Monthly Archives: March 2011

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Machine Creation Services and KMS

We’ve written extensively here about the challenges of using Citrix Provisioning Services to provision VMs that require key activation (i.e., Vista, Win7, and Server 2008/2008R2). We publicly rejoiced when the news broke that PVS v5.6, SP1, supported both KMS and MAK activation.

But now, with the advent of XenDesktop 5, there is a new way to provision desktops: Machine Creation Services (“MCS”). As a public service to those who follow this blog, I thought I’d share Citrix’s official statement regarding MCS and KMS activation:

MCS does not support or work with KMS based Microsoft Windows 7 activation by default, however the following workaround has been provided and will be supported by Citrix Support should an issue arise.

For details on the workaround, click through the link above to the KB article.

It does not appear that there is a workaround that will allow MCS to be used with MAK activation, and I saw a comment by a Citrix employee on a forum post that indicated that there were “no plans to support it in the near future.” So…MCS with KMS, yes; MCS with MAK, no.

Not having MAK support probably isn’t a big deal, since the main reason why you would go with MAK activation rather than KMS activation would be if you had fewer than 25 desktops to activate, and if you have fewer than 25 virtual desktops, you may as well just stick with 1-to-1 images instead of messing around with provisioning anyway. But we thought you should know.

You’re welcome.

I’m Just a Windows Phone Guy

My Windows Phone 7

Sid's Windows Phone 7

I’ve used Windows Mobile phones ever since we formed Moose Logic v2. My first one was a rather clunky (by today’s standards) Pocket PC version. Then I moved to Windows Mobile 5.x. When that phone finally died, I switched to an AT&T Tilt running Windows Mobile 6.0. Then, a year or so ago, I got my wife a Tilt 2 with WinMobile 6.5, and started suffering a little bit of device envy. I was eligible for an upgrade, and I thought about going to the Tilt 2, but I knew that Windows Phone 7 was coming, so I held off.

Last fall, I actually went as far as jailbreaking my Tilt, and installing a third-party ROM that would let me run 6.5. It wasn’t bad - in fact it was better than 6.0 - but 6.5 was designed for a screen a little bit bigger than I had on my Tilt, so some things were a little clunky.

Several of my colleagues here at the Moose have gone down the iPhone road - but I’m used to having a slide-out keyboard, and I didn’t want to give that up…plus there were a few things I was reading about WinPhone7 that I found really attractive. So I waited until the LG model, with its slide-out keyboard, was available.

I’ve had my LG for a couple of months now, and I’ve got to say that I really like it. The negative things I’ve read about WinPhone7 don’t bother me at all. No slot for an SD expansion card? Come on! It’s got 16 Gb of flash built in - which is 8 times as much as I had before. I don’t spend time downloading movies to watch on my phone, so I doubt very seriously whether I’m going to run out of memory before the phone reaches the end of its useful life. No cut/paste from the apps? Yawn. How often do you really need to use that in the real world? If you consider that a must-have, so be it…but I don’t know that I’ve ever used it, and don’t miss having it.

The app store isn’t as big as Apple’s, but it’s big enough that I was able to find everything that I needed. The only app that I’d really like to see that isn’t available yet is a Citrix Receiver app - and that’s not Microsoft’s fault (I don’t think…).

So what, you may ask, do I like so much about it?

First, I found the interface to be intuitive and easy to learn.

The tiles on the home screen are large and easy to use. Flick to the left, and you can view the list of all of the apps on the phone. Any app in that list can be pinned as a tile on the home screen if you wish, and the tiles can be re-ordered at will.

Notice the two Outlook instances circled in the picture? That’s one of the things I really like about the phone - it can synchronize with more than one Exchange Server. I run a Windows 2003 Small Business Server at home, at the heart of my home network, and it hosts my personal email domain. We run Exchange 2010 here in Moose Land. My phone syncs with both accounts, yet allows me to access them individually, so I can easily choose which account I’m sending from when I compose a message. You can’t see it in the picture, but there’s a tile for my gmail account, too - I just have to scroll down a bit to get to it.

Social media is built in, and well integrated. That tile in the upper right of the home screen is the “People” tile, and takes me to a screen where I can easily switch between my contact list and my Facebook feed. The contact list is integrated - it pulls from both of my Outlook accounts and my Facebook account, and for contacts who are also Facebook friends, it automatically pulls their Facebook profile pic and associates it with their contact record.

I’ve found the GPS to be more sensitive and reliable than the GPS in my old Tilt. It seems to have no problem at all syncing up with satellites in locations where the Tilt would take minutes on end, and sometimes fail with the annoying “move to another location and try again” message. I’m looking forward to trying it out this summer on backcountry hikes, using the “Outdoor Trekker” app that I found. This app will display your actual latitude and longitude, allow you to set waypoints that it can then help you find your way back to, and keep track of your total mileage covered and both your total elapsed time and the time you spent actually moving. If it can see enough satellites, it will even keep track of your altitude, which will be really useful when I’m gasping for breath and wondering how much higher I have to go before I finally get to the top of Mt. Dickerman (which is definitely on the hiking schedule for this summer).

Since there was a free Kindle reader app available, I tried it out. It was very readable, and easy to use - and being the insatiable reader that I am, I expect that I’ll use that app a lot.

Don’t get me wrong - if the iPhone had a slide-out keyboard option, I would have been sorely tempted to join my colleagues on the iPhone bandwagon. I also know several people who love their Android phones (mostly very technical people who love the myriad ways you can customize it). I also know some not-quite-so-technical business people who get frustrated because it takes so many steps on their Android to do something that should be way easier to do, and because of issues like having a completely separate contact database for the “Nitro” Exchange sync client.

I guess I’m just a Windows Phone guy at heart. My LG does everything I need it to do, and does it very well. I’d really like to see a Citrix Receiver for it, but let’s face it, actually accessing a remote desktop or application on a tiny smart phone screen is not something anyone is going to want to spend a lot of time doing.

I welcome your comments and questions…just be nice to one another, please.

The Future Is Now

I recently discovered a video on “Citrix TV” that does as good a job as I’ve ever seen in presenting the big picture of desktop and application virtualization using XenApp and XenDesktop (which, as we’ve said before, includes XenApp now). The entire video is just over 17 minutes long, which is longer than most videos we’ve posted here (I prefer to keep them under 5 minutes or so), but in that 17 minutes, you’re going to see:

  • How easy it is for a user to install the Citrix Receiver
  • Self-service application delivery
  • Smooth roaming (from a PC to a MacBook)
  • Application streaming for off-line use
  • A XenDesktop virtual desktop following the user from an HP Thin Client…
    • …to an iPad…
    • …as the iPad switches to 3G operation aboard a commuter train…
    • …to a Mac in the home office…
    • …to a Windows multi-touch PC in the kitchen…
    • …to an iPhone on the golf course.
  • And a demo of XenClient to wrap things up.

I remember, a few years ago, sitting through the keynote address at a Citrix conference and watching a similar video on where the technology was headed. But this isn’t smoke and mirrors, and it isn’t a presentation of some future, yet-to-be-released technology. All of this functionality is available now, and it’s all included in a single license model. The future is here. Now.

I think you’ll find that it’s 17 minutes that are well-spent:

SuperGRUB to the Rescue!

This post requires two major disclaimers:

  1. I am not an engineer. I am a relatively technical sales & marketing guy. I have my own Small Business Server-based network at home, and I know enough about Microsoft Operating Systems to be able to muddle through most of what gets thrown at me. And, although I’ve done my share of friends-and-family-tech-support, you do not want me working on your critical business systems.
  2. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Linux guru. However, I’ve come to appreciate the “LAMP” (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) platform for Web hosting. With apologies to my Microsoft friends, there are some things that are quite easy to do on a LAMP platform that are not easy at all on a Windows Web server. (Just try, for example, to create a file called “.htaccess” on a Windows file system.)

Some months ago, I got my hands on an old Dell PowerEdge SC420. It happened to be a twin of the system I’m running SBS on, but didn’t have quite as much RAM or as much disk space. I decided to install CentOS v5.4 on it, turn it into a LAMP server, and move the four or five Web sites I was running on my Small Business Server over my new LAMP server instead. I even found an open source utility called “ISP Config” that is a reasonable alternative - at least for my limited needs - to the Parallels Plesk control panel that most commercial Web hosts offer.

Things went along swimmingly until last weekend, when I noticed a strange, rhythmic clicking and beeping coming from my Web server. Everything seemed to be working - Web sites were all up - I logged on and didn’t see anything odd in the system log files (aside from the fact that a number of people out there seemed to be trying to use FTP to hack my administrative password). So I decided to restart the system, on the off chance that it would clear whatever error was occurring.

Those of you who are Linux gurus probably just did a double facepalm…because, in retrospect, I should have checked the health of my disk array before shutting down. The server didn’t have a hardware RAID controller, so I had built my system with a software RAID1 array - which several sources suggest is both safer and better performing than the “fake RAID” that’s built into the motherboard. Turns out that the first disk in my array (/dev/sda for those who know the lingo) had died, and for some reason, the system wouldn’t boot from the other drive.

This is the point where I did a double facepalm, and muttered a few choice words under my breath. Not that it was a tragedy - all that server did was host my Web sites, and my Web site data was backed up in a couple of places. So I wouldn’t have lost any data if I had rebuilt the server…just several hours of my life that I didn’t really have to spare. So I did what any of you would have done in my place - I started searching the Web.

The first advice I found suggested that I should completely remove the bad drive from the system, and connect the good drive as drive “0.” Tried it, no change. The next advice I found suggested that I boot my system from the Linux CD or DVD, and try the “Linux rescue” function. That sounded like a good idea, so I tried it - but when the rescue utility examined my disk, it claimed that there were no Linux partitions present, despite evidence to the contrary: I could run fdisk -l and see that there were two Linux partitions on the disk, one of which was marked as a boot partition, but the rescue utility still couldn’t detect them, and the system still wouldn’t boot.

I finally stumbled across a reference to something called “SuperGRUB.” “GRUB,” for those of you who know as much about Linux as I did before this happened to me, is the “GNU GRand Unified Bootloader,” from the GNU Project. It’s apparently the bootloader that CentOS uses, and it was apparently missing from the disk I was trying to boot from. But that’s precisely the problem that SuperGRUB was designed to fix!

And fix it it did! I downloaded the SuperGRUB ISO, burned it to a CD, booted my Linux server from it, navigated through a quite intuitive menu structure, told it what partition I wanted to fix, and PRESTO! My disk was now bootable, and my Web server was back (albeit running on only one disk). But that can be fixed as well. I found a new 80 Gb SATA drive (which was all the space I needed) on eBay for $25, installed it, cruised a couple of Linux forums to learn how to (1) use sfdisk to copy the partition structure of my existing disk to the new disk, and (2) use mdadm to add the new disk to my RAID1 array, and about 15 minutes later, my array was rebuilt and my Web server was healthy again.

There are two takeaways from this story:

First, the Internet is a wonderful thing, with amazing resources that can help even a neophyte like me to find enough information to pull my ample backside out of the fire and get my system running again.

Second, all those folks out there whom we sometimes make fun of and accuse of not having a life are actually producing some amazing stuff. I don’t know the guys behind the SuperGRUB project. They may or may not be stereotypical geeks. I don’t know how many late hours were burned, nor how many Twinkies or Diet Cokes were consumed (if any) in the production of the SuperGRUB utility. I do know that it was magical, and saved me many hours of work, and for that, I am grateful. (I’d even ship them a case of Twinkies if I knew who to send it to.) If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, it may save your, um, bacon as well.