Obstacles We’ve Overcome

Installing Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2007

We encountered a few challenges while installing Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2007.  The computers in the lab were donated and had Office on them when Generations of Hope received them.  Therefore, they did not have an installation disk to reinstall Office after we upgraded to Windows 7.  Generations of Hope has a multicomputer license for Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2007, so we hoped that we could go to the Microsoft website, find a link to download Office, and enter the product key without any problems.  However, finding the backup download link to download Office from the Microsoft website was challenging, and when we did find it, it would not accept Generations of Hope’s Office product key.  Ashley helped us by calling Simplified Computers, Generations of Hope’s IT support, to learn more about their Office licenses and found a flash drive that had the Office installation files on it.  After she brought us the flash drive, we were able to install Office without any problems.

Installing Windows 7

Andrei and Adam admiring Windows 7 loading for the first time on Workstation 1

Ashley and Elaine forwarded us the Windows 7, 32 bit Enterprise confirmation email that they received from Microsoft.  Adam followed the link included in the email, but the instructions on the site used inconsistent terminology which made following the instructions difficult.  Adam eventually figured out that he had to create a Windows Live ID for Generations of Hope in order to download the Windows 7 operating system even though the instructions did not specifically tell him to do this.   Adam set up the Generations of Hope Windows Live ID using the Generations of Hope email address included in Microsoft’s initial confirmation email.  This was problematic since the email we used to make the account was Elaine’s email address, and she was out of the office speaking at an event.  Ashley was able to contact Elaine and ask her to forward us the confirmation email so we could verify the Windows Live ID account that Adam set up.  Elaine forwarded the email to Ashley who then forwarded the email to Adam.  Adam clicked on the link in the forwarded email, went back to Microsoft, and logged in with the Windows Live ID.  Then, Microsoft felt the need to confirm the information again, so Ashley contacted Elaine who forwarded the confirmation email to Ashley who then forwarded the email to Adam.  This time, Adam was able to log in.

After Adam logged in, he began downloading the operating system.  This took several hours.  We only downloaded Windows 7 on one computer at a time because downloading Windows 7 on more than one computer at a time significantly slowed the download speed.  Once Windows 7 was downloaded on one computer, we found out that the file was an ISO, a disk image, file.  Therefore, we had to download a program called Virtual Clone Drive to trick the computer into thinking that the file was a CD in the CD drive so it could access the contents.

To make the Windows 7 installation process go more quickly, we decided to copy the downloaded Windows 7 installation file and the Virtual Clone Drive installation file onto a flash drive and use the flash drive to transfer the files to the other computers.  Luckily, we happened to have a few flash drives with us that had enough storage to transfer the files.  As Adam ran the Windows 7 installation files, the installation wizard prompted him to download Windows Easy Transfer.  Windows Easy Transfer allows users to save the files they want to keep in a secure location, like a flash drive, while Windows 7 wipes the computer, removes the current operating system, and installs Windows 7.  While it was necessary to download Windows Easy Transfer to proceed with the installation, this step was not useful since we did not want to save any individual files and Windows Easy Transfer would not allow us to save the programs or drivers we needed to reinstall.  Inserting a flash drive into each computer as we ran the installation files was necessary so it appeared that we were utilizing Windows Easy Transfer even though we were not.  After that, the installation process went smoothly, and all six computers appear to be working properly with Windows 7.

Establishing a network and setting up OpenDNS

Getting OpenDNS to work in a way that would suit the needs of Generations of Hope was one of the bigger challenges of our project. They wanted their wired connection to be filtered so they wouldn’t have to closely monitor the young people in the computer lab, but they also wanted to have an unfiltered wireless connection so that adults in the community would not have a censored internet connection.

After doing some research, Andrei discovered that we would need two routers for OpenDNS to work: one that would provide an open wireless connection and another that would filter and provide the wired connection. Generations of Hope did have several routers, but we weren’t sure which ones worked. Since we had unplugged all the connections in the room when we were painting, it took us a substantial amount of time to put things back together and only after about an hour of troubleshooting did we discover that the lab had a DSL connection that used the DSL router. After connecting that router, we were able to get internet on one computer, but not on the other computers on the other side of the lab which were connected through a switch to the Linksys router. There was something preventing the Linksys router from transmitting the internet to the switch, but we couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Adam ended up taking the router home for the weekend to experiment on it.

After taking the router home, Adam found that if we connected the Linksys router to his home router, the Linksys router would get internet that it could pass along to other computers. It made sense, then, that the Linksys router was the router on which we would install OpenDNS.

When we returned to the lab with the Linksys router, we were still having trouble getting the Linksys router to give internet to the computers connected via the switch. After well over an hour of troubleshooting, we discovered that the problem was that the DSL router and the Linksys router had the same IP address. After changing the IP address of the Linksys router, both routers started to work together and we were able to get the internet to all the computers in the lab.

Once this happened, setting up OpenDNS was easy: we registered for an account using Elaine’s email address and a common password, picked our settings, and applied the DNS addresses to the static DNS settings in the Linksys router. Within a few minutes, the filter had been established on the wired computers, while the wireless connection was clear.

After initially getting OpenDNS to work on Windows XP, we had difficulty getting the internet filtering to work on Windows 7, even though our dual-router set-up was still in place. First, we tried refreshing the DNS cache using ipconfig /flushdns. However, this still did not re-set the DNS settings. After consulting with Martin, he recommended that at least one workstation should run the client side software from OpenDNS, which monitors for changing IP addresses (since Generations of Hope does not pay for a static IP address). These changes can happen when the router is reset, or when the Time To Live has expired for that IP address. We decided to install the client side software on all of the workstations, and also change the settings to have the OpenDNS updater check for DNS-o-matic updates and to also run in the background. This seemed to solve the problem, and the OpenDNS filtering was working on all workstations once again.

While working on the OpenDNS, we also noticed that we were getting messages stating that Windows hadn’t been activated, so we ran the activation procedure (re-entering the product key) on each workstation so the operating system would be fully activated and up to date.

Choosing memory upgrades

Another task of importance at Generations of Hope was upgrading memory in the computers. The computers at Gen Hope were running slowly and often freezing up, and we thought that adding RAM–one of the cheapest and simplest computer upgrades–would help fix some of their problems.

During our inventory, we were able to determine the model numbers of the computers in the lab: of the computers we would be upgrading, there were five Dell GX 280s and one GX 270. Using the manufacturer’s service tag number, we then went to the Dell website to determine the type of memory needed for the computers.

This is where we ran into problems, as the documentation on the Dell website was not always clear. The information about the different kinds of RAM always seemed to leave something out: it might give the number of pins, but leave out the PC number, or it would give the size of the RAM but not the speed. There was a “recommended upgrades” tab on the website, but it gave a different suggestion for each computer even when the model numbers were the same, so we decided that the recommended upgrades might not be trustworthy.

After a lot of searching (which produced conflicting information), we finally went to the website of Crucial (a very reputable memory company)  and entered the information for the computers. This told us that we could use 240-pin DDR2 in the later model Dells, but would only be able to use slower, 180-pin DDR RAM in the GX 270. Also, the website said the memory was “guaranteed” to be compatible, which, coming from a company that has made its name on selling RAM, made us feel confident that the RAM would work.

We were hoping to use the RAM that Martin had collected in room 52, but we were unable to find any that matched our needs. We ended up buying two one-gigabyte sticks for each of the GX 280 computers, as these were cheap and would dramatically increase the performance of the computers, which originally had only 512 megabytes of RAM. For the GX 270 computers, we bought two 512-megbyte sticks, which was still a significant upgrade.

The upgrade process itself couldn’t have been easier: we swapped out the old sticks for new ones, made sure they were in the right slots, and checked the BIOS to make sure they were recognized. We left the computers running for around 10 minutes to make sure everything was okay, and that was it!

Setting up Steady State accounts

For a variety of reasons, we wanted to install Steady State on the Gen Hope lab computers. One of the main reasons we thought Steady State would be a good piece of software was that Generations of Hope wanted separate user accounts with different rights, and they also didn’t want users to be tethered to specific machines with files only being saved to one computer. Adam R., our TA, informed us that Steady State offers good options for creating users account, so we thought we would look into using Steady State on Gen Hope’s Windows XP machines.

This turned out to be a problem, however, because Windows has, within the last year or so, stopped supporting Steady State. We were afraid that if we used the XP version of Steady State, it might be unstable and create problems on the computers that would be hard to reverse.

Around this time, Ashley sent us an email indicating that they would like to upgrade to Windows 7 if possible. Upon hearing this, we looked into the Steady State options that would be available on Windows 7 and came upon a document called “Creating A Steady State by Using Microsoft Technologies”. This document gives a walk through of how to create a Steady State account, and we planned to use this document to guide us in setting up the Steady State accounts on the Generations of Hope computers.  However, when we tried to set up the accounts according to these directions, we realized that maintaining these accounts would require a level of management skills that was not realistic to expect of the Generations of Hope Computer Committee.  Since setting up a lab that would be sustainable was one of our top priorities, we emailed Martin to ask him for advice.  He suggested leaving Generations of Hope the research we had conducted on setting up a steady state since it was near the end of the semester and recommending that they use a commercial product if they still wanted to manage the network in that way.  We explained the situation to Generations of Hope and gave them names of several commercial products such as Deep Freeze and Drive Vaccine to guide their research if they decide to continue pursuing a steady state.  Unfortunately, these types of commercial products vary widely in features and ease of use, and since we were not able to test these products to determine how they work in practice we were not able to make a firm recommendation.

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