Windows 7 promises to be a vast improvement over Vista. While this is most definitely a Mac-focused blog, I think it’s a good idea to compare all the next generation operating systems together — the other two being Snow Leopard and Ubuntu 9.04.

Having installed the RC build 7100 and using it on and off for the last few weeks, I must say that I actually like this software. Despite a few annoyances here and there, overall Windows 7 is a big step up from Vista, and even XP. Let’s take a closer look.

Installation

Right away, I was impressed with the changes to the installation process. Nearly all irrelevant options are hidden, and the important ones are out in plain site. Formatting my Boot Camp partition was as easy as clicking “Format” and waiting less than 10 seconds. After entering the RC serial number, all files were copied, settings updated and the computer reboot into Windows. From start to finish the process took 50 minutes, but that doesn’t include the extra finagling I had to do to get the setup disk to work properly with Boot Camp.

Interface

There are a multitude of changes in the interface, and most of them are for the better. The taskbar has now been called the smartbar and it gets its name from only displaying application icons, and the way applications can be “bolted” to the bar. Personally, I find this an excellent way of managing open applications, and the fact that a simple mouseover displays the entire window means a quick look is possible to make sure you have the right application.

One tiny thing that has bothered me since starting with the RC Beta is that scrolling does not automatically select the window beneath the cursor. On Mac OS X, scrolling is done in the application that the cursor is presently over, regardless if it is active or not. While it sounds like I’m splitting hairs, it becomes a major nuisance when switching back and forth between applications.

My MacBook, with its GMA950 graphics chip, returned a Windows Experience Index score of 3.2, with the lowest score being the graphics system. Despite this, Windows 7 is very snappy, and the Aero interface displayed without trouble. Some machines that were unable to take full advantage of the Vista interface eye candy might be able to do so now.

Application updates

Windows 7 also sees some nice enhancements to core software functionality and application updates. A big component of Windows Media Player is the ability to stream to other devices on the network using the UPnP server. While I didn’t really test this feature, I was happy to see a UPnP viewer included in the application. This meant I could listen to/watch any media that was stored on my file server. Unfortunately, this feature didn’t work completely correctly, as files were duplicated in the library for some reason, but the actual release version may work better.


One of the biggest surprises I found was the new take on wallpaper in Windows 7. As shown in the above picture, some of the choices are very trippy. That psychedelic turtle has found a place on my wallpaper, mostly because it is so unlike any of Microsoft’s previous wallpapers.

Many other applications have seen updates as well. Paint has more features seen in a standard image-manipulation program, Screen Capture is more versatile, network tools are more powerful and the control panel organizes things more clearly, to name a few.

This only really begins to scratch the surface of this massive upgrade, but from what I’ve been able to see/use on the last few months, I’d say Microsoft has done a good job listening to user complaints and acting on them. Of course, it will never fully replace the OS X installation on my MacBook, but I no longer dread booting into the alternate reality.

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Earlier I wrote an Applescript that goes online to TV.com and finds the episode titles for TV show video files. While that seemed to work properly, TV.com changed their format and my Applescript went kaput. Since I really wanted to have this process automated, I wrote a bash script to do the same thing with the command line.

The result is a Ubuntu bash script that renames all the formatted files in a folder with the actual episode titles. Right now it requires Linux because it uses wget and XMLStarlet to download the file data, but I may release an additional script that works with other systems.

The entire script is made possible by the excellent XML feed service by TVRage.com.

Download the script

Prerequisite

XMLStarlet
XMLStarlet is a small command-line utility that can process XML files and text. It is required to traverse the XML structure of the TVRage.com data. To download this utility in Ubuntu, simply use the repositories.

sudo apt-get install xmlstarlet

Usage

Change paths where appropriate.

  1. Save the script to a known folder, change into that folder, and make it executable by issuing the following command
    chmod a+x ./tvrenamer.sh
  2. Change the current directory to the folder that contains the video files.
    cd Television/Season\ 1
  3. Rename all the files in the folder to use the format SxxExx.extension
    S08E01.avi
    S08E02.avi
    S08E03.avi
    S08E04.avi
    S08E05.avi
    S08E06.avi
    S08E07.avi
    S08E08.avi
    S08E09.avi
    S08E10.avi
  4. Call the script and append the name of the show to the end of the command.
    /path/to/script/tvrenamer.sh Simpsons
  5. Watch as the shows all magically change their name.
    Downloading show data for 'Simpsons'...
    Downloading episode guide...
    Simpsons - S08E01 - Treehouse of Horror VII.avi
    Simpsons - S08E02 - You Only Move Twice.avi
    Simpsons - S08E03 - The Homer They Fall.avi
    Simpsons - S08E04 - Burns, Baby Burns.avi
    Simpsons - S08E05 - Bart After Dark.avi
    Simpsons - S08E06 - A Milhouse Divided.avi
    Simpsons - S08E07 - Lisa's Date with Density.avi
    Simpsons - S08E08 - Hurricane Neddy.avi
    Simpsons - S08E09 - El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer).avi
    Simpsons - S08E10 - The Springfield Files.avi

If you wish to access the script simply by typing the name (tvrenamer, for example) simply issue the following two commands:

cp /path/to/script/tvrenamer.sh /usr/local/bin/tvrenamer
sudo chmod a+x /usr/local/bin/tvrenamer

From this point, you simply need to use tvrenamer "TV Show".

The script reads all files in the folder, but will only rename files that are in the S**E** format. TV show titles must have escaped spaces to properly search for the show, or be surrounded in ” quotes.

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Since getting my PS3, then setting up my Ubuntu file server, I’ve really enjoyed watching movies on my TV. To get the media from computer to Playstation requires the use of software that employs the UPnP protocol, in the form of a DLNA server.

If there are too many acronyms in there, just remember the name Mediatomb. Mediatomb is an open-source, cross-platform DLNA server that streams a variety of media formats across a local network to whatever compatible device you happen to have running at the end. It can stream video, music, photos in numerous formats, and will even transcode others so that they can stream as well. All this tinkering comes at the expense of user-friendliness, though. In most cases, the regular binaries for each operating system will do most of the cool tricks I mention here. To get the most out of the system, however, requires you to compile from source.

As mentioned in my previous file server post, I’m running Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackolope on a “headless” Intel server, which I control via the terminal. Since the computer doesn’t restart, I wanted it to run as a daemon, which was where I ran into a problem. For some reason, Jaunty didn’t play nice with the standard daemon package, so I had do a little digging to find the solution.

Steps

  1. Create a temporary working directory by issuing this command
    $ mkdir temp
  2. Install the ffmpegthumbnailer libraries by installing libffmpegthumbnailer. Use the command sudo apt-get install libffmpegthumbnailer and enter your admin password when prompted.
  3. Compile ffmpeg using the tutorial at Juliensimon.blogspot.com but include the configure tag --enable-libffmpegthumbnailer. Don’t move on until the configuration confirms thumbnailer installation.
  4. Compile and install the Mediatomb binaries from source — again, I used the excellent tutorial at Juliensimon.blogspot.com
  5. Check the functionality of Mediatomb to issuing the command $ mediatomb then opening a web browser to http://ip_of_server:49152/
  6. To make the daemon work, first download the daemon package by issuing this command (one line)
    $ wget http://mirrors.kernel.org/ubuntu/pool/universe/m/mediatomb/mediatomb-daemon_0.11.0-3ubuntu2_all.deb
  7. Now extract the files in the package to the temporary directory created earlier
    $ dpkg-deb -x mediatomb-daemon_0.11.0-3ubuntu2_all.deb temp

    As you can see, the daemon package is just a collection of configuration files, so installing it properly is just a matter of copying the files back.

  8. Change to the temporary directory with the files by typing
    $ cd temp_directory_name
  9. Type these commands one line at a time to copy the files back to their rightful place. The commands with two lines should be printed as one single command.
    $ sudo cp etc/mediatomb/config.xml /etc/mediatomb/config.xml

    $ sudo cp etc/default/mediatomb /etc/default/mediatomb

    $ sudo cp etc/init.d/mediatomb /etc/init.d/mediatomb

    $ sudo cp etc/logrotate.d/mediatomb /etc/logrotate.d/mediatomb

    $ sudo cp usr/share/doc/mediatomb-daemon/README.Debian usr/share/doc/mediatomb-daemon/README.Debian

    $ sudo cp usr/share/doc/mediatomb-daemon/changelog.Debian.gz /usr/share/doc/mediatomb-daemon/changelog.Debian.gz

    $ sudo cp usr/share/doc/mediatomb-daemon/changelog.gz /usr/share/doc/mediatomb-daemon/changelog.gz

    $ sudo cp usr/share/doc/mediatomb-daemon/copyright /usr/share/doc/mediatomb-daemon/copyright

    If the copy comes back with errors about directories, you’ll likely have to use the mkdir to create the requested folders.

  10. Now the important step is setting the proper permissions of the folder /var/lib/mediatomb. Change into that directory by issuing
    $ cd /var/lib/
  11. The folder /var/lib/mediatomb should contain 3 files:
    $ ls mediatomb
    mediatomb.html
    sqlite3.db
    sqlite3.db-journal
  12. Change the ownership of the folder and its contents.
    $ chown -R mediatomb:mediatomb mediatomb
  13. Change the permissions of the HTML file.
    $ sudo chmod 666 mediatomb/mediatomb.html
  14. Change the permissions of the remaining two files:
    $ sudo chmod 644 mediatomb/sqlite3.db
    $ sudo chmod 644 mediatomb/sqlite3.db-journal
  15. Make the script run at startup.
    $ update-rc.d mediatomb defaults

To start the server, simply issue the command sudo /etc/init.d/mediatomb start. If the server doesn’t start, view the Mediatomb log file to see what else is happening.

$ vi /var/log/mediatomb.log

Exit with :q. I’ve been running this setup since I first built the server, and it has worked exceptionally well.

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aboutSLIt’s now been close to three weeks since Snow Leopard arrived in stores, and the Internet has now had a chance to go through the entire system and find the good, the bad and the barely changed. I’ve been using it since that time too, and like some of the subtle changes. Since Engadget, Gizmodo and even David Pogue have all weighed in with lengthy reviews, I’m going to avoid that here. Instead, I’m going to go through some of the changes I’ve seen and whether I think it’s worth the $35CAN upgrade fee.

This is the first of 3 operating system comparisons. Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.04 will be up shortly.

The Improvements

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to upgrade my MacBook from 10.5 to 10.6. I inserted the DVD while logged in, the menubar and Dock faded away and I returned 50 minutes later to my original desktop. There were options for installing additional languages, printers or Rosetta, but the default installation seems to provide all the required data, with the notable exception of Rosetta. If you still run PPC based applications, be sure to click that checkbox.

animatedwifiAfter it was installed, I took a look around and found very few changes to the interface. Sure, Stacks can now scroll when using the tile arrangement, and some menubars have more function, but by and large, the upgrade is behind the scenes. The Airport menu is slightly animated when not connected to a network, as shown on the left. Doing an option+click on the menu items now brings up a condensed system preference panel with the most important functions front and centre. The Sound menu item brings what is probably the most convenient small update, with the ability to choose the audio input and output on the computer with entering System Preferences.

Snow Leopard also seems to change the behaviour of computers exiting from sleep as well. On my MacBook, sleeping the computer for an extended period of time (about 2 hours or so) sometimes causes it to go into deep-sleep mode. That means when it wakes again, you must load the contents of RAM from the hard drive, which can take an extra 30 seconds or so. I’ve yet to determine if this is a change to the OS itself, or simply a flaw with my computer.

Ideal customer

Apple has taken a new strategy here with Snow Leopard. By keeping the interface familiar and improving the underlying technology, they allow users to gain familiarity with the software. As a $35 CAN upgrade, it is easy to recommend, but for regular users of Leopard who use their computer more for email and web than pushing the boundary of computing, it’s probably not all that necessary.

Interestingly, I think Snow Leopard works better as an upgrade for those users still running pre-Leopard installations. As a move from Tiger, or even Panther, SL offers many new features that make computing much, much easier. I’m excited about the new applications that will be released shortly that take advantage of this new technology — it just looks like I’ll have to get a new computer to fully use all the new tools.

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px100Using a computer, and especially an iPod with music means having a set of headphones that sound good, pack well, and don’t break the bank.

For the last year or so I’ve been rocking a set of Sennheiser PX100 foldable headphones and I believe they satisfy all the above criteria.

The Sound

The most important aspect of any piece of audio equipment is of course, the sound. Despite the small package, these Sennheisers provide excellent sound in many configurations. They pump the bass for rock music, while maintaining the mid and high notes for classical, or even regular talking in podcasts. I find it very enjoyable to listen to movies using these headphones as well.

The fit

The PX100s work in an on-the-ear configuration, where the pads don’t actually cover the entire ear and instead rest on them. This means that ambient noise is not cancelled or blocked in any meaningful way, unlike the PX200 which have an over the ear design.

I find the design of these headphones very comfortable. They do not clamp too much, and the soft pads mean I can wear them for many hours without discomfort. That said, I sometimes find that they tilt forward on my head, to the point where I need to readjust them to be comfortable again. This doesn’t detract from the usability of the ‘phones at all, though.

Value

At $80 CAN, the Sennheiser PX100 headphones are somewhat expensive, but I think you get what you pay for. In this case, you get a solid pair headphones, plus a plastic carrying case that is crucial for everyday use. With the case, I don’t have second thoughts about tossing them into my backpack, which was how my previous pair of Sonys broke.

Only time will tell how they hold up to daily use, but over more than one year of nearly everyday listening, my ‘phones show very few signs of wear. They are an excellent choice for listening to any type of music.

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