Daily Musings

Archive for the ‘Tech-Article’ Category

2012 brings with it a sea of changes in terms of OS we use. Microsoft is all set to release Windows 8 sometime later during the year (most probably Sep-Oct). As they did with Windows 7, they started to launch a series of previews for developers/end users. Windows 8 Developers Preview was launched in the fourth quarter of 2011 and then Consumer Preview was launched sometime during Feb-March 2012. Now Microsoft has also released Release Preview which is supposed to be the pre-cursor for what we (as end users) are actually going to get with the final release.

Since the release of Consumer Preview, I had wanted to download and try out the new Windows but couldn’t do so firstly because of lack of an internet connection and then because the connection I did manage to get had a download cap of 5 GB (after which the speeds reduce to pathetically slow levels) and the Windows 8 Consumer Preview ISO file is around 3.3 GB (for 64Bit). Finally, I got hold of a copy of Windows 8 Consumer Preview (although the Release Preview has already released) in the DVD of my favorite tech magazine – Digit (http://www.thinkdigit.com). Apart from Windows 8 CP, there was another DVD which contained the latest Ubuntu Precise Pangolin (12.04) and Fedora 16 (Fedora 17 is also available for download now).

Since the days of Windows 7’s preview I got excited about the way Microsoft started to change its course in terms of the usability they started to provide and so I decided to install Windows 8 first. I created a bootable USB drive of Windows 8 using the same method I used for creating USB drive for Windows 7 (Click Here).

Installation was pretty simple (some enhancements to the installer found with Windows 7) and fast too. I was mighty impressed by the new (minimal) boot screen and the startup time of the Win 8 (I feel this is the fastest Windows by far). Win 8 seems to be directed towards touch interfaces from the ground up. Right from the login/lock screen to the start page (YES! we are greeted with a start-page akin to that found in the Windows 7.5 Phone with all the app tiles (known as Metro Interface). The start page has tiles for almost all the required apps including videos, internet, music, pictures, games, desktop etc. We still have the good ol’ desktop albeit with a change and mighty one at that! There is no start button…no menu… only a plain looking desktop (similar to that found on Win 7).

This desktop has some hot-spots (I couldn’t find another name for it) on three corners of the desktop and one hot-spot is common for Start page too. The hot-spot in top-left corner displays a list of open metro apps (this one is the common hot-spot). Another one can be found in the bottom-left corner which is a short-cut to open the Start page. Then there is another hot-spot in the bottom-right corner which brings up a transparent dock on the right hand side of the desktop. This dock has a few icons which link to 1. Start Page, 2. Settings, 3. Devices and there are two more icons which I do not remember for now 🙂

So basically, there are tons of ways to go back to the Start page which means Microsoft wants users to use its metro interface more than the desktop which brings to fore their future plan of doing away with the traditional desktop altogether (in favor of Metro Interface).

I must say Microsoft has learnt a lot from the debacle of Vista and started preparing well for future versions of their OS. And they did pretty decent job with Windows 7 and have definitely moved a step farther with Windows 8. Windows 8 is the best looking and most user-friendly OS by Microsoft IMHO. The metro interface is a refreshing change from the boring screen filled with icons. This is a department where MS has really made a change. Almost all other OSs including iOS, Android, Ubuntu (and other Linux based OS) are bland. They have got this common feel to them. The same old screen with icons feel. This is where the Windows 8 is very VERY different.

Now about the apps: The apps are nothing much to write home about. Similar features as those found in apps of today (geared towards touch based devices and inbuilt social capabilities in them). Even the desktop apps has minor tweaks which would go a long way in being more user-friendly (for those who do not have touch based devices or those who do not like the metro interface). One very good tweak is the inclusion of the ribbon in almost all the native apps (including Explorer) which makes it easier and faster to work.

But, all the prettiness of Windows 8 ends here. It looks and feels very good, but works very badly (at least my copy of Consumer Preview did). The metro apps worked for sometime and later started to hang at the start-up splash. The saving grave was that the apps terminated after a few seconds instead of throwing errors in unknown language. After searching the net, I found that other users had faced this problem too and some fixes were floating around which worked for some people. I tried 2 fixes one of which involved editing the registry and the other one was related to some settings. None of them worked 😦

After a while only the desktop was usable and so I tried it for sometime. It turned out to be good enough but if the minor tweaks of the desktop were provided as a Service Pack for Win 7 then it would have been better. Instead MS decided to release a complete new OS with an interface which doesn’t work and the one which works is not too different from the existing one.

After some online research I found that the users of Release Preview were also facing the same problem ..so its got to be a problem at the basic level and MS should fix it before the final release.

After the above mentioned turn-off I decided to try other OS too. My first thought was to install revert back to Win7 and hence I started to make a bootable USB drive of Win 7. But, to my horrors, I was not able to do so as UltraISO (the software I use to create bootable Win 7/8 USB drive) threw an error that I need to format my USB drive. After formatting I tried again only to see the same error. I again and again formatted with different options including quick, full format and tried different FS too. I even tried to format using cmd but this too didn’t help.

So, I decided to use my other USB drive and install Ubuntu. I created a bootable USB drive for Ubuntu and started to boot/install Ubuntu. To my wonders and surprise, I got problems in installing Ubuntu too. Ubuntu loaded without any problems but while installing, it showed errors. I thought it was some problem with the ISO image and hence I decided to install Fedora. Fedora started fine but I got the same problem while installing. I inferred that the partition which is using Win 8 is causing some problem. So, I formatted the partition which contained Win 8 and then tried again. This time the installation completed successfully and I booted into Fedora.

Fedora has a very pleasant interface (it uses GNOME 3+) which is a combination of both looks and usability. I really liked the Fedora interface. I had to re-install Fedora because I botched up my internet connection settings. I then used Fedora for a day or two and decided to install Ubuntu.

This time Ubuntu installed perfectly. Ubuntu too has got a pretty decent interface (it uses Unity instead of GNOME 3). I used to Ubuntu for 2-3 days and then switched back to Win 8 just to check if the problem cropped up again. This time again, the metro apps worked for a minutes and then gave in. I used Win 8 for a day and then decided to switch to Win 7 and got the same error I got while creating bootable USB drive. So I installed Ubuntu again only to create a bootable Win 7 USB drive and switched back to Win 7 last night.

In my opinion Ubuntu 12.04 has the most practical and usable interface. It has come a long way from being a buggy Linux distro to a much stable and better looking (usable too) OS. All three OS were very different in their user-interface and usability. All are good and would find their own fans. For me, it was Ubuntu. The reason why I switched to Win 7 instead of Ubuntu is because I wanted to use my computer as a virtual wifi router and share my mobile internet broadband connection with my Android phone and I didn’t have the patience to try doing that in Ubuntu 😉

A snap review of all three OS:

Win 8: Good Looks, neat, new interface, loads very fast but apps stop working after a while and difficulty in switching to other OS due to FS (so I believe).

Fedora 16: Stable, nice-jazzy interface, ultra-fast.

Ubuntu 12.04: Stable, most usable, fast.

After my earlier rants about my usage pattern of OS’s, I tried to remove the bad sectors of my hard drive (80GB capacity). This required my taking bakup of some 60 GB of data. This created a new problem as I had never thought of a backup plan for myself. But then I got the timely help from one of my friends who agreed to lend me her HDD.

The HDD’s capacity was 40 GB which required me to plan my backup accordingly. I have another HDD of 20GB (courtesy my old PC 😉 ). After a few rounds of calculations I had planned the backup procedure. Then I went on to copy my data to my friends disk and then the rest of the data to the other 20GB that I have (NOTE: OS was installed on the 20 GB drive..and it still is). After that I formatted my 80 GB HDD (This was the second time in 4 years; first one being when I bought it) and then repartitioned the drive as per my choice which involved a 65 GB partition and another partition with the rest of the space left. Then the last step included copying the data back to the HDD. Everything went with the breeze as I did everything using my Linux OS of choice (which happens to be Ubuntu at present). The only thing that bugged me was finding a disk for backing up my data to.

So, now I am (finally) using Ubuntu 9.04 and won’t be using a dual boot (for the time being) as I had planned earlier. From this incident, I decided upon two things; first one: I should keep my data on a seperate physical drive from that used for OS, secondly, I should always be prepared for an eventuality (which involves a robust backup plan or a spare HDD in layman’s terms).

I learnt another thing a few days later (when I had to return the friend’s HDD in the same condition that I brought it). The thing was that I formatted the HDD into 2 NTFS partitions using GParted in Ubuntu. But when I tried to install Windows XP on this drive, the windows setup could not detect the partitions and displayed a single unpartitioned space. Then I ran the Ubuntu Live CD which showed the partitions in place and eventually I had to partition the drive using Windows CD. From this I learnt that there is some problem in using Linux to partition a drive as NTFS, as it won’t be recognized under Windows. I will have to study a bit more to get to the root-cause of this problem. But as of now I am happily using Ubuntu as it has helped me a lot in doing various tasks which required me to install various paid softwares in Windows. YES!! I am a happy Linux user.

For the past few days, I have been busy trying out different Linux Distros. As a matter of fact, I have been using Linux since early 2006, my first fav. being Kubuntu. Then, I switched to Ubuntu later that year.

Although I liked the overall experience very much (Ubuntu is a very friendly OS for newbies), I could not use Ubuntu as my primary OS (for daily use) and kept it as an alternative to Windows XP. I used to log into Ubuntu just for the fun of it and didn’t use it seriously for quite some time. But still, I managed to learn a trick or two during this period which helped me getting to the next step of computing using Linux.

Then, sometime around last year, I started using Ubuntu as my primary (and only) OS. I was astonished to find that I could do anything and everything that I wanted to do and used to do using XP. The fun part is always that one gets to learn a lot of stuff.

After using it for some time and trying each and every new version of Ubuntu, I felt the need for more which led me to install Kubuntu once again. This time around Kubuntu was very sleek (with the new KDE 4). Look-wise its a good distro, but, problems crop up soon enough to drop it off the shelf (for me, atleast). Now I wanted a distro which could things done and that too without hogging the system resources. After clouting for long hours, I decided to use Zenwalk (some people claimed it to be the fastest around). It was a very good experience as the distro was really fast. I removed it only because it looked aged at times (just looks-wise).

I wanted to try Arch-Linux after that but could not as I was not patient enough to learn the process of installing a Desktop Manager from command line. Actually I was able to install the Desktop manager, but I was not able to run it :P.

Then I thought of trying OpenSuse, but, I was not able to install it properly..I kept getting errors which frustrated me and I switched back to Ubuntu (for a little while). Then I installed Windows 7 as its RC was available for general public and I had read about it alot which was enough for me to give it a shot.

Then I installed Kubuntu again. This time around I found it much better. I used it for quite a while and installed Fedora as my secondary OS. Fedora deserves a mention here as I found it to be rock-solid as is promised on various web-forums. Very useful, easy as Ubuntu and stable too. My problem with it was that it had too many softwares which I didn’t require (and never may). At a point of time I thought of removing the softwares I didn’t require, but then gave it a harder thought (how many softwares will I remove?) and decided not to use Fedora. By this time, Kubuntu had started acting up and crashed often (Partly due to the fact that I had installed KDE 4.3 on it).

Hence, arose the need of a complete over-haul and so I did. This time I thought of dual booting Windows XP with Ubuntu (my tried and tested config). Installed XP without any glitches, but, when I hooked up the other HDD (to install Ubuntu on it), I started facing a strange problem. When the PC started to boot into XP, the system restarted. After trying and testing various ways to sort it out, I was left with a restarting system. This problem propped-up only when I plugged in the other disk and not when only the XP disk was connected. As most of my data is present on ‘THE OTHER’ disk, I decided to install and keep only Ubuntu, giving XP a miss. Since then I have tried many ways to install and use the two OS, but haven’t succeeded in it and so now I use Ubuntu (only) and have formatted the disk containing XP as an additional drive.

So here I am, back to square-one..using Ubuntu after getting my hands wet with various ‘TASTY’ flavors of Linux and still searching for ways to boot both of them together (which I have successfully done in the past without any hitch).

I know that I would keep trying other flavors and I may like some and may dislike some. One thing is for sure..Linux has come a long way baby!

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Yes!! The highly-awaited, browser from the Mozilla stable is here. Mozilla has released Firefox 3.5 to the general public. It features a faster FF with a reworked Javascript engine which tries to match-up the speed of Chrome, if not better it. Nonetheless, its worth trying out for the heck of it.

And yes…this post was in accordance with the requirement…FF 3.5 at 3:50 PM

My first day with Windows 7 was a mixed bag of emotions filled mostly with awe. Yes!! I was awe-struck with the look, feel and performance of Windows 7.

The good things about Windows 7 are:

  • Streamlined interface. Better navigation capabilities.
  • Automatic Performance adjustments according to user’s system configuration.
  • Very Good Looks and capability to change themes (I remember the good old days of Windows 98.)
  • Addition of Sticky Notes (Can come handy at times).


Certain problems that I faced with it were (yes..were…coz I have solved them now):

  • The sound card driver was not detected initially and I have to use the “update driver” option from “Device Manager” to get the driver. But the good thing was that the driver was detected and downloaded automatically. No manual download and installation was required from my part.
  • The other problem was with graphics. In XP, although my graphics solution was not detected, still I didn’t need to install graphics drivers seperately. Here, the OS set the graphics to be “Standard VGA”. And although this setup had set the required resolution of “1024×768” and color depth of 32bit, but the refresh rate was very low which caused a strain to my eye. And, there was no option to change the refresh rate. Then I downloaded the latest graphics drivers for windows (no drivers for windows 7 as yet) from the manufacturer’s site and tried to install it. At first, it gave an error during installation that its not meant for this version of OS. But then, it provided an option to install the software with recommended settings, and I did the same, which gave the required results i.e. the drivers were installed finally and I was able to change the refresh rate.


Below is the video of the first run of Windows 7 on my machine (Again with FM as background music :P):

After Days of agony, I successfully installed Windows 7 yesterday with much-needed help from our-very-own Google :). I take it as an achievement because of the fact that I didn’t use my DVD drive to install it and instead, I used my new USB Flash drive to do the same.

After many tries, I had almost given up, as I was not able to boot my PC with the USB drive. I had tried many a methods given on the internet. The problem with all those methods was that they were meant to be acted upon in Vista; and I wanted to use my XP machine for it. Finally I found a article which was yet another article about the doing the specified task in Vista. But, thanks to a person who had commented in that article, I got what I was looking for. After that I mingled all the steps to boot and install from my USB drive.

As daunting a task it was for me, it might be for others too. Hence, I decided to bring together and filter all those steps to present a short-yet-working step-by-step solution of installing “Windows 7 from a USB Drive using Windows XP“. Here is the solution:

  • Download Windows 7 RC iso file from here (Remember it’s a 2.39GB of download, so it will take time…Have Patience 😉 ).
  • Make sure your USB drive and motherboard support booting from a USB Drive.
  • Prepare your USB drive by- (1) Formatting it (Go to My Computer and right-click on your USB Drive. Then left-click on “Format”). (2) Making it “Active” by going to “Computer Management” under “Administrative Tools” in Control Panel. Then click on “Disk Management” in the left-hand panel. Then select your USB drive in the right-hand panel and make it active by right-clicking it and then selecting the appropriate action.
  • Now comes the part which made me tear my hair out..Making the USB drive bootable..The simplest solution is to download an ISO utility called UltraISO and installing it on your system. Then run UltraISO and open the Windows 7 RC iso file which you downloaded in the first step. Then click on the “Bootable” option in the top menu. Then select “Write To Disk”. Now make sure your USB drive is selected as the destination and click on the “Write” button. Your drive is bootable when it shows “Burn Successful”.
  • Now You can restart your system and change your BIOS settings to boot from the USB drive. The setup starts automatically and is easy to perform.

Hope the above solution will help those who need a solution for installing Windows 7 from a USB drive. This method might be workable for other OS’s too if someone has a bootable iso file of the OS to install.

Here is a video of my installation experience (with FM Radio as background music :P):

More often than not, a web-designer comes face-to-face with problem of finding the right tool for a typical kind of work he has to do. This is where a few freeware tools as mentioned below might come in handy. Some of these are already being used by most of the desingers, while others are crooning for attention. So lets delve into the sea of free web-designer tools available today:

Editing, Uploading, Downloading

1. 7-Zip : 7-zip is a zip utility that completely replaces stalwarts like WinZip. It handles numerous compression file formats: arj, cab, gz, iso, lzh, rar, tar and zip to name a few. It also has its own proprietary format, 7z, which can squeeze a little extra out of a file when set to the “ultra” setting.
2. CSE HTML Validator Lite: Use this tool to create hand-coded pages and to catch coding errors before you publish. This validator will catch open tags and misspellings and it also will place quotation marks around attribute values as well as change all tags and attributes to lower case. If you don’t like to use it for coding, use it to save time on validation.
3. FileZilla : One of the best free FTP tools around. FileZilla provides unlimited uploads and downloads and supports resumption of transfers when your connection is broken. FileZilla comes in two flavors – full-featured FTP client, and FTP server. Both support FTP over open connections, SSL/TLS (FTPS) and SSH FTP.
4. KompoZer: KompoZer is a WYSIWYG Web-authoring system with built-in site management tools and CSS management system.
5. Texter: If you want a tool that can provide HTML tag shortcuts, you’ve found it. For example, tap “p” and hit Tab to open up a set of HTML paragraph tags. You also can develop your own shortcuts.

Graphics

6. FontForge: An outline font editor that lets you create and edit your own postscript, truetype, opentype, cid-keyed, multi-master, cff, svg and bitmap (bdf, FON, NFNT) fonts, or edit existing ones. Also lets you convert one format to another
7. Gimp: While not as powerful as Photoshop, Gimp is coming close. Gimp supports layers, filters, effects, brushes and textures and can handle any image file type imaginable.
8. Inkscape: This tool only gets better as the years go by. Inkscape is an Open Source vector graphics editor, with capabilities similar to Illustrator, Freehand and CorelDraw. It uses the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format.
9. Serif Draw Plus: Use this tool to create vector drawings and smooth animations. Their DrawPlus 4 is completely free, and it allows text manipulation, fill tools and is filled with filter effects. For personal use only.
10. uMark: If you sell your images online, use this tool to create a watermark. You can protect your images with a copyright notice or logo, and add this visible watermark to hundreds of images at one time.

Photographs

11. Easy Thumbnails: How many times have you searched for a way to scale images in batches? This tool provides eleven re-sampling filters, real-time previews and quality results.
12. Gallery: Manage your photos, including automatic thumbnail resizing, rotation and other tools with this free download.
13. JAlbum: Do you need a photo gallery? JAlbum consists of free album software, free hosting (or upload to your own site), skins, ability to customize and a creative community.
14. Picasa: You don’t need Photoshop’s Bridge to organize your images. Keep images private or use one gigabyte free storage for albums – enough space for 4,000 wallpaper-size photos.
15. Picnik: Tweak photos online, create galleries and use special effects. This app works with photos at various online venues such as Flickr, Facebook, Photobucket and more.

EZ-Design

If you’re creating a Web site, where do you begin? If you’re an HTML pro, you can use the editing resources listed above. But, if you want to create heavy-duty Web designs without hiring a full staff, then the following free apps may help.

16. Webs: Choose from one of 300+ templates to get started. You can change your template at any time. And, you can use advanced HTML mode to modify your site. You also can integrate Paypal or Google Checkout.
17. Wix: Create Flash Websites, design a MySpace page, control your portfolios and add widgets. Start with a blank page or choose among various designs and go to it.

Project Management

Web designers usually know that they work long hours and that they don’t keep track of their time and that they don’t get paid for that lost time. While some might consider this problem a ‘labor of love,’ others might take advantage of the tools below to streamline productivity.

18. Clocking It: Prove to your clients that you’ve spent ‘that much time’ on their projects. Time tracking can be simple or detailed. Enjoy flexible reporting, multiple ways to communication and an interactive gantt chart and scheduling.
19. DimDim: Dimdim lets anyone deliver synchronized live presentations, whiteboards and web pages and share their voice and video over the Internet – with no download required.
20. Google Calendar Invoice Creator: Use a Google Calendar to create appointments and this tool will read the RSS feed from that calendar, calculate the total hours and create an invoice. You will need to install Adobe AIR first.
21. Google Docs: We’ve met folks who still haven’t tried the Google Doc applications, and we don’t know why. Use their documents, spreadsheets, presentation and PDF utilities and organize them by user or topic. You can share everything or nothing with your team. Also integrates a chat feature.
22. Klok: You could purchase a chess timer to keep track of how much time you spend on a project (good for when you have constant interruptions), but why? Especially when Klok is free. Track time and clients accurately. You will need to install Adobe AIR first.
23. ProjectPier: Very similar to the popular Basecamp, this free, open source and self-hosted PHP application is perfect for managing tasks, projects and teams.

Miscellaneous

These two apps are great management flow tools…

24. Premier Survey: This survey tool requires a web browser and an Internet connection to manage surveys from anywhere in the world.
25. File Dropper: FileDropper.com was created as a fresh and fast alternative for file sharing up to five GB. Files are kept forever as long as they are being downloaded.

Original Source: Best Web-Design Tools