Posts Tagged ‘Windows’

Microsoft BUILD 2011 Video (sans Silverlight)

Microsoft’s BUILD 2011 conference is currently underway, and with its focus on what’s shaping up to be the most revolutionary update to Windows since 95 eclipsed 3.1 over 15 years ago there’s big news coming thick and fast out of Anaheim. Just like Apple has in the past required the OS X version of Quicktime to stream coverage from developer events, the video content on the official BUILD website is presented using Silverlight, precluding a great many from enjoying the available footage.

Luckily, MSDN’s ‘Channel 9’ video repository has streams in raw MP4, with a high quality option for ‘iPad, WP7’ and standard, for ‘iPod, Zune HD’.

The streams are located here, so get ready to make a tear in the fabric of time and space by watching Steve Ballmer pump up the developers, developers, developers on your Android or iOS devices.

Day 1 keynote embedded after the break. (more…)

Privacy & Security Should Be Optional

Having recently upgraded to Mac OS X Lion, I’ve spent a good deal of time in the past couple of weeks reinstalling software on and as-needed basis. One package I’ve been reluctant to reload is Adobe’s Flash player, the de facto media delivery mechanism for the desktop web and a program which knows how to eat CPU and burn up your machine like no other.

While I’ve railed against Flash for its processor greed and propensity for cooking chips in the past (mainly with workarounds and avoidance techniques), I’ve grown so used to these shortcomings and working around them that they are no longer my primary concern when loading my machine with Adobe’s player.

With the release of version 10.3 back in May 2011, Flash gained for the first time a pane in the Mac OS’ System Preferences application. It seems almost incredible that it wasn’t until earlier this year that a piece of software present on 99% of all internet connected computers, 8.1% of which are Macs, didn’t have an OS-conventional approach to settings alteration. Finally setting Flash preferences falls in line with convention. But the addition of the Flash Player preference pane has actually drawn my attention to what I view as an industry-wide problem with ensuring user privacy and security.

You see, with 2.1 billion people connected to the web and more than 1 in 3 using Facebook, privacy and security have become quite the hot topic of late. More people are sharing more information and are, rightly, more concerned about where it’s going and what it’s being used for; as the network becomes the computer (many buy a laptop ‘just to get on Facebook’ and have little interest in how they get there), makers of local and remote software platforms need to have a clear focus on keeping that data safe.

My concern was raised while browsing through the new preference pane that installs with Flash, and the default settings chosen by Adobe. There are four key areas where the user is given the option to dictate the behaviour of the Flash player: offline storage, camera, media playback and updating. Automatic updates for a software platform with as dubious a security history as Flash is an absolutely welcome and necessarily enabled by default. Similarly, the player will request access to the camera and microphone on a case-by-case basis, a good choice given the proliferation of webcam-equipped laptops.

Offline storage and peer-assisted networking, however, are enabled by default. Given the zeal with which Flash consumes my CPU cycles, I’m not sure I would want it to have free reign over my network connection, and given its chequered security record I’m not convinced that allowing it offline storage by default is such a bright idea either.

The main problem I have with these default settings, though, is that they will probably never be changed, which is why companies like Adobe need to take steps further than just chucking in a preference pane with their app – my mother hasn’t ever and likely will never open System Preferences, and I’m sure she’s not alone. There are necessary changes which need to be made by any company responsible for data handling, even if they are merely providing the conduit (as Adobe does with Flash player).

Firstly, the default security and privacy setting must be ‘lockdown’. Flash shouldn’t be assuming control of a user’s bandwidth or storing files on their machine by default any more than it should be automatically serving up a webcam feed without prompting. The effect of a default feature lockout is that user is introduced to the preference pane and forced to actively make decisions about their privacy and security rather than relying on the stock settings. They needn’t feel bothered – after all, they only have to set it up once and forget about it – but they can now browse with confidence in the knowledge that their information is protected to their very own specifications, and just like everybody has different data, everybody values that data differently.

Microsoft actually has tried something akin this approach twice in the past, first with the variable ‘privacy level’ control in the Internet Options control panel, and more recently with the UAC layer introduced with Windows Vista. Between these two approaches, the company has actually got all of the right ideas. The user needs to be jolted into taking a more active role in their security through dialogs such as UAC, and the variable security level controls provide a useful abstract for casual users with the option for fine control for those who require it. Unfortunately, these concepts have both failed in their execution. UAC is widely derided and often disabled because of its irritating frequency, and the user security variables, like most good ideas from Microsoft, are buried under layers of dialogs and menus, effectively rendering them invisible to the casual user.

By switching the defaults to ‘off’ and gently, but firmly, prompting the user to engage with their online security and privacy, responsible companies can educate their (massive) user base and improve the quality of their experience by placing the decision making process in the hands of the user. While the industry aspires to give an experience which ‘just works’, this is one area where the user should definitely be involved – these are choices which people make every day when they shield their PIN at the ATM, don’t give out their phone number to strangers and ask to see ID from the guy at the door claiming he’s from the gas company. When the data involved is personal, it should be the person, not Adobe or Apple or Google or Microsoft, making the call on how it is protected.





Linux Command Line Basics Part IV: Useful Command Line Tools

Knowing basic *nix terminal commands is an absolute must for any computer pro. Whether you use Windows, Mac OS or Linux, you’re bound to face the command prompt at some stage, so here’s my crash course in CLI. In Part 4, I’ll introduce some command line tools which cover some of the most common and most useful functions in Unix.

Really Useful Unix Command Line Tools

Unix operating systems come as standard with a number of very helpful command-line tools which perform very common and very useful file and and administration functions quickly and easily. Here’s a list of some oft-used programs:

System Monitor – top

top provides a real-time updated list of the top processes running on your Unix system. It is similar in function to ‘Task Manager’ on Windows and ‘Activity Monitor’ on Mac OS X. To quit ‘top’, press ‘q’.

'top' running on a Linux server


Linux Command Line Basics Part I: the Unix File Structure

Knowing basic *nix terminal commands is an absolute must for any computer pro. Whether you use Windows, Mac OS or Linux, you’re bound to face the command prompt at some stage, so here’s my crash course in CLI. Part 1 covers the basics of the file structure to get you familiar with the space you’ll be working in.

The Unix File Structure

Familiarity with the Unix file structure is important if you’re going to be interacting with objects within it. If you’re a Windows person, you’ll be used to operating in terms of drive letters (C:\, A:\ etc…), with each drive containing directories and subdirectories in which you can keep your files. Mac OS X is built on BSD, but the user-facing file structure is abstracted from Unix, which lies beneath.

It’s not important to be an expert on the whole file structure to start moving, creating and deleting files, but it is important to at least have an overview.


Linux Command Line Dropbox Tips & Tricks []

The fantastic, wonderful, life enhancing file sync platform Dropbox is easily the best way to share your files between your (sometimes many) devices and across (sometimes many) platforms. Every computer you add to your account increases the redundancy of the data you have stored, and if you value your work it’s a real weight off to know your files are stored safely in multiple geographic locations.

Dropbox is super easy to set up for Mac OS X and Windows (although harder for some Linux distros), but if you’ve got a Linux server that you want to hook up, you’ll have to jump through some command-line hoops before you’re ready to go. Luckily, there’s a tutorial page on the Dropbox wiki which is really helpful and, provided there are no hitches, will get you up and running pretty quickly.

There are a couple of points I’d like to make in addition to the previously mentioned document to address a couple of issues I had when I first tried to install the Dropbox CLI Linux client:

  • Make sure you’re logged in as the user you’ll be accessing the files as when you install. Sounds obvious, but some people like to install with an outright ‘su -' rather than a regular ‘sudo' which can lead to syncing the files as root.
  • When you get to the stage where you’re ready to launch the daemon for the first time, make sure you return the command line. Instead of running…
    # ~/.dropbox-dist/dropboxd
    …do yourself a favour and add an & to the end:
    # ~/.dropbox-dist/dropboxd &
    Especially if you have one of the premium accounts (>2GB), the first sync is going to take a long time, so make sure you use the ampersand so you can carry on working in the mean time.
  • Once you’ve installed, grab the control script. You can get it from the Dropbox website by following this link – it’s mentioned on the wiki linked earlier, but is buried right down at the bottom of the page. It should be the first thing you download!
  • If you’re having trouble running the script then try installing ‘python2.6’ and running using:
    # python2.6
    Again, this is hidden at the bottom of the wiki and is dead important.
  • The three most useful commands for the script are:
    # python2.6 start
    # python2.6 stop
    # python2.6 statusThese three commands give you all the control you should need to proceed with your enjoyment of Dropbox on your headless Linux server.

So there’s a few tips and tricks I want to add to the excellent official Dropbox wiki page. As with everything I post on my site, these are collections of solutions I’ve had to either research from multiple sources, have worked out for myself or have had trouble finding answers for elsewhere, so hopefully I can save you some trouble and help you get up and Dropboxing in less time than it took me the first go around!

Vintage & Rare Part II – Windows Me Beta 1 (Georgia)

No, you read that title correctly – there actually was a beta version of Windows Me. Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft did test Me before shipping it, under the beta code name of Georgia. I loaded up Georgia 4.90.2380 on VirtualBox this week to take a look at a prerelease version of a product who’s negative reception could give Vista or Kin a run for its money any day of the week.

I decided to set my VBox ostype to ‘Windows98’ for this installation rather than ‘WindowsMe’…this is a beta version which definitely still has more in common with 98 than the final product. This VBox is equipped with a generous 128MB of RAM and a 2GB hard drive.

The Georgia CD is bootable, and immediately asks if I’d like to install Windows 98. The mislabeling of the OS on the CD is a pretty good indicator of the completeness of the CD installer – my copy didn’t even have the facility to partition and format the hard drive. Instead, I had to boot to a Windows 95  installation disk to prepare the disk. Further to this, the installer wouldn’t load automatically from the CD: even if you select ‘Start Windows Setup’ at the main menu, you are sent to a command prompt with an error message declaring that the Windows setup files cannot be found. Luckily, switching the prompt to the CD drive and typing ‘SETUP’ kicks things back into life. (more…)

Fixing Finder Error -10810

Finder error -10810 is one of my most passionate personal hates. 10810 normally occurs when you’re accessing a bad/cheap/slow/oddly formatted external storage device, but can also crop up when using the Finder to access a remote server. The symptom? Beachball and no response from the Finder – the only option is to ‘close and relaunch’. Unfortunately, only the first half of this solution can be carried out automatically: the desktop icons will disappear, Finder will close, and you’re presented with the following error message:

Usually it takes a reboot to coax the Finder back into responsiveness, but this trick has worked more often than not for me:

  • Open a Terminal window – you still have access to the Dock, but if it’s not in there you can search for it in Spotlight – and navigate to /Volumes
  • List the directory contents with ls and find the name of the drive/FTP server/etc… which has become problematic.
  • We can now force the system to unmount the disk. When this last happened to me, I was browsing an FTP server called ‘pub’, so I typed:
  • sudo umount pub

  • Substitute in the name of your problem disk, and after the disk unmounts, the Finder will open immediately.

Hopefully this will save you a reboot some day.

MS-DOS 5.0 -> Windows 7

Via YouTube

Very nice experiment…I’m pretty sure that, as a Windows user, I would be happy to do away with some of the backwards compatibility for DOS 5.0 (!) in exchange for a smaller footprint and faster operation. But hey, kudos for a near quarter century of legacy support!

VirtualBox ostype List

When you’re creating a VirtualBox VM, you need to specify an –ostype when using ‘VBoxManage createvm’. A list of these options is, bizarrely, not in the VBox documentation. You can get this list by typing ‘VBoxManage list ostypes’ at the command line, but here it is reproduced for reference.

ID:          Other
Description: Other/Unknown
ID:          Windows31
Description: Windows 3.1
ID:          Windows95
Description: Windows 95
ID:          Windows98
Description: Windows 98
ID:          WindowsMe
Description: Windows Me
ID:          WindowsNT4
Description: Windows NT 4
ID:          Windows2000
Description: Windows 2000

Choosing the right Virtual OS: Windows XP vs. Windows FLP

One of my favourite things about the ubiquity of multi core CPUs, broadband and gigabytes of RAM in modern computers is that virtual operating systems are finally viable. When I was growing up, trying out another OS meant multiple hard drives, partitions and the struggle of actually tracking down discs for these exotic digital curios. (I learned the hard way about making sure you’d partitioned a drive properly when I overwrote Windows 3.1 with a copy of BeOS I got with a computer magazine sometime in the mid-90s.) Thankfully, broadband can hook you up with pretty much any *nix OS in 10 minutes flat these days, and it’s one of my favourite modern software toys which gives you a no-risk sandbox in which to experience the object of your curiosity: the virtual machine.

I wrote a post at the beginning of this year detailing how to set up a remotely accessible cloud-y virtual machine using VirtualBox 4. Covered in that tutorial were the technical instructions for actually setting up the virtual machine itself, however I didn’t go into any detail about choosing an operating system to run on your brand new VBox (mainly because I specifically needed an XP machine at the time).

To serve as an interesting comparison, and also to segue nicely into my forthcoming (I promise!) series on the ‘OS less travelled’, this post will cover the differences in functionality and performance between ‘full fat’ Windows XP Professional and ‘semi-skimmed’ Windows FLP.

Windows FLP stands for ‘Fundamentals for Legacy PCs’, and is a slimmed down install of XP specifically designed for low-spec machines. You can read up on the OS itself at Wikipedia – but is it a viable candidate for a general purpose VM?

Test Conditions

Time to get (relatively) scientific. The two machines will be set up as per my guide with identical specs: 512MB RAM, single CPU, 12GB hard drive and 8MB VRAM.

(Handy aside: to get the specs of a VirtualBox VM, type ‘VBoxManage showvminfo XP’, where XP is the name of the VM in question, at the command line)


The installer for FLP is very different from XP. At the time of its release in 2006, Vista was about to ‘replace’ XP as the computing world’s de facto operating environment. Ironically, the design language of Vista, derided for its over-emphasis on power-sucking visual trinketry, has infiltrated this ‘low power’ Microsoft OS – you can see the modern Windows flag in figure 1, for example. The installer also has a full GUI, a pioneering feature for a Microsoft OS.

fig. 1

Figure 2 shows the installation type selection – I’m going for ‘typical’ in this case. The fully-GUI installation procedure allows very easy access to advanced installation options such as unattended installations and manual TCP/IP configuration. (more…)