Software I Use

For most of the last year and a half or so I used FeedDemon as my RSS feed reader. I started using it just about the time the product was purchased by NewsGator, so I was part of that transition. One of the key features for me was the ability to sync the read state for articles between multiple computers. But once I started using it on a regular basis, I discovered that the sync system didn’t work as well as I would have expected. Using the NewsGator system, the sync only matched read states for articles that were still in the active feed at the time the sync was performed. For sites that publish many articles per day, that basically meant that you had to keep FeedDemon running 24/7 on all of the machines you wanted to sync, which to me at least kind of defeated part of the purpose of syncing across machines. During some of the earlier days, there were also quite a few outages of the NewsGator service itself, and the way FeedDemon was written caused it to rely completely on the NewsGator service. It did not automatically fall back to checking the feed directly when the NewsGator service was down, which was pretty frustrating.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that I have now been using Google Reader for about 4 months. While I really like the speed and screen layout of FeedDemon (when things are running properly), I’ve adapted to the point where Google Reader is just a useful to me. It’s a little slower than FeedDemon, probably at least partly due to the fundamental differences between a web application and desktop application. The only thing that I really wish Google had was a tag for “save this to read later”. They do have the concept of “shared” and “favorite” articles, and both of those functions are great, but I’d really like them to add a folder for stuff I don’t have time to read right now, but I definitely want to read later. But at that point, I don’t know yet if it is worth sharing or if it really belongs in my favorites or not, so I need a third option.

So overall I am quite happy with Google Reader, and I’ve uninstalled FeedDemon from my machine and cancelled my NewsGator account. Yet another case of free software winning out for me over software that I have to pay for.

I don’t usually see a lot of television commercials because we fast-forward through them with our TiVo, but last night I happened to catch a new mac vs pc ad from Apple that was absolutely hilarious. It’s about the User Account Control feature in Vista that I complained about earlier this week. When we saw the commercial, Joy turned to me and said “hey, that’s the thing you were talking about in Vista that you said was really stupid, isn’t it?”. Why yes, yes it is.

You can check out the commercial by going to the “get a mac” ad page and clicking on the “Security” commercial.

I decided to go ahead and install Vista on the new machine. Lenovo already had drivers available for all of the hardware, so that made things pretty simple. The installation of Vista itself was very straightforward, and then I went through a series of install driver –> reboot actions until all of the drivers were installed. In the grand scheme of things, Vista really doesn’t seem all that different from XP. In some ways the interface looks a little snazzier, and they moved everything around in the control panel, but in most respects it’s very similar.

The most annoying new thing (to me at least) is the User Account Control which basically asks you “are you sure?” any time you do anything beyond a basic activity like running a program. Installing anything new, doing something on the internet, or changing almost any settings in the control panel ends up prompting you to ask if that’s really something you want to do or not. That might be okay for somebody who doesn’t know what they are doing, but even then I have serious doubts about it. However, when you do know what you are doing the extra prompt showing up all the time is incredibly annoying (as in the “yes I want to do that which is precisely why I even clicked that button in the first place” kind of annoying).

I have to say, though, despite all of the differences and new annoyances, I’m still glad I went ahead and installed Vista. I will be using this new machine for a long time, and sometime over the next few years I know I would definitely want to move it to Vista, so it just made sense to go ahead and install it now to get that out of the way.

I was a bit worried about how fast Vista would run compared to XP, and while it does take a little longer to reboot, it seems reasonably quick and snappy once it is actually up and running. And the time required to sleep or hibernate seems to have been improved quite a bit, which is very nice on a notebook. So now that the operating system is up and running, I need to install all of the various programs that I use and then I should have everything all set.

I’ve used BibleWorks software on my computer since college. I’ve found it very helpful and fairly easy to use once I got the hang of it (there is a little bit of a learning curve to find the BibleWorks way of doing things, but it’s not too bad). It was extremely useful when I was taking Greek last year. BibleWorks is designed primarily around the biblical text itself. It has quite a few English translations, along with multiple Greek and Hebrew texts and language references. But what it doesn’t have is commentaries or much other reference material that is not closely related to the biblical text itself. That’s what makes Logos a great companion product.

I recently picked up a copy of Logos when CBD was having a sale. It’s another Bible-related software package, but instead of being so optimized for the study of biblical texts, it’s more of an electronic library. You can purchase several different levels of the product to start out with, each containing various numbers of electronic texts, and then you can add individual titles or packages at any time from there. They have all kinds of things available, including dictionaries, outlines, topical guides, atlases, word studies, historical and archaeological information, and devotionals. I purchased one of the larger initial sets, and then I’ve added quite a few commentary sets on top of that. I also eventually ended up buying several of the language references that I already had for BibleWorks in the Logos format so that I could have them available in both programs. It’s kind of a drag to buy the same thing twice just in two different formats, but having references like the BDAG (Greek lexicon) and HALOT (Hebrew lexicon) available with a single click in each product is extremely convenient.

So while I still love BibleWorks and everything that it offers, I’ve really found Logos to be a great second program to have alongside it. If I had to choose just one I would probably select BibleWorks (largely because of my interest in the original languages), but I’m very glad that I don’t have to choose one or the other.

So my retail copy of Office 2007 arrived today. With the release of Office and Windows Vista, Microsoft has apparently switched to these weird new plastic boxes. When you buy software from Microsoft, the only things you really need are the disc, the certificate of authenticity, and the product key. Microsoft used to put the product key on the CD sleeve and the COA on either the CD sleeve or the box flap. Now both of those are stuck to the silly plastic case. So before I could just cut the COA off the box and save the CD sleeve, but now I have to keep the entire plastic case? That’s just ridiculous. I guess I need to find some way to hack the box apart and keep just the little pieces I need.

As I mentioned previously, I just upgraded to Office 2007, and because I switched to a different Office edition to save money, I no longer have a current copy of Microsoft Access. I have a handful of Access databases that I use in a couple of programming projects, so I needed to convert those to either SQL Server Express or MySQL.

I’ve been using MySQL for quite a while for PHP projects, but I’ve never used it for a .Net project. So I decided to try SQL Express first because the programs that use the Access databases are written in .Net. I also already had the VB and C# Express versions installed on my machine, so I figured they would work well together.

SQL Express installed just fine and everything seemed to be okay, but with the Express version you don’t get a copy of query analyzer and you get a super-stripped down version of enterprise manager. So stripped down, in fact, that it does not have import and export. What the heck? How are you supposed to get data in and out? Well, I thought I would get sneaky and use the SQL upsize feature built into Access. That seemed to work okay and for a while I thought everything was fine until I discovered that it had truncated a bunch of my long text fields at 257 characters. Not good at all. I tried various ways of doing the upsize from Access, but no matter what I did the values were still truncated. So I wrote a quick utility to read out the values from the Access database and make a bunch of SQL insert statements in a text file, and then I ran that and finally got all of my data loaded correctly. Then I tried some of my views in SQL Express to make sure everything was working, and I discovered that SQL 2005 no longer nicely handles views with an order by clause. When you open the view it just ignores the order by and returns the rows in a random order. There are apparently some workarounds for that, but I was starting to get really frustrated.

So I installed MySQL 5 (well, technically I just upgraded my previous install of MySQL 4). The installation went smoothly and everything seemed fine. I tried to run the MySQL migration toolkit that lets you pull in data from other sources, but it told me that I needed to update the Java runtime on my machine first, so I went ahead and did that. It took less than five minutes, including the download, and it didn’t even need a reboot, so no big deal. With the new Java runtime installed, it let me run the migration toolkit and then it was able to pull in my Access database, including the data, in about 15 seconds. And the data wasn’t truncated. And it played nicely with my views. That went so well, I decided to try switching my .Net programs over to the MySQL connector. I downloaded the connector, added it as a reference to the projects, and then did a fairly simple search and replace to swap the SQL Server objects out for the MySQL objects. And then it just flat out worked.

So what did I do next? I completely uninstalled SQL Express. How is it that two products from Microsoft can’t work together, but MySQL had no problems whatsoever pulling in data from Access? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that I’m using MySQL for all of my projects at home from now on.

After using Office 2000 for many, many years, I finally decided to move up to Office 2007. I used Office 2000 for so long largely because of the cost of upgrading, but with Office 2007 Microsoft is now offering the new Home and Student edition that can be used for non-commerercial purposes. It includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote for $149, which is quite a good price compared to the regular versions (it would cost $329 to upgrade my copy of Office 2000 Professional to the 2007 version). Plus the Home and Student edition can be installed on up to 3 machines. The only thing I will really be missing from Office 2000 Professional is Access. I have a few Access databases that I’ve used as part of programming projects, but considering the cost savings, I plan to convert those to SQL Server Express or MySQL so that I don’t need Access at all.

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