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June 28, 2008

Unintended Consequences

The anti-virus industry's been making a bit of news recently. Seems AVG techs have come up with a new slant to pre-empting malware which vector in via webpages. It "vets search engine results before you click on them". If you Google search, their LinkScanner has to go out by itself, ahead of you and visit the webpage using your machine. This has consequences, however. It is said to use a variety of user-agent strings (heh, that's how webservers can log / stat what type of browser visits them) and some of these strings are exactly the same as Internet Explorer. So, for all intents and purposes, the webserver can't tell whether a human using IE is visiting the website or this automated pre-emptive robot. And if the webserver can't figure out which is which, the ad companies and the webmasters can't either.

Wonder whether pretty Eva Chen's cloudy outlook will come up with any gotchas....

Read more about it

Posted by Anandasim at 02:42 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Giving Ubuntu a spin (with less risk)

Updated: 28th June 2008

I've noticed several forum members who are primarily Windows XP, wanting to try out Ubuntu. Nice to hear about your initiatives and get up and go, but please, consider less risky ventures than the classic dual boot. Sometimes you may find your keyboard does not respond to the GRUB menu, or that you have accidentally let Ubuntu wipe out your Windows System Volume.

When you dual boot, you intend to install a boot choice when the PC starts. This is what you intend but a slip of reasoning or of the finger could cause Linux to hijack your Windows PC. Here are some alternative options to test driving Linux.

  1. Run a Live CD. Ubuntu, Knoppix, SUSE, Puppy, all have Live CD functionality. You can boot the CD (make sure your optical drive is first in boot sequence in your BIOS), play for ages without tampering your Windows partitions or system. The downside is that performance is sluggish and many things won't "save". With some of them, like Puppy, you can save your session activity to a USB Flash storage stick. Or if you really play a bit, you could run these Linuxes off a USB Flash storage stick in the first place.
  2. Run Linux in a Virtual Machine. The two most known free brands are VMWare Player (free), VMWare Server (free) and Microsoft Virtual PC (free) and Microsoft Virtual Server (free). There are also other established brands like Virtual Iron. You'll need a modern fast PC (multi-core preferably, 2Gb of RAM, lots of hard disk space - AUD 100 buys you a lot of SATA space nowadays). With virtual machines, you could even have undoability - you could make sure that is on, run your Linux, do something stupid, stop and say fergedaboutit. The risk with a Virtual Machine is the initial installation of the infrastructure for the VM - if your luck is bad, you may notice slight slow downs since Virtual Machine add some Windows services and network drivers to your PC. You could uninstall the Virtual Machine infrastructure and in most cases, your Windows PC is back to before you started. The gotcha is of course, your Linux is not running at full machine speed and can't access the full machine resources like the 3D video card etc... Also, the Microsoft flavour has initial driver problems with the video and the mouse of Linux.
  3. Have more than one hard disk and use BIOS to switch between them, making at times, the Windows one as the primary boot disk and at other times, the Linux one the primary boot disk. I still have removable hard disk trays on my machine - they were all the rage during the PATA days but long term rattling of the AUD 5 little cooling fans caused many people to avoid them. You do have to keep alert. Thread at UbuntuForums on eliminating the need to change BIOS settings and also avoiding tampering of the Windows hard disk.
  4. For Ubuntu, there is the WUBI feature - the Windows UBuntu Installer. This is a small .exe you download and run while in Windows. It displays one interview screen, you respond, it runs, reboots, inserts a menu item in the Windows Boot Loader menu, installs Ubuntu in a folder called \UBUNTU, and you soon have UBUNTU running. There is no GRUB fight with Windows NT Loader, Ubuntu in theory just works. If you decide to get rid of Ubuntu, reboot back to Windows, reach for the Add/Remove feature in Windows Control Panel. See what WUBI appears to do.

Lastly, if you really, really want to install Ubuntu on the same hard disk as Windows XP, then watch the allegedly outdated movie (below) and read the official notes and the unofficial walkthrough.

Comments? Suggestions? Tips?

 

Posted by Anandasim at 01:02 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 27, 2008

More Bill Trivia

It's a chuckle to read Bill Gate's email that Charles referred to. And I needed that chuckle today when I spent three hours getting diverted by software not designed by Microsoft.

<rant>There were features / functionality issues related to one email system replacing another. There were implementation issues caused by a need to push out the new system without ensuring that the new system was managed consistently with the global corporate user account management process. There were issues which frustrated my efforts, and I could see what drove Bill to vent in his email.

I was gonna do this, but I had to do this other thing to get there and and then that did not work so I worked out a workaround that did not work and then I got obsessive and pursued the workaround and then, after a few hours (of learning and understanding, mind you, and passing it on to the local helpdesk), I figured it out. Hey! But I had figured out how things worked and how to make it work. I hadn't done anything to progress my original mission. It wasn't though, anything to do with Microsoft.</rant>

Anyway, there is a famous Microsoft gang photo circa 1978. They looked so fresh and young.

 The Beeb has an article showing the original gang in a new photo. Microsoft grew from a dozen people to now, 90,000 worldwide.

I remember reading that Bill was so obsessive and particular that if a staff member met him on the corridor, the member could get a real shakedown on the current work and project. It's pretty hard to get that approach consistently through to 90,000 people though, and that's the thing that affects system quality. Not every hire will be another Richard Brodie - one story goes that after he left Microsoft, he came back for a chat and memed the world onto those squiggly red underlines of mis-spelt words.

Posted by Anandasim at 11:39 AM | TrackBack

June 26, 2008

A few home truths from Bill Gates

For some reason, I find this oddly comforting. We're not alone in being frustrated by the hoops that Microsoft forces its customers to jump through in order to do simple things like downloading a product. It turns out that Bill Gates gets pissed off too.

Bill's rant about Movie Maker - gleaned from Microsoft emails uncovered by judicial proceedings - makes us wonder what he had to say to the troops when he had to use Windows Genuine Advantage. Or Vista. Maybe that's the real reason he's retiring from the company. He's worried that if he has to go on dealing with his brilliant engineers, he's going to have a myocardial infarction.

Posted by cw at 01:19 AM | TrackBack

June 25, 2008

Bye, Bye, Bill

Bill Gates is transitioning out, about the same time as Microsoft Windows XP is supposed to as well.


Bill Gates: Transitioning into the Future

Posted by Anandasim at 11:27 PM | TrackBack

Falling in love with English words

I saw a reference to Visuwords recently. I thought it looked good for budding wordsmiths and schools. Then tonight, I typed a few diplomatic emails and found the facility quite good in shaping my thoughts. There are other mindmap and word association online tools, like the Visual Thesaurus but Visuwords looks really educative.

Check it out!

Posted by Anandasim at 08:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Getting it wrong on roads ... again and again and again

How is it possible that our legislators can get transport policies so badly wrong, time and time again? Is there some stupid school for administrators that they all graduate from? What was Einstein's analysis? "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting to get different results."

Is the government's mania for digging tunnels an unconscious reflection of our brilliant leaders' desire to bury their heads in the sand? Or just yet another attempt to devote a lot of public money to postponing unpleasant realities until somebody else is in office? These days, the art of "good" government seems to be blaming the previous mob for what's gone wrong, and appointing "expert" committees to do the worrying and cop all the shit until the politicians are enjoying their gold passes and other retirement privileges. They seem to be some bizarre form of Time Lords moving their little telephone boxes into a future world, where water never runs out, rivers never die, and the buck never stops.

We know that cars are increasingly costly on the wallet and the environment - and you'll pay $50 more per week for a hybrid, to say nothing, of course, about the utter chaos of Melbourne's public transport system, thanks to Jeff Kennett's brilliant idea, and the Bracks/Brumby Do Nothing School of Public Administration, which seems to be founded exclusively on the concept of maintaining a surplus, no matter what.

What fascinates Bleeding Edge is the way the bicycle seems to be the only alternative our brilliant bureaucrats can come up with. We suspect there's some secret plan to increase the number of firm, lycra-clad buttocks they can survey. No doubt that will be leaked too, in due course.

Having spent years bike commuting in Sydney and Melbourne, we can testify to the fact that push bike commuting is often impractical, and a lot of those firm buttocks are going to end up in casualty wards or the morgue. The unpleasant truth is that bicycles are sitting ducks on our roads, particularly when our brilliant bureaucrats constantly squib on corralling cars with real bike paths to stop irresponsible/inattentive/cowboy drivers killing cyclists.

What fascinates us is the way motor scooters are ignored as a cheaper, clutter-free, safer (yes, much safer than bicycles, despite brainless scooter riders failing to dress for the road) much more realistic traffic solution. You can accelerate away from those reckless, apparently sightless drivers; you can learn defensive techniques that will get you places far more quickly than cars and keep you alive, even without proper training of learner drivers and curbs on the advertising industry's insane campaigns to encourage hoon drivers. Why aren't learner drivers taught that they don't personally own the roads? That they don't have the right to cut off, muscle around, abuse and spit at other road users? Why aren't they taught rigorously to respect the rights of two-wheel riders? Why, instead of drivers being encouraged to move over a bit to maximise use of lanes, do we have a police blitz on motor scooters and motor bikes filtering through lines of stationary traffic? Is it absolutely necessary that everyone has to stay stuck in traffic jams, so car drivers feel that their expensive, polluting, selfish existence isn't being threatened?

We just loved that Boston journalist's experience: "Cars actually let the [scooter] cut in front of them. Pedestrians stopped midstep and waved the scooter by ... a man in a white sedan stopped at a light and chatted about the Vespa he had owned 40 years ago, his face aglow as if he were remembering a lost lover. It seemed like perhaps all of Boston would be a happier, kinder place if more people drove this way." Here in Melbourne, if a scooter cut in front of a car, a lot of drivers would stencil it into the bitumen. With quite vicious relish. And coppers prowl around giving tickets to scooters and motor bikes for things that are perfectly legal and sensible in the UK - even in California, for God's sake - rather than to some driver chatting on a mobile phone or doing her make-up while tootling along at 70kph or so.

So look, Mr Brumby, how about this? Until you manage - unlikely as it may seem - to sort out the public transport mess, dig a few more tunnels, get a few more trains, pay off a few more corporations to put in tenders for this or that, why not try to encourage - genuinely, imaginatively, firmly encourage - anything that doesn't take up a lot of road space, burn a lot of petrol, and cost a lot of money? Including motor scooters.

Posted by cw at 11:24 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 23, 2008

Telstra: the spin isn't working

Who knows how much cash Telstra has spent attacking its critics and competitors, promoting itself as the champion of the national interest, and even using its financial muscle to prevent Bleeding Edge talking to a seniors' conference on computers. While we don't rely on its opposition site, TellTheTruthTelstra, for a completely unbiased point of view, reading through some of the posts indicates how Telstra is prepared to use the shabbiest sophistry to justify its self-serving tactics.

Right now, for instance, NowWeAreTalking - that expensive spin machine that it shamelessly promotes as a "blog" aimed at "setting the record straight" - is accusing former shadow Communications Minister Senator Kate Lundy of breaching parliamentary ethics in not disclosing that her husband, David Forman, is "on the payroll of the anti-Telstra cartel".

The fact that Forman is executive director of the Competitive Carriers Coalition is scarcely a secret, and to use the word "cartel" to describe Telstra's competitors is, in our view, bordering on defamation. A cartel is a group of companies which colludes to use its market power to set prices and output. It's not only totally untrue in the context of Australian telecommunications, it's a priceless irony: Telstra has all the market power in this country, and under its regime, consumers pay a heavy price. And if Rod Bruem's cynical, paid-for opinion isn't revolting enough, read the comments.

Apparently however, people are waking up to Telstra's tactics. According to a survey in Reader's Digest, Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo is one of the least trusted of Australia's most important or celebrated individuals. At No. 95 on a list of the most trusted people, headed by burns specialist Dr Fiona Wood and cancer researcher Professor Ian Frazer, Sol is equal with the faithless Shane Warne, and is rated as more trustworthy than only four notorious individuals: confessed terrorism supporter David Hicks, disgraced footballers Ben Cousins and Wayne Carey, and jailbird businessman Rodney Adler.

Reader's Digest offers some great advice to Sol and his senior management team. When it comes to being trusted, celebrity and being important doesn't count. Maligning and silencing your opponents doesn't work. Hiring mouthpieces like the too-clever-by-half Rod Bruem gets you nowhere. What works, according to Reader's Digest, is "humility, honesty and helping others". The public seems to have decided that Sol and his mates are interested "Sol-ely" in helping themselves.

Posted by cw at 12:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 20, 2008

Latest workhorse PC specs

The Bleeding Edge Department for The Counting of Blessings knows that you've taken quite a battering this financial year. You've been battling to keep up your mortgage payments, the food bill is getting quite out of hand, and as the price of petrol rises, you're shoe-horning yourself into a tram or train carriage, while the car dreams away in the garage - if you haven't been forced to rent the garage out.
We're therefore delighted to report that not everything has been going to hell in a handbasket: again this year, good old Moore's Law, and the appreciation of the Australian dollar, have continued to work in your favour.
As we approached the end of the last financial year, the Bleeding Edge workhorse PC would have cost you a total of $937. This year, you can buy a more powerful PC for $803. If only your superannuation or stock portfolio had performed as well.

Still, the times demand careful husbanding of resources, so we're looking to wring as much value as possible out of our investment. Last quarter, for instance, we settled on the Intel E8200 Core2Duo CPU, at $239. It's now dropped to $185. Because the faster E8400 has also been pruned (from $255 to $218), you could well decide that settling for the slower chip is unncessarily niggardly, particularly since the E8200 will later this year become the entry point for Intel's mid-level offerings.
But if you're mildly adventurous, you could take another path, beginning with the motherboard. Our choice of motherboard manufacturer continues to be Gigabyte, and the EP35-DS3 we recommended in March has dropped another $10, to $125. You could go for that, or the EP35-DS3P (down $10 to $165). We tend to take the conservative path, but experienced users could get considerably more bang for the buck with a third alternative. Gigabyte's EP35C-DS3R motherboard sits at $145. The C indicates that it accepts both DDR2 and DDR3 RAM. DDR3 is faster, but at the moment, considerably more expensive. Buying a DDR3-capable board now, however, gives you the option of upgrading performance when the faster RAM becomes mainstream.
And because these modern boards make overclocking - running a CPU at faster clock speeds for free additional performance - simpler and (provided you stay within the flags) safer, you could maximise your investment by pairing an EP35C-DS3R board with an E8200 CPU. There's a guide to the process at tinyurl.com/3dqrqw. Read through all the comments and decide whether your experience is up to the task before jumping in.
That "E" designation of these boards, by the way, stands for energy efficiency. Gigabyte is building its power-saving DES (Dynamic Energy Saving) technology into its mid-range and premium boards, which includes the EP35-DS3.
That means your motherboard won't be contributing quite so much to your power bill from now on. Gigabyte's major rival, Asus, has its own energy-saving technology, but we prefer the Gigabyte version. There's been quite a kerfuffle over that in the past few weeks, with Asus claiming superior performance, Gigabyte accusing Asus of fudging the figures and misleading customers, Asus calling in the defamation lawyers then declaring a truce, with Gigabyte issuing a public apology. None of that diminishes our confidence in Gigabyte's engineering.
Memory prices have continued to fall since March, with a 2GB Kingston kit dropping to $54, compared to $65 last quarter. This time last year, you would have paid $115. If you're
You'll pay only $72 for the 320GB Western Digital SATA drive (16MB cache), which would have set you back $95 last quarter (and $101 a year ago), but if you're interested in digital video, you might think about scaling up to a 500MB drive, which at $95, is not that much more expensive.
The 512MB version of the NVIDIA 8600GT graphics card from Gigabyte was $119 in March, but it's also cheaper this month, at $84.
The Asus SATA DVD-RW drive is slightly cheaper at $35 ($39).
We've adjusted our workhorse PC specifications to take account of current trends. We're no longer including a monitor in the package price, because users seem to be opting for bigger screens these days, and they hang on to them for longer than the life of the PC. We will be looking at the complexities of LCD monitor purchases in the near future, and as with all components, there are monthly recommendations on monitors on the free Bleeding Edge forum.
We've also eliminated the mouse and keyboard from our list, for similar reasons.
But as we did last quarter, we're now specifying a separate power supply with a good case. We like the Cooler Master Extreme 500w power supply ($69), and the same company's CM690 case, at $109.

Posted by cw at 03:57 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 14, 2008

New browser versions - not a ho hum experience.

It's a nice time to take new web browsers for a spin. I noted that the new Firefox 3 Release Candidate has been bottled up in a portable app for your testing pleasure, without the risks of corrupting your status quo of resident browsers and browser profiles. There's been news too of Opera 9.5 showing some spirit. Now it has also been bottled up in OperaUSB, so again, you can test it without risk. I've been keeping an eye on Kejut but he must be busy so OperaUSB's fine. One thing you'll notice with Opera 9.5 is that it is appears surprisingly fast - even against Firefox 3. And that nice fit to width feature suits fixed width webpages as used in several web forums (like our Bleeding Edge Forum) when you are limited by a lower width screen. As in earlier versions, the magnify feature also makes the text significantly bigger for readability without jaggies. Lifehacker's just published rule of thumb speedtests.

Give Opera 9.5 a spin, your eyes will thank you. (Note - Clicking on this thumbnail will display the full size screen capture and pop up advertising from the image hosting website)

Clicking on this thumbnail will display the full size screen capture and pop up advertising from the image hosting website

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Posted by Anandasim at 08:05 PM | TrackBack

Marissa Mayer Keynote on How Google Works

Well, the weekend is here. Will I finally get to clearing my desk of papers overdue for filing? And chores to do? Or will the sun come out and tempt me to stay outside? A friend says the Eastlink Roadshow will be on Sunday 15th June 2008. If it doesn't rain, maybe we'll be tempted. Else, there's always watching Marissa Mayer Keynote on How Google Works - I've seen her on a TV interview and she came over warmer. In this presentation, her sharpness and her fragile giggle makes me uncomfortable. On the other hand, Maile Ohye on Search Friendly Development comes over really warm, friendly. Does the difference in warmth come from Marissa being in management for a long time? There are 224 other Google Developer Videos if your inner nerd wants liberation.

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Posted by Anandasim at 01:11 AM | TrackBack

June 12, 2008

The new Firefox 3.

In Bleedingedge Forum ~ View topic - Firefox's evolution, Mr. David, one of our forum regulars, gives us a heads up to a  narrated walk through of the upcoming Firefox 3's new features. We've been keeping an eye on FF3 for a while, particularly since we can test it as a portable app without wrecking our PCs.

Why are am I speaking in the plural "we" ? Sorry about that, could be a passing Queen's Birthday affectation.

Posted by Anandasim at 09:00 PM | TrackBack

June 06, 2008

Is 2008, the year of the DSLR?

Terry's probably noted before, that there is a second coming in Photography, in the way of Digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) cameras. Amateur and family photographers have been chimping on their Digital Point and Shoots for a long while now and many are looking for the next leap forward. In many ways, the state of technology is such that barriers to entry have fallen, in terms of pricing, good-enough picture quality, ease of use and portability. Sony have joined in the fray and are frightening the big two - Canon and Nikon. Not in terms of professional use or perceived professional use - because establishing a reliability, longevity, comfort level and rental market is not an overnight thing. But in terms of making DSLRs very approachable to the Point and Shooters. Olympus has been doing sterling work in portability and Pentax is a long soldier in providing value for money.

But, even within the same brand, the new buyer has a tough time time making up his or her mind. This is the phenomenon of electronics affecting the equipment pricing, longevity and shelf life. In every brand, you have overlaps between outgoing, heavily discounted models and incoming new models with new features. For example, Olympus has the e-410 and e-510 being replaced by the e-420 and the e-520. Sure, the new models look juicy, but the hot deal now is an e-510 two lens kit for about AUD 1000. Last Christmas, it was still AUD 1500. Nikon's redoubtable and favoured D40 refuses to go away - this in light of the D40X, D50 and the new D60. And now the D80, one level up, is being heavily discounted. The Canon EOS 350D could still be found. In the midst of the EOS 400D, the new EOS 450D. And the 40D is being heavily discounted.

Every end of financial year sees particular products being pushed by retailers. I remember, it used to be LCD screens. Printers. Then, laptops. Of course, slow moving Hifi stock. This year, DSLRs are in the picture, so to speak.

Are you in the market? Confused? Well, guess what, advice comes to you from everywhere. Even computer magazines. What do computer magazines know about DSLRs? Probably more than what your neighbourhood department store knows about the motor oil or vehicle battery they sell. How much more? Hmmm...

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Posted by Anandasim at 01:09 PM | TrackBack

Expanding on the Opus

Charles wrote about Directory Opus in this week's Green Guide. Apparently a gem of a file manager, advocated long ago by AussieBoykie. It's good to hear when a product gets better and better. I've been using Christian Ghisler's Total Commander for a long time, ever since Windows 3.x. Total Commander lost it's nice appellation, Windows Commander, when Microsoft sent Christian a desist letter. TC runs as shareware initially, you have to click on one of three (randomised) buttons 1 or 2 or 3 when you first start. I used it like that for a long time, until I felt I owed Christian some gratitude and paid him. He sent me a 3.5" floppy diskette (uh, remember those?) with the Windows 3.x version. Ever since then, upgrades have been free, I'm now on 7.03 Win32 version. It gets workable features in the handling of the keyboard, mouse and file system slowly but surely. My most recent enjoyment is, for my ageing eyes, that each line is coloured alternately so that my eyes can "run a finger" horizontally along that item. Microsoft Office Access 2007 finally took the bait and followed suit recently.

But, there's more. The Norton Commander or Orthodox File Manager interface has been strongly emulated by many products - Free Commander works off a no-install USB stick - I use that when I don't want to share Christian's good graces with public Windows PCs. Sometimes, when I am uncomfortable in Linux, I use Gnome Commander, Midnight Commander. There's also Krusader. There's even a far out non graphical interface Far Commander (also free). There's a plethora of NC clones out there.

On the other hand, if you never liked the 2 Pane Norton Commander metaphor, a much respected friend uses ZtreeWin - yes, it's XTree Gold all over again.

It looks like a coolish weekend now that winter's in Melbourne. Either get out there and shoot some pics with your new camera. Huh? Yes, your new camera, the one you're buying in all this mid year clearance sale frenzy. Or manage some files and folders.

P.S. Do back up before you start messing around, ok?

Posted by Anandasim at 12:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 05, 2008

Directory Opus - a tool for tidy minds

Here at Bleeding Edge's Department of Tidying Things Up (DTTU), we think it's time someone said something about the virtual non-existence of Windows Explorer.

We first noticed this phenomenon when we suggested to a perplexed user – most of the users we deal with are perplexed about something or other – that she open up Windows Explorer to create a new folder, which is, of course, one of those tasks that are fundamental to the process of Tidying Things Up.

About an hour or so later we got a call from the now even more perplexed user. In what has become the template for who knows how many conversations we've had since then, the conversation went something like this:
"You know that program you told me about? Was it Internet Explorer?"

"No. It's Windows Explorer."

"Oh. But I can't FIND Windows Explorer! Are you sure I've got one?"

We're pretty sure that the fact that Windows Explorer is hidden away under Start/All Programs/Accessories and that the people who are aware of its existence never actually look for it – they start it by clicking on Start/My Computer or possibly My Documents etc. - is an indication of Microsoft's corporate unconscious. Over there in Seattle, they know that the file and directory manager they bundle with Windows isn't a real file and directory manager. It's a pretend one.

If you're in the business of Tidying Things Up, Windows Explorer simply isn't good enough. You need a real file and directory manager.

Over the years, we in the DTTU have grown to know and love many file and directory managers. It started, in the years of DOS, with Xtree, which was followed by Xtree Gold and when Windows arrived Ztree. We've used programs like Norton Commander, and Power Desk.

We have to acknowledge, however, that none of them quite matches the power of the Australian-developed application, Directory Opus, now in version 9.1. We find ourselves wondering, at times, whether Directory Opus – often shortened to "Dopus" - isn't so much a file and directory manager as a cult religion.

It has a fascinating history. Originally developed for the Commodore Amiga, it was written by a teenager, Jonathon Potter, who now lives in inner Melbourne. He later joined forces with Greg Perry, whose initials are behind the gpsoft.com.au Web headquarters of the program.

It's easy to use and extremely powerful out of the box, but it's almost infinitely configurable to suit a user's personal preferences, which no doubt is why the Departments of Tidying Things Up at the Max Planck Institute and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory use it.

It opens a "lister" with directory tree and viewing pane, but you can have a series of viewing panes, set it up for multiple monitors and directories and viewing formats, with your choice of menus and toolbars and context menus and actions. It handles your FTP file transfer operations too, which you can also save as windows, and there's an option to handle Secure FTP for an additional $10 licence fee.

Click on a series of tabs, and Dopus allows you to open multiple directories, with powerful utilities that will find duplicate files and synchronise directories and hard drives.

It has photo viewers, including viewers for RAW images, and you can set up your image directories for viewing of film strips or single images etc, run slide shows, and do basic image editing, like resizing and rotating. You can, for instance, select a number of photos, use the Tools menu to convert and downsize them, and either email them or upload them to sites like Flickr directly from Dopus.

It handles geo-tagging too, so that if your image's EXIF information includes GPS co-ordinates, it will look them up in Google Earth, and show you where the image was taken.

If you take the $10 licence option to run Directory Opus from a USB key or hard drive, you can take your images with you and never have to worry about displaying them on another PC. The USB option gives you a good deal more than that, of course, and is particularly valuable if you're security conscious.

Over the years, Directory Opus has built a passionate collection of users, who contribute to the GPSoft.com resource centre's forum area. One particularly handy resource is the series of tutorials developed by an English user, Leo Davidson. He originally started using a pirate copy of the Amiga program, then told GP Software he'd be prepared to pay for the program if it included some additional features. The fact that they took his suggestions on board is always a good sign.

Directory Opus costs $85 in Australian currency – a figure which was originally set when the US exchange rate was much less generous. US customers now find it a little pricey, but given its features, it represents very good value, for those of us who like to Tidy Things Up.

Posted by cw at 03:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 04, 2008

Fun with email

One of the great rewards of doing tech support for small organisations is the fact that one gets to participate in other people's disasters — the sorts of problems one would otherwise have avoided, and instead been forced to spend one's spare time doing cryptic crosswords perhaps, or reading.

Take our recent experience with Thunderbird, for instance, the free email client from the Mozilla Foundation at Mozilla.com. We don't use Thunderbird ourselves, simply because we've grown used to the Web interface of our email provider Fastmail.fm. We generally fire up Outlook only when we have to transfer contacts and calendar details to the HTC 3600i, which uses Windows Mobile.

From what we've seen of it, however, Thunderbird is an outstanding email client. In addition to the POP (Post Office Protocol) mail that most people use, it also handles FastMail's IMAP system, which preserves our email on a central server, rather than downloading it whenever we connect.

Thunderbird inherits the characteristics of its stablemate, Firefox, which we regard as the best web browser. With the recent availability of Release Candidate 1 of version 3, it's about to get even better.

We were quite surprised when we received a crisis call from one of our users complaining that Thunderbird had got itself into a complete tizz, trying to update itself. It announced it was going to install an update, began the process, then stalled and flashed up an error message.: “One or more files could not be updated. Please make sure all other applications are closed and that you have permission to modify files, and the restart Thunderbird to try again”.

Unfortunately, trying again didn't help. Thunderbird downloaded another upgrade copy and re-started the installation process, with the same results. The user had been caught up in what the IT world calls an "infinite loop". She'd been going through the procedure for several days, and was clearly approaching desperation.
We'd been making excellent progress on The Age cryptic that morning, but we hopped on the motor scooter and made a house call.

Thunderbird didn't treat us any better. We checked out Mozilla's online help files, which assured us that the solution was to download a fresh copy of Firefox or Thunderbird and run the installer manually. We did that. It didn't work.
One of the interesting things about Mozilla software is that its bug-handling process is public. This problem has been around for a couple of years. In some cases it seems also to affect Firefox updates, and it's likely to continue for a while yet. You can get a fascinating insight into developer dithering on these issues by reading the history.

The problem involves a file called mozmapi32.dll, which can be shared by email, scheduling, calendaring and document management applications using Microsoft's Messaging Application Programming Interface. If one of those applications is using the file when Thunderbird tries to update, the process fails. Unfortunately, the user is left completely in the dark.

We did some more digging, and found that a major culprit is Logitech's Quickcam 10 — which by coincidence we've written about recently. Our user had a copy installed on her system, and it was blocking the update. While some users have tackled the problem by copying and renaming then deleting mozmapi32.dll, that didn't appeal to us. Instead we fired up the Windows Task Manager (Ctrl-Alt-Del) and killed the Quickcam application. We know that somewhere inside the system, Thunderbird heaved a huge sigh of relief. It upgraded without a hitch.
Oddly enough, the experience didn't turn us off Thunderbird. Its ability to interact with programs like Google Calendar through its plug-in architecture gives it a lot of the capabilities of Outlook, without the expense. We started by linking it to Google Calendar, which is simple if, like us, you've got a Gmail account. We use Gmail as a backup to FastMail.

Our next step was to install Lightning, which hooks Mozilla's Sunbird calendar project into the Thunderbird interface.

After that, you have to add a Thunderbird extension called Provider for Google Calendar, which allows Sunbird and Lightning to read and write events to a Google Calendar

The only missing functionality is a To Do list. An Australian company, Remember The Milk, offers a great Web-based To Do application. The free version allows you to synchronise your To Do list with Google Calendar. With the $25 Pro version, you can synch with Windows Mobile, Blackberry and iPhone and iPod Touch devices.

We're having a lot of fun with our free Outlook replacement.

One of the great rewards of doing tech support for small organisations is the fact that one gets ideas for all sorts of things … although we could do with some more time for cryptic crosswords perhaps, or reading.

Posted by cw at 10:20 AM | TrackBack