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"We don't have the funds to buy a dedicted server to host WSUS."
I've heard that concern before and I am hopeful that smaller organizations that don't have an automated deployment solution will take heed.
You don't need a dedicated server for WSUS. In fact, if funds are so low your company is running on memories of the good times then you are ready for a workable solution.
Don't delay patching your systems. Even if you have to load VMWare on your workstation and then load Windows Server 2008 you can set this up to be your WSUS server.
Make sure that you allocate enough hard disc space for your data store. If you are a smaller shop with only a few dozen clients then you shouldn't have much to worry about.
Microsoft just released an out-of-band security patch (MS10-018) for all supported versions of IE (5.1, 6, 7, and 8) on all of their platforms. The patch is rated as critical for XP, Vista, and Windows 7. (Some of the server platforms rated as important or moderate.)
It's the delay that can really hurt some companies. When a vendor does an out of cycle release it's usually because the exploits are public knowledge, or worse, actively being exploited.
If you don't already have an automated WSUS solution then start on one today. If it's going to take you a little time, you can find other methods to deploy.
If you're in bind and want to deploy right now you can use Admin Arsenal to do the deployment (see video below).
Please note that when it comes to automation of Windows security patches, we suggest that you use WSUS. (You can use Admin Arsenal to push all of your other applications and patches).
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Quickly discover what's installed on the computers
in your domain.
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Steven Warren over at Train Signal Training
has a good tutorial on using the Virtual PC optional download for Windows 7. I have always been a fan of virtualization and I really like what Microsoft is doing here. This gives them a new choice of how to deal with backward compatibility that they didn't have in the past, that is to simply ignore it.
Backwards compatibility is a double-edged sword. It keeps people from abandoning your platform when things break, but it makes it more difficult to innovate because it requires that you maintain the bad code as well as the good. It's a good thing to retire old APIs and tools when better options exist, but if you can't get rid of that second copy of notepad
then it puts a lot of pressure on future versions to maintain all of the cruft.
Apple broke ground in this area with first running OS 9 on top of OS X
and then Rosetta
to run PowerPC apps on Intel chips. Apple certainly leans a different direction than Microsoft in the backwards compatibility arena. Which model is better in the long run is up for debate, but it's nice to see Microsoft taking the cue and accepting the compromise of virtualization. It will be good to see some of the deprecated interfaces in Windows finally disappear.
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The evolution of the System Administrator is truly deserving of a National Geographic documentary.
Technical conferences and seminars may as well have been called "Abstinence Fest". Our ancestors were known as reclusive, socially retarded geeks. We can accurately estimate the age of some of the earlier system administrators by running a new type of Carbon Dating method which isolates the "sweat-ring" molecules found on our ancestor's shirts.
They watched Twilight Zone (OK, some of us still watch it) and logged onto their favorite BBS every night. Our ancestors indulged in pr0n downloads at 300 baud.
Our ancestors looked to be in perpetual need of a shower.
We reign from the sanctuary of the server room to the corner area of the cube farm where nobody dare venture.
The stereotype has long been broken.
Pocket protectors have been replaced by PDA's making us look like pretty much everyone else.
We are avid fishermen, hikers, bikers, dancers, potheads, musicians, mothers, fathers, groupies, fitness enthusiasts. Hell, some of us are even the "cool uncle" that our nieces and nephews want to hang with. We enjoy Indian cuisine, Sushi, and cappuccino.
We buy the first round at the bar. We can name "that Monty Python song".
You'll see us singing all the words at a Gogol Bordello concert.
You'll see us surfing the waves on The Gold Coast in Queensland.
Day dream is over. My shift is over. I need to untuck that one part of my shirt and zip up my fly. I will, of course, verify that all my servers are running and that my cron jobs are a go. Then I'll gather up my laptop, drink the rest of my Monster drink (green) and walk out. No one will say goodbye because I am, as usual, the last to leave. I'll go to the bar and be that one guy who sits alone and pretends to be constantly texting. I'll look but not touch. You never mess with a system in production.
First round is on me...
The new password that Brian scribbled down was easy to come up with. Now to get it applied to all of his workstations.
He sighs. Nothing like managing local admin accounts. It makes him appreciate Active Directory even more.
Brian likes his job, mostly. Today, however, seems to be an exception. While reviewing his installed software inventory reports, Brian discovers that a user has installed some unauthorized software. Looks like the local admin account password has gotten out.
Upon further digging he discovers that Randy in accounting has installed his home version of Adobe Acrobat. Brian cracks his knuckles and reaches for the Extra Strength Excedrin that he keeps on his cubicle shelf.
Randy has now exposed the company to two serious threats:
- An application has been on its network that IT wasn't aware of. Brian remembers that Adobe released a critical security patch a couple of months ago. (Thanks for leaving the back door open, Randy.)
- They now have unlicensed software in their environment. This opens the company up to possible legal action. (The fines alone are higher than Brian's entire IT budget.)
In short, it's time to change the local admin password... again.
Brian opens Admin Arsenal, right-clicks on his "Online Workstations" collection, and selects Tools> Remote Command.
In four words he changes the local password on 175 workstations:
The net user command is deployed to all 175 of his workstations in less than two minutes. No users are interrupted.
With the easy part now done, Brian walks toward the office of Randy's manager. Yep, sometimes he likes his job.
Step-by-step video of changing the local account password on all your computers.
(YouTube blocked? Try viewing it here.)
Side notes: It's a good idea to rename your local admin account from default Administrator (but you already knew that).
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Microsoft's recent confirmation that Internet Explorer 9 won't be available on XP
gives one more reason to finally move up to Windows 7. At the same time it highlights the interesting position that many people and companies are in. The missteps of Vista (real or imagined) following the long development cycle have gotten many very comfortable with XP and opposed to upgrading. Don't fix it if it ain't broke, as it were. I can certainly understand this view. It used to be that finishing a migration to a new OS entailed a turn around to immediately planning the next one. Getting out of that habit was nice, and a couple of years where the next migration kept getting pushed off gave us some breathing room that is difficult to give up.
We all know that the world keeps moving too fast to let us stay safely ensconced in one OS forever, but that doesn't mean we have to like it. Perhaps one day OS updates will trickle out slowly and continuously allowing us to move from an XP to a 7 over the course of a few years without even thinking about it. From an OS vendor's standpoint such a move would require something more like a subscription model, but consumers have been reluctant to go that direction. One advantage of the model is that it could flatten out the upgrade cycle, with migrations being more like today's service packs. Microsoft, and other OS vendors for that matter, may have to move that direction anyway because they're running out of new things to put into an upgrade that warrants the pain and cost of a massive migration. Microsoft may have inadvertently demonstrated this with XP lasting so long and users realizing that the OS is becoming a commodity.
If XP lasts 10 years, how long will Windows 7 last? What could be following on that compelling enough to make the next upgrade? I think users are going to be wary of moving again now that we've seen it's not as necessary as we thought.
A common problem that users encounter when using agentless tools to manage their computers is that they have the RemoteRegistry disabled.
Since Admin Arsenal is one of these agentless tools, RemoteRegistry must be enabled in order to perform many essential Windows Administrator tasks.
After enabling RemoteRegistry you'll be able to see what software is installed on your computers.
Admin Arsenal runs five tests on each system to ensure that is has the necessary settings and privileges to allow you to manage efficiently.
- DNS Lookup
- ADMIN$ Share
Have questions? Visit our forum at support.adminarsenal.com for answers to common questions.
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What many of our co-workers do not realize is that a lot of us in the sys admin world do, in fact, use healthy amounts of cologne and perfume. Here are a list of my favorites that I have run across as I meet my fellow system administrators:
- WMI Access Denied Mist - A rich blend of Green Monster and Cheetos. This cologne is known to leave an orange residue on your fingers and, subsequently, on your keyboard as you try and figure out the damn WMI security.
- Essence of Registry - Get lost in the blend of Outlaw Beef Jerky and room temperature black coffee (Folgers, of course).
- Infinity by Loop - This is the scent that, like the flawed routine you wrote this morning, will never, ever end. The ingredients are a hodge-podge of Mongolian BBQ mixed with some Kimchee your co-worker swore you'd love.
- Gamer by Gaultier - Oh yes, the cologne of gamers. Forget old-school BO and flatulence - we now have Pizza Pockets and Natty Lite (or whatever else your roommate has to drink in his fridge).
- Hommes Taches de Traspiration (Men's Perspiration Stains) - This French cologne will ensure your legacy as the go-to-guy for all things BASH. Free, at no extra charge, you will safely avoid offers of promotion into management.
- Stallman by Richard Stallman (self-explanatory).
- LDAP by FCUK - The French Connection finally came through with a perfume that the ladies will love. Spritz this little joy on your neck at your next Microsoft Tech-Ed appearance and watch the booth babes weeping from loneliness as you run to the nearly deserted Women's restrooms to plan your ultimate exit strategy.
- UAC by Satan - This is the first cologne whose main ingredient is profanity. Mix in a 5th of Jack along with an open letter to Management extolling the virtues of Linux and you have: UAC by Satan.
Here are some small tidbits of information I've run across this week that may be of interest to you, the humble system administrator (YMMV
Photo by extranoise
An interesting blast to the past of Windows during the earliest of days. Written by Trandy Tower, the product manager over the 1.0 release. It's interesting to see how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Windows had been announced the previous year with much fanfare and support from most of the existing PC vendors. However, by the time of my discussion with Steve, Windows still had not shipped within the promised timeframe and was starting to earn the reputation of being "vaporware."
It's still early days, but it appears that the European requirement for Microsoft to display browser alternatives in Windows is spreading the love around. Will it keep up, and if so, is it good for the industry? What about the really small players who don't get a spot on the screen? It may already be too late for them. An interesting experiment to keep eyes on.
The 50,000-plus Firefox downloads that have occurred via direct links from the browser choice screen are only a fraction of overall downloads of Mozilla’s browser, which can reach half a million a day across Europe, Mr. Lilly said. That total has not changed much since the Microsoft initiative began at the end of February, he added.
But Mr. Lilly said downloads could increase once more people received the choice screen. Microsoft says the system was tested first in Britain, Belgium and France but has not said how widely it has been rolled out elsewhere in Europe.
Count me in to the group of people who thought that the Internet wouldn't succeed in the mighty face of the walled gardens of online services. Or, at least, the group of people willing (or clueless enough) to admit how wrong they were. Some people, though, made their opinions known in print so they couldn't hide if they wanted to. This article from Newsweek in 1995 shows not only how common this view was, but it's a cautionary tale today for how wrong our predictions of technology can be.
Then there's cyberbusiness. We're promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We'll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn't—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.
If there's anyone who knows hosting, it's Google. And it's very instructive to see how they handle a major power outage. Their openness about what went well and what didn't is a benefit to anyone who has the ability to learn from the mistakes of others.
What happens when the power goes out at a Google data center? We found out on Feb. 24, when a power outage at a Google facility caused more than two hours of downtime for Google App Engine, the company’s cloud computing platform for developers. Last week the company released a detailed incident report on the outage, which underscored the critical importance of good documentation, even in huge data center networks with failover capacity.
We can all give a sigh of relief for good old Bill. I was worried about where his next meal would come from.
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The session planner for TechEd 2010 is now live. Which break out sessions will you be attending? I have three suggestions.
- Avoid Tunnel Vision
- Schedule Unscheduled Breaks
Avoid Tunnel Vision
Ron is one of eight Windows administrators for his company. He oversees 1,250 workstations and 30 servers spread among 5 regional offices. His job is to deploy software patches to all of his systems.
During TechEd he notes several (tons, actually) sessions devoted to SharePoint. Ron knows that his company is already evaluating SharePoint and may be using it soon. Realizing that he will likely be sitting in on change control meetings when Sharepoint comes alive he decides to devote time for one session.
An hour later Ron is has an understanding of some key Sharepoint features and benefits. He understands a little (emphasize little) more about the underpinnings of the application. This is good. Unbeknownst to Ron, his company will be hiring a Sharepoint administrator in the coming months, and Ron will be asked to conduct a portion of the interview since his boss thinks that he knows everything. (He doesn't... but at least now he can fake it with authority).
TechEd is nuts. His hotel was advertised as being 4 blocks from the convention center, but it's obvious that this distance was measured by a crow. The hallways are full of people and tables. Cell phones are pasted to peoples ears and he notices that a lady, half standing, half leaning against a wall, is balancing her laptop on one knee while precariously typing her password and establishing a VPN connection to put out a fire back home. Ron counts no fewer than six Windows Administrators doing the same thing, the least experienced of them speaking loudly into his cell as if to emphasize his extreme importance to passersby.
The next session is starting in three minutes but Ron is calm. While the next scheduled conference break is in just over an hour, Ron is taking his unscheduled break now. He won't be hitting the expo hall quite yet. He finds as a quiet a spot as he can and he relaxes. No pounding out emails or texting instructions to the jr. Windows admin he left in charge. Nope. This is Ron's time. He's learned from hard experience that as the convention wanes on, information overload sets in.
While relaxing, his mind starts to wander. Some thoughts of the last session, his hotel, the upcoming party, and the shuttle schedule come into his mind, linger for a minute, and then leave as quietly as they came in. He just relaxes. If the same thought continues to enter his mind, he'll make a mental note. For now, this is his time.
Fifteen minutes later, more refreshed than he would be after taking an hour long scheduled break, he gets up and heads to the expo floor. He wanders between the booths, not watching the booth representatives, but watching fellow attendees as they enter and leave booths. He spots a group of three guys, likely from the same company, in a booth that is selling backup software.
He walks by slowly and notices that the three TechEd attendees leave the booth. Ron now does what many, many admins have a tough time doing. He introduces himself, but not in the conventional way. He simply states something about the booth they just left, saying "do you think that XYZ backup software would work for your company?" A quick reply comes, while everyone is still walking, something like "maybe, but we already have a backup solution for our 80 servers, so we were just looking."
Ron replies, "oh, we backup maybe 25 servers in our company, but we are outgrowing our solution. May I ask the solution that you are using?"
This conversation may last one more sentence, and it may last 40 minutes. It all depends on the value that Ron brings to it.
Don't look now, but Ron is networking, which is much more than trading business cards. Ron will walk away knowing more about backup software than he currently knows, and if the conversation included trading Twitter handles or LinkedIn connections, he now has a source that he can use.
TechEd is over. Ron is heading home. He's met maybe a good two dozen fellow admins. He's covered topics on the newest versions of products he uses, as well as Sharepoint and a few other areas that were of broad interest. He knows more people and they know him.
Ron is ready.
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A friend (who also happens to be a system management admin) tried a very interesting experiment several years back. System admins the world over will be able to appreciate this one...
His boss told him to deploy a security patch for an application that was present on ALL of their computers which ran Microsoft Windows. My friend, Mike, knew that if he made an announcement that he was going to deploy a patch, he would be inundated with support calls, questions and complaints that had zero, nada, nothing at all to do with the patch. This is the whole "Correlation Does Not Imply Causation" argument that scientists, nutritionists, medical personnel and certainly system administrators have to deal with all the time.
So Mike did something very interesting. He deployed the patch to 1,500+ computers on a Friday afternoon. He told NO ONE that he was doing this. He stayed late that weekend to ensure that the patch didn't break anything. He printed different reports showing time/date stamps and success rates of the deployment.
The following Monday there were no complaints other than the usual run-of-the-mill tech questions from users. The following Wednesday he sent out an email stating that he was going deploy a patch that evening. He didn't specify what, exactly, the patch was for. Of course he didn't allude to the fact that he had ALREADY installed the patch the previous week. The following morning a slew of calls kept coming in with frustrated users complaining that his carelessness had caused their systems to go "down". What were some of the problems caused by this patch? As I recall a few were:
"My scanner stopped working"
"My printers are no longer there"
"AutoCAD is broken"
"Power Point no longer shows my slides"
and a whole bunch of "My computer is running slow, thanks a lot!"
There were others but I was too busy laughing to commit them all to memory.
After he had collected dozens of complaints he sent his email stating the facts of the deployment. I don't know if he opined in public about his findings and conclusions of this little sociological experiment, but whether vocalized or not the results speak volumes.
As the old scuba diving axiom goes: "Plan your dive and dive your plan." We all need to document what we do and understand any dependencies (internal and external) of our actions. We need to understand that the general population will almost always confuse correlation with causation. "Oh, you installed an application on my computer and suddenly my printer toner ran out!"
If you are in an environment where you don't need to announce every step you take, then utilize this to your benefit. This doesn't mean not to document and track your administrative tasks, it just means you don't have to spend your time announcing to the world every time you modify a GPO.
If you ARE in an environment where you need to announce every change or thought, then it is wise to state what common outcomes may occur from your modification. This is actually standard Change Management procedure. Let your users know that you are going to patch versions of Attachmate Reflection. If they notice changes in their terminal emulation duties, these MAY be related to the update. If Peachtree, Quicken, or Solitaire don't work as expected the issue is almost certainly NOT related to the recent changes. If they think the change caused their printer to stop working then take that moment to send an email to the CEO explaining the importance of "thinning the herd" and call for mass lay-offs in certain departments. ahem.
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Here's a (seemingly) random collection of registry settings which I have recently encountered that you may find useful. Hopefully there's one or more that you may not be aware of.
1. Enable Unsolicited Remote Assist
Unsolicited remote assist is very handy for troubleshooting problems on a remote computer where you don't have some other form of remote control such as VNC. I've found that enabling it through the UI doesn't always allow it to work, and you get some cryptic errors. These settings seem to really get it going.
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows NT\Terminal Services
fAllowUnsolicited = 1
fAllowUnsolicitedFullControl = 1
AllowTSConnections = 1
fDenyTSConnections = 0
fAllowToGetHelp = 1
2. Increase Desktop Heap
Sometimes opening a lot of windows or tabs in Internet Explorer pushes use of the heap (a section of memory used by the desktop.) When you bump up against the limit, strange things start to happen. This blog post details a way to increase it which gives you more headroom.
3. Allow Popups on Secure Sites
Internet Explorer's popup blocker is pretty handy most of the time. But when you're connected to a secure web site you may want it disabled because the popups are part of the user interface for the site (such as for authentication.) This setting allows popups on HTTPS sites.
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\New Windows
Allow HTTPS = 1
4. No LAN Manager Hashes
An oldie, but a goodie. This entry prevents the system from storing LAN Manager password hashes which are much less secure than Kerberos or NT hashes. Older systems such as Win 98 and ME won't be able to authenticate, but that's actually a benefit.
NoLMHash = 1
5. Disable Shaking
This one is a personal taste thing. I don't like the shaking
feature of Aero in Windows 7, I seem to activate it all the time on accident (perhaps I have muscle spasms.) Here's a way to disable it.
HKEY_CURRENT_USER \ Software \ Microsoft \ Windows \ CurrentVersion \ Explorer \ Advanced
DisallowShaking = 1
6. Screen Saver Grace Period
The default setting for the grace period on requiring a password after the screen saver starts may be a bit too short for you.
ScreenSaverGracePeriod = (number of seconds)
7. Take Ownership Menu
This one isn't as much of a registry setting as it is a shortcut, but it's still handy. If you find yourself needing to take ownership of files a lot, this will be quicker than going through the security tab. It adds a menu item in Windows Explorer when you right click on a file or directory which will give you ownership.
(default) = "Take Ownership"
NoWorkingDirectory = (empty)
(default) = "cmd.exe /c takeown /f \"%1\" && icacls \"%1\" /grant administrators:F"
IsolatedCommand = "cmd.exe /c takeown /f \"%1\" && icacls \"%1\" /grant administrators:F"
(default) = "Take Ownership"
NoWorkingDirectory = (empty)
(default) = "cmd.exe /c takeown /f \"%1\" /r /d y && icacls \"%1\" /grant administrators:F /t"
IsolatedCommand = "cmd.exe /c takeown /f \"%1\" /r /d y && icacls \"%1\" /grant administrators:F /t"
8. Disable Simple File Sharing
Simple file sharing in XP makes remote administration a bit difficult, mainly by disabling the admin shares (ADMIN$, C$, D$, etc.)
forceguest = 0
9. Disable Writing to USB Drives
This is a helpful security setting if your organization wants to disable writing to USB drives on certain machines.
WriteProtect = 1
10. Default User Settings
This is more of a tip than a setting. If you need to restore a key in HKEY_CURRENT_USER to its default, you can find them all in HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT. This is also handy if you want to change a setting that will be used for all new user accounts because it is used as a template for each new user's registry settings.
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I like Google Apps. Our entire office uses it. I've even written about it... a couple of times. It's great for collaboration. Better yet, it's great for those of us who don't just work on one computer in one location.
All that being said... Microsoft can win this battle. Here's why.
One thing has been very obvious to us in our use of Google Apps; we're not ready to throw out our Microsoft Office. Far from it. We all still have Office loaded on every system. While our use has certainly waned over the past six months, none of us could let it go.
That's why I like Microsoft's answer to Google Apps. They're not trying to play the game on Google's terms. They're not positioning Office Web Apps as an alternative to their well known (and still profitable) Office Suite. They're positioning it as an extension.
Google's answer is that you need only one solution. Microsoft's answer is that you can have both. While it's still in beta and therefore functionally broken (still can't edit word docs), it's coming along.
My gripe about Google Apps is that it's not really seamless to import a Microsoft doc or spreadsheet into Google Apps and have it ready for prime time. It's the little gotcha's that creep up and make you reluctant to completely let go of Office. (For instance, try printing Google Apps spreadsheet without the grid lines. It's possible, but not intuitive and not without modifying the URL of your spreadsheet - at least not as of a month or so ago).
Large companies have moved to Google Apps, while others have been hesitant because of the concern of needing large documents now only to have all of them being downloaded over and over again. Microsoft has answered this through their Office Web Apps over Sharepoint. It's a great idea. The benefits of hosting while still maintaining control of your docs.
Windows Administrators take note; we will still need to do software installations for Office 2010, even while taking advantage of Office Web Apps. Remember, it's extending Office, not replacing it. We'll post deployment instructions as the beta progresses.
There's promise in both Microsoft and Google offerings. It's just nice to see someone (Microsoft) playing a game but doing so on their terms.
And in true free market form, the products of both will be better and the consumers will benefit.
Take advantage of Office 2010 beta.
Google is one of the best resources to answer questions, quickly. For system administrators, it's sometimes not just the first line of resource, but unfortunately the last.
Simply put, Google has made system administrators even more anti-social.
I've been impressed with Matt Simmons (of Stand Alone Sysadmin fame) and his work in the IT community. Matt is on the planning committee for a League of Professional System Admisitrators in New Jersey (LOPSA-NJ), which is a Professional IT Community Conference (PICC).
OK, no more acronymns. I promise.
So why should we care about this since most of us aren't in the New Brunswick area? I'll address that, but first I want to shoot a message to those of you are are in that neck of the woods.
The conference is not vendor or platform specific so it should appeal to a wide audience.
If you're in the area you should give serious consideration about attending. You'll see real world solutions that sys admins are utilizing every day. Some solutions will be home grown while others will be Commerical Of The Shelf (I would have used COTS, but I remembered my earlier promise on acronymn abstinence).
If you're not in the NJ area, never fear. You have many resources to help you find where your community hangs out. Be they official conferences or less official gathers.
And for the everyday community you have LinkedIn, Sys Admin Network, and even Server Fault.
Is LinkedIn really worth it? Isn't it just for your friends who have recently been laid off? Ummm, no (though it's value in finding new career paths is very high, especially for those who foster their connections BEFORE they need to polish up the ol' resume dot doc.)
To me the value of LinkedIn lies within its Groups. There are thousands of groups, so you will likely find one that is a tight community of people who deal with what you deal with, everyday.
Sys Admin Network is another good one. I like their motto: "no more hiding in the server room".
All of these tools have one thing in common. Community. Your management may treat you like an island, but you have a huge support network.
Google is great. If they keep giving us good information then we'll keep using them. But it's a starting point. We have tough jobs. We learn best when we're under pressure. Find out how you can tap into the knowledge from other sys admins.
From now on the only people who can call us quiet loners will be our neighbors.
And that's just the way it should be.
Follow me on Twitter @ShawnAnderson
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Author: Adam Ruth
I cut my programming teeth, like most programmers my age, on a version of BASIC that came with my computer. In my case it was on an IBM PC my father bought for his accounting business back in 1982. There's something immensely pleasurable about toying around with a small program and making the computer do what you want. Even if back then it wasn't much more than playing little tunes on the internal speaker or creating a calculator, it was still a very empowering experience.
Flash forward to the present and it's not easy to find that utter simplicity. The programming tools available to Windows administrators these days can be very complex, with learning curves that make it difficult to take up programming on the side as a way to automate your world. Batch files and Visual Basic Script tended to get a lot of use because they're so simple, even if they seem like little more than "toys." But they're both getting old and somewhat obsolete, less useful than they used to be with all of the new advances in Windows and applications.
Enter Microsoft Small Basic
, a programming environment intended to make programming fun again, like it was back in the days of green screens and 128K of memory and a big imagination. It's based on .NET allowing it to interact with newer system APIs easily. While it's not really meant for any particular kind of task, I can see it taking off in the administrator community as the heir apparent to VBS. It's still not a fully released product, but you can download it in it's current state to play with, it's at version 0.8 and it's free.
One nice thing about it is that it has a direct upgrade path to Visual Basic.NET, essentially meaning that it flattens out the leading edge of the VB.NET learning curve. Admins can start using it to automate tasks and then move up to full-blown VB.NET to get some serious work done. MSDN has a number of blog posts
with a lot of good information. Go ahead and download it and give it a whirl, if for nothing else than simple fun!
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