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Latest News in Testing, Inspection and Certification

NTS News Center - Latest News in Testing, Inspection and Certification

Remote Access using RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol)

Remote Control Your Windows PCPreviously, we discussed using VNC to remotely control a test platform. Today, a quick introduction to Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). Like VNC, RDP provides remote access to a platform, using an RDP server and RDP client, to control the keyboard and mouse of the platform as if you were sitting right in front of it. However, there are many differences between the two products:

  • While VNC is GPL’d software, RDP is Microsoft’s proprietary protocol. So, while both the VNC server and client have been ported to multiple platforms (Windows, Mac OS, Linux, etc.), the RDP Server is typically a Windows-based product.
  • Windows XP & Windows Vista ship with Remote Desktop Connection and Remote Assistance, both of which use the RDP protocol client & server protocols. While Mac OS X and Linux (Ubuntu, etc.) typically ship with VNC-based products.
  • Due to Microsoft’s low-level hooks in their software, RDP connections usually perform much better than VNC products.
  • Microsoft’s products use RSA Security’s RC4 cipher for encryption.

Which one is best? That’s up to you. Both offer many functions. If you’re using Windows platforms and you want the greatest performance, grab a copy of an RDP-based application like Remote Desktop Connection. If you’re cross-platforms, VNC may be a better tool for you. Either way, get your remote connections setup so you can get out of work on time!

Quick Tip – AutoCorrect in Microsoft Word

AutoCorrect Options in Word 2003AutoCorrect in Microsoft Word isn’t just for fixing commonly misspelled words, but can also be used to allow you to use “shorthand” in your typing. I know when I’m writing technical documents, I get tired of typing “Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 3” all the time, but don’t want to just type “XPSP3” and look unprofessional. Sometimes it’s easier to just type a quick shorthand version of a word or phrase instead of the whole word or phrase.  If you want to speed up your work, create a few auto-corrections to help you along.

In Microsoft Word 2003, go to the “Tools” menu, select “AutoCorrect Options…”, and then select the “AutoCorrect” tab.

In Microsoft Word 2007, click on the Office button, select “Word Options,” click “Proofing” in the left pane, click on the “AutoCorrect Options” button, and then select the “AutoCorrect” tab.

Here a few you can try:

Note that I typically end my AutoCorrect entries with a period (.) so that I can still use the acronym if needed (e.g., Word doesn’t AutoCorrect “MS” when I’m trying to type something else). If you use a period in your AutoCorrects, like I do, you may also want to create the same AutoCorrect with a greater than symbol (>). For example, “XPSP3>” so if you’re zipping along and you hold down the shift key too long while typing, you still get the same AutoCorrect entry when you hit “SHIFT-.” If you want to undo the AutoCorrect, you can just hit backspace when it pops up. Plus if you use Word as your email editor in Microsoft Outlook, your AutoCorrect shorthands will work there as well.

Just one more note — AutoText (at least in Word 2003) can also be helpful to type out long phrases. However, if you have many that start the same (e.g., “Microsoft Windows XP” vs. “Microsoft Windows Vista”), the AutoText entry won’t pop-up until you get to the “difference” in the phrase (e.g., “Microsoft Windows V” before “Microsoft Windows Vista” will pop-up).

AutoCorrect lets you create your own “shorthand.” So, what are you going to shorten today?

Remote Access using VNC

Control Your ComputerIt’s 6 p.m. and that automated test script is still running on your test platform. It’s time to go home, but if the test stops for some reason when you’ve left for the night, you’ll have to start all over in the morning. What do you do? Well, if you’ve planned ahead, you can remotely access your test platform using any of a number of remote access/remote control software products.

One of the oldest and most popular remote control programs is VNC. VNC (Virtual Network Computing) provide two small applications, the server (which runs on the target machine) and the viewer (which runs on your local platform), which transmit the keyboard and mouse input from the viewer and return the display from the server as if you were sitting in front of the computer. There are several benefits to VNC:

  • It is is GPL’d software, many versions of which are available for free, including RealVNC, TightVNC, and UltraVNC.
  • It’s been ported to a wide variety of platforms, from Windows to the iPhone and everything in between.
  • Many operating systems use VNC protocols for their remote control (such as Mac OS X’s Remote Desktop and Ubuntu’s Remote Desktop), so you don’t even need to install the server on those platforms
  • VNC Viewer doesn’t require an installation, so you can run it from a USB stick. Plus many VNC servers provide a web interface as well so you should be able to get access from any web browser

However, VNC is not by definition a secure protocol (don’t forget to at least set a password), and is best used through a VPN or SSH connection for security purposes.  In addition, it will also typically require you to open a port in your firewall for access, usually port 5900.

But the benefit of being able to see/control your platform remotely can’t be measured.

Linux – Getting Your Feet Wet

LinuxIf you’re looking to expand your abilities/capabilities as a test engineer, Linux is a good way to become more familiar with Unix-based operating systems. Even if you don’t have an extra computer sitting idle to install Linux on, you can setup and install complete working copies of many Linux distributions (distros) without messing up your current Windows installation.

The easiest way to try out a Linux OS is to download a LiveCD. Many popular distros, including Ubuntu, provide downloadable CD images that can be downloaded, burned, booted up, and used to try out an operating system. Unfortunately, most of these LiveCDs don’t offer the ability to really customize or save your changes to the OS, and they suffer from slow performance due to the limitations of the CD. But you can at least learn a little about the OS, GUI, CLI, etc. Running a LiveCD is kind of like putting your big toe in the water.

If you’d like another easy way to try out different distros of Linux, you can also install VMware Player (free) and download one of the many pre-built virtual machines from the Virtual Appliance Marketplace, including openSUSE, Damn Small Linux, Ubuntu, Fedora, and Mandriva. Then all you need to do is run the VMware Player and select a virtual appliance to run. There is a performance hit running the operating systems in a virtual machine, but it’s very easy to get started – all you really have to do is download the VM you want to run. Everything is already setup and configured. Plus you’ll have the ability to save changes and gain a more detailed understanding of running Linux.

If you’d like to really get a good idea of how a popular distro like Ubuntu (or one of it’s flavors, like Kubuntu or Xubuntu) actually runs on your computer, you can download Wubi which provides an easy Windows based installer. It installs Linux like a normal application in Windows, configures a boot manager, and sets up a virtual hard drive for you to use. The great thing is you don’t have to worry about hard drive partitions or complicated setups. And, when you are done using the software, you can simply uninstall from within Windows and it will erase the virtual hard drive file and free that space back up almost instantly. It’s really a good way to jump into Linux without the configuration hassles, but with almost full-speed performance, and the ability to quickly revert back to Windows.

How To Securely Erase A Hard Drive

How to securely erase a hard drive - the hard wayWhen you’re doing lots of quality assurance testing for other companies, security becomes an important component. No one wants to lose business because they accidentally leak product information, even after the testing is complete. To make sure you’re erasing your hard drive securely, you can try Darik’s Boot & Nuke (DBAN). DBAN provides a self-booting disc which allows you to securely delete everything off of a hard drive, and makes the data unrecoverable including to current forensic analysis methods. DBAN is a free download, although they also offer a commercially supported version (EBAN) which includes the necessary support for compliance with SarBox, HIPAA, and FISMA.

The same software also works for those of us who want to clear our hard drives before recycling or selling our computers. Don’t want the new buyer to get our bank or credit card info.

Snippy! Snappy! Screen Captures

Screencapture ToolWhen you’re testing a product, you often may want to highlight a particular bug or issue with a quick screenshot. Of course, 90% of the time, you just need to show a small part of the screen. Snippy is a handy tool to grab part of a screen in Windows XP. Just click on the icon in your systray and circle the area on the screen. The image will be saved to the clipboard where you can drop it into an email or document. It’s free, it’s simple, and you don’t even need to install it so it keeps the test system relatively clean.

You can also grab a copy of Cropper which provides a nicer user-interface to allow you to grab sections of your screen, saves the area in many different formats, and works in Windows Vista. If you’re running Windows Vista, you can also use the built-in Snipping Tool. All three offer more features/capabilities than PrintScreen…

Bug tracking analysis using SharePoint

Bug TrackingFor many companies, Microsoft Sharepoint has become an important way to communicate and collaborate on projects, including hardware and software development projects. It’s very simple with SharePoint’s custom lists to develop quick bug reporting solutions to meet your internal needs and test methodologies in just a few minutes. However, what most people don’t realize is that SharePoint can also be used in conjunction with Microsoft Excel to perform some rather informative analysis and graphing of your defect tracking data.

The key to everything is the ability of SharePoint to export data to Excel using web queries. You can export the data to Excel and, using the connector, update the data from SharePoint whenever you want (e.g., on opening the spreadsheet, after a set period of time, via a macro button, etc.). It’s incredibly handy and VERY powerful, especially if you’ve any familiarity with some of Excel’s conditional formulas – in particular, COUNTIF.

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