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My Windows Applications

January27

I have been using Windows for about 7 years now am over that time, I have used many different apps. Some I’ve only been using for a couple of years, some I have been using for many more. I have seen the evolution of my most favourite pieces of software for Windows right from when they first arrived on Windows up until now where they’ve really matured and become feature rich. These are the applications I use on Windows, my favourite applications, my must have applications.

To start off this list, if I was to only have one application on my computer and I couldn’t have anything else, what would it be. The answer is pretty simple and it would be the same for a lot of people. That application is the best web browser, Mozilla Firefox. I spend about 90% of my computer time inside the Firefox browser which is why it is the most important app on my computer. There are many other browsers to choose from but none is as great, fast, extensible and feature rich as this browser. I have been using this browser since 1.0 and with ever version it just keeps getting better and better and its huge database of extensions allow this browser to do pretty much anything.

Sometimes it can be hard to shuffle through the news on the web and keep up with everyone’s websites and blogs. This is where Feedreader helps out. This is a good RSS reader where you can just import or add your feeds into the app and then it will update so you can quickly go through and read the news from your favourite sites without having to continually visiting websites seeing if they’ve updated yet. Unfortunately this RSS reader is far from perfect with it’s unusual “smart” updating of feeds and its freezing up when loading it with 300 or so different feeds. What makes this my favourite RSS reader is the interface. It’s not trying to do anything different, it’s pretty generic actually, but that is what I like. This application is an important one as it allows me to be updated very quickly.

When it comes to media, the included software in Windows is not that great. This is why I use iTunes for my music and VLC Media Player for my videos. I like the way iTunes displays the music in my library and gives me lost of ways to sort them. It also has good playlist support and now Genius which makes a playlist of related music to one of choosing. It also has a nice album grid way of displaying albums which I find very appealing to browse through. Also it does have iPod and iPhone syncing if that’s not reason enough to use iTunes, although I used it way before I got either of those devices. If you want a player that is like a swiss army knife for media, VLC is it. It plays a massive variety of media codecs, pretty much anything you throw at it. It is also very lightweight and does exactly what you would expect it to do. It is my player of choice for all my movies and TV shows.

Another thing I use my computer for is communication. For instant messaging I use Windows Live Messenger with Messenger Plus! Live. I have been using WLM ever since it was called MSN Messenger and I have always loves getting my hands on future versions of this client to see what features are coming in the future. Unfortunately in most cases, your IM client of choice can either be the official client of the service your friends use or a multi-messaging client, but I feel that most of those aren’t as nice looking or sometimes lack features of the official clients, especially for WLM. The MP!L add-on for WLM brings a lot of extra features to the client. Some of the bigger ones are better chat logs, polygamy mode for multiple clients open and tabbed conversations. There are plenty of other features but those are the I take advantage of.

Another way I communicate with people online is with IRC. There is a large variety of clients for Windows, but my most preferred one would have to be mIRC. The main reason why I choose this one is because it is the one I am most use to. I haven’t really used many of the other ones for an extended period of time but none of them had anything that would make me even consider switching. I like the tree view of the servers and channels and the basicness of the text chat. I also think that having windows inside the main IRC window is pretty cool as not many applications that I’ve used do that.

The last one of my must have apps for Windows is Internet Download Manager, or IDM for short. This is a lightweight download manager that has many features such as queues and synchronization. It also has a really good download accelerator which makes download files so much faster than with the download manager that comes with your browser. This app has definitely saved me many hours where I could quickly watch my TV shows instead of waiting for them to download. I have used a few different ones in the past and this by far is the best and easiest one of them to use.

There are two more that are not essential apps that you need but I do think they deserve a mention. The first one is a paint replacement, Paint.Net. This is pretty much paint advanced with extra features that makes quickly cropping or editing pictures and photos easy. It’s no where near as powerful as a proper photo editor such like Photoshop but it is definitely a must have alternative to paint. The second app is Ashampoo Burning Suite. There is a lot of disc burning software for Windows. Some free and some you have to pay for. This is unfortunately one you have to pay for, but I do think it is worth it. It’s basic interface makes burning any type of media very simple and it can burn all sorts. It is much lighter than Nero and overall a better disc burning software.

Those were all of the software I use daily on Windows. Some of them I use a lot more than others but those are the first pieces of software I install on a new Windows installation. That is not all the software I use those. There are some I just download when I first need them and other I just have installed for fun. These are apps like Chrome, Flickr Uploadr, Last.fm, Skype, Twhirl, uTorrent, Wakoopa, WinRAR, WinSCP, and Whatpulse. I do recommend you try any of the software I’ve mentioned in this post, if you don’t already, and maybe you too will be able to add some new software to your must haves or even find a nifty app that blows you away and changes how you do certain tasks on Windows.

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The PSP Display

January19

This morning when i was digging through the internet, I found a link on Digg to a Lifehacker post. The post was about there being a way to turn your PlayStation Portable into a monitor for your Windows PC. They also had a video of this in action. Not only can it mirror your computer onto the PSP, it can also use your computer as a display for your PSP in mirror mode. You may wonder why would would want to do this. Because we can. This was fun to play with but I personally wouldn’t use it on a regular basis but its nice to know I can do it and it gave me something to play with.

The requirements for PSPdisp are a PSP with Custom Firmware which allows it to run homebrew, and a Windows PC. To get this going, you first download an installer from the website. It is very small weighing in at about 700kb. Then it’s as simple as clicking the installer and letting it install all the software and drivers or this. You will also be prompted to plug in your PSP so it can transfer a program which allows you to view the screen. After it’s done, you’re all ready to go. Down in the notification taskbar will be the program icon. This allows you to access the setting for the PSP display.

To launch it, you navigate to the Memory Stick icon under game and launch PSPdisp. You will be greeted with a screen asking you if you want to do it over USB or Wifi. I would recommend USB. If this is the first time launching it, it will install the right drivers but after that it will work pretty much straight away. You will see part of your monitor on the PSP screen. By default the quality is medium but you can adjust it to a higher quality, but this will result in a little bit of lag, but its not too bad. You can also change how much of the screen is viewed, fit to screen will show the whole computer screen on the PSP and 2 follow mouse modes which show the resolution up to 4 times that of the PSP’s native resolution.

I haven’t played with any of the other things and I probably won’t. It is a cool thing to play around with for an hour or so. I had it working in on Windows XP in VMware Fusion and on Windows 7 Beta. Both worked perfectly fine as a monitor. I myself couldn’t think of a useful application to use this in but if you wanted it to be static on a stats screen or something in a game, I could see where this would be useful there. If you have a PSP, you should definitely check this out. It’s really cool.

New Year Computer Cleanup

January6

Not all of us are as fortunate as I am to start the new year with a brand new computer. If your current system is anything like my old computer, which I happened to have left behind in 2008, it is probably a little messy and in need for a good clean up. What better a time to do that than at the start of this brand new year. Here are some things that I recommend you do if you haven’t done so already.

One thing that I know many people don’t do is backup their computer. Whether this is just your important documents, or all your user files or ever single thing on your hard drive, having a back up copy of your files is very important. If something was to go wrong and you lost everything, you’re probably going to wish you had a backup of your files, but were either too busy or too lazy (or both) to do that task. It could be as simple as dragging you files over to a few blank DVD’s and burning them, or copying your files to an external hard drive. Make sure you backup as soon as possible, and if you can, have a regular backup schedule for 09. Most modern OS have this functionality built in but there is also software available to make this much easier and somewhat automated.

Everyone has software installed on their computer that they don’t use anymore. This would be a good time to uninstall and delete any programs you don’t use anymore. Along with uninstalling software you don’t need, this would also be a good time to delete files on your hard drive you never use anymore. You don’t necessarily have to delete them for good. You can always burn these “junk” files to a disc for if you ever needed them again. Both of these things should make your system run a bit better and also free up some hard drive space. No doubt that in 12 month time, you’ll have more junk on your computer that needs uninstalling and deleting.

Your computer is not the only thing that get messy and frequently bombarded with more junk that gets pushed aside to deal with later. If your email inbox is anything like mine, it is hit with bacn (“emails that are subscribed to and are therefore not unsolicited but are often unread by the recipient for a long period of time, if at all.”) This includes emails from social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Digg or any email subscriptions you had subscribed to in the past. I recommend that this would be a good time to start taking action against it and whenever one of these messages come, instead of deleting it, archiving it or just ignoring it, go and unsubscribe to stop these notifications. Not only will this help stop your inbox from getting bogged up, it will also be one less thing to think about when checking your email in the morning.

These are just a few things that I think everyone should do as soon as possible. A clean computer is a better performing computer and makes you a more productive person. All of these may not apply to everyone but there must be something that I have said that does apply to you which you can do something about today!

Playing With Windows 7

December17

Not too long after PDC 08 (Professional Developers Conference) where they showed Windows 7 for the first time, a pre-beta build of Windows 7 leaked onto the internet. I decided to snap it up to play around with for a bit. I did use a little hack so I could get the fancy new taskbar working in this build as it is disabled and hidden away by default. I am so glad I did get this because it has made me excited for this operating system. There are many reasons why, and below are just a few of them from the 6801 build.

I’ll start off with the most apparent new feature in Windows 7, one that I had mentioned above, the redesigned taskbar. The taskbar is now a bit taller than the previous one, and it shows icons by default instead of names of the windows. It works similar to the dock in Mac OS X with your running programs/windows and quick launch all together in the same area. you are free to pin programs to the taskbar by either dragging or assigning them to the taskbar. To differentiate from a quick launch icons and open windows is a orange glass behind the icon. Multiple windows of the same program are grouped together and can be accessed by hovering or clicking over the icon which brings up a preview bar with showing all the open windows. They have also changed the behaviour of the notification area. By default, there are your 3 or 4 main items such as sound, network, windows defender and battery. When you have programs that use the notification area, by default they are hidden. You can however change the options to show there all the time. I think this is interesting as it make the taskbar less cluttered, especially for those of us with heaps of notifications taking up a reasonable percentage of out taskbars. The whole taskbar is a little weird to start off with. i was a bit worried I wouldn’t like it, but it is something you do eventually become accustomed to.

While explorer stayed pretty much the same, the significant improvement was the the sidebar. In Vista, it use to show favourite locations. While it still has that, they have added so much more, including Libraries, Homeshare, Network and Computer and everything underneath them. This makes accessing specific locations much easier in Windows 7 compared to previous versions. Libraries is a great addition to explorer. A library is a virtual folder which hold the contents of multiple folders including you user folders and network shared folders. There are all put together in a virtual folder, with the same categories we’ve been used to such as documents, music, video and such. You are free to add different locations to the library, for example folders from an external source such as USB hard drives. They have also introduced federated search into Windows 7 which allows you to search from external sources. One good example for this that I have used was a Flickr search. This allowed me to search Flickr for picture from explorer, and all tags and information were viewable from explorer, just as if they were local images. One last thing I did notice in Computer was now external flash drives and media cards show the used space bar, similar to hard drives to there. This is a small thing but I wonder why it wasn’t included in Vista.

They have done a bit with the networking in Windows 7. Seeing and selecting wireless networks is easier now. You only have to click on the notification to get the list of networks and connect to them. Also the network stuff in explorer has added a bit. First off, in the sidebar in explorer, you can launch a Remote Desktop Connection to a computer on your local network just by right clicking on the computer name. Also in 7, you now have the ability to make shared folders from other computers made available to you offline, with synchronization as well. The would be great for sharing media over a network and store it on multiple computers without having to copy every time the host machine adds to it. You can store the files offline for you to access and synchronize any changes to the folder on the machine. The last thing they’ve added in Windows 7 is Homegroup. Unfortunately I don’t have another Windows 7 machine to actually play with this feature but by the sounds of things, it is going to be an interesting part of Windows 7.

Dragging a window up to one of the edges of the screen does something very useful. If you drag a window to the top of the screen, it goes fullscreen. If you drag it to either the left or right sides, the window takes up half the screen space on that side. One way this could be utilized is in a copy and paste or dragging situation. You can have 2 windows on either side of the screen at the same time and move stuff from one window to the other. You could also putĀ  2 programs up and use say a chat client at the same time as browsing the web and be using the maximum amount of screen real estate with no overlap between windows.

One major annoyance in Windows Vista was the User Account Control. This lead to people getting very frustrated when doing tasks such as running and installing software with the UAC cutting in with the black screen until the prompt was dealt with. This lead to people disabling it so it wouldn’t be annoying and in turn, it reduced security of the OS. They did a much better job with fixing it so you aren’t tempted to disable it. The prompt is now non intrusive and you can deal with it at your leisure so you can continue on doing your computer tasks without being disturbed by these UAC prompts. They’ve managed to change how this works to make it much more user friendly and give people no reason to want to disable this. Thank you so much for this!

After having a not to pleasant experience with Windows Vista and trying to get it to install drivers for a Intel Webcam, I decided to take it to Windows 7 to see how it handled it. In Vista, I plugged it in and spent about 3 to 5 minutes waiting for it to identify the device, search for drivers, download the drivers and then install them. It does pretty much the same thing in 7, just much faster (just over 1 minute, which for most was the downloading of the driver) and it gives a better indication of what it is actually doing, including download percentages for the driver. It is such a small thing and I am happy it works right in this version.

This is just an introduction of a small selection of some major features coming in the next version of Windows. There is still more to come in terms of features, but nothing that major. Most of the stuff is under the hood which improves performance and reliability. This became very apparent to me when testing this operating system on an older machine, one that would slug with Vista on it. Windows 7 performed pretty well on this older hardware, better than expected to be honest. I really enjoyed using it and if the public beta, release candidates and release versions of Windows 7 are as great as this, Windows 7 is going to be a phenomenal operating system when it come out next year. I can’t wait!

Screenshots of Windows 7 can be seen here. A picture is worth a thousand words so there are an extra fifteen thousand.

Windows 7 was used on an Intel Pentium 4 3.2Ghz CPU with integrated ATI graphics and 512mb of DDR2 RAM. Experience may differ depending on system.

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Windows Live Messenger 2009 M3

November21

I’ve been using Windows Live Messenger 9 for at least a year now. At the end of 2007, one of the beta builds got leaked on the internet and I was quick to snap it up and use it as my main IM client for Windows Live messenger. Although for most of that time, it was the same old build that had a few of the new upcoming features to Windows Live Messenger. Well two months ago, a new build got released in public beta as part of the Windows Live Wave 3.

At first when I installed the build, I only used it for at least 15-30 minutes before uninstalling it and going back to the old beta build. This wasn’t because I didn’t like it or I had problems with it, the reason was because I need Messenger Plus! Live with Windows Live Messenger. Without it, I am missing some of those extra features that make my IM experience great! It wasn’t soon after that till I was forced to upgrade, and without MP!L ready for it, I downgraded back to WLM 8.5. There is little difference between the beta 0 build that I had and WLM 8.5. Eventually Patchou released a public beta build of Messenger Plus! Live that supported Windows Live Messenger 2009.

Upgrading from 8.5 to 2009 is a huge jump. The first thing that becomes apparent is the contacts window. The has 2 additions to it, those being Favourites and Groups. In favourites, you have your favourite contacts at the top of your contacts window at all times. This makes it easier for finding and those important contacts that you want to talk to, without searching through your large contacts list of in all your categories. I personally don’t use this feature and ended up disabling it because I already have a tier like contacts list using categories. There contacts are always at the top of my contacts list so I felt that this feature wasn’t necessary for me. Although in saying that, our group of favourites can be made more distinctive by making their display pictures a different size from your regular contacts.

That is another change in WLM 2009. Instead of seeing the little green men with the status beside them, this has been replaced by a little square dot. You do have the option to change this to a bigger size, ranging from the small dot to larger squares displaying contacts images. These squares changes colour depending on the status of the contact, or if you are showing the display picture the ream of the square. While on the topic of status, the team have decided to strip all those unnecessary nonsense status and have kept it to 4 simple status, available, busy, away and appear offline. These are the most important ones and are the ones most people probably use. I can’t remember the last time I have use any of the other ones that are in WLM 8.5.

When going into a conversation window, the first change becomes apparent. The conversation area and the display picture area have been switched around. The display pictures are on the left side of the conversation windows now. This is very unusual to start off with but you soon adjust to it. The display pictures also have similar properties to the ones in the contacts window. The square rim around the display picture of you and your contact changes colour depending on status. If your contact is online, it will be green, busy then red, away then orange and offline (or appearing offline) it has no colour and is faded. This is a very helpful and cleaver of seeing your contacts status while having a conversation with them.

The last big feature of WLM 2009 that I am excited about is the Multiple Points of Presence. This is more of a backend feature that one specific to the software. What this does is allows you to sign in to WLM from multiple locations at once, without signing out of one of your other places. There are many good ways this feature could be used, for example signing in on 2 machines in different locations, or if you’re using 2 machines at once. This feature could later on expand to other messenger services such as Xbox 360, Windows Live Web Messenger, Mac Messenger, Windows Messenger on Windows Mobile and so on. When you are signed on in two locations, message sent and received will be sent to both locations so you don’t have to worry about not getting the message when you’re on one machine or another. You can also sign out other locations right from your one if you must. I found this feature useful for me when I was logged onto a remote machine. It allowed me to message people without minimising my remote desktop or logging out of the WLM on my main machine. I did however come across issues with this, for example at times messages only went to one location (rare occurrence) and when logging off from one place closed the conversation windows from another place. Once they fix this up, it’ll be all good!

There are a few other features that I didn’t cover such as groups and scenes. I haven’t really played around with groups because I don’t have many contacts using WLM 2009. I have had a quick look at scenes and all this really does it change the look of your main contacts window and the conversation window on your contacts computer for you. If they have a scene, it will be shown on your conversation window and this will change everytime they change scenes. Other than that, I think I’ve pretty much covered most of the major new stuff in the upcoming Windows Live Messenger 2009. This is going to be a great release!

Files Destroyed!

November5

Over the past few days, I seem to have been struck with a bit of bad luck. I seem to have the worst luck with computers at times, but it is not normally a group of things going bad in the space of a couple of days. This time it has been overwritten files, disappearing files, corrupt files, and closing unsaved files. Where to start..?

First off, in Electronics we are programming our Lego robots. We had been trying many different approaches at trying to tackle a second problem after easily accomplishing the first task. During all this mess, we had left all our programs unsorted in the default directory that the programming software saved to. We were shuffling around with so many versions of code we hadn’t organized this well by keeping the default untiltled-1 filename. Anyway, for some reason our original program for the assessment of the first task went missing, and the closest thing that would work needed a bit of modification. When we went to the computer to get it, it wasn’t right. Somehow, someone else got access to the computer and managed to overwrite our working program. After a lot of hunting for it, I did manage to find a similar, modified version which I has to remodify to get it to work again. This was a huge hassle.

The next morning when I booted up my comptuer and launched Firefox, it didn’t do what it usually does. I was expecting it to launch and load up my 15 or so tabs from last session. But for some reason it just loaded with an empty tab, empty bookmarks toolbar, empty bookmarks and history in fact. All this had gone and all I had was a 6kb bookmarks html file and those bookmark backups Firefox does automatically. I first tried to restore them, but all I got was an error. It seemed like I had lost around 3 years worth of bookmarks. I needed to get them back but i didn’t have time to try then and there. Later on in the afternoon, I tried to see if there was anything that Recuva could find. I had no luck there. I decided to go to Google with my problem but it didn’t help me much. I tried to restore from backup one more time without luck. I decided to Google the error I got and this time I got lucky. It turns out my backups couldn’t restore because the sqlite database was corrupt. After deleting these files from my profile, the restore worked and I was once again left with my huge collection of bookmarks. I didn’t have any of my history, which is disappointing, especially since the Awesome Bar ain’t so awesome without history, but at least I have my bookmarks, which is a huge relief.

But wait, there’s more! I was doing an assessment in ICT at school in spreadsheets, worth 5 credit (ones that will come in handy I my add.) This is the last one of the course and I was zooming through it. I had one more task to do which was a write up with instructions on how to use the spreadsheet I created. After copying a similar task from another assessment and spending a good amount of time changing it to match what I was doing, I acidentally printed the wrong instruction list and closing without saving the new one that I had done. All I was left with was the wrong thing printed and a blank document where the correct copy should have been. Now I had to redo it again, which I did very sloppy because I could’t be bothered spending all that time repeating it again.

All these problems could have been easily prevented, or files resored ithout hassle if I was better organised and had good backups of my work. This would mean I’d have the original code for my robot, I’d have a backup html copy of my Firefox bookmarks, and I’d still have that good instruction document for my assessment. Anyway, everything turned out fine but it was a bit of an inconvenience and a huge shock. There is nothing worse that the feeling of when you lose important data on your computer.

Hanging By A Wire

October27

About a month ago, I noticed that when I moved my laptop from my desk over to my bed, the screen would flash and the light around the power plug on my laptop would flash as well. This means that to power was getting disconnected while I was moving my machine. I initially thought this was just the plug coming loose on my laptop, but once when I was watching to make sure it didn’t come out, the power still cut off. I wiggled the cord a bit and that caused it to flash. Something here was not right.

After a bit of investigation the next morning, I figured that the little cord going into the adapter for my laptop was breaking the circuit if you moved it. The wire or something was loose and it was causing my computer screen to flash everytime the power got disconnected. I needed to do something to stop this from happening so I got some tape to try and stop it. I also started treating the adapter very fragile. This was a temporary fix and I was hoping it would last till I got a new laptop (MacBook please :) ) next year. Here is a picture of the first fix.

It lasted close to a week before it started happening again. This time it was worse. It was harder to stop it from disconnecting. I tried to tape it back up again but after half a dozen attempts as that, the tape couldn’t keep the circuit closed. After a lot of thinking, a somehow managed to get it to work using 2 clips. That worked well enough to work although it seemed like it was a very very temporary solution. Here is a picture of the second fix.

Today I went into town to find a replacement adapter. I ended up going to Dick Smith Electronics and getting a random third party notebook adapter. This was a well overpriced $149. I didn’t particularly want to spend any money on fixing this machine because it would cost a good $1000 to fix everything up so it is at a usable standard for next year, but at that price, I’d be better off getting a whole new laptop. Anyway, I didn’t use my money to get this so I didn’t mind that much.

I was a bit hesitant to use this adapter after I got it. I was worried it would ruin my laptop. Thanks to a “friend” on an IRC server I am on, she told me her horror story which made me even more hesitant to use it. I eventually just bit the bullet and switched it on and plugged it in and it worked how it should. No problems or blowing up of my computer (thank god!) I don’t know what I would have done if it ruined my computer, but it would probably be something along the lines of getting a cheap $1500 Windows laptop. It’s a shame that this adapter is so ugly, otherwise I wouldn’t mind using it so much. In saying that, I’d rather be able to use my laptop than be without it so I have to compromise on the aesthetics of the adapter. I can’t wait to get my new MacBook. That time can’t come sooner!

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