps ) which will play back M4V files created using iMovie (it still
has issues with movies ripped via handbrake, Apple iTunes purchased movies or TV shows all of which are considerably larger [?]), Music files (MP3 and M4A [iTunes]) and photos.

So, from my testing it looks like streaming works but is still buggy on Apple devices.

Since the router I have is the original V1 and CiscoLinksys

Advertisements

Demise of IT Support (part 2)

In my original posting on the Demise of IT Support, I mentioned how IT had become dull, grey and boring.

So what’s the future for IT support?

Well, I presently work for a Scottish council, based within a Scottish high school, and during my time within the school I have only had one approach about what it’s like to do IT support. The council department I work for have had one or two ‘works experience’ people appointed to shadow groups of colleagues each year. But my feeling is that there is little interest in the role, people aren’t interested in IT. Social networks, websites and games are what interest the kids, but none of them want to know how they work or how do they create & support the infrastructure.

As IT is becoming more user friendly, easier to use and companies like Apple make it easier to get support ( ie Genius Bar at your local Apple Store, telephone support via AppleCare and Apple’s one 2 one training) and assuming that trend continues ( looking at the current US development of Microsoft stores and Android popup support locations) then how much demand will there be for IT support in the future?

Add to that the increasing use of remote tools, that allow companies to resolve issues from their head office IT via their company network and reducing or eliminating the need for on-site IT support, or consider the low cost of the Windows PC, Android / Apple tablet etc, making such devices almost disposable. The future of IT support does not look bright.

Now, before I continue, I realise that IT constantly changes and past risks to IT support have not materialised. I’m thinking about VNC, presently used for remote support (both Apple and Intel presently use the protocol). VNC stands for Virtual Network Computing, and it was originally envisioned as a way to have a low cost, low specification PC make use of a server, with the server performing the processing, data storage etc, with the PC acting like a Graphical window, as if it was a display monitor plugged into the server, but with each PC capable of running its software independent of what other VNC connections were doing. This concept was the brainchild of the Olivetti & Oracle Research Lab in Cambridge, UK.

For those of you in the corporate world then you will recognise the concepts from VNC as Citrix, which acts in a similar method. With WISE graphical terminals, PCs and even iPads and iPhones, all able to connect to a powerful Citrix server farm then the same principal is presently possible. The older and more tech savvy will probably be visualising Unix or Linux and the tools that come with those systems. Windows users will recognise the concept as Remote Desktop or some other remote control tool such as TeamViewer, CarbonCopy, PC Anywhere and a whole host of other tools presently available on a multitude of platforms.

So the risks to IT support are present and although past risks, in the form of Centralised processing and dumb terminals (using the old Novell / unix concept / terminology ), has not come to fruition, what could the future hold ?

Personally I see the future risks being from the Internet. To be more specific Cloud Computing.

Cloud computing offers similar advantages to the centralised processing concept that VNC and Citrix offer and more.

When I think about Cloud computing I’m not thinking of Microsoft Office 365 or even the current offerings from Google Docs and Apple’s iCloud ( which I’ll probably post about another time). What I’m thinking about is Amazon’s massive server farms in central locations thought the world, each packed with instantly available virtual Linux and Microsoft Windows servers, with full resilience, fall-over, shared data, instant backup and recovery, instant scalability (automatically scalable and configurable on demand).

How can IT support survive when existing servers can be moved to this virtual Goliath. Removed is the need for companies internal Server support team as the servers are managed by Amazon, configurable automatically, instantly scalable and test systems can be up and running in seconds at a fraction of the traditional costs of even purchasing a server, never mind running, securing, supporting and maintaining it. Removed is the need for Desktop IT support as users only need internet access, cheap PCs, tablets & smart phones can be used with standard build images (possibly just the manufacturers default install), lowering the total costs of ownership.

Even network support roles could be reduced or the emphasis moved from companies to Telephone companies, Internet Service Providers ( ISP ) and organisations providing similar services ( WiMax / Satellite / fibre optics etc).

So if this is the future, where are the existing IT Support staff going to find work? Amazon appear to have automated most of their processes to minimise their costs and after years of running their on-line shopping platform, they should know what they are doing and will probably be able to hire the best staff at the lowest wages ( where else will they get the work or experience ?). Added to the scenario is the likelihood that the support is done using remote tools, reducing the need to have a large number of support staff at each site and with that many servers and server farms they probably have the servers built in bulk at low cost so hardware failure is a minor inconvenience and such hardware may just be sent for recycling instead of repaired or contracts with the manufacturer could allow for on-site, preconfigured and imaged swap out.

So Amazon is unlikely to be a likely route for future employment, so what about other avenues for support?

Hardware manufacturers are a good option, the likes of HP, Dell and Apple are all possible as they will need staff to repair desktop PCs, tablets and smart phones. The risk here is that in a highly competitive market the wages are likely to be low and highly skilled staff will probably not be the main focus, with work likely to be more assembly line, monotonous and highly repetitive, with likelihood of automation and the probable lack of growth, development or getting a chance on making a change or performing something challenging is probably slim.

My personal view is out of these options Apple is the best option. Apple appear to be the only one that stands out due to the creative nature of their customer base, their advances in technology, the varying support roles available (specialist, Genius, Creative, Family room, etc) and the overall feel of the organisation. In comparison to the other options, with all of this going for it, it’s defiantly my favourite. However the roles are primarily retail and although highly sought after at present ( at least 4 times over subscribed according to
rumour), the wages may not be comparable to existing IT support roles and they may not be suitable for some existing support staff (who are used to more back office, less experienced in customer facing roles, they may struggle with the high pressure and Retail nature of the roles).

The last option is to jump ship and either get out of IT for good or move to a programming role.

With the potential for a large number or organisations moving to the cloud there should be a demand for people to adapt existing systems to work with the new infrastructure or, for companies that are taking a leap of faith, there will be opportunities to create new software systems to replace existing back office systems with cloud ready equivalents, replacements and improved/rationalised systems developed for the future needs of the organisation.

So will IT support, as we presently know it, become obsolete in the future ? or will other changes to IT change the nature of IT support, only time will tell.

Demise of IT Support

When I began playing with computers, back in the late 80s and early 90s computing was exciting, (Basic by today’s standards I agree, but exciting non the less). In order to do anything with a computer you had to learn how it worked, but the TV was awash with adverts for weekly computer programming magazines for all the different home computers and you could even see your home computer (well I could as I had a BBC Master) on BBC TV programs such as Tomorrow’s World, with other home computers being promoted on their ability to do fancy TV graphics ( Amiga A4000 and Acorn Archimedes). [ I even found out (by accident) that the Amiga A400 did the Virtual Reality action adventure games in all the Scottish 90’s arcades]

Then I went to college and I learnt about programming Windows and Unix. Turbo Pascal was my favourite language at the time and I was desperate to learn more about Assembly language in order to take advantage of the enhanced memory and graphics capabilities of the newer XT PCs. Unfortunately instead I got maths, 4GL (4th generation languages – ie database languages such as SQL and the like) and COBOL. These boring business languages meant that I lost interest and ever completed my HND in computing (in those days there was only one HND, now there are several specialising in networking, hardware multimedia and loads more). My interest in graphics, hardware and 3D wasn’t an option unless I went to university and I wasn’t the type of kid that went that route after school.

I left college and after a while working in retail, I got my first IT role in Scotland where I got to build, repair and upgrade PCs install software, diagnose faults, run data cabling, install networking ( hubs, routers, bridges) even down to repairing printers, fax machines and purchasing consumables (floppy disks, ink, toner, [re]Writable CDs and anything else that was needed). Life was good, exciting, challenging but the boss had plans for me which conflicted with my own views, so I had to leave.

Then I worked in the grey environment of a National banking chain, my fellow staff were the only thing that got me through the high pressure but mundanity existence, until the day I left to start my life and again enjoy computing by running my own company.

Anyone who has run their own company will know it’s fun, hard work, rewarding but sometimes it doesn’t work out. Unfortunately that’s what happened to me, too many big dreams but not enough experience or money, all at a time when an internet connection cost £1k per month and the internet had not quite taken the imagination of Scotland, with businesses who could not see past the phone and the fax machine into the oncoming internet connected world.

Now, after several different roles for many different organisations, I presently find myself stuck in the horrid grey world of Windows PC hell, in an organisation that has a distrust, dislike and colleagues that have a hate of, anything and everything Apple.

My attempts to escape to somewhere more forward thinking, dynamic and creative, with an Apple slant or at least less of a corporate straight jacket, have so far failed and I wonder if it’s just me?

Or is it?

One of my close colleagues has a repeating cycle of having issues with his personal life, after which he throws himself into his work with a drive, only to return to the realisation that he is bored with IT support. Then I look at the rest of the staff, we have budding musicians & singers throughout, not many of the staff started wanting to be IT support staff, some have even had some fame before falling from grace, only to land here.

Even one of the guys that I went to high school with, has left his IT role with a bank to take up photography in order to pay his bills as he self publishes his novels on Amazon.

Even looking at my dream job, working for Apple in one of their Apple Stores. Apple openly promote that their Apple Store staff are musicians, DJs,
Artists, Photographers and much more besides, no mention of the highly
skilled IT staff that create amazing solutions for business, entertainment venues, bars, clubs etc. Apple, whilst being an amazingly creative organisation producing some astoundingly amazing and beautiful products (and I include the software not just the hardware) do not promote their support staff as being creative with IT in their work role, or maybe I’ve missed something.

So is everyone in IT support really there because they like the job or is it just a stock gap and where are the exciting IT positions, do they exist or are they just the gold at the end of the rainbow that you are always chasing but can never possibly lay your hands on?

Altiris For Apple Mac systems

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I have previously managed to get Apple systems (most Windows people call them Macs) on Deployment server and I have been asked how I did it…

Firstly look over the Symantec connect article “Installing the DS and NS Agent for Macintosh” which provides a step by step description and a lot of discussion about the process.

From my own experience I was using Altiris Deployment Server 6, the Altiris agent (known as the Dagent on Win 7 or Deployment client/agent) was Altiris-adlagent-2.6-54.Darwin.zip. In order to get it working I also had to disable the auto update feature on the console as it tried to upgrade the agent to the latest version (which in my case didn’t work).

With some basic unix /Command line knowledge, Altiris is quite a handy tool ( it’s not as good as Apple Remote Control, but if you have Altiris and can’t afford ARD it’s a good second choice) which you can use it to image an Apple system if you have an Apple server (or similar) running NetBoot and I’m sure if you have some scripting (AppleScript) skills you will reduce your workload considerably (not to mention allow some standards on the organisation’s Apple systems).

There is a note, that I made when I started testing the Apple client, about an issue (I assume this has been resolved since) where the ADLagent spawned multiple processes.

To uninstall / remove the ADLagent from OSX please look at http://www.symantec.com/business/support/index?page=content@id=HOWTO10704
, basically the (terminal) command appears to be sudo sh /opt/altiris/deployment/adlagent/bin/uninstall.app and after responing to the prompts, the software should be uninstalled. Once uninstalled you can sudo rm -r /opt/altiris and sudo rm -r /etc/altiris to clear out the related folders.

If I can remember anything relevant I’ll add it later, hopefully what is posted here will help, but since the organisation I currently work for no longer support Apple systems (why?) I may struggle with further advice at this point.

Altiris (intro)

Note: Despite Altiris Deployment Server version 6 being quite dated, I feel that the information provided in this section of my blog is useful, even for IT support staff that are using other deployment methods (most of the Altiris jobs I have created could be adapted to use Batch scripting and work equally as well – something I have had to do in the past when our Altiris server has not been available over several days)

Quite a few years ago the company I presently work for purchased Altiris Deployment Solution and Altiris Notification Server.

At that point Altiris Inc. we’re still running the show and we were introduced to version 6. Since then Symantec purchased Altiris and have brought a new version to market with some new features, additions, improvements and merged some of the functions of Notification Server and Deployment server into a new version 7 product.

Unfortunately I have not been able to use version 7, so I can’t advise on the merits or otherwise of Version 7, so these postings will focus on version 6.

There are rumours that Version 7 is currently running on one of our servers in some testing and Inventory control capacity, unfortunately this is currently out with my current role and remit, so the information and access is ‘cloak and dagger’. The only reason I’m aware of it’s existence is because of my interest in the product and colleagues appreciation of my ongoing investigation and development of skills in relation to version 6.

So what is this blog posting about?

We’ll I thought I’d share some insights into the past few years using Altiris, with a view to helping others to develop their skills and hopefully benefit others (and possibly myself via feedback to these postings).

Looking back at the early Altiris deployment jobs I created, most appear to be a case of push out the installer and hope for the best (something it appears my colleagues still do !!?). So some of my future posts will cover concepts that I consider support staff have to consider when creating an Altiris deployment job?

We currently, as most organisations do, run on a mixed platform of OSX, Windows XP and Windows 7 and as such I’ve learnt how to utilise Altiris to standardise and make supporting the computer estate easier within the sites that I cover.

At present the organisation do not support Apple OSX, much to my personal dismay, however there are Altiris V6 and V7 clients available and with a bit of knowledge of Unix, OSX command line [see Mac OS X Server Command-Line Administration on Apple.com] and access to a NetBoot facility [OSX server or shareware DHCP/NetBoot utilities for Windows / OSX]) Altiris is capable of doing as much with Apple OSX as you can with Windows (or Unix / Linux for that matter). (If there is interest in this topic I may dig out my old documentation / notes and create a post)

So I hope you don’t find the intro too boring and I hope that the follow up posts are of benefit.

Just when you think they’re dead

At work we get our new PCs imaged before they are delivered to the organisation. This is pretty common practice in modern companies, especially ones that realise that their IT support staff are busy enough installing apps and diagnosing/repairing faults.

My issue comes from the recent batches of PCs that came into my work recently. This is the first batch of Windows 7 machines and has been a massive learning curve for most of us, especially when there has been little obvious testing before the machines were sent to the sites.

As much as I could rant on about the lack of planning and how myself and my colleagues have been firefighting instead of providing a great service to our customers, that is not what this is about.

The reason for this blog posting is that I received a system that was imaged and configured for another organisation. The logical thing would be to send it back for our supplier to resolve but I have been asked to re-image the machine. Simple enough request you’d think, until you realise that the machine in question has had a BIOS password set, and you’ve probably guessed that it’s not our password and the settings are not correct for our defined security policy.

One of the issues with the BIOS is that the boot from Network (PXE Boot) has been switched off, so I can’t even image the machine with our defined image until we find out what the password is.

So I investigated how to reset the password and after trying ‘backdoor’ passwords and removing all power and internal backup power to no avail, I found a utility from the Hardware manufacturer that could record the settings from a machine that had the correct settings, store them to replay them on the faulty machine.

Now here comes the zombie bit…

The program will only work on DOS.. I thought in the age of USB pen drives, Windows PE, Windows 7 and Windows 8 just round the corner that DOS was dead and buried years ago..

Luckily I dug up my stash of old floppy disks and was able to hunt down an external (USB) floppy Drive that the new PC detects. I still have some old decaying Win 98 install floppies In my stash so I copied one and amended it to work with the program. So I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to beat the security and I can get back to what I’m paid to do.

Why are PC hardware manufacturers not providing utilities that work under Windows? I would suggest that they should provide a CD image, but how would a user be able to save the settings file to restore on the other system? I guess a network interface would be required?

I’m sure that Apple don’t turn round and ask you to create system 7 images to update their hardware.. when will hardware vendors realise that it’s time to move past DOS. Most people don’t even know what it is/was, or maybe that’s the reason.. To prevent novice users from using what is after all an administrative tool designed for deployment and configuration of PCs?

Anyway it’s been a blast from the past with floppy disks, even an LS120 SuperDisk drive (Immation) which didn’t work. I guess this is the reason that DOS disks are still available for Microsoft’s TechNet downloads (which I don’t presently have a subscription to) , and it has kept me in touch with my past.. even though I prefer to be looking to the future.

Cisco / Linksys E4200 router

Readers of this blog may remember me mentioning my home setup and my plans on future upgrades..

Things have changed a bit and I thought I’d let you know my experiences so far..

I have a fair bit of IT kit.. salvaged IT kit (iBook G4, Apple iMac [2006 intel chipset]), my 5 year old Dell laptop, my iPhone 3GS, our Nintendo Wii, DSi & our iPad and My wife finally upgraded from her blackberry to a Samsung Galaxy Ace. My old router was one of the best available at the time, but with only 4x 10/100 network ports and the wireless G wifi it was struggling with all the devices competing to share the Virgin media connection.

I finally upgraded this to a Cisco / linksys router, the E4200 Wireless N-450 Dual Band Gigabit Cable router.
I believe that Cisco have upgraded the hardware since we purchased it but I assume that the firmware is not that different from the original version that I have.

The dual band allows the older systems to use the Wireless-G signal, whilst newer devices can use the Wireless-N signal for video streaming etc. Well that’s the theory but the signal strength doesn’t go far enough, dispite having 2 dedicated internal ariels in the unit, however finding a more central location may resolve this issue in the future.

The 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports would be great if Virgin’s Netgear router ( I had to get the original Motorola Surfboard modem replaced as it gave up the day the Cisco arrived) had gigabit ports on it. Luckily I only have my old iMac running on the ethernet ports at the moment so it’s not a massive deal breaker for just now.

The E4200 also has a USB port to allow for file storage using an external USB drive, not as good as a NAS, but space for storage and backup is always worth having. This was a struggle to get set up originally as the software for Apple OSX is focused on more modern versions (Snow Leopard & Lion). I have found that the best way to use the USB drive sharing feature on the the Mac is to format the disk on the mac ( as the router software only formats in Windows format) and then plug it in the USB port at the back. I have added the share to my startup items on the iMac and saved the account details so that it appears on the desktop on login and I can use it as a backup drive.

The original Firmware needed updated in order to get the file sharing working properly but it’s good that Cisco/linksys are putting out firmware upgrades quite regularly.

The USB port (unfortunately there is only one and it doesn’t appear that it will work with a USB hub) can be used to share out a printer over the LAN & WAN. during my testing it worked OK with the iMac, unfortunately I have a Canon Pixma device that has printer / Scanner and disk printer so it wasn’t really what the port was intended for so it’s back connected to my iMac. Also the sharing of the printer via the USB port doesn’t support Apple’s AirPrint so is no use of you want to use it with your iOS devices (use something like Fingerprint on an iMac instead).

The multimedia features of the router do not appear to be very Apple friendly and only work on the iPhone / iMac if you download apps such as MediaConnect and FlexPlayer which are a bit basic and I had trouble getting them to work properly with my test media content as the TwonkyMedia server appears to be more Windows media oriented? ( please see update below for update(s) on streaming media to/via Apple devices)

I have tried to use the FTP functions using my iOS devices but I have decided that it’s a lost cause and I don’t feel the security is strong enough on the router, just my feelings but I prefer my files to be safe and private.

The second ‘public’ wifi ( an option on the the E4200 ) is a good idea and I played about with it but unfortunately as Virgin replaced my ageing cable modem with a Netgear router I have had to set the Cisco to Bridge mode, which disables the guest network functions. When I did play with the guest network I was expecting to see something on my web browser like you see at a the local coffee shop but it was more basic than that, so it’s ok if a friend comes over and needs access [although if they were a friend or family I’d probably just set them up on the main WIFI] but it’s no good for anyone in the street that needs to have Urgent/emergency access to the Internet 😦 [guess I expect too much]

Overall it’s a nice small router and will serve us well for a while. The lack of Apple friendly options is very disappointing from such a large International company, but I guess if you want Apple features you have to buy Apple products?

One day technology will catch up with my expectations?

Update 07/05/2012

I have given the Twonky Media Server another try and I have had better results after a recent upgrade to the MediaConnect software (which worked well enough as a demo for me to upgrade to the full product using the in app option).

I have found that if I copy my music files from iTunes to the external USB drive they steam to my iPhone without any issue.

So far it’s early days and I tried playing a Handbrake ripped version of Family Guy (one of the StarWars special episodes – yeah I know it has a free digital copy, I was playing about with Handbrake ok!) and it ran without issue on my iPhone and on the iPod (2), however other TV content that was in my iTunes library (proper download) didn’t play, however that could be an signal issue rather than a router, compatibility or software issue.

I haven’t tried putting image files on the drive again as I’m not sure if it’s worthwhile or not, ( ie can I import to/ export from the photo library on my iOS devices?) possibly something for future testing when I have some spare time.

For those looking for some tech details about file compatibility the Twonky Server is compatible with the following file types (details from http://twonky.com/products/twonkymac/twonkyu.aspx )

Music: MP3, WMA, WAV, 3GP, M4A, MP4, LPCM, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, MP2, AC3, MPA, MP1, AIF

Photo: JPEG, PNG, TIF, BMP

Video: MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG2-TS, MPEG4, AVI, WMV, VOB, DivX, 3GP, VDR, ASF, MPE, DVR-MS, Xvid, M1V, M4V

Looking at the compatibility list it’s clear that my earlier statement about compatibility was misleading and I guess I’d just had a bad day when I ran my original testing – I apologise if anyone feels that I have mislead them but we all make mistakes. The compatible file formats make the software and therefor the Cisco router, compatible with a wide range of hardware and software that supports DLNA / uPnP.

I have downloaded the ‘Twonky Mobile’ app for iOS devices and will test it when I get a chance so keep an eye out for a posing about that.

Safe and secure on Windows & OS X

For a few years now I have had to use a secure USB device for storing files ( drivers, installs, etc) as it’s company policy and the PCs have security software to prevent anyone (even us in IT) from using non secure devices.

My main issue with this has been that we support both Windows and Apple systems so have had to use Integral Crypto devices for the PCs and non secure devices for the Apple OS X machines.

I always thought it was a poor situation and I’m sure I ranted about it at the time.

I have just found that Integral now not only now produce a Mac version of the Crypto but have recently launched a Crypto Dual device, which works on both Windows and OS X!!

The device also has some handy extra features, including a unique code etched into the device for easy identification (something that was really needed in the original versions), The ability to have all the devices in your organisation to have a company hardware ID set on the devices ( allows security software to identify the devices that the company have purchased and which ones users have purchased and brought in ) and lastly, it allows for an administrator account password to be set in addition to a user password, allowing IT departments to recover data when the user has forgotten their password, so long as they have not exceeded the 5 allowed attempts which I believe still results in the data being deleted.

I have done a bit of checking and the devices are all available in the UK from Insight prices are roughly (Inc VAT) for the 32 GB versions..
PC basic version: £127
Mac 140 version: £147
Dual version: £132

Alternatively for PC users I have seen the PC only version as PC World in the past. For Mac users the Apple store sells the Mac only versions (well the on-line store does at time of writing this)

The Security level may vary slightly between these versions so I would suggest checking the prices on Insight and the specifications on Integral.

If anyone from Integral is reading this feel free to contact me with full details or to give me a review model so I can give the Dual version a try!! Hey if you don’t ask you don’t get!! 😉

Update:

For those unfortunate enough to have a Windows PC at work and an Apple at home and have been given one of the Windows only versions (ie you are in a Windows only workplace but have a Mac at home), I have tested a solution to your Issue.

On my Apple iMac ( Intel Duo circa 2006) at home I have installed the free VirtualBox software from Oracle (was Sun) and installed Microsoft Windows 7 onto the virtual PC created by the software. By installing the VirtualBox add-on pack into Windows 7 you can set it to allow access to the Secure pen drive. This works like a dream and I can copy files off and onto the device without any issues.

I assume that Bootcamp, Parallels etc will do a similar job, but I can not test this as my iMac uses an external
monitor due to a damaged LCD panel / controller so I can’t use it for bootcamp and I don’t have parallels or it’s competitors.

I assume that this will only work with Intel Macs (ie I suspect that older PPC apple devices won’t be able to get it to work as they don’t have the Intel chipset)

Of anyone wants to know more feel free to contact me.

Safe and secure on Windows & OS X

For a few years now I have had to use a secure USB device for storing files ( drivers, installs, etc) as it’s company policy and the PCs have security software to prevent anyone (even us in IT) from using non secure devices.

My main issue with this has been that we support both Windows and Apple systems so have had to use Integral Crypto devices for the PCs and non secure devices for the Apple OS X machines.

I always thought it was a poor situation and I’m sure I ranted about it at the time.

I have just found that Integral now not only now produce a Mac version of the Crypto but have recently launched a Crypto Dual device, which works on both Windows and OS X!!

The device also has some handy extra features, including a unique code etched into the device for easy identification (something that was really needed in the original versions), The ability to have all the devices in your organisation to have a company hardware ID set on the devices ( allows security software to identify the devices that the company have purchased and which ones users have purchased and brought in ) and lastly, it allows for an administrator account password to be set in addition to a user password, allowing IT departments to recover data when the user has forgotten their password, so long as they have not exceeded the 5 allowed attempts which I believe still results in the data being deleted.

I have done a bit of checking and the devices are all available in the UK from Insight prices are roughly (Inc VAT) for the 32 GB versions..
PC basic version: £127
Mac 140 version: £147
Dual version: £132

The Security level may vary slightly between these versions so I would suggest checking the prices on Insight and the specifications on Integral.

If anyone from Integral is reading this feel free to contact me with full details or to give me a review model so I can give the Dual version a try!! Hey if you don’t ask you don’t get!! 🙂

Serial killer

A few days ago, I was using my work Secure USB storage device ( stick / pen drive, whatever you want to call it) and I accidentally put it into a Window PC with a faulty USB port.

The PC in question was under a users desk and the user appears to have been kicking the front of the box, causing the plastic structure of the inside of the USB port to become broken, exposing the connectors and bending them out of shape.

When I connected the USB device to the PC it corrupted the device, I assume that the connectors passed incorrect voltages over pins that are not designed to accept such voltages.

After realising this, I tried the device on another Windows PC and received an error advising of a power surge on the USB port interface and that the device had been deactivated (at least there is some sort of integrity checking).

Interestingly I was asked a few days later to investigate a fault on an Intel iMac which was experiencing faults with an interactive whiteboard connected to it. A colleague had already looked at the issue and upgraded the firmware on the machine and I upgraded the drivers and the software for the interactive whiteboard but the iMac was showing an error on login “USB Over Current Notice: A USB device is currently drawing too much power. The hub it is attached to will be deactivated” .

Because of my earlier experience with the PC I checked the USB ports on the iMac and found a broken port where the connectors were touching the shielding surrounding the port. It appears that the power sent through the pins were being transferred to the other pins, and presumably the earth, causing the error. As the site did not have the funds to have the machine sent for repair, I carefully moved the pins using a watchmakers screwdriver so that they weren’t touching the shielding or each other and then taped off the faulty port.

The iMac is now running quicker ( which makes sense as it’s not having to deal with a hardware fault) and the users are now aware that they have to be more careful when connecting USB devices so as not to damage another port.

I hope this information helps someone else in a similar situation.