Computing Environment


The pages below will give you a rapid overview of the computing environment at BNL, including information for visitors and employees, accessible printers, best practices, recommended tools for managing Windows.

FAQs and Tips

Software Site Licenses

Do we have a site license for software package XYZ?

The answer is (almost) always: No!
Neither STAR nor BNL have site licences for any Microsoft product, Hummingbird Exceed, WinZIP, ssh.com's software or much of anything intended to run on individual users' desktops. Furthermore, for most purposes BNL-owned computers do not qualify for academic software licenses, though exceptions do exist.

FAQ: PDF creation

How can I create a file in pdf format?

Without Adobe Acrobat (an expensive bit of software), this can be a daunting question. I am researching answers, some of which are available in my Windows software tips. Here is the gist of it in a nutshell as I write this -- there are online conversion services and OpenOffice is capable of exporting PDF documents.

FAQ: X Servers

What X server software should I use in Windows?

I recommend trying the X Server that is available freely with Cygwin, for which I have created some documentation here: Cygwin Tips. If you can't make that work for you, then I next recommend a commercial product called Xmanager, available from http://www.netsarang.com. Last time I checked, you could still download a fully functional version for a time-limited evaluation period.

TIP: Windows Hibernation trick

Hibernate or Standby -- There is a difference which you might find handy: 
  • "Standby" puts the machine in a low power state from which it can be woken up nearly instantly with some stimulus, such as a keystroke or mouse movement (much like a screensaver) but the state requires a continuous power source.  The power required is quite small compared to normal running, but it can eventually deplete the battery (or crash hard if the power is lost in the case of a desktop).
  • "Hibernate" actually dumps everything in memory to disk and turns off the computer, then upon restarting it reloads the saved memory and basically is back to where it was.  While hibernating, no power source is required.  It can't wake up quickly (it takes about as long as a normal bootup), but when it does wake up, (almost) everything is just the way you left it.  One caveat about networking is in order here:  Stateful connections (eg. ssh logins) are not likely to survive a hibernation mode (though you may be able to enable such a feature if you control both the client and server configurations), but most web browsing activity and email clients, which don't maintain an active connection, can happily resume where they left off.

Imagine:  the lightning is starting, and you've got 50 windows open on your desktop that would take an hour to restore from scratch.  You want to hibernate now!  Here's how to enable hibernating if it isn't showing up in the shutdown box: 
Open the Control Panels and open "Power Options".  Go to the "Hibernate" tab and make sure the the box to enable Hibernation is checked.  When you hit "Turn Off Computer" in the Start menu, if you still only see a Standby button, then try holding down a Shift key -- the Standby button should change to a Hibernate button.  Obvious, huh?

For the curious:
There are actually six (or seven depending on what you call "official") ACPI power states, but most motherboards/BIOSes only support a subset of these.  To learn more, try Googling "acpi power state", or you can start here as long as this link works.  (Note there is an error in the main post -- the S5 state is actually "Shutdown" in Microsoft's terminology). 
From the command line, you can play around with these things with such straightforward commands as:

%windir%\System32\rundll32.exe powrprof.dll,SetSuspendState 1 

Even more obvious, right?  If you like that, then try this on for size.

TIP: My new computer is broken!:

It's almost certainly true - your new computer is faulty and the manufacturer knows it!  Unfortunately, that's just a fact of life.  Straight out of the box, or after acquiring a used PC, you might just want to have a peek at the vendor's website for various updates that have been released.  BIOS updates for the motherboard are a good place to start, as they tend to fix all sorts of niggling problems.  Firmware updates for other components are common as are driver updates and software patches for pre-installed software.  I've solved a number of problems applying these types of updates, though it can take hours to go through them thoroughly and most of the updates have no noticeable effect.  And it is dangerous at times.  One anecdote to share here -- we had a common wireless PC Card adapter that was well supported in both Windows and Linux.  The vendor provided an updated firmware for the card, installed under Windows.  But it turned out that the Linux drivers wouldn't work with the updated firmware.  So back we went to reinstall a less new firmware.  You'll want to try to be intelligent and discerning in your choices.  Dell for instance does a decent job with this (your Dell Service Tag is one very useful key here), but still requires a lot from the updater to help ensure things go smoothly.  This of course is in addition to OS updates that are so vital to security and discussed elsewhere.

Printers


STAR's publicly available printers are listed below. 


IP name
Wireless (Corus) CUPS URL
IP address Model Location rcf2 Queue Name Features
lj4700.star.bnl.gov

http://cups.bnl.gov:631/printers/HP_Color_LaserJet_4700_2
130.199.16.220 HP Color LaserJet 4700DN 510, room M1-16 lj4700-star color, duplexing, driver download site
(search for LaserJet 4700, recommend the PCL driver)
lj4700-2.star.bnl.gov

http://cups.bnl.gov:631/printers/lj4700-2.star.bnl.gov
130.199.16.221 HP Color LaserJet 4700DN 510, room M1-16 lj4700-2-star color, duplexing, driver download site
(search for LaserJet 4700, recommend the PCL driver)
hp510hall.star.bnl.gov

http://cups.bnl.gov:631/printers/hp510hall
130.199.16.222 HP LaserJet 2200DN 510, outside 1-164 hp510hall B&W, duplexing
starhp2.star.bnl.gov

http://cups.bnl.gov:631/printers/starhp2.star.bnl.gov
130.199.16.223 HP LaserJet 8100DN 510M, hallway starhp2_p B&W, duplexing
onlprinter1.star.bnl.gov

http://cups.bnl.gov/printers/onlprinter1.star.bnl.gov
130.199.162.165 HP Color LaserJet 4700DN 1006, Control Room staronl1 color, duplexing
chprinter.star.bnl.gov

N/A
130.199.162.178 HP Color LaserJet 3800dtn 1006C, mailroom n/a color, duplexing

There are additional printing resources available at BNL, such as large format paper, plotters, lamination and such.  Email us at starsupport 'at' bnl.gov and we might be able to help you locate such a resource.

 

Printing from the wireless (Corus) network

The "standard" way of printing from the wireless network is to go through ITD's CUPS server on the wireless network.  How to do this varies from OS to OS, but here is a Windows walkthrough.  The key thing is getting the URI for the printer into the right place:
 

  • Open the Printers Control Panel and click "Add a Printer". 
  • Select the option to add a network printer.  (Ignore the list of printers that it generates automatically).
  • Click on the button or option for "the printer that I want isn't listed". 
  • Select the option for a shared printer and enter the green URL from the list above for the printer you want.
    eg. http://cups.bnl.gov:631/printers/HP_Color_LaserJet_4700_2
  • On the next window, select the hardware manufacturer and model (if not listed, let Windows search for additional models).
  • Print a test page and cross your fingers... 
  • If your test print does not come out, it doesn't necessarily mean your configuration is wrong - sometimes a problem occurs on the the CUPS server that prevents printing - it isn't always easy to tell where the fault lies.

 

Since printing through ITD's CUPS servers at BNL has not been very reliable, here are some less convenient alternatives to using the printers that you may find handy.  (Note that with these, you can even print on our printers while you are offsite - probably not something to do often, but might come in handy sometimes.)
 

1.  Use VPN.  But if you are avoiding the internal network altogether for some reason, or can't use the VPN client, then keep reading...

2.  Get your files to rcf2.rhic.bnl.gov and print from there.  Most of printers listed above have rcf print queues (hence the column "rcf2 queue name").  But if you want to use a printer for which there is no queue on rcf2, or you have a format or file type that you can't figure out how to print from rcf2, then the next tip might be what you need.

3.  SSH tunnels can provide a way to talk directly (sort-of) to almost any printer on the campus wired network.  At least as far as your laptop's print subsystem is concerned, you will be talking directly to the printer.  (This is especially nice if you want to make various configuration changes to the print job through a locally installed driver.)  But if you don't understand SSH tunnels, this is gonna look like gibberish:

Here is the basic idea, using the printer in the Control Room.
It assumes you have access to both the RSSH and STAR SSH gateways.

The ITD SSH gateways might also work in place of rssh (I haven't
tried them yet).  If they can talk directly to our printers,
then it would eliminate step C below.

A.  From your laptop:

ssh -A -L 9100:127.0.0.1:9100 <username>@rssh.rhic.bnl.gov

(Note 1:  -A is only useful if you are running an ssh-agent with a
loaded key, which I highly recommend)

(Note 2:   Unfortunately, the rssh gateways cannot talk directly to our
printers, so we have to create another tunnel to a node that can...  If the
ITD SSH gateways can communicate directly with the printers, then the
next hop would be unnecessary...)

B.  From the rssh session:

ssh -L 9100:130.199.162.165:9100 <username>@stargw1.starp.bnl.gov

(Note 1: 130.199.162.165 is the IP address of onlprinter1.star.bnl.gov -
it could be replaced with any printer's IP address on the wired network.)
(Note 2:  port 9100 is the HP JetDirect default port - non-HP printers
might not use this, and there are other ways of communicating with HP
network printers, so ymmv - but the general idea will work with most TCP 
communications, if you know the port number in use. 

C.  On your laptop, set up a local print queue as if you were going to
print directly to the printer over the network (with no intermediate
server), but instead of supplying the printer's IP address, use
127.0.0.1 instead.

D. Start printing...


If you close either of the ssh sessions above, you will have to
re-establish them before you can print again. 

The two ssh commands can be combined into one and you can create an alias to
save typing the whole thing each time.  (Or use PuTTY or some other GUI SSH client
wrapper to save these details for reuse.)

You could set up multiple printers this way, but to use them
simultaneously, you would need to use unique port numbers for each one
(though the port number at the end of the printer IP would stay 9100).

 

Direct connection, internal network

You can use direct connections to access them over the network.

  • Direct:  These printers accept direct TCP/IP connections, without any intermediate server. 
  • JetDirect (AppSocket) and lpd usually work under Linux. 
  • For Windows NT/2K/XP, a Standard TCP/IP port is usually the way to go. 

How to configure this varies with OS and your installed printing software.

Tips

What follows are miscellaneous tips and suggestions that will be irregularly maintained.

  • The 2-sided printers are configured to print 2-sided by default, but the default for many printer drivers will override this and specify 1-sided.  If you are printing from Windows, you can usually choose your preferences for this in the printer preferences or configuration GUI.  You may need to look in the Advanced Settings and/or Printing Defaults to enable 2-sided printing in Windows.
  • Depending on the print method and drivers used, from the Linux command line you may be able to specify various options for things like duplex printing.  To see available options for a given print queue, try the "lpoptions" command.  For instance, on rcf2 you could do "lpoptions -d xerox7300 -l".  In the output, you will find a line like this:  "Duplex/2-Sided Printing: DuplexNoTumble *DuplexTumble None"  (DuplexNoTumble is the same as flip on long edge, while DuplexTumble is the same as flip on short edge, and the * indicates the default setting.)  So to turn off duplex printing, you could do "lp -d xerox7300 -o Duplex=None <filename>".  Keep in mind that not all options listed by lpoptions may actually be supported by the printer, and the defaults (especially in the rcf queues) may not be what you'd like.  There are so many print systems, options and drivers in Linux/Unix that there's no way to quickly describe all the possible scenarios.
  • There is a handy utility called a2ps that is available on most Linux distributions. It is an "Any to PostScript" filter that started as a Text to PostScript converter, with pretty printing features and all the expected features from this kind of program. But it is also able to deal with other file types (PostScript, Texinfo, compressed, whatever...) provided you have the necessary tools installed.

  • psresize is another useful utility in Linux for dealing with undesired page sizes. If you are given a PostScript file that specifies A4 paper, but want to print it on US Letter-sized paper, then you can do:
    psresize -PA4 -pletter in.ps out.ps
    See the man page for more information.
  • Some of the newer printers have installation wizards for Windows that can be accessed through their web interfaces. I've had mixed success with the HP IPP installation wizards. The Xerox wizard (linked above) has worked well, though it pops up some unnecessary windows and is a bit on the slow side.

  • Windows 9x/Me users will likely have to install software on their machines in order to print directly to these printers. HP and Xerox have such software available for download from their respective support websites, but who uses these OSes anymore?

  • For linux users setting up new machines, CUPS at least for recent distros is the default printing system (unless upgrading from an older distribution, in which case LPRng may still be in use).  Given an appropriate PPD file, CUPS is capable of utilizing various print options, such as tray selection and duplexing, or at least you can create different queues with different options to a single printer.

  • There are other potentially useful printers around that are not catalogued here. Some are STAR printers out of the mainstream (like in 1006D), and some belong to other groups in the physics department.

Quick (?) start guide for visitors with laptops

So you brought a laptop to BNL… and the first thing you want to do is get online, right?
Ok, here's a quick (?) guide to getting what you want without breaking too many rules.

Wired Options:

  • Visitors' network: Dark purple jacks (usually labeled VNxx) are on a visitors' network and are effectively outside of the BNL firewall. They support DHCP and do not require any sort of registration to use. Being outside the firewall can be advantageous, but will prevent you from
    using some network services within BNL (printing, for instance). (The rest of this page is largely irrelevant if you are using the visitors' network.)

  • BNL network: If it isn't dark purple (and it isn't a phone jack) then it is on the BNL network, which supports DHCP on most subnets. (NB. The 60/61 subnet (available in parts of 1006, including the WAH) has a locally managed DHCP server -- contact Wayne Betts to be added to the access list). All devices on the BNL networks are required to be registered based on the MAC address that is unique to each network interface. To help enforce this policy, if you request a DHCP
    address from an unregistered node, you will be assigned a restricted address. With a restricted IP address, your web browser will be automatically redirected to the BNL registration page, and you will be unable to surf anywhere else until you are registered.

    When registering a laptop, fill in "varies" for the location fields. For the computer name field, I recommend using "DHCP Client" (unless you have a static IP address of course).

    Previously registered users are encouraged to verify and update their registration information by going to http://register.bnl.gov from the machine to be updated.

    There you can also find out more about the registration system and find links to some useful information for network users.

     

Windows

This area is intended to provide information for STAR members to assist in configuring and using typical desktop/laptop PCs at BNL.

  Windows 2000/XP and Scientific Linux/Redhat Enterprise Linux are the preferred Operating Systems within STAR at BNL for desktop computing, though there is no formal requirement to use any particular OS.

  These pages are intended to be dynamic, subject to the constantly changing software world and user input.   Feedback from users -- what you find indispensable; what is misleading, confusing or flat-out wrong; and what is missing that you wish was here -- can help to significantly increase the value of these pages.

  Additional pages that are under consideration for creation:

  • Windows installation checklist (the basic software and configuration that should probably be on every Windows PC)
  • Linux installation checklist
  • Common Linux details and useful links, such as Linux equivalents to software for Windows.
  • Resources specific to the experiment operations (eg. common DAQ NFS mounts)
  • Publically useable terminals

Cygwin installation and tips

To quote from the Cygwin website:  "Cygwin is a Linux-like environment for Windows."

The Linux-like nature is quite comprehensive...  You can *almost* forget that you are using a Windows OS -- most utilities and software that you are familiar with from your Linux experience are available in Cygwin.  For example, the Cygwin distribution has available an openssh client (and the server too, but I don't recommend you use it), PostScript and PDF viewers and editors, compression (eg. zip) utilities, software development tools and X Windows packages (more on X below). 

Using the Cygwin X server

An example of Cygwin's usefulness and cost-saving potential is the X server.  The Cygwin X server is, in most cases, easy and convenient to use in place of commercial X servers such as Hummingbird Exceed.  Here is the short version for those familiar with Cygwin installations:
  1. You need the xorg-x11-base and X-startup-scripts packages (and whatever dependencies they have, which the setup routine should solve for you).  You'll probably also want the xwinclip package.  All of these are in the X11 Category in the Cygwin Setup.
  2. Execute "startxwin.bat" (in <cygwin_root>/usr/X11R6/bin/).  That will start a stand-alone X Server and an xterm with a cygwin shell.   Edit this batch file as you see fit -- it includes documentation for a number of options. 
  3. If you are displaying windows from a remote session over ssh, be sure you have X tunneling enabled in your ssh client configuration.  Please do not try to open up your X server to the entire world with anything like "xhost +".  That is a *VERY BAD IDEA*.
  4. In light of step 3 above:  If you have a local firewall that asks about blocking access to the Xserver, you can usually block it without a problem -- if you have X forwarding enabled and working, then you are usually ok.  (If you believe a localhost-based firewall is interfering with X, try allowing only connections from the loopback/localhost address (127.0.0.1)).
Long version:  Walkthrough of a Cygwin installation (MS Word doc).

Subsidiary recommendation:

There is a handy tool for initiating shell connections to remote hosts (such as via ssh) and starting the Cygwin X server called Mortens Cygwin X-Launcher.  Coming soon (?): screenshots of the X-Launcher configuration that are most likely to be useful...

Installation Tip:

A Cygwin mirror is available at http://mirror.bnl.gov/cygwin/ making the installation go quite quickly if you are at BNL.  This is quite handy for the cygwin installation and any subsequent use of the setup utility.  One potential catch for onsite users -- even if you intend to use the local mirror, you must still configure a BNL proxy server during Setup, as shown in  this walkthrough of a Cygwin installation (MS Word format).
Please send comments, corrections and suggestions to Wayne Betts: wbetts {at} bnl.gov

FAQS and Tips that don't fit well elsewhere

Software Site Licenses:

Do we have a site license for software package XYZ?

The answer is (almost) always: No!
Neither STAR nor BNL have site licences for any Microsoft product, Hummingbird Exceed, WinZIP, ssh.com's software or much of anything intended to run on individual users' desktops. Furthermore, for most purposes BNL-owned computers do not qualify for academic software licenses, though exceptions do exist.

FAQ: PDF creation:

How can I create a file in pdf format?

Without Adobe Acrobat (an expensive bit of software), this can be a daunting question. I am researching answers, some of which are available in my Windows software tips. Here is the gist of it in a nutshell as I write this -- there are online conversion services and OpenOffice is capable of exporting PDF documents.

FAQ: X Servers:

What X server software should I use in Windows?

I recommend trying the X Server that is available freely with Cygwin, for which I have created some documentation here: Cygwin Tips. If you can't make that work for you, then I next recommend a commercial product called Xmanager, available from http://www.netsarang.com. Last time I checked, you could still download a fully functional version for a time-limited evaluation period.

TIP: Windows Hibernation trick:

Hibernate or Standby -- There is a difference which you might find handy: 
  • "Standby" puts the machine in a low power state from which it can be woken up nearly instantly with some stimulus, such as a keystroke or mouse movement (much like a screensaver) but the state requires a continuous power source.  The power required is quite small compared to normal running, but it can eventually deplete the battery (or crash hard if the power is lost in the case of a desktop).
  • "Hibernate" actually dumps everything in memory to disk and turns off the computer, then upon restarting it reloads the saved memory and basically is back to where it was.  While hibernating, no power source is required.  It can't wake up quickly (it takes about as long as a normal bootup), but when it does wake up, (almost) everything is just the way you left it.  One caveat about networking is in order here:  Stateful connections (eg. ssh logins) are not likely to survive a hibernation mode (though you may be able to enable such a feature if you control both the client and server configurations), but most web browsing activity and email clients, which don't maintain an active connection, can happily resume where they left off.

Imagine:  the lightning is starting, and you've got 50 windows open on your desktop that would take an hour to restore from scratch.  You want to hibernate now!  Here's how to enable hibernating if it isn't showing up in the shutdown box: 
Open the Control Panels and open "Power Options".  Go to the "Hibernate" tab and make sure the the box to enable Hibernation is checked.  When you hit "Turn Off Computer" in the Start menu, if you still only see a Standby button, then try holding down a Shift key -- the Standby button should change to a Hibernate button.  Obvious, huh?

For the curious:
There are actually six (or seven depending on what you call "official") ACPI power states, but most motherboards/BIOSes only support a subset of these.  To learn more, try Googling "acpi power state", or you can start here as long as this link works.  (Note there is an error in the main post -- the S5 state is actually "Shutdown" in Microsoft's terminology). 
From the command line, you can play around with these things with such straighforward commands as:
%windir%\System32\rundll32.exe powrprof.dll,SetSuspendState 1
Even more obvious, right?  If you like that, then try this on for size.

TIP: My new computer is broken!:

It's almost certainly true - your new computer is faulty and the manufacturer knows it!  Unfortunately, that's just a fact of life.  Straight out of the box, or after acquiring a used PC, you might just want to have a peek at the vendor's website for various updates that have been released.  BIOS updates for the motherboard are a good place to start, as they tend to fix all sorts of niggling problems.  Firmware updates for other components are common as are driver updates and software patches for pre-installed software.  I've solved a number of problems applying these types of updates, though it can take hours to go through them thoroughly and most of the updates have no noticeable effect.  And it is dangerous at times.  One anecdote to share here -- we had a common wireless PC Card adapter that was well supported in both Windows and Linux.  The vendor provided an updated firmware for the card, installed under Windows.  But it turned out that the Linux drivers wouldn't work with the updated firmware.  So back we went to reinstall a less new firmware.  You'll want to try to be intelligent and discerning in your choices.  Dell for instance does a decent job with this (your Dell Service Tag is one very useful key here), but still requires a lot from the updater to help ensure things go smoothly.  This of course is in addition to OS updates that are so vital to security and discussed elsewhere.



Please send comments, corrections and suggestions to Wayne Betts: wbetts {at} bnl.gov

Networking Software

Networking
Software

  • PuTTY:
     This is the preferred SSH client for Windows.  It is free, easy to use
    and well maintained for both security and bug issues.
     (As with everything, it is only "maintained" if you regularly check
    for updated versions!)
     Please note that most other SSH clients for Windows are NOT free for
    use on government computers or in the pursuit of lab business, though
    they might function just fine without payment.

  • WinSCP:  This is a fine graphical SFTP and SCP client utility with some additional features built in.

  • X servers (no, Exceed doesn't make the cut because of the high monetary cost):

    • Cygwin:  Please look at the separate Cygwin page for information on installing and configuring the Cygwin X server.

    • Xmanager:  I
      recommend that you use the Cygwin X server, but if you find something
      that it can't handle, then this is the recommended alternative. 
      It isn't free (but it does have fully functional time-limited
      evaluation license if you want to try it out.) 
      It is much cheaper than Exceed and seemingly just as capable, but
      without quite as much overhead. 
      I'm particularly interested in hearing about X Server alternatives, so
      let me know if you have a favorite!

  • Alternatives to Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Outlook Express:

     As
    the leading web browser and mail client, these two apps are the target
    of prolific viruses, trojans, malware and other nasties. 
    In addition to avoiding many of these, you may also like some of the
    features available in the alternatives (eg. tabbed browsing is a
    popular feature unavailable in IE). 
    Four alternatives are in common use (three of them share much of the
    same code-base -- Mozilla, Netscape Navigator and Firefox). 
     This review
    might help sort you out the differences.
     As with anything, your preference is yours to decide (and also, as
    with everything else here, feature and security updates are released
    quite often, so you might try to check for new versions regularly): 
    They are listed here from highest recommendation to lowest:

    1. Firefox/Thunderbird: 
      Though frequently mentioned as a pair, Firefox and Thunderbird are
      stand-alone applications. 
      Firefox is a web browser, and Thunderbird is an email client. 
      "Stand alone" here means that these can be installed separately from
      each other. 
      You can configure them to work with alternative software as you wish
      (eg. use Firefox for surfing, but set Outlook as your default mail
      client). Actually, you can generally mix and match pieces from all of
      these alternatives, but most of them start out with defaults tied to
      their suite companions. 
      Slight thumbs up to Firefox over the other alternatives because it has
      almost every feature found in the corresponding Mozilla suite, plus
      additional add-ons. 
      Vast numbers of independently produced add-ons and customizations are
      available as well.
    2. Mozilla Suite: 
      A suite that includes the big three:  a browser, email client and HTML
      editor. 
      This is a fine alternative, but as a browser alternative, this author
      gives the bigger thumbs up to its sibling, Firefox, listed above.
    3. Opera. 
      It is available in a free version with a "branding" bar that contains
      advertisements, or you can buy the product to remove this minor
      annoyance.  (Branding/non-branding examples.)
    4. Netscape: 
      The Netscape suite includes a browser (Navigator), email client (Mail),
      HTML editor (Composer) and other tidbits. 
      Of the three Mozilla-based browsers, this is probably the least used
      and has the most extraneous stuff thrown in, which is one of several
      reasons it gets last place in this list.
        It is good enough to recommend, but just not quite as highly as the
      others.

  • Java, WebStart, JRE, J2RE, JSDK,
    Microsoft VM and all that Jazz...: The author of this segment finds
    this to be very puzzling and sometimes frustrating stuff to understand,
    keep up with, and especially to try to explain clearly and succinctly. 
    <Melodrama> Imagine Sun, IBM and Microsoft all walked into a bar
    and had a few drinks. Heck, let Netscape walk in a few minutes later
    for good measure. 
    Fifty states' attorneys general plus the US AG and DOJ are to act as a
    referee. 
    Now imagine that you, a mere passerby on the street were harangued into
    cleaning up the inevitable bar fight, complete with broken bottles,
    flying bar stools and blood everywhere all while it is still going on. 
    That's not even close to how awful it is...</Melodrama>   Details
    to be filled in here!

  • OpenAFS, MIT Kerberos, Wake and Leash: Details to be filled in here!

  • Google Toolbar :
    This is a very convenient interface to initiate Google searches, plus a
    decent pop-up blocker. Unfortunately, it is only available for Internet
    Explorer (though other browsers may support similar features natively).

Please send comments, corrections and suggestions to Wayne Betts: wbetts {at} bnl.gov

Office applications and productivity software

Productivity software and viewers/utilities for various file types

  • OpenOffice -- Free and available on multiple platforms.  Perhaps the single best reason to use it is that it natively creates PDF format.  In addition to its own formats, it can read (and write) MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint files (usually -- sometimes formatting details go haywire, but they are constantly updating it.)

  • Adobe Reader -- Used for viewing PDF documents.  (You will probably want to install it with the very useful text search feature.) (Linux users can try xpdf as an alternative which is part of many distributions.)

  • Ghostscript and GSview: PostScript interpreter and viewer (and PDF too) that you probably want to have.

  • Online Document Conversion Services:  Neevia Technology and CERN Document Conversion Service both have file convertors that allow you to submit a variety of common (and uncommon) file formats in small numbers and produce files in different formats (PDF being of most interest probably).  Though not convenient for many files or very large files (and certainly inappropriate for confidential or non-public information), they are good to know about.  (Don't forget -- OpenOffice is able to export documents in PDF format too and handles a lot of file types.)

  • Graphics and Image Manipulation software:  The GIMP and ImageMagick are both quite capable tools available for free for multiple platforms.  Perhaps not perfect replacements for Adobe PhotoShop, but pretty darn good.  (If you are a PhotoShop veteran, then you'll have to spend some time learning the ropes, but it will probably be worth it.)

  • Compression Utilities:  WinZip is not free (though many, many people use it without payment).  Fortunately, there are freeware alternatives.  For instance:
    • 7Zip:  This is the current recommendation of this page, the reasons for which may be included in the future..
    • FreeZip (but not "FreeZip!" which is reported to contain spyware and/or adware)
    • ZipCentral
    • ZipItFast
    • ExtractNow
    • CAMUnZip
    • ZipWrangler
    • Freebyte Zip

  • If you've ever spent a few minutes waiting for MS Windows Search function to find a file on your system, then you might find the following can save you some time. The basic idea is similar to most internet search engines: index your files (while the computer would otherwise be idle so as not to slow things down for the user) and then consult the indexes when a search is requested:

    • Yahoo! Desktop Search:  This is a free version of a well respected product from X1 with a few features removed, such as indexing of remote drives, Eudora and Mozilla-based email.
    • Google Desktop Search:  Use Google's Desktop Search to quickly search for files on your computer using an indexing system much like Google's web indexing.  Not all file types are supported, but most common ones are, such as Outlook mail, MS Office documents and so on.
    • Copernic Desktop Search:  This is similar to the Google Desktop Search, but appears to be a bit more capable, though as of this writing I have not had time or cause to test it much.  User comments would be appreciated.
    • Windows 2000 and XP include an "Indexing Service" which (according to Microsoft) is "a base service [...] that extracts content from files and constructs an indexed catalog to facilitate efficient and rapid searching."  To configure the Indexing Service open Control Panels -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management.  In the left pane, click the plus sign next to "Services and Applications", then right-click on the "Indexing Service" icon.  In the popup menu, select "All Tasks | Tune Performance".  The "Indexing Service Usage" dialog box will appear.  The Indexing Service is actually quite customizable, though doing so can add significantly to the resources required by the service.  A warning: it can eat up a surprising amount of disk space to maintain the indexes.  It has sped up basic searches for this author, but your mileage may vary in both search efficiency gains and overall performance penalty.

  • Cygwin: Cygwin has a number of utilities for handling, viewing and transforming file formats, so I have a separate page of Cygwin tips
  • Multimedia Players (work related, of course!)

    Pick one.  Use it.  If you find a format it doesn't support, try a different one, or go to the vendor's site and look for a download of an update or add-on (plug-in, patch, codec, etc.) for your format.  This isn't the place to go into the details, but some quick thoughts are included here:
    • Microsoft's Media Player -- you've almost certainly already got it, so why not use it? 
    • Real Player:  complaint -- by default it runs background processes continuously, pops up annoying little messages and practically begs you to register it, though it isn't nessecary for full functionality..  It isn't a big deal to disable these annoyances, but why should you have to?
    • Winamp:  There is a free version and an inexpensive "Pro" version that has CD burning.  It has been up and down over the years, with some versions much quirkier than others.  Currently it seems to be on par with the rest.
    • Apple's iTunes:  Though intended to suck you into Apple's music store, you can use the application without using the store.  In keeping with most Apple stuff, it seems to be well liked by those who like it.  Enough said.


Please send comments, corrections and suggestions to Wayne Betts: wbetts {at} bnl.gov

Performance and Security enhancement

Utilities for Security and Performance

If your computer seems to be running slower than it used to, pop-up advertising is appearing at an alarming rate, your web browser's settings keep changing in undesired ways or you just want a better idea what your computer is up to (eg. "What the heck is PRPCUI.exe?"), here are some resources for understanding what's going on and making things better, presented in roughly the order from those that require the lease detailed understanding to the most:
  • Ad-Aware:

    Ad-Aware was, not very long ago, *the* place to start for malware detection and removal, with the added bonus that it was free.  Alas, recent versions of Ad-Aware (even the Personal version) are no longer licensed quite so freely (let's be clear -- a DOE-owned computer shouldn't have it installed without a paid license.)  It is still free for personal use, so it is highly recommended for home and personal laptop use, though it may not be keeping up with the constantly expanding field, which is a common problem with this type of software.  One thing to keep in mind:  you must be sure to keep your definitions up-to-date, just like a virus scanner, in order to get the most benefit.
  • Spybot - Search&Destroy:

    This is the historical alternative to Ad-Aware, with similar good results "in the early days", but it too may be failing to keep up.  Unlike Ad-Aware, it's license is quite liberal, so it can be installed as desired.  It has an "Advanced" mode, with a variety of additional tools beyond the basic malware scanner, (but keep in mind that some of these features are indeed "Advanced" and not to be played with lightly).  Broken record time:  you must be sure to keep your definitions up-to-date.  You should also consider using the "Immunize" feature to prevent some infestations, and to blacklist some sites known to host various forms of malware.

     

  • Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool:  This is a regularly updated (but far from comprehensive) online removal tool for Windows 2000 and Windows XP.  It isn't a bad idea to run this scanner once a month or whenever you suspect you might have caught "something".

     

  • Microsoft's AntiSpyware Beta:  Though called a Beta product, this is essentially a re-GUIed and slightly modified version of a long standing and respected commercial product that Microsoft recently purchased.   Some recent tests by more-or-less independent testers have shown this tool to be better even than the old reliables, Ad-Aware and SpyBot.

     

  • Defragmenting your hard drive is something to put on the calendar 2-4 times a year.  Because Windows' built-in defragmenter seems especially slow, and modern disk drives hold so much, this is something usually left running overnight.  Third-party alternatives exist that may do a better job in various ways.  Let's hope I get around to listing one or two here in the not-too-distant future...

     

  • CrapCleaner:  This is a system optimization tool for removing unnecesary temporary files and registry entries. The default installation creates a "Run CCleaner" entry in the Recycle Bin's context (right-click) menu.
  • Monitoring startup activity and services.

    Programs that start when you boot or login to your computer can be big performance drains, in addition to doing unwanted things.  The following may help you understand and control what's going on.  (N.B. Some of the following are capable of rendering your system unusable if not handled with care!  They may require significant understanding of Windows' internals to be most useful):

     

    • StartUp Monitor and Startup Control Panel.  These are separate utilities, but they are from the same source and complement each other nicely.  (The author of these has additional utilities that you may find worthwhile as well.)
    • msconfig.exe:  This is Windows' very own "System Configuration Utility", with which one can look at and configure system startup paramters and files, which is especially useful to see the effects of individual changes. You can hose things up quite good in here however, so be careful!
    • services.msc:  This provides a Management Console to configure the startup of various registered services.  This is useul for disabling unnecessary or unused Windows services.  A potentially informative feature in this Console is the "Description" column, though it can still be quite cryptic (or blank).  
    • Merijn.org's website provides several downloads that you might find useful, such as HijackThis ("a general homepage hijack detector and remover"), CWShredder (CoolWebsearch removal tool) and StartUpList ("way better than msconfig")
    • BlackViper.com
    • http://www.sysinfo.org/ (slow site) 
    • Security Task Manager
    • http://www.sysinternals.com
    • HijackThis
    • BHODemon
  • Pop-up Blockers

Pop-up blocking software is increasingly unnecessary because other tools are including their own pop-up blockers.  Mozilla/Firefox for instance have built in pop-up blockers.  Internet Explorer has a pop-up blocker added with Windows XP SP2.  The Google Toolbar (recommended in the "Networking Software" recommendations) has a pop-up stopper as well.  Still, you might fight some utility in the products available from the PanicWare website.  Versions of their Pop-Up Stopper FREE Edition served this author quite well for over a year, but as I said above, it no longer seems as essential as in the pastthe basic functionality has been supplanted by features in other software.
Microsoft Office updates are a combination of security fixes, bug fixes and new features.  Though not emphasized as much as Windows Updates, the security fixes for Office are of similar importance.  Unfortunately, using the online updating system usually requires an installation CD that matches your product (for instance, "Office XP Pro" disks are not acceptable for updating "Office XP Standard".)  Many people, for a variety of reasons, don't have their original installation CD(s).  If you do not have an acceptable installation CD available then the online product update scan can still be used to determine what updates are applicable.  Then you can usually download full updates and apply them manually without the installation media.  (Browse for the downloads that match your product -- most are in self-extracting executable format.)  

  • Clock keepers

  • Multi-desktop software

Other resources



Please send comments, corrections and suggestions to Wayne Betts: wbetts {at} bnl.gov

Required sofftware and configuration for Windows PCs at BNL

BNL-specific requirements and configuration for networked Windows computers:

  • A file and real-time virus scanner with up-to-date virus patterns/definitions is REQUIRED!  (***Cyber-Security requirement***)

      Information about the BNL-supported products from TrendMicro is available from the BNL ITD group: TrendMicro at BNL.   It is critical that any anti-virus product receive regular updates (daily or even more often), which is sometimes difficult for mobile machines on a variety of networks.   Four similar products are available to try to meet the demands of our diverse environment:

    Windows desktops that reside on the BNL internal networks are best served by TrendMicro's basic OfficeScan product.   It has a master server inside the BNL firewall from which it receives updates and to which it reports infections.  Every Windows desktop system at BNL should be using this product, with very few exceptions.  You can
    click here to go to the online install the OfficeScan product.  (You'll need administrator privileges on your system for the installation.)

    Laptop users with wireless networking are encouraged to use a newer OfficeScan version that has a firewall module and is able to recieve virus pattern updates from multiple sources -- so it can roam around on- and off-site and usually still reach an update server.  This OfficeScan version is also more capable of cleaning up some trojans and malware than the desktop version.   To install it in the standard way, you must already be on the BNL external wireless network and go here.   Repeat: you must be on the "BNLexternal" wireless network to use that link.

    BNL employees' personal home computers are permitted to use the PC-cillin product, which gets its updates from servers that are outside the BNL firewall (and it does not report infections to anybody at BNL).  PC-cillin includes a firewall module (OfficeScan does not) and PC-cillin has more (but quite limited) spy-ware and ad-ware detection capabilities.

    If you are running a Windows *Server* OS (if you are unsure, then you almost certainly are not!), then there is yet another option, for which you will need to contact ITD (help desk at x5522 or Jim McManus directly at x4107).

    or those readers to whom none of the above apply, which is to say, computers not owned or used primarily at BNL or by BNL employees, I recommend (though can offer no significant assistance with) the following three free anti-virus products about which we (Wayne / Jerome) have read or heard good things:

    1. AVG Anti-Virus     - JL tried for 3 months, worked great but had conflict with fingerprint driver (thought to be a malicious script when activated)
    2. COMODO Free        - JL tried this for years and it works just fine and appears to be a great product considering the cost (none :-) ). The free version is for home users only so NOT to be installed on a BNL system for sure (usually the case of most Free AV).
    3. Microsoft Sec. E   - Microsoft Security Essentials is new on the market but starts doing a good job and supports Windows 7, Vista and XP

      Other anti-virus resources available include online scanners, such as HouseCall from TrendMicro and Symantec's Security Check.   Most major anti-virus vendors have something similar.   Relying on these online scanners as you primary defense is unwise.   In addition to the inconvenience of manually performing these scans, you really need a product monitoring your system at all times to prevent infections in the first place, rather than trying to clean up afterwards.   But since no two products catch and/or clean the same set of problems, occaisionally using a second vendor's product can be useful.

     

  • Windows Critical Updates/SUS (***Cyber-Security requirement***)

      Windows systems must be regularly patched with "critical" updates.  Unfortunately, the BNL firewall and proxy configurations can interfere with the Windows Automatic Update feature in Windows 2000/XP (though you can still use Windows Updates in Internet Explorer if you have the proxies configured correctly, see below for proxy info).  To help with this situation, BNL ITD has set up a Software Update Services server to locally host critical updates.  To use this service (which places a notification icon in the System Tray when updates are available), please click here for more information and installation instructions.  (It is quite easy, but you must have administrative privileges.)   You can manually apply Windows updates (critical and otherwise) using Internet Explorer --  go to the Tools menu and click on "Windows Updates", at which point it is straightforward.  Note that in many cases, the machine must be rebooted to complete the update process.
  • Logon Banner (**Cyber-Security requirement**)

      As required by the DOE, please install a logon banner for BNL-owned or BNL-based computers.  (This includes other OSes as well -- essentially anything that you can log into is required to post a banner if technically possible.)  Click here for more information about logon banners at BNL. To install the banner:  Windows NT/2000/XP click here (must be an administrator to insert the registry changes).  Window 95/98 click here instead.
  • MAC Registration (**Cyber-Security requirement**)

  All networked devices on the BNL internal networks are required to be registered.   (NB--- Please do not attempt to register your machine while using STAR's cygnusb wireless access points.)   More specifically, each network interface is to be registered -- one computer might have multiple network interfaces, each of which requires a separate registration.   That's because the registration is keyed on a specific string assigned to each network interface by the manufacturer that is supposed to be unique in the world.   It is known as a "MAC", "ethernet" or "hardware" address and each network interface has one. (Ie. You must create a separate registration entry for each network card you use on a system.)   For more information, or to update your registration information, click here.  This requirement applies to things beyond typical PCs, such as remote network power supplies, VME processors and other networked equipment.   If you have such equipment that you cannot register (typically because it doesn't run any sort of web browser), then please contact ITD (x5522) or Wayne Betts for assistance in registering the system.   While not necessary, if you have the capability to verify that the MAC you are registering is in fact yours (Windows hint:  "ipconfig /all" or Linux hint:  "ifconfig"), please do so.   Glitches in the system occaisionally fail to properly keep track of the realtime IP-to-MAC mapping, and you, the adaptable human, can perhaps avert the unfortunate situation of misregistration.
  • Proxy servers

    As per 2017/11, please use direct connection to the network while at BNL.
  • Security Scanning

  The BNL networks are routinely scanned for vulnerabilities by ITD, auditors and even sometimes malicious intruders.  The most prevalent scan is done using Nessus, which looks for common network services and many known vulnerabilities.  Any user with a web browser can initiate a new scan of his host machine and look at the most recent scan results for his IP address by going to http://scanner.bnl.gov/.   (NB. When it requests an email address to send the results, you must use an address ending in bnl.gov, or it will reject you.)   The results can be daunting to interpret, so please ask for assistance if you are unsure how to interpret or correct any results.   Some results are "false positives" or uncorrectable but necessary, in which case they can be marked as such in the database.

 


Please send comments, corrections and suggestions to Wayne Betts: wbetts {at} bnl.gov