A Couple Windows 10 Upgrade Gotchas

  1. I “lost” my optical drives. I had to mess with a registry key to get them back.
  2. Here’s one I didn’t realize until I went to play Civ 5 and my saves were all gone. Because I have my main OS on a small SSD (and originally had my games on a regular hard drive – now they’re on their own bigger SSD), I had My Docs and My Pictures pointing to another drive. The Windows 10 upgrade lost those settings. I had to open up Windows Explorer and right click on each of those and change the location on the location tab.

This guy has figured out the holy grail of PC gaming

I’ve been dreaming (no foolin’) about this for two or more years now – having one computer running Linux with a Windows VM for gaming when there aren’t Linux ports. Less hardware overhead for me. But until now VMs haven’t been able to gain native use of the graphics card. This guy figured out how to do it and it’s great. I’m likely going to do this next time I do a CPU/Motherboard refresh.

GPU Passthrough – Or How To Play Any Game At Near Native Performance In A Virtual Machine

Upgraded Windows 7 to Windows 10

After waiting for a bit, turned out that the only real issue with Windows 10 is that you shouldn’t do Express Install unless you want Microsoft spying on everything. Also, now that I’m doing photography on Linux (another post about that at some point), the only thing I had to lose was the ability to play games for a while. The updater was pretty self explanatory and the process was more or less similar to a Fedora upgrade.

And here’s my Windows 10 Desktop:

Windows 10 Desktop 20150810
Windows 10 Desktop 20150810

Overall, the feeling I get is that of a dream started back in Windows 98 finally realized. Windows 98 had the whole Internet Desktop concept – you could put Internet slices on your desktop and it had this matte black theme. But we weren’t ready yet – we didn’t have broadband yet. So now, 16 years later, they’ve finally realized that idea with the Win 9x-Win 7 desktop and lots of internet added in – live tiles and that search bar on the bottom.

They’ve also added some great Linux innovations from the last few decades – virtual desktops and good notification areas.

Free Windows VMs!

For once I found a way to run Windows for free that wasn’t a scam! Turns out the Microsoft makes VMs of Windows XP through Windows 8 available for free. The point is for you to be able to test how your websites will look in different versions of IE and different versions of Windows. Now, because of this, they’re time-limited – you can renew them ever 30 days until 90 days and then you need to regenerate them. So you can’t really use it as a complete replacement for buying a Windows license. However, if you wanted to test how well Windows would run on your Linux computer it’s perfect for that. My short-term goal is to be able to run Windows within a VM for everything but video games and therefore not have to run two computers if I want to, say, work on my photos. (I use Lightroom although Digikam is pretty awesome if you don’t already have your workflow setup in Lightroom) So to me this is the perfect way to make sure all the programs I want to run on Windows (mostly Lightroom, but occasionally some others) will work well in a VM with my current hardware (before I spend the money to buy a Windows license). Another nice thing about running windows in a VM instead of its own computer is that it’s easy to create a new VM when a new version of Windows comes out and then have the VMs side-by-side as you migrate over to a fresh install. It actually wouldn’t be a horrible idea for my main Linux distro either, but then I wouldn’t have ANY OS taking advantage of being the main OS that’s not virtualized.
Windows VMs
Windows VMs
Eventually, my long term goal would be that Virtualization would improve to the point where I could play my Windows-only games in a VM on Linux and completely eliminate the need to have two computers. At that point if most games were still coming out on Windows instead of also being available for Linux, then I’d probably buy a Windows license in order to have everything nice and easily set up. But it would certainly be no big deal to make sure to beat a game within 90 days and it would probably be less buggy than using WINE.
Windows VMs - Windows XP
Windows VMs – Windows XP
On Linux, after you get the files you need to run:

chmod 775 IE8.WinXP.For.LinuxVirtualBox.sfx

(of course the filename needs to match…)

Then you just run the file in Virtualbox. They come with Virtualbox Extensions loaded which is awesome because it means you can move your mouse in and out without having to hit control.  (Or alt-control or w/e the key combo is)

One of the articles I came across said that after the 30 days are up you need to open a command prompt (in the Windows VM) and type:

slmgr –rearm

I don’t remember having to type this anywhere, but it’s also important to know the default username and password: IEUser, Passw0rd!

So, not too shabby and it works pretty darned well.

Skype Text Message are NOT Secure

A little less than a month ago Ars had a story about Skype’s text messages being insecure. This is pretty devastating considering how many political activists are using Skype to stay secure from governments like China and Russia. The article doesn’t mention anything about the voice communications, but I would be a little cautious if your life actually depends on it. It turns out that Microsoft is scanning messages between users to make sure they aren’t spam or other bad messages. The problem is that your system is either 100% secure or it’s insecure. If Microsoft can see the messages then anyone else can by hijacking Microsoft’s servers. (And countries like China and Russia definitely have the skills to do that) This is a good reminder that you should make sure to read EULAs because this information has been there since Microsoft bought Skype. I wonder what technology political activists could use to stay safe in light of this revelation.

Review: Windows 8 Developer Preview

Windows 8 Developer Preview
Windows 8 Developer Preview


I decided to check out the latest Windows release to see how much it differs from my Windows 7 install (on my video game/photography computer).  So I installed it into Virtualbox.


Windows 8 - Need to change some settings
Windows 8 - Need to change some settings


At first it wouldn’t install and I couldn’t understand what was going wrong.  Turns out that in the settings under the motherboard tab I had to tick the checkbox for “enable IO APIC”.  So I finally got it to start installing:

Windows 8 - install begins
Windows 8 - install begins


Windows 8 - license terms
Windows 8 - license terms



Windows 8 - upgrade or install
Windows 8 - upgrade or install

Although most people will never install Windows 8 from scratch (more about that later), it’s kinda weird the way they’ve put a new install under custom.


Windows 8 - choosing install hard drive
Windows 8 - choosing install hard drive



Windows 8 - and the copying/installation of files begins
Windows 8 - and the copying/installation of files begins

The next session was the personalization of Windows 8.  I think it was well setup – it is nice to just have one item to do on the screen even if it is inefficient.  It’s funny that it took Microsoft this long to come up with an installer that rivals that of the best Linux distros.  On the one hand, you could argue that 99.9% of Windows users didn’t build their own computer so they never had to install it.  On the other hand, lots of advanced users would routinely reinstall Windows to deal with the DLL-hell and system slowing.  So it’s good to see them improving things.


Windows 8 - Personalize
Windows 8 - Personalize

Settings – another great page that makes things easy for new installers – I decide to go with customize to see what’s there.


Windows 8 - Settings
Windows 8 - Settings


So that people don’t get things confused a few years from now and accuse Linux of copying: Windows 8 copied Gnome 3.0 and the sliders for on/off instead of check boxes because of compatibility with touch devices.


Windows 8 - copying Gnome 3.0
Windows 8 - copying Gnome 3.0


Windows 8 - more setup
Windows 8 - more setup


Windows 8 - choosing a name and password
Windows 8 - choosing a name and password


Windows 8 - welcome screen
Windows 8 - welcome screen


And we finally arrive at the famous new “metro” design that everyone knows by now.  Reminds me a bit (but not too much) of KDE netbook edition.


Windows 8 - metro
Windows 8 - metro


I decide to start with Internet Explorer but then I find out there is a scroll bar that appears at the bottom (like Ubuntu Unity and its disappearing scroll bars – more copying FROM the Linux world).  So I decide to scroll and see what’s there:


Windows 8 - metro page 2
Windows 8 - metro page 2


Windows 8 - metro page 3
Windows 8 - metro page


OK, now that you’ve seen the other screens, I click on IE.  It doesn’t launch.  Could be a bug or could be that I’m in Virtualbox.  I go to socialite to see what that is.  Again nothing happens.  Interesting.  Clicking on Windows Explorer finally causes something to happen.  It brings up a Windows 7 looking interface.  And from there I can actually launch IE.  Windows explorer is mostly the same as in Windows 7 except it has the ribbon.  I’m normally a hater of the ribbon, but I like it in this case for two reasons.  1) it’s easier for all those old people who still haven’t learned control-C and go to edit->copy every time they want to copy.  2) It’s infinitely easier than the keyboard shortcut if you’re using it on a tablet.


Windows 8 - Windows Explorer
Windows 8 - Windows Explorer


IE:  looks VERY streamlined!  (As is the new trend) Internet doesn’t work so I install Virtualbox Guest Additions to see if that helps.  It doesn’t work and I think it’s because Windows 8 is too new and they don’t have guest additions for it yet.  I find out online that I may need to change the type of network adapter it’s emulating.


Windows 8 - Internet Explorer
Windows 8 - Internet Explorer


You click on your name to logoff.  That gives me this screen.


Windows 8 - logoff screen
Windows 8 - logoff screen


And I needed to flip that up to get to the shutoff button.  So I go to change my network adapter to Intel PRO/1000 MT Desktop adapter .  I restart the VM.


Windows 8 - networking setup
Windows 8 - networking setup


If you hover (instead of clicking) over the Start menu


Windows 8 - hovering over the start menu
Windows 8 - hovering over the start menu


Using that driver makes networking work.  It adds in my prints and stuff.  I load up IE and point it to the blog to see how well it formats it.  (Interesting note – Windows 8 is less of a drain on my resources in the VM than Fedora with KDE).


Windows 8 - this blog in Windows Internet Explorer 8
Windows 8 - this blog in Windows Internet Explorer 8


Weather does nothing nor does News.  Twee@rama does nothing.  Stocks does nothing.  Pretty much none of the buttons do anything.  But I’ll willing to chalk it up to the strange things that can happen when running in a VM.  If you right click the items, you can make them smaller.

So it’s hard to come to a firm conclusion.  I can’t really use many of the new features.  I can say that it’s all pretty.  Just like KDE 4.x, Gnome 3.x, and Unity (and Macs) everything is getting prettified.  Which is fine, but often times pretty and functional don’t go together.  For one, I don’t like that all the programs thrown all willy-nilly in the Metro menu.  There’s a reason why I prefer KDE to Gnome and Unity – I like my programs classified.  I don’t mind quick-launch – that’s useful.  I have all my most-used programs on an auto-hide task bar so I can launch them without needing to find them.  But when I want to look for a program I use occasionally, I don’t want to trawl through every other program I have installed.  Also, in my limited run I wasn’t able to see how taskbar/tasktray stuff is handled.  Did they go the Gnome 3 route and say no more program interaction in the taskbar/tasktray?  Or did I just not have any programs installed that use it?


My current verdict: if it doesn’t have a compelling reason to move, I’m staying on Windows 7 until support ends.

Customizing the Look of the OS

I forgot what post online got me thinking about this stuff, but I really don’t customize my computers’ desktop environments much.  Generally, I tend to change the background image and leave it at that.  I took a look over my desktop image gallery here on the blog to confirm my suspicions.

Starting at the bottom with Windows, you can see that until 2009 I was just going with the default look.  I tended not to add launchers to my panel because, with Windows XP, it ended up really limiting the space for listen the open programs.  I also didn’t have too many launchers on the desktop.  I tend to always have programs maximised if I’m in front of the computer, so the only programs shortcuts I’d leave on the desktop are programs I’d be likely to launch upon starting up the computer.  In fact, whenever I pay attention, I tell the installer not to put icons on the desktop.

Around 2009 I read about a themer for XP that I thought about trying because the default panel was starting to feel a bit Playskool.  It was OK, if a bit incomplete.  It caused some dialogs not to display properly, but I didn’t care too much, at least it wasn’t full of primary colours anymore.

And, with Windows 7, I haven’t done any customization either, other than removing some of the pinned icons that I didn’t care for (like Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer).

Windows 7 22 Oct 2010
Windows 7 22 Oct 2010

When it comes to Linux, there’s a lot more room for customization, but, for the most part, I didn’t do much.  With my Gnome desktops, the default install provides two panels, so I tend to fill up the top panel with tons of launchers.  Although I have tons of programs installed on my Linux computers because programs are free and storage is cheap, I tend to use the same programs daily.  So I added those programs’ launchers to the top panel.  Also, because I have more space and because, on Linux, they aren’t riddled with adware/spyware, I tend to have weather notifications and other things on my panel.

Gnome Desktop 22 oct 2010
Gnome Desktop 22 oct 2010

There was a time when I was really into KDE (which I’ll get to in a moment) and so I looked for a widget system on Gnome.  I found gDesklets, although they were never quite as supported and varied as SuperKaramba on KDE.  My first attempt produced chaos on the desktop:

I had RSS feeds, daily Bible verses, the weather, and flickr photos.  After realizing that I pretty much never look at the desktop, I trimmed it a bit.

But, as you can see a few images above, I don’t have any of that on my current desktop.  I just haven’t found any that provide any important info or justify taking up compute cycles.  A quick mention of Xfce where I just added a few launchers and mostly kept things the same.

KDE was my Linux desktop environment of choice for a number of years.  Because it’s so easily customisable, I did the most customising here.  Even then, you’ll see, it wasn’t all that much.  The earliest screenshot I’ve preserved has a modified icon theme (easy as a few clicks in the settings menu) and some SuperKaramba widgets.

There are TONS of widgets (or were) for SuperKaramba on kde-look.org.  ( http://kde-look.org/ )  But it seemed, to me, that 90% of them were weather and system monitor widgets with different themes. As you can see, I picked the ones that I liked and just stuck with those during my entire KDE tenure.  I found the system monitor to be mostly pointless – although, at the time, I was using Linux on a very resource limited computer, so seeing the RAM usage was very important at times.  I didn’t get into system monitors again until I discovered Conky with CrunchBang (more on that later).  I never added too many launchers because KDE, having one panel, had the same problem as Windows.  It was somewhat lessened by having multiple desktops.  (There’s no reason why I couldn’t have had at least four panels….I just never customised it, and that’s the whole point)  About six months after the first KDE screenshot, I had made a few modifications:

I made the taskbar transparent (something that took until Windows 7 for MS to enable) and shrunk it a bit to be more like Xfce.  I don’t know why I cared, but basically this was the essence of cool at the time.  All the kitted out KDE desktops I saw had this reduced taskbar.  I also switched to the default KDE icons.  I did like that my home folder was a house.  And, when I temporarily went back to KDE in 2006, I pretty much left it the same.

KDE 4 has the extra benefit, that the plasmoids tend to actually do something rather than just be passive information presenters.  They can be microblogging clients, periodic tables and tons of other useful things.  Here’s what I’ve setup.  I haven’t customized it too much since I don’t currently use KDE on a daily basis.

KDE 22 oct 2010
KDE 22 oct 2010

For a time I switched over to using Fluxbox.  As I mentioned before, I was on a very low powered box for my first Linux desktop, so using Gnome or KDE made my other programs crawl.  This tendency carried over when I first moved to my eMachine box.  At first my only frill was the gKrellm system monitor.

Later I thought it would be cool (and probably l33t) to run everything from the commandline.

I also, made sure to use eterm so I could have a transparent terminal and a neat background (not pictured in any of my screenshots) And that was the pinnacle of what I did.  Eventually, I put Crunchbang Linux on my laptop and used Conky.  That system manager was actually useful because I configured it to tell me about the wifi networks I was connected to and whether I had an IP address.  That made it very convenient when I was using wifi networks while traveling.  I never took a screenshot while I had Crunchbang customised, but if you take this image from the installation:

and this Lubuntu screenshot from my current laptop installation.  The only thing I’d change is to install and customize Conky.

Lubuntu 22 oct 2010
Lubuntu 22 oct 2010

So, before I go any deeper, I thought I’d give some examples of how others *do* customise their desktops.

First some Windows desktops:

Now Some Linux Desktops:

So, it’s quite possible to take things to the extreme.  A lot of those look cool – to me anyway.  So what keeps me from doing something like that?  One part of it is the fact that I’m ADD when it comes to desktop configuration.  I like to change things up all the time (which used to piss off my dad back when I was a kid and there was one computer for the family) so I tend to favor things that aren’t too complex to set up.  So, I enabled the desktop background switcher in Windows and I’ve used similar things on Linux before.  I also like reversibility.  I’ve been burned before by customization programs that were nigh impossible to revert back to the defaults.  This, coupled with point one helps to discourage customization – especially on Windows when you’re often depending upon a third party programmer.  Finally, because customization programs tend to be very powerful, they also tend to be a little complicated if you want to achieve something awesome.  So it sometimes seems a bit daunting and a bit of a waste of time when I have so many other things calling for my attention.

Guess What? Linux May Not Be for Everyone

I feel like I may have covered bits of this here and there, but I couldn’t find it after a cursory check through my blog.  Fanaticism is fanaticism, whether it’s religious or technological it follows the same path.  Witness anyone who has just become an evangelical Christian (and it probably extends to other religions) as they return to life after their conversion.  For the first chunk of time after doing so they will likely do some or all of the following:  get a new wardrobe, get rid of all CDs/MP3s that aren’t by Christian bands, preach the Gospel to anyone within earshot, read the Bible daily, pray in public spaces (sometimes boisterously as possible), go to church every day, and other things.  With time they may soften in some of these aspects.  They may realize that, for example, it’s probably OK to listen to most of U2 and many other bands that don’t have profanity or sexually explicit lyrics.  But the biggest change anyone outside of their family/best friends will notice is that they realize it’s probably not a good idea to go around telling everyone that their worldview is wrong.  It turns out to be better for everyone if the member of the proselytizing religion waits for others to ask their opinion.  At that time, the person asking is receptive to hearing about this new religion.  (Unlike when they’re ambushed and on the defensive)

Techno-fanboyism is the same way.  People who have just discovered Mac or Linux suddenly have the scales fall from their eyes and can’t wait to tell everyone.  After all, surely everyone else is just using Windows because they don’t know about these great alternative operating systems.  They’re so awesome that there’s no way anyone would want to keep using Windows after learning about them!  Like those discovering religion, they will purge their lives of everything from Redmond.  They will subscribe to magazines about their new operating systems.  They will preach the Gospel of Jobs or the Gospel of Torvalds.  And, just like with religion, most people will just be pissed off.

What recent converts to the new OS don’t realize is that the new operating system is not for everyone.  In fact, I have come to the conclusion that Linux (I don’t have as much experience with Macs) is best for users at the two poles of computing experience.  I know I’ve mentioned somewhere around here (if not on some forums) that I installed Linux for Danielle’s nearly-60-year-old aunt, Co Tam.  Every time I went to visit my in-laws, I’d be dragged into fixing her computer because it had yet another virus.  (She lives in the same house as my in-laws)  This was starting to piss me off because the people in her family of that generation were deaf to my instructions not to open ever stupid attachment their friends sent them.  So one day I just installed Ubuntu onto her computer; since then no problems.  And, it works perfectly.  All she does is use the browser to watch videos and send email.  And I’ve had no complaints.  Everything is perfect.  Yay!

And, with myself and other people like me who know about computers, Linux is easy.  I’ve been using Linux for the past 6-7 years and it has evolved so much in that time that it’s unbelieavable!  I can just drop pretty much any distro onto a computer and it will just work without any problems.  And I only ever have problems when upgrading.  Usually those involve regressions that are quickly found and solved.  Or maybe I have to find a new setting and tweak it.  Every once in a while, I’m out for a couple days while solving it.  But 99.9% of the time everything is fine.  I use my Linux computer as my main computer.  I browse the web, listen to music, check my email, create my webcomic, and more on there.  All the programs I have for all those tasks lack nothing compared to the equivalent programs on Windows.  If you’re into programming (as I am from time to time) you can’t beat Linux!  It has free compilers/interpreters for all the major languages.  (And some obscure ones)  There are two product categories where Linux programs don’t meet my needs – photography and video games.  For those I have my Windows computer.  If I only played console games and didn’t do serious photography, I’d only have my Linux computer.

Then there are the people in the middle like my parents or my wife.  When it comes to my parents, there are many reasons why I stopped recommending Linux after coming out of my evangelist phase.  First of all, they are business owners.  They have certain programs they have to run to process payroll, process childcare-things (they run a childcare franchise), and to keep track of the books.  Most of those things are so niche they’re only used by one company so there’s no Linux equivalent.  Also, they get to deduct costs, so who cares if they have to pay a Microsoft license?  And, because some of the software they use is mandated by the franchise, there’s no need to be free to hack or any of the other free software freedoms.  It just doesn’t make sense.  Second, I live in another state from my parents.  It’s hard enough to play tech support with them using Windows, which they’ve been using all their life and know where the things are.  I can’t begin to imagine doing tech support for them with Linux.

My wife is a special case of another kind.  Once the initial learning for Linux was over, she would have been happy as a pig in mud.  I spent a day with her getting Gnome configured to look and act as much like Windows XP as possible. And everything was pretty much working OK.  But Danielle is an Excel guru.  She stopped using Google Docs’ spreadsheet function because it was too basic for her needs.  So, for her, using OpenOffice.org’s Calc is like trying to fly a stealth bomber in which all the buttons were moved to random locations in the cockpit.  As far as I can tell, everything she wants to do is possible, but it’s somewhere else or done in a really weird way.  I don’t regularly do 1/4 of what she does with spreadsheets, so I have no idea where these things are.  Unlike problems with Nautilus or Rhythmbox where I use the programs daily and, therefore, know what to do, I have no idea how to do the things she wants to do.  And the inline help has left her….unsatisfied.

So, if you’ve just discovered the magic of a free operating system, that’s great.  Isn’t it awesome how you’re in total control of your computer?  So great that you can see all the code for all the programs and even change it on the fly?  Yeah, the regular non-computer-geek doesn’t give a hoot about that.  Make sure you think carefully before you recommend Linux all willy-nilly to everyone within earshot.  It may fit your use cases or, like RMS, you may be ok buying some off-brand Chinese laptop so you can remain free, but that doesn’t apply to most people.  Make sure Linux has what they need before you just end up pissing them off and making a Linux (or Mac) athiest out of them.  You often only get one chance per person to convince them your religion or operating system is the one true religion or operating system.

A Quick Review: Windows 7

Windows 7 Installation Media

This is the first time in nearly 10 years that I’m moving to a new version of WIndows.  I pop the CD in and boot up.  I see a text screen as Windows “loads files”.

Windows 7 Install Loading

Nothing here different from a Linux distro.  Then the Windows logo pops up.

Installation Begins to Load

Wow, I’m impressed that Microsoft finally caught up with Red Hat from 2003/2004 and has a graphical install rather than an ncurses install.  It’s very, very slow.  On an Ubuntu install I’d already be installing the system, but it’s still not showing much more than the background.

Installation Continues to Load

I can move the mouse around, but can’t do anything else.  I don’t see my BluRay drive blinking so I’m not sure what’s going on.  Oh, there it goes.  So it’s been about five minutes and despite “loading” those files before, it’s still waiting

Regional Settings

The light blinks now and then.  Two minutes later I finally get something to do.  I click on “Install now” at 1847.

Windows 7 Install Button

Then “Setup is Starting”.  What was starting before?  Finally at 1851 I get the license.  Strangely the install I wanted was a “custom” install.  I choose to install it to my SSD.

Drive Partitioning

1852 it starts.

Copying Windows

At 1918 it was ready for me to enter my username and PC name.

Set Username and Computer name

Then it was time to choose a password.  Another improvement they took from Linux.  T

Set Password

hen my activation key.  Then a question about security.

Security Settings

Time zone setting was next.

Time Zone Settings

Then I was loaded into my desktop.

First Desktop Load

As usual, no Ethernet until I install my motherboard drivers.  Never have to do that with Linux.  Same with audio.  Too much restarting every time I install something.  Linux only needs reboots when I change the kernel.  (And even that will be fixed soon with kslice)  After all that was done, I installed the drivers for my video card.

Annoyingly, although Windows sees my Western Digital drive, it does not give me the ability to create a partition and format it.  I have a disc for that from another WD drive I installed, but that’s ridiculously annoying.  Hmm, that disc is for Windows XP and below.  So I check online to see if they have something newer.  (Detour – first I install Google Chrome)  I didn’t see what I wanted so I checked the internet for instructions.  This page provided the instructions I needed.  Finally got my drive formatted.  I’ve never had that problem on Linux.  OK, time to set it as my “My Documents” folder or whatever it’s called in Windows 7.  I turn to CPU Magazine for that.  I couldn’t find the issue that covered that so back to the webs.  This page had the important instructions.  It’s pretty freakin’ easy!  Much easier than in older versions of Windows.  Basically you go to “Documents” then right-click on “My Documents” click on properties and then “Location” and “Move”.  Cake!

After installing my Blu-Ray drive, it was time to install anti-virus.  (Something else Linux doesn’t need – for now)  My security suite of choice – Norton 360.  After installing Norton and all the drivers and associated programs, I had 38.8 GB free out of 59.5 GB (64 GB drive).

Windows 7 Desktop
Windows 7 Desktop

So, off the bat, it takes up a lot more space than a standard Linux install.  But perhaps it comes with lots more programs!  Nope, it just comes with some simple games and some accessories.  What about the software repositories?  Nope, they don’t exist.  Oh well.  I do like the menu they have similar to what’s in Linux Mint where you can type in the name of a program if you already know it instead of hunting through the menus.  It loads up a lot faster than my old computer, but my wife’s Ubuntu-based SSD-main drive computer boots up a lot faster than this Windows 7-based SSD-main drive computer.

Windows 7 MS Paint
Windows 7 MS Paint - What have they done to you? You used to look so nice and simple!

Should you get Windows 7 over a Linux distro?  It really and truly depends on your needs.  In terms what what you get for price, Linux is amazing.  You get tons of programs for free.  Your drivers are mostly all already installed.  It runs faster on an SSD drive.  This version of Windows cost me $99 for an OEM license.  I bought it because I like to play computer games and because I want to run Adobe Photoshop Lightroom at maximum efficiency (not via Wine or VirtualBox).  Although my wife still has bits here and there where she wishes she had Windows XP instead of Ubuntu, it’s usually because something is different, not because it’s lacking.  So she’d be giving most of the same complaints if I had moved her to Windows 7.  And, I use my Linux, Fedora-based computer for EVERYTHING that isn’t photography or video games.  Sometimes I go for days without booting up my Windows computer.

One of the awesome games you get in Windows 7
One of the awesome games you get in Windows 7

When Being Proprietary Makes You Do Stupid Things

Recently Microsoft screwed themselves over.  We have MS Money 2006 from back when I was still getting into Linux and hadn’t convinced my wife completely about how much better it was than Windows.  Recently we switched to back to a credit card where we previously used to download the transactions from within MS Money.  When my wife went to do this, she was informed that MS Money only allows you to do this for two years.  After that if you want to keep doing it you have to buy another copy of Money.  So when she found this out, did she buy a new copy of MS Money?  NO!  She was extremely pissed that this important feature would expire.  So she want to MoneyDance.

This lock-in behavior is the stupidity that comes with proprietary software.  They need to find a way to keep you paying for the program over and over again.  So they make features expire and other dirty tricks.  Like changing files to make them incompatible (a la MS Office OOXML).  The problem is that they lose any goodwill they previously had with the customer.  My wife didn’t want to buy the next version of Money because of how mad she was.  In this day and age with open source, libre software, and indie programming companies, people don’t have to stand for this type of lock-in.  In fact, it was Quicken’s similar behaviour that first inspired the guy who programs MoneyDance to work on it.

Moonlight – what’s the big deal?

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see an article on Linux Today about Moonlight and what a horrible person Miguel de Icaza is. So I thought I’d go ahead and do some exploration of what’s going on with Moonlight and Silverlight. First of all, what’s Silverlight? Check out the Silverlight article on Wikipedia. Basically, Silverlight is Microsoft’s answer to Adobe’s Flash. MS is pretty peeved they haven’t been able to get people off of PDF and onto their own format. They waited way too long while the rest of us realized that PDF is great if you want to make sure that the document you create is displayed the same way on everyone’s computer regardless of the fonts they have or which version of Office they have installed. (Or if they even have office installed)

Flash has been around since the dial-up days when most people would get mixed feelings when they came upon a flash website. We knew it would take orders of magnitude longer to load than an HTML website, but it would also look really cool. But Microsoft is once again playing catchup. This time, however, they are using their huge bank accounts to make it look like a really good idea to use Silverlight. Many of the Olympics websites were available in Silverlight. Not only does this get Silverlight into the vernacular during a huge event, but it also gets it installed onto tons of people’s computers. These people might have otherwise skipped websites that required them to install yet another plugin.

Having Silverlight used on such a massive event like the Olympics also helps MS help to convince people who switched to Macs that they are on the wrong platform. After all, all they have to do is release a new version of Silverlight and not release it to the Macs on the same day. Bam, people start jonesing for Windows again.

This brings us to Moonlight, Novell, and Miguel de Icaza. Miguel works at Novell. Novell signed the pact with Microsoft that caused them to become radioactive to a certain portion of the free software community. Not only did it seem like an admission of guilt from Novell, but it also creates two classes of Linux users. Novell users, who are protected from MS lawsuits and everyone else. (Not that I believe for a second that MS has a leg to stand on with those lawsuits) So the first sin Miguel has committed (in the public eye) is to be working at Novell.

Second, he helped to create Mono. Mono is an open source implementation of Microsoft’s .net framework and the main C# interpreter in Linux. There are quite a few reasons why people don’t like this. C# is an example of Microsoft’s embrace, extend, extinguish strategy. It’s basically a bootlegged version of Java because they couldn’t get anyone to use their jacked up version of Java. Why they couldn’t just play nice with Sun is beyond me. They have such a need to control. Reminds me of Apple and the iPhone. So C# is a Microsoft creation. However, it is an ECMA standard (and maybe an ISO standard) so C# isn’t patent-encumbered. .Net, on the other hand, is a MS technology which is full of patents. People fear that MS could one day sue Linux distributions for including Mono because it infringes on their patents. Thus, there are some that have taken to uninstalling all traces of Mono from their distributions. Is this a rational fear? I don’t know. I’ve read stuff that says it is and stuff that says it isn’t. I really like Tomboy and Beagle.

So now Miguel and Novell have created Moonlight – an open source version of Silverlight. This is what has lots and lots of people mad and talking about it. Microsoft has been really, really (uncharacteristically) nice when it comes to Moonlight. They have been providing the Novell team with reference specifications, test suites to ensure compatibility, and binary codecs. Previous MS technologies which have been reverse engineered like CIFS and Pre-2007 Office formats have have no help from MS. So should people be worried?

I guess it all comes down to intention. Why is Microsoft being so nice? How can it backfire? Miguel has been making a very reasonable argument recently. He has been saying that we don’t want Linux users to get left behind again. It took us a long time to get proper Flash support and because of that we couldn’t properly experience some of the web. So why not work together with MS to ensure we can view the inevitable websites created with Silverlight. Seems perfectly reasonable. After all, if Joe Blow decides to make his website with Silverlight, we shouldn’t necessarily boycott his website. Perhaps it’s all he knows how to do. Now lets look at the worst case scenario. Microsoft helps Linux and Mac out by providing Silverlight. “Look,” they say to web developers, “this will work on everyone’s computer and you can do all these cool things.” More and more web developers use it where they would use Flash. Eventually you can’t get on the web without using Silverlight. Then they decide to suddenly stop helping Linux and Mac. Now what? I doubt they would sue us. That’s really the least of our problems. It’s that once again someone helped MS get to the top when they were having problems and then when they achieved dominance, they left everyone else behind.

Have they ever done this before? Sure – providing Internet Explorer for Macintosh then suddenly abandoning it once they had soundly defeated Netscape.

So, what’s the final verdict? What should we do? Generally speaking, I happen to be a computing realist. Although I rip all of my CDs to OGG Vorbis, I have MP3 decoders on my Linux computers because the Amazon format is MP3. I have videos in mpeg, avi and other non-OGG theora formats. I’m able to view the non-OGG video formats on more computers and they encode much more quickly. I use Adobe’s Flash instead of Gnu Gnash because I want my web pages to work correctly. Finally, I use nVidia’s Linux drivers because I want to have the full functionality of my graphics card whether it’s for something frivolous like Compiz or some 3D computer game. And, I do not have any problems with using Mono on my computer. Although I’m not a huge fan of MS, I don’t see how Mono could hurt me. C# is usable by anyone and if Microsoft decides to stop cooperating with .Net, there’s nothing that says we have to continue compatibility. We can just continue with our own version which is optimized for Linux.

With Moonlight, I am a bit more hesitant. Microsoft has a horrible track record of stabbing people in the back. I don’t want to help them once again achieve hegemony on the web and muck about with the standards again. I want sites to be viewable to everyone whether or not they choose to buy a Windows computer. If they choose to exercise their right to use Mac, Linux, BeOS, AmigaOS, Haiku, or BSD, they should also have the right to access the information on the Internet. I think for now I will keep Moonlight off of my Linux computers and even Silverlight off of my Windows computers. Hopefully, I will never need it for some website I love and, therefore, will never install it.

System Information for Windows

System Information for WIndows (SIW) is a program you MUST have installed on your Windows computer.  It gives you all the information you could ever want to know about your computer in a nice easy to use interface.  I learned about it in a recent Computer User Magazine.  Here are some examples of the information it provides:


Property Value

Manufacturer ASUSTeK Computer Inc.

Model P4P800-E

Version Rev 1.xx

Serial Number MB-1234567890

North Bridge Intel i865P/PE/G/i848P Revision A2

South Bridge Intel 82801EB (ICH5) Revision A2

CPU Intel(R) Pentium(R) 4 CPU 3.00GHz

Cpu Socket Socket 478 mPGA

System Slots 5 PCI, 1 AGP

Memory Summary

Maximum Capacity 4096 MBytes

Maximum Memory Module Size 1024 MBytes

Memory Slots 4

Error Correction None

Warning! Accuracy of DMI data cannot be guaranteed

Property Value
BIOS Vendor American Megatrends Inc.
BIOS Version 1009.003
Firmware Version 101.114
BIOS Date 09/05/2005
BIOS Size 512 KB
BIOS Starting Segment F000h
DMI Version 2.3
Characteristics – supports ISA
– supports PCI
– supports Plug-and-Play
– supports APM
– upgradeable (Flash) BIOS
– allows BIOS shadowing
– ESCD support is available
– supports booting from CD-ROM
– supports selectable boot
– BIOS ROM is socketed
– supports Enhanced Disk Drive specification
– supports INT 13 5.25-inch/1.2M floppy services
– supports INT 13 3.5-inch/720K floppy services
– supports INT 13 3.5-inch/2.88M floppy services
– supports INT 05 print-screen
– supports INT 09 and 8042 keyboard services
– supports INT 14 serial services
– supports INT 17 printer services
– supports INT 10 CGA/Mono video services
– supports ACPI
– supports legacy USB
– supports AGP
– supports booting from LS-120
– supports booting from ATAPI ZIP drive
– BIOS Boot Specification supported
CPU Info:
Property Value
Number of CPU(s) One Physical Processor / One Core / 2 Logical Processors / 32 bits
Vendor GenuineIntel
CPU Name Intel Pentium 4
CPU Code Name Prescott
Platform Name Socket 478 mPGA
CPU Full Name Intel(R) Pentium(R) 4 CPU 3.00GHz
Revision E0
Technology 90 nm
Instructions MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, HT
Original Clock 3000 MHz
Original System Clock 200 MHz
Original Multiplier 15.0
CPU Clock 2999 MHz
System Clock 199.9 MHz
FSB 799.6 MHz
L1 Data Cache 16 KBytes
L1 Trace Cache 12 Kuops
L2 Cache 1024 KBytes
That’s just a very small sample of what you get with SIW.  If you need to know any tiny bit of info – this is the program you need.  Install it now!

Review: openSuse 11.0 (and KDE 4)

I’ve never used Suse or openSuse.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a “loyal” Fedora user since Fedora Core 1 and I have Ubuntu on my laptop since it had awesome laptop support.  I even got some Suse CDs as a prize for the Letter of the Month from Linux Format magazine.  However, I never even tried it at that time as I was mad at Novell for the Microsoft pact.  I think it lends a lot of credibility to Microsoft’s BS argument that Linux violates its patents.

But it’s been a few years and nothing horrible has happened because of the Microsoft pact and it came as a liveDVD in the latest Linux Format Magazine.  I was trying to wait until KDE 4.1 came out for Fedora so that could be my first experience with KDE 4, but that’s been delayed nearly a month now (while they, rightly, fix some bugs) so I decided to go ahead with the Suse review.

Suse is the second oldest distro that’s still around.  It started off as being based off of Slackware and later on was somewhat based on Red Hat, borrowing rpm and some other technologies.  Since then it’s gone off on its own and is now considered one of the big boys.  A few years after Red Hat shelved its personal distro and converted over to the community-sponsored Fedora, Suse decided to do the same thing with openSuse.  Just like Fedora, they’ve had some uneven releases.  However, openSuse 11 is supposed to be their comeback release.  Historically, Suse has been one of the biggest supporters of KDE as the default desktop although that has fallen off a little seince they’ve been trying to compete with Red Hat in the business world.

It’s important to note, however, that Novell’s Suse team has put a LOT of work into their KDE desktop.  This liveDVD is running KDE 4.0, yet they didn’t seem to have any problems getting icons on the desktop.  Lots of people were complaining about being unable to do so in Fedora and other distros using KDE 4.  Apparently, they just didn’t take the time that Suse did to engineer a really good KDE 4 release.  (Frankly, I’m surprised that Siego didn’t point to openSuse 11.0 as an example of a well-implemented KDE 4.0 release!)  They’ve also solved the problem of the ugly black panel that was too large.  So, plus points go to Novell’s openSuse/Suse KDE team.  They deserve an applause for doing this so well!

Novell has the KDE program menu that has annoyed so many people.  One of the things I’ve always loved about KDE was the fact that it had a favorite (or most run) programs section on the start menu.  Sure, there are some that believe that if you’re going to run programs that often you should have them as launchers on your taskbar.  But that can make taskbars look a bit cluttered.  Also, I think the most used program portion of Window’s Start Menu is one of the things they got very right with Windows XP.  (I’m not sure if MS innovated that or copied it from somewhere)  This menu is a good menu and doesn’t deserve all the hatred it’s received on the net.  It just needs a couple of tweaks to make it perfect.  The first problem with it is that if your mouse wanders down to the Favorites, Applications, etc portion of the menu, it switches you to that section.  I think a click should be required there to keep people from accidentally switching.   That was the biggest complaint most people had and it can be fixed so easily.  No need to throw the baby out with the bath water.  One other thing that was a bit unclear to me was how to go back on the applications hierarchy.  The skinny arrow on the left is not noticeable enough – at least not the first time it catches you off guard.

Widgets…it’s one of the biggest, most talked about innovations of KDE 4.  There is a lot of innovation going on in KDE 4 and if they can get past the KDE 4.0 stigma, I think they may end up surpassing Gnome with this release.  With Superkaramba, KDE has always done widgets so much better than Gnome.  Gnome’s desklets always seemed a bit kludgey and tacked on at the end.  Superkaramba always felt like it was part of KDE; even before it was added as an official part of KDE 3.5.   Now, with Plasma, the KDE team hopes to take them to the level of Apple’s OSX widgets.  In fact, OSX widget compatibility is either in KDE 4.1 or coming in KDE 4.2.

Wow!  If you’ve only seen the same old screenshots of a calculator, a click and a notepad, you haven’t seen the true power of the widgets.  First of all, they have quite a few new ones now.  You can see that I have a comic viewer, an RSS feed, and a Twitter feed.  All of these came from the default “add widgets” dialog.  I’m surprised, especially given the popularity of Twitter, that no one has showcased these widgets yet.  I’m thouroughly impressed that we’ve moved beyond simple system monitors and weather widgets (although I’m sure those are coming soon enough!)  They’re very easy and intuitive to position and configure.  And, one of the problems I always had with widgets on any desktop was that if I had all my programs open, they were less helpful to me.  Well, by clicking on the little button by the gecko or the top right corner, the plasma dashboard view is activated. This minimizes your programs and brings the widgets to the forefront.  A simple click on the desktop brings your programs back!  Couldn’t be easier.  They’re also very pleasing to the eye with their drop shadows.  They move smoothly and appear with a little fade-in.  Very nice.

As far as programs go, they have a pretty standard set.  OpenOffice.org provides the office suite.  Again, like with Mandriva, this is a little bit out of place since they could use KOffice.  However, I know that OpenOffice.org has much better compatibility with the suite from Redmond.  Interestingly, GIMP and Krita don’t seem to be included – but then again, it’s a liveDVD.  I’m sure it’s in the repositories.

In fact, let’s check out Yast, their control center.  It appears to control any setting you might want to change.  Plus points for them for making it all nice and organized.  In fact, they seem to be on par with Mandriva here in terms of everyting you could possibly want in one place.  Minus a very small point for it not looking as pretty as Mandriva or even as pretty as the rest of openSuse 11.0.  From here we can install programs.  Let’s see how well that appears to work.

I have to say that it is indeed ugly to look at.   I couldn’t really get a good feel for it as it didn’t have repositories defined.  I’ve really become much more of a fan of PackageKit’s interface.  (Which I’ll talk about in my Fedora review)  More and more Gnome-based distros are moving to PackageKit and I think there’s even a KDE version of Packagekit.  It works very well for package management and you can’t argue against the value of a consistent interface across distros.

Some last little things I noticed.  Take a look at what came up when I clicked on “My Computer”:

I really, really like this page that it loads up.  It is very useful for locating places on your computer AND for getting information.  To get the same info in Windows you’d have to open up “My Computer” AND right-click on “My Computer” and click on properties.  Here you have some quick links to “Common Folders” and also you can see that it recognized my NTFS hard drives.  You also have all the key information you need in order to get help from someone:  kernel version, distro, KDE version, graphics card driver, graphics card info, CPU info, and the total and free RAM.  Just one look gives you everything you need to know.  And I want to finish up with just a quick look at some of the neat finishing touches that Novell has done with openSuse.

Look at that – there’s a little gecko – the Suse mascot on the title bar.  This little dude appears on any title bar that has focus.  It’s just little touches like this that make the distro seem more professional.  I wish more distros would do things like this.  And look at this:

Now, this is probably a KDE setting, as opposed to Suse, but good on Novell for leaving it in.  There are many things I like about this setup.  First of all, the expansion button is not next to the exit button.  The number of times I’ve been frustrated by accidentally closing a window when I meant to resize it is just too numerous to count.  Also, the up arrow makes more sense to me than Microsoft’s icon.  It’s just that we’ve been around with the Microsoft implementation for 20 years.

So, what’s my final verdict?  I think Novell has done a really, really good job with openSuse 11.0.  Unlike Fedora, they did a very good job with the unfinished KDE 4.0 and turned it into something usable.  Lots of visual finishing touches make the distro just feel professional and not hacked together.  There are a few rough edges here and there.  I also didn’t test out flash, MP3 playback, or DVD playback.  I presume these can all be downloaded from some third party repository in some country where they don’t implement silly things like software patents.

Except for the still touchy subject of the Microsoft deal, I’d recommend Novell to someone who was new to Linux but ready to learn.  It doesn’t have the same hand-hold style of Ubuntu, so that’s still my top choice.  Right now it’s really almost a tie between recommending Mandriva and openSuse as the next best thing after Ubuntu.  Fedora is often broken due to being bleeding edge and I wouldn’t recommend it to someone brand new to Linux.  Of course, there still is the patent deal and they either did it to make themselves more palatable to companies than Red Hat (thus having bad motives) or they had to satisfy investors (which they legally must do in the USA).  So I guess that would break the tie and give it to Mandriva.  But Novell has made a top notch distro and if they can get over the negative press from the Microsoft deal (and there are websites like boycottNovell to prevent that), then I think openSuse may end up on more magazine covers and start to steal some of the thunder away from Ubuntu.