Tag Archives: Soft Awares

Open Office Opens Doors

I have recently downloaded and installed Open Office for my Windows XP machine.

The installation was smooth and simple.

The only application I have tested to any extent is Writer (their answer to MS Word).

Each application  includes a PDF’er.  It’s output is clean and functional.

I can see no reason why the vast majority of consumers would not find full benefit and enjoyment from this office suite.  I was able to create my current resume (using an old .doc Word file) and then save that into a .doc, a .pdf, and the open format .odt (among many others).  It opens fast and is intuitive to use.

If using an office suite is part of your lifestyle/business there may be some very particular feature which you may innitially miss, but I would recommend taking it for a spin to see if it won’t satisfy all of your needs in this software area.  It does mine.

(Ubuntu, the OS to which I am switching, comes with essentially a version of the same suite.)


Virtual Putty Meltdown Solved

I use a desktop manager called Virtual Dimension.  Great thing.  It allows me to have multiple desktops (Linux style) in Windows.  Once you get used to having multiple desktops there is no turning back.

I also use PuTTY for my job.  I recently ran into a problem with PuTTY where the close X would grey out and the Close option would disappear, seemingly at random, from the context menu.  If I wanted to close a PuTTY window I would have to kill the process (Task Manager –> End Process).  The trouble with that is of course that when I have more than one PuTTY window open I have to guess which PuTTY entry to kill.  Not a reasonable solution.

Well, after a bit of research and some testing I discovered that the X would grey out immediately upon my switching from one desktop to another.  Clearly this was a problem between these two applications.  If it came down to it, I would have to give up Virtual Dimension because I had to use PuTTY for my job.  Panic set in.

As fortune would have it, others more tallented than myself were also experiencing this trouble.  A fix was made to PuTTY to accomodate this interaction and merely moving to a newer revision of PuTTY solved the problem.

Now I have my cake and eat it too.


Turns out the newest version of putty (.60) doesn’t include support for GSSAPI which we need.  So I had to roll back to our bugged version, and I couldn’t find a version that had both the bug fixed and support for GSSAPI.  All hope is not lost though.  I did find that Alt-f4 will still close the defective windows thanks to a bug report for Virtual Dimension (tested and confirmed).

Best of luck.


Desktop Icons on the Fly

Thanks again to Lifehacker for bringing to my attention another great utility.  It’s called Desktop Media and it gives Windows functionality which other operating systems have had for many years.

It will create, on the fly, a shortcut icon (soft link) or a symbolic link (hard link) on your desktop whenever you attach a drive-like device (removable storage and its cousins, including CD/DVD drives).

When you remove those same devices, this utility will then remove the icon.  Right-clicking also includes an eject option in the context menu.

With this utility installed you can happily disable the useless security risk and resource hog known as AutoPlay for all devices.  There is nothing more annoying than attaching your two TB external storage device and watching your system freeze up while Windows scans the entire contents of the drives.

Disabling AutoPlay is very easy:

  1. Open the Group Policy editor (Windows-R or Run—> gpedit.msc).
  2. Drill down until you get to Local Computer Policy —> Computer Configuration —> Administrative Templates —> System.
  3. There you will find an entry for “Turn off Autoplay”. Right-click it and bring up Properties.
  4. You must “Enable” it and select “All Drives” from the “Turn Off Autoplay on:” drop down menu.
    (Could they have worded it more confusingly?)
  5. Then OK your way out of this.

No more AutoPlay.  And you won’t miss it.

Desktop Media shows up in your system tray (where your clock hangs out) and if you right-click it and choose Options, you can have it create hard links instead of mere shortcuts.  They are less pretty than the shortcuts, perhaps, but then the link acts as a folder rather than a marker.  Many folks won’t notice a benefit from the hard links but I use it so I can drill into these folders from my Desktop toolbar (right-click the taskbar and choose Toolbars —> Desktop).

Happy hunting.


The FAT32 of the Land

I recently did some file recovery off of a hosed NTFS partition and ran into some interesting and useful experiences as I moved these files onto a FAT32 drive for sharing between my Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems.  It is in this spirit that I spill my ink today.

(The quotations you see below are all thanks to Wikipedia unless otherwise noted.)

First a little background on the matter.  Windows, in general, is capable of recognizing, mounting, and reading and writing FAT32 drives up to 8 TB in size:

“This [cluster scheme] allows for drive sizes of up to 8 terabytes with 32KB clusters, but the boot sector uses a 32-bit field for the sector count, limiting volume size to 2 TB on a hard disk with 512 byte sectors.”

Windows built-in partitioning tool (fdisk) limits formatting of FAT32 volumes to 32 GB:

“Windows 2000 and Windows XP can read and write to FAT32 file systems of any size, but the format program included in Windows 2000 and higher can only create FAT32 file systems of 32 GB or less.”

You will sometimes see claims that this only applies at installation, but that’s not the case.  I tried repeatedly to format my 500 GB drives as FAT32 so that I could share them between all of my machines.  In classic fashion I received no useful error message.  At some point (presumably about 32 GB into the process) the formatting would fail.  I tried it using both the quick and slow formatting options, and I tried it running from the command line.  Windows has a command (format.exe) which purports to be able to format at larger volume sizes, but I didn’t discover it at the time.  Besides, after trying every possible use of the built-in formatting tools and seeing my attempts constantly failing I was keen to try a non-Microsoft solution.

I don’t recall the utility I finally used.  That machine isn’t around anymore.  But, Google is your friend and so I leave it up to you to find a nice formatting tool.  Post your favorite in the comments if you’d like.

[I remembered which utility it was.  It’s called SwissKnife and it’s free.]

Now we come to the next stumbling stupidity.  FAT32 has a file size limitation:

“The maximum possible size for a file on a FAT32 volume is 4 GB minus 1 “null” byte (232−1 bytes).”

When you are transfering a large folder with a number of files in it where one of those files is larger than 4GB it will fail and you will get an error—of course.  However, the error is less obvious than might be useful.  You will be informed that you have run out of disk space on the destination drive:

Disk Space Error

As can be seen in this example, there is plenty of disk space on both the FAT32SWAP drive (7.7 GB) and the 500A drive (255 GB) for the file I tried to move to them (said file being 4.35 GB).  Not a very honest error message.  The truth is that the file cannot be moved because the file (size) itself is not compatible with the structure of the file system.  (As a side note, you can see here that Windows is having no troubles with that 500 GB FAT32 drive.)

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there’s a way around this one.  However, the problems of FAT32 may not any longer need be suffered for the sake of its universality.  There are solutions for Linux and Mac which allow for the writing to NTFS partitions, and there are solutions for Windows for reading and writing to ext2 and HFS+ partitions.  I have not yet tested any of these solutions, but they seem to be fairly well received.

So, stop beating yourself up.  It’s not your fault.  It’s Microsoft’s.  They designed the file system, sure, but they also put forward these useless and dishonest error messages.  But don’t beat up Bill either.  Switch to Ubuntu.


Bring out Yer Dead [Partition]!

So, about a year ago I was making some changes in my systems because I was adding a new server and this allowed me to move a lot of data off of my working machine and onto that new server.  I also had a new working machine which allowed me to reappropriate my old working machine for other purposes, and this allowed me to move all sorts of data to new locations.

As you can imagine the hard drives were warming up and the ones and zeros were flying.  When I was nearly done—and this is always when it seems to happen—I made two mistakes.

First, I had a 500gb drive with three partitions: a 20GB FAT32, a 300GB NTFS, and a 180GB NTFS.  All of the data was on the middle partition (about 289GB) and I planned to keep the data on that partition.  I ran gParted and looked at the three partitions.  Then I drug the starting point of the 300GB middle partition to the left until it covered the 20GB partition completely.  This is where gParted failed me.  I now had showing two partitions on that drive: a 320GB FAT32 partition and a 180GB NTFS partition.  (Yes, you read correctly: my former 300GB NTFS was now improperly marked as FAT32 after the resizing.) I had never seen this sort of thing before and I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  So I opened the drive up in Windows again to see what the verdict was (I didn’t bother moving the end point of the partition as I didn’t want to make any further changes to the drive).  Windows confirmed that I had two partitions: a 20GB FAT32 parition and a 180GB NTFS partition.  Twenty gigs?  Fuck.  No files?  Double-fuck.

I hit the gParted forums.  No one had any idea why this would happen.  No one else has apparently had this happen.  I have had good luck with gParted in the past, but this was a real drag.

Fine.  I set the drive aside and moved on to the last task on my list: rebuild an old XP machine that was running like a salted slug.  Now comes mistake number two.  What do I do but delete the data partition instead of the os partition while running the installation.  Not my day.  Oh, well.  Delete the os partition and rebuild the machine.

As fortune would have it, neither of these drives contained anything I really cared about.  All of that had been moved to the server.  This was mostly different crap I’d downloaded (music, movies, books, &c.).  Set that drive aside as well.  No sense crying over spilt milk.  Besides there are always ways to fix these things.

Since I really didn’t care about these files this went to the bottom of my priority list.  However, yesterday I was picking through LifeHacker when I came across something very promising called Partition Find and Mount that has moved toward a solution to this problem.

I did look at some possible fixes over the last year, but because these files where not very important I rejected anything that didn’t work without a lot of hassle.  Thusfar Find and Mount seems to work like a charm.

The low-level scan (Intellectual Scan) of the 500GB drive did not turn up the partition I was seeking.  However, the second level scan (Normal Scan) did.  I was able to use Find and Mount to then mount that parition as a Windows drive letter.  (There is a third level scan—Thorough Scan—which is a sector by sector scan.) Once that partition was mounted I was able to drag and drop all those old files off that drive.  It’s a little silly because all I’m going to do is reformat that drive and move them all back—which is why I was moving the partitions to begin with—but I can live with this.

The one draw-back to this software is that the free version throttles you at a half a meg per second.  I am moving 289GB of data.  I started it last night and probaby about ten minutes after I went to bed Windows threw an error (time difference on server) and halted the transfer.  (Fucking Microsoft!)  But, I have it back up and running again this morning.  I will try that other drive next, but I predict there will be no troubles and that one is much smaller.

One more tool in my toolbox.  Thanks, LifeHacker.

Notes on transfering your files:

If you are only recovering a small number of files, this section is not for you.  On the other hand if you, like me, had to move many gigs of data you will benefit from my experience.

The application works as expected.  It does what is promises to do.  However, you will see two adversaries in using the free version.  The free version includes a throttle (the Pro version does not), and you have to run this application inside of Windows.  This section will give you my best advice for dealing with these adversaries.

Windows famously fumbles itself about.  If it were a dancer, it would yearn to have two left feet.  It would be an improvement.  The transfers you set up will occasionally get mixed up.  Windows will encounter some kind of error (can’t move this file because I’m forgotted) and you will have to figure out which specific transfer has konked out so that you can resume that particular transfer.  However you decide to perform your data transfer, keeping this in mind is paramount so that you can best manage your transfers and keep the whole boat sailing smoothly.

The application only allows you to move files—it appears to mount the defunct partitions as read-only in some fashion.  Besides you may want to avoid performing any sort of write or delete operations on the partition until you have moved all your stuff safely off anyway.  When Windows moves files it’s a bit easier to tell what you have and have not moved: they are gone from the source once they are moved.  This advantage is lost when you are copying your data to a new location.  Manage your transfers so that when they fail you will be able to resume the transfer without wasting time in retransfering successful files.

I leave it to you to discover your preferred method.  For my part, I did my transfers in discrete chunks which I could monitor and easily identify should any particular chunk fail.

Now about that throttle problem… It looks as though the application throttles on a per-transfer basis (rather than an application-wide or partition-wide basis).  What this means for us is that it is better to transfer all the children as individual transfers than it is to transfer the parent with all of its contents.  Preferring the children to the parent method also makes managing the failed transfers easier.

I will explain.  Suppose you have a parition with a folder called MUSIC which itself contains 100 folders named after each band.  Each band folder contains 1GB of music and thus the MUSIC folder contains about 100GB of data.  If you merely transfer the parent folder (MUSIC) the throttle will limit you to a half a meg per second of data transfer.  If instead you perform a copy operation for each child (band) folder, the throttle will limit each transfer to a half a meg.

Using the parent method your transfer rate is at most 512 KB/s; using the child method your transfer rate is at most 100 x 512 KB/s (in theory).  I don’t know that I saw transfer rates at 50 megs, but I was able to transfer a 100GB folder faster than a 64GB folder using the child method on the larger and the parent method on the smaller.  (Subsequently I cancelled the 64GB transfer and initiated individual file transfers for the movie files contained therein.)

Happy hunting.