Archive for ‘Windows’


Firefox 4.0 Now Available

Not to be outdone by Microsoft or Google, Mozilla has released Firefox 4.0, with beautiful visualizations to show the roll-out.

Mozilla Firefox 4.0

I’ve been using late betas and RCs for a while now and like what I see.  It has a nicely minimal interface and seems quite a bit faster than Firefox 3.  It still doesn’t load as quickly as Chrome 10 on older hardware, but Firefox is a champ, and is still my favourite all-around web browser.  Best of all:  Firefox 4.0 is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows (yes, even XP.) to say nothing of smaller, lesser-known operating systems and platforms.  (Firefox for Android seems to be progressing nicely.)

Congratulations, Mozilla.  I look forward to your shorter development cycles.

(Now, don’t forget Thunderbird.  It’s feature-complete to me but could certainly use some belt tightening.)

Here’s to an open, standard, and competitive web!


Congratulations Microsoft, IE9 is great.

Anyone that knows me knows that I have been decidedly anti-Internet Explorer since version 3.

In fact, I haven’t liked Internet Explorer at all since IE4.

However, IE9, released recently for Windows Vista and Windows 7, is pretty darn good by any measure.

It is standards-compliant, fast, has a nice UI, and greatly helps to advance the state of the web.  In fact, by some measures, it’s more standards-compliant than Mozilla Firefox.

My only gripes with it are that it won’t be available for Windows XP, let alone Mac OS or Linux.  Still, great options exist for most platforms, and as it is standards-compliant, the burden of testing is significantly diminished.

So, congratulations Microsoft.  You’ve done  a great job with IE9.


Windows 7 SP1 and Language Packs: Watch out

I am fortunate to work in a very multi-cultural department at work.  One of the improvements in Windows 7 Enterprise is that it includes access to 34 language packs.  These language packs, or MUI for Multilingual User Interface) finally provide localizations for Windows.  However, there is a massive bug, reported a month before the release of SP1, that prevents the Service Pack, available through Windows Update, from installing properly if users have also installed additional language packs, also available through Windows Update.

Microsoft’s big fix:  Remove the language packs before applying SP1.  Here are the details of the bug, how to avoid it, and how to recover from it:

The Problem

Again, the problem occurs when users install language packs available through windows update prior to installing SP1.

How do you know if you’ve been hit by the bug:  First, applying the service pack takes hours.  Then, on reboot, the computer will hang at about 30% of Configuring Service Pack.  Eventually this will lead to a blue or black screen with:

Fatal Error C0000034 applying update operation 282 of 114599

The ‘Fix’

Assuming you haven’t disabled System Restore, you should be able to reboot and run Startup Repair.  From here, you will hopefully be able to boot from a previous restore point.  Assuming this is successful, remove the language packs detailed below, and re-install the service pack.

The Workaround

To avoid this problem in the first place, or to continue after booting from a previous restore point, remove the language packs and reboot before (rre)installing Service Pack 1:

  1. Run lpksetup.exe by hitting the Windows key and R , or by opening a command prompt and running lpksetup.exe
  2. Select Uninstall Display Languages
  3. Select everything except US English
  4. Remove the additional languages
  5. Reboot
  6. Install SP1 through Windows Update
  7. Reboot
  8. Reinstall the desired languages either through Windows Update or from lpksetup.exe

What if I have disabled System Restore?

In short, you’re sunk.  It’s time to find the installation disk.

The first time I was hit with this bug, the user had disabled System Restore.  I have read that it is possible to “fix” things by renaming a pending.xml file and possibly commenting out portions of that file.  I briefly tried to comment and was unsuccessful, fiddled with DSIM, and more. I imagine that I could have eventually sorted it.  For me, renaming pending.xml certainly got past the Fatal Error, but the machine still wouldn’t boot.  After a colleague  attempted further repair and a reinstallation over top of the existing setup.  I believe he eventually gave up and rebuilt the machine from scratch.

Stay calm, you won’t lose data.

The only silver lining in this whole process is that at no point are you likely to lose your files.  If you boot from a Linux disk or plug the drive in to another Windows machine, you shouldn’t have any problems backing everything up before reinstalling.

Some potentially helpful links


SSDs: A great upgrade for any laptop

One of my favourite things about the now-ancient Asus EeePC 701 was the tiny 4GB SSD that it shipped with.  It meant that the EeePC could be completely silent – something that I think is underrated in general.

Now, I’m fussy about system noise, I realize this.  But if you haven’t used a completely silent computer, you owe it to yourself to try.  They are a joy to use.  Maybe it’s just the amount of time I spend in our noisy server room at work, but I find the noise (if any) of a computer to be absolutely key to how much I enjoy using it.

My HP 2710p sold me on the value of SSDs.  Here’s a computer with pretty low-end specs:  Core 2 Duo at 1.2GHz, 1.8″ PATA 4200 RPM drive, nothing special.  Add an SSD into the mix and suddenly you have a much faster – and silent machine.  The end result:  The HP 2710p is pretty much still my favourite all-around PC.

The MacBook Air, though, was what really sold me on the idea.  Again, this machine is now great shakes spec-wise:  1.4GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB of RAM.  Still, with the super-fast SSD that Apple ships with, the machine just flies.  In day-to-day use, I find the little MacBook Air to be faster than both a current-model 13″ MacBook Pro and an older 15″ MacBook Pro, both of which have better CPUs and more RAM.

Now I have added SSDs to my old HP Mini-Note 2133 and my ancient but still-mighty IBM ThinkPad R50p.  The R50p, off the assembly line in April 2004, is worth keeping around because it has a 15″ 1600×1200 IPS screen.  This makes it perfect for print production.  The 5400RPM drive in it has now been replaced with a KingSpec 64GB PATA SSD and already the machine is faster, and silent under light load.

If you’re not convinced that the upgrade to an SSD is worthwhile and need the space of traditional drives, the Seagate Momentus XT line is an interesting option:  They pair a 500GB SATA drive with a 4GB SSD buffer.  The result is performance approaching that of an SSD but with a standard HD capacity, all at only about $40 more than a traditional 500GB SATA drive.  If hard drive noise doesn’t bother you, this is a great upgrade.


LaTeX Environments for Windows, Mac, and Linux


As I was recently asked, here is what I typically install for people looking for a reasonable LaTeX environment in Windows:

Another Open Source option for a cross-platform LaTeX IDE is Texmaker. It’s smaller but doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as TeXnicCenter.


On Linux, Kile seems to be the LaTeX IDE of choice.  I’m a LaTeX wimp, so I use LyX and TexMacs.  The following gives you a fairly complete LaTeX environment in Ubuntu:

sudo apt-get update && sudo aptitude install texlive-base \
lyx kile texmacs texlive-bibtex-extra texlive-binaries \
texlive-common texlive-doc-base texlive-extra-utils \
texlive-fonts-recommend texlive-formats-extra \
texlive-generic-extra texlive-generic-recommended \
texlive-latex-base texlive-latex-recommended \
texlive-plain-extra texlive-pstricks texlive-math-extra


On the Mac, start with the absolutely huge MacTeX distribution.  It includes pretty much everything you’ll need.


Windows 7 Starter Edition: I’m impressed

A friend recently picked up a refurbished Asus EeePC 1005HAB at Factory Direct.  This machine is, in my opinion, one of the better netbooks: Up to 8.5 hours on the battery, Intel Aton N270, 1GB of RAM easily upgradeable etc.  The other interesting feature:  Windows 7 Starter Edition.  I haven’t played with it too much yet but I must say that I’m pleasantly surprised by the OS.

Windows 7 Starter Edition is basically the same as Home Edition but without a lot of the bloat:  No Aero, no DVD Maker software, fewer options of changing the look.  It’s basically a slimmer, faster version of Windows 7.

As with Windows 7 Home, the big drawbacks are: No Remote Desktop, No Windows Domain support.

From what I’ve seen, it looks, acts, and has the improved security of Windows 7 but seems to run even faster and more efficiently than XP on the same hardware.  Seriously, I am quite surprised by how well this little machine runs in 1GB of RAM. Bravo, Microsoft.  I’d use this version if I could buy/install it on all machines.

I’m of the opinion that OSs should be transparent.  They’re there to facilitate and then get out of your way.  From my limited experience with Windows 7 Starter Edition, it seem to do this better than any version of Windows since 2000 Professional.