Saturday, December 29, 2007

Open Letter to all my Friends who use Vista

An Open Letter to all my friends who use Vista

OK, I have been known to often criticize Microsoft, and I think some believe that I am just complaining - but is that true? Am I just complaining for complaining sake? If so, why are there so many more Technologist out there criticizing Microsoft's latest OS, I think rightfully so? If we thought that any of Microsoft's other products were bloated pieces of code, this has to take the cake! I mean, somebody please respond to this and tell me what in the world does Vista do for me - that I would have to fork over so much money for it? Oh, yeah, that cool interface - yeah right, on my only PC that I have it running on, I have had to disable every single piece of eye candy to make it functionally. I mean I basically have it down to XP bare bones! Oh, probably Direct X for the future games, yet at work is this an issue?

Not only do you have to have go spend a ton of cash just to get a machine that runs it comfortably, but even then it runs poorly. Also you basically have to disable all the security baggage so you don't get so frustrated you end up formatting the hard drive and re-installing XP! Look, I have a duo core Intel with SATA drives, a fairly good ATI card with Ready Boost going, and all the hot fixes, patches, etc. I also have the Hard Drive properly optimized along with the page file and a bunch of other tweaks but still I have problems. Not as many as I had before, but still some. Now I can Remote Desktop to it, where before it was dog slow. My screens pop up nicely and seem to run crisp now, but look at all the work I had to do to get there. There is no way I can put this on users' desktop, no way! And that is not even dealing with all the software and hardware incompatibilities.

I might be on a limb here by saying that this one smells of Windows ME - yeah remember ME? - No? - Well if you don't there is a good reason why you don't. I might be all wet because Service Pack 1 might fix a lot of these problems, but if it does, then nothing has much changed and my old saying of: "Wait to the first or second service pack before installing at work" is still going to hold up as true.

Now I have a lot of friends that defend Vista and it's closest cousin Microsoft Office 2007 (I am not going to go there), but I find it curiously that the ones who are the most vocal all have some monetary ties to the Software Giant - hey, I do too, I give them my money! That is a tie is it not? Does that buy me a little slack? No, my friends, you might make your money because of Microsoft, but a lot of it is spent trying to make their crap work right. I took some negative comments in a previous post: "An Open Letter to Linux"; but Linux guys come on, do something, this is what I meant by: "you have an open window here". Apple is trying, and to be sure that if you just compare them to Vista they are tied as far as installations, so that is probably a win for them.

OK, let me enumerate my beefs with Vista:

1. I think Microsoft is jealous of Linux and is trying to match their endless number of distributions. How many $@$%^ versions of this OS do we need? Can you name just 3? How about all of them?

2. Problems with Printer drivers. Yeah, yeah, it was the OEMs who farted this one away right?

3. You have to spend so much money on hardware, that Intel's stock will soar.

4. Problems transferring large files over the network and over USB - yes I did all the dog and pony tricks and still have problems.

The Jan 2008 Edition of Maximum PC had 23 Vista Tweaks of which I certainly have done or will do most, but here are just 5:

1. Turn of the UAC - User Account Control
2. Run Vista Command Line as Admin
4. Fix the Vista Networking so you can actually use it on the network
5. Put on every hot fix you can
6. Use a disk defrag that actually works besides the built in one

Or, just downgrade to Windows XP.

OK - so make your list of positives for me and comment on this article. I want to present both sides. Be nice, I am trying to get a good discussion.

Sincerely,

Delco
(an XP die hard, closet Linux user, and Apple wannabe)

Friday, November 16, 2007

An open letter to the Linux Community

An open letter to the Linux Community

Hello out there.  This is a plead to the Linux world out there.

For a long time now, I have been testing Linux and the wild variations of it.  Listen, I am pulling for you.  I want you to succeed; but to succeed, you have to put Linux on the desktops of my mom who is 75, and have her be able to use it.  If you can do that, you will be able to put Linux on the desktops of anybody.

In other words, you have to make Linux be like "Windows" - yes you do.  If you make Linux like Windows, minus the annoying performance hits you take with Windows as each new version is released, and keep it "free of charge", and get Dell, Lenovo, and other OEMs to preload it, then you will succeed in my opinion.  Now there have been great inroads.  I like the Ubunto product because I can install it and use it pretty much out of the box, or should I say, "out of the ISO".

Here are some of the things that need to be taken for granted:

1.  Networking, and more even so "Wireless Networking".  It just needs to happen without having to do one little geeky thing because my mom does not even know what a geek is even though her son is one.

2. Printing.  Samba, Rumba, Dumba, Daemons, Demons, LPTs, IPs, LPs, and whatever mean nothing to my mom, other than I think she might mistake them for variations of Rummy or Canasta or old vinyl Records.  Printing has to be like - duh!

3. Multimedia - again, what does most people, and most older Americans want?  They want to see pictures and share pictures of their grandchildren.  Along with Videos and to be able to burn them to DVDs, share them, etc.

4. Internet, email, IM, etc,.  Well here I see no problem as long as we can convince them that the Internet is not a big blue "E".  And you can get AIM, MSM and Yahoo pagers to work like they do in Windows.

5. Learn from Bill: Wizards!  Yeah I know, Linux help sites have traditionally stated, "If you have not read the "man pages" (documentation or help files), don't post a "help request".  Here I say get off your high horse!  Normal people don't want to read any manuals, paper, digital or otherwise.  If it isn't easy to do, they will not do it and let it go in frustration.  Listen that is why I have a job in "IT" - It is because most people don't want to deal with the hassles of setting up PCs or Software or trying to Decipher error codes, messages and install patches, fixes or upgrades!  Please listen!

6.  Here is the most important thing.  Get together out there.  Make a pact or something and reduce the insanely amount of distros you have.  Outside of the Geek community I don't hear anybody say the words "Slackware", "Mandrake", "Red Hat", "Ubunto", "Suse", or whatever other distro name exist out there.  But, I certainly hear people say Windows, XP, Vista, and Mac.  You need to become "one", or at least "two" or "three", not a "Legion of possibilities".

7.  Here is the Killer:  USB.  Every USB device out there should work with Linux.  This includes all the new widgets that do U3 or Portable Apps.  Every camera, printer, or whatever needs to be able to plug in just like we do it in Windows.

8.  Well, I thought number seven was a killer, but no, here might the one that puts you over the top:  Get Microsoft to develop their bloated Microsoft Office for Linux!  Hee hee, you would win with this one I think.

OK, that is my letter.  Please don't get me wrong.  I love Linux, I just would not give it to my Mother.  I think Ubunto has come the closest to what I want to see in Linux.  Please, please work on this because there is an opportunity out there.  I see a small window opening, but I think is going to close rather quickly if you don't succeed.  I think Linux will always be there for the Geek, the person who likes to install and try to get it to work, but for the person who is like my mom - which is most people, forget it!

Delco


Monday, November 12, 2007

File De-Fragmentation on the cheap

File De-Fragmentation on the cheap


This weekend I happen to be sitting in a location where I really could not go anywhere, I had to stay put for about an hour. This gave me an opportunity to pull out my November issue of TechNet Magazine. As I turned the pages, I found an excellent article that was quite timely since I have been dealing with some of these very issues at work this week. It had to do with file fragmentation, and how to de-fragment them. The article by Wes Miller was very good and covered some of the why(s) and how(s) of why files fragment. Also, some of the myths about it also; so I am not going to tell you what he said, it is his article. What I am going to cover is some of the utilities that he mentioned in the article. Very, very good stuff.

First, let me just cover the issues that I have been dealing with at work. One, we have been using Diskeeper from Executive Software. An excellent third party utility for the Enterprise level De-Fragmentation of Disks. Diskeeper allows scheduling, and boot time de-fragmentation which is very needed not only on workstations but on Servers. Yet what about for home, or for doing just one machine for whatever reason, or even if you use Diskeeper you my not want to spend that kind of money? The last part leads me to the second issue at work, some laptops just come in and need to be tuned quickly because Diskeeper has not run or had time to run, or the user just disabled it thinking it was slowing his machine down. For quickly trouble shooting and tuning, the last two utilities mentioned below come in very handy.

The three utilities I want to cover, are:

  1. The built in de-fragmenter in Windows, which is a scaled down version of Diskeeper
  2. PageDefra.exe
  3. Contig.exe

The built-in utility for file and folder de-fragmentation that now comes with XP has an advantage over the past ones, you can schedule it. This is one of the features of full blown Diskeeper; but with XP you have to use Task Scheduler, and you don't have all the bells and whistles. That is ok, just being able to automate when it runs is a real plus.

The other piece of fragmentation that you really can't do with the default utility that you can do with full blown Diskeeper is de-fragment the page file and the registry which can become very fragmented. The reason you can't do so is because these type of files are usually locked. To so so, you have to do it at boot time. This is where you can use the free utility from Sysinternals: PageDefrag. You can set PageDefrag to run once at boot up, or every time at boot up.

Also, sometimes, you may want to just de-fragment one file or one folder, for this enter Contig.exe, another free utility. You run this utility from the command prompt, but you can also script it and subsequently you can also schedule it. If you use these three utilities together, you will, in my opinion keep your disk and files in top notch shape.

System File De-fragmenter

I found this utility pretty straight forward. I can run it at the "next reboot" or at "every reboot". It consist of an exe and help file. Create a folder, put the files in there and create a shortcut to it. Run it, set the options, click Ok, and at the next reboot it will de-fragment the pagefile, the registry, and all the locked system files.


Contig

I found Contig really cool because you can run it from the command line, or create a batch file and schedule it. Also, you can defrag just one file or one folder or an entire drive. It is up to you. You can also use it to create a new file that is contiguous. You can also run it in verbose or quite mode, and with the -a, you can just get information on any file/folder.










Running defrag.exe as a scheduled task

The third piece of the puzzle is the defrag.exe. This is the utility that comes with Windows to de-fragment your hard drive. It is a pain manually ruining it. Usually it stops you from doing anything else, or at least it is a bother remembering to run it; but if you schedule it, you can forget about it. See screen shots below, and if you like, this Microsoft article.












With these three utilities and 0 dollars, you can keep your disk healthy and strong just as if you would of spent some money on a fancy de-fragmenter. I think that Diskeeper is a fine product, and it is very handy to deploy via a console in the Enterprise. It also does some real fancy things like "smart scheduling" and MFT padding just to name a few; but if you are just a single user or are just cheap, try these methods and utilities.

Delco

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Lenovo/IBM Thinkpads

Lenovo/IBM Thinkpads

I have had Thinkpads around now in the office for over 10 years.  I know that there are people over the years that have criticized the Thinkpads for not being very high power machines; but one thing I always liked about them was that they seemed for the most part to be reliable.  "Nobody got fired for buying blue", was the old saying.  The Thinkpads were often behind in the Benchmark tests; but in the Support and Updates area I thought they were head and shoulders above the others.

When IBM decided to sell their laptop and PC lines to Lenovo I was worried.  I believed that the Thinkpads that I had come to trust might become less reliable.  I did not stop buying them hoping that my fears were not ever going to be realized; after all this is being typed on a Thinkpad.  I have an X40 I carry around with me because it is light and portable; but with the last couple of Lots that I bought, T4x and T6x models, we have run into multiple problems.

One of the first problems we ran into was the Software Update program that we used for the last few years to keep the Thinkpads updated, stopped working.  This is because the Lenovo people decided to switch over to the System Update program.  As of this date I do not believe that it works as good as the Software Update.  We had numerous problems with the machine shutting down and rebooting in the middle of the updates because it need to to it, but it could not successfully pick up where it left off.  This was not a problem with the the previous Software update.

The second problem, and a pretty big one was the failure of the Access Connections program to work.  The Access Connections program is the program that Thinkpads use to manage network connections.  This was a real plus in the past, because it was so easy to tell users to use the Fn +F5 key to bring up the program which made it simple to scan for Wireless/Blue Tooth Networks.  It also let you create profiles for all your network connections including  hard wired ones.  But the program, at least the last version is real buggy.

Along with the above problem we experience another real weird problem.  The actual Ethernet connection would disappear if we unplugged the power cable.  Also on occasions we were unable to connect to the network unless we plugged in the power cable.  This all seemed rather strange to us.  We also suspected that it was there but not visible in the Device manager.

The other problem we had was Ghosting the machines.  That problem I laid out in a previous post.

After talking to Lenovo Tech support we really did not get much help, other than what we also found on the Internet.  Also, I have also noticed that we have had some issues with the Laptops after successful Ghosts with Explorer just hanging.  Not really errors or Processor usage, just Explorer crapping out.  Now I don't know at this time if it is happening because of Ghosting or just some other weird problem.

In short this is what we did to make these work:

Install the Hot Key Manger version 2.06.0708.
Install the Power Management Driver version 1.17.
Install the ACPI Power Management Software ACPI Power Management Utility version 1.43.
Uninstall the Access Manager and use the Windows Wireless Interface instead - if you want to go out on a limb, version 4.2 seemed to work.
The in-ability to Ghost was solved in the previous Post.
So in short, I have really lost my enthusiasm for Lenovo Thinkpads.

... an this is real situation where Tech Bytes!

Next, the problems with the Panasonic Toughbooks - not so tough after all ...

Delco

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Lenovo (formerly IBM) Thinkpad and Ghosting

Imaging ThinkPads with Symantec GHOST

Here is a situation where Tech does byte: I have traditionally made IBM, now Lenovo Thinkpads the main laptops for our company. We also maintain a smaller fleet of Panasonic ToughBooks. What I would usually do, is buy a lot of the same model and hardware type, build one and then use Microsoft Sysprep and then create an image of the laptop to copy to the other laptops. This made setup a bit faster than going through each one and load every program needed.

We had an aging fleet of T21 Thinkpads, so I started buying some X40, X41, T40, T41, and a bunch of the T60s. When we went to image the machine with Ghost, that worked OK. Then if you put that image back over the same machine that also worked; but if you tried copying the image to other machines, then at the boot you just got a blinking cursor at the top left and a black screen. No beep codes, no error messages, no Windows anything.

This at first was a real disappointment to me. At the same time, we had decided to look at Acronis also as an image deployment solution. Acronis seemed to work perfectly with the Thinkpads. There was one catch, if I wanted the same functionality as Ghost Enterprise Suite, I was going to have to fork over $5k instead of the $1.5k upgrade to Ghost (my cost here is based on how many licenses I had to buy). And the Ghost product did both Unicast and Multicast, where as with Acronis you had the multicast version, which indeed was cheaper than their Workstation product, but still more than the cost to upgrade Ghost.

Here is another piece of advice: "Don't listen to sales people too closely, look real hard before you buy". The sales guy we talked to at Acronis seemed to make it a point, how Acronis worked with the Thinkpads, and how Ghost would not. Now being a sales person, he could of known more about why I was having a problem with Ghost, or maybe it was an opportune line for him to get us to buy his product. In either case, I did not bite. I decided to go with Ghost and give it another try. Even if it did not work, the rati of PCs to Laptops made buying Ghost still a good value.

Here is the real answer though: After looking a little harder, and having a bit more time, I found the answer of how to Ghost these IBM laptops:

1. Build the first laptop. Do what ever you need to do. Install Software, updates, drivers, etc.
2. Sysprep your laptop with Microsoft's Sysprep (You have a little set up work for Sysprep itself).
3. Now, Sysprep shutdown the laptop, so boot it up, but make sure you get into CMOS (Thinkpads used the F1 key).
4. In CMOS, make sure you can boot to the CD ROM or whatever you are using to boot the laptop to use Ghost . I use Bart's PE with my licensed copy of Ghost32.exe.
5. Also, in CMOS, go into the Security section, then in the IBM Predesktop Area, and set the Access to IBM Predesktop to Disabled. This is the source machine.
6. Save changes, boot to your Imaging process.
7. Before you run Ghost, whether you are running from a batch or through the GUI interface, set the Option Switches to -IB.
8. Create Image and then you can boot and set the Predesktop back to Normal on that machine.
9. On the target machine do the same in CMOS disabling the Access to Predesktop area.
10. Apply your image.
11. Set the Presdesktop area back to normal on target machine.
12. Run the mini install that Sysprep creates and you should be in business.

If you are already using Acronis, I don't think you will have any problems. If you are using Ghost this seems to solve the problem.

Happy Ghosting!

Delco

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Google:

Yeah, I use the Google too Mr. Pres., yeah, and I know the name of the program is called Google Earth. But unlike the Pres, I am not just flying around looking at my ranch, well, that is because I don't have a ranch, unless the dressing in the refrigerator counts - Anyway I have have been using Google now for quite sometime, but I expanded it a bit. For years now I maintained my own Web Server(s) (Both IIS and Apache ), an email server, a file server and data storage at my home. This after a while gets a bit pricey. The electric bill alone is enough, but the hardware, software and my time also piles up. Now, I did it not only because I like messing around with technology, but it was a good way to learn and test things at home. At work I am a network administrator, so a lot of what I did at home translated to things I did at work. But lately I started thinking, "you know I don't need to do this all at home anymore. I can do the same thing pretty much for free on the Internet and without much hassle".

I looked at Google Apps. What I did not realize before was that with Google Apps, I could point my domain to them, and I would not loose my domain presence. You don't need to do this, but then your URLs have a longer name, and the Google. com name is always in there. Instead, once you set yourself up with Google Apps (free version), you create Custom URLs. Following the instructions I had no problems. There is basically two parts: One you have to be able to change your DNS settings with the company that is hosting your domain name, like GoDaddy, or Network Solutions. I, for example, had in network solutions: www. wuz-up.com, mail.wuz-up.com, ourfamily.wuz-up.com, and techbytes.wuz-up.com. Each was pointing to an IP address, and I had the appropriate MX records created for the mail. I deleted all of that, and created CNAMES which are basically Aliases, and pointed them to the appropriate address. That is the other part: Google shows what to put in as you are setting it up. Voila I moved it all to "the Google". The email basically worked right away. Some of the Web Pages and Blogs took a few minutes. The longest I think like 30 minutes to come up. This is normal when you are changing pointers out there in the Internet because it takes a little time for the changes to spread to all the DNS servers.

The only one that was a little different is for email. You have to have had the CNAME for your domain first. You then add the MX records that Google Gives you for the email. Now your email never stops and you still keep your custom personal email. You have the option to use the Google Gmail Web interface, or Pop it with your email client.

After that you can roll. You create CNAMES for all your other stuff: Blogs, Web Page etc. I opted to Move my Blog server that I had running at home featuring WordPress to Blogger, and then put the appropriate CNAMES also for that. Blogger does the same thing where you can just create a CNAME, and you don't have to use the "blogname.blogger.com" format. Also, if you created a blog on blogger, you know all the good names seem to be taken, so instead of having "yourblogname.blogger.com", you would get something like "yourblogname-somethingelse.blogger.com". By doing the CNAME thing you can have whatever you want baby because it is your domain.

The biggest limitation so far is my Web Site. I had complete control over my Apache and IIS servers. I had the complete ability to have MySQL, PHP, Frontpage Extension, etc. Also I managed my space and used whatever I wanted to develop the site. With Google right now that seems a little limiting, but I think I can accomplish what I want with it. The Blogging is cool and the email is really cool because I have my own email server, just not have to maintain it.

The Google Apps is a bonus also. I can create Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentation all on line. I can upload MS Office documents to the Folders on the Google Apps Server, and I can convert the Google Documents to a variety of formats including Office and Pdfs. That is quite cool. Not only that but I created accounts for others in my family, and they can share all that information also. They have emails with the same domain name which is really cool and it is easy for them to use without me having to explain anything, because after all, it is just the Web and everybody seems to be able to use the Web.


Delco















Sunday, October 21, 2007

Package Factory for U3

U3 technology is a pretty cool. You can carry your apps in a USB flash drive wherever you go. The number of apps is pretty large. If your drive says that is U3 enabled, then you already have some apps preloaded. Some of the more common are Firefox, Thunderbird, Avast Antivirus, etc. There are quite bit of free ones and there is even more available for just a little bit of money. But did you know you can add your own apps?

I did not know that until my assistant Kalen told me about it. It is called Package Factory. With it you can take some of your favorite utilities and convert them to U3 format. Then install them on your U3. Pretty cool.

The whole thing works this way: You add the executable to the executable window, and then you create U3 package. Now, you can also add dll, hlp, ini and other files. You just have to use the advanced mode. Not all programs will work. That is, programs that use the Windows Registry intensively will not work. Yet, I have had only one program not work. Most of the programs I added were utilities, small programs I use for special purposes. Bigger programs that you might want to use, you might have to get already packaged up like Open Office.

Here are the screen shots in the process of creating a U3 package:
You can start out in Wizard mode. For example if your Program consist only of one executable, like say cmd.exe, then this would suffice. Just drag and drop to the EXE and then click on create.
If you click on advanced mode you will get the following screen. Notice the GUID numbers. This will correspond to the folder it will create in the U3 System\Apps Folder. Just in case you have to manually do something with it.


The Host Screen shows you the Executable you just added. Here if the program comes with other files, you can add them here. If there are Sub folders you can add the whole sub folders here. This is what I had to do to get Clam Win to work.In the Data Window you add any INI, or PREF or other files.

The Device folder is for HLP or CHM files.
Now you can select Create a U3P File in the Summary Window

Once you do that you save the file to whatever location on your computer you want. I created a U3Package Folder on my desktop. Then start your U3 Start Menu and select Add Program, then Install from my Computer.
Select the .u3p install file you just created

Just walk through the wizard.
Next
Done

And there it is one of your programs. Pretty cool

I did have to play with it a little at first to get more complicated programs as ClamWin to work, but in all cases but one they all have worked. If you read the details in the screens, for example in the Host Window it says no U3 awareness is required for programs/files added to that window. So you could say that is why a plain old stand alone exe will always work. In the other Windows it says files have to be U3 aware, but I don't know what that exactly means because most of the programs I added were not necessarily developed for U3. It stands to reason, that if the program is not making much use of the registry, and that if all the files that it needs to run are accessible, this means that if it needs another helper file, it will be in a sub folder of the root where the main executable is, or it just knows the path from its location - It should work!

Here is a list of programs that I got to work on my SanDisk Cruzer U3 USB Stick, this is not inclusive, because I have many others that I have found already packaged. I tried to find the links for you, but some I just had and cant remember where I got them. Also, if you use your imagination you can do many more. Some you can use from the Portable Apps Installs, others, from Bart PE Plugins, and others you just start from scratch. Here are some of the more notables that I did:
AdAware
Ghost Explorer
Ghost32 - Licensed
Good Synch - There is a free version too
HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool
ClamWin Portable - from portable apps.

Ipscan
KeyFinder
Nero CD - DVD Speed
Pasword Corral
Screen Hunter
Spybot
Startup.exe
Subnet Calculator
Sysinternal TCP View
System Explorer
Trivial FTP Daemon 32
Wake-on-Lan Gui
WPAKill
WSFTP95
Xnote Stop Watch

If you find this useful, please drop me a comment. Maybe you found some other cool programs to make work that I didn't.

Delco

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Portable Apps

Originally Created:Saturday, April 14, 2007

2:02 PM

At my old Blog Site.

Title: Portable Apps

Introduction

Technology is still in my mind the most dynamic field in the market today. Everyday new gizmos and gadgets appear. Some seem to me not to be so unique or useful, but others certainly get my attention. One of these technologies that has caused me to stop and look, is the "portable apps" technology. I first saw this in the U3 USB drives [ http://www.u3.com ], but now Portable Apps [http://portableapps.com ]has also caught my attention. That is what this article is about. Software Applications, that are "portable", and specifically the Portable Apps version.

Description

First, let me describe what a portable app is. From my perspective, a portable app is any application that will run on any removable device such as a thumb drive, solid state drives (SD/Compact Flash, etc.), eSata, USB or Firewire. They must also be able to stand on their own. That is, that there is no need for installing any code to the Operating System of the computer to which the device is attached. Also the portable app should not leave behind any trace or files on the host computer. Every thing should be encapsulated in the removable device where the portable app resides.

Similar Product Comparison

Let me also explain that the biggest difference that I saw between the U3 and the Portable Apps version is that with the U3, you have to have a U3 enabled drive, and that the menu system is built already into the drive. In the Portable Apps version, since you can add it to any drive, it is not built in. The difference is, that when you plug in a U3 enabled device, and the Host Machine detects it, it can install the U3 Auto Launcher on the Host Computer. It creates two drive letters, one appears like a CDROM, and the other the drive. If the Auto Launcher is not put on the Host Computer, you can manually double click on it and run it. Then you can access the second drive letter. The Portable App essentially has an Autorun.inf file and works just like any CD that has an Auto Run. If you have turned Auto Run off, you just double click on the StartPortableApps.exe. Both systems will put an icon in the system tray. When you click on the icon, you get a Menu System somewhat like the Start Menu in a Windows Operating System.

The second notable difference between the two, and this is a plus for U3, is that in the U3 I can password protect the whole drive so you can't even do anything without the proper password, with the Portable Apps, I have not seen that, and I have not found a good way to protect the drive from access by unwanted intruders.

Technical Details

Where to get it:

To get Portable Apps, go to their web site http://portableapps.com.

Versions:

The version right now is 1.0. There are three different downloads though:

Standard - The Standard download is about 80 megs and already has a whole range of applications with it.

Lite - The Lite download is about 30 megs and has fewer apps with it.

Base - The Base install is just the menu. This is really cool, because you have the option to download and install what you want. This is also great for those small thumb drives 128 megs or less.

Cost:

One of the great things is that it is absolutely free.

Platforms used for testing:

I tested portable apps on my home PC running Windows XP with service Pack 2, on my laptop running the same version, and on a laptop running Windows 2000 Service Pack 4.

I used three removable drives - an eSata drive, a 128mb USB thumb drive, and USB Hard Drive.

I installed the Standard on the eSata, the Lite on the USB hard drive, and the Base on the 128mb Thumb Drive.

Installation:

Installation is pretty straight forward. After you download the executable file, first make sure that your removable device is already plugged in and ready to go. When you run the program, it will ask you for a destination. All you have to do is point it to the root of the device. That is it. See the Screen Shot below for the folders and files it creates.




To start, you plug in the drive and in XP you will get the familiar choice of what to do - Browse, run a program, etc. You will see the StartPortableApps Choice (Note Autorun must be turned on for that to take place). Once you start the app, you will see it down in the system tray. Click on it an you will get the menu choices. It is the first Icon on the left.




Clicking on the icon brings up the menu system (the screen shot is from their web site because the menu would disappear every time I tried to capture it!)




Demonstration or highlights of features:

The coolest thing about the portable apps technology is the ability to take programs that you love with you, or at least programs that you need. For example, I think there are three essential programs that you should have on a portable drive:

1. A browser - Firefox is a great application for your portable drive. I have run this little app when I was at a training seminar and the PC that they were having me use is on the internet. I can browse, do whatever I want and not worry about leaving anything in the local cache. Also, most of those PCs only have IE, and I love using Firefox.

2. Email - I have been using Thunderbird Portable. Again in the same situation as above. And, since my personal email server is an IMAP server, I pretty much do not have to pull all emails down. So it works pretty much like I want it too.

3. Antivirus - Portable Apps comes with it or you can download ClamWin Portable. This is great, because you can scan any computer that you are attached to for possible virus infections along with of course your portable device.

After these three, you have quite a large selection to use including Open Office, or if that is too large, AbiWord which is a word processing program. There are games, instant messaging and graphic programs. I did not test them all.

The Portable Apps menu gives you access to "Documents", "Pictures", "Video", and "Music" folders which are created on your portable drive during the install. You also have an "Explore" function that opens up Windows Explorer and lets you browse the contents of your drive.

You also have a "Backup" function. And a choice of "Complete", "App Data", or "Documents". The full backup backed up everything, including, as I noticed the "Recycle Bin". I did a quick backup of the "Documents" folder, then I deleted all the folders and files, and then I did a restore. That worked perfect.

The Options menu contains the following choices:

1. Change Fonts - Large or Small for the menu.

2. Install a New App - If you have downloaded a portable app from the web site, this allows you to point to the download which must end in ".paf.exe" - that extension designates it as a portable app application.

3. Remove an App - Basically this opens up the folder on the device where the portable apps are. Then you delete the folder, and, then you must exit the Portable App Menu to Complete the Uninstall. Those were the instructions, but I found that you need to Close the StartPortableApp Menu first, then go to the folder and delete the folder containing the application to be removed, then start the StartPortableApp menu again.

4. Refresh App Icons

5. Get More Apps - This opens the default browser and brings you to the web site to download more apps.

6. Search - You an search the drive, the computer or the web. The Drive and the Computer just open up the Windows Search, while the Web opens up Firefox to search the Web.

Un-installation:

What I did to uninstall it, is to first make sure that the StartPortableApps.exe is not running in the system tray. Then I deleted the "Documents" "PortableApps" folders along with the "Autorun.inf" and "StartPortableApps.exe" files from the root of the device.

Problems:

Some of the problems I ran into were that on my 22" wide screen monitor, the Menu was out of line. It did not prevent me from clicking and starting the program and options, but the Close "X" which is suppose to exit did not work and I had to kill the process using task manager. I think this was a result of the screen corruption.

When I tested the USB drive in the Laptop with Windows 2000, it did not run and generated an error. It never ran. On both of the XP machines it ran fine and the Menu work perfect on Screens that were not "Wide Screens".

Also, the lack of disk protection or encryption for at least the data folder is weak to me. This is important because a portable drive is easily lost or stolen and you could have sensitive data stored in a portable device.

Summary

I find the whole portable app technology interesting, fun and useful whether it is U3 or the Portable Apps version. I think that the version 1.0 of Portable Apps has too much of a version 1.0 feel. As it grows I hope it will compete better with the U3. But you can't beat free in any area, and having programs that you can add to your removable devices is just adding functionality to an already useful technology. So you have nothing to lose, and hopefully a lot to gain.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Welcome to My-Techbytes

Hello my fellow combatants,

I don't know if any of you have been following my techbytes.wuz-up.com, but I am in the process of moving everything to Blogger. Why? Because darn Google makes it so easy! I kept my Email Server, my Blog Server and my Web Server all at home. Then of course I had a file server and a storage server. Frankly, the utility bill alone is quite hefty. OK, I still have the Internet, but Google let me move my Email, Web, Blog and I get to use their apps all for free!

All it took was changing my DNS server and add some CNAMES and I am in business. Grant you there are some limitations like the Web Server I had at home gave me complete control, and I am not really uploading a whole web site to their site; but the email and blog is a good enough reason.

It all started right here: Google Apps

I moved my email in less than 15 minutes. And then I just looked and said, shoot I can move my Blog, my Web Page and I also get a Home page and use of Google Apps.

A couple of years ago, I would of said, "Where is the Geek factor in this?" The Geek factor was in building everything myself and maintaining it; but after I already did it then it just left the cost and the work.

I think this the new "Geek" factor. The fact that I can do all this and have my own domain name presence without needing any money, I think is cool.

Delco