Category Archives: Windows

Microsoft Windows, of course.

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.

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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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.

Install Windows Media Player 11 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.

I have a legitimate copy of Windows XP (honestly!). However, I refuse to allow any tentacle of Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) to touch my machine. I’ve read far too many horror stories of WGA falsely identifying installations of Windows as invalid, and honestly, I just don’t want to deal with the potential hassle.

If you wish to install WMP 11 on your Windows XP machine, there’s an easy way to do it without requiring WGA validation. Let’s go.

This tutorial works with either WMP 9 or version 10 as a starting base.

Step 1 – Download and Install

First of all, there’s no need to download version 11 from Microsoft’s web site. All you have to do is launch your existing version of WMP (9 or 10), go to the Tools menu, and Check for Updates.

WMP will launch an update window, download a small 1 MB file, then begin downloading WMP 11.

While the file that is downloading comes with a WGA utility, fear not. We’ll bypass it when the time comes. Just sit back and wait while WMP downloads and installs.

When it finishes, it may give you a notification that the installation failed. Don’t worry. It likely installed anyway.

Step Two – Disable WGA

The next step is very important. Before you launch the new version of WMP, you must first rename the WGA tool.

  • Browse to C:\Program Files\Windows Media Player
  • Find the file called LegitLibM.dll
  • Rename it. Something like LegitLib.dll works well.

Step Three – Launch WMP 11

Alright folks, it’s time to fail WGA validation! I’m not kidding. Launch the new version of Windows Media Player and prepare to validate.

Click the Validate button, and GASP! You just failed validation! Oh no!

Again, have no fear. WGA is broken. Just click the Finish button and continue to set up your new version of WMP.

Congratulations! You now have WMP 11 installed, all without the potential headaches of dealing with WGA. Of course, there’s no guarantee that this method will always work. Microsoft may issue an update that re-activates the WGA tool, or they may change the installation procedure. For now, this method works just fine.

Please let me know if the comments if this method no longer works.

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Unlock and Delete Stuck Files with Unlocker

There’s not much more aggravating than attempting to simply delete a file, only to have Windows spit an error message back in your face.

filezilla-delete.png

When this happens, it’s usually because some program or process in memory still has an invisible tentacle wrapped around that file or folder.

Often, rebooting and trying again will solve the problem (or booting into Safe Mode), but if you don’t want to reboot, you can use Unlocker.

right-click-unlocker.png
Unlocker is a free application designed to quickly and easily remove the annoyance of stuck files from your Windows system.

Usage

Using Unlocker is easy – just right click on the stuck file or folder and choose Unlocker.

If the file is stuck, it will spawn the Unlocker Assistant and show you the process gripping your stuck file/folder.

unlocker-assistant.png

All you have to do is click Unlock All, and then try to delete the file again. Voila! The stuck file should be banished from your computer, and from your life.

Unlocker is one of those applications that should not be necessary. After all, files should just disappear when you try to delete them, right? Still, I’m glad it’s available. Version tested – 1.8.6.

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