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Tech

Favorite Software/Tools 2013

I recently upgraded my work laptop and as part of the process I have been reinstalling all of my favorite software utilities. I had my last laptop for a few years and some of these tools have become an integral part of my daily workflow without me even realizing it. I figured I would share a quick list of these tools as you might find them helpful as well.

  • Google Chrome – by far one of my most used applications on a day-to-day basis. One of my favorite features about Chrome is they have really simplified the customization experience. I simply downloaded Chrome and logged in with my Google account – shortly thereafter all of my favorite extensions, bookmarks, and more started downloading.
  • Google Drive – I have started relying heavily on Google Chrome for storing my most accessed documents. All of my school work and personal document get put into the Google Drive folder on my computer and are instantly accessible from my iPad, Galaxy S3, and more. It was really convenient to get back up and running on my new computer. After installing and setting up Google Drive, all of my files were synced back to my new computer and I was up and running again.
  • FastStone Capture – I take a lot of screenshots and FastStone makes it easy to get quick screenshots of just the content I am interested in. It also has a really handy editor built in which lets you add commentary, draw arrows, and blur things out among many other tools.
  • Actual Multiple Monitors – I use multiple monitors at work and it has always bothered me that Windows does not natively extend the taskbar to the second window. Actual Multiple Monitors (AMM) does a great job of recreating the Windows taskbar on your second screen. What is particularly helpful about this is your applications only show up in the taskbar of the monitor they are running on! No more looking through dozens of icons to find the right window.

Note: All of the above applications were installed on an Ultrabook running Windows 7 64-bit edition and Windows 7 32-bit edition.

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Tech

XBMC Remote – Windows Phone 7

It’s here! I’ve finally published my first Windows Phone 7 App. If you’re a previous reader of my blog, you may have noticed that I’m avid XBMC supporter. I run XBMC on several machines in my house including a Linux based HTPC and on Apple TV devices throughout my house. My company recently started piloting Windows Phone 7 devices and I wasn’t happy with the XBMC remotes that were on the market (or their price!) so I decided to write my own.

The first version of XBMC Remote for Windows Phone 7 includes the core capabilities for browsing your library and controlling your XBMC box. If you have any suggestions, comments, or problems using the app, please contact me at [email protected]

Check out XBMC Remote on the Marketplace (the one by BoshDirect). The app includes a fully-functional 15 day trial and is the lowest priced XBMC remote on the market at $1.49

  • View and search movie library and select for playback
  • View and search albums and artists and select songs
  • View and select TV shows, seasons, and episodes
  • Remote control your XBMC
  • View movie, tv, and music artwork (fanart, posters, album covers)

*Sorry for the low-framerate video – I need to re-record it on a better computer.

Note that XBMC Remote is a libary browser and remote control. It does not stream videos or music to your phone.

V1.0 (“Taco”):

  • Requires XBMC Dharma (10.0).
  • Tested with Pre 11 (Eden) — subject to change
  • Movies, Albums, Artists, and TV shows are cached to device for fast viewing and searching
  • Initial movie, music, and TV viewing and remote control functionality
  • Panorama view for movies
  • TV Show Wide Banner view
  • Artwork cached to device for fast viewing (on second load)
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Tech

Windows Phone 7 Development

My company recently started the process of switching to Exchange and as part of the process I am beta testing Windows Phone 7 devices for them. At the time of writing this article, I’m using the Samsung Focus. The started me off with the LG Quantum which was a pretty abysmal device. It was heavy and the screen quality just wasn’t up to par with even the old BlackBerry Bold 9000 I was using previously. I had heard a lot about the Windows Phone 7 platform through a number of tech websites, but I was really surprised at how great the platform really was once I got my hands on it.

The OS is extremely snappy and the phone is incredibly responsive. At first I thought it was just me, but everytime I showed the phone to my friends and colleagues they would also comment on how quick it was. After browsing through the list of available apps on the Windows Phone marketplace, I started thinking about what apps I wished were available… I realized that there’s already a really great start to some of the more mainstream apps (Netflix, Maps, Facebook, ESPN, Twitter, etc), but there’s definitely some opportunity for improvement.

I decided to look into what it would take to develop and app for Windows phone and realized that it looked pretty easy and the barriers to entry were fairly low. The Windows Phone developer tools are completely free and include everything you need to get up and running. I downloaded the tools  from the App Hub and got started with my first app (Visual Studio, etc). One thing to note is the developer tools allow to fully run and test your application in the Emulator that runs on the computer. If you want to run the application on your phone or deploy it to the App Market (to make money), you’ll have to pony up $100 for a App Hub license. A nice thing about the license is it enables you to unlock up to three devices so you can test on more than just your primary phone.

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Tech

How To Reduce Size of WinSXS

I’ve read all about WinSXS (Side by Side) and how it tries to solve the DLL Hell problems that have plagued Windows for ages, but I thought it was ridiculous that this folder was taking up over 10 gigs of precious space on my 64 GB solid state drive. A few months back, I replaced my laptop’s optical drive with a 500 gig HDD to try to move some of my media and documents over. However, when I went to install the latest service pack to Visual Studio today, I noticed I didn’t have enough space to install it. I used a simple tool called TreeSize Free to analyze the disk space and see what was taking up all the room. A quick drill down of the largest item showed that the WinSXS folder was talking up 10.2 GB of space.

2010-01-04_103841

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Tech

XBMC for Windows IR Fix

If you are having trouble getting XBMC to read the IR commands from your remote from within Windows, I would highly recommend trying IR Server Suite which required little to no setup and got my XBMC setup reading IR signals from my MCE remote in no time.

The remote control (IR system) I purchased was the following:

AVS Gear HA-IR01SV Infrared Certified MCE VISTA Remote Control

I noticed that the traffic coming from search results for ‘IR Server’ were starting to increase on my other blog post about ‘Cheap HTPC with XBMC and IR‘, so I figured I would add a few more details to this post.

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Tech

Cheap HTPC with XBMC and IR

While browsing newegg the other day, I saw a nifty little gadget called a ‘nettop’ by the name of ‘Revo’. A nettop is essentially the desktop version of it’s cousin, the netbook. Similar to the netbook, the nettop is designed with lower power consumption, small footprint, and low cost in mind. Surprisingly, the Revo nettop (or Acer Aspire Revo AR-1600 as it’s formally known as) makes a decent Home Theater PC (HTPC).

revo_horizontal

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Tech

Windows 7 outperforms XP on Old Hardware

I just installed Windows 7 on an 8+ year old machine I had laying around my house and I was surprised to see that it runs as well as it does. In fact, it runs better than the XP installation I had installed on the old PC before upgrading it to Windows 7. To be fair, the Windows XP installation was a few years old and probably suffered from disk fragmentation and memory being consumed by the random applications and services that had been installed.

Hardware that I had difficulty with in Windows XP was automatically recognized and had the proper drivers installed. Even the cheap-o USB wireless stick I bought a few months back was recognized during the installation so I could setup my wireless network before even booting into the full operating system. On my windows XP installation, I had a bunch of problems getting the USB stick to work and had to get drivers directly from the manufacturer. With 7, everything was automatically recognized and installed.

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Tech

Windows 7 on Virtual PC 2007

windows7_vpc2007_2009-06-15_2322I downloaded and installed Windows 7 as a guest OS in Virtual PC 2007 SP1. I’m running Windows Vista Ultimate as my host OS and recently downloaded Virtual PC 2007 SP1 from the Microsoft website for testing some older OSes and browsers. I’ve been hearing a bunch of hype about Windows 7, I’ve seen the youtube videos, and have even seen some in person demos but I was finally ready to take a look at the OS myself. The whole process did take over two hours (over half of it downloading the 2+ GB ISO), but because it was all virtualized I continued using my computer to surf the web in the background.

The installation was pretty straight-forward, but from what I read you should make sure you have the latest version of Virtual PC. I created a new VHD and used the Windows Vista settings. I have 4 GB of physical RAM in my laptop, so I opted to use 2GB for the guest OS. The installation process seemed to run fairly slow and I’m not sure if this is due to running it in a virtualized environment or because I was installing it to a laptop hard-drive, but I figured it would speed up once I actually got into the OS.

I was sad to find that the OS was running really slow when I first booted into it, but after reading a few more posts on the internet I heard that installing the Virtual Machine Tools would help speed things up. I did notice that before installing the tools, my video adapter was only showing 4MB of memory available from within the guest OS. After installing the Virtual Machine Tools, the Windows 7 is running much faster and all the visualizations (spinning wheel) are running much more smooth.

I probably should have taken a few screenshots of the whole process, but for now you’ll just have to live with a screenshot of the OS virtualized post-installation.

PS. the virtual machine tools also enable a number of features (such as the ability to move the mouse from guest OS to host OS without the right-alt key press)

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Tech

VirtualPC 2007 – Test Machine

As you may already know, I’ve recently been doing a bit of Sharepoint design work. As part of this, we need to be able to test the system in a number of different environments. This is more than just needing to be able to test a number of different browsers, as I’m aware that there are a lot of options out there for installing multiple browsers.

We also need to be able to test different configurations of versions of Windows, Internet Explorer, Office, and a number of other factors. While different members of my team are running slightly different versions of software on their machines, we needed a consistent way to be able to test (and retest) environments. At one point, we had confiscated a number of intern laptops from the previous year and used those to set up the environments. It was somewhat wasteful on a number of different levels and it was also somewhat inconvenient. We set up the laptops so we could remote into them from anywhere on the network, but it still wasn’t the best setup.

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Tech

Windows Default Icon Spacing

Yet again, I have typed up another long entry in Joomla just to have it all disappear because Joomla (and it’s Editor components) suck at handling sessions. I won’t get into that here, but I do want to get a piece of information across that isn’t widely available on the internet.  I messed with my Icon Size and Spacing (horizontal and vertical) in Windows XP and I couldn’t find the original settings to change it back to.  I pulled it up on another one of my computers and figured I would post it on the internet for all to see.

Icon Spacing (vertical): 43
Icon Spacing (horizontal): 43

A quick side-note that I made on my original post was the fact that windows will only display icons up to 72px and the built-in windows icons usually only scale "gracefully" up to about 48px. In contrast, Mac OS X will display icons up to 128px and every icon I have ever seen on a Mac will fully scale to that with no problem. To read more about this, see the icon topic at XvsXP.