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Posted on: Friday, January 31, 2014 by Rajiv Popat

Remapping The Windows Key On Your Keyboard.

My obsession for making a PC look like a Mac dates back to 2006. The quest is just as much about exploring new tools and utilities as it is about the esthetic element of having a Zen like desktop. Here's what my desktop looks like today:

Getting a dock that looks like the Mac doc is easy.

And so is getting a free utility that shows your outlook tasks and calendar items on your desktop.

With the number of folks cribbing about the windows start screen, getting a launcher is even easier.

Most of them will automatically map to your windows key and start off when you hit the windows key on your keyboard.

I however; prefer the Zen like simplicity of Launchy; instead of having an obtrusive start button or a start screen.

It's open source and rather easy to grab and install.

Wouldn't it be amazing if we could just replace the start screen with the simplicity of Launchy when we hit the Windows button on our keyboards?

But Launchy options don't provide any settings to invoke Launchy when someone presses the windows key on their keyboard. For me this is a deal breaker since I'm so used to hitting the window key if I want to start something, learning a different keystroke to launch applications is just insanely difficult and I keep going back to the window key. I could of course disable the Window key but that would just make hitting two keystrokes to launch applications that much more non productive.

Remapping or reprogramming the default windows start screen with Launchy when the window key is pressed seemed like the only valid option if I was to use Launchy.

Launchy may not provide this out of the box but it does provide options where we can map invocation of Launchy to ATL + CRTL + Space; so we do that as the first step.

But we still want Launchy to replace the Windows Start Screen when someone presses the Windows Key on their keyboard.

Enter AutoHotKey.

If you don't know what AutoHotKey is, you should spawn a browser window right now and start reading. It is an amazing little tool that allows you to write tiny scripts for remapping keys and sending keystrokes, messages and do a lot more when specific keys are pressed on the keyboard. This is amazing because it just makes most of us geeks super-productive but what intrigued me was it's ability to capture the window key.

The first thing we do after installing AutoHotKey is Right click the AutoHotKey taskbar icon and click "Edit This Script" menu item. We then clean up the file and add the following line of script:

With AutoHotKey we have the option of sending multiple keystrokes when any key (including the windows key) is pressed, however, after having Goggled for hours on how you can remap the windows key on your keyboard to not show the windows start screen at-all, it seemed like there were no direct solution; until there was a sudden realization that when we hit the escape key the start screen disappears. That's what led to the creation of the above script.

In the above script we're mapping the left window key to first hit escape, then hit the ATL key (indicated by ^) + CRTL Key (indicated by "!") + Space (indicated by {Space}). So we basically hit Escape to hide the default Windows Start Screen and then send keystrokes to invoke Launchy.

After this script is modified you save it,  Right click the AutoHotKey icon and click the "Reload this Script" menu item. Once this is done you hit the windows key and launchy kicks of.  To put simply, you train AutoHotKey to not try to take control of the start screen, just hide it in milliseconds of it showing up.

The takeaway? Well actually there are two:

  1. It's very easy to remap the windows / start key on your keyboard to do anything you want it to by sending Escape key followed by the keystrokes you want to send. The escape hides the default windows start screen. The other keystrokes you send do what-ever it is that you want them to do (in this case it's opening Launchy).
  2. When Google fails; rely on Ocaam's Razor.

And now that you've remapped the windows / start key on your keyboard, have gotten rid of the Windows 8 start screen and have a minimalistic replacement for it, give your self a pat on the back and please get back to work. Oh and of course, spend some time on AutoHotKey - there's some serious damage you can do as a developer / geek when it comes to automating tasks and making yourself more productive with this tool.

Quick aside: The solution of automating the hit of escape key before sending other key strokes isn't full proof in scenarios where the application you are working with also captures the Escape key; but for most cases this should do the trick. If you know of a better way to remap your windows key I'd love to learn. Please drop a line in the comments section and let me know.

posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 9:34:10 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Windows Live Writer And Bad Management

Windows live writer is a classic example of an awesome software hidden inside bad packaging that yells "influenced by marketing weasels" in every screen of its website and installer.

I relate to stories and in this case I am assuming the story runs like this:

  1. Someone at Microsoft has an idea about building an offline blog writer with preview feature.
  2. Microsoft manages to get a team of amazingly talented designers and developers who start working on the product.
  3. This team ships the first version of their product and gets a lot of appreciation from their user base.
  4. The marketing weasels at Microsoft wake up and decide to take charge so they ask the team to "tweak" the installer slightly.

As of this writing, the installer of live writer is bundled with a zillion other crappy pieces of software that you are never going to use. More than half the time the installer executable posted on the site is broken and getting live writer installed (especially if you have a bad internet connection) is a nightmare.

Enter Zoundry Raven.

Zoundry Raven is free, open source and has a feature which has been a primary selling point of windows live writer for all these months.

After you've gone through a basic wizard and have configured your blog account, you can ask this application to download your blog template which it can then use to give you a preview option which in turn allows you to see how your post will look after it is published without having to actually publish the post.

Zoundry Raven is not totally clean either and has some minor annoyances. For example:

  1. You have to manually turn on spelling checks when you start using the software. This is just a one time annoyance which makes sense since it needs to download the dictionary for your language. But then why don't the Zoundry guys just ship the English dictionary with the installer? That one beats the heck out of me.
  2. You have to click the spell check button once after you are done writing each post since there is no auto spell check like Live writer or word, but once you get used to the habit of doing clicking the spell check button once before you post is not as bad as it sounds when you hear it for the first time.
  3. You have to go into tools / preferences / affiliate links and turn the "Don't mess with my links" option to stop Zoundry guys from changing your amazon links to use their referral id and earn money from those links. A slightly shady way to make money I would think, primary because the installer did not seem to ask me if I want Zoundry Raven to change my link. A quick advice to the Zoundry guys: Either ask me upfront or turn off this feature by default.
  4. Zoundry Raven has a slightly longer startup time compared to live writer but given the fact that you are not going to be opening it up as frequently as notepad the slightly longer startup time does not have a major impact on your decisions to use this nice little application.

On the plus side, Zoundry Raven has the option of running as a portable application and carrying your profile (along with your posts) on a portable drive or moving them from one machine to another is rather easy.

Put simply, Zoundry Raven is a decently good alternative to Windows Live Writers (and a particularly easy option to get away from Live Writers slimy installer).

For me windows live writer is a classic example of how an amazing product team and an amazing product can loose adaption just by letting the marketing weasels control even a small aspect of the product (in this case the installation wizard). The strategy of bundling some of your lousiest products with some of your best products and hoping that your customers will start using the lousy ones because they need the good ones desperately almost never works in a free world. The people who claim that this approach worked for windows and internet explorer often forget that the internet explorer and windows bundle worked because both of these were amazing products and they complemented each other. Put simply, bundling lousy products with good ones don't help in adaption of your lousy products.

The best that these marketing gimmicks do is take away your existing users and your credibility as a company.

How many marketing weasels exist in your organization? How much power have you given them? Just a little something to think about. If you don't think about it, your competition will.

This post is written using Zoundry Raven and I am liking it.

I will continue to switch between Live writer and Zoundry Raven. As of now, I like what I see as far as Zoundry Raven is concerned.

posted on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 4:40:14 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, May 30, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

The Concept Of Working From Anywhere And The Freedom Of Mobility - Part 1.

I have always nudged young and budding developers to try and turn themselves into one man armies. I have also often gone ahead and said that a good programmer is formed when, as they say in martial arts, the warrior and the weapon become one.

In a recent conversation with a young and budding programmer regarding how most office environments are nothing more than cubical farms for breeding incompetence, I stuck to my point, that most awesome programmers who know what they are doing will figure out ways to communicate and collaborate without needing a common physical location.

They will find quite islands, homes, cafeterias and corners of the world to work from. They will continue to thrive even as more and more loud or lousy workplaces continue to get built around the world.

The seriously kickass programmers will turn into one man armies and software cells that can function from anywhere and anytime. They will carry their weapons and most importantly they will carry their ability to become one with their weapons anywhere and anytime.

The Dell Mini 9, was given to me by eFORCE to try out when Netbooks first came out. I have had this thing for more than a year now and my assessment of it is that this is one rather peculiar weapon in the hands of a developer.

When I say that the Dell mini 9 is a very different kind a weapon, what I really mean by that, is that Net-books by their very nature, screen size and keyboard layout are a very different kind of a weapon in the hands of a developer.

To begin with they tend to make any developer worth his salt get a serious headache when you try to work on them. After a while, you start questioning the whole idea of working on a tiny oddly laid out keyboard and a tiny screen.

It is purely because of this peculiar nature of these devices that the Dell Mini 9 practically sat unused for months lying at my home.

I would occasionally use it to load and work on Ubuntu, but as far as practically using the device was concerned, I would cringe at the very thought of typing at the small keyboard and staring at the small screen.

I used it so little I even managed to lose its power cable.

It was not until recently that the idea of being able to work from anywhere and harnessing the power of mobility started getting discussed, that I thought I'd give the Netbooks another shot. The idea was to get a new internet access data card and use the Netbook to work from anywhere.

Today is about my first day of seriously trying to work on the Netbook and things aren't really as bad as I had expected them to be. For starters, I am getting used to working long hours on the smaller screen and the headaches are starting to disappear rather rapidly. In fact, I am no longer experiencing those headaches and bouts of irritation anymore.

The keyboard layout on this thing is slightly weird, but then I am getting used to it rather fast as well.

I have a Window 7 Ultimate loaded on this thing, along with a couple of image editing software, windows live writer, Microsoft office and a text to speech converter so that I can proof read my blog posts.

This would be my second post from the Mini 9 and as strange as it might seem, I am becoming one with this tiny weapon that lay unused at my home for months.

On the work side, I tried remoting into a office machine and tried writing some code on the remote box. It was not as bad as I had expected either. It's definitely not the only machine you would like to have, but then, it is a very different kind of a weapon for a very different kind of an attack that every software programmer must learn.

One major gripe I have with this machine, specially while programming is the position of the double-quote and a couple of other keys on the keyboard. Having said that, a little bit of practice and I think I might be able to get over these annoyances.

The funny thing about these devices, specially if you can tune yourself to become one with them and use them productively is that you can exploit the heck out of them. For once, you could be writing code on a remote box located at a data center in California as you drive through the plush green pastures of India on a  weekend vacation.

No fear of denting an expensive laptop. No worries of wearing off the battery because of excessive use. Toss it in your bag, carry it everywhere with you, exploit the heck out of it and get work done like never before, from anywhere, anytime.

Go learn the art of mastering tiny weapons, tune yourself to them and become much more productive.

I wish you good luck.

On a side note, for a detailed technical review of Dell Mini 9, see Scott Hanselman's post on the review of the device. I consider Scott to be a rather worthy maven of the software development world and his post on Dell Mini 9, to an extent, nudged me to try out my Dell Mini 9 again rather than letting it gather dust. I am happy it did.

I will continue to post updates if my opinion on Netbooks changes again but for now, I am loving the idea of being able to carry these devices anywhere and doing some serious damage using them. What is your experience with Netbooks?


posted on Sunday, May 30, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [1]
Posted on: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Google SideWiki - Amazing Story Telling. Interesting Product.

My First Introduction To SideWiki.

A few days ago I was emailed by folks at Google; targeting selected bloggers; who asked me if I would be interested in getting more information about a product they were about to launch. If I was interested; I would be sent a gift package that would give me more information about the product.

When the package arrived; what I was expecting to find was a DVD with a Power-Point presentation; a video or other marketing material about a new Google Product.

What I found instead; was a seriously beautiful example of story telling from Google. Something Seth Godin would call a purple cow.

The one; and only thing the package contained; was a copy of - "Sailing Alone Around The Room" by Billy Collins.

That's it.

Nothing else.

When you're expecting a product demonstration DVD or a manual; finding a best selling book containing a collection of poems is a purple cow that grabs you by your collar and gets all your attention.

As I fiddled with the book scrolling through it; I noticed the corner of one page folded neatly as if someone was reading the book. The page had the poem marginalia:

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines

Lying lose; right next to the poem was a small-yet-beautiful-post-it-note from the SideWiki team at Google.

Every page on the web is missing one crucial voice. Yours.

Were you ever reading a web page and realized you had a particular insight or annotation to add?

We wondered what the web would be like if everyone could contribute this way.

Google SideWiki,

Now that; dear reader; is what can be called seriously interesting story-telling.

All you need to know about a product; using a book of poems with the page folded at one legendary poem; and a post it note. 

My introduction to SideWiki had all the elements any organization should use to introduce their products to their users.

There was the element of suspense; shock and surprise. Then there was the whole act of involvement; as I fiddled through the book and tried to figure out why-would Google send me a collection of poems. Having said all of that; what I loved most about the whole episode; was Google's respect for my; or should we say their user's; intelligence and not trying to 'sell' too hard by giving me a stupid power-point presentation on how amazing SideWiki was.

I; dear reader; was sold.

The Product

So; yes; Google pulled off an amazing act of story-telling and grabbed my attention. Enough to get me to the SideWiki website. But then; I would not be writing this if the product itself was not strong enough to complement the amazing thought and effort that then went into getting the product to me.

I; dear reader; am writing this; which clearly goes on to mean that SideWiki is amazing.

If I can be honest here; I loved the idea and the implementation as much as I loved the way the product was marketed to me.

Now that the folks at Google have indulged in the act weaving a seriously amazing story around SideWiki already; let me; dear reader; take the mere mortal route of traditionally plugging the product and recommending that you give it a shot too.

For someone like me; who is always nudging people to participate and contribute; SideWiki is interesting because it allows people to contribute without working hard on their writing skills; signing up for a blog; or whining about the fact that they don't have time or anything interesting to say.

If you don't read anything interesting; or have nothing to scribble along the margins of the pages you are reading; you seriously need to question whether you are an active internet user or just a leach.

Now go get SideWiki; go to your favorite website and participate by providing the web pages your very own personal perspective.

My Gripes

Ok; flawless marketing of the idea; awesome product; but there are areas about the product which make you knit you brow. While I am at it I thought I might just as well list my gripes about the product. Everything else about the product; that isn't listed here as a gripe; dear reader; I like.

Ready for the gripes?

Here we go.

Please Don't Replace Stuff By Default.

SideWiki makes me install a bloat of other applications. At-least it seems like it does. The default installation went ahead and decided that it wanted to modify my taskbar and add a Google search functionality on to it.

Yes; I love Google like we all do; but I really don't want a Google logo on my taskbar. I've always held the opinion that typing 'iexplore' is faster that reaching out for the mouse. Seriously.

Long story short; gripe number one; is simple; it's 'my' desktop.

Leave it alone.

At-least in the default installation.

I Love SideWiki But The Toolbar Is Complicated And Boring.

As much as I love SidiWiki; I don't like the Google Toolbar all that much. It's childish; has way too much clutter and lacks the classic Google simplicity. It is complex and it is confusing. The least Google can do on this front is; reduce the clutter; improve the icon quality; figure out the services I really use and hide everything else.  Yes; I know you can remove these buttons by using the toolbar-settings; but the default configuration makes the toolbar look way too cluttered.

Put simply; unlike most Google products; the Google toolbar looks complex at the first glance and I am not so sure that's a good thing.

No Spell Check Support

Everyone who knows me or reads this blog probably knows that I'm not that much into spellings. Having said that I hate it when I make spelling mistakes. A decent spelling-checker into SideWiki plug-in would have been an interesting feature to have.

Currently the comment text box seems like yet another boring text-box that does not do anything intelligent.

No Chrome Version.

Other than these; it would have been amazing to have a Chrome version; but then there are enough people whining about that already; so I will leave that one out of my list of official gripes.

And My Very Own Personal Wish-List

Not sure if these are already a part of SideWiki; if they are; enlighten me; dear reader; by leaving in a comment and this post will be updated accordingly.

If; however; these are not a part of SideWiki already here is my personal wish-list of features for the product.

If there was a way to get RSS feeds for SideWiki entries on a per-page basis that would have been amazing. There are multiple organizations, sites and pages that I would like to subscribe to and get constant feeds of what people are saying about the pages. Currently I cannot seem to find an easy way of doing that with SideWiki. [updated information available at the end of the page]

There is something about having hyperlinks to your Twitter posts which makes twitter special. Features where I can at-least get permanent links or URLs of SideWiki comments; would have made SideWiki golden. [updated information available at the end of the page]

Besides; if I own a website; I cant seem to get one consolidated page or feed where I get to see everything people are saying about my domain using SideWiki. That; dear reader; is also one feature that would be amazing to have.

The Overall Verdict

Like I said; If I was not pleased with what I saw; and if I would not have loved it; I would not have spent my time writing this review.

I highly recommend anyone who reads this to go download a copy and start participating and contributing.

Oh; and by the way; please don't tell me you do not have the time to blog; or nothing interesting to say; because now we will all know that is just an excuse.

Update (Based on response received on Oct-6): Heard back from folks at Google that sidewiki already has some of the features which I asked for in my wish-list; particularly RSS feeds and permanent links; more information on that is available here or on the sidewiki page of this post. 

posted on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 12:00:52 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Wednesday, June 20, 2007 by Rajiv Popat

Download Multiple Files In One Shot With FlashGot.

Ever felt the “need” to go grab all those files you are seeing linked to the current page? Deep-copy type downloading of a website to your box for offline viewing isn’t new. Wget did quite a good job at it back in the days. In fact, even today it does a pretty good job. You give it a URL, you specify the recursion level of “N” and then it goes and fetches all the URL’s which are connected to the specified URL and are “N” levels deep.

Recently however, I was faced with a slightly complicated problem. What I really wanted to do, was to download a set of 500+ word documents from our work intranet (which runs on SharePoint 2003). The word documents were a part of a SharePoint Document Repository that has a gazillion other Word documents. I was faced with the default SharePoint Document Repository View that has Filter options. After I had set the appropriate filters and was able to see some 500 odd documents that I wanted to download on screen, the million dollar question surfaced in my little mind:

“Ok, now I can see the documents I want. How do I click on all these 500 document links and get them to download at-once, in a single shot, without having to go through the download / save / open dialog box for each and every one of those documents?”

I’m pretty much an Internet Explorer guy because I think it starts up faster than Firefox (and for the Firefox lovers, that’s just a personal feeling so no hate mail please :)) – but there are exactly the scenarios where the power of community plug-ins in Firefox leaves Internet Explorer cold.

FlashGot is a cool little Firefox plug-in that can do some serious damage when it comes to downloading multiple files!

Let’s try and juggle around with some hypothetical situations to see where you would need this tool:

  1. You’re looking at a SharePoint document repository and you want all 100 documents you see on screen downloaded to your box, right now!
  2. You’re looking at a SharePoint document repository, you’ve filtered your view and you want all those documents that you see on your screen downloaded to your box, right now!
  3. You are looking at any screen with X number of downloads and you want all those X downloads on your box, right now! (Ok, I think you get the idea :))

The bottom line is that if you often stare at your browser window, look at a web-page and tell yourself – “wow, this page has so many useful links - I wish I could download all of them in a single click” this tool is the Holy Grail you’ve been looking for!

Besides letting you get all those links, FlashGot lets you filter based on File-Types. So if you are in a page which has hyperlinks to 100 documents, 100 MP3s, 50 GIFs, 20 other HTML pages and 12 Text files and you just want to download just the 100 documents in a single click the FlashGot “More Options…” menu comes to the rescue. The "General" Tab in this is the same dialog also lets you pick your favorite download manager.

You just pick the type of files you want to download, click [Tools / FlashGot / FlashGot All…] menu, and pick a folder. That’s it. FlashGot Rips the URLs and adds them to your favorite download manager. Which means, you can now let the Download manager slog away at saving each download as you give yourself a well deserved nap. :)

Initially, when I was told we needed a set of 500+ word files from a SharePoint List, My first reaction was that I would have to use the SharePoint web-services and throw out some custom code to do this. But then, why write code when you can get the same results much faster using a tool? :)

I downloaded some 500+ word attachments from a SharePoint 2003 filtered view using FlashGot and I’m a FlashGot Fan already! Give it a shot, it’s free.

posted on Wednesday, June 20, 2007 1:56:12 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Tuesday, November 21, 2006 by Rajiv Popat

Skin PowerShell (Monad) to Customize it's Look and Feel

If you feel that typing "Start / Run / Notepad.exe" is faster than clicking on the Notepad icon or if you spend more than 15 minutes on the Command Prompt everyday you probably know a lot about Monad / Powershell by now. I fell in love with this one the day I saw it in it's Pre-Release versions. Of course I didn't see the light instantly, but it grew on me - slowly - over time.

I won't waste a lot of your time posting about the things that can make you fall in love with this tool - for example - the fact that it returns objects instead of strings, or the fact that it could change the world (No kidding!), or the fact that you can access .Net DLLs from within PowerShell. I won't even state the fact (ok, personal opinion :)) for example, that it's way cooler than any Linux console I've ever worked with.

I could write tons of posts on PowerShell because I've been hooked on to it, but then in all probabilities, if you're here (and are still reading this), you're hooked on to it too and you probably know all that stuff already. And if you aren't hooked and you're just the curious type, go ahead, click some of those links I mentioned above and read a little. The learning curve will be a little steep at first but I guarantee that you'll "see the light" soon. Honest!

I can go on and on about Powershell basics, for a very long time. But then, I've been busy, and now I realize that I'm a little late on posting about that. People everywhere have been doing an awesome job at writing about PowerShell and most of the basic stuff anyone wanted to find out about, is already out there.

People have been building Utility Scripts, Powershell Analyzers and some are even developing Sharepoint Providers for PowerShell (neat idea!). But being the stupid guy that I am, for the past couple of months that I've been playing around with PowerShell, there's just one thing that has been pinching me:

"Okay, All this is cool and I get-it, but on a slightly different note, How do I Skin this thing and make it look nice so that I can show-it-off to everyone else while I am working inside a Powerhsell window?"

And then there were others who were asking similar questions. On the Powershell team blog there are remarks like:

"Absolutely no improvement over the ugly looking command window. With the name change if someone in your group maybe can push for tabbed Power shell?"

And the reply is pretty much a shout to the 3rd Parties to build-this-thing that lets you Skin PowerShell:

"We share your pain. We Really do. This just fell into the 'to ship is to choose' category. We designed it so that 3rd parties could do this. (3rd parties - do you see how many people would be interested in a great PowerShell Host?)!"

That's how most of us are - aren't we? We just want to see the Dancing Banana in our Development IDEs! What the IDE or the Product does is just so irrelevant! If it can't show the dancing banana we just aren't happy! :)

And I've been looking for this thing, because this-thing-that-lets-me-customize-PowerShell-Look-and-Feel is something that "has to be developed" by someone! I mean, come on! People have written IDEs for this thing! Somebody must have written something that let's me skin Powershell!

Since Google started crawling this site I'm seeing a jump in visitor counts from around the world which is kind-of interesting and fun. So, If you've landed on this page from Google just because you were looking for a similar answer you're in luck! Yes, it's possible to skin PowerShell and make it look like the way you want it to look like.

Turns out, there is, in-fact an Uber-cool free and open source application that let's you do just that. It's called Console and even though I've used console before, for quite some time, I didn't quite figure out that Console is NOT just a Command Prompt replacement. Console works with Virtually anything - CMD.EXE, Cygwin and a host of other Shells. So basically, there's no reason what-so-ever why it shouldn't work with Monad / Powershell.

Since I like the Mac look so much - Let's make Powershell have some background-transparency so that we can see my Mac'ish wall-paper behind it. Long story short, Let's make Powershell look something like this:

The steps are pretty simple and straight-forward:

  1. Get Console.exe (Don't get the 2.0 "Demo" version because that's WIP and doesn't do much. Get the stable release instead.)
  2. Go to Control Panel / System / Advanced Tab / Environment Variables and create a new variable called "COMSPEC". Set it's Value to "Powershell.exe"  (Assuming you have PowerShell installed already. You can also do this from Console Configuration Files, but this is the easy way).

That's it. You're Done. Start Your Console and it starts up by skinning Powershell instead of the usual command prompt. You should now be able to skin it and theme it using all the rich options Console provides in it's configuration files. And if this isn't enough, go ahead, see if you can have The Dancing Banana in PowerShell! :)

posted on Tuesday, November 21, 2006 11:23:29 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [2]
Posted on: Friday, October 20, 2006 by Rajiv Popat

A huge Trace.Log file deleted and a couple of Gigs reclaimed!

There is one thing good about windows. What can be done, or sometimes... what happens ("seemingly automatically"), can be undone (and explained). Last week one of the 3 power-horse machine that I work on mysteriously slowed down. I'm a multi-tasker who has three instances of Visual Studio.NET open with at-least 10 other applications running simultaneously at any given point of time.

So, initially, this slow-down seemed "normal" and the tendency was to monitor the RAM usage. But Task Manager and Process Explorer did not reveal anything peculiar. After some more investigation and using FileMon it was evident that the bottle-neck was actually the HardDisk which kept constantly thrashing. The Instant reaction was to Defrag the disk which pointed out the real problem. The Defragmenter completed "successfully" with an error :)

The error (included in the Defragmenter report) was that it wasn't able to move a particular file "C:\WINNT\system32\LogFiles\WMI\Trace.log" (No, I'm not using the primitive Windows NT - that's just how I like to name my Windows folder :))

But the real shock came when I tried to get to the file using explorer and see what's going on. Here's what I mean:

Now, I have three problems with this picture here:

  1. That is a 80 gig disk that has cost Money to buy. If there's going to be a 2.5 gig file somewhere on that disk, I'd better know about it.
  2. What-ever wrote that darn thing on this disk, wasted quite a bit of processor and RAM writing it.
  3. I couldn't delete it. Apparently, some process seemed to be using it and locking it!

A little more Googling on Large trace files revealed that there's some utility out there let's you disable trace logging and then allows you to delete these files. Back, in my MCSE days and days of NT 4.0 people like me, who were both into IT and Development, used to talk a lot about Resource Kits and Option packs and things like that. But not a lot of people seem to be talking about Resource Kits these days.

As it turns out, there's a Resource Kit for Windows 2003 available here. And in that long list of tools and utilities is a tool called TraceLog.exe. A quick "TraceLog.exe -l" told me what was occupying the file and writing away to it. A quick "TraceLog.exe -stop" allowed me to stop the NT Kernel Logger from Trace Logging.

Once trace logging stopped I was able to Delete the Log file off my disk and re-run the defragmenter successfully without any errors.

What really bothered me was not knowing what had Enabled Trace logging and the creation of a 2.5 Gig file on my disk. With the file now wiped off and the problem solved I decided to read a little more and do some investigation into the possible causes of this problem.

Discussion threads like this one revealed that the real problem was BootVis

BootVis is a tool which is supposed to provide faster Boots with Windows XP. I Had played with it a few days ago and realized that it does NOT work very well with Windows 2003.

BootVis had started Trace Logging. And in all probabilities, the NT Kernel Logger had diligently continued logging since then (even after BootVis was uninstalled) just because no-one told it that it was ok to stop logging now.

Long story short, I have a couple of gigs won over from a Zombie file that I wasn't going to need / read anyways and the Defragmented disk seems much faster than yesterday; and that makes me a happy man for today.

posted on Friday, October 20, 2006 10:53:08 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [5]
Posted on: Thursday, October 19, 2006 by Rajiv Popat

DeskTask - It's all about the "Feel Good Factor"! (Freeware)

There are Software, there are Shareware, there are Freeware and then there are FeelGoodware (ok, I think I just invented that term :)).

It's not about a tremendous productivity hike, becoming tremendously efficient with tasks or any of that... Of-course you could reach out for your Outlook to check your calendar and task-list but there's a "feel good factor" about having Deskjet on your desktop. And who doesn't like typing a couple of keystrokes less or a couple of seconds saved?  Here's what I mean:


The Good -

  • It looks awesome.
  • It works with Outlook 2007 (Beta).
  • It's free and didn't install any adware, spyware or crap on my machine.

The Bad -

  • Moving the position of the application on the desktop is a little tricky! You have to click "somewhere" in the transparent application window, drag and hope that it moves :). Once you get "used to" moving it around it's all good though.
  • Default refresh rate is 1 hour. That means Items added in Outlook calendar / Outlook task-list don't show up on the desktop for sometime. Of-course you can manually refresh or set a lower interval using the options dialog box.
  • Eats a 6.5 Megs off my 1.5 gigs of RAM (ok, now that's not that bad! :)) - I guess, that's because it needs to invoke outlook behind the scene. 
The Ugly
  • Actually... Nothing! 

Different people will download this for different reasons. For me, it's the "feel good factor" :) - Uber-cool idea that's brilliantly implemented! Get it Here.

posted on Thursday, October 19, 2006 1:33:08 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]