Computer Conundrum Solved

A couple of months back, I was weighing my options for a new system. After I wrote my past post, I went and installed the evaluation version of Windows 8, and chose to use as my primary system, which turned out I did so for about three weeks. After all, I did want to give it a fair shake since I had not really used it since Consumer Preview. I’ll be honest, I am not quite as negative on Windows 8 as I was previously – there are noticeable performance improvements, and I started getting a little more used to the Start screen (once getting in the mode of hitting the windows key, then typing what app you want – ala Unity in Ubuntu). I still find it odd though that some system settings are in Metro, while others are still in the traditional Control Panel area. In the end, it still feels pretty disjointed. I’m hoping that Blue, now to be officially Windows 8.1 will solve some of this.

So in the end I chose a Mac, and purchased one about a month ago. Specifically a MacBook Pro 13″ – the base model, but had the RAM upgraded to 8GB. This was partially due to budget, and partially I found I like a smaller to medium footprint in a notebook, but still wanted decent hard drive space.

Now, I was still playing with Windows 8 some on the old system. I attempted to configure it for my son to use while we were going away for the weekend, but it had an issue with Minecraft complaining about video drivers. Once I installed what was supposed to be Windows 8 video drivers (ATI), Minecraft would run, but then the system would “blank out” after some time, and then not respond until you hard rebooted it. Time was running short, so for that trip, I had to revert back to Windows 7.

So back to the Mac. I like it. I am still relearning some things, but honestly remember quite a bit from when I used one last several years back. My setup is a 24″ monitor, keyboard, and mouse, with the laptop to the right opened as a secondary monitor. I’ve also moved the dock to the left side of the screen, as I’ve done in Windows when I use it, and as Unity does by default in Ubuntu. There is also a monitor to the left of the 24″ monitor, but that is hooked up to a cable box to use when I want to watch some TV.

One of the biggest adjustments I’ve needed to make is using Command instead of Control with keyboard shortcuts, i.e. Ctrl-C becomes Command-C in OSX. Once nice thing about having a mechanical keyboard is that I was able to physically move keycaps on the keyboard to match the remapping of keys I did. Note the Ctrl, Alt (equal to Option in OSX), and the blank “Windows” meta key used for Control.

To raise the laptop up so the screen is closer to the height of the main monitor, and also give some more room for the external mouse, I found Bench Cookies work quite well!

Some of you may be thinking, “once someone gets a Mac, they’ll want all their devices to be Apple”. This is true for some – one person I know also switched recently to Mac, then he quickly followed by getting an iPhone, replacing his Android. I tend to be a person who says “never say never”, but at this time I just don’t see myself adopting all things Apple or migrating into the Apple ecosystem. I am using OSX as an OS that gets out of my way. My wife has an iPhone, which I think is a great fit for her, but I personally still am more drawn to Android for my phone and tablet. I use Google products and really like how Android works with those products. My approach as I see it is very similar to Lamarr Wilson, with the difference being I have and like my Nexus 7 while he enjoys an iPad for a tablet. (If you are not familiar with Lamarr, check his channel out. He’s a very funny dude.)

So there it is. You can probably expect posts in the future that will include Mac, as well as Windows and Linux when I discuss OS related topics. Isn’t variety great?

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The New Computer Conundrum

question-markI’ve been running on an aging low end laptop for close to a year now, after passing down my main system to my son after his system died. The laptop I’m on now was never meant to be my main system, but an extra for testing, or something I could bring down to the shop when I wanted (since then my Nexus 7 fills that role). It’s time to think about the next computer purchase.

And I’m torn.

It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of the “tabletization” of the desktop OS. I’ve generally liked Windows 7, and also like Linux. I like how Linux works, it’s open source philosophy, and customization options. That said, I’m a support engineer, which means I spend my day fixing broken systems (in my case a storage virtulization solution, which is built on top of Linux). I am finding that when I come home, especially now that I am getting more into video creation for my other blog, I have an increasing desire to not have to fix, tweak, or jump through a bunch of hoops to “get stuff done”.

So step one is to look at user requirements. What is the “stuff” I’m looking to “get done”? In short:

  • Web (and email, but I use the web interface of Gmail, so include it under web)
  • Office apps (whether it be MS Office or an alternative such as LibreOffice)
  • Sketchup (formerly by Google, since sold to Trimble)
  • Netflix, Hulu, watching DVDs
  • Music (Play and manage local files, as well as services such as Spotify)
  • As previously mentioned, video (and audio) creation and editing

Now what are the options I am considering? I should note that I’ve been running Ubuntu 12.10 for the last couple of months on this old laptop as an experiment to see how things will work, and to see how much I would be looking to go back to Windows 7 for a task. In short it’s been pretty good and I haven’t had a huge reason to want to go back to Windows, with one exception: video creation and editing. More on this below.

Options I’m considering in no particular order:

Windows 8

I don’t like Windows 8. No I don’t like it, Sam I am… OK, I never claimed to be Dr. Seuss. Seriously though, the Start screen (aka “Metro”)  in Windows 8 is the primary reason for my distaste. I tried, using both the Developer and Consumer Previews. I won’t reiterate what I’ve already mentioned in previous posts about the new Start screen. Let’s suffice to say though I need the truck. I don’t think I should need to install third party apps, or do registry edits to make my operating system behave as the operating system with the features enabled that I use.

If I were given a free Windows 8 system now, the first thing I would do is disable the Start screen and enable the traditional Start menu, either by registry edits or third party apps (less preferable) to make it more like Windows 7. Maybe I sound like a grumpy old man, but it really seems this was change for the sake of change, not added usability. I will say it makes sense for mobile, but that then brings me back to the point I’ve made in the past that when a mobile experience is what I need, I’ll reach for my tablet or phone. When I am on a desktop/laptop, it’s because I need it to do something more. The experience on the desktop vs. mobile does not need to be the same. The one plus that Windows 8 has going for it is the reported performance improvements.

Windows 7

You can still get systems with Windows 7, or I could buy a system with Windows 8, then install 7 instead (but that then counts as buying an OEM licence for Windows 8). I said that I generally like Windows 7. My concern here is support. Officially, their site states that mainstream support ends January 2015 (extended is 2020, but this is only available to corporate customers). I generally get, and expect, more than two years of service from my systems, especially if I am paying a bit more for better than low end hardware.

Linux

I like Linux. I like how it works (navigating both the GUI and CLI), and have played with several distributions. I mentioned that I am currently running Ubuntu 12.10. I have also used to varying degrees previous versions of Ubuntu (and derivatives) and Linux Mint as my main usage distro, and others for testing them out. Unity has grown on me some, and I consider it superior to Windows 8 Start environment… at least in Unity, it still acts like a desktop. I’m not crazy about the inclusion of web in the search, but at least this is easily turned off. At times, I’ve had some sluggishness, but I would not want to pin blame on Unity, since I am running on older hardware and it could be either (or both).

I like that Linux stands for freedom of choice, customization, and the control it provides. What is an issue still though is options for video creation and editing. There are some promising projects, but they are not where they need to be yet. I’ve tried Openshot, Kdenlive, and Cinelerra. The learning curve is a bit much for what I’m looking to do when it comes to Cinelerra. I had issues with Openshot bringing in captions (using Inkscape, there is no internal way that I know of to do it), and while I did get a movie edited with Kdenlive, I found it odd that I needed to relaunch it using sudo in order to have it render the video. This isn’t exactly what I have in mind when I state I’m in the mode of “getting stuff done”. Linux is great, but for me, it’s clear there are still limitations that will prove frustrating in everyday use. I will still continue to use it though as a “hobbyist” either on a test system, and/or a virtual machine.

Mac

It’s been a long time since I’ve used a Mac. When I did, I generally liked it, although it was not my primary system. When I was in a network support/operations role, I had three systems on my desk: Windows (XP), Solaris, and Mac. Each did some things better than others. There was one other time I considered buying a Mac for my personal use. It was back in the Windows Vista days and I had issues with performance degrading on my system. But then Windows 7 came out and fixed many of those issues. I now find myself once again considering the Mac.

I’m either odd, or just part of a larger, but much quieter group of people in that I am neither a huge Apple fan and devotee, nor an Apple hater. We have iPods and an iPad in the house, but I use Android as my main mobile environment (Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus). I think Apple makes high quality products, albeit expensive, that deserve thoughtful consideration. I’ve been critical of Apple at times, for example, being “paternal” (perceived attitude that they know better than the user what they want their user experience to be), or overzealous in patent litigation (huge rabbit hole here discussion here, and they are not the only guilty party). I also give them credit though. Even though it is a more controlled (or maybe because it’s a more controlled) experience, they have an environment where it is easier for most folks to “get stuff done”, especially, it seems, in the content creation area. My thinking here is if I do purchase a Mac, I would use iMovie for the video editing, then decide later if I should move to something like Final Cut or Adobe Premiere.

What are your thoughts? Anything I haven’t considered in your opinion? Please though, no flame wars :).

More on NVIDIA nView Desktop Manager

A couple of posts back, I mentioned how I got the Nvidia nView Desktop Manager to work in Windows 7. What it did for me was to display two different images on each monitor, however, I no longer had the ability to cycle the backgrounds (i.e. slide show) – a new feature in Windows 7. Since then I did a little more poking around. What happens is that each image that form wallpaper for each monitor is actually merged into one file/image that windows then displays at the appropriate resolution to display correctly across both screens. The file it creates is then located in c:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\nView_Wallpaper, with the file name of PerMonitorWallpaper0.bmp (that’s with a zero).

So what I was then able to do was copy the file to a location I like to keep my backgrounds (for me I created a Backgrounds folder in my Pictures library). I then resaved as a jpg. I then chose new backgrounds in nView Desktop Manager to create a few more backgrounds, copy those to my Backgrounds folder in Pictures, so that I have a few more available. I downloaded a few that are dual monitor specific wallpapers (i.e. 3960×1080 or 3960×1200 wallpapers are available). Lastly, I configured my Windows theme settings to use these backgrounds, cycling then every 5 minutes. Some of the backgrounds are below – both the nView created ones, and the dual monitor ones I downloaded.

NVIDIA nView Desktop Manager On Windows 7

I have a dual monitor setup at my desk at work (with my laptop – which is then linked via Input Director to my single monitor desktop). I just happened to stumble in Control Panel on my work laptop, which is Win XP, NVIDIA nView Desktop Manager. Upon launch, there was a button to enable the advanced settings which I did.  I was able to set a different wallpaper for each monitor.  Nice! Thinking I have an NVIDIA GeForce in the home system, which is Windows 7, I should have this functionality there. But I guessed wrong, the option was not there for me in Control Panel. Good time to update my drivers to see if the latest includes the nView Desktop Manager.

I installed the latest drivers for the GeForce 8 series, rebooted, and still no dice. I Googled for any solutions, and checked some forums that came up in the search. There are some folks out there that are quite upset that NVIDIA apparently decided to no longer include this in the install of drivers by default. But there was a solution that stated to take the download of the driver, expand it using something like Winrar or 7-Zip, then expand the nview.cab file, then launch the install found once expanded. When I did this though, there was no nview.cab. A little more research revealed that NVIDIA is no longer including this in the GeForce driver, but Quadro drivers only. I downloaded the Quadro driver. I then expanded this using 7-Zip and sure enough the nview.cab was there. Expanding this and running the setup for nView Desktop Manager worked without any issues. Note I DID NOT install the Quadro driver for my GeForce. I only used the Quadro download for the purposes of getting the desktop manager installed.

I now have dual monitors with different backgrounds (see below). This should hopefully work for anyone with a GeForce card that wants this functionality.

Edit Oct 28, 2010: Based on some comments, it looks as though this is no longer available in the current versions (259.x, 260.x) of the drivers. If you do download, you’ll want to go for an older version (197.x and others) – so long as they are still available.