Monthly Archives: July 2010

Wow! I had so many printers and I didn’t know?

A computer with no printers installed
Contents of “Printers and Faxes“ in Control Panel of a Windows XP computer which has no printers installed.

Technical terms sometimes have no relation whatsoever with their literal meaning. For instance:

  • Printer: In Microsoft Windows the term “printer” hardly ever refers to the hardware device which users know as printer. Open the “Printers and Faxes” section of Windows Control Panel of any Windows XP laptop of your choice which has never been connected to a printer. 50% of times, you see quite a lot of “printers” installed. Microsoft made good choice to rename this section in Windows 7.
  • System volume and boot volume: You’ll be surprised to know that by definition boot volume refers to a volume (= a hard disk partition) in a Microsoft Windows computer on which a copy of Microsoft Windows is installed, while system volume refers to a volume on which necessary files to boot the computer exist. THAT RIGHT! There is no mistake in what you read: If you install Microsoft Windows on a different volume than C:, so that boot volume and system volume are separate volumes, you’ll be surprised to realized that boot volume is the volume on which boot files DO NOT reside, while system volume is the volume on which system root (=Windows folder) DOES NOT reside; boot files reside on system volume and system root resides on boot volume. I wonder why…
  • System root: In Microsoft Windows terminology, system root is the folder in which Microsoft Windows is installed. This folder is usually C:\Windows. Now system root is not a root at all; its a sub-node of the root of the drive. One might ask if it is not root, then why it is called system root. Note that in Microsoft Windows, you can type %systemroot% in the address bar of your Explore window and press ENTER to navigate to your Windows folder.
  • Antivirus: An antivirus is a software application that no only aims to find and destroy computer viruses but also aims to find and destroy all types of malicious codes (= malware) such as spyware, adware, rootkits, computer worms, computer Trojan horses, etc. This might not be surprising, since nowadays, the term “virus” is used in a manner that means “virus and such malicious things”. In another word, today, “virus” is a synecdoche for “malware”.
  • Antimalware: Now, antimalware is the opposite of antivirus. Normally, you’d expect that antimalware find and destroy all types of malware; but in reality, antimalware applications are products that only find a limited handful of malware types. Knowing this, you’ll find out that Microsoft has always been smart but honest in choosing names for its products: OneCare and Microsoft Security Essentials neither assert being antivirus in their title nor assert being antimalware; yet they strive to find destroy all types of malicious software.
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Internet Explorer cache settings

Finally, I found a resource that explains Internet Explorer’s cache settings in adequate details. On 14 July 2010, Microsoft Internet Explorer blog published a post titled “Caching improvements in Internet Explorer 9” in which Eric Lawrence described exactly what the caching option in Internet Options of Internet Explorer do. Here is what he says:

Internet Explorer allows the user to configure what should happen when content is delivered without expiration information. Inside Tools > Internet Options > Browsing history > Settings, you will see four options:

These four options have the following behavior:

Every time I visit the webpage Any resource without explicit freshness information is treated as stale and will be revalidated with the server before each reuse.
Every time I start Internet Explorer Any resource without explicit freshness information is validated with the server at least once per browser session (and every 12 hours thereafter in that session).
Automatically (Default) Internet Explorer will use heuristics to determine freshness.
Never Any cached resource will be treated as fresh and will not be revalidated.

Perhaps technical terms like freshness information and (re)validation, which are explain in the original blog post, need to be explained again. Every web server can send metadata along the data that it transmits to your computer. Data can be a web page, an image, a file that you download to your disk for further use, etc. Metadata are usually not shown to you unless you request so but can include the date in which the data is last changed. (To see metadata, use Properties command in Internet Explorer or View Page Info command in Firefox.) One of these metadata is Maximum age of cached contents. When this piece of metadata does not exist, these settings come into play: Internet Explorer has to contact web server to revalidate; that is, to somehow discover whether the cached contents are still the same as those on the server (fresh) or need to be downloaded again (stale). Of course, Internet Explorer may use other pieces of metadata to do this validation, such as Last Modified Date metadata; but contacting web server (per these settings) is still required.

The blog post also promises that Internet Explorer 9 will see an improvement in its caching efficiency in several areas.

Software updater: Introducing a problematic case

Update (2015-01-03): Document layout fixed. The image, however, is permanently lost, thanks to Microsoft!

In my last post, I said that I had tried a handful of very faulty applications that helped users keep their computer software up-to-date but exhibited unacceptable number of false positives. Today, I am going to introduce one of those cases.

On 17 July 2010, I installed Orbit Downloader 4, a free download manager application. The version 4 of this application, released on 15 July 2010, features an integrated software updater.

The problem

I am including the report that Orbit Downloader’s Software Updater module has created. This report comes from a web site called Recipester and is released under Creative Commons Attribution version 3 license. Therefore, I’m including a full-resolution report. (Click on the figure to the right to zoom.)

Ignored items

I have ignored the following items; that is, I didn’t investigate their factual accuracy:

  1. Nokia Connectivity Driver
  2. Windows Live ID
  3. hp deskjet
  4. Windows Driver Package – Hewlett-Packard Image

False positive: Software that I don’t even have

The first and deadliest of the flaws of this product: This report claims that I have certain outdated software that I actually don’t have them installed at all! Here is a list of them:

  1. COMODO Internet Security
  2. FastPictureViewer
  3. Mathematica
  4. Microsoft Security Essentials
  5. Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 SP1
  6. Wolfram Notebook Indexer

This list of nonexistent items leaves much to argue about. Indeed, what gave this application the impression that I own any of these items? How could one possibly have COMODO Internet Security, Microsoft Security Essentials and Kaspersky Internet Security all installed on one system simultaneously? Two antivirus products and two firewall products cannot co-exist on one system without causing the user of that computer unthinkable amount of trouble.

False positives: Erroneous assertions

The following is a list of those items in the report that have fake “Latest Version”.

Name Assertion of my current version My real current version Assertion of latest version Real latest version
Apple Software Update 2.1.1.116 2.1.1.116 4.90.0.3000 2.1.1.116
Apple Application Support 1.2.1 1.2.1 1.3.0 1.2.1
QuickTime 7.66.71.0 7.66.71.0 7.66.73.0 7.66.71.0
WinMerge 2.12.4.0 2.12.4.0 2.13.11.0 2.12.4.0
CCleaner 2.33.0.1184 2.33.1184 2.33.1184 2.33.1184
SoundMAX 5.10.01.4151 5.10.01.4151 7.1.31.0 5.10.01.4151
NVIDIA Display Control Panel 6.14.12.5721 3.3.451.10 6.14.12.5896 3.3.451.10
NVIDIA Drivers 1.10.61.39 257.21 95.30 257.21
Microsoft Math 3.0.1184.1020 3.0.1184.1020 16.0.4297.1026 3.0.1191.1031
TuneUp Utilities 9.0.4400.16 9.0.4400.16 9.0.4400.17 9.0.4400.16
NVIDIA nView Desktop Manager 6.14.10.13518 135.18 125.25 135.18
Inkscape 0.47.00 0.47 0.48 0.47
Avidemux 2.5.3.0 2.5.3 2.5.3.6442 2.5.3
Tag&Rename 3.5.285.510 3.5.4 3.5.295.527 3.5.6
Diskeeper 10 Pro Premier 13.0.4.0 14.0.903.0 14.0.903.32 14.0.903.0

False positive: Lack of regard for eligibility

The following items are reported in error because the updater software either does not know the difference between update and upgrade or does not regard the fact that certain version of a software might have been released only for specific operating system.

  1. Windows Media Player 12.0.7600.16415: Windows Media Player 12 is exclusively released for Windows  7 (and later). I am running Windows XP and I have the latest version of Windows Media Player 11.
  2. Internet Explorer 8.0.7600.16385: Internet Explorer 8 for Windows 7 is different from that of Internet Explorer 8 for Windows XP. I am running the latest version of Internet Explorer 8 for Windows XP.
  3. Kaspersky Internet Security 11.0.1.400: I am running the latest version of Kaspersky Internet Security 7. Kaspersky Internet Security 2011 (v11) is an upgrade, not an update. I am not sure whether I can upgrade to that version free of charge; however, I am currently unwilling to upgrade, as the newer versions are dramatically changed and the usefulness of these changes versus the increased level of protection. Still, its my service subscription that has the most effect on my decision.
  4. Adobe Photoshop: The latest version of Adobe Photoshop reported here is wrong; the latest version is 12 not 11. (Adobe Photoshop CS5 is released on 30 June 2010.) However, I am running Adobe Photoshop CS3 and upgrading to CS5 would not be possible free of charge.

True positives

Out of 32 items in the report, there were 3 true positive items; that is, three of my computer software required update:

  1. Adobe Reader
  2. UltraISO Premium
  3. WinASO Registry Optimizer

Conclusion

Having ignored 4 items, 3 out of 28 reported software were indeed out of date. Well, 10.7% factual accuracy is indeed poor. Therefore, I advise you to stay away from the software updater module of Orbit Downloader.

Still, Orbit Downloader is a good free download manager, although I don’t use its video capturing capabilities.

FileHippo.com Update Checker

FileHippo.com Update Checker v1.37 - Main screen

FileHippo.com Update Checker v1.37 – Main screen

FileHippo.com Update Checkeris an app that scans computers for installed software and alerts the user if there are any updates available.

What makes FileHippo.com Update Checker singular amongst other update checking software applications (that I have tried yet) is that not even once I saw a false alert in its reports. Until now, I have tried quite a handful of update checking applications, including Software Informer, CNET TechTrack and a couple of others without satisfaction: They displayed dozens of false alerts.

FileHippo.com Update Checker is not a perfect solution, but it is an outstanding solution. Its update database is meager. Below is a sample report of FileHippo.com Update Checker, when my software were all up to date.

FileHippo.Com Update Checker – Sample report from a Windows XP computer

FileHippo.Com Update Checker – Sample report from a Windows XP computer

How to make Windows XP remember Calculator and Character Map settings

Problem

Windows XP Calculator and Windows XP Character Map are both very old; only their look is changed to match to that of Windows XP. They store their settings in WIN.INI file. This behavior has two drawbacks:

  1. WIN.INI is normally read-only for standard user accounts; Only accounts with administrative privileges can normally change it. Hence, Calculator and Character Map cannot save their settings and forget them.
  2. If one user change the settings of his own application the way he likes, it affects all other users.

Solution

This blog post is definitely worth reading:

Margosis, Aaron (9 February 2005). Remembering Calculator and Character Map Settings. Aaron Margosis’ "Non-Admin" and App-Compat WebLog. MSDN Blogs (Microsoft Corporation).

To make this easier to resolve this issue, I’ve prepared a Windows Registry file for you.

To use this file:

  1. Download it.
  2. Make sure you have logged on to the machine with administrative privileges.
  3. Double-click the download to import it to Registry.
  4. Reboot you machine. (This step is important. A simple log out and log in does not help.)

After carrying out the steps outlined above, Calculator and Character Map will remember each user’s settings. They will save them to Registry instead.

EDIT:

It looks like Windows Live Spaces, my blog’s service provider, does not support embedding Windows Live Skydrive files in the blog. It is strange; these two services are from the same corporation (Microsoft); but they cannot interact? In any case, I converted the embedding into a download link.

EDIT 2:

For some strange reason, an attempt to download this file from Mozilla Firefox results in the file name having an underscore sign (_) at the beginning of its file name and another at the end of its extension. You should remove them manually.

Downloading Windows Rights Management Services Client with Service Pack 2

Two days ago, I installed Windows Rights Management Services Client with Service Pack 2 on an office computer. There, I realized that the latest version of Windows Rights Management Services Client with Service Pack 2 – which I am going to call RMS from now on in this article – should be downloaded from this web page:

“An update is available to remove the application manifest expiry feature from AD RMS clients”, Microsoft Support.

Today however, while I was browsing through the list of RMS downloads for various operating systems, I browsed RMS for Windows XP and RMS for Windows Server 2003. Something caught my eyes that wouldn’t normally have had caught my attention if I was browsing any other pair of RMS downloads: The name of the files seemed similar to me. With closer examination, I discovered that not only the file names were identical, but also the file sizes were the same (2.9 MB).

I was curious. Could it be that these files are in fact identical? Could it be that the only different between these two downloads is that one required Genuine Validation and the other didn’t? Eventually, curiosity took the best of me and I downloaded both. A comparison of these two inside WinMerge confirmed my suspicion. They were identical.

Right now, I suspect RMS for Server 2008 x86 and RMS for Vista x64 might be identical too; after all, both of them have the same name and both of them are 9.4 MB large. Same suspicion goes for RMS for Windows 7 x64 and RMS for Server 2008 R2 x64; they are both 2.2 MB.

The case of deleted files not being sent to Recycle Bin

Every time users delete a file in Windows shell, Windows, by default, moves those files to Recycle Bin. (You know why.) Upon deleting them, by default, Windows prompts for confirmation.

Recycle Bin - Delete Confirmation dialog box Figure 1: Recycle Bin – Delete Confirmation dialog box

I love to disable Delete Confirmation dialog box that Windows shows before sending files to Recycle Bin. It’s a personal preference, that’s all.

However, a while ago, I realized that one of the computers under my administration always had an empty Recycle Bin. I created a new empty text file and deleted it. Upon pressing the Delete button on keyboard, the file disappeared but didn’t enter Recycle Bin; Recycle Bin remained empty; no confirmation dialog box or error message appeared either.

Incidentally, I had also deleted a file from my personal USB flash memory which I had plugged into the system a few minutes ago. It occurred to me that when I deleted the file on the USB flash memory, I had received a confirmation dialog box warning me that the file is being permanently deleted. (Regardless of whether the Recycle Bin Delete Confirmation dialog box is disabled or not, Windows normally shows another confirmation dialog box every time a file is being permanently deleted.) However, this was not an anomalous behavior: In Windows XP, USB flash drives are excluded from Recycle Bin; files deleted from them are permanently deleted. But still it didn’t explain why files deleted from my hard disk weren’t in my Recycle Bin.

Permanent deletion - Delete Confirmation dialog box Figure 2: Permanent deletion – Delete Confirmation dialog box

I concluded that when I selected a file stored on my hard disk and pressed Delete button, one and only one of the following had happened:

  1. The file was permanently deleted but Windows failed to notify me
  2. The file was indeed moved to Recycle Bin but the Recycle Bin window was somehow corrupt and didn’t show the contents of the Recycle Bin.

To find out which is the case, I opened Windows PowerShell and navigated to C:\RECYCLER, the hidden folder into which Windows stores the contents of the Recycle Bin. I meant to inspect the contents of this folder and see whether my deleted files are already in there. Then, I issued get-childitem -force command, which lists the contents of the folder. The result came as a surprise: The folder was empty; completely empty.

Even when the Recycle Bin is empty, C:\RECYCLER shouldn’t be completely empty. C:\RECYCLER should always contain on or more folders, each of which pertain to one of the user accounts in the computer. (Every user account on each Windows XP computer has a personal Recycle Bin of its own, isolated from that of the others.) The names of these folders differ, depending on the computer, but they have the general form of S-1-5-xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, where each ‘x’ is a digit. Even when the Recycle Bin is completely empty, these folders may contain one or two files. However, normally, deleting these files and folders – or even deleting RECYCLER itself – makes no problem for Windows: Windows will re-create necessary files and folder structures when user sends another file into the Recycle Bin. On this particular computer however, this was not the case: Windows didn’t re-recreate necessary files and folders. It simply failed.

To make sure that Windows indeed deleted the files, I re-activated Recycle Bin confirmation prompt and tried deleting a test dummy file. Upon pressing Delete button, Windows notified me that it could not send file to Recycle Bin and that the file was being permanently deleted.

By this time, I had correctly guessed the cause of the problem: Windows could not create or move any file into C:\RECYCLER because Windows shell software, running under my user account, didn’t have Write permission on C:\RECYCLER; I had unwittingly denied it the Write permission. By default, Windows Setup software sets the NTFS permissions on the root of C: drive in a manner that every user may create files and folders in C:\. These NTFS permissions ensure that these files are owned by the user who created it and that no one else has access to them except system administrators. A while back, I had modified these permissions to ensure that nobody has the right to create a folder in the root of drive C. I wanted the users to store their files in their personal profile folders which were set to be backed up on a recurring basis. Unwittingly, these permissions were so set that they were propagated on the child objects that did not have any explicit NTFS permission of their and obeyed those of their parent folder.

By default, everyone can write to root of the driveFigure 3: By default, everyone can write to root of the drive

RECYCLER folder inherits those permissionsFigure 4: RECYCLER folder inherits those permissions

I do not know how C:\RECYCLER had ended up devoid of all files but I suspect that either of my disk cleaning utilities (TuneUp Utilities or CCleaner) must have had done it. Nonetheless, this emptiness had served me as clue to the cause of the problem. Having discovered the cause, I fixed the problem by attaching explicit NTFS permissions on RECYCLER folder.

I still prefer to disable Recycle Bin notification. But now, I am a bit reluctant to do this on computers that are not mine. On my own computer, however, I’ll keep an eye for NTFS permissions of RECYCLER folders in Sysinternals AccessEnum during my routine monthly patrols. It’s going to be fine.

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