Could I Be a Switcher?

Filed Under Computers & Tech on May 10, 2007 | Leave a Comment

There are many more operating systems than just Windows but for the vast majority of people Windows is their first and often only OS. Hence, the majority of people who use Mac OS X, Linux or Unix are people who’ve switched from Windows to those other OSes, i.e. the are ‘switchers’. Contrary to what some people may like to have you believe switching is not always straight-forward and it’s not for everyone, however, for some people it really works and the change really improves their daily lives. So, if you think you might be interested in saying goodbye to Windows this post may be of some help to you.

[tags]Windows, Linux, Unix, OS X[/tags]

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I just got my first go on Vista (with Aero). I didn’t get to play with it much so these really are my first impressions. I’ll be playing about with it quite a bit over the next few months so I’ll post with more details later. I’ve been hearing for ages how much like OS X Vista is so I was expecting to say ‘wow, this feels familiar’. That was my first reaction, but not because it reminded me of OS X, no, because it reminded me of Windows XP. Sure, it looks much shinier than XP but the user experience is basically the same. There is no big paradigm shift. This is not like the jumpt from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 or arguably even from Windows 2000 to Windows XP. I was basically underwhelmed.

[tags]MicroSoft, Windows, Vista, OS X[/tags]

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When OSX came out there were three new features that Steve ranted on about. The first was Spotlight, which I use a lot and really like, the second was Dashboard, which a quick scan of the articles in the Mac section of my blog will clearly show I like a lot, and the final one was Automator, which I’ve really neglected. I never even bothered to play with it properly until today! But, better late than never and since I had a free hour and some backups I wanted to automate I figured I’d give the classic rsync shell script approach a miss this time and see what Automator could do for me.


In case you’re not familiar with Automator the idea behind it is that you can write scripts to automate repetitive tasks or tasks that you do a lot but without typing or seeing a single line of code. For the full Apple hype have a look at the Automator page on the Apple Site.

So, the question is, does Automator live up to the hype? Well IMO it does. It did take me a few minutes to get into the swing of things and I have to say I’d probably never have figured it out without looking at the sample workflows but once I got into it it was dead easy. You just drag and drop in the actions you need in the position you need them and then tinker with the options on each action until you have what you need. Something I found really helpful was that you can create complex workflows by chaining together simple ones. I initially started by trying to write one killer workflow that would deal with all elements of my backup but I soon realise I would be much better off breaking the task up and then creating the killer workflow by adding together all my small workflows.

My Experimental Workflow

I wanted to back up to a SAMBA share that is not that big so I was only interested in backing up important stuff. To me important stuff meant:

  1. My email
  2. My FireFox bookmarks
  3. My Work Documents

So, I started by creating a simple workflow to archive my Thunderbird folder to my desktop, move it to a folder on the share and then re-name it with the current date. Then I used that as a base for creating similar flows for my FireFox settings and my documents. Finally I tied all this together with a flow that did the following:

  1. Connected to the samba share
  2. Ran the three backup flows
  3. Ejected the samba share

Within 30 minutes of starting to play with Automator for the first time I had the above done, tested and working. I can now very easily and very quickly backup my important stuff to my samba share.

Below are some screenshots of some of my workflows to give you an idea of what the interface is like.

Automator Workflow for backing up Email

(above) The workflow for backing up my email.
(below) The workflow that ties all my small workflows together

Automator Workflow for backing up all my important data

Not Perfect

However, there are a few things that annoyed me, firstly, Automator crashed once when it had just finished saving a workflow. I’m not accustomed to Apple programs crashing so that worried me a bit but it only happened once and since then I’ve been poking around with automator for hours with no more crashes. The other thing is that I can’t get the action for disconnecting from the share to work. I’m not sure if the problem is with Automator or with OS X’s samba. Mind you samba support on Tiger has been flaky to say the least so it doesn’t really surprise me that Automator has some issues with it. The important thing is that it can connect to the share which it does without problems.


Automator delivers on it’s promise of letting you do powerful things all within a simple drag and drop interface. The range of actions available is simply phenomenal ranging from simple sysadmin tasks like moving and copying files or running shell scripts to automatically burning backups to CD and automatically processing entire folders of images. Automator also integrates with just about every Apple program so you can automate more tasks than I could possibly describe here. To get some idea of how many actions there are have a look at the screenshot of the action browser pane below. Yes, it crashed on me once but I’m still very happy with it and will be using it a lot.

Some Automator Actions

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I got shown a working demo of ReactOS running on an old Dell GX1 at work today and I have to say I was impressed. The idea of ReactOS is that it is a FOSS implementation of Win32 so the environment it provides to apps is indistinguishable from Win32. ATM ReactOS supports WinNT4.0 apps and WinXP apps but it will continue to develop as Win32 develops. To find out more have a look at What I found particularly interesting was the screenshots section showing MS Office, PhotoShop, PSP and even Unreal Tournament! And yes, it does run Solitaire!

What is really surprising is how small the ISO is, the one I saw installed was only 16MB! It also booted in literally a few seconds where even Windows98 takes painfully long to boot on the same hardware. Despite still being officially Alpha software it seems stable and quite nippy to me.

I also noticed some KDE stuff well merged into the Windows GUI. The most obvious example being multiple desktops, which can be neatly controlled from the Start menu.

Apart from just running Windows apps the other great things is that you can use Windows device drivers with it too so any hardware that works with Windows should also work with ReactOS. This is a big deal for gamers and may remove the need for people who enjoy playing games to rely on a Windows Partition. Instead you can have just ReactOS or, Linux & ReactOS but either way all your opperating systems are FOSS so you can run them for free without breaking the law, which is nice!

I’m actually going to give this a go on a crappy old machine I have lying around just to see how it behaves (when I get some free time) so hopefully I’ll be able to follow this up with a detailed review in about 6 months or so.

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Burning a CD on OS X is trivial and involves no more software than finder. You stick in the blank CD, it shows up in finder, you drag the files you want to burn onto it and then click the little radioactive icon to burn the CD. Simple. However, if you go looking in finder to copy a CD you will be disappointed. Does this mean you need to install 3rd party software like Roxio Toast? Nope. The key lies in knowing how to use the Disk Utility app that comes with OS X.

Lets say you’ve just purchased a copy of a software app, for example, MS Office X, and you want to make a backup copy for when you inevitably loose or damage your disk, here is how you would do it, step by step.

First you need to stick the original CD into the drive and then launch Disk Utility which you will find in the Utilities folder in the Applications folder. The icon is shown below:

Disk Utility Icon

When you have it open you will see all your hard disks in a tab down the left hand side as well as your CD/DVD drives and what ever CDs are in them. Select the disk you want to copy (shown below):

Select the CD to copy

Then go to File -> New -> <Your Disk> (as shown below) and select a place on your hard disk to save this file. This will generate a ‘disk image’ from the CD you want to copy which you can then burn to a blank CD (as often as you want in fact, though not that you’d do such a thing with a copyrighted disk of course!).

Creat a Disk Image of your CD

This will take a while to complete but when it is done your saved disk image will show up in the bottom section of the left hand panel. To burn this image to a new CD eject the original CD and insert a blank one (if a window pops up asking you what to do with the blank disk click Ignore). When you have the CD inserted select the saved disk image as shown below and then click the Burn icon (yellow and black icon that looks like a radioactive sign at the top left) and away you go!

Burn Disk Image to CD

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Following on from my last article about Breezy I’m afraid things have not gotten any better. KUbuntu is just broke! At first I thought the mac style control panel was really cool until I discovered that I can’t get into administrator mode on any of the dialogs. I click the button, enter the password, the border goes red, the panel goes blank, stays blank for some timeout period and then brings me back to the non-admin display. I can click that button all I want but I can never edit any settings that you need to be root for. Yet again not acceptable from a Linux that is supposed to be for "human beings".

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I’d read some good things about the Breezy Badger release of Ubuntu on Planet MiNDS> so I figured I’d give it a go. Simply put, I’m not impressed. Things started off bad when the installer messed up because it made retarded assumptions and now that it’s up and running it is still causing me trouble.

Why the Breezy Badger Install sucks

Firstly, the installer made two assumptions that resulted in me having to intervene and switch to a terminal to sort it out. That’s all well and good for seasoned Linux Users but is totally un-acceptable for a distro that makes a big deal out of being "Linux for Human beings".

Firstly, I find it retarded that the installer even tries to go online, but it does. Fair enough. Where things get really retarded is when it tries to go online WITHOUT ASKING IF YOU NEED TO USE A PROXY! It just sat there. I figured it would time out ….. 5 minutes pass ….. another 5 minutes pass …. I give up and switch to a terminal and kill the process. The installer recovers but skips some setup steps. It was all recoverable later but only with some vi editing and farting round on the command line. Again, no problem at all for a seasoned Linux user but a really big deal for Human Being like my mother!

Secondly Breezy decided that after it had detected my graphics card it should set the resolution, not to a safe number like Windows or OS X would do nor did it ask me what I wanted like Fedora does, nope, it just decided to set the resolution as high as the graphics card can go. Thing is my monitor can’t go as high as my graphics card so as soon as my machine re-booted after the install I got a blank screen when X started and a message from my monitor telling me it couldn’t handle what it was being fed. I fixed it by firing up a terminal and editing /etc/X11/xorg.conf but again, no average user is going to be able, or willing, to do that!

In summation, the installer could have saved me a lot of bother and made the whole experience more pleasant by asking me two simple questions:

  • Do you use a proxy and if so where is it?
  • What resolution would you like from this list your graphics card can handle?

These are simple things that would have made a huge difference and that the Fedora installer lets you do in a nice GUI. When it comes to installers, KUbuntu is FAR behind Fedora as far as the average user is concerned.

After the Installation

There are also two things that are really annoying me now that the system is installed. Firstly, I installed both FireFox and Thunderbird with apt yet when I try to open a link from within Thunderbird NOTHING happens. It’s not that it uses the wrong browser, it just doesn’t use ANY browser! I’ve been copying and pasting links all day and quite frankly it’s a real PITA!

Secondly, I can’t get the MS fonts from apt like I could on the previous release of KUbuntu. I’ve enabled all the repositories and I’ve tried every apt-cache search permutation I can think of and still no joy. It says there is a package that other packages refer to that does what I need but it can’t find the blooming thing!

On a less important note, Niall gave me exceptionally high hopes on the shinneyness of the GUI describing it as "OSX shinny" in his recent post about Breezy, but I was disappointed. It’s nice, very nice even and certainly nicer than the previous KUbuntu or the latest Fedora but it’s still far from OS X shinny I’m afraid.


If you are a Human Being and you want to use Linux, use Fedora!


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I’ve had my Mac Mini for a few months now and it is still surprising me from time to time. It comes with built in speakers which, for the size of the thing, are very impressive, but of course nothing on proper speakers. I had the volume up full with no speakers plugged in, then while something was playing I plugged in the speakers not realizing that they were on, did I get my eardrums blasted off? No! OS X turned the volume down for me when it detected the speakers being plugged in!

It really is the little things that make a lasting impression …..

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