Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


New Laptop Win 7 x 64

August 12, 2011

Has it really been nearly 2 years since I did anything here?  Actually all of my blogging has suffered, but I’m going to see if I can write myself back into the scene.

First I want talk about my newest laptop and Windows 7 and my experience with that, and then will update about Linux in the next post.

In Feb. 2010 I did get a new laptop because my old one, Laptop Alpha, was going to pieces…almost literally.  The power cord was coming unraveled, the case was cracking and breaking and it was just in terribly bad shape.  It eventually just died…would not boot under any circumstances.  So it was time to get a new machine and I knew I wanted something with a more powerful graphics card.  Enter the Asus UL50VT.  The link takes you to a basic list of this laptops features and specifications.  It came with Win 7 x 64 Home Premium.  It also came with a basic Splashtop Linux preinstalled, but in a very nonconventional way which is not listed in the specs.

Basically, there is a separate power button for the other (Linux) OS that will be up and running in about 8 seconds and will shut down in about 4.  It is a bare bones OS, meaning it is designed to get a person on the web or looking at pictures or handling basic media but nothing too sophisticated.  And it was a very handy thing in the very early days of using this machine, but more about that in a moment.  This was a very novel approach to the problem of having to wait forever for Windows to boot up.  Heaven forbid you have not updated or had the machine on for an hour or so to get new virus or malware definitions.  With the Linux part of the machine, none of these were issues.  It turns on and you go.  Period.  But you do pay the price in some of the functionality as far as using any of the programs that are not preinstalled with that Linux program or trying to save on the hard drive.  It was designed for speed and simplicity.  While it did not do a lot, this little Linux always worked and was stable.  It never froze or crashed.  (See another view of Splashtop Linux on the Asus)

Windows 7, on the otherhand, was an entirely different story, at least in this 64 bit version.  I had gotten my wife a new laptop the Christmas before buying this machine and it was a 32 – bit Windows system that she really likes and had few problems with.  But on this machine, it has been a constant struggle to get along with Win7 which I attribute to it being a 64-bit machine.  There ARE improvements over XP with this OS and most programs can be installed fairly painlessly and flawlessly.  But after a month, programs were freezing and crashing all the time, and there was no way to force quit them using the program manager.  It simply would not work.  With subsequent updates and service packs, this condition has improved dramatically, but I also had to do a completely new reinstall from my back up disks in order to make the Windows side work decently enough.  Windows still requires a myriad of babysitting programs to keep it protected from malware and to keep running smoothly.  On a Wednesday morning, after “Patch Tuesday“, I can expect to lose at least 30 minutes while the OS is updated.  However, with Java, Adobe and virus definition files, the updates are kind of continuous, and rarely add functionality as they are mostly security patches.

For the first couple months, I found myself on the Linux side of this machine a lot of the time, because Windows was so awful with the freezes and crashes.  I think most Windows users are used to this and accept this as a matter of course.  But I had been using Linux most of the time on my old laptop and was just used to things working.  I’m not against working through a problem, but there are times when a body just wants things to work!  I give Win7 high marks for being able to work with peripherals like mp3 players and cameras with little or no effort.  You plug things into it, and it knows what to do.  I could listen to music or watch DVD movies with little or no fuss.  It came with a student copy of Office 2007 which I could use for 30 times before I would have to buy and unlock it.  But I use open office and the times I have to use MS Office are few and far between.  It would be nice if I could install my copy of Office XP on this machine, but MS Licensing says I have to register with the mothership and call the home office in order to use the program I bought legally on this machine.  Microsoft licenses are the biggest and best reason to go open source, because they cripple your ability to use their products as long as you want in order to try to force you to upgrade and buy more of their stuff.  I don’t mind paying for something if it can really do a better job.  But rather than adding functionality to new products, MS will make the old product unusable to force you to pay for features you may not want or need.  Screw that!

I do love my Asus laptop, even though I recently had to get a new battery and paid a cut-rate price for a cut-rate battery.  Even if I rarely use the battery, it is nice to have when I need it.  But there is no way I am going to get more than a couple hours with it, as opposed to the 11 hours that is advertised.  The screen and keyboard are spacious and this laptop is relatively thin and light.  But it was installing Linux that made this machine the start that it is, at least for me.


Mandriva 2008

June 5, 2008

I’m trying out a new distro on my new laptop and so far, pretty good. This is a Dell Vostro 1500 (1 G RAM Intel 2 core duo) which came preloaded with Windows XP. Yes, I opted away from Vista as I knew that the machine wouldn’t be all that happy with 1G RAM with that OS. I’ve had a chance to play a bit with Vista, and 1 G is a minimum requirement. It runs like an XP system upgraded to 512 Mb RAM.

I’ve had my eye on Mandriva for awhile. I’m not sure why it didn’t work on my work machine (with and Intel Dual core 2.4 Ghz) the last time I blogged it, but it did work on my home machine (an old 1.8 Ghz eMachine) on the live CD. In fact the Compiz feature worked right out of the box and right up front on that machine.

Mandriva and PCLinusOS are forks of Mandrake, so they are either siblings or really close cousins. They both look very similar and work similar enough that moving from one to the other is not a big deal. One thing I like about Mandriva is the option of upgrading to the Power Pack version if I choose.

I began the work of installing by downloading and burning a live CD version of QTParted. Since installing PCLOS on another machine, I’ve gotten better and more comfortable with resizing partitions. QTP made it easy. Installing Mandriva was as easy and painless as any other modern Linux distro. I can’t imagine doing new Windows install nowadays, as the last time I had that done it took PC repair people over 2 days to get it all installed and I still had to call the Mother Ship to reinstall Office XP.

This Dell already had 3 partitions set up. One was the main Windows partition, with two other very small partitions for media and recovery files (I’m guessing). So I was limited to creating one more partition as I was limited to 4 total partitions with this program. With a 250 GB HD, I had plenty of real estate to spread out. I ended up giving the new partition 50 GB of that. If I ever master video creation in Linux, I may need more. But I’m still using Windows to make and edit video.

One issue that crops up with people going to Linux is wireless support. For a desktop hooked with an ethernet cable, internet access is no big deal. For laptops, it is a different story as wireless access is much more critical. One reason why I waited a couple of months to put Linux on this machine was not knowing how to make wireless work. But I persisted with the live CD until I figured it out. Using Ndiswrapper (included in the installation process) was a new experience and there was some trial and error involved. I was able to find my Windows “drivers” folder and found the wireless folder easily enough. But there were two folders and each had a different .inf file for wireless. I tried each, and of course the first one wasn’t the right one, but the second one was. Getting wireless to work was the critical factor for me doing an install, making this a dual-boot machine. Being successful with this and the partitioning were the major concerns of this install. It wasn’t anything about Mandriva or Linux that made these issues, it was my inexperience and nervousness.

Mandriva did give me one major issue right out of the box.  I noticed up front there was some loud speaker hiss that persisted no matter the volume/mute status on volume control.  That was a huge annoyance since I use headphones most of the time.  In fact it was huge enough that even though Mandriva worked better and faster than Windows in most respects, I still booted in Windows much of the time.  I finally found another blogger who had a similar issue.  The fix was not exactly the same but similar: I went to the volume control, clicked mixer, and then went to the input tab.  In this case, turning off the left capture mixer did the trick.  This will be fine as long as I never have to actually input or capture anyting.  But I might want to, someday.

The Grub bootloader works fine, but it did take some fiddling and experimenting to figure out which partition was going to load Windows when I wanted it as the menu choice “Windows” wasn’t the proper one.

But right now, everything else works well so I’m going to stick with it.  However, I need to test it out more before deciding on whether or not I want to pay for an upgrade.  I realize that getting a distro to work properly out of the box on a laptop is trickier that a desktop for some reason, mostly having to do with the wireless issues.



Why I don’t have an Apple

April 15, 2008

I like to do things with audio, video and photos, so it would seem like I’d be a natural Apple Fan. In fact, I used to be, back in the day. My first computer was a Laser 128, which was a clone of the Apple II series. I had that machine for about 3 years and it served me extremely well. When that machine finally died, I really, really wanted a Mac, and so I bought a used Mac 512 with an extra external drive. This served me well for a couple of years and then I bought a Mac Color classic. I loved this machine a lot with 4 MB of RAM and 8 MB hard drive. It lasted several years, and I learned that a little bit of power and capability on a Mac seemed to go a lot further than it did on a PC.

But there were problems in the early 1990’s with being a mac user and trying to get online. Basically, AOL was the only real game in town, and it was expensive. I could have joined a Macintosh users group (MUG) and gotten an email address an access to their online forums but most of the people I really wanted to interact with were PC users. What really got me was when I needed to buy another keyboard do to a liquid spill and saw the difference in price. Everything having to do with a Mac was more expensive. Printers, modems, keyboards and every other peripheral were costing 2-3x more for the Mac. Plus they had very limited expandability, and any expansions also cost a premium. When I went into my local CompUSA store, I saw acres and acres of shelf space devoted to PC games and peripherals and maybe one shelf devoted to Apple stuff. I had to travel further to visit an Apple store for the privilege of paying more money to get whatever stuff I wanted. And I always wanted more than I could afford. I got sick of it.

So when my wife got a special Wal-Mart discount on a 486, we went for it. The Color Classic went to a relative who didn’t have a computer, but all the preteen daughter wanted to do was go online which was exceedingly difficult with the Mac. Within a year. They bought a PC.

By now, you know the story. We can buy a PC anywhere at anytime for a much lower price than a Mac. Macs do work and they work very well for what they do. They had better do well for what Apple is charging for them. The markup on an Apple machine is by a factor of several hundreds. Mac fans can not afford to be anything less than totally devoted to their machines because they have paid so dearly and must constantly fend off the temptation to buy 2 or 3 PCs for the cost of one of theirs. Being a bit closed-minded is part of the Mac culture because that is what is built into the Mac’s themselves. The economics of productivity and computing power can not be factors as much as a certain religious fanaticism toward the Mac platform.

I like Macs and always have considered getting one when it was time to buy a new PC. However, I shrink away from paying thousands for a machine when I can trade off my PC knowledge for performance and come out ahead.

This is not Mac bashing, but I have always had issues with Apple’s closed-off, elitist proprietary business practices that almost make Microsoft’s business model look very soft and snuggly by comparison! This little trip down memory lane was brought on by the issue of Apple trying to squash an effort by a Mac Clone company that will offer an OS X Leopard machine for about $500, which is way, way less than anything Apple is selling close performance and hardware wise.

The Apple company and fan base has always been hostile towards free-market competition. Whether this whole thing blows over or not, it does highlight the problem Apple has always had and will probably always have with Steve Jobs at the helm. Thank goodness they were not as able to put a headlock around the mp3 player business! They make good products and they should be allowed to do price their stuff for whatever the market is willing to pay. People can and will vote with their feet and their wallets, which is what I did 15 years ago. Now, with Linux, we have an even better playing field and even more choices and options. With that in mind, that makes the PC and even better buy than an Apple. I’ve always wondered why someone would clear off OS X for Ubuntu, but to each their own.



Mepis Results

January 19, 2007


My paras are trying out some Linux distributions because I have a machine that has effectively locked us out of XP.  My friendly IT person, Mr. Khan, hasn’t had a chance to remedy this so I’m using various live CDs to see how some nontechnical folks react to Linux on the desktop.


Their first exposure was Puppy Linux which was adequate but certainly didn’t impress any of them in any way compared to their experiences with Windows.  These are people that simply want their machines to work.  Their patience and time is limited so they are not  going to waste time tweaking.  And you can forget about command lines.  It isn’t happening.  


I asked Coach today what he was looking for in a computer, since they are officially searching for new one.  His wife is more computer literate than him, but he said he wanted a machine that could play music, watch DVD movies, handle pictures, play some games, do email and surf the internet.  He and his wife do online banking and online shopping and might consider doing their taxes using a computer program.


Is there Linux tax software?


They’ve been using Mepis for a week, so I thought I’d get some feedback and pass it along.


All 3 paras preferred Mepis over Puppy Linux.   However each has experienced some frustration with some aspect of Mepis.  Patience was unhappy because I hadn’t configured the printer so it didn’t want to print.  Once I got the printer working, she was happy.  She’s a bit of a Mahjong junkie so it didn’t take her long to find that in the games folder.



Queen is the least comfortable with it, as she is simply not used to the new icons and desktop.  She definitely prefers XP over Mepis. She’s been out for a few days so has the least experience with it and the least feedback to offer.


Coach was the most happy with it, as he really loved having some new games to play around with.  It took him awhile to understand and navigate the menu but once he did he explored around a bit and found what he wanted.  His main issue was not being able to use the CD drive to play a music CD because the drive was occupied by the Mepis CD.


Since none of them have flash or key drives, the whole mounting/unmounting thing hasn’t come up and won’t likely unless I install one of these distros.  I’m sort of waiting for the Dreamlinux CD to arrive before I change the system again.  If it’s not here by Monday, I may give Ubuntu a whirl.


All-in-all, Mepis has held up well in live CD mode for day-to-day use by my 3 para educators.  I occasionally have to show them how to do something, but once I show one, they share with each other.  The printing issue came up this morning and was the first time in a few days where I had to sit in front of it to get it to work. Otherwise it has worked surprisingly well.





Puppy Linux 2.10

September 15, 2006

Oh my.  This distro just keeps getting better!  I’m also getting better at finding my way around Linux.  I’m getting closer to finding my distro.  I can feel it.  And it might just be this one.  Stay tuned for a big shout out if this one makes the final cut.  We are in a third round of testing right now, with previous ones documented here and here.

One of the problems I had with Puppylinux the last 2 times out was it did not automatically detect my netwrok settings on my work machine.  After readinig another review, I had a better idea of what to look for.  The answer was right there; the network wizard.  As I said previously, Puppy has wizards for everything.  Windows users frequently complain about the lack of wizards in Linux systems.  There can be no such complaint here.  So now I am able to use this distro at work in a similar fashion as I’ve been using Mepis.

Version 2.10 is an upgrade from the previous version I had previously tested.  One thing I noticed was that this version seems to use a bit less RAM than previous versions.  Supposedly there is more modem support in this version.  From what I read, there might actually be support for my old Smartlink modem (which is a Win softmodem) as opposed to the US Robotics that I presently have on my home machine.  The good news is that the way Puppylinux runs, it is a viable alternative if I lose Windows or my hard drive.  With sufficient RAM (at least 128 Mb) a machine wouldn’t even really need a hard drive.  a flash drive would work just fine.  This is exactly what I intend on doing with a work laptop that I’ll be taking home this weekend.  It looks like it has a modem jack, so we might be able to conduct some business that way.

One of Puppy’s claims to fame is speed, which I have covered before.  But speed in program opening and execution is only part of it.  The first bit is the fact that Puppy boots faster from the CD than any other distro I’ve tried.  It boots faster than either Windows or Mepis from the hard drive.  With the ability to save my settings on a keydrive, the hard drive or a CDRW, there isn’t a real reason to run a dual boot system.  Having a partition to store settings, files and programs might be very useful, but this is not strictly necessary as thumb drives are easily large enough to handle most regular file saving chores and CD/DVDs can handle larger jobs.

It is worth a serious look for the nOOb, as well as the enthusiast.  There are many developer tools available for those who like tweaking around.  I like the way this distro runs.  I might have to do a thing or two to get it to look more like I would like it to look, but making it do what I want is the first job.