Category Archives: Computer Equipment

MacBook Pro w/Windows 7 RTM + My Favorite Apps

Well, now that Windows 7 has shipped, combined with the fact that my RTC flavor has been giving me a few problems of late – long boot times, system freezes and some flaky bluetooth support – I decided now would be a good time to flat-line my macBook Pro and install a fresh copy of Window 7 RTM.

For the record, i tend to rebuild my machines about once a year – as I’ve been known to be quite abusive on my equipment, lots of beta software, install, test, tweak, break; some for fun, others for work.  Either way, my machines efficiency tends to degrade after about 9-10 months, so I’ve gotten into the habit of doing a clean build every year or so, often around the holiday, or when noteworthy new OS’ ship.

Firstly, I must say, similar to my experience with Windows 7 beta 2 and RTC – the RTM installed very easily (and quickly!)  Overall, I’m very pleased with Windows 7 – and I’d encourage any “windows users” to upgrade, whether from XP or Vista – I’m confident your experience will be better than you expect 😉

A simple prep with bootCamp and off I went, maybe 20 minutes or so and I was up and running.  I then updated drivers and began to get my environment back up to snuff.  It’s probably noteworthy to add, i run a few different OS’ – macOS, ubuntu, redHat and Windows.  I use the macOS primarily for my personal and hobby use, and windows primarily for business – as I tend to run alot of business apps, like office/visual studio and SQL Management Studio.  Therefore, the apps listed below are installed on my Windows partition, since that’s what I’m rebuilding now..

Since there are lots of great “how to” articles on how to get Windows up on a mac, i thought I would take this post in a slightly different direction, outlining my application essentials, programs i tend to install time and time again on new machine builds – and what better time to knock out some documentation other than when Visual Studio is installing!! 🙂

Basics:

  • MacBook Pro (late 2008, aluminum) – dual core 2.8Ghz, 4GB Ram, 320 GB 7200RPM hard drive
  • Windows Experience Index comes in @ a respectable 5.3 (due to gaming graphics)
  • Dual book Mac OSX w/Windows 7 Ultimate
  • VM Ware Fusion w/Windows XP, Vista, Ubuntu & Red Hat.
  • MS Office 2007 Ultimate w/SP1
  • Western Digital 500GB Passport Studio (firewire 800!)

Browsers: latest flavors of: IE 8 (whether i like it or not), Firefox, Opera, Safari & Chrome

Firefox AddOns: Del.icio.us, power twitter, xMarks, readItLater,

Development Tools:

  • Visual Studio Team System 2008 + TFS team explorer w/SP1
  • SQL 2008 Express & Mgt Studio w/SP1
  • Visual Slick Edit 2009
  • Adobe Creative Suite 4
  • XML Spy
  • Expression Studio 3

Other Utilities:

  • Terminals
  • Visio 2007 w/SP1
  • Project 2007 w/SP1
  • Misc: debugView, fiddler, processMonitor, reflector, treeSizePro, linqPad, pixie
  • IM: Pidgin (personal), LCS/OCS (corporate)
  • TweetDeck – twitter utility
  • FolderShare
  • SyncToy
  • FoxIt Reader – pdf reader
  • ClearContext – Outlook filing tool
  • Flickr Uploadr
  • MagicDisk – use this for mounting ISO files
  • FileZilla – ftp client
  • iTunes (both in OS X  for personal use & iPhone sync + Windows for podCasts at the office)
  • JetAudio Plus 7.5.3 (for non iTune playlists and quick access)

Well, that’s my short list (of the top of my head anyway, i really should document this more formally – oh wait, i just did.)  I’ll update this a bit more in the coming days as I wrap up any final installs.  I am happy to report, what used to take me 2-3 days to entirely rebuild my machine – can now be done in about one evening, thanks macBook Pro! I guess some credit also goes to Windows 7, and a few other time-saving utilities, backups and sync technologies – such as fireFox xMarks.

Apple OS Marketshare Growth

Apple Marketshare growth

Apple Marketshare growth

The latest computing survey results from the University of Virginia’s freshman class show evidence of continued Apple marketshare growth in the higher education market (via Daring Fireball). The chart above shows that Apple has made steady gains since 2003 in the percentage of incoming UVA freshman who own a Mac. The latest year (2008) shows that 37% of incoming students owned a Mac while the percentage owning a Windows computer had shrunk to 62% from a peak of 96% in 2001. The growth tracks closely with the trend towards laptop ownership amongst the Virginia freshman.

In 2008, 99% of the incoming students owned a laptop. The data adds to a number of anecdotal reports that Apple has been making major strides in higher educational marketshare. Last year, Tim Cook confirmed that Apple had become the #1 laptop supplier in higher education for 2007.

Windows 2008 Cluster says goodbye to Parallel SCSI

Late last year we began formally migrating over to Windows 2008, specifically addressing single points of failure.  In our production data center we’ve recently deployed a fibre channel SAN, whereas Windows 2008 clusters have played very nicely, enabling our SQL instances to benefit from a more robust storage subsystem.

Tonight however, I began migrating a slightly older system, HP DL560s with an HP Modular Storage Array 500.  After a brief six hours, tracking down updated drivers, firmware and iLOs + controller and array config utilities, I happen to find out Windows 2008 has dropped support for Parallel SCSI, in support for iSCSI, SAS and of course fibre channel.  More info can be found here: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx/kb/947710 

Therefore, if you’ve got legacy Direct Attached Storage (DAS) SCSI Arrays in use, they WILL NOT migrate to Windows 2008 clusters!  So now I must revert back to W2k3 R2 SP2 – which still provides support for Parallel SCSI.  Too bad, have really enjoyed my experience with W2K8 boxes of late, but it looks like W2K3 will have to live on for a while longer..

A few noteworthy gadgets..

Just when i think i have about everything i need, i stumble upon something else that would seemingly to make my life easier.  Here are a few noteworthy items I’ve come across lately..

  • Mophie Juice Pack Air – protective case and external battery for iPhone 3G.

Read Engadget review here or visit retail site here.

  • Live Scribe Pulse – record audio and links it to your notes!

Visit website here.

  • PowerMonkey – Explorer – portable solar panel charger.

Visit website here, or buy on Amazon here.

Windows 7 – initial thoughts.

Well, this past weekend I finally got around to installing windows 7, virtualized of course.  I obtained a copy via vmWare/bit torrent which came nicely packed for use on my macBook Pro/vmWare fusion.  It probably makes sense to quickly describe my machine, I’m running a late 2008 macBook Pro (aluminum body) with the 2.93Ghz proc w/4GB ram, 320GB 7200 RPM hard drive.  I have Windows Vista installed via bootcamp so I can boot into Vista natively for development purposes, mostly visual studio team suite, which works like a dream.

Since I’m not quite ready to use win7 as my primary [windows] OS, I decided to opt for a virtual image to test the waters.  I have seen a number of [microsoft] presentors lately running win 7 as their primary OS’ and early feedback seems positive, but needless to say, I can’t [yet] take that risk.  Inital install was seemless, as the vmWare image was nicely packed and easy to mount.  I initially wanted to run the image from my western digital 500GB mybook studio (w/fire 800) however, I have the drive formatted with fat32 so I can utilize it from both the osX and Vista partitions, but that’s a whole other story.  Instead, I dropped the image on the mac partition and off it went.

First observation was, “wow” it boot in a fraction of the time my vista install does so I was off to a good start.  One thing to keep in mind is, if you’re using vmWare fusion, be sure to increase the default settings, in my case i granted win7 access to both cpu’s and 2gb of memory.  A few quick performance tests (nothing harsh) indicated prety good performance, noticely better than when i run Vista through vmWare (via Boot Camp partition) – but Vista still beats it when running natively, obviously.

With only 2gb of ram (ha, i said only) the OS easily worked through standard ‘administrative tasks’ outlook/visio, expression2, and sql 2008.  MS clearly spent time optimizing the ‘percieved’ performance of screen transitions and file transfers.  The system if very fluid and i barely noticed i was working within a virtual instance!

To continue with my “beta” box, is started to load up browsers; firefox 3.0.7/chrome & safari 4 – in which i began to experience issues.  Firefox and chrome seemed to work without flaw, (ie 8 is also quite nice) but safari 4 crashed it three times, the os would just lock up and forced me to restart via vmWare.  A little dissapointing, as I was looking forward to checking out the new safari drop.

Essentially, win 7 is pretty sharp.  I’ll leave all the ‘new features’ to the analysts, as there are a few noteworthy new things.  To me, it is all about UX (user experience) – even though I’m not a vista-hater, hell I’ve been running it for months before RTM, i’ve learned to work around most of the [minor] issues, once upgrading to beefy hardware of course.  I do expect however, win7 to win over a wider audience, as it appears Microsoft listened to feedback from users, speeding up common tasks and removing alot of the pain points – sure they “reverse-engineered” some features, but overall it has been a surprising usable beta, which i expect will be a much anticiapted upgrade.

To me, you know microsoft is doing something right when you begin to hear Mac folks begin to describe the idea of checking out the new OS, seems win7 has a respectable ‘buzz’ on the street!  In any event, i’ve enjoyed my initial time with it and am going to try to incorporate it into my daily life to see how it holds up under some additional stress.  If you haven’t had the chance to check it out, i’d strongly encourage you to take a look.  Whether you’re interested in running a beta as a virtual machine (parells, vmWare, virtualPC, hyperV, etc.) – i suspect you’ll be impressed – again, assuming you’re running it on a healthy machine.  If beta’s aren’t your thing, i’d suggest you take some time to read up on the improvements coming down the pipe and jump at the opportunity to get a copy of it in your labs, once it ships.  I understand it’s going to have about the same footprint as a vista box, so it probably won’t be a great upgrade from aging XP machines, but if you’re still running alot of XP boxes, it’s probably time to upgrade your hardware anyway – heck, Dell is practively giving away machines.  btw – we also just picked up a new studio XPS (from dell) with the new i7 quad-core processor – that thing screems!  Be sure to go with 64bit, and buy as much memory as you can afford.

Formatting your shiny new external hard drive

About a year ago I purchased a MacBook Pro.  I had been following Apple for some time, as a casual observer, but with the announcement of Intel chips and the ability to run Vista (and mac os X, redhat, ubuntu, etc.) on a mac really encouraged me to take the leap.  I probably fall into that category of power user, as I tend to max out my peripherials, external usb hubs to connect all my gear, external displays, and most recently a firewire external hard drive.

Now I’ve had several external hard drives in the past, but had always had to format them differently so they played nicely between vista/mac OS, often keeping some NTFS (windows), some fat32 (both) or the default Mac OS Extended (journaled) – but this time I wanted one drive to rule all others – fat32! If you didn’t already know, fat32 can be read (and written to) by both MacOS  & Vista, so you can utilize the drive (with some minor limitations) under either OS!  Great for centralizing your media, mp3’s, pics, etc – as they typically don’t exceed the 4GB limitation.

Couple of things to note, fat32 does have limitations.  First, it has a size limitation on the files you store on the drive, 4GB.  Also, if you try to format with winXP or Vista, it barks if you try to create a partition larger than 32GB.  We’ll discuss work-arounds below.

Quickly, if you are trying to format fat32 on winXP and Vista, you’ve probably noticed the GUI only lets you format with NTFS.  So how can you do it (knowing the limitations above)?  Easy: Go to ‘run’ from the start buttona nd type ‘cmd’ to bring up the command prompt.  Next, type: format (drive letter): /fs:fat32 – and off you go.

Now, if you moved along too quickly (as i did) you’ll get a “The volume is too big for fat32” error message – this is windows thing, grandfathered back from when the Indians used to format hard drives and there were known issues with drives > 32GB.  Technically speaking, the fat32 format should theoretically support up to 2TB!  Anyhow, here’s how you can work around this:

*Below outlines how to do this in Windows, if you prefer Mac, this can be done easily using the Disk Utility.  Note:  This has worked well for me in the past using external USB drives, however my firewire drive, while formatting fine on the mac side, was not recognized on Windows, and required me to re-format (below.)

Here’s the *Windows* workaround, you need to get yourself a drive letter so you can access the partition.  Open control panel / administrative tools / computer managment / and locate teh Disk Management (under Storage) – you should see a black bar with the disk # and status of the drive.  Right click and choose Mark Partition as active.  Then right click again and choose change drive letter, set it to your desired letter.  If you want help with this step, here’s a guide: http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=309000

Next, you’re ready to format, download a copy of fat32format. Extract the single EXE file to somewhere suitable, like C:\. Click Start->Run and enter cmd. CD to the where you extracted the fat32format exe, e.g. by typing CD /D c:\

Now, type this (if using Vista, make sure you’re running command prompt as administrator)

    fat32format f: (or whatever your drive letter is)

You should see this displayed

    Warning ALL data on drive 'f' will be lost irretrievably, are you sure (y/n)

Now when it says this, it really means it. If you format the boot sector, FATs and root directory will be filled with zeros. By pressing Y and hitting return, whatever was on the disk before will be wiped clean.

Assuming you don’t bail out at this point you should see something like this (rather quickly) –

    Warning ALL data on drive 'f' will be lost irretrievably, are you sure
    (y/n) :y
    Size : 250GB 488392002 sectors
    512 Bytes Per Sector, Cluster size 32768 bytes
    Volume ID is 1bdb:2c1d
    32 Reserved Sectors, 59604 Sectors per FAT, 2 fats
    7629261 Total clusters
    7629260 Free Clusters
    Formatting drive f:...
    Clearing out 119304 sectors for Reserved sectors, fats and root cluster...
    Wrote 61083648 bytes in 0.988463 seconds, 61796609.106193 bytes/sec
    Initialising reserved sectors and FATs...
    Done

That should do it!  If you want to confirm the results, type: chkdsk f: