Category Archives: Operating Systems

Overarching category for OS’s

A better solution to Presentations in Linux

You may have noticed that OpenOffice is great. You also may have noticed that this greatness runs out when you get to Impress. My primary complaint (Oh there are many, most of them “known issues” at the open office site for years) is a lack of anti-aliasing on shapes. In a business situation, a presentation on par with the expectations of 1995 will only get you so far.

A Circle in Impress
Jaggies...a lot of them
A Circle in Powerpoint
Same 200% zoom as Impress.

I in no way endorse the use of PowerPoint, but I haven’t had a [Professional] alternative. I acquired a new Linux-based laptop and just today realized that I wouldn’t be able to give presentations off it without jumping through hoops. Of course there are options (PDF slide viewers, LaTEX, etc.) but I want a straight-forward presentation program that meets my meager demands of Anti-Aliasing and a simple interface. Luckily, I tend to have an active Internet connection at most presentations. This brings me to: 280 Slides.

280 Slides is a WebApp that provides, nearly, full functional slide show creation.

A Circle in 280 Slides
200% Zoom
200% Zoom

It’s still in BETA, but it shows amazing promise. Registration is free, and as far as I can tell so far, it beats Google’s presentation ability by a long shot. I wonder how long before Google acquires them…

The Good:

  • Accessible on any OS from any computer with an active Internet connection.
  • Ability to save sideshow in .pptx, .ppt, .odp, and .pdf
  • Fairly faithful conversion to previously mentioned file types.
  • Ability to Import from uploads of the previously mentioned file types (sans .pdf).
  • Ability to insert Images, Video, Shapes, etc. You can even upload your own shapes.
  • Many themes included, all classier than some of PowerPoint’s ugly templates, or the 2 ridiculous themes that ship with Impress.
  • Ability to add “Notes” to each slide.
  • Straight forward, intuitive interface.
The Interface
The Interface

The Bad:

  • Currently no way to upload your own custom background image. Work Around: Insert it as an image and make it the size of the slide.
  • No transitions. In a serious presentation, however, do you really need objects flying in and spinning with cute sound effects? Only if you want to get laughed at.
  • No way to operate a “Presenter View.”
  • No “Master Slide” for objects and footers that are persistent across all slides.

Overall:

-This will be my new presentation software when I’m bound to my Linux system. If I have access to a Mac, though, I will use Keynote for its powerful elegance. I’m interested to see where this goes when it reaches full release. Hopefully registration will stay free.

-At a later date, I will be comparing 280 Slides to Slide Rocket (http://www.sliderocket.com/).  By “at a later date” I mean when Lan Support Services feels the need to update the flash on my office computer.  Feel free to check it out as another alternative.  [Thanks to Brian for pointing me to Slide Rocket]

Install Windows Defender on XP Without WGA Headaches

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational uses only. In no way do we condone software piracy. Readers should contact Microsoft if legitimately-licensed OEM software does not properly validate.

In a previous article I mentioned how to bypass WGA while installing Windows Media Player 11 on XP. As I stated before, I detest the abominable filth known as Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), and I refuse to allow it anywhere near my machine.

With that in mind, it’s also possible to install Windows Defender without messing with WGA. Actually, it’s quite simple.

Step 1 – Download

First of all, download the Defender installation file. Of course, you could download it directly from the Microsoft Download Center, but that requires validation, thereby defeating the purpose. Here are direct links:

Defender 32-bit (English)

Defender 64-bit (English)

Step Two – Install

Be careful: the installation file contains another WGA check, so don’t run it yet. Instead, we’re going to install it silently using the (-qr) switch. Take note of where you downloaded the installation file. In my case, it’s on the desktop.

  1. Launch a command prompt by going to Start → Run, and typing cmd at the prompt.
  2. Navigate to the directory that contains the installation file. Since I put my file on the desktop, I only need to type cd Desktop. Press Enter.
  3. Type the name of the installation file, appending -qr to the end. In my case, it looks like: WindowsDefender.msi -qr. See the screenshot below.
  4. Press Enter and allow the installation to complete.

Voila! That’s it. Windows Defender should now be installed and will try to update its definitions and do an initial scan. Let it go.

And now the update and scan are complete!

That was easy, wasn’t it? Honestly, I don’t care much for Defender, but again, this article is for educational purposes only. One nice feature of Defender is that it provides real-time protection against malware. For an alternative program, I suggest Spyware Terminator. If you can live without the real-time protection, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is another option.

Good luck, and may your life be free from WGA and other malware forever.

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Home & End: Key Bindings in OS X

One thing has bothered me about Macs: the key bindings. Specifically, I was annoyed that the home, end, page up, and page down keys don’t work like they “normally” do on a Windows machine. I found myself having to use the awkward “Apple + arrow” combinations to advance to the front or end of a line (home and end normally send the cursor to the beginning or end of the document, not the line). This is awkward at best, and it was made even more awkward when you consider the layout of my Kinesis keyboard (trippy, I know).

Even if you don’t have a tripped out keyboard, it makes a lot of sense to have “normal” functionality for your home and end keys AND have the ctrl key functionality within reach when you’re working in the Terminal; a lot of Unix/Linux/Bash stuff is mapped to the ctrl key (e.g. ctrl + c to exit a bash program).

OS X has full flexibility on how you handle your key bindings (woot). All you have to do is create a file that remaps the desired keys. This is best done on a per-user basis, so you create a new file in the user’s Library. Create the directory and file (if necessary), and add the following:


/* This adds "normal" home, end, page up, page down functionality */
/* ~/Library/KeyBindings/DefaultKeyBinding.dict */
{
"\UF729" = "moveToBeginningOfLine:";
"^\UF729" = "moveToBeginningOfDocument:";
"$\UF729" = "moveToBeginningOfLineAndModifySelection:";
"^$\UF729" = "moveToBeginningOfDocumentAndModifySelection:";
"\UF72B" = "moveToEndOfLine:";
"^\UF72B" = "moveToEndOfDocument:";
"$\UF72B" = "moveToEndOfLineAndModifySelection:";
}

Once you’ve made the changes, log out your user and log back in (you don’t need to reboot). Try opening up a text editor and navigate around a document using the home and end keys. It’s great.

For full details on other key bindings and how to find and map more keys, check out this great post:
http://www.lsmason.com/articles/macosxkeybindings.html

Because of my keyboard layout, I also want to move my command key (i.e. Apple key) functionality over to the ctrl key — this doesn’t make much sense on a standard keyboard (where your pinky reflex starts going carpal tunnel), but it makes a lot of sense on a Kinesis keyboard where the ctrl key is directly next to your thumb but the Apple key is a bit of a reach. That article is a godsend.

I hate ID3 Tags

(A Post for the musically disaffected)

I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but for those meager few who don’t, this should be useful. I detest ID3 tags and library interfaces that use them. I spent hours googling for alternatives and turned up virtually nothing, except for a few people voicing their anti-ID3 tag thoughts and getting forum flamed. So I will attempt to put together some lifestyle alternatives for the ID3-hating minority.  This article is skewed towards a Windows audience, as less freedom is usually present amongst proprietary software.

Reasons Why I Have ID3 Angst

1. I’m a minorly-disorganized person who owns way too many CDs. As a result, I can rarely find the CD I want when I want it. I find it’s quicker to just download the CD than to go find the actual physical disc (In my office, in storage, in my car, etc.)

Why is this a problem? No one seems to ever be able to agree – despite internet databases – on how to spell a band’s name. If I load up my music library via ID3 tags, take a look at a few examples of what I get:

Pennywise
PennyWise
pennywise
Penny_wise
etc, etc, etc,

Don’t even get me started on bands with “The” in their name.  If all I want to do is listen to a random play-list of Pennywise’s discography I need to select 5-8 different bands. In what world is this organized? Now if I go into my music folder on my computer I find a file tree like this:

Pennywise
—Full Circle (Album)
——Songs
—Straight Ahead (Album)
——Songs.

So my computer realizes that these albums belong to pennywise and that the songs within each album folder belong to that album, so why can’t my music software recognize (I’m looking at you iTunes).

2. I have CDs I ripped in 2001. This is a problem, I also ripped them with a variety of software, and relied on file tree. ID3-guessing software – ones that use the file name to deduce – get very confused by:

-Track Number, Artist Name, Song Title, Album.mp3
-Track Number, Song title, Artist Name, Album.mp3
-etc.

Now, I could go through and fix these tags and have no complaints, but how long would that take with 105 gigs of music (Maybe 50 gigs is properly labeled).

3. Players that think they are the lord and savior of my music collection. I had heard a lot of great talk about iTunes when it first arrived on the scene. I decided to try it. Now my box sets and compilations are irreparably ruined. Example: My Queen Discography Box Set (I believe it was 15 CDs). The songs were labeled by who was in the band, featured guests, etc. This is useful meta-information when you want to know who’s involved. They were also arranged in folders by year. iTunes decided to help me out, by giving every single song its own folder as a different band. “Queen featuring (Anyone)” is apparently a different band than “Queen” or “Queen Live.” So, needless to say, my perfect chronology became 41 different bands in iTunes. Thanks.

I can actually tell which music predates my installation of the first version of iTunes, because it had the amazing task of helping me out by re-labeling every track with a track number – even if it had one already – sometimes multiple times arbitrarily. My favorite: 06_06_06_Broken_Pennywise_Fullcircle.mp3…sweet.

4. Tiny MP3 players. If I can only fit 18 tracks (usually in the form of a compilation I made) on my MP3 player, why would I want it listed as 18 separate bands in order for me to select the song I want?

Enough Complaining, now some solutions.

I’m not going to list all the wonderful software that exists (as proof of a problem) for repairing and organizing your music library – that’s a topic for another posting. Instead I’m going to tell you some work around for an ID3-tag-free lifestyle.

1. Music Player Software that support file tree interface (this is by no means a complete survey, please let me know your solution.)

  • Amarok (Linux Based)- It has a file browser, but I would not call it elegant. If you’re in linux, however, it is probably your best bet. There is sketchy and buggy implementation of Amarok in Windows via the KDE4windows project. I, personally, cannot wait for this project to reach maturity.
  • Winamp (Windows Based)- Not vanilla support however. Out of the box, it only supports “Media Library,” but there is a wonderful plugin: Dynamic Library. It isn’t free, or OSS, but it is cheap. $10 and you can be eternally freed from ID3 tags on your PC. It functions in a free mode, limiting you to only one watched directory, but if your music is in one directory only it works just fine. I don’t condone this, however, as this man is doing glorious work to free us from the confines of disorder. $10 dollars is a small price to pay, in my opinion.

Dynamic Library allows you to move files within their directory, display the live-editable file tree, drag and drop into Winamp’s playlist (you can drag any directory level, album, song, etc.), display tracks in a full directory or sub directory, etc.

I know Winamp isn’t free, either. The only major things they lock, however, are ripping and burning functions. Anyone ripping a CD, in Windows should be using something like CDex anyway. It gives you absolute freedom in your ripping options. As for burning, InfraRecorder is king.

Are there other options? Probably. None that I have managed to find, short of dragging from explorer into a play list in Quintessential player.

2. MP3 Players. Now when I’m out and about, how do I avoid ID3 tag confinement? Rockbox. Free Open Source Firmware. It functions as a file tree, and interfaces with the PC as a removable flash media.

The Good:

-Customizable. Themes, fonts, programs, icons, etc. The play screen can be customized to display/or not display album art. If you don’t like one of the numerous themes available, you can make your own. The instructions are easy to follow and provided on the website.

-File Tree. Yes.

-Sometimes increased usability. Some mp3 players that were not designed to display images can gain the ability to. Other ones, that merely have awful controls and gui for image display, gain a customizable interface.

-Open Source.

The Bad:

-Yes, you have to re-flash the firmware. I’ve installed it 3 or 4 times, if you follow the instructions you won’t brick it. At least, the odds are slim….

-It does not work on every mp3 player. It currently only works on 28 different models. This isn’t really a situation where it will probably work on your mp3 player. More like, you buy an mp3 player off their list when you break your old one by throwing it against the wall in disgust at your chaotic and nonsensical ID3 tag management.

-It doesn’t support DRM content:

No. It is highly unlikely that Rockbox will ever support playback of DRM encrypted audio files.

-Rockbox.com

Some Screens from Rockbox’s site, you can see the potential variation. (My model is not capable of screencapture, all images are (c) their owners [the theme designers and Rockbox.org] ):

So, that’s my rant.  Again, please post your own solutions or workarounds you have found.  This method is not for everyone, but hopefully this will help those who have googled repeatedly for “Music player software file tree” to no avail.

Free Zune Theme for XP – Come to the Dark Side

This has been out for a while, but it’s still worth a mention if you don’t know about it. Microsoft released a black theme for Windows XP last year to help celebrate the launch of their Zune music player. I’m not sure I’ve ever spotted a Zune out in the wild (my university is dominated by iPods), but this theme is pretty slick.

Download link (free):

http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=75078

Installation is simple, and requires no hacking of the uxtheme file (like with most 3rd-party themes). Here’s how it looks:

Lower-Left Corner:

With Start Menu Open:

My Computer:

And the Full Screen:

I didn’t care much for the default background, so I changed it. Here’s my current background-of-the-hour:

I really like this theme. I wish I had known about it earlier. It’s a welcome change from the default XP themes, and I appreciate the simplicity of install.

Have fun.

Note Taking Software for Linux (A Review of NoteCase)

**UPDATE**  This review is of the current build in the Ubuntu Repos, which the author of the software has notified me is out of date, for the most recent release (With several of these issues addressed), download one of the precompiled binaries (available for most any systems) from their website.**UPDATE** (Thanks again for this information).

I believe many people choose to use Linux on their laptops for the simple reason that it works, and works well on low-powered machines. As a student, a low-power machine is the only viable option. Also, as a student, good note-taking software is a must. Before I switched over to Linux, I was an MS OneNote guy. Let me begin by saying that there is no direct equivalent…yet.

The most viable solution currently is NoteCase. While OneNote is like a Nasa-Grade Swiss Army Knife, NoteCase is the scalpel. It does one thing real well, but you wouldn’t want to open a bottle of wine with it. It takes notes, organized in a hierarchical tree and saves them as a single file.

**Edit** This review applies only to the Non-commercial version of the software.  The author of the software has informed me that the program is substantially more robust and powerful in the commercial version.  **Edit**

Let’s Talk Strengths

  1. The interface is very intuitive. You have seen these buttons before. It only takes a minute to figure out how to insert images, or bold text.

  2. Multiple ways to accomplish most tasks. Adding new child nodes can be done by right-clicking in the tree column, or by a pull down for those who like to keyboard and use ALT. I rarely touch the mouse while taking notes.

  3. Very customizable interface. You can set a default text color, size, background, etc. and it will be persistent. You can even set it to open the same file automatically when the program opens. For a student who only needs their single NoteCase file that has a parent node for each course and a child node for each day’s notes, the immediacy of opening the program and being greeted by the last document you used is highly efficient.

  4. Autosave. This is priceless, especially if you are on cruddy battery power that could fail on you at any time. You can set how often it saves.

  5. Autobackup. You choose how many different backup files it saves and where it saves them.

  6. Links. You can add links directly into the document with the push of a button.

  7. Very Low Resource Requirements. This program runs like a champion on a 512 meg, 1.7ghz processor. You could probably open 50 windows at once (Haven’t tried this, but you know what I mean).

  8. Solid Code. I have not had a single crash in over 3 weeks of avid daily use. I’ve inserted Images, Links, and a variety of lengths of text.

  9. Export Function. HTML, TXT, or a stand alone Executable.

Let’s Talk Weakness

  1. Weak font features.

    -Features you have: Bold, Italic, Underline, Strike-through, Text color, Background color.

    -Features it lacks: FONT SIZE. This is a major weakness, but not a deal breaker.

  2. Weak image control features on inserted images.

    -Features you have: Insert PNG or JPG. Resize them at moment of import.

    -Features you lack: Ability to resize post import. Anchor Points (The image is inserted as a giant letter, displacing all text around it.) No option for “Text Surround” of the image. No support for GIF.

**Edit**  Thank you to the author of the software for informing me that this program supports import for any GTK supported Images formats. **Edit**

3. Not enough Export Features. HTML and TXT are great, but I would love a direct to PDF for the sake of universality.

User Options

The User Options are very informative about the limited but powerful potential of the program.

Summary

This program does exactly what it claims to do: Let you take an almost unlimited number of notes, organize them in a tree, and keep them in a single file, or “Case.” It never claims to be a powerhouse, and I think when we meet its limitations we should be asking ourselves if we really want it to be bogged down and bloated by a solution to every situation. Most importantly, it is a rock solid program. I’ve tried to crash it and failed. I would like a few of the smaller features that lacks to be added at a later date, but I don’t feel it needs much more. The font size issue is a big deal, but I feel it’s only a matter of time (as you can change the font size program wide, just not a single word).

If you find yourself with a few too many TXT files of varying types and sizes you should look into this program for precise, near surgical organization.

For installation, I can attest that it is in the Ubuntu Repos. This means that if you run any *Buntu derivative you have access to it (Gos, Mint, etc.). If you use a non-Ubuntu distro please let us know if it is in your Repo.

Sorry Windows and Mac users, this program is only available for Linux. Correction: packages are available for Windows (may require GTK), Mac OS X, and even Open Solaris (thanks Michael!). For non-OSS alternatives to those on Windows and Mac, check out OneNote one Windows, or OMNIoutliner for Mac. I’ve used both and they are startlingly, almost frustratingly bulging with features (and will leave your wallet startlingly not bulging with money).

Dropbox Goes Live – Free 2GB of Synchronized Storage for All!

Dropbox logo

I am pleased to report that Dropbox has fully opened to the public, no more invitations needed! A few weeks ago I reviewed Dropbox (see review) and concluded that it was the online storage service of my dreams. I still hold to that claim.

Everyone who signs up receives 2 GB of storage space. Not only that, you can easily link multiple computers to your Dropbox account and effortlessly keep your files in sync. It’s like FolderShare, but with an online backup element. Yes, it’s a dream come true. 🙂

Clients are available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux (beta). There’s even an iPhone client. Here I am installing the Dropbox client on Ubuntu 8.04.

Freshly Installed

As of now, Dropbox is the free storage service that I recommend most to others. If they rollout a “Pro” version with more features and storage, I’d be tempted to upgrade. Still, the free service is excellent.

If you only use one online storage service, I heartily recommend Dropbox.