How to build a really difficult system

If Tim Burton made PCs… here’s the spec:
  • Epson touch-screen till (SFF motherboard)
  • 1 x 2.5" hdd
  • No optical drive
  • Doesn’t allow bootable USB
  • Doesn’t allow PXE
  • And no, sysprepping a Windows installation made on another machine doesn’t work (boot failure/ BSOD).


  • A multi-port IDE/ SATA-to-USB cable adapter;
  • WinPE (well… actually I used BartPE but WinPE might work. ?)
  • Another working system with lots of USB connectivity and capable of installing Bart (or Win) PE.
  • I’ve never, ever used WinPE so can’t vouch that it’ll work.

First thing: it helps to have another 2.5" drive spare. But you need to wipe the drive you’re going to use, the adapter we used had two usb connectors at the opposite end to all the IDE/ SATA ports, both USB connectors had to be attached to the PC to power up the 2.5"drive.

Plug the hard disk into your "other" PC via the adapter cable. Wipe any existing partitions on it (with prior backup if necessary) and then create two partitions; sizing is only important on tiny drives (strangely, like the one we were using- a 5GB model) so we ended up with a 4.2 GB partition (primary) and the a 700MB partition, roughly speaking. Having a 700MB secondary partiton enabled us to squeeze the XP Pro installation CD on, just. This is really important.

Next, install BartPE and grab your XP CD; you’re going to use BartPE to install a bootable copy of XP to the 2.5" drive (CDs are useless, remember). I can’t quite remember how to do this but I’m sure it’s an obvious choice at some point. Once you’re happy the (nightmare) mini-ATX system can at least boot to this partiton, copy the entire XP CD to the (smaller) second partiton using the "workhorse" PC. Swap the drive back the mini system, boot BartPE and then you should be able to run winnt (or winnt32) from a command prompt, at which point the real XP Setup starts and- on a system as slow as the one we used- 4 days later XP will finally bring up bliss.bmp.

DISCLAIMER: I have no idea what licensing implications installing a system in this way has, but- once XP is up and running properly- you can delete anything relating to BartPE and the XP installation CD files so it shouldn’t cause any problems. 

Unattended install of Active Directory on Server 2008 core

Server core is kind of interesting. We’ve spent the last 20 years getting used to more and more advanced GUIs, and then suddenly you install Server 2008 in "core" mode and… you’re back to a single DOS windows surrounded by a blue background. And nothing works any more ! Not strictly true, but the transition is hard- I’m quite used to running control panel applets by their .cpl extension (instead of tracking down, say, My Computer) but Server Core really has been stripped right back.
I found a way (thanks to of creating an unattended script for running DCPROMO but these scripts all missed off the (apparently critical) lines I’ve highlighted below:
Until I added these lines, the command line just kept spitting back something like "You need to provide me with the fully qualified domain name of the blah blah blah"… which wasn’t much help, I just kept trying to add the FQDN of my domain wherever I found it in this file not realising I actually needed two extra lines.

Office SharePoint server 2007 search and index authentication problems

If you’re struggling to get a user to authenticate when trying to start up the "Office SharePoint Server Search" & "Windows SharePoint Services Help Search", try putting the username in in the old domain\username format (which is annoying, because elsewhere in SP 2007 this format doesn’t work).

Handy networking tools

These are quite simple, but quite useful:
  • ping- this tests whether a network card (on a PC, printer, server, anything !) is "responding" (generally, switched on). So typing "ping" into a command line should get a response like "Reply from bytes=32 time<1ms TTL=128".
  • ipconfig or ifconfig (depepnding on the OS)- just typing it in like this should give you basice network information like your IP address, gateway etc.
  • tracert (traceroute)- this is a bit like ping, but tells you how your request gets to it’s destination- it doesn’t flag up network switches but will give you any routers that are between you and the machine you want to find out about:

  1     3 ms     4 ms     4 ms
  2     1 ms    <1 ms     1 ms
  3     2 ms     2 ms     2 ms
  4    16 ms    16 ms    18 ms

  5   216 ms   185 ms   256 ms
  6   169 ms   279 ms   388 ms

These tools are handy for troubleshooting but they can’t guarantee to solve problems, because they rely on specific network ports that might get blocked by firewalls. So just because you get a "Request timed out" reply from a particular PC or server doesn’t mean it’s off- it might just have a firewall installed, and- for example- could be happily serving up web pages.