Friday, April 30, 2010

Alternative Windows Shell: bbLean

I've been wanting to switch away from Window's stupid, crashable shell, and after my little run in with the virus, I decided to look into it again. I found out there's been a port of Blackbox to Windows called BlackBox4Win (or BB4Win for short) and that gave me great glee. Why? Because from the little I've used Fluxbox (I ran fluxflux-eee for a while) I fell in love with how it looked, felt, and how customizable it was and Blackbox seems extremely comparable to Fluxbox. So this is just a little intro for me.

Unfortunately, bb4win is no longer supported, but on the bright side, there are at least 4 spinoffs. The first one grabbed is called Xoblite. Don't get me wrong, it was fine, but it just...didn't click well with me. I really didn't like how everything is set up, specifically the Menus (since that's half of what a shell is), and Xoblite was pretty dang confusing. First off, Windows maximized underneath the toolbar so you couldn't see part of it (the top, in my case). Themes were very confusing (I don't even know if they exist. You actually play with "styles"....), and I was forced to have the Toolbar (where all the programs minimized to) and the Systray (where all the tray icons sit) on two different bars. Does this seem entirely necessary to anyone else?

So long story short, I just switched to bbLean, which looks much more promising. It already has it set up where maximized windows respect the toolbar, the systray sits right next to the toolbar, and the menus are very straightforward. Plus (even though I know to choose styles instead of themes now), it can skin Windows as well, meaning everything matches.

The only thing I never really liked as Fluxbox or Openbox for that matter is that everything was configurable....in text files. It seems like there were so many config files and everything was so cryptic.....bb4win (both Xoblite and bbLean) seem extremely straightforward to me. There's only two config files that I've really had to delve into, but you can also change things in the menu in bbLean (which I like). That segways into an example: I hate how fast Fluxbox/Openbox menus pop up and it makes it really hard to navigate them, and it makes it just hard on the eyes. bbLean actually has an in menu option to adjust it, so I don't even have to open an RC file. How cool is that?

The only other thing I can think of is workspaces (which -since I'm a Windows nerd- I call Virtual Desktops). Honestly, I don't really use them much, but occasionally I'll start up VirtuaWin. bb4win is nice because it already has a workspace manager built in: you can name them, define how many you want, the whole shebang. The only annoying thing is that -at least with Xoblite- I couldn't figure out a way to remove the Workspace button on the toolbar. Plus, clicking it did nothing, whereas in bbLean, clicking the button cycles through the spaces.

So that again segways into the things I wanted to change with Xoblite that I hope will work with bbLean. If bbLean doesn't work out, I don't know if I'll try one of the other bb4win forks. But anyway, here's the things I want to change:
  • Systray needs to be in Toolbar (Check! Didn't even have to 'fix it', bbLean did my work for me!)
  • Add a "Start button"
  • (Checkish. I had to use bbInterface to create a button to sit right alongside my toolbar, but it honestly looks great and does exactly what I want.)
  • (Able to) Remove Workspace button (Check! Just commented out a few lines in bbLeanbar.rc!)
  • Remove Workspace arrows and Window arrows (Check! Same as above.)
I know, I'm such a Windows nerd...."I needz mah staht button!" But honestly, I don't know how people do it without one. I mean, I get the right click menu on the desktop, I love that and it makes sense, but in order to use that, you have to have the desktop visible, which is bad for people who run alot of apps fullscreen like me. So yeah, I love the menu, but I need access to mah menu that is always on top, and it only makes sense to tag it on the toolbar. But please note, I will not make it say "Start", and it will not have the Windows icon. I haven't had a Windows icon on my start menu for at least 2 years. (The last time I had a start menu that could have a button, it had the Stargate icon.)


So this is exciting for me. I'm hoping that I can get this all set up and then maybe snag a good alternative file manager that suites my needs (so far maybe Explorer++ or QDir). We'll see how it goes.

bry be Lean,
-Bry


PS - I think I have a theory as to why all alternative Windows shells have horrid starting themes/styles. I think it's because tweaking any shell except Explorer takes getting your hands dirty a little inside some RC files, and the uber-ugly themes are just a deterrent from noobs who would install things like bb4win and then ask questions about everything. Just a theory.

[UPDATE] Ok, I officially LOVE bbLean. I finally cracked open the settings RC file, and I read at the top that all settings can be set by the menu. So I can move the toolbar by Ctrl+Click and access its options by Ctrl+Right Click. Which brings up another good point that I think is valid. The thing I've never really liked about Openbox specifically is that it always provides the ability to change settings right next to your programs. Well that's great, but once I get stuff set up, I really don't change it much, so why should they be as accessibly as things I use multiple times a day? Same with Xoblite. Right clicking on the toolbar brought up the configuration menu....but I just don't see needing to change stuff that much.

Really, I'm just seeing that Xoblite is kind of what scared me away from Crunchbang or DSL: everything is cryptic and counter-intuitive. However, everythign in bbLean so far has been amazingly straightforward and simple. I love this.

One last thing....I'm not sure if I find this good or bad, but in bbLean (or Xoblite, for that matter), right clicking on a task in the toolbar no longer brings up the menu. I guess I've gotten kind of used to being able to close stuff that way, but I'm not sure if I like that. Actually, as I'm thinking about it right this second, I'm sure there's a quick way to close an app via right clicking the toolbar, since right clicking it actually minimizes it, and middle clicking does....something, I'm not sure what. (I think it has something to do with the workplaces.) And checking the readme (which is accesibly via Win+Home [NOT F1, LIKE THE IDIOTS AT MICROSOFT]) confirms that Shift+Right click closes a task. Awesome.

    [UPDATE] Ok, so I might have been a little touchy on Xoblite. It can do almost everything that bbLean can do, it's just not as straightforward. bbLean just has everything arranged in a way that I like already, it just needs tweaking, and you can do that right from the menu. Xoblite may have had a little bit of differences (like having the systray on a different toolbar), but I'm pretty sure you can customize it all, it just takes a little bit more tweaking than bbLean.

    The only other thing I can say is that bbLean really has better support, in my opinion, than Xoblite. For example, Xoblite doesn't even have descriptions for its plugins, so I don't even know what I'm downloading, whereas bbLean does.

    Also, I finally figured out how to edit how big the titlebar is: the style editor. I really didn't want to at first because I was afraid of messing up the style I had found, but then I did, and all it took was literally just pressing a negative to change the height from 14 to 12, and now the skin is practically everything I could ever want. Also, you can edit the font for windows by just cracking open bbleanskin.rc.

    So yeah, I'm pretty much in love with bb4win as a whole. I don't think I can ever go back to Explorer, just like after trying Firefox, I can never go back to IE.

    Monday, April 26, 2010

    Virus'ed

    Well this is an unfamiliar feeling.....booting into safe mode, deleting files, having to fix junk that I didn't break myself....

    I suppose it's mostly because I don't have antivirus installed. I personally subscribe to the belief that computers don't get viruses: people get viruses. Viruses, spyware, adware, and what have you don't just hop on your computer, people download them, either out of accident or ignorance. For me, it was accident.

    I had just finished my ethics essay and I was watching a video about more philosophy, a Yale professor giving a lecture. After it finished, there were the suggested videos I could watch next, and I clicked on one. Wow. Big mistake. It launched an internet explorer window that downloaded several false AV programs, installed a service, and actually replaced half of the programs I had set to autorun (uTorrent, WinVNC, etc) with small programs by the same name that I suppose started the others. I had to boot into safe mode, delete the files, etc. I would System Restore, but it looks like it either malfunctioned, or the virus knocked out all previous restore dates.

    I feel kind of stupid, because you really can't not feel stupid after watching a virus slowly take over your PC before your eyes, but I mean....come on. I was using Firefox, which is supposed to be secure, and I clicked on a video. I know that sometimes you try to watch a video and it will tell you that you need to download a special codec, but I'm not stupid enough to fall for that.....again. All I did was click a link. Freaking annoying.

    I hate Linux and especially Mac people saying "Now I don't have to worry about viruses and stuff!" because I really don't worry about that. (Maybe I should, at least a little more....) I mean, it took like half an hour, but my PC is relatively the same state as before the virus. Had I not tried to kill the processes for a few minutes (which kept spawning back up, as viruses often do) and killed the power right as I knew I was infected, it would have been as simple as deleting a few files, but instead, I tried to save it, and I ended out having to delete and rename my old startup entries and dive into the registry to fix one key.


    So no, I do not feel like viruses are one of the main reasons to migrate to a new OS. But that will probably do it for me. Because honestly, I just hate how much Windows lets a virus do whatever it wants, and afterwards, even though all my files are safe, I can't fix everything back to the way it was. So either now or later, me migrating to a new OS (either Windows 7 or Linux) will probably come from something like a virus screwing up my system and me just saying "I'm not fixing this. I'm starting over."

    I guess the good side is that I feel like I'm more enabled to fight against an infected machine now. all I needed was Autoruns and I found (hopefully) every infection point (at least that was set to autostart). We'll see how the rest of the recovery goes. My network is being kind of spotty (even more than usual) so I might end out switching OSes quicker than expected.

    Crap.
    -Bry

    [UPDATE] So apparently I....uh......had my firewall turned off too.....heh heh.....I can't remember why, it probably had something to do with my Netgear card and how it sucked, but I must have turned it off and accidentally forgot to turn it back on.

    So I turned that back on, and now I'm downloading and will install one of the only antivirus programs I've ever liked: AVG. (I haven't tried 9, but I loved 7.5, but I hated 8.....) Let me tell you something, Clamwin did nothing to help me. Maybe I was just impatient because I had to leave to work, but I didn't let it finish scanning, and all it picked up was my AHK programs that were supposedly viruses. Combofix also didn't help, although I again did not let it run. I'll probably run both, just to be sure I don't have a keylogger or anything.

    The few programs that helped me out most in this case were these:
    AUTORUNS: Basically stunts the virus from starting when your PC starts. I had to manually go through delete some stuff (like it spawned a copy of itself as "utorrent.exe" and renamed the old one to "utorrent .exe" in the same folder), but it made it where I could boot out of safe mode without the virus running.
    HIJACKTHIS: Of course! After using Autoruns, I pretty much killed every trace of the nasty bug. The only thing that was left was that when I googled stuff, when I clicked the results, it would take me to a completely different website (like an advertisement). Or when I tried to go to AVG's website, it would fail to connect. The reason was that there was a few O17s that redirected alot of my requests to a different IP, which then passed it on to an advertiser. After deleting those, my internet is back to its normal speed and I haven't had any other weird redirects.

    I just don't get these types of viruses. I mean first of all, it installs software that I did not choose to install, but then treats it like a legit AV. But not just that, it installs several of those. Like I'm not going to notice 4 different AV programs that I never had until today. I guess its only to trip up really new PC users.

    Even through all this crap, I still think its better than the alternative: Windows Vista. Microsoft's idea of stopping malware is "If we ask the user before doing every little thing, there's no way malware can do any harm." Maybe so, but there's also no way I won't hate the OS for it. [I don't know if 7 is as bad, I haven't tried it.]

    [UPDATE 4-27-10] Well, it kinda kicked my butt harder than I first thought. It turns out it was a rootkit that I hadn't exactly nailed down, and it kept spawning itself, even though I had AVG and SUPERAntispyware installed and running. Anyway, I used ComboFix (which I should have used in the first place) which detected a removed about a dozen files, which I hope will actually cure my poor PC.

    I still might switch OSes. It kinda sucks cause I've been looking forward to summer and the start of Project vOmniMachine, and I was going to possibly choose an alternate OS after installing all of those, but this might make me choose one before that. And I really don't know what to choose. I sure as hell won't choose Ubuntu, since I hate GNOME, and I really haven't tried enough other distros to make a real choice, so I'd probably end out choosing something like Fluxbuntu, and then maybe not liking it, then changing to maybe something with Openbox or something.....all in all, I don't mind moving my netbook around Operating Systems, but I don't want to do that to my main PC.

    Oy. This was not what I wanted. I mean, no one ever wants to be infected, but now of all times, I was just not in the mood. I dunno, it's weird. When I mess up my PC by myself, I'm upset, but not mad. When I got infected yesterday, I got upset and pissed. I guess it's cause I feel like "Hey stupid rootkit, I can mess up my machine enough, trying to tweak it in new ways. I don't need your help." That, and I'm afraid of the rootkit phoning home with some personal information.

    With all this said and done, I guess I'll keep Windows XP (my one true love...) for now. Everything seems to be the exact same (I know I said that before....), but the only thing I'm truly worried about is someone stealing my personal information. And as for running an AV/AS.....I hate to say this, but I really am probably not going to. Why? Because earlier I was watching my PC reboot (I did that alot these past few days....) and I noticed it was spending at least 4 times as long at the Windows XP loading screen, and I realized that it was most likely because of AVG and SUPERAntispyware having to start up. Also, before running Combofix, I opened my start menu and clicked on Firefox, and it sat there, my wheel spinning for a good 60 seconds, and I thought to myself "This is exactly what I don't want in a computer." I'm not really all that picky when it comes to a computer. I don't expect alot of flash or things to be a certain way. All I want is snappiness. In fact, I demand snappiness. Considering the fact that my machine is Windows XP (which requires 256MB of RAM as minimum, I believe) on a tri-core 2.9Ghz machien with 2GB of RAM, there's no reason it should take any longer than 5, maybe 10 seconds to start up Firefox. I may be an idiot for opening myself up to viruses, but I'm not going to triple or quadruple that time by having AV/AS running (oh no, not scanning, just running).

    Oy oy oy. Not a good two days for an aspiring nerd. I hope Dark (my name for my PC) gets all better. And I reaaaaally hope this doesn't mean I'm going to move to 7.

    Saturday, April 24, 2010

    Jolicloud panel

    I just messed up my panel by accidentally moving the CPU frequency changer applet, and then I couldn't move it back. I was extremely frustrated because things like Bluetoooth, Power, Wifi, and the Jolicloud applet didn't have the default "Move"/"Lock to panel" options, so I could not for the life off me figure out how I was supposed to move things to the other side of them if they were permanently locked to that part of the panel.

    30-45 minutes later, I've already googled the problem by now, moved everything to a new panel and removed the old one, and tried to start the now-removed 4 applets from terminal. Finally, as I'm scrolling through the "Add" menu for the panel, I decide to click on random things, until I finally come to "Notification area." Yoink.

    Boy, do I feel dumb. I like to think of myself as a beginner-intermediate when it comes to Ubuntu-based distros, but this made me feel dumby dumb dumby dumb dumb. On the plus side, while I was searching through the "add" list, I found one for disk mounting, which I've been wanting. But nothing can really make up for that....that's like someone saying "I deleted the Internet Explorer icon...how do I get to the internet?" Ok, maybe not that bad. But it feels that way.

    Finder of missing panel applets,
    -Jon

    PS - The reason I messed everything up is because the CPU applet won't let me change the scaling, even if I type my super password. Garg.

    PSS - One last thing, on a related note: why is it so hard to get the "Add to panel" context menu? It might just be because it's Jolicloud, but it seems kinda like it's hard to click in just the right spot where you're in between applets.

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    Operating Systems my netbook has had

    My netbook has had a bit of an identity crisis ever since I got it. I got the EEE 901 with Windows XP (because I wanted the license to avoid getting Vista, but now I realize I should have gotten the Xandros version because it has more space....but that's another story) and I used Windows for a good while, probably a year even. Then I decided to look into the other netbook distros.

    Cruncheee: Installed to my SD card, but then was obliterated by me trying to boot while the "Lock" switch was on.
    Ubuntu: After my failure with Cruncheee, I decided to just try regular old Ubuntu.
    Jolicloud [4-10 to 5-10]: Ubuntu started to slow down and dissapoint me, so I moved to Jolicloud, also for fun.
    gOS [THE FUTURE?]: gOS looks like it might be worthwhile to me. Jolicloud is tending to slow down a tad, since it is based on Ubuntu after all. But I'm finding that I don't want my netbook to do everything a laptop can do, all I want it to do is the necessities, and gOS is that. I don't want any more Ubuntu based. Ok, maybe just a few...
    MeeGo [5-10 to 6-10]: Jolicloud also started to slow down slightly, but the main reason was because I kept getting low disk notifications.....without even having a Swap.
    TinyCore [6-10]: MeeGo basically just started crashing and acting unreliable. But TinyCore lasted all of 2-3 days...
    Peppermint [6-10-CURRENT]: Just got tired of having to load/unload programs. Also lost a backup which made me lose alot of data concerning program preferences.

    Other possibilities: Crunchbang (again), Kuki (when it supports Eee's), fluxflux-sl, Slitaz, and ReactOS.

    OTHERS I TRIED BUT DIDN'T INSTALL: EasyPeasy, Ubuntu Netbook Remix, and fluxflux-eee (though I came close).

    Giving my netbook a bad case of amnesia fairly frequently,
    -Bry

    Self-made virus

    Autohotkey is notorious for being picked up by virus scanners. But it still doesn't change the weird feeling you get when you see programs that you wrote come up as positive worms. When I read that PEM or Skeys is a trojan, I just blink a few times, then say "N-.....no....no it's not......." But it doesn't change the fact that it's there in front of you. And that hurts, ClamWin. Seriously.

    Positively (not) a virus,
    -Bry

    Insten iPhone Dock

    A while ago, I got fed up with not knowing where to put my iPod Touch when it was charging/plugged into my computer. I didn't like the idea of just setting it on my desk or on top of my case, so I decided to try to find a dock. At first I was just looking for a cradle that would charge my iPod, and that's all. But as I began to shop around (which I do quite thoroughly, I might add), I discovered that it would actually around the same price for a dock with more features, like a remote. So without any further ado: the Insten Dock.

    You would not believe how many results come up for "iPod touch 3G dock". I was very wary about what I wanted to buy because I know for some stupid reason, Apple changed how the latest iPods charge and so they are incompatible with some past accessories. I didn't know exactly how far back the difference went, so I decided to only buy a dock that explicitly said "iPod Touch 3G." And this one fit the bill.

    I honestly don't know what the model number is, if you're wondering. Insten kind of creeps me out in that sense.....the box was a plane, white box, as I recall....the instructions simply say "IPOD-RC" at the top instead of any model number at all, and the cradle itself does not have any stickers or type of classification. It kind of concerns me.

    But the dock has actually been really good. I got it for the following reasons:
    1. USB port: Believe it or not, some docks plugged into the wall, which would not work for what I wanted to use it for (syncing with my computer). It also a straight up USB cord (ie, no iPod cord or mini USB), which I like since it seems more replaceable and tough than alternatives. (That and mini USB has always rubbed me the wrong way....)
    2. DC power: In addition to the USB, you can also use a DC power cord to plug the dock into the wall. This is really why I got this particular dock, because I wanted my iPod to continue to charge even when my computer was turned off/in standby/hibernation, but I didn't want to have to keep moving it from place to place.
    3. Audio Out: The final touch, for me. I wanted a dock that has audio out because my new speakers have audio in, and I wanted my dock to sit right next to my speakers and I could plug by dock out output right in.
    4. Remote control/Volume controls: This was actually just a bonus for me, since it's not what I was concerned with when shopping, but it is a nice touch.
    5. A/V out & S-Video: Again, more extras, for me. I'm pretty sure that the A/V out won't work with my model, and I haven't tried either that or the S-Video yet, but it's still kinda nice to have.

    So those are the reasons I bought this particular cradle. As for how they played out....

    The USB port works fine, but I haven't actually tried the DC power yet. Mostly because they didn't include the flipping cord. I honestly don't know where I go to ask "Do you have a DC power converter that will work with this?" (but then again I haven't tried much since school is consuming my time). DC boxes have so many sizes and shapes, I really haven't a clue of how to find a box that will work, but I'm going to look into it more this summer. So that kinda sucks, since it was one of my major reasons for getting a dock instead of a cord.

    The audio out works....I think. The first time I tried it, it worked fine, except the signal was really dirty, which I assumed was from poor circuitry and the charging feature was spilling over into the A/V out feature. But I just tried it again for the heck of it, and it's fine. Before, I kept getting little pops and buzzes, even when the music wasn't playing, which was unacceptable to me. But I'm guessing I either used a bad cord, or I had the volume messed up (the iPod volume too low or too high, or something....)

    As for the volume controls, they work fine. The remote, however.....well, it doesn't not work. I knew while buying this dock that the remote could not work at all. Instead, the only thing that works on it is the volume controls. (Don't ask me why......) So I can't use it to select tracks or play/pause, which sucks, but since I wasn't accounting for it anyway, volume control from a distance sounds wonderful to me.


    The dock might be considered "chinsy" by some. You can tell it's just mostly plastic with a few innards. Sometimes, I like an accessory to be weighty, like with speakers. But when it comes to a cradle just to hold my iPod, I'm ok with chinsy. Why should it be all heavy when it's basically just a cord? It actually kind of pleasantly surprised me.
    Plus, it has rubber grips on the bottom, which might sound like nothing to you, but -as I said at the beginning- I was afraid of just putting my iPod on my desk because I am so apt to accidentally knock it off. But with the rubber grips on the dock, it really stays in place.


    The only other thing I can think of is that since it's not designed for this specific model of iPod (even though features do work), Apple decided it would be best if your iPod told you that. Every 4 minutes. I'm not going to rant about it now, but when you have your iPod plugged in to any accessory which "is not designed to work with" it, a message will pop up constantly, which can actually drain your iPod's battery if it's not charging from the wall or the computer.


    That's about it. I'm not really sure if it was a good investment yet, since I haven't tried the DC power option yet and leaving it there all the time actually drains the battery instead of charging it when my computer isn't on. But other than that, it's a nice little dock. Could I have gone with something better? Maybe. But for the price ($16 from eForcity), I really think that it was the best choice, especially for being sure it could at least charge my 3G Touch.

    Docking off,
    -Bry

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    "Beta"

    It seems like everything is in Beta nowadays. It used to be a foreign term to me until I learned that it meant "the product has most of the main features, but is not yet complete" according to Prothermer's article on just this topic. But now people seem to just tag it on at the end. Example? Google. For the longest time, every Google product was in Beta except for the search engine. Gmail was in beta for god knows how long. I can remember back when Gmail was just taking off (back when you had to get a text invite from a friend to join) it was in beta and then checking back months later, it was still in beta. Gmail became the most popular e-mail service out there for everyday people, so much so that people naturally defaulted to thinking that your Gmail account was your default e-mail account. (I would know. This was when I was using Inbox.com as my main.)

    That's just the main example. It really just seems like it's a little sticker that they stick on the product, like "New and improved!" or "Now with half the fat!", except it's for nerdy stuff. The best quote I can think of on the topic is joners of EeeUser Forum's signature: "Beta does not mean 'better', it means 'not ready'."

    The oddest thing for me is mostly companies like Google, because Google is one of the leading forces (actually, probably the leading force) on the internet, and doesn't it seem kind of strange that so many of its services were in beta for so long? And it's not just in beta and barely any people are allowed to use it (or are at least discouraged to use it) which is most often the case, but it's more like they're saying "Here's our product! Use it everyday! Oh, by the way, it's beta," which I don't think should be the case. It should be "It's in beta, but here's our product."

    The only other thing I can think of for Google and other companies to keep the beta tag on their products is to protect themselves against crashes and malfunctions. If all of Gmail crashes and billions of e-mails are lost, Google could just shrug and say "Hey, it's in beta."


    The thing that annoys me the most is that there's no significant change between beta and the "real" release for Google. Eventually they just seem to "drop" the beta with the exact same product, maybe a few more features, but just not beta anymore.

    And beyond that, it just "dilutes the the term" (a phrase I stole from a commenter from this blog). Imagine if Google started using "Alpha" to define all their products, and then "pre-Alpha". Then when people go to try other products that are pre-Alpha, they'll think they are ok because Google's products work just fine.

    If Google likes using Beta to protect their posteriors legally, suck it up, big G. I would still love you if my Gmail crashed, or if this blog got deleted (I would be the only one to know, anyway), or if any of your other services crashed for good, so no need to protect yourselves with a little term like Beta.
    If Google likes using Beta to proclaim that their product is "is never a final product" (another phrase I stole from said blog), then just STOP. Anyone who's using any of Google's services knows that they are constantly updating stuff. I don't see that as it being in Beta, but as Google making a great thing greater.
    If Google likes using Beta because it sounds trendy and edgy and it has appeal, then REALLY STOP. Google, you are a leader of the internet. As much as I love how funny you can be with April fools jokes and other such nonsense, don't sink to trying to promote stuff by adding fluffy phrases like Apple. (You can read all about why I think Steve Jobs is a jerk for calling his iPad a "magical and revolutionary product.)

    I just don't like abusing the term. Beta should be reserved for its purpose: for products that are almost finished but need to be further tested (hence the term 'beta testers). Google, you're creative, if you want you can make a term specifically for your products, like "geta", and use that. But don't dilute "beta" by throwing it on the end of all your product names.

    [UPDATE]
    I guess I'll start a running list of current "Beta" products. I just noticed one more that reminded me that Google isn't the only one who beta-izes everything.
    • X-marks: Previously Foxmarks, one of the most popular Firefox addons (and now for IE and Chrome as well) which has been around for almost 5 years is still in beta. [as of 4-20-10]
    [UPDATE 5-4-10]
    Okay, to further emphasize my point, here's the history of Google services and how long they were/are in beta. (Of course, some of them aren't all that long, but you get the idea. Oh, it's also a work in progress.)
    • Google Mail: 4/04-7/09 [5 years & 3 months....wow]
    • Google Chrome: 9/08-12/08 [3 months, nice and short]
    • Google Earth: 6/05-????
    • Picasa: 7/04-10/08 [4 years & 3 months]
    • Google Sketchup: ?????
    • Google Talk: 8/05-7/09 [3 years & 11 months]
    • Google Docs: 2/07-7/09 [2 years & 5 months]
    • Google Calendar: 4/06-7/09 [2 years & 3 months]
    • Google Buzz: NEVER BETA [Released straight to stable]
    • Google News: 3/02-1/06 [3 years & 10 months]
    • Google Reader: 10/05-9/07 [1 year & 11 months]
    • Google Voice: 3/09-7/09 [4 months]
    • iGoogle: 5/05-????
    • Orkut: 1/04-Current [Going on 6.5 years]
    • Knol: 7/08-Current [Going on 1.5 years]
    • Feedburner: NEVER BETA [Bought stable]
    • Google Wave: 9/09-Current
    • Google Chrome OS: 11/09-Current
    • Google Image Search: 7/01?-????
    • Google Product Search: 12/02-Current [7 years & 5 months]
    • Google Scholar: 10/04-Current [Going on 5.5 years]
    • Google Video: 1/05-6/09 [~4 years]
    • Google Trends: 5/06-???
    • Google Health: 5/08-Current [Going on 2 years]
    • Picnik: NEVER BETA [Bought stable]
    • Google Sites: 2/08-7/09 [1 year & 6 months]
    • Google Blogger: 8/06-12/06 [4 months]
    • Google Desktop: 10/04-6/06 [1 year & 1 month]
    • Google Maps: 2/05-10/05 [6 months]
    • Google Finance: 3/06-6/09 
    And to top if off, here's a timeline, though it gets kinda messy with the ones that are still in beta, and ones that were in beta so short the name actually can't fit (which I think is only Chrome, but you can probably tell). [It's pretty big, so click the thumbnail to see the full version.]

    From Diary of an Aspiring Nerd

    Still in Beta,
    -Bry

    PS - You probably noticed that the title of this blog is "Diary of an Aspiring Nerd beta", and think I am a hypocrite. But I actually threw that on (1) as satirical homage to what this post is talking about, and (2) for aesthetic reasons (I wanted to add some color, and make it less.....liney....) Also, you might notice that some of my programs are in Beta (currently Startup Saver, Dropper, and maybe Skeys), and they've been that way for some time. I justify this because (A) I don't keep releasing new features but leave it in beta [like Google does], (B) I haven't really worked on any of them past their beta release, and (C) They actually are buggy and deserve the beta title. Yes, I might be slightly hypocritical throwing "beta" on the end of some because I'm afraid of getting a ton of e-mails about bugs, but in my mind, there's a huge difference between a 19 year old programming in a scripting language onto a site that probably gets ~50 visitors a day to Google, the largest force on the internet.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    Introducing: the iPad

    Everyone's abuzz about the iPad. It's got commercials, tweets, and mentions everywhere you can think of. Everyone wants an iPad. Well, almost everyone.

    First off, let me say that I'm not an Apple fan. I do not (as many people do) think that Macs are the perfect computer, and I do not think that all other computers suck in comparison. At the same time, I am not against Apple completely. I believe that if Apple did not exist to rival Microsoft, Monopolysoft would sell us crappy computers that we could not even fathom. So in a way, I stand in the middle ground, so I'm hoping to be as unbiased as possible. I do also own an iPod Touch, as I've mentioned before, so I do know a bit of what I'm talking about, since the iPad has more in common with the Touch than with any other Apple product.

    Now that that's out of the way, let me say that I'm not impressed with the iPad. The first time I heard of it/saw it was when I was in the Apple store waiting for them to check out my now deceased video iPod. I shook my head as I looked at the ad. An old lady that was getting help with a Mac was talking to a salesclerk about it, and I overheard her say "So it's like a giant iPod Touch?", to which the clerk responded with "Uhh....."

    That's what it is. I hate to break it to you. Now I'm not saying that's a bad thing; new products can be based on existing products, that's fine. Netbooks are based on laptops, for example. But what is stupid is that Apple (and accordingly everyone who kisses Apples giant, shiny white butt) is claiming that the iPad is new and unique. It's not. Like in this article, here's what the author states about this very issue:
    In many ways, the iPad is like a really big iPod Touch....But the iPad will also have apps designed specifically for it, which will set it apart from the iPhone and iPod Touch.
    That's not unique. Having apps designed for it is neither creative nor spectacular. It's standard. Can you imagine if you bought a $$$$$$$$ Apple product (I think I left off a few $'s) and it's features were that it only ran apps that were designed to run on a different machine? That's like if Nintendo's next gaming system could only run NES games. Having a product that has it's own apps does not "set it apart", it simply defines it saying "the iPad is not an iPhone or iPod touch". Well, duh, if it was, then it wouldn't have its own name.

    The way I see it, the App store was here first. The idea of the App store precedes the iPad. So what's so unique? Just because you download apps that are designed to run on a bigger screen (and yes, maybe a tad more hardware differences) doesn't mean it's a brand new a idea. It's a very slight twist on an existing service.

    The article mentioned above eBooks. This might seem different, but you can already use your iPhone/iTouch as an eReader. There are a ton of apps designed just for that. Heck, even Amazon released a Kindle app for Phones/Touches. Now some might argue that the iPad is better suited to work as an eReader. Is that true? Yes. I'm not arguing that. Reading any book on a iPhone/Touch is much less easy than using an actual eReader or an iPad. But again, Apple did not invent the eReader, they just included it. It's not "revolutionary" if the product already existed and has existed for quite some time.
    So to summarize: the iPad can be used as an eReader and yes, that is a nice feature....but it's not new, and it's even close to "revolutionary."


    Now again, I want to stress, I'm not saying that the iPad is bad or stupid, or even not worth the money. (I haven't even tried one so I can't say anything along those lines.) I'm just saying it's nothing new. It's not revolutionary, as much as Steve Jobs would love to call it that. It's a spinoff of the Touch. Is it useful? For sure. I can totally imagine circumstances where the iPad would be more useful than the iTouch, and vice versa. But calling it "revolutionary" implies that it will "revolutionize" how mobile computing is done, and I just don't see that.

    But (if I can't stress it enough) it's not new. A netbook is a great product, and it is halfway in between a laptop and a smartphone. The iPad is (possibly) a great product, and it is halfway between a netbook and an iPod Touch. Halfway products can be great....just look at the spork. But they're not original.

    I know it seems like I'm reiterating the same point alot, but that's because (a) I know that if this article were ever read, I'd have so much flaming from Apple fanboys saying "The iPad can do *feature* and *feature* and *feature*. How dare you say it's not good!", (b) an ad on Bestbuy's website is really what pissed me off, and (c) I'm tired right now.


    I'm just sick of people treating the release of the iPad like the release of the iPhone. Yes, the iPhone was a new idea in many ways, and it has kind of set the standards for smartphones. But the iPad is a grandchild of that, nothing more. Could it start a spinoff surge of similar products, tablet PCs? Maybe, sure. But the iPad in and of itself is nothing new. So Steve, stop screwing around and change the ad to "A slightly tweaked and standard product", and maybe your product line wouldn't come off as being so snobbish.

    Preparing for Apple fanboy flames,
    -Bry

    PS - Notice how I avoided talking about specific features or lack thereof. If you really want to know about what I think about the lack of multitasking, how awkward it must be to hold it and use two hands to type, the fact that it's basically the iPhone without the phone or the iPod without the music so it's 100% focused on Apps mostly made by companies other than Apple, and the lack of flash which might lead to a possible lawsuit by Adobe, then I'll gladly share. But another time.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010

    A Student's Savior: Dropbox & Google Docs

    As I student, I've always worried (for good reason) that I'll forget my assignments at home, and receive a failing grade on an assignment that I worked on and completed.....except I left it at home. So the two things that have saved my butt during school are Dropbox and Google Docs.

    Dropbox.
    You've most likely heard of Dropbox by now, but if you haven't it's a service that (a) synchronizes your files across multiple computers, as many computers as you like (I believe), and (b) backs up those same files to your Dropbox account on the web. I've used Dropbox for several years now on and off, but school is really when it comes in handy. I currently have my entire "School" linked via junction into my My Dropbox folder so I have access to all of my school files, even those from previous semesters.

    The cool part about Dropbox is that it not only serves as a backup, it also helps when doing the assignments, especially if you regularly use more than one computer. For example, I have a netbook that I take to classes and a desktop at home. I can work on my homework at home, then leave to my day of classes and in between classes, I start up my netbook, and boom: there's my homework. I can work on it all I want and save the changes. Then when I get home, I can switch to my desktop, and boom: it's synced with the new work I did while I was gone.

    To put it simply, Dropbox serves as a good way to carry homework and assignments around without ever having to worry about having a flashdrive, or having multiple versions of a file and wondering which one is the latest you've worked on. It also backs up all your data in case your computer crashes/is stolen/breaks.

    The last best part about Dropbox is that you can also access your school assignments from online too. So if my English professor tells the class to bring in our essay drafts but I forget my flash drive while I'm walking out the door, all I have to do is go to my online Dropbox and download it on a school computer.

    The only thing that I've got to say about Dropbox is this: always remember to close your files. I was working on an essay a few weeks ago and I thought, "Ok, I'll work on it in the morning, leave to class, then work on it in the break." It was a fine idea, except that I left my essay running in OpenOffice on my desktop, and programs like OpenOffice (and most likely Microsoft Word) put a lock on open files, so Dropbox can't sync them. So that taught me to be on the safe side and always close my assignments, or at least make sure they are synced.

    (Dropbox also has an iPhone/Pod/Pad app in the App Store. A feature worth mentioning is the ability to share a link to any file via e-mail. So in a pinch, you could send a link of a vital assignment to a professor right from your phone/pod/pad.)

    Google Docs.
    You've probably heard of Google Docs, but if you haven't, it's a wonderful online office suite offered by the one and only, Google. It has pretty much an entire office suite, most notably being a word processor, a spreadsheet creator, and a presentation creator.

    The advantage of Google Docs to Dropbox is that there is no need to sync: it's always on the web. Instead of having to download your document to work on it, Google Docs lets you edit it right in your browser, or even print or create a PDF.

    So the advantage is that you can edit it anywhere: no need to download on a school computer. The disadvantage to Dropbox is that it doesn't backup your files and it's available only online. Dropbox is nice because you could go someplace that doesn't have wifi, work on an assignment, then go to wifi and backup+sync. Google Docs is only in one place, which requires internet.


    It's your choice, really. It kind of depends on the situation. I highly suggest both, or at least one.
    -Bry

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Taskbar positions

    It's interesting that there's some things about computing that you rarely think about. Like taskbar position. I mean, tell me the first time you used a Mac or Linux you weren't at least the slightest bit confused by the top taskbar. (That's assuming that you were raised/used to Windows, but please, just run with me on this, Mac-children.) I'll admit I was. I know this sounds pathetic, but it's actually what made me most resistant to Linux (and Macs, for that matter). When I was younger, I thought "A computer that has the taskbar on the top instead of the bottom? This is madness!" and I automatically assumed that the system would be so different from Windows that I would never be able to use it.

    Obviously since then I've evolved a bit. The first time I was exposed to a top taskbar was when I dual-booted Ubuntu with Windows XP on our family PC. That really don't go over with me so well and I only used Ubuntu once or twice. (Come to think of it, I wonder if it's still installed upstairs.....hmm...) The next change came when I got my netbook. If you own a netbook (especially one smaller than 10"), you realize how valuable screen space is, and furthermore how valuable vertical screen space is. Because most netbooks screens are widescreen [ok, that is a complete assumption. Of the ASUS EEE netbooks, I'm 75% sure that all are widescreen.], your vertical screen space is very limited compared to horizontal, which is why most netbook users use Firefox addons like TinyMenu or Meerkat, hide the bookmark toolbar, or do anything else to get the most out of their vertical screen space.

    So eventually I realized that I could add quite a bit if I flipped my taskbar vertically. The problem with this is that when the taskbar is horizontal, you have space for the application titles, whereas that's not necessarily the case with vertical taskbars. Anyway, I did end out flipping and I even shrunk it to where all that showed was the application's icon (so 16px I think), and I even added a toolbar filled with shortcuts to my favorite apps.

    That was kind of a big transition for me. If you use a computer long enough, your muscles even seem to remember where things are. On my cash register at work, I automatically click things on the screen before they even come up because my hands know where they'll be. For a Windows-raised user like myself, I would default throw my mouse to the bottom left corner to reach the Start Button. It took a little while until I finally retrained myself to realize that it's at the top of the screen.

    Finally, there's my latest position on my first build, which is also my first desktop PC. When installing this, I actually went with a theme (which is weird because before now, every chance I got, I used the Windows Classic theme to conserve resources). So since it no longer looked like the Windows 2000 theme I was used to or the Microsoft-zombie "Luna" theme, I decided to put it on top, to "train" me for Linux.

    The thing that I find interesting is just how dis settling it can be to change something as simple as taskbar position. I can remember one day walking into work and thinking "Man, it's dark in here. Did someone forget to turn on the lights?" and I couldn't put my finger on what it was. (I even asked my coworker why we didn't have a specific set of lights on "like we always do", to which I was told "We never have those on".) And it turns out, one little square of lights had burnt out, but it threw off my whole day. I was used to seeing everything in a certain amount of light, and even though I saw the exact same objects, it seemed foreign to me.

    So tying that little rabbit trail into nerdy stuff, I find it interesting how we are used to things, specifically in terms of computers. If you want proof, go try to use a new program, like someone switching from IE to Firefox (or Opera, Safari, Chrome, etc...) for the first time.

    Another interesting thing I found was how much less appealing it is to try new things if it's linked in with familiar things. Take my netbook for example. Using a netbook is quite a different experience than using a desktop. So in that sense, it made it much easier to "unfamiliarize" myself with the situation and try something new because I wasn't necessarily expecting it to be a certain way. The same goes with my current PC. Getting a new theme helped me adjust to the top taskbar because I wasn't used to how it looked, so it "assigned" the new taskbar position to the new theme in my brain, instead of thinking "This isn't right, my Windows 2000 taskbar should be on the bottom". At the same time, too much new can be frightening, like me trying Ubuntu for the first time. I honestly think that Ubuntu might be more appealing to Windows users if they put the taskbar on the bottom for default. Yes, it's an incredibly small detail and yes, it might actually make Linux users outraged, but it would probably make Windows users feel more at home.

    This might be the dumbest post I've written (which is saying something). If you're a true nerd, you're probably thinking "Wow, who writes an entire post about taskbar position? I never even thought about it twice." But then I'm not a nerd, now am I? (Well, not yet.) Besides, I have grown a bit. Now I can use a system with the task bar anywhere, comfortably, and I don't assign position to OS in my mind. (Besides, I've since figured out that some Linux distros have the taskbar on the bottom. Come to think of it, I think that's mostly KDE....maybe Openbox as well...)

    Either way, it's kind of an interesting idea, on a very basic level. I think the next time I'm in an awkward silence with someone, I'm just going to ask "So where do you like your taskbar?" Sure, that might be taken as an inappropriate innuendo, but at least that's better than awkward silence..............right?

    "Where do you like your taskbar?"
    -Bry

    Monday, April 12, 2010

    iPod Apps

    After spending a good few hours browsing the top (free) apps in the App Store under each category, I finally found enough motivation to sort my app layout. (Also, side note, I would not recommend downloading a ton of apps from your iPod, deleting one on your PC and then trying to sync. You will lose all of the apps you just downloaded.) I'm kind of OCD so I group the apps into little sections (preferably groups of 2, 4, or 6) and then combine groups to form different pages.

    Anyway, here's my App layout as of 4-12-10:



    So yeah. Because I know so many people care.

    -Bry

    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    Download hi-res from Picasa web albums

    This is a neato trick I just figured out all by myself a little while ago. One of the nice things about Google Photos (or Picasa Web Albums, technically) is that it allows people to view lo-res photos, but download the hi-res version. But there's also a feature that allows the album owner to restrict other people from downloading the hi-res version.

    I happened to figure out a very easy trick to get around this. First go to the page for the photo you want to download (or if you want to just try the trick out, try clicking Picasa's "Explore" link and picking a random photo. Just make sure the "Download" option is greyed out.) Right click the image and get the image URL; "Copy Image Location" in Firefox, "Copy Image URL" in Chrome, "Copy Image Address" in Opera and Safari...you get the idea. Now paste that URL into the address bar. The URL should look something like this:

    http://lh4.ggpht.com/_XFRXzjgGUjI/S3qwzwHyiNI/AAAAAAAANfg/S9sOidceGsw/s512/IMGP3950edit2.jpg
    The first part of it is unimportant. Just take a look at the end, right before the image filename:
    ...S9sOidceGsw/s512/IMGP3950edit2.jpg
    My guess is that the s stands for "size", because the number after that is the larger of the two proportions. That is, in this case, the preview image (the lo-res, not the hi-res) is 340x512.

    To download the original, all you need to do is replace that "s###" with "d". That means the end of the url would turn into this:
    ...S9sOidceGsw/d/IMGP3950edit2.jpg
    And so the entire URL would turn into this:
    http://lh4.ggpht.com/_XFRXzjgGUjI/S3qwzwHyiNI/AAAAAAAANfg/S9sOidceGsw/d/IMGP3950edit2.jpg
    Try it on any image, and it should give you the full-sized, hi-resolution photo that matches the dimensions in the photo's description.

    You'll notice that some photos don't have the "s###" part in the URL. What then? Well, this is just my best educated guess, but I'm fairly sure that means that the preview is the highest resolution, that there's no better quality one they're stashing away somewhere. (You can confirm this by checking the picture size in the description and comparing it to the preview's size.)

    That's a pretty neat trick, but it kind of surprised me. I mean, usually Google is smarter than that, but I don't even get why they give the option of protecting galleries when the workaround takes all of 5 seconds.

    This trick works (for me) as of 4-10-10
    -Bry

    [UPDATE]
    Bart was kind enough to comment, explaining and expanding on this, so check that out for even more awesomeness.

    Google + iPod = iGoogle?

    My digital life is pretty well strung together by Google. Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Contacts, etc. So naturally when I got a device that could send e-mails, keep track of your calendar and such like the iPod, I naturally wanted to be able to sync with it. So without much more blabbering, here's how I'm getting along with syncing my iPod Touch with different Google services.

    Let me also say that YES, I know Google makes an extra point to make every single service mobile compatible on the web. But I'm talking about outside of Safari.
    Also, I have an iPod Touch 3G which I don't think can be jailbroken, so all the apps I talk about are from the App store.

    (Sidenote, I am cheap, so I probably won't end out talking about any paid apps...)

    Gmail.

    I'm not really a fan of Apple software (including Apps), but I've gotta say that I'm ok with the Mail app. It's really all that I wanted in an app....it syncs both ways, it has push notifications, it has Draft and Sent Mail folders, it syncs all your tags, and (best of all), it actually downloads the mail. That's great because I have an iTouch and not an iPhone, so I can check my e-mail, go to a place that doesn't have wi-fi, then pull up my Mail and look at the e-mail again.
    HOWTO: Fortunately, Apple's default Mail app already has extreme support for syncing with Gmail. All you have to do is go under "Settings", go to "Mail, Contacts, Calendars", click "Add Account", and a big giant "Gmail" option greets you. From there, it's self explanatory.

    Calendar.
    Apple's Calendar app does not impress me as much as its Mail app. It can sync both ways with a Google Calendar, but it lacks features that Google has, in my opinion. Every view (List, Day, and Month) seems crowded, repeating events don't have options like "Every Tuesday and Thursday", everything is incredibly Grey, and (what I wish for the most) there's no "Week" view. I really wouldn't mind it much if it had this feature that Google has, but it doesn't. All I'm asking is to change from "Day" to "Week" when you flip the iPod sideways, but alas. That feature really helps me see my week at a glance in Google.
    HOWTO: To add a Calendar simply, go to "Settings", go to "Mail, Contacts, Calendars", click "Add Account", "Other", and finally "Add CalDAV Account". Set the "Server" to "www.google.com", the "Username" to your full e-mail address (ie. "freewarewire@gmail.com"), "Password" as your password, whatever description you want to be shown in the Calendar App, and you should be good.

    Contacts.
    This is really nice because it's accessible through other apps. It's the address book Mail uses to lookup contacts, you can lookup contact's addresses in the Maps app, and you can even lookup people from it in 3rd party apps like adding professors in iStudiez.
    All in all, the app is very well constructed, although very very simple. The only thing that really sucks is the lack of groups.
    HOWTO: When you connect your iPod/Phone(/Pad?) to iTunes, click on its name in the sidebar, then click the "Info" tab (at the end of "Summary", "Applications", "Music", etc). You should see a section called "Contacts".  Check the box for "Sync Contacts" and select "Google Contacts"Enter in your username and password, and you should be good. 
    NOTE: Check your iPod and see if it worked, it didn't for me. If it does work, you're all set! If it doesn't, go to "C:\Program Files\Common Files\Apple\Mobile Device Support\bin" and find the file named "gconsync.exe". If you're on Windows XP, try set the file to run in compatibility mode for Windows 98. If you're on Windows Vista, set it to run this file as administrator. Sync your iPod/Phone(/Pad?) again, and this time it should work! It did for me, anyway. (I'm on XP, btw).

    Gmail, Calendar & Contacts.
    Another way to sync all three of the ones I talked about above at once is to use Google Sync. Google Sync uses Microsoft Exchange to sync multiple accounts: mail, calendar, and contacts. This one requires at least OS 3.0, and it requires Microsoft Exchange Activesync to be enabled. (Whatever the heck that means.) Anyway, Google endorses it, but I personally decided to do the three separate ways I listed above.
    HOWTO: Google has an official guide, so check there if you really want to do it, but here's the basic rundown: Select Add a Mail/Calendar/Contact account; choose Microsoft Exchange; fill in your e-mail, leave the domain blank, use your full e-mail address as the username, fill in the password; hit "Next"; enter "m.google.com" as the Server; hit "Next"; choose which of the three you want to sync.
    NOTE: I tried doing this for just Contacts and it only synced one way, ie: it downloaded my Google Contacts to my iPod, but didn't upload my iPod contacts to Google. So that's why I went with doing each of them separately.

    Reader.
    As far as I know, Apple doesn't have an RSS app, so this one requires a third party one. It's really all about preferences, but I tried to find one that is most like Google Reader itself. I've gotta say that was alot more challenging than I thought.
    My old favorite was called NetNewsWire (free). It's not bad, it has everything well divided into collapsible sections and was very straightforward. The only things I really didn't kinda like about it is that it only synced starred or unread items, and you couldn't mark an item as unread.
    A new one I just recently found is called MobileRSS (free). The main menu looks cluttered at first, but it's totally customizable. It has everything divided up into separate pages for each folder, which makes it seem a bit "larger", if you will. It has a wonderful black skin that I absolutely love (the blue one is meh...). AND it has the ability to show only updated feeds or ALL. That's one of the things that set it apart from NetNewsWire: you can view all of your feeds, not just the unread items. The way I was using NetNewsWire, I used it to read unread items every now and then, but if I wanted to make a note to read something again later on, I had to star it, and after I read it once, it disappeared. So I still ended out either using GReader in Safari or my computer. MobileRSS is wonderful because it really gives you the full Google experience. You can follow links, e-mail a feed item, add notes, post something to Facebook, Tweet an item, view in fullscreen, view feeds offline, and even unsubscribe to feeds right from the app.
    And best of all, it's free. The only "catch"? It's got ads. I use quotes because the ads are totally worth it. This thing has everything I (personally) want in an RSS reader, web or mobile, and all I have to do to use it is see a tiny ad here or there.
    But seriously, there are a ton of RSS readers out there in the App store. (Not as many as Twitter apps, but there's a Twitter app for every star in the sky.) So search around if you want. The reason I like MobileRSS is that it's only a Google Reader app, so it's built specifically to work around that, whereas other RSS readers have Google sync as a side (or some don't have two way sync at all), so it's not built for Google.
    HOWTO: Pick an app from the App store, install it. Just make sure it says that it supports syncing both ways.

    Talk.
    I've searched around for this, but mostly multi-protocol IM clients. I've tried IM+ Lite, Nimbuzz, and Fring, all which I'm not extremely fond of. (Nimbuzz is my favorite of the lot, though.)
    I haven't really used this one as much, but the three good ones I can remember are eBuddy, Quicksilver, and maybe Mundi IM. Quicksilver itself does practically everything gTalk can do.
    The most disappointing thing about it is that you really can't stay connected unless you are in the app. At least that's what I've found.
    HOWTO: Search through the App store.


    That's the ones I've found and use. Here's other ones that I haven't been able to work out yet.


    Blogger.
    I've searched around a little bit and I can't find a good free app for this. There used to be a good one called BlogPress Lite, but it's been removed, and now there's just the paid one. If I blogged more, I'd say the $3 is totally worth it, since I've heard amazing things about BlogPress, but oh well. Maybe I'll convince myself to do it eventually.

    Docs.
    The closest thing I can find is called Documents by Savvy Soda. There's a ton of apps that let you view Google Docs, but few that let you edit them. Documents does, but the only catch is that you have to download the document to work on it, then you can upload it to Google when you're done. Not really syncing, which really kinda defeats the purpose.
    The thing that sucks about this is that even the Google Docs web app sucks. You can't edit formulas in the spreadsheet, which defeats the entire purpose.

    Buzz.
    I know it's fairly new, but there are literally under 5 apps I actually see in the app store specifically about it. Only one of them is free, and all it shows is nearby Buzzes, not even who you are following.

    Voice.
    The official app was rejected by Apple because they want to remain being evil and power hungry.
    [UPDATE 7-6-10] If you are able to/want to jailbreak your iDevice, GV Mobile is available in Cydia.

    Maps.
    Really the only thing to sync for this would be bookmarks, but it unfortunately doesn't really look like you can do that yet. It seems odd, since I'm fairly sure the Maps app is by Google, but you can't sync.

    Thursday, April 8, 2010

    Jolicloud

    Jolicloud  is a new Ubuntu-based OS designed especially (and practically only) for netbooks. So much so that it's "The OS your netbook's been screaming for", according to the website. I installed Jolicloud on my netbook because Ubuntu was starting to severely disappoint me and I figured I'd try something else before going through the hassle of switching back to Windows XP.

    INITIAL IMPRESSION:
    Ubuntu seemed to slow down dramatically after being installed on my netbook, possibly because of full disc space. Nevertheless, as soon as I had Jolicloud installed, it improved dramatically. The interface is intuitive, and definitely designed just for a netbook. I liked the app directory, which allowed me to browse apps in a more elegant way than Ubuntu's software center.

    AFTER SOME USE:
    I'm still loving Jolicloud a week and a half after the initial install. There's a few bugs/things that need to be changed I've found though..
    • Transmission is the default bittorrent client, but it's not even in the app directory, meaning you can't simply click "Remove" to uninstall it like the other apps. Yes, it isn't that complicated to do a 'sudo apt-get remove', but I'm just talking about coordination. Some of the apps that I wanted weren't in the app directory (like Deluge), and that's fine. But the ones that come standard should be in there.
    • There's no handler for apturl. I guess it's because I'm a Linux noob, but I liked being able to install stuff just by clicking a link on websites, and websites like GetDeb pass the install with an apturl, and since Jolicloud doesn't include Ubuntu's software center, it can't open these. I guess it's just something I would like changed. I mean, I really don't miss the software center that much, but I'd like to use GetDeb....
    • The Desktop screws up every now and then. Every once and a while the Jolicloud menu will crash you'll be stuck without the GNOME standard menu or the netbook menu, so you have to use the keyboard shortcut for "Run" or something.
    • The Jolicloud menu needs to have a changeable background. This is just for looks, but my netbook looks a tad boring with just black.
    • You can't mount drives from the Jolicloud menu. You have to go into nautilus and mount it there, then you can access it through the menu.
    Those things really aren't that major. Just nitpicking, really. Overall, I've been very impressed and satisfied with Jolicloud so far, with no major complaints. Here's a few things I love:
    • It actually knows all the Fn shortcuts! Brightness, Volume, Wifi, you name it. Also, the Fn shortcut for Standby (excuse me....Suspend) actually Suspends, not like Ubuntu which just logs you off.
    • It includes a speed utility! This one works better than eeectrl in my opinion. It lets you choose several simple options from a tray menu, no configuration needed, AND it actually shows what speed your processor is operating at.
    • It has built in tools for Capslock and ScrollLock. If you don't own a netbook, here's an interesting fact: netbook keyboards (at least mine) do not have lights for Capslock or ScrollLock, so it's hard to tell if either is on or off. In Windows, the ASUS drivers have popups that let you know when the status changed, but Jolicloud does one better: it has a tray icon that lights up when a lock is on. That way you can always tell when one is on or off.
    • Included Firefox addons specifically for a netbook. Mostly one called Meerkat, but still nice.
    • Jolicloud looks like I wish Ubuntu looked like. It took me a while to skin Ubuntu to get it where I didn't hate looking at it, but I loved how Jolicloud looks as soon as I saw it.
    • Jolicloud's menu is HTML5 ready, which means it can have little HTML5 applets. MAKE WAY FOR THE FUTURE.
    So there are a ton of things that I really love that make up for the small annoyances. There's only one real thing I've not been super impressed with Ubuntu or Jolicloud: Battery life. Ubuntu was definitely less efficient than Windows XP when it comes to battery, and I'm trying to see where Jolicloud fits. I'm pretty sure it's not as good as Windows, but I'm hoping it's better than Ubuntu.

    By the way, I've gotta say, what makes Jolicloud better than Ubuntu? That kind of goes for all netbook remixes. What makes Jolicloud, EasyPeasy, or UNR better for netbooks than Ubuntu? Is it just the apps that are installed, or is it the kernel, or what? I dunno, I'm tired, it's late, I'm literally running on 2 or 3 energy drinks. Maybe I'm saying stupid things.

    Anyway, I'll probably update more as it comes along, but for being pre-beta, I love Jolicloud. I expect nothing short of amazingness as it grows.

    Long live the Jolicloud
    -Bry

    Sunday, April 4, 2010

    Linux Distros & The Ultimate Linux Distro Listmaker

    Lately I've been kind of obsessed with Linux, what with my plan for a 200+ OS system that I might try to get on the ground this summer, my recent confession of wanting to write my own OS one day, and just the inner nerd springing to life when I hear of all the forks and such.

    When I first heard about Linux, it really was confusing to me because there were so many flavors. I didn't really see how they were connected, so me hearing about Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, Gentoo, and all the other bajillions of distros kinda freaked me out. It's now that I have a bit more experience that I have become more intrigued about how they link together.

    Like for example, I totally didn't know that most of the (non-commercial) Linux distros, from the past to present, are based off three major bases: Debian, Slackware, and Red Hat. If you narrow it down to those, it really kind of helps a newb to get an idea of what there is available. Then you look at the next 'biggest branch on the tree', like Ubuntu for Debian, SUsE for Slackware, or Fedora or Mandriva for Red Hat. [EDIT 4-5-10: So apparently all of those have since diverged from their roots, but still...] And then, in turn,  you look at the branches of those, and then the branches of those, and so on and so forth.

    I realized that I've really only traveled the Debian branches. My nerdy Linux friend suggested Ubuntu for my first distro and the first distro I ever laid my hands on was Xubuntu (because it's supposedly lighter). Then I've tried other forks, like Crunchbang, EasyPeasy, more recently Jolicloud, and the lone KNOPPIX fork, Damn Small. As for Slackware, I've actually tried a few more than I thought: Slax, Wolvix, DeLi, and fluxflux, all which -as I recall- were actually my favorites. And as for Red Hat, I don't believe I've actually tried any. Why? I dunno.


    Enough stalling. I was a little interested in writing a "Family Tree" of Linux distros, so I sat down a few days ago and started coding. At first it was just to feel my way through, "How long will this take me to write?" kinda deal, but it really came amazingly fast, as it's a very simple idea, I already knew what I wanted, and things like the INI file layout and GUI interface came very smoothly, unlike other times I've tried to code.

    Really my favorite part about this was recursion. I like to think that I learn more every program I write, even if it's something stupid. (Like Listmas....) In this one particularly, I used a ton of recursion. I don't know why, but I love recursion. It's kind of hard for me to understand, and I'll admit, I got hung up for a while wondering how to make a certain function work, but when I finally figured it out, just tracing the path in my mind gave me great glee.

    So anyway, it's still being worked on, but it really only took me like 2 days to write. Ladies and gentlemen, nerds and nerdettes, I give you: The Ultimate Linux Distro Listmaker (beta).

    (The checkmarks mean if it's still active, the colors mean different types [networking, netbook, live, etc, though I don't know how to categorize some], and yes, some of the colors are hideous, but I'll fix it later.)


    Linux flavor test taster,
    -Bry

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    April Google.....or Google Fools....

    Everyone knows Google loves April fools. This year, they decided that since Topeka, Kansas is changing their town name to Google, they're going to to return the favor and change their name to Topeka.

    To think that anybody would actually believe this is kind of funny, since Google.com still takes you there, but Topeka.com doesn't. That and the fact that it just happens to fall on April 1st. Even so, it's pretty funny, and I was surprised to go to Google today and think "Wha.....'Topeka'?"

    I was also browsing around and I swear that I saw another prank they pulled on their Gmail page. I found Hv3 and was visitng familiar sites (Google, Facebook, Gmail) and the login screen had no vowels.

    I didn't take this cap, I didn't think to at the time. I wish I had, but oh well. I really thought I was crazy because after I logged in, it 'fixed' itself. But apparently other people have noticed as well, so I just took someone else's cap.

    My guess is that once you login, Google logs your IP or something and doesn't let you see it again. Why? I dunno. For fun. To make you feel crazy. I'd have to say that the lack of vowels is a better prank than Topeka. I never bought Topeka, but the vowels keep making me question whether or not I really saw it.

    Some might say that maybe it was some strange error in Hv3's rendering, which I thought, except for the fact that the Gmail logo was missing the "ai" from Gmail and the "oo" and "e" from Google, and I distinctly remembering seeing that.

     It really caught me off guard. I wish I coulda screencapped it. I wonder if there's any other kidden little surprises.

    April Fools, everyone!
    -Jon

    Hv3 (HTML Viewer 3)

    A while ago, I found a neato little web browser called HTML Viewer 3, or Hv3 for short. I've gotta say, of all the web browsers I've used over the years, Hv3 has given me the biggest initial impression. Why? Well, for starters, when I ran what I thought was the installer, it ended out being the application itself. (I shoulda known since it said everywhere that it was "standalone", but seriously....how many standalone web browsers do you know of?)

    Anyway, the only other file it optionally needs is "hv3_polipo.exe" which it will ask to install every time you run it unless it exists. But if you install that file, it never asks you again and the two files combined only add up to about 2.5MB, which I believe might be the smallest browser I know of. The only one that comes to mind that is like it is OffByOne, which is only 1.2MB and is standalone as well. The difference between the two is that OffByOne's graphics are kind of sub par...ok, they're not sub par, but they all look like they're from Windows 98. HV3, however, looks completely modern.

    Other than that, it really surprised me because of the fact that it uses Tkhtml to render pages, something that I've never seen before. So that means that it's not based off IE, which is great. It's also cross platform, open source, the whole deal.

    The only odd part that I find is that doesn't save bookmarks/history/settings by default. You have to add an argument to the EXE. If you don't, than it's like Chrome's Incognito mode or Firefox's private browsing, and it doesn't leave any trace of where you've been. But then you don't get your bookmarks.

    Anyway, it's pretty awesome. Check it out.
    -Bry