Review: Mouse Without Borders (Free Software KVM)

Keyboard, Video and Mouse (KVM) switches (as a hardware device) have been around for over 20 years, and were used to control multiple computers from a single keyboard, mouse and display. These are still widely use in datacenters to control multiple servers but aren’t that ubiquitous for home use.

I am far more effective on a full-sized keyboard and mouse than I am typing on a cramped laptop keyboard. This is especially trying with the two systems I’m working with presently as they both have function (Fn) buttons, but are in different places.

I could hook up two sets of keyboards and mice, but that would take up a lot more of my desk space, and may not be ideal for many scenarios, particularly when I’m working out of a cubicle from a client site.

I’d been looking for a way to manage multiple systems, but many of the ones I looked at that were advertised as ‘free’ turned out to be nagware, or key features were locked behind a pay wall. After reading an article on raymond.cc, I settled on “Microsoft’s Mouse Without Borders”.

  1. It’s free.
  2. It’s relatively simple to install and configure.
  3. Where it works, it works great!

It doesn’t play nice with VPNs as others have observed. There are ways around this which may or may not work depending on your VPN settings and whether or you’re able to make changes to them.

If you’re managing 4 or fewer computers and don’t require a hardware KVM, I suggest giving it a try! I’ve placed a link on my tools page.



Obscure Skype for Business desktop sharing issue

A colleague of mine reported an issue with Skype for Business where he was unable to either share his screen (or application or PowerPoint presentation), nor could others share their screens with him.

From the user’s side, clicking on the Present button allowed him to toggle what he wanted to share, which would appear to work – the border indicated “connecting” while the recipient(s) waited for the presentation to begin. After 30-40 seconds, the presentation error (…”the invitation has expired”) and time out.

If you encounter this issue, you can try the following registry hack, which worked for me:

  1. Open Regedit as an administrator
  2. Navigate to:
    HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Tcpip\Parameters
  3. Add the following DWORD and value:
    MaxUserPort=0000x3a98 (15000)
  4. Reboot for the changes to take effect.

You can find more information about MaxUserPort and other TCP/IP registry settings here. This issue seems to be newly introduced with Windows 10 version 1809.

A new toolbox…

Almost a decade ago, I started a professional blog on it.toolbox.com called “IT Champloo“. At the time, IT Toolbox was a thriving community of professionals sharing advice, experiences and wisdom.

Over the years, the platform’s performance and usability slowly declined (as did my interest in creating content for a site where banner ads were given more real estate than my articles).

When the domain, yousefalahmad.com became available, I decided to snatch it up and migrate my content to it. This blog will serve as a repository for tips, tricks, commentary and observations in the hopes that they might be use to someone later down the road.

How To: Resolving a System Hang During Patching, Remotely!

Routine patching of systems and software is a crucial piece of any business’ information security strategy. Even so, many systems go unnoticed and unpatched for months, even years until an external threat forces the organization into action (e.g. the recent WannaCry ransomware outbreak).

When that happens, server administrators need to be prepared for irregularities they’re likely to encounter, such as a hang prior to reboot.

In this scenario, we’re going to assume that you’ve just finished patching and clicked the “Restart Now” button. You begin a continuous ping (ping -t [hostname/IP address]) and wait for the server to restart.

Let’s assume a normal reboot takes 5-10 minutes for this machine, and that 25+ minutes have passed.

You check the console, and are greeted by the “‘Preparing to Configure Windows. Do not turn off your computer” message. Time continues to pass while your maintenance window dwindles like falling grains in an hourglass… pressure is mounting, the business won’t wait. Time for action!

Logged in as an Administrator from your workstation check the Windows Module Installer service on the remote system…

  1. Run services.msc
  2. Right-click “Services (Local)” and select “Connect to another computer …”
  3. Make sure the “Another computer” radio button is selected and enter the hostname of the stuck server and click “OK”
  4. Search for “Windows Module Installer” service and verify its status. If it’s “stopping,” then you will need to force it to stop. This can’t be done here, so we’ll need to query its PID and use our old friend TaskKill to manually kill the service

Query the Process ID (PID) of the Windows Module Installer (TrustedInstaller) service…

  1. Open Command Prompt as an Administrator
  2. Run the following command:
sc \\[hostname of the server] queryex trustedinstaller

This will return (among other information) the PID of the stuck service, write it down as you’ll need it for the next step

Kill the hung service remotely using TaskKill…

  1. From the Command Prompt already opened, run the following
command:taskkill /s [hostname of the server] /pid [PIDFromAbove] /f

Congratulations, your system should now be unhung! Check your console or continuous ping to verify that the system is restarting and proceed to the next round of updates.

Windows 10 Woes

Like many others, when Microsoft told me I was entitled to a free upgrade from Windows 8.1 to 10, I decided to take them up on the offer.

I downloaded the installation media, and the upgrade went relatively smoothly. I had a few driver issues at first, but was eventually able to iron everything out.

After a week or two of using the new OS, I started to encounter strange UI bugs…

At first, my start menu tiles stopped accepting mouse clicks. I could still launch applications that were pinned to the taskbar, but could not click on any Windows UI menu elements.

This got progressively worse until no windows or applications would accept mouse input. I could still see the cursor and move it around, I could right click and drag on the desktop, but couldn’t interact with anything else using the mouse.

I could still use Keyboard shortcuts as a work around, but it made things awfully inconvenient. I searched for a fix, but the only thing I came up with was a powershell script that purportedly fixed “Start menu” issues:

Get-AppXPackage -AllUsers | Foreach {Add-AppxPackage -DisableDevelopmentMode -Register "$($_.InstallLocation)\AppXManifest.xml"}

This worked for me (after a reboot), but sure enough, the problem came back within a few days. In addition to everything else, it started crashing with a BSOD “Memory_Management” error.

I wasn’t thrilled about disabling all of my devices and enabling them back one-by-one until I found the faulting driver so a clean install started to look more appealing.

I did this, but discovered that I my newly installed Windows 10 wasn’t activated, nor could I activate it as Microsoft’s brilliant new system doesn’t give you an activation key on the free upgrade!

In theory, your PC is supposed to Automagically ™ active itself as soon as it’s connected to the internet. That is, unless there’s a problem with the activation server (as many have encountered) or some other issue…

Microsoft recommends doing a fresh re-installation of whatever previous OS you were on, then running the upgrade again, but that’s nonsense!

All you have to do to fix the activation issue (assuming, like me, you started with the upgrade) is reboot from Windows 10 installation media and select “Reset your PC” with the “Keep my files” option selected.

After several reboots, my Windows 10 installation was repaired – no more UI issues, and successfully activated WITHOUT having to reinstall Windows 8…