Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Darned docx and other trials and tribulations...

I have been doing a lot of beta testing in an attempt to get on top of the new OS versions coming out (Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2). I am going to have to do a lot of work in them once they release, so I felt it important to work on the different features while they were in beta, so if I needed support there'd be lots of it.

And I know that once WSS goes into beta, I will be very distracted with testing that and no longer spending time on the OS's.

When I beta test an OS, I spend a lot of time building various iterations of virtual machines containing different types of installs and configurations. Also, I tend to spend a lot of time on the desktop of said OS, installing things, doing work, trying to see what works, what breaks, and what's significantly changed.

This also means that, while I am on these desktops, life goes on. I get emails with attachments, read the newsgroups, etc.

But, because those test machines, no matter what I do on them, can be wiped at any time and reloaded, I need to avoid installing anything that takes a lot of time, or requires a lot of licensing.

This means that I tend to avoid installing Office, because of the need to activate. Even Word Viewer is rather annoying because I have to install it, then the darned file converter-- and still it can't seem to open all docx files cleanly.

So what happens when I am working on one of those test machines and I receive an email with a docx attachment?

Well, I can pay for, download, and install a docx converter. That works pretty well. But that means that the file is now a .doc file, and I can't save it as a docx file to send it back (like the case of an application-- in docx of course-- that I had to fill out and send back, pronto).

I tried open office, I tried star office, abiword, and google apps. No such luck.

Then I stumbled upon a simple online word processor that I'd tested years and years ago, along side Writely (which was bought by Google)-- Zoho Writer.

Simple, innocent Zoho Writer, not fast, not elegant, can easily open and save docx files without fuss. Yes, some of the formatting is lost, but most of it, the parts that count, stay.

So if you absolutely, positively have to open that file and read it (and even edit it) right away-- then zoho writer (http://www.zohowriter.com/) might be the choice for you.

((and it's also nice because I don't need to install anything, anywhere. it's all online, so if I can activate the machine, I can read those pesky attachments))

It's those little things we find that become the most useful. Especially if those things are free, which zohowriter is.

Speaking of free, and things that can be installed easily on machines that may be wiped and reinstalled at will-- I also have been messing with portable apps (http://portableapps.com/). I've known about them for a while, but really didn't get into them that much because I often work with virtual machines that don't support removable USB drives and the like. But Windows 7 has driven me to it.

I am not really against IE8, but it is really, really slow to download anything. And, in their infinite wisdom, MS has removed the built-in email, calendar, and newsgroups client from Windows 7. So if I want to have those things to use, I am encouraged to install Windows Live, which I really don't like.

So Windows 7 doesn't have email, calendar, contacts, or newsgroups capability. And IE8 is an okay browser, but really bites for download management.

What's a grrl to do?

Why download the portableapps suite of course. It contains, among other things, a portable version of Abiword (a simple word processor), Mozilla Firefox (which has a download manager), Thunderbird (email), Sunbird (calendar), as well as a Sumatra the PDF reader, Clamwin (a simple antivirus program- no realtime protection though), CoolPlayer + (a media player), and even some games.

The point of portable apps is they are to be installed and run from an external drive or USB stick. That way you can save stuff, pop out the stick (or detach the drive), go to the next machine, and use it from there. Nothing left behind on the other machine except the portableapps menu app.

You can also add a bunch of other apps to the menu for your use-- all open source of course. I personally love and use Audacity, as well as VLC media player. There are literally dozens of useful, small, free apps that you can have access to at a moments notice from any machine running Windows.

For those of you who work with VMs that don't support USB devices, I just created a vhd file as a "second drive." I add it to the machine I need for, and remove it when I am done. Then, if I need it for a different machine, I add it before booting up. I can't hot swap, it's true, but it still works as far as not losing anything. Just remember to save files to the portable apps drive, not to the local "My Documents" (why is the "My" back with Windows 7? Who wanted that?). That way they go with you to the other machine when you move the drive.

Now I know that none of this has anything directly to do with WSS, but they're still nifty things that I thought I might share, for those of you who might find them handy.