End of the innocence for Mac security

Antivirus vendor Kapersky has identified a new trojan horse targetting Macintoshes.  It spreads a botnet based somewhere in China via an infected Microsoft Word document, typically sent as an e-mail attachment.

The spin is that if you don’t use Word on your Mac, you’re safe. That’s true–this week. But going forward, it’s going to take more than that. Read more

Living with a past-its-prime computer

I’m playing catch-up a bit. This weekend, Lifehacker ran a guide about living with a computer that’s past its prime.

I’ve made a career of that. One of my desktop PCs at work (arguably the more important one) is old enough that I ought to be preparing to send it off to second grade. And for a few years I administered a server farm that was in a similar state. They finally started upgrading the hardware as I was walking out the door. (I might have stayed longer if they’d done that sooner.) And at home, I ran with out-of-date computer equipment for about a decade, just this summer buying something current. Buying something current is very nice, but not always practical.

So of course I’ll comment on a few of Lifehacker’s points.

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Fixing my boss’ Outlook

My boss’ PC went wacky on Tuesday afternoon and wouldn’t let him log in, so he had no choice but to shut down the computer. The computer came back up OK, but Outlook didn’t. He got a lot of weird error messages that I didn’t see, and Outlook created a new OST file on his desktop. But Outlook refused to connect to the Exchange server, and his inbox came up empty.

Like a lot of Outlook problems, the solution was the tag-team of Scanpst and Scanost. Fortunately, you don’t have to have admin rights to run them.

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Happy Patch Tuesday, September 2011

Microsoft has five updates and Adobe has two for us on this fine Patch Tuesday, in addition to a patch Mozilla pushed out for Firefox last week.

Don’t get too complacent if you run something other than Windows. If you run Microsoft Office on a Mac, or Adobe Reader or Acrobat on a Mac, or Adobe Reader on Unix or Linux, you’re vulnerable. The vulnerabilities in those affected products are more serious than the vulnerabilities for Windows. So keep that in mind. Don’t be smug about security. It’ll bite you.

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Attempting to tame C:\Windows\Installer

Nobody seems to know why the C:\Windows\Installer directory sometimes spirals out of control.

All I can add is that I’ve seen this kind of behavior. At a previous job, I administered a couple hundred servers. I had web servers, database servers, domain controllers, utility servers, installation servers, and the old web servers which basically served as a playground for the people who had more clout than me.

Everything but the playground servers theoretically started out identical to each other except for the IP address. They were built following the same instructions.

But invariably, one or two servers in each team would suffer from perpetual low disk space. To keep things running, I had a few Red Green-like solutions.
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Outlook send button is gone? Here’s the fix.

“My Outlook send button is gone,” one of my coworkers told me. Microsoft wasn’t much help. The relevant knowledge base articles said the e-mail account not being configured causes that problem. Except it was. He could receive and read mail just fine, he just couldn’t send anything out.

Ultimately we ended up deleting his mail profile to fix the missing send button. Read more

Slimming down Windows XP for SSDs and nettops

I found a very long and comprehensive guide for using Nlite to reduce the size of a Windows installation.

The guide is geared towards an Asus Eee. But it should work well on pretty much anything that has an Intel CPU in it.A couple of tweaks to his settings will make it suitable for AMD-based systems. Just remove anything Intel-specific, and add back in anything specific to AMD, and there you go.

And if you have a multi-core or hyperthreaded CPU, leave multi-processor support in.

I also recommend slipstreaming SP3 and all the hotfixes you can. Then you don’t have to run Windows Update, them, and you don’t have to clean up after it either. I haven’t investigated all of the whys and wherefores, but I’ve noticed that the more you slipstream ahead of time, the smaller your Windows directory ends up being. I have some systems at work that are constantly bursting at the seams on their system partitions. Other systems, which were built later from a copy of Windows with more stuff slipstreamed in, have a lot more breathing room.

Using the i64x.com instructions, you can pretty much count on getting a Windows XP installation under half a gig in size. That makes life with a small SSD much more bearable, since a typical installation tends to take a couple of gigs these days.

I’ll add some tips of my own. Inside the Windows directory, there are some subdirectories named inf, repair, and servicepackfiles. Compress those. That’ll free up some more space–at least a couple dozen megabytes in most cases.

If you’re really cramped, compress the whole Windows directory. Boot time actually decreased by a couple of seconds when I did this (down to 12 seconds from about 14), but software installations slowed considerably. But for everyday operation, you could almost consider NTFS compression a performance trick. It makes sense; an SSD can sometimes saturate the bus it’s connected to, so data compression lets it shove 20-50% more data through that saturated bus.

The downside is that when you install something that lives in the Windows directory, it has to not only copy the data into place, but also compress it. Installing the .NET Framework on a system with a compressed Windows directory takes a while.

A good compromise is to install pretty much everything you think you’ll need on the system, then start compressing.

It’s difficult to make a case for compressing the entire drive, however. Most modern data file formats are compressed–including all modern media formats and Office 2007 documents–so turning on NTFS compression on directories storing that kind of data gives no benefit, while introducing overhead.

A serious case of one-downmanship

While researching nLite (I’m thinking about rebuilding a PC), I found a page about two Germans exploring the true minimum system requirements of Windows XP.

I won’t spoil the ending, but one of them managed to accidentally discover the world’s slowest Pentium.I used to enjoy that kind of tinkering but really don’t have time for it anymore, especially when you’re talking boot times of 30 minutes.

At any rate, it was very interesting to see what these two tinkerers could do, even if I’m not too keen on running XP on anything less than about 1.5 GHz these days. I run a Pentium D system at work, which probably runs around 2.6 GHz, and it’s a slug. But that’s probably mostly because they insist on foisting Office 2007 on us.

But sometimes that work PC feels like one of the PCs on that web site must.

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