Archive for the ‘Windows’ Category

TapWindows XP SP3 Quality

13 May 2008 09:46 by Rick

One of the first screens you are presented with when installing Windows XP Service pack 3 (from the CD version) is one that asks “What to know before installing Service Pack 3.” A useful feature you would think, except that when you click the link a page opens in the browser headed “More information about installing Service Pack 2” and says “2” all the way down so I have no idea if any of it is relevant. If you click through to the “Readme” it seems to be more about SP3.

This may be a trivial point but doesn’t encourage confidence in the Quality Assurance at Microsoft.

Update: 29 May 2008—Although I have had no trouble with SP3, having now installed it on 4 desktops, 2 laptops and one virtual machine, there are strong reports about some problems. In particular owners of HP machines using AMD processors should hold off as should users of Norton Internet Security (well knock me down with a feather).

TapMac Pro keyboard with Windows XP

7 May 2008 21:53 by Rick

I am having a few problems using this. I am getting used to it in Mac mode but in VMware Fusion running Windows (or Ubuntu) it is a bit of a pain. There is only mapping for genuine PC layouts. This is what I get:—

Mac Win(US) Win(UK)
± ~ ¬
§ ` `
@ @
£ # £
| | ~
\ \ #
~ | |
` \ \

This means I either have to touch type and think PC when using Windows ignoring the key caps (if I use the UK layout) or lose the £ and ¬ signs (if using the US layout). Neither is very satisfactory. In UK format I can get € (Ctrl-Alt 4) and ¦ (Ctrl-Alt §) but neither in the US layout.

Update: The best answer I can come up with at the moment is to set the guest to use the US international keyboard. This has the basic keys in the same place as the US keyboard but offers additional ones using Ctrl-Alt. This would fix the problems with @, “, \ and | but still leaves ~, ` and # wrong just as with the standard US layout. € becomes Ctrl-Alt 5 and £ is Ctrl-Alt 4. I am not sure if I prefer that or not.

The right solution would seem to be for VMware to map the keyboard through to the guest in some way.

Update: 30 May 2008. It seems the right solution is rather different as the helpful people on the VMware forum pointed out. For Windows, what you need to do is install the Boot Camp drivers. These are intended for Mac systems that dual boot into Windows and contain all the dedicated drivers for the Apple hardware. Quite a bit of it is not relevant for a VMware guest but other parts, such as the Keyboard drivers are. They are to be found on the Mac OS X install disk which is in a magic format so that, when mounted on a Windows system, it looks like a Windows software install disk. Allow it to autorun (or force it if necessary) and the package will install. Then, after a reboot, new devices will appear in the Keyboard menu which solves the problem. Now the characters that appear on the screen are the same ones as printed on the keys. I wonder how you do the same thing in Ubuntu?

TapInstalling/Upgrading to AVG8 Free (Windows)

4 May 2008 18:01 by Rick

Now that it is available, upgrading from AVG 7.5 to AVG 8 is a logical step but there are some decision points to be made along the way so it is best to be prepared for them.

[Note that the Free edition has some quite rigid conditions about home use only.] First you have to find it. The link I gave before is still good but it is a few clicks of Grisoft determinedly trying to get you to buy the full suite. Some of the links on the way are a bit misleading. One says that AVG Anti-Spyware is being discontinued but others that it is now included with the Anti-Virus package. The eventual download location is either their own site or C|Net

When you come to install it there is no need to un-install the previous version. You will need to login to an admin account. Leaving a lot out, the sequence of events is:—

  • Standard or Custom install—you will need custom if you don’t need the email scanner.
  • For the Custom install, Un-tick the email scanner if you don’t want it.
  • Un-tick the AVG Security Toolbar if you don’t want it. Everyone seems to want you to get one of those and if you loaded them all you wouldn’t have enough window left to browse in.
  • Un-tick the “Enable Daily Scanning” box if you don’t want it. I find that it is a long process and very heavy on resources (though they have put in some sort of load-limiter now). I would rather do them when I want to—and certainly not daily.
  • There is a tick box for informing AVG about potentially dangerous web sites that you come across. I haven’t checked the privacy statement for this yet so I would be cautious.
  • Definitely SKIP the updates at the moment as the install is not really ready for them.
  • Skip the registration for the time being.
  • Now you will need to reboot (it prompts you).
  • When it comes back the System Tray icon will probably be red. Right click to open the AVG User Interface.
  • Click Update Now and it should go ahead and do it.

That is the install complete but you need to check one other thing. One of the features of AVG 8 is the AVG Search Shield, sometimes called the Link Scanner. This intercepts results from the search engines (Google etc.) and inspects them for malicious content—try it and see the little green icons after every hit. Quite how it does that I am not sure but it seemed to take a long time and have a lot of internet traffic. I would imagine that on a dial-up connection it would be impossible. The search engines themselves do some quality checking, if this is doing it real time then it would be better but at what cost. The other thing that bothers me about this is that it could be that you are automatically visiting sites that you wouldn’t otherwise touch with a barge pole (porn etc.) and it will leave the evidence of this in your cache even if it never displays it.

If you decide that you don’t want this facility there are two ways to switch it off. You can use the AVG interface, but if you switch it off there it will forever say that AVG is not fully functional. The other way is with the browser controls. It works using a browser plugin (both IE7 and Firefix, I don’t know about Opera or Safari) and these can be disabled. Go to Tools —>Manage Add-ons—>Enable or Disable Add-ons in IE7 or Tools —>Add-ons in Firefox. This will need to be done on EACH ACCOUNT on your computer.

Now you can register at leisure, if you can figure out how. I haven’t yet! It is worth remembering that, despite all my griping, this is still a free service for which we are grateful.

Update: 20 Jun. As far as I can tell, the Firefox plugin which drives LinkScanner is not Firefox 3 compatible. It will be interesting to see how they update it.

TapMigrating to Mac (Part 1)

17 Apr 2008 17:12 by Rick

As I said earlier, the internal debate about which system to switch to has been decided and I have bought a Mac Pro (base specification + an extra 2GB memory) with VMware Fusion for virtualisation. Not that there was anything wrong with Ubuntu that I discovered but I needed new hardware and this was good value and has a reputation for quality and reliability. The alternatives were big name PC brands like Dell who wouldn’t guarantee that anything but Vista would work (or sell it without an OS) or independent box builders who don’t seem to stay around long enough to provide backup.

My first impressions were, not surprisingly, very good; Apple have the capacity to Wow! you at first look. Then came the period of terror when I wondered if I would ever get used to it. After three weeks (one of which I was away) I think that I am mostly over that but a few things are proving a bit difficult. I am not getting on very well with the Mighty Mouse. Having configured it to get rid of the Dashboard popup every time I press the scroll nipple too hard and configuring a proper right click, I still have problems controlling it. Scroll; forward is ok but keeping it smooth on the way back is quite hard, and some applications require you to be very accurate. I may need to get a third-party rodent.

Some little things:—I wish full-screen really was full not just big! The desktop icons are a bit big for you to have many on the screen. Command(Apple)-X, C and V are a bit awkward for Cut, Copy and Paste. Giving the machine a sensible name was tricky (I am still not sure I have done it right). I would like my mounted disks to reconnect when I log back in.

I struggled for ages trying to get the TimeMachine backup system to write to my NAS until I discovered that it is not supported, so now I have put on a spare FireWire external drive (called Tardis 🙂 for this. Using it for just account files rather than the whole system uses very little space.

The sleep system is very good but had an unfortunate side effect. The power consumption in sleep mode is so low that it triggered my Intelliplug to shut down, switching off power to all peripherals. This should be a *good thing* but one of these was the aforementioned FireWire disk. When the system was woken up it refused to recognise that a drive was even connected. I tried everything; unplugging, switching on/off and rebooting in various orders but finally what fixed it was using the other FireWire socket on the drive. I don’t know if the first one was damaged or if it was something else as I haven’t tried switching back and now have the drive on permanent power.

A surprising thing I have noticed is the number of updates I have been getting. I expected the initial batch after first switch on because it would be impossible for them to ship fully patched systems but I have had 13 since then in ones and twos including 3 to firmware. Also an unexpected number of them require reboots, even ones for the Safari browser—not the unix style at all. Otherwise they do install very easily and I am impressed with the Sudo based admin password system. It is much easier than keeping a separate Admin account.

A major change from the initial ideas was to scale back the virtualisation to just a single XP guest. I realised that my plan based on a guest machine for each functional task was going to prove very difficult to maintain as there were a number of applications that would need to be on all of them to make it usable. The overhead of keeping them all up to date was going to be too much. A correspondent has also pointed out CrossOver Mac which works a bit like Wine for Linux i.e. allows Windows applications to run in the OS X environment as separate windows and without needing an XP guest (or licence). None of my troublesome applications are on their compatibility list but I am told that WaveCorrector works fine so I will give it serious consideration when I have completed the migration.

What I will do now is detail the application migration using the categories I used in the initial proposal post. You may ask why I don’t use more of the standard built in programs—well, I am used to others and, anyway, I still have to use a PC at work so the more that is common the better.


  • Firefox. Very few problems, though some extensions are clearly not relevant. I thought that one of my favourites, HtmlValidator, was Windows only but on a second look there seems to me a Mac version so I will give it a try. I hardly used IEView (and I should test using a genuine Windows version anyway) but losing AutoHide will be a shame.
  • CuteFTP I haven’t bought the Mac version yet as I thought someone said that seamless FTP was built into Finder but I haven’t been able to locate it.
  • Zoom search engine generator. Installed in the XP guest but not yet tested. I am hoping that it will be quite a bit quicker.
  • HTML Tidy Not tried yet. I mostly use it in the FireFox plugin and in the (sadly missed) NoteTab.


  • Thunderbird. Remarkably easy. Some extensions are not relevant but transferring the mail and configuration was just a matter of finding the profile and copying it across. The official guide and this blog post helped a lot. To quote the cliché “It just worked.” The only minor detail I had to tweak afterwards was to locate the Signature files. This is an application that is very sensitive to inaccurate mousing. See below for the Enigmail extension.
  • PopFile anti spam system. It works fine but it was not easy to install—I have written a separate post about this.
  • Pop Peeper minimal POP server status. For the moment, I have installed this on the XP guest. This is not entirely satisfactory as I need it more often than I have the guest running. I am wondering if there is a Thunderbird option to download the titles only from a POP server (which is what this program does). I use it to let Mary know that she has mail waiting as I am connected a lot more than she is.
  • Exodus Jabber IM client. I am using the built in iChat at the moment. This works fine but doesn’t open my rooms automatically when I login.

Document processing

  • OpenOffice for word processing and spreadsheets. I have installed NeoOffice, the Mac dedicated version of OpenOffice and I have found no problems so far.
  • PaintShopPro for picture editing. I haven’t done anything here yet.
  • NoteTab for plain text editing. I have been using a combination of the built in TextEdit and vi but I miss the real thing as it was so fast and flexible. Hint: to convert from a Windows file to a Mac one, use the terminal command tr -d '\r' < input > output. Most programs ignore the differences but some, like shell scripts, are fussy. Oh, and by the way, the # key is Alt-3 hidden behind the £!
  • Adobe Reader. The built in Preview seems to be adequate.
  • OmniPage Pro. OCR. Installing the printer/scanner drivers also put on OmniPage LE but I have not tried it yet.
  • CutePDF pseudo printer driver. All applications I have used so far have a native “Output as PDF” feature so I haven’t needed it.
  • DjVu image viewer. Not tried yet.

Family History

  • Family Tree Maker for Windows. Installed in the XP guest but not tested yet.
  • Resource File Viewer. Installed in the XP guest but not tested yet.
  • Ged2HTML. Not tried yet.
  • Some home grown software. I haven’t tried compiling my own code yet. I suspect the only problem may be the user interfaces.

Music preparation

  • Rip—Exact Audio Copy with Accurate Rip. Not tried yet. Without direct access to the CD-Rom drive I can’t see this working very well.
  • Digitise—Wave Corrector. Installed in the XP guest and it works fine for editing files except for a little graphical display lag. I haven’t tried it for analogue recording. This is an applications that requires rapid and accurate scrolling and I am finding that difficult with the the supplied mouse.
  • Encoding—LAME. Multi-platform but currently only installed in the XP guest for Wave Corrector.
  • Edit—Audacity. Not tried yet but it looks easy.
  • Library & Tagging—MediaMonkey. Installed on the XP guest with no problems. I have no intention of getting into iTunes.
  • Control—Sonos Desktop. The Mac version was installed. The version on the supplied CD didn’t work at all, a known problem with Leopard I think but I can’t recall the details. The downloaded version was fine.
  • Download—µTorrent. Bittorent (which I always thought was only a commercial port of µTorrent) has a Mac version but it is very lacking in facilities compared to the Windows version. I am also having router firewall problems so it is not tested properly yet.


  • Garmin MapSource. I have tried to install it on the XP guest but it doesn’t seem to work. This needs more investigation.


  • As this category primarily mirrors the church Windows system, it will remain on the Windows legacy system.


  • AVG anti virus. Although it will have very little use I have installed it on the XP guest and it works fine.
  • ZoneAlarm firewall. Installed on the XP guest and works with no problems. The OS X firewall configuration is a bit opaque. I tried switching it to the most secure mode and all my access to the NAS and other network shares stopped working so it is obviously *too* secure. I will need to look into it more to see if it is possible to configure it but it doesn’t look as easy as ZoneAlarm.
  • GnuPG encryption. The dedicated Mac version was installed using the excellent instructions at Zeitform. Only the base product, Preferences (for configuration) and DropThing were installed but I will probably add FileTool later. The Enigmail Thunderbird extension interfaces to GnuPG seamlessly and also provides key management. The only glitch was at the Windows end. I found that the GUI application wouldn’t export all my existing keys in one go (bug) so I will have to use a command line instruction.
  • PINS password manager. Installed on the XP guest with no problems.


  • I haven’t tested it for my own software, but I have installed the optional Xcode developer kit on the Mac which should provide all the facilities I need,
  • MinGW Minimal GNU for Windows with compiler etc. I will need to install this on the guest if I am to continue to maintain Windows versions of software I have written.
  • Tortoise CVS versioning system. As above.


  • Backup4all. Installed on the XP guest but not tested yet (tut tut). The Mac TimeMachine backup mechanism is running and seems to do the job but I have gut worries about a full system recovery using it.
  • Pen Drive Manager—replicates and backs up memory sticks. Installed on the XP guest and it works seamlessly but I can’t see this TSR type program working with CrossOver Mac!?
  • WinZip. Installed on the XP guest because it may be needed. OS X has a built-in facility though I have not tried creating ZIP files yet, except via the command line

Other software

  • Eraser—file and disk blanking system. Not considered yet.
  • FreeUndelete—File recovery. Not considered yet.


  • 2 x 1280×1024 LCD monitors running an extended desktop. During the migration I am using one screen on each system. The dual head graphics card on the Mac should give no problems although the Mac desktop is geared up to wide-screen.
  • The Mac Pro is reputed to come with a high quality sound system including digital in/out but I have not tried it in earnest yet
  • SCSI connected Canon Scanner. This will probably remain in limbo though I will leave the interface card and software on the legacy system.
  • External NAS for music store and backup. No problem except as noted above for TimeMachine.
  • Network connected Canon MP600R Printer/Scanner. The supplied Mac drivers and software installed without problems, though a lot of the utilities have not been tested.

That is many of the applications covered but, except for mail, browsing and a little document processing, I haven’t migrated the workload yet with all it’s associated data. Watch out for the Part 2 update in a few weeks time.

TapVirtualisation/Ubuntu – Progress

24 Mar 2008 08:15 by Rick

These are some rough notes on my progress and developments in this project.

The first job was to download Ubunto 7.10 workstation i386 and cut it to a CD, a little tricky because I lost my CD Writer software on a previous rebuild but ISOrecorder came to the rescue. Then an experiment booting from the CD. That was a curious experience, all the initial graphics, logo and whizzing orange stripe, worked fine but when it all stopped I was left with a plain off white screen and a mouse pointer (which worked). Nothing else. I can only assume that there is some problem with my graphics card that it doesn’t support. I did a similar experiment with a very old Win98 machine and the result was similar except that the finished result was a plain while on black terminal, no graphics at all despite the boot time graphics all working.

For the next stage, I installed the free VMware Server edition. I can’t see any differences to the workstation edition which costs money but that can always be a future route. There are two parts to the download; the platform software (Win or Linux) and the tools. I haven’t found any use for the latter as all you need is built into the base product. When installing on Windows it complains if you don’t have IIS (web server) installed. You can ignore this as it is only needed for remote control of the system (as you would in a real server environment). Installed, as usual, under admin authority, it runs without any problems under a limited user account creating all the run-time files in C:/Virtual Machines

VMware lacks any “Quick Start” instructions but diving in it quickly became apparent what was needed. I created two virtual machines, one for XP pro and one for Ubuntu taking all the defaults. I booted the first and it immediately recognised the CD in the reader and proceeded to install. I used the same key as the host machine and there were no complaints. The performance was sluggish to the extreme but improved considerably once the VMware tools were installed on the guest using the button provided—This is very slick, what it does is to mount a pseudo CD-ROM onto the guest O/S which initiates an Autorun and proceeds to install. I also spotted that the default memory size that VMware gives XP is 256MB which is a bit low. Increasing this to 512MB improved things. Another thing learned by experience was not to go to full screen mode until the virtual machine is fully booted and the O/S loaded. Doing it before can get you stuck there as it doesn’t respond the the CNTL-ALT hot keys to break out. As soon as you can you need to turn off any screen saver and disable hibernate as it is not only pointless but also can use up all the host CPU resources when activated. I have also seen a recommendation not to activate the Windows install until after all the “hardware” customisation and VMware Tools is installed else it could trigger the MS alarms about pirated software.

Installing the Ubuntu guest was similarly easy though the install of the VMware tools wasn’t as slick. It required using a command line instruction (which I have now forgotten again) to actually initiate the install. It does say that you should be experienced with the Guest operating system, which is fair. Another thing that surprised me (about Ubuntu itself) were the 201(!) security patches that it wanted as soon as it settled down—and these took a couple of hours to download and install. I agree that it is now as easy as Windows Update but I wasn’t expecting that quantity. I presume it is because it is a fully loaded distro with many packages pre-installed. At least they are all handled by the same system. A minor glitch is that it complained about a proprietary driver in use. This turned out to the the VMware Ethernet emulator. For smoothness this should be incorporated or whet ever is necessary. The default guest configuration for Ubuntu was 512MB and it worked just fine. Both had a fixed size 8GB disk which was plenty for a base O/S install and a modest number of applications but you would need more if you were storing data there as well. Suspending a running O/S (of either sort) was very easy and they were very quick to restart and be ready for action.

Both machines were also quick to boot from the start but the Ubuntu login was a bit slow. A disconcerting feature of VMware is that, as the machines boot, the window size jumps about both in shape and size as the graphics emulator allows for the resolution requested by the guest. It is probably possible to fix this but it is OK when you get used to it. The finished size is set using Display properties in XP as usual but is set by the VMware tools for Ubuntu. I would suggest that if you plan to use your guests full screen then you chose the same size as the native host but if you plan to use cascaded windows then chose a size smaller to avoid scroll bars (which are impractical) and allow room for the window furniture.

Running both together was very very slow. My system has only 1GB memory and running the host and two 512MB guests was too much for it. Future experiments are to get the sound working (that is not in the default guest config), test things like cut and paste, USB connections, storage on the host file system and duplicating these sample builds to create working versions with the required applications.


The PC has become even more unstable to the extent that I can’t continue with the trials. I spent an afternoon refreshing the BIOS and all the hardware drivers and, if anything, it got worse. It has crashed once while writing this, during which it seems to have un-configured all of my Firefox settings. Grrr. This means that I will need to replace the hardware now, accelerating what was to be phase 2.

In the light of the performance issues, the specification of the new box needs to be: As fast a processor as economically sensible, 2GB+ memory, dual head graphics, decent sound and RELIABLE.

Curiously this matches very closely with the base level Mac Pro: 2.8GHz quad Core Intel Xeon processor, 2GB 800MHz memory, dual head ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT, 320GB SATA drive at £1,429.

As a comparison the DELL XPS720 configured with 3.0GHz quad core Q6600, 2GB 800MHz memory, dual head Nvidia 8800GT, 2x250GB SATA raid 0 disk system comes to £1609 and the difference in performance probably wouldn’t show. There are no guarantees that it would run Ubuntu either as, although they do sell them now, there are only two and relatively low specification.

TapThe curse of 2007

17 Mar 2008 09:21 by Rick

Will the few users who have swelled Microsoft coffers by buying the exorbitantly unnecessary Office 2007 please stop sending us documents in “docx” format. We can’t read them—not if we use the free nor even if we use any other Microsoft product. You have an option to “Save as…” a Word 97-2003 document which we can read so please use it—everytime.

TapVirtualisation of the desktop

12 Mar 2008 15:01 by Rick

As I explained in an earlier post I have a problem with the unreliability of Windows. In there I looked at all the applications I currently use and mooted the possibility of changing over to Linux and using a virtualisation system to ease the transition, or possibly permanently to resolve the problem of legacy systems that could not be ported.

Having now looked at it more deeply I see that if it was viewed from the opposite direction—embracing virtualisation for its own merits—then further benefits could be obtained. Normally I am in favour of a single tool for a single job. I apply this to software (not liking integrated suites) and Hi-Fi (preferring separates to music-centres) but I don’t seem to have applied it to the PC very much. They are sold as general purpose, do it all systems so, as a result, they have a huge mish-mash of applications installed. It is assumed that there are great benefits to this; the data from one system can easily be passed to another, but is this actually the case or even necessary? I have already isolated a few roles for other reasons; data storage and archive has been offloaded to a NAS and music playback has it’s own dedicated systems; so we can start from this position.

To look at it we need to see what the data flows are for typical regular tasks. I have analysed 5 regular jobs that I currently perform on my PC to discover interaction between them. These were 1) Rip/Digitise a music album, 2) publish a census transcript, 3) research and update the family tree, 4) prepare a projector schedule for a Sunday service and 5) update a web site. On top of this is the routine everyday activity of email, web browsing and editing text and word processed documents. Coincidentally, or perhaps by premonition, the tasks closely match the application groups that I used for the previous article.

Apart from a lot of interaction with email, browsing and documents, part of which was by copy and paste and part by manual retyping, I discovered that there was very little interaction between the jobs. Tasks 2 and 5 share a lot of data handling techniques but it was largely low level text editing and spreadsheet work which are core activities. Tasks 3 and 5 share a web upload requirement. If I had separate machines, the work could be divided between them so that each one performed a single function and there would be little data passed between them. Where virtualisation comes in is that it would not be necessary to have the expense, space or overhead of multiple hardware and software licences. It also offers the benefit of allowing cross pasting of data on the occasions when it would be useful. New versions of major applications can be tested in their own Virtual Machines (VMs). Finally, most virtualisation systems have the facility for suspended machines which make for a much faster setup as the typically used applications in each can already be running and just require data to be loaded.

A proposed design would be…

A Windows host platform

There has to be a base upon which the dedicated task VMs run. For reasons of economy this needs to be my existing desktop system as described in the previous post. Also for reasons of direct access to the hardware, some applications will need to remain on the host system. Many of these also have “Windows-only” constraints so that forces us to go for a Windows host operating system. For reliability (the reason we started this whole exercise off) we need to minimise what runs natively. Although it looks like there is a lot of stuff in this list, with the exception of the first two items, they are light and pose little threat.

  • Patchmix DSP interface to the sound card, the Matrox driver for the graphics card and ScanGear, the Twain driver for the SCSI scanner. These specialist drivers possibly pose the greatest threat to the stability of the machine as a whole.
  • Wave Corrector + LAME—probably needed here so that it has native access to the sound streams.


  • Pen Drive Manager and PINS. Other VMs will need access to the memory sticks and passwords.
  • Notetab & WinZip—because they will be useful.
  • Backup4all—to back everything up.
  • AVG—for safety.
  • ZoneAlarm—to protect the whole system.

The specialist task guest Virtual Machines

Legacy applications (those that have to run on Windows and for which there is no viable alternative) come in five groups each of which could be defined as a separate guest VM.

  • Presentation—EasyWorship + K-Lite + PowerPoint Viewer. I am not sure how EasyWorship will cope with a VM as it is really a dual screen program. ChipmunkAV could also be installed here for development as that is where it would belong. There is an opportunity here to create a VM which closely matches the live system used at church and it is a system that would benefit from a separate development environment for new versions.
  • Music processing—Exact Audio Copy + Accurate Rip + LAME, MediaMonkey and Audacity + LAME for convenience (even though a Linux version is available).
  • Family History—Family Tree Maker, Resource File Viewer, GED2HTML and DjVu as it is not used for anything else. Also these functions which are not used enough to warrant a separate VM.
    • GPS—Garmin Mapsource and waypoint manager. Our Advent GPS is managed from Mary’s laptop.
    • Web maintenance—Zoom possibly with CuteFTP because it is available and OmniPagePro for OCR. I haven’t seen any information about whether the Twain interface can be passed to guest VMs nor have also not seen any decent Linux OCR systems.

The remaining applications can be ported to Linux guest VM(s).

  • General home office—Firefox, Thunderbird + PopFile, a Jabber Client, OpenOffice, Adobe Reader, GnuPG, a Pop Peeper replacement and a picture editor.
    • An FTP system (initially, command line FTP would probably do)
    • A torrent client. Despite my putting µTorrent as “music download” in the earlier post I realised that the majority of my torrent traffic is not the typical music/video bootlegging that it is often used for, but mostly open software and data sharing. It would be run here because this VM is likely to be running most of the time. You could argue that it should be on the base host for this reason but I suspect that the Windows version may be contributing to the current machine instability.

    This VM would be used for all the routine email/browsing activity plus the census publishing and general web maintenance which uses similar tools (hence the FTP client). Turboprint will be needed for printing.

  • Software and Web development—A CVS system, Gnu C++, Home Grown Software, HTML Tidy. The VM gives the opportunity for running a local web server which would allow test and development of web applications such as WordPress locally.

That is 5 guest VMs—not all running at once of course but is this overkill?

Lingering Questions

  • Where do I keep the data? Application specific data would be better on the local VM but how, then would it be backed up? VMs use the concept of virtual disks for their operating systems and data. These are seen by the host system as just big unstructured files so backup from there is limited. Some also allow for the use of real disks or partitions but this creates the problem of drive fragmentation.
    Would it all be better on the NAS? It has the flexibility of floating sized share points which are visible from any machine. What are the implications for backup there—a NAS with live data would suggest the need for a backup and archive on a system separate again; at present there is only a weekly disk shadow.
  • Will the single Windows XP licence be sufficient for the host and multiple guest systems? MS Virtual PC presumably allows it. I am told that other VM systems work ok too.
  • Do guest VMs run under Windows Limited User account or do they need an Administrator host?
  • What issues are there for file sharing between Windows and Linux? Plain text files could be an issue with different line endings.
  • Is there any point in running the guest Windows VM’s at all? Why not just run all the legacy applications on the host platform.
  • Does this solution provide any benefits to justify its relative complexity? Will it make the overall system any more reliable and, in particular will it isolate the failures to just a single component?

The Future

Considering how little remains on the host, it suggests that the next time I need a machine replacement then, presuming that it is not actually broken, I should retain this machine for the sound card related applications and build the new one with the “General home office” configuration as the Linux host platform and run the other specialist VMs under that. The need for the digitising function should be quite low by then.

Appendix—the task analysis and data flows

  1. Rip/Digitise a music album.
    1. Ripping a CD. Exact Audio Copy reads the CD and passes the data internally to LAME and the MP3 is passed directly to the shared NAS. AccurateRip references its online dtabase. Media Monkey indexes the MP3, re-tags from internet sources and downloads the cover art. All data involved is already on shared media so there is no problem in devolving the processes.
    2. Digitising a vinyl or tape album. Wave Corrector records the audio stream to a temporary WAV file on local disk. As a separate process, Wave Corrector is used to edit and de-click the recording and pass the data internally to LAME and the MP3 is passed directly to the shared NAS. From there it is the same as the process above except that the cover art may be downloaded manually (using Firefox) and may need some picture editing. The temporary WAV file and the Wave Corrector log (session file) are archived to NAS.
  2. Publish a census transcript. The transcript arrives by email in a ZIP file. This is extracted using WinZip. The processing involves a mixture of SpreadSheet, a text editor and home written software to generate output HTML pages and a zipped archive. Email is used to distribute the results. As a secondary task, the browser is used to update a progress log (via Google Calendar) and IM is used for communication.
  3. Research and update the family tree. Input is by web search and email. The dedicated database is updated using Family Tree Maker. The web version is created by a piece of software that I had forgotten called GED2HTML and uploaded using FTP.
  4. Preparing a projector schedule. The order of service arrives by email as a word document. This is transferred, generally manually, into EasyWorship except. New songs and liturgy are cut and pasted either from the order of service or from a web based database. The output is transferred to memory stick for transport. A secondary task may involve obtaining/scanning images and editing them. These are imported into the EasyWorship system. Video clips and PowerPoint scripts are taken without modification, though may be viewed as a check.
  5. Updating a web site.
    1. The majority of this is done using a text editor (for the plain pages), or a browser (for the content managed pages). Secondary tasks include scanning and editing pictures and for some pages, data manipulation using OCR, spreadsheets etc. Server software comes in ZIP format. Upload is done using CuteFTP. The search engine index is created using Zoom which reads a local copy of the web pages and generates data files which are uploaded to the server – sometimes using an internal FTP process or sometimes using CuteFTP.
    2. Maintaining the online WordPress software and themes. This is done rather tediously using a text editor then FTP upload to a sandpit web site and test. It is a very slow form of software development.

TapThe challenge of abandoning Windows

4 Mar 2008 22:04 by Rick

…some may say “at last!” But why am I now considering doing it? It really comes down to only one thing—reliability and hence for the sake of my health as I get so mad with it every time it Blue Screens. After all this time they should have made it self correcting. It is no excuse to say that “Windows has shut down to avoid damaging something or other…” or whatever it says, everything is still in memory so it just needs an integrity check and refresh anything damaged, not just to throw it’s hands up in despair.

A second and lesser reason is that to move on I would have to consider Vista and things would need to be rethought anyway as some software I use is very old and almost certainly not compatible.

Arguments against are that it would mean learning a new interface, software and admin but that is mitigated by the fact I am already familiar with server unix. Also that some things that are essential are Windows only which leads me to considering the options.

The options

  • Linux, but which flavour? Ubuntu seems to be the current front runner.
  • Mac. There are a lot of ready made applications and it is a unix based OS but requires proprietary hardware.
  • Dual boot. It takes too long to switch over.
  • Virtual machine, e.g. VMWare is attractive. I don’t know much about the alternatives available or the costs.
  • I need to use the existing hardware as it is not very old and I can’t justify replacing it at the moment.
  • The existing XP licence is available for legacy applications.

When designing a system the first and most important question is “what applications are required?” In this case, as it is an upgrade, the question is “How can the existing applications be migrated?” This is a list of what I use and do at the moment and will need to be considered for replacement.


  • Firefox. With addons and plugins. Linux and Mac versions are available.
  • CuteFTP (Paid-up) for upload. mac available but not Linux I think.
  • Zoom search engine generator (Paid-up). The engine is CGI, PHP or JavaScript, the problem is the builder which is Windows only.
  • [edit] HTML Tidy—another one I had forgotten because it is not “Windows installed”. Many other platforms exist.
  • [edit] Xenu Link Sleuth broken link detector.


  • Thunderbird. I would want to transfer my mail archive. Mac and Linux versions are available but I don’t know how compatible the data files are.
  • PopFile anti spam system. Written in perl so portable.
  • Pop Peeper minimal POP server status. Windows only so an alternative will be needed.
  • Exodus Jabber IM client. Windows only but there are a number of alternatives.

Document processing

  • OpenOffice for word processing and spreadsheets. Other platforms are available.
  • PaintShopPro (Paid-up) for picture editing. Windows only but I am not locked into this so anything decent would do. Ideas?
  • NoteTab (Paid-up) for plain text editing. Windows only. I will miss this as it is an excelent program though I would probably have used vi(m) if it was available.
  • Adobe Reader—because PDF’s keep coming.
  • OmniPage (Paid-up). OCR (not often used). There is a Mac version but not others. I doubt that there is a viable competitor on the Linux desktop.
  • CutePDF pseudo printer driver (not used much). GhostScript may be usable direct.
  • DjVu image viewer (occasional use). There do seem to be other platforms available.

Family History

  • Family Tree Maker for Windows (Paid-up). Not available for other platforms. As the database is large this would probably remain as a legacy Windows application.
  • Resource File Viewer—Windows only, another legacy application though there may be alternatives.
  • [Edit] Ged2HTML—I had forgotten about this. It is not used often and is not “installed” in the Windows way. There is a Unix version which uses the same base code but without the GUI but I am not sure about which flavours.
  • Some home grown software. Written for Unix anyway.

Music—preparation only, not listening

  • Rip—Exact Audio Copy with Accurate Rip. It looks like this is Windows only. The alternative, dBpoweramp, looks like Windows only as well.
  • Digitise—Wave Corrector (Paid-up). Windows only, but they do say it works on Linux under Wine.
  • Encoding—LAME. Multi-platform.
  • Edit—Audacity. Multi-platform.
  • Library & Tagging—MediaMonkey (Paid-up). Not available for other platforms. I have media in WMA and MP3 formats.
  • Control—Sonos Desktop (occasional use only as it is rarely needed, most control being done by the hand-held unit). Mac version available. A shareware alternative exists driven from a web server.
  • Download—µTorrent. Windows only but there is bound to be an alternative. [edit] I realise now that, although this was first installed for music download, in practice that is not what it is used for. It is more for software download and project data sharing.


  • Garmin MapSource (Paid-up). Another Windows only product. No alternative that I can think of so will remain on the legacy system.


  • EasyWorship to maintain church master database and prepare schedules. Not available for other platforms and would remain as a legacy Windows application.
  • Video rendering—K-Lite codec pack (for testing only). Interface to EasyWorship so only Windows needed.
  • MS PowerPoint Viewer. Interface to EasyWorship so only windows needed.
  • ChipmunkAV (Paid-up). Never actually used but for Windows dev. purposes only.


  • AVG anti virus. Windows only but less critical on a non Windows platform anyway 🙂 There may be alternatives.
  • ZoneAlarm firewall. There are native Linux firewalls but they are notoriously unfriendly.
  • GnuPG encryption. Available for other platforms but may not have the GUI interface
  • PINS password manager (Paid-up). This went out of effective support years ago. I rely on this being portable between office, home and other places and really needs cut and paste into applications so it is a bit of a problem.
  • [edit] PuTTY secure shell. Although other systems are supported there is not a lot of point as most other systems have native ssh clients.


  • MinGW Minimal GNU for Windows with C compiler, make etc. This won’t be necessary as the alternatives are Gnu compatible environments anway. I will just need to get the compiler.
  • Tortoise CVS versioning system. There must be a good alternative.


  • Backup4all (Paid-up). Managed backup system (uses ZIP files). A backup systems needs to be simple, foolproof and reliable. This one is Windows only and I haven’t looked at alternatives yet. If a Legacy Windows system is kept then it will still be needed anyway.
  • Pen Drive Manager (Paid-up)—replicates and backs up memory sticks, no longer supported.
  • WinZip (Paid-up). I get and send a lot of stuff in Zip format. As the name suggests this is Windows only but there are bound to be alternatives. Even command line would be acceptable.

Other software installed but only occasionally used

  • Eraser—disk nuke system. Windows only but I think GnuPG can do a similar job or use the bootable DBAN for whole disks.
  • FreeUndelete—File recovery.
  • MediaInfo—codec viewer.

What hardware

Will it work with selected software?

  • AMD 2600+ with 1GB memory. I would get a new Hard drive to build a replacement system on.
  • Matrox P650 dual head graphics card. A Linux driver does seem to be available.
  • 2 x 1280×1024 LCD monitors running an extended desktop.
  • EMU 0404 Professional sound card and its interface Patchmix DSP. I can only find a Windows version of this. [Edit] The ALSA project offers hope that there may be a community supported driver.
  • SCSI connected Canon Scanner & ScanGear driver.
  • External NAS for music store and backup. No problem.
  • Network connected Canon MP600R Printer/ScannerI can’t find any Linux drivers. Turboprint claims to support it.

Is there anything else to consider? It is only when you go through the stuff like this that you realise how much of a monopoly that Microsoft has.

I will be looking for help and suggestions in the coming months while I consider all the options.

[This post will be updated to add additional information as discovered]

TapWindows XP SP3

17 Dec 2007 12:35 by Rick

This has gone into RC3 – i.e. the last patching before production release. More about it at MajorGeeks but beware this is still an unofficial release and may (will) contain bugs. I would expect the final release in January. This will be good news for anyone with a slightly flaky system or who is planning a rebuild. Having all the updates together in one place makes it so much easier and guarantees that you haven’t missed one.

TapMagnanimous Home Server

22 Sep 2007 08:17 by Rick

Windows Home Server?
Windows Home Server looks like it might be an interesting product. More interesting than Microsoft imagine perhaps as that definitely looks like a white Apple Macbook that they guy is using on the sofa! I got the picture and story from IStartedSomething. The Question is which is the original? Who has retouched the picture? Even so, it could be a Macbook Pro.
Windows Home Server

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