Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Speed up Firefox

Use these hack to speed up your Firefox browser
Firefox Hacks


I used the first 3 hacks and WOW what an improvement!! Use the other hacks with caution.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Service disables laptops with text message

Lenovo service disables laptops with text message
By Agam Shah

If a laptop is lost, now there is a new way to remotely shut it down -- just text it.

Lenovo plans to announce on Tuesday the Constant Secure Remote Disable service, allowing users to remotely disable a PC by sending a text message. Users also receive a confirmation text message that validates the disabling of a PC.

"You steal my PC and ... if I can deliver a signal to that PC that turns it off, hey, I'm good now," said Stacy Cannady, product manager of security at Lenovo.

A user can send a text message -- also called the kill command -- from a specified cell phone number to kill a PC. Each ThinkPad can be paired with up to 10 cell phones, and the service works over wireless networks that support the SMS (short message service) standard.

A lost or stolen laptop must have a working cellular data card and a paid data plan with a carrier for the remote disable service to work, Cannady said.

The system is targeted at consumers who are worried about their laptops getting stolen. For business users it enforces compliance issues, as users get a receipt back and ensure their laptop is safe.

To reactivate the disabled PC, a user needs to enter the pre-set passcode after the notebook is restarted, Cannady said. The laptop software works with the carrier-based software to disable the computer.

The software will be available free from Lenovo's Web site. It will also be available on certain ThinkPad notebooks equipped with mobile broadband starting in the first half of 2009.

Lenovo worked with Phoenix Technologies to develop the service.
AIDS.gov - World AIDS Day 2008

December 1, 2008 will mark the twentieth World AIDS Day. AIDS.gov is planning a number of activities to recognize this important day - we invite you to join us!

The need to respond to HIV/AIDS continues: worldwide the estimated number of people living with HIV is over 33 million; in the U.S., an estimated one million Americans are living with HIV.
Facing AIDS web badge 5 Ways to Take Action for World AIDS Day
  1. Join "Facing AIDS for World AIDS Day" - A Social Network Anti-Stigma and HIV Testing Campaign

  2. Participate in "Bloggers Unite on World AIDS Day" - A Blogging Call to Action

  3. Promote HIV Testing - via Text Messaging or Online

  4. Attend the World AIDS Day Event in Second Life - Presentations, Displays, and More

  5. Share the CDC's New HIV Incidence Data - Numbers are Higher than Originally Thought
Thank you for your support. Together, we can make a difference!





Monday, November 24, 2008

Motivational Monday

Sooner or later, those who win are those who think they can.
(Richard Bach)

Happiness is based on your perceptions of circumstances and events. You can't change circumstances, but you can change your perceptions.
(Annaliesa Tomac)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More computing Horsepower

From -- Great Lakes IT report


Altair software manages 600-teraflop computer for NASA
Troy-based Altair Engineering Inc. Wednesday announced that the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., has entrusted workload management of its huge new Pleiades cluster to Altair's PBS Professional software. Pleiades, an cluster with 51,200 cores across 12,800 Intel Xeon processors and 51 terabytes (trillions of bytes) of memory, has 609 teraflops (trillions of calculations per second) of peak processing power. According to a recent benchmarking that's good for No. 3 on the list of the world's fastest supercomputing systems. More.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jerry Yang, Yahoo Chief, to Step Down

Jerry Yang, Yahoo Chief, to Step Down

Yahoo said Monday evening that Jerry Yang, who helped build the company from
an early directory of Web sites into a sprawling Internet giant, would step
down from his role as chief executive after the company finds a replacement.

Read More:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/nov/18/yahoo-yahoo

Monday, November 17, 2008

8 reasons tech isn't dead . . . yet

8 reasons tech isn't dead . . . yet

Short-term outlook is critical, but most experts predict a recovery by 2010
By Carolyn Duffy Marsan

The global economy is in as bad shape as we've ever seen. In the last two months, U.S. consumers have stopped spending money on discretionary items, including electronic gear, prompting this week's bankruptcy filing by Circuit City. Retailers are worried that Black Friday will indeed be black, as holiday shoppers cut back on spending and choose lower-priced cell phones and notebook computers.

Yet despite all of the bailouts and layoffs, most IT industry experts are predicting that sales of computer hardware, software and services will be growing at a healthy clip again within 18 months.

Here's a synopsis of what experts are saying about the short- and long-term prognosis for the tech industry:

How the heavyweights are faring

Company Q108 Rev Q208 Rev Q308 Rev
AT&T $30.7B 6.1% from previous year
Announced April 22, 2008
$30.9B 4.7% from previous year
Announced July 23, 2008

$31.3B 4% from previous year Announced October 22, 2008

HP

$28.5B 13% from previous year
Announced February 19, 2008

$28.3B 11% from previous year
Announced May 20, 2008

$28.0B 10% from previous year Announced August 19, 2008

IBM $24.6B 11% from previous year
Announced April 16, 2008
$26.8B 13% from previous year
Announced July 17, 2008
$25.3B 5% from previous year
Pre-announced October 8, 2008
Verizon $23.8B 5.5% from previous year
Announced April 28, 2008
$24.1B 3.7% from previous year
Announced July 28, 2008
$24.8 billion 4% from previous year
Announced October 27, 2008
Dell

Q109 Rev
$16.1B
9% from previous year*
Announced May 29, 2008

Q209 Rev
$16.4B
11% from previous year*
Announced August 28, 2008

Q309 Rev
Expected in November 2008*
*Dell operates on a different fiscal year.

Microsoft

Q308 Rev
$14.45B No change from previous year
Announced April 24, 2008

Q208 Rev
$16.37B
30% from previous year*
Announced January 24, 2008

Q408 Rev
$15.84B
18% from previous year*
Announced July 17, 2008

Q109 Rev
$15B
9% from previous year
Announced October 23, 2008

*Microsoft operates on a different fiscal year.

Time Warner $11.42B 2% from previous year $11.6B 5% from previous year
Announced August 6, 2008
$11.7B No change from previous year
Announced November 5, 2008
Sprint Nextel $8B 9% from previous year
Announced May 12, 2008
$9.1B 11% from previous year
Announced August 6, 2008
$8.8B 12% from previous year
Announced November 7, 2008
Intel $9.7B 9% from previous year
Announced April 15, 2008
$9.5B 9% from previous year
Announced July 15, 2008
$10.2B 5% from previous year
Announced October 14, 2008
Motorola $7.45B 21% from previous year
Announced April 24, 2008
$8.1B 7% from previous year
Announced July 31, 2008
$7.5B 15.1% from previous year
Announced October 30, 2008
Cisco

Q308 Rev
$9.8B
10.4% from previous year
Announced May 6, 2008

Q408 Rev
$10.4B
10% from previous year*
Announced August 5, 2008

Q109 Rev
$10.3B
8.1% from previous year*
Announced November 5, 2008

*Cisco operates on a different fiscal year.

Comcast $8.39B 13.5% from previous year
Announced May 1, 2008
$8.6B 11% from previous year
Announced July 30, 2008
$8.55B 10% from previous year
Announced October 29, 2008
Apple

Q208*
$7.51B
42.8% from previous year*
Announced April 23, 2008

Q308*
$7.5B
38% from previous year*
Announced July 21, 2008

Q408*
$7.9B
27% from previous year*
Announced July 21, 2008

*Apple operates on a different fiscal year.

EDS $5.37B 3% from previous year
Announced April 24, 2008
$5.62B 3% from previous year
Announced July 28, 2008
EDS was acquired by HP on August 26, 2008
Oracle

Q108 to Q308 Rev
$5.6B
21% from previous year*

Q408 Rev
$7.2B
24% from previous year*
Announced June 25, 2008

Q109 Rev
$5.3B
18% from previous year*
Announced September 18, 2008

*Oracle operates on a different fiscal year.

Google $5.19B 42% from previous year
Announced April 17, 2008
$5.37B 39% from previous year
Announced July 17, 2008

$5.54B 31% over Q307
Announced October 16, 2008

CSC

Q108 to Q308 Rev
$$4.5B
11% from previous year

Q408 Rev
$4.5B
11% from previous year*
Announced May 21, 2008

Q109 Rev
$4.4B
16% from previous year*
Announced August 5, 2008

*CSC operates on a different fiscal year.

Sun

Q308 Rev
$3.27B
0.5 % from previous year*
Announced May 1, 2008

Q408 Rev
$3.8B
1.4% from previous year*
Announced August 1, 2008

Q109 Rev
$2.99B
7.1% from previous year*
Announced October 30, 2008

*Sun operates on a different fiscal year.

Qwest $3.4B 1.4% from previous year
Announced May 6, 2008
$3.4B 2% from previous year
Announced August 6, 2008
$3.38B 2% from previous year
Announced October 29, 2008
EMC $$3.47B 17% from previous year
Announced April 23, 2008
$3.7B 18% from previous year
Announced July 23, 2008
$3.7B 13% from previous year
Announced October 22, 2008

1. The global IT market is still growing, although barely.

IDC this week recast its projections for global IT spending in 2009, forecasting that the market will grow 2.6% next year instead of the 5.9% predicted prior to the financial crisis. In the United States, IT spending will eke out 0.9% growth.

IDC predicts the slowest IT markets will be the United States, Japan and Western Europe, which all will experience around 1% growth. The healthiest economies will be in Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

Similarly, Gartner's worst-case scenario for 2009 is that IT spending will increase 2.3%, according to a report released in mid-October. Gartner said the U.S. tech industry will be flat. Hardest hit will be Europe, where IT expenditures are expected to shrink in 2009.

Overall, Gartner said global IT spending will reach $3.8 trillion in 2008, up from $3.15 trillion in 2007.

"We expect a gradual recovery throughout 2010, and by 2011 we should be back into a more normal kind of environment," said IDC Analyst Stephen Minton. If the recession turns out to be deeper or last longer than four quarters as most economics expect, "it could turn into a contraction in IT spending," Minton added. "In that case, the IT market would still be weak in 2010 but we'd see a gradual recovery in 2011, and we'd be back to normal by 2012."

2. It's not as bad as 2001.

Even the grimmest predictions for global IT spending during the next two years aren't as severe as the declines the tech industry experienced between 2001 and 2003.

"Global economic problems are impacting IT budgets, however the IT industry will not see the dramatic reductions that were seen during the dot.com bust. . . . At that time, budgets were slashed from mid-double-digit growth to low-single-digit growth," Gartner said in a statement.

Gartner said the reason IT won't suffer as badly in 2009 as it did during the 2001 recession is that "operations now view IT as a way to transform their businesses and adopt operating models that are leaner. . . . IT is embedded in running all aspects of the business."

IDC's Minton said that in 2001 many companies had unused data center capacity, excess network bandwidth and software applications that weren't integrated in a way that could drive productivity.

"This time around, none of that is true," Minton said. "Today, there isn't a glut of bandwidth. There is high utilization of software applications, which are purchased in a more modular way and integrated much faster into business operations. Unlike in 2001, companies aren't waking up to find that they should be cutting back on IT spending. They're only cutting back on new initiatives because of economic conditions."

"We're anxious about whether the economy will resemble what the most pessimistic economists are saying or the more mainstream economists," Minton said. "But we don't see any reason that it will turn into a disaster like 2001. It shouldn’t get anywhere near that bad."

3. Consumers won't give up their cell phones.

They may lose their jobs and even their homes, but consumers seem unwilling to disconnect their cell phones.

"I would sleep in my car before I would give up my mobile phone," says Yankee Group Analyst Carl Howe. "Consumers buy services like broadband and mobile phones, and even if they lose their jobs they need these services more than ever."

Yankee Group says the demand for network-based services -- what it dubs "The Anywhere Economy" -- will overcome the short-term obstacles posed by the global financial crisis and will be back on track for significant growth by 2012.

Yankee Group predicts continued strong sales for basic mobile phone services at the low end, as well as high-end services such as Apple iPhones and Blackberry Storms. Where the mobile market will get squeezed is in the middle, where many vendors have similar feature sets. One advantage for mobile carriers: they have two-year contracts locked in.

Telecom services "are not quite on the level of food, shelter and clothing, but increasingly it satisfies a deep personal need," Howe says. "When bad things happen to us, we want to talk about it. And in today's world, that's increasingly done electronically."

4. Notebook computers are still hot.

Worldwide demand for notebooks -- particularly the sub-$500 models -- has been strong all year. But that may change in the fourth quarter given Intel's latest warnings about flagging demand for its processors.

Both IDC and Gartner reported that PC shipments grew 15% in the third quarter of 2008, driven primarily by sales of low-cost notebook computers. Altogether, more than 80 million PCs were shipped during the third quarter of 2008, which was down from estimates earlier in the year but still represents healthy growth.

IDC said notebook sales topped desktop sales -- 55% to 45% -- for the first time ever during the third quarter of 2008. This is a trend that will help prop up popular notebook vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Apple. Apple, for example, saw its Mac shipments rise 32% in the third quarter of 2008, powered primarily by its notebooks.

The big unknown is what will happen to notebook sales during the holiday season. Analysts have noted sluggishness in U.S. corporate PC sales this fall as well as home sales, where most demand is for ultra-low-priced notebooks.

"The impact will come this quarter. People will be looking for cheaper products. . . . They will not be spending as much as they did a year ago," IDC's Minton said.

Intel said yesterday that it was seeing significantly weaker demand across its entire product line and dropped its revenue forecast for the fourth quarter by $1 billion.

The brunt of the slowdown in IT spending will hit servers and PCs, predicts Forrester Research analyst Andrew Bartels. Forrester is adjusting its IT spending forecast for 2009 downward, and plans to release new numbers after Thanksgiving, he adds.

"PCs and servers may see declines similar to 2001, but we're not going to be seeing that across the whole tech industry," Bartels says. "Software is a bright spot. Much of software spending comes in the form of maintenance and subscriptions. The licensing part may go down, but that's only a quarter of total software revenues."

5. Telecom carriers are cutting back, but not dramatically.

The biggest U.S. carriers -- including AT&T and Verizon -- are in much better shape going into this recession than they were during the dot.com bust. So while consumer spending will fall in 2009, it is expected to have less of an impact on the telecom sector than it did after 2001.

Yankee Group says the financial crisis will not significantly impact network build-outs by carriers because most of the financing for 3G, Fios, WiMAX and other next-generation networks is already in place.

"These are multibillion-dollar build-outs, and most of the financing has been arranged months if not years in advance," Yankee Group's Howe says. "We were projecting that in 2009 carriers would spend over $70 billion on these network build-outs in the U.S. Now we're saying that there will be $2 billion or $3 billion less in spending. . . . We're talking single-digit percentage declines, not wholesale cuts."

This doesn't mean that the network industry will emerge from the chaos unscathed. Carriers will squeeze their equipment providers, and companies like Cisco are already feeling the pinch. When Cisco announced its latest earnings last week, CEO John Chambers reported the company had seen its sales shift from solid-single-digit growth in August to a 9% decline in October.

Forrester says computer and communications equipment vendors will bear the brunt of IT cost-cutting from enterprise customers.

6. Corporate data storage needs keep rising during recessions.

Every segment of the IT market is weaker today than it was six months ago. But some segments are less weak than others, and one of the healthiest is storage.

“Storage is relatively stable because of the fact that companies are using a lot more of their storage capacity and they are still dealing with an increasing amount of data that requires storage on a weekly basis. That’s not going to change,” IDC’s Minton said. “It’s not just the hardware, but the storage software that will be relative bright spots in the years ahead.”

One storage industry bellwether is EMC, which continued to demonstrate strong demand for storage hardware and software in its recent quarterly results. EMC’s revenue grew 13% in the third quarter of 2008 compared to a year ago. Unlike many other network industry leaders, EMC is projecting continued revenue gains in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Similarly, this week Brocade issued a preliminary release indicating strong sales for the quarter ending in October. CEO Michael Klayko said the company will outperform its sales projections from August 2008.

“Storage needs are on the rise, and storage investments will continue,” Forrester’s Bartels says. “We don’t see cloud storage as having a meaningful impact yet.”

7. New IT markets will continue to emerge, although more slowly.

Emerging economies such as China and Latin America are slowing down, but they are still expected to have IT sales increases in 2009. The Latin American market, in particular, is a solid one for IT companies such as IBM, HP and Microsoft, which have a strong foothold south of the border.

“In the past two to three years, Latin America has had some of the fastest growth rates in IT spending,” IDC’s Minton said. “Brazil is the biggest market, and it has been growing at double digits. But all of the markets in Latin America have been growing by more than 10% a year. With some exceptions, the economies there are relatively stable and have had less political turmoil than in the past. . . . This is one of the regions that we think will bounce back pretty quickly.”

Other emerging markets that will continue to post growth in IT spending in 2009 are Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, IDC predicts. While these markets won’t experience double-digit gains next year, they will help offset sharp declines in IT purchasing in the United States, Japan and Western Europe.

Forrester warns that IT vendors shouldn’t count on so-called BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- to bail them out of the financial crisis altogether.

“The BRIC markets are performing better than the industrial markets, but they are also slowing down,” Forrester’s Bartels says. “Among those markets, China looks to be the strongest, then Brazil and Mexico. Russia is weakening, and India is weakening. They’re not going to go into a contraction, but the growth rates could slow to the point that they feel like a contraction.”

One issue for IT vendors is the rising strength of the U.S. dollar, which means U.S. tech vendors will bring home fewer dollars from their foreign sales when they convert currencies.

“The dollar has been strengthening against every currency except the Chinese currency,” Bartels says. “Even if a vendor is successful in sales in Brazil or Russia, they will bring back fewer dollars, which was not the case six months ago.”

8. Outsourcing helps companies stretch their IT budgets.

Many companies will freeze new IT initiatives for the next three to six months as they absorb the Wall Street crash. But one segment that’s likely to continue is IT outsourcing because it provides near-term cost reductions.

“While IT outsourcing will benefit from an economic slowdown in 2008 as companies turn to IT outsourcing vendors to help cut costs, trends toward use of lower-cost offshore resources and smaller-scale outsourcing deals will keep growth modest,” says Forrester Research.

Forrester predicts IT outsourcing will grow around 5% in 2009 and 2010.

“When you sign an outsourcing agreement, you’re locked into it barring going out of business,” Forrester’s Bartels says. “Outsourcing revenues are not going to be variable.”

On the horizon is cloud computing, which also holds the promise of reducing corporate IT overhead but requires more up-front spending than outsourcing.

“Over the longer term, we’re pretty bullish about cloud computing,” IDC’s Minton said. “But there will be a lot of hurdles for a bigger corporation. It’s difficult for them psychologically to give up control, and there are quite a lot of up-front costs to engage consultants, to roll out applications to a large number of employees, and there’s training involved. But ultimately these projects save money.”

Motivational Monday

Persistence

“Remember…You can do wonders if you keep trying. You can cope with anything; you really can. IN-depth faith always wins over difficulties. Keep going strong with the excitement principle.”
~Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Friday, November 14, 2008

Its ALIVE...NASA's Spirit Rover


Controllers Cheer As Data Arrive From NASA's Spirit Rover

ScienceDaily (Nov. 14, 2008) — NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit communicated via the Mars Odyssey orbiter today right at the time when ground controllers had told it to, prompting shouts of "She's talking!" among the rover team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


"This means Spirit has not gone into a fault condition and is still being controlled by sequences we send from the ground," said John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project manager for Spirit and its twin, Opportunity.

The solar-powered rover still has low energy, a condition worsened by a dust storm in recent days. Today's communication confirmed that Spirit had received commands sent on Tuesday and that the battery charge had not fallen low enough to trigger a pre-programmed fault mode.

Callas said, "The baby is crying, which means it is healthy enough to communicate normally. Now we are analyzing the data we've received to determine what the next commands should be, but this is all good news."

Spirit has been operating on Mars for nearly five years in an exploration mission originally planned to last three months. The recent dust storm is clearing, but a coating of dust on Spirit's solar panels is reducing the rover's ability to generate electricity even when the sky is clear.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

GM names first black female director


GM names first black female director

Crystal Windham is the automaker's new leader of North American passenger car design.

By Robert Snell

General Motors Corp. named its first African-American female director of North American passenger car design Thursday.

Crystal Windham, 35, a lead designer of the award-winning Chevrolet Malibu, will oversee interior design of GM's global midsize, compact and small cars.

During her 14-year GM career, Windham has worked on assignments across several brand studios, including Adam Opel, the automaker's German subsidiary, from 1997-1998. Four years later, she was named design manager of interiors and worked on vehicles including the 2008 Malibu and 2007 Saturn Aura, and later managed design of advanced exteriors for full-size trucks.

The promotion is significant considering the auto industry has been slow to promote women and minorities to top jobs, said Marcela Fink, executive vice president of the Women's Automotive Association International, a Detroit-based nonprofit group.


"That's just fantastic. We're finally starting to catch up," Fink said Thursday. "It says a lot for our industry, to be able to make it in this industry, it's hard for women."

Windham is another high-profile minority appointment at GM. In 2003, Ed Welburn became the automaker's first African American design leader.

"As an interior designer, I create solutions and appealing spaces for customers," Windham said in a statement. "As a leader it's my job to foster creativity and ensure that creativity is represented in the final product. Our design vision, intent and integrity led us to create the best interiors in GM's history."

The promotion comes 18 months after Windham was named design manager of exteriors.

She has a bachelor's degree in industrial design from the College for Creative Studies and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Detroit-Mercy.

"A mentor guided me toward automotive design. Without guidance and support from family and co-workers, I wouldn't be where I am today," she said. "I truly love my job -- it's creative, expressive -- but it is not easy. Enjoying what you do, however, makes it all worthwhile. I hope other young women will look to what I have done and be inspired to consider automotive design."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

NPR: President Elect Obama's Plans for High Tech White House

Listen to the article here

Wichita State bowler earns Star of Tomorrow award

Wichita State bowler earns Star of Tomorrow award

2007BillyWeluRickiWilliams.jpg Ricki Williams was more than a little excited to hear the news she had won the United States Bowling Congress' Alberta E. Crowe Star of Tomorrow Award, a $6,000 scholarship that goes to a female high school senior or college student who competes in the sport.

"I was in my Spanish class and saw the number pop up on my cell phone and I ran out of class," Williams said of the call from USBC. When informed she had won the award, Williams said she "was speechless . I was so happy."

Williams attends Wichita State University and was a member of the Shockers team that won the 2007 USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships. She will complete her undergraduate degree in integrated marketing and communications in December and plans to start graduate school in January.

She was a member of Junior Team USA in 2008 and earned a spot on the 2009 team by finishing third at the 2008 Junior Gold Championships. She competed in the 2008 World Youth Championships in Orlando, Fla., finishing seventh in team, eighth in doubles, 36th in singles and 17th in all-events.

In addition to school and bowling on the Wichita State team, Williams also serves as a director on the Great Plains USBC. Marci Williams, president of the association, said Williams "not only attends our meetings but accepts and leads responsibilities such as our Web site redesign, hospitality committee and will be the driving force behind a youth scholarship tournament."

Williams is active on the Wichita State campus as a Student Ambassador and as a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

The Alberta E. Crowe Star of Tomorrow Award in presented annually to an athlete who shows star qualities such as distinguished bowling performances on the state and national level, academic achievement, and extra-curricular and community involvement.

Williams will be presented with the award at the 2009 USBC Convention, scheduled for April 28 though May 2 in Reno, Nev.

Create multiple virtual desktops in Windows Vista

How do I … create multiple virtual desktops in Windows?

by Jack Wallen

If you’ve ever used Linux, then you know how effective having multiple desktops can be. Not only does it aid in keeping down desktop clutter, it allows you to organize your desktop into various work environments (such as networking desktop, writing desktop, graphics desktop, programming desktop, etc). I have always been a big fan of this metaphor and have taken full advantage of its usage.

Microsoft Windows does not have the inherent ability to take advantage of multiple desktops. But, thanks to Sysinternals and the utility Desktops, Windows can enjoy a Linux-like multiple desktop configuration. There is no pager, like with Linux, but with Sysinternal’s Desktops you have the ability to switch from one desktop to another. It’s safe, it’s simple to install, and it’s simple to use. And, best of all, it’s free (but not open source).

With Desktops you are limited to up to four virtual desktops, but as a general rule, you do not need any more than four. Unlike the Linux virtual desktops, you cannot do edge-flipping or have a 3D cube (as in Compiz). With Desktops, you are limited to hot-key switching. But anything to help organize your work is improvement enough.

Getting and installing

As with any Windows application installation, all you need to do is download the Desktops download file, unzip it, and place the executable in a convenient location. However, Desktops isn’t an application that will run at boot without a little help. When you first run Desktops, you will be greeted with the main configuration window (Figure A).

Figure A

This is where you do all your Desktops configuration.

In order to have Desktops run at logon, simply click the check box at the bottom left of the configuration window. Of course, startup is not the only configuration you can take care of. You can also set the hot-key combination of your preference.

Setting up hot-key combinations

With Desktops, you have your choice of Hot Key combinations. There are two columns in the configuration windows: one column for the primary key (Alt, Control, Shift, Windows) and one for the secondary key (1, 2, 3, 4 or F1, F2, F3, F4). This is very much a case of user preference. The only issue with this configuration is if your particular hardware already uses a particular key combination. Also note that when you have the configuration window open you cannot switch desktops.

The key combinations option is not the only way to switch desktops. With Desktops running, there will be a small icon in the system tray. If you right-click the Desktops icon in the system tray, you will see a Select Desktop option (Figure B).

Figure B

Selecting this option is the same as clicking the Desktops system tray icon.

Once you select that option, a pop-up window will open showing thumbnails of all your configured desktops (Figure C).

Figure c

Unlike in Linux, you cannot configure different backgrounds for different desktops.

There is one small annoyance with Desktops. When you switch to a new desktop (one that you haven’t been on yet), it’s almost as if the desktop has to fully load. This is actually just the panel starting up. After you have moved to a desktop once, the next time you switch to it will be instantaneous.

Unfortunately, as you can with Linux, you cannot move a window from one desktop to another. So once you have an application running on one desktop, you have to close that application and reopen it on the desktop you want to work with it on. It would be nice if Sysinternals would create an option that would allow users to drag windows from one desktop to another.

Final thoughts

I have long thought Windows needed virtual desktops. The virtual desktop is one of the features that make working on the Linux desktop so much easier. Virtual desktops have far too many pros and zero cons. I was thrilled to finally come across an application that allows adding virtual desktops to Windows. With the help of Desktops, Windows becomes a fraction more useful and a lot less cluttered.

Monday, November 10, 2008

IT for Free: Volunteering Today

IT for Free: Volunteering Today

By Wayne Anderson

“Sorry, Mr. Smith: You have a great resume and the school you graduated from has an excellent computer science program, but we just need someone with more experience.”


“Nicole, you have a lot of potential and I would love to hire you, but without more experience you may not be able to keep up with the needs of our department. Come back in a couple years.

These conversations, and so many like them, are all too familiar for novice IT professionals. It’s a catch-22 situation: Companies are looking for experienced professionals, even for entry-level positions, but it is difficult to obtain experience without being able to work for these larger firms. This is especially true in today’s competitive marketplace, where jobs are increasingly scarce and the race for each available position is increasingly tight.

For years, entry-level programmers and administrators have been turning to volunteering to build the basic hands-on experience that leads to future opportunities. In the lexicon of many new graduates, the word “volunteering” may conjure images of community service with children’s groups, picking up trash or other such activities. But in today’s technology-integrated society, there are many opportunities to put professional-level technical skills to use for nonprofit and commercial groups in the form of internships with an organization or lower-rate contract work, as well as making unsolicited services offers or potentially taking part in open-source projects.

It is critical that young professionals hoping to break into the field of IT understand the ins and outs of volunteering.

Internships
Internships offer young IT professionals the opportunity to work for an organization either on an unpaid or below-market-rate basis, often with more guidance and mentoring than the organization may provide to full employees. Typically, these internship roles partner the newcomer with a more senior member of staff to serve as a direct assistant, a junior administrator or developer within that team.

Development internships tend to focus on the testing or repetitive coding needs of a project. Such a specified, repeatable process can easily be learned by the intern and applied with quality. However, this kind of development task may not be the kind of experience the new intern is interested in targeting. In this case, there are other internship opportunities, particularly with larger firms, where the developer actually is provided limited-scope sections of code to write.

Infrastructure-focused professionals may find a similarly limited scope to work within. In many engineering- or infrastructure-focused internships, the professionals may find themselves building servers, cleaning server roles or arranging or reconnecting hardware. These steps form the building blocks of a stable, well-used environment.

Although some of this work may seem relatively trivial to a professional anticipating more involved work, each of these tasks offers a beginning administrator the opportunity to observe how the business is conducted: How are the servers racked? What kind of environmental considerations go into how they are arranged in the rack? How is this system documented?

Contract Work
Contract work usually is paid and involves an organization that has a narrowly defined scope and focus. While contract work might not be viewed as a type of volunteering, in some cases, the professional can choose to accept a low pay rate to build needed experience. Contract work in the IT industry varies widely, but its limited scope allows the candidate to determine if the work is of interest to pursue it professionally.

However, acquiring contract work is different from volunteering services because contract work is paid, and therefore the qualifications that a candidate needs to be able to secure the position will be more advanced and might require certification. Further, a contract position will not include the same level of support, direct contact and mentoring that an internship or more learning-focused position will include. The contracting professional is assumed to be fully educated and capable of performing services for a given project.

Unsolicited Offers
Another way to build experience through volunteering is by making open-ended unsolicited offers of IT services to a local organization. This is one of the least predictable methods, however. Unsolicited offers are nearly universally unpaid, as the position is not planned for in the organization budget. Also, because of legal considerations in making use of freelance assistance, many larger organizations will not make direct use of unsolicited offers. The starting professional will want to target educational institutions and nonprofits instead.

The other element to consider with unsolicited offers of assistance is that the work likely will be limited in scope, as the organizations that make use of these services are smaller and do not have an adequate picture of the volunteer’s set of skills. As a result, the organization may take some time to find an opportunity for the candidate to contribute in a meaningful capacity.

Open-Source Projects
The last common way to build experience through volunteering involves open-source project work. In recent years, the expansion of the number and type of open-source projects has led volunteering professionals to have some of the most advanced development experiences available. Development-focused professionals may find ample opportunity to volunteer for projects that are used by large numbers of individuals and organizations.

However, open-source projects are not without their challenges. They are almost always unpaid efforts with both code contributions and project management coming from volunteers. There is almost never a formal structure by which the starting developer could take advantage of mentoring or working directly with another professional.

Also, code contributions to these projects often are moderated by a community at large. It may take some time for the professional to build up a reputation in the community so that code submissions are accepted for important functional areas of the application. The community usually does not accept resumes, nor is there usually any way to otherwise communicate qualifications. As a result, this community trust can be difficult to engender, and the only way to earn it is to be an active participant in the code submissions, bug fixing and discussions related to the particular project.

One of the other challenges to be aware of with open-source projects is that because there is no consistent structure and little in the way of formalized code assessment or individual contribution assessment, it can be very difficult to list this kind of volunteer experience on a resume. Often, open-source experience is more easily categorized once the individual has moved into a more formally specified position, such as project lead or code moderator. Or if an IT pro has served as a contributor to an open-source project, it is important to list specifically the systems for which he or she has constructed code.

Recognizing When Volunteering Is Right for You
Not all professionals are excellent volunteering candidates. Often, after completing trade school, college or technical certifications, professionals need compensation to pay off loans or simply to move forward in their careers. Many types of volunteering offer little to no income and therefore may be unsuitable. In these cases, the professional may lean more strongly toward contracting. Contracting offers the opportunity to obtain sustained compensation for professional services but may not be quite the development experience that a more open-ended, mentoring-focused opportunity that an internship will proffer.

Further, more experienced professionals might find that their career trajectories are harmed if they engage in volunteer work. From the perspective of a recruiter considering the candidate’s resume, a professional position followed by a volunteering opportunity could be seen as a step backward, potentially indicating previous poor performance.

To avoid this perception, the experienced candidate will need to ensure that the volunteering position is no less senior than his or her last position, implicitly indicating that he or she has continued to apply relevant field experience in the new opportunity.

The Challenges of an Evolving Industry
The challenges of a tough economy affect the funding available for extended volunteer opportunities at an organization. Some organizations are scaling back their investments in or temporarily eliminating professional internships. That’s because internships are supported by the notion that the organization potentially is investing in future full-time employees, and when funding internally becomes tight, these programs don’t directly offer a high-value outcome for the company’s bottom line — and therefore they don’t merit involvement from senior executives.

Further, as the technology community evolves, the type of opportunities available change. For example, the number of entry-level or low-experience contracts published to public job sites has exploded in recent years as firms recognize that engaging contractors is a way to obtain IT or development assistance without incurring additional head count. Also, as the popularity of open-source licensed applications has proliferated, so too have the opportunities to contribute to these products.

Young IT professionals have plenty of opportunities to log in time with new technologies and build hands-on experience. A professional willing to be patient, find a volunteer opportunity that matches his or her ability and accept lower levels of compensation may find a tool to build a base of experience in the hopes of securing a more extended, full-time position in the future.