Tag Archives: Windows

School IT education

I’ll start this post off by stating that I’m not having a go at any specific school with my comments here, least of all the one that my son attends, and that I attended too many years ago to mention. My sons school is, in fact, a very good school, and I’m not just saying that because I am now a governor 😉

That said, let’s move on…

The other day my son came home and asked if he could use the computer. Nothing spectacularly unusual there, but shortly after logging on he came back to me asking if we had “the big blue W” on it somewhere. After a brief to and fro I ascertained that what he meant was Microsoft Word and that he wanted to show me something that he had done at school.

There’s a few points here. Firstly there is the comparison with when I was his age (he is seven). Back then I still had around 6 years until the ZX81 was launched and I got my first taste of computers. Now they are not only everywhere, but interconnected to the point where it didn’t even occur to him that the work he had been doing at school wouldn’t be accessible from home – bless him.

Secondly there’s the annoyance that from such an early age the ‘big blue W’ and Microsoft Word are synonymous with word processing. I keep trying to tell myself that he is only seven and they need to keep things simple, but it is still irritating. The end result of this was that I sat down and explained what a word processor was, and that even though I didn’t have the one he used at school I did have another one. I was encouraged by the fact that, when presented with OpenOffice he set straight to work trying to reproduce the same sort of document he had at school, and did so with no help at all – beyond a brief grumble that there wasn’t much clipart! (actually I did show him where that was).

The next question baffled me a bit, “do we have the internet?”. My response was to tell him that we did, and that he used it regularly! Then we headed down a familiar road, “no I mean the big blue e” 🙁 So off we went down the explanation of what a browser was and that he was already quite comfortable using both Opera and Firefox, as was his younger brother (who is 3). In fact they are both rather too good at some of the games on the CBeebies, Nick Jr and BBC Dr Who websites! Still, they are also quite happy playing with Frozen Bubble or Tux Paint 🙂

15 Jul 2008

Firefox 3 first thoughts

Well I’ve only been using Firefox 3 for a very, very short while, but thought I’d make a few notes on my initial thoughts. I’ve not tried the beta or release candidate versions at all, so this is a real first impression.

To start with it is worth noting that I’ve only installed the Windows version, since I’m suffering using Microsoft on the desktop for a while. This is partly due to a couple of hardware failures, partly office reorganisations that are as yet unfinished, and partly forcing myself to keep my hand in – unfortunately I have to.

The first thing I noticed was that it was much faster and more responsive. Firefox 2 has, particularly in the past few weeks, been pausing for periods for no apparent reason. The second observation was that the memory footprint was much, much smaller, so this may well be linked. I tend to use a reasonable number of tabs when browsing and have been keeping an eye on the memory usage recently. I’ve been trimming things down to around 12 open tabs at a time and was amazed that Firefox was using between 200M and 260M, with no sign of reducing when tabs were closed. After installing Firefox 3 I checked and found that it was running at pretty much exactly half that, around 100M to 130M with the same 12 tabs as before the upgrade!

Part of this reduced footprint may be down to the few extensions that are now disabled due to incompatibility. With a major upgrade it is probably time to take a look through the extensions I’m using to see if any are no longer relevant. A few quick highlights of my extension usage are…

Bookmark Sync and Sort – sadly this is no longer compatible, and from a quick investigation it hasn’t been updated for a good while now, and the referenced home page has gone. Time to look for an alternative it seems. All this was doing was backing up my bookmarks to a WebDav folder on my intranet server, and at first glance there seems to be no obvious alternative. With a bit more digging I’ve found two, or perhaps just the one, options:

  • Foxmarks – I ignored this first time round since it was linked to a service, but further investigation shows that you can use it with either WebDav or FTP, as well as install a server component. The original Foxmarks was based on the OSAF Cosmo server, but it looks as though this has been replaced by the Chandler project, so a little more investigation is required.
  • Sitebar – another one I passed over when finding Bookmark Sync and Sort. Again it is linked to a service, but it seems that you can download the server component if you want to. Sadly, according the the Mozilla Addons site it doesn’t currently support Firefox 3, but it does have the advantage of being open source which Foxmarks doesn’t seem to be. Again, more investigation is required.

Firebug, IE Tab (remember this is on Windows!), It’s All Text!, Speed Dial and Web Developer are all available for Firefox 3, so that just leaves…

Tab Mix Plus – not having this one is a bit painful, although partly because I’m not sure what features I’m missing that were part of it and what may now be officially available that I haven’t found yet! That said, I’ve just noted that there is a newer version, just not listed on the Mozilla Addons site. I’ll have to give it a try and then work out what options I’m using that it provides – the session manager, the new tab button and undo closed tabs spring to mind.

There are a couple of other incompatible ones listed on my install. Google Photos Screensaver I think I had disabled anyway and RealPlayer Browser Plugin I hadn’t noticed before – although is probably responsible for blindingly easy downloads from YouTube etc. 🙂

That’s what leaps out at me, bar the slight interface changes. No doubt more differences will become obvious over time.

18 Jun 2008

Bizarre Windows bug of the day

Windows is weird. I know any software can have the odd bug and behave in an unexpected fashion, but Windows really does do bugs and glitches better than anyone else. It is exceptionally good at doing something strange that you can’t quite fathom, and after the traditional helpdesk fix of rebooting you’ll possibly never see it again – in spite of the fact that the error in the code is still there. From my personal experience with the other operating systems I’ve used, when you find a bug situation it is generally repeatable and a reboot doesn’t fix it, but I’m rashly generalising there!!

Anyway, the oddment for today went something like this:

I’ve been in Windows XP doing some work for most of the day without problems. Well, other than the horribly cumbersome and unfriendly user interface that is, but that’s another issue! I then locked the screen and headed of to pick up my son from school. On returning I unlocked the screen with a view to carrying on with some work, but all was not well…

I run a dual screen setup, and the left screen seemed fine. The right screen was not so happy though. The icons along the left hand side of the screen had moved across about a quarter of the width and any windows that were maximised only used the right three quarters of the screen. Oddly the Start menu came up in the correct place at the bottom right of the screen, and any windows moved between screens still used the left quarter of the screen.

I’m afraid I couldn’t be bothered to investigate further and simply rebooted. I’ve long since given up on trying to solve Windows problems that don’t survive a reboot or repeat easily. It just isn’t worth the hassle. Conversely if I get a bug in Linux I want to know why. I guess I’ve just grown to expect Windows to crash and present bugs on a semi regular basis. Has Microsoft created a culture of accepting sub standard products? Thought for another post perhaps!

03 Apr 2008

Damn the spam

Don’t you just hate spam. It is bad enough having to filter out spam that is being sent to you, but last night I was the unfortunate recipient of another wholly more annoying form of spam. That’s the sort when your email address has been used by a spam bot somewhere as the sending address for a batch of junk mail. Now sadly there is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent this. You could not tell anyone your address and never use it, then, so long as it isn’t one that may be tried at random, it probably won’t be used by anyone sending spam. That sort of defeats the object though. If your email address ends up in somebody’s address book (and we are pretty much talking Windows and Outlook here), or is referenced on a public website, then there is a risk of it being harvested.

So last night I received just over 1000 bounce messages in one of a variety of formats and languages – from mailbox full, through notifications that the person has left the company, to requests to validate the message manually, and others. With my current ‘in limbo’ mail setup I also ended up with another 1000 or so frozen messages in my mail queue. I really must sort that out. I guess it would be worth looking into the spam filtering too, since surely if the message is included in the return then it should be possible to filter it out automatically – another thing for my mail revamp to consider!

28 Mar 2008

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

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

System building

I was planning to head to the LUG meeting today, but a combination of over tiredness, things that needed doing and apathy set in and it didn’t happen. What did happen was supposed to be reasonably productive – once I’d got myself going that is!

The first achievement was a good positive one. I tried the scanner I picked up from Jamies a while ago for the second time and found it actually worked. My first test was simply a power on test and when the scanning light didn’t come on and it made no noise or other indication of life I feared the worst. Well it seems that the modern USB scanners do the sensible thing and stay dormant until required – and this includes keeping the light off. My ancient SCSI one has the bulb lit permanently and makes a solid clunking sound as the mechanism checks that it is settled in the parked position as soon as power is applied.

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02 Oct 2005

Me vs Windows: a printer installation

Daft subject? Maybe, but one more reason why Windows is clearly not ready for the desktop yet! I’ve spent good chunk of today trying to install 3 Hewlett Packard network printers onto a Windows XP Professional installation. This is a clean install of the OS, so shouldn’t be far away from pristine condition.

It should be easy, especially with the Install Network Printer Wizard that HP provide. This scans the network to identify any printers available and will then configure and install all the necessary settings. Well it will if it doesn’t get to the last stage and then decide that it has an unknown error and back out the whole operation. This happens every single time it is used on all three network printers.

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30 Sep 2005

Where has the fun gone in computing?

My first ever computer was a ZX81 bought for me on my 13th birthday. I never upgraded it in any form and only ever had the tapes that came with the computer (so none of the dreaded ‘RAM pack wobbles’ for me!). I had that machine for about a year before selling it and having a painful time without a computer whilst waiting for my Spectrum to arrive. The only thing my ZX81 ever got used for was writing my own programs or typing in listings from magazines. While I was waiting for my Spectrum I wrote a Pacman style game for it, and since I didn’t have any manuals for it yet I used the list of commands on the back of the brochure and listings in Your Computer magazine to work out what the commands did and their syntax (needless to say it didn’t work right away!). All that programming was great fun and probably most of what I used my computers for. I did have a good number of games for my Spectrum too (obviously!), but programming was always more fun.

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24 Sep 2005