The Pleasures of Upgrading A New PC – Firefox 4

At this point, the frenzy of installing new applications and programs is slowing.  The machine is beginning to get more complete, but there will be other tweaks down the road.

The first step was triaging all the old hardware and finding which laptops needed recycling.

The second step was installing the operating system, and the minimum software.

The third step was convincing PDF software to actually install and work.

The fourth step was installing the excellent IrfanView and beginning to get my graphics software settled

The fifth step was the install of GIMP that was surprisingly less painful than most.

In the middle of all of this, and perhaps a little out of step, I found that a web page wasn’t loading quite right.  I’m not in control of it so I couldn’t have fixed the page.  What happened was that I went to check if Firefox had been upgraded.

It had.

To Version 4.0.

Now many professionals have a theory – Never Upgrade to a “Dot Zero Release”.  I’m usually a bit less conservative about that, and well frankly everything.  So true to my liberal leanings and my Quaker upbringing, I jumped in full force.

I threw the baby out with the bath water, got a new baby, new water and a brand spanking new bathtub.

The good news is that I’m writing this to you, now, and am quite pleased.

Firefox 4 is faster than Firefox 3.6 was.  Noticeably faster.  Blisteringly faster.  Like they tacked a turbo charger onto the old diesel and now it is blowing the doors off things.

Hyperbole aside, the upgrade was painless.  I haven’t yet found a problem with this.  Granted, this is “First Day” I am writing this, and will be posted the second day, but I have already opened a lot of web sites.  I’m sure I will find things that are broken, although I never did with the Old Firefox.

It does seem to use a little more of the processor, and it can use more memory depending on what you are doing.  The old Firefox 3.6 and it’s predecessors would slowly eat up memory.  It would use more and more until *POP* it would crash.  This would take a couple days of use or abuse.  I would open my morning 160 web pages, do my thing, and leave the browser up with four email accounts, Facebook, and the login pages to CareerBuilder, Monster, and Dice.  At the end of the day I’d hibernate the laptop and go through the same process “tomorrow”.   Eventually Firefox would crash, the operating system would become unglued and I’d readily take the time to restart the machine.  It would normally take a week.

The new Firefox 4 seems to be better at actually returning the memory it uses to the operating system.  I have a lot open at the moment, and this is after the system has been up, hibernated, and revived.  The memory use is what I would expect with 20 plus tabs and counting.

At the moment I have open more than 160 tabs worth of web pages.  Yes, 160, and I did count.

On Firefox 3.6, I’d be around 1GB of memory used for the browser and it would be creeping along… I’d be worried that it wasn’t going to work and crash with loss of work.

Now on Firefox 4 with those 160 pages, I am watching the windows task manager show me between 1.50 and 1.60 GB of memory. Substantial increase, but at this point of the morning, it is smooth.  The nice thing is that it’s also using my video card (Ok, GPU for the techies out there) to do some of the work – this is why it’s faster.  Your Processor and Video Card – both are being used.  Now, while 1.5 or 1.6GB sounds like a lot, keep in mind, it starts out around 120MB and grows with what you’re doing.  It’s shrinking it’s usage as I close tabs and windows.   The old Firefox was less gentle with it’s memory use, and wouldn’t always return memory to the operating system.

I’m currently doing all of this on a Core2Duo SU7300 (I think) Thinkpad T60 with 4GB of Memory and a 7200rpm 500GB hard drive.  Old but not decrepit.  Midspec – after all a Netbook is much slower and they’re still selling THOSE.

I may be on the trailing edge with an “old” laptop, but I’m using all of it to get a LOT of things done and apparently all at once.  The last list of 38 pages loaded while I was typing in the last three paragraphs.  It would pause very slightly as Firefox found something it needed to “think” about, but nothing nearly as bad as the old version.

I am also having to change how I work with Firefox.  Before, I’d have an excuse to slack more.  I’d launch Firefox, launch 35 tabs, and idle away until they’ve loaded by playing solitaire, contemplating my navel, looking for pocket change in the chair, petting the dog, making faces at people who walk by.  You know, normal stuff.   Now, I select the same 35 tabs, and they load so much faster that I only have time to do a little dawdling before coming back to the work at hand.   After all, it is limited by the speed of my WiFi connection.

There are some famous tweaks out there to make “My” firefox run faster at the expense of more hits on the web server or fewer saves.  I still have them since they weren’t set back to “factory default”.

The browser should act just like it did.  It has some changes in how it looks – the “User Interface” or “UI”.  The biggest one was that it put the menu bar folded up into an orange button that says “Firefox” with a little downward pointing arrow.  Like the start button.  I hated that and got rid of it by going into the orange button and clicked on Options and turned on the Menu Bar again.  I also lost my weather thing because they turned off the status bar at the bottom of the browser.  To turn that all back on, right click on the area to the right of the ugly-orange-button-that-says-Firefox and check “Add On Bar” as well as your “Menu Bar”.  You’ll be back to the old faithful look and feel.

I am NOT a fan of “Minimalist” computing when it comes to something like that.

Ahh Much Better.   Now it looks like a Windows application with the familiar “File Edit View” menu at the top.  Yes, I’m a traditionalist that way.  I don’t want to learn how to use a program simply because someone made a design decision that turns it into the “Tallest Nail” and is trying to “be slick”.

How to get it?

Simple, surf and click on the green “Firefox 4” button.
Accept and save the download.
Run the file.
Close your browser windows, yes all of firefox browser windows.  IE and Chrome don’t count… ever.
It updated, painlessly.
It only asked whether I want icons on the desktop and start button menu and where to put the thing. 

If you are using Firefox, I’d say upgrade now.   If you aren’t because of one reason or another, I’d say you should try it.  If you’re one of my clients, this is what I’ll be instructing you to use.

The Pleasures of Upgrading a New PC – GIMP

The most work when you move into someplace new is making it your own.  Arranging the paintings on the wall, changing the carpets, and the drapes.  There is a very similar process going on when you get a new computer.  I am in the process of creating a workbench that I will be using for quite a while.

The first step was triaging all the old hardware and finding which laptops needed recycling.

The second step was installing the operating system, and the minimum software.

The third step was convincing PDF software to actually install and work.

The fourth step was installing the excellent IrfanView and beginning to get my graphics software settled (Link Needed)

Today it is the install of GIMP that I am attacking.

What is GIMP? To borrow from their web page, it is the GNU Image Manipulation Program.  That doesn’t tell you much so we can break it down for you easy peasy!

GNU means it’s Open Source and therefore free to download, use, and enjoy.
Image Manipulation Program means that basically you can use a picture as a canvas to change things, add text and drawings, change colors, move bits around.

GIMP is a “Free or Open Source Software” (FOSS) program that will let you do just about anything you can do in Photoshop.  It is not necessarily THE standard tool for graphics editing, Photoshop seems to own that title, but if I need to work on Photoshop, I need to pay for it and install software that snoops in the background to phone home and tell Adobe where I am.  Not really fond of that idea here… Privacy and all that.

I’ve never really progressed to the point where I need to shell out for Photoshop, and many graphics artists use it at a professional level in order to get their work done.  It is so complex that years later I still have to think how to do some subtle task, while to get some basic things done are fairly straightforward.

On the other hand, I had the experience recently to try to use Photoshop on its own on a professional workstation with no training.  I need the Photoshop for Dummies book… I’ll admit it!

So to get Gimp installed on your PC, here is what you do:

1) Surf and let the page load.  If you want a somewhat more indepth idea of what GIMP can do for you, you can check out the features link and read for yourself.  I Grossly Oversimplified GIMP!

2) Select the orange on black link for Downloads.  (Halloween anyone?)  I’ll forgive the colors, the software is worth the effort.

3) GIMP comes from the world of Linux and isn’t directly supported by the project on Windows.  On the other hand, there’s a handy package for you to download and I’m going to step you through it.  The link for download is the third link on the body of the page, but you can grab it from here until it’s changed.  You may also want to grab the manual, again on the downloads page, but here’s the direct link until it is changed for the English book…

4) When fully downloaded, launch the setup program.  You will be eventually presented with the GIMP Setup Program, and click Next, Next at the GNU General Public License, and Install Now button.

5) That is it.  It will present you with a helpful check box asking if you want to launch the program and a button that says “Done”.   It took about a minute on my now becoming more trusty T60.

The program will launch, and load. It warns you that it will take some time, and it isn’t kidding.  I’m glad for once they give you a little progress bar to tell you that it’s loading because it takes more than a full minute here to load. 

At this point you will be presented with the “GNU Image Manipulation Program” main window, the “Toolbox” window and the “Layers, …” window.  To close the program you click on the X Box at the upper right of the GNU window.   Alternately you can load in any picture and start to edit.   This is not your Grampa’s Paint Program, its seriously powerful and if you need some pictures to edit, this is a good way to start.

I’ve been using it for years and frankly I don’t know a third of the software.  I get things done, but in a lot of cases, I get things done by brute force.  You will want to read that manual that you downloaded at some point.

Also there are all sorts of extensions for The GIMP.  You can find them online, and since it is released under the GPL, you should be able to get them for free. 

If you can’t “get the job done” with The GIMP, there’s another piece of software called Inkscape that I’ll be writing about shortly and show you… tomorrow.

The Pleasures of Upgrading a New PC – Irfan View

I’m in the middle of a migration.  No, I am not flying North for the Summer!  I am moving into a New-To-Me laptop.  The oldest one died, the daily driver is getting unreliable but will be “repurposed”, and this is the newest one of the lot.

If you’re so inclined, you can read the story here:

First the story of how I decided that it was time to move with limited funds.
Second, how I actually installed the Operating System and the minimum software needed.
Third, how annoying it can be to get PDF to work smoothly on a new install.

Today, I have to install graphics software.

As a part of the volunteer work that I do and all of the web development work that I have picked up over the ages, I require better than the very basic software that Windows 7 comes with to get pictures and text to the web.  Sure, for most folks this is enough, but you can get much more without spending any money.

Here is how I do it.

Irfan View – a Swiss Army Knife for picture viewing.
Ifran view does a lot more than just view pictures.  The software is amazingly flexible and takes the attitude that you don’t need to be complex to get a lot of complexity done.  You can do some simple editing with crop and paste, play around with editing color schemes and remove things like that annoying kid who insisted on putting gang hand signs on his chest when you got the family photo back in 2005 at Christmas.

Yes, Jonathan, I am talking about you.

I have been using Irfan View for more than ten years now.  It is so easy to use that you forget just how much power you have at your fingertips.  If I need to take a picture for the web, I’m not going to post the original.  Typically I shrink them down from the massive to slightly smaller than “standard def TV sized” with this software.  I have used it to snip a single flower to share with my growing audience, and to have a little fun playing with pictures.

But enough of that.   Here’s how to get it… and you really do want this software as your default viewer on Windows!

1) Surf

2) Click the handy “Irfan View” link on the right under “Downloads”.  I’m not giving you the direct link because he really has done some amazing work and your going there directly will help him know how many people like his software… so play along, ok?  🙂

3) That previous link will pop you onto another page with a link to download the base software.  Click on the Download Now link and it will ask you to save the file.  Remember where you put that file…  This time I’m downloading iview428_setup.exe from

4) Run the file, and once it launches it gives you the option of Creating Shortcuts, selecting how many users, and where to install it.   Simply accept the defaults and click “Next>”. 

5) You will see the window change to “What’s New In This Version?” and just click Next.

6) the next window asks if you want to associate any extensions with IrfanView.  I click on “Images Only”, and Next.

7) Unfortunately he has a deal here with Google Chrome to push a download of it to your system.  Reject this.  Uncheck the box with Include Google Chrome…   You can always get it on your own.  I don’t want Google Chrome and am wary of that software due to my concerns about Privacy.

Remember Uncheck the box for Google Chrome and then click “Next”.

8) There is a question about “Set INI Folder”.  I’m ok with what is happening here so I clicked “Next”.

9) I then got a warning about resetting my file associations – and yes, I am really sure – so click Yes.

10) Installation Done!  When you click “Done” Irfan View will launch.  It starts a browser window with a lot of questions and the program which really doesn’t look like it has much other than a black window and options.  Since the purpose of this is to get the software on the machine … I’m done here… start to play around with the program, it’s one of those rare programs that you can use with the keyboard extremely rapidly to view your pictures once you learn how you want to work with it.  It’s beautifully integrated with the mouse as well and I find it to be extremely fast at getting chores done.

It’s not the Be All And End All of graphics processing, but a great shortcut.  Since I needed this for a task TODAY, I’m going to cut off here, do some work with it, and post tomorrow the next steps.

For Picture Editing, Gimp.
For Vector Graphics like web page headers, Inkscape

The Pleasures of Upgrading a New PC – PDF

I started this whole mess a couple days ago.

First I had to decide which machine to save and which to recycle.

Then I had to load in the operating system and the basic software. 

Next are the PDF programs.  I use PDF very heavily.  I print to it from all my programs and I read the things I have printed.  It is easier for me to keep my documents in PDF on a memory stick than buy another filing cabinet.  So first, it’s time to install Acrobat Reader.  Going to puts up an annoying survey.  I don’t do free surveys – No Thanks.

Then off to the download page with the little grey box with the little lighter grey text.  Really, Adobe, how about something that is easy to read.  Are you so busy being a fanboy of your own work that you’re forgetting that there are all sorts of people trying to use the site?

On the download page, there is a red box with white text (Bad color choice – ADA Compliance?) with “Download Acrobat Reader on it.  I’ll save you all the effort, the link is here.  After clicking the Download Now link I was presented with a page telling me how to get past the browser’s setting to allow the download to continue.  Probably that is the best way to manage that, since you should not download software without actively thinking about it.

Here’s another annoyance I have with Adobe, they force you to use their own download manager.  Nobody else seems to use this software so I allow it to install then immediately uninstall it once I have finished with it.  Kind of a waste of time and effort if you ask me just to show me some annoying advertisements.  Ok Adobe, here’s the worst thing about it… now that I have downloaded your garbage download manager, it wants me to close the browser.  That little dog is chasing it’s tail.  So That just won’t happen just yet.  I’ve got the blog article to finish.

Sidestepping the abysmal Adobe Acrobat reader installer, I’m going to get the printer.  Or rather CutePDF.  CutePDF is one of many free pieces of software you can install on the computer that will act like a printer and produce a PDF Document out of anything you are going to print.  Really sweet little piece of code and it makes life easy. 

Surf to get all the info on it.  Basically, you can download the CutePDF Writer from this link and use it for personal or not for profit use.  When you install it though, it asks if you want Yet Another Tool Bar so you will want to make sure that you DO NOT install the toolbar.  In this case it was the “Ask Toolbar” a worthless blemish on the browser world.  The installer has three check boxes asking nosy questions.  If you uncheck the first one where you do not accept the end user license, the others are turned off and you go on to install the Cute PDF Writer.  The next time you go to print a document you will notice a new printer called CutePDF.  It doesn’t really need any configuration, just remember where it puts the PDF Documents so you can save them or print to paper later.

CutePDF does depend on something called PS2PDF and wants to install it, so it will pop up a window asking yes or no.  Select yes so you can go on with it.  When through, Cute PDF will open a browser window with documentation on how to use it, but basically it’s easy as pie.

Since Adobe doesn’t know how to install their reader without clobbering my browser… I’ll continue this post… Tomorrow.  Basically if the survey magically appears, I’m going to slam that practice.  There is no reason, AT ALL, to force someone to download a magically delicious download manager just so you can install some free software.  Another problem with the way software is delivered these days.  You just never know what it’s doing in the background.

OK, maybe not “tomorrow”…

After having gone through the Browser Restart nonsense, I ended up watching this install happen.  Or rather just the install of this abysmal “Adobe DLM”.   It did not actually install the software.  I had to go in and re-download the software and have it install again.  It dutifully put up a window saying it was downloading and installing “McAfee Security Scan Plus” – something that I DID NOT WANT.  That will be uninstalled immediately after I get this install to work with Adobe Reader.

Theoretically, it went through and installed both Adobe Reader and McAfee Security Scan Plus, but I wouldn’t have known that unless I went and looked at the Adobe Download Manager.  Mangler more like it…

Closing the Download “Mangler”, I noticed that all my icons for PDF have changed to the official Adobe PDF graphic.  Having an old PDF on a memory stick, I double clicked on it and lo and behold, I was presented with a Personal Computer Software License Agreement.  Pretty worthless, clicked through.  I’m not in the business of reverse engineering this steaming pile of software, and frankly if I knew of an open source alternative that actually worked in order to read PDF Documents, I’d uninstall Adobe Reader in a heartbeat.

Accepting the agreement and signing my life away, I was able to view the document.

Now to get rid of the hitchhikers…

Going into Control Panel on Windows 7 I found everything in Confusing Categories, so I selected “Small Icons” and it broke everything out into a large list.  They’re not quite as easy to deal with but categories imply someone else is deciding how things are, and frankly it’s easier to hunt for something in front of you than have something arbitrarily packed into little groups and given hints on how they are grouped together.

I selected Programs and Features to get the list of programs to uninstall.

First program to uninstall: McAfee Security Scan Plus.  I was presented with a small Uninstall window upon double clicking the name which allowed me to get the offense off of my computer.  From their own site you can see that all it does is go through and check your current firewall and virus scanner as well as some other things.  Useless since all of this is managed by Windows Firewall under Windows 7.  You can view that under Windows 7 in the Control Panel.

Second program to uninstall… Adobe Air.  I have never been able to find a site that uses it.  I have never been able to find a use for it.  I am not clear as to how this would make my life better by having it on my machine.  It reminds me of Silverlight, which is another “internet platform” that has not taken off.  The description I got from Adobe’s website is this:

Adobe AIR, a key component of the Flash Platform, unleashes the creativity of designers and developers by providing a consistent and flexible development environment for the delivery of applications across devices and platforms. 

Thanks, but you’re not needed.  It warns you that those applications that require Adobe Air will no longer work if you uninstall it.   If I find a site that uses it, I’ll reinstall it – or more likely go to another site.  Buh Bye!

Next to go is the Adobe DLM.   It forces you to install this bit of crapware when you install anything by Adobe.  I don’t need it otherwise and now that I have Acrobat and Flash on my computer, I can get rid of this bit of Computer Chaff….  Except it magically disappeared when I uninistalled Adobe Air and double clicked on the uninstall within the Windows Programs and Features list.

Remember, this is YOUR computer.  An application running on it will only slow you down, so if you don’t need it, get rid of it.  If the program is suspect, search online as to what it does.  Take the time to read about that machine that you paid all that money for. You’ll be surprised as to what you learn.

One other hitchhiker.  Apple Quick Time.  It decided that it needed to be installed on one of the pieces of software that I downloaded.  It is only very slightly more useful than a toolbar since just about everything else is compatible with Quick Time and on a PC it acts only a little more stable than a virus.  Time to get that particular program if not removed, at least neutralized.

In Windows 7 there is an area that all the currently running apps go to.  It used to be in the far right next to the clock under Windows XP, they grouped them together in a little triangle to hide them away.  In my case, it’s to the right of the battery and to the left of the clock/speaker/wifi sentry/battery/Windows Action Center.   There’s a little white triangle that you can click once on and it brings up a pop up.  If you hover over it, it shows the phrase “Show Hidden Icons”.  Helpful but why hide them?  Sure, its all minimalistic, but not exactly helpful.  Ok, we can live with it this way, so click and find the Q for Quick Time, right click on it and select Preferences.

Under the “Update” tab I turned off “Check for Updates Automatically”.  Quicktime is a bit of a security hole, and normally I uninstall it completely but I do that only after seeing if I have any QT movies to watch.  Usually that takes a week, so until then, I will just tell it to play well and leave me alone – don’t check for updates until you’re banished.  Furthermore on the Streaming tab, I’m turning off “Enable Instant-On”.  I hardly use Quicktime so why keep it up and running?  Finally under the advanced tab, I select all the way at the bottom “Install QuickTime Icon in system tray” and turn that off.   I just don’t need it.  Uncheck that box, select Apply and hope it actually goes away until I get annoyed and fully uninstall Quicktime.

After I click “OK”, it goes away and I get a helpful pop up from Windows 7 “Program Compatibility Assistant” asking whether it installed correctly.  I tell it yes, because I really don’t use Quicktime, but if you click that there was an error, it will submit a check to Microsoft to help you further check for problems.  Helpful, useful in determining problems if you need them, but not really a problem Right Now.  Thanks, Windows, I’ve got it from here!

Mind you this is just getting the computer up.  All this day’s Blog posting was about installing three programs so I can watch movies on You Tube and the like, and read and print PDFs.  It should not have taken this long.  The Application Development Manager in me has come out in full force, gathered all the Project Managers and Business Analysts into a room and say “You Can Do Better!”.

Software does NOT have to be this bad!

One last helpful hint for today.  Once Adobe Reader is installed, launch it with a file to read.  If you have the version 10.1 that I got, you will notice helpful little bubbles showing up under the tab that says “Comment” in the upper right.  I didn’t like that so I went in to turn it off.   To do that….

Under Adobe Reader, Select Edit and Preferences.
Click on the General Categories and find the check box that says “Messages from Adobe”.
I cleared both boxes in that group.  I don’t particularly want messages from Adobe like they’re a needy ex-partner.

The Pleasures of Upgrading a New PC – Reloading

Part Two of a series.  The first part is at this link.

Having gone through the decision process of whether to stick with the old or get new, in this very tough economy, I went with Repair and Upgrade.

To get this Thinkpad T60 repaired and upgraded, I sent it off to have the dim panel swapped out and got it back from IBM/Lenovo repair within the week.  Out on Monday, back on Friday.  Had I had the parts, it was something I could have done on my own – I’ve done it on an old Mac iBook and if you can work on Apple Hardware, you can certainly do it on a Thinkpad.  After all, all the repair documents for a Thinkpad are on the web and available.  If you were presented with a box of parts, you could literally build a Thinkpad for yourself.

The Apples were not meant to be repaired… so think about that if you are planning on getting one. 

On the other hand, I have had good luck with Dell machines.  The one that failed me I had used for four years AFTER the corporation retired it and I got it on a bet.

While the machine was away I ruminated and finally decided to go at it full force.   This machine would take a maximum of 4GB of memory, and would take a fast for today 7200 RPM hard drive.  So I ordered a 500GB 7200 RPM Drive and the memory and it got here a week later.  Plenty of time for me to shake down the Thinkpad and make sure everything worked and could be moved off onto the server when the reload was going to happen.

Yesterday the hardware arrived and the great upgrade began.

First.  Ground myself, and open the machine up.  The old Thinkpads used to have a convenient door you could easily open and pop memory out.  User Upgradeable Parts are meant to be accessible like an old Tube Radio set. This thing made you take out four screws, snap the hand rest slash trackpad out and unplug it from the machine, then swap out the memory.  I wouldn’t tell “Mom” to do it, but it isn’t all THAT hard.  It took me 10 minutes and would have been less if I hadn’t dropped a needed screw under the couch.

Second.  I tied the machine back together and swapped in the brand new hard disc drive.  Five minutes max.  Yes, I dropped the screw on the floor, what did you expect?  Easy replacement, really.  I’ve done it dozens of times.

Now I have a machine with 4GB of memory, new hard drive, and no operating system.

Since it was 5pm, I grabbed my official shiny and Oh So Legal copy of Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64bit that I had gotten in a care package for answering a survey along with Microsoft Office, Microsoft Project, and Visio.  Yes, I’m that guy who LEGALLY has all that stuff.  Just wanted to make that clear.

I dropped in the copy of Windows and started the installer.  It wanted to format the hard drive into one partition of 100MB for scary weird unknown System Stuff and a 465GB partition for what we call “userland” where we put all our “stuff”.   You know, pictures of LOLCats and links to You Tube and the operating system.

When the format was done, I nudged the installer on to load up the operating system with Redmond’s Finest and of course fed the dog.   While Lettie was eating, I grabbed her gear, checked that the machine was still installing and went out for a lap around town.

When I got back, it was asking another question and was done.  Restart, clear it’s head, prepare for first use.

Been there and done that.  Windows 7 Pro install is pretty painless.  It asks you which network you want to use, a password if you have it, whether it is Home/Public/Private… all straightforward questions.  It was basically installed.

The rest of the night I was spending getting the required software on the machine for a bare bones minimum for what I need to do my 160 web pages worth of job search this morning.

Not knowing where the Microsoft Office discs were (They were hiding inside my credenza behind the old equipment, later found late that afternoon), I installed Libre Office.  I needed a spreadsheet, and Libre Office is a Free and Open Source alternative that 99% of the people out there could use instead of using MS Office.  If you don’t use Excel or Word as a power user, Libre Office is a great alternative.  What it doesn’t tell you is that if you download it you need to grab JavaOpen Office, from which Libre Office is derived, was a Sun product.  It was packaged with Java and now both Open Office and Java are part of Oracle.  Libre Office is not.  So download Java and all is well.

The problem is that Java seems to feel that you need some piece of garbage that is called the “Yahoo Toolbar”.  Under no circumstances does any user need a toolbar from any of the search engine companies, nor from any virus company or any other.   It merely is spyware.  It watches what you do and reports back to the company what you’re doing.  Toolbars are evil.  Got it?

When you install your software, take the Expert or Custom install and watch for that “Free Software”.  Make sure you uncheck that box because when you ask me why your machine is slow, that will be the first thing I will look for.

I needed Firefox and grabbed that installer.  Got through the install easily and installed two required “addons” to Firefox that makes life easier.

1) Adblock Plus which will block about 90% of those annoying blinky advertisements as well as a significant amount of spy sites and spyware from ever infecting your machine.  When you install it on Firefox, it forces you to restart your browser and asks you for a subscription.  I took the Easylist subscription that was offered when I restarted the browser.

2) Forecast Fox which merely puts the temperature and the weather conditions along with radar on the bottom stripe of your browser.  It strictly speaking is not a requirement, but if you live in a Hurricane or Tornado zone, it will tell you when you have an event coming.  Peace of mind is a requirement.

Virus Scanner.  For Windows, I use Microsoft Security Essentials.  If you have a legal copy of windows like I do, Security Essentials is completely free.  It also is seen as one of the best virus scanners out there and you won’t be forced to click through a lot of nonsense to do your work – like McAfee or Norton will make you do.  It is highly effective unlike AVG or Trend Micro.  It has caught quite a few trojans trying to install themselves on my computer in the past and it is what I recommend.

Or you can pay through the nose and be annoyed.

When I got all that installed, I found I needed the annoying to install Flash from Adobe.  Why is it annoying?  Well you start the installer and it will glower at you until you close the browser window that you had open in order to get the software in the first place.  So make sure you save all your web pages and all your work in this time that we’re transitioning to The Cloud.

One other install that was a requirement for me is Winamp. I start the morning grind and I have a lot of websites that stream music that I like instead of listening to commercial pablum on the radio here out of Miami.  The nice thing about having Winamp playing music is that I will know if Comcast and their shoddy infrastructure here “burps” and I lose connection.  I pay for an always up connection, I expect it.

When you install Winamp, take the custom install path, do not take the Yahoo Toolbar, and don’t take the extra links to the 50 free MP3s.  I’m sure you have enough music to listen to.  If you don’t surf DI.FM or the excellent Discover Trance for their 192KB Streams or if you don’t like trance, theres always my disco fix at for your listening pleasure.

That got me so I could get online, listen to music, and go through the morning routine.  There are a few things that are still missing, but that got me through the Morning.

Tomorrow, I start on installing PDF Reader and Writer software.  Yes, all for free.

The Pleasures of Upgrading a New PC – Triage

More like the trials and tribulations, but that is entirely a different story.

I am what you call a “Power User”.  I am that guy that people go to after they have found that their computer has stopped working, they went to a shop and found that a complete reload costs $200 and that they followed through and now it’s not working like it used to so “could you help me fix it”.

Er… maybe… depends on whether I’ve got the time, the inclination, and if I’m getting paid.

Hey it’s a capitalist economy, innit?

Recently I was handed a laptop.  It’s “surplus”.  It’s an older machine, specifically it is a Thinkpad T60.  Core 2 Duo processor that is still being sold as a bottom of the line machine today, but this is 3 years old.  The monitor was very dim to the point of not really being usable over long periods of time.  The hard drive was too small for my video editing and web development chores.   There wasn’t enough memory in it.  It ran Windows XP.

Since it is a Thinkpad, it will have a longer expected life than a bargain basement computer.  This one was loaded to the gills and was the “Screamer” when it was bought three years ago.

I had started to use it as my Multimedia Workspace when I got it.  It was more than adequate to do video editing.  I’d grab the video and “render” it into a final form after clipping out such things as I would not want to see in a finished product and it will render that video in less time than it takes to watch it.  If it’s not showing me the preview window, it does a 21 minute video in about 3 minutes.

The problem is that the panel was too dark to do “fine” work like the graphics that I am doing for the blog and for the various websites around town that I’m beginning to work on.  So this machine went back home to the repair centre in Memphis TN and got a brand spanking new panel.  Shiny bright and lots of little pixels for me to spread out on after being cramped on my old Acer.

Basically it’s a solid machine, although were I to buy a new in box machine, it wouldn’t be this one, it would be one with an i7 Quad Core Processor since I run a virtual PC in background as a rule, not an exception.

It will do, and it will do nicely, but it wasn’t my first choice until the visit of a client a couple weeks back.

As I was doing some changes to a flyer for the church, I handed him the laptop to show him live what the changes would be like and found that the old graphics workbench had locked solid. The only thing I did on that machine was to do Desktop Publishing and it just had locked.  Again.  I turned it off, recovered and the creaky six year old laptop that was “good enough” failed me again.  Clearly it wasn’t going to survive.   The data was safe on the hard drive, but the machine was giving up on me.

I switched over to my “production machine” a 5 year old Acer Aspire 5610 with a very cranky Left Mouse Button.  That machine was my “daily driver” that I did everything on it.  Much better than I expected an Acer to be, I forgave the cantankerous mouse button for its brilliant display that was just a wee bit too small at a widescreen 15 inches with the same resolution as a 720p HDTV.  Cramped for video editing and graphics work.

The Acer worked fine but as I handed it to the client, it too locked solid.  I questioned my technique but clearly there were two machines that needed to be retired.  The old Dell Inspiron was a Pentium M 1.6, way too slow for what I was doing.  The Acer was starting to act up.

Turning to the Thinkpad, we decided to get it fixed since the guts were new and the only thing wrong was the panel was dim.

I got it back last week and decided that while I could spend $900 to get the new machine it just was not happening.  Consulting is just barely breaking even for me, and this black T60 would have to do.  

So basically I’m going to recycle the Dell, ‘repurpose’ the Acer as a server (yes, a laptop server for low power consumption), recycle my old desktop server (P4 3ghz just doesn’t cut it) and move into the Thinkpad.

One for the price of three.

I’ve been living on machines that people have decided were not worth using any more since 2000 when I bought the last parts to upgrade the machine that eventually became my Server.  In all the time I have used PCs, I have bought exactly zero computers “New In The Box”, preferring to build my own desktops.

You see, I’m the Cobbler’s Child in a way.  My shoes are scuffed but serviceable.  They have to be because I have to fix them.

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Shopping Day

Now that you’ve opened your new shiny toys what are you going to do with them?

Many people will have gotten things that can be upgraded.  Computers mainly, but there are other items you might need like cables and so forth that you are considering.   Having just gone through that with my neighbors, Mother and Son both getting each other PCs for the holidays, I was asked by both what they may need to use it “better”.

The answer is another question – how exactly do you intend to use the thing.  Almost all PCs out of the box are set up with a lot of crapware, trial software and annoyances that once you remove them they go faster.  The exception seems to be the Thinkpad from Lenovo and the Dell Business PCs.  Luckily one of those machines across the street is a Dell Business, the other was a Dell Home.  The difference was night and day.

If you are going to use it to Surf the Web, do Emails, get onto a site like Facebook or any of the other social networking sites, some word processing and spreadsheets, maybe get your finances done, Stop Here.  You’re probably good to go with that new shiny computer as it was out of the box.   Maybe stop into a big box store and get some of those memory sticks so you can store your documents and save the money.  Take your family out to dinner with the savings and enjoy your new PC.

But if you’ve decided that you’re going to upgrade that new shiny little PC then today and tomorrow especially and through until the new year will be good times to shop.  You just have to remember to look online and look aggressively.  Don’t go to the first big box store’s website and pull out the credit card.  One And Done online means you’re probably spending more than you should.

I was looking at the online shopping sites and there are a lot of liquidation sales going on, and thought about upgrading one of my PCs since it is the one I use for graphics production.  The memory I need is now $29 a stick for 2GB sticks so for $60 I could have 4GB of memory to wallow around in.  Great, I know that Windows 7 64 Bit will work with that memory and help my video editing and graphics production go faster. 

How do you know if your computer will accept that much memory even at a “liquidation price”?

On Windows, click start and find the “run” box.   Type in the run box “winver” and hit enter.  It will come up and tell you what your machine is running, and may give you more information.  If it says 64 Bit anywhere, you can install as much as your machine will accept – and by now you realize that you will have to find out from your manufacturer by digging into their support sites whether the machine will handle what you intend to upgrade to.  Go ahead and search… you’ll need to know.

If you did look and found out you can put in 4GB or 8GB then you may be able to upgrade safely. 

If you have 32 bit windows – it doesn’t say 64 bit anywhere in that little windows, you are limited to accessing 3GB of memory.  Don’t go past it because you’re wasting  your money.

There are a couple of other “don’t bother” things to worry about. 

If your new PC is a Netbook it will be very difficult physically to upgrade.  Some of the older ones even had the only memory stick it had soldered to the machine.  Research this and find out whether it is worth the effort.  Netbooks are notorious for being very flimsy – you may get that machine open and never get it working again.  A Netbook simply is not a Thinkpad, they are built for the absolute bottom rung of the market to be sold at a cheap price.  They’re the feeder fish of the PC Aquarium.  Great for note taking but don’t expect to even use the thing for watching HD Video online.

If you see “Windows 7 Starter Edition” when you started the machine up or looked in winver – don’t go above 2GB of memory since it won’t address it.  Spend your money on an upgrade to Windows 7 Home or Windows 7 Professional if you’re going to use it on a work network with a domain.  Windows 7 has the “Windows Anytime Upgrade” wizard that will do it all automatically, then once your machine is upgraded to a “real” version of Windows, you can fully decide if you want to go with more memory.  Keep in mind, your machine will run Windows 7 Professional slowly if you only have 1GB of memory.  I have a 3 year old Thinkpad that is running Windows 7 Pro with 2GB and it is acceptable and that machine’s hardware is still being sold new.

Now that you have negotiated all the Gotcha’s where do you find the sales?

I started looking at and and found that is running a sale as well as and which is a good start. 

Dealnews and Techbargains are a good start since they go out and find all those discounts for you and cut some of the work out.  They are those aggregator sites that I was talking about.  They also make sure that the vendors that they are listing are valid and will show you discount codes that may get you free shipping or another discount on top.

Once you order, and the piece arrives, then the fun begins.  If this is all over your head, find yourself a 15 year old kid that will do it for you or throw some money at your neighborhood PC shop.  It may be worthwhile to have someone else do the research for you and just pull the parts out of their parts drawer instead of doing it yourself. 

For the most part, I’ve had good luck finding on places like instructional videos of how to pull apart machines, upgrade them, and do all sorts of repairs.  If you can find an appropriate video, it will be worth your viewing time.

There you go!  Are you confused yet?  Good and good luck!