Microsoft Says Farewell to Aero Glass in Windows 8

When I first booted up into Windows 8 with my beloved Samsung Focus mobile phone at my side, I was appalled by the jarring visual differences when switching back and forth from the Metro start screen to the traditional Windows desktop view.

On one hand, there was this amazingly simple Start screen with a bold interface daring to standout from the crowd. On the other, an ancient and tacky faux-glass-themed, cluttered, and – quite frankly – ugly desktop interface.

I found it incredible that after putting so much thought into the Metro UI’s design, Microsoft seemed to forget about the desktop altogether. I thought they changed. I thought they cared about details, the user experience, and beauty! My disenchantment became so bad that up until a week ago I had given up on ever experiencing a truly simple and beautifully designed version of Windows.

What changed? Microsoft is getting rid of Aero Glass in Windows 8, baby!

First introduced with the debut of the ill-fated Vista, the Aero desktop design has outlived its relevancy. The days of transparency, gradients, and shadows are long behind us and especially do not belong in a modern interface like Metro that relies on flat icons and bold colors to garner attention. According to Microsoft, they also see the drawbacks of their current design and promise to start “flattening surfaces, removing reflections, and scaling back distracting gradients.”

Microsoft doesn’t see the desktop as a mode, but rather “a paradigm for working that suits some people and specific apps.” But Microsoft isn’t willing to forfeit compatibility with existing programs by drastically changing the desktop UI. To preserve their existing user base, Windows 8 will continue to use black text on a light-colored background as opposed to the white-on-saturated-color look of Metro.

In short, Microsoft gave their desktop UI a mini Metro makeover. The default color that surrounds the windows is white, rounded corners on icons and windows are now squared, and the taskbar blends even more into the desktop wallpaper. Even the ribbon will see some changes with icons treated to the same squared-off edges and stripped of all gradients to “make them feel more modern and neutral.”

Unfortunately, the Release Preview hasn’t fully abandoned the Aero theme and it won’t be fully replaced until the final release of Windows 8. We would have liked to see what it looked like in action, but it just wasn’t in the cards.

If you’ve ever wanted to read a comprehensive history of Windows design over the years, then hit up this post from the Building Windows 8 blog.

How to make your Windows tablet look like Windows Phone 7

I recently noticed that when I told people I bought an ASUS EP121 Eee Slate tablet PC with Windows 7, they usually asked me “What do you do for easy access to nifty apps and news and stuff?” And sadly, it was a question I could not easily answer without adding sarcasm or criticism (a very tough thing to do, mind you).

In all fairness, I did agree that my overpowered, $1,200 multi-touch tablet PC was lacking a nice home-screen user interface like the iOS or Android 3.0. So like all the other problems I had faced in my life, I turned to the internet for help.

Immediately, the internet told me to wait for Windows 8 (which Techerator has been covering already). But unfortunately, I have never been one for waiting for solutions to my life’s problems and, more importantly, I have stopped purchasing operating systems when they are in their product infancy (lesson learned: Windows Millennium Edition). But thankfully, a few short Google searches later I found that the folks at How-to Geek had located a better solution than just waiting for a new OS: use Rainmeter and Omnimo UI to make your Windows 7 desktop look like a Windows Phone 7.

So that is exactly what I did.

Rainmeter and Omnimo

Before
After

Rainmeter is a free program that allows for custom skins to be added to one’s computer desktop for added functionality. All the skins are user-created, and can range from simple battery meters to to-do lists and RSS feeds. If you do enough searching, you’ll find a skin to load into Rainmeter that fits your liking. For my tablet, I followed How-to Geek’s lead and chose Omnimo UI, a custom skin that takes its influence from the Windows Phone 7 OS design and its sleek Segoe UI font. Installation of both Rainmeter and Omnimo UI are accurately detailed in the How-to Geek article, so I will not elaborate too much.

Once installed, Omnimo walks you through the skin selection process and gives you three options: two skins with nifty Windows Phone 7-esque panels and clear text, and the third skin being a blank slate to start from.

If one chooses the pre-built skins, it is important to note that thanks to Omnimo’s features, they are not set in stone. Rather, every single panel and text item can be tweaked, moved, and deleted to suit one’s preferences. Editing a panel can be done by finding the wrench icon located nearby and the deleting can be done by right clicking anywhere on it and going to the “unload skin” option.

So...many....OPTIONS

The right click menu is also where all the other tweaking happens. Panels can be added and subtracted, and whole homescreen skins can be backed up and stored for future reference. The configuration options are extensive and comprehensive, with the only things being excluded are adding one’s personal preferences to the panels.

If one feels ambitious enough to start from scratch, they can use the “WP7” menus to choose panels to add and place them on the screen to their liking. This one above was created in one evening to suit my “Quick demand for what’s happening around the world while eating breakfast” mood.

I will say this, though, creating a custom home-screen is not as easy as it looks due to the fact that some of the panels and editing menus are tiny and tweaking them to exactly your liking can become increasingly frustrating and tedious.

Two tips when dealing with custom panel movements:

  1. Use the tablet pen to move the panels around and edit them (that makes a huge difference).
  2. Lock the panels into place once they are in a suitable location by right clicking on the panel, going to “Manage Skin,” and deselecting “Draggable” in the lower right. Adding shortcuts can also become extensive as the editing menu will not find the icon for you once you add the path of the executable.

So take that, tablet PC objectors. Thanks to Rainmeter and skins like Omnimo, one can have the luxury of an expensive, high-powered tablet with Windows 7 and a clean user interface at the same time. No sarcasm intended.

Backup Files from Your Linux Desktop with Pybackpack

Backup

BackupAs you probably know, there are a number of great web apps for backing up your files. Many of us here at Techerator are partial to Dropbox.

That said, for some people cloud-based storage is overkill. Others have serious reservations about trusting their files to others. Fair enough. So what can they do?

Well, they can manually copy their important files to a CD or a DVD, or they upload them to a personal web server. Those solutions are fine, but they also require manual intervention. Anyway, what’s the point of having a computer if you can’t let it do the heavy lifting for you?

If you use a Linux distribution with the GNOME desktop, you can use Pybackpack. It’s a simple but effective graphical tool that enables you to save your important files to a CD or DVD, a folder on your local file system, or even a remote web server.

Let’s take a look at how to use Pybackpack.

Downloading and Installing the Software

Before you download Pybackpack, make sure that the following software is installed on your computer:

  • Python
  • PyGTK
  • PyGlade
  • rdiff-backup
  • genisoimage

If you plan to back up your data to a CD or DVD, you’ll also need Nautilus CD Burner. To be honest, I find using CDs and DVDs to be a waste, but your mileage may vary. You probably have most of the software listed above installed on your computer. Anything you don’t have you can install using your package manager.

You can download Pybackpack here. The latest version is 0.5.8. Once you’ve downloaded Pybackpack, extract the contents of the archive to somewhere on your hard drive. Then, crack open a terminal window and navigate to that directory.

Run the following commands:

python setup.py build sudo python setup.py install 

Getting Started

Launch Pybackpack by pressing ALT+F2. In the Run Application dialog box, type pybackpack and then press Enter.

Pybackpack main window

If you want to copy the contents of your /home directory to a CD or DVD, make sure there’s a writable disk in your CD/DVD drive and then click Go. But, as I mentioned earlier, I find backing up to a CD or DVD to be a waste. You can generally only use them once. And you might not want to back up your entire /home directory.

Pybackpack enables you to back up specific folders and files. You do this by creating backup sets. Using backup sets makes a lot more sense. You can make copies of important files, and even group sets of similar files and folders together. Doing that makes your backups easier to manage.

Creating Backup Sets

In the Pybackpack window, click the Backup tab.

Backup tab

Select New backup set from the list and then click Edit. This starts a wizard that will walk you through the process of creating a backup set.

Creating a backup set - step 1

Click Forward. In the Backup Set Name window, enter the following information:

  • Name of the backup set. Make it descriptive or at least short and to the point.
  • An optional short description.

Then, select where you want to back up your files from the Destination type list. You can save them to a CD or DVD, somewhere on your computer, or to a remote server. Let’s assume you want to save the files to a web server. Select Remote Host (SSH) from the Destination type list. Then, fill in the following information:

  • Username – The name you use to log into the server.
  • Host – The address of the server.
  • Path – The directory on the server in which you want to save your files.

Creating a backup set - step 2

Click Forward. In the next window, select the file and/or folders that you want to include in the backup set by click them in the directory tree and then clicking the Include in set button.

Creating a backup set - step 3

Click Forward. You’re taken to a summary window. If you need to make changes, click the Back button. Otherwise click Forward to save the backup set.

Creating a backup set - step 4

Performing a Backup

When you’re ready to backup your files, select the backup set in the Pybackpack window.

Doing a backup

Then, click the Backup button. Depending on the number and size of the files you’re backing up, and where you’re backing them up to, the process could take a few seconds to a few minutes.

Restoring Your Backups

You might want to do that once in a while. Click the Restore tab in the Pybackpack window. Then click either Local (somewhere on your computer or on a CD/DVD) or Remote (SSH). In either case, enter the path to the directory containing the backup that you want to restore.

If you have multiple backups, you can select the one that you want to restore from the Restore as of list. Then, click the Restore button.

Restoring a backup

Final Thoughts

Pybackpack is a very flexible and very easy-to-use tool. It’s easy to use and offers several options. While it’s not designed to back up your entire system, Pybackpack does a solid job of backing up your important files and folders.

Photo credit: svilen001

Bring Evernote to Your Linux Desktop with Nevernote

Nevernote

Nevernote When it comes to certain desktop applications, Linux is often the poor cousin of operating systems. Take, for example, Evernote. Evernote is an application that lets you take detailed notes, and more. It’s designed to help you, as its tagline says, remember everything.

There are versions of the software for Windows and Mac OS but, as usual, Linux is out in the cold.

Sure, you can use Evernote’s Web interface but sometimes you may not want to. Or you might have to work without a connection to the Internet. So what’s a neglected Linux user to do? Give Nevernote a shot, that’s what.

Getting started

Obviously, you’ll need an Evernote account. You can get a free one, or pay $5 a month for an account with a few more features. Then, download and install Nevernote.

From there, launch the application. If, like me, you’re using Ubuntu then you’ll find the shortcut by selecting Applications > Internet > Nevernote.

Nevernote main window

Using Nevernote

Let’s assume that this is the first time you’ve run Nevernote, but that you have some notes in the Web-based version of Evernote. You’ll probably want to synchronize your notes. To do that, click the Synchronize button on the toolbar. You’ll be asked for your Evernote user name and password. Once you enter them, Nevernote pulls down your notes. Depending on how many notes you have, that could take a few seconds or longer.

From there, using Nevernote is just like using Evernote on the Web. Click the New icon on toolbar to create a new note. You can give it a title, add the note to an existing notebook, and tag it. You can even add formatting and change the font.

Editing a note

Nevernote also supports stacks. In Evernote, stacks are like folders and subfolders. Or, in this case, categories and subcategories for notes. You can, for example, have a stack called Personal. Underneath it, you can have stacks called Receipts and Home Inventory. Doing that can help you better organize your information. It can be more efficient than using tags.

Stacks in Nevernote

On the Downside

Nevernote is a solid application. But it does have its flaws. It’s written in Java, so it might run slowly on some computers. You can’t add attachments to notes, like you can with the Windows and Mac OS Evernote clients or on the Web. You can, however, view certain attachments that have been synchronized from Evernote. The problem is that the quality isn’t all that great.

Attachments aren't pretty

If you use both Linux and Evernote, though, Nevernote is a must-have piece of software. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than just not bad. It offers you most of the power of Evernote, and it lets you take Evernote offline. That in itself is worth the download.

Clean up your Linux computer with Bleach Bit

No matter how careful or fastidious you are, over time a lot of cruft builds up on your computer. Things like cached files, cookies, temporary files, packages, log files, and a whole lot more. All of this builds up and takes up a tens or hundreds of megabytes of disk space.

You can remove all of that cruft yourself, but that can take time. And you might not get everything. Or, you can clean up your computer in one sweep with a powerful and flexible, but easy to use, tool called Bleach Bit.

Available for Linux and Windows, Bleach Bit scours your computer — your home directory and your system folders — to find and remove any bits that get left behind. It can not only clean unneeded system files but also the files that come from about 90 applications including Web browsers, chat clients, PDF readers, databases, and more.

Getting started

The first step is, obviously, to install Bleach Bit. If you’re using Linux, check your distro’s package manager. I installed Bleach Bit in Ubuntu 10.10 using Synaptic. If Bleach Bit isn’t there, go to the download page and find the package for your distro.

If you’re using Windows, you can download installers too. But since I don’t do Windows, this post will look at using Bleach Bit under Linux.

As I mentioned, I installed Bleach Bit in Ubuntu 10.10. To run it, go to System > Administration. You’ll see two items in the menu: Bleach Bit and Bleach Bit as Administrator. One cleans your home directory, and the other cleans out system directories. Let’s take a look at both.

Cleaning your home directory

Of the two options, selecting Bleach Bit from the Administration menu is the safer of the two. You’ll only be able to get rid of cruft in your /home directory. And you’ll be amazed at what collects there!

The left side of the Bleach Bit window contains a list of cleaners (the types of applications and files that Bleach Bit works with). Click a check box beside a cleaner to activate it. When you do that, a little more information about what the cleaner does appears in the right side of the application’s window.

Bleach Bit main screen

After you’ve chosen the cleaners that you want to use, click the Preview button on the toolbar. This will create a list of files that Bleach Bit will delete. It will also tell you how much disk space will be freed up.

Bleach Bit preview screen

As you can see, I haven’t done a cleanup in a while …

When you’re ready, click the Delete button on the toolbar. Depending on the number of cleaners you’ve selected, and the number of files there are, it can take Bleach Bit anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes to do its work.

Go admin or stay at home

Running Bleach Bit as Administrator is a slightly different ball game. In Linux, you need to run it as root. And when you do, the application scans everything outside of your /home folder. Like what? Like the /usr directory and its subdirectories, the /tmp folder, and more.

Other than that, running Bleach Bit as Administrator works in the same way as running it in your /home directory. A few click, a preview, and you’re ready to clean up!

One cleaner that you should approach with caution, though, is Free disk space. This cleaner will overwrite any free disk space to hide hidden files. That’s not a bad thing in of itself, but the process is slow. It can take upwards of an hour to do the job. During that time, your system will bog down noticeably.

Final thoughts

Bleach Bit is a powerful and useful tool. It gives you a fast and easy way to get rid of everything you don’t need on your computer, while at the same time freeing up disk space and improving performance.

Photo credit: solrac_gi_2nd

Keep Your Desktop Organized with Fences

TraditionalHow many times have you had projects, temporary Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, or other “junk-yet-necessary” items on your computer’s desktop combined with shortcuts for Firefox, Messenger, Windows Media, or iTunes?  Why is it so hard to keep organized each one of these items? Many people search through their desktops covered with this smorgasbord of different files and applications every day and wish there was an easier way to keep their stuff neatly tucked away.

Fences by Stardock provides a solution for your messy desktop. Right now it’s an open Community-Preview Beta that will expire on August 31st, 2009. It will likely have a price tag after the Beta, but I would probably be willing to dish out a few bucks for the final product. It’s an extremely simple solution to de-cluttering your desktop and showing off the wallpaper that is typically buried beneath your desktop icons.

Fences runs quietly in the background using virtually no resources, and setting it up is easy. After installing and running the program, find a clear space on your desktop and draw a rectangle while holding down your right mouse button. A dialog box will appear which says “Create new Fence here”. Click it and give it a name. Then just drag your appropriate icons into the fence, and resize or reshape the fence to your liking.

I have two Fences on my desktop right now, with one containing strictly game shortcuts and the other containing application shortcuts. To display the name of your Fence, simply hover your mouse over it. You can choose to show the names of the fences constantly or not at all via the simple Customization tab in the program’s editor. You can also choose things such as color of the fence, show or hide a fence outline, and fade in/out scrollbars if you have them as part of your fence. Basic customization can even be done just by right-clicking within a fence, without needing to open up the editor.

The editor can be opened by right clicking within a fence.
The editor can be opened by right clicking within a fence.

You can lock, delete, and exclude fences from the quick-hide feature.  The quick-hide feature is what I mentioned before about showing off your wallpaper.

You can have your fences set to disappear just by double clicking an open area of the desktop when they’re not in use, which makes the organization potential even better.

This shows the fences with the title set to always show and rearranged on the deskotp.
This shows the fences with the title set to always be displayed.

Fences provides you with a way to separate work from play (and everything in between) on your cluttered desktop.  Have any other desktop organization tips? Leave a comment below and share it.