Category Archives : Technology

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A step back in time, today – Windows 2000

IMG_3651 IMG_3650

Over the weekend I discovered a power pack which had gone missing to an old Dell Latitude CPt notebook which dates to the pre-Y2K era. 

Back then, I used to work for an anti-virus start up called vCIS which operated out of the basement of the Software Spectrum building in Brookevale in Sydney.  Software Spectrum offered to sell to vCIS staff their second hand (“pre loved”) Dell laptops for a small sum (I think about $200-ish) and so I picked up a particularly plucky Latitude (pictured).

So having found the long lost power pack, I decided it might be interesting to surf the Net on a platform from a bygone era.  The Latitude was heavily customized by myself back in the day, and managed to stay useful well into the late 00s.  I’d managed to mount a very old RPC-1 DVD drive into the docking tray, and since the screen was quite nice, used it as a makeshift DVD player with wireless networking to boot.

How’s this for specs?  It still has a working HDD, and a tidy 6 GB of total capacity, most of which is free.  On top of that, about 128mb of system RAM, and believe it or not – a PCMCIA slot-based WiFi card which bypasses the need to use a wired LAN port to get onto the network.  Yes, back in the day this laptop was no slouch.

Booting an antique

So I sat down and fired her up.  The old fans groaned, but the BIOS passed although it did complain bitterly about the fact that the CMOS battery died a decade ago and wanted to know what date/time it was.  After the full screen boot loader, we were into the Operating System.

start

That old start menu looks dangerously dated compared to the nice shiny one in Windows 10 – old verses new:

start-2k  start-10

Kicking the tyres

Anyhow, before we get to the good stuff (browsing the web), I thought it would be interesting to poke around the old Operating System.  Here’s the System Properties, Administrative Tools and the Control Panel:

comp admin

ctrl

Quite a contrast to the new age icons we now have with Windows 10:

image

Some of the oldest files on the system date back to before the millennia:

fs

Tools of the trade

Back in the day, we had to live with Internet Explorer 6 and the free bundled Outlook Express, with its fancy MFC MDI frames:

ie6  outlook

You know something’s old when it references NCSA’s Mosaic (one of the world’s first popular web browsers).

Browsing the Internet, Y2K-style

So I joined the PCMCIA WiFi card to my home WLAN without any drama.  I felt a pang of guilt that my modern equipment would be so backwards compatible, but carried ahead anyway.  The next step was to run up Internet Explorer and then see what I could resolve.  My first challenge was obvious – legacy protocol support.  Most modern sites have abandoned the protocols and cyphers used by such an old browser, yet there was hope.

Google

I could not resolve to the world’s most popular search engine.  My suspicion is they might have dropped support for legacy protocols, even enabling TLS 1.0 failed to produce results.

Facebook

I had to enable TLS 1.0 in the advanced options in order to resolve and render the Facebook site:

facebook  fb

..and it took a while given the number of security warnings I had to click “Yes” to, in order to just hit the login page.  I did not authenticate, but instead moved on.

MSN/Microsoft

No protocol issues resolving MSN or the main Microsoft site, but of the two, only MSN held up in the confines of this clunky old browser:

msn  ms bing

Bing managed to render slightly better, probably because no one was using it at the time.

Apple

How about the fashionistas of the technology world?  Could they live rendering a sub-optimal visual even on such an old platform?

apple

Unsurprisingly, Apple’s crisp minimalist look fared “OK” under Internet Explorer 6.  Still some UI artefacts not playing ball, but the site was still useable.  How about journeying to something from the same era as the laptop?  Given my strike-out with Google, why not an old Internet search engine?  So I tried..

Hotbot

From the Lycos era, this site is still surprisingly operating – and renders beautifully.  Search results weren’t helpful, but what can one expect from such an old site?

hotbot

Now you might be wondering which commercial, big business site loaded and rendered the best out of the dozen I tested?  You may or may not be surprised that the award goes to………

IBM

The IT behemoth’s main site loaded perfectly in Internet Explorer 6, which is worth praising and also mocking in the same breath.

ibm

Look, I’m not above reproach myself.  Whilst this site (Sanders Technology) did a fairly dismal job of rendering, my companion site Aussie Travel Guy did a surprisingly good job of rendering.

st  atg

Summary

Whilst it’s a bumpy and often slow ride, it’s still somewhat possible to drive the Internet in a 15-year old operating system, on 16 year old hardware.  Some might find that surprising.  I know I did.  I bid you farewell, from this war horse of a laptop.

bye-2


Introducing a Gigabyte BRIX solution

Last week I had a disk corruption which proved to be somewhat catastrophic.  My main server had an apparent corruption of the Directory database, and even after I’d run a system restore, still could not bring Active Directory back up.  To cut a long story short, my journey would have ben far shorter if I’d had a backup directory sitting on some cheap hardware.  This brings me to my new solution..

brix

Are you looking for a low cost computing option, but feel constrained by the hobby nature of the smaller options like the Raspberry Pi?  What if you could pay a bit extra and get something with a genuine Intel 64bit processor and support for mobile architecture hardware?  If this sounds like you, you might want to try the Gigabyte BRIX.

Specifications

I’d read about these little “workstations in a box” last year, they blazed the trail for small footprint machines.  For a reasonably low price, these tiny boxes which almost fit in the palm of your hand (your hand size may vary) pack a powerful punch. 

CPU Intel® Celeron J1900 4 Core Up to 2.4GHz (1.99GHz realised)
Memory Patriot 1333GHz 8GB SO-DIMM
Disk SanDisk SSD Plus 128 GB SSD

 

Check out the detailed specs (note that the CPU range scales from i-series Intel to Celeron) – my version is the GB-BXBT-1900 [1] which features a dual core Celeron:

  • Features 22nm Intel® Celeron J1900 [2]
  • Ultra compact PC design – 0.69L(56.1x 107.6 x 114.4mm)
  • Supports 2.5” thickness 7.0/9.5mm Hard Drives (1 x 3Gbps)
  • 1x SO-DIMM DDR3L 1.35V Slots (1333 MHz)
  • Preinstall IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi / Bluetooth 4.0 Mini-PCIe card
  • Supports dual displays via a VGA and a HDMI port
  • Gigabit LAN (1 GBps) Ethernet
  • Audio jack (Headphone/MIC)
  • 1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • ssd-plus-product  SoDimm-packaging-web

    The BIOS supports UEFI secure boot for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, but you can disable secure boot and install via IDE configuration to get other OSes onto it.  Apparently you can run Windows 10 on one, but I have not attempted this just yet.

    Installation

    When you purchase a new BRIX, it comes without a hard drive and memory, i.e. buy these separately.  Once you’ve unboxed your shiny new BRIX, you’ll need a small screwdriver to undo the base of the box to access the internals.  Installing the HDD and memory is trivial if you have only the slightest modicum of experience with electronics or laptops.

    Once you’ve got your HDD and memory seated and connected, screw the base back on (making sure that the “This Side Up” instruction is pointing the right way!).  All you need to do now is plug the BIRX into a monitor, and perhaps a keyboard and mouse. 

    I’ll cover the BIOS and OS installation in a separate article.  Here’s a nice link to a PowerShell script you can use to dump OS and hardware info.

    runtime

    Once you are happy with the OS configuration, it’s entirely possible to run the BRIX “headless” (sans monitor, keyboard and mouse).  My intention was always to sit it near the network switch, and courtesy of the VESA mounting plate, it was trivial to wall mount:

    IMG_3165  IMG_3166  IMG_3164

    You can see the BRIX relative to the Router (bottom) and the HP switch (bottom left).  All that’s required is the ethernet cable and power.  It is now my little DMZ environment!

    Links


    Introduction to Windows 10

    windows_10_logo-600x338

    Introduction

    This was ideally supposed to be one of the (logically) first entries in a series of articles about the newly minted Microsoft Windows 10.  However, owing to some of the more controversial aspects of the default settings in Windows 10, I felt compelled to do a quick write-up on what to disable first.  Not exactly what I’d planned, but such is life.

    The hook

    This is possibly what Windows 8 should have been – lean, sleek and efficient.  Microsoft has listened (perhaps with some chagrin) to the overwhelming feedback from the community and this version of Windows heralds the triumphant return of the stalwart Start Menu, last seen in Windows 7.

    Desktop-Clean

    There’s quite honestly, quite a lot to like about this new version of Windows.  I’ve tested it “bare metal” on a brand new high end Dell laptop as well as on an 8-year old hand-built PC tower, and the operating system has been reliable and fast.  The driver support coming across the wire from the Windows Update driver library has been remarkably impressive

    The criticisms

    Windows 10 though is not without controversy of its own.  This edition marks a significant change in how periodic system updates (or patches) are handled.  Rather than giving the end user oversight into what is installed and when, Windows 10 almost uniformly removes this oversight altogether, surprisingly even in the corporate targeted Enterprise edition.

    Let’s move on though.

    Great from the start

    The installation was incredibly fast on the Dell however a tad slower on the desktop tower, owing to difficulties booting from USB (I had to resort to disc-based install). 

    Lock-screen

    As usual, I almost always perform clean installs rather than upgrading, even when upgrading retains most of your previous operating system.  The reasons for this are too long to go into detail here, but some of the upside is removing “guff” and ensuring everything is using the latest drivers and also the latest editions of all the software suites I use.

    I’m going to assume by this point that you’ve either upgraded or you have a clean install – either way, you’re either staring at a shiny Windows 10 user interface, or you’re seriously considering installing and/or upgrading.  In case you haven’t read other reviews or seen my previous articles on the pre-release editions, I’ll walk you through the key parts of the revamped operating environment.

    Desktop Areas

    Let’s assume you have an account and you’ve authenticated to the desktop. Are we in for some surprises in this edition of Windows?  Let’s find out.  Here’s the basic layout of the Windows 10 desktop:

    Desktop-Clean-Sectors

    1. Now, the desktop tends to pretty much work as you would expect
    2. The return of the Start menu
    3. The Task bar has been a feature of Windows since Windows 95
    4. The system tray is often overlooked by users, but Windows 10 adds some big value in this area

    1. The Desktop

    This is where all your apps render, and where you can save shortcuts (typically links to apps or websites) and other documents.  It hasn’t changed dramatically in this version as far as I can tell initially.

    2. The Start Menu

    Instinctively, the first thing I clicked on was the Start menu.  As I reported in an earlier article, its return is welcome.  I should point out that it is still possible to change the menu to be full screen, as it was in Windows 8/8.1.

    Start-Menu

    Microsoft has integrated the Metro-style menus into the Windows 10 Start menu, with live tiles and the usual suspects we’ve come to know from the previous edition.  What we do find here is the more familiar Start menu groups (“All apps”) which allows you to explore your installed software just like in the old days:

    Start-Menu-Apps

    Naturally, you can just start typing the name of an app, and the menu will predict matches for you.  You can also easily access important commands, such as the power (shutdown, restart) menu and the new “Settings” menu.  You can also still right click on the Start menu to get a cut down, by powerful context menu:

    Start-Menu-Right-Click

    I probably use the Start menu context menu more than any other menu – it has shortcuts to almost all of the critical an key Windows functions.

    3. The Task Bar

    This is where active apps and additional shortcuts to apps and websites live.  The change here is that an active application which has been “pinned” to the task bar is now underlined in white.  The icons are flatter and cleaner than in previous versions, as far as I can tell.

    image

    There’s also a button which arranges all active apps (“Task View”) which is a bit like the Windows + Tab combo.  You can also right click on items in the task bar to show frequently accessed directories and to pin/unpin things from the task bar.

    taskview   task-context

    4. The System Tray

    Of all the improvements in Windows 10, my favourite has to be the changes to the System Tray area.  Aside from the usual handy tray icons and basic system info which is displayed here:

    system-tray

    There’s a new “slide out” menu which you can access  by gesturing (swiping) from the edge of the right side of the monitor inwards on a touch screen or by clicking on the notification icon (the white chat bubble icon).

    Desktop

    This handy menu will be slightly different depending on what’s installed on your computer.  On my high end Dell laptop, I have an array of useful features:

    Slide-Out-Menu

    Whereas on my more limited desktop, the options are fewer:

    image

    This is a really quick and handy way to access functionality which you might want to easily toggle (such as screen brightness) without having to set up keyboard shortcuts, hotkeys or to click several times into settings r the Control Panel.

    The Settings Menu

    Windows 8/8.1 had a special PC settings menu which was accessed via the “charm menu”, by swiping the right hand side of the screen, or pressing Windows Key + C.  This menu (or an approximation of it) finds its way into Windows 10 as the Settings menu.  You can access it from the new Start menu, or by clicking on the notification windows in the system tray and selecting “All settings”.

    Settings-menu

    This is somewhat confusing, since Windows 10 still retains the classic Control Panel which most of us are probably used to.  Yet this dialog contains a lot of settings which are not available elsewhere in the system (without delving into Group Policy or the Windows Registry).  Speaking of the Control Panel, it’s still here:

    Control-Panel  Control-Panel-Detail-View

    Of course, the best way to navigate the Control Panel is to switch to “Details View” (IMHO) which provides a comprehensive view of core system settings.

    The App Store

    The Microsoft App Store is still here, you can easily access it from the new Start Menu.  It renders as a windowed app, and is a handy way to search for and install useful apps:

    App-Store  App-Store-Sanderstech

    File Explorer/Windows Explorer

    Finally, you’ll eventually access and start working with the Windows’ namesake – Windows Explorer.  In this edition, the system icons have been completely reimagined, and even display very nicely on high resolution displays.

    Explorer-Icons

    Task Manager

    Our old friend the Task Manager is still around (right click on the task bar and select “Task Manager”).  The default (collapsed) version offers the same minimal set of details as in the previous edition of Windows, clicking the “More details” option provides roughly the same functionality you’d be used to from Windows 8/8.1.

    Task-Manager-Basic  Task-Manager-Performance


    Summary

    Well, this was just a walk through the park, so to speak.  Advanced and power users wouldn’t find too much in this article which they probably hadn’t already worked out.  For those new to Windows 10 – or to the more recent editions of Windows, I hope this article was of some value.

    We won’t be staying pedestrian for too long though.  Now that I have this article as a reference point, I can start to take a deeper look in my next few articles.  Check back for more of a detailed “under the hood” view of Windows 10.