Archive for January, 2007

Windows Vista: FAQ and Buying guide.

Vista: Teh coolness

On January 30th, Windows Vista was released to the general public.
Here’s a quick Vista FAQ from me:

Is Vista for you?
It depends. Given the right hardware (i.e. a Core 2 duo, 2GB ram and the latest graphics), Vista is fast. But then again, so is anything else. Also see my review of Vista here.

If you depend on Windows software, then maybe Vista is the way to go, from a future perspective - i.e. if you want to continue to run Windows software, expect most of this software to require Vista somewhere along the line.

So, if you are buying a new PC, and want a Microsoft OS, then maybe Vista is for you.

Otherwise, I recommend you consider options such as Ubuntu

How fast is Vista with current software?
THG has a good review with detailed benchmarks of most applications on Vista.

How cool is Vista?

Well, Vista can run with a new interface (Aero) which enables the desktop to function in 3d (many cool effects, vector icons etc). If you are into 3D desktops, you should also check out Beryl’s desktop here, which happens to be free - it works with many Linux distro’s)

Which Vista is for you?

Vista comes in many different versions. You can compare them here. I’d recommend the cheapest version you can find which includes Aero.

What’s the difference between OEM and Retail version?
Retail version:
FOR: Includues more support, has a nice shiny box, Can be transfered from PC to PC
AGAINST: Costs a lot more.

OEM version
FOR: Same thing without the shiny box, costs a lot less.
AGAINST: Lives and dies with your PC (Can’t transfer to another PC)
Note: You CAN do hardware upgrades to your PC though (except the motherboard though)

Which do you recommend?
I’d say go for home premium OEM: It includes Aero, and most of the stuff you need, and is a bargain at around $125 incl shipping Zipzoomfly have it a bit cheaper, but I prefer newegg.

Purchasing Vista

I suggest you import it direct from US. I recommend Newegg as I reglarly purchase from them, and they have never let me down. I do not recommend purchasing it locally from Microsoft or an agent. Vista has NOT been released locally, it will be released sometime in FEB according to Microsoft chief evangelist who I spoke to recently.

Add comment January 31st, 2007

HOWTO: find out who/what subscribes to your RSS Feed.

Today, while browsing my stats (provided via statcounter), I realized something interesting - I have no idea know who/what access my RSS feed.

Actually, if you think about it, most statistics software have no way of seeing who calls the RSS output (as they are javascript based).

So, I decided to see if I can write a simple script to write to a log file every time RSS is accessed.

Step 1: Script to write to a log file


$my_date = date(’Ymd’);
$my_filename = “/your server/stats/rss.log”;
$my_time = date(’h:i:s’);

$log_data_line = “#$my_ref|$my_date|$my_browser|$my_addy|$my_time|\n\n”;
$fp = fopen($my_filename, “a”);
fwrite($fp, $log_data_line);

For the code to work:

  1. Paste it in a file with extension php, and upload that file to the base folder of your web site.
  2. You will need to change the first [ to an < and the last ] to an >
  3. Create a log file and replace /your server/stats/rss.log. Chmod that log file 666 (writeable)

Now, if you call this new script from the browser, it will dutyfully write a line to your new log file.

Step 2: Calling this process everytime someone requests your RSS/ATOM/whatever feed

(This process is for wordpress but you should be able apply the same concept to your blog/site software)

Edit the following files (wordpress): wp-rss2.php, wp-rss.php, wp-atom.php, wp-rdf.php and wp-commentsrss2.php, and write the following line at the top (after < ? php)

include '/2007/01/yourscript.html';

where yourscript.php is the script that you made.

So, who/what accessed my RSS feed lately?

  1. Feedfetcher-Google; (+
  2. Akregator/1.2.5; librss/remnants
  3. Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv: Gecko/20061201 Firefox/ (Ubuntu-feisty)
  4. msnbot/1.0 (+
  5. Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Yahoo! Slurp;
  6. Technoratibot/0.7
  7. Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +
  8. Bloglines/3.1
  9. Blogslive (
  10. Feedster Crawler/3.0; Feedster, Inc
  11. NewsGatorOnline/2.0
  13. Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Google Desktop)


  • You can edit only wp-feeds.php and add the include to that script, but if someone/something directly subscribes to a specific output (e.g. atom) then they may not register, this is why I added the include to all the feed outputs
  • Yes there are some services which allow you to get stats for your scripts but you would have to generate the script via that service/web site which seems cumbersome - this method allows you to get the stats directly
  • The code can be improved, I know.
  • Another idea would be to output the log in a proper format that a statistics software would recognise so you can get nice graphs/stats/proper analysis

2 comments January 24th, 2007

Still using XP? Here’s 7 reasons why you should consider Ubuntu

Open office on Ubuntu
Open office running on Ubuntu

This post is generally aimed at people who still use only Microsoft Operating systems (e.g. XP, Vista, Win98) etc.

In this article I am talking about Ubuntu, which is a linux distro (distribution - think of it as a ‘version’ or ‘flavor’ of linux), however most of the points below could be applied to any modern stable Linux distro.

So, why should you consider Ubuntu (or another Linux distro)

  1. It’s safer: Right now, thousands of people are busy writing viruses, trojans, spyware, and malware aimed specifically at people who use Microsoft Operating systems. i.e. You. As if that’s not bad enough, millions of compromised machines (bots) are busy trying to hack and replicate into Microsoft PCs (like your PC). By switching to Ubuntu (or any Linux) you are removing this target off your head, and removing 99% of the threats your PC faces.
  2. It’s cheaper: If you have access to Internet, you can download it for just the cost of the Internet connection. Or, you could request a free CD be mailed to you, not only that, it costs less to run over the long run (see next few points for more information)
  3. It’s more efficient:Ubuntu is a more efficient OS - due to this it has less hardware requirements than Windows XP for example - i.e. it will run easily with less ram, a slower CPU, etc., compared to XP. So, running a PC with Ubuntu to achieve comparable performance as an XP equipped PC would reqiure less electricity, use less resources, contribute less to global warming, carbon etc. etc.
  4. It’s easier to install : Ubuntu usually includes most necessary drivers and can function with most hardware - in my experiments, it identified all hardware in all the machines I used it on, and it’s hardware support was better than XP (for example, it installed the relevant audio drivers for a PC, where XP was unable to install audio).
  5. It’s more stable: Ubuntu is very very stable. It rarely ever has problems/crashes. This is because it (and Linux which underlies it) is developped by a community of thousands of people who test and fix problems - therefore the software is much more heavily tested compared to Windows.
  6. It’s open source: Ubuntu is an open source operating system: what that means is the code which powers it is open source - i.e. it is available for anyone to download and examine. That means that thousands of people examine virtually all code and ensure there are no bugs, spyware, rootkits, backdoors etc. Now let’s take Microsoft Windows. Do you know what it’s source code contains? No? well neither do most people. Except for Microsoft Staff, nobody has a clue of what’s really inside XP.

    Think of open source like a restaurant where you can see the staff preparing your meal - you can see what ingredients they use, how they prepare it, etc - so you KNOW that your meal is safe, nobody spat in it (or worse) and it doesnt contain anything poisonous.

  7. It’s easy to use: Ubuntu works via a GUI (Graphical user interface). I.e. if you have used Windows you should be able to easily install Ubuntu, as well as use it for most simple day to day tasks.

Pre Ubuntu FAQ:

  1. Q: I don’t have the time to install it just yet - is there a way I can test Ubuntu without modifying my PC?
    A: Ubuntu’s installation disk functions as a live CD - what this means is: if you boot off it, your PC can run off the disk, and load and run Ubuntu! It will be a bit slower than if it were on your hard disk, but it includes most of the features of a proper installation.

    A live CD (IMO) is a masterpiece of engineering. How they managed to make an entire OS function off a CD on diverse hardware is simply amazing, but I digress…

  2. Q: Cool, but I’m not yet willing to switch my main PC to an Ubuntu?

    A: Here’s an idea - take a PC you no longer use, and set it up with Ubuntu and a net connection - then you can use it to try out Ubuntu (e.g. for surfing), and as time goes you can slowly switch over tasks you do on your Windows PC, to your Ubuntu PC. If you don’t have an extra PC you can easily pick a cheap used P3 for about $50.

    OR You could install Ubuntu on your PC in a multi boot configuration - i.e. both XP and Ubuntu can coexist on the same PC!!

FAQ on ME:

  1. Q: So, you are an Ubuntu Fanboy?:
    A: I’m not an anything Fanboy. I just find Ubuntu vastly superior to any Microsoft offering. My only regret is I did not try it earlier - I now want to convince people to give Ubuntu a try. If after you try Ubuntu you decide it (and/or linux) is not for you, that’s fine but you owe it to yourself to give Ubuntu a try and see the difference
  2. Q: Why Ubuntu? Why not another Linux distro?

    A:I personally prefer Ubuntu as it is quite stable, reliable, and has a big community. There are many other popular Linux distributions which are just as good - visit and select your favorite.
  3. OK, How do I get started?
    I’ve written a guide on how to install Ubuntu, also some Ubuntu tips and tricks

13 comments January 21st, 2007

How to fix a dead flash drive (or USB key)

One of my flash drives suddenly died today. It all happened when XP suddenly froze for some reason. after rebooting, the device was dead - XPdetected it as a 0mb device (and attempted to format it as such - which didn’t work)

After a little research I was able to revive the drive, and heres the procedure (pretty easy):

  1. Download and install the HP Drive Key Boot Utility
  2. Open the desktop icon and select the correct flash drive under device
  3. Select the file system you want to format to (FAT, FAT32, NTFS)
  4. Tick Quick Format
  5. Click start

Officially this software (HP Drive Key Boot Utility) is meant for HP disks, but unofficially it seems to work fine at formatting most flash media, even digital camera cards.

161 comments January 15th, 2007

Vista: ReadyBoost and Superfetch - real or hype?

Testing Vista’s ReadyBoost and Superfetch - please see the video:

1. Startup time is total startup time from POST onwards.
2. It takes a second or so to load desktop whether or not readyboost/superfetch are enabled.
3. This is a clean install of Vista. Only change I have done is getting rid of sidebar
4. I’ve removed the password, thats why the system logs in automatically without asking me to enter a password.
5. PC was restarted between each test. Where vista and readyboost were enabled, the test was repeated a few times so the data could be ‘cached’ by those technologies.

My only guess is that the SATA hard drive and dual channel 1GB ram remove any significant visible advantages from ReadyBoost and Superfetch, which would be visible on slower machines.

Disclaimer: Microsoft, Windows, Vista, ReadyBoost, and Superfetch are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation - this test was done using RC1, and results may not apply to newer releases/different hardware configurations etc.

2 comments January 15th, 2007

Vista: Tips and tricks 1

500+ MB RAM Available 
1GB RAM, Vista with AERO, 500+MB Ram available!! (Before these tweaks I had less than 100MB available RAM).

I’m now told that Superfecth (by design) will try to gobble up most ram you have, so it’s normal to see virtually no free Ram with superfetch running. The idea is that if you load a program SF will quickly give you back ram, so (in theory) its not a bad idea to keep SF running).

Also, while I did not see specific improvements in performance with Superfetch and Readyboost, a number of reviews, e.g. by TomsHardware do have evidence that it helps.

Vista is very resource heavy. The following tips show you how to disable some of the unnecessary stuff, speed up your PC, and use Vista more effectively:


  1. These tips are for power users only - don’t change system settings unless you know what you are doing!
  2. Some of these settings (e.g. disabling defender) make your PC more vulnerable to malware etc. Also, disabling some services can cause your PC to malfunction / behave unpredictably, and / or pop up a video of Steve Ballmer doing the developper dance. Or not.
  3. By following these tips you agree that if you mess your PC I’m not responsible. Please back up your PC before attempting these tips.

VISTA Tips and Tricks list:

1. Disable Windows defender

  1. Open control panel- click classic view.
  2. Open defender - it’s at the bottom, next to Firewall and other stuff like Sidebar.
  3. Click Tools - then Options - and untick everything you see, such as:
    Untick automatically scan my PC
    scroll down, untick use real time protection
    untick advanced options, click save
  4. If user access control is on, you may get a warning. Click continue.

2. Disable User Access Control

On most versions of Vista, User Access Control is enabled - basically this is a security procedure which warns you before you (or any application) enables to do something considered risky, e.g. modifying system settings. Disable it only if you know what you are doing.

  1. Open Control Panel
  2. Open User Accounts
  3. Click turn user account control on/off.
  4. Untick use user access control
  5. click OK (you may need to restart).

3. Turn off hibernation

If you don’t use the hibernation feature, you can disable it and recover around a gigabyte of hard disk space. 

To do this, run “powercfg - H off

4. Press Alt

In most windows, you can get the traditional menu (File, Edit, View..) by just tapping the Alt key.

5. Turn on hidden files view

  1. In any drive window, click Alt, then click Tools - Folder Options
  2. Click View tab
  3. Select Show hidden files and folders.
  4. You can also untick various other annoying “Idiot mode” options like Hide extensions for known file types, and “Remember each folders view settings”.

6. Disable the sidebar
If you get tired of the sidebar, you can disable it easily via the control panel.

  1. Open Control Panel - Sidebar Properties
  2. Untick start sidebar when windows starts

7. Move swap file to another drive/partition

If you have another drive, you can speed up Vista a bit by moving the swap file to that drive. Even if you are using only one drive, moving the swap file to another partition is useful (if you intend to back up your primary partiton via a compressed mirror, saving space on the primary partition will speed up the process and reduce the backup file size).

  1. Press Windows + Pause/break key 
  2. Click advanced system settings
  3. Click the advanced tab 
  4. Click the settings button
  5. Now click Advanced (yes I know this is a bit confusing)
  6. Under virtual memory click change
  7. Untick automatically manage
  8. Select the new drive/partition you want to use for swap file and click system managed, click set (Note: Unlike Ubuntu, windows will not wipe the drive or partition - instead it just makes a file called pagefile.sys).
  9. To cancel the swap file on C click C and select no page file, click set

8. Disable unnecessary services

Warning - disabling services can cause your system to behave unpredictably, reduce security, not boot at all, or rupture the space-time continuum. Proceed with caution, only if you know what you are doing:

Navigate to: control panel - administrative tools - services Then try disabling the following (doubleclick, select disabled under startup type, click OK).

  1. Background Intelligent Transfer Service
  2. DHCP client (Only if you use a static IP, see Dan’s note below!)
  3. Diagnostic policy service
  4. Diagnostic System Host
  5. Distributed link tracking client
  6. DNS client
  7. IP Helper
  8. Offline Files (See for more info on what this is)
  9. Portable Device Enumerator Service
  10. ReadyBoost (if you are not using this feature (no flash drive)
  11. Secondary Logon (This may prevent you from using the “Run As/Run as Administrator” option.
  12. Security Center (prolly kills off defender etc).
  13. Shell Hardware Detection Service (Kills autorun - and good riddance).
  14. SSDP discovery (Something to do with UPNP devices. Darned if I know or care)
  15. Superfetch (This is Vista’s amazing caching service. Think of it as Vista’s Smartdrv. In theory it will slow down some operations but AFAIK it didn’t make much of a difference, and released a LOT of RAM).
  16. System Event Notification Service.
  17. Tablet PC input service (If no.. tablet PC?).
  18. Terminal Serives.
  19. Web client.
  20. Windows Defender (First disable it from control panel).
  21. Windows Error Reporting.
  22. Windows Event Log.
  23. Windows Image Acquisition (if no scanner and you are using your digital camera via a card reader).
  24. Windows Search (This is that annoying indexing utility. Keep it if you need to find files fast).
  25. Windows Time.
  26. Windows Update (if you can’t manually update, turn this back on).
  27. Print spooler (if you dont have a printer).
  28. Tip: Don’t disable task scheduler as defragment depends on it.

9. Setting up custom network settings
Vista will usually automatically detect your network, but if you need to set it up manually, heres how:

  1. Right click the Network Icon on the taskbar
  2. click Network and Sharing center
  3. Click the blue View Status link (if it’s not visible, ensure your cable is plugged in and click connect..)
  4. Click properties
  5. Doubleclick Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4)
  6. Enter your custom network configuration (The IP for this PC, the subnet, default gateway and DNS server - gateway and DNS server are usually your routers IP.
  7. You may need to restart your PC.

After restarting, you can select your type of network (e.g. Home) and you are good to go.

If you have other tips for Vista, please list them here as comments!

19 comments January 9th, 2007

Vista: First thoughts

Vista: Aero 

So I’ve been using Windows Vista for a few days now and I have some quick observations:

Hardware Requirements

Someone once said that what Intel gives, Microsoft takes - i.e. everytime Intel releases a massively fast processor, Microsoft makes an OS to ‘take advantage’ of this.

I don’t mean to say that Vista is a slow OS. On the contrary, it is quite fast, faster than XP in certain scenarios. But that speed comes at a cost: serious hardware requirements which means most current PC’s would be better suited to run XP.

So what are the requirements? Microsoft has an official post here. Basically Microsoft categorizes PC’s as either Vista capable or Vista premium.

Vista capable machines have at least an 800MHz processor, 512MB ram and a Directx9 capable graphics card.

Vista premium needs a 1Ghz processor, 1GB ram Directx9 WDDM card, audio, DVD, etc (though even a capable machine should require a DVD otherwise how would you install Vista?)

My recommended specifications would be any machine with a dual/quad/multi-core processor, preferrably 2- 4GB RAM (yes, GB) and any Directx9 WDDM card which supports 32bit color (for the aero interface)

Installation: mostly easy - boot off the DVD (Vista comes on a DVD, occupying around 2.5GB) and follow the prompts.

Stability: In my testing, RC1 was mostly stable. I did notice occational oddities (like Explorer swallowing 300MB of ram once but I guess that was temporary insanity and will be fixed with the RTM version.

Speed: very fast, but resource hungry.

Resource usage: 1GB ram, around 6GB of hard disk space (reqd min 6.9GB or so to install) and a lot of processing power. Quite simply this was unlike any OS I ever saw.

First Impressions - what’s new:

Vista represents a total redesign of Windows - yes it looks somewhat like XP but under the skin the architecture is totally different. At least that is what I heard. Anyway here are some of the features that I noticed as new. Yes, some of them were already in XP SP2..

  1. New Theme- Vista includes a new theme called Aero which includes transparent windows, (at least the frames are transparent) and cool special effects such as 3D flipping to select Windows. Lots of other little features exist like live previews of Windows in the taskbar and so on.
  2. New Interface - The interface has been mostly reworked. Basically clever scientists studied how trapped mice in mazes find cheese and decided to apply the logic to how humans find porn. Summary, you have to relearn a few things. Thankfully its mostly intuitive. Unthankfully you have to forget some of what you ‘learned’ with 95, 98, etc.
  3. New sidebar - It.. er… sits on the side of your screen and enables you to place little widgets - little mini programs represented which reside there. I see a big market for widgets in the future. Some say Microsoft were inspired from MAC OS X, when they developped this future. lies. Lies! all lies and malicious propaganda.
  4. Speed - On a fast PC, even with Aero enabled - everything seems to happen instantly - I think Vista achieves this by massively caching most of the operating system and preloading as much as possible into RAM. This is a very inefficient way of doing things, but it works. Think of Vista as the SUV of OS’s
  5. Security - Vista includes a Firewall and a Defender. The defender basically checks every program that attempts to run if it is a Microsoft program or not, and if not asks you whether you are sure you want to run it. Ok that’s an oversimplification but I’m feeling somewhat irreverant right now. (note: I think you can download Firewall and Defender for free if you use XP).

So why did Microsoft make Vista?

  1. Because XP is so yesterday. Vista is so wow.
  2. To battle spyware and virus (virii?): Millions of Windows PC’s belonging to clueless n00bs are being merrily hacked and attacked by spyware and viruses. Vista includes some stuff like Defender and Firewall which should make the PC more idiot proof. Problem is every time someone makes something idiot proof, better idiots (and hackers) come along. 
  3. To keep up with fast hardware: Modern PC’s resemble workstations of the past - multiple processors, gigabytes of ram, and nothing to take advantage of that. So, Microsofts engineers probably had a conversation like this:
    MS 1: Hey, people keep switching to Ubuntu. What can we do to make Windows better?
    MS 2: I know, let’s make our OS load faster by loading it into RAM and cache everything we can. True it will be massively resource hungry, but that’s OK, it will be faster than anything else.
    MS 1: OK done, but theres some leftover RAM still!
    MS 2: I know, lets make a nice 3D interface and fill that up too!
  4. The whole DRM thing: Somewhere along the line someone decided that an expensive PC should be used as a device for playing HD-DVD/BLU-RAY and other high def content. Microsoft wanted in on the action so decided to make an OS with lots of digital rights management built right in. Or so I was told by a chap with an eye patch. He muttered something about tilt bits but that’s all baloney!

So, is Vista for you? What advantages would you see?

Business clients: Recommended

  1. Security: Vista has a lot of security built in, plus it’s more idiot proof and harder to screw up than XP. This should mean less downtime, less tech support etc.Of course the new interface and architecture means a lot more complexity, and previous experience with Microsoft software shows complexity is proportional to number of bugs. Hope that aint the case here.
  2. Aero Interface: Nothing to do with Business as such but it’s cool and will match your art deco furniture.
  3. More support: By releasing Vista, Microsoft will slowly phase out support for XP. So, business customers should eventually need Vista over the long run. Unless they switch to something like Ubuntu. Or something.
  4. More software: Soon, we should see the first software applications that are made for Vista. They will make use of the Aero interface and various hardware tweaks to make your user experience more entertaining, secure, fashionable, and cure common problems like depression, insecurity, and the common cold, while making the world a better place. Expect to see that annoying message “This program is designed for Windows Vista” popping up pretty soon.

Power users: Depends

  1. L33t people will love the Aero Interface: Except for true h4×0rs who only use assembly language in a console, who will say “Bah”.
  2. Security: The security features won’t mean much to them as most power users have stuff like Zonelabs (Firewall) and Common Sense, to protect them from malware. 
  3. Programmers: Those who use anything Microsoft will find benefits from Vista. For example, programs .NET will operate so fast that the results will arrive before you run the program.
  4. Gamers: In theory, Vista might benefit gamers, but Google tells me most games run slower.
  5. Photoshop users: People into graphics, rendering, etc may get benefits as Vista can use flash drives for caching… or you could take the $200 and buy a few GB of ram instead.
  6. HD: Vista supports HD (high definition video) support including HD DVD/BLU ray etc etc. it even includes all the DRM stuff built in so Hollywood will probably let you use it to watch an HD DVD or Blu ray disk. Or you could buy an Xbox or playstation. Still, its good to know… And, FYI linux probably won’t officially support this sorta stuff as linux wouldnt be able to legally licence the decoding technology.

n00bs, clueless people, parents, HP Users: Highly recommended

You know, those people who purchase their PC from a shop window because it looks nice. (no offense to HP), it could be Dell users…

  1. Aero interface is pretty and intuitive.
  2. Security features should help prevent their PC’s becoming zombie bots, and enable them to go online safely.. Or so we hope.

People with old hardware/on a budget: For older PC’s or those with less than 1GB ram, XP or Ubuntu would be better IMO.

Final thoughts:

Vista is the future, and it looks to be a colorful and interesting future. On the right hardware, it is faster than XP and more fun - thanks to the Aero interface it’s pretty and stylish, while the various security enhancements should help n00bs a lot..

So, um, that’s my preliminary review. I for one, welcome our new Vista overlords ;-)
Update: Switched to a SATA 250GB drive and I was amazed that the whole installation process completed in around 20 minutes.

Update2: I’m told that Vista might not be able to play HD-DVD/Blu-ray and other HI def content on some PC’s due to licencing issues - for example where the PC’s monitor or graphics card do not support HDCP (but this applies to ALL OS’s and PC’s e.g. Apple etc, not just Vista powered PC’s).

10 comments January 8th, 2007


As of now I’m on the front page of delicious. Not sure how long it will last, but it’s pretty cool. Thanks everyone who submitted/voted (or rather, bookmarked)!!

PS: Stay tuned for my review of Vista!!

1 comment January 7th, 2007

Digg effect


Some of my posts have been picked up on a number of social sites (Stumble, Digg, etc) so I’ve got more than 5,000 visitors in the last few hours. Thankfully the site is still working mostly OK.

Thank you! to everyone who was kind enough to visit, submit my site, etc. I’m happy that people are finding my site useful.

If anyone is wondering what happened to my Windows Vista review, can someone tell Microsoft Sri Lanka that I’m still waiting for the Vista evaluation DVD they promised me a week ago.

Add comment January 6th, 2007

Ubuntu: Tips and tricks 1

So, let’s say you’ve installed Ubuntu. Here are a few simple tips to get you going.

1. Customise the panel (taskbar)

Classic windows desktop in Ubuntu!
It’s the classic Windows XP desktop - In Ubuntu!!

Ubuntu includes the Gnome panel - this allows you to add or remove menu items in various ways to panels - they can be located on the top/bottom/left/right of screen, like XP’s taskbar - Unlike XP, you can have more than one taskbar in Ubuntu.

I like Windows XP’s menu system, so I’ve configured my system to be similar (single panel at bottom like XP taskbar). Here’s how I did that:

  1. Delete bottom panel: (right click over it, and click delete)
  2. Move top panel to bottom: right click, select panel properties, change orientation to bottom.
  3. Delete the various menu items you don’t need from the panel (I deleted all except the date) by rightclicking and selecting remove from panel).
  4. Add the main menu: Right click panel, select add to panel, scroll down to ‘utilities’, find main menu, click it and drag it to bottom left of panel.
  5. Add the show desktop button (under desktop and windows).
  6. Add tabs: to add a list of tabs for open windows, select window list under desktop and windows, and drag it to the bottom.
  7. Add the network monitor (or modem monitor if you use one).
  8. You can add any other icons you like.

2. Add the computer to your desktop

Not that you need to, but if you miss it, you can add it by dragging it off the places menu

3. Adding shortcuts

Ubuntu allows you to set up keyboard shortcuts - in this case I will show how to set up a shortcut for Terminal (some Ubuntu tasks need you to access the terminal). You can make a hotkey to it easily by going to System - Preferences - Keyboard Shortcuts, then select Run a terminal, and press the shortcut combination you want - e.g. alt+t, and click close.

4. Enable media playback

By default, Ubuntu does not enable playback of non open source media formats via its movie player. To re-enable this feature so you can play DivX, etc, by following the instructions here: (do whats described in the “how to make things work in a hurry” section.

5. Install Wine (Enables you to run Windows software under Ubuntu Linux!!)

MS Word under Ubuntu Linux, via Wine 
Microsoft Word under Wine - not really necessary as open office is already installed - but I did this to test the installation process on Wine - it works!

  1. Open synaptic package manager (System - Administration - Synaptic package manager.
  2. Enable all repositories (Settings - repositories - and tick the unticked ones)
  3. Reload (click reload).
  4. Click search, type Wine - scroll through the list till you find “wine” and doubleclick Mark the packages, then click apply
  5. Downloading package files wait for all files to be downloaded, follow the prompts to install Wine.

After you instal wine, you can run a program by clicking Alt F2 (run) and then type wine /path/to/application e.g. wine /media/cdrom0/setup.exe

You can now install many Windows applications on your Ubuntu PC, and even create shortcuts to them.

6. Reconfigure Screen (if it doesnt work properly)

Sometimes Ubuntu’s default installation won’t detect your monitor properly (e.g. you can’t select all the resolutions you had under XP), also if you change your monitor (e.g. from a CRT to LCD) or change graphic cards, you might find that ubuntu no longer loads properly.

You can fix this by reconfiguring the graphics setup by logging to terminal on startup (press esc when Grub loads and follow the prompts) then type:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg

7. Pronounce the name right

For some strange reason, some people pronounce Ubuntu as U-BAN-tu. This is wrong. Ubuntu is pronounced as oo-BOON-tu, and if you don’t believe me, just watch the video about Ubuntu which features Nelson Mandela (included on the installation disk).

So, what are your favorite Ubuntu tricks? Please add them as comments

Need more tips and tricks? Check out the Ubuntu forum here:

21 comments January 4th, 2007

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