Category Archives: Software

New Theme, plus WordPress Upgrade

Tonight I unrolled a new theme on this site. Dubbed nonzero-green, the main difference from the last layout is the addition of a third column, which should help relieve some excessive vertical scrolling on a few pages. We’ll see what sort of staying power it has. 🙂

I also upgraded to WordPress 2.1.3. I’m sniffing around to make sure everything is working right. So far so good.

Getting Cozy with Mozy – Brainless Online Storage (Online Storage Series)

mozy-logo.png To continue my foray into the world of free on-line storage, today I will take a look at the Mozy on-line backup service.

First of all, what is Mozy and how is it different from other on-line storage services? Like its competitors, Mozy allows for the backing up of one’s data on their servers. Think of it as an external hard drive for your computer that resides off-site. I am a fan of off-site storage because I know that my data is safely stored even if a bomb falls on my house.

Mozy differentiates itself in that it is not a stand-alone service like Box.net or DropBoks. Rather, it requires that you download a small software package and install it on your Windows-based computer (update: Mac OS X is now supported as well). If you use Windows exclusively then this is a boon; if you hop around between multiple operating system then this will be a drawback. I’m still hoping for a Linux client, but I’m not holding my breath.

What, then, are some of the benefits? For starters Mozy offers two gigabytes of storage for their free plan, which is quite reasonable. For those interested, they do offer an “unlimited” plan for $5 per month. I am content with the free plan. I have not found a limit on file sizes, which is also a benefit.

Here is how a typical backup scenario works: install the software and set your configuration options. There are a lot of potential options, but in a nutshell you will want to set your file system paths and tell Mozy what types of files you want to archive. Set your options and let Mozy do its thing. See the screenshot below.

mozy-main.png

There are also options for scheduling backups – you can choose between “automatic” backups when your computer is idle or a more standard daily/weekly scheduled backup time. I appreciate the options for bandwidth throttling and thread priority. If I am busy working at my computer when a scheduled backup begins, it will be transparent rather than bogging down my machine. Nice.

The first backup process will take the longest. Once it is complete, subsequent backups are “differential,” meaning that only changed files will be archived. Even if a file is open when a backup kicks in, Mozy will still send it to their servers, which is slick.

Once you have archived files on Mozy’s servers, you can find and restore them in two different ways. Since Mozy integrates itself with the Windows operating system, you can simply browse to “My Computer.”

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By browsing “Mozy Remote Backup” you will find a file structure exactly like that of your computer, starting with your hard drive and extending to your deepest sub-folders. As handy as this is, it comes up short in that you can only view/restore files to your computer. There is no option to add more files through the Explorer interface. I understand that this is not the expressed purpose of the software, but it seems like it would be a natural extension for those interested. Unfortunately, it is curiously absent. For the record, Xdrive does offer this option. Hopefully the creators of Mozy will add it in the future.

Nevertheless, using the Explorer extension is handy for restoring files. Right-click on a file or folder and choose “Restore.” That’s it. Your files will be restored to their designated location. Keep in mind that this will overwrite the originals (if they exist).

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A second way to access archived files is through Mozy’s web interface. Log into their web site and click “Restore files” on the left. Select the files that you want to restore, and Mozy will contact you with a link to download the files. In this manner, files that you archive can actually be accessed on any other computer with any operating system, but the backup process must be done on a Windows or OS X machine.

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In summary, Mozy offers quite a lot in their free package. For users of MS Windows who are looking for a “set and forget” method of backup for critical files, Mozy is a slam dunk. Once you make the initial configurations, Mozy takes care of the rest and you can rest assured that your data is archived in at least one other location. For users who switch between multiple computers and/or operating systems regularly, a stand-alone storage site is more appropriate. For users in this category, I still recommend DropBoks for its sheer simplicity and Box.net for its elegant interface.

Pros:

  • Two gigabytes of storage for free
  • Automatic file backup option – set it once and forget about it
  • Differential backups – only backup changed files
  • Encrypted file transfers (for security)
  • Easy, versatile file restoration

Cons:

  • No support for platforms other than MS Windows (a Mac version is available as well). Linux users are currently out of luck.
  • Operating system integration is for viewing/restoration only.
  • The plethora of configuration options can be intimidating at first.

Visit Mozy now.

Using WordPress 2.1.1? Please upgrade

If you are using WordPress 2.1.1, please upgrade to the latest version now. Unfortunately, a cracker gained access to one of the servers powering wordpress.org and modified the code for version 2.1.1 of the software.

No, not all downloads are affected, but it is better to be safe than sorry. The current latest release, 2.1.2, addresses this vulnerability.

DriveImage XML 1.21

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I’ve been a fan of DriveImage XML for a couple of years now. It’s a handy piece of freeware for creating “ghost” images of Windows XP for free.

Recently I noticed that the creators have released an update to version 1.21. From what I can tell, this version only adds support for Windows Vista, so it may not be an important upgrade if (like me) you have no plans to buy Vista.

In my aforementioned article, I wished that the creators of DriveImage XML would add the ability to create scheduled backups. I must give them credit – the software now has this ability, though it was added in a version previous to 1.21. This alone is incentive to upgrade if you are still using a much older version.

DropBoks – Online Storage Simplified (Online Storage Series)

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One of the largest complaints I have about on-line storage services is that most of their interfaces are cluttered and confusing. Of these, XDrive is among the worst offenders, but is certainly not alone. On the other hand, one of the slickest interfaces I have seen is the service provided by Box.net. This is currently my favorite service, but while I easily understand the interface, I still had difficulty teaching one of my non-computer-savvy friends how to use it.

For sheer simplicity, the free on-line service offered by DropBoks is hard to beat. Simply create an account, and then you get one gigabyte of free storage complete with a 50 MB file size limit. This bests Box.net’s upload limitation of 10 megabytes.

The interface is starkly simple – there is a “Browse” button to upload files, and a “trash” icon to allow for the deletion of files. That’s mostly it. Here is a screenshot of a file upload in progress:

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The simplicity of the functionality complements the starkness of the interface. You will not find any options to create folders or “tag” items here – uploading and downloading files forms the bulk of the available operations. Some people will find this restricting, but others (like my non-savvy friend) will appreciate the simplicity. In fact, I’m willing to bet that anyone whose computer literacy exceeds that of a drunken cockroach can successfully use DropBoks. Want to upload a file? Click the “Browse” button. Want to download a file? Double-click (or right-click) it. Want to delete a file? Drag it to the “Trash.” Piece of cake.

For those interested, all file transfers are encrypted over HTTPS (SSL).

While I still enjoy Box.net for its added functionality and beautiful interface, I have a growing appreciation for DropBoks. It is now my most recommended on-line storage service of choice, especially to people of dubious computer skills. For the record, their free service is provided without ads, though they encourage small donations ($3) to help keep the service running. That’s fair. I hope they are able to stand the test of time.

Related article: On-line Storage Options

Run Finale 2007 on Linux with WINE

Linux is a terrific, free operating system whose strength as a server has been proven for years. As a desktop system, Linux will easily suit the needs of people who need a general purpose machine for browsing the web, e-mail, playing music, chatting, typing papers, etc. Linux can easily perform these tasks with the ancillary benefit that the user does not have to worry about the virus and spyware issues that plague Microsoft Windows.

However, one major complaint about Linux is the lack of availability of specific major applications, especially those pertaining to professional video and audio production. Examples of such applications include Photoshop, Pro Tools, Final Cut, and Finale. By no means is this the fault of Linux. Unfortunately, it is a Catch-22 with the developers of these products: they don’t port their applications to Linux because the market is relatively small, and the market is relatively small because major applications such as these do not run natively on Linux.

Fortunately, there exists a project the goal of which is to bridge this gap: WINE (Wine Is Not an Emulator). Essentially, WINE is a compatibility layer that allows a growing number of Windows software to run stably and successfully, without having Windows installed at all. While the ideal solution is to convince developers to port their applications, WINE is getting better and better in the meantime.

As a composer of concert music, the Finale software program is an essential tool for me. In this “how-to” article I will describe the steps needed to run Finale 2007 on Linux with WINE. Before we begin, let me make a few assumptions:

  • You are comfortable with installing Linux.
  • You actually have the Finale software available. Do not contact me asking for a copy of mine. Buy your own.
  • I make no guarantees as to your success following this tutorial. You may have good luck, or it may drink all of the soy nog in your refrigerator.
  • You understand that I am NOT a helpdesk. If you have trouble, feel free to comment below. I MAY be able to help you, and maybe not. Please do not e-mail me begging for help.

All set? Let’s get started.

1. Install Linux.

It goes without saying that you need to have a Linux distribution installed. You are on your own here, but I highly recommend the more popular distros, such as Ubuntu, SUSE, or Fedora. For the purpose of this article, I am using SUSE 10.2 64-bit edition. It is far beyond the scope of this article to explain how to install Linux. If you don’t know how to do that, then you are probably not bothering to read this far into the article. 🙂

2. Install and configure WINE.

Once Linux is running happily, you need to install both the “wine” and optionally, the “winetools” packages. This will vary slightly between distributions. In SUSE 10.2, I simply launched the “Install Software” tool from the “Computer” menu, and searched for “wine” from there. In Ubuntu, try “apt-cache search wine” to see what it yields. In Fedora, try “yum search wine.” No matter the distro, install the latest version of the aforementioned packages. You won’t get far without them. At the time of this writing, the latest version of WINE is 0.9.24. (Note: though it’s unlikely, you may need to add additional software repositories to your system. For Ubuntu, see the ubuntuguide. For SUSE, see this article on hacking Opensuse. For Fedora, see the article I recently wrote on fixing common Fedora issues.)

After WINE is installed, configure it. From the command line, type: (without the “dollar” sign)

$ winecfg

Take a look at the options provided. I accepted the defaults, making sure that the Windows “version” was set to Windows 2000.

3. Install Finale 2007.

Now that WINE is installed and configured, let’s get Finale running. Insert your Finale 2007 disc. Once the disc shows up on the desktop, open the disc and browse to the “Finale” folder. You should just be able to double-click the “FinaleSetup.exe” file to open it with WINE, but if it doesn’t work, you can also launch this file from the command line. Try this:

$ wine (now drag the “FinaleSetup.exe” file to the Terminal window and press enter)

finale1.png

After a few seconds, the “Finale Setup” program should launch in WINE. Follow the prompts and do a typical installation, just like you would on Windows.

4. Launch and update Finale 2007.

If all went well, you can now launch the program. To do this, you first need to understand where the program is now located. In your “home” directory you can find a hidden directory where WINE keeps all of its information. That folder is called “.wine” (yes, there’s a period in front of the folder name). The full path to the “Finale.exe” file on my system is:

/home/your-username/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Finale 2007/FINALE.EXE

finale_wine_path.png

Open that file by right-clicking it and choosing “Open with ‘wine'” or by typing “wine” into the Terminal and following it with the path to the file. With any luck, Finale will now launch and run!

Note: I was also able to successfully install the update to 2007a on my system. Simply download the update and launch it with WINE. Choose “Full Application” update and let it run its course.

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Things that work:

  • Opening files, including large files (I opened an concert band score of mine without issue).
  • Playing files with the softsynth. “Human Playback” even works. Scrolling playback works, too (NB: there are occasional audio distortions on my system. Your mileage may vary).
  • Entering notes: both simple and speedy entry (from the computer keyboard) work fine.
  • Entering dynamics and articulations.
  • Viewing from both Page View and Scroll View. I had no trouble changing the viewing size of scores.
  • Opening and saving files works.
  • “Save as Audio” works just fine.
  • Product Activation works.
  • “Dragging” the view with the right mouse button works.
  • I tried a few “Mass Edit” and “Page Layout” options without trouble. Of course, I did not test every available action.

finale_adding-notes.png finale_human-playback.png


Things that do not work:

  • MusicXML export

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Things not yet tried:

  • GPO or Smartmusic install
  • MIDI keyboard input or playback (NB: I doubt this will work unless you KNOW your MIDI hardware is supported).
  • Printing
  • Product Activation (Update: activation by phone works just fine)
  • and more….

As you can see, the list of working features is quite long right now. Most importantly, in the hours that I have been using Finale 2007 on Linux, I have not yet experienced a single crash of the application. Of course, more testing is required, but the main aspects, correct display of fonts, basic playback, and overall stability, are working sufficiently. This is a far cry from two years ago when I tried this same procedure with Finale 2004. Though the program installed, some of the fonts did not display at all, playback did not work, and the program crashed every few minutes. By comparison, Finale 2007 is now quite usable on Linux.

Would I use Finale on Linux for my daily work? Right now, probably not. I’ve invested a lot of money in MIDI and audio hardware, as well as in software sample libraries, none of which run natively on Linux. If writing music was just a hobby instead of my main craft, I’d consider it. Looking ahead to the future, I have zero plans to upgrade to Windows Vista, meaning that within a limited number of years I will need to migrate my studio to either Linux or Mac-based systems. I’d like to keep Linux as an option, and the future is looking better and brighter.

Once again, it’s obvious that Finale is not a native Linux application, but WINE allows it to work stably and sufficiently, thus proving that Linux CAN be used for a growing number of “professional” applications. In an ideal world, Makemusic would create a version of Finale specifically for Linux. Until then, we’re getting closer and closer to a Linux-based creative studio, at least for this composer.

© 2007 by Brian Bondari

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