New Home for the blog

•June 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I have noticed I am still getting a fair bit of traffic to this blog, it has now moved to http://philhawley.com/blog please go there for more of the same but with a better design.

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Windows 7 – Flickr powered Themes

•March 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I have been meaning to write this post for a while, as soon as I heard Paul Thurott (@Thurrott on Twitter) discussing themes on the Windows Weekly Podcast with Leo Laporte. Windows 7 calls the Desktop style (Background, Screensaver, Sounds, Colour scheme) themes and these can be wrapped up into themepacks that can be saved and are transferrable between computers.  This is covered pretty comprehensively by Paul Thurrott here.

However there is a kind of a hidden feature in the Windows 7 beta that will hopefully be transparent in the UI in the RTM version, but it is Microsoft so who knows? Anyway this feature is the ability to set your background to be the contents of an RSS feed, and what would be nice here would be to squirt in a Flickr RSS feed (for a specific set, tag, group, etc.) and have these high quality pictures be your desktop background.

So first of all you need to realise that theme files are simply a text file with a .theme extension, and as such can be edited with a simple text editor, so notepad it is then. First we need to create one, Open the Control Panel – Appearance and Personalization – Personalization, halfway down the page you will see the option to save the theme:-

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First of all make the changes to the Colors, sounds, Screensaver that you want to have in your theme, then click on ‘Save theme’ as highlighted above. This will simply give you a file save dialog box, so give the Theme file a suitable name and location (I just use the Documents Library in this case) then click save.

image

You then need to open this file in Notepad, so this easiest way is to enter ‘Notepad’ in the search box in the start menu and press enter. Navigate to the theeme file file in the document library where you saved it then drag the file into notepad (this saves you the hassle to do with accidentally resetting file associations for this file type). So you end up with a file like this:-

image

Notice the ‘DisplayName’ is the same name as you named the saved file, all we need to do here is add a few lines to feed the flickr RSS into here:-

[Slideshow]
Interval=600000
Shuffle=1
RssFeed=http://yourflickrfeedurl

Replace the RSS value with the flickr feed you wish to use, like I Said this could be the RSS feed of one of your tags,sets,collection, main photostream within your flickr photos. You can make the changes the save the file. You do need to be aware of a few things though:-

  • The photos need to have the high quality versions publically available in order to look good on the desktop, if not it will download the default size it shows which are not of a sufficient size for a desktop background and will look terrible.
  • The photos will actually download in the background so it could take some time depending on the number of photos in the stream
  • Obviously the higher the number of photos in the RSS feed, the more space it will take up.
  • The Interval shown above is measured in milliseconds and is the refresh interval of each photo on the desktop

To import the them file simply double-click on it, the theme will apply and the ‘Personalization Control Panel’ will open and you will see that next to the ‘Save theme’ we used earlier it will show the current theme is your theme name. The photos in the RSS will now begin to download, you can save this theme again at anytime so you have a copy of this saved theme.

Windows 7 – Windows Media Center and the Xbox 360

•March 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Now I have my main base PC setup with Windows 7 I wanted to get the Windows Media Center (WMC) setup, and connected to my XBox 360.

So first of all I start up WMC from the Windows 7 computer:-

MediaCenter1

You then the option of an express setup or Custom setup, I like to see what is going on whilst things are installing so I selected Custom:-

MediaCenter2

Setup then checks for an internet connection, after this is complete click next:-

MediaCenter3

I skipped through the Customer Experience Improvement Program Opt-in page, but you can select to join if you wish, then click Next. The next screen requests permission to connect to the internet to download information about your media and TV schedules, I selected to allow this:-

MediaCenter4

After clicking Next you will see that the ‘Required Components’ are setup, now for the optional components:-

MediaCenter5

I don’t have a tuner card and my computer is going to use the Xbox360 as an Extender, therefore I will just set up the display and media libraries,

When you setup the display, after making sure you are connected to the display that you are going to use you get to select the display type:-

MediaCenter6

You then choose the connection type:-

MediaCenter7

Then the width of the display:-

MediaCenter8

And to confirm the display resolution, then either fine tune display settings, or leave them as they are, for now I am going to leave them as they are and maybe come back to them later if video playback is not acceptable, but it is good to know you can configure your display in this way.

I then need to set up my media libraries, after selecting this from the menu I get to select the various media types:-

MediaCenter9

There is the option to setup watch folders that are on the Computer, or from network shares, or both.

An interesting feature is to be able to setup DVD movies, either DVD drives, DVD multi-changers, or folders with an extracted DVD in it (in the VIDEO_TS and Audio_TS folder structure), so I setup the locations and finished the setup.

In order to add the XBox 360 I had to clear the settings from the old Vista setup from the XBox, but as soon as I did this and launched setup, as with previous versions the media center detected the XBox360:-

MediaCenter10

After selecting ‘Set Up Now’, entering the setup key, and accepting the UAC prompt the system began setting things up:-

MediaCenter11

When it got to the searching for extender section as shown above a prompt from the XBox 360 was prompting to download the update required to connect to Windows 7. This took about a minute to download and the console restarted, it then applied the update which took a couple more minutes. I went back to the computer and it was showing a ‘Configuration error’; great stuff from Microsoft here, but hitting next on this error screen brought me back to the beginning of the extender setup and it was prompting for another setup key. So back on the XBox 360 and it now thinks it has a connection to a media center PC, so I hit connect and of course it fails but gives me the option of setting up a new connection, entered the new code on the PC and it proceeds, and the Xbox 360 comes up with the WMC connection screen, and back on the PC is begins to set up the extender and the media, this take a while as there is a lot of media, but a lot quicker than in Vista.

Windows 7 – Dual booting with Vista

•March 25, 2009 • 1 Comment

As well as my little netbook I always use a machine I built myself that I am pretty happy with, it is an AM2 4200 based machine, 4GB Ram (was 8GB, but I gave the other 4 to my brother and intend to replace them), and a single Nvidia 8800 graphics card, on an ASUS M2N32 SLI DELXUXE motherboard, currently this gets a 5 on the Windows experience rating, mainly due to the primary hard disk being an AM2, and the primary hard disk being IDE based, otherwise it would be higher.  I want to dualboot this machine as I want to use the machine primarily as a Windows 7 machine, however if there is a gap between when the beta expires and the product is released I want to have Vista to step back to.

Ok, the first step would be to back-up the system obviously, the best way is to use Vista’s backup tools, All Programs-Accessories-System Tools-Backup Status and Configuration:-

ScreenShot-Backup

From here select Complete PC Backup, and Select Create a backup now and accept the UAC prompt, the PC will look for backup device, you will need to select either a basic disk, or an optical drive, in my case I selected a USB drive with enough space for the image, on the next screen I selected to only backup the the C: drive and set the backup running, it might take some time depending on the size of your C: drive:-

ScreenShot-Backup2

After this completes we need to resize the partition that Vista is installed on to free up some space to create a partition for Windows 7. The easiest way of doing this is by using Vista’s own Disk Management, to access this simply click the Start Orb and enter ‘Computer Management’ in the Search box and click enter (whilst you are typing this you will see ‘Computer Management’ appear as an option in the program list, you can just click on this if you prefer).  In the computer management window expand Storage, and click on Disk Management:-

ScreenShot-Disk Shrink1

When it finishes getting the disk configuration right click on the primary partition (Usually C:) and select ‘Shrink Volume’. and the computer will check to see how much space it can shrink:-

ScreenShot-Disk Shrink2

You then get to choose how much you want to shrink the disk by, but as you can see it won’t necessarily be the full amount of free space as it warns in the the next window:-

ScreenShot-Disk Shrink3

When you have selected a suitable amount to shrink by, continue until it has completed, then reboot the computer with the Windows 7 DVD inserted, in my case I have gone with Windows 7 64-bit. After selecting Language/keyboard options and accepting the EULA, you get two installation options, Upgrade and Custom, select Custom, then select the unallocated space you created on the system disk and click next, Windows 7 will now install and will probably restart a couple of times, it might take some time, mine took about 20 minutes. On the initial Set Up Windows phase, I named my computer, created a user/password and chose not to input a Product Key at this stage as I wanted to check how well the hardware was supported etc.

The driver for the wireless card/AP built into the motherboard which is a Realtek RTL8187, I got the motherboard CD and successfully installed the 64-bit Vista version of the driver, however I found this would not connect. The onboard wired NICs had working drivers on install, so I connected to my router via ethernet cable and connected to Windows Update. There were a number of important updates, and under the optional updates there were drivers for the graphics card, and for the Wireless NIC. I selected all of these and set it going, after the final reboot everything looks good, however the Rating has dropped to a 4.9 for Windows 7, however it rates some of the components higher, the disk and Processor hold it back again.

Windows 7 – Display Brightness Problem

•March 20, 2009 • 6 Comments

I haven’t posted for a while as I was going to do a post detailing how I installed Mac OSX on my NC10 netbook, but I am going to re-install both Windows 7 and OSX in the near future, this time with the help of a new slimline external DVD-RW, so I will detail what I do this new time I re-install them.

I was having a problem with controlling the display brightness in Windows 7, according to the document that can be downloaded from Microsoft at – http://itwit.in/75663/ there should be Brightness slider in both the Windows Mobility Center (Shortcut – Windows Key+X, or my right clicking the power icon in the system tray) and the Power Options (reached from either by the Controls panel – Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Power Options, or by right clicking on the power icon in the system tray). However it was not present on my system, in fact not of the controls were listed.

I have the Vista version of Samsung’s ‘Easy Display Manager’ installed and this is supposed to enable keyboard hotkeys etc. Well the display brightness keys were only working sporadically, and generally when plugged into the AC power supply.

A quick search around the web revealed little but did see mentions of there possibly being controls in the BIOS to control brightness, So after rebooting my machine, I hit F2 to enter the BIOS and switched to the Boot options and saw the following:-

20090320_BiosScreenshot_0001p

So I toggled the Brightness Mode Control to User Control, by hitting F6 to give the following screen:-

20090320_BiosScreenshot_0002p

I saved the BIOS settings and booted back up to Windows 7, and the shortcut keys on my keyboard to control brightness worked like a dream, however I still could not find the controls in the Windows Mobility Center, or in the Power Options.  I will continue to pursue this though and hopefully write a new post with the updates.

Windows 7 Power Management Issue

•February 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I have been using Windows 7 for quite a few weeks now and one thing that I have noticed, my netbook gets very hot.  That was one reason why I briefly (for about half an hour) reverted to XP.

Anyway, as I use a netbook, I use it on battery power more often than not when around the house, so I noticed it when I used it on battery for extended periods.

The reason is that the power save power plan turns off active cooling (the fan) on the CPU when on battery power to conserve power, ok it does save power, but it gets very hot on the right hand side of the notebook.  Anyway after a bit of unsuccessful googling I investigated and found the setting.

You can get to the Power Settings by clicking the start orb – control panel – Power options, or simply right click the power icon in the system tray and select power options.

Click “Change Plan Settings” by the power saver plan

image

Next click on change advanced power settings

image

Next Scroll down to Processor Power Management, then system cooling policy, click on the passive settings and change them both to Active.

image

The click apply and ok your way out of there.

The reason I didn’t notice at first was that I was using the Samsung Power settings it puts in when you use it’s Battery Manager software, in that power plan it was set to passive on battery, and active plugged in.

Now my netbook is a happy bunny again, I can see this being useful for desktop machines that may use effective passive cooling on the CPU, but on netbooks, not so great.

Installing Windows 7 on Samsung NC10 Netbook

•February 4, 2009 • 1 Comment

Firstly I tried making my usb pendrive bootable using a variety of methods to do avail – the machine simply would not boot from it (eventually I realised my mistake, I will discuss this in a later post).

So I did a fresh installation from within windows xp – upgrade is only supported for Vista sp1 and later so had to do a new installation, in hindsight it might have been better to have a dual boot system by repartitioning my hard drive, but I didn’t have the software with me at the time.

Install is pretty quick, especially compared to vista – 15-20 mins. It appeared that the touchpad was a bit too sensitive for my liking even during  the the first use section of setup, but it all becomes clear later. At the end of the first use setup Windows 7 does a reboot so don’t worry about the screen going black whilst it shuts down.At the end of the first use setup Windows 7 does a reboot so don’t worry about the screen going black whilst it shuts down.

First impressions are that it looks clean and minimalist, the responsiveness compared when compared to even a clean XP installation with proper drivers in place is great. After a bit of responsiveness checking, I went into the control panel, and opened the mouse properties and changed the pointer speed to a bit slower. After a few minutes of having to do several full strokes of the touchpad to get from one corner of the screen to the opposite corner I put it set it back to the original setting. I think I was used to its slightly sluggish performance in XP and needed to get used to it, it looks like Windows 7 optimises this based on screen resolution (but I haven’t managed to confirm this yet) so you can go from one corner to the opposite one in one stroke of the the touchpad.

At this point I did a reboot in case there were any unresolved issues from the initial installation. On reboot I was reminded of potential issues on my system, clicking the box shows me that I have forgotten to install AV, so I downloaded AVAST, and finally got UAC warning me. The installation went perfectly, without a hitch.

I went on to look at device manager to check out any driver issues, the Ethernet controller was showing a missing driver. This has been discovered and solved before though – http://bit.ly/1FRR61. Further entries on this blog show that there are other drivers that would be useful to download the vista version of; sound, touchpad, easy display manager, Easy Battery manager (Samsung powersave utility), PlayAVStation. UAC promted when installing all these.

There is also an MP3 corruption issue, to solve this you need to make sure you install the hotfix in MS KB961367 before accessing them or else they will become corrupted. This patch popped up an IE security confirmation when I ran it, but no freezing of the whole system by UAC, UAC did not intervene even when the patch was being installed.

That is the basics of the installation covered, you can install the vista version of the bundled samsung utilities if you will find use for them, but personally this was enough.