Donated laptop for Hebrew/Russian user

More fun at work setting up computers as gifts to local people.

Today in between usual jobs I have to do at work as the IT systems admin of a charity here in Jerusalem, I was setting up this Compaq Presario 2100 laptop I blogged on previously on replacing the DVD drive. This same computer came into my workshop as the staff member replaced it with a newer Toshiba, and this machine is to be a gift for our cleaning lady who is originally from Russia.

This lady hasn’t got her own PC, and told us she had been praying she could get a computer given to her somehow.  So we are looking forward to surprising her later this week. 🙂

To start with I needed to take a Ghost image of this system in case any files got lost.   It turned itself off part way.  Bah.   Turned out it had overheated.   I stripped it down and found that the fan inside was clogged up with dust, there was a wall of fluff so the fan was turning but no air could escape out of the system. After pulling out the heatsink and fan assembly and blasting some canned air into it, some big balls of fluff came out of it, and once clean I put it back together.  I managed to do a full back up off everything on the hard disk.   This computer is pretty old now being a 2004 model, but it has a 2800 AMD Athlon processor, so performance is quite good actually.

Next was to install Windows.   I found a copy of Windows XP home Hebrew edition in a drawer, I made a duplicate of the CD and merged in Service Pack 3 for XP into it and burned a new copy of the CD.  I used the normal XP home licence code on the sticker on the bottom of the Compaq.

This is interesting as our cleaning lady doesn’t speak much English, she speaks Russian and Hebrew only.   For me installing XP hebrew version is a little interesting.   After formatting the hard disk etc, everything seems to be like normal Windows XP in English, once the computer does its first reboot, it will show the “35 minutes left to install” in Hebrew.  The rest of the install I can do from memory as I have installed XP enough times to know roughly which menu features do what.

Once installed, up comes the familiar desktop with the grassy hill background, but with the Start button on the right.   Everything is back to front as Hebrew is a right to left language.   I am doing everything else from memory here,  I put on all the Windows updates which took about an hour.   All the drivers go on after this.

Laptop pimpin’

This particular type work I do is quite fun as I get to use creativity in setting up the equipment for user so they can work with no hassle.

If you remember the TV show ‘pimp my ride’ where car modification specialists adapt and improve and tired and shabby vehicle of a viewer of the show, they write in complaining their car is old and jaded and would like to be considered to be the subject of the show.  Usually around $30,000 is spent on a car worth virtually nothing to start with. Part of the charm of the show is the outlandish over the top extras done such as 8 TV screens set into the interior.  Of course this particular business that has the team of vehicle technicians do actually have customers in posh parts of California with vast amounts of disposable income purely for aesthetic make overs for their cars.

Here in my workshop I enjoy pimping out  old computers, generally tune and tweak things for performance and usability.   I also try and reuse second hand parts where possible, usually I prefer to buy new parts such as cooling fans and batteries as used versions of these components are never any good, so everything can be done as cost effective as possible.  I always use a lot of open source software which is free and doesn’t have unreasonable and complex licence agreements.

This particular system I have worked on is based around this lady’s background, and as Russian is her mother tongue, I put on the Hebrew version of Firefox, and also installed a Russian version of ‘portable’ Firefox.   This particular version of this popular browser (70+ languages are supported) is meant to be installed on a USB stick.   This means two versions can be put on together.  There is also two versions of OpenOffice, using a standard version and portable version.

Hebrew Firefox with Lion of tribe of Judah theme!!!

Russian Firefox with Tetris type church theme 🙂

Sadly it doesn’t seem both apps can be run at the same time, but don’t think this is too much of an issue.

As well as a simple Compaq wallpaper from the internet, I set the Firefox background themes to fit in nicely for each version of the browser 🙂

Software installed:- Windows XP home with Service Pack 3, Internet Explorer 8 (as not a great browser its just on for security updates) Media Player 11, VLC player 1.12, Mozilla Firefox 3.6.8 Hebrew version, Mozilla Firefox 3.6.8 Portable Russian version, Open Office 3.2 Hebrew version, Open Office 3.2 Portable Russian version, Adobe Acrobat 9.3, Google Earth, Free AVG 9.0, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and lastly Infrarecorder CD/DVD burning app which has support for Hebrew language.

Of course all the security is tightened up with Internet Explorer icons removed, all Windows updates on, AVG 9 does the job nicely and Malwarebytes is good for scanning for more complex threats – albeit has the to be run manually once in a while.

All software installed is legally licenced and has cost the grand total of zero. 🙂

Only slight negative points of this computer is the silver paint on the palm rest is a little scratched, the battery doesn’t work for more than 5 minutes and there is no onboard wireless card.   I think I will go with a cheap USB wireless stick if she needs this access.

Now just need to give this computer a clean and could benefit from some Hebrew/Russian keyboard stickers for its new owner.

Firefox 4 first impressions / fix your old extensions to work on newer Firefox

Skip downwards if you don’t want to read geek stuff 🙂

I found out the beta of Firefox 4 came out today so I thought I would try it.

Where as Google’s Chrome is getting more and more popular, Firefox is stil popular choice for domestic web browsing, and contrary to stuffy IT managers I have seen that force everyone to stick to IE6 because of compatibility concerns, despite being dangerously flawed could be negligent to their customer’s data, it can be configured for performance, security and compatibility for any business.  Awkward web based apps that rely on Internet Explorer can be run using the IE Tab extension which makes setting up scripts for just those troublesome sites a breeze.  Generally users take to it and the user interface is close enough to IE for the adapt without too much trouble.  Sometimes I have to explain to users how tabs work but they are normally pretty happy.   The other reason for me why Firefox is king is how the Windows, Linux and Mac versions are similar enough to provide consistency in use and many of the extension work on all three environments, add to that this application is available in numerous languages, and you have a really stellar example how open source software can give you the freedom to make applications work the way you want.

I have to say, the Mozilla do tend to market Firefox like a bunch of hippies in a VW van selling organic soup or something, great but the stuffy IT managers of big businesses are not going to be convinced by it.  They really need an extra separate marketing campaign to get ordinary businesses using it for general browsing, and highlight the dangers of Internet Explorer’s dangerously flawed ActiveX system where uninvited nasties are free to get on a PC even if the user doesn’t have administrator rights nor are on web sites over a dubious nature.  Where as techs like me are always having to reimage PCs messed up by viruses and malware from an outdated browser.

So far I have only had about 2 hours worth of time to test drive Firefox 4, because it is a Beta, a mostly complete prototype not ready for primetime, you will find none of your extensions will work.  If you are a developer or just plain impatient, heres some tricks for you to get up and running.

New features on FF4 (I am doing this without cheating and looking on the web, just from obvious things I can see from the browser installing on my machine)
Aesthetics – the user interface has changed so the tabs are at the top, similar style to Chrome.  Gone are the odd shaped green circular back/forward buttons, and more neater buttons take their place.  Actually the newer animated clock things for waiting for a page to redraw look naff, please bring the 3.6 ones!!
Extensions/Add ons system appears to be completely revamped.
Inspect and Heads up display – seems to be diagnostic tools for developers to see the HTML code that makes up a web browser.
So far that is all I can see, but I expect there’s a lot of fine tuning for performance and stability below the skin.

Of course, as I am support and network administrator guy, I look at things from a different angle that my fellow IT peers who are web developers, so there is plenty of other features I am missing out here.

Running Firefox in commercial environment really is pretty simple and hassle free, security is good and users are warned if security certificates seem inconsistent.   As always I would refrain from rolling out the major updates, so not to break any extensions you may have, but when the browser updates itself from say, 3.6.4 to 3.6.6 as it did for my users, this is always done discretely in the background and doesn’t interfere with users work.  Compare that how horribly clumsy and awkward another application like Adobe Acrobat screams at you to do updates when you just want to view a darn PDF in a hurry.   I don’t know if Firefox can be forced out in a business environment using Active Directory type tools, this would be worth thinking about if anyone in Mozilla is reading this.

Some critics say Firefox is bloated and eats lots of memory, all I can say is that I have installed it on lots of different machines and rarely get into this problem.  Excessive memory consumption is likely to be down to lots of extensions loaded or stuck bits Java or flash residing in memory.  I would recommend you get the excellent free Ccleaner registry clean up tool and run it every now and then.  If your PC is never rebooted and runs 24/7 like a lot of other apps you will run out of memory every now and then.  Heck I was using an ancient 1999 model Toshiba Satellite 4090 laptop until 2007 running Firefox 2 on only 192Mb of RAM and with more than 3 tabs it would choke every now and then and wasn’t fast, but generally Firefox copes with elderly PCs quite well if the machine is properly configured.

Anyway my other talk here was I learnt from a while back how to trick Firefox into making your extensions work if they refused to load as they intended for an older version of Firefox, perhaps the main moan point for me, as third party developers are a bit slow in keeping up with the new versions for this browser.

These are my favourite extensions
IE Tab 2 – renders sites in Internet Explorer, great for poorly maintained web sites written for specific browsers
British English Dictionary – spell checker (works the same as MS Word) that underlines unrecognised words whilst you are writing text on a blog/twitter/facebook/forum or some kind.
Foxytunes – remote control to use iTunes/Windows Media Player/Youtube/VLC player at the bottom of your browser – Note I was surprised to have found out tonight Foxytunes is written by Israeli developers and now owned by Yahoo.
Resurrect pages – Finds cached copies of deleted web pages on a server.  Seen a blog with something interesting but controversial that got taken down?  Normally you can use this to find it again.

Warning, using Beta test software should not be done in a live commercial environment as the software is not fully tested.  Add on the fact I have interfered with the extensions to ‘force’ them to work, that is, remove a compatibility safety feature that will make the browser refuse to load on preventing a possible crash.   I am using standard old Windows XP SP3, but this should be the same for Windows or Linux users with equivalent tools.  Do this at your own risk.

1. Download the required extension you want, but you need to right click and choose ‘save as’ as we want to save it as a normal file with the extension XPI to change something.  Notice here this app is labelled as only compatible with upto version 3.6 of Firefox. (the most newest stable version today July 2010)

2. Once this is done, you then need to drag and drop the XPI file onto Winzip.   I am not a fan of Winzip as its bloated and awkward, but the equivalent apps don’t work so well for this type of job, Winzip isn’t free of course but the trial version is good enough for what we want to do.

3. Drag out one of the files off Winzip which is embedded in the XPI file, one should be called ‘install.rdf’ save this somewhere safe.

4. Next, drag and drop this file into a text editor like Notepad.

5. This looks like a lot of meaningless script only understandable by a programmer, but where it says ‘max version’ and 3.6.* change this to 4.0.* and then save the file.

6. Put this file back in the Zip file.    This hack XPI extension can now be dragged over onto your Firefox browser main window, and restart the browser when prompted to.

If something goes wrong? Firefox not starting?   If Firefox then crashes, you will have to start it in safe mode [start > all programs > Mozilla Firefox > Firefox (safe mode)]  will get you out of trouble, then disable the last extension you installed.   So far, all of the above four extensions were hacked by me this way and all work fine.

If you are having some problems with a favourite Firefox extension and need some support, I will gladly offer some help and maybe adjust your extension for you, contact me on my normal contact form.   A small donation would appreciated as I am a volunteer IT tech just blogging on IT and places I see at a charity in Israel.