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How to configure multiple NTP time sources in Windows Server 2008 (R2)

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Over the past few weeks, I noticed my computer's time was drifting several minutes behind. This actually caused me to be late to a couple different meetings because I kept working on my computer instead of leaving the house. Well, since it's a Saturday and I had some time to fix the problem once and for all, I wanted to share what I've learned since it took longer than I expected to configure NTP on a Windows Server.

It all began several months back when I setup a Windows 2008 R2 Server and thought "wouldn't it be cool if I set my desktop's clock to update from the server instead of a reliable external source?" So, I unwittingly redirected my desktop from its reliable 0.us.pool.ntp.org to my server's ip address with the assumption the server was already getting it's time from a default external source. Hence the source of my lateness months later.

Fast forward to today. I figured it would be a quick 5 minute fix to remote into the server, find some sort of ntp settings tab in a properties window, then add my multiple servers. I should have known better than to assume Microsoft would have added such a logical GUI feature. 

After searching the Internet, reading through several Microsoft technet articles, and testing multiple configurations, here's what I've got...

Windows 8 to include native support for ISO and VHD files

Just read an msdn blog post that reviews a cool feature to be included in Windows 8. Windows will now natively support ISO and VHD files! This is definitely nothing new, as 3rd party utilities have been available for years to provide this functionality in Windows. Alternatively, Linux has had the ability to mount ISOs since the dawn of time.

The good news is you will no longer have to go through the trouble of installing a 3rd party app, it'll just work.

Modify Windows Server Password Policy

So, while playing with Windows Server 2008 R2, I found the minimum password requirements to be a bit too stringent for a lab environment. If you find yourself in a similar predicament and wish to lower the password requirements to near-nothing (not recommended for production environments), then follow these steps:

How to change Windows Explorer default view to My Computer

If you have upgraded to Windows 7 from previous versions of Windows, you may have noticed a subtle difference when you open an explorer window – you see Libraries instead of drive locations. This was a subtle enough change that I didn’t really notice it for quite some time, I just knew that every time I opened explorer, I was looking at a completely useless view of folders.

So, I set out to find a way around this and Microsoft has kindly documented the procedure. For your convenience, I have shared the steps I followed below.

Microsoft Patch Tuesday - August 2011

Our Redmond friends have released a bundle of new patches for their products today. Several patches address remote code execution vulnerabilities, even for more recent OS/browser combos such as win 7 64/-bit and IE9. Recommend updating to avert pwnage.

Check out the official bulletin for more details.

Microsoft Power Point - Wrap Text Around An Object

If you use Microsoft Power Point on a regular basis, you may have already figured out that unlike the other Office products, Power Point is lacking a useful feature. Text doesn't automatically wrap around a picture when you drop it in the middle of a block of text!

I have used the Office suite for over a decade (and have even taught people how to use it), but I don't recall ever trying to drop a picture into a block of text and have it wrap around in Power Point. It works in Word, but not here. When I first had this happen, I figured there must be some obscure check box buried deep within the options and preferences that would enable text wrapping. After a bit of searching, no such check box was found. 

Well, after some research, I discovered somewhat of a public service announcement on Microsoft's site explaining how to do this manually since the feature was left out of Power Point 2010. At least they remembered to write a how to... 

Microsft Buys Skype for 8.5 Billion

Microsoft today has announced their intention to buy Skype Global, the wonderful application that allows for people around the world to communicate with each other for free. The deal will set Microsoft back eight and one half billion US dollars, in cash. Not exactly pocket change for most companies, but our Redmond friends seem to have access to Scrooge's money bin. 

According to the press release, this will be the third time in less than a decade that Skype has been sold. First to eBay in 2005, who then sold it to the investment group Silver Lake in 2009. Now Microsoft is throwing their hat in the ring. 

New Prices for Microsoft Certification Exams

I received an email notification from Microsoft a couple days ago announcing a cost increase of their certification exams effective July 1, 2011. The announcement doesn't specifically list pricing, however they have provided a pricing tool which I tested out for a few countries: 

USA is increasing from 125 to 150 USD

UK is increasing from 88 to 99 GBP

France is increasing from 140 to 150 EUR

India is increasing from 50 to 80 USD

So, if you are planning on taking a Microsoft certification exam and you want to save a few bucks, you might want to get 'er done before July. The official announcement along with several frequently asked questions can be found here.

Microsoft Patch Tuesday April 2011

If you are running Microsoft Windows, get ready for the Tsunami of Patch Tuesdays. Tomorrow, our Redmond friends are releasing a massive 64 patches to their software, nine of which are rated as Critical. In addition to the nine Critical patches, there are eight labeled as Important (the second highest rating). This is definitely a record for the number of patches Microsoft has released in a single patch cycle. If you support a Windows environment or applications running on a Windows platform, get ready for potential issues tomorrow (or whenever you pull the trigger on installing the patches).

Here's a link to Microsoft's Security Bulletin for April 2011

Internet Explorer 9 is here

Microsoft has released Internet Explorer 9. I know this news probably doesn't give most people feelings of intense excitement, but the fact remains IE is still a fairly popular browser. The initial highlights and usage look promising, but only time will tell how much people adopt it. 

Some of the new features include:

  • Pinned Sites -  integration with the Windows 7 taskbar to allow users to pin a website to their taskbar for one click access.
  • Web Standards - HTML5, CSS3, and a lot more.

There is also a new website dedicated to the browser not hosted at microsoft.com - www.beautyoftheweb.com

Patches gone bad

Remember those patches that were released last week? If you are having problems with outlook now, you might want to click on Edit > Undo Microsoft's Lame Patch. Apparently the patch Microsoft released for Outlook 2007 last week, KB2412171, was supposed to make things better and it didn't. 

In fact, there are several new anti-features that may prompt you to remove the patch including:

The Network Is Not Down

Prepare yourselves! Yesterday was the dreaded Microsoft patch Tuesday and that can only mean one thing, millions of PCs configured to automatically update themselves at 3:00am are potentially breaking themselves before end users get to their desks!

In all honesty though, there have been many support hours spent on troubleshooting problems that have been caused by patches being applied. Sometimes that server vulnerability was actually a feature being utilized by the primary application being hosted on the now "fixed" server. If users can't access the application, they'll let you know.

IE Vulnerability

Microsoft announced they have a zero day vulnerability in versions 6, 7, and 8 of their famed browser. The majority of people use a combination of other browsers, but for everyone out there that prefer IE and throw caution to the wind, here's what you need to know. 

The vulnerability exists because some embedded feature that can be accessed in a certain way allows an attacker to execute arbitrary code (a.k.a. load viruses on your computer) and do their thing. If you are running recent versions of IE, stay away from questionable sites and don't click on spam email until Microsoft releases their patch for it. 

Windows Phone 7 Worldwide Launch Event

Microsoft has sent invitations out to the elite few in the media who will be there for the Windows Phone 7 unveiling (Update: looks like Microsoft yanked the info on this link and replaced it with an invite code).  Yet another mobile platform enters the fray with Apple's iPhone and the multiple vendors selling phones with Google's Android. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft's platform will make a few waves in the pool, or if it will end up like the Zune in a kiddy pool while all the big kids are in the deep end.

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by Dr. Radut