Using Telnet in Windows Vista to Troubleshoot Email Problems

Any Systems Administrator worth his or her salt needs to use the good old fashioned Telnet application. Why? Despite its archaic look and feel, and lack of security, telnet serves at least one IMPERATIVE function in an IT environment: connecting to port 25 of the company email server! Port 25 is the default port for SMTP data traffic, probably the single most important port in the Internet universe, except for maybe port 80 (http, or the web). You can also use it to test the IMAP port:143.

That’s right, although there are many ways to skin a cat when testing for email problems, one of the quickest, sure fire ways to find out if there is a general problem with sending/receiving emails is to telnet to the email server. For example, if several usually busy company employees mention, “We haven’t received any email since 10:00 AM”, and it’s 12:30 PM … well, you better start troubleshooting. Of course, in reality it’s easy to remote desktop or VNC, etc to the server directly and start looking around. Also, if something bad has indeed happened, a good monitoring system should alert you right away to a router or Windows Exchange Service failure, etc. But a real quick test from a Windows XP or Windows 2003 Server would be to open up a command prompt (go to Start, type ‘cmd’) and type “telnet mailserhostname.yourdomain.com 25” to test SMTP.

From a Windows Vista system, then, it should be easy too, right? Well, maybe, but first understand that Telnet is not operable by default. If you open a command prompt, and try the above, you may get this: ” ‘telnet’ is not recognized as an internal or external command or batch file’. Translated, you are being told indirectly: “turn on Telnet”

So, go to the Vista Start menu/Control Panel /Programs, “Turn Windows Features On or Off”. Scroll down to Telnet Client (not the Server, you do not want to be a telnet server) and check it, hit OK. The feature update is seen in a small window. Now it’s time to telnet.

Open the Vista menu (or Start menu) and in the “Start Search” window, type ‘telnet’. You then enter the simple, although slightly changed instructions. Type ‘o’, hit Enter. “O” stands for open. Imagine that! Then type in the full email server hostname that is being tested, followed by ’25’ (unless for some reason the default port has been changed)
mailserhostname.yourdomain.com 25
After that you should see either a successful or failed connection. The former means you have issues elsewhere as this particular SMTP connection worked, but the latter would mean your SMTP appears to be in distress. Note: this test should be done via both internal and external connections, if possible, in case the issue affects a certain segment of your routing or Windows domain scheme, etc.

So, in summary, telnet is a very useful tool to explore possible SMTP connectivity issues with a mail server. Once telnet is enabled or installed, this whole process takes under 10 seconds. And when dealing with company or any organization’s email, that means a great deal.

Disable Windows Vista Aero Interface

After the recommendation on my previous post to disable the Vista Aero in order to obtain a more efficient Vista experience, I realized afterward that I neglected to mention how to do this. For those not in the know, it’s real easy: simply right (opposite) click your desktop and select “Personalize”. Here you see options to change your screensaver or mouse pointer options, amongst other options.
Then open “Window Color and Appearance”, and finally select the “Open classic appearance properties for more color options”. Right away you will notice the “Color scheme” options such as “Windows Aero” or “Windows Vista Basic”. The other “High Contast” related options tend to be more for the visually impaired or elderly. Anyway, by selecting “Windows Vista Basic” or Windows Standard” or “Windows Classic”, you will endure several seconds of the change from Aero to a more basic, albeit sufficient, interface.
You will notice less sharpness in your windows, no 3-D fanciness (the “Switch between Windows” option in your Quick Launch bar, for example), etc, but again, really there is no significant change and your PC or laptop may appreciate the extra resources that will be freed up as a result.

First Recommendation: Kill Aero

If you do not need 3-D graphics on your laptop or PC, (and really, who does?) and you desire to improve the performance of these systems, then you would do well to disable Aero right out of the box. This assumes that you have the Ultimate or Business editions and the hardware to support Aero, but as Aero is really just a hyper colorful desktop, you have to ask: do I really need this? In most cases, the answer is no. Aero DOES look good on my Dell OptiPlex 3100 at work when I have it on (usually to demonstrate how unimportant it is to a curious customer) … For example, I can in fact have Aero turned on, and it does not affect performance too much. But that is because I am very stingy when it comes to desktop real estate and I obsessively close windows throughout the day. I cannot stand to have more than 10 windows AND/OR applications open at once. That pretty much leaves me with a few remote desktop or VNC sessions, a few Outlook 2007 related windows, maybe a ‘MYSql’ query browser or a couple of Excel spreadsheets, and of course one or two Internet Explorer windows. That’s right: two.

But that’s just me.

Most people I work with and those I support tend to have 10 windows or applications open within 2 minutes of work. They are well past the 25 mark by noon. For these folks, Aero should be turned off. Graphics related bells and whistles NEVER improve perfomance on a PC or laptop, so why enable it? Unless of course, you keep your applications to a minimum.

Exploring Windows Vista

As I start to get more and more familiar with Windows Vista at home and at my technology company systems administrator job, I am learning that there really are ways to improve Vista performance. So, therefore I plan on blogging about these ideas and tips. Why not?