Google Search

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Net Stole My Identity

Please forgive me; today I’m going to be a bit more philosophical, rather than looking at technical stuff.  It happens to me once in a while; I start thinking too deeply, fall into a few hours of intense pensiveness, and come up with some strange theories.  Then I take two aspirin and lie down, and a few hours later I’m fine and geeky again.  So please excuse me, this won’t last long…

In the book that I used to teach students the A+ Computer Technician’s course, the author at some point made the statement that “If you’re not on the net, you don’t exist.”  With that statement he implied that you had to have some form of online identity in order to “truly be someone”.

That reminded me of the Sandra Bullock movie, “The Net”, about a woman whose entire life was deleted from the “system”.  Suddenly nobody knew her, everyone thought she was someone else, because that’s what the computer said.  Her total identity was caught up in the bits and bytes floating around Cyberspace.  So I started wondering how true this is these days.

I know identity theft to the extent of “The Net” is still a bit extreme; in lovely South Africa, at least, a problem like that would be sorted out with an affidavit, a few Rands, and about 72 hours spent in line at Home Affairs.  But, I wondered, what about the statement that you’re a nobody if you don’t have some form of online identity?

Well, in all honesty, I think it’s nonsense.  I recently started searching the internet for one specific guy.  He is one of South Africa’s most successful businessmen.  He is also a committed family man and very actively involved in charity.  And yet very few people even know who he is.  He is brilliant enough at business to stay in the background, benefiting from the business financially, but not even being seen by most people.  The point is, apart from a few isolated interviews, Google couldn’t help me at all.  He doesn’t have a Facebook profile, he’s not on MySpace (and even if he was, I would doubt that it was actually him), not on Twitter, he doesn’t have a blog (though I would read it if he did), a web site, or anything.  He is on LinkedIn, though, but apparently not very active (he doesn’t have any contacts and doesn’t answer messages).  And yet this guy is one of THE jet-setters in South Africa.  He is known to have contact with guys like Allan Knott-Craig (former CEO of Vodacom) and Ruben September (former CEO of Telkom).  He is notorious as a family man.  And yet, online, NOTHING.  Obviously he isn’t too dependent on his “online identity”…

Which leads to the next question – do we really need technology, and specifically information technology, as much as we think we do?  I’d like to hear your thoughts.  And I may post a full article about it sometime.  But for now, the aspirin are starting to kick in and I’m starting to feel the urge to take up my Lightsaber again.  Must be getting back to normal.  So, until later then.

Lourens, out.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Browser Wars–Episode 2: The IE Strikes Back

Look, I know that, when it comes to browsers, I’m dealing with a lot of very passionate people.  Most of us have one browser that we support very passionately.  I seem to be the exception, moving from one browser to the other as I get irritated with some feature of my previous one.  However, for the most part, I use Firefox.

But that might be changing soon.  Last week I downloaded and installed the beta of Internet Explorer 9 on my Windows 7 x64 system.  (Just so you know, the IE9 that I tested in one of my previous posts was just a limited demo, not a fully-fledged Beta.)

All I can say is “wow”.  It really seems like the Empire (aka Microsoft) are trying to win this war with a perfect score.  And with IE9, I think it’s completely possible that they will.

After installing and firing it up, my first thought was “Wow, it’s here already?”  Loading in a mere 3 seconds (compared to Firefox’s 5 seconds) is quite the achievement for IE.  My second thought was “These guys are definitely taking a few hints from Google chrome”.  It has a very clean, Chrome-like interface, though in my opinion, IE9 is prettier, sporting the Apple-like polish and sparkle.


But looks aren’t everything.  So I decided to test one of the greatest things that plagued previous tabbed versions of IE: the painfully long wait while tabs are opened.  Well, I clicked the “new tab” option and, voila!  The tab opened instantly.  And not only did it open, it had an automatically-generated list of the sites that I visit most often (just like Speed Dial, but automatic)!

Security was another thing that plagued IE6 and, to a lesser extent, 7.  But most people agree that, since IE8, the security issues are more or less sorted out (as much as security can ever be “sorted out”, anyway).  If you keep your Windows up-to-date (you DO own a legal copy of Windows, don’t you?) you shouldn’t have any problems.

In all honesty, there are only two negative statements that I can make about IE9 at this point.  The first is that I had some slight display problems (specifically some characters overlapping one another, especially in Facebook).  But since this IS still a Beta, that is excusable, and will probably be sorted out in the final release.  The second problem is not Microsoft’s fault or IE-related at all – it’s the problem with Adobe Flash Player’s x64-support.  Getting any Flash-based content to work in Internet Explorer x64 is a royal pain.  But I finally managed to get it working using the beta of Adobe’s Flash Player code-named “Square”.

So why exactly do I think IE might win the browser wars?  Well, Internet Explorer is already the browser that most people use (granted, often simply because they don’t know that there are others out there, and IE is included in Windows in most countries).  Those that don’t use IE use other browsers for the following reasons:

  1. There is some aspect of IE that they hate (that was my reason).
  2. They use an operating system other than Windows.

Well, as far as reason 1 is concerned, with so many of the problems ironed out, I just don’t think I’ll ever go through the trouble of installing another browser again, when I already have an excellent one included in Windows.

The users of Apple, Linux, and other non-MS operating systems – well, IE9 probably won’t have much of an impact on your browsing experience.

But don’t take my word for any of this – go ahead and try IE9 for yourself.  You can download it here: x86 (32-bit) or x64 (64-bit).  After using it for a few days, please feel free to comment.  I’d love to hear your opinions (as long as you agree with me!  Nah, just kidding…)

So, for now, happy browsing!

Lourens, out.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Very Awesome Tool # 2

Today I want to take a look at Microsoft Security Essentials.

In this day and age, viruses can’t be ignored.  I know some veritable IT support guys writing articles in certain PC magazines say that, if you only keep your PC up to date, you won’t have a problem, and that no problems are EVER caused by viruses.  This is NONSENSE.  I mean, it takes just one “cute little kitties”-email with a virus to disrupt your PC completely.

So in all honesty, yes, keep your PC up to date, but it’s also important to have some good anti-virus software installed.

I know some people who don’t believe that anything good can be free.  They would rather pay R300 for something that will only last them one year than to have free software installed on their PC’s.  I also know the other side of the coin; I know people who download pirated anti-virus software – I mean, how idiotic can you get?!  Those people who crack the anti-virus software, are the same people who infest every executable known to man with viruses!  So people, please don’t use pirated anti-virus software.  Definitely not when the most awesome package is free of charge anyway!

I’ve used many different packages over the years.  Starting in the DOS days I used Dr Solomon’s, and the old Norton Antivirus.  With Windows I used BitDefender, Norton, AVG, Avira AntiVir, NOD32, and a billion others I don’t care to remember the names of.  And they all have their advantages and disadvantages (yes even Norton, which has improved considerably over the last two years).


But none of these packages impressed me as much as Microsoft Security Essentials.  It is available free of charge to anyone with a legal (validated) copy of Windows (XP through to 7).  The download is very small, but then it has no virus definitions – this has to be downloaded manually or through an update after installation.  But still, it’s no larger than most of the others out there.

Two other things impressed me very much.  The first is that it has a very small memory footprint – smaller than AntiVir, AVG or BitDefender.  It hardly affects system performance, even while doing a virus scan!  It has the best performance I have ever seen in an anti-virus package.


The real clincher that set this piece of software apart from competitors in my opinion happened yesterday.  I was working on a customer’s computer, struggling to get a piece of software to install correctly.  Eventually I Googled the problem and found a blog stating that the problem was caused by viruses.  Well, the customer had an up-to-date copy of Norton 2010 installed, so I scanned.  It found three infected files.  Still the software wouldn’t install.  So I disabled Norton and installed MS Security Essentials.  Within 5 seconds after I started the scan it already found 5 infected files.  I let it continue with a full system scan, which took more than 6 hours.  I got the shock of my life – it found (and healed) over 2000 infections!  That’s AFTER a complete scan with an up-to-date Norton 2010!  Well, I restarted the PC and the software installed successfully.

So what do you have to do to get this piece of awesomeness?

I’m so glad you asked.  Simply go to this link to download it.  It will automatically install updates after installation (more than 50MB’s), or you can manually download the updates from this link (if you want to install it on multiple PC’s, for example, without downloading over 50MB’s each).

So there’s no reason NOT to be secure.  This little tool makes it simple.

Lourens, out.

Monday, August 30, 2010

My PC Ain’t Dead Yet!

The last few months I’ve been hearing more and more about people and companies saying that the Desktop PC is dying.

Most of these people are non-entities (unlike me!) and their opinions don’t really matter (unlike mine!).  However, when Google made the statement that Desktop PC’s will be dead within 3 years I actually sat up and took notice.  (Well, for a few minutes, anyway.)

For more info on what Google said, check out this article.

So, being active in the IT industry, I started thinking about this statement, and the implications that it would have on people and businesses.  And my conclusion?  It’s total nonsense.

As evidence of the declining popularity of Desktop PC’s, people are pointing to statistics and graphs like these:

PC Sales

This graph clearly shows the declining sales of Desktop PC’s compared to various portable systems, and most notably the increase in sales of tablet PC’s, along with a projection of these sales (if current trends keep up) up until 2015.

However, there are a few flaws with this graph, or more specifically, with drawing those conclusions from this graph.

Firstly, the graph doesn’t show how many of those purchases are insurance-related purchases, or replacements for broken or stolen devices.  You see, portable devices are stolen much more frequently than desktop PC’s, not to mention the number of laptops that inadvertently take a journey down the stairs…  These devices then obviously need to be replaced, leading to an increase in sales.

The second problem I have with this graph is that it doesn’t show PC component sales, only full PC sales.  It’s common knowledge that desktop PC’s are far more upgradeable than portable devices.  Over the last few years, technology has been “stable” – meaning that a PC purchased new 4 years ago can often be upgraded today to fairly good specifications.  This means that (especially with a world-wide recession) people would rather upgrade their PC’s than purchase a new one, which is not the case with portable systems, and which would influence the conclusions we draw from this graph.

I have one more point to make about this.  If desktop PC’s were dying, then why would people be buying more and larger LCD and LED monitors?  If the trend was really “size-related”, why then are people purchasing things that take up even more desk space?  The answer is simple – there are certain things that people don’t want to do on a small screen.  I don’t want to watch movies on my BlackBerry (though I can if I want to).  I don’t want to play Lord of the Rings Online with my laptop’s pathetic integrated graphics.  I do my video editing, gaming, movie watching, music playing, and graphic designing on a system with more power than an Apple iPad.  Because I want to.

What are your thoughts on the matter?  Do you agree, or do you have a different opinion?  (At the risk of sounding like King Julian, your opinion counts, because you are my readers!)  So comment away; I read all comments, even if I don’t always reply.

So, for now, signing off from my DESKTOP PC, and damn proud of it,

Lourens, out.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Going Mobile

A while ago some of you requested that I look at mobile technology as an alternative for PC’s.  Inspired by this, and the fact that I’m trying to save on my internet bandwidth, I decided to see how much of what I regularly do on my PC, I can move to my mobile device.

Now, in my case my mobile device is a BlackBerry Curve 8310 (yes, I know it’s oldish, but it’s still an awesome piece of technology).  With Vodacom South Africa, I have a BlackBerry Bundle on my prepaid sim card which costs me R59 per month.  This includes all of the BlackBerry services, including e-mail push, the awesome BlackBerry Messenger, and unlimited web surfing (sort of).  That’s right, for R59 per month I can surf the web as much as I want, as long as (a) I only use the BlackBerry device (not my PC with the BlackBerry as modem), and (b) I don’t do any large downloads (unless I’m mistaken, the limit is around 7MB per file).  For someone who probably spends around 12 hours per day on the internet, and who’s constantly complaining about the high bandwidth costs in SA, the benefits of this should be obvious.

The good news is that I manage to do most of the things I like to do on-line, on the BlackBerry.  Though web browsing is fairly slow (my 8310 only supports GPRS / EDGE), it is quite fast enough with WAP sites (and many companies are getting them these days, including Ster Kinekor and Nu Metro). 

Normal web sites tend not to display properly; but for this I installed Opera Mini as an extra browser.  It really is quite an awesome piece of software.  When it opens a normal web site, you can see the entire page (with menus and everything) on the small screen, with a box that you can use to select an area to zoom into.  When you select an area, immediately that area is displayed properly on-screen, and you can still move to other areas on the page.

Facebook is quite efficient on the BlackBerry as well.  I installed the BlackBerry Facebook app, which is quite good, but slightly limited.  Sometimes I also use Opera Mini’s Facebook page, which is better in some ways, but worse in others.  But for all those things I can’t do any other way, I use Opera Mini’s standard web page view to open the normal Facebook web site.

Opera Mini also has a very good Feed Reader – so all of the blogs I follow are shown in a single view, with notifications of new posts.  I can even comment!

E-mail is, of course, a pleasure – after all, it was the main selling point for BlackBerry devices a few years ago.  I have my complete address book and everything right there.  Composing and reading e-mails, even with attachments, is a pleasure.

One major drawback with using the BlackBerry as a complete alternative for my laptop was the absence of proper Office suites.  BlackBerry comes with Documents-To-Go included, but the free version won’t allow you to create new documents.  It can display word processor documents, as well as spreadsheets and presentations, and allow you to edit them (to a certain extent), and it is quite compatible with Microsoft Office; but still, it’s very limited. 

So I tried the cloud-based Office packages I discussed in my previous post; Microsoft Office Live doesn’t even open on the BlackBerry.  ThinkFree and Google Docs both open documents, but they are limited to viewing documents only, just like Documents-To-Go.  This begs the question – WHY?!  Apparently the iPhone already supports most of these features (+1 to Apple’s score); why not the BlackBerry?  Well, on the bright side, in my search I stumbled upon Mooo – which is a Mobile version of (a completely free and open source alternative for Microsoft Office, for PC’s).  Unfortunately Moo’s still in development.

Thankfully I have found a slight work-around to enable the creation of new documents in Documents-To-Go; however, since it is… well… maybe not illegal, but dubious in nature, I will not explain it here.  You can Google it if you want it.

Also, there seems to be a shocking absence of good PDF Readers for the BlackBerry – I can open a PDF when it is sent to my phone as an e-mail attachment, but the moment I save the PDF, I need to pay for software to open it.  This once again begs the question – WHY?!  PDF’s can be opened free of charge on PC’s, and that has been the case for years.  Why not on the BlackBerry?

Apart from these things, I already use my BlackBerry as my MP3 player (using the built-in music software), digital camera, movie player (using XPlayer and EncodeHD), Bible (using YouVersion Bible Software), and e-book reader (using MobiPocket Reader).  Life without my BlackBerry is almost unimaginable.

So I have moved the greatest percentage of my PC activities to the BlackBerry.  If only the BlackBerry had a larger screen, proper Office software access, a slightly larger keyboard, PDF reader built-in, and maybe a Lord of the Rings Online client, I may have moved completely…

So, in conclusion; a mere 10 years ago I never would have thought that I would ever be doing all these things on my phone.  So all in all, that’s pretty awesome!  Let’s be thankful for the progress that’s been made so far, and keep hoping for (and working on) improvements!

That’s it for now.  Happy surfing!

Lourens, out.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I Got My Head In The Cloud

Every few years there’s some new catch-phrase in the computer world, and it seems you just don’t know what you’re talking about if you don’t use that catch-phrase at least twice in each sentence.  Now I’ve been in the IT field long enough to remember when e-mail was that catch-phrase; almost nobody knew what it was, exactly, but you had to at least mention it in a conversation if you were to have any credibility.

Today it seems the latest catchphrase is “cloud computing”.  Everyone wants stuff to be “in the cloud”.  And though I’ve known about the concept of cloud computing for a while now, it seems most people (even IT guys) still have no idea what it is (I think it’s because of our limited internet capabilities in South Africa – see my previous post).

So, what is cloud computing?  Well, in essence, "Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, like the electricity grid…” according to Wikipedia.  Yeah, that definition didn’t help me a lot either (I mean, what is “the electricity grid” anyway?!), so let me just try to explain it in my own special way.

Imagine a computer with little or no software installed.  Not much use, is it?  I mean, you need an operating system, at the very least, but even an OS isn’t much use without applications and other software.  You need a word processor, a spreadsheet application, and some other productivity-type stuff.  But all work and no play makes someone-or-other slightly boring, so you need some entertainment as well – which means that you will need to install games, video and music players, etc.  So without all of this a computer is virtually useless, isn’t it?

Well, no, not anymore.  Cloud computing is basically internet-based computing.  With everything being “in the cloud”, you can easily type your letters, do your spreadsheet calculations, watch your movies, and even play your games, on-line, with little or no software installed locally!  (And did I mention that most of it can be done FREE of charge?)

For example; you can log in to Office Live for most of your Microsoft Office needs.  You can edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents on-line, without paying any license fees!  Or, if you prefer Microsoft alternatives, you can go for Google Docs or ThinkFree.  Another great benefit of most of these options is that you can have your documents available to you online, so you can log in from another computer in another country and still access all of your data!

Most of the software you use regularly will either be available “in the cloud”, or have a cloud-based alternative.  This includes media players, video editors, photo editors, and virtually anything you can think of.

About the only thing I can’t think of that you can’t really do in the cloud to such a large extent is gaming.  Yes, there are many online games that DON’T require local software installation, and many of them are really quite good.  I mean, Facebook has many great games; I’m totally addicted to Bejewelled Blitz, for instance.  You can also play many old DOS-based games, and even older Nintendo and Sega games, live on the internet, using only a web browser.  There’s even an online version of Quake.  But for real hard-core gamers the options are limited; you won’t be able to play Crysis 2 in the cloud, for example.

But all in all, cloud computing is a great concept.  You can have a perfectly capable PC, running all of the software you need, without any expensive licenses.  Google are even in process of developing the Google Chromium OS (which is basically the Google Chrome browser as an operating system), designed specifically with cloud computing in mind.  Many Linux distributions are doing the same thing.  It’s a great way to resurrect your “working but old” Pentium II’s and use them productively again!  Even if you install an old version of Linux, with a web browser, you’re set to “surf the cloud”.

The only negative comment I can make about cloud computing at the moment is, once again, the pathetic state of internet access in South Africa.  I apologize for hammering on the same point again, but I just can’t think of a good reason why internet bandwidth in this country should be so expensive.

Well, anyway, that’s it for now.  Have a great week!

Lourens, out.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Band Isn’t Wide Enough…

Bandwidth.  The single word that can summarize today’s blog post.  And what a frustrating little word it is…

South Africa is an amazing country; but let’s face it, we’re kind of late to the “internet bandwidth” party.  In fact, in party-terms, we are so late that we’re only arriving when the people who had too much to drink are already sobering up.

You see, in the UK, USA, Europe, Russia, and pretty much every non-African country (and unfortunately even most African countries) internet bandwidth is available at reasonable speeds, with reasonable limits, and at reasonable prices.  Here in South Africa we are stuck with slow internet (compared with international standards), with pathetic limits, at ridiculous prices!  I once had a 4Mbps connection, the fastest available in SA at that time, and when my friend visited from the UK he complained about the slow internet…

Sure, this subject has been discussed previously on many other blog and forum posts.  I know all the reasons.  I know that things are changing.  But why is it taking so long?

Seacom is a step in the right direction, of course; and there are more such connections coming.  And it is starting to filter through.

Here’s my frustration, though.  You see, my humble home is located just outside of Pretoria.  I have Telkom ADSL lines, iBurst signal, Neotel coverage, and various other options, a mere 10km from my home.  But where I’m located (not even in some obscure valley somewhere) I have only two options – Vodacom 3G, and a local wireless connection that I won’t name, but that some friends and I have caught stealing their customers’ bandwidth.  So my only real option is Vodacom, and I’m really on the fringe of the 3G / HSDPA signal area with that.  So now I have two questions to ask:

  1. Why, if we’re so close to the coverage, don’t they just extend their coverage that little bit?
  2. Vodacom was one of the cheapest (if not THE cheapest) broadband providers in SA until a few months ago.  So what’s wrong with them now?  A friend of mine has uncapped ADSL, at 4Mbps, from MWEB, and it costs him R899.  Even MTN are offering an uncapped 3G connection now (though only on contract, and it’s slower when you go above 3GB, but it’s still awesome to know you can use as much as you want).  SO WHAT’S WRONG WITH VODACOM?!  I mean, the best I can get from them is a 20GB data bundle, and that costs at least R3899!  I mean, that’s more than the average South African salary!

So those are just some of my frustrations.  I used to be a big fan of Vodacom’s internet offerings.  It just makes sense.  But I don’t know what’s wrong with them these days.  Recently they announced that they are increasing the amount of bandwidth that we get for the same price – Well, thank you Vodacom, but 300MB?  I mean, really…

Though I’ve never been a fan of MWEB, that’s who I’ll use if I can ever get my hands on an ADSL line, unless something changes drastically.

So, comment time.  Can anyone answer any of my questions?  Is there someone out there with significant influence to get some of these problems sorted out?  (And have any of you seen my other blue sock?  Oh, wait, I got it.)

All right then, boys and girls, that’s it for today.  All of my international readers, enjoy your good internet connections!

Lourens, out.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I.T. Support Bloopers

Today I just realized how easy it is to mess something up completely.  Sometimes we really need grace to just keep things going after creating some major mess-up…

Just this afternoon, one of my business partners was providing some IT support over the e-mail to a customer in Saudi Arabia.  He sent an e-mail to the customer explaining what she needed to do on her side.  But when the reply came, my partner (purposely remaining nameless in this post in an attempt to protect whatever little bit of a name he may still have left!) noticed that he had been sending e-mails to the customer using the e-mail account he uses to receive marketing e-mails, instead of using his business e-mail address.

Normally this wouldn’t be a problem.  Most people have the good sense to name their “alternate” e-mail addresses something logical.  However, I can only guess what the customer thought when she got IT support from “Xena Warrior Princess”!

So, ladies and gentlemen, I can honestly say that you won’t find another IT company quite like Renovo Computers.  We have Xena Warrior Princess providing tech support!  You can mail her (him) at

So I was thinking – I’m sure many of you have some other interesting support stories?  Please share them with me and I will post them here!

But for now, have a great weekend!

Lourens, out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gimme Some Penguin Lovin’


I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been a fan of Linux for a few years now.  I loved the concept even before I installed the software the first time.  You see, Linux is free.  (In two ways – it’s free as in “free speech”, and free as in “free lunch”.)

For those who don’t know what Linux is, in essence it’s an operating system (like Windows) that’s distributed free of charge (unlike Windows).  It used to be a fairly complicated operating system to master, but then Ubuntu came along with the goal to make Linux more “human”.  And things have indeed changed since then.  I’m going to go into detail in a few moments.  But first, guys, please forgive me; I have had limited exposure to other operating systems, so I will be comparing Linux with Windows today, and not with MacOS, or Unix, or Novell, or anything else.  Okay?  Okay.

So I recently got my hands on Ubuntu 10.04 64-bit (it’s the latest Long Term Support edition of Ubuntu that was released in April 2010) and installed it.  The first thing I noticed was the 5-minute install time.  Yes, a complete install in 5 minutes!  (And I thought Windows 7 was awesome with its 20 minute install time…)  The next thing that impressed me was its boot time.  I went from cold start-up to desktop in 23 seconds!

But since most people out there are still using Windows XP, waiting for a system to install or boot is obviously not that much of an issue for most.  So let’s look at some other features:

Firstly, I love the new theme.  The old orange / brown was really not my thing.  (No offense, I bet some people loved it, but not me.  Both colours remind me of drinking fish oil and antibiotics (the kind that looks like milkshake but tastes like vomit) as a child.  No thanks.  The new theme is quite pleasing to the eye, as you can see:


Another nice new feature is Gwibber.  Gwibber is like a central social networking program.  It can connect to your accounts with Facebook, Twitter, and many others, and update your status, as well as display all your friends’ status updates.  No more “Sannie Koekemoer is out of town but a new Hairy Cockroach was born in her InsectCity, and it needs someone to take care of it”, or “Gertjie Pretorius sent you a Slimy Leg in Random Body Parts” or such nonsense.  I think that’s great.


It also has a great multimedia package, including a new video editor.  You can listen to music, rip CD’s, and watch some movies straight out of the box.  You can also purchase music on Ubuntu One, a cloud-based network, and the music is automatically synchronized with all of your devices through the cloud.

Ubuntu 10.04 is real easy to use.  It includes most of the software you will probably need, like 3.2 with its spreadsheets, word processor, and presentation program.  And those things that you don’t get included, you can always install with the great Ubuntu Software Center. 

Software Center

I didn’t have any driver problems either.  All of my devices (including Bluetooth, and my Vodafone 3G modem) worked directly after installation.

But, in all honesty, not everything that I have to say is positive.  The first thing that bothered me was the fact that they moved the “Maximize, Minimize, and Close” icons to the upper left, instead of the upper right.  Why?  I couldn’t get any clear answer.  People are used to having them on the right; now it’s just plain confusing.  Especially in some programs, like’s Word Processor; if you have a document open, the document’s Close icon is still on the right, but the program’s close button is on the left.  I don’t doubt that you will get used to it, and maybe even like it, eventually; I’m just saying it’s a rather pointless change that irritates me.

File Browser

Another thing that troubles me somewhat is the fact that Ubuntu doesn’t include native support for MP3’s and DVD’s.  You have to download the packages to add support separately.  Though it isn’t a huge download, it’s still a bit of an inconvenience.  I can understand that the codecs involved aren’t “free as in free speech”, and so it goes against Ubuntu’s philosophy; but still, it would have been nice to get the support out of the box.  We once revived a customer’s old laptop by installing a version of Ubuntu.  It was mainly for her daughter to use to write some stories.  Later we heard that she also wanted to watch DVD’s, but when we wanted to install the packages, she didn’t have internet.  So that’s slightly irritating as well.

I also have to say that, despite the fact that Ubuntu is incredibly stable, it would seem that Firefox (the default web browser in Ubuntu) is not.  I had problems on older versions of Ubuntu, and I’m still having problems in the new release; Firefox would just stop responding for no apparent reason.  Though it doesn’t happen often, it is completely random and unpredictable.

So my final verdict:

Ubuntu has come of age.  This is by far the best version of Linux I have seen yet.  I can finally recommend Ubuntu 10.04 as the permanent operating system for most people, whether they are used to Windows or not.  BUT, if you are a hard-core gamer, stick to Windows.  Though gaming support for Ubuntu is improving, and some Windows games actually look better and perform better in Ubuntu, it’s still a struggle to get some Windows games to work in Ubuntu.  The same goes for people who use specialist software of any kind.

If you want to download Ubuntu (free of charge), go to the Ubuntu web site bly clicking here.  It’s a fairly large download though, so if you would rather like to get a copy of it on CD or DVD, please contact Renovo Computers.

I also recommend, before you switch to Ubuntu, that you take a look at to see if there are open source alternatives around for any software that you use.

So, that concludes our broadcast day.  Be blessed!

Lourens, out.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Return of Windows

It’s not even a year after the release of Windows 7, and apparently Microsoft is already preparing software developers for Windows 8.  Doesn’t that seem a bit drastic?

Well, not really, no.  Let me explain.

People were upset with Windows Vista.  I talked about that in an earlier post.  (In fact, to use the word “upset” would be an understatement.)  And then people claimed that Microsoft were themselves upset with Vista, using as evidence of this the fact that MS released Windows 7 a mere 3 years after Vista, while there was a gap of more or less than twice that between XP and Vista.

But, in fact, Vista wasn’t the odd one out there; XP was.  There has always been an average of a 3 year gap between Microsoft OS releases.  Windows 1 was released in 1985; Windows 2 in 1987; Windows 3.0 in 1990 and 3.1 in 1992.  Then Windows 95 in 1995, and 98 in 1998, followed by Windows 2000 (based on NT) and Windows Me (based on Windows 98) in 2000.  Windows XP followed 1 year later, in 2001, only to be replaced by Vista at the end of 2006.

So in all honesty, Windows 7 is just Microsoft getting back on track.  Also, another thing I want to point out, while I’m on the subject.  Someone commented on one of my earlier posts that “Windows 7 is just Vista with the bugs sorted out”.  True; but that’s usually the case with operating systems.  Windows 98 was just Windows 95 with newer features and fewer bugs.  Similarly, Windows Me was 98 with new features and fewer bugs (though some would say more bugs).  Similarly, XP was just an overhaul of 2000 (though an excellent overhaul, I have to say).  Vista was Windows redesigned from the ground up, but Windows 7 is, once again, an overhaul (but just like XP, an excellent overhaul).

So to get back to the point; Microsoft starting to talk about Windows 8 is really not surprising to me at all.  In fact, Microsoft started talking about it before the release of Windows 7!  They are looking toward the future, which is a good thing.

Now, I know that some of my readers love to criticise MS, and will use the release dates as further criticism.  (These readers are especially Linux fanboys!)  And though I love Linux (yes, I really do, and I will feature some Linux-related posts in the future as well!), I have to point out that a new version of Ubuntu is releases every 6 months.  And the reason?  To add new features, and to sort out bugs.  Yes, I know that Ubuntu is free.  But in principle it’s the same thing – People improve their software and release it to the public.

So, in summary – Windows 8 is coming, whether we like it or not.  “Will it be good?”  We’ll just have to wait and see.  “Does it look promising?”  Yes indeed; if half of the new features people are talking about are included, then it will be excellent.  “I’ll just wait for Windows 8 then instead of upgrading to Windows 7 right now.”  Well, it’s up to you; but seriously, 7 is brilliant.  And don’t hold your breath; it’s probably going to be more than 2 years before we can actually install Windows 8.

Monday, June 28, 2010

10 Days Later – And I’m Using Firefox Again

Well, just 10 days after posting my Browser test and deciding to use Apple’s Safari as my default browser, I switched back to Firefox yesterday.  I just felt it’s fair to share my reasons with you.

Don’t get me wrong – Safari is an excellent browser.  In many respects I still like it more than Firefox.  I love its polished and shiny feel (like all things Apple, it looks amazing).  I like the fact that it highlights the points I would probably be most interested in on web pages – like the Username / Password boxes.  Its “Top Sites” feature is far superior to Firefox or Opera’s Speed Dial.  It’s a superbly integrated, fully-featured browser.

But here are my complaints:

1.  Too many unsupported web sites.  Some sites simply wouldn’t display certain functionality, no matter what features I enabled.  I know it’s almost futile to hope for a browser that has 100% support for all sites, but still, with Firefox I find maybe one site per month that I have to open with Internet Explorer.  With Safari I had 7 of these sites within a week.

2.  Trouble with Joomla’s back-end.  I design web sites from time to time, and I do this mostly with Joomla.  But I find that Safari has some problems in the Joomla back-end, specifically when uploading media or creating hyperlinks (sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t – and I can’t work with “sometimes”).

3.  Some irritating lagging.  Often, when opening a new page (not just specific pages, or with specific kinds of content, as far as I can see), Safari would stop responding completely for a few seconds (around 10 – 20 seconds most of the time), totally randomly.  This is just plain irritating.

So, no offense to my Apple-supporting readers, but yesterday I exported my bookmarks and moved back to Firefox.  No, it doesn’t look as good, and I’m not 100% happy with it.  But at least it’s stable, and familiar, and pretty well supported!

So for now, that’s it from me.

Lourens, out.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Very Awesome Tool #1

Well, after a weekend-and-a-day off, I’m back!  But before I get to the point of this post, I want to say thanks for all the comments I got so far.  I appreciate all of them!  So far we had comments from some passionate Apple-supporters, and some passionate Open Source-supporters, making things very interesting.  Since I never (yet) had much exposure to Apple, and my exposure to Open Source software is very limited, it’s good to have some input from people who have the knowledge that I don’t!  So thanks guys.

Now to the subject at hand.  This is the first in a series of posts I’ll do once in a while to show some impressive software tools I discover.  Today I want to talk a little about a cool tool called “Speccy”.

Home PC users – have you ever had the problem of telephonic IT support guys asking you what motherboard or CPU you have?  I mean, I know some of these terms get weird.  One of my business partners once had a guy holding up a power chord and asking him if it’s a flash drive.  So trust me, I get it.  Well, Speccy solves that problem.

IT guys – ever needed to download a driver, but you either had to open the case or restart the PC to see what motherboard is inside?  Just to stare at one of those cryptic older Intel boards without any proper indication of make or model number?  Well, I feel your pain.  But now you can just use Speccy.

So what is Speccy?  Well, quite simply, it shows you exactly what’s running inside (and outside) your PC, in detail.  I mean, it even shows the motherboard make, model, and revision number.  It tells you how many RAM slots you have, and what kind of RAM chips you have in each slot.  It gives you your Windows version, your Windows serial key, and the temperature of all CPU and GPU cores you may have!  (If none of this made sense, you still need Speccy, because those are the kinds of questions your IT technician will ask you.)

My favourite feature of Speccy?  Well, it’s FREE.  That’s right, free to download (and small too! Just over 1MB).  Just click on the word “Speccy” anywhere on this page to get it!

For those who want to see what it looks like, here are some screen captures (with some info blanked out for privacy and security reasons).  This will also answer some of the questions I got regarding what kind of PC I’m running.




So that’s my jabbering for today.  But I want feedback – Tell me about some of your favourite software tools!  I will check them out and share my opinions here!

Well, that’s it for now.  Have a great week!

Lourens, out.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Are all browsers created equal?

So in yesterday’s post I mentioned that Internet Explorer 9 apparently looks very promising.  So I said to myself, “Well, Myself, are you going to put that to the test?”  And so I decided, if I’m going to test Internet Explorer 9, I may just as well do an overall test of all the current web browsers in comparison.

So here you have my findings.  My methods probably weren’t perfect, but I took every care to ensure that they are accurate.  All browsers were tested after a clean reboot, with no add-ons or accelerators enabled, on a fairly stable Vodacom 3G / HSDPA connection, and on one computer system.  Now, I know we probably all have our favourite web browsers, and I’ve been a fan of Mozilla Firefox for a long time now, and never felt the need to move away.  But these results were quite surprising to me.  So without any further ado, here’s my results:


Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 (Version 8.0.7600.16385)

Well, first up Microsoft’s current browser.  Internet Explorer is the most widely-used browser on the planet, mainly because it ships with the most widely-used operating system on the planet.  (Even Europe’s attempt at limiting Microsoft’s distribution of IE with Windows 7 within Europe had a very small impact on this statistical fact.)  Because of this there are very few (if any) web sites that won’t load in IE.  In all honesty, it’s a good browser, with version 8 thankfully rectifying the instability problems we had in IE7.  The coloured tabs add a nice touch, allowing you to keep track of your browsing.  In Windows 7 (with the full Aero interface) you can preview all tabs as separate images when you hover the mouse over the icon, which is nice.  However, IE8 feels rather sluggish to me.  And add to that the fact that I could find nothing like “Speed Dial” in Internet Explorer 8 (which is an absolute must-have in my opinion), and I have to say IE8 is not my choice of browser, but a good idea to have hanging around in the background for those “hard-to-open” pages.

In terms of speed, this is how IE8 scored:

Load Time:    6 seconds
Opening a new tab:    2 seconds loading time:    14 seconds loading time:    21 seconds loading time:    17 seconds loading time:    14.5 seconds
This blog’s loading time:        8 seconds

Average Speed Factor: 11.79 seconds


Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 (Platform Preview 9.0.7766.6000)

This is the one that caused this whole test.  Firstly I have to say that this is not a complete browser yet; it lacks a lot of basic features.  But I was quite impressed.  It doesn’t have the same sluggish feel to it that IE8 has; it genuinely feels quite stable and fast.  But it won’t open all pages completely; some features in this blog wouldn’t open, for example.  Also, at present it doesn’t feature tabs or Speed Dial, but you never know what could change during the next few months before its release.  So actually delivering a verdict on this product is unfair; but go ahead and try it for yourself if you want (it won’t overwrite or replace your current IE).

In terms of speed, this is how IE9 scored:

Load Time:    4 seconds
Opening a new tab:    NOT SUPPORTED YET loading time:    6 seconds loading time:    24 seconds loading time:    11 seconds loading time:    15 seconds
This blog’s loading time:        7 seconds

Average Speed Factor: 11.17 seconds


Mozilla Firefox (Version 3.6.3)

My web browser of choice since 2004.  Over the last few years it developed so much that it can open almost all web pages.  It’s very widely supported (last I heard it’s the second most-used web browser in the world after Internet Explorer), and I believe this is to a great extent thanks to the fact that it’s pretty universal.  You can get Firefox on Windows, Linux, and Apple MacOS.  It’s stable, with very good performance, but it can get a bit sluggish sometimes, especially after a few hours online.  In Windows 7 Aero it only displays the current tab in preview, which is a bit of a disadvantage in my opinion.  But in its favour, it has Speed Dial available as an optional add-on (along with a whole bunch of other good add-ons).

In terms of speed, this is how Firefox scored:

Load Time:    5 seconds
Opening a new tab:    1.5 seconds loading time:    12 seconds loading time:    23 seconds loading time:    21 seconds loading time:    11 seconds
This blog’s loading time:        25 seconds

Average Speed Factor: 14.07 seconds


Opera (10.53 Build 3374)

This browser isn’t all that big yet, but it’s getting there.  It has the potential to do great things, and it already has quite a loyal following.  Firstly, some nice features I noticed in Opera.  One thing that was absolutely awesome was the fact that it has a “Resume” feature for failed downloads.  I know Firefox has a similar feature, but it won’t resume all failed downloads, while I didn’t get one that Opera couldn’t resume.  It also shows all tabs in Windows 7’s Aero preview, and it has Speed Dial built in! (Yay!!)  However, on the negative side, I struggled to get Speed Dial activated (I’m still not 100% sure how I did it, and couldn’t really find any proper help online).  Also, its shortcut keys are not standard.  What I mean by that is that, for example, Alt-Tab will open a new tab in most browsers.  Not in Opera.  That’s just one example.  So surfing with Opera is a brand new experience, but not really necessarily in a good way.  I also experienced some “This program has stopped responding”-errors when opening more than about 10 tabs (yes, I actually do use that many tabs often!), and I found quite a few pages that had features that wouldn’t show in Opera (the weather elements on, for example).

In terms of speed, this is how Firefox scored:

Load Time:    4.5 seconds
Opening a new tab:    0.5 seconds loading time:    10 seconds loading time:    19.5 seconds loading time:    23 seconds loading time:    15 seconds
This blog’s loading time:        41 seconds (What’s up with that?!)

Average Speed Factor: 16.21 seconds


Google Chrome (5.0.375.70)

This is a good browser with impressive features, but I find that it takes a while to get used to.  (But apparently, once you’re used to it you love it.)  It is quite fast, but I found that it struggles a bit with some features such as ads and images on some pages.  It also shows only the current tab in Windows 7’s preview, but on the plus side it has Speed Dial as an optional extension.  My main problem with Chrome is something that some people will probably see as an advantage, and I can see why, but I’m just weird in not liking it – it’s the fact that you don’t have a separate search box, you search simply by typing your search into the address bar.  A nice idea but… I just can’t get used to it.  All in all a great browser, and it would have scored much better, but it REALLY suffers on some sites, as you’ll see in the performance comparison.

In terms of speed, this is how Chrome scored:

Load Time:    4 seconds
Opening a new tab:    0.5 seconds loading time:    7 seconds loading time:    22 seconds loading time:    56 seconds loading time:    21.5 seconds
This blog’s loading time:        125 seconds (No, that’s NOT a typo!!)

Average Speed Factor: 33.71 seconds


Apple Safari 5.0 (7533.16)

Fairly unknown in Windows circles, Apple’s web browser turns out to be a hidden gem.  Yes, it is available for Windows; and I’m pleasantly surprised!  It has superbly fast page loading, different tabs show as previews in Windows 7, and it has excellent performance in general.  It offers Top Sites, which is similar to Speed Dial, but it has Apple’s “clean and sparkly” look.  There are only two negative things I can say at this point.  The first is, it’s the biggest download of all the browsers covered here (around 30MB); the second problem is that it has weird Windows 7 functionality.  When pinned to the taskbar, all other icons stay where they are when opened.  Safari creates another icon on the taskbar to show that it’s open, and each successive click on the original icon opens a new tab.  But that’s a minor inconvenience in my opinion.  I am running Safari for a few days to see if I find something that bothers me about it; but so far this one looks like a clear winner!

In terms of speed, this is how Safari scored:

Load Time:    8 seconds
Opening a new tab:    1 seconds loading time:    7.5 seconds loading time:    15 seconds loading time:    12 seconds loading time:    10 seconds
This blog’s loading time:        16 seconds

Average Speed Factor: 9.93 seconds

Here’s a graphical illustration for those who are interested.  It’s the speed comparison between the web browsers, and less is better:


Remember that these tests are based purely on my own experience, and you may feel differently about things.  That’s fine.  But for those who are looking for something different, I hope my comparison helps!

Wishing you all a great weekend,

Lourens, out.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

So when did Microsoft become Mr Popularity again?

I took my first few baby steps on PC’s with Microsoft DOS.  Back then most people were dependent on it.  It was the ultimate in operating systems (except for the small elite that used Apple, but Apple support in South Africa was virtually non-existent back then, so it wasn’t really a practical option for us).  Back in the 80’s and early 90’s people actually liked Bill Gates and thought him some kind of genius.  (These days I get about 5 emails per year trying to prove that he’s the antichrist… My, how things have changed.)  Even the early releases of Windows were met with some kind of awe.

But all that seemed to change with the release of Windows 95.  Suddenly people were complaining about the “pathetic performance” and “instability”.  Three years later saw the emergence of Windows 98, and people complained that it’s just a “bug-fix” for Windows 95, with “even more bugs”.  Yet by then most of the world already adopted one of the two latest releases of Windows.

Let’s fast-forward a bit – Windows 2000 was released, but with “bad gaming support” (because it was built on Windows NT, not the old DOS-based Windows versions), and Windows Me (still often called the most unstable Windows version ever, though I used it for 3 years with no problems).  Through all of this Microsoft’s public image got worse and worse; technicians complained about Windows, users complained about Windows, everyone complained about it, and yet everyone paid good money for it… or rather, some people paid good money for it, the others just copied it from those who paid the good money for it, but almost everyone used it.

Windows XP was met with some enthusiasm, but even more complaints (“You need a monster PC to run it”, and “It has security holes you can drive a truck through” were two of the most popular.)  But over the course of almost 7 years, most of the world adopted Windows XP, and accepted the ever-popular “Blue Screen of Death” as a part of life.  But still Microsoft were ridiculed and insulted by the masses.  Some brave souls (including myself) ventured into the Linux field in search of alternatives.  But most people who made the switch still had Windows XP humming in the background somewhere, if only to play their games.

Then came Windows Vista…  What more can I say?  People loved to hate it (and many still do).  What were the two major complaints?  Performance and security (the same things that plagued Windows 95, 2000, and XP when they were released, but by then people forgot about that).  In all honesty, I liked Windows Vista (please forgive me).  If you had a capable PC, and tweaked Vista a bit, it actually performed quite well, and added features that I never even realized I missed in XP.  But by now Microsoft were insulted even more than ever (the “Bill Gates = antichrist” propaganda increased exponentially).  People complained that they “over-charged” for “sub-standard, buggy, insecure and unstable software”.

But now to get to the point that I’m trying to make.  Somewhere in the last 12 months or so, things started to change.  Not suddenly, or dramatically; no public displays of affection or apologies to Mr Gates for all the slandering; but over the last few months I noticed it happening.  Middle of last year I removed Ubuntu from my PC and rather opted to run the RC version of Windows 7 as my main operating system.  Many people I know, who could never afford to buy Microsoft software, actually forked out the money to buy Windows 7 and legal copies of Office.  Anti-virus software, commercial and free ones (including BitDefender, Norton, AVG and Avira AntiVir) were little by little uninstalled and replaced with the awesome, powerful, super-fast (and FREE)  Microsoft Security Essentials.  WinAmp was replaced with the latest version of Windows Media Player.  And Microsoft finally seems to be gaining some respect in the computing world again.

I had the opportunity to install Microsoft Office 2010 on a customer’s computer the other day, and I was extremely impressed.  It’s user-friendly, stable, and very fast.  Only time will tell if it’s secure and stable enough to handle whatever people can throw at it, but for now at least I’m impressed.  From early reports, even Internet Explorer 9 seems to out-perform Mozilla Firefox at this stage (though it’s not a completed product yet, so we’ll have to wait and see).

So, to summarize, at least from my own life.  A year ago I was running Ubuntu, with all of its free software packages, including  Today I’m typing this blog post in Windows Live Writer, running on Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, with Windows Media Player playing my tunes in the background, and Microsoft Security Essentials and Windows Firewall ensuring my on-line safety.  In a few minutes, after finishing this, I will open Windows Live Mail to check my email, and chances are that I won’t be getting any “Bill Gates is the antichrist” propaganda today.

For my part, at least; Mr. Gates, I apologize.  You and your team have my respect, and my gratitude.

Lourens, out.

PS: Remember to check out Renovo Computers, if you haven’t done so already!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Introductions are in order…

Seeing as how this is my first post in this blog, I suppose introductions are in order.  My name is Lourens.  Hi, it’s good to meet you.  (Except if I already know you, in which case I’m glad that I met you sometime before.)

Now that we know each other, first a disclaimer.  I am not a “computer genius” or a “programming wizard”.  So that is NOT the kind of content you can expect to find here.  If that’s what you’re looking for, I can recommend a few other blogs…  Some of my friends ARE “computer geniuses” and “programming wizards”, so I’m extremely well connected, and they often make me look good!

On the other hand, I have been involved with IT and computers for well over 20 years.  It started when I was just a little boy.  While my brother was studying in Pretoria, staying there all week and coming home on Fridays, I would spend weekdays after school inserting one floppy disk after another (yes, the old 5 1/4” disks that were actually floppy), looking for games at a DOS command prompt, and trying every single executable, command, or batch file I could find.  Often with disastrous results.  And then I’d spend the rest of my afternoons trying to find a way to fix, before Friday, whatever I broke this time!  That eventually lead to my career in computers and the IT field in general.

So the info I will be giving in this blog will actually be a list of my experiences.  I’m a naturally inquisitive kind of guy, always sticking my nose where it may not necessarily belong, trying to find new things and trying them out.  So you will at least be able to benefit from this general inquisitiveness (hey, is that even a real word?  “Inquisitiveness”…)

So go ahead, follow this blog if you want.  I’m going to try to add a post more or less daily, and I’ll appreciate your input and comments.  And also, if you want me to discuss anything in particular  (preferably computer-related), please let me know and I will try to stick my nose into it!

And to end off this first blog post, I would like to add some unashamed propaganda!  Please go and take a look at the web site of Renovo Computers in South Africa.  That’s the IT company I’m affiliated with and co-founded.  So take a look at the awesome services.  Or even just look at the awesome web site (it really is very impressive, and I can boast about it because I didn’t design it!  Yeah, I rock at being humble.)

And also, please do me a favour and click on the ads if they interest you.  (Don’t go through any trouble to click on them just because I’m asking you to, though, but if something interests you, please do.)  Those ads help to support this blog and my babbling, and pay for medical expenses when I get my nose stuck somewhere it didn’t belong.