Category Archives: Operating Systems

Overarching category for OS’s

I Hate ID3 tags (Part 2)

I think I finally found a good solution to my dilemma.  The best part is, it’s open source and available for windows, linux, and mac.

Songbird

I had tried it in its early beta, and decided to try it again.  It can easily do everything iTunes does (except for all the stuff you don’t want iTunes to do).  Any feature it’s missing is typically available as a plugin.  It has some flaws, but they are already set for later releases (such as CD burning, but heck why not just use infra recorder for everything).  Just take a look at the features and “coming soon” section of the page.

Here is the important part:

The Single Most Amazing Plugin Ever. You can set multiple folders for it display in the folder tree, and it is simple to add content to.

When combined with Songbird, it solves all the problems the ID3-tag-hater has.  I also managed to install and uninstall enough plugins that it feels like it was made just for me.

Oh, did I mention it has a web browser built in and is fully skinnable?  I might do a full review in the future, but for now, I’m going to go listen to well organized music that I didn’t have to import into a sloppy music library.

An Overview of Free Online Invoice Software

I got tired of tracking invoices for clients using an Excel spreadsheet. I knew there must be some good solutions for on-line invoices, so here’s what I found. All of these had a paid counterpart, and some of the free versions were too limited for all but experimental use. E.g. when they say there’s a limit of managing only 2 clients, that means you have to delete one and create a new client (entering name and address) each time you have to send an invoice to someone new.

Billing Manager lets you easily create invoices
Billing Manager lets you easily create invoices

Billing Manager

Link – https://billingmanager.intuit.com

This is the only service I found that offered unlimited invoices and unlimited clients for free. They are iPhone compatible, which means their site is iPhone friendly (it’s relatively fast), but they don’t have a standalone app yet. I had some serious problems importing my OS X Address Book contacts (see below), and their documentation didn’t help, but they responded promptly to my emails. In order to use Credit Cards and Electronic Checks, you have to set up an account with QuickBooks merchant service, which will run $15/month. One other irk with this software is that it requires you to disable your pop-up blocker for the preview functions to work.

Freshbooks

Link – http://www.freshbooks.com

The free version gives you one login and lets you manage only 3 clients. They have auto-bill gateways so you can charge credit cards using Paypal (yes, even using a basic Paypal account). This looks to be a nice and professional service… they even sent me a nice snail-mail sample invoice welcoming me to my trial account.

Lite Accounting

Link – http://liteaccounting.com

With the free account, you cannot use a custom logo on invoices, and you are limited to 5 invoices per month. They boast the “most affordable” solution, and yes, their full membership is almost as cheap as some of the others’ entry level membership.

Invotrak

Link – http://invotrak.com

They actually have an iPhone app and an OS X Dashboard widget. The free service limits you to 2 invoices per month and 2 clients per month.

Greener Billing

Link – http://www.greenerbilling.com

Their free (dirt cheap) plan offers you 3 invoices per month. Unlimited clients and unlimited staff access is nice… but you can’t send unbranded emails to clients (in other words, when you send an email invoice, it’ll somehow reference Greener Billing… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

In summary, I thought that Billing Manager was the best deal out there for those users who need a basic service (and who aren’t simply evaluating). Billing Manager was the only one that offered unlimited invoices and unlimited clients.

Outlook Address Book CSV Fields

As I mentioned, I had trouble working with Billing Manager’s address book importer. It worked fine for my Outlook address book, but it did not work well with with my OS X Address Book. This is probably because I’ve got it synced with my 10 year old Yahoo! address book (yikes!), and there are some real messy fields in there. So here are the steps you can use to get your address book into Billing Manager’s format:

  1. 1. Unfortunately, OS X’s Address Book Application does not allow for you to export your addresses into a CSV format. There is an Address Book to CSV Exporter linked on the Apple web site, but it won’t work for this task. You need a program that enables you to export a header row. Download the Address Book Exporter by David Martin & Gwenhiver.net. It allows for far greater flexibility. Download it.
  2. Once inside the Address Book Exporter, click on the “Configure Settings”. Check the “Write column titles as first line” — this is your header row.
  3. Check most of the fields (see image). Outlook doesn’t seem to have columns for any Instant Message addresses, so I left those out of my export.
  4. Open the resulting file in Excel (I know I know… groan… I don’t know another way to do this). Open another blank workbook and paste Outlook’s Header Row values (below) into the first row. Two tips here: first remove the commas. Also have a look at Excel’s “Paste Special…” feature. There’s a checkbox in there to “transpose” the paste. This will paste rows into columns or columns into rows.
  5. Copy the columns from your OS X Address Book Export into the matching columns in the Outlook-friendly workbook.
  6. Save the workbook as a CSV file.
OS X Address Book Exporter
OS X Address Book Exporter

Outlook’s Header Row

For the record, when you export your Outlook contacts, these are the fields that show up in your header row:

Title, First Name,Middle Name, Last Name,Suffix,
Company,Department, Job Title,Business Street,Business Street 2,
Business Street 3, Business City, Business State, Business Postal Code,
Business Country, Home Street, Home Street 2, Home Street 3,
Home City, Home State, Home Postal Code, Home Country,
Other Street, Other Street 2, Other Street 3, Other City,
Other State, Other Postal Code, Other Country, Assistant's Phone,
Business Fax, Business Phone, Business Phone 2, Callback,
Car Phone, Company Main Phone, Home Fax, Home Phone,
Home Phone 2, ISDN, Mobile Phone, Other Fax, Other Phone,
Pager, Primary Phone, Radio Phone, TTY/TDD Phone,
Telex, Account, Anniversary, Assistant's Name,
Billing Information, Birthday, Business Address PO Box, Categories,
Children, Directory Server, E-mail Address, E-mail Type,
E-mail Display Name, E-mail 2 Address, E-mail 2 Type, E-mail 2 Display Name,
E-mail 3 Address, E-mail 3 Type, E-mail 3 Display Name, Gender,
Government ID Number, Hobby, Home Address PO Box, Initials,
Internet Free Busy, Keywords, Language, Location,
Manager's Name, Mileage, Notes, Office Location, Organizational ID Number,
Other Address PO Box, Priority, Private, Profession,
Referred By, Sensitivity, Spouse, User 1,
User 2, User 3, User 4, Web Page

Did I miss any free invoicing products? Let me know in the comments.

Switcher 2.0 РA Free Expos̩ Clone for Vista/Server 2008

There are number of utilities available that mimic the functionality of Apple Exposé, but my favorite that I’ve tried so far is Switcher.

Switcher 2.0www.insentient.net

Though Switcher has been out for a while, version 2.0 was just released a couple months ago. It adds a number of cool features and is even available in both an executable and a non-installer format.

Here’s the main screen:

Once Switcher is running, call it into action by pressing Win (left) + Tab. If you don’t like that key combo, you can easily create your own.

By default, Switcher is set to Tile view:

Hovering over a tile with your mouse highlights it, and clicking it brings the window to the foreground.

You can also switch to Dock view, which lines up all the windows at the top with the current tile enlarged below:

Pressing Tab will cycle through the available windows.

The third view type is Grid view:

Pretty simple, really. All available windows are lined up straight across your desktop in an orderly fashion.

Switcher works well as an Exposé clone, but it also has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. Here are a few:

  1. Call up a window by number. Just hit a number (1-9) to bring that window number to the front. This works especially well with Grid view.
  2. Quickly close a window by middle-clicking it (mouse wheel button).
  3. Too many windows? Hit Ctrl-F and start typing to quickly search for a particular window.
  4. Hide any window with Ctrl-H.
  5. Only show windows of a particular program by pressing Ctrl-W. This is similar to the F10 button in Apple Exposé.
  6. Want to minimize all windows except a certain one? Just right-click on it. Neat.

If you have Exposé envy on your Windows machine, Switcher is best free tool that I’ve found. Plus, I love that it does not even require installation.

Get Switcher 2.0 – Requires Vista/Server 2008 plus Aero.

Introduction to Bash Scripting

Here’s a great tutorial for bash scripting: http://www.linuxconfig.org/Bash_scripting_Tutorial

Linux and OS X: Harness the Power of Bash
Linux and OS X: Harness the Power of Bash

If you’re doing any work with Linux or OS X computers, knowing even a little bit of bash can save you a whole lot of work. You can write automated backup scripts, you can scan for faulty permissions… the list is endless. You’ll end up building a toolbox of common scripts that you will use in multiple places.

Only one thing wasn’t given much attention on that page, so I thought I’d point it out:

for next Loop

Usually, your programming syntax is cleaner if you avoid the for next construct and stick to the for each construct instead, however, with bash scripting you often need to work with that crazy little numerical iterator for changing things like file names (e.g. backup1, backup2, …). So you should get familiar with the seq command. It creates an array, going either forwards or backwards, and then bash’s for next loop iterates over that array.

Here’s the seq syntax:

seq [OPTION]... FIRST LAST
seq [OPTION]... FIRST INCREMENT LAST

And here’s how you might iterate backwards over an array:

LIST=`seq $NUMBER_OF_ROLLBACK_FILES_TO_PRESERVE -1 1`;
for I in $LIST; do
echo "I is $I";
done

Now get over to http://www.linuxconfig.org/Bash_scripting_Tutorial and start learning.

Turn Windows Server 2008 into an Excellent Workstation – Part I – Basics

In a previous post, I mentioned how to get Windows Server 2008 for free (students only). For those of you who take advantage of that offer, rest assured that you can turn Server 2008 into an excellent workstation operation system. With a tiny bit of work, Server 2008 can look and act similar to Windows Vista.

Undoubtedly, someone is bound to ask, why on earth would you waste time turning Server 2008 into Vista when you can just use Vista?

It’s a good question, and I doubt I will answer it satisfactorily. Yes, Vista and Server 2008 share the same code base. If you already own Vista, you have no real need to switch to Server 2008. In my case, I do not own Vista, so this guide is geared more toward people like myself.

Another consideration is that Server 2008 installs with far fewer features and services enabled by default. Compared to default Vista, there is far less bloat. Sure, you can essentially turn it into Vista by enabling all the features, but you only have to enable what you need. I’ve been using Server 2008 as my main workstation for several month now, and I think it’s a surprisingly good OS, one that can suit most anyone’s need as a workstation.

Let’s get started. I assume you have already installed the OS. In my case, I’m using Server 2008 Standard 32-bit.

Disable Server Manager at Login

First things first, let’s disable the two windows that spawn at login. Check the box to disable the Initial Configuration Tasks at login.

And then check the box to disable the Server Manager at login. You can always access it again from the Start menu.

Disable IE Enhanced Security Configuration

As with any Windows Server OS, Internet Explorer is locked down pretty tightly. Before you can download other software (such as drivers and Firefox), you will need to disable IE ESC. Go to Start → Server Manager and then click Configure IE ESC.

Turn it OFF, at least for Administrators.

Grab the Latest Drivers

As with any new Windows installation, be sure to get the latest drivers for your hardware. Just visit the vendor’s website and download them. If the vendor does not offer a driver specific to Server 2008, try installing the latest Vista driver. Chances are very high that it will work.

For my Nvidia graphics card, the Vista drivers worked just fine. Same for my M-Audio sound card.

You can also see if Windows Update has drivers for your hardware.

Disable Ctrl-Alt-Del Requirement at Login

This one is entirely optional. If you prefer having to hit Ctrl-Alt-Del before you log in, then please ignore this step. For those of you who do not want to be bothered with it, follow these steps:

Go to Start → Administrative Tools → Local Security Policy.

In the window that spawns, expand Local Policies (on the left), click Security Options, and then double-click Interactive Login: Do not require CTRL+ALT+DEL.

Switch it to Enabled.

Disable the Shutdown Event Tracker

Along the same lines, let’s remove another little annoyance when you shut down the computer. Since we’re using Server 2008 as a workstation, we have no need to track the purpose of every system reboot or shutdown.

Go to Start → Run, and type gpedit.msc.

This will open the Group Policy Editor. On the left, expand Administrative Templates and click System. On the right, double-click Display Shutdown Event Tracker.

Switch it to Disabled.

Enable Wireless Networking Support

If you use wireless networking equipment, you will need to turn on support for it. If you don’t have any wireless equipment, you can safely skip this step.

Fire up the Server Manager again (Start → Server Manager), In the Features Summary section (near the bottom), click Add Features.

The Add Features Wizard will launch. Scroll to the bottom and turn on Wireless LAN Service.

Performance Options

By default, Windows Server 2008 prioritizes performance to best suit background services. Since this is now a workstation, let’s change it to focus priority on the programs you run.

Go to Start, right-click on Computer, and click Properties. Or, just press the Windows key plus Pause/Break.

The System window will open. Click Advanced System Settings.

The System Properties window will open. Switch to the Advanced tab, and under the Performance section, click Settings.

Switch to the Advanced tab, and adjust for best performance of Programs.

Enable Audio Support

What good is a workstation if you can’t play tunes, right? Let’s turn on the Windows Audio service. Go to Start → Run, and type services.msc.

Scroll down until you find Windows Audio. Switch the startup type to Automatic.

While you’re there, go ahead and Start the service.

Please note that you must have a proper audio driver installed for sound to work.

Turn On the Desktop Experience

Now we’re getting to the fun part. If you want Server 2008 to look and feel like Vista, you must enable the Desktop Experience feature, which adds a number of amenities, including Aero, Windows Media Player, Themes, and photo management tools.

Launch Server Manager, go to Add Features, and select Desktop Experience.

You will have to reboot after the Desktop Experience feature finishes installing.

Enable Themes and Aero

Now that Desktop Experience is installed, let’s get Themes and Aero working. Go to Start → Run, and type services.msc. Scroll down to the Themes service, and set the startup type to Automatic.

Also, go ahead and Start the service while you are there.

To enable Aero, you must first have a proper video driver installed. Then, just right-click anywhere on the Desktop and choose Personalize.

Click Theme, and from the drop-down list, choose the Windows Vista theme.

Voila! Your Server 2008 desktop should now look a little something like this:

Finally, if your hardware supports Aero, make sure it’s enabled by going back to Personalize → Window Color and Appearance. Under Color Scheme, choose Windows Aero if it’s available.

Get .NET 3.0

Some software requires the .NET 3.0 framework. To install it, fire up the Server Manager again and go to Add Features. Select .NET Framework 3.0 Features.

It will prompt you to install a couple of required role services as dependencies. Just follow the prompts to finish installing.

Turn on Windows Search

If you want to enable Windows Search (for searching through the content of your documents and Outlook e-mails), just follow these steps.

Open Server Manager. In the Roles Summary section, click Add Roles.

Click Next to move beyond the Before You Begin page. On the next page, choose File Services.

Continue following the prompts, then select the Windows Search Service. If you want, you may disable the File Server service at the top.

Select any volume that you wish to index, and finish installing.

Turn On SuperFetch

SuperFetch is disabled by default on Server 2008. Turning it on is supposed to make the OS more responsive as it learns your typical usage patterns and behavior. Before you can simply enable it, you must make a couple of registry changes. Go to Start → Run, and type regedit.

Dig down in the hierarchy to the following path:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters

Make these two changes:

Create a new DWORD Value named EnablePrefetcher and assign it a value of 3

Create a new DWORD Value named EnableSuperfetch and assign it a value of 3

Hexadecimal values:

Now we just need to turn on the Superfetch service. Go to Start → Run and type services.msc. Scroll down to Superfetch and set the startup type to Automatic.

Also, go ahead and Start the service.

This concludes Part I – Basics. Stay tuned for further articles on configuring Windows Server 2008.

Fix Common Fedora 10 Linux Issues

I’m a big fan of Fedora Linux and have been a user since the Red Hat days. I cut my Linux teeth on Fedora Core 1 (I still have the install discs). Though I’ve tried many other distros, I tend to return to Fedora.

Fedora 10 was released a few days ago. I just installed it, and decided to address a few common issues typical users may face. A few of you may remember that I did the same thing for Fedora Core 6. Here we go.

For the purposes of this guide, I’m using GNOME on an i686 machine.

Add the RPM Fusion Repository

First and foremost, install the RPM Fusion repository to gain access to a lot more software. You can do it graphically or via the command line (please see their configuration page). Copy and paste the following code into the Terminal:

su -c 'rpm -Uvh http://download1.rpmfusion.org/free/fedora/rpmfusion-free-release-stable.noarch.rpm http://download1.rpmfusion.org/nonfree/fedora/rpmfusion-nonfree-release-stable.noarch.rpm'

Don’t skip this step. It makes most of the other steps much simpler. Many of the remaining steps will also utilize the command line, but if you prefer a graphical user interface (GUI), just go to System → Administration → Add/Remove Software. You will get a GUI, like this:

Get Video Working

Alright, the next step is to get video acceleration working. I only own Nvidia cards, and installing the latest Nvidia driver is as easy as:

su -c 'yum install kmod-nvidia'

For ATI cards, try this:

su -c 'yum install kmod-fglrx'

Once it installs, just logout and log back in (or reboot if you really feel like it). To see if the video driver is working, try typing glxgears in the Terminal.

If you see frame-rate numbers in the thousands, you have video acceleration.

Install the Flash player

Let’s get the Adobe Flash player working. There are a few ways to do it, but I suggest using YUM. First, go to this link:

http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/?promoid=BUIGP

Select YUM for Linux from the drop-down list, and download the RPM.

Double-click to install the RPM. You have now set up a repository for Flash, and all that is left to do is initiate YUM to install it.

su -c 'yum install flash-plugin'

Restart Firefox to enable the Flash player.

Have a Little WINE

If you want to try your hand at running any Windows applications, go ahead and install WINE.

su -c 'yum install wine wine-tools wine-desktop'

Make MP3s Work

As discussed many times, Fedora does not include MP3 playback out of the box for legal reasons. However, enabling MP3 support is trivial. The first time you try to play an MP3, Totem will prompt you to search for the MP3 codec. Provided that you enabled the RPM Fusion repository (as described above), it will find the decoder automatically! Piece of cake!

If you prefer to enable MP3 playback manually, do it like this:

su -c 'yum install gstreamer-plugins-good gstreamer-plugins-bad gstreamer-plugins-ugly'

I prefer using Rhythmbox over Totem as a music player. It is usually installed by default (look under Applications → Sound & Video), but if you do not have it, install Rhythmbox like this:

su -c 'yum install rhythmbox gstreamer'

And DVDs, too

DVDs are a little more tricky. Reading DVDs is no problem. Just do this:

su -c 'yum install lsdvd libdvdread libdvdnav'

However, the problem comes when trying to decrypt an encrypted DVD. This is a legal issue in some countries (such as the USA… sigh). In order to do this, you need the libdvdcss package, and it is currently not in the RPM Fusion repository due to legal responsibility. Maybe it will be added in the future, or maybe there will be a workaround, who knows?

In the meantime, you can install the libdvdcss package like this (from the Livna repository):

su -c 'rpm -ivh http://livna-dl.reloumirrors.net/fedora/development/i386/libdvdcss-1.2.9-5.lvn9.i386.rpm'

Install VLC

VLC is an excellent media player that will play almost anything you throw at it.

su -c 'yum install vlc'

Get Thunderbird

Fedora 10 comes with Evolution for a mail client. If you prefer Thunderbird, install it like this:

su -c 'yum install thunderbird'

To make Thunderbird the default Mail program, just go to System → Preferences → Personal → Preferred Applications. From there, select Thunderbird from the drop-down list.

Burn CDs/DVDs with GnomeBaker

As a GNOME user, my favorite tool for burning CDs and DVDs is GnomeBaker.

su -c 'yum install gnomebaker'

Make Nautilus Better

If you like the default behavior of Nautilus, skip this step. Personally, I prefer that Nautilus NOT open every folder in a new window.

To fix this, simply open any folder (such as your Home folder) and go to Edit → Preferences. Click the Behavior tab. Put a check next to Always open in browser windows.

Enable Numlock by Default

su -c 'yum install numlockx'

Now whenever you log in to GNOME, numlock should turn on automatically.

There we go. This guide is by no means comprehensive, but it should help alleviate some of the common issues that the average user faces.

If you want to share any other Fedora 10 tips, or know of a better way to accomplish anything that I have listed, please comment below.

µTorrent Mac Beta Finally Released

I just received this e-mail from the μTorrent Mac Team:

Psst…

You asked us to tell you about µTorrent Mac developments.

The beta is out. It’s Leopard and Intel only right now, but we’re working
to expand support soon.

Get it here: mac.utorrent.com/beta

Remember it’s beta software, so there may be bugs and annoyances. Please
help us make it better by contributing to the conversation in the forums
(forum.utorrent.com).

– The µTorrent Mac Team

This is great news. µTorrent is an excellent torrent client on Windows, and I’m excited to give it a try on Mac OS X. Yes, it’s still a beta, but I look forward to seeing how it compares to my reigning favorite client – Transmission.

0.9.0 is the current version.

Here’s the main screen:

And some Bandwidth preferences:

So far, I’d say it looks and acts a lot like the Windows version, just a lot more slick, glassy, and Mac-like.

Your thoughts? Will you be switching your Mac torrent client?