Domain Name Prices To Increase July 1st

Gold man surfing the world wide web

Gold man surfing the world wide webVerisign will be raising the wholesale price of domain names with the .NET and .COM extensions on July 1st. .NET domains will go up 10% while .COM domains will go up 7%. Most domain registrars will be passing the increase along to their customers.

The increase is not retroactive so you don’t have to worry about a new bill if you have a domain. You can also lock in the current price by renewing your registration for additional years. .COM domains can be registered for up to 10 years.

I just finished going through my domains. For ones like this one, that I intend to have for a long time, I renewed for multiple years. For the domains I use for email I renewed them for the maximum of 10 years. I don’t expect prices to decline, only go up, so I figure it’s worth the up front expense. I also went through my domains that are scheduled to expire this year and renewed the ones I want to keep for sure.

Name.com has a promotional price of $6.99 for .COM and .NET domains that are transferred into them. No coupon code required. I don’t use Name.com myself so can’t speak to their service, but they have a generally good reputation. While cheaper than my current registrar (Moniker) for .COMs (.NETs are currently $6.64) I decided not to transfer the domains just to save a few dollars. I stayed with what’s been working.

If you’ve got some domain names you may be able top save some money if you renew them in the next week.

Yet Another Update: iOS4 for my iPod Touch

Tile for Quick Bits Software Update

Tile for Quick Bits Software UpdateApple started releasing iOS4 today so I went ahead and updated my iPod Touch, which is the third gen 64GB model.

Since getting my iPad I use the Touch mostly as a music player so I haven’t really given the new OS a workout.

A “check for update” on my iPad doesn’t show iOS4 as available for it yet. Just as well. Since the iPad is more of a daily user for me I’ll hold off and wait for reports on the experiences of others.

The OS Quest Trail Log #52: Updates, Updates & More Updates Edition

Picture of a white classic carJune has been one of catching up with projects started long ago. First one system build was finalized, then a second system build started months ago was finished. Of course, that meant several PC’s that needed this month’s Microsoft patches. So this past Saturday I turned them all on and ran system update on each one. For good measure I made sure they were online long enough to backup to my Windows Home Server.

Website Updates

The big updates this past weekend were a system upgrade from my webhost and a upgrade to the newly released WordPress 3.0. Linode celebrated their seventh anniversary by bumping the memory on all their VPS plans. So my 384MB plan got bumped to 512MB. All I had to to was reboot my Linode to get the upgrade, and I did that Saturday. I tweaked the Apache configuration a little to allow more Apache but the new memory is still going unused. Still, a nice surprise.

I went through a upgraded all my WordPress plugins on Friday and then upgraded my guinea pig site to WordPress 3.0. Can’t really call it a test site since it is live. Just doesn’t get much traffic. That seem to go well so on Saturday I edited my svn script to install 3.0 on all my sites and ran it. Everything seems to be fine. To be honest, from my selfishly personal perspective I don’t see any earth shattering changes or enhancements although there is certainly a long list of enhancements.

Since I was updating WordPress I also updated my theme from Frugal 3.3 to Frugal 3.5. This upgrade was painless with the new theme seamlessly importing the old settings.

OS Updates

In addition to the usual Microsoft monthly security patches there were a few Apple updates. Small in number, large in size. My Snow Leopard Macs got OS X 10.6.4 while my Leopard Mac got a security update. Everything got Safari 5 and iTunes 9.2.

It’s interesting that I’m at a point where the Microsoft patches don’t concern me. I do update my primary Windows machine last and make sure I have a backup. But I don’t really fret about the update. On the other hand, I put off my Mac updates (at least the OS and iTunes) until I know I’ll have time to recover. But this time around all was well. It did take iTunes about 2 hours to update my library after the upgrade and then videos wouldn’t play until I rebooted the Mac. So while not part of the plan, it wasn’t a big deal.

Other Updates and Changes

I recently switched over to using Google Chrome on Windows as my primary browser. I like it. Firefox was getting sluggish and I didn’t feel like cleaning up the extensions (although I don’t have too many of them). Windows was also buggy and I noticed it seemed to be after a Firefox crash or other Firefox weirdness. It’s hardly proof, but since I haven’t been running Firefox things have been stable. I do have to use Firefox on a site or two that Chrome has problems with.

That’s it for this Trail Log, just a quick update.

Virtualization Software: VirtualBox

Virtual Box LogoI’ve been using Oracle’s VirtualBox software to run a virtual machine on my Windows 7 PC and I recently started using it as the virtualization software on my Virtual Server Testbed. I’ve used both Parallels and VMware Fusion on my Mac. Both of these worked fine and are commercial apps. Despite having already bought them I decided not to use them when I switched to the Mac Mini. VirtualBox can run on Mac OS X but I switched to Windows since my Windows machines have more horsepower.

Licensing

VirtualBox is available under a couple different versions/licenses. One is the open source GPL license, the other is a closed source license. The differences between the versions is documented here. The primary differences are that the closed source edition provides an RDP server and USB support. The open source edition provides a VNC server instead of RDP and lacks the USB support. I went with the closed source version mainly because it’s the one I downloaded and installed before I knew there were two versions. But I kept it primarily because of the USB support. The closed source version is free for personal use and evaluation.

Host Operating Systems

VirtualBox can be installed on Windows and most desktop and server versions since Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 are supported. For Windows XP and Windows 2003 only 32-bit is supported. For Windows Vista, Windows 7  and Windows Server 2008 both 32 and 64-bit are supported. I’m using it on Windows 7 64-bit. I’ve installed it on Windows 7 32-bit but haven’t created any VMs on it.

Mac OS X 10.5 and up are supported as are numerous flavors of Linux. A updated list of supported hosts are in the online user manual.

Guest Operating Systems

VirtualBox supports a wide range of guest operating systems. Windows 7 32 and 64-bit, Ubuntu 9 and later for both desktop and server along with Windows Server 2008 are the ones that are on my list of requirements and they are supported. All Linux 2.6 versions and editions are supported along with FreeBSD and OpenBSD (among others) so I’ll have plenty of choices to play with. The complete list of supported guest OS’s is in the online user manual.

VirtualBox Installation on Windows 7

The VirtualBox installation on Windows 7 is straight-forward. Download the installer, execute it and answer the prompts in the wizard. There’s nothing special in the wizard prompts. I’ve put screenshots of each wizard screen below. Click the thumbnail for full size.

virtualbox-install01 virtualbox-install02 virtualbox-install03 virtualbox-install04 virtualbox-install05 virtualbox-install06

Once I click the Install button the progress status is displayed:

virtualbox-install07During the install there will be several driver prompts which will require confirmation and maybe a UAC prompt but eventually the completion dialog will appear:

virtualbox-install08 virtualbox-install09 virtualbox-install10

I accept the defaults except for the creation of the desktop and quick launch shortcuts which is just a personal preference to avoid shortcut overload. Be aware of the warning that the network connection will be briefly dropped.

Once VirtualBox is started the following screen will be displayed and the virtual machines can be created.

virtualbox-install11

Preferences

By default VirtualBox will create virtual machines and hard disk in the user profile directory. This isn’t where I want them so I go into File –> Preferences and change the defaults. They can also be changed on the individual virtual machines.

virtualbox-install12Other than that I’ve been running with the defaults.

Tips

The “Host” key is the right “Ctrl” (Control) key by default. To send a <Control> –<Alt> – <Delete> to the virtual machine use <Host>-<Del>

As each virtual machine is created and started the first time be sure to install the guest additions using the Device menu.

virtualbox-install13

Summary

As someone who doesn’t have any business specific needs for their virtual machines I find the free VirtualBox software is more than the equal of the VMware and Parallels software I was using. Although I’m admittedly still in the honeymoon phase and my feelings may change as I create more virtual machines with different guest OS’s.

Rearranging Windows Home Server Hard Drives

Placard for Windows Home Server TipsOne of the nice features of Windows Home Server is that the existing drives can be moved around without breaking anything. I benefited from this recently and did mention it in my last Trail Log but figured it was worth highlighting as a tip.

If you need to rearrange disk in a Windows Home Server or move them to new connections you can do so without any special work (other than shutting down WHS for the move). When I moved the warm hard drives from the internal bays to the external bays all I had to do was shut down the server and physically move the drives.  Likewise when I re-seated all the cables I didn’t have to worry about putting them in the same SATA port.

One thing to keep in mind is that if your using a home build like I am, and use the Disk Management for Windows Home Server Add-in you will still need to keep track of the drive bay assignments when you move drives or cables.

System Build: Testbed PC

Picture of the Foxconn A74MX-K motherboardEven before I decided to build my Virtual Server testbed I put together some very low end hardware to have for other testing.  In this case the driving force was all the hard drive problems I was having with my Windows Home Server. I wanted to run all my hard drives through some extensive, time consuming testing. In order to do this I needed some hardware that could be dedicated to the task. I figured when it wasn’t being used to test hardware I’d want it to be able to run some flavor of Linux or a basic Windows installation. My primary requirement was low cost.

Since low cost was the primary guideline I’d be using a AMD Athlon 64 LE-1640 cpu that I had on the shelf. I had bought it on close-out sale long ago intending to use it as an upgrade to my HP Mediasmart Home Server but never did it. And the MediaSmart was replaced with a home build long ago.

I’d need a AMD compatible motherboard for the cpu and picked the low cost Foxconn A74MX micro-atx motherboard which was $40. The lowest cost DDR2 memory that I trusted was the Kingston HyperX 1GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) memory. I got two of these to max out the memory slots on the motherboard. The motherboard supports up to 4GB of RAM but I wanted to keep costs down and went with the 1GB sticks. Even 2GB is more memory than this box truly needs. I could have saved more by going with 512GB sticks but these days that little memory seems wrong and I couldn’t do it.

I didn’t go dirt cheap on the case. I figured this would be something I spend a lot of time inside re-arranging things. I picked the Antec Three Hundred Illusion black case. The case has the power supply on the bottom and places the motherboard high in the case. This moves the motherboard and related cables out of the way of the lower hard drive bays, making it easy for me to add and remove drives. It’s extremely easy to work inside this case. It’s also got plenty of fans, which turns into the one negative to me. Each of the fans has nice bright blue LED. Eventually I’ll get annoyed enough by the blue light to figure out how to disconnect or block the LEDs. The LED dislike is a personally preference and I knew about it when O bought the case, so I can’t really complain. Otherwise it’s a sturdy case with lots of expansion bays.

I went with my value power supply of choice, the Antec Basiq BP430 430W power supply. Antec has always been a reliable power supply for me so I stick with it.

As for disk drives I’ll go with whatever extra drives I have around. For starters it’s a HITACHI Deskstar 500GB drive.

For a couple of months I just hooked up the hardware so I could boot SpinRite and run diagnostics on the various hard drives. This week I finally got around to installing Windows 7 Premium so I could do some benchmarking and get a feel for the machine.

Summary

Passmark Software’s Performance tests rated it at 359.7 which is the slowest out of any of my machines (except the netbook). But that wasn’t unexpected as it has the slowest cpu and is not built for speed.

The Windows Experience Index rates it a 3.4 based on the following ratings:

  • Processor: 4.3
  • Memory: 5.5
  • Graphics: 3.6
  • Gaming Graphics: 3.4
  • Primary HDD: 5.9

I haven’t activated Windows yet and probably won’t. I’m still debating whether it’s worth saving the image or the hard drive itself so I could activate it in the future and not have to reinstall. I suppose there will be a time where I may want a Windows test machine and a virtual machine on my virtual testbed won’t suffice. So I’ll probably be putting in a second hard drive and installing some flavor of Linux.

The system works well as a platform to run hardware test, but I’m glad it’s not my primary PC. I may eventually look to add some sort of swappable drive bay in one or two of the 5.25″ bays to make it easier to swap drives without opening up the case. But I hold off on that expense until I really see a need.

iPod Touch Is Back

Placard for Quick Bits - Gadget articlesIn my last Trail Log I mentioned that my iPad had taken over so many of my iPod Touch’s duties that I dug out my old iPod Nano to use as an audio player. That was short-lived as my iPod Touch is back as of last Saturday. It’s still used only as an audio player, not for any apps, but it’s back.

I figured the smaller Nano would be easier to carry with me and it is. But I found a few quirks in using it and I decided I couldn’t live with them.

My audio listening is usually Podcasts, music and audio books, in that order. Music sometimes drops to third place but at the moment it’s a daily event.

My Nano problems fell into two categories, both due to my listening habits.

  1. The iPod Nano doesn’t do playlists for Podcasts. I can create the playlists and the playlist names do show under “Music”, but they are empty. I find it annoying to have to start each Podcast, I’d rather listen straight through. This is especially important in the car as I don’t want to fumble with the iPod, especially one with a screen as small as the Nano. Most of the time I don’t have the player with me, it’s usually played through a stereo or Bluetooth headphones so it’s more than just pulling it out of my pocket.
  2. The Nano can’t hold my entire music library. For a long time I’ve been listening to my “Least Recently Played” iTunes playlists. This way I listen to the songs I haven’t heard in awhile. But my subconscious must make me want what I can’t have. As I’ve heard some songs they triggered a desire to listen to the entire album and the entire album hasn’t been in the Nano.

Now that the Nano is out of the drawer I may keep it available for the times I want something small, but otherwise the iPod is it. If the iPod Touch was to break or be lost I wouldn’t replace it with another Touch. I’d either switch to the Nano and deal with it’s shortcomings or but one of the iPod Classics with the nice big hard drive.

Favorite iPad Apps

Favorite iPad apps is a favorite topic these days. I actually have a hard time coming up with a favorite iPad app or even a top 10 list. I’m more task oriented with the iPad and it’s not one or two killer iPad apps that draw me to the iPad, but rather the full range of apps. Any favorites list depends upon how I want to slice and dice the word “favorite” and the apps. So let’s start slicing and dicing.

First let’s see how I compare to Apple’s chart toppers:

Graphic of top paid ipad apps graphic of top grossing ipad apps graphic of top free ipad apps

As for the Top 10 Paid Apps I have half of them but only one of the five gets used regularly. I bought Pages, Numbers and Keynote early on figuring they’d complement the desktop apps and would be good examples of iPad apps since they’re from Apple. None of them get used on a regular basis. Penultimate falls into the same category. I was looking for a note taking app and thought it might be useful it never caught on with me. GoodReader for iPad is the only one of the top 10 that caught on with me. It’s found use regularly as a way to read any manage manuals and notes. It also has hooks into Dropbox, GMail and other cloud services.

The only app (other than the three iWork duplicates from the Top Paid chart) from the Top 10 Grossing chart is Plants vs. Zombies HD. And by any definition this is one of my favorite apps, and so far the only iPad game I have. I’ve had to forcibly separate myself from the game. It was consuming all my free time along with time that should have been more productive.

Out of the Top 10 Free Apps I tried four of them and use two regularly. Neither iBooks of USA Today for iPad were keepers. iBooks is nice and may see a return but at this point I’m sticking with the Kindle app. The two I use are both Video related. The Netflix App gets regular use and until it appeared I wasn’t a regular consumer of Netflix streaming despite my subscription. The ABC Player app gets limited use and I could live without it.

The bottom line is my usage doesn’t seem to fall in line with the popular apps, so what do I use?

Lose It! is really an iPhone/iPod Touch app that I’ve moved to my iPad. It’s a calorie counter and gets daily use.

LastPass and 1Password are both password tracking/security apps. Lastpass is a cross-platform web service and the iPhone app complements the service. 1Password is a iPad app and is more functional on the iPad  than LastPass but is more Mac specific 9at least until the Windows version leaves beta).

Mint.com, still a iPhone app, complements the web service that I use for financial management so it gets regular use.

NetNewsWire is my RSS reader and since the iPad I’ve been doing most of my RSS consumption on the iPad. NetNewsWire can send articles to Instapaper. Which brings up Instapaper as one of my Favorites. Many web pages end up there for later reading.

Despite the iPad being promoted as the savior of print media only one traditional newspaper app has caught my attention. And that was the Financial Times app. It’s free through July (there’s a sponsor) but it’s the one media app that may be worth subscribing to. The USA Today app was better than I expected, but like USA Today I wasn’t drawn to it. I had been a regular reader of the New York Times website but their iPad app hasn’t been a regular for me. I go through phases with the NPR app. Some weeks it’s used regularly and then it may be ignored for a couple weeks.

Then there’s the utility apps which I would consider my favorites for their genre. I like Twitterrific as my Twitter client, Weatherbug is my weather app and PCalc is a fine calculator and convertor.

Then there are a couple iPad apps which made their desktop counterparts more useful. Bento is a big one for me. I find it easier to create the databases on my Mac but like having the data on the iPad. It’s also handy to be able to add or edit records. I add the Kindle App to this. It’s nice to have access to my Kindle books whenever I have the iPad.

I’ve been a user of the Dropbox service at the free level. The Dropbox iPad app put me over the top and I became a paid Dropbox subscriber. Evernote should be one of my favorite iPad apps but it’s been buggy for me and I’ve tired of hunting down the bad record to delete it and then re-installing Evernote. The Dropbox iPad app increased my Dropbox usage while the Evernote iPad app is driving me away.

There is one iPad app that’s iPad only for me and a daily user. I guess I’d have to call it my favorite, it’s simply called ToDo for iPad.

Alright, now that I’ve gone through the list let’s see if I can come up with my five favorite:

  1. ToDo for iPad – I use it daily and it’s the first ToDo app I’ve been able to integrate into my daily workflow. It’s not perfect, but little in life is.
  2. Instapaper – The iPad has become my favorite way of reading anything shorter than a book. Instapaper gets a lot more use now since I’m not tied to using it at my computer.
  3. GoodReader – This makes the list because it’s so functional and I do use it a lot. I find the UI a bit annoying at times.
  4. Bento – I foresee increased use of this app and suspect it will be one or two on this list in six months.
  5. Dropbox & Netflix – I tied these at number five because it’s not so much the iPad app that’s a favorite, but he iPad app makes their service so much more valuable to me.

Are there any of your favorites that should be on my list?

My WWDC 2010 Keynote Comments

Quick Bits - Commentary placardAs I previously mentioned, I wasn’t expecting much that would be personally exciting from the WWDC keynote. And I got what I expected. It was a developers conference so I shouldn’t be hugely surprised that the main topic was iPhone apps and all the things they can do and money to be made.

iAds scares me a bit. If the limited screen real estate of the apps becomes cluttered with ads then it becomes a lot less useful to me. I realize developers need to support themselves and families so I’m not about to say I won’t use any app with ads in them. I just don’t want the UI to suffer so that the ads can be placed. But the test will be in the implementation.

The addition of PDF support to iBook may be enough to get it back on my iPad, but since I already have GoodReader it probably won’t be back. Still, its a good added feature to the app. The ability to sync books between devices (a la Kindle) is also another necessary feature. Still, the Kindle platform will be my primary e-book source since it’s not dedicated to Apple devices. Amazon took the right approach in separating the Kindle hardware folks from the Kindle books folks. There’s no incentive for the books people to limit devices.

As for the iPhone itself – every time there’s a keynote the reality distortion field hits me and my AT&T loathing weakens. But then true reality takes over and I’m able to resist. The new screen seems sweet. Building in the antennae as part of the case design (it’s wrapped around the phone) looks cool but freaks me out. I’m old and remember all those warnings about keeping cellphone antennas away from your head. While my brain can logically understand it’s no worse than having the antennae inside. Still, that same brain would freak out about being cooked since I’m not a borg that wears a Bluetooth headset all the time.

I was happy to hear my iPod Touch would get a free upgrade to the newly renamed iOS as would my iPad.

Going on at the same time is Microsoft TechEd but it’s gotten almost zero play in the news. The news from there that caught my attention was Windows 7 SP1 beta in July and it would be just a patch roll-up, no new features.

Apple has created yet another video calling standard, FaceTime (only iPhone to iPhone and on WiFi at first). Apple says they will make this open but I haven’t seen open defined. If it’s an open api controlled by Apple it may be problematic for other vendors. On the other hand I’m not sufficiently up on the technology to know if there was a good open standard already in existence.

I guess the business community was underwhelmed by the keynote because Apple stock was down almost 2% today.

Pet peeves:

Apple keeps calling HTML5 and open standard. It’s more accurately and open standard to be since it’s still a working draft. All HTML implementations (including Mozilla’s and Google’s) include proprietary tags because the standard isn’t defined and the developer has no choice. Like all marketing, these claims (on all sides) contain a significant amount of self-serving spin. Apple’s own HTML5 demo gallery is coded to only load in Safari which seems unnecessarily self-serving but speaks to the fact that the HTML5 standard is still be written and Apple must write to their vision of the standard.

Apple says they didn’t go after Google’s business but Google came after theirs. Apple defined Google’s business as search. Google isn’t in the search business, it’s in the ad business. And Apple is going after the ad business.

WWDC Kicks Off

Quick Bits - Commentary placardApple is kicking of WWDC today so naturally the Apple rumors are flying. I find it hard to get exited about anything that might happen there. Apple is primarily a consumer products company these days and while important, computers are just one component of their business.

Naturally there will be a new iPhone announced along with iPhone OS 4.0. I don’t really care. As long as the iPhone is locked to AT&T I will never have one as long as they’re the telco provider. Rumors of the iPhone arriving on Verizon persist but I don’t put much stock in them.

The rumors of the Apple TV changing into a streaming device that includes apps (iPhone for the TV?) also don’t interest me. I have one of the early Apple TVs and still use it occasionally, but not to stream. If I was to replace it I’d be hooking up a Mac Mini or PC to my TV. While it’s possible Apple will stop treating the Apple TV as a hobby and try to make it the centerpiece of the living room. Even if they do I won’t be running out an buying one, even for the rumored $99 price.

I haven’t really been hearing he usual rumor about the Beatles coming to iTunes. But even if they do it’s too late for me. I went with the re-released physical CD’s.

If MobileMe becomes a free service I might bite for the iPad specific stuff. I still have memories of the .Mac to MobileMe conversion disaster. That experience turned me off of trusting Apple in “the cloud”. It was 2 years ago but I still haven’t forgotten or forgiven.

I’m not looking for new Apple Computers so the inevitable hardware upgrades don’t interest me. And word is there won’t be any OS X 10.7 introduced.

The good news is that while the tech news will be packed with Apple stories next week I can safely ignore them all.