Vista Wireless Problems

June 22, 2009

What Happened To My Wireless??

That’s a fair question, I think!  I know for me, the first time this happened, my laptop had been merrily working away with wireless networking at home and in my office.  Suddenly, over the course of a routine Windows update, I lost connection at home and nothing I did seemed to restore it.  The best I could get was “limited connectivity” and certainly I was not able to do anything useful like access the internet or check my emails.

The solution is remarkably simple, once you know about it!  Windows Vista is enabled for two technologies that, as yet, are not widely supported by existing hardware.  When Vista decides to use these new technologies, and the wind is in the wrong direction, suddenly you lose your wireless connection.  So – all we need to do is turn off those technologies and Vista will go back to the standard that IS supported more widely.

Let’s get started with the first one.

Internet Protocol 6 (IPv6):

Internet Protocol or IP is simply a way of naming your machine, so that other computers know where to find it when it asks a question.  Each time you visit a website, your computer reports its IP address so the website server knows where to send the page.  The most widely used IP system currently is IPv4 – but Vista comes fully enabled for IPv6 as well.  When Vista decides to use IPv6, the other parts of your network have no clue how to talk to your computer!  So let’s turn that off first:

  1. Open up your Network Connections folder:
    1. Hold down the “Windows” button on your keyboard (that’s the one between Ctrl and Alt with the Windows logo on it) and press R
    2. Type Control netconnections
    3. You will see a window containing all of your network connections
  2. Right click on the first network connection, and select “Properties” (you will need to click “continue” on the warning box that pops up)
  3. Uncheck the box next to Internet Protocol Version 6 (TCP/IPv6)
  4. Click “OK”
  5. Repeat for all the network connections on your machine.

DHCP Broadcast

This is the next thing to disable – again, enabled by default in Vista, but older hardware just does not respond and Vista will hang waiting for that DHCP broadcast flag to be acknowledged.

To resolve this issue, disable the DHCP BROADCAST flag in Windows Vista. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, type regedit in the Start Search box, and then click regedit in the Programs list. If you are prompted for an administrator password or for confirmation, type your password, or click Continue.
  2. Locate and then click the following registry subkey: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Tcpip\Parameters\Interfaces\{GUID} In this registry path, click the (GUID) subkey that corresponds to the network adapter that is connected to the network.
  3. On the Edit menu, point to New, and then click DWORD (32-bit) Value.
  4. In the New Value #1 box, type DhcpConnEnableBcastFlagToggle, and then press ENTER.
  5. Right-click DhcpConnEnableBcastFlagToggle, and then click Modify.
  6. In the Value data box, type 1, and then click OK.
  7. Close Registry Editor.

By setting this registry key to 1, Windows Vista will first try to obtain an IP address by using the BROADCAST flag in DHCP Discover packets. If that fails, it will try to obtain an IP address without using the BROADCAST flag in DHCP Discover packets.

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Multimedia and Linux

June 22, 2009

For the longest time, it could feel like you were missing out on a lot of the Windows experience, unless you had a lot of expertise in Linux, because installing the extensions needed to run those nice flash presentations or RealPlayer movies was just kind of tricky!  But with the latest Debian, that is all a thing of the past…

To get RealPlayer up and running:

  • Add the multimedia repository to your /etc/apt/sources.list
  • Run apt-get update; apt-get install realplayer;
  • Then the first time you open Realplayer, it will automagically check for the latest updates for you.  Very easy!

Now – for Adobe flash:

  • Visit the Adobe Flash download page
  • Pick the right version (for Debian, use Ubuntu)
  • Download that file to your computer, then open a terminal window as root and enter: dpkg -i yourflashfile.deb
  • Job done!

So – running Linux no longer means you have to miss out on anything!

There is a great open source email program out there, that many have already heard of, and that is Mozilla’s Thunderbird.  If you are running Windows, then I totally recommend using this program as an alternative to Outlook and, if you need more advanced calendaring and task management as well, then just take a look at my post on a Really Useful Email Program

So – setting up my new Debian workstation, I wanted to do the same thing.  But – for reasons unclear to me – Debian has its own version of Thunderbird called Icedove.  No problem with the name change, but if you want to run extensions like Lightning, then they have to be binary compatible (i.e. compiled with the same compiler) and that just isn’t the case with Icedove and the version you get with apt-get.  No problem – quickest fix is simply to download the latest i686 version from Mozilla’s website and install that!

Hitting a problem…

June 20, 2009

After much digging, it turns out that the latest nVidia GPL drivers require SSE support on the processor, which these machines do not have.  Now, I could install an earlier version of nVidia by hand, but that requires the kernel source files, which are not included in Fedora 11…  So – two options, either go to an earlier version of Fedora, or switch to Debian which I am more familiar with and I am pretty sure will work.  I’ve decided to go the Debian route for now, but I will certainly come back to Fedora when it’s time to upgrade this hardware!

I already have a Debian net-installation disk, so it’s just a matter of putting that in the CD drive and rebooting, then following the steps to configure the new Debian installation.  Once that’s done, let’s log in as root and do some housekeeping:

  1. Get the latest repository information – aptitude update
  2. Now install the latest version of everything already on the machine – aptitude dist-upgrade – you’ll need to reboot after this
  3. We will want antivirus installed, so let’s do that now before anything nasty can get into the machine:
    1. Add the development repository to your /etc/apt/sources.list – just add the line deb http://ftp2.de.debian.org/debian-volatile sarge/volatile main
    2. Update with aptitude update
    3. Install clamav with aptitude install clamav
  4. We need the desktop environment, but only the basics for now.  So aptitude install kde-core kdm xserver-xorg

That pretty much sets up the server, now we can move onto the workstations.  In order to serve up the PXE boot environment, this machine needs to be a dhcp server, DNS server and LTSP server so that’s the next job in hand…

Setting up the server

June 19, 2009

We installed Fedora from the Live-KDE CD, so everything you need should now be installed, but there may still be problems getting running.  In this case, the video hardware was nVidia and the standard Nouveau drivers were causing a GPU lockup…  So – switch to a CLI terminal (ALT + F2 will do it) and login as root…

Make sure you have the latest versions of everything with yum update

Add the RPMFusion repositories to your installation with:

rpm -Uvh http://download1.rpmfusion.org/free/fedora/rpmfusion-free-release-stable.noarch.rpm http://download1.rpmfusion.org/nonfree/fedora/rpmfusion-nonfree-release-stable.noarch.rpm

Now install the nVidia drivers with:

yum install xorg-x11-drv-nvidia

Now reboot!!

We’ve just moved into  new apartment and, having travelled across the Atlantic, we don’t have a lot of computer hardware with us.  Certainly not the servers and desktops that we are used to having!  But between the generosity of family and watching the local Freecycle carefully – we’ve acquired two older desktops, a monitor and the necessary networking kit.  We’re not talking cutting edge here – one Celeron and one AMD Athlon – but with the help of Linux, we’ll put together a server and workstation that will get us back online!

First step was to evaluate the hardware.  Seems like the AMD is a faster machine, so I’m making that the server – complete with RAID array for all our photos, etc.  The Celeron is much slower, and I’m short of decent harddrives, so I’m going to turn that into a workstation using PXE booting – that should share the load of the workstation stuff between the server (running the X-server) and the workstation – with a reasonable network speed this should be very useable.

So – we’ve got the hardware all setup – next step is to download the latest Fedora live CD, burn a bootable CD and boot our new server from that CD.  Once up and running – switch to a terminal by hitting ALT+F2, login as root (default password is not set) and type:

/usr/bin/liveinst

Follow the prompts to install and reboot!

Back in the good old days of CRT screens (you know – the ones that weigh a ton, give you a curved picture and take up most of your desk space?) – when the screen went black, that generally meant something very expensive and specialized to repair…  Moving onto today – most people are now switching over to sleek, new, lightweight LCD screens – and for good reason.  For only $200 or less, you can now get a 22″ widescreen for your computer, with almost zero distortion, using a fraction of the power and freeing up much of your deskspace.
But what happens when the screen goes black on that new LCD screen??  Before you throw it away – here are a few things to check…

  1. Is your signal cable still connected?  And at both ends – especially if you have small children or pets who get into small spaces, make sure that cable has not been dislodged at either end.
  2. Do you still have power?  Sounds simple – but many LCD screens have a remote power supply, which is more prone to being disconnected.  Quick check – make sure you have a green light on the display!
  3. Connect everything up and turn on your computer, so you SHOULD normally expect to see something on the screen.  Now shine a bright white light on the screen at an angle (an LED flashlight is perfect for this) – if the screen is working, you should be able to see the display where the flashlight beam hits it.  In that case – it’s just the lamp that is blown, not the whole screen.  Lamp replacements need some careful work, but with a little research on the manufacturer’s website, can be done pretty simply.

Of course – you might just decide now is the time to upgrade to that larger screen – in which case, offer your old screen on Freecycle – someone stuck in the dark ages of CRT might be glad to upgrade, even if it means a little repair work for them!

I just came across this problem – worth taking note of.  The original problem was caused by running a registry cleaner in Windows – in the process the Remote Procedure Call service got stopped.  So what?  Well – the first symptom was that the user could no longer drag desktop items around, but it would also disable the Windows installer program from running and a few other key functions…

As always – easy fix when you know it – thanks to mywebwork for this:

A quick fix for this is to open a command window (open the “Run” box and type “CMD”) and type the following command:

REG ADD "HKLMSYSTEMCurrentControlSetServicesRpcSs" /V Start /T REG_DWORD /F /D 2

You can also boot the computer from your install CD (or DVD), open the Recovery Console (press “R” on the welcome screen) and then type the following into the console:

Enable RPCSS Service_Auto_Start

Either method should restart the service upon reboot.

I’ve come across a couple of machines recently running Windows XP, where the CD/DVD drive has simply “disappeared”…  I still don’t really know what specifically causes this, although it seems to be related to installing new software, but the good news is that the fix is really simple!

First thing – can you boot from the CD drive? If so – then your hardware is probably OK, then it’s an OS problem. The fix is:

  1. Open up your registry editor (I use regedit)
  2. Find HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Class\{4D36E965-E325-11CE-BFC1-08002BE10318}
  3. Make sure you have the DVD/CD-ROM entry selected – NOT the keyboard or mouse!
  4. Delete the references to “Upper filters” and “Lower filters”
  5. Restart your computer

If you’ve been around computers in the business world for any length of time, chances are you’ve come across that Microsoft email platform Outlook – together with it’s monster server Exchange.  What these two pieces of software do is enable you to manage emails across a group of people, with shared calendars and a central email storage that you can access from anywhere, including your cellphone or Blackberry.  It’s a great system, but a little pricey if you are an individual or even a relatively small business.

Welcome to the world of Open Source software!!  It takes a little more work to set up, but once you’re running you can have most if not all of the functionality of Outlook and Exchange, but without all the costs and concerns about upgrading later:

Setup a gmail account at mail.google.com

Well known for their search engine, Google now offer a slick online email account.  This email account also gives you a contact manager and calendar online.  Put these three together, and you can do almost everything you need just through your web browser.  Google also offers access for most cellphones – and you can be sure they’re working on the rest!

But if you want to have a more traditional, desktop application like Outlook – read on…

First, we need to set up your Google account for remote access:

  1. In your Gmail account, click “settings” in the top right hand corner of the page
  2. Click “Forwarding and POP/IMAP”
  3. In the third section, enable IMAP access
  4. Click “save changes”

Download your Open Source software

Open source is an awesome way to access some of the best software around, yet keep your costs way down.  It can be a little more complex than that shiny Microsoft DVD, but it’s free and you can download it NOW!

  1. Thunderbird – the main email program
  2. Lightning – the calendar plugin for Thunderbird
  3. Google Contacts – to sychronize your contacts between Thunderbird and Google
  4. Provider for Google Calendar – to link your Lightning calendar with Google

Get these four programs installed – setup your new gmail account and you’re all set!  And you don’t need to let your old email address go either – you can use gmail to collect those emails into your gmail account too.  Now you can have all your emails in one place!!