Category Archives: Operating Systems

Overarching category for OS’s

Keep Your Address Book in Sync with Dropbox (Mac OS X)

Disclaimer: some users have reported that this method does not work properly. Rest assured that it works, but I only recommend it for people comfortable with the Terminal. There’s a lot of room for error.

Please back up your Address Book before attempting this method. I am not responsible for lost data. Please see the comments below for further commentary.

Here is a little tip for you Mac users out there. We have written about the awesome, cross-platform Dropbox service before (here and here), and while it’s great for keeping ordinary files and folders in sync across the Internet, there are a few more clever uses for it.

With a tiny bit of command-line magic, you can easily keep your Mac OS X Address Book backed up online and synced to other Macs. Here’s how:

Preliminary Steps

First of all, download and install Dropbox on any OS X machines that you wish to sync. Finished? Excellent!

Next, go ahead and make a backup of your Address Book (optional, but strongly recommended). Just go to File → Export → Address Book Archive….

Keep that export handy in case things go wrong.

Link Address Book to Dropbox

Here’s the fun part. To make this process work, Address Book needs to be able to save data to your Dropbox folder. At present, Dropbox can only sync ONE folder (and everything in it). So, you see the problem? Address Book keeps all its data inside ~/Library/Application Support/AddressBook, and we need to trick Address Book into saving to your Dropbox folder.

Symbolic Links to the rescue! We can easily fool Address Book by creating a symlink.

Step 1 – First, we’re going to move the Address Book data files to your Dropbox folder. Make sure Address Book is closed. Launch Terminal (in your Utilities folder), and assuming your Dropbox folder is inside your Home directory, issue this command:

mv ~/Library/Application\ Support/AddressBook ~/Dropbox/

Step 2 – Now, create the symbolic link. The format is ln -s [destination] [name of file or folder]. The syntax does not change as to whether the link is to a file or a folder. Still in Terminal, type:

ln -s ~/Dropbox/AddressBook/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/AddressBook

That’s it. You’re done. Try launching Address Book and make sure your contacts are still there. Now when you add a new contact and it, you should see Dropbox update as well. Notice the tiny, green Dropbox check marks on my AddressBook linked folder:

Adding Other Macs

To add another OS X machine to the mix, just repeat these steps (except for the first mv command). In short, just install Dropbox, make sure Address Book is closed, and then:

  1. Delete the AddressBook folder from ~/Library/Application Support
  2. Create the symlink (ln -s ~/Dropbox/AddressBook/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/AddressBook)

There you go. Address Book will stay syncronized and backed up online.

Quick Tip – Force Off-Screen Windows to Return to Your Desktop

We’ve all encountered this problem at one time or another. Perhaps a change of screen resolution caused it, or maybe you disconnected a second monitor without paying attention to window placement. Either way, the problem is that you have one or more windows that are off the screen, with no easy way to click-and-drag them back into place. Frustrating!

Of course, you could just reboot, but what self-respecting nerd would do that? Surely there must be a better way!

There is. The next time you find yourself in that situation, just try this:

1. Make sure the misbehaving window has focus. Use Alt-Tab to select it, or just click anywhere on the visible part of that window.

2. Right-click on that item in the taskbar and select Move.

Keyboard alternative: you could also just press Alt-Space and then hit M.

3. Notice that your cursor now changed and looks like this:

Now, simply press any of the arrow keys on your keyboard (Up, Down, Left, Right). Voila! The misbehaving window should automatically snap back into place on your desktop.

All you have to do is drag the mouse to wherever you want the window and left-click to release it.

Done. This is one quick tip that’s handy to remember, but I admit: it’s too bad that that there’s a need for it at all.

Installing Packages in Linux

I always forget the exact commands required to extracting my little tarballs onto my Linux system after downloading them. But wait! Before you go downloading a tarball, try to download a pre-compiled package using a package management tool like Yum, APT, Aptitude, Pacman, Portage, Yast, etc.. You will save LOTS of time by doing this. However, for the sake of this post, let’s pretend you’ve entered the grim and dark world of un-compiled packages, and now you must must make the sacred journey into adulthood by downloading and compiling your own packages. (There’s still time to back out… are you sure there isn’t a pre-compiled package out there?)

Unpacking a .gz File

For this example, let’s say that you’ve downloaded the file ImageMagick-6.4.4-10.tar.gz (e.g. by using the wget utility or by uploading the package to your Linux server).

tar -zxvf ImageMagick-6.4.4-10.tar.gz

This will extract the file to the current directory.

* You may need preface the commands using the sudo command… as in “sudo make me a sandwich“. You may also want to read the man page: man tar

After Unpacking…

cd into the new directory and read the documentation! It’s a bummer, but when you roll your own stuff here, you gotta RTFM. That’s just part of the sacred ritual. Be glad it’s not adult circumcision we’re talking about.

In a nutshell, the compilation process usually goes a little something like this:

  1. ./configure [with options listed]
  2. make
  3. make install

Each of these steps may take a while… compiling and testing and such. Go get some coffee.

Ghost Windows for Free with Macrium Reflect (A Visual Guide)

Macrium icon
Macrium icon

A few years ago I wrote an article on Ghosting Windows XP for Free with DriveImage XML. It’s proven to be one of the most popular articles on TipsFor.us. Back in 2007 I also wrote a complementary article on Ghosting Windows for Free using Open-Source Tools. I suppose you could say that finding free ways to “ghost” Windows is an obsession of mine.

One bit of criticism levied at these aforementioned methods is that they both require a fair amount of upfront work. A restoration using DriveImage XML requires the creation of a boot disc such as BartPE. Using open-source tools like ntfsclone requires mucking around with the command line – an intimidating process for a newbie. Yes, I said “mucking.”

Isn’t there an easier way? One that requires far less prep time with an easy learning curve? The answer is a resounding YES!

Enter Macrium Reflect FREE Edition. While the free version is the little brother to the commercial version, it still packs a mighty punch. Feast your eyes on a feature comparison as of 17 October 2008.

Macrium - Feature List

Requirements

To successfully image and restore your system using Macrium Reflect, you will need the following:

  • Windows XP or Vista (32 or 64-bit) – required to install the free version of Macrium Reflect, of course.
  • CD or DVD burner – You need a place to store your backup image. Macrium allows you to burn it directly to CDs or DVDs.
  • Spare Hard Disk or Partition (Optional) – Instead of storing the backup image on optical media, you may choose to simply store it on a spare partition or hard disk.

Before we begin, allow me to remind you to BACK UP YOUR DATA! Working with disk imaging is a volatile process, and you should always have backups of your critical files. Burn everything to CDs or DVDs. Buy a spare hard disk, or maybe take a look at available online storage. Do whatever it takes to keep your data safe.

Ready? Let’s get started!

The Process

Here’s an outline of the entire process:

  1. Install Macrium Reflect FREE Edition
  2. Configure Your System
  3. Create the Disk Image
  4. Verify the Disk Image
  5. Create the Rescue CD
  6. Restore the Disk Image
  7. Final Thoughts

1. Install Macrium Reflect FREE Edition

This is the easiest step. Download and install the executable (Download.com link). The installer will automatically detect whether you are running a 32-bit or a 64-bit operating system. Curiously, the installation process requires Internet access to validate the automatically generated serial number. After the installation is complete, launch Macrium Reflect.

2. Configure Your System

At this point you should configure your operating system to the way you like it. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make sure Windows has the latest security patches and drivers.
  • Scan for viruses and other malware.
  • Run a Defrag.
  • Remove any unnecessary applications.

Ideally, I like to create a couple different disk images. I prefer to have one image of a freshly installed state, and another image that includes all my main applications.

3. Create the Disk Image

Now we’re getting to the fun part. One quick note here: I used VMware for the purpose of convenient screenshots, but the process is no different than if it were a real machine. I also tested the process on a spare computer, and it worked flawlessly for me.

To get started, launch Macrium Reflect, select the disk that you wish to image, and from the Backup menu, choose Create Image.

Macrium - Choose your partition

(Alternative – you could also open My Computer, right-click on the chosen disk, and select Create an Image of this partition…)

Right-click the drive

The Create Backup Wizard will spawn:

Macrium - Create Backup Wizard

At this point you need to choose where you would like to store the disk image. Options include:

  • On a spare partition or hard disk
  • On a network share – Note: make sure your network share is using WORKGROUP as the Workgroup name.
  • On blank CDs or DVDs
Macrium - Choose where to store image

I suggest you also take a look at the Advanced Settings. Here you can choose the amount of compression and also set a maximum file size (for splitting purposes).

Macrium - Advanced Compression

When you are done with the Backup Wizard, take a last glance over your settings….

Macrium - End of Backup Wizard

Enter a name for the backup definition, and away we go!

Macrium - Backup started

It took me only 3 minutes to image my tiny VMware disk, so your mileage will vary. Go make a cup of coffee.

Macrium - Backup finished

Now that your backup is complete, let’s talk about how to restore it. Please continue to the next page.

Get Windows Server 2008 for FREE through DreamSpark (Students Only)

Windows Server 2008 Box
Windows Server 2008 Box

Want a free download of Windows Server 2008? It’s yours, if you qualify! Microsoft recently updated their DreamSpark offerings to include Server 2008, among other products. All you have to do is verify that you’re a student, and start downloading.

Download link – https://www.dreamspark.com/default.aspx

What is DreamSpark? Straight from the horse’s mouth:

Microsoft DreamSpark enables students to download Microsoft developer and design tools at no charge.

Now, for the first time, Microsoft is giving its valuable software developer and design tools directly to students worldwide at no charge! This site enables students like you to download professional-level Microsoft developer and design tools to unlock your creative potential and set you on the path to academic and career success, by supporting and advancing your learning and skills through technical design, technology, math, science and engineering activities.

What products are offered? A lot! In addition to Windows Server 2008, you can freely download:

  • Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition (and 2005 Professional)
  • SQL Server 2008 Developer
  • MS Expression Studio 2
  • XNA Game Studio 2.0
  • XNA Creators Club Online (12 months access)
  • IT Academy Student Pass (up to 22 hours of FREE e-learning courses)

You will need:

  • A Windows Live ID
  • Valid Student Status

My university was not on the main list, but they were able to quickly verify me online via JourneyEd. Within minutes, I started downloading Windows Server 2008, which can actually function very well as a desktop or workstation. With a few clicks, you can essentially transform it into Windows Vista, but without most of the bloat. Look for some articles relating to Server 2008 soon.

Best of luck. Despite my affinity for Linux, it’s hard to turn down free, legal software!

UPDATE: Be sure to see my article on how to turn Server 2008 into an excellent workstation OS.

Like Blue? Free Embedded Theme for Windows XP

I previously wrote about the free Zune theme for Windows XP. Today I’d like to bring another free theme to your attention – “Embedded.”

Download link (free): Download now

Installation is a breeze, and does not require any hacking of the uxtheme file (like with most 3rd-party themes). Here’s how it looks:

Full Screen:

With Start Menu:

My Computer:

While I admit that I’m attracted to darker themes, the color blue doesn’t do much for me. Still, it’s a welcome change from the default XP themes, and I appreciate not having to mess with the uxtheme file.

Have fun.

Run as the Root Account

Well, some days you need some tips, some days you need some humor. Today is a day when I need to laugh at something, because I just got a phone call from the Dow Jones Industrial average… it said “go F@#% yourself!” So… the article I’m linking to only makes sense if you know something about Linux, but I thought it was pretty hilarious: Run as Root

Running as root will change your life. People will no longer cut you off in the lunch line, and if you tell someone to go screw themselves, don’t be surprised if they actually do it.

People or Things that Ran as Root

  • Chuck Norris
  • Trogdor
  • That guy who took a picture of himself every day for 6 years
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • The 1968 Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Large Hadron Collidor