Software

Rufus – Create Bootable USB Drives

I ran into a problem trying to flash the BIOS on a Dell server recently. I downloaded and ran the Windows BIOS installer, but it would not work. It would either stall or finish and say reboot. At reboot, the server would get stuck going through its checks and the hard drive would show constant activity. After a while I nervously powered off the server and started it again. It booted fine, but the BIOS was not updated. I noticed there was a DOS BIOS update available so I decided to download it. However, I needed a way to boot the server into DOS to run the BIOS update.

After some searching I found a program called Rufus here. It is a free standalone program that creates a bootable USB drive. You can create a bootable drive from an iso file or create a bootable DOS drive (it comes with a free version of DOS). I created a DOS drive with a 2 GB USB key. I copied the BIOS updater on to the drive after it was ready and successfully used it to update the BIOS on the server. Rufus is a great tool for creating bootable USB drives. It solved a problem for me; maybe it can do the same for you.

No Icons on Gnome Desktop

With my installation of Fedora Core 19, I could not understand why I  was not able to put icons on my desktop. I am using Gnome and could not copy icons to the desktop even though icons were under my user/desktop folder. It became a bigger problem when I installed Unity of Command since you copy the game to Linux without really doing an install. I really wanted to put the alias on my desktop to launch the game.

After some research I found an article on Fedoraproject.org that addressed this issue. Apparently the Gnome team doesn’t think people need a “traditional desktop” anymore so eliminated it. But you can bring it back by installing the Gnome Tweak Tool through the command sudo yum install gnome-tweak-tool. Once installed go under utilities in your applications list and launch Gnome Tweak Tool to add a trash can and computer icon to the desktop as well as any icons under your user/desktop folder.

Secunia Personal Software Inspector

I saw this in a PC World article. Very useful and free. This program will scan the software installed on your computer and tell you if there are updates for your software. You can have the program automatically update your software, download updates and let you install them, or notify you that there are updates available. You can update the software right from within the program. The updates may download a newer version of the software or take you to a website to download the software.

Check out this great free program that will help keep your software up-to-date at Secunia’s website.

AVG Out, Microsoft Security Essentials In

I have been using AVG Free Edition for several years because it is free and it worked well. However, with the last couple of versions, AVG seems to have become bloated, wanting to update more requiring reboots, and crashing. AVG also wants to push their paid version more. Because of this I have started using Microsoft Security Essentials, a free download from Microsoft’s download site or from Windows Update. If you go directly to the download site you can download either the 32 or 64 bit version. Also, if Windows does not detect an anti-virus application on your PC, Security Essentials will appear in Windows Update as an optional download. Security Essentials has received good reviews in articles, seems unobtrusive, is free, and doesn’t push you to buy a paid version or upgrade to a new version every year. On the several PCs I have installed Security Essentials, I have not had any problems. If you are becoming tired of your preferred anti-virus software and use Windows, give Security Essentials a try.

Windows 8 Debut

So Windows 8 finally has appeared in the marketplace. I was inundated with emails on Friday from office stores and e-tailers all about the sales on this “great” new operating system. Two articles I read sum up the different ways of thinking about Windows 8 in the tech field. Paul Thurrott, known Microsoft-lover and Apple-hater, wrote an article earlier this month for Windows IT Pro where he attempts to “clear up” some points about the new OS. But what struck me the most was the way he ended the article: “eventually you have to just understand and accept what’s happening. And what’s happening is that Windows is transitioning into a new mobile platform.”

Windows may be “transitioning into a new mobile platform” and I understand this,  but I don’t think I need to accept it. Like many people I will choose option 2, which I think Lincoln Spector summed up best in the November 2012 issue of PCWorld: “I’ll stay with Windows 7 for as long as I can, and hope that the company fixes everything in Windows 9 (or better yet, Windows 8 SP1). And if Microsoft doesn’t? Well, that’s why we have Apple and Linux.”

Nuff said!

Classic Shell

The biggest complaint about Windows 8 is the Metro interface. Along with that, we lost the Start Menu. Microsoft has decided, like they have in the past with changes to the Start Menu and toolbars in Office and other products, to force users to do things their way. The great thing about PC software is that someone usually comes up with a way to put things back the way they were before. Despite Microsoft’s attempts to prevent reinsertion of the Start Menu, people have done just that.

A free way to get back the Start Menu in Windows 8 and boot straight to the desktop like in previous versions of Windows is Classic Shell. Classic Shell is a free program available on Source Forge that gives you a Start Menu in Windows 8 (or changes the menu in Windows 7) with different Start Menus from previous versions of Windows. It also lets you change the way Explorer works and change the interface for IE 9. If you are hesitant to move to Windows 8 because of the Metro UI (and who isn’t) check out Classic Shell. It works as advertised, giving you many options and bypassing Metro so you can enjoy the real upgrades in Windows 8. Thanks Maximum PC for discussing this project in your review of Windows 8.

Free Kindle Books and Tips

I found this app in Amazon’s appstore, but it is also available in the Google Play store. At first it sounded shady, but I took a chance and I am happy I did. Amazon actually does have Kindle books priced free everyday, just like they have a free app of the day in their appstore. This app ties into a blog. The blogger scours Amazon for you and picks several free books each day in several categories, but only ones that have at least 4 out of 5 stars in their reviews. The blogger also gives you the free app of the day which saves you a trip to Amazon’s appstore if you check that too. Further, the blogger tells you about discounted books available. The best thing is he gives you links to all of the books as well. Finally, he occasionally provides tips on getting the most out of your Kindle.

I have downloaded around 10 free books since I started reading the blog a couple of months ago based on their reviews and descriptions. I think this is a great way to discover new authors and obtain additional reading material for no cost. Give it a try – the app is free and most of the books are free, so what do you have to lose?

Evernote

I have been using Evernote for a while now for jotting down notes at the most opportune times (usually between right when I think of stuff and before I forget). It is great to have a note-taking app that syncs across PC/Mac, phone, and tablet. I use it to keep track of personal and business items (including consulting work and blog ideas). It just works well and the basic version is free. I know the paid version adds more data sync and an off-line option, but I hardly use the options available in the free version. If you need to keep track of things on the go across many devices, you cannot go wrong with Evernote. Highly recommended!

Handy Safe Pro

I ran across this app while searching the Android store. I thought it would be useful to have a secure information manager for the computer and tablet or phone. I use Signup Shield for the PC and it works well, although it worked better before FireFox 4 came out. It used to automatically fill in login information, but now I have to drag the information into the form. It’s doable, but limited because it’s geared mostly toward web site logins. Also, the mobile aspect of it worked on U3 USB keys, but U3 is now dead. So Handy Safe Pro provided an opportunity for storing more information and syncing it with a mobile device.

In order to sync Handy Safe Pro you have to purchase the desktop version ($9.99, PC or Mac) and a mobile version ($1.99, Symbian, Android, iOS, or Windows Phone 7). Handy Safe Pro lets you store web site logins and other access logins, as well as credit card info, travel info, insurance policies, software keys, and a whole lot more. All information is encrypted and protected with a password login. You can even create folders within the program such as business, personal, etc. to separate the information. Another cool feature for web sites is you can enter the site url and Handy Safe Pro allows you to click the url link to open up the site in a web browser.

I purchased the desktop edition for the PC and the Android edition. The sync feature has worked well for me. The only problem I have had is after syncing my Android tablet and trying to open the program, I sometimes get a black screen. If I go back to the home screen then try again, the program opens. I looked at the app for iOS and some people were complaining about sync not working. I have not tried this version myself.

So far I think Handy Safe Pro is a good app to store important information and have it with you on your mobile device. Check out Handy Safe Pro’s website for more information.

EBookDroid

I think this is my first review of an Android app. I love my Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 and so I figured I should start talking about some of the useful apps I have found. In this case I needed an app that could open XPS files (Microsoft’s copycat of PDFs). I found EBookDroid in the Android app store and it was free to boot.

EBook Droid works pretty well. It has crashed on me a few times, but I think this mainly happens when you try to resize the screen or move around too quickly. No big deal, you just quit and reopen the app and you are back to where you started. EBookDroid can open PDF files too if you desire.

I have not had any problems with the way it renders XPS files. The app can add bookmarks, go to specific pages, and zoom in and out. You scroll through the file by moving the pages up instead of side-to-side like an ebook. I found EBookDroid to be a nice, free app that allows me to open and read XPS files on my tablet.