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Archive for the ‘software’ Category

Burn .ISO files in Windows XP and Vista with ease

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There are a number of programs that can help you burning ISO files in Windows, unfortunately a majority of them are time-limited trials that later on you are forced to either uninstall and look for a new alternative, or just pay for the full version. If you’ve ever been faced with this dilemma or just can’t stand anymore the bloated piece of software Nero has become, then I have a golden tip for you.

Windows enthusiast (we assume) and programmer Alex Feinman offers on his humble website a “powertoy” he calls ISO recorder, available for both Windows XP and Vista that will let you burn ISO files with ease (and for free). The application is also very lightweight, just like the original XP Powertoys we used to love.

Written by Julio Franco

January 15th, 2008 at 2:07 am

Drivers and Windows Vista

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Mostly when people post something about Vista it’s either bashing it or praising it, however those two camps generally agree on one thing; that drivers have matured quite well since its release.

I’m gonna create a third group now; they are both wrong!

UAC, admin accounts, memory requirements and all other stuff aside, I’ve concluded one thing: unless you have a very very top of the line computer you have no business running Vista. And this has actually nothing to do with Vista itself at all, quite the shame because that leaves me out on an otherwise easy punch in the stomach :D

You might have seen my post about performance in Crysis with the 7900GT. I just ran some tests with a 8800GTS 512MB now. What I can conclude from this is that XP will give you 63% better performance in Crysis compared to Vista if you have a 7900GT, and only 16% better if you have a 8800GTS 512MB.

In other words, it’s not just Creative that releases miserable drivers, Nvidia is quite high on the list too (though they still have a long way to catch up with Creative, IMO :D)

Written by Per Hansson

January 3rd, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Adobe bloated software, and how to disable automatic updates

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Personally, I hate the trend of software adding bloat in subsequent versions as much as I hate people saying an application is bloated just because it’s no longer a simple one-dimensional kind of program. That said, Adobe current crop of products have to be some of the worst in this sense.

At this point I’m sure nobody doubts the deserved dominance of Photoshop in the world of digital photo editing, just like Microsoft Word or Excel are your overall best bets for documents and spreadsheets despite of its cost. But when the very creators of the PDF format ship its latest reader which takes twice the amount of time for opening files than third-party software like Foxit Reader (on a high-end PC, for slower machines it can be as much as a 10x difference!) you know something is very wrong then.

But that is just one of the many examples I can give you. The Adobe installer is just damn horrible. For a moment I thought this would be limited to the Windows version of the CS3 Suite, but when I downloaded trial versions of Fireworks and Dreamweaver for the Mac, it was quite the unwelcomed surprise to see that the bloated and painfully slow installer is also used under OS X. I have to admit that adding a bunch of ‘required’ middleware like the “Extension Manager” is not something I enjoy, but I find much worse the inclusion of the stealth Adobe Updater. You may be surprised the first time this updater pops up because it doesn’t leave any traces in the Windows registry and is not listed as a startup program. So, unless you are running a full fledged firewall (which you should but there aren’t many good ones for Vista yet), the program could run and download updates without your consent. In fact it’s quite likely you won’t notice this running unless it’s taking away your bandwidth, or CPU time (bloat, remember?) or an interruption in your Internet connection happens, which will make it complain and thus become evident it was running behind your back.

Furthermore, Adobe doesn’t give you an easy way to turn this feature off beforehand, but rather you can configure it while it’s running – there’s no access through the Adobe programs’ options menus – or you will have to manually edit a configuration file (AdobeUpdaterPreferences.dat) as detailed here. Adobe, you still make really good software, but I may have to look elsewhere in the future if you make this an on-going trend.

Written by Julio Franco

December 20th, 2007 at 1:00 am

New MacBook Pro owner, joining the dark side?

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Depending for how long you’ve been reading TechSpot you may have read a variety of comments about Apple products, from hate to well, less hate :). No, but seriously, despite of being mainly a Windows site we have tried to remain balanced and objective when time has come to report on any product, no matter if it came from Nvidia or ATI… Intel or AMD, Microsoft or Apple. We have said it like it is, and backed it up as needed and as possible. It’s what we owe to our readers.

Part of this objectivity comes from recognizing when a company is doing things wrong, and applaud their efforts when they make a brilliant comeback. For example there was no room left for fanaticism when Intel kept pushing the horrible Pentium 4, while AMD had to offer a better product in the Athlon. Likewise, how not to love the speedy and efficient Core 2 Duos nowadays.

But the discussion of the better operating system makes for a much stronger and subjective case, not to mention it’s been around almost as long as the Personal Computer itself. I can remember how Apple still had some loyal following during some of its darkest days in the mid 90s, and around the time TechSpot opened its doors in 1998, I could not help but hate the brand for its delusional claims that did nothing but mislead the end consumer.

In our eyes, Apple had no game in the computer world until the first consumer version of OS X was released in 2001. And even then it was severely lacking in the hardware department until they finally ate their own words to partner with Intel in recent years.

Apple MacBook Pro running OS X Leopard

Which takes us to the present day, a revived Apple that is looking healthier than ever thanks to the iPod revolution along with some good long-term decision making on its computer division. The reaction from hardcore Apple fans is evident today throughout the web and even more so in the blogosphere. But like many PC users have begun to notice the fanaticism sometimes goes too far, and what you get as a result is a lot of subjective noise all-around that is certainly not helped by Apple’s own commercials.

But going back to the original purpose of this post, after a failed experiment using a Mac two years ago (Mac Mini G4 running Tiger, I couldn’t stand the slow hardware), I have decided to invest once again in Apple hardware, namely a MacBook Pro running a cool Core 2 Duo processor and OS X Leopard.

The thinking behind my decision was varied, for starters my old trusted ThinkPad T42 was needing a rest and another Vaio TX laptop I own, while very portable at 11″, is sometimes too small to get work done comfortably. Making a long story short, the MacBook Pro offered hardware that was on par with other major manufacturers ‘performance’ models, industrial design that is on par with Lenovo’s and Sony’s top models, and finally I got the choice of ditching OS X for Windows Vista or even XP, if I never found my way around it or needed to use Windows-only software. Of course, if I was going to believe all those Mac lovers out there, that could never happen.

I should add that it was also easier to swallow the $2000 spent on this laptop considering that as TechSpot’s Executive Editor, it comes handy when I can make a knowledgeable and up to date opinion on where OS X stands today against Vista or any other current Operating System, let’s face it it’s an ever recurrent topic.

I have been using the MacBook Pro for about a month now, and my experience has been mixed. The hardware is indeed beautiful and while I was expecting more from the LED lit screen, it’s still very very acceptable. There are small details that add to the overall experience like the backlit keyboard, the magnetic power connector and double finger scrolling, all in one portable package that is also the closest I have ever got to the performance of my custom-built desktop PC.

There are a few drawbacks that for the most part are inherent to every laptop that offers this kind of performance, so I won’t bother mentioning those. In the software side, I came across more than one surprise though.

Whatever you have heard about OS X Leopard’s ability to put Windows Vista to shame is probably not true… at least not from my perspective. In the first 24 hours I experienced two hard crashes, and in the first week I came across a reportedly software bug that locked my keyboard from functioning after waking up from sleep (it forces you to restart). So perhaps Tiger was more polished than Leopard is, and those early reviews that told you otherwise are pure bull.

Not to put the latest incarnation of OS X down, there are a number of things that work much better in the Mac than in Windows, like Spotlight – now that is powerful search that works – but I’m afraid it’s still an above-average consumer platform with flaws here and there, and a far cry from an Apple’s fanboy dream claims.
But my evaluation of the MacBook Pro’s hardware and software is far from over, this is an experiment I may actually be able to pull off (forgive my Windows roots), and hopefully it will also open the door for further Mac-related coverage and perspective at TechSpot for a very valid and growing consumer base.

Written by Julio Franco

December 14th, 2007 at 2:50 am

Favorite links in Vista gone? Is your list empty? Here’s the fix.

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Although not all of us are cut to be extreme Windows tweakers, there are still a few small hidden tweaks most people are familiar with and feel comfortable enough changing. Take for example the shortcut arrows in Windows. Those have been around since Win95 I believe, and not even in Windows Vista is there an obvious way to remove them.

In fact, because XP users can rely on the free Tweak UI they can access to this setting without recurring to a third party application. But there are still no PowerToys for Vista, so third parties is what we have for now.

So, I was recently trying a few different Vista “tweakers” to see what they were capable of, and while none offered anything particularly interesting, one of them decided to remove the registry entry for the shortcut arrows completely, rather than changing its value. The result? An empty list of Favorite Links (those useful shortcuts on the Windows Explorer sidebar).

If this has happened to you, don’t worry. Just download a trusted application that will correct it for you, namely Vista Shortcut Manager, a.k.a. FxVisor by Frameworkx. This small application will let you configure the shortcut arrow overlay while also fixing whatever any other program did to your registry entry.

On a side note, if you are into deeper tweaking you may want to check out TechSpot’s own Windows Vista Memory Tweak Guide.

Written by Julio Franco

November 5th, 2007 at 4:03 am

Switcher 2.0 final is out

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Switcher is an Expose clone for Windows Vista. You may remember I recommended the beta version just a few weeks ago, new in the final version are a few stability fixes and reportedly some performance improvements as well. If you have no idea what Switcher or Expose are and what they can do for you, check out this post.

I have yet to try this updated version but I still wanted to bring the update to you ASAP considering I have endorsed it in the past as the best implementation of Expose-like functionality for Vista. Forget about Flip3D, and ease your use of Alt+Tab with this smart application switcher.

Written by Julio Franco

November 3rd, 2007 at 3:49 am

Crysis single player demo is out…!

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If you thought the release of Mac OS X 10.5 was the big news for Friday, think again. In the wider PC world, or in PC gamers’ world for that matter, the release of the eagerly awaited Crysis sounds like more exciting news. The demo came unannounced after a delay early this month, but it’s now out there so what are you waiting for?

The demo includes the complete first level, dubbed “Contact,” which will give you roughly 45 minutes of gameplay. In addition, Crytek is packing in the CryEngine 2 Sandbox game editor, giving the community the opportunity to get familiar with the tools they will have at their disposal before the actual game ships on November 16.

As a side note, Nvidia has released new Forceware beta drivers (169.01) that are optimized for use with this SP demo. If you ask me it’s ridiculous how you need to upgrade drivers every time a new major title is released, it happened with Bioshock, UT, and now Crysis. But anyway, pick your OS and download here.

PS: In all fairness, the release of Leopard are exciting news. Certainly the #1 candidate for the most polished and user-friendly OS currently available.

Written by Julio Franco

October 26th, 2007 at 5:57 pm

Posted in gaming,software

Make Firefox look like (the old) Netscape

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Many of you probably remember the earlier days of the web when the browser dominance wars took place between Netscape (which enjoyed a majority share) and Internet Explorer.

One of the many things I remember is how I used to prefer Netscape which was a more elegant browser and hands down the better overall program on its early versions. It wasn’t until years later that IE took over while Netscape remained stagnant and slowly faded away.

It was all about 28.8k modems and the eternal wait that took for opening graphic-intensive sites. You actually had enough time to go get some something from the fridge, or just stare at the beautiful “loading” buttons…

netscape static throbber netscape animated throbber 2

So… if you are anything like me, you may want to skin your fully-stable and secure Firefox browser to look like the old Netscape.

Because Firefox is completely skinnable and there’s a huge community behind it, you won’t even have to mess around with any files, I picked the three best Netscape themes from the official add-on site for you to try out:

  • Foxscape: This is by far my favourite, resembles the looks of the old Netscape 4.8 that uses the throbber (loading) buttons you see above.
  • Modern Aluminum: This is a port of Netscape 7.x, all silver buttons with a more subtle look.
  • Netstripe: This is a new official skin developed by the guys behind the new Netscape 9 beta browser. It’s a very nice green-ish theme, and a good excuse not to try the actual Netscape 9 browser that also uses the Mozilla (Firefox) code as a base.

While we are on the topic, I wanted to share another tip on customizing Firefox. You can also change (only) the throbber (that is the name given to the “loading” circle displayed by default on Firefox). You can create your own JPEG/GIF files and tell Firefox to use those instead. Here is a good guide on how to do that and yet another link for an already coded add-on that adds a spinning Firefox logo.

Written by Julio Franco

October 13th, 2007 at 7:40 am

So, what is Expose?

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Missing from my Switcher 2.0 post yesterday was an explanation of what Expose is. I guess some people are just too lazy to follow some links, but then again that’s not uncommon, after all why should you care?

In the particular case of Expose I believe some movies are worth more than a thousand words…
Here’s an introductory video of Expose’s original implementation in Mac OS X :

Also the guys at DownloadSquad posted a video of Switcher 2.0 working on Windows, this was after they got word of its release from my post yesterday:

Written by Julio Franco

October 12th, 2007 at 3:49 am

Posted in apple,software,video

Switcher 2.0: Finally an Exposé like app for Windows that works!

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Mac fanboys and even some so-called Windows fanboys will praise OS X like there is no tomorrow… all while bashing Vista in the process, of course.

In my personal experience Vista is not as bad as some people say, while XP with its rocky past, today seems to be solid enough. Apple’s OS X offers a nice overall environment and while it’s still missing some appeal for me to become a switcher, I have to admit it’s got one particular feature I would love to get in Windows: Exposé!

Ever since I upgraded to Vista I have waited for developers to come up with an Exposé-like application to replace the good looking but useless Flip3d. Well, it’s been over six months and I have tested a bunch of implementations… some would simply crash, others would become system hogs (and eventually crash), this went on and on for months.

Until now. Microsoft employee Bao Nguyen has been working on such an application for months on his free time (as a hobby project, not Microsoft directed). He already used to have the better Exposé application out there with Switcher 1.0 but it was still a bit buggy and not fast enough to really use and enjoy. Earlier this week he silently launched a beta version of Switcher 2.0 and I have been playing with it for a few hours now. It’s finally here, Exposé for Windows that actually works like it’s supposed to!

I’m happy to report Switcher 2.0 (beta – download here) feels very solid, it’s very customizable in both looks and function and runs fast enough for daily use and abuse. At least on my desktop system running Vista (Athlon X2 4400+, 2GB, GeForce 7800GT) it runs just fine, even playing videos and updating windows in real-time. Excellent job, great free application!

Written by Julio Franco

October 11th, 2007 at 7:08 am