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Geek Sanity Tip: Make Everyone Run the Same Software

Posted in Microsoft Windows XP and Vista, Technology by engtech on September 01, 2008

Working With Windows

Much like how doctor’s get bombarded with medical questions, being the alpha geek in any family or group of friends means you’ll get asked questions about computers. There’s only one way to stay sane: get everyone you know to run the same software.

Outlook vs Gmail

Case in point, I’ve had to support Microsoft Outlook for over a decade now even though the last time I used it was in 1997. Even though I switched from Outlook to Thunderbird, and then Gmail I’ve had this albatross of questions hanging around my neck. If I could convince everyone I know to switch to gmail I wouldn’t have to worry about problems like:

For me the main advantages to using gmail instead of a desktop based client are:

  • Access email from any computer
  • No “downloading email” wait time
  • NO VIRUSES! Everything is virus scanned any nothing is downloaded on to your computer without your express interaction
  • The best junk mail filtering available
  • Incredibly fast search that works so much better than manually organizing emails
  • You can keep your old email address and still use gmail as your mail program
  • Offline support with Google Gears
  • Automatically signs into other Google services like Blogger and Reader

There are many instructions on switching from Outlook to Gmail using special software like Gmail Loader (or gExodus), by temporarily setting up a mail server to importing into Gmail using IMAP, or using POP. With that last method, you can transparently use gmail while keeping your old email address.

Internet Explorer vs Mozilla Firefox

I love Firefox because of all the ways I can extend it with Greasemonkey and because of ad-block plus. Internet Explorer isn’t as bad as it used to be, but you’ll still run into strange headaches like how much more difficult it is to subscribe to an RSS feed using Google Reader in Internet Explorer than in Firefox.


I was a long time Azeurus bittorrent user, but I’ve found it hard to explaining to anyone else how to use the program, not to mention how poorly it performs. uTorrent is so much simplier to use, and it is so much easier to explain to other people how to use it. These are the uTorrent settings I use to work well with Rogers Canada.

uTorrent seems to work better than Azureus or the original Bit Torrent client, and I really like how it defaults to selecting individual files in a torrent to download. It also seems to have much less virii than the older quality P2P applications like Limewire and Soulseek.

There are quite a few legitimate uses of bittorrent. A lot of excellent free software is distributed using bittorrent, and as older movies, books and music comes into the public domain it is being hosted on bittorrent networks. People are sharing their public domain podcasts and video casts using bittorrent as well.

Norton Antivirus vs Anything Else

The other big problem I run into as the computer tech person is “my computer is slow”. The culprit is an easy find: Norton Antivirus. Norton Antivirus is a virus because it is more detrimental to your computer performance than actually having a virus. Nobody likes Norton Antivirus.

We’ve been trying out AVG Free as an alternative, but ran into issues with how user unfriendly it is (finding virii in the Recycling Bin, finding virii in the Outlook Deleted Trash and the difficulty in deleting the virii). Leave a comment if you have any suggestions of which antivirus to use for casual home users who aren’t tech saavy.

I keep hearing about NOD32, Kapersky, or Clamwin.

Free Idea: Outlook Calendar Screensaver

Posted in Free Ideas, Microsoft Windows XP and Vista, Technology by engtech on January 23, 2008

Free Ideas

People often guard their ideas thinking that if they let the word get out people will steal their golden shot at success. What they don’t realize is that idea are worth nothing. Implementation is the only thing that matters. Here’s an idea I had for something I’m not planning on building. Like it? Take it. Does it already exist? Let me know.

Microsoft Outlook is still the de facto email and scheduling application in most businesses. Smart managers know to make their calender public so that people can see when they are available at a glance — unfortunately its only the die-hard meeting goers who use that feature. Your average Joe Engineer still would rather drop buy every thirty minutes to try and catch him. One of my co-workers has a bad case of meetingitis and I see an average of 5 to 8 people drop buy his desk in the vain hope of finding him every day. One poor fool even tries to camp out at his desk like it’s a Star Wars movie.

The solution is simple enough: he needs a screensaver that displays his Outlook calendar for today so all the poor sods walking by can realize that he won’t be around for hours.

I haven’t found a full solution to this, but I know I’m not the first person to think how great of a screensaver your Outlook calendar would make.

  1. Almost but not quite: old screensaver that shows your Outlook tasks
  2. Hackers do it better: A trick to run DeskTask free software as an Outlook screensaver
  3. Great minds think alike: source code to a C# .NET version of the screensaver for Outlook 2000 and a how-to tutorial of how he did it.
Microsoft Outlook Screensaver

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