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More Microsoft Management Console Problems - 8/21/00

For no apparent reason Microsoft Management Console (MMC) has lost the Internet Information Server (IIS) configuration data three more times in a little over two weeks. A totally default "add/remove" reinstall makes the hidden data visible again. I no longer "Save console settings" (the default) when exiting MMC. MMC still has my nomination for the stupidest piece of software ever written.

Update 8/28/00
Update 9/07/00
Update 1/28/01

By now I should stop being surprised at Microsoft software problems but the truth is I cannot get over just how really awful some of their software is. It's only because of their size and (undeserved) reputation that they can get away with some of this.

About a week ago I wanted to make some minor setup change to IIS. I double clicked on the shortcut to MMC for IIS. A dialog box that said "Error connecting to NT" was briefly displayed and then went away. NT happens to be the computer name for my NT server. I don't think I could read the error message the first time before the dialog box disappeared. Subsequent restarts of MMC gave me enough time to read it. Even though the dialog box had an "OK" button on it, I never got to click on it. The error appeared then disappeared in anything from half a second to three seconds; these are just estimates as I never tried timing it but the amount of time it was displayed was definitely variable.

Once I got into MMC and clicked on the plus sign for IIS the little square box with the plus sign disappeared leaving a line with no expansion options leading to IIS. No configuration data. The data files, iis.msc and metabase.bin in which the IIS configuration data is stored were in the inetsrv subdirectory and looked OK. I tried restoring earlier versions from various backups but this made no difference. I also stopped and started IIS using the net start and net stop commands. IIS could read the data fine. I checked all my virtual web sites; they were all present and looked fine. FTP had been working daily because all the various automated communication tasks that I run through it had been working with no problems. Only MMC couldn't find the data.

What could I as a user have done to mess this up? Nothing that I am aware of. MMC is a graphical interface to IIS. You go into a hierarchical configuration tree, pick options from various graphical widgets and MMC saves the changes when you click OK on the dialog box containing the widget. I don't even remember what the last change was except that it was minor. I haven't made any significant changes since I last reinstalled IIS as described in NT Problems Getting Ready for DSL.

This time I went to the Microsoft web site and searched their knowledge base. I searched for "error connecting" under both IIS and MMC. Under IIS I added every combination or variation on microsoft management console and mmc that I could think of. Nothing at all showed up. One would think that with exact words from an error message you should find some documented reason for the error message but no such luck.

At this point I could think of only one more thing to try. Reinstall IIS again. Even though it was working, I was completely lacking any way to manage it to make even the slightest change to its setup. Here, I wish Microsoft had left the configuration information in the Registry. With IIS 3, I'd learned to directly manipulate the registry settings that Microsoft forgot to provide access to via the Internet Service Manager. As bad as the Registry is, its better than saving data in a proprietary binary format that can only be maintained by a moron program that repeatedly loses its data. Microsoft seems headed in a consistent direction: more features, more bugs and more stupid design decisions.

I got the Option Pack disk and chose the Add/Remove option. I went through an install without changing a single option or setting. The install program did something. There was a moderate amount of disk and CPU activity but not the long copying files part that you'd see with an new install or upgrade. After I clicked on the "Finish" button there was some disk and CPU activity for almost 2 minutes after the dialog box had disappeared. Once everything was quiet, I rebooted the server. When it came back and I went into MMC, the data was available again and all the settings and configuration options looked as I remembered them.

I suppose the next time the IIS configuration date disappears from MMC I'll try reinstalling first. I say next time because I've now seen this happen enough times on this and other NT 4 servers that I have little doubt it's merely a matter of when, not if.

Update 8/28/00

I was right. MMC can't find the IIS configuration data again. I didn't expect it to be so soon. This is just one week latter. It's also the next time I needed to make a change and thus go into MMC. There has been an intervening reboot and I also installed an NTP server but there is no valid reason either of these should affect MMC's ability to find IIS configuration data. This time, knowing exactly what to do, it only took about three minutes to fix the problem (run through an Add/Remove re-install of the Option Pack 4 without changing any options). I didn't even reboot this time. After making the change, saving it and exiting MMC I restarted MMC to see if it could still find the data. It could. I wonder how long this will last?

Update 9/07/00

It looks like this is going to be a regular occurrence as MMC once again could not find the IIS data. I'd been in MMC numerous times checking on log contents, format and location as well as some security related items. I don't think I saved any chages except MM Console settings. It only takes about 2 minutes to fix if the CD is handy but it is annoying and makes a mockery of remote administration.

Update 1/28/01

I hadn't updated this page for a while. I had to reinstall the Option Pack again today. Since September I pretty much leave the Option Pack CD ROM near the NT server. I haven't been counting how many times I've reinstalled since September but I think it's more than 2. If I had to make server changes more often, I'm sure I'd encounter this "lost" / hidden data problem more often.

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