Bits from Bill

Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Windows XP Service Pack 3 Update Delayed

I guess having SP3 available to a limited but large audience helped Microsoft flush out a few more bugs before its official release.

While Service Pack 3 was due to be deployed today, Microsoft decided to wait until they could block some systems they don’t want updated. They’re not making any changes to SP3, they’re just going to block those system which they’ve determined are incompatible.

No Dynamic Retail Management System

Specifically, if you’re running “Microsoft Dynamics Retail Management System (RMS)” you shouldn’t upgrade to Service Pack 3. Microsoft also acknowledged problems with Vista Service Pack 1 and Dynamics Retail Management Systems.

If you’re one of those people who have already found and installed XP SP3 or Vista SP1, you don’t need to worry unless your system is using the Dynamics Retail Management System. If you plan on upgrading using Windows Update or the Microsoft Download Center no date has been given for public release.

Again, no fixes or changes are being made to Service Pack 3. The changes will be made to the Windows Update and Microsoft Download Center so that incompatible systems can be blocked.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Windows XP SP3, What You Can Expect

Microsoft has announced that on Tuesday April 29th, Service Pack 3 for Windows XP will be available as part of Windows Update and Microsoft Download Center. It’s already available if you know where to look but officially it launches on Tuesday. While you won’t see any major changes to your system, thanks to WinPatol’s “First Detected” feature, I can give you an idea on what’s changed.

If you use any watchdog program like WinPatrol you’ll see some alerts of changes and obviously you should say Yes, and allow the changes during the install of install Service Pack 3.

You’ll find a few “RunOnce” Startup files that Service Pack 3 will execute when you reboot. These files clean up entries in the registry which are used during the update. I also noticed one toolbar extension and four new Services that came from Vista.

Startup RunOnce
cmd.exe /C cscript %systemroot%\Installer\TSClientMsiTrans\tscuinst.vbs
Script to run during a Longhorn Terminal Server client install. First a down-level MSI database transform is applied for any MSI installed Terminal Server client
Second, Script to apply a down-level MSI database transform for a Remote Desktop client installs

cmd.exe /C %systemroot%\Installer\TSClientMsiTrans\tscdsbl.bat

Personally I find it hysterical that the SP3 install depends on batch files and VB scripts which are executed at the command line level. Unfortunately, I have seen some security programs disable VB scripting as a way to protect users. I can’t say what impact this might have on the install.

Startup Notify
[DIMS Notification Handler]
The Digital Identity Management Service Notification Handler runs via Winlogon Notify and will appear in your Windows\System32 folder. This file is used to verify digital certificates and is something you’ll want to leave in place.
Microsoft has more at

IE Helpers
Msmsgs.exe is the executable for MSN Messenger, Microsoft's instant messaging, Internet chat, file sharing and audio/video conferencing. I’m not sure they need to add this back on my system but it’s there if you need it.

[Wired AutoConfig Service]
Previously this was called Windows Vista Wired Networking. Related files on your system may include dot3api.dll, dot3cfg.dll, dot3dlg.dll, dot3gpclnt.dll, dot3gpui.dll, dot3msm.dll, and dot3ui.dll. These files are used by your 802.1x wired network.

[Health Key and Certificate Management Service]
This is also found in Windows Vista. This file is the Microsoft Windows Key Management Service, a new Windows service used in volume-licensed environments to activate machines running Windows Vista or later versions. You'll find more information at

[Extensible Authentication Protocol Service]
You may see it described as "Microsoft EAPHost Service". EAPHost is a Microsoft Windows Networking component that provides an Extensible Authentication Protocol infrastructure for the authentication of "supplicant" protocol implementations such as 802.1X and Point-to-Point (PPP). The EAPHost APIs enable applications to authenticate using the EAPHost service, and provide a template for the development of conformant authentication methods for use with EAPHost.

[Network Access Protection Agent]
Also called the “Quarantine Agent Service Run-Time”. This file is required for Windows 'system health' functionality to provide security and data protection.
See more at

[Windows Service Pack Installer Update Service]
This service just runs once and removes itself. Spupdsvc.exe will appear in your Windows\System or System32 folder. It's the Windows Service Pack Installer update service also described as the Update RunOnce Service. As the name implies, this file should not need to be running all the time. If you've just installed or updated something and the file is in your Active Tasks list, try rebooting.

The descriptions above were found in the WinPatrol PLUS database because they were introduced with Windows Vista. In general, Service Pack 3 looks like it fixes some bugs and includes many of benefits of Vista without the extra baggage.


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Friday, April 25, 2008

WinPatrol 2008 introduced in its 10th year

WinPatrol 2008 Banner

According to WinPatrol is one of the 10 Free Must-Have Security Tools. “This ultimate watchdog program monitors Windows computers for signs of malicious hacker activity”. The new WinPatrol 2008 continues to be the Swiss Army Knife of Window utilities with the addition of its ActiveX manager.

It seems like every week more problems are reported in Quicktime, RealPlayer, Adobe Flash, Sun’s Java or other 3rd party controls. Once the vulnerability is known the risk increases exponentially until a patch is available. WinPatrol 2008 takes the worry out of waiting for a patch to become available. When a vulnerability is found Scotty will let you disable or set the “kill-bit” on the appropriate control until a new one is made available.

WinPatrol 2008 will also monitor your system and let you know when new ActiveX components try to make their home on your system. If it’s not something you wanted WinPatrol will kill the new component before it can do any damage.

WinPatrol ActiveX Alert

Thanks to feedback from everyone who helped test WinPatrol 2008 including our volunteers who localize WinPatrol for our friends around the world. Thank you as well to staff at ars technica for including WinPatrol in their article "Five important security apps for Linux, Mac OS X and Windows" While this article implies WinPatrol is the equivalent of (User Account Control(UAC) for Windows XP it’s still a nice mention.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Vista AutoUpdate Kills USB

If you’re a new reader to Bits from Bill you may not know how I feel about auto updates. I’ve written about it before and documented some problems.

Last week Microsoft deployed a new update and again, some problems were reported. PC Magazine reports a number of reports of USB failures that occured following the update.

“Users who installed the update, however, soon found their USB devices unresponsive, particularly mice and flash drives. Removing and re-installing the programs reportedly did not immediately solve the problem”

I often write about new security updates which are generally deployed on Tuesdays. I tell folks to set Windows Updates in the control panel to “Download updates for me, but let me choose whether to install them”. In most cases, I recommend waiting at least a week to 10 days before installing updates. That way you’ll benefit from everyone else in the world testing the changes. The only exception is when there are serious security vulnerabilities with many threats already known to be out on the net.

If you do experience a problem with a Microsoft update support is available for free at 1-866-PC-Safety.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

WinPatrol 2008 ActiveX Beta

Later this week I plan to release the first beta of the next version of WinPatrol, called WinPatrol 2008. This test phase will be limited but you can request access by Emailing Include basic information about your system and any special talents you might have. PLUS members will naturally be given priority but it’s not a requirement.

The big new feature in WinPatrol 2008 will be monitoring and control of your ActiveX components. Even our friends at Symantec recently reported ActiveX account for an overwhelming majority of all browser plug-in vulnerabilities. Microsoft controls made up 79% of the 239 plug-in bugs discovered the last half of 2007. Those problems were followed by Apples’ Quicktime which had 19 vulnerabilities patched last year.

It seems like every week more problems are reported in Quicktime, RealPlayer, Adobe Flash, Sun’s Java or other 3rd party controls. Once the vulnerability is known the risk increases exponentially until a patch is available.

New WinPatrol ActiveX interface
WinPatrol 2008 Beta 1

WinPatrol 2008 takes the worry out of waiting for a patch to become available. When a vulnerability is found Scotty will let you disable or set the “kill-bit” on the appropriate control until a new one is made available.

One of the tasks for each tester will be to go through the list of ActiveX controls and just click on PLUS Info. That will provide us with a list of most commonly used controls so our research department can have data available for all PLUS members by release time. Our research director Robin doesn’t know it yet but we’ll all be working a little overtime.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Windows Episode VII, "A New Hope"

Yes, it’s seems early to be talking about the next version of Windows when many of us haven’t even made the jump to Windows Vista. As a developer it’s never too early to look towards the next version of Windows. When it launches I need to make sure everything continues to work.

For those of you who haven’t embraced Vista, Microsoft doesn’t want you switch to the Mac or Linux.  It’s pushing news about Windows 7 out like a carrot to keep us all interested and hopeful.

A super-enthused Bill Gates said "Sometime in the next year or so we will have a new version."  I would estimate the “or so” as 3 years. Most of the schedules I believe point to 2010 for the next big release.

Originally code named Vienna, the new official code name “Windows 7” has been confirmed for the next big release of Microsoft Windows. Personally, I think “7” is in honor of Star Treks Seven of Nine, Jeri Ryan (Resistance is futile).

My pick for a new name is “Windows ZP” or Windows Zippy.

The screen shots look a lot like Vista but you can expect that to change. Early rumors talked about a stripped down modular “minWin” version of Windows that could run on a variety of devices.  minWin is an internal term which refers to an effort to trim down what is classified as the Windows kernel.  Windows has always been modular and you can expect your applications to still require many modules to run.

What I see ahead is an OS designed to host virtual machines running via a thin hypervisor code level.  This would make Windows the key OS that every thing else can run on top of.  It also allows Microsoft developers to create exciting new functions but continue to keep backward/legacy capability. Bottom line, Microsoft still wants to be the gatekeeper to everything especially network based applications.

The new Windows Desktop will be separate from the core Windows kernel and include a new Explorer.  If you like the ribbon based interface found in Office 2007 you may like the new Explorer interface. Microsoft is still determined to resolve one of the oldest user problems, “Where did I put that file?”.  This change hasn’t been reflected in the current screen shots which show what I consider an awkward file finder.

So if you haven’t converted to Windows Vista, just hang in there. Our friends in Redmond haven’t given up on you yet.


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Monday, April 07, 2008

Airline Troubles Getting Worse

I’ve had my share of frustration with airlines and a number of what I thought were disasters but our friend PaperGhost(Chris Boyd) just raised the bar. On the day when the “Airline Quality Rating” report was released I heard from our buddy Chris who was stranded in Ireland after an emergency landing.

BA 287 Dumping Fuel before emergency landing
BA 287 Dumping Fuel before emergency landing

Emergency Equipment at Shannon Field, Ireland
Emergency Equipment at Shannon Field, Ireland

If you click on the photos you can read Chris’s full account. The near-death emergency landing was only a fraction of his travel fiasco.

According to MSNBC, “Travelers increasingly are unhappy with airlines, ranking lost luggage among their biggest complaints”. I think if they talk to Chris they could get some more colorful complaints.

Personally, I’ve been lucky with my luggage. I do always keep a change of underwear in my carry-on, just in case. One time at a meeting my undies flew on to the table when I removed my laptop from its bag. While embarrassing it’s still not as bad as Chris’s experience or when Delta Airlines lost our grand daughter Marisa at Kennedy Airport.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Time to Review your Backup Procedures

Every now and then I just like to shout as loudly as I can to all my readers, BACKUP!!!! I’m sure you know how important it is to backup your data but are you really satisfied with your current back up procedure?

It’s a sign
This past week two good friends have been spending their valuable time rebuilding systems that suffered from a hard drive failure. PC Worlds Steve Bass wrote “my mother’s PC was a goner” and security expert Temerc posted “I’ve suffered a drive corruption”. I take this as a sign that I should spend today reviewing my back up procedures. The last time I had a major disk failure my wife almost moved out.

You might think it won’t happen to you but it happens all the time. The most common Email I read daily is from PLUS customers who say “My hard drive crashed, can you send me my PLUS code?”.

  • Do you know where your application CD’s and registration keys are located if you need to rebuild your system?
  • Are your recent photos safe?
  • Have you verified that your backed up data is not corrupted?
  • Does your backup program include everything you’ll want to save?
  • Has the location of your folders changed since upgrading to Vista?
  • Has your backup software been updated recently to fix bugs?

If you’d looking for a back up program and it’s not in your budget this month check out “Replicator” from Karen Kenworthy. Like my own WinPatrol, Replicator is a program that was written by a programmer for their own use but has been made available to the public.

I urge you to budget your time this weekend to BACKUP your important data and review your data procedures. While you’re at it, I know you didn’t change the smoke detecter battery when you turned your clocks ahead. Caught you didn’t I? So while your data is being backed up, go get batteries and make sure your smoke detectors are all updated too.


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