• Applying Exchange 2013 Branded Wallpaper via GPO

    Whilst waiting for the installation of Exchange binaries on our third Exchange 2013 Proof of ConceptDAG node, I got thinking. It would be really nice to differentiate these servers in some way so that the operator knows what platform they’re working on. BGInfo would have been a way, but I wanted something bolder, more colorful, more ‘the interface formally known as Metro’.

    There are 3 parts to this solution…

    Creating your wallpaper center piece

    The first stage is to take Brebenel’s lovely icon, and convert it into a JPEG or BMP. You can do this by…

    1. Saving the PNG available from the DeviantArt website to you local computer
    2. Opening said file in Microsoft Paint/an imaging tool of your choice
    3. Selecting the ‘Save As’ , or equivalent function , to save the file as a JPEG or BMP

    Some thoughts on this: The image is a heck of a lot smaller in JPEG and due to limited colour palette does not suffer for being compressed. If you’re distributing this over your network, why not save a few packets and go JPEG? Before the next stages, upload your JPEG/BMP to a network share that is ubiquitously accessible by ‘Authenticated Users’ on your Domain.

    Administratively creating your ‘canvas’

    The next stage is to apply a desktop background colour to lay the jpeg on top of. Windows Server Active Directory does not natively ship with any policies or preferences for setting desktop background colour. Enter please Chris Stone’s Policy Defintion :



    CATEGORY “Desktop”

    CATEGORY “Custom”

    KEYNAME “Control PanelColors”

    POLICY “Background Color”

    EXPLAIN “Allow you to control the background color of the user’s desktop.”

    PART “Enter the RGB values of the user’s desktop background (ex: 128 128 128)” TEXT




    VALUENAME “Background”






    1. Save the code block above into a sensibly named file with the extension .ADM using your favourite text editor (e.g. notepad)
    2. Open The Group Policy Management administrative tool and create a new GPO linked to your target OU.
    3. Edit the new GPO by right clicking on it and selecting ‘Edit’.
    4. Expand out the following nodes: ‘User Configuration -> Policies’
    5. Right click on ‘Administrative Templates’ and select ‘Add/Remove Templates’
    6. Left click ‘Add’ then browse to your saved ADM file
    7. Expand out the following nodes: ‘User Configuration -> Policies -> Administrative Templates -> Classic Administrative Templates-> Desktop -> Custom’
    8. Enter the colour code ‘208 223 209′ into the Background Color’ setting. Inverted commas NOT required :)

    That will set the Desktop Background Colour to be the same as Mr Eduard-Silvius’ icon, allowing us to…

    Administratively applying your wallpaper

    Remember where you uploaded your JPEG/BMP earlier? Good. Now you can set that image as your desktop wallpaper. From the same GPO editing snap-in:

    1. Expand the following nodes: ‘User Configuration ->Policies -> Administrative Templates -> Desktop -> Desktop’
    2. Set the ‘Desktop Wallpaper’ setting name value to the UNC path of your image file
    3. Set the ‘Wallpaper Style’ setting value to ‘Fit’, to maximize the icon’s size.

    Note: You shouldn’t see any pixelation, as the icon/image starts life pretty darn wide (2124 pixels!)

    Making it stick – setting Loopback Processing

    To ensure that the background is applied for every user that logs onto the box, it is required to enable loopback processing for your GPO. This is because we are applying User Settings on the basis of machine logged onto, and User the Settings group policy object applied to it. To do this, again from the same Group Policy editing snap-in…

    1. Expand the following nodes: ‘Computer Configuration -> Policies -> Administrative Templates ->System -> Group Policy’
    2. Enable the ‘Configure user Group Policy loopback processing mode’ setting in ‘Merge’ mode.
    3. Close the Group Policy editor snap-in

    This will apply your Desktop background GPO without removing other GPO’s applied to the user’s user object. If there is a conflict (e.g. they already have desktop background GPO’s applied) then the computer object’s user settings will take precedence.

    Note: You cannot scope which settings are applied using this GPO, or restrict it’s application to certain machine types using WMI filtering as it relies on both Computer & User settings being applied to work!

    Once the GPO has applied (you can force this using GPUPDATE /Force)  you will find that when a user logs onto the machine they will have a gorgeous new wallpaper.

    If you prefer reading your settings via Microsoft’s very own GPMC native ‘settings’ view, please find below a screenshot for your perusal

    If my poor running prose confuses you, click here

    If my poor running prose confuses you, click here

    An enhancement on this would be using BGINFO.exe’s native wallpaper application/manipulation abilities. Look at Rich Vanover’s TechRepublic article here for more guidance on that approach.

    If you’re after a simpler way of tattooing system data to a desktop, you could always try @richardjgreen‘s approach here which utilizes the older BACKINFO.exe binary. I’m not sure how you’d use BACKINFO to enforce tattooing with a given wallpaper file, something I know BGINFO can be configured to do with .BGI files, but I suspect Richard will elaborate at some point :)

    Thanks to all the guys I linked in this article. Great work from  all of them be it forum contribution or artistic contribution. All I did was put it together :)

  • Ping multiple computers in PowerShell

    It came to my attention today that not everyone is spat out of the womb knowing how to test the network connection to a list of computers in PoSH. Some use cases for this one-liner could be…

    • Testing guest connectivity on a set of vMotions/LiveMigrating VM’s
    • ‘Monitoring’ the progress of automated/batch processes involving host restarts, for example VMware Update Manager host/guest patching
    • Rudimentary confirmation of node system load when testing load-balanced farms, increased response time being a sign of significantly increased system pressure

    It’s pretty easy to do this. The method relies on the ability of the Microsoft Management Powershell Module cmdlet, Test-Connection, to accept a comma-separated list of hostnames.

    Example as follows:

    Test-Connection -ComputerName TESTPC1,TESTPC2,TESTPC3 -Count 100

    Example (redacted) output:

    As you can see, the Test-Connection cmdlet is alternating between the three listed hosts.  The output is superior to our good friend ping, exposing more data in a tabulated presentation with failed connections even coming up in attention-grabbing red text! The cmdlet has several handy switches outlined here. In case the power of having an honest-to-goodness queriable object pumped out by your connectivity verifier, rather than a string dump, is not self evident (think scripting scenarios people!), you can find a decent overview at the computerperformance.co.uk site.

  • No Prime Treatment For Amazon Delivery Service Subscribers

    As per my recent post, I was fortunate to receive my Kindle Paperwhite 3G way before Christmas.  Kudos to Amazon’s enhanced delivery service option in terms of timeliness.

    However, I have to feedback that it’s not necessarily top marks for quality. The courier Amazon use for Prime in my area thinks it is perfectly acceptable to leave goods thrown in the bushes in front of my house. This is the second time this has happened in the last week, hence why I’m posting about it. I’m all about second chances.

    Given that this is a £50/year premium service, which I’m sure most people are going to be using to order high value goods of a moisture sensitive nature (read: books and electronics), this really isn’t cricket. I understand the value of outsourcing, but supplier auditing & QC are key ingredients in the success of any Enterprise.

    The infamous ‘Law of the Mechanical Turk’ doesn’t always cut it. Value add services such a delivery subscriptions have to be perceived as value to be successful.

    Sticking my shit in the bushes when it’s -5 and raining outside really doesn’t cry out ‘quality’ to me.  To make matters worse, they didn’t even leave a delivery card, so I was unaware of the packages existence until a late house caller informed me!

  • Kindle PaperWhite 3Gs shipping early in the UK

    Just a quick heads up for people lusting after a Kindle PaperWhite in the UK. Although when I ordered my Paperwhite on the 8th of December, I was quoted a delivery date of the 24th of December, it actually arrived today, a meagre 3 business days after ordering. I suspect my Amazon Prime membership came into play here.

    Currently Amazon are quoting post Christmas delivery for PaperWhite 3Gs, but if you’re happy to take a gamble I’d say you stand a good chance of a pre-Christmas delivery if you go with a Prime trial.

    No review until after Crimbo I’m afraid, as Christmas doesn’t come early in my household (read: my partner robbed it off me to wrap up). All I can tell you is that it comes in an uncharacteristically un-Amazon-like black box.

  • Nokia Lumia 920 – The Phone Left Out In The Cold

    Just a quick mini post – I left my Nokia 920 out in the car again last night (sorry Crime Watch) and when I went to pick it up this morning it still had 25% charge. That’s great considering we had freezing temperatures in our region last night and the battery started its torture test with about 75% charge. Those Scandinavian chaps clearly know a thing or two about engineering technology for cold environs :)

  • Nokia Lumia 820 – First impressions

    Well my partner has just picked up a Nokia Lumia 820 via T-Mobile UK. A mere month after the official UK ‘launch’ date, they can now furnish you with, arguably, the finest handset in the current Nokia Windows Phone 8 lineup. Find below my unstructured thoughts…

    Nokia Lumia 820 in it's miniature multicoloured glory!

    Nokia Lumia 820 in it’s miniature multicoloured glory!

    Quality Speaks For Itself
    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the handset feels higher quality than it’s flagship big brother, the Lumia 920. The high contrast and popping colours on the AMOLED screen more than make up for the resolution deficit vs its sibling. Yes, 800 x 480 pixels is a LOT less than 11280 x 768, but the Windows Phone 8 tiles really benefit from strong tones and deep blacks, to the point where I don’t CARE. The reality for many people is that they don’t spend time watching movies on their 4.3″ smartphones. Perhaps, like me, you have a short commute to work so can only fit in a few rounds of Angry Bird? Well the good news for you is that the high contrast AMOLED screen makes the 4 games available for WP8 (sic) look fantastic. Who want’s real life flesh tones, and photography graded muted pallets? I have the real world to look at for that, and trust me. Real people’s flesh tones look sickly and horrible this time of year :)

    The quality doesn’t stop there though – the plastic shell fooled me into thinking it was metal. My Lumia 920 shipped with a dirty great chunk out of one corner, and even with my OCD driven careful handling of the device, the polycarb mono block has still picked up a few hair scratches. This shell feels sturdier, and is replaceable at negligible cost (vs a phone) to boot! The ceramic keys are up there with the 920’s, if anything higher as I’m feeling less play on them.

    Good thing Come In Small Packages
    The handsets geometry makes more sense to me too. Much like the iPhone 5, it is hand sized, unlike it’s cyclopean BIG bruv. The battery is pretty small (physically) but all reports so far indicate that for the target user base of this handset (somewhere below power user, but above Grandma) it will be more than adequate. YMMV but I’ll return with stats once my partner has bedded the phone (well, more importantly the battery) in. A Micro SD card is another tiny treat for the customer bold enough to buy this handset, something the Lumia 920 sorely misses. The Windows Phone 8 OS, as I stated in my other Lumia 920 posts, is pretty amazeballs and is the best treat of all.

    The Impossible Dream
    However, nothing in life is perfect, even the Lumia 820. The camera is noticeably worse in challenging situations than the iPhone 4X/iPhone 5/Lumia 920, it’s headline 8MP camera being just that; a headline.

    Removing the case, should you want to replace your shell with a charging capable one (my partners shipped with one out of the box, YMMV by region), or should you need to do something as demanding as putting in the micro-SIM to use the device as a phone is challenging. Allow me to state an unstated pre-req… YOU MUST HAVE FINGERNAILS THE SIZE & STRENGTH OF BUTTER-KNIFE TIPS. I only have little diddy finger nails due to a disease where I keep eating them, hence if there hadn’t been an adult around to help me open the phone, it would have been demoted to a Microsoft Wireless ZunePod 8.0. I provide ye with the guidance here for changing the shell, but I can must emphasise, it is hard. Especially if you don’t want to break the proscribed methodology by bringing some metal instrument into play, potentially wrecking your lovely AMOLED screen. Your finger nails will break and you will fear for the structural integrity of the phones shell. You have been warned.

    In summary, I’m impressed with this sub-flagship phone. This would make a great business handset (hint-hint employer) and I’m sorely tempted to go out and buy one, if it wasn’t for the current list price (£379.95 SIM free). I’m not saying that’s too high for handset of this quality; nay it’s a bargain. I just don’t have the spare scratch pre-Christmas.

    I’d go so far as to say that this tiny titan is a great sign for the recently unveiled , a phone even further down the pecking order. The Windows Phone 8 experience clearly translates well from flagship handsets down to more commodity fare, so I can see the Lumia 620 being a commercially successful device. It’s got a low clock speed processor (WP8 don’t need no stinking clocks) and uses well established screen technologies which should equate to fantastic battery life for the customer and increased margin for Nokia. NB: In the authors mind it isn’t a crime to turn a profit. Sorry Internet… Its pricing is rumoured to be the good side of £200 (read cheaper) SIM free/unsubsidised which should translate to a touch cheaper for Pay As You Go contracts, a Western niche I could see it doing well in, outside its initial target market of the developing world. It’s got interchangeable shells, which should increase its longevity and raise its appeal with the cool kids, also potentially increasing sales. Most importantly, it comes in Lime Green and everybody loves Lime Green.

    (How do you think Marvel sell so many of those Hulk comics? It isn’t for the plot…)

  • Unable to apply BIOS update to DELL PowerEdge 2950 III

    2013-11-12 19:28:41

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