Thursday, March 27, 2008

Vista SP1 day 3

I recently blogged about my trials and tribulations with installing Vista Service Pack 1 on my desktop computer. To put it mildly it did not start out well. I blue screened,for the first time with any Vista machine I've worked on and was only able to salvage the computer by starting in safe mode and reverting to a restore point. This is the point when I start looking for help from Microsoft.

Fortunately it came,and it was quite good. I emailed tech support and they got back to me the next morning. The suggestion was to do a upgrade install (Repair) of my system. The "Problems and Solutions"log had informed me I was using a beta version of Vista when I needed a retail version, even though I had bought one when I built the PC last year. This indicated to the tech support person that it was most likely corrupted system files. She also suggested I install SP1 in a clean boot mode, which is done by turning off all startup items using MSCONFIG. In short it worked great, and I actually notice a faster machine with SP1.

File copy after SP1 is also considerably faster and the machine does have a certain pop to it that it didn't have after doing the repair install, and had turned off the startup items in the System Configuration.

So Vista SP1, it was worth the initial headache, if you have Vista and it's available when you check for available updates, do it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ubuntu 8.04 new Install Options

Linux a Unix based open source operating system has long been clawing its way up in a attempt to gain a small market share for a long time. One of the most popular versions of Linux is Ubuntu, they have just released the beta of version 8.04 and it has some great new features. For years many of the Linux distributions (distro) have had the ability to run the operating system off a "live CD" which allows you to try out the operating system running off a CD drive so you to check the compatibility of the drivers and give you a taste of the OS, while never touching your hard drive.

One of the new features of Ubuntu 8.04 is a new install option called the Wubi installer. The Wubi installer allows you to install Ubuntu directly into Windows. The experience is very similar to installing a normal Windows application. While it does install the system on to your hard drive, it doesn't change your Windows boot loader, and has a simple uninstall feature. The Wubi install option is far less intrusive than the old and still available install which replaces your window boot loader making an uninstall a true hassle. Dual booting now is far easier and has less of a pucker factor when hitting that install icon. This is a great way to get your feet wet with an excellent version of the Linux operating system. I tried the new installer today on a Thinkpad with XP and Vista already installed. I've been playing with it all night and the new OS works great, even got my wireless to work for the first time with Linux. (don't forget to back up first your results may vary)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Vista SP1 day 2

Well computers can be a challenge. My attempt at installing Vista service pack 1 crashed and burned. To make a long story short, the best I can do for now was to get the machine to boot into safe mode and pick a restore point just before I started the install. When I checked Vistas "Problem Reports and Solutions" one of the issues it claimed was that I needed to install a retail version of Vista, and that I was using a beta! WTF, I bought my copy of Vista at Fry's so I guess you never know, funny it never caught it before today though, considering I had updated the OS ever since I bought it with no problem. Well that was a helpful.

At least it's up and running fine again, it might be a while before I try SP1 on this machine again though.

Next on the pain train install Linux Ubuntu 8.04on a Thinkpad already running XP and Vista. Should be a piece of cake. The only question is should I install it into Windows with the new Wubi installer, or on its own partition.?

Vista SP1 2 outa 3 ain't bad

Well so far I've installed Vista or rather attempted to install Windows Vista Service Pack 1 on 3 computers. Service Pack 1 which became available for general download some time last week, was widely lauded in the tech community for adding some solid performance and compatibility improvements to Microsoft's latest operating system. I decided that I'd grab an image of the service pack, burn it on a CD, and just install it that way. In the past, with Windows Xp service pack 1 and 2, I had always paid 5$ for shipping, and had gotten a CD directly from Microsoft. This time I wanted the CD as I am using a satellite Internet service that limits my bandwidth usage. With a total of 4 machines now running Vista in the household, it seemed to make sense to download the entire 450mb image at an alternate location and proceed with the installation without any bandwidth penalty.

The first two installs went great, it only took about a half hour, (which is slower than the original install). But when I put it in my main production desktop disaster seems to be striking as I sit here, typing. First, it was taking forever, then after it's second reboot, blue screen! Oh #&%* ok it restarted again, this time I restarted in safe mode, it seemed to pick up the install at 33% it slowly, very slowly advanced to 100% on step 3 out of 3 on the install process. Next reboot, black error screen with boot up options, tried normal boot, Blue Screen! it restarted, this time I tried safe mode again, as I sit here now its in a "Service Pack did not Install.Reverting changes. Do Not Turn Off Computer" message staring at me. It's been an hour, guess I'll let it run all night and see what I get.

Wish me luck.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Using Vista’s Disk Management tool to re-partition your hard drive:

Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system has a hidden feature that users of Microsoft's older operating system had to get from outside vendors in the past. In Windows Vista Microsoft has added the ability to re-size and partition the primary hard drive without destroying the data on it. Although not as full featured as Norton Ghost or similar programs, the tool in Vista allows adequate modification of the primary partition to perform several useful functions. For Example, if you wanted to add another operating system to your computer and duel boot Vista with Windows XP or one of the popular Linux Distro's out there, the tools that ship with Vista work just fine.

To re-size and partition your hard drive in Vista click the start button and then right click on the start menu item Computer. Choose Manage off of the drop down menu, you will be prompted by UAC (user access control) to allow the user to access this procedure. The Computer Management window will now appear on the screen. On the left side of the screen the second to last item just under storage is Disk Management, double click Disk Management, and a diagram of the active hard drives, their size and space available will appear on the lower half of the window. Right click on the partition that you wish to resize, when the dialog box appears select Shrink Volume. Another dialog box appears after the computer queries itself to determine how much you can shrink the volume. The most the Disk Management tool will allow you to shrink the volume is 50% of the total available size. You can make the second partition smaller than 50% but no larger. On the Shrink C dialog box that has now appeared drop down to the line that says, Enter the amount of space to shrink in MB: and manually select the size of the new partition using the up/down arrows. Once you've selected the size click the shrink button, and Vista will resize your new partition. Next you will need to decide if you want to reformat your new volume.

If you want to use your new volume as an additional partition within your Vista system for storing data such as media files, or you want to install a copy of Windows XP on it, then you can use Disk Management to reformat and create another partition. using the NTSF file system. However, if you are going to install a Linux operating system on the volume, there is no need, as Linux operating systems uses a file system not available in the Disk Management tool in Vista. To format the volume just right click your new volume and select Format and your new volume will be formatted, it's all quite simple, and surprisingly fast.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Cool Apps: Launchy

One of my favorite new applications I found recently is a little open source project called Launchy. Launchy is a great way to search your computer and then open documents, applications or even music. The nicest part of this app is you launch, Launchy by hitting  Alt then space bar and it's there on your desk top. You begin typing an application you want to launch and two or three letters into the name the application appears in Launchy, usually at the top, of a list, hitting enter launches the application.

Windows Vista users will find Launchy similar to but not as powerful as the start search included in the OS, so considering you just hit the Win key and begin typing to do a start search, it may be of little use. In XP though it's way faster and more convenient than the built in search and is a must have. The developer is planning to make Launchy cross platform so soon it may be available on Linux or Mac OSX.

Check it out at and if you do decide to use it, and enjoy it, please consider making a small donation to the developer.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Saving Money on a Computer

I'll admit it, I'm a bit on the frugal side, well actually I'm cheap. I seldom buy brand new cars, if I do they're always with the base features and few options. When it comes to buying computers I never like to pay full retail. So, how can you buy a decent computer without spending a ton? Well you could try EBay, I've bought several computers on EBay and it's worked out fine. I think the key to EBay in general is only buy from sellers with lots of feedback. Usually you never have to buy from anyone with less than 99% positive feedback. When you buy from someone on EBay, ask lots of questions, make sure the deal includes the operating system disks. Also don't buy a computer that's running a operating system that's more than 1 generation older than the current OS. In other words don't buy a PC running anything older than Windows XP, unless it's going to be a Linux box or won't be used online. I also wouldn't buy any computer if it didn't have some kind of return policy. At least 30 days or more, if possible. At least if it's DOA you can return it. All of that said, EBay is still a bit risky, people still get burned, usually for not following common sense rules. is another great place to find great deals. An advantage Craigslist has is you get to check the item out before you buy it. Never...never buy from Craigslist unless it's cash and carry. Don't send money to someone on Craigslist as there's no recourse if you're burned. Going to some strangers can be a little creepy, so use common sense when you buy from someone you've never met before. That leaves one last category for getting a great deal on a computer.

Buying from a manufacturers outlet store, is my favorite way to save money on a computer these days. Most large computer makers have online stores. Somewhere on the home page you can usually find a link to their outlet store. The great thing about the outlets of major manufacturers is you get the same warranty as a regular, full price product. Also the computers sold from outlet stores have all been checked out by a technician prior to being shipped, unlike a new factory built computer that ships directly from the factory. People shouldn't worry about buying a so called refurbished computer from the original manufacturer. If a computer is merely opened and then returned the manufacturer cannot call it new anymore, by law it has to be listed as used or refurbished.

A quick check of the online stores from Apple, Dell, HP, Gateway and Sony all find outlet stores with substantial savings. My own experience was with Dell and I was totally impressed. I was looking for a current model the Inspiron 1420. I found at least 150 different machines available. I specifically wanted a dedicated graphics card, a 2.2 core 2 duo processor and a 160GB, 7200 rpm hard drive. I found several and quickly had one in my cart and was checked out. I was very happy with the Dell, it was on my front porch in 3 days with standard shipping and was equipped with no extra "crapware", exactly as I wanted. The machine came with the install disc for the operating system and all the necessary drivers ect.

About the Dell Outlet in particular, I am amazed at the sheer volume of product on the Dell site, and how fast it changes. For people needing XP you can find plenty of machines with XP installed. This is important, if you need XP on a new computer for some reason, either an application or piece of hardware you need, that wont run with Vista you don't necessarily want to downgrade a machine that shipped originally with Vista. Not only will you waste money by buying a copy of XP, negating most of your savings you just scored. You might find XP won't run that well on a computer that shipped with Vista. Some recent models of computers that shipped with hardware developed after Vista was released, don't have an XP compatible driver available. This is especially true with some of the newer video cards. So try to find a deal on a machine built with the operating system you intend to stay with.

Just browsing a few of the major PC makers online stores you find a great selection of refurbished computers selling at a considerable discount from their retail list price. Dell and Sony appear to have the most models in sheer volume. HP Lenovo, and Apple have many models but no where near their full selection of what's available new.

So if you want to save money on a new computer certainly check the outlet of the brand you are interested in before you shell out full price on a new computer.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Vista Tip, Add Run to Start Menu

Windows Vista has a lot of great features. It also has a few annoyances that hide or change features previously available in earlier versions of Windows. By default the Windows Vista start menu does not contain the Run command. To get to the Run command with the standard configuration, click the start "orb" type run in the search box, and Run should be at or near the top item on the list. To add the Run command to the start menu, right-click the start menu, select properties this brings up the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties page. The "Start Menu" tab will be highlighted, click on the Customize" button. This will bring up the Customize Start Menu, scroll down to the near the bottom, you will see Run next to an unchecked box. Check the box, and click Ok to exit and save the setting. Now you have the Run command available, with one click at the start menu.