Saturday, March 31, 2012

SOLVED! - "Windows cannot read the product key from the unattended answer file"

When I was installing the just downloaded "Windows 8 Consumer Preview" ISO file, mount it to my VMware Player, this is the error message I got. Setup will not continue, but loop back, restart.

To solve this problem, follow this steps:

  • Power off your VM
  • Go to Virtual Machine Settings
  • On the Floppy item under Hardware tab, uncheck the option "Connect at power on". Also, I have set the floppy to "Use Physical Drive". Save your settings.
  • Power on your VM
Yes, the latest version of VMware Player supports even Windows 8. So, why risking your PC to test Windows 8.

After reading a brief introduction of Windows 8 on Microsoft website, I'm still very confused of what Windows 8 is like... So, I decided to download and test run Windows 8 on a new VM. The first thing notice, Windows 8 has a tight link with Live and your SkyDrive. The user interface, very different... more like Android Tablet style... very much touch screen style.

The Windows key now plays a very important role - returns to Home page (above).

I love the full screen mode, for the Internet Explorer; also the Reader, which now displays 2 pages of PDF at the same time - what a wonderful feature!

However, this is just a Preview release. So, many of the features are not accessible - music, video, Maps app (I'm outside US), Finance, even the games are all not available... how disappointing!

Monday, March 26, 2012

DISCUSSION - Android Market Becomes "Play"

Just a few days ago, I was helping my friend to install some Apps on his Android smartphone. And, strange ... the "Market" icon has gone, replaced by the "Play Store" (it took me some time to figure out what's happening). Such a change in name is really unusual, and I believe that this reveals a major change in the direction of Google on the Android market; or, I'd say a clear trend has developed, toward the entertainment market - so "Play Store", rather than "Market"... surely is another a business decision of Google.

*This chart is based on figures from wikipedia. Sorry for not quite in scale, yet still good enough for your reference.

No matter what, Android has become a popular platform - for mobiles and tablets, even some laptops on shelf run Android! In Hong Kong, if you have a chance to go to popular shopping areas, places like Sham Shui Po, you will be surprised to see how mobile phones being dominant (over 80-90%) by Android! I can hardly find any Windows OS phone, maybe occasionally find one or two models. Android devices and accessories are everywhere in Hong Kong. Indeed many of my friends are using Android without any idea how much their phone can do, they simply use it as a mobile phone ... until when I show them ... they simply can't believe their eyes!!

I think the most dramatic transition is within these 3 months, from not many is using a tablet around, to now almost all my friends around, yes, it's almost everyone of them is with an Android tablet or phone.

With the ever growing Apps on the Market, the usability and value of Android device keeps growing. However, how many Apps can a device install? Maybe a browser, email, apps for viewing documents, excels, pdf, epub, video player, music player, photo gallery, and a few tools you use, etc. and that's it. Still, the number of Apps an average person will use is quite limited. But, for entertainment, on the "data" side - music, video, books; of course, together with games - the potential is much greater!! Just think about the success of Angry Bird - well, in Hong Kong, you can see Angry Bird everywhere, not just simply as a game, but Angry Birds of all kinds - decoration, key-chain, bags, toys, clothes, even cakes!!

We see the logic behind the change of name - Google "Play"!!

HOW TO - Turn Windows XP to Windows 7 Theme

Just completed another little project of turning a Windows XP Home laptop to Windows 7 look. This Dell Inspiron 700m is too slow to install a Windows 7 OS, with just a Intel Pentium M 1.6GHz CPU, 512MB RAM and a 40GB HDD. The CPU benchmark according to http://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu_list.php is 406, more or less the same as a Thinkpad T30. Yet, I'm surprised of its good condition and wide screen configuration.

This is the final look, what do you think? It doesn't look old at all!!

After the theme change, I'm so happy that it didn't take much of the system resources. After system loaded, it still got about 300MB RAM for use.

Here're the steps to do such a theme change:

  • Download the needed theme files theme files - http://www.deviantart.com/download/133568262/SevenVG_RTM_Theme_for_XP_by_Vishal_Gupta.zip
  • Extract the files to a folder, read the readme text files under each subfolder
  • Go to the Theme folder and run the Theme.exe
  • Go to each of the rest of the folder, follow the text documents; or click on the executable files under each folder; exception is the shellstyle.dll, which you need to copy manually to the specified location
  • Restart your computer
Using Styler - 
The key part of the whole style change is on the Styler, which should appear at the bottom right corner as a yellowish snake icon. Right click on the Styler icon, choose Show. Under Style, double click on the Themes folder, select SevenVGRB. Select other tabs and make other settings as you like.

Show Desktop Rectangular button - The Show Desktop button at the bottom right corner of Windows 7 is a handy shortcut. To add this function to XP, download this little tool to your computer and create a shortcut to it in program startup:

Other Themes -
Other themes are available, this link provides more information:

There're ways to do more tricks... however, strike a balance, everything you download and install will eat up certain resources from your computer, which is already lacking resources...

Final Words -
Of course, it just have the look; function-wise, can't compare with Windows 7. If you really want to try something new, another direction will be go Linux. There's a version of Ubuntu, called Lubuntu, which should run pretty smooth on such a low performance old machine. The look, also pretty cool. Check this out - https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Lubuntu/GetLubuntu

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

HOW TO - Sync Data Files in Multiple Locations

Corporates often have needs to share data between multiple locations, these could be documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDF files, even database; and up-to-date information stored in file folders will be sychronized to branches, outlets or shops. Similar, individuals will also like to synchronize files in their computers at work, at home or their notebook/laplop.

An automatic way of doing such sync would be great...
If this is your need, Windows Live Mesh is surely an option worth your investigation. What you need is a hotmail account and install Windows Live Essential (Mesh) on all computers you need to synchronize data.

To start with, go to www.live.com,  open your hotmail account. If you already have an account, logon to your live.com or hotmail.com, mouse over on the Windows Live logo at the top bottom corner, you will find downloads. Download and install your copy of Windows Live Mesh.

With Windows Live Mesh, you can even synchronize file folders to your friends' computers. A list of devices (computers) and sync folders will be maintained under your account. You can also synchronize folders to SkyDrive. Besides, files and folders, your Microsoft Office styles, templates, custom dictionaries and email signatures can also be synchronized between your computers.

However, currently there are some limitations of Mesh:
  • Sync space limit of 5GB
  • Network folders or shares cannot be shared / sync
  • Only Windows Vista / 7 or higher are supported, not available in Windows XP
  • Sync and share to a maximum of 9 people
  • Permission rights limited to full rights, which means once shared to others, all others can add, modify and remove files
  • Mesh does not sync SkyDrive, but only the 5GB separate storage space
  • Support for mobile devices is missing
Although there're some limitations on Windows Live Mesh in use, it's a very practical and simple way to quickly sync files on multiple computers over the Internet securely.

Monday, March 19, 2012

HOW TO - Sync Hotmail Calendar to Android

To synchronize Hotmail mails and calendar to your Android device#, do these:

You should have a calendar app on your Android device. If you're happy with your current calendar, go directly to (1); otherwise, you may also go to Android Market to download and install a calendar app like "aCalendar".

  1. On your Android device, go to Android Market, download Hotmail app (by Microsoft + SEVEN)* and install it
  2. Open Hotmail app, setup your Hotmail account
  3. Press and hold on your account, select Settings. In Calendar item, check "Sync Calendar". Return back to Account Settings
  4. Press Sync New Calendar
Other Hotmail data like contacts and email folders can also be synchronized in a similar way. By default, only your Hotmail Inbox will be synchronized. Also, there's a limit of maximum 30 days to keep your Inbox mail data.

#Hotmail sync also supports other phones like Windows Phone, iPhone, some Nokia phones and BlackBerry phones. - http://explore.live.com/hotmail-mobile?T1=t1
*There are other apps with similar names. However, this is the only official app for Hotmail sync.

DISCUSSION - Microsoft's Live.com or Googles?

After using Googles for so long, I'm always a happy user of Googles. However, recently I've been heavily testing the features available in Microsoft's live.com (SkyDrive). My conclusion, Microsoft's live.com is my choice in Calendar, Web Apps (Office Applications) and Group sharing!!

  • Better compatibility of your Microsoft Office - currently, Web Apps of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are available
  • Better learning curve as the Web Apps user interface resembles their desktop full version
  • Easy integration of web calendars to your Outlook
  • Easy integration of web mails to your Outlook or Windows Live mail client
  • OneNote App available for your smartphone, easy synchronization
  • Easy document sharing with security rights set, concurrent edit with good response time
  • 25GB SkyDrive storage
  • Professional look and very user friendly
  • Occasionally, users may experience server bottlenecks and slowness in response time
  • Googles offer far more features than Microsoft's SkyDrive
  • Googles is consistently faster, with proven reliability
  • Mobile or tablet device support is lacking, only OneNote is supported. Android Apps for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Email, Calendar are severly lacking
  • For sharing, users need a hotmail or live account, which is a hindrance for use because many are happy with their Googles account
In the mean time, I'll keep my Googles account and it's hard for me to believe that Microsoft will provide the same set of features for free as Googles. However, for documents and calendar sharing, Microsoft SkyDrive is definitely my choice!!

DISCUSSION - Lubuntu, "Light" Edition of Ubuntu

Although the published minimum requirement of Ubuntu is pretty low, tests show that it's not practical to run Ubuntu linux on hardware which is too old, or just meet the minimum requirement. A better option would be "Lubuntu".

I've tested installing Ubuntu 11.10 on a laptop with Pentium 4, 1.6GHz CPU, 512MB RAM and 40GB HDD. Installation successful, however, the resulting performance is so bad that it's not practical for actual use.

Then, I noticed another edition of Ubuntu - Lubuntu, the light edition of Ubuntu. It takes much less resources, so even on a slower laptop like the above, it's still good enough. Installation is pretty fast. Hardware side, drivers were all successfully installed without any problem, not much difference from Ubuntu. Software side, basic web browsing, email, media player, word processor, terminal are all available inside the install ISO. Indeed, the desktop look is not bad, even better than Ubuntu (my personal opinion)!!

However, users of Lubuntu need to aware that besides the system installation, 3rd party application installation will not be as straight forward as Ubuntu. The Software Center is missing. In many cases, you will need to open a terminal, type commands to install software. Language pack support may cause you some difficulties. No office application is available by default, so more complicated word processing, spreadsheet, presentation features are not readily available, unless you install them afterwards.

Of course, Lubuntu is not as feature-rich and user friendly as Ubuntu, though it's a very good option for computers with slow CPU and lacking RAM. A computer with Pentium 4, 2GHz or lower, or 512MB RAM or lower, Lubuntu should be your choice.

Those who have interest to try it, here's the official download site:

TIPS - How to Clean Virus from an Infected PC

Sadly, even with an antivirus software installed, virus infection is possible and even commonplace among Windows PCs. This could be caused by an out-dated antivirus software, detection engine, pattern file, or even a weakness of the antivirus software itself.

If your PC is unfortunately being infected, here's an outline of steps to clean your system.

First, remember that in most cases it will be a waste of time trying to use your already installed antivirus software to clean the virus. The very fact that it can't stop your computer from infection reveals its ineffectiveness against the virus.

A fast and simple approach, use Windows system restore. If you haven't disable this Windows built-in feature, probably you'll be able to restore your system files and state to an earlier time, probably a time when your system is not yet compromised.

Next, you should boot your PC in Safe Mode. Reset your computer, before entering Windows and the Windows Logo appears, press F8. Choose Safe Mode. You will not want to use "Safe Mode with Network", if ever possible. Holding Shift key when Windows startup will also bypass startup programs, which is a good way to stop malicious programs from loading at startup.

Once you can successfully enter Windows, go to Start, Run, type msconfig, press ENTER. Go to the Startup tab, uncheck any programs that are suspicious. If you are not sure, find another clean PC to search for more information about these programs, then decide which ones should be loaded and which ones shouldn't.

Now, you need to do a full scan of your computer. A very good tool I like to use is Trend Micro's sysclean. On a clean PC, download these files to a folder, extract zip files and put all files in one folder.

Sysclean with Engine: http://downloadcenter.trendmicro.com/index.php?regs=APAC&clk=latest&clkval=353&lang_loc=3

Pattern File: http://downloadcenter.trendmicro.com/index.php?clk=tab_pattern&clkval=33&regs=APAC&lang_loc=3

You need to copy these files to the hard disk of the infected PC and start a full scan. DO NOT USE A THUMB DRIVE WITHOUT A WRITE LOCK. Any USB thumb drive or flash memory (without lock) you have may have already been infected. Make sure that you're using a clean or new flash memory (like a SD Card with a write lock, this will protect your memory card from infection) to copy files. Another way, burn the files to a CD-R.

Copy all the needed files in one folder, run the sysclean program on the infected PC.

After full scan, reboot your computer.

Scan all your memory cards, USB thumb drives, external HDD, etc., that may have a chance to be infected because they've been plug into the infected PC. To do so, I like to keep a Linux PC or laptop to do the work. Format them before use.

What antivirus software is most effective and should be installed?
I don't believe there's any antivirus solution which is 100% effective. What you can try, is to install your favorite antivirus with the cloud-based antivirus software - clamav. Clamav has a solid user-cloud, which keeps it very efficient in responding to new virues and security threats. In most cases, it won't conflict with other brands' antivirus. Moreover, it's very light weight, won't significantly slow down your PC. The current version works even without the cloud, when no network connection.

What are some good practices to avoid virus infection and network attacks?
Most effective - your awareness! So many times, a system was infected not because of the antivirus solution ineffective, but the user is too careless, too lazy to check any message that pops up and prompt and warn the user. They are simply being ignored by the user!!

Some other good practices - same old stories - regular Windows updates, apply any service packs available. Do not visit, download, nor install any software from websites that you do not really know. Understand and evaluate the risks before you install any software.

Windows XP platforms are too vulunerable to virues to be used. Migrate your system to Windows 7 or higher. Another effective measure is to stop the Autorun feature, when thumb drives are pluggin.

Do not stop your Windows firewall just for your own convenience, but simply make your system easier for hackers and virus attacks.

Set strong passwords to your user and administrator accounts.

If you're using a router to share Internet, you should make sure that the router is probably set, especially when Wifi in enabled. Stop using WEP. Use WPA or WPA-2, with keys not easily cracked. Most routers will prompt you for security concerns when the key is not strong, don't just ignore it.

Final words, precaution is always better than cure. When a system is infected and compromised, often it's hard to assess the damage. Recovery is never 100%. Any serious IT professionals will tell you, there is no other option, but reformat, reinstall everything...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

DISCUSSION - Microsoft on Android Market

A quiet, careful, and very first move of Microsoft stepping into the Android world - Microsoft OneNote for Android, which works with Windows Live account and SkyDrive.

This initial release of OneNote for Android is not impressive at all, though with a professional look. A 6.9MB program file download, a bit bulky. Loading is slow, with limited functionality, even without a widget!! In comparison to other well developed note apps like Evernote and Color Note, OneNote is really inferior. Hopefully, more features will be added to it in the near future.

The good side, synchronize with my Windows live account, which I've been using for a while. Sadly though, the other apps on live.com are not quite stable in use, crashes are common. And, no support for other apps like Word, Excel and Powerpoint are available for Android in the moment. We'll see what the future holds ...

Can Microsoft find his way to the smartphone market and have a share!?!?

HOW TO - Convert DVD Videos to MP4

There are so many free video converters out there available, yet not many can do what HandBrake can do. HandBrake is always my favorite converter for converting physical DVD videos to MP4 format files, with subtitles and audio channel selection... to play on tablet, laptop or even smartphone.

From time to time, I need to convert multi-language DVD to video files with subtitle burn-in and language set, like English with English subtitle or Chinese Cantonese with Chinese Tradition subtitle. HandBrake always gives me perfect results!!

HandBrake is an opensource, GPL-licensed software, with Windows, Mac OS and Ubuntu Linux support! Its interface is quite user friendly, allows for preview result and performance reasonably fast. Though its earlier versions may not be so stable, recent releases are stable enough for production use.

To download and try HandBrank, go here: http://handbrake.fr/

Remarks: For file to file format conversion, downsizing, etc., Any Video Converter is certainly my first choice. Yet, some functionalities are missing in AVC, and here comes my alternative - Total Media Converter.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

SOLVED! - Cannot Copy Big Files to External HDD

The chance is that your external hard disk is formatted with FAT32 file system, which has a file size limit of 4GB. One workaround is to re-format your external HDD using NTFS file system, which has a maximum file size limit of 16EB.

By default, most external hard disk drives are pre-formatted with FAT32. This file system is chosen because of its wide compatibility with most operating systems, including Mac OS X and Linux.

The down side of formatting your external har disk with NTFS is that, if you had a Mac OS X computer, you may read but cannot write on it. In fact, Mac OS supports NTFS read/write. However, this capability is not enabled by default. If you want to enable it, surely you can google and will find articles on it. However, those who had tried write to NTFS disk on Mac OS found its support buggy and corrupting files...

My suggestion, keep two external hard disk drives, one with NTFS and the other with FAT32, or even the native Mac HFS file system, if files bigger than 4GB has to be stored.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

TIPS - Automatic Way of Push Deploy Shared Printers to Workstations Over a Network

If you're a network administrator, one big headache is to deploy shared network printers to tens or even hundreds of workstation computers. In a Windows domain environment, this mission can be easily accomplished by a login script.

To centralize your printers' pool, a good way is to setup a printer server using Windows 2008. Install printers on your Windows Server 2008 and share these printers out. One good way to setup such a printer server is to create it as a Windows 2008 virtual machine, over Hyper-V.

A batch file could be created and put inside your domain's netlogon folder, \\DOMAIN\NETLOGON. The file, maybe named printer.bat; it will look like this:

    rundll32 printui.dll PrintUIEntry /in /n "//printerservername/sharename" /q

The /in switch means to install the share printer.

For example, if your printer's share name is HP 4200 PCL and the server name is HKPR01, the command will look like this:

    rundll32 printui.dll PrintUIEntry /in /n "//hkpr01/HP 4200 PCL" /q

If you have an old printer you'd want to uninstall, this is a command to use:

    rundll32 printui.dll PrintUIEntry /dn /n "\\hkpr01\HP 5si-mx" /q

The /dn switch means to delete the share printer.

Finally, saved this login script file to \\DOMAIN\NETLOGON folder. Then, go to your Active Directory and manager your domain users with the login script applied.

Monday, March 5, 2012

DISCUSSION - Kubuntu or Ubuntu?

First glance... judging by appearance, Kubuntu can be said the "Cool" derived version of Ubuntu linux system. With the KDE Plasma Desktop, the look of Kubuntu is much more fresher and eye-catching. However, in terms of STABILITY, Ubuntu is much more stable.

I've tested install and run Kubuntu as a vm on my VMWare Player. The installation process takes much longer time (compared to installing Ubuntu), I've no choice but left it running overnight. After the initial installation, I started download patches and upgrades, crashed... and crashes. Programs like media player also experienced frequent crashes.

The overall performance is slow when compared with Ubuntu, displays dragged and initial screen draws were messy... New windows pops up with distorted screen, then redrawed.

After a reboot, the mouse is lost!! Reinstall VMWare Tools failed... really disappointed...!!

Eventually, I removed the whole Kubuntu virtual machine ... go back to my Ubuntu virtual machine.

The "cool" look of Kubuntu, ... yet sadly buggy ...

TIPS - Open M4V Files in Windows Media Player

Without a proper codec installed, you will see an error message like "The selected file has an extension (.m4v) that is not recognized by Windows Media Player..." followed by another message "Windows Media Player cannot play the file. The player might not support the type or might not support the codec that was used to compress the file."

  • Go to www.download.com (by CNETS), search and download codec pack like "Windows Essential Codec Pack"
  • Choose "Advanced Installation", uncheck all boxes for "Install Babylon Toolbar..."
  • Uncheck the box "By clicking "Next"...", again this box is for another Apps you probably don't want. Press Next.

TIPS! - Turning Your Windows Vista to Windows 7 Theme

Experimenting changing my Vista laptops to use Windows 7 Theme, and so to make it work more like Windows 7. The following steps work with me, probably will also work on your Vista:

Two files you need. Download them to your computer.
  1. Run the Universal Theme Patcher, depending on your Windows version run the -x64 (for 64bit OS) or -x86 (for 32bit OS)
  2. Press the 3 "Patch" buttons to patch the needed files. (you can always restore these files back)
  3. Copy the Windows 7 Theme files to your c:\windows\resources\themes. Remeber, you should have a folder "Windows 7" and a file "Windows 7 (Windows Theme File)" under the ...\themes folder.
  4. Right click on your desktop, choose Personalize and then Theme. Under Theme, browse to "c:\windows\resources\themes\Windows 7" (the file)
  5. Start and run Regedit, change or add this registry key "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowsMetrics\MinWidth". Gives its value 56 (String REG_SZ, value)
You will need to reboot your computer when going through these steps. Here's the final look of my Windows Vista laptop!

Show Desktop Rectangular button - The Show Desktop button at the bottom right corner of Windows 7 is a handy shortcut. To add this function to Vista, download this little tool to your computer and create a shortcut to it in program startup:
Of course, there're more ways to further customize your Windows Vista to make it more like 7...

SOLVED! - Skype on Tablet Speaker Volume Too Soft

Many users have reported that when using Skype on Android tablets, for some reasons the sound volume through the built-in speakers are extremely soft (too low volume). Even when the system volume is set to maximum and other audio players are working perfectly fine with good volume, strangely Skype just simply remains very very soft.

Unlike its other platform versions, Skype's volume test and level control is severely lacking on Android.

Workaround: A workaround I've tested maybe also helpful to you: download an Equalizer from Android Market. Just go to the Market and type "Equalizer", and you'll find dozens of free equalizers for your use. One equalizer I've tried gives me a present of equalizing with a widget handy to on/off my present. Once various frequencies are boost up, Skype's voice through built-in speakers sound much better!!

Of course, the down side of adding an equalizer is that it tends to distort your music. So, having an on/off widget switch is good when you'd like to listen to your favorite music and songs, you'd not want the EQ to kill your favorites - turn the EQ off.

Hope that Skype will soon have an upgrade to fix this very annoying problem...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

SOLVED! - Android Tablet Cannot Connect Server / Cannot Create Account

Fail to create a new Android Market account using your Android tablet, or fail to login to Android Market nor Gmail. No matter using WIFI or wired network, keep prompt message that cannot establish a secure connection with the Market - like this "...cannot establish a secure connection to the server"

The chance is that your system date time is incorrect, that caused a secure connection cannot be established.
This solved the problem:
  • Go to "Settings"
  • Select "Date and Time"
  • Uncheck "Automatic"
  • Select "Set date", set the current date correctly
  • Select "Set time", set the current time correctly

Now, you are ready to create an Android Market account.