Archive for Software

Vista SP1 RTM not quite ready for action

I’ve been using this on 2 PC’s for a week or so now, and I have to say that I’ve noticed more issues since the upgrade than before.

An example: I just ‘moved files’ from one folder to another. I clicked replace (as there already existed files in the destination folder with the same name), and ‘repeat for further X conflicts’. The first pass left 4 folders and 5 files in the source folder! When I then repeated the move, an empty folder was left in the source folder.

That is just rubbish!

Another example:

I set up an ‘offline folders’ share to my new PC from my old. The folders showed up in the Sync manager and started to sync. As there was 50GB or so to do, I choose to switch off my PC and continue the next day. On switching my PC back on, it refused to continue to Sync. However, worse than that, unless you can restore the network connection, there is NO WAY to remove this partial sync. What if the source PC died? Then I’d be screwed!

On my desktop, I now have an issue where I cannot write to one CD burner while playing a DVD from another. I get some kind of error thrown.

On my XBOX360, which is connected to my desktop media center, there are now extra folders listed in the ‘Video’ section – for a start there are about 12 USB Card Reader ports that never used to be there, and which there appears to be no way of turning off in the Folder setup, and my ‘Recorded Video’ link is now there twice. (I had moved it to my D:, so perhaps it’s moved it back?)

I’m sure we’ll get updates to fix these, but some – the file move one especially – is a little bit fundamental!

The good news is that lots of little ‘buggets’ – things like folder settings – appear to now be resolved. So yes, I’m sure it’s worth the upgrade, but don’t expect it to give you that perfect operating system.

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7-Zip file compressor

In one way compression is becoming less essential in a world of high speed internet. The difference between downloading a 500kB file and a 1MB one is a couple of seconds, however to the provider of the file, it can mean the difference between a medium or large monthly bandwidth bill.

I used to use WinZIP, but with every release it mutated into a larger and larger tool with more eye candy and less raw functionality. Don’t get me wrong, it has some neat things like the Setup button, but the fact that you have to pay for it lead me to look for alternatives.

7-Zip was my saviour. For a start it’s free. Secondly it handles most files you’ll encounter on a daily basis. ZIP, RAR, TAR, BZ2 etc, but perhaps the best feature is its native file compression ‘.7z’. Compression is a weird science. Prior knowledge of the type of data can help use algorithms enhanced to work well, and ZIP does a good job on most things but it can be beaten. For instance RAR files generally handle media files better than ZIP. .7z however appears to beat it under almost all circumstances I’ve encountered to date.

On a source branch I regularly compress, 177MB compresses to 40MB under ZIP, but to 17MB under .7z. Now the gains encountered are not always that impressive, but they’re normally good enough to make it worthwhile. Especially given the price tag.

Check it out here: http://www.7-zip.org/

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Visual Source Safe Admin Password Reset

We used to use Visual Source Safe (VSS) 6.0 for projects, and so have some older projects that are not routinely accessed. So what happens when you forget the admin password a few years down the line?

There are various suggestions around the net, but this little tool should help: Reset VSS 6 admin password

Simply run in the Data directory of your VSS 6.0 project (where the file um.dat is located) using a command prompt, then rename the files as instructed and your admin password will become blank.

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Skype replaces the telephone

Well perhaps not literally, but if you haven’t come across it, Skype is the premier Voice over IP software program around that’s high quality, simple to use and best of all, it’s free!

I’ve been using Skype for the last year and a bit, and I can’t imagine all the telephone bills it has saved me. Being based out of the US, working with developers back in the UK means I have to call for design and troubleshooting meetings every day. Skype has saved me $1000’s.

So what do you need? Well to start with, visit http://www.skype.com and download the program that’s suitable for you. It runs on everything! Mac, PC, Pocket PC and Linux, so there will be no problem running it. What’s next? Configure your firewall? Not at all. The area where Skype is leaps and bounds ahead of MSN Messenger is in its ability to traverse every firewall every location I’ve been, without doing a thing. Brilliant!

The next thing you will need is a microphone and headset. Now some PC’s have these built in, but I wouldn’t recommend them because they often cause the sound to loop back, with the person speaking being able to hear themselves. Most annoying for them, so it’s a much better idea to purchase a headset with mic that comes around towards your mouth. These can be picked up cheaply these days and make the world of difference.

Lastly, run it and sign up for an account. Then providing you have a friend who is already using it – and if they’re not, they should be – then you can just search for them and add them to phone. Much like MSN.

Once up and running there are options to call land lines or allow people on landlines to call you, but those are paid services and it’s up to you. Personally I subscribe to the SkypeOut so I can call people on their regular phone from my PC. If they’re not in your country then it’s definitely cheaper than using a regular phone to call them.

As a closing note, the other day a friend was mid-Atlantic on a flight that provides wireless internet access. Amazingly we spoke for a couple of hours until his battery ran out. The cost – $30 for internet access for the flight. I’m sure you won’t manage to get calls from a plane any cheaper. The only thing I’d say was that there was quite a bit of wind noise in the background, but a better, noise cancelling microphone would have helped cure that.

We truely are in the age of Voice over IP!

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NASA World Wind

NASA World Wind has been around for a while, but is worth looking at if you’ve never seen it. You can basically hold the world in your hand and spin it around. Zooming is supported to the house level if you’re in the USA. Elsewhere in the world you can enjoy mountain ranges and visit countries you’d never dreamed of.

You can download it here. It should be noted that it’s quite a large download, but it’s also good to see NASA using Bittorrent to help overcome that problem.

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Filezilla

A while back I mentioned listing various essential tools, but haven’t posted anything for a while.

Filezilla is such a product. It is a file transfer tool that simplifies FTP and SSH file transfers into a Windows GUI. Speed is excellent as you can setup multiple simultaneous transfers (essential when copying small files) and it is particularly intuitive.

If you ever upload or download files, typically when creating or supporting websites, this could be what you are looking for. It’s free and can be found here.

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Optimized Firefox

Firefox is great, but IE is definitely faster. In response to this, you may find that an version of firefox specifically compiled to use all features of your processor may help it run a little quicker. Try these out:

http://www.moox.ws/tech/mozilla/firefox.htm

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XMPlay

In this day and age of high-speed internet, we’re all used to downloading multi-megabyte programs, sometimes vanishing into the hundreds of megabytes, so it’s always good to find something small that’s useful. XMPlay is such a tool. It’s a music player that has the ability to play MP3, OGG, WMA files, along with most other music formats you can find. All in a 300k ZIP file. Sweet.

Being small, you’d think it was feature lacking, but it has all the essentials: skinable, equalizer, playlist management, http streaming; even Winamp plugin support for all your favorite visualizations or to add support for any other file formats. The audio quality is also very good, with neat features like auto level adjustment for listening to those tracks recorded from different CDs – although you might need to enable 32bit processing, 48kHz sampling etc in the options to make it sound its best.

My favorite skin is ‘silk’, which allows it to slip into an area about the size of a titlebar, and sit always-on-top at the top of the screen. Best of all, it’s free, so click here to enjoy: http://www.un4seen.com/xmplay.html

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Flexible File Renamer

This is a bit of software I almost wrote until I found this: Flexible File Renamer. It’s a neat little tool that simple allows you to rename files in bulk. This means if you download files named like 01_XYZ-BOB.MP3, 02_ABC-BOB.MP3 etc, you can really easily rename them all by applying common changes (replacements, case changes etc.) to a set of files. You have a preview of the change you are making before it is applied for safety. And while the site looks Japanese, the program runs in English file.

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RegScrubXP

This is the first of many posts, where I will list essential, free software. I will never post details on anything that has spyware in, and only things that I find useful and work 100% reliably.

RegScrubXP is a neat little tool for cleaning out your registry. It will scan your PC and registry and remove registry keys that are no longer useful, potentially offering a very tiny performance gain.

Download page

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