Entries Tagged as 'Software'

Windows 6 Service Pack 2

It’s out… it’s been in BETA for quite some time.

Just so you’re clear; Windows 6 covers all the Vista family and the Server 2008 family, and there’s an installer for 32-bit and one for 64-bit; there’s also a DVD image that you can install either from.

You can find a number of articles on the web telling you all about what was originally supposed to be in SP2, and what ended up in it… other than Bluetooth 2.1 and Blu-Ray support there isn’t that much that caught my eye as for “features”.

The big thing you will notice is that this makes Vista noticably faster… and includes the compcln.exe tool that allows you to remove previous component versions (saving disk space — of course once you do so, you cannot go back to previous versions… but if your machine is stable after SP2 you probably wouldn’t want to).

You must have SP1 installed first (Server 2008 comes with SP1 “pre-installed”).

You can access the Microsoft TechNet article via the link below and download the file(s) you desire.  At the moment SP2 is not included in automatic updates, but it will likely be pushed out soon.

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/dd262148.aspx

Originally posted 2009-06-07 11:00:22.

Ubuntu – Disk Utility

When you install Ubuntu 10.04 Desktop, the default menu item for Disk Utility isn’t extremely useful; after all, it’s on the System->Administration menu, so you would assume that it’s meant to administer the machine, not just view the disk configuration.

What I’m alluding to is that by default Disk Utility (/usr/bin/palimpsest) is not run with elevated privileges (as super-user), but rather as the current user — which if you’re doing as you should be, that’s means you won’t be able to effect any changes, and Disk Utility will probably end up being a waste of time and effort.

To correct this problem all you need do is modify the menu item which launches Disk Utility to elevate your privileges before launching (using gksu) — that, of course, assumes that you’re permitted to elevate your privileges.

To do add privilege elevation to disk utility:

  1. Right click your mouse on the menu bar along the top (right on system is good) and select ‘edit menu items’
  2. Navigate down to ‘administration’ and select it in the left pane
    Select ‘disk utility’ in the right pane
  3. Select ‘properties’ in the buttons on the right
  4. Under ‘command’ prefix it with ‘gksu’ or substitute ‘gksu /usr/bin/palimpsest’ (putting the entire path there)
  5. Then click ‘close’ and ‘close’ again…

Originally posted 2010-06-27 02:00:33.

Concrete5 Review

Content Management Systems (CMSs) strive to make maintaining a web site simple; they generally are focused on allowing one person or many people to effectively contribute and edit content, change the overall appearance (without needing to re-enter content), produce reports, etc.

Many CMSs have a fairly steep learning curve before a user can build and deploy or even manage a site.

Concrete5 is different.

Concrete5 makes the task of managing a small to medium size web site as easy as using a WYSIWYG editor.  I installed the software and had it running in less than ten minutes.  The administrative interface was straight forward enough that I really didn’t need to refer to any documentation at all to use the product to publish content, change content, and add pages.

Downloading themes required me to register for the Concrete5 Market Place (registration is free, and many of the downloads are free, but some of them are not).

Concrete5 core is open source, and free; some of the add-ons for Concrete5 are free, some are not.  Concrete5 actually started as a closed source, commercial CMS, which recently became an open source (and free) product.  Concrete5 software can be downloaded and installed on your web site / server, or you can run a hosted site on Concrete5.

Concrete5 includes a RSS/ATOM feed add-on (I actually wrote one that’s a great deal more flexible for use on my web site, but you get this for free with no work) which makes it easy to provide live content on your web site.  Additionally there are free Flash, Google Maps (you need a Google Maps API key to use it), YouTube, and several other free add-ons as well.

One great feature of Concrete5 is that it keeps page revisions, so it’s easy to roll back to a previous version of a page; or to just see what’s changed (I do this on web sites I author from scratch using a source control system — and many CMSs provide this ability, but not as cleanly and as simply as Concrete5).

Overall, Concrete5 is simple, and will likely handle the vast majority of user’s needs — though a two page boiler-plate web site will handle the vast majority of user’s needs, so that’s not a high mark.

Snippy remarks aside…

If you can use a WYSIWYG editor, and you understand simple drag-and-drop paradigms and you’re comfortable using a web application and moving through menus you can maintain a web site.  You might need help setting up the web site, and you likely will need help installing the software — but even those are straight forward and something you could learn in less time than it would take to do simple tasks in a more sophisticated CMS.

The short of it, Concrete5 has a very low learning curve (almost no learning curve indeed); and will allow most any user to build and maintain their own web site with [virtually] no training.

The number of add-ons available for Concrete5 is small; but it appears from reading the information on their site and several other reviews that the add-ons all work, and work together (which isn’t necessarily the case with other CMSs).  Though as I’ve already enumerated, many useful add-ons are available and free.

For users who understand CSS, HTML, PHP it’s very straight forward to build your own themes; and actually extending Concrete5 would not be a daunting task.

What I like about Concrete5…

It’s easy to install, easy to use, and provides most basic functionality that a CMS should provide — and the core is free.  It does not overly abstract core parts of a web site (no doubt that’s where it get’s it’s name).  Concrete5 has a lot of potential.

What I don’t like about Concrete5…

The web site goes out of it’s way to criticize other content management systems (and that to me is ridiculous; both Joomla and Drupal are capable of being used to build more sophisticated sites — but both of those are much harder to use to build a simple site); it doesn’t support tables prefixes (which means each instance of Concrete5 needs it’s own database, and it’s dangerous to try and share a database between Concrete5 and any other software (this is significant because some hosting plans greatly limit the number of databases you are allowed); it’s a relatively new “community” project, and thus does not have a large body of people working on it or eyes reviewing it (which means it’s more likely to have security issues than some of the more mature CMSs).

I’m neutral on the fact that parts of Concrete5 are offered free, and parts are offered at a (generally) modest price.  I agree that developers are entitled to make a living off their software, and as long as it doesn’t become a razor/razor-blade type model I’m fine with it; but success often breeds greed (like familiarity breeds contempt).

One thing to keep in mind:  always select the right tool for the job.

What Concrete5 does it does well; but decide what it is you want to do before you select the tool.

http://concrete5.org/

Originally posted 2010-04-03 02:00:42.

Fix It

About a year before Microsoft Windows 7 hit the street, Microsoft had started to introduce the “Fix It” logo associated with “solutions” to problems in Windows.

In Windows 7 Microsoft incorporated the solution center to partially automate finding and fixing issues that could cause problems with Windows.

Now Microsoft has expanded “Fix It” to include Windows Vista and Windows XP…

Thank you for your interest in Microsoft Fix it. We’re working hard to automate solutions to common software problems in an easy, intuitive way that is available when and where you need it. So whether you are looking for a solution in help or support content, or an error report, Fix it provides a way to apply automated fixes, workarounds, or configuration changes so you don’t have to perform a long list of manual steps yourself.

Microsoft Fix It

Fix It

Originally posted 2010-04-27 02:00:21.

VirtualBox on OS-X

After the extremely poor experience with my upgrade to vmware Fusion 2.0.1 I can certainly tell you that VirtualBox was a totally satisfying experience.

First, VirtualBox doesn’t have all the whizzy features that vmware Fusion has; but the only thing I really care about is being able to reliably run a virtual machine.  I don’t need all the features that I don’t use and don’t ever work right — all I really care about is reliability.

The user interface for VirtualBox is clean and simple (though I would recommend you spend a little time looking at all the options for VirtualBox and the settings for virtual machines before you get too carried away).

The documentation and FAQs are excellent.  They cover almost every question that came to my mind before I started (including how you could move a vmware machine to VirtualBox if you wanted to).

Since VirtualBox emulates an Intel SATA AHCI controller, it’s very simple to install XP or 2003 (I actually did both) using IDE drives and then switch over to SATA AHCI (which improves performance).  In fact, all you need to is enable the SATA controller in the machine configuration, start the machine, install the Intel Matrix drivers, shut down the machine, change the connection of the drive from IDE to SATA channel 0, and start the machine… couldn’t be easier.

The only feature I would like to see in VirtualBox is support for more than one processor.  And I guess it would also be nice to see 64-bit support on the Mac (but I don’t use 64-bit virtual machines right now, and that’s something that’s already support by other hosts, so it isn’t far off).

And the only gripe I have with VirtualBox thus far is there doesn’t seem to be a good way to share virtual machine configuration files (well — a soft link would do it).  I guess this isn’t a huge issue since it’s not something that most people would probably want to do (but I do).

At the price (FREE) you just can’t beat it.  VirtualBox works, and it seems to work well.

With vmware releasing code that isn’t fit to be taken out of a garbage can; Microsoft chipping away at the high end of vmware’s market; and everyone giving away virtualization software for the desktop you’ve got to wonder how long vmware can survive.  And frankly, I don’t care — I’ve tossed my copy of Fusion away just like I did my copy of VMware Workstation.  Microsoft provides me with perfectly function virtualization hosting software on all versions of Windows; Xen provides it on *nix; and VirtualBox provides me with a reasonable solution on OS-X (and I’m betting on Apple incorporating Xen or something like soon).

My next task is copying my machines from my MacBook (where I tested VirtualBox) to my two Mac Minis and my Mac Pro… looks straight forward.

Originally posted 2009-02-07 01:00:54.

Ubuntu – RAID Creation

I think learning how to use mdadm (/sbin/mdadm) is a good idea, but in Ubuntu Desktop you can use Disk Utility (/usr/bin/palimpsest) to create most any of your RAID (“multiple disk”) configurations.

In Disk Utility, just access “File->Create->Raid Array…” on the menu and choose the options.  Before doing that, you might want to clear off the drives you’re going to use (I generally create a fresh GTP partition to insure the drive is ready to be used as a component of the RAID array).

Once you’ve created the container with Disk Utility; you can even format it with a file system; however, you will still need to manually add the entries to /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf and /etc/fstab.

One other minor issue I noticed.

I gave my multiple disk containers names (mirror00, mirror01, …) and Disk Utility will show them mounted on device /dev/md/mirror00 — in point of fact, you want to use device names like /dev/md0, /dev/md1, … in the /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf file.  Also, once again, I highly recommend that you use the UUID for the array configuration (in mdadm.conf) and for the file system (in fstab).

Originally posted 2010-07-12 02:00:33.

Browser Spelling Check

If you use Firefox you’re set, build of that have included a spell check add in for quite sometime; however, if you use Internet Explorer you’re going to want to look into a spell check add-on.

Some of the spell check add-ons depend on the presence of Microsoft’s spell check (you get that with Office products, like Word); but one of the better ones does not.

ieSpell works well, and some javaScript add-ins on web pages will automatically detect it (as they do Firefox’s spell check) and work the same; but when they don’t you have the ability to use the context menu to spell check the contents of a edit box.

For personal use ieSpell is toally free, for commercial use you should check the licensing.

Originally posted 2008-12-13 12:00:34.

So you want to be in pictures…

Or rather should I say that you want to be able to play “moving pictures” on your computer…

You computer may have come with software for playing back video, DVDs, etc — or the operating system version you installed might support some formats; but eventually you’re going to reach a point where you want to play something that you don’t have support for and you might not feel like spending a lot of money.

There are two major issues with playing back media:

  1. Your computer needs software that is able to decode the audio and the video portions of the media; and
  2. Your computer needs software that is able to “break apart” the audio from the video.

The first piece of software is call a “decoder” — or often times a codec.  And you’ll hear things like MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, H.264, etc for video and things like AC3, AAC, PCM, DTS, MP3, etc for audio.

The second piece of software is called a mux (specifically for play back a de-mux) — and those take particular containers and split them into the separate audio and video streams.  The file extension generally tell you about the “envelope” the data is contained in, or how it was muxed.  Some standards mux specifications, but even when the audio/video standard includes a way to mux the data, it might be in a richer envelope that supports alternate audio streams, alternate video streams, hyperlinks, closed captions, multiple languages, etc.

A growing open standard for containing audio and video is the Matroska format.  It’s generally designated as .mkv for audio/video files and .mka for audio files.

It’s a rich standard well supported on Windows, OS-X, and *nix platforms.

For more information visit the Matroska Offical Homepage:

You’ll not only find information on the Matroska format, but links to many free tools to help you play back that audio and video format you’re having trouble with.

Originally posted 2008-12-14 01:00:52.

Online Capacity Expansion

Well…

  • Call me old fashion…
  • Call me conservative…
  • Call me a doubting “Thomas”…
  • Call me tickled pink…
  • Call me surprised…

I just finished adding four additional spindles to one of my virtual hosts; when I originally built it out I only had four spindles available, and didn’t want to buy more since I knew I would be freeing up smaller spindles for it soon.

The first task was to have the RAID software add the new spindles to the array, then to “expand” the array container… the first step took only a few moments, the second step took about 20 hours for the array controller to rebuild / expand the array.

The second task was to get Windows to actually use the added space by expanding the volume; to do that was a simple matter of using diskpart.exe (you can search Microsoft’s Knowledge Base) only took a few moments.

The incredible thing about this was that my virtual host and virtual machines was online for the entire 20 hours — with absolutely no service interruption.

This particular machine used a Dell / LSI controller; but the Promise controllers also support dynamic capacity expansion as do 3Ware controllers.  I believe the Intel Matrix pseudo RAID controller also support dynamic capacity expansion; but as with other RAID and pseudo-RAID controllers you should check the documentation specific to it and consult the manufacturer’s web site for errata and updates before proceeding.

The bottom line is Windows and RAID arrays have come a long way, and it’s quite possible that you will be able to expand the capacity of your array without taking your server down; however, if the data on the server is irreplaceable, I recommend you consider backing it up (at least the irreplaceable data).

Originally posted 2008-12-01 12:00:56.

Linux File System Fragmentation

I’ve always found it hilarious that *nix bigots (particularly Linux bigots) asserted that their file systems, unlike those found in Windows, didn’t fragment.

HA HA

Obviously most anyone who would make that assertion really doesn’t know anything about file systems or Windows.

It’s true that back in the ancient times of Windows when all you had was FAT or FAT32 that fragmentation was a real problem; but as of the introduction for HPFS in OS/2 and then NTFS in Windows NT fragmentation in a Windows system was on par with fragmentation in a *nix system.

Though you’ll recall that in Windows, even with NTFS, defragmentation was possible and tools to accomplish it were readily available (like included with the operating system).

Ext2, Ext3, Ext4 — and most any other file system known to man might (like NTFS) attempt to prevent file system fragmentation, but it happens — and over time it can negatively impact performance.

Interesting enough, with Ext4 there appears to be fewer *nix people in that great river in Egypt — d Nile… or denial as it were.

Ext4 is a very advanced file system; and most every trick in the book to boost performance and prevent fragmentation is includes — along with the potential for defragmentation.  The tool e4defrag will allow for the defragmentation of single files or entire file systems — though it’s not quite ready… still a few more kernel issues to be worked out to allow it to defragment a live file system.

With Ext4 as with NTFS one way you can defragment a file is copy it, the file system itself will attempt to locate an area of the disk that can hold the file in continuous allocation unites — but, of course, the file system’s performance can often be increased to coalescing the free space, or at least coalescing free space that is likely too small to hold a file.

As I said when I started; I’ve always found it hilarious that *nix bigots often don’t have a very good understanding of the technical limitations and strengths of various pieces of an operating system… but let me underscore just because people don’t always know what they’re talking about doesn’t necessarily mean that the solution they’re evangelizing might not be something that should be considered.

Originally posted 2010-06-03 02:00:06.