Monday, April 23, 2007

time.windows.com fixed

Well, it appears that time.windows.com is now fixed, after a few weeks of serving up invalid time. Presumably, the clocks on millions of Windows machines worldwide are now slowly drifting back into synchronization with the rest of humanity.

I find it rediculous that such a problem could go unnoticed and unfixed by Microsoft for so long, and that it took a Microsoft participant on a programmer's blog reading about it to track down and correct the issue.
U:\>w32tm /monitor /computers:time.windows.com,us.pool.ntp.org
time.windows.com [207.46.130.100]:
NTP: +0.0541156s offset from local clock
RefID: time-nw.nist.gov [131.107.1.10]
us.pool.ntp.org [66.91.129.70]:
NTP: +0.0293621s offset from local clock
RefID: bigben.ucsd.edu [132.239.1.6]

Friday, April 13, 2007

time.windows.com is broken... is your clock off too?

It seems that time.windows.com is broken, reporting unsynchronized time off by two minutes or more. Why is this a big deal? Time.windows.com is the default Network Time Protocol server used by the Windows Time Service in Windows XP, 2003, and Vista systems. So there are literally millions of systems out there without an accurate source of internet time.

I have personally reported the issue to Microsoft, and Akamai as well (they seem to host the actual servers). But there has been no response from either for several days. Reports on the internet indicate that time.windows.com has been broken for at least a week!

Fortunately, it is easy to switch to a different time server. If your computer is part of a Windows domain at your workplace, it will get time from your domain controller by default, so you don't need to do anything. If your system is a domain controller, or is stand-alone, you should run these commands: C:\>w32tm /config /manualpeerlist:"us.pool.ntp.org,0x8" /syncfromflags:MANUAL /update
C:\>w32tm /resync /rediscover


Note these commands do not work on Windows 2000. For that the command would be:
C:\>net time /SETSNTP:us.pool.ntp.org

What is us.pool.ntp.org? It is the United States address for the global NTP Pool Project. You can substitute your own two-letter country code for the "us" portion if you are not in the continental United States. If you're in London, for example, use uk.pool.ntp.org.

The ",0x8" after the time server name tells Windows to use a client-mode association with the time server. This isn't strictly necessary, but the proper way to configure an NTP client talking to an NTP server. If you don't use it, Windows checks the time exactly once per hour, rather than adjusting its time-checking interval automatically based on clock performance and network conditions.

One final note, do not use popular "stratum-1" time servers to synchronize your client. These systems are typically run by national standards laboratories (an example would be time-a.nist.gov). These time servers are quite overloaded, and Windows systems cannot use the increased accuracy they provide anyway (the Windows Time Service is only accurate to about 16ms). The NTP Pool Project was started for the specific purpose of reducing the load on the Internet's stratum-1 time-keepers.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Linux plunge not working out so well

So I don't think Linux is ready for laptops. Well, my laptop anyway.

The first problem I encountered was with screen resolution. I didn't have an option for the "native" 1280x800 widescreen resolution of my Dell 700m. After digging through the Ubuntu support forums, I discovered that I had to install a small utility called 915resolution. It was a minor pain to track this down, as there were several contradictory sets of instructions found with Google, but running this command:
sudo apt-get install 915resolution
and restarting seemed to fix things.

My next problem was with WiFi. Ubuntu's network management applet didn't show any available wireless networks, despite the fact that I know there are dozens nearby my home. Reboot into Windows, do some more browsing, and discover some diagnostic tests to run. Boot back into Ubunutu. It appears that command-line tools can see wireless networks nearby, but Ubuntu's GUI is broken and doesn't list them. I could deal with having to run a few commands to connect, but...

It also seems that Ubuntu does not support Wifi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) wireless access points out of the box. This is a much bigger deal, as my home network is all WPA2 WiFi, and I will not "downgrade" to any version of WEP, as it is woefully insecure.

So I boot back into Windows, and do a few more hours of research. There are WPA tools for Debian-derived Linux systems, and some folks have gotten them to work. But I was really unwilling to go down this route, as the documented procedures were pages long, and involved running a command line utility to generate a password hash for each new network I wanted to use. Not exactly useful for someone who needs to do work on the go.

Finally, I looked into getting support for my Sprint Mobile Broadband Card, which provides about 1 Mbps download speed just about anywhere. This little device is my lifeline for work. From what I read on the net (again scattered over dozens of contradictory sites), there is almost no driver support at all for these mobile Wireless cards in Linux. To get something working, I would have to modify some available driver for another device and compile it into my kernel.

So I gave up. I have a family, and a job, and I just wanted to get some work done. Right now, at least, Ubuntu doesn't have enough mobile device support for my needs.

And I know all the Linux fanboys out there will call me an 1d10t n00b, and blame the hardware manufacturers for not releasing good open-source drivers. But you know what? I don't care. Ubuntu failed me. Going mobile with Windows XP is light-years easier by comparison, and I'm not going to switch to something that requires so much manual configuration each time I want to work on the road.

Maybe I'll try a MacBook instead.