Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Troubleshooting Windows... or is it?

I had an interesting time this morning, working on a problem with Remote Web Workplace. For those of you who don't know, Remote Web Workplace is a feature in Windows XP and later where a desktop connected to a internet-connected server can be accessed via a web interface, and then turns into a standard Remote Desktop situation - so a home user could access their work PC, for example. The only way this works is through some fancy pants ActiveX controls, so Internet Explorer is the only reliable way to do it (and yes, I know some people have made ActiveX plugins for FireFox).

The problem becomes a little trickier, when the problem is on an Apple.

As it turns out, Apple has been turning out nice-looking hardware these days, and the nicer part is that the old excuse of "There's no programs for Apple that do X" is greatly diminished. Thanks to programs like Boot Camp and Parallels and the fact that Apple uses Intel processors these days, Windows can be run on a Mac either from a separate partition (Boot Camp) or as a virtual machine (Parallels).

The problem the user was having was that he was unable to do Remote Web Workplace through his Mac through Parallels. His purchase of a Mac and Parallels was somewhat predicated on the idea that he'd be able to do this. We were able to get to the portal on the server, but when it was time to actually log into his desktop, it always told us that the username/password combination was incorrect.

I spent a bit of time on Google seeing if there was a known problem with this, and tried to make sure that neither Windows nor OSX were blocking some port that I needed to make the computers communicate correctly. It didn't take me very long to find out where the Apple firewall was, and I'm glad I didn't need to adjust anything there because I felt like I would have left the machine vulnerable had I done so.

I even tried logging into my own desktop, and failed several times, adjusted some settings, and then I got it to work once. Happy that I had solved the problem, I brought it back to the user only to have it fail for him and then me when I brought it to his office. Maybe the WiFi signal isn't strong enough, I think. I bring the Macbook Pro to where the router is, prop an equipment rack door open, and then try again.

Same problem again.

I painstakingly check my typing, only to discover the oddest thing.

The Shift Key, it fails me. If I were to hold shift and start typing the letter 'a', I get 'aAAAAAA'.

If I pressed shift once, held it and pressed 'a', released both keys and repeated, I only get 'aaaaaaa'.

The only sure way to get a capital letter the first time was to temporarily engage CapsLock. Since Windows obscures the password as it's typed, there was no way to know that the password was wrong other than the error message. This was not a problem with the whole computer - the shift key worked perfectly fine for regular programs, and even the first login. Somehow, during the second login at the remote desktop, there were too many layers of computers there and some info was not passed. Once I discovered the CapsLock workaround, there were no more rejected logins.

This seemed like the computing equivalent of a Turducken. Bon Appetit!