USB drive pain

It's time for another tale of IT pain. You remember CRAPS, the pathological police system we're required to use? Well, it struck again.

Today I had to travel to a nearby police agency to assist them with their CRAPS installation. They were having problems with the data transfer between the field units and the office. This is normally accomplished via a removable USB drive. In order to ease this procedure, CRAPS includes a feature to automate the copying of data files to and from the USB drive. Basically, the user clicks a button and the data files get compressed and moved in the appropriate direction.

The problem with this feature is that it's not very friendly from a configuration point of view. You see, CRAPS doesn't actually know anything about USB drives. It just knows about paths, and they're configured statically. So you actually have to tell the software, "use drive F: for the data transfer."

What's worse, CRAPS isn't even very smart about handling paths. As you probably know, when Windows detects a USB mass storage device, it assigns it the next available drive letter, so you can't depend on the same devince getting the same letter every time. However, CRAPS requires that a CRAPS administrator configure the drive letter ahead of time and it cannot be changed by a regular user. So the user ends up with, for example, a drive with multiple partitions, he can't use it until an administrator can reconfigure his system. Which sucks.

The first problem today was that CRAPS can't even join paths properly. We were having problems with the data transfer feature mysteriously failing on a couple of workstations. The USB drive path was correctly set to E: in CRAPS. However, just on a lark, because I know how cranky CRAPS can be, I tried chaning it to E:\. And you know what? It worked. *THWACK* (That's the sound of me smacking myself in the head.)

My second problem was partly Windows, partly the fact that I didn't set up this other agency's network. You see, on one workstation, the USB drive was being mapped to F:, but the primary network share was also being mapped to F:. The result? The network share clobbers the USB device and you can't access the USB drive until the network share is disconnected.

This is a fairly well known problem. As I understand it, the cause is that drive mapping is done on a per-user basis, and while network shares are mapped by the user, USB drives are mapped by a system account. There are a number of possible fixes, of course, but they all kind of suck - especially if you don't have any significant ownership over the system you're working on.

Nothing is ever as easy as it should be. Which is why "IT land" sucks.

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