Friday, 29 February 2008

5 Reasons for not using Windows Media Player

I have compiled a brief set of reasons not to use Windows Media Player 9 - 11. Winamp and Foobar are good alternatives. I've not mentioned DRM here, but that is more than just a WMP problem. Anyway, here we go:

1. Inadequate CD ripping facilities.

By default, WMP rips into WMA at a poor bit-rate, so you have to remember to change this in it's settings. Also, by default, error-checking is disabled. Even with it enabled, WMP may be fast but it hasn't got the best encoder out there.

2. Album Covers

If you put your own high quality album covers as folder.jpg in an album's folder, it replaces it with its own poor quality image. It also hides folder.jpg files (marks them as system and hidden files). To prevent this you have to disable it from retrieving album covers and managing your music library.

3. WMP messes with tags and filenames

Firstly when you rip an album with WMP, you have to individually edit the album/artist tags for each song and editing the playlist is a pain. There's also no overall playlist time. There's also little annoyances like it uses 'And' and 'Of' instead of 'and' and 'of' in tags, although these are down to personal taste.

4. Overall 'Bloatedness'

Media Player 11 uses around a 100mb of memory just to play a track! (Itunes also uses similar amounts of memory too) It just tries to do too much being a video and audio player and doing both poorly. Also, I don't like to allocate the huge amount of disc space it requires, just for a media player.

5. VBR

WMP has poor support for playing variable bitrate mp3s, displaying the wrong average bitrate and seek time. Some other software and hardware players have the same problems. 

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Reasons why I cannot erase Windows from my PCs

Even though I love Linux, there are still certain things that still prevent me from switching completely:


I've tried to get Midi working in Linux countless times. I've recently installed the Midiman firmware loader to no avail. Theres no fanfare when I plug it in. inputting lsusb in a terminal shows it's there, but I cannot seem to get the thing working in any of the programs. jackd runs, but nothing much happens.

TV-Out / Multihead

I have an old Compaq AP550 that sits connected to a portable TV through its Nvidia MX400 and single phono-type video lead, without a monitor. When Windows boots it automatically displays on the TV. Unfortunately on Linux, even with the proper drivers, once X is started it does not appear. It's an absolute pain to experiment in hacking xorg.conf. Things should be much easier than this! Also, on my main desktop, i cannot get multi-head working without stretching my desktop accross two monitors - I want two seperate desktops at 1280x1024!

Apart from this, I do use Linux 90% of the time. There is another problem I have too which stops my aging Toshiba Tecra 8000 laptop from being totally Linux, but I'll save that for another time.

Update (17/05/10)
Both these problems have now been circumvented. Ubuntu has had good dual head support with Nvidia drivers for a while now. The old Compaq has been retired and replaced with several times, due to hardware failure. The current machine is a HP D530 with an ATI card with HDMI-out, into the rear of a flat-screen TV. It works just like a monitor. I'm also slowly starting use a dual CPU Powermac G4 for music creation, so hopefully Windows will be used even less.

Update 2 (20th January 2016)
I have been single boot Linux for a long time on my main machine, but i relented some months back and got a second PC with Windows 10 purely for gaming, mostly GTA V.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

My five must have Linux apps.

Having seen this blog post on Techtonic - Five must have apps for a new linux install, i thought I would share my five essential Linux apps list. these are just off the top of my head, there are so many other great programs out there, only an 'apt-get install' away!

Wi-fi Radar

Essential for connecting to wireless networks with my Ralink rt61 PCI card, which only seems to work with KDE's network manager on the first boot.


Although I prefer the Gnome desktop over KDE these days, I can't do without my favourite media player! I've tried others but always return to Amarok. Rhythmbox is improving but is slow with my large (13000+) mp3 collection. Helix Banshee is hideous and XMMS lacks a collection manager. I love Amarok's cover manager, it's ease of use and extensibility with scripts, and it looks great too. OK it can be a little heavy on resources, though I think the developers are working on that for version 2.0 which I look forward to as it'll be ported to Windows and Mac OSX too!


It is the best burning program for Linux in my humble opinion! It has more features than any of the other Linux burners I've tried - especially volume normalisation with the Normalize package installed. I also like it's integration with Amarok, so I can easily send albums and playlists to K3B.


I like totem the default video player on Gnome, it's clean and easy, but I've found that kaffeine has better support for FLV, and has greater control over playing (fast forward etc).


My favourite CD ripping program on Linux, because I found it easy to setup, and is close to what I was use to with CDex on windows.

All the programs I've mentioned are available through the Ubuntu's repositories. I try to avoid a reinstall at all, as it would take a long time to download everything, on my slow connection, and to get everything setup just right. Like most i want as little downtime as possible, which is a distinct advantage of Linux over windows.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

E-mail accounts

I love Gmail, it gives you huge amounts of space for free and it now has SMTP support, so now works perfectly with my favourite Linux email program, Evolution. It's nicely integrated into the Gnome desktop, looks great, and is easy to set up. I have set it up to use my Yahoo, my first webmail account, which has now been relegated to a spam-box. there is a Windows version but it's a bit buggy and bloated. Thunderbird on Windows is OK because it has a Gmail wizard but It's not as good on Linux. I still have a Lycos account, which I can't delete, and still have to use as i'm signed up to various things with it. The annoying thing is you have to pay for a premium account to get POP access, the website is a cluttered mess of adverts and rubbish and they only give you 300mb of space. Come on Lycos, even yahoo and Windows Live mail has more space than that for free!! Then new users can't sign up for lycos anyway, they get diverted to sign up to an even more flashy, bloated site called Again the free account, which is in beta, is no better than lycos and definately not recommended for old 233mhz laptops like mine!

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


One of my occasional hobbies, when i'm wondering about town, bored, is visiting PCWorld. Not to actually buy anything, that would be ridiculous at their prices! No, i like to rescue as many of their poor newbie customers as possible. Yesterday I got chatting to a guy who was from the old school of programming, more used to the BBC Micro, Archimedes etc His old Medion PC apparently has some problems recognising CDs and generally running poorly, mainly because it runs Windows ME I think! Of course the member of staff he was talking to talked a lot of bullsh*t, clearly showing only a basic knowledge of computers, and naturally trying to sell him a new PC or expensive components. Soon after I joined the conversation, he realised he was out of his depth! Not that I'm an expert or anything, nobody is, but he clearly hadn't had much training. Anyway he soon made his excuses and retreated to his cave, or wherever they disappear to! One day I might just go there armed with copies of Ubuntu and the Open CD and hand them out to their customers :D

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Windows Vista

Whilst there maybe a few good features and improved security in Vista, which are hardly noticeable in every day usage, these are far out-weighed by the serious performance issues on hardware that XP performed well on.

Good things about Vista

- Speech recognition software (though it's still not perfect)

- independant Volume controls (yup I cannot think of anything else!)

-Improved task manager (although Dtaskmanager, is a better alternative!)

Bad things about Vista

- The new Windows Explorer. It's horrible, i thought the old file manager was bad enough but now they've managed to make it worse! File copying is incredibly slow - especially over a network - and the integrated Zip function is even slower than before.

- General bloatedness. Unless you have a PC with 4GB of ram (and dual core CPU) it's as slow as a slug wading through treacle. I first tried Vista on a friends Acer SFF machine with 1GB of ram, Core 2 Duo CPU, and 320GB hard drive. it does mostly use laptop components, and is let down by onboard Intel HD ready graphics. It also features dual analog/digital TV tuner and onboard 7.1 HD audio. If it was running Ubuntu 7.10 or XP it would be rather good. Unfortunately, it runs Vista Home Premium, and therefore takes almost 3 minutes to boot and still felt rather sluggish after reverting to Windows classic theme. Running VMware with another OS such as XP or Linux was impossible, it slowed to a standstill. My old homebuilt machine with Ubuntu or XP would piss all over Vista on this PC.

- Poor hardware support for any device older than 2 years old. I wonder how many old perfectly working scanners and printers and other devices will be frown away just because they're no longer supported. Even if they worked fine in XP or Linux. They're seems to be abundence of them in local charity shops already. Even with its environmentally friendly standby modes, this is not exactly an environmentally-friendly OS.

- Audio A poor sound system crippled with DRM.

- Horrid Security messages. If you have administrative privileges, you should not be hassled by pop up "are you sure?" messages every time you move through the control panel, or change any settings. Yes you can turn it off, but its not exactly friendly for newbies.

- Choice - Microsoft are trying they're damned hardest to get rid of XP as fast as possible in order to force people to upgrade / buy a new PC with Vista. High street stores no longer stock XP, except for businesses (who still demand XP, as its what they know, it works (to a degree) so why upgrade?

At the moment, there are only a small number of people who are buying copies of Vista: Gamers who 'need' DirectX 10, even though most DX10 games at the moment barely use any of it's features; gadget freaks who want the latest fad; and system builders, who supply for demand. The rest of Vista's sales are down to people who have bought a new PC which has Vista on it, as they don't realise there's other options.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Early days part 2

It was late 1998, I enrolled at Lincoln College (UK) to do several A-levels. At the time i thought the PCs must be upto date, by I later realised they were far from state of the art! The "Learning Resources Centre" had about 20 or 30 Dan or Research Machines 386's linked with parallel cables on dial up internet with Windows 3.11 for workgroups! They were slow even for the time, around the rest of the college was not much better, Mostly Windows 95, 98 500mhz P2/3s. All of these were eventually replaced with Dell P4 / 2.4ghz machines in 2001/2.

After 3 years of college I went to Lincoln University in 2001, for a couple of years. This is when I really got into computers, after my student loans had dried up a bit, after all that drinking, and I had to get some work done. As I did not have a PC at first, I spent a lot of time in the library writing essays and researching. However, it closed at midnight so I decided to had to get a PC, and being my first PC i got ripped off by buying a friends IBM 486 for 40 quid!! It was a right state, software wise. It had Windows 95 on about a 500mb hard drive. I spent most of my time trying to work out what was wrong with it and how to get it to work properly. I later discovered (about a couple of years ago) that someone had compressed their documents into a hidden H:/ Drive, so much so it could not be decompressed to format with fdisk. My mind was not really on my studies, though I spent a lot of time enjoying myself! I dropped out of University and have been unemployed for a good while, trying to get a foot in the door of the IT industry.

I discovered Linux fairly recently (about 4 years ago), after picking up some old magazines in a charity shop (10p each!) whilst on a web design college course. I downloaded my first distro - Red Hat 9 - on the college internet (much improved by then) though the discs became corrupt I never gave up. I tried Mepis which I was impressed with, installing it on a Pentium 3, 733mhz, machine i picked up for 20 quid. Then there was Suse 9.2 / 9.3 which was great on DVD as I didn't have an internet connection, they had plenty of software. I must've tried hundreds of distros since then, but I have finally settled on Ubuntu 7.10. It's been dual booting with XP on my current PC (ASUS K8-UX, 1.25Gb ram / 200 + 160 + 20 GB hard drives) as it recognises my Ralink wireless card first boot, everything just works, so easy to use. I used to be a KDE fan but have switched to Gnome because Compiz Fusion works with it straight away. I do still use some KDE apps like my favourite media player Amarok.