Yet another useful Windows shortcut

During the week, I needed to go to a client to upgrade the laptop that they’d given me for doing work for them. The cause was their migration from Windows XP to Windows 7. Office 2010 also came with the now set up and they replace the machines with new ones too. As part of doing this, they carried out upgrade training and this is when I got to learn a thing or two.

While I may have been using Windows 7 since the beta releases first were made available, I am under no illusions that I know all there is to be known about the operating system. Included among the things of which I wasn’t aware was a shortcut key combination for controlling display output from the HP laptop that I’d been given. This is the Windows key + P. This brings up a dialogue screen from which you can select the combination that you need and that includes extending the display across two different screens, such as that of the laptop and an external monitor. Going into the display properties will fine tune things such as what is the main display and the placement of the desktops; there’s no point in having Windows thinking that the external screen is to your left when in fact it is at the right.

Another interesting shortcut is the Windows key + TAB. This affects the Aero application view and repeating the combination cycles through the open applications or you can use a mouse wheel to achieve the same end. With ALT + TAB and the taskbar still about, this might appear more of a curiosity but some may still find it handy so I’ve shared it here too.

All in all, it’s best never to think that you know enough about something because there’s always something new to be learned and it’s always the smallest of things that proves to be the most helpful. With every release of Windows, that always seems to be the case and Windows 8 should not be any different, even if all the talk is about its Metro interface. A beta release is due in the spring of 2012 so we’ll have a chance to find out then. You never can stop learning about this computing business.

A little more freedom

A few weeks ago, I decided to address the fact that my Toshiba laptop have next to useless battery life. The arrival of an issue of PC Pro that included a review of lower cost laptops was another spur and I ended up looking on the web to see what was in stock at nearby chain stores. In the end, I plumped for an HP Pavilion dm4 and it was Argos that supplied yet another piece of computing kit to me. In fact, they seem to have a wider range of laptops than PC World!

The Pavillion dm4 seems to come in two editions and I opted for the heavier of these though it still is lighter than my Toshiba Equium as I found on a recent trip away from home. Its battery life is a revelation for someone who never has got anything better than three hours from a netbook. Having more than five hours certainly makes it suitable for those longer train journeys away from home and I have seen remaining battery life being quoted as exceeding seven hours from time to time though I wouldn’t depend on that.

Of course, having longer battery life would be pointless if the machine didn’t do what else was asked of it. It comes with the 64-bit of Windows 7 and this thought me that this edition of the operating system also runs 32-bit software, a reassuring discovering. There’s a trial version of Office 2010 on there too and, having a licence key for the Home and Student edition, I fully activated it. Otherwise, I added a few extras to make myself at home such as Dropbox and VirtuaWin (for virtual desktops as I would in Linux). While I playing with the idea of adding Ubuntu using Wubi, I am not planning to set up dual booting of Windows and Linux like I have on the Toshiba. Little developments like this can wait.

Regarding the hardware, the CPU is an Intel Core i3 affair and there’s 4 MB of memory on board. The screen is a 14″ one and that makes for a more compact machine without making it too diminutive. The keyboard is of the scrabble-key variety and works well too as does the trackpad. There’s a fingerprint scanner for logging in and out without using a password but I haven’t got to checking how this works so far. It all zips along without any delays and that’s all that anyone can ask of a computer.

There is one eccentricity in my eyes though and it seems that the functions need to be used in combination with Fn for them to work like they would on a desktop machine. That makes functions like changing the brightness of the screen, adjusting the sound of the speakers and turning the WiFi on and off more accessible. My Asus Eee PC netbook and the Toshiba Equium both have things the other way around so I found this set of affairs unusual but it’s just a point to remember rather than being a nuisance.

HP may have had its wobbles regarding its future in the PC making business but the Pavilion feels well put together and very solidly built. It commanded a little premium over the others on my shortlist but it seems to have been worth it. If HP does go down the premium laptop route as has been reported recently, this is the kind of quality that they would need to deliver to just higher prices. Saying that, is this the time to do such a thing would other devices challenging the PC’s place in consumer computing? It would be a shame to lose the likes of the Pavilion dm4 from the market to an act of folly.

A new repository for GNOME 3 Extensions

Not before time, the GNOME project has set up a central website for GNOME Shell extensions. It seems to be in the hands of extension developers to make GNOME 3 more palatable to those who find it not to their taste in its default configuration. If you are using Firefox, installation is as easy as clicking the ON/OFF icon for a particular plugin on its web page and then selecting install on the dialog box that pops up. Of all the browsers that you can use on GNOME, it seems to be Firefox that is only one that has this ability for the moment. The website may have the alpha legend on there at the moment but it works well enough so far and I have had no hesitation in using it for those extensions that are of interest to me. This is an interesting development that deserves to stay, especially when it detects that a plugin is incompatible with your version of GNOME. Currently, I use GNOME 3.2 and it pops up a useful menu for deactivating extensions when the desktop fails to load. That’s a welcome development because I have had extensions crashing GNOME 3.0 on me and running the GNOME Tweak Tool on the fallback desktop often was the only alternative. GNOME 3 seems to be growing up nicely.

Getting Gnome Shell going for Fedora 16 running in VirtualBox

There are a number of complaints out there about how hard it is to get GNOME Shell running for a Fedora 16 installation in a VirtualBox virtual machine. As with earlier versions of Fedora, preparation remains a matter of having make, gcc and kernel-devel (kernel headers, in other words). While I have got away with just those, adding dkms (dynamic kernel module support) to the list might be no bad idea either. To get all of those instated, it is a matter of running the following command as root or using sudo:

yum -y install make gcc kernel-devel dkms

The -y switch ensures that any Y/N prompts that usually appear are suppressed and that the installation is completed. Just leave it out if you are inclined to get second thoughts. Another item that has been needed with a previous release of Fedora is libgomp but I haven’t had to add this for Fedora 16 if I remember correctly.

Once those are in place, it is time to install the VirtualBox Guest Additions.¬† Going to Devices > Install Guest Additions… mounts a virtual CD that can be used for the installation of the various drivers that are needed. To do the installation, first go to where the installer is located using the following command:

cd /media/VBOXADDITIONS_4.1.6_74713/

Note that this location will change according to the release and build numbers of VirtualBox but the process essentially will be the same other than this. Once in there, issue the following command as root or using sudo:

./VBoxLinuxAdditions.run

Hopefully, this will complete without errors now with the precursor software that has been added beforehand. However, there is one more thing that needs doing or you will get the GNOME 3 fallback desktop instead. It pertains to SELinux, an old adversary of mine that got in the way when I was setting up a web server on a machine running Fedora. It doesn’t recognise the new VirtualBox drivers as it should so the following command needs executing as root or using sudo:

restorecon -R -v /opt

Doing this restores the SELinux contexts for the /opt directories within which the VirtualBox software directories are found. The -R switch tells it to act recursively and -v makes it verbose. When it has done its work, hopefully successfully, it is time to reboot the virtual machine and you should have a GNOME Shell desktop interface when you log in.

An in situ upgrade to Linux Mint 12

Though it isn’t the recommended approach, I have ended up upgrading to Linux Mint 12 from Linux Mint 11 using an in situ route. Having attempted this before with a VirtualBox hosted installation, I am well aware of the possibility of things going wrong. Then, a full re-installation was needed to remedy the situation. With that in mind, I made a number of backups in the case of an emergency fresh installation of the latest release of Linux Mint. Apache and VirtualBox configuration files together with MySQL backups were put where they could be retrieved should that be required. The same applied to the list of installed packages on my system. So far, I haven’t needed to use these but there is no point in taking too many chances.

The first step in an in-situ Linux Mint upgrade is to edit /etc/apt/sources.list. In the repository location definitions, any reference to katya (11) was changed to lisa (for 12) and the same applied to any appearance of natty (Ubuntu 11.04) which needed to become oneiric (Ubuntu 11.10). With that done, it was time to issue the following command (all one line even if it is broken here):

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade && sudo apt-get
dist-upgrade

Once that had completed, it was time to add the new additions that come with Linux Mint 12 to my system using a combination of apt-get, aptitude and Synaptic; the process took a few cycles. GNOME already was in place from prior experimentation¬† so there was no need to add this anew. However, I need to instate MGSE to gain the default Linux Mint customisations of GNOME 3. Along with that, I decided to add MATE, the fork of GNOME 2. That necessitated the removal of two old libraries (libgcr0 and libgpp11, if I remember correctly but it will tell you what is causing any conflict) using Synaptic. With MGSE and MATE in place, it was time to install LightDM and its Unity greeter to get the Linux Mint login screen. Using GDM wasn’t giving a very smooth visual experience and Ubuntu, the basis of Linux Mint, uses LightDM anyway. Even using the GTK greeter with LightDM produced a clunky login box in front of a garish screen. Configuration tweaks could have improved on this but it seems that using LightDM and Unity greeter is what gives the intended set up and experience.

With all of this complete, the system seemed to be running fine until the occasional desktop freeze occurred with Banshee running. Blaming that, I changed to Rhythmbox instead though that helped only marginally. While this might be blamed on how I did the upgraded my system, things seemed to have steadied themselves in the week since then. As a test, I had the music player going for a few hours and there was no problem. With the call for testing of an update to MATE a few days ago, it now looks as if there may have been bugs in the original release of Linux Mint 12. Daily updates have added new versions of MGSE and MATE so that may have something to do with the increase in stability. Even so, I haven’t discounted the possibility of needing to do a fresh installation of Linux Mint 12 just yet. However, if things continue as they are, then it won’t be needed and that’s an upheaval avoided should things go that way. That’s why in situ upgrades are attractive though rolling distros like Arch Linux (these words are being written on a system running this) and LMDE are moreso.