Inside the MSI

Have you ever needed, or wanted to see the list of files stored inside an MSI? When you wind up with a fair sized project, with a lot of third party components it’s not always clear what you need to deploy if you want to do a simple xcopy style deployment. I’ve found a tool though that makes it easy.

LessMSIerables, available from http://blogs.pingpoet.com/overflow/archive/2005/06/02/2449.aspx is a handy tool that will let you not only peer inside the contents of any MSI file, but extract the contents to a directory as well.

It’s a pretty simple interface, just use the button to the right of the File text box to load an MSI file, you can view in the table on the screen. Use the Extract button to pull all the files out to a directory, very handy for xcopy style distributions.

There are also ways to run this from the command line, great when doing automated builds. Go to the website to download it, as well as seeing full instructions.

Remote Desktop Connection

One of the coolest toys to ship with Windows XP is the Remote Desktop Connection tool. Let’s say you have a small home network, and like to take your laptop out on your deck and work under the sunny skies. However, much of what you need is on your desktop. You’d love to be able to control your desktop from your laptop. No problem!

For my example, we’ll assume you want to control your desktop from your laptop, but this will work with any two computers. First, you need the IP address of the computer you want to control. Walk up to your desktop, and open a command window (start, run, type in cmd and hit enter.) Now type in ipconfig and hit enter. After a moment some info will appear, look for the line that says “IP Address”. It will be four sets of numbers separated by periods, for example 192.168.0.7 . Jot this down on a piece of paper, then head out to your laptop.

On your laptop, bring up the Remote Desktop Connection tool (Start, All Programs, Accessories, Communications, Remote Desktop Connection). You’ll see a window like this:

Where it says Computer, type in the IP address you got a minute ago. Now, you could just hit the Connect button, but there’s probably a few options you can tweak that will make your experience nicer. First, click the Options >> button. The screen will now look like:

To save yourself a few minutes, you can go ahead and key in your user name and password you use to login to your remote computer, in this case your desktop.

Note, if your computer is part of a corporate domain (i.e. you are at work), you will probably be able to type in the name of your computer instead of it’s IP address. Just make sure to enter your Domain name in the domain box. You probably won’t be able to control your work computer from home though unless you hook up to your company network using a VPN (virtual private network). You’ll have to check with your individual company to see if this is possible and how it can be done.

Now click on the “Display” tab.

You can use the slider bar to adjust the size of your screen, in case you want something other than the full size screen. If you do want full screen, then leave set to full screen (all the way to the right) and click the Local Resources tab.

This has some options that will make your life easier. The one thing I’d suggest doing here is checking the “Disk Drives” box on. If you do this, if you bring up a “My Computer” window while controlling the desktop, it will show not only the hard drives for the desktop but for your laptop as well, allowing you to easily copy files from one computer to the other.

This is great for small files, but if you have larger files you may want to use a network share instead as it’s faster than using Remote Desktop.

Be warned though, you should trust the PC you are remoting to since this sets up a security vulnerability. If in our example a virus was running around on your desktop, by exposing your laptop’s drives your laptop could then get infected.

Finally, click on experience.

If you have a fast network, you can check everything on and get the full experience. If though you are truly controlling your desktop from somewhere else, as in the VPN I mentioned earlier, you may want to leave a few of these unchecked to make your work experience faster.

Even on a fast connection I typically leave it set to the settings you see above to get the maximum speed when I am VPNing to the office. At home though, controlling one computer from another I check everything on.

And that’s it, just click Connect, and you’ll should see your desktop’s computer appear on your screen. To exit, simply drag your mouse o the top middle of your display. A little yellow bar will pop down with the computer name and the usual X button over on the right to close the Remote Desktop Connection.

If you don’t get connected, there are a few trouble shooting things to look at:

  1. You must have administrative rights on the computer you are controlling, or be a member of the remote desktop users group.
  2. You must have a password on the remote computer, remote desktop won’t work if your password is empty.
  3. Your firewall may be blocking your access. If you are using the built in windows firewall, it sets to allow remote desktop. To get ZoneAlarm to work, set the security settings to Med. (Medium), and make sure to set the rights inside ZoneAlarm to let remote desktop send / receive data. (Open Zone Alarm, go to Program Control, scroll down to the entry for Remote Desktop Connection and make sure everything is checked on. )
  4. Confirm you have the correct IP address.

There you go, now you can sit out on your back deck and enjoy the sunny weather and still have the power of your monster desktop.

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