Fresh Windows 10 – Useful applications to have

In this article, I will take you through my experiences with installing Windows 10 and list some useful applications that I think every gamer/software developer will find useful to have on their machine.

TL;DR: List of applications

Windows

A freshly installed operating system is like a fresh summer rain, washing away all the clutter and unused applications that you’ve installed over the years of using your computer. Every now and then I like to format my computer to get it into this clean, fresh state. The last time I did a format was back in November 2016, so my computer was due for a format. At the beginning of this month, I formatted my computer and a lot has changed in the process of formatting your computer (from when I did it back in 2016, and even way back before that).

For starters, the latest Windows OS is now Windows 10 (back in 2016 when I formatted, it was Windows 8). Much of the installation process of Windows from Windows 8 to Windows 10 has remained the same, apart from the fact that I believe they have some how really improved the speed of the installation. The new installation of Windows 10 took about 10 mins, at most. I remember back in the day I was installing Windows XP on my computer and I wanted to format the drive. Back then I just had a single 1TB hard drive in my computer and the format of the drive alone took about 6 hours to complete. I have no idea why it took so long, but I remember going to sleep and waking up to find it was still not completed. These days, you can format a 2TB hard drive in a matter of seconds.

If you would like to format your computer completely (and I mean, completely fresh instead of using Windows 10’s Recovery installation that is provided) you can download this Windows 10 tool here. It requires you to have an activate Windows 10 license, and is an awesome tool. You simply start it up and it will download a Windows 10 ISO file for you that you can then burn to a USB for the installation process. To create the installation media, I like to use Rufus. It’s simple and super easy to use to create a bootable USB drive from an ISO image.

To my surprise, the Windows 10 ISO (which contains all the versions of Windows by the way) was just under 4GB. The installation process was super quick too. From creating the bootable USB to having a fully installed OS that you can use took about 30 minutes.

Once I had Windows set up, I was ready to get my good old applications back. And this time, limit it to only applications that I will actually use on a day to day basis (I mean, that was the main reason for formatting was to get rid of all the other junk that I had lying around on the system).

Standard set of applications

Right off the bat, the first application I install is Chrome. This is for the simple reason that I hate Internet Explorer with a passion (as most software developers do) and I don’t particularly like Edge. However, to give Microsoft some credit, they have recently announced that Edge will be built of the Chromium Rendering Engine. Once this has been implemented, there may be more reason to actually use the default browser that Microsoft ships with Windows, however as it stands, Chrome is still always my go to browser, simply because it intergrated with my Google account so well and all my bookmarks are stored there.

Once I have my browser installed, I can now (more effectively) browse the web and actually get the other applications on this list.

Next on the list for me is 1Password. 1Password is one of the best password manager out there. I have been using one password for about 2 and a half years now, and I will continue to use it for all my password needs. The main reason I moved over to a password manager for because I was hacked twice in the space of a month – one hack was on EA (origin) and the other was on Humble Bundle. Once I moved over to 1Password, I realised just how many online accounts I have, and now they are secure by each having a different password. Recently, I found out that 1Password allows you to set up 2-factor-authentication in the app, meaning that you no longer have to re-setup all your 2-factor-authentication accounts when you get a new phone, everything is managed inside 1Password.

Bitdefender is my anti-virus of choice, and next up on the list. I’ve been using BitDefender for about 3-4 years now and have never experienced a problem. I find that Bitdefender does a good job of balancing performance while still protecting your computer from viruses and malware.

Gaming Software

At this point, my Windows had already updated my graphics card driver and my screen was able to resize to a resolution of 1920×1080. Normally with a fresh install of Windows, your graphics card drivers will not be installed and the screen resolution will be limited to something like 1024×768 or 1280×960. If you are unable to select the highest resolution for your screen, it’s best to install the graphics card drivers. My current graphics card is a GTX 660. If you have a Nvidia card too you can head over here to install the drivers.

To round off the drivers that you will need, if you have a custom keyboard and/or mouse, you should get those drivers too. For my current rig I am using a Logitech G510 keyboard and a Corsair M95 mouse. For Logitech products, all the software required has nicely been bundle into one installer which you can find here (the download to get is the Logitech Gaming Software). Corsair has also recently moved over to a single software solution called “Corsair iCube”, which you can find here.

Steam is the most ubiquitous gaming store with the widest variety of games. About 98% of the games I own are on Steam. The reason I love Steam is because, once you’ve bought the game it’s yours and you can download it from Steam anytime. There’s no need for disc installations, simply install Steam and select the games you want to download.

Another common gaming launcher is Battle.NET (if you play any blizzard games). And recently EPIC Games (the people that brought us Fortnite) have also created a store with an offer to get a free game every two weeks for the next year (2019) making it a definite consideration. At this point only the first two games are known with the first one being subnautica and super meat boy. It seems promising and maybe worth an install simply to get the free games!

Customization software

I only have one item in the customization software list, and that is wallpaper engine. This software can be found on the Steam store here. At first, when I saw wallpaper engine, I thought it was a gimic, but after using it now for almost a year, it’s definitely a really nice additional to any Desktop with the animated wallpapers that you can apply. And there are tons of wallpapers on the steam workshop for this software that you can find. Definitely worth the pick up at a small cost.

Productivity

Next in the line up, we have some productivity software. The items in this list are software that makes general usage of your computer a little easier, and items that you use more often than you think.

First on the list is a PDF reader. My PDF reader of choice is Foxit PDF Reader. I have been using Foxit since about 2014 and I prefer it over something like Adobe because it is a lot more light weight and I find that the performance of Foxit is great.

These days, it may seem like almost everything that you download on the internet comes in a compressed format – this may be .zip, .rar, .tar, .gzip, .7z and many others. I believe that most people are familiar with WinZip and WinRAR to extract these archived files. I do not like these applications because they require licenses and are proprietary. My recommendation for archive files will always be 7ZIP, since it’s free, open source and handles basically any format. I have yet to run into a situation where I can’t use 7ZIP to unarchive a file format.

Since the very first edition of Windows, it has always come with a Notepad out of the box. Notepad is great for jotting down quick notes, but it lacks features that you may have become accustom to  with something like Notepad++ or Sublime Text. For my computer I have installed Notepad++ as it gives you tabbed “note pads” and allows you to close the application without needing to save the “note”. I prefer Sublime Text as a developer tool, and have excluded that from my installation for my home PC.

If you find yourself copying lots of files to and from your computer to lots of different locations, TeraCopy is definitely worth a pick up. The reason I like TeraCopy is it allows you to easily see which files were copied and which (if any) failed to copy. It gives you a separate “tabbed” window for each copy that you perform to a different location if you are still busy with another copy. For the average user this is probably not necessary, since the Windows file copy has improved greatly over the past couple of years. But for those power users that do a lot of copying, I would highly recommend TeraCopy.

The recent updates to Windows 10 have introduced a “Night Light” feature, which reduces the amount blue light emitted from your screen. Since about 2013, I’ve been using F.lux for this and they have improved their software over time too. The most recent version of F.lux is great as it allows you to configure different levels of filtering by setting a “bed time”. It will automatically and gradually reduce the blue light emitted from your screen in a way that is comfortable for your eyes and usually it is barely noticeable as it reduces blue light. Since Windows 10 now has this “Night Light” feature baked into the OS, F.lux would be recommended for more power users.

Lastly on this sub list, we have everything (a searching tool). This is also recommended for power users that perform a lot of searches on their computer. Everything is great, and I am extremely impressed with how fast it is able to perform searches across your entire system. The indexing done by “everything” is amazing and will really help you find anything (by file name) on your computer in a matter of seconds.

Audio and Video

For all your video playback needs, there is only one application that comes to mind, and that is VLC media player. There is nothing more that I can really say about VLC other than it is a great video player and I have been using it ever since I got my first .mkv file that Windows Media Player was unable to handle at the time.

For more power users and for those of you that have a huge collection of videos, I would recommend getting Plex Media Server. Plex is a great addition to any computer that you use for watching movies and series. It’s really simple to set up and once you have it configured you can sit back and let Plex do it’s magic. The way Plex works is, you set up a “library” that points to a directory on your computer. Based on the meta data for this file, Plex is able to build up a catalogue of your videos. Plex excels for series as it is able to group them all together in one place, making it easy access all the episodes of a series. Plex allows you to quickly see rotten tomato and IMDB ratings, gives you the synopsis of the series or movie and also allows you to search for videos that have the same actors in it as the current video you are looking at. If you have a smart TV in your house, Plex is definitely recommended as it makes watching videos on your TV from your computer so much easier than having to copy files to a USB and other weird methods to get the videos to show on your TV.

Finally, for all those old school users out there that still have music files on your computer I would recommend Winamp. Winamp is a great tool for ripping any of your old CDs that you might have lying around and is also a super light weight music player.

General Customization

This section is purely for power users and may not apply to your “style” of using Windows. I’m including this portion in the article for reference purposes.

The one thing that I truly hate about the Windows Explorer since Windows 8, was the inclusion of the “Folders” section on the default Explorer window. For a new installation of Windows, this is typically the first thing that I remove from the explorer. There is an excellent article over at how to geek explaining how to get rid of this section.

For those of you that have more than 1 hard drive in your computer, you will generally want to point your Downloads, Documents, Videos, Pictures and Music folders to a different location other than the C drive. The latest update to Windows 10 has actually made this really simple and all you need to do is right click on the aforementioned folder that you want to move, select properties, go over to the “Location” tab and select Move. This will allow you to easily relocate the default storage of these “Library” items on your computer. This makes a huge difference especially  when your main hard drive (C drive) is a small SSD.

Closing

I hope this article has proven to be help for any of you installing a fresh version of Windows!

Verbatim External 3TB Drive (Model 47673) – Partitioned as MBR

I recently bought a new 4TB hard drive, to help with storage space on my computer. One of the main reasons I wanted to get an additional hard drive was to move data across from an external hard drive that I bought a couple of years ago. This hard drive was a Verbatim 3TB 3.5″ (Model 47673) external (pictured below)

Verbatim 3TB 3.5
Verbatim 3TB 3.5″ External Hard Drive

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For reasons unknown, Verbatim created this hard drive as Master Boot Record (MBR) drive. For those that are unaware of MBR’s limitations, it only allows for partitions of up to 2TB. When I first plugged in the hard drive many years ago, I could see two “hard drives” one was 2TB and the other was 1TB. I didn’t think much about it at the time, because I had just bought a 3TB hard drive, and I had 3TB. Further to this point, the filesystem of both hard drives (out of the box) was  FAT32. For those unfamiliar with the limitations of FAT32, it only allows files smaller than 4GBs to be stored on it.

The decisions made by Verbatim in production of this external hard drive are extremely questionable. I cannot think of a logical reason, why someone would want to have a 3TB hard drive, that is partitioned as MBT and a file system of FAT32, on such a large drive.

Since the drive was partitioned as MBT it was impossible to have the drive register as a single “disk” on the computer, because MBT limits the drive’s capacity to 2TB. And because the actual drive was 3TB, the tricky achieved to access the additional space was done on the external circuit board that allowed it to be accessed.

I decided to pull out the hard drive from the external casing (see pictures at the end) because I wanted to place the hard drive internally in my computer, because I didn’t want to worry about power and USB connections for my hard drive. Further, I also didn’t want 2 drives to show on my computer when it was only 1 physical hard drive. I wanted to access all 3TB of actual storage in one place. Once plugged into my computer directly, I realised I couldn’t access my 1TB storage from the external that was there before, and this is when I realised the MBR partition that was made on the drive. It became clear that Verbatim had some integrated driver on the external circuit board to allow for access outside of the 2TB range on the MBR partition of the 3TB drive. After some Googling I managed to find a way to re-partition the drive to a GUID Partition Table (GPT) drive.

I had to place the external back in it’s original casing in order for me to access the data from the “hidden” 1TB drive. Once I had copied everything over to my new 4TB drive, I was able to apply the changes mentioned in the Microsoft article here (to change the drive from MBR to GPT). And promptly after that formatted the drive to an NTFS file system so that I could allow storage of files over 4GB.

Finally, I was able to access my 3TB hard drive as one logical drive on my computer.

This is what the inside of the external casing looks like.

Movie Review – The Hunger Games

The-Hunger-Games

The Hunger Games is a dystopian feature film that follows protagonist Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) and supporting protagonist Peeta Mellark (played by Josh Hutcherson). The movie plays out in a fictional city named Panem.

Panem is a futuristic city with 12 districts. As the district number increases, so does the poverty line. We see the people in district 1, as wealthy, stuck up snobs. They have very little care for others and are wasteful towards food and other amenities. Down in district 12, we see a high level of contrast. The people here are living in poverty, but have stronger values and band together as a community.

The actual Hunger Games is an event that occurs every year that involves 12 districts of Panem. As part of the Hunger Games, tributes fight each other to the death, as there can only be 1 victor!

Once every year, each district is required to offer up 2 tributes to take part in the Hunger Games. One tribute must be female and the other must be male. In the higher districts, it is not uncommon for tributes to volunteer to for the Hunger Games as they spend almost all their life training for the Games. As you peer down to the lower districts, names are chosen at random if no one volunteers.

Katniss and Peeta are the tributes from district 12 for this year’s 74th annual Hunger Games, as they leave their district you notice something rather unsettling, they are chauffeured into luxury. Immediately you imagine, oh, maybe the Hunger Games aren’t so bad… Until you remember that they are most certainly on their way to their death.

Once they arrive in the capital, the treatment doesn’t stop, they continue to be pampered and even receive the penthouse suite since the district you are from represents the floor on which you stay.

We then get a sense of the “competition” as all the tributes undertake their training and have a few interviews. I think that it would have been beneifical if we had a little more insight into some of the tributes, however, the other tributes are almost completely brushed over to get to Katniss and Peeta. Admittedly, the story is about them, but I think that insight into what makes some of the other tributes tick would have been valuable.

You will witness the training of the tributes to the battle of the death of these tributes in the battle area. As the tributes enter the battle area, you will be reminded of the most iconic phrase from the Hunger Games: “May the odds be forever in your favor”.

I give this movie 5 out of 5 bandicoots and highly recommend you give it a watch.

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Cross Platform Mobile Development: Considerations

Recently, I’ve started working on a small side-project with one of my friends and this project requires a mobile app. Originally the idea was to do a cross platform mobile app using Xamarin (the reason for choosing Xamarin will be discussed later), but quickly we realized that this would not be feasible.

Market Share

Firstly, let’s take a look at the market share of phones running, Android, iOS and Windows. You can find the graph full here: https://www.statista.com/statistics/266136/global-market-share-held-by-smartphone-operating-systems/. Below is a quick snip of the graph for quick reference to the discussion further below.

mobile-os-market-share

When you mouse over the last quarter of last year (2016) you’ll notice that Windows is sitting at a mere 0.3%. Targeting a mobile app for such a small portion of users does not seem feasible at all (esp. for a small side-project).

When you look at the Android vs. iOS percentages, these are at least a little reasonable with iOS sitting at 17.9% and Android sitting at a staggering 81.7%.

Cross platform considerations

We had then considered, “let’s make an iOS and Android app, using Xamarin”. Since Xamarin gives us easy tools to create both apps, however, there was one small problem. After creating the Xamarin cross platform project, we came to understand that creating iOS apps, requires a Mac. This is apparently due to some licensing restrictions from Apple that require all iOS apps to be built and compiled on Mac computers.

Needless to say, we decided to scrap the notation of creating any cross platform application, since we do not have funding to purchase a Mac in order to develop an app for iOS. This is an unfortunate restriction that exists, however my friend and I both have Android phones which made the decision that much easier.

Verdict

I will leave you with the following food for thought. Considering that the percentage of user’s using smart phones is sitting above 80% for Android, how much visibility/usage would you lose if you solely developed for Android? My advice would be – if you do not have a Mac, do not worry about creating an iOS app at all, since the number of users that you will be losing will have little impact on your overall success. If however, you do have a Mac, and the extra time to invest in simply creating a native UI for the iOS app, go ahead and create an iOS app too. In closing though, I do not believe that it is worth any effort to create a Windows phone app, since the percentage is extremely small.

Xamarin choice

The video below was a great introduction into creating cross platform mobile apps using Xamarin and the link provided for the video jumps straight to a section where the speaker explains some aspects about mobile development.

One of the key points that stood out is that Xamarin offers native performance for the apps that you create. This is because it hooks into the native API and is able to build the app as a native app for the platform.

This is different from other tools (e.g. ionic) out there which he describes as a “hybrid” approach . With these tools, the app is usually a general purpose browser that runs your app. This gives no native performance and does not give access to native APIs.

For the above mentioned reasons, Xamarin is the best tool to create an mobile app – if you are looking to code the app in a C# environment. If you are a Java developer looking to create an Android app, Android Studio might be more applicable for you.