Fixing the Start Menu When Adding Windows 10 to a Domain

windows-10If I were a stick of rock and you’d cut me, many years ago, you’d have found the word Microsoft running through me to the core.

I game on XBOX, I develop software using Microsoft tools and I even used to (foolishly) adopt Microsoft products early.

The Armaitus of today is less of a Microsoft fan-boy or apologist and more of jaded ex-lover.

Whilst I upgraded to Windows 10 at home, for research purposes, I have resisted at work. Which is only a problem when you consider that I’m an IT Manager responsible for an estate of over 50 workstations.

Over the last day or so I have been trying to get a brand new Windows 10 laptop (Lenovo Thinkpad) onto our domain and working.

Thanks to to my decision to upgrade to Windows 10 at home, I was able to easily navigate through the various stages of adding the laptop to our domain.  That side of the process was pretty much as you would expect and not really that much different as for Windows 8.

The problems started once I logged in as the domain user that would be accessing the laptop.

Neither the start menu, nor the Edge would start.  Cortana remained silent.

A quick Google showed that I was not alone. From early this year to now, hundreds of Windows 10 users were suffering the same issue.  Worse, there were a myriad of possible causes and solutions to the problem.

I’m writing this 24 hours later, solution in place and satisfied at a job well done.  I’m also pretty annoyed that something so simple hasn’t been fixed by Microsoft yet.

My particular problems weren’t caused by a Group Policy we had in put in place – I’d list the cause as Microsoft not defaulting enough permissions throughout the system.

Microsoft would probably disagree and lay the blame at my not using a Group policy to manage my user’s system access to a granular level.

This link to Microsoft support, lists all the permissions required by the All Application Packages (ALL_APP_PACKAGES) system entity.

By ensuring that these permissions were granted on the laptop, the start menu became accessible once again.

 

Empty Drop Down Lists in MSCOMCTL Properties UI

Visual FoxProAs I’ve touched on before, I look after a CRM/ERP system that I wrote in Visual FoxPro.

As robust as the system is, I occasionally have to dip in and add a new feature or tweak one of the existing ones.

Last week I opened up the project to add a few new interfaces and came across a rather frustrating bug – not with Visual FoxPro but with some of the ActiveX controls that I use.

I make extensive use of “Microsoft’s Common Controls” and have done for over twelve years.

I use all sorts of controls in my Visual FoxPro applications but Microsoft’s Listviews and Treeviews are so ingrained in my CRM package that most people wouldn’t recognise it as FoxPro at all.

I have a few handy subclasses of Listviews set up for use, so imagine my surprise when I drop one onto my latest form and try to add a couple of  new columns, only to be told that I had entered an “Invalid Property Value”.

ListView general properties Before and AfterAll I had done was add a Column Header, name it, size it and click Apply.

It was then that I noticed that the “Alignment” drop down list was empty, no default value and no contents.

Now I won’t say that this was a show-stopper.  I could still add columns programmatically and the overall application didn’t seem to be affected in any way.  Listviews and Treeviews still operated as expected in the live application – I just couldn’t use the Properties dialogue to change anything that required an entry from one of the drop down lists.

My first attempt at googling the problem turned up nothing of use, so I posted for advice from places like the Universal Thread and DaniWeb.

After the weekend there was no response on either forum so I tried a change of tack, googling instead for Microsoft updates that may have affected MSCOMCTL.OCX (one of the physical files that provide Microsoft’s Common Controls Library).

ListView Column Headers Before and AfterAs it happens, I haven’t edited any of my Visual FoxPro applications for a good couple of months.  Most functionality is held in SQL Server 2008 and new features tend to be held back for inclusion in new web based applications.

There was a security update, released August 14th 2012, MS12-060.  Apparently, a vulnerability in Windows Common Controls could allow remote code execution.

Good to know, especially when the first site that informs me of this also verifies that the security update can mess with the library and stop it working in Visual Basic 6.0.

So, I figure my problem is likely caused by the same update and carry on reading various posts and blog entries with fixes.

Microsoft have released fixes themselves:

But, to be fair, I used the manual fix without any problems.  A couple of sources suggested this and it worked a treat for me.

  1. Unregister your mscomctl.ocx from wherever yours is kept (System32 or SysWOW64).
  2. Rename your current version to something temporary.
  3. Copy an older version to the same folder.
  4. Register it.
  5. Unregister it.
  6. Rename the copy of the older version (or delete it).
  7. Rename the original to mscomctl.ocx.
  8. Register it one final time.

I’ve also created a batch file to do this on my client PCs, in case they do start to have issues with the various Lists and Trees used in the platform.

How to Add Apps & Games to the Zune HD

Earlier this year, Microsoft’s portable media player and iPod killer, the Zune, was declared dead.

This came something of a shock to those of us, here in the UK, who were yet to see one on sale – let alone get our grubby little tech-hungry mitts on one.

In fact, for most of us limeys, our only exposure to Microsoft’s Zune has been via changes to the dashboard on the XBOX 360 and the way it handles movies and music.

I was therefore surprised when my tech-savvy boss announced that he had bought a Zune HD for his son.

As a fellow iPhobe (in the sense of not being Apple fanboys… not the luddite definition I’ve linked to), the boss was enthusiastic about the lightweight media player and beaming with eagerness to get the device set up for his son to open up on Christmas Day.

We enthused about the clear graphics and clarity of sound that the device produced.

That was yesterday.

Today was a different story altogether.

The boss had started to add a few of his son’s favourite tunes to the device; videos too.

Getting as excited as his son is likely to be, the boss then tried to add some games…

… therein lies the problem with the Zune HD in the UK.

Don’t get me wrong, my boss isn’t a gamer – not in my sense of the term.

Cards, golf and football – in the flesh – that’s my boss’s style; capping fools online in the latest FPS is definitely not his scene.  He does accept that his son enjoys playing electronic games though.

Now my boss is fairly clued up when it comes to technology and the Zune’s rareness in the UK is probably the only reason he gave up trying to solve his problem himself.

The problem, in short, is that the UK Zune marketplace only seems to sell Music, Videos and Windows Phone Apps.

Having asked for my help, we trawled Google like some kind of nouveau detective duo – a cyberspace answer to the Morse and Lewis.

No matter how many times we tried to find out how to add apps or games to the Zune HD we ended up at the same unbelievable dead end.

The world according to Google was telling us that the way to get 3rd party apps onto the Zune HD was to install Visual Studio, Visual C# and a specific games development module and then download the app’s source code and deploy it to your Zune through the development module.

Time and time again we came to one explanation or another as to how this could be achieved.

To give my boss credit, he was more than willing to do this but I was incredulous.  I couldn’t see how a company the likes of Microsoft could release a commercial product that required developer tools to implement software on – especially when they would be losing out on marketplace revenue.

Furthermore, I couldn’t see software houses releasing their source code to allow users to deploy apps to their own devices.

The boss agreed to leave it with me.  I gave up on Google for a solution, investigating the Zune software instead.

At my wits end, I did something I have only ever done once before… I contacted Microsoft.

The Zune website offers a live chat support option.  Once you’ve  entered a description of your problem you are linked to a support operative who then helps you out.

Seriously!

I ended up speaking to a chap called Sergio who very quickly told me the cause of the problem and talked me through the solution.

A simple explanation of the cause of the problem is that the Zune was only ever officially released in the United States.

As such, the app marketplace is only available to people logged in with a U.S. Windows Live account.

My account is a UK account, always has been, always will be.  If it were American, I’d never be able to buy UK Microsoft Points and so forth.

The simple solution, for non-US users, was to create a US Windows Live account, link it to a Zune account and then link that to the Zune HD.

A step-by-step way to do this follows… make sure you’ve downloaded the Zune Software and gone through the basic setup wizard on the Zune HD first.

  1. Make sure that the Zune is unplugged and Zune Software is closed.
  2. Log out of your normal non-US Windows Live account, if y0u’re logged in.
  3. Go to https://signup.live.com and create a new US based account.  Even if you’re forced into selecting a .co.uk email address, if you select a US Zip Code for the address, then the account will believe it is American.  I used 11561 and a New York dialling code.
  4. Once you’ve created an account and reached the main Windows Live page (you can view the welcome email to confirm) then go to the Zune site http://www.zune.net/
  5. Sign up for a Zune account, choosing United States as your location.
  6. Once you have completed registration, you can close your browser – we’re done with the web browsing part of the solution.
  7. Now go to your control panel and change your location to United States.  Click here for advice on doing this in Windows 7, in Windows XP you can change this setting in the Regional Settings.
  8. Once you have OK’d the change to your location, start up the Zune Software and sign in using your new US Windows Live account.
  9. Plug your Zune in and let the software detect it.
  10. Click on Settings (at the top) and Linking (down the left) – link your US Windows Live ID to your Zune HD.
  11. You can now unplug the device and should be able to see a “Marketplace” option in the main menu.  Your device is now set up as a US user, if you’re connected to a wi-fi connection you should be able to browse for apps and download any that you fancy… you may need to pay for some apps.

I was really impressed with the help and advice I got from Microsoft but disappointed with the availability of that advice to non-US Zune users.

Now that I’ve seen the device configured with apps as well as video and music, I’m actually quite tempted myself.

If you want to see a transcript of the chat conversation I had with Sergio D from the Zune marketplace support team, read on… Continue reading

Ranking Data in Excel

It isn’t often I feel like a total n00b when it comes to software.

Actually, that’s a lie.  I learn quite a lot throughout the working day, that’s one of the attractions of the job I have.

Little nuggets of knowledge occasionally filter in like techno-trinkets spilling out of a software codemine.

Last year, my employer ran an incentive campaign for our indirect channel; it was so successful that this year we’re running it again.

For last year’s campaign I set up a simple spreadsheet to track the progress of the participants.  This spreadsheet acted as a middle tier from the back end database to the online data mart driving the display that the participants had access to.

This year, I’ve improved the spreadsheet (I hate spreadsheets, I’d much rather do it all in Microsoft SQL Server but time is a precious commodity) but for the past few months have continued to determine the order of the leader-board by hand before passing the data through to the data mart.

So this morning I decided to see if Excel could rank the leader-board for me; and without any surprises, it can, quite neatly…

…by using the RANK function in a formula.

RANK takes 3 parameters.

  1. The cell to rank. e.g. A2
  2. The range of cells to rank within. e.g. A2:A14
  3. The order to rank in. e.g. 0 for descending, 1 for ascending.

Example of RankingIn the example show, I’ve taken 13 random figures (for luck) from 0.00 upwards and ranked them in descending order (i.e. the highest is #1).

The formula used is:

RANK(A2,$A$2:$A$14,0)

I’ve then dragged this down the column (the dollar ($) signs ensure that the cells within the range don’t move when I drag the formula).

Simplicity itself, I can’t believe I haven’t come across the RANK function before.

I guess I’ve just never needed it before.

FIX: Windows Media Player Will Not Open

WMP LogoFor the past couple of mornings I have been unable to run Windows Media Player on my work PC.

Every time I try to run the thing, I get a momentary hourglass and then nothing more.

I’m running Windows XP service pack 3 and keep as up to date as I can with the regular updates.

Anyway, I’ve finally grabbed a couple of minutes to look into the problem and came across a Fix on CNET.

1. Click Start, click Accessories, the right click on Command Prompt and choose “run as administrator”, then type regsvr32 jscript.dll, and then hit enter.

2. Type regsvr32 vbscript.dll then hit enter.

3. Now type exit and hit enter. Now try media player and it should work.

I’m not sure how those files became unregistered but running both regsvr32 commands from Start -> Run has done the trick for me.

Awesome, now I can listen to music before everyone else gets into the office!

Halo: Reach – Matchmaking

ArmaitusThe other day I wrote about the latest and last release from Microsoft and Bungie in the Halo franchise, Halo: Reach.

When I wrote that, I had played 50% of the single player Campaign and had spent a couple of hours matchmaking.

Since then I have reached something of an impasse with the Campaign – too many Brutes with Gravity Hammers and not enough Plasma Grenades for my play style.  So to improve my skills to deal with this, I’ve pretty much dedicated my time to matchmaking in the Rumble Pit.

The rumble pit is an open playlist allowing for all kinds of casual online fragging of random strangers.

There are a number of playlists in Reach, divided into Invasion (Team based Spartans vs Elite), Arena (Ranked matches) and Competitive (Non-ranked matches).

Rumble Pit is one of the competitive playlists, encompassing a whole range of lone wolf game types. I’ve already written about the replay value brought about by Halo: Reach’s Commendation and Credits system but neither compare to the variety of play styles that abound in matchmaking.

When entering the matchmaking lobby, you are matched with players who have similar preferences and a similar skill set to yourself. When sufficient players are found you are offered a choice of three game types to vote for, the majority vote wins. If the vote is tied, the first in the list wins.

Screen Shot

Not the face! Not the face!

The game types available in Rumble Pit are:

  • Slayer (Including: Slayer Pro, Slayer DMRs, Classic Slayer, Elite Slayer)
    The Slayer types represent the staple of online death-matching, log in and frag fellow fools until one of you scores 25 kills or the timer runs out.Reach’s basic Slayer comes complete with a selection of loadouts for players to get to grips with, each coming with a different mix of weapons and armour abilities. I tend to favour the stealth loadout with its Active Cammo – weapons are irrelevant as there are plenty to pick up.  Slayer Pro seems to lock down to 2 similar loadouts, my favourite having a Needle Rifle and Plasma Grenades – honestly there is nothing more satisfying than sticking a plasma grenade to somebody’s face as they try to gun you down.

    Slayer DMRs removes the HUD’s motion tracker and equips everybody with DMRs and the Sprint armour ability.

    Classic Slayer is the plain old-school Slayer, with no loadouts.

    My overall favourite from the Slayer category has to be Elite Slayer, everyone plays as Elites with Elite loadouts – and more importantly, Plasma Grenades from the start.

    My Profile Bar

  • Headhunter (Including: Headhunter Pro)
    I’ve only played Headhunter once, it was hectic and doesn’t seem to be voted for much in the lobby.  The idea is that every kill results in a skull being dropped; players collect these skulls (up to 10 at a time I think) and deliver them to a goal area that constantly relocates around the map.  The winner is the first to a set number of skulls – I scored 5.  I think Headhunter Pro is the same but skulls are only dropped from headshots.
  • Oddball
    By far my favourite game type, sadly unpopular in the lobbies of late. The aim of Oddball is to grab the one skull that exists on the map and keep hold of it for a set amount of time. Whilst holding the skull you can’t use your armour abilities or weapons but you can beat people down with melee attacks from the skull.  I can’t express enough how much I love Oddball
  • Infection (Including: Safe Havens)
    What a waste of bytes.  I despise Infection and it’s even lamer clone, Safe Havens. Infection pits three “Zombies” against the rest of the players.  Every player killed spawns as a zombie, thus increasing the number of zombies.   When zombies are killed they just respawn, so I fail to see how the spartans can ever “win”.  Infection is ridiculously popular in lobbies, I’ve seen players quit just because the majority vote has been for Infection; a shame, what’s the point in democracy if we don’t all agree to abide by it… but there you go.I’ve played games where I am the last man standing and I’ve just hidden in a hard to reach place… yawn-tastic.Safe Havens is exactly the same, except it has an area of the map within which non-zombies are safe from harm. This area relocates around the map; all it really does is delay the inevitable zombie victory.
  • Race (Including Rally)
    Another type I’ve not played yet. Nor am I encouraged to. Race does what it says on the tin. All players have a vehicle and race from checkpoint to checkpoint. I think the Rally variant randomly moves the checkpoints, whilst the basic Race is along a linear set of checkpoints.
  • The maps are also wonderfully laid out. I only wish Bungie would implement a means of specifying favourite game types, to weight the matchmaking process towards people with a taste for certain games types.

    In Private Browsing

    I seem to be writing quite a bit about subjects arising from discussions with friends of mine lately.  I was recently asked a technical question by another close friend of mine, which isn’t strange as I work in IT and as such we IT types are a bit like doctors insofar as our place in social circles.

    My friend asked:

    What is ‘in private browsing’?

    Do you recommend it?

    When it talks about not allowing people who use your computer to see where you visited but not preventing a network administator from doing so, would the latter be if you were using a system of computers such as at uni?

    I found this to be quite an interesting question; I’ve not really found a need for Firefox’s own version of “Porn Mode” but I discovered through my response to my friend that I do seem to have an opinion on it.

    Internet Explorer - In Private BrowsingWhat is In Private Browsing?

    It is a gimmick.

    Normally, when browsing the Internet through Internet Explorer (and other browsers), every site you visit is tracked (to a greater or lesser degree).

    There can be a log of every file you download, including web pages and images on web pages.  This is usually accessible to anyone who uses your computer, although some people don’t know how to find it.

    Most browsers also keeps a history of pages you visit, this is more user friendly.

    Quite often certain details you type in may also be held in something called a Cookie, this is to save you having to re-input the details and allows websites to remember details about you when you visit them again.

    Finally, websites you visit are often kept in a list to make it easier for you to return to them… you’ll notice that they appear when you type into the address bar of Internet Explorer.

    Google Chrome - IncognitoIn Private Browsing appeared to be a kneejerk reaction from Microsoft to the “Incognito” feature that came with the first version of Google’s web browser: Chrome.  This may be an unfair view point as the feature is available in other browsers also.  I first became aware of it through Chrome.

    In brief, it stops people from being able to see the sites you have visited on your PC but doesn’t stop network administrators tracking where your browsing history by means of some form of web logging software.

    The functionality is also available in Firefox and Safari web browsers as “Private Browsing”.

    The justification for this is that your web history and cookies could be accessed by hackers (or malicious local users) and used against you… or so people would have us believe.

    You’ll notice on Microsoft’s “8 Seconds” adverts that In Private Browsing is marketed as a feature to use “if you’re buying a gift for a loved one and don’t want them to know”, which tells us more about the prevalence in our  society for us to spy on our loved ones, than it does our actual web browsing habits.

    The more cynical of us refer to it as the browser’s “Porn” or “Paedo” mode… the latter for households where pornography is acceptable.   This obviously refers to the fact that the majority of Internet users will use In Private Browsing to hide their pornographic browsing from partners, parents, teachers or warders.

    Mozilla Firefox - Private BrowsingPersonally, I never use it.  I tried it once to see how it worked.   It is only a local block though, it would be useful to hide browsing from other users on your computer but on a network (at University or work for example) your network administrator will still be able to wile away the hours browsing his users browsing habits looking for blackmail material…

    Not mention your ISP’s logs and the busy folk at GCHQ.