Friday, 21 February 2014

Increase your IT Knowledge for Free

Do you find that you have a fairly decent knowledge on how computers work but you just wish to increase your knowledge that little bit more? Alternatively you've reached one of those stages where your not too sure what to do next, i.e. should you play a game, read a book or go out for a walk? Are you are person who is limited in resources but wants to do something new? Well this might help you a bit in making your mind up. A website called NoobsLAB have very kindly compiled a list of 26 free eBooks that cover a range of different IT topics. The books in the list vary widely in topic from security on a local PC or Network, to programmer in a new language, to using the bash scripting in Unix/Linux. You can view this list via the link below.

When you visit the web page you can scroll through the list and click on any of the "Download eBook" buttons, which appear below each book. When you click on one it will take you to a page that will tell you how you can claim your free eBook. If you follow through this, you will be taken to a another page asking for you to fill in some of your details. When you are done you can then click the "Download" button. You will then be informed that your request has been received and an email sent through to you. When you receive the email and open it up, just click the "Get it Now" button. You will then be taken to another page where your download should automatically begin.

All eBooks are in PDF format, making it easy to read/annotate on any device. Once you have registered the first time you will not need to register again for another free eBook. Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Windows Explorer with Multiple Tabs

Have you ever wanted Windows Explorer to enable multiple tabs within a window like a web browser can handle multiple tabs? Initially I thought there was no point in having multiple tabs in such an environment. I believed that having separate windows is all you ever needed. This was until one of my work colleagues showed me a little program called Clover.

Clover File Explorer
I found Clover to be a very simple but powerful add-on, that does not add any noticeable overheads to your computer's performance. You may notice there is not much difference between the image above and the default Windows Explorer. The only difference being that at the top of the window is the area where you can have multiple tabs. Also just below this is an area where you can bookmark different folders.

To open a new tab on the window just click the new tab icon (just left of the existing opened tab at the top of the window). To add a new bookmark right click the area where it says "For quick access, place your bookmarks here on the bookmarks bar", select Add Page, enter the location of the folder you wish to bookmark and click OK.

You can also select to add a folder as well via the right click menu and store numerous bookmarks under a folder as well.

If you click on the small wrench icon you can access the Settings for Clover. The settings consist of a number of options which can be seen via the screenshot below.

You will note that a number of the settings match what you would find in a standard web browser.

I have to admit, I personally found that having the multiple tabs makes tasks such as copying, pasting and comparing files from one folder and another much easier. The most noticeable benefit though is just simply the saving of screen space; so rather than having multiple windows open for each folder, it is all stored in one window. Some of the additional settings, which can be seen above, add further to the features of Clover.

Also another added bonus is that I did find that on an occasions when Windows Explorer crashed, Clover offered to restore the tabs that had been forcibly closed during the crash. Again this is similar to how a browser such as Google Chrome or Firefox would offer to restore your previous session.

After using this at work I found that the standard Windows Explorer just no longer cut the mustard and I had to install this at home as well. Good news is that Clover can be installed on Windows 7 and Windows 8. Please note that when you install this, it will replace your default Windows Explorer, but it is most definitely worth a try.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

LinuxLive USB Creator

If you are ever in the habit of regularly installing different flavours of Linux onto your PC or Laptop you may find that you end up building quite a collection of discs, which can be a bit of a nuisance after a while. After moving house recently I found I had accumulated 200+ CDs/DVDs.

Fortunately in this day and age you do not need to rely on the disc format only and instead you can use a USB Flash Drive to act as a bootable device. The only downside is that if you try to set the USB drive up as a bootable device it can be a little confusing and complicated. However a good friend of mine recently recommended a nifty program called LinuxLive USB Creator for Windows.

After downloading and installing the program, I was quite impressed, not only with what it could do but also with the simplicity of the it. As you can see from the image above you can create a bootable flash drive in just 5 steps.

Step 1:
You insert and select the USB device you wish to use as a bootable device. If you have inserted the USB drive in, after you started the program you can click the Refresh button so that it displays this drive in the drop down menu.

Step 2:
You can select the source of your image. This can be an ISO, IMG or a ZIP image. You can also copy the image off from a CD/DVD or download a variety of different Linux flavours through the program itself. To get an idea of what the different Linux distributions look like and to find out more information about them you can visit, which has a wealth of information. Please note that LinuxLive USB Creator works better with some Linux distributions than with other ones

Step 3:
This is the persistence mode. By default this is left to Live Mode which will allow you to boot into a live session of that flavour of Linux. When viewing the Linux OS directly in Live Mode you can install some software, allow some software updates and even create files/folders before even installing the software. If you are like myself though you just get on with installing the Linux OS straight to the main hard drive. I will have to say though, it is handy having a live session if you ever wanted to use Linux on a friends machine.

Step 4:
This step will allow you to configure some simply options. By default "Hide created files on key" is ticked and "Enable launching LinuxLive in Windows" is also ticked. If you have data you no longer need on the USB drive you can also tick the option "Format the key in FAT32" which will erase all data currently on the flash drive.

Step 5:
If you are happy with everything you can just click the little lightning icon and the installation will then begin. If you wish to configure some more advance options you can always click on the OPTIONS button. Please note that there is an Advanced tab, but it is only recommended you touch this if you know what you are doing.

When you have followed through these 5 simple steps you will have a new LinuxLive drive which will be ready to boot on the machine of your liking.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Java Issue with LibreOffice Base

Recently I have been mucking around with LibreOffice Base in order to enhance my personal knowledge on database structures and also using SQL with a different database engine other than PGSQL or EDB.

For those wondering what LibreOffice first of all is. LibreOffice is a free and open source alternative to Microsoft office, which can run on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux. Before it was called LibreOffice it was previously known as OpenOffice. When Oracle bought over Sun Microsystems, who primarily maintained OpenOffice, many people feared what would happen with their favourite open source office suite and so forked the code. Thus LibreOffice was born back in 2010. LibreOffice offers 6 different modules which are: Write (word processor), Calc (spreadsheet program), Impress (presentation program), Draw (vector graphics editor), Math (program for editing/creating mathematical equations) and Base (database management program).

I quite like the LibreOffice Base as it has a nice simple and easy to understand GUI (graphical user interface). The database engine it uses is known as HyperSQL or HSQLDB, which is a relational database management system written in Java. As it was written in Java though, I ran into a problem.

Originally on my Windows 8.1 machine I was running LibreOffice 3.6 which was a 32-bit install and had no problems running Base. However I installed the latest LibreOffice 4.2 in 64-bit and found the following error appeared when I tried to access my tables in Base.
"LibreOffice Base requires a Java runtime environment (JRE) to perform this task. The selected JRE is defective. Please select another version or install a new JRE and select it under Tools - Options - LibreOffice Base - Connections."
I followed the on screen instructions as the message said and found it did nothing to fix the issue. I un-installed and reinstalled LibreOffice 4.2 and still had the same problem. I rolled back to LibreOffice 4.1.5 and still had problems. I un-installed Java and re-installed this as well and still had issues.

After hunting around for sometime I found what the issue was. I found that Oracle, who now provide and maintain Java, would offer the 32-bit run time environment to install by default. The reason for this is that most browsers run in 32-bit mode. Although Internet Explorer does have a 64-bit mode, this is not used often as many websites are not compatible with it. Oracle does however offer the Java runtime environment in 64-bit mode as well. Before I installed this I thought I would try one more thing. On one forum post I followed the following steps:

  1. Go to Start and then Run
  2. Alternatively press the Windows and R key together
  3. Enter C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\LibreOffice\4\user\config
  4. Click OK
  5. Locate the file  javasettings_Windows_x86.xml 
  6. Delete this file

After doing this I found that I was once again able to access my tables within LibreOffice Base.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

A Weekend and Two Days of Pain

Well last weekend I decided to make the leap and install Xubuntu 12.10. I will have to say Xubuntu installed like a treat. It is remarkable quick and responsive and was a pleasure to use.

I did customise it a bit though to get it to my liking. One of the things I did replace was Thunar with Nautilus. Thunar is nice and has some good features but it is also lacking in many other areas. One of the annoying things was that it lacked a feature to trust an executable file such as a .jar file. It was also not quite so easy to share files across the network. So this is why I had to go for Nautilus.

Another change I had to make was to remove the bottom panel and I replaced this with Docky which worked like a charm, although it did occasionally seem to crash but I think that was related to what came later.

The third change I made was to install GnomeDo which replaced the functionality of the Unity Dash which I really liked. I then installed all of my other software via the Ubuntu Software Centre which made life a doddle.

Xubuntu worked really well for me and as a desktop for productivity it is great, however the pain came when I went to install an AMD Graphics driver. Ubuntu 12.04 offered to install the driver for me but Xubuntu 12.10 did not. I thought this was initially a thing with Xubuntu but I later discovered it was not.

So I first downloaded the .run file from AMD's website and went to install the driver. After I had rebooted my screen it was set to the wrong resolution and registered that my monitor was running at 0 Hz. I found a way to uninstall this, after doing a bit of research and when I rebooted the screen was back to normal. So I decided to download the driver directly from the Ubuntu Software Centre. Again on the reboot the same thing happened. I once again uninstalled it and after a reboot installed a version of the driver which I had with Ubuntu 12.04. The exact same thing happened.

I did find that I could play Minecraft without the additional driver, however performance was poor and if I wanted to play a more intense game then I would need a dedicated 3D graphics driver. So after wasting a good part of my afternoon and evening on it I decided to try out another OS.

The choice I went for was OpenSuse 12.2 with the KDE desktop. Again the install was great and after booting up I removed all the fancy effects. Although KDE takes up more memory than XFCE I found that once I had removed the fancy effects it was pretty much as fast to use as XFCE would be.

I thought to myself so far, so good. I also found that I could install the latest driver for my graphics card without a problem. I also installed the Java run time so that I could then run Minecraft. Oddly enough I found that the .jar file would throw an error and when I ran this through the terminal I could see what the error was. After doing further research on this I could not find a fix that worked for me. By this stage I had wasted another afternoon and evening.

Again with OpenSuse running KDE was a wonderful desktop if I was just using it as a straightforward work environment, however I want my Minecarft! So I decided I would try the latest Ubuntu 12.10 and thought that it could not fail me. Sadly I was wrong.

Ubuntu 12.10 installed without a problem and when I booted up into the Unity interface I really liked the looks of it. I have to admit that I really like some of the small tweaks that the Ubuntu team had done since 12.04. Sadly though my time with Ubuntu 12.10 was met with more pain as I tried to install the AMD graphics driver. I found it suffered with the same problem as Xubuntu which to be honest did not come to me as a huge surprise given that Xubuntu is Ubuntu but just running the XFCE desktop pretty much.

I will have to say that the Ubuntu community are superb and there is a lot of support there. Sadly though time was ticking on and I needed to do something. By now it was Monday evening and I was stuck to know what to do next. I waited for a day and by Wednesday I decided I needed to do something. What I decided would be heretical in the eyes of the Linux community in general.

You see at work I use Windows 7 and with the advent of Windows 8 coming out I realised that I could be supporting customers using Windows 8 in the near future. Now granted I do not support Windows but I need to know my way around it. With Windows 8 being so different I thought that I would need to get to grips on how it works, so that I do not appear to be like an idiot to my customers. I already have Windows 7 on another hard drive which I sometimes use for games. It would only cost me £25 to upgrade. So taking in consideration the trouble that I have had and the practicality of having Windows 8 for work reasons I decided to upgrade to it. I ended up formatting my Linux partition to NTFS as well.

I have not used it too much but all I can say so far is that it is by far the best Windows OS I have used. Granted it takes a little getting use to but since I have used so many different environments in the past I am fairly use to change.

I will have to add though this is not to say that the Linux OS' are rubbish as I still have 5 machines that run different flavours of Linux and I have had no problems with them. Just for now though I will be sticking with Windows 8 on my main computer.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Change from Ubuntu

Well today is the day I move away from Ubuntu for the first time within two years. The reason is not because of the way Canonical is taking Ubuntu. Personally I think Canonical are doing some pretty amazing stuff and I just wish that some people in the open source community would be a little fairer to them. Of course the truth is who cares what I think, but anyway getting back to the point.

Part of the reason is that I was looking at upgrading to Ubuntu 12.10 from the 12.04 LTS release. After reading some reviews I noticed that a few have mentioned that 12.10 feels slightly slower than 12.04.

Now don't get me wrong my machine has no problem at all running 12.04 and would easily handle 12.10. In fact in comparison to Windows 7 the Unity desktop is considerably lighter however in comparison to the other Linux desktops it is pretty bloated. It then brought something back to mind which was how fast Mageia 2 was with the KDE desktop and yet that was running in a VirtualBox. When I think of it, that is pretty remarkable since KDE use to be the whale of the Linux desktops but in comparison it is pretty fast.

For me it is more of a case that I want the lightest environment that is still a fully functioning desktop. I am quite happy to sacrifice appearance for functionality because give credit where due I personally feel Unity is the best looking desktop environment but this comes at a cost. I also feel that Unity is a very usable environment and I like the way it works but there are other options out there that work just as well but are lighter on the system.

This is a shame as Ubuntu appears to be gaining some traction in the gaming market but in terms of FPS (frames per second) it is one of the poorer environments to run your games on. Phoronix showed a comparison of Unity to the other desktop environments along with a serious of graphical performance tests. You can see this via the link below.

When looking through the tests it is quite clear that Unity is considerably slower than the other desktop environments in terms of graphical performance. Even in every day use though it does feel slightly slower.

In fairness there is another reason why I want a change and that is that I just want a change of environments to work in. Who knows I may end up coming back to Ubuntu, but for now though I will give Xubuntu 12.10 a try instead.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

WebGL in Google Chrome on Ubuntu

Today when trying to play a small browser game I found that a small message was thrown which said that my browser does not have WebGL enabled. Just to briefly explain WebGL stands for Web Graphics Library and it is a JavaScript API which renders 3D and 2D graphics.

I found it odd since I knew that by default Google Chrome would have WebGL enabled. After doing some research into the matter I found that my ATI graphics card was on Google Chrome's blacklist of graphics cards, which meant that the hardware graphics acceleration was disabled. After doing some more hunting around I found a small command line which fixed the problem. I just used the two steps below to fix my problem.
  1. Open a terminal window by pressing Ctrl+Alt+T
  2. Copy/write in the command line below

    google-chrome --enable-webgl --ignore-gpu-blacklist
This launched a new session of Chrome and I found that I was able to play the browser game.