windows

I Just Tried Windows 8

I just tried Windows 8, and to be honest it's pretty awful. It looks like it's meant for running on a touch screen but if you are a desktop user it's horribly awkward to use. I'm not sure if it's a bug but getting the task bar thingy (what's it called?) to show up on the left-hand side of the screen is very difficult. I seem to have to hover on the top-left corner and wait for an icon to appear, then move downward, then the whole task bar thingy will appear. Now that I am in the Maps App, I have to go to the bottom-left corner and a "Start" thingy appears but I have to move very fast to it before it disappears (and for some reason, clicking on it right now doesn't do anything, so I seem to be stuck in the Maps app). Ok, I seem to be able to get the Start menu button to appear at the bottom-left but clicking on it doesn't always work.

There does seem to be an app called "Desktop" but it doesn't seem possible to launch any apps from it. It just has a Windows Explorer and an Internet Explorer icon. The menu in Windows Explorer also seems horribly complicated (I guess this is the whole "ribbon" thing). Shudder. It's just awful.

All the apps seem to be full-screen, at least all the apps accessible from the "Start screen" (is that called "Metro"?). Not really sure what the deal is with that. How are we supposed to work with two applications at the same time? I can't seem to launch apps from the "Desktop" I have to launch them from the "Start screen".

I didn't think it was possibly to make something worse than Ubuntu's Unity, but it seems that Microsoft has managed to do that. BTW, I am starting to like Unity more and more (although at the moment I am taking a short break and using KDE4 instead).

Windows and 64-bit

Doing development, or more specifically deployment in a Windows 64-bit environment can be a frustrating experience. Let's start with a simple example from MSDN about the File System Redirector:

The %windir%\System32 directory is reserved for 64-bit applications . . . Whenever a 32-bit application attempts to access %windir%\System32, the access is redirected to a new directory, %windir%\SysWOW64

That's right, the System32 folder is used by 64-bit applications and the SysWOW64 folder is used for 32-bit applications. It's so obvious.

8 Things That Piss Me Off About Windows on a Daily Basis

  1. The fact that notepad.exe is still shipped with the product. I don't use notepad. I use gvim. But everytime I log on to a customer's machine or log on to another machine at work what editors are installed? None. Just Wordpad and Notepad. If I'm lucky, Notepad++ or something like that might be installed.
  2. When I copy something to my clipboard from the cmd.exe command line I can't copy and paste across multiple-lines in a nice wrap-around fashion. It only supports a "column mode" style highlighting.
  3. The cmd.exe window is fixed width and can't be widened by clicking and dragging the corners of the window, except by going to the windows's properties and making it wider.
  4. No nice equivalents for *Nix tools like find, grep, du, rsync, locate, etc... I could go on forever here.
  5. Symlinks and hardlinks are possible but totally unsupported by the rest of the OS. Technically NTFS supports symlinks and hardlinks but it is virtually undocumented. There are some third-party tools that can create and manage symlinks. As far as I know there is no way to create a symlink or hardlink from Microsoft's default File Explorer, Windows Explorer, or from the command line, although there is an "ln" utility available online. I did create one in Vista once, using junction.exe.
  6. I have to run bloated virus-scanners. Currently at work we have McAfee which takes up 100M of RAM and who knows how many CPU cycles.
  7. Lagging 64-bit support. The standard developer boxes we used at my last company were nice powerful Dell workstations with 2GB of RAM and Windows XP. Most of us upgrade to 4GB but only 3.3GB of RAM is available to the OS. This get used up quickly when you're running VMWare, Visual Studio, Firefox, Outlook, P4V Perforce client, and a Desktop Search application. I'd blame my former employer more than Microsoft for this. IT should be supporting Windows XP 64-bit by now, but the fact that Microsoft didn't release it until 2005 means that many companies still have yet to adopt it, and most are probably now thinking of skipping Windows XP 64-bit and going straight to Vista.
  8. No package management. I have to go to a website to download an application. Some applications have their own updater tools. Microsoft Windows has it's own updater tool, but otherwise, installing and removing software in Windows is much 10x more of a pain in Windows than it is in Linux.
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Open Windows Explorer (explorer.exe) in a different folder, not in Documents folder

I use 32-bit explorer in 64-bit Vista because of a few problems that use 32-bit explorer extensions and therefore don't work in the default 64-bit explorer. So I call the explorer.exe in the SysWOW64 directory (confusingly, the apps in the SysWOW64 directory are 32-bit apps).

%systemroot%\SysWOW64\explorer.exe /separate /n,/select,%HOME%

%HOME% doesn't seem to exist prior to Vista/2008. Just replace that with whatever directory you want explorer.exe to start in. Of course if you're not using 32-bit explorer on a 64-bit system or if you are on a 32-bit system, you need something like:

%systemroot\explorer.exe /separate /n,/select,%HOME%

I also use this shortcut to launch the 64-bit Explorer (there are a few explorer extensions on my machine that are 64-bit only!)

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VirtualBox USB with Windows XP guest in Ubuntu Hardy or Intrepid

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First of all, USB will not work in VirtualBox if you are using the Open Source Edition (OSE) of VirtualBox. Get the full closed-source edition of VirtualBox from their website. There are many differences between the open-source edition and the closed-source version and one of them is USB.

I finally got USB working with Windows XP running as a guest inside VirtualBox running on a Ubuntu Hardy host. First find out what the group id of the vboxusers group is:

$ grep vbox /etc/group
vboxusers:x:<gid>:david

Then, enable the deprecated /proc/bus/usb inteface:

$ sudo gedit /etc/init.d/mountkernfs.sh

Add the following line after /proc is mounted, at the end of the do_start() function.

#for hardy:
domount usbfs usbdevfs /proc/bus/usb -onoexec,nosuid,nodev,devgid=<gid>,devmode=664
#for intrepid:
domount usbfs "" /proc/bus/usb usbdevfs -onoexec,nosuid,nodev,devgid=<gid>,devmode=664

replacing <gid> with the <gid> you found in the first step. Make sure to reboot. This didn't work for me until I rebooted. There you have it. You shouldn't have to edit /etc/init.d/mountdevsubfs.sh or /etc/fstab as some other internet sources have suggested.

Firefox 3.0 Memory Consumption Greatly Improved

Last time I blogged about Firefox (2.x), I was complaining about how much memory it was sucking up. I have read about how many memory leaks were supposed to have been fixed in Firefox 3 but I had to see it to believe it. So after suffering again from low memory while running VMWare and Firefox (whose memory consumption regurarly climbs to 500MB) at the same time, I decided to upgrade and leave Firefox 2.0 for good. Firefox 3.0beta5 is blazingly fast and I have yet to see it use more than 170MB of memory. Thanks to the all the Firefox developers for finally fixing what was probably the biggest problem with Firefox 2.0.

Update: I also installed it on my Linux machine at home and memory usage and performance with many tabs open is far better than Firefox 2.

Stay Away from Cream/Vim for Windows

I have had endless problems since I tried using Cream (a bunch of crap on top of gvim). Here are some of them:

  • Disconnect between buffers and tabs; all buffers are not always shown.
  • The tabbed windows feature seems to stop working randomly and collapse to one tab, when I open a new document in Cream/Vim
  • Copy and paste from another windows program into Cream does not work nicely. CTRL-V is supposed to work but that spits out a weird character instead. Selecting "paste" from the edit menu does work.
  • cream-user.vim does not want to load my python.vim file for some reason (this is not a case of me not having it in the right directory or anyting, vim opens it just fine. Cream says "cannot open python.vim")
  • Repeatedly decides to tell me that a swap file already exists for some file when it doesn't. This has nothing to do with which file it is. Seems to happen whenever I open more than 1 document in the same Cream/Vim window.
  • Default cream mode sucks, there is no hjkl navigation. So I have to switch to Cream Lite mode. And in order to stop it from warning me about Cream Lite mode every time I boot it tells me to edit a .vim file somewhere in Program Files\vim-cream\?
  • I have to put my settings in a cream-user.vim file in some folder under Documents and Settings?

No cream with my Vim thanks. All the above problems disappear if I use plain gvim.

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