NTFS exFAT and FAT32

No doubt if you are reading this you have heard of the three main Windows File System: FAT32, NTFS and exFAT. If not the simplest way to explain a file system is to say a file system is the way your operating system stores and organizes files on a drive.  There are many reasons to use one over the other and I may come back and update this post with the details at some point. For now I just wanted to give a quick over view of why and when you might want one over the other.

FAT32 is the oldest of the file system. It is fast and supported by just abut every operating system around including the big 3: Windows, Mac OS and Linux. All three support read and write natively. Meaning you don’t need any special software or configuration to use this file system with your computer. Its biggest downside is it doesn’t allow files larger than 4GB in size which makes it unusable for videos or video editing.

NTFS can out in the 90’s. Its name actually means New Technology File System. It is now the file system Windows needs for the drive it is installed on. It offers many new security needs such as journaling, encryption, and file/folder permissions and files up to 16EB (newest rendition of NTFS or 16TB in the original) in size. Journaling is when the file system keeps a log of changes to help combat data loss. NTFS is great when you will only be using it on one computer or a group of computers within a domain network. This is because if you encrypt your file using EFS (encrypting file system) your computer will automatically decrypt it when you access it. NTFS has limited support on Mac and Linux especially if you want to use encryption. File and folder permissions really only secure the data when the drive stays on the same computer or domain network. Moving the drive to any other computer allows an administrator on that computer to remove the permissions. Encryption however will withstand this change and not allow access without the decryption certificate. NTFS is the most secure of the file types mentioned but that also makes it the slowest and least compatible with other computers.

exFAT is the newest  of the file systems and came out with Windows Vista. There is slightly more support for it in Linux and Mac than NTFS. If you need to use multiple computers such as Mac, Windows, or Linux this might be the one you want. exFAT was Microsoft answer to the drawbacks of FAT32. It supports file sizes up to 16 EB. exFAT doesn’t support journaling or encryption natively. You can use Microsoft’s BitLocker to encrypt the entire drive but this really only works well if you only use Windows 10 computers. exFAT is somewhat support by Mac and Linux and as such a few USB drives can be found already formatted with exFAT. exFAT is great for portable drives because it has less overhead making it faster than NTFS but still supports large files. Its biggest drawback is security.

Converting File Systems – Most of the time you will have to backup all your data then format the drive and restore all your files back to the drive after yo format the drive with the new file system you choose. There are two exceptions but both I suggest you back up your data first.

Convert FAT32 to NTFS – This is simple and straight forward in Windows. It is also the only native conversion offered in Windows. Win this this option you can leave your data one the drive. However, anytime you are making any changes to a file system I suggest backing up your data first incase something goes wring. To convert FAT32 to NTFS open up command prompt and simple type: convert DriveLetter: /fs:ntfs.
Example say your USB drive is listed as drive e. You would type:
convert e: /fs:ntfs
That’s it. I will run through your drive and convert it. On my 64GB USB drive this took about 40 seconds. You cannot use it to convert to exFAT or from NTFS to anything.

The second exception which I also suggest backing up your data first is not native to Windows. You will have to use some third party software to convert your drive. There are some free ones as well as some paid ones. Since they are not native I will not go into which you should use but I still suggest you backup your data before the conversion because there is always a chance of something going wrong.


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Use symbolic links to sync folders outside of the Dropbox folder

Use symbolic links with Dropbox
mklink /D “%userprofile%\Dropbox\Documents” “%userprofile%\Documents”

I love using Dropbox but a down side is that I have files and folders outside of Dropbox that I would like to sync in Dropbox without moving them into the Dropbox folder. Luckily there is an easy to way to accomplish this. Windows has a built in function since windows vista to create symbolic links. Symbolic links take the idea of shortcuts one step further. Instead of just being a link to something somewhere else on your computer it tricks programs into thinking the files and folders actually reside inside the folder in which they are linked.  I will explain how to do this using the built in utility in Windows but there are several third party apps that do this for you using a graphical interface.
Don’t be scared this is easy and I explain everything below..

* Update * There is one glitch with symbolic links and Dropbox you should be aware of. Dropbox will only notice changes during the Dropbox service start up so changes will only be replicated when you login to your computer or when you restart the service. I will write a second tutorial on how to automatic the service shutdown/start up. If you want to sync your whole My Documents folder there is a much easier method that moves you entire documents folder into dropbox and then you should have no issues (this is the way Dropbox suggests you do it) but if you only want one folder or folders from multiple places on your computer to be in dropbox then you are stuck using symbolic links.

Symbolic Link Tutorial Starts Here:

In order to run the command you need in Windows 7 you need to open command prompt with elevated privileges. Click the start button and type cmd now right click click “Run as Administrator”.

CMD with elevated privileges

Now that you have command prompt open you just have to create the link using the command line tool called mklink. In mklink the first path you type in is the path into your dropbox folder where you want this link to be. The second path is where the real folder is located on your computer. Example: mklink /D “C:\Users\UserName\Documents\Dropbox\DesiredFolderName” “C:\Path\To\DesiredFolder”

In this real example a symbolic link to my documents folder is created in my dropbox folder. mklink /D “c:\users\matt\documents\dropbox\SLinkDocuments” “c:\users\matt\documents” so now I would have a folder in my dropbox folder called SlinkDocuments that is synced to all my computers and devices and tied to my actual documents folder on my computer.

In this example I use a veritable so that anyone can run this same command without changing it and it will create a symbolic link in their Dropbox folder to their Documents folder inside their profile.
mklink /D “%userprofile%\Dropbox\Documents” “%userprofile%\Documents”

How the above example works.

  • The mklink /D tells your computer to create a symbolic link.
  • The %userprofile% specifies the path to the currently logged on user’s profile such as C:\users\matt
  • Then I just fill in the rest of the path to the Dropbox folder \Dropbox\and then the name of the symbolic link Documents
  • The last part of this is the path to the currently logged on user’s Documents folder using the %userprofile% system variable again.
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Use GPO to Push Local Administrators

I often need to login as an administrator on someones account but if I login as the local administrator then I don’t have easy access to Domain resources. There for I need to login to the computer with a domain account but it is not a good idea to use the domain administrator account to login to local computers because of security reasons. For that reason it is useful to have a regular domain account added to the local administrators group. When managing hundreds of computers this can be a time consuming process however Microsoft thought of this and made it very easy to to set this from your domain controller using group policy. Your GPO can push out an account or group of accounts to be placed in the local Administrators group on the computers in your network. This also works well if you want to give someone in your IT department administrative access to the computers in your network but not make them a domain administrator. Remember it is not a good idea to have a bunch of domain admins running around on your network. 🙂

Here are the steps to use a GPO to push out user accounts into the local administrators group on computers.  These steps are for Server 2008 but similar steps will work in other versions.

1. Define Security Group in Users and Computers and then add the users you wish to give administrative rights to in that group. In my example I called the group IT Administrators
To do that log onto a Domain Controller and Right click Users, choose New->Group
Once the group is created right click the group and select Properties and then choose the members tab. Click the Add button and add the users you are wanting to add to the administrators group.

2. Now you need to create the group policy that will put out these settings. Please note it is not a good idea to use your default Domain Policy. Instead create a new one. On your domain controller open Group Policy Management and navigate to the Organizational Unit that holds all your computer accounts. Right click it and select Create a GPO in this Domain and link it here. Give it a name. In my example I called it ComputerPolicy. You should see the policy in the tree now.

3.Now you will edit the policy to push out these settings. Right click the policy you just created and select edit. Expand Computer configuration –>Policies –>Windows –>Settings–>Security Settings–>Restricted Groups. Right click of Restricted Groups, and select Add Group. Type the user group you create in step 1. In my example it was IT Administrators. You can also use the brows button to find the group. Once you have it click OK.

4. Now you need to choose the local group you want to add your domian group to. In this example you are adding the IT Administrators group to the local administrators group. To do this click the Add button under the “This group is a member of” section. Now type in administrators and press ok or use the brows button to find the local group you are adding to and then press ok until you get back to the GPO.

Note: you could also add your IT Administrators group to any other local group you have. Just name sure you spell it and type it correctly so it matches the local group you have on the computer. Most policies will take a few minutes to be pushed out to every computer but once the policy is updated on the computes you should be able to login with an account in your IT Administrators group and have local admin rights on the computer

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Permanently disable Firefox new tab features

Starting with Firefox 13 when you click a new tab it will display your favorite and most-visited websites. This give you an easy and quick way to access your favorite websites. On they other hand some people don’t like the new tab feature in Firefox and I have been asked by a few people if there is a way to disable it. Luckily there is an easy and permanent way to change it back and make it behave as it did before. All you have to do is change one setting in the Firefox about:config page.

Here are the steps:

  1. In the address bar in Firefox type: about:config
  2. Search for: browser.newtab.url
  3. Change the value to: about:blank or about:home

Note: The about:home will open your home page when you open a new tab and about:blank will open a blank page when open a new tab.

If you later decide you would like go use the “favorite and most-visited websites” tab again just go back and reset the value back to: about:newtab

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Make a bootable USB drive for Windows 7 installaton

Now that most computers are being shipped without any CD/DVD drive it can be hard to reinstall Windows. You have few options, get a USB DVD drive, install from a network or make an installation USB drive. Most of use by now have a plethora of extra USB drives because we keep buying larger and larger ones. All you need for this is a 4 GB USB drive. At the time of writing this you can pick one up for about $10 if you for some reason don’t have one. This tutorial will explain how to make your USB drive into a bootable installation drive for Windows 7.

If you have an iso of Windows 7 you should consider using Microsoft’s Windows 7 USB/DVD Download tool as it does this for you and is very easy to use.

If you don’t have an iso or you just want to do it the old fashion way here is what you need:

  • About 30min. to 45min. (this is due to the time it takes to format and copy all the files)
  • A computer running Windows 7
  • Windows 7 DVD and a DVD drive in your computer to read it
  • Administrative Rights on your computer
  • 4GB or larger USB drive

First get your USB drive and stick it in the computer. I am using a 4GB ScanDisk in this example.

Open command prompt with elevated privileges
To do this click your start/windows button and type: cmd
Right click command prompt and select “Run as Administrator”

In command prompt type: diskpart

Now type: list disk
This will show you all the disks on your computer. One will be your computer’s hard drive and one will be your USB drive. You may have more if you have more hard drives or other USB drives on your computer.

This next part is extremely important. Look for your USB Drive and make sure it is the correct drive. If you choose the wrong disk you will delete everything on it.
In the example above I have shown you see I have one disk that has 298GB and one that has 3827MB. The smaller one (3827MB) is my USB drive and the larger 298GB is my hard drive. Make note which disk your USB drive is you will need it in the next steps.

In this step make sure you use the disk number that corresponds to your USB drive otherwise you might wipe out your computer’s hard drive. Please note when you format the drive it may take a while. Mine took about 20min for a 4GB USB2.0 drive.
now in command prompt type: select disk 1 (assuming your USB drive is disk 1)
now in command prompt type: clean
now in command prompt type: create partition primary
now in command prompt type: select partition 1
now in command prompt type: active
now in command prompt type: format fs=ntfs
now in command prompt type: assign
now in command prompt type: exit

If you haven’t already, put your Windows 7 DVD in to your disk drive.
Open “Computer” from the start menu or press the Windows Button and “e” at the same time. Note the drive letter or your DVD drive and the drive letter of your USB drive.
If you look at my example my Windows 7 DVD is in drive G and my USB drive is drive D
It is unlikely your drive letters are the same as mine, in fact it is more likely they are the opposite of mine.

In this step use the drive letters that correspond with your system not mine.
In this next step where it says G you will use the drive letter that corresponds to your DVD drive and where it says D you will use the drive letter for your USB drive.
Back in command prompt type: G:/boot/bootsect.exe /nt60 D:

This last step you have the option to do it via command prompt (Option 2) or using the regular Windows interface (Option 1). Either way this will take a while. On my computer it was about 15min.

Option 1 – Use Windows Interface to copy the contents of the Windows 7 DVD to the USB drive
Open the Windows 7 DVD and open your USB drive. Copy and past all files from the DVD into the USB drive.

Option 2 – Use Command Prompt to copy the contents of the Windows 7 DVD to the USB drive
At this point you should check your drive letters again because your computer may have change the drive letter of your USB drive during the previous steps. In this example Replace the G with the drive letter of your DVD drive with Windows 7 in it. Also replace the D with the drive letter of your USB drive.
To copy using command prompt type: xcopy G:\ D:\ /h/i/c/k/e/r/y

Once the copying is finished you are done. You can put the USB drive in a computer and use it as you would a Windows 7 installation disk. You may have to login to your BIOS to enabling booting to USB drives before you computer will boot to a USB drive.

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Common Linux Commands

I decided to compose a list of common Linux commands as an easy way to find them.

Please note depending on the Linux installation you may need to run these with an elevated prevailed mode such as root or sudo.

In Ubuntu prefix these command with sudo to run them with elevated privileges. Example: to shutdown your server type: sudo shutdown -h now

Linux Administration:

  • Update Ubuntu: sudo apt-get uupgrade
  • Update CentOS/Red Hat: yum update
  • Shutdown Ubuntu: sudo shutdown -h now
  • Shutdown CentOS/Red Hat: shutdown
  • Reboot Ubuntu: sudo shutdown -r now
  • Reboot CentOS/Red Hat: shutdown -r now
  • View IP Address Configuration: ifconfig

Linux File and Folder Management

  • View contents in a directory: ls
  • View permissions on all contents in a directory: ls -l
  • Make a directory: mkdir DirectoryName
  • Delete a directory and all contents: rm -rf /path/to/DirectoryName
  • Change directories: cd /path/to/DirectoryName
  • to change permissions on a file or directory: chmod
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Use GPO to Force Wireless Networks

Managing a school can be challenging and you always have to keep up with new security. Students are now stick their cell phone in their bag with the hotspot turned on and then connecting the computers to their hot spot to get to websites like Facebook. There for it is necessary to control which wireless networks students can connect to. There are the more sophisticated ways such as setting up a RADIUS server but in this post I will describe the simplest way of forcing computers to connect to a defined list of wireless SSID’s and pushing them out via a Group Policy object (GPO).

Please note this works with Server 2008 and even Server 2003 if you have the updated version.

Steps to Control Wireless Networks using GPO:

  1. Fist put all the wireless computers you want to control into one organizational unit (OU).
  2. Now open the Group Policy Management Console.
  3. Navigate to the OU that contains the computers you wish to control
  4. Either create a new GPO and name it something like Wireless Policies or use a GPO already created for those computers.
  5. Edit the GPO and navigate to: Computer Configuration –> Policies –> Windows Settings –> Security Settings –> Wireless Network (IEEE 802.11) Policies
  6. Right click the policy or in the window and click “Create a New Wireless Network Policy for Windows Vista and Later Releases”. You can also create XP policies but I am only going to go over Windows Vista/7 as you should be using Windows7 by now.
  7. Now there are 2 Tabs: General and Network Permissions
  8. In the General Tab: Give the policy a name and description
  9. Do not  add your networks here. This would be for more advanced settings like 802.1X or Microsoft Protected EAP, etc.
  10. Now that the policy is named and has a description click on the “Network Permissions” Tab
  11. Under the “Network Permissions” Tab click “Add” and type in the SSID of the wireless network you want them to connect to. For network Type choose “Infrastructure” and for Permission choose “Allow”
  12. Now click ok and place check boxes next to the settings you need. I suggest enabling these settings:
    Prevent Connectoin to ad-hock network
    Prevent connections to infrastructure networks
    Only use Group Policy Profiles for allowed networks
    Don’t allow hosted networks
    *note this settings will block them from connecting to new wireless networks. If there is a wireless network allowed through another GPO you will need to specifically disable that wireless network. To do that use the “Add” button to add the SSID and then choose deny permission to block users from connecting to that wireless network. In the below screen shot it will block users from connecting to the Linksys network while allowing access to the MySSID network. The check boxes this this screen shot keep the user from connecting to new wireless networks.
  13. Choose Ok and once all the computers update with the new GPO these settings will be applied.
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Password Recovery On a Cisco 2950 Switch

This documents the procedure for performing a password recovery on a Cisco 2950 switch (and probably other models, as well).

1. Unplug the power cable

2. Hold down the mode button while replugging the power cable

3. Type flash_init over the console

4. Type load_helper

5. Type Dir flash :

//make sure to type the semi-colons

6. Type rename flash:config.txt flash:config.old

//the password is contained in the config.txt file

7. Type boot

//this reboots the system

8. Type n to skip the initial setup configuration

9. Type enable

//this takes you to the enable mode

10. Type rename flash:config.old flash:config.txt

11. Save config.txt to system

#copy flash:config.txt system:running-config

12. Enter config mode and change the password

# config t

# no enable secret

//this applies only if the enable secret password was created\

13. Finally, write the changes to memory

# write memory

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Set A Custom Wallpaper for your Login Screen in Windows 7

One thing I like to do to personalize a computer for a business or even for myself is to change the background of the login screen. When you do this for a business it look very professional to have the computer boot and bring up a screen with the company logo and and a login box for users to login to the computer.

To set a custom background/wallpaper for your Windows 7 login screen. There are two things you need to do. First enable it in your registry and second put a .jpg file in the background folder. Not your .jpg file must be smaller then 256 K yes that is 256 kilobytes. A small image. If your image is not smaller then 256K then it will not show load.

Detailed Steps as follows:

First you will need to edit your registry. Click start –> Run –> and type: regedit
Then press ok
Now navigate to: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Authentication\LogonUI\Background\
Now set this value: OEMBackground to 1

If you don’t feel comfortable diving through the registry of your computer just open notepad and past this into it:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00


Save the file to your desktop with the extension .reg and then double click it. Your computer will ask you if your are sure you want merge this with your registry and you press ok.

After you have edited your registry you need to add your background file to the computer. You background file must be a .jpg file and smaller then 256K.

Save your .jpg to this directory: C:\Windows\System32\oobe\info\backgrounds
If the info\backgrounds folders don’t exist yet then you will need to create them.

That is it. Lock your computer and view your new background/wallpaper.

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Password Recovery for Windows

To reset a forgotten administrator password on a Windows Computer, follow these steps:

  1. Boot from a Windows 7 installation CD or other boot disk.
  2. Find the drive letter of the partition where Windows is installed. In Vista and Windows XP, it is usually C: in Windows 7 it is D: in most cases because the first partition contains Startup Repair. To find the drive letter, type C: (or D: respectively) and search for the Windows folder. Note that Windows 7 CD usually resides on X:.
  3. Type the following command (replace “c:” with the correct drive letter if Windows is not located on C:):
    copy c:\windows\system32\sethc.exe c:\
    This creates a copy of sethc.exe to restore later.
  4. Type this command to replace sethc.exe with cmd.exe:
    copy /y c:\windows\system32\cmd.exe c:\windows\system32\sethc.exe
  5. Reboot your computer and start the Windows installation where you forgot the administrator password.
  6. After you see the logon screen, press the SHIFT key five times.
  7. You should see a command prompt where you can enter the following command to reset the Windows password. net user your_user_name new_password
    If you don’t know your user name, just type net user to list the available user names.
  8. You can now log on with the new password.

I recommend that you replace sethc.exe with the copy you stored in the root folder of your system drive in step 3. For this, you have to boot up again with Windows PE or RE because you can’t replace system files while the Windows installation is online. Then you have to enter this command:

copy /y c:\sethc.exe c:\windows\system32\sethc.exe

I would like to give props to the original author of these steps. You can find his post here: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_xp-system/i-lost-my-user-account-and-when-i-rebooted/5e835aed-ae26-488a-970d-d24ea32ec810

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