DriverMax Updates All Of Your Drivers In One Place

A couple of weeks ago I needed to fix a friends computer that suffered from an incurable case of BSoD syndrome. He had all of his data backed up to an external hard drive so the coast was clear to reformat and reinstall Windows. Piece of cake. The problem was how was I going to find all the right drivers to make his laptop useable again? He lost the drivers & utilities CD that came with his laptop. Enter DriverMax.

The main menu of the DriverMax software program.

DriverMax is a free program that scans your system and provides links to the latest version of drivers for the particular hardware you have. The process is straightforward as DriverMax handles downloading and installing the files for you. It can even generate reports of all the hardware devices in your computer as well as what driver version is being used. This handy tool saved me loads of time by not having to scour the Internet for the right driver or figuring out which one is compatible with my system. You can leave it running in the system tray and it will notify you when a driver update is available but for my purposes, once the computer is up and humming along normally, I simply uninstall DriverMax.

Interface for checking which drivers have updates in DriverMax.

The only downside I could think of is you have to sign-up for a free account to their forums in order to download drivers. It worked well for my friends laptop so if you need to do a clean sweep of a PC and you lost the driver disc that came with it, give DriverMax a whirl.

Irony: MacBook Pro And A Zune

Irony:A MacbookPro and a Zune (closeup)

That’s right, I use a Zune with my MacBook Pro and it works just fine.

Irony:A MacbookPro and a Zune (wide)

Steve Jobs Cannot Design A Mouse

Over the weekend I began reading Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney which has given me an insight into the control-freak that is Steve Jobs. Take the design of the mouse for the first Mac computer:

“Jobs paid close attention to every detail. Even the mouse was designed to reflect the shape of the computer: it has the same dimensions, and its single square button corresponds to the shape and placement of the screen.”

Macintosh SE and the ADB mouse were designed with the same proportions in mind.

Fast forward 24 years and when I go to use the Mighty Mouse connected to my fiance’s 24″ iMac I find the scrollball unwilling to scroll down. The gray nipple-like scroll mechanism might have been good on paper but after just a year of normal, everyday use the thing becomes flaky and useless. About every other week I need to flip the mouse upside down and rub the scroll ball vigorously along the length of my finger to restore functionality (video demonstration). In extreme cases when that doesn’t work I apply a dab of rubbing alcohol on the ball and gently turn the ball around in all possible directions to scrub the runners clean. Some people have even taken the Mighty Mouse apart in order to clean it. Since Apple’s products have won numerous industrial design awards, it escapes me how the mouse has been so neglected considering it is one of the most frequently used input devices on a computer.

The Mighty Mouse wasn’t the first unsuccessful mouse released by the Cupertino company. In 1998 to coincide the release of the first iMac, Apple created the USB Mouse which became known as the “hockey puck”. While considered stylish with it’s translucent colors and circular design the USB mouse was actually very uncomfortable to use. Third parties released USB to ADB converters so people could use the older, more comfortable Apple mouses with their new iMac computers. There was even an adaptive shell called the iCatch which elongated the circular mouse making it more comfortable to hold and similar looking to the old Desktop Mouse II.

The Apple USB mouse that came with new iMacs looked and felt like a hockey puck.

So while Apple dared to be different by making computers that were easy to use while being gorgeous to look at, their mice could never compare. But on the other hand the trackpads on Apple’s new MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops are marvelously responsive and a joy to use. Apple is at the top of it’s game when it comes to user inputs on non-desktop products. Perhaps Steve Jobs should ditch the whole mouse concept and bundle his desktops with a USB powered trackpad. That would certainly be better than licensing the trademark of a popular cartoon series to tack on to a crappy product.

Finger gestures make using an Apple laptop easy.

P.S. I had to “clean” the trackball 3 times while writing this blog post.

And The Point Of Safari For Windows Is…

The special Apple event announcing the iPhone SDK has come and gone. While lots of exciting developments were announced we are still clueless about the purpose of Safari for Windows.

On June 11th, 2007, Steve Jobs announced Safari will have the same features on Vista and XP as on Apple’s flagship OSX operating system. Apple’s official reason for the expansion was to increase the market share of the browser but the blogosphere hinted at something bigger up Steve’s sleeve.

Many thought the browser would become an integral component of developing applications for the iPhone. But as we saw last Thursday, that proved not to be the case. So what is the real point of moving Safari to Windows?

Now that Apple moved to the Intel platform porting applications to Windows requires a whole lot less work. And if Apple has compatible code for the PC platform it would be foolish not to put it out there to test new water with it’s niche web browser. It’s hard to fathom why anyone would choose Safari over Firefox, the massively popular open-source browser that includes a host of user created add-ons. In fact it is those add-ons that keep me tied to the Firefox browser, helping me do my job as a web developer. And most web surfers who aren’t savvy to the other browsers out there will be contempt with the default Internet Explorer. After all, Safari is a pruned down, no frills browser that is a hard sell on features alone. The performance and speed of Safari are certainly ahead of the competition but most people would hardly notice. Perhaps we should look at Apple’s core business as it relates to why they release the software that they do.

The Relationship Between Apple’s Software and Hardware

Everything that Apple does points back to their core business as a hardware company. Think about it, everything Apple does is to enhance the appeal of it’s hardware. They developed an operating system in order to sell more computers, the iTunes music store has sold billions of songs with only a slim profit in order to lure people to iPods, and the iPhone SDK will allow developers to make whatever applications they can imagine making the phone a more appealing device. If we connect the dots from the past, Safari needs to be a part of some kind of hardware project.

Now how does Safari for Windows fit into this type of plan? It’s not obvious at this time. But maybe come this June the answer will become clear as Apple continues to direct our attention to more shiny new devices with a premium price tag.

Spruce Up Your Old PowerBook

Even though their are loads of more powerful laptops out there, the tried and true PowerBook can still be a nerds best friend. I’m running the slowest of the slow 867Mhz 12″ PowerBook. This is the bottom rung of supported hardware for Apple’s latest operating system, Leopard. But I keep chugging away on it. In fact I write most of my blog posts on this machine while out in the living-room after work. Below are a few things you can do to get the most out of your second hand machine.

Computer RAM Stick

Max out the RAM

RAM prices are always in a constant free fall until you reach the point where the particular type your machine takes is officially classified as an antique. But for the most part upgrading your RAM is the best bang for the buck. Check out Crucial.com which can help you figure out what type of RAM you need as well as how much it will take to max out your system.

Screenshot of Firefox 3 Beta 2 with Proto Theme

Upgrade Firefox to 3.0

Most of my computer use happens within a browser. Firefox 2 has been a particularly frustrating release filled with memory leaks and sporadic crashes. I found it particularly unstable on Macs, both Intel and PowerPC systems. Firefox 3 is a completely different story with much quicker startups and a more responsive interface. Surfing sites on my pokey PowerBook is a joy once again and not a chore like it used to be. Note: As of this posting Firefox 3 is in beta (See the changes). You have nothing to lose by trying it out and I have been running it for a couple of weeks without a hitch.

SideTrack Calibration for your trackpad

Install SideTrack

Those newer MacBooks and the Air have such a snazzy trackpad that lets you use all sorts of finger gestures to manipulate your windows. PowerBook users can use SideTrack to get at least some of that functionality. The biggest improvement is the ability to use the edges of the trackpad to scroll horizontally and vertically as well as assigning actions to corner taps. The software is fully functional and free with an occasional nag screen or you can purchase the full version for just $15.

Tinker Tool Logo

Further Tweaking

If you really want to squeeze out every little drop of available performance then you will need to tweak some settings. First set your desktop background to a solid color instead of a picture. Head into your dock settings and uncheck the ‘Animate opening applications’ option and turn off magnification. If you don’t use Spotlight then consider unchecking all of the categories in the system preferences pane to stop the search program from scanning your hard drive for changes. If you really want to get into the nitty gritty details check out TinkerTool which uncovers hidden menus and options that let you do all sorts of things.

Now with a little sacrificing and tweaking you can get some good use out of your old, trusty Mac. If you found these suggestions helpful or if you know a tip to further spruce up your PowerBook let me know in the comments.

Update: Last Zune In The DC Area

Microsoft Zune 80 Package

It has been nearly a month and I thought I would update everyone about the last Zune in the DC area. I managed to sell the digital media player on the Amazon Marketplace for $329.99, a 32% markup over the original price. I still needed an MP3 player for my daily commute and with the profit I decided to buy another Zune 80 online via Amazon.com instead of in person at Target. In this situation buying online was a much better deal for the following reasons:

  1. Buying the player in person results in sales tax being tacked on. Here in Maryland, the sales tax is 5% so that would add an additional $12.50. Amazon.com doesn’t charge sales tax for Maryland residents.
  2. Amazon.com offers a 30 day price match on it’s own products. If the price drops within 30 days of a purchase, Amazon will refund the difference. When I ordered the player on December 2nd, it was $249.00. Today it is being sold for $239.99, a difference of $9.00. Claiming a refund is easy. Just go to Amazon.com/refunds and send customer service an e-mail. If you don’t want to keep track of the price differences yourself, check out PriceProtectr.com which will send you an e-mail if there is any drop.
  3. Both Amazon.com and any local store are sold out of the device, so I would have to wait either way. I don’t mind waiting which is why I decided to sell my first one when the demand was high.

Here is a final breakdown of the math:

1st Zune Bought at Target
$249.99
+$12.50 Sales Tax
= $262.49 Total

Sold on Amazon.com Marketplace
$329.99 Price Sold
+$7.48 Shipping Credit from Amazon.com
– $10.35 Actual Shipping Cost (Added insurance to the cost)
-$28.14 Amazon Fee
– $262.49 Cost to Acquire
= $36.49 Profit

2nd Zune Bought on Amazon.com
$248.99
+$5.58 Shipping and Handling
-$5.58 Free Super Saver Shipping
-$9.00 Price Difference Refund
= $239.99

Final price for my Zune
$239.99 for 2nd Zune
-$36.49 Profit From 1st Zune
= $203.50

Not bad for waiting a little bit longer and taking advantage of a unique situation.