Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Going straight to Windows 8

I've been using Windows XP now for probably the whole 10 year of it's existence. Skipped Vista and Windows 7 because it just still worked for me. But now Windows XP is finally officialy declared obsolete and Microsoft generously offers the Windows 8 upgrade for only €29,- it's time for a change.
And these are my experiences so far.

The 'old' laptop
Still a bit scared of the transition I decide to try some things first on an old laptop. It's an ACER 2410 Travelmate with a 1 Ghz Intel Celeron and 1 GB memory running Windows XP. The 80 GB harddisk is partitioned in a C an D drive, both 40 GB in size and using FAT32.
First it appears installing Windows8 on a FAT32 disk with just 16 GB free storage is probably not a good idea. The installer just crashed twice without a clue why. So I first joined the two partitions using a partition manager (I used Paragon Partition manager, but there are many). Then I converted the resulting disk to NTFS using the command-line 'convert C: /fs:ntfs '
This finally seemed to solve it and although the installation took nearly three hours it succeeded. And it works fine. I installed some of my 'mission critical' applications (Borland C++Builder 5, Goldmine CRM, Visual Studio 2008) and that all worked fine.

The Work laptop.
This is more modern Toshiba Tecra 10A with a dual core Intel  at 2.8 Ghz, 2 GB memory and a 150 GB hard-drive. This drive is using NTFS, but it's also partitioned in a 60 GB and 90 GB section.
As expected the installation is easier here. There are no crashes and it takes somewhere around one and a half hour to complete.

Networking and Domain
Now if you have a work laptop that needs access to a domain take care of that first.
Here is an article on how to connect to a domain. (or the short version on SuperUser).
Then it might be useful to connect your domain account to your Microsoft account.

Viruschecker and security
What I used to do first on any PC is installing Security Essentials. But this is not necessary any more since Windows 8 comes with 'Defender' which is exactly the same. So no need to install additional software for this.

Installations that require .NET 2.0 or 3.5. 
Even though Windows 8 comes with .NET 4.5, some software requires .NET 2.0 or 3.5 to be present. It can be installed as described in this MSDN article 'Installing the .NET Framework 3.5 on Windows 8'.
NOTE: Installing a Windows language pack on Windows 8 before installing the .NET Framework 3.5 will cause the .NET Framework 3.5 installation to fail. So since there probably will be lot of .NET 2.0 software around for a while it might be a good idea to just do this for every installation.

Changing the language
One of the nice features of Windows 8 is the ability to switch languages even after you installed it. If you go to 'Control Panel -> Clock, Language and Region -> Language' you can just select another language.
The article Using the language you want by Steven Sinofsky explains it all.

TinyCAD application fails
The only software so far the does not work is TinyCAD , an open source schematics drawing program. It installs fine and runs but when you click File Open or Save it just gives a error:
'Encountered an improper argument'. Everything else works fine, bur if you cannot load or save files it's pretty useless. Selecting 'Windows XP compatibility mode' when running does not solve the problem. I tried to find a solution but nobody has found one yet.So for the time being it just has to run in an Windows XP on Virtual box

The virtual PC software VirtualBox runs very smooth on Windows 8. Since Windows XP mode is no longer included in Windows 8 this is your only chance left if older software fails to run.

Originally my idea was to avoid additional software and just stick as much as possible to the standard installation. Since there is such a nice e-mail tile on the start page I decided to go with that. Unfortunately it apparently does not support the POP3 protocol, so this attempt failed immediately and I had to install Thunderbird. Which works fine...

Matrox DualHead2Go (Multiple monitors)
 As a developer you can never have too much screen-space so I use the Matrox DualHead2Go adapter to connect an additional 2 monitors to my laptop. This always worked fine on Windows XP but on Windows 8 it really rocks ! It automatically switches to expanded desktop as soon as you plug in the adapter and returns to single screen mode when you take it out again. Even though the desktop is expanded, both screens get their own task-bar and charms. So if you open the 'Tiles' or 'RT' interface on your laptop screen it appears only there and the other screens just continue to show the desktop. And then, if you opened an RT program that fills the laptop screen you can just grab it and drop it to the monitor.

Sticky notes
Windows 8 has it's own 'sticky notes' that do exactly what you'd expect. You can write them, change colors or font and stick them anywhere on the screen. Probably enough for most people, but I prefer the 'Stickies' by Zhorm Software . These are much more versatile. You can save and recall them, use them as an alarm clock and give them adjustable transparency. And they work fine on Windows 8...

After using it for a few days I must say I'm impressed. Of course it takes some time to get used to the new interface and all the little differences between XP and 8 but the search function in the charms makes it super easy to find anything you need. And when you are used to it it just works a little faster. Like on my XP machine when it recovered form hibernation it would not reconnect to my companies network. I always first had to log off and log in again to get access to our server. Windows 8 just does this automatically.
When switching my laptop off I always had to remember first to switch the desktop to my laptop screen or else if I switched it on without the external monitor my desktop would sometime still be off screen. Again: no problem on Windows 8. You can connect or disconnect a monitor anytime and the desktop will just restore to the most optimum settings. And with Fences installed all your icons will always be in the right place.

And it definitely pays off to learn some of the Windows-key shortcuts like:

Windows-C : Show the charms
Windows-D : Go to the desktop
Windows-X : show most common administrator settings
Windows-Tab : Switch between apps and desktops (And Alt-Tab of course still works to switch between applications)
Windows-R : Display the 'Run' window

And there are many more as listed here on the 'List of Windows 8 Shortcuts'.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pi on the Side.

So I bought a Raspberry Pi. Just in the unlikely case you have not heard of this credit card sized Linux computer at the incredible $35 price-point you can read all about it on the Wikipedia entry. And since I will try to write down my experiences I decided to create a separate blog for it.:

I Spy My Pi

(which does not really mean anything, it just sounds nice..)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Back to The Valley. (in 8-bit country)

August 3, 1977 was the public introduction of the TRS-80 home computer. Which is as I write this is more than 35 years ago. The most recent episode of this developers life ('Dinosaurs') brought back memories to this first real computer I could get my hands on. The setup as shown here is exactly what my father bought about thirty years ago. A black and white 12" monitor (16 lines of 64 characters), a 1.77 MHz processor and 16KB of RAM. Program storage on a cassette tape recorder which meant loading a decent game would often take 10 minutes or more. And to me it was magic. From the very first time I switched it on and saw the READY> prompt I was hooked. To programming. I remember it started with the sample from the owners manual. No, not the obligatory 'hello world' but a Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion program. And after completing all samples I did a very simple Space Shooter. Written all in Level 1 basic, using all ASCII characters, so you can probably imagine it did not exactly look like "Skyrim' or 'Modern Warfare'...
Then one day I bought the latest edition of 'computing today', mainly because of the cover. Today games actually look like that, but back then those images could only exist in your imagination.
 And programming a real adventure game, with "goblins', 'wizards' and ''barbarians' sounded like an extraordinary challenge.
So I spent weeks typing the the listings and converting the code from the original Commodere PET basic until I had a real working game which eventually I hardly ever played. It showed me that for me the real fun was in the programming itself, which it has been ever since.
The program as I written it has been long lost. It was stored on a cassette which we probably gave away when we sold the TRS-80, and I did not have a printer then to make a hard-copy. But guess what: it's on the internet. It took some searching but finally I found an article by Paul Robson and this one by Tony Smith on reghardware.com .
Both more or less describe the same experience, and on the site of Frank Fraser there is even a full scan of the listings. Looking at the scans I suddenly realized that I probably still had a copy of the magazine somewhere and so I did. The scans shown here all come from my personal copy. Actually I thought my copy would be 'cleaner' than Franks scans. But memory tricked me and the weeks of intensive use also left their marks on the pages, as can be seen in the section where the different graphics are explained.
For a moment I considered trying to rewrite the program using a TRS-80 Emulator. Just to see if I could re-live the excitement of that time. Probably not. And after playing the BBC version (which is included in the zip-file that contains the scans) I found this type of game is still not my favourite.

Lets face it, the most enjoyable part of recovering an old computer magazine are reading the ads. Like this one on the rear. 'Fully expandable to 32K of user RAM' and a 'Full set of upper and lower-case characters'. What else would you ever need ?