Thursday, December 3, 2009

Windows disease - the causes and the cures

"Windows Disease" - its what many people call that terrible affliction which effects all versions of Microsoft's operating system from Windows 95 through to ME, XP, Vista and 7. 

Basically the premise is simple.  The longer you run your PC, the slower it gets and more frequently it crashes (ie the dreaded "bluescreen of death" appears) and you lose your work.

The problem appears to be that the more applications you install and the more you use the PC, the more bloated Windows gets, with defragmented files, shared DLL files, drivers, disk errors, registry keys, viruses, spyware and the likes, contributing to conflicts and confusion in your core operating system.

Recognising this, Microsoft on its "Microsoft at Work" website has published an article "5 ways to speed up your PC".  Unfortunately for Windows users, these are pretty cliche answers.  You might do these things on a regular basis and still not get any real benefits.  And spyware and virus checkers often add even more Windows slowness with their constant checking.  Another thing that can cause problems is Windows Desktop Search.  Beware because this Windows Disease contributor is automatically installed with Office 2007.  How to Geek has an article to help "Speed Up or Disable Windows Search Indexing in Vista".

However the best way is almost always to start with a clean slate and reinstall.  Most people either don't want to do this or don't know how.  One of the issues is that you'd lose your data.  Well PC World has some answers for this in its article "How to Reinstall Windows Without Losing Your Data".

Happy computing.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Toshiba Tecra Windows Vista Audio Problems

I've been using a Toshiba Tecra A9 laptop pre-installed with Windows Vista for some time now. What frustrates me most about this piece of expensive junk is its ongoing issues with audio.

The onboard Realtek soundcard has not had a driver update since 2007 and the thing literally does not work.

Among the problems I thought I'd briefly share:
  • Volume Control on taskbar is unresponsive and sometimes disappears altogether
  • No audio with many WAV files on Windows Media Player (these open in other apps such as iTunes however)
  • The Function Escape mute button does not work at all. Similarly the keyboard volume controls.
  • Impossible to turn the built-in speakers off (yes, believe it or not) - even with headset in and disabling the speaker device through the control panel - they just keep on playing
  • Unable to get the audio drivers to work with capture devices and multimedia editing applications like Windows Movie Maker
  • Audio applications are terribly slow to respond and consistently crash for no reason
Anyway it appears I am neither alone or likely to get a solution any time soon.

The experience has turned me off Toshiba altogether but made me hate Windows Vista to such an extent that I'm (wait for it) considering purchasing an Apple Mac.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Best free CD Label Writer is ....

I've spent the last day or so downloading and evaluating at least a dozen CD and DVD label writers. Pretty much most of them pretend to be free, but they're in actual fact shareware.

The ones I've tried include:
  • CD Label Designer
  • UnderCover XP
  • Zoner Draw 3
  • Disketch CD Label Creator
  • Nero's Label Maker
And you know what, even after this lot and a whole lot more searching, I still couldn't find a good free one. The truly free ones are extremely limited. Some are OK, then when you go to print them out on Avery style labels, they simply don't line up.

But then I discovered, the easy way. Open Office again. There are some great templates available for Open Office Writer that do the trick perfectly and basically put all those other guys out of business. This method allows you to more easily align the CD or DVD with the label and import images and text etc more freely.

Had I realised that you could do it so easily in Open Office (one of my current favourite apps), it would have saved me a whole lot of time. I hope I've saved you some.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

OpenOffice is the best free open source Microsoft Office alternative

As some regular readers would know, I had installed and used Microsoft Office 2007 for a little while now.

Well one of the big things that has always frustrated me is Word's drawing capabilities.

I do a lot of sales proposals with diagrams and the like. Word's drawing system mystifies me. The inconsistencies in the way that things are laid out and objects sometimes do not snap to where you'd expect them to have caused countless hours of frustration. I guess Microsoft figured that their Visio application is specialised for this sort of thing but I have always found Visio quite chunky and clunky and not integrated enough with Word. Having used it before from time to time as a Microsoft Office alternative, I have found Open Office to excel in this area.

Using Open Office Draw, however Open Office 3.0 has given me an all new appreciation for the Open Office suite. This is a very well put together application. Even though I am now used to the ribbon (which is apparently to feature quite heavily in the new Vienna edition of Windows), I am constantly drawn to the classic and simpler to use Open Office interface.

I don't want to turn this into a Microsoft Office 2007 vs Open Office 3.0 debate, because for the time being I'm happy to run both side by side. Most computers these days can handle the additional space and processing power required.

I was once compelled to use Microsoft Office because of the integration of things like Outlook, the synch and Business Contact Manager. However frustration with these applications has reduced my reliance on the integrated approach. I still find Outlook's calendaring and invitation system (because many other clients also use it it can be handy), however I now use these apps independently of each other. An open standard for calendaring and meeting invites would be the icing on the cake. So I've really started to question whether I am locked into Office 2007 at all (aside from its obvious buying price).

I really think that Microsoft Office 2007 has matured as a product and while using the Open Office suite, this is very evident. The Writer is, in more opinion, more solid than Word. I've found that it supports almost everything I need to do. I've used the Calc application as an Excel and found it to be just as good. I've also used the Impress application, which is the equivalent to PowerPoint and can confidently say that it offers everything that PowerPoint does. To top it off, even though I know Open Office 3.0 runs using Java, it does seem a lot snappier, possibly moreso than Microsof Office 2007. However I do get these annoying Java pop-ups from time to time on Windows Vista (doesn't happen on my XP machine) that I'm not sure yet how to turn off.

Anyway, I'd just like to share with you the fact that integrated features in Open Office are truly impressive and has come a long way. I would definitely recommend giving it another go.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Inkscape - free Adobe Illustrator alternative an Illustrator killer ?

Had my first experiment with Inkscape 0.46, this week.

I searched for and found this vector graphics editor similar to Adobe Illustrator because I can't afford the exorbitant licencing for Adobe Illustrator and CS2, CS4 or whatever the latest is. I'm not a designer, but I occasionally do however need to work with vector art.

Vector graphics is the use of geometrical primitives such as points, lines, curves, and shapes or polygon(s), which are all based upon mathematical equations, to represent images. With applications like Illustrator, you don't need to know the science behind it, but you typically do require some sort of knowledge.

Anyway, I must say, I'm very impressed with this application. I actually found it to be simpler, self explanatory and more intuitive than Illustrator. Most people take Adobe Illustrator courses to do the sort of stuff I was doing within minutes of picking up Inkscape. It is certainly quicker, snappier and less bloated for machines with a lower spec and it is very easy to pick up and run with.

While I don't use the top end features of Illustrator (I'm certain some design gurus would tell me that this freeware application doesn't quite have the grunt or power of Adobe's product), Inkscape is great for the occassional vector designer.

As a Windows user and novice designer, I'd have to say in terms of Inkscape vs Illustrator, Inkscape is much better for me.