Computers

Windows multi-user multitasking?

I have to be honest and state up front that I haven’t yet given Windows Vista a serious workout, so Microsoft may have actually produced a system that properly manages multiple users and multitasks sensibly. As of Windows XP patched up to date they haven’t managed it though. Let’s look at a few of examples of things that still niggle me on a daily basis when using XP.

  1. First off let’s start with something simple. Whatever a window on the screen is doing you should be able to move it around so you can get it out of the way if necessary. Well sadly Windows XP still cannot manage this properly. You will frequently find that when a Windows pops up another window for a sub task of the parent window will be locked in place, unable to move until the task has finished. Perhaps the most annoying example of locking a window in place is the Winzip self extractor. If you happen to be unzipping a large file using this and click on it to drag it somewhere out of the way it asks you if you want to ‘Abort unzip operation?’.
  2. Next let’s look at drivers, specifically a wireless networking driver from USR. Now unfortunately the driver in question, and other wireless networking drivers I’ve tried on Windows, run under a user account and not as a service. Presumably this is to allow the security information to be secured, but in practice it can cause problems in a multi user system. In this case the problem is if a non-privileged user logs on the networking will not work, so you are forced to give at least some administrative privileges to the user, thereby reducing the security of the system. Either that or you have to log on as an administrator to start the networking each time the system is used
  3. Lastly a quick look at internal messaging. I have a wireless print server from 3Com that has one of my printers attached to it. When it there is a problem with it things can get a bit confusing, and the first few times I had problems it took me a while to work out what was going on. Basically if there is a message to pop up to tell you about an error, usually the fact that the server is not responding for some reason (often I’ve forgotten to switch it on!), you don’t always see it. The reason for this, I’ve found out, is that the pop up message will appear on whichever user desktop logged onto the machine first, and not necessarily the one that sent the print job. I spent a good while trying to debug why a print job wasn’t printing before I stumbled across the reason by switching to the user account that had the message popped up on the desktop!

Now clearly there will be those that consider that these problems are down to the individual applications or drivers and nothing to do with Windows itself. The fact remains, though, that there are many such badly written applications, so at least some of the blame has to lay at the feet of Microsoft. I’ve not covered applications that don’t seem to be able to decide which screen to use
when using multiple monitors, or the nightmare of windows sitting underneath the taskbar if you dare to put it at the top of the screen! There must be something inherent in Windows programming that encourages these errors. Some of it is probably the way it has grown up from DOS and is based on a system that had no concept of networks, users or even a GUI. There is a lot of Windows legacy holding it back. That said, Linux, BSD, Unix, etc. have managed to evolve better, to my mind anyway, all be it they had a much more solid foundation on which to build.

16 Jan 2008

Catch 98

OK, so that should be catch 22, but this is a Windows 98 problem so…

So the starting point is that I have a machine that I am reinstalling Windows 98 onto. That’s a bad start already, even if you ignore the fact that it is Windows 😉 Anyway, the machine is not currently networked, it’s safer that way, so anything I need to get onto the machine in terms of drivers is heading across from my Linux box on a USB key. So far so good. Until we get to the graphics driver that is. The card in question is an old ATI Rage 128, and I tracked down the driver and transferred it onto the machine ready to install. Unfortunately the install required DirectX. I don’t since the machine is only an office machine to do a bit of word processing on and run some old DOS and Windows accounting software on.

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11 Jan 2008

Here goes nothing

Right, all has been thoroughly tested and bedded in on my test server. All content has been migrated from my old Blosxom installation to my new WordPress one. I’ve even had the chance to take it through an upgrade before going live 🙂

I’ve spent quite a bit of time mapping out the links in the old Blosxom setup to put together a set of Apache mod_rewrite rules to map the content across. Partly this will manage any Google search matches into the correct place following the migration, but since I don’t see this as a high traffic site attracting tons of interest it was mainly an exercise how closely I could match the content across in as few rules as possible. It’s amazing what some people will do for fun!

So far I’ve been very impressed with WordPress, well, so much so that I’ve put a good chunk of work into migrating across and will probably be looking to migrate another site across. The other site is not a blog as such, so this will be another interesting exercise. This time testing the flexibility of WordPress

So now it is time to upload the database and web directory to my main web server, and as the post title says, here goes nothing…

06 Jan 2008

Good old Protext

Protext served me well back in the days when I was using my Amstrad CPC464, CPC6128 or Commodore Amiga 1500, so I have a bit of a soft spot for this old word processor. I’ve also picked up a few copies over the years. I still have the ROM version in my Rombo ROM box for my Amstrad, along with the Promerge Plus and Prospell and my Amiga version, with Prodata (I’m sure I had that on my Amstrad too, but it is a long while ago now!). I’ve added to this the PC version and the Atari ST version, so just the Acorn Archimedes and Amstrad PCW / CP/M versions to go!

Anyway, a while ago I exchanged a couple of emails with Mark Tilley, ex Arnor, and found that the old BT Internet site that is found by Google was replaced quite some time ago. Then today on an Amiga mailing list I’m subscribed to the subject of Protext came up again. On checking Google again I found the BT Internet site still listed, but now the pages that were there have gone, and they never linked the new site anyway. Checking further down the search results I found the fourth entry on the second page (as of that search anyway) was an old blog post on this site!

So the main point of this post is to provide a link to the correct site, and with a little luck people will pop in here and find the right place 🙂 Not that I have, or ever have had, any link with Arnor, I’m just a very satisfied user (or I guess ex-user, since I’ve not used Protext for some years now) of their software. I guess my use of Protext stood me in good stead for editors like Vim 😉

Oh, I’d better actually put the link in… here you go…

http://www.glinton.prodigynet.co.uk/protext/

07 Dec 2007

Installing packages from the web in Ubuntu

Without further ado I shall dive straight in with the warning that whenever you install a piece of software you should trust where you are getting it from. If you’ve chosen to use Ubuntu then presumably you’ve decided you trust the Ubuntu development process, but when you click on a link to download some software from a web site you need to be sure you’re on the correct site and that you trust those that run the site.

OK, with that out the way, I thought that I’d do a quick blog about the ease of installing .deb packages within Ubuntu (clearly I’m in a bit of a blogging mood today – something of a rarity!). I first stumbled across this a while ago when I decided to install the Opera browser alongside my usual Firefox install. I headed off to the Opera website to download the .deb file that I knew, from previous Debian installs, would be there. What I was expecting to do was download it, do a test install run with aptitude -s to check for any missing dependencies and then, after installing any missing items, install Opera – all via the trusty, familiar command line.

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16 Oct 2007

nm-applet problems with (X)Ubuntu 7.04

Following on from the fun I’ve been having getting wireless cards working under Ubuntu (or Linux in general for that matter) I found a bit of a glitch in the 7.04 install I’m running on my laptop. So a matter of days before the release of 7.10 I’m beating 7.04 into submission! The story goes a little like this:

After using a pretty standard Ubuntu install with Gnome for a while I decided to switch back to my preferred XFCE desktop. This was fairly straightforward, although the xubuntu-desktop package pulled in a few things I didn’t want, so I used it to populate the new install list (in Synaptic) and then trimmed the packages I didn’t want (mainly the office applications since I prefer to stick with OpenOffice). One thing I noted after making the switch back was that there was no Network Manager applet running, and a quick check of the package details seemed to indicate that it was part of Gnome, so I decided to look elsewhere for an equivalent. I experimented briefly with Wicd, but whilst doing that I found out that, although Network Manager is part of Gnome it is pretty free of Gnome dependencies and is largely independent, so I decided to switch back. Having done that I needed to look for a way of getting the applet running. This seemed simple enough, I just needed to add an entry into the Autostarted applications list as accessed from Applications -> Settings. Having done this all seemed well until, after a few reboots I noticed that I had multiple copies of the nm-applet in the panel – oops!

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15 Oct 2007

A Wiki I like!

Anyone that has seen my posts on a number of (generally Linux) mailing lists, may well be aware that there are a couple of web ‘technologies’ that I’m not too keen on. One is forums, and I’m still holding fast on that one. Another is the Wiki. In the past I’ve not been too keen on the idea as they seem to provide no real control over the formatting of the information you put in. I’ve downloaded and tried a couple. Twiki comes to mind with a strange system of filling in a form to then be emailed a link to the download.

Well I think I may have found one I actually like and may well use – shock, horror. I’ve never had much issue with the general concept (unlike forums), and having somewhere internally to dump information with little formatting that has easier access than a directory full of almost randomly named text files does sound appealing. Having used the HantsLUG wiki to put a few articles up, I’ve since had in the back of my mind to try a local wiki again. Mediawiki has been one on my list, but having found previous attempts with wiki packages to have left me cold I’ve been in no particular rush.

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31 Aug 2007

Apple TAX / Microsoft TAX

Recently on the Ubuntu Users mailing list there has been a thread on the ‘Apple TAX’ which started as somebody posting about purchasing an Intel based Apple without OS X, but has developed on to a discussion that seems to be comparing the inclusion by Apple of OS X with their systems to the inclusion by Dell and other PC manufacturers of Windows with their computers. I started off putting together a reply to one of the posts in that thread, but having typed it out I decided not to add fuel to the flames on that thread but to post a blog entry instead.

I may well be about to upset the applecart here, but personally do not see Apple including an OS with their hardware as a TAX. Part of this may be historical in that their platform started out back in the days when the primary development model was to create both hardware and OS in tandem to create a new platform. I’m thinking here of platforms like the Amiga, Atari ST, Acorn Archimedes and even IBM’s original intent with the IBM PC (I suspect). The majority of it, though, is the fact that I do not see it as in my remit to demand of Apple the removal of their freedom to create a product to the
specification that they choose. I would see that as against that basic principles of freedom on which Ubuntu, Linux and other free software is based. Apple have a product, and they have defined that the market they are targeting it at is that of people that want a package deal of a computer built, installed and ready to use. That is completely up to them.

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28 Aug 2007

XML, XSL, XHTML, etc.

Several months back, well probably last year in fact, I borrowed a couple of books from the library on XML, XHTML and the related standards with a view to revamping a few websites I look after. Good intentions, but lack of time meant I did little more than scan through the chapters and read a few sections before returning the books. Fast forwarding to the end of last week and this weekend and I’m back considering the long overdue overhaul of some of my websites – particularly my company one as it will be hitting the Yellow Pages shortly (yay, lookout for ‘Linux’ in the Yellow Pages!). Anyway, I did a bit of searching and reading around on sites like the W3C, W3Schools and a selection of other hits that came up and seemed to get nowhere. They all concentrate so hard on explaining what XML is, why it is good and a few references to the fact that XHTML brings XML to the web via updates to HTML, but none of them give any decent examples of how to actually use it. It all makes sense to me, or appears to, in concept. It all sounds very nice and I’m itching to get going, but whereas I could pick up a text editor and knock out some HTML pages quite quickly back in the days of Netscape 1.x; then as things progressed add in the new features, a bit of Javascript when needed and tidy things up with a bit of CSS; this next stage seems shrouded in a complete lack of any practical examples.

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22 Jul 2007

Wireless Ubuntu – part 2

Well, contrary to expectations that may be put upon the date today I managed to get wireless networking working in Ubuntu at last. Sadly this is on the ‘family’ desktop machine and not my laptop, but it is a start.

As I suspected, the Linksys WMP55AG worked a treat and was automatically detected and, after a bit of a pause while I cursed it not working, my two local networks appeared in the network manager applet and off I went. It correctly identified that I was using WPA and allowed my to put my TKIP passphrase in and off it went. A quick install of Thunderbird and it should be ready to start pursuading my wife to give it a go. It will be interesting to give this installation a real workout as the Windows XP install on the same machine runs like a dead Norwegian blue parrot!

I guess I should give a bit more detail, but for now, since I’m tired, I’ll call it a night. I will add that the card uses the MadWiFi driver which is manged by the restricted-manager utilty – I’ll have to learn more about that now so I can get the nVidia driver working properly.

14 Jul 2007