Thursday, April 28, 2011

The end of XP support ........... in 3 years.

8th of April 2014

This is the date that Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP. Microsoft even made a gadget that you can stick on your desktop that counts down to the date that they throw XP under the bus. A little tacky in my humble opinion, but whatever floats their boat. They have done this to the rest of their old operating systems and XP has lasted much longer than I think even Microsoft had planned. The funny thing is that computers have really reached a point over the past 10 years that any kind of improvements that they make in them really can’t be seen by the average user. Does your word processor really work faster than it did 10 years ago? I will have to admit that my 10 year old laptop doesn’t really do that great with HD video however my 10 year old desktop with a 3 GHZ Pentium 4, 2 GB of RAM, XP, and a nice video card does, and it plays games great too.

So what does it really mean when they say they are not going to support XP? Well, they should stop updating Windows, security holes won’t be fixed, so it might not be good to hook an XP computer to the internet, if you don’t hook it to the internet then it doesn’t matter. I have one laptop with a dual processor and 4 GB of RAM that is running XP, I could upgrade it to Windows 7 if I wanted to. Or I could run Linux on any machine that hooks up to the internet and have a secure connection and a fast running machine.  I guess my point is that your computers will still be good enough to use, you will just have to make some decisions on whether to do some sort of operating system change so you can keep on trucking with the machine that you have. Or go down to Best Buy and pick up something new at a cost of $300 to $2000 and turn your old machine into a server, give it to charity, or sell it on ebay.

While I have your attention if you have a desktop computer and you haven’t vacuumed it out lately (or ever), then take this time now to shut it down, open the case, and vacuum all of the accumulated dirt out of it. Do a good job so it will last until 2014. Electronic circuits don’t like dirt, it tends to cause shorts and make your system get hot. You don’t want to be forced to go to Best Buy do you?
So basically don’t sweat it, let’s see what happens in 3 years.


Turn that old Laptop into a Server

I recently was able to replace my old Toshiba Satellite Pro. It is a 1.6 GHZ P4 with 1 GB of RAM, and running XP. Not exactly state of the art but with plenty of power to do server duty for my family.

To get it ready for server duty make sure your server is hooked up to your router. The best way for your server to be hooked up is with an Ethernet cable. The next thing to do is to go into the Control Panel and select power settings. I made sure that the laptop didn’t go to sleep when hooked up to power and that the LCD turned off when the lid is closed. This way it stays on and doesn’t get hot having the screen on when closed. I also have it sitting on a cooling pad so it doesn’t overheat.

The first task that I gave my new server was printer server duty. I hooked up the old HP LaserJet 1000 to it. I then shared the printer so anyone could print to it. This is how it’s done:
  • Open Control Panel.
  • Select Printers.
  • Right click on the printer you want to share.
  • Then select sharing.
  • Select share.
Now other computers on your network can find the printer and print to it.
This is how the other computers find the printer. On the other computers:
  • Open the Control Panel
  • Select add a new printer
  • The add a Network Printer and follow the prompts.
It may be a little different depending on which operating system you are using but the process is about the same. You should now be able to print to the shared printer from whatever computer you are using.

The next task I gave this computer was to turn it into a phone. We recently got rid of our landline because it was an extra cost we just didn’t need. We have cell phones and how many phones do you really need to have. I instead loaded Skype on our server, Skype allows you to make free calls to anyone else who has Skype for free, but for a small monthly fee it can be also used to call landlines. We pay $2.99 per month so my 11 year old son can call out on it when he’s home alone. You can get a Skype phone off of Skype’s Web site or on ebay. This way you can call anywhere in the country, or mom and dad just like having a landline without the cost.
One note: I did have to plug in the phone into a USB 2 port for it to work well. I had already added a USB2 card in the PCMCIA port at an earlier time because this computer came standard with USB1. There are various Skype phones and high end ones can be connected wirelessly to your access point.

The next thing I did was turn the old laptop into a file server, as we needed a place to store all of those pictures we have so anyone could access them. Even though my old computer only had a 30 GB hard drive it wasn’t a problem. Hard drive space is cheap these days and I easily added an external 1TB hard drive for plenty of storage for under a hundred bucks. To share this drive you go into My computer right click the drive and select share. The system may give you a hard time about sharing a whole drive, but tell it to “just do it will ya!”
To access the shard drive from your other computers, open My Computer or Computer and select Map Network drive. Now this drive will show up as if it is located on the computer you are using.

So there you have it, a new use for you old laptop, and a way to make your home network more useful.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Turn your PC into a WIFI hotspot for free

Have you ever been someplace with your laptop and there is only one Ethernet connection in the wall like a hotel room or an office space. You have multiple people who need access to the internet, or you have a portable device like an IPad, IPod touch, or Droid device that only connects to the internet wirelessly and there is no WiFi. Well fear not, you can turn your laptop into a WiFI hot spot, here’s how:

Windows 7 is pretty easy to set up, you download and run a free, open source program called Virtual Router. This free program which also works with Windows Server 2008 R2. I’ve used Virtual Router to connect up my iPod Touch to the WiFi transmitting from my laptop. It works great, and it’s simple to use. You give your server a name and a password then any Wifi device can connect up to your Hot Spot. A Laptop, Smart Phone, iPod Touch, iPhone, Android Phone, Zune, Netbook, wireless printer, etc. These devices connect to Virtual Router just like any other access point. You can share any internet connection (WiFi, LAN, Cable Modem, Dial-up, Cellular, etc), and for security the connection uses WPA2, which is the most secure wireless encryption.
For Vista, XP, and MAC OS10 here is a great Cnet Video that will show you how to set up a secure hotspot with your laptop by simply changing some settings it up in your operating system. XP takes a little more work but it’s still not too hard to do.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sync IPod touch/IPhone calendar to PC

Here was my challenge, how to manage 4 Gmail and 1 Yahoo email accounts on my PC and have everything sync with my IPod Touch. I use my IPod touch when I’m out and about to check email and surf the web when I’m away from home. I was getting tired of having to go to individual email accounts to answer email messages. The IPod Touch has a great interface for dealing with multiple web email accounts and will tell me when I receive a message from any of those accounts. I could answer them on the IPod but I don’t like to fumble with the small on-screen keyboard if I don't have to. I would much rather answer them on my PC.

I played around with Windows Live email, and I like the Outlook like feel. It's a nice free Microsoft software package, but alas it’s really a stripped down version of Outlook and is missing some features that I want to use. So I ended up downloading Thunderbird. Thunderbird is a free full featured desktop email application that is able to take care of all of my Gmail and Yahoo email accounts. That being said it is full featured and I needed to do some tweaking to get it to look and feel like other email package I’ve been using.

Thunderbird’s default settings are to have new messages come to the bottom of the list, and for replies to emails to go to the bottom of the conversation. This is pretty much backwards from what everyone else in the world does, but it can be changed. Simply by going into the account settings for each email account and selecting Composition and Addressing you can set Thunderbird to behave like other email packages. It’s one of the best free desktop email programs around, and there is a bunch off free Add-Ons that can be installed to enhanced your email experience. Changing the way it looks and feels is really no big deal.

The next goal was to be able to have a desktop Calendar that would sync with the Calendar on my IPod and to do it for free of course. There really isn’t a direct link between the Calendar on my IPod and a desktop application, however Google or Yahoo Calendar can be used as an in-between to make it seem like the connection is direct.

Here’s how:
First off the IPod touch will sync with online Calendars from Yahoo and Google, so what I did was Sync the IPod Calendars to one of my Google accounts that I’m using for email. Then I use Sunbird on my Desktop. Sunbird is a free cross platform Desktop Calendar application. I added my Google Calendar account to Sunbird and now any change made on my desktop get made on my Google account, and passed over to my IPod Touch. It works the other way too. Here are the step by step instructions for setting up Sunbird to work with Google Calendar.

So now I have all of my email in one place on my desktop and my IPod and a Calendar that I can update from my IPod or my desktop via a little smoke and mirrors. Both Thunderbird and Sunbird come to us from Mozilla the creators of the Firefox web browser.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Firefox Ad-Ons, not just for toolbars anymore.

Firefox defines Add-ons as "free extras to make your browser look and function the way you want". There are a bunch of toolbars that help you interact with specific web sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo, and there are also applications that run in the web browser that are independent of of the operating system you are using.

You could use an Add-On like ScribeFire that I'm using to write this article on. Scribefire allows me to post to any of my Blogs from one place and is not only available in Firefox but also, Chrome, Safari, and Opera. It has some handy features like posting to your blog and sharing your Blog article with Facebook, Reddit, and others. But why would you want to write your Blog post with ScribFire instead of the editor built into Blogger for instance? One reason would be that ScribeFire can work offline. If you're away from an intent connection you can create you article then post it later when you are near you connection, It's a handy feature.

Here is a fantastic Add-On called NoScript NoScript gives you complete control over what scripts are run in your web browser. NoScript allows active content to run only from sites you trust, and to protect yourself against XSS and Clickjacking attacks. Here is a video from Cnet explaining exactly what it does. It seams most of the nasties that have come into my computer in the past were from simply clicking on some site and having a script run to infected my computer. Check out the video and then add this Add-On for some extra security when you are surfing the Wild West that is the Web.

There are email watchers like Gmail Watcher that will notify you when any of your Gmail accounts gets a new message. There is also Hotmail Watcher, and Yahoo! Mail watcher. There are other Ad-Ons like Gathera and Yoono that seems to try to put all of your email and social networking in one place, but I would read the reviews before you install them. The Firefox Add-On site will let you read and post reviews of individual Add-Ons and tell you if your current version of Firefox is compatible. If your using a web browser other than Firefox then check out the links I've provided and see if you can find a freebie that you just can't live without. Here they are:
Chrome Add-Ons , Opera Add-Ons, and Safari Add-Ons.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Microsoft’s Free stuff!!

You may be surprised to know that Microsoft gives away some very nice and polished software for free! The funny thing is that Microsoft really doesn’t advertise that this stuff is available. If you check out Gizmos a great site that lists and reviews free software you will find a fantastic list of Microsoft Freeware by clicking on Best Freeware List, then selecting The Best Microsoft Downloads.

The first program you will see is Microsoft Security Essential. I have loaded it on 4 of the computers in my house with the 5th computer running the free version of Norton that comes with my internet provider Qwest. Microsoft Security Essentials works with Windows in a very unobtrusive way. I basically don’t have to think about it and it does a pretty good job.

Another thing to look at is the programs that you can get with Windows Live I’m writing this article with Windows Live Writer that allows me to write articles to post directly to my Blog. It’s a lot nicer to write with than the built in editor provided by Blogger, Blogger’s editor has come a long way but I simply prefer Windows Live Writer. For me having a great writing platform enhances my writing experience and makes it more fun. It has the feel of working with a simplified Word geared to Blogs. It’s kind of funny how Microsoft has come up applications that make it easier to work with Google’s online services. Hey I’ll take the best of both worlds.

I also started using Microsoft Live Mail. It allows me to manage multiple Google email accounts in one Outlook like place. I have my Google Blog, a Google website, and Google AdSense accounts all with different email addresses. Microsoft Live Mail puts them all in one place with an interface I like to use. It also has Contacts, Calendar, Feeds, and Newsgroups. The only issue I had was that I couldn’t add my Yahoo email account because the free version of Yahoo doesn’t allow the use of POP. It’s not Microsoft’s fault, and my goal is to eventually be able to dump my Yahoo account. I keep it around for now because I have had the account so long that there are people who would still email me on it and I don’t want to loose touch with them. I got hooked on having everything in one place when I received an iPod Touch for Christmas. I love that little device and it’s always at hand beeping at me when an email comes in from any of my accounts (Including my Yahoo email account). Microsoft Live Mail gives me one easy place to answer most of my incoming mail.

Here is a fun piece of Microsoft software you may want to explore, it’s called Small Basic. I have children that might be interested in learning how to write their own software and this may be the ticket for getting them started. I have written a few programs over the years but I really don’t have it in my DNA to be a programmer. I think my boys at least are interested in exploring programming. They both like to build Legos and seem to have a future in engineering the next generation of weapons of mass destruction (anyone with an 11 year old boy knows what I’m talking about) My oldest son has started getting interested in robots and I know it will lead to more and more sophistication.

Check out the free stuff that Microsoft is giving away you might be pleasantly surprised.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Microsoft keeps their lawyer busy pushing Anti-Piracy laws

I subscribe to infopackets a free newsletter that covers daily tech news. When it comes into my email I give it a scan and click on the articles that interest me. Today I click on and read an article entitled Microsoft Lobbies for US Anti-Piracy Law and kind of feel slimed.

Microsoft has made a lot of money over the years playing hardball, squashing competitors any way it can. And using laws and litigation is one of the tools in their toolbox. I can understand that they don’t want people pirating their software but I think their whole push to punish companies that are found to have pirated versions of their software is wrong headed. They need to abandon this way of doing business and here is why I think that.

The old model of paying huge sums of money up front for a software product is out of date. Charging hundreds and thousands of dollars for most software packages isn’t the best way for a software company to be very successful anymore. Not only does that model not work in places like China because of cultural norms, it’s not going to grow your software business in the U.S. Instead of trying to punish companies that use pirated software they should change their business model  so there would be no need to pirate their software.
The new and better model is to give away your software, that’s right, give it away. At least give away a basic version that works for most people. People download in mass or use online, test it out, and see if it is going to fit their needs. A percentage of those people are going to want to pay for tech support, customisation, and extra features. They will have no problem doing this because they have already bought into the software package. This model has been proven to work and you can see it at work at Google. It will provide more business than the old model.

At Google MBAs take a backseat to the creative folks, the top priority is to make products that are useful, fun, and that people are going to want. They then give them away. Not all of their products make money directly but they add to the Google brand. Google makes a ton of cash with their advertising machine but they also make money with extra services to their free software. 

Many other software companies give away basic services and charge for the benefit of having support and extra storage space etc. It’s a model that works today. Skype gives free computer to computer communicating; and if you want to talk to real phones they have a nominal monthly fee. Amazon is giving away cloud storage; if you want extra then you pay a fee. Google gives away storage space for pictures, if you want a lot of space then there is a charge. Google gives away gmail, but you can pay a little for a domain for your company and get support. So you think anyone would pay Google anything for email if they didn’t give it away first? Not likely. All of these examples let customers try the service and provides instant market share to the company.

I understand that Microsoft has a lot invested in the way things have been done in the past, but I really wish they would go with the flow and join the 21st century. It would give lawyers other things to do and make us feel a lot less icky using their products.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Turn that old P4 desktop into a gaiming machine!

I was fortunate enough a while back to have someone give me their old Dell Dimension 2400. This XP box was barely working. It had 256MB of RAM, AOL installed, and spyware oozing out of every crevice of the machine. It was a mess but with a $100 investment I was able to turn it into a mean game playing machine!

The first thing I did was upgrade the RAM and the processor. I dropped in 2 1GB sticks of PC2700 (33MHZ) DDR memory. It's easy to find new memory on sites like Amazon, Kingston, Newegg, and you can get some good deals on ebay. There are many other places to get RAM also just take your pick. The processor was a bit harder to find a great price but I found a 3.06GHZ Norwood Core 533FSB 478 socket P4 at StarMicro.

If you have never upgraded a processor or RAM on a computer or the computer you have has a strange heat sink then I would suggest doing a search for videos showing how to upgrade your particular PC on Youtube. Here is a good video for upgrading RAM and processor on the Dell Dimension 2400.

The next step is to upgrade the video card. The Dell made it easy having an AGP slot for a video card upgrade. I was able to find a 512MB video card on Newegg at the time I wrote this for about $50. You may also need to make sure you have a DVD drive to load some games.

Once you have everything put together, you then need to visit the web site Can you run it? This is a great site that checks your system to see if you have enough machine to run a game that you have your eye on. It's a great site and can save you some bucks if your system just isn't up to speed for a game you want to play. It can also tell you what you may need to beef up in order to play a certain game.

So if you have a P4 laying around that you might want to upgrade then first find the specifications for the machine. Look on the internet or find the spec. sheet hidden away in a box from when it was purchased years ago. Then find out how far you can upgrade it. Some machines just might not be able to take the upgrades you would need to do in order to play the games you want to be playing on it. So do your homework first.

My 11 year old is going to be one happy camper when he finds out he can play Supreme Commander 2 now on the old Dell :D

Happy Upgrading!