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Scott's Column
New Mouse, Linux on Virtual PC, Another New Look

January 1, 2006
By Scott Lewis

Although the holidays are past as you read this, I wrote this during the month of December and I was very much up to my eyes in holiday fun. Keep in mind that I have twice the holiday fun the rest of you have as my oldest son and I both have birthdays in December.

That being said, this was a slow month. I had time before the holidays kicked in to install a slew of operating systems under Virtual PC. I installed 5 versions of Linux and 4 versions of Windows. Finally, I installed a new mouse at the end of November that I forgot to tell you about. The big news for December is the new look for this site and a trip to Microsoft's launch event for Visual Studio and SQL Server, the 2005 editions.

Gaming

A friend lent me Indigo Prophecy. It is probably the closest thing to an interactive movie I have seen. It is also weird. Before I get to the game I need to tell you about the controls, because they suck. Not just suck as in poorly implemented, they suck as in I want to die of carpel tunnel syndrome before having to finish this game, suck. For example, to do serious movement you have to use the arrow keys and the arrow keys on the numeric keypad in a "Double Simon" repeating pattern. During the tutorial it clearly states you can use either set of keys, or use the mouse. During this tutorial you have to dodge a couple of cars coming for you. The game shows you two Simon like displays (Simon being that kids game were you have to watch a pattern of lighted buttons and then repeat the pattern). Since the instructions said you could use either set of keys I kept failing the task. I could only succeed if both buttons were pushed. I never did get it because both "Simon" displays were showing the same thing. Eventually I realized while playing the game that each display is linked to each set of arrow keys. So... the only way this game could implement action was to have you play Double Simon while stuff happened on screen. This made it more difficult to enjoy watching the action sequences, since what you are doing has nothing to do with the task you are trying to accomplishing.

That does not end the complaints about the controls. Moving around is awkward. The arrow keys (the dedicated ones) work only so well. You can use the mouse to move, but not very well. Holding down both mouse buttons has your character walk and also use the mouse for direction. It is still not fluid, and the camera angles are just as bad as the controls. Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy did a much better job with third person movement. These guys should looks at that game.

In the story you switch between characters. This is very weird since you are both the suspect and the police detectives looking for the suspect. The games starts off watching yourself (?) kill some poor sole in the bathroom of a diner. You seem to be having mental flashes as you are doing this. When you (the player) gets control of the character you try to move the body, clean yourself up, and get out of there before you are discovered. I really like the split screen shots showing you what is happening elsewhere... like the cop in the diner that is about to head to the bathroom.

After you get this character to "escape," at least for the moment, you are now playing the detective that was called in to investigate the murder. Now you are looking for clues that you left behind. Weird. Do you want the police to find you? Should you be making it tough on the cops? Will the cops uncover information that you need as the suspect? It is weird, but I have managed to play just enough that I am hooked on the story line. 

The graphics are pretty good, though nothing to write home about. I just wish the controls were better. I'll tell you more next month as I get into the game. I hope to get some time with this once the kids are back in school and going to bed early.

Virtual CD

I tried to setup Indigo Prophecy using Virtual CD. However, the game would not recognize Virtual CD's "copy" as being correct. This is the second time this has happened. The first time was with a Yu-Gi-Oh game that belongs to my youngest son.

All other games play perfectly using Virtual CD. This is a huge blessing. Not for piracy reasons, but for sanity reasons. My sons are not careful with CD-ROMs, and I would have a fit if I had to go through the trouble of jockey my CD-ROMs with theirs. In this case I don't want my sons carelessness to mess up a friend's CD-ROM game.

Another New Look

I have been promising a comparison of web tools. I wish I had more for you, but I have not had time to build the three sites yet. I expect my initial experience to become the final results. I will tell you at least that much next month, hopefully more as I try to build the three sites with each tool.

In the mean time, I came across a web site (page?) that inspired me to create an all new look. This look is not the look I started working on with FrontPage and Dreamweaver. The site I found is Microsoft's Max web site. Actually I think it is mostly a single page. While trying to mimic the look of this page I hand coded a basic home page and template. I coded it in HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) using Notepad. The template would be the basis for my article pages.

This month I put that new look on my site. However, unlike my previous change like this I did not migrate my archived columns to the new look. It will take some time to get that done, so I decided to let the archive wait until later. The site is fully functional, so you should have no trouble looking at all my content, old and new.

Besides the time to convert the pages, I also want to proof read all the old articles for spelling and grammar issues. This is something I have not done in the past. It will make the task of converting the site much more time consuming.

I hope you enjoy the new look. Please drop me a line and let me know what you think. I love feedback, and it is my only reward for maintaining this site.

New Mouse

My wife and I were shopping in Best Buy getting all the electronic "toys" for our kids for Christmas, so I picked up a new mouse for myself. My old mouse is a very simple Microsoft optical mouse with two buttons and a scroll wheel. It is very old. It was working fine on my computer, but I tried using it on my laptop. On the laptop the right button was flaky. It wouldn't click all the time and a right-click & drag operation rarely worked.

When I gave up on the mouse with my laptop I put it back on my desktop. It performed the same way on my desktop as it was doing on my laptop. It would not right-click reliably, and sometimes it would flake out on a right-click and drag operation. I even tried reloading the drivers for the mouse, but it did not help. I have used this mouse for years without problems. I assumed it would probably work fine if I installed the OS from scratch with the mouse attached. I will never know for sure. 

While writing this I am starting to think maybe the mouse was getting worse. Another thing... it did not glide across surfaces well. Some of this was the pointer did not always move fluidly on screen. This caused us to tap or bang the mouse like you would with a ball mouse that was sticking. But it also had to do with the little plastic "glide" patches on the bottom of the mouse. They just didn't flow over surfaces smoothly anymore. In fact, it was horrible on a mouse pad.

The new mouse I bought was a Logitech MX518 Gaming-Grade Optical Mouse. That's a mouthful. It was priced at $49. The lowest priced Laser mouse they had at Best Buy was $72. I could not see spending that much for a mouse. In fact, I had a hard time justifying the $49 to myself.

I am very pleased with the mouse. It is very comfortable in my hand. I have not used the extra buttons much, but they seem to do what they are supposed to do, and they don't interfere with normal operations. That's good. I have seen some mice that have the buttons for your thumb right where your thumb rests normally. This means finding a new way to hold the mouse so you are not pressing the buttons all the time. Thankfully that is not the case here. The thumb buttons are just above where my thumb rests.

I really like this Logitech mouse. All I need now is a black keyboard to go with it. Oh, and a LCD monitor with a black frame. Oh, don't forget that I also need a bigger hard drive, and a DVD burner.. or at least a combo CD burner/DVD-ROM drive. While I'm at it a need a USB 2.0 hub.

Virtual PC

I was able to install 5 versions of Linux successfully. I tried two others, but with less than satisfying results. Ubunto would install, but when it boot up it was in some incompatible video mode. It required a lot of horizontal scrolling to see everything. What there was to see was mostly garbage. However, I was able to guess that it wanted a user ID and password. Unfortunately it would not accept the user ID and password I supplied during the setup. I tried three times to get Ubunto to work, but to no avail.

The other Linux that failed was Libranet. It went through a two disk install but would not boot inside of Virtual PC. I only tried twice to get this to work. I was getting tired.

Now for the success stories. Fedora Core 3.0, Linspire 5.0, Mandrake 10, SuSE 9.1 and Xandros 3.01 were all installed successfully. I gave each one 384 MB of memory. I have 1GB of physical memory in my computer. If I drop the memory for the virtual machines to 256 MB I can get two running at the same time, but I get insufficient memory if I try to run any two Virtual PC instances with 384 MB each.

To be honest, the best use I get out of this is when I need to teach my wife something on Windows 98. She has Windows 98 at work and some things just don't work the same as they do on her Windows XP laptop. Also, when she is trying to help her parents it is sometimes helpful to launch Windows 2000, which matches their computer. Since I was in the mood I also created virtual machines for Windows ME and Windows XP Professional.

Virtual PC is a great support tool. Hopefully I will get a chance to play around with the various flavors of Linux. I really want to try seeing what it takes to install applications. Linspire has its Click-n-Run service that installs applications with a single click (really, just one?). But this is a paid service. What would it take to install similar application on the other flavors of Linux, particularly applications that do not come on the CD images that contain the operating system.

I put all the files for Virtual PC, the virtual machines, on my network. This way they don't eat a lot of space on my computer. I only have 20 GB and it is already far to tight for space. 

Visual Studio 2005

I attended one of Microsoft's launch events for Visual Studio 2005. I was inspired, mainly by two new features in the Visual Basic portion. Code Snippets and ClickOnce Installation.

I will be downloading and installing the Professional version of Visual Studio as part of my MSDN subscription. I did receive a copy of the Standard edition of Visual Studio and SQL Server at the event. Plus, they now have Express editions of these tools that are free for all to download. That's about time. Microsoft really needs to give away their development tools to anyone that wants them. The more people using their development tools the more applications that require their platform. It's a win-win situation for Microsoft and the hobby developer at home. In fact, I plan to download and play with a product called Express Web Developer. I don't know the details yet, but I'll keep you informed.

Conclusion

This was supposed to be a slow month. Apparently it started getting busy. I will try to report on Visual Studio and some other things next month. See you then.
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