December 31, 2009

Thinner client

I've been interested in thin clients for a long time. Unfortunately, the biggest problem for me was that thin clients often cost more than a "fat client", that is, a full computer. Some may argue that a thin client has other cost-saving advantages that a full computer can't match, such as Windows licensing costs, space saving, and electricity saving. But with a computer, I get a powerful processor for running applications without having to have a powerful server, so why would I want a thin client that may become non-functional if my network goes down?

But recently, I noticed that Norhtec now lists a cheap $99 thin client called the MicroClient TC on their website. At that kind of price point, the thin client becomes interesting again, since there's no way I can build a full computer for that kind of price, and now that email is considered "mission critical", thin clients would really save a lot of money for users that only need to use email and nothing else.

Norhtec is relatively well known in the embedded Linux market for making small PC's and servers and thin clients. Unfortunately, when I looked at their thin clients a while ago, they also had the same issue as being costly. Norhtec is practically next door to where I work, so I called them up to see if I could order a unit or just go over to pick one up.

Stupidly enough, I seemed to be the very first person to ever inquire about the MicroClient TC, and the person who answered the phone mumbled something about not able to deliver the product immediately, then referred me to a salesperson that's actually from a different company. Eventually I ended up getting the Kaser NetClient, which is identical to the Norhtec MicroClient TC, except it seems to be housed in a cheaper plastic case, and it cost me $117 (today's exchange rate) instead of $99. The salesperson also didn't know anything about the NetClient either, and said I was the very first person to buy it from his company. He also claims the unit doesn't come with an OS and I need to install a hard drive first and install my own OS. Uh... right.

MicroClient TC image from the Norhtec website:


YF-700 NetClient image from the Kaser website:


After I took the photos below, I noticed that the Taiwan Kaser website has better photos:


This is the front side with an SD/MMC slot. Three USB ports and audio ports. Reset button. Indicator lights. My unit doesn't come with the wi-fi option so there's no antenna.


Backside with power switch. Proprietary power adapter jack. LAN. VGA. Mouse. Keyboard. The metal thing is a mounting bracket for mounting the unit to the back of monitors.


With the mounting bracket removed, what appeared to be a door turns out to hide an IDE port. I think it would make more sense to have a CF port.


The relatively large power adapter, and comparing the NetClient to a DVD disc.


Unfortunately, the QuickRDP software included in the NetClient unit has a problem with screen refreshing. When the screen is refreshing and the mouse pointer is inside the area that's being refreshed, the mouse pointer freezes until the screen finishes updating. This causes a huge problem when doing repetitive tasks that involve mouse movement and screen updates. In fact, the main reason I'm interested in these thin clients is to connect to our terminal servers to access Dynamics NAV. The ERP software has huge amounts of data entry fields and drop down boxes that need to be clicked on repeatedly, and the screen refreshes constantly as the onscreen data loads and updates.

One other problem with QuickRDP is that it that it appears to only support 1024x768 resolution. Haven't they noticed that only widescreen monitors are available in the market these days?!

December 16, 2009

PSD_DISABLEPRINTER

I mentioned going back to Windows Server 2003 R2 earlier, and here I'll talk about why. While testing our Dynamics NAV ERP software under Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2's Remote Desktop Services, I discovered one serious issue.

The "Printer..." button was missing from the Page Setup dialog. The printer selection button is very important since we have different types of pre-printed forms pre-loaded into different dot matrix printers. Since the paper size has to be preset into the printer form page, without the printer selection button, there's absolutely no way we could get custom sized forms to print. As usual, our hopeless ERP implementors were no help, since they have no experience with anything newer than Windows XP. ("Use XP" was what they said.)

After a lot of searching, I discovered here that the printer selection button was deemed obsolete from Windows Vista onwards. There are various workarounds and code samples posted at various places to deal with the problem. However, since I wans't writing my own application but was running Microsoft's own ERP software, the missing button turned out to be critically important, and I was forced to go back to Windows Server 2003 R2.

The Page Setup dialog from Windows XP.



Page Setup dialog from Windows Server 2008 R2. Note the missing "Printer..." button in the lower right corner.


The margins and stuff are different since they're captured from different computers.

December 15, 2009

Kindle for PC

Interestingly enough, when I looked at the Amazon Kindle page, I noticed some of the description text changed from when I last posted. Just to see if Thailand is now supported, I tried clicking again, and sure enough, the availability description different now.

Before: "Unfortunately, we are currently unable to ship Kindles or offer Kindle contents in Thailand."


After: "Unfortunately, we are currently unable to ship Kindles to Thailand. Customers in Thailand can read over 310,000 Kindle books on your PC with our free application for your Windows PC - no Kindle required. Click here to learn more."


While I was typing this post, I noticed that there's a new version of Kindle for the iPhone, and Amazon even announced that it's now available in more than 60 countries. Sure enough, it's now available in the Thai iTunes store. Previously, I had to use my US iTunes account to download it.

Unfortunately, still no option to select which side of the screen to tap to turn the page. I like to hold my iPod with my left hand and tap the left side of the screen with my thumb to turn the page. Stanza has it, why not Kindle for iPhone?

Just to double check if the Kindle device is now available to Thailand, I went back to the Amazon Kindle page. Still no Kindle, but it now lists 320,000 books available.

December 7, 2009

Amazon Kindle in Thailand

I was so incredibly disappointed in Amazon not shipping the Kindle to Thailand when the Kindle 2 International was announced.


Recently though, I found about a local importer of Kindles appropriately named KindleThai.com. At first, I thought that the price they charge is slightly too high, but they do have a 30-day warranty, so I felt the price was worth it, considering that if I bought a unit through friends in the States or another country, warranty claims could be a huge issue if I ran into a DOA unit. Plus, they pre-register the Kindles they sell to a U.S. account and pre-configure the Kindles to buy books correctly, which is a great help for non-technical people.

Surprisingly, the Amazon Whispernet works in Thailand, even if they don't sell Kindles directly to Thailand.


While playing with the available wireless providers setting, I discovered that the Kindle's time zone setting appears to be retrieved from the provider. At first, the Kindle always displayed the time in universal time (GMT), but after switching providers, suddenly the Kindle was displaying the correct local time.

Even more surprisingly, I could "purchase" free Kindle books from my computer, and then load them directly on the Kindle by using the Archived Items folder, for free, eventhough it says that a $1.99 surcharge will be placed for international delivery. Maybe the surcharge only happens when a direct purchase is made from the Kindle.

The Kindle I got already came preloaded with the new 2.3 firmware with native PDF support. However, since PDF is normally formatted with the printed page in mind, so there's always a lot of margins. Hopefully, Amazon will fix this in a future update by implementing zoom or some kind of fit to display option.

I happen to have Pragmatic Bookshelf's iPhone SDK Development ebook. Here are some comparison shots between the PDF version and the Mobipocket (mobi) versions, in both portrait and landscape modes:

This is Kindle 2 displaying native PDF, compared to Adobe Reader 9 running on my MacBook. The text is way too small to be read, unless you're an ant.


Again, in landscape orientation. This is legible, but it can't scroll the page up and down, only "flip" up and down, so it's very uncomfortable for technical manuals that you need to go back and forth on, but it's okay for reading novels.


And here's the ebook-specific Mobipocket format. Stupidly enough, the Forward is marked as Chapter 1 in the mobi file, so the chapter numbers are off by 1.


The Mobipocket version is perfectly readable even in the smallest font size.


Sorry for the poor photos. The huge difference in brightness between the MacBook's screen and the Kindle's E Ink screen made it really difficult to get a consistent exposure, and I was too lazy to get my tripod out. The E Ink screen looks really dim in these photos, but this is not a review of the Kindle's screen quality.

Unfortunately, this Kindle is going to be given away as a gift so I only got a few days to play with it. Now taking donations to get my own unit.

Update: Kindle is now officially available in Thailand.

December 4, 2009

4 GB RAM on 32-bit OS


Due to various incompatibilities with our ERP software soon going live, I decided to revert back to using Windows Server 2003 R2's Terminal Services instead of using the far superior Windows Server 2008 R2's Remote Desktop Services and the streamlined RemoteApp functionality.

Since we're going back to Windows Server 2003 R2, I decided to use the 32-bit (x86) version so I can keep the printer drivers in sync with our Windows XP clients. Unfortunately, the 32-bit version only supports 4 GB of RAM, and when I installed 4 GB of RAM, I could only see 3.5 GB.

There are a lot of solutions online to attemp to see 4 GB, such as using the /PAE switch in boot.ini, enabling DEP, and even editing the registry. Unfortunately, none of those things I tried worked. Then it occurred to me, since I can't see the last 512 MB. What happens if I put in more than 4 GB?

There it is. 4 GB of RAM. Windows Task Manager also shows the full 4 GB being accessible. And yes, since this is the Standard Edition of Windows Server 2003 R2, it only supports a maximum of 4 GB, even if I put in 8 GB. (I tried.)

November 18, 2009

It's flooding ThinkPads

My (not so) new (any more) boss uses one of the really low end ThinkPad R61's. The reason being that the old boss didn't want to get a good notebook for the new boss, at the time when the old boss was still the big boss and the new boss was the new kid on the block. (The old boss uses an X61.) I've made plans to get the new boss an X200 or whatever the next year's equivalent is early next year.

But yesterday when I stopped by my ThinkPad dealer to see if they have any new things in stock. Instead, they showed me some clearance prices for the X301 which were close to 50% off from the original price. Wow! I immediately put in a proposal to my boss to replace his R61 with the much sleeker X301. He immediately approved my proposal, but not for one X301, but for two X301's, one for himself, and one for the vice boss.

They're clearance models so they're older models with the Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400, 2 GB of DDR3 RAM, and only 64 GB SSD. But that's plenty of speed and space for the bosses.



Hmm, people like to stack their notebooks and take photos. I should do that too.

November 16, 2009

Drupal novice

While reading about Drupal, I came across many sites that compare Drupal to Joomla! and WordPress. I mentioned earlier that I had no experience with regards to web CMS, so I decided to check both of them out. This time, instead of downloading the distribution and installing manually, I decided to do things the quick way by downloading complete application stacks through BitNami.

BitNami's application stack lets me run a complete web application using a simple installer program. They also offer ready-to-run virtual machines images ("virtual appliances") if I don't want to install the stack into my OS. The virtual appliance includes its own Linux distribution, and the application stack pre-installed and ready to run.

I mentioned in my first Drupal post that getting Drupal up and running took less than an hour. Getting both Joomla! and WordPress up and running, using the BitNami stack, took less than 10 minutes, including the download time.



Both Joomla! and WordPress do seem easier to get started for most people. At least, they both came with WYSIWYG editors built in, and have nice friendly administrative menus without having to install a module like the admin module or the admin menu module like in Drupal. I don't know, maybe it's my old Unix background, but I found Drupal's standard menus faster and easier to use than fancy icons.




Anyway, what's better for learning than trying to build an actual project? I'm still feeling guilty over last year's blunder (though not my fault at all) on recommending an e-commerce site for my friend's website. So I decided to rebuild the site for her, using Drupal.

November 14, 2009

Drupal newbie


Eventhough I've been using computers since the days of B.I. (Before Internet), I was never really good at this web thing. Sure, I use the web every day to research problems; I set up the very first personal web server in Thailand back in 1993; I use Blogger to keep this blog; I've also helped friends set up their websites and debug website problems; but I never bothered to learn the intricacies of coding HTML or CSS or implementing a CMS.


So, I was just browsing around randomly on Amazon.com when I came across Drupal For Dummies. I've always heard that Drupal is a complex but fully-featured content management system, but graduating into a Dummies book? (Then again, I shouldn't feel too bad, since Windows Server 2008, which I live and breath everyday, is also a Dummies book.) But, I thought I would check it out just to prove that I'm not a dummy. Off to drupal.org to read some docs. It looked interesting, so I thought I would give it a go.

But first, I had to get MAMP to get Apache, MySQL, and PHP on my Mac. Next, I downloaded the Drupal distribution and extracted it into the htdocs folder inside MAMP. I created a database using phpMyAdmin, then browsed to to the local website, and completed the Drupal installation.


When I tried to make the first test post, I found to my surprise that the editor isn't a WYSIWYG editor. Off to drupal.org again. I realized that I have to install a module, and there were actually a number of WYSIWYG editors to choose from. I picked FCKeditor since I was familiar with the name when I helped someone with her website last year. My next surprise was that even with FCKeditor installed, there was no easy way to upload images. (I'm comparing Drupal with Blogger's editor, which is the only web editor I'm familiar with.) After a bit of browsing around, I picked IMCE and installed it into FCKeditor.


So now I had a near fully functional CMS site running on my Mac. All in less than an hour of work!

November 9, 2009

My Internet is slower than yours

I now have 16 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload from True Internet. This is just the speed to the ISP and local sites that are directly connected to the ISP though. Actual usage doesn't feel any faster, since the pipes are still well clogged. I can't even get YouTube to play smoothly half of the time.

October 29, 2009

Googasm


Shares Of Garmin Ltd. and TomTom N.V. Plunge On Droid Launch-WSJ
Wednesday, 28 Oct 2009 02:41pm EDT

The Wall Street Journal reported that Garmin Ltd. and TomTom N.V. plunged after Google Inc. upgraded its smart-phone software to include a free navigation feature. The smart phone to feature Google's new navigation software is the Motorola Inc. Droid, which was unveiled Wednesday. The phone goes on sale November 6 through Verizon Wireless, which plans to aggressively market the device. In a blog post, Google said its new Google Maps Navigation feature provides turn-by-turn directions based on up-to-date maps and business listings from Google Maps. It will be available to other smart phones through a new version of Google's Android operating system. The news sent shares of the companies reeling.

(Source: WSJ)

October 22, 2009

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