Archive for the ‘XP’ Category

Creating a windows installer from your WxPython application.. a love story.

December 5, 2007

I’ve just finished wrestling with a small wxpython application I wrote a few years back for our bookkeeper. It needed minor updating with a couple of new features. Now that I’ve finished the process here are a few remarks:

  1. Python is a lovely language. After about 14 months of not touching this app (or much of python in any case) it only took a few minutes of review to get back up to speed on it. Granted, I made judicious use of comments and verbose variable naming when I wrote it, but dang is it ever nice clean, clear and simple code.
  2. Once I had the thing running I downloaded and installed the latest version of py2exe (this app is to be installed on an XP machine). This little gem is invaluable in making .exe files from your .py files  and not requiring a Python install on the machine which is going to run the application. Our bookkeeper has no interest in what Python is, never mind running it.
  3. I love the Nullsoft Installer System (NSIS). It’s an open source system for creating professional looking Windows installers. No funky console windows or command line gobble-de-gook for the person installing it – typical modern looking windows install  – wizard style.
  4. Now the Nullsoft installer system is scripted (you have to create a script file to direct the setup) which allows for a lot of power and customization. But if you’re like me and have no interest in building these things by hand, you can use the wonderful HM NIS Edit application which lets you set up the whole thing through a nice friendly wizard.

So in the end, with the combination of my original .py file, py2exe, NSIS, and the HM NIS Edit, I have a very professional looking windows install file after about 5 or 10 minutes work. Brilliant!

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Notecase – A Clean and Simple Outliner

October 1, 2007

Whenever I’ve looked for a nice clean and simple outliner for Windows or Linux, I’ve never come up with something that has satisfied me. They either end up being too complex or too.. I dunno.. wacky for my tastes.  I know that a lot of Mac-heads swear by OmniOutliner, but I don’t have a Mac.

Alas, my search seems to be over. I came across NoteCase a while ago and have used it for the last couple of weeks. It’s a clean and simple 2-pane outliner written in C and Gtk. It’s free and open-source software released under BSD license. It does exactly what I want it to do, build a clean and simple outline with no-fuss and no-muss. It also does things like export outlines to html and text file formats. NoteCase will even export to an .exe file which I believe just creates a standalone instance of NoteCase itself, preloaded with the outline you’ve exported. Nice.

It has all the node editing features you’d likely expect, along with standard text formatting, search and replace, and date/time insertion features. The current version is 1.6.9.

All in all it’s a simple, fast and clean outlining program – exactly what I’ve been looking for. Check your distro’s repositories for it, or go here for the different downloads that are available.

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Another question about customizing XP…

September 27, 2007

Okay. So it’s almost 6 years since Windows XP first shipped. And you mean to tell me that no one has developed a free utility to customize the desktop right-click context menu?

Using Openbox has spoiled me. I thought for sure something would be out there for use on my XP machine here at work. I’d even do a registry hack. There are fixes for modifying the context menu on files and folders, but not on the desktop as far as I can tell. Please someone… tell me I’m wrong. Show me the way…

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For Gnome fans trapped in XP

September 24, 2007

For the last month or so, I’ve been running Openbox on my Ubuntu Feisty home system. I like the simplicity and speed of it. It takes a little more manual work to customize it, but then again you end up with a system that works the way you want it. It’s like taking a standard desktop environment like Gnome and removing (or hiding) all the bits that are not important to what it is you do every day. Eliminate the fluff, so to speak. I run a very sharp and slick looking Murrina-type theme on it. I don’t bounce around between a lot of different themes, but I have to say that the Murrina style themes are definitely my favourite.

Anyway, at work I’m stuck on XP-Pro. I do have Virtualbox installed to run a virtual environment that is pretty much the same as my Linux box at home (Openbox on Fiesty etc.). And for probably a year now, I’ve ran a Gnome theme in XP on my work box to at least make it a little more homey ;).

Today however, I came across WinGNOME-XP on deviantART which is a project that aims to provide various resources to allow users to experience a consistent Gnome-type desktop environment on Windows XP. I’ll sign up for that!

Of course the project is just getting organized, so there are only a couple of things available so far. One neat utility is the Tango Patcher which will replace or revise your system resources to provide icon themes based on various Linux projects (basic Tango, Tangerine, Suse Industrial Theme, Gnome 2.0 theme..). I ran it on my system and it seemed to work fine – although like any utilities of this type, it’s caveat emptor.

I also downloaded and installed the MurrinaFancyClearlooks theme which finally got my windows controls looking somewhat like my home box.

It ain’t perfect, but at least I can now be somewhat happy with the look and feel of the XP box I have to spend all day with. Here’s what it looks like now:

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My Open Source Oasis

July 4, 2007

I first started dabbling with Linux almost three years ago. In the past year it became my primary OS at home, and now it’s the sole occupant of my home pc. But at work we run AutoCAD on XP Pro, so there’s no escaping the giant from Redmond I guess. However, I have managed to maintain my little ‘open-source oasis’ in this proprietary desert. Here’s how I cope:

First, I run windows versions of my favourite Linux apps. Inkscape, GIMP, and GVim get a full workout here on my XP box at work. More recently I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that Avidemux (which I use for a bunch of screencasting tasks) has a windows version too. As does Blender, the 3D modelling and animation application that we used to create that 15 second animation for our screencast intros at screencasters.heathenx.org. Oh, and don’t forget Audacity which I use for a bit of audio editing – which has a perfectly serviceable windows version. And let’s not forget OpenOffice which I try to use in lieu of MS-Office whenever I can. Of course Firefox goes without saying.

Next, I run Cygwin, which is a Linux-like environment for Windows. It isn’t an emulator and won’t run native linux apps on windows, but you can recompile linux applications from source to run on Cygwin. However my needs are much simpler. I mostly use it as a terminal for file management and my todo list duties. There is even a port of the X-Window system called Cygwin/X that allows you to run many graphical Linux apps inside of windows. For some reason I can’t seem to get that working – something to do with our proxy server setup here at work. A head-scratcher that is…

Interestingly, I ran Cygwin from a shortcut on my desktop but was frustrated by the fact that it ran inside a DOS window. This limited my font choices to raster fonts or Lucida console 12pt. I could do various things to customize the bash shell (colours etc..) but the font limitation seemed to stick. That is, until I found these instructions for running rxvt on top of Cygwin.

Now I run a shortcut to rxvt and set up the shortcut to launch with whatever font I want. Here’s my current shortcut launch command to get rxvt up and running:
C:\cygwin\bin\run.exe rxvt -sl 1500 -fn “Consolas-14” -bg black -fg grey -sr -e bash –login -i

Now you combine this with the recent excellent blog post (and comments) by Kyle Pott at Lifehacker about turbocharging your terminal, and you’ve got a perfectly serviceable linux terminal inside of XP.

So there you have it. That’s how I get my Linux fix at work. If you’re a lone Linux fish swimming in proprietary waters, how do you cope?

All revved up, not sure where to go…

June 22, 2007

I spotted a good deal on a 500GB external USB 2.0 drive, and decided to pick one up this morning. It’s an IOMagic drive and cost me $170 CAD (plus taxes of course). While I know kind of what I plan to do with it, I’m still mulling over the finer points. If you’ve got suggestions I’d love to hear them. Here’s what I’m thinking:

My machine has been a mess ever since I set it up as dual boot XP/Linux box. I’ve never been fully pleased with the performance of linux on this box and I think part of the reason is that the boot drive is a SATA drive, which caused weird problems with early versions of Ubuntu. I could never really get the dual boot setup working right, and performance on the machine is quite spotty.

Since upgrading to Feisty, things have been much better, but still at times it feels like it’s got a P3-800 chip on it and not the P4-3Ghz chip that’s actually on there. Processing operations are sometimes slow and other times rebooting seems to cure the problem – something that should NOT be a problem on a Linux box.

Anyway, I plan to use the new drive to back up all of my data that resides on my XP and Ubuntu partitions and wipe everything clean, starting from scratch. I’m going to install a fresh copy of Feisty on it, and then run XP in a virtual machine – yes, there are still a couple of things I need XP for… 😦

So here’s where my questions begin – pardon any stupidity:

1. Do I have to format this 500 GB drive? I’m assuming that I do. Should I do it in multiple partitions? And what type. I was going to do the whole thing in ext3. I can see all my XP data from within Linux now, so I’m assuming that’s the best route.

2. Once the backup is done, is there a definitive ‘best’ partition setup to use for the fresh Ubuntu Feisty install on my internal drives? I’ve got 2 – 160GB internal hard drives. One is SATA the other is IDE. I can let Ubuntu do it’s thing automatically. Is this the best way? Anybody got any pointers on this?

3. Is there any point in trying to preserve the various app settings and configurations that I have? I was just going to really start fresh. And that means reinstalling and configuring a lot of things from scratch. I’m a bit worried that if I try to migrate system settings that my past performance problems might follow me.

4. Is there anything I definitely need to save before wiping out my existing system? I’ve got all my ISP info on paper, and I generally don’t use saved passwords and logon info from my browser so that’s likely not a problem. But should I grab device info (like hard drive info) before starting the install? Is there a way to easily get this data? (maybe the dmesg logs?)

Those are my main questions right now. I will be taking the plunge this weekend whether or not I get any suggestions or advice. I’m far too impatient, especially when it comes to geeky stuff like my pc, to wait ;).

Brief Revisit to XP – DSL Problems and Kudos to Earl

January 9, 2007


I’ve been having intermittent problems with my DSL service over the past couple of months. After behaving itself through most of December, it seems to have reared it’s ugly head again in the past couple of weeks. I won’t go very far into it except to say that it sometimes drops the connection and resyncs every 30 seconds. Other days it stays up steady for hours.

Tonight I got frustrated enough to call technical support. But before I did, I decided to boot up into XP so that I wouldn’t frighten the tech support staff away by telling them I’m running Linux. Of course my worry is that once they hear I’m running Linux they’ll claim that they don’t support that OS and possibly put the blame for my troubles squarely on that.

Now it’s been months since I’ve booted this machine into XP and after 10 minutes I noted three things:

1. Man.. does it ever take a long time to get to a workable desktop!

2. Man.. does it ever load a gi-normous amount of applets into the system tray!

3. Man.. does it ever hound you about updating spyware databases, anti-virus updates, windows system updates, and firewall software updates!

It’s amazing how many little bubbles can pop up once you don’t boot XP for a couple of months. If there’s one thing I love about running Linux (and the Mac guys are no different) is that you don’t have to be running 5 different third party security apps every time you boot up. I made the mistake of double-clicking Firefox before all the applets were loaded, so it took almost a minute for it to appear – all this on a P4-3GHz machine with 1GB of ram. Good god man!

Now just like when you hear a rattle in your car for a week but it seems to disappear when you bring the car in for service, my DSL seemed to be working fine almost the whole time I was on the phone with tech support. But after 10 minutes of describing and discussing the problem, he noted that my line was showing NO DSL service at all from his end. All this while I was clicking and browsing the web. So definitely something is up with the line. He created a ticket (whatever that is) for me and told me my problem was a level 2 tech support staff issue and that they would contact me within a few days. I guess it was out of his league.

So in the end I never had to run through the usual check of DSL settings and connectivity settings in the OS, which means I never really had to boot into XP anyway but at least it reminded me of why I started running Linux. 🙂

In a related note, Earl Moore has a nice writeup of his opinions on running Ubuntu. He gives some honest and practical comparisons between XP, Ubuntu and OS X. And while he prefers OS X (yes Earl, it *is* a slick interface, I’ll give them that), he’s honest in his criticisms and praise of Ubuntu. And kudos to him for trying it out before giving his opinions – nice to hear some realistic non-fanboy real world comparisons.

I’ve never really criticized OS X either way since I’ve never tried it (apart from clicking around on a few machines in the Apple store a couple of times). I’m not a huge fan of Apple’s proprietary nature (nor Microsoft’s) but I do realize they’ve set the bar for UI design. It, (along with honest criticism like Earl’s) gives the desktop Linux community something to shoot for. I think it’s getting there, it’s only a matter of time.

The Virtues of Virtualization

November 18, 2006

Despite my utter happiness at running Linux at home, there are still a couple of windows-only apps that I sometimes need to run. They’re work related and as much as I try to avoid it, there are times when I need to run them. Right now I am forced to reboot into XP to use those apps every once in a blue moon. I think I may have found a better solution (other than not running them at all).

Today at work (on my XP-Pro machine) I took a stab at downloading the free VMWare Player and also downloaded an Ubuntu Dapper ‘virtual appliance’ image (there are lots of free images on the site). Within minutes of finishing the downloads I was running Linux inside the player and suffice it to say I was quite impressed!

Doing a little more searching I came across a link to a page describing how to get XP running on a virtual machine on a Linux box. While I didn’t have time to do a heck of a lot of reading up on it (I *was* at work after all) it seems that the open-source QEMU virtual machine can do it and by setting up a Samba share you can even facilitate the movement of files back and forth into and out of the virtual session.

Now I know even less about Samba than I do about virtual machines, so when I do get the chance to set it up here at home it may take a while to get it into a usable state for me. But as always (and many times to my detriment), I’m up to the challenge.

Yet another technical challenge awaits. Does it ever end? 🙂