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My blog’s existential crisis … sort of. :)

I have the lamest (yet valid) reason for not blogging in over a weekΒ  now: I didn’t know what to say. For the first time in awhile, I felt thoroughly jaded about writing yet another how-to or kvetching about the latest software/hardware fault. There are a ton of sites that I’ll defer to when it comes down to the technical nitty gritty of things, but I hope that my scribblings may have made sense of someone out there. It’s been over 2 weeks since I moved back to Vista and I must confess that I have forgotten what Ubuntu feels like. That sounds like a betrayal even to me, but some context is in order.

Before throwing up my hands in despair and wiping off Windows fromΒ  my laptop, my laptop had a lot of experimental (beta quality) software on it and had witnessed scores of uninstallations that clog disk performance. My computer was rapidly becoming as sluggish as my 3 year old XP desktop PC and I didn’t know how to fix it. I was not infected with any virii or rootkits that I knew of, but I had a lot of programs installed and I experimented a lot with my laptop. The final straw was when some of my personal files became corrupted after running a couple of diagnose-and-repair programs and I threw up my hands in defeat. I’d experimented a lot with virtual machines and was becoming rapidly enamored of the Ubuntu/Linux distribution. I backed up my personal and professional files in two places and said “hasta luego” to Vista. Imagine my giddiness when my computer booted up & was ready to roll in less than 1 minute! However, Ubuntu’s “downfall” at my hands came because of a single issue.

Fast forward to mid-March when I restored my laptop to its factory conditions with my recovery DVDs. I installed my essential programs which are:

  1. Microsoft Office Ultimate 2007 (everything except the Business Contact Manager or Office Accounting 2008) :- I love Office 2007. Eye candy and extremely functional.
  2. Adobe Acrobat Professional 8 :- I paid for this and it is worth its weight in gold! Of course, this was an educational version so it was less than $60.
  3. Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer 2.1
  4. Acronis True Image 2009 :- Worth the money I’ve paid for it. I would purchase it again in a heartbeat!
  5. Acronis Disk Director 10 :- A master at slicing and dicing drives i.e. partitioning, etc
  6. Microsoft Expression Studio Suite :- Got this for free at Microsoft DreamSpark; The included Microsoft Expression Encoder 2 is one of the best converters for .AVI files i.e. AVI to WMV in high quality. I love it!
  7. Ultraedit Text Editor :- Fast and killer at handling huge text files. It’s mostly a Notepad replacement for me, but I wanted the best of the best and Ultraedit was the unanimous victor.
  8. Norton Internet Security 2009
  9. Secunia PSI :- For keeping tabs of programs that need updating or that have reached the end of life period.
  10. PC Wizard
  11. Fraps :- For high quality capture of games I’m playing or simply for recording the entire desktop by monitoring the desktop windows manager. Well worth the dough I dropped for it and it comes with free upgrades for life!
  12. Gizmo5 :- I love this program although the call quality could do with some work. I use this to communicate with my folks in Nigeria by buying Call Out minutes. I get the most bang for my buck that way.
  13. Imgburn :- this program lets the user be awesome as Kathy Sierra would say. It’s so easy to use that a cavewoman like me can use it without tearing out her hair!)
  14. Wireshark :- I fire this baby up whenever I’m out of my home network to monitor HTTP traffic leaving & entering my computer. I always use my SSH tunnel whenever I’m on public wifi or on an insecure/hostile network so I try to inspect my HTTP packets for any cleartext passwords, etc. Yes, I’m a tinfoil hat wearer. πŸ™‚
  15. Nmap :- I haven’t fully gotten the hang of this, but I know that I intend on tapping into its power.
  16. Camtasia Studio 6 :- THE name in creating awesome screencasts and I won a license of this fantastic program via a contest on Gottabemobile.
  17. Snagit 9 :- THE name in taking awesome screenshots of whatever you’re doing. πŸ™‚ I’ve paid for this baby twice because it’s that good.
  18. Netalyzer :- Every computer needs one of these. ‘Nuff said.
  19. 7-zip :- For unobtrusive unzipping & zipping needs, 7-Zip is the program to beat.
  20. FeedDemon :- I would be very lonely in the world without FeedDemon. πŸ™‚ I kid, but this program is a desktop RSS reader that backups up my subscriptions and has handled my feeds with minimal hiccups.
  21. Filezilla (and/or Winscp) :- The masters at FTP/SFTP/SSH connections.
  22. Putty :- For making SSH tunneling on my laptop possible. I heart you, Putty.
  23. Xobni :- the Outlook plugin
  24. Firefox :- bestest browser EVAR!!
  25. Cyberlink Youcam 2 (for whatever reason, this program won’t receive updates and I’m in the market for an alternative webcam program like Logitech’s Quickcam software for the Logitech Pro 9000)
  26. Speedcrunch :- This calculator is faster than the built-in calculator in Vista and has even more functionality. I love that it saves all calculations for me so it gives me a reason not to buy the latest shiny thing that catches my eye. πŸ™‚
  27. WinDirStat :- This nifty program tells me which folders are hogging up all my hard drive space. It’s thanks to this program that Nero 9 is not on my laptop anymore. I discovered several GBs in some folders created by Nero 9. I had no idea what those folders were for and I was too scared to delete them.
  28. TheSage dictionary :- Free dictionary that can search online (Wikipedia, Google, etc) from the application’s interface. I debated long & hard about replacing Wordweb Free with this program, but now, I have no regrets. The Sage is just as fast (if not faster) than Wordweb Free.

After installing these 28 programs and installing their updates, I slowly “rolled” out more program installations while carefully monitoring the Performance Information and Tools monitor for any problem programs. One software tool is conspicuously absent and that is Nero 9 which I used to swear by. The reason I have kept Nero 9 off y computer lies in the fact that it is overkill for my purposes (as I’ve learnt the hard way). I don’t want this post to become a screed, but Nero 9 has actually gotten in the way of doing stuff instead of making stuff drop-dead easy. So, I went with Imgburn for its simple 1-click options.

As of today, I’ve added a lot more programs to my computer, but I’ve been discriminating in what I put on my laptop. These programs see less usage than the 21 above, but they are on my laptop because I want them there. They are:

  1. Windows Live Writer
  2. Microsoft Streets & Trips 2009 (with GPS)
  3. DVDFab
  4. ConceptDraw Professional 7 :- A worthy alternative to Microsoft Visio Professional 2007. For making neat drawings that would take forever in Word. πŸ˜›
  5. ConceptDraw MindMap 5
  6. Microsoft Math 3.0 :- Don’t ask. It’s not worth the 20 bucks I paid for it because it’s slower than molasses. I recommend SpeedCrunch if a vanilla calculator will suit your needs.
  7. GPG4Win :- Every now and then, I get this bee in my bonnet that I need to encrypt my email conversations. I’m not in cohorts with evil people so my paranoia is largely unjustified. However, if I did encrypt all my email, no one would be able to get in touch with me because my contacts are not tinfoil hat wearers like me!
  8. Quicktime 7 Pro and QuickTime MPEG-2 Playback Component :- I went Pro over 2 years ago and it’s definitely worth it. I purchased the MPEG add-on because at the time, I needed that capability. Worth it? Meh.
  9. Spacejock software :- You can’t beat free & high quality software. yBook is an e-Reader that simply works OOB (out of box). It is my alternative to the ~ $300 Amazon Kindle. Eat your hearts out, suckers! πŸ˜›
  10. Woopra :- A web analytics program
  11. Skype :- I have about 2 contacts on Skype (my husband and a friend of ours). πŸ™‚ However, I need Skype on the laptop because I can make video calls to my husband and when my husband is jamming with his friend (my 2nd contact), they call me via Skype and I can listen to their music.
  12. CCleaner :- This program is not on my must-have list because I already do a lot of the tasks it performs manually. I’ve been burned by mediocre “clean up” software (*cough* TuneUp *cough*) so I’m leery of such applications. However, CCleaner has a very good reputation so I’m comfortable with running this program once a quarter. πŸ™‚
  13. Bulk Rename Utility :- a free program by Jim Willsher for bulk renaming. It does what it does simply and fast. Tons of options to satisfy any needs (extension changes, sequential numbering, etc). A specialized tool, but not essential. It also has a dedicated 64 bit version.
  14. ColorPic :- Another specialized tool for when I’m optimizing my Adsense ads and I need to pick matching colors. πŸ™‚

Right now, my computer is humming right along with me when I click to open things, etc. I haven’t had the Performance Information and Tools monitor tell me that any issues have been documented by the computer. I haven’t had the computer bluescreen (BSOD) on me yet *knock on wood* although my experience with Windows tells me that even BSODs happen to the best of us.

I will be updating this post with links to the programs later so enjoy!

Return to Vista-land, part 1

*sigh* As much as I’m reveling in the familiarity of the Windows operating system, I have to say that I miss Ubuntu and the blazing fast start up times I experienced. With the Ubuntu OS, it was actually easier to shutdown and restart the PC versus hibernating. Whereas, it was ridiculously painful to do either (shutdown/hibernate) with Vista. Now that I’ve reinstalled Windows Vista, I’m taking great pains to avoid installing craplets that serve no purpose. However, I’m sad to report that I am still experiencing issues that seem little, but are starting to drive the O.C.D. part of me nuts!

For instance, the icons for installed programs ‘disappear’. What do I mean? See for yourself. icons In the picture below, the icon for the Cyberlink Youcam program has been changed to a default Vista icon which typically indicates that something is wrong with a program. In this case, the program starts up fine. It’s just driving me nuts that I can’t have the pretty icon that depicts the Cyberlink Youcam program.

Thankfully, this is truly a non-issue i.e. not a dealbreaker. I was able to resolve the matter by tinkering the Cyberlink Youcam entry’s properties on the Start Menu. It’s simple: (i) You right click on the entry that lacks a custom icon and click “Properties”. (ii) You select “Change Icon” and voila!. Please note that this change may not occur right away for some strange reason and seeing as I’m rather impatient, this led to much gnashing of teeth. Cheers!

icons3

My Workarounds in Ubuntu and Getting Weaned Off Windows.

However, there are alternatives to the key programs I’m missing such as Microsoft Office Outlook which is being replaced by Evolution Mail. I’m getting used to Evolution‘s email interface and finding out that it’s not so bad. I imported my contacts and while it wasn’t smooth (i.e. mis-identifying imported items), it’s doing the job of checking my email for me. πŸ™‚ So here goes (it’s an evolving list):

1. On my Vista laptop, I found 7zip indispensable because it was fast and integrated itself into the Windows explorer environment. On Ubuntu, my alternative to 7zip is the built-in Archive Manager, which can also be accessed by typing “file-roller” into a terminal window. In fact, after a couple of uses, I’m growing to appreciate the speed of this utility. I’m sure there is a way make an entry into the context-menu, but until then, I’m settling for managing file archives via Archive Manager.

2. When I was using Windows, Cyberlink Youcam was rather terrific for making silly videos as well as for video chat because it had a wealth of fun additions like the whiteboard, effects, etc The closest I have come to on Ubuntu is the Cheese Webcam booth. Currently, the videos it takes are just as high-quality as Cyberlink Youcam’s, to my uneducated eyes. πŸ™‚ The effects are cheesy and there’s really not much to it beyond taking webcam snapshots and videos. Editing the webcam and videos will have to happen a different program, but Cheese Webcam Booth is free and demonstrably works. Check out the two items under “Preferences”.
Ubuntu Cheese Webcam preferences

3) Microsoft Office 2007 is a thing of beauty and I particularly enjoyed creating documents with it. Now, being on Ubuntu has forced me to consider alternatives such as AbiWord and the Open Office suite of products. The user interface for Open Office is really archaic (in my view) and a little confusing for me. However, I’ve gotten the basic commands I need to survive and I’ll keep adding more skills to my repertoire. The preferences menu in Open Office is really scatterbrained and I hope Open Office 3.0 will bring some sort of order/sense into it. Maybe I’m severely biased (after 7 years of Microsoft Office), but I am willing to put Open Office through its paces and make sense out of it. πŸ™‚ Wish me luck!

4. Security on Linux: This is the biggest scare for me because I was reasonably adept at staying secure on my laptop when it had Vista on it. Now, I’m learning things like the Linux filesystem does not need defragmentation, there aren’t very many dedicated security suites for Ubuntu/Linux or those available are for server-grade protection, etc. Frankly, I’m a little frustrated, but I’m doing my due diligence by reading up on ways to keep my computer protected from intruders. For instance, I’ve enabled the built-in Ubuntu firewall (ufw) and I currently use Firestarter to observe the kind of traffic that’s leaving and entering my computer. I haven’t created any custom rules because I dread accidentally locking myself out one of these days.

5. Secure remote access: This is the downside (for now) of switching to Linux. On my Vista installation, I had installed Logmein Pro and I had a dooms-day plan hatched out whereby I would be able to take pictures of any criminal using my laptop to get online or even wipe my data. Now, I’m kinda stuck with messing around with finicky VNC clients, etc. Hopefully, my online scourings will turn up a useful utility like Logmein that I can use to remotely access my computer. A name that keeps popping up as a robust remote access solution is NoMachine’s NX Free Edition. I gave it a whirl, but was unable to get it to work on my Linux laptop. There are other Virtual Network Computing solutions out there (RealVNC, UltraVNC, TightVNC, etc), but they are all way over my head at this point. I’m settling for doing a whole lot of reading and simply learning to fortify my computer against computer varmints. πŸ™‚ In that respect, I’ve enabled OpenSSH server on my laptop and changed the default port (22) to something else. That action probably threw a monkey wrench in to my NXServer configuration, but I’m a little tired. lol.

6. Secure online surfing: My method of staying under the radar while surfing was through SSH tunneling. To be able to perform “SSH tunneling”, you need access to an SSH server and there are a few free SSH servers out there. On Ubuntu/Linux, I installed the Gnome SSH tunnel manager (search for ‘gstm’ using the Synaptic Package Manager which is like the Windows “add and remove” programs feature with awesomeness added. lol) and because I have Firefox, I’ve got the Foxyproxy plugin to toggle the tunneling session on or off!

That’s about it for now. More to come! Cheers.