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Posts Tagged ‘Software’

Making you grateful for Windows Update

June 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Whilst periodic checking of a manufacturer or supplier for updated programs and drivers is useful, it is annoying when so little information is provided by the tool itself. Lets face it, this could mean anything:

At least with Windows Update there are brief descriptions with links to knowledge-base articles for further information. If you trust MS is being comprehensive in their notes.

Bypassing Acer Security

April 16, 2008 21 comments

Today I came across an ACER PC (M1610) at work that needed restored back to the manufacturer’s settings. Acer ship their desktop systems with part of the hard drive hidden in a recovery partition that can range in size from 6 Gb to 20 Gb depending on the specific PC model. The problem was the customer who owned the PC had set a password on the recovery interface and had promptly forgotten it. I had a chat with Acer who were naturally very happy to take the PC and charge the customer to reformat and re-image the entire drive. Unfortunately I spoke with a rather arrogant technician at Acer who claimed there was no way to get around this password, those that know me will know this is like mixing firecrackers with a kid with matches. I decided to fix the issue myself.

What you will need:

1 – A bootable CD with some live or preinstalled environment (e.g. WinPE/BartPE CD or any Linux live CD with NTFS 3G although I would recommend the former given the flakiness of Linux NTFS drivers.)

2 – About ten minutes.

Recovery tools are glorified branded imaging/cloning tools (like Ghost or Acronis True Image.) They have three main components, the program binaries (i.e. the GUI/UI and low level formatting/writing tools), the configuration files and the backed up / imaged data itself inside an image file. This image file can be one large multi gigabyte file or lots of smaller chunks and it contains not only all the files and folders, but NTFS file table system/ bootloader and MBR information. This means the entire image can be written onto a hard disk (or hard disk partition) and after reboot, the user could be presented with a fully functional system. Its for this simplicity that companies like Acer do their recovery in this manner.

I booted using a WinPE XP cd (but you can use anything mentioned above) and took a look at the partitions on the hard drive finding the following:

C: NTFS 69.5Gb (Formatted total)

D: NTFS (although reported as unformatted) 69.8Gb (Formatted total)

Hidden (Not mounted by default) NTFS 9.8Gb (Formatted total)

4Gb Unallocated space. (Wasted)

I mounted the hidden partition and eventually after some trial and error, found the file containing the password and password hint details. This was the file called “aimdrs.dat” (found on the root of the recovery partition) and could be opened in notepad (although I used and would recommend a good hex editor) and showed a very simple file layout as shown below:

[MyData]..PD=12345..HT=abcd efgh..

Where “12345″ is the password, encapsulated between the equals and two full stops. “abcd efgh” was the hint. This was literally the entire file.

Changing either of these simple strings is very easy and after a reboot into the recovery software (via [Alt] and [F10] during BIOS POST) you will once again be able to access the recovery software. I would recommend you do not change anything else in this hidden partition unless you know exactly what you are doing.
I hope this helps someone stuck in a similar position and is likely applicable to many more systems than just Acer PCs.

iPhone SDK!

March 7, 2008 Leave a comment

Well, I didnt think it would happen (or if it did, it would be a closed, crippled version thereof) but Apple have proved me wrong by releasing the iPhone SDK. For those of you who don’t know, an SDK (or Software Development Kit) is a series of tools and documentation that explains and documents the specific works of a piece of hardware. The goal is to allow third part developers (or enthusiasts) to develop almost any free or commercial application they want for the specific platform. Although Apple have in the past been very draconian with their hardware, opting instead to keep a hand on the tiller, the iPhone has really shown the ability of the fanbase to overcome huge obsticles in order to improve on an already great product.

Apple sensibly is legitimising this growing movement but in a way which they can control and support. For example, SIM unlocking programs will not receive the digital certificates required for development, but on the flipside, you can be assured any programs you do download will be malware free. Not only this, but by opening up the playing field to the third party, Apple are also allowing for great feature-adds which they will not have to pay for.

Potentially now, all the gripes and missing features (along with a long list of ‘I wish it did xyz’) can be properly addressed.

Here’s a quick summary:
- iPhone SDK and emulator available now (beta)
- Intel-based Mac required
- Microsoft Exchange/ActiveSync support coming (oh hello there, RIM)
- IM client coming
- Sega games coming (Super Monkey Ball)
- EA games coming (Spore)
- Apps available on iTunes App Store (both on iPhone and Mac/PC)
- Developer fee of $99 to publish in iTunes App Store (includes support)
- Developer sets price (paid or free)
- Developer keeps 70% of profits
- Firmware 2.0 required to use iTune App Store (available in June)
- iFund: $100 Million Dollars VC fund for iPhone software startups

One of the points on the list was that Spore would be officially released on the iPhone in September. When I heard this I assumed it would either be a 2D mobile version or the full game restricted to the amoeba stages. This appears not to be the case, although all the screen shots I could find show a 2D world. Given the game is procedurally generated, the system requirements (for running) the game would not be particularly high, although I am still dubious. If it is released in all it’s glory, I wonder is the MMORPG element would be available via EDGE?

Locational awareness is one of the key elements to the EDGE support in the iPhone, I hope that this means we start seeing games with real world based like the gizmodo originally tried. Apple have also opened up the iPhone in several ways, as mentioned, they now support Exchange servers through the license of Microsoft Activesync.

This is potentially huge because it really opens up a lot of potential for this device in the corporate world. There are many other gems that were disclosed during the conference, take a look at the full illustrated transcript here, courtesy of Engadget.

Free (legal) Vista? – Follow up

December 12, 2007 2 comments

OK, so out of curiosity I registered for this to see how it works, opting to complete regular surveys rather than have my computing habits spied on. I however did have time to read through the FAQs in more details along with some of the EULAs. I would like to just highlight a few lines which I should have mentioned last time.

Does the software impact the performance of my PC?
“… the Windows Feedback Program software [has been designed] to limit the amount of computer resources it uses to collect data. You may see a minor change in performance when you first log in to Windows; however, this typically only occurs during the first few minutes…”

” In general, the data is shared once per day.”

“Unfortunately, you will not be able to look at your specific data. We designed the Windows Feedback Program software specifically to avoid any interference with your work or how your computer functions”

“Yes, we have a unique identifier for your data”

Mind you, who is to say Microsoft don’t have a similar ‘feedback’ (read spying) software ‘service’ (read unnecessary memory hog) in Vista already?

Categories: News Tags: , , , , , ,

Mediaportal – Getting closer to 1.0?

December 5, 2007 Leave a comment

I am a bit late to the party on this one – Mediaportal released 0.2.3 stable on the 15th of Nov and I only just now have got around to installing and playing with it. Mediaportal is a Free Open Source (F/OSS) media center which runs on Windows and is an alternative to Windows Media Center with many improvements. I must say I am extremely impressed with this release.

I have only had a couple of evenings to test out the version, but it installed quicker and more cleanly than the previous 0.2.x releases (thanks due to the new install system) and seems to simply glide. After uninstalling the previous version, 0.2.3 installed quickly without corrupting / loosing my existing DVB schedule information or Advanced Recording preferences. It also immediately found my previous recordings and labelled them correctly.

The whole interface moves and feels a lot smoother especially when accessing my DVB grabbed schedule information. A few minor tweaks also present to the layout of the default theme, including the display of show description in previously unused screen real-estate. After a few short hours use I wonder how I ever used the previous build, I cant wait to try to ‘spinsafe‘ 3D theme…

Great work guys :)

Categories: F/OSS Tags: , , , ,
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