Monday, 11 January 2021

Upgrading a dual boot Windows 7 and Linux laptop to Windows 10

 Back in June, I added a linux partition to my old Windows 7 thinkpad.

The machine was still, and remained, on Windows 7 as a backup machine to my documentation work of Dow's Pharmacy.

However six months on, we're still in a hiatus because of the ongoing covid-19 emergency, and I'd reached the point where I really couldn't delay upgrading the Windows 7 partition any longer.

So yesterday I upgraded it.

I was a bit apprehensive about doing so as I could imagine various scenarios where the Windows 10 upgrade process and the linux boot manager had an argument, but I needed have worried, it just worked.

It's an open secret that in most cases Microsoft will still allow you to update from Windows 7 to Windows 10 for free providing you have a legitimate Windows 7 install.

I did two things outside of the standard upgrade procedure before starting:

  • I used Grub Customizer to make Windows the default operating system to boot, so that when the system rebooted during the upgrade process it wouldn't need manual intervention to select Windows.
  • I used the Magical Jelly Bean KeyFinder (seriously) to find my Windows 7 license key in the registry, as some comments I'd read suggested that occasionally the upgrade process requested that you re enter the license key. As I'd bought the machine second hand, the Microsoft license key sticker on the base had of course disappeared.
Other than that I just followed the bouncing ball. 

The whole process took about three hours, but at the end I had a working Windows 10 install. 

(When I was researching how to do this I couldn't find any sensible posts on the subject - I've since found one on the Microsoft Community website, but you do have to register with Microsoft if you don't already have a Microsoft account)

As it's on a old thinkpad with a spinning disk, it's not the fastest, but it works, and does the job...

[update 12 Jan 2021]

After the upgrade grub, the Linux boot manager, still labelled the new Windows 10 system as Windows 7. This didn't affect booting the Windows partition but was unaesthetic - I like things to be right.

Rerunning the Grub Customizer to change the boot priorities back to Linux first fixed this - the grub customiser does an os-probe and rewrites the boot menu by default.

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Technology and me in 2020

 Every year or so, I write a little report on how my use of technology has changed.

This year has been, shall we say, different from preceding years - here's how things have changed since 2019.

The successes

The new laptop I bought back in 2019 continues to deliver as does the Thinkpad Yoga, which has turned out to be a useful second machine, even though I have not used it as extensively as I might have in a normal year. 

The same can be said of my old Thinkpad - adding a linux partition increased its usefulness during lockdown, but honestly I've not been using it as frequently as I might have been if Dow's Pharmacy documentation project was not in covid-limbo.

However, it's being on Windows 7 is increasingly a pain and I might look at upgrading it Windows 10 after all.

The undoubted success is my Huawei mediapad - excellent battery life, good screen, etc. I've ended up using it more than I expected and not just for viewing images of old documents - a genuinely useful purchase.

Hanging in there

My chromebook, which went end of life back in March 2019 continues to soldier on, even if it does grind a bit on occasions.

I'd probably have replaced it by now, but with lockdown, shortages and inflated prices it simply didn't make sense to do so while it still worked.

Likewise, I still have my 2011 vintage MacBook Air which still makes an excellent travel computer, especially since I replaced the battery. However, like the chromebook, it will have to be replaced sooner or later, probably by a lightweight Windows 10S machine.

While I took a load of old tablets to the recycling, I hung onto my various old netbooks and laptops that had linux installed on them. In time I need to rationalise the stable, but the time is not yet.

Despite my purchase of the Mediapad, the ipad mini and keyboard combo continues to grow in usefulness as a note taking machine, not that I've been anywhere much to take notes, but it's the ideal size to have on the sofa while reading something.

Domestic technology

2020 opened with smoke and bushfires, and the situation was so dire that I resorted to buying an air purifier. Apart from its slightly odd internet setup it worked well and did the job. So far, we havn't needed it this year, except for a weekend when the fire mangement people did some back burning.

Like everyone, we've watched a lot more TV this year, and our Fetch box with its extra channels and easy access to Netflix certainly eased the ennui of lockdown. Apart from some glitches in April at the start of lockdown, our network connection held up well through everything.

Sometimes I think that I'm the only person in Australia not to have used Zoom. Facetime yes, Skype yes, Zoom, no. However my partner in crime has made extensive use of it for everything from art workshops and life drawing to yoga classes, so much so that I ended up tracking down a good quality refurbished laptop for her principally for zoom sessions from her art studio and when lying on the loungeroom floor for online yoga.

Software and operating systems

It's still basically the Microsoft ecology. I've almost stopped using OS X totally, and even when I use my MacBook Air, I basically use it as if it was a highend chromebook, albeit one with a few extra editing tools installed.

Strangely, my use of linux came back a bit when I wanted to experiment with some things, including a half built omeka installation to showcase some of the Dow's project work. Half built because the second lockdown in Victoria caused me to lose momentum a bit and since then the Trust has invested in a new corporate repository and asset management solution.

I still haven't taken my old Inspiron to the disposal centre, I have xubuntu installed on it and sometimes the slightly larger screen comes in useful when playing with image editing software, much in the same way that my old hopelessly out of date 2008 vintage imac with its 21" screen can be incredibly useful when looking at digitised documents.

In the ideal world I might replace both of them with a decent refurbished desktop and dual screen solution, but for the moment I'll continue to make do ...

Sunday, 29 November 2020

I said I would ...

 So today, finally, after lockdowns and closures, I took our accumulated e-waste to the recycling centre.

Mostly it was bits and pieces, dead hubs, old keyboards and stuff like that plus a gaggle of older tablets - not just my original zpad, but J's old 2012 vintage Lenovo K1, and old Samsung Galaxy Tab, which would still be useful today, except that its battery died and it wasn't worth the cost of a replacement.

Other junk that went was my original 2009 vintage e-reader, long replaced by a tablet with epub software.

I'm still struggling with how to get internet into the studio, or at least a decent signal, so I hung onto to my old Cisco Linksys 2008 vintage wireless bridge and my old 3G router in case either of them turned out to be useful.

I still have a couple of old netbooks and laptops with linux installed, but I'm taking my cue as regards their longevity from Mari Kondo - if they spark joy, they stay, for the meantime anyway ...

Friday, 20 November 2020

Bye Bye Zpad

 Back in 2011, I bought myself a no name (it was packaged as a Zpad) Android 2.2 tablet from China for evaluation purposes.

Android Froyo 2.2, 16GB eMMC memory, and surprisingly powerful. 

At the time when I bought it, the Android tablet marketplace was a wild west sort of place, with a lot of players besides the obvious major manufacturers, and I thought we would see something happen in the tablet market place akin to the PC clone revolution of the nineteen nineties with a large number of cheap devices outcompeting the iPad.

In the event I was wrong. For a little while, it looked as if I might be right, but no, the iPad kept is dominant position in the market place. More because of the software ecology around it than anything else. When I look at my recently acquired Huawei Mediapad, or any of the more recent Samsung tablets, I still find it difficult to understand why the iPad is so dominant, it's certainly not operating system or hardware performance.

Anyway, I was clearing out some of old hardware yesterday - a couple of Sun keyboards, some old PC bits and so on and I came across my Zpad - last used about three years ago - and out of curiosity, plugged it in to charge.

It was slow to charge, but it got there

even if the clock was a little out.

I found I hadn't wiped it since last using it, so I wiped it to reveal the factory default desktop

I left it unplugged overnight, to see if the battery still would hold some charge the machine still powered on the next morning.

Of course, the world has moved on, and it is so hilariously out of date as to be useless for all practical purposes, so I guess it's a trip to the e-Waste centre ...

Friday, 6 November 2020

Scanners scanners everywhere ...

 A few weeks ago I wrote about the advent of cheap camera based  book scanners.

Well, I was in our local post office this morning collecting a package, and guess what, they had one of these fixed focal length scanners setup on the counter.

Our post office does document and id checks and processes all sorts of official business as well as the mail, so it makes sense - when I noticed the device one of the clerks was in the middle of scanning someone's drivers licence in connection with their passport renewal.

Interesting to see how the pandemic has made even the business of government increasingly digital ...

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Adventures in calendar land

 I am very dependent on Thunderbird.

I work on a number of machines, Windows 10 (mostly) Linux (sometimes) and OS X (more rarely than I used to) and I use gmail as mail service and google's calendar to manage appointments.

And, while I'm retired and my calendar is not as stuffed with meetings and things as it used to be, lockdown has embiggened it a bit with scheduled video calls, sometimes across timezones.

Thunderbird has the advantage of working across all the three platforms I use, meaning (a) I don't have to think too hard and (b) I can maintain a degree of consistency.

All good. I've tried (and even paid for) some alternative email clients, but at the end of the day I always come back to Thunderbird. Clunky but reliable - kind of like my 20 year old Impreza.

So, yesterday morning, I fired up Thunderbird to check my mail and see what was on for the day.

No calendar. Thunderbird had upgraded itself overnight and disabled the bit of magic 'Provider for Google Calendar' that makes it work with Google calendar due to incompatibilities,

I was not happy

but as you can see, later on in the day, the problem fixed itself.

But for a time I was without a calendar solution. So, being a tinkerer at heart, I tried some other things


It might well work well, but there's something rather screwy about my outlook installation, in that it won't let me add my gmail account. It's not just me, there's quite a number of people on the various Microsoft fora with the same problem, and the fix most likely needs some registry wrangling.

Life is too short and I had things to do, so I left it there.

One Calendar

Not a Microsoft product but a product from a company in the Netherland that claims to handle multiple calendars from multiple providers. Useful if you have to work across a number of different teams using different calendars.

It's a paid for application, but there's a free version, which worked well as a stopgap, but wouldn't let you print, or do a couple of other things without ponying up.

The interface was bit block and tile like, reminiscent of Windows 8 or Windows phone, but it worked.

Microsoft's Windows 10 Calendar application

I hadn't tried this before, because, hey, I use Thunderbird, but it worked impressively well, with a nice full screen view, handled timezones, and let me do all I wanted . Surprisingly good in fact

Yesterday wasn't a linux day, so I didn't look at alternatives. I have used Orage and Evolution in the past, and Evolution is definitely the more serious product. It was however an OS X day, and I can report that the standard Mac desktop calendar app did the job.

And then mysteriously it fixed itself. I don't know why, I'm guessing the update process got a little out of step, but that's just supposition on my part.

However, what I have learned is that if someone ever gives me a Windows 10 S machine and tells me not to do the one time change, there are standard bundled apps that will let me do my job ...

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Old machines and education

 Way back in May, I wrote about how (a) old machines had vanished off of the second hand market, and (b) why taking an older, less suitable machine, and sticking linux on it was a bad idea.

Not that it won't revive the machine and make it useful, but that it comes with a support cost.

Basically, being a fully paid up geek, and someone who has played with multiple operating systems for years, I can cope with using just about anything. 

That's fine for me, but it's unrealistic to expect a teacher, with no experience of linux, to cope with student using open source products to do their work, or be able to fully support the student.

Basically it would be sink or swim.

To work, online learning needs a predictable environment that gives a degree of standardization. There's no reason why you couldn't standardize on linux, but you need to plan it properly. (Huayra linux from Argentina is an example of what can be achieved with an education focused distribution)

Windows and OS X both offer predictable environments and ones where one can assume the presence of certain browsers - edge and safari respectively and the presence of some standard applications. The joy of linux means you can't do that - while there are a lot of components in common, various distributions are different enough to complicate things, and as I showed some time back, if you are using an older revived machine, you may be using a less than mainstream distribution.

So my heart sank when I saw an article in the Register about taking an early 2007 vintage Macbook (one of the early intel based machines - the article doesn't make that entirely clear) and sticking Elementary OS on it.

Actually, I'm lying when I said my heart sank - I actually thought it would be a fun thing to do, well except that no one's selling polycarbonate Macs on ebay in Australia for fifty bucks - more like a $150, and that's too much for a fun project.

But reviving a machine is only the start of it - if you provide it to someone you need to provide some support, and if you have multiple linux's which do you support?

Consider the start menu. In Xubuntu it's at the top left. Gnome or KDE distributions usually have it at the bottom left, and OpenBox based distros like Bunsen Labs prefer you to right click on the desktop.

Nothing wrong with any of them, but a nightmare to support.

So while I'm all in favour of reviving old machines by running linux on them - basically there are social and environmental positives in doing so, I'm well aware of the support costs involved and why, to succeed, any project needs to have a carefully thought out end user support plan ...