Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Add a Vista machine to your XP network

Today’s article was triggered by a client who wanted my assistance troubleshooting a file sharing problem on a Windows network. The answer to their troubles turned out to be a very simple one, and you can avoid their headache quite easily.

Most of us have a home network (called a “SOHO LAN”, Small Office/Home Office Local Area Network) of several computers connected to a router by Ethernet cables and/or to a WAP (Wireless Access Point) by “WiFi” radio signals.
This allows us to ‘split’ our Internet connection to all our machines; and allows us to “share” files and folders between machines.. so that I can ‘access’ the music on one machine, and play it on another, for example.

Tip of the day: Set your machines to the same Workgroup.
SOHO LAN networks, such as ours, are what is called “peer-to-peer” (aka “P2P”), and what you need to understand about that is: for the machines in a P2P network to “share resources” (‘talk’ with each other) they must all be members of the same workgroup.

My client’s troubles were caused because they were using the Windows default workgroup, and had not set their own workgroup name, and this had worked fine for them.. until they brought home a shiny new Vista machine.
* The default workgroup name in XP is: MSHOME
* The default workgroup name in Vista is: WORKGROUP

See the problem? MSHOME is not the same workgroup as WORKGROUP, and so XP won’t ‘talk’ to the Vista machine, and visa versa.
The solution is to change the Vista machine’s workgroup to “MSHOME”.. or change the XP machines to “WORKGROUP”.. or better yet, change all your machines’ workgroup to your own, custom workgroup name.
My SOHO workgroup is “THEWIZKID”… because I am a wiz, and I once was a kid.. but you can pick any name you want.

Step 1: On the PC you want to change the workgroup membership/name on, right-click on My Computer (just “Computer” in Vista) and select “Properties”.
Step 2 (XP)*: Click on the “Computer Name” tab. Here you will see, and can modify, your computers name, description, and workgroup membership (as you will note, mine is already set to THEWIZKID, yours will probably say “MSHOME”). Click on the “Change” button, and enter the name of the workgroup you want to join (or create).

Step 3: Reboot your computer. When Windows starts again, your machine will now be a member of the proper workgroup and will be able to “talk” (share) with your other machines.

Step 2 (Vista): Click on the “Advanced system settings” link…
and answer “Continue” to the warning. Then do the same as the XP step 2 above.

That’s it. Reboot for the changes to take effect. The trick is simply to make sure your machines are all members of the same workgroup.

Note: if you do this, and your machines still aren’t “talking”/sharing with each other, temporarily turn off your firewalls and see if that resolves the issue (it almost always does). If so, you need to configure your firewall to allow file sharing on your network, which is a whole ‘nother article, and my fingers are tired.. another day.
Also, I was reminded that Vista wants to have a password set for the User Account before it will share files.

Today’s free link(s): If you have installed the “new” Firefox 3 Web browser, you might want to read 12 must-have add-ons for Firefox 3, and maybe choose a few to download.
Hey. Did you hear? They’ve found evidence of water on Mars.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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August 1, 2008 Posted by | computers, how to, network shares, networking, performance, tech, troubleshooting, Vista, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Where is your PC vulnerable? A ‘pro’ security tool for us

IT Security professionals use special scanners to analyze the “endpoints” (computers on the network) for risks (aka “vulnerabilities”)– such as missing or weak passwords, missing updates and ‘hotfixes’, and running Services that shouldn’t be running, and more. These tools (vulnerability assessment scans) make the job of keeping tabs on large networks much easier to do, as you might imagine. (Think of, say, trying to keep all the computers on the campus of your State College patched, updated, and reasonably locked down. Just you. Yikes!)

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could borrow one of these professional tools and scan your own (home) system with it?
I know; you read this (and other tech tip sites) series everyday; you’ve followed the advice contained in these (types of) articles; you’re pretty savvy, and you’ve taken steps to secure your computer. At least, you have made a reasonable effort.
But wouldn’t it be nice to check your work with the click of a mouse? Find any security areas/settings you might have over-looked.. or need improvement? And then be able to fix those areas with a couple of clicks? If you answered, “yes!”, keep reading.

Microsoft offers just such a tool to IT Professionals for the specific purpose of analyzing Windows “endpoints” on their networks, and the good news is that we regular folk can download and run this tool on our networks too, even if we have a “network” of one machine (if you’re connected to the Internet, you’re on a network). It’s named the MBSA, the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer, and it scans your machine(s) for:
* Missing (or misconfigured) Security Updates: (Office and Windows)
* Administrative (mis)configurations: (firewall, password strength/expiration, file system, Automatic Update, User accounts)
* Services and Shares: (this helps determine if you’re exposing more than you need to by running unnecessary options)
* Internet Explorer settings

When the scan is completed, it provides a status report of the results in an easy to read Red Shield = critical!, Yellow= warning (not compliant), and Green = you’re OK. For those yellow and red areas it discovers, it provides links for “Details”, so you can see why you didn’t score well, and one-click “How to correct this”, so you can fix your weak areas.

capture.jpg Home users will download and install MSBA (I will provide the link below) which will create an icon on their Desktop. Double-clicking the icon launches the MBSA, and a window opens asking you which computer, or range of computers, you want to analyze. Us regular folk will just want to scan our (local) machine, so we will select (click on) the first option.. as shown below.
By default, the next window will show that our machine has been selected.


 Click on “Start scan”, and sit back to await your results (you won’t wait long, MBSA can analyze a single machine in about a minute).

A perfectly configured machine will produce all green shields, and you can give yourself a big pat on the back and Quit MBSA. For the rest of us, any areas that require your attention will be listed first, and have red or yellow warnings.
My test machine produced two yellow shields: one warning me that Automatic Updates was configured to download, but not Install, Microsoft patches (that is my preferred setting as I like total control over what gets installed, and so I can ignore this warning); and one warning me that I am missing a Service Pack.. this alarmed me, so I clicked on “Details” to find out what I was “missing”.

This new window told me that this month’s MSRT had not yet been Run (remember? I’ve set Update to download but manually install.), and provided me with the link to click to Download the “missing” Update.. allowing for quick remediation of a detected problem.
Basically what you do is go down the list of red and yellows, and correct each one by clicking the provided links, which will turn the shield to green.

Today’s free link: To download your copy of this “Pro” tool, click here, and choose “Save” (not “Run”) and “To: Desktop” from the download window. This will place an “Install package” icon on your computer’s Desktop. When the download is completed, close any open windows and double-click on the new Install icon; this will start the installation. Agree to the EULA and follow the prompts through to “Finish”. There will now be a new shortcut icon (shown above) on your Desktop which you will use to launch the MBSA (you can “Recycle” the Install package now) and start evaluating and hardening your machine’s security.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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March 13, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, network shares, networking, passwords, PC, security, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , | 3 Comments

Vista’s painless transfer tool

Loyal friends and true of this series may have the feeling that I have nothing nice to say about Vista. Today I’m going to prove that concept as untrue. I do have some nice things to say.

But first let me review some of the truths that aren’t so nice:
1) Vista is “resource intensive”. That means it’s big, and it takes a lot of RAM to run properly — Vista should be run on a dual-core CPU and have at least a GigaByte of RAM memory (fast RAM memory), and really should be run on two Gigabytes. And..

2) Vista doesn’t like really old devices. It is becoming easier to find device drivers for older hardware, and this ‘truthism’ is becoming less true, but if you have a really old device, (say a printer that attaches via a parallel port), or an old and never-was-popular device (say a very early Radio Shack TV ‘tuner’ card), then you should be prepared to buy a more up-to-date replacement.

3) The first “Service Pack” hasn’t been released yet.

Because of these facts (as I have mentioned before in such articles as Upgrading to Vista) I have advised my readers not to “upgrade” their existing (and therefore older) machines to Vista — especially without having first run the Vista Upgrade (Compatibility) Advisor tool. And I did warn folks that an Upgrade cannot be undone.
Why pay money for a operating system that will bog down, and your sound card and video capture card won’t run? That’s what will happen if you Upgrade a 2½-to-5 year-old PC. Just because it works dandy-fine on XP, doesn’t mean it’ll work on Vista.

No. Don’t Upgrade to Vista.. upgrade to a new machine (that has Vista on it). I stick by that opinion. Unflinchingly.

Vista is slick. It’s more secure. It’s going to bring us (eventually) advances in our video games. It actually competes with Apple. It doesn’t bury Settings so deeply nor hide them so well. It has new (to Windows) features. And…
1) It does some (most, actually) things better than XP does.

What do I mean? Well, recently I had the unique pleasure of installing a whole new network: everything was new — brand new Vista PCs, new WAPs/routers, and Gigabit Ethernet on Cat6. This was quite a bit of a different experience than adding Vista machines to an existing (XP-based) network.. or even of adding XP machines to a XP-based network. Granted, this was a SOHO network of less than 10 machines, and I wasn’t dealing with Active Directory, but the difference was night and day.

I was most impressed by the fact that each machine joined the network, and saw its neighbors, effortlessly. This was easy to see happening, too. Vista shows you a dynamic network map. Routers and the Internet were automatically detected.
Folder sharing worked as it should.. no strange Permission errors.. no “folder climbing”, as with prior editions. For you audiophiles, Vista and Windows Media Player (can) readily and automatically shares (like a server) each machine’s music libraries.. a couple of clicks, for that.

And this is what blew me away– all the machines were to share an older HP DeskJet. And the network’s owner didn’t want to purchase the equipment make a print server, but to use one of the PCs.. like most people do at home. So I installed the printer and then clicked on “Share this printer”, like I’ve done a thousand times before. Then I went to each machine and opened their Printer section of the Control Panel, and there was the printer! Whoa! All I had to do was make sure it was set as the default printer (one click).
Did I say, “blew my mind”? I was floored. No “Add new printer” wizard. No trying to browse to a \\XPmachine\HPDeskJet share. No error messages. Wow. This was Plug and Play the way it’s supposed to be! Too easy.
My hours spent installing the network was a mere fraction of what I was (from experience) reasonably expecting. Not good for my bottom line; great for Vista owners.

For those of you who have ever used a User State Migration Tool, or Easy Files and Settings Transfer tool, to migrate your data from an old computer to your new computer — or purchased a special program, or cable — you know that getting your new machine exactly as you had your old machine required some time and effort.

The owner of the new network wanted me to replicate his XP set up onto one of the new Vista machines, and the usual method has been to to use one of the techniques mentioned in the paragraph above. But I didn’t. I used an adjunct to Window’s built-in Easy Files and Settings Transfer tool, which will be today’s free link.
I downloaded this program to both his XP machine and the new Vista machine. Then I plugged his XP machine into the new network. Surprise! The XP machine was instantly seen and recognized. (Try doing the reverse, and see if the XP machines find the Vista..)
Then I launched the Windows Easy Transfer Companion on the Vista PC and followed the wizard. The two machines established a connection and the XP machine transferred its installed programs, and all the files, and all of the owners tweaks and settings (like bookmarks, and custom toolbars). All I did was watch.
This was, by far, the fastest and easiest user state migration I’ve ever experienced, and truly was like the title of this article — painless. Again, this is bad for a PC Tech’s bottom line, but great for Vista owners.

Today’s free link: When you buy a new PC, you will almost certainly want to transfer all kinds of things from the machine you’ve been using to the new one. Microsoft has “a companion” for the Easy Files and Settings Transfer tool called the Windows Easy Transfer Companion. It is actually a ‘stand-alone’. This tool not only transfers your documents and personalized Settings tweaks, but the programs you have installed. This is a huge time saver.
I did my transfer over the local network, but you can use the other methods of data storage to make the transfer as well– including USB thumb drives. [Note: while Microsoft still considers this program to be in beta, I experienced absolutely no hiccups or difficulties at all.]

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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November 2, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, device drivers, dual-core processors, file system, hardware, how to, network shares, networking, PC, permissions, routers, security, Simple File Sharing, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Create a hidden folder for your private stuff

Sometimes a little privacy is nice. Today I’m going to show you how to hide a folder so that other people who use your machine won’t be able to see it, or its contents.
I hope all of you had a pleasant and enjoyable holiday weekend.

Tip of the day: Create a hidden folder for your private files. The first thing to consider is where to place the folder. You want it to be someplace you’ll remember easily, and someplace sort of out of the way. Some folks will put it right on their desktop, and there is a certain elegance to the “hide in plain sight” approach, but I’m going to bury it a little… inside my My Video folder (inside My Documents).

Navigate to the My Video folder (My Documents >My Video) and open it. If you have not loaded any video onto your PC, this window will be blank (empty). Now create a new folder. Right-click on any part of the blank area and select “New” from the list of choices, and a new list of choices appear — select “folder”.


Now you will see a folder ready for a new name. I chose to name mine “stuff”, as it is fairly uninteresting and innocuous. If you want to make sure nobody is tempted to look in there, you could name it “efficiency reports 2005”, but you want to avoid an intriguing name, like “private”, “confidential”, “good stuff”, or “collection”.

Now we’re going to make the folder hidden: right-click on your new folder (“stuff” in my example) and select “Properties”. Down towards the bottom is a checkbox labeled “Hidden”. Check it, and click on the “Apply” button.


Now when you navigate back to the My Video folder you will not see your folder. If you do, it should be faded, or “dim”. This means you have your Folder Options set to “show hidden files and folders”. This is normally off, by default; but to undo this setting, look (up) to the Tools menu and click it, and select “Folder Options” (the bottom choice) and then the View tab.


Make sure the radio button “Do not show hidden files and folders” is selected, and then click on the “Apply to All Folders” button, or the “Apply” button if you only want to affect the My Video folder. Now the folder is invisible. To make it visible again, for when you want to use it, reverse the steps above to “Show hidden…”

Let us say you want to put a password “lock” on the folder to make it even more difficult for other users to look inside (should they locate it somehow). Right-click on the folder and select “Properties” again and click on the Sharing tab.


Place a check in the “Make this folder private” checkbox and click “Apply”. Now the folder is protected with your User Account’s logon password. If you have not implemented a User Account password, you missed my very second Tech–for Everyone article; to see it, click here, you will now be warned that there’s no User Account password.


answer “Yes”, and you’ll be taken to the User Accounts control panel.


Since you will have to enter this each time you log onto the PC, I suggest you follow the rules of a strong password (complex), as discussed in the article above (the link) and write it down someplace as well.

Now you have a secure — and private — place to keep your personal files. But wait, there’s more!

Today’s free link: Because of the fact that hidden files and folders can be found by someone with a little savvy (like you, now that you know the “Show hidden files” command) and the password protection will only apply to network shares and when the other user have their own User Accounts… if you are sharing your UA (User Account), you need a 3rd-party tool to hide and encrypt the folder(s) you want to keep private. True Crypt is the free solution I recommend.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul, All Rights Reserved.

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September 4, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, encrypting files, file system, how to, network shares, networking, passwords, PC, permissions, privacy, security, tech, User mode, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

NTFS security conclusion–file sharing and Permissions

You’ve just shared your My Music folder on your personal desktop, you try to open it from your laptop, and you see “Access Denied”. You are told to “contact the administrator.” Life just gets better and better.


So what do you do? Turn Simple File Sharing back on?

Tip of the day: Share what you want to share by understanding (and using) Permissions. In yesterday’s article I pointed out that Simple File Sharing “shares” (makes available) everything with everyone, and suggested to you that you should turn it off for better data security. I then showed you how to open a folder’s (or file’s) Properties and ‘share’ it manually, which allows you specific control over each ‘resource’ on your network. When everything goes as it should, that is all you need to do and you have easy access to your ‘shared’ files. Sometimes things don’t go as we think they should [surprise!] and the reason usually is we’ve bumped into built-in Windows folder permissions which are denying us as an “unauthorized user”. Let’s take another look at the Sharing tab of my My Music folder.
The options available here offer a clue as to what is happening: you can make your folders “private”, which as you may guess is very restrictive; you can “share” (as shown) which is somewhat restricted (it is essentially “read only”); or, you can open things up and also “allow change” (this adds the “write” permission). But to really do what most of us want to do with our ‘shares’ (full access and full control), Windows wants us to drag them into the Shared Documents folder — even though the poorly worded description doesn’t sound like that’s what will happen.
The My Documents folder (and all of its subfolders — such as My Music) is “private” (the most restricted) by default…and here is where the problems occurs. This can get real confusing, real quick!

Windows XP’s NTFS has 5 “levels” of permission settings that it assigns to folders. If you are the type who would like a detailed technical explaination, you can read the Microsoft Knowledge article here.

To resolve Access Denied errors, you can troubleshoot the permissions in the “parent” folders (those ‘above’ the file/folder you’re trying to share), or you can use the workaround. The workaround is simple — just create a new folder for sharing. Right-click on a blank area of your desktop and select “New” and then “folder”. Give the new folder a name like ‘Sharing’. Now right-click on it and select Sharing and Security, and click on the Sharing tab. Now place a check (select) in both the “share this folder” and “allow changes” checkboxes.

Because this new folder has not “inherited” any restrictions, you will be able to fully access any of its contents from your networked computers. Now you can use the Move to, or the Copy to, (or, drag-and-drop) tools to fill your new ‘share’ with those items you want to have available.

If you continue to have access troubles that these methods do not resolve, you can always turn Simple File Sharing back on, though I don’t recommend it, or consult a friendly tech support type–like myself (Aplus Computer Aid) for instance.

Today’s free link: If you haven’t already peeked into your neighbor’s backyard (from space) using Google Earth, or otherwise explored our planet with the wonder of satellite images yet, give yourself a treat and do so. Download the GE Viewer and then type in the name or address of the spot you want to see, and Google Earth will ‘fly’ you there. Very cool.

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

July 20, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, converting to NTFS, file system, how to, network shares, networking, PC, permissions, security, Simple File Sharing, tech, Windows, XP | 1 Comment

Controlling your network, NTFS security part 3

Today I am going to conclude (I think) this series with an overview of using NTFS to establish greater security for your data on networked machines, and greater control over what is and what isn’t shared with others. A few simple adjustments will enhance your security whether you have a home network, or just a single computer connected to the Internet.
(Click here to read part 1, and here to read part 2)

Tip of the day: [for users of Windows 2000, XP Pro, XP Media Center Edition] Gain control by turning off Simple File Sharing and using NTFS permissions. I want to start out by demonstrating how to turn off the default method Windows uses to make files available to other devices (known as “Simple File Sharing”), which is a valid move to make even if your PC is not connected [“networked”] with any other machines at this time — because the “Internet” is one big network and if you use it, you’re connected. Simple File Sharing makes everything available to everyone.

Begin by opening any folder, My Documents, whatever, and look in the top menu bar, and select Tools. Now click on the bottom choice — “Folder Options”. Select the View tab.

Deselect (uncheck) the bottom option “Use simple file sharing (Recommended)”. I understand that word “recommended” might throw you, and make you hesitate. In reply, the answer is, times have changed. Today we must be more cautious. However, realize that you can reinstall Simple File Sharing simply by ‘checking’ it again at any time.

Those of you who do not have a small network at home are done for today — class is dismissed –but if you do have machines that share a printer and/or files, keep reading to learn how to re-establish communications.

First, decide what it is you wish to share, and then decide with whom, because NTFS allows for almost total control over the what/who/when/where and how of “resource” sharing on your network. I will use my My Music folder for my demonstration, but the same steps are applied to anything you wish to make available, whether it’s a device like a printer or DVD burner, or a single file.
mm.jpgHere is the familiar My Music folder’s icon. To begin “sharing” access, right-click on it and select “Sharing and Security” option. Click on the Sharing tab.

Place a check in the box labeled “Share this folder on the network” and either accept the “share name” (not the same as renaming) Windows gives it, or create your own name, and then click “Apply” and then “OK”.
Now the icon has changed to show that this folder is now being shared to other users and computers, and it will appear in the Network Neighborbood area of all the machines on your network. Go to another PC, open Network Neighborhood (or, “My Network Places”), double-click on it and it will look and function as if it were actually a part of that computer’s files. This allows you to play songs on one machine while they are actually stored on another (so you don’t have to have copies stored on each machine — wasting hard drive space).

I’m out of time, so tune in again tomorrow for a discussion on Permissions.

Today’s free link: Sorry folks, I’ve run out of time today.

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

July 19, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, converting to NTFS, file system, how to, network shares, networking, PC, permissions, security, Simple File Sharing, tech, Windows, XP | 12 Comments