Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Is Windows Vista getting a bum rap?

Windows Vista, the latest desktop OS from Microsoft initially received and continues to be the target of undeserving and unflattering coverage. The negative coverage has been so shrill and persistent that one is almost led to believe that Vista is a horrible OS, unreliable and a pain to use. However, my experience with Vista has been pleasant and diametrically opposite to the horror stories bandied about. I have been using the 32 bit version of Vista Home Premium 32 for about 4 months and below in brief are my experiences.


The system has been extremely stable and has not crashed even once. The worst that happened was a restart of the graphics driver due to some error. The suspend-to-ram and hibernate work perfectly as configured. The system wakes up to perform the scheduled recording of TV shows and goes back to suspend state after the recording has been completed.


I have not experienced any performance issues on system. The menus are snappy. The thumbnails for various media types are generated quickly in explorer. The search function works so well that I did not have to browse the installed programs in the start menu even once, typing the name of the application in the search interface provides easy access to start the applications.


Vista's firewall by default is configured to protect incoming connections. However, it can be configured to block outgoing connections as well based on quite a few parameters. Hence, I think a separate firewall is not required. The UAC is another feature that enhances the security of Vista. It pop ups a window informing the user when an attempt is made to modify system settings. The user can either allow or block the change.


Vista improves upon the usability of XP. The two most important improvements for me are

  1. The search function in the start menu, which makes it easy to access applications and
  2. The ability to start program installation from accounts with limited privileges, which makes it a lot easier to use a limited privilege account for day to day use. The use of a limited privilege account for day to day in turn improves the security of the system.


The experience I have had while using Vista prompts me to suspect the objectivity and technical competence of shrills complaining about Vista. The most absurd are the iPersons who trash Vista while gloating about how much better OS X is based on the abstract and completely subjective criteria of the supposedly better user experience.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Windows Live Photo Gallery - Almost right

Windows Live Photo Gallery is a digital photo management application that is part of the Windows Live family of services. It is probably an attempt by Microsoft to create a complete and seamless online experience and compete with the likes of Google and Yahoo.


The downloadable installer is a common for other Live applications like Live Mail, Live Writer, Live Messenger etc. and provides the options for selecting the required Live applications. In some ways it is similar to Google Pack except that all the Live applications have a similar look and feel.


The Live Photo Gallery interface is by default divided into 3 vertical panes. The left most pane list the grouping into which the photos are organized. The groupings into which the photos are organized are

  1. Folders
  2. Dates and
  3. Tags

The grouping are not mutually exclusive and the same photo can be accessed through any one of the above groupings. A screen shot of the interface can be found below.


Selecting a photo in the middle pane displays its properties in the left pane and enables the toolbar at the top which provides the options to

  1. Fix -  Make corrections and adjustments to the photo
  2. Info - Displays basic information about the photo in the left pane
  3. Print - Provides options for either printing or uploading to an online provider.
  4. Publish - Support for publishing on Windows Live Spaces or MS Soapbox (for videos only).
  5. Make - Creates a data CD or a panoramic stitch from the selected photos.
  6. Open- Opens the photo using the selected application.

Right clicking on a photo provides the usual selection of options. However, the one option that I found useful was to change the date and time of the selected photo(s).

Photo Import

The import feature of the Live Photo Gallery is one of its distinguishing feature. It groups the photos on the camera by dates. The import properties of each group of photos can be set separately. Hence, in one import session photos can be imported into multiple destination directories and tagged with multiple tags.

The import feature provides the option for automatically rotating photos during the import and deleting the photos from the camera after the imp0rt is complete.


The indexing performance of Live Photo Gallery was pretty fast. In fact it did not seem to be doing any obvious indexing at all. The photos from the directories selected for inclusion seem to just appear when the application is started.


Windows Live Photo Gallery take in isolation as an application is well designed and implemented suited for organizing and light weight editing of photos.

However, photo sharing through Live spaces prevents it from being the perfect application for sharing photos considering the fact that sharing photos through online services has become the primary method of sharing photos with friends and family.

The Live spaces interface for sharing photos is cluttered and I could not find an option to send an email to share a gallery.

However, since the application is still  a beta  I hope Microsoft will improve the online sharing service which would make Windows Live Photo Gallery the perfect application for organizing and sharing photos.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Quintessential phone pda, Motorola Q

This is kind of late to be writing about the Motorola Q. However, I wanted to wait till get a complete feel of the phone before shooting my mouth of about it. Please find below my impressions of the phone.

I got a silver Motorola Q from Verizon Wireless about 5 months for the nice price of free after the discounts. The discounts that were applied were the new every 2 as well and the discount for adding the data plan.

Initially there was a bit of apprehension about using a smart phone without the touch screen interface. However, as I started using the Q the lack of the of a touch screen interface did not feel like a drawback. The ability to operate the Q with one hand more than makes up for the lack of the touch screen interface.

The Q is first a phone and then a pda. The number keys though overloaded with alphabets and characters start the dialout process as they are pressed . In addition the numbers in the contacts and the call list can be looked up by pressing either the first few digits of the number or the first few character of the contact. All the above operation can be comfortably performed with one hand just like a regular phone. The Q has voice activated dialing software included. The voice activation is speaker independent and no voice tagging or training is required. The voice activation needs some practice. However, once familiar it works like a breeze even with a Bluetooth headset.

The pda functionality of the Q though subservient to the phone is no slouch. The full QWERTY keyboard requires some familiarization. However, after that using it is quite comfortable. The keys provide nice feedback on pressing and they are a nice compromise between size and functionality. The Outlook email client can be configured to sync with Microsoft Exchange over the air and/or pull email through pop. The included IE (pocket version) can be used to browse the web, though it can be quite frustrating since most of the web content is not yet formatted for mobile displays.

The camera on the Q is quite ok and take mediocre pictures and video under normal lighting conditions. The Windows media player can play most if not all Windows formats (though I should admit I haven't tried it out). The battery life on the Q used to be quite pathetic initially. However, after applying the updates it is quite satisfactory and it lasts about 3 days on a full charge.

The Q was described initially in some circles as a Blackberry killer. However, 'crackberry' addicts have not dumped their Blackberries to pick up Qs. The Q appeals more to the first time users more used to regular phones tentatively dipping their toes into the world of smartphones and apprehensive of a difficult learning of a full fledged smartphone.

In conclusion, I have been using the Q for the last 5 months and have been quite satisfied with it. The intial apprehension of having a striped down smartphone has given way to appreciation of the simple design and the simplicity of use.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Repository problem in Kubuntu.

I had problems with the repositories. I was unable to update the installed packaged or install any new packages. The software manager Adept would fail and apt-get would return various errors when trying to connect to the repositories. I was able to ping the repositories which made the situation even more curious. I am not sure what the problem is. I even tried reinstalling. The default repositories were still unavailable.

I was finally able to get access to the repositories by using the FTP versions of the Canadian Ubuntu repositories. The repositories that worked for me are given below.

# deb dapper-commercial main
# deb dapper main
# deb dapper main
# deb dapper main

# Line commented out by installer because it failed to verify:
deb dapper main restricted
deb dapper multiverse
# Line commented out by installer because it failed to verify:
# deb-src dapper main restricted

## Major bug fix updates produced after the final release of the
## distribution.
# Line commented out by installer because it failed to verify:
deb dapper-updates main restricted
# Line commented out by installer because it failed to verify:
# deb-src dapper-updates main restricted

## Uncomment the following two lines to add software from the 'universe'
## repository.
## N.B. software from this repository is ENTIRELY UNSUPPORTED by the Ubuntu
## team, and may not be under a free licence. Please satisfy yourself as to
## your rights to use the software. Also, please note that software in
## universe WILL NOT receive any review or updates from the Ubuntu security
## team.
deb dapper universe
# deb-src dapper universe

## Uncomment the following two lines to add software from the 'backports'
## repository.
## N.B. software from this repository may not have been tested as
## extensively as that contained in the main release, although it includes
## newer versions of some applications which may provide useful features.
## Also, please note that software in backports WILL NOT receive any review
## or updates from the Ubuntu security team.
deb dapper-backports main restricted universe multiverse

# Line commented out by installer because it failed to verify:
# deb dapper-security main
# Line commented out by installer because it failed to verify:
# deb-src dapper-security main
# deb-src dapper-backports main restricted universe multiverse
# deb dapper-security universe
# deb-src dapper-security universe


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Kubuntu. Install, Configuration and experience.

I have been running various distributions of Linux for about 4 years. I started out with RedHat and later switched to SuSE. I was by and large satisfied with SuSE and used it till OpenSuSE 10.1. However, all the chatter about Ubuntu on the various Linux forums that I visit really piqued my interest and I wanted to try it. The main obstacle for me to try Ubuntu was that it was a Gnome centric distribution and I am used to KDE. Hence, I kept monitoring Kubuntu and as soon as I found out that they had a release based on the latest and greatest Ubuntu I decided that it was time for me to take the plunge.

Described below in brief are my experiences installing and running Kubuntu.

Install system

The installation system is a Dell D600 laptop with a Mobile P4 at 1.3 GHZ, 512MB of RAM, Radeon R250 graphics card, an ethernet interface and an internal wireless interface based on a Broadcom chip.

Install process

The installation of Kubuntu starts with the download of the install iso from one of the various mirrors and the creation of the boot CD. The boot CD in Kubuntu is both the Live as well as the Install CD unlike in OpenSuSE.

Upon booting into the Live CD a clean and rather spartan looking KDE desktop comes up. The desktop has an icon for the install. The installer detected the existing Windows NTFS, ReiserFS and the Swap partitions on my hard drive. I opted to keep the same partitioning scheme and install into the ReiserFS partition. The installer requires user input for the selection of the language, keyboard layout, timezone and the creation of the non-root admin user. The installation was uneventful and took about 50 minutes.

Use & Configuration

On login, a KDE desktop is presented that is similar (I am not sure if it is exactly the same) to the Live CD desktop. The KDE menu is simple and the applications are grouped into categories. The application selection is rather sparse and includes only the basics. The non-open plugins for the browser were also missing. Though I should say it is quite easy to install the needed software using Adept, the included software manager.

The only components that I had previously faced issues configuring were the graphics card and the internal wlan. The graphics card has a binary only, non-open driver from ATI which gives better performance. However, it is not installed by default. Also, the native linux driver for the Broadcom chip does not support WPA. I downloaded and installed ndiswrapper, wpa_supplicant, KNetworkManager for the wlan and the non-open driver for the graphics card after enabling the non-open software repository (required to download the binary only driver for the graphics card). The package manager resolved the dependencies and installed all the required supporting packages as well. Since the wlan was not yet working I connected the laptop to the network using the ethernet interface.

The configuration of the WLAN was easy once I had ndiswrapper, wpa_supplicant and KNetworkManager installed. I loaded the firmware, the ndiswrapper kernel module and the new wlan interface was visible, after which I opened up KNetworkManager and configured it to use WPA. The whole process worked like a charm and in no time I had a working WPA encrypted wlan connection.

The graphics card can be configured using the Display option in the System settings (the combined KDE control center and system configuration interface) in the KDE menu. The graphics card was correctly detected and I was given the option of using the open source radeon driver or the binary only fglrx and I opted for the later. I restarted X and expected to see the fglrx driver in action. However, due to a problem in the OpenGl library the fglrx driver was not being used. The solution turned out to be replacing the library file with an older version.

The system tends to run hot since the cooling mode was set to critical and the critical temperature was set to 101. I tried changing the cooling mode to active but I could not. The speedstep functionality seems to work, the suspend functionalities however are not working (maybe because I am using the non-open fglrx driver).


The Kubuntu distribution seems to have lived up to its Ubuntu lineage. The installation was simple. The configuration interface is clean and not intimidating. The Adept software installation tool is easy to use (the default open repositories are enabled by default) and last but not the least excellent community support available on the Kubuntu forums.

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Picassa on Linux.

Installed Picassa on SuSE 10.0 . The Wine package provided by SuSE did not work, had to download and install the rpms from winehq.
With the rpms from winehq IE6 and Piacassa insatlled smoothly and I am able to run them with no problems.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Samba and XP Home.

Finally managed to get my XP Home machine to access the Samba share on my Linux box. The problem was in the McAfee firewall. It was blocking Samba traffic though it was disabled, took many frustrating hours to figure it out.