Jun 272010

A sure sign that a company is on its way out is when it starts needlessly defeaturing its products to create artificial market segments rather than innovating new features to add value.  Windows 7 Starter is a good example of this sad phenomena.

Microsoft originally planned to impose a three application limit to Windows 7 Starter so that no more than three applications could be run at once.  Of course, this outrageous, artificial and completely unjustified limitation would have actually cost Microsoft time and money to implement.  With the exception of a handful of confused apologists, the three app limitation earned the Redmond software giant widespread derision.  Eventually, public scorn caused Microsoft to drop this bone-headed idea before releasing Windows 7 Starter edition last fall.

However, there are other stupid and disingenuous ways Microsoft castrated Windows 7 Starter.  Not only is there an artificially imposed 2GB memory limit and the fantabulous new snipping tool is gone, but Microsoft stripped Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) from Win7 Starter.  Of course, there are absolutely no technical reasons for killing ICS, a feature that for many years has enabled users to easily set up Windows systems to serve the Internet to home networks.

The Redmond software beast wants you to fork over your hard earned dough through “Windows 7 Anytime Upgrade” to buy back ICS, a particularly vital feature for netbooks that come with integrated broadband cellular modems.  Worse still, netbooks are particularly well-suited for home servers since they use very little power and have a built-in UPS.  So killing ICS from Win7 Starter was a particularly ungreen move for the spawn of Bill Gates.

Well, it’s very easy to overcome all of the limitations your Microsoft overlord imposes.  You’ll need to download Jolicould Linux here.  A good application to burn the Jolicloud installation image to disk is ISO Recorder which you can download here.   If you don’t have a USB CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive, you can create a bootable USB key drive by following the instructions here.  You can even install Jolicloud from within Windows if you download Jolicloud Express from here.  Once you’ve created your boot disk/USB key, boot from it.  You can install Jolicloud so that you can chose between Win7 Starter and Jolicloud at boot time, or you can completely expunge Win7 and replace it with Jolicloud.

Boot into Jolicloud and connect your netbook to the Internet.  An added benefit Jolicould brings are preinstalled broadband cellular modem drivers along with proper settings for many carriers.  When Jolicloud detects a new broadband cellular modem, the Network Manager menu, activated by clicking on the appropriate Gnome Panel icon in the top of the screen, will list a new broadband device.  Clicking on that menu entry will bring up a simple wizard so that you can select your carrier and ensure that the correct number is dialed.  It literally takes about ten seconds to to set up a new cellular modem connection in Jolicloud Linux.

To share your Internet connection, whether cellular or otherwise, right-click on the same Network Manager icon and select “Edit Connections…”.  Click the “Add” button no either the Wired or Wireless tab, depending on which way you plan to share your Internet connection.  Give the new connection a descriptive name like “Shared Internet Connection”.  On the IPv4 tab, select “Shared to other computers” as the Method.  Click “Apply”.

Reboot your netbook.  After you sign in, activate the Internet connection in the Network Manager menu if it is not automatically activated.  It might also be necessary to manually activate your “Shared Internet Connection” by clicking on the corresponding Network Manager menu entry.

You should now be actively sharing your Internet connection with your home network.

It’s humorous to note that Microsoft did a predictably sloppy job disabling ICS in Windows 7 Starter.  In fact, it is still available, but only if you want to share your active Internet connection over an ad-hoc wireless network.  In other words, other computers will have to connect to your netbook wirelessly to see the Internet.  To set up this type of Internet connection sharing configuration, simply type “adhoc” in the Windows 7 Start menu search box.  This will filter down to wizard that enables you to set up an ad hoc ICS network.

Jun 242010

Mint Linux has one of the best main menus of any Linux distribution.  Microsoft Vista and Windows 7 both have Start menus that appear to have been influenced by MintMenu, the package name for the Mint main menu.  MintMenu itself is a fork of Slab, the SUSE main menu for Gnome.

Mint is based upon Ubuntu and Web Upd8 has made it is very easy to add MintMenu to that popular distro (versions 9.10 and newer).  From a terminal, first add the new repository:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:webupd8team/mintmenu && sudo apt-get update

Then install the package:

sudo apt-get install mintmenu

To activate the menu, right-click on a Gnome Panel, choose “Add to Panel…” and select “MintMenu”.

Feb 152010

Google recently revealed the pitch-black nature of its evil heart when it suddenly announced that it was terminating its Google Blogger FTP service.  We currently use that service to publish our website to our Tera-Byte server in Canada.  Google is clearly doing this to coerce these high value blogs onto their blogspot servers where Google can control all of the content.

Fortunately, it is not an insurmountable task to migrate to the superior WordPress blogging system.  Unlike Google’s Blogger, WordPress is an Open Source solution that fully runs on your web server.  In other words, no one is going to yank the rug out from underneath you like Google just did.

We are currently in the process of migrating to WordPress.  To use WordPress, your server or hosting service must support the following:

  • PHP 4.3 or greater
  • MySQL 4.1.2 or greater
  • The mod_rewrite Apache module

To begin your migration, we strongly suggest that you obtain a secondary hosting account where you can build your new site and experiment with WordPress before pointing your URL to the new server.  A good and inexpensive web host is Blue Host, a company recommended by WordPress.  The basic Blue Host service offers unlimited hosting space and unlimited file transfer.  Blue Host also provides an outstanding control panel, called “cPanel,” to administer your site.  Blue Host even keeps your WordPress installation up to date (you will receive an upgrade alert when you visit your cPanel which you will have to approve).

Additionally, Blue Host is currently offering a free domain.  This makes it trivial to set up your secondary website for the transition from your current Google Blogger site.

However, before purchasing your Blue Host service, visit this site first: http://www.bluehostreview.org/

By visiting that link, you can save up to 43% off the regular hosting price of $6.95 / month.  In either case, you will have to pay for a full year when you set up your hosting service.

Once you purchase your new hosting service (and new domain, if necessary), you can install WordPress by simply clicking on the “Word Press” icon under “Software / Services” in cPanel.  Be sure to set up WordPress using your secondary domain, otherwise your installation won’t work until you point the WordPress specified domain to your Blue Host account.  It will be easy to change this to your primary domain name once you are ready to do so.

Once WordPress is installed, you’ll want to choose a theme for your new blog.  There are many free and attractive themes available on the WordPress site here.  You will need to download the theme as a zip file and then upload it to your server in the WordPress administration page, usually set to “wp_admin” from you root site (example: http://myNewWordPressSite/wp_admin) .  You will then need to activate the new theme.

Changing from one theme to the next only takes seconds, so experiment freely with different themes.  With Blue Host, you have unlimited storage space, so you can upload as many themes as you want.

If you host advertisements on your site, you’ll then want to load a WordPress plugin that makes adding ads easy.  A decent one is AdSense Manager which supports not just Google AdSense but other types of ad services as well.  AdSense Manager makes it easy to place ads in the header, sidebars or even embedded into articles.

Once you have your theme chosen and your ad plugin set up, it’s time to migrate your Google Blogger site content to WordPress.  WordPress has support to directly import your Google Blogger account if it resides on BlogSpot (Tools | Import | Blogger).  I temporarily activated our site on BlogSpot (it only takes a second to toggle from FTP to BlogSpot from the Blogger Dashboard: Settings | Publishing | Switch to blogspot.com), but WordPress was unable to import our site due to timeouts from Google’s servers.

Instead, I was forced to export (Settings | Basic | Export blog ) our Google Blogger site to a local XML file formatted in Blogger’s Atom export format.

Unfortunately, WordPress can’t read this file, so it must be translated into WordPress WXR format.  I used the Blogger 2 WordPress conversion application here.  You can then upload the file in WordPress: Tools | Import | WordPress.

This process is good but isn’t perfect.  All of the comments and tags appear to have been preserved.  Some of our posts needed to be edited to reestablish proper formatting.  A few embedded videos are not showing up.  However, the WordPress editor is as least as good as the Blogger editor, so fixing these problems is not too hard.

You will also need to copy any extra files that are not part of the Blogger system to your secondary site before pointing your primary URL to your secondary site.  You will probably want to copy all of the Blogger files over to ensure that all of your old links continue to work.

Of course, any edits that you make to your original site after the import will have to be made to your transition website.  However, you can simply delete all of your posts on your secondary website and import the last version of your original site immediately before pointing your primary URL to your secondary website.

While Blue Host is fantastic in many ways, its servers do not appear to be nearly as fast as our Tera-Byte server.  We will be transitioning soon to Blue Host.  Depending on how well the Blue Host server can handle the traffic, we might be on Blue Host for just as long as it takes us to install our new WordPress site on our old Tera-Byte server.

In the meantime, you can view our Blue-Host secondary site here.