Sunday, January 4, 2009

Software: Updated

Not much going on as far as riding goes here. Since we have been stuck in a cycle of snow, thaw, freezing rain, thaw repeat there hasn't been much of a chance to go riding.

So I've been doing something else I like. Playing with my PC. I like learning how to do new things with the PC. Every time I see something new I wonder how do they do that and I set off to learn how. You might call me a Geek and Gadget guy.

The other day I downloaded the next version of Windows that some say will be released later in this year. The new version is simply Windows 7. If you haven't switched to Vista for reasons that you seem to think it sucks then I think you will like this OS. I've only played with Vista on a friends PC but not because I think Vista sucks but because I felt no great need to update my OS. I really like Windows 7 and can't wait until Microsoft releases it so I can buy a copy of it in the 64X version.

I build Desktop computers for a hobby. This machine is a pretty powerful with 3GHZ dual core AMD CPU, a bunch of RAM and hard drive space, two monitors and even hooked up to my TV to watch over the air HD shows via the TV card if I want. In fact now I am watching football via over the air HD, using built in Media Center, on the second monitor while I type this. HD rocks!

Speaking of writing this. What do you use to compose your blog posts? Microsoft makes a program that is very cool and the best part is it is free! If you find using the built in HTML editor at Blogger a pain in the butt then you will like this freeware. Even if you like the Blogger editor I think you will find Microsoft's Live Writer even better. With plenty of free Plug-ins and other helpful things for inserting photos, links, tables, videos, maps plus many other things like built in spell checker. I find this to be just great software. Give it a download and try to see if you don't agree. Sorry for you three visitors who use a Mac to read my blog, it will not work on your systems.

Anyway back to Windows 7. I installed it on a spare 160gig hard drive I had laying around to see if it would first install and then how well it worked. It only took about twenty five minutes to format the drive and install the OS to a working desktop. That has to be a record for an OS install from Microsoft. The only thing that does not work is my web cam which is old and needs replaced anyway so it's not a big deal to me that it doesn't work. Once Windows 7 goes live I will buy a new web cam. Other then that Windows 7 loaded all the drivers it needed for all the other hardware on this machine, even the sound card which no version of Windows I have ever had would do. So far I like this OS a lot even though there is a small learning curve from the changes verses XP. I haven't even boot my XP OS since installing Windows 7 that is how much I like it and how well it works.

Ever wanted to try some software but were afraid it might hose your system? Then you need to install some Virtual PC software. For the virtual software I use another free program from Microsoft call Virtual PC 2007. Using a virtual PC allows you to test software before installing it on your PC to make sure it doesn't break anything. It also allows you to run older software that will not run on later versions of Windows. I have three different Virtual PCs.

One VPC is running a Linux distro called Puppy which is pretty cool and free too. This can be installed on your hard drive, or a CDR or like I use it on a 2gig flash drive. Just boot from the USB flash drive and it never touches your hard drive. This allows you to take your PC with you anywhere you want, kind of cool I think. This small OS has everything you need built in. Web browser, email client, dvd/cdrw ripping and burning software, a chat client that you can use to control all your chat clients like MSN and Yahoo. I haven't tried to watch a DVD movie yet with it though so I don't know if Puppy will or not. It's been a lot of fun learning something new.

On a second virtual machine I have a version of XP with SP3 to test software or to download software for testing. I use this to test software and to run software that will not run on later versions of Windows. But to be honest I haven't found any thing that will not install on Windows 7 using "compatibly" mode much like XP has built in.

The last virtual machine is running a version with Windows Home Server. This doesn't work in the virtual machine because it can't find the router so it can talk with the other PCs in the network. I've got a trail version of this software coming from Microsoft and just upgraded the hardware of a old box I have sitting here. I'm really looking forward to getting the Home Server running so I can have a place for all of my stuff I have backed up and three or four machines between work and home. Plus it will allow me to grab files from any Internet connected PC. This will let me share my files with friends and families instead of uploading things to the web so they can download the stuff.

The best part of using the virtual machine is it keeps your main PC protected from getting screwed up if something goes wrong. Either just delete the virtual hard drive and start over or just close the virtual machine and not save the changes and you are back where you started.

Do you need some free on-line storage? Windows Live Sky Drive allows you to store, save and share all of your files. It has a limit of 25gig and a file size upload limit of 50MB. It does require you to sign up for use it but if you already have a free MSN account you can sign in with that account and use it.  

Other freeware I use and is very handy. For photo editing I use Fastone. Want a program to zip and unzip files? IZArc is what you need, it's free and supports many of the popular zipped file formats, even ISO files. How about a free uninstall and disc/registry clean up tool? Download CCleaner and recover lots of space on your hard drive. Tired of paying for Anti-virus software that slows your PC to a crawl? Then install Microsoft Security Essentials free anti-virus software. Want to rip your DVD movies to your hard drive? DVD Shrink works great. You might want to read the DVD Shrink site first. Here is a link to a ZD Net article written by George Ou that I found most of these freeware programs. You might find some of his list of a dozen free programs listed that you can make use of.

What are some of the free software you use that you just can't live without? Share them in the comments so we can all give them a try.


UPDATE: I forgot to post a link to free CD/DVD burning software. InfraRecorder is great burning software and like most of these programs I’ve listed, it’s free too. You can use it to burn just about anything including ISO files.

Microsoft has updated the Live Write software. It can be bundled with Live Essentials which has some really handy dandy stuff. Once again these are all free. 

My next post I will explain some of this stuff that has left many of you with glassed over eyes :)


TRT said...

Great info fasthair. I'm not much of a computer guy, but if you have any home theater audio/video questions, I'm your guy.

Stacy said...

"What do you use to compose your blog posts?"

I use vim (Gvim on Windows). Terribly geeky, I know, but it's like crack. Once you're hooked, you're hooked.

anarchy said...

based on your recommendations, i'm going to give live writer a try... just downloaded it - now i need to go riding to have something to post about...

thanks for the tips...

Lady Ridesalot said...

LOL! Oh boy! I must have tried to read this at least a dozen times. I just glaze over and get lost. Even though I thought I was pretty good, obviously, this post just makes me realize I'm sooo not computer savvy! I will mark this post for reference later. Thanks for the info!

KT Did said...

Thanks for the info! I just bought a new computer... my old one is just too slow. Its an HP with Vista and Vista isn't as bad as every says... at least so far. Its pretty much the same. The graphics are much better. I think I will try some of the free ware to clean up the old one and see what happens!

fasthair said...

Mr. TRT: I’m pretty good with audio and have a killer sound system at home. But it is the new TVs that make my head spin. One of the reasons I don’t have a LCD TV… yet.

Ms. Stacy: Gvim is beyond geeky. It took me five minutes of reading just to figure out which version I needed for my PC. You kids…geesh!

Mr. Anarchy: Let me know how Live Writer works out for you. Another thing great about it is that you have back ups on your hard drive automatically. Every time you make a post it stores a copy in My Documents/My Weblog Posts, where you will find folders for Drafts, Recent Posts. If you find a mistake once you publish the post (like I do all the time) you just bring up the saved post, edit and republish. It also saves the post in Drafts as you write it so if your systems crashes you don’t have to start all over. Drafts also let you save posts until you are ready to publish them.

Ms. Lady R: I’m sure you know how to do things on the PC that I don’t know how to do. Plus you are a much better story writer then I ever dream of being. Not to mention some times the way I write makes for poor comprehension. I’m my own worse critic. I suck at proof reading, we all do to a degree, we read what we wanted to write and not what is really written. I’ve seen a few example of this in this post. What I really wish I could do is “touch type.” I’m better then hunt and peck but not near as good as I would like to be, my backspace key is my favorite key :) When I was a kid real men didn’t take typing classes, we took shop class with all the power tools!

Ms. KT: You can do a lot of things to speed up and older PC. Adding and removing programs result in what is called “bloat.” Over time this slows down the system. Running system cleaners and keeping the hard drive defragmented helps this. Adding more RAM is cheap way to speed up a PC. Adding as much as the hardware and or the OS are designed to handle will make a mark improvement in how snappy the machine feels. Eventually saving all your personal files then formatting the drive and installing a fresh load of the OS can add to the usefulness of an older machine. There does become a time where it is time for a new system though. Other then the fact I enjoy building my own PCs, the “crapware” (stuff you don’t want/need) installed on new machines can hinder its true performance. You would be surprised what reloading just the OS and none of the crapware will do for a new PC. I agree about the graphics and is one of the things I like most about Windows 7, which were first used in Vista.


irondad said...

Wow! Like layers of an onion your talents keep shining through! I'm going to spend a lot of time rooting through this post. By the way, I use blogger's html editor. I bought a book callled HTML for Dummies. One of these days I may actually even open it!

Thank you for the information!

Ann said...

Ummmm, ok. My eyes pretty much glazed over after paragraph 1. I know computers to a point. I used to work in the IT industry. But apparently I have not kept current on these things.

Big D is the computer geek in this house. When we got our very first computer (back in the day) he took it completely apart and put it back together. Then he learned about software, etc. He is an amazingly adept self-taught geek. :)

Introducing Fylix said...

I agreed with you right up to the part where you said you like to learn how to use new software on the computer - I do the same. However I've never been very computer jargon literate so I missed most of the rest! Great post though, very helpful. I've downloaded live writer as you suggested...I'll have a play over the weekend!

For a quick suggestion: as a journalism student I use audio editing software a lot. Its mainly for broadcasters or musicians, but can be great fun just to mess around with anyway. As CoolEdit has just been taken over by Adobe and turned into Adobe Audition, the full version of CoolEdit can now be downloaded for free, and completely legally. So if you ever fancy messing around with speeches or recordings its worth a try! Just search for it in Google...

Anonymous said...

I realy liked this post..great info. I just bought a Dell laptop (my first laptop - I'm loving the whole wirless gig) and it has a built in video camera. I guess there's a whole world of stuff out there for use with that?

fasthair said...

IronDad: I’ve never bought a book to learn anything about PCs. I just hack away at it until I figure it out. My HTML skills are pretty limited because of it. I can do some things but for the most part I just use programs to do it for me. Hope you find Live Writer helpful. I see they have an updated version since I’ve posted this.

Ms. Ann: Big D and I suffer from the same disease since we are both wrenches. The first thing we have to do when we get something is rip the hood off of it and see what makes it tick. It’s something I’ve done my whole life. Even as a kid I would tear what ever I could find and take it apart, lawnmowers, old cars and old truck laying in fields. If it has an engine I was all over it. Tell Big D to get over and tell use about some of his favorite free software :)

Ms. Fylix: I’ll have to download your suggestion and play with it to see what I can do with it. I was hoping people would recommend some of their favorite free software with this post. Thanks for the information.

Mr. Sarch: Laptops are so cool. A laptop was my first PC and it taught me so much. That is why I ended up building my own desktops. Now I have four laptops all doing different things for me either at home or work. One even goes on the road with me on my bike trips. GPS software can be really handy when you are in the middle of nowhere. The web cam can be fun too. If you download MSN Messenger (now Live Messenger) from the link in the post you can video chat with friends and family if they load it on their PC also. Pretty handy at times too. I use it at work to help friends of other shops figure out a problem car.