In May of 2010, I posted a blog here entitled “New Nitro PDF Knocks Your Socks Off,” wherein I profiled my introduction to and growing satisfaction with the free Nitro PDF Reader. Over a year later, it’s still my PDF tool of choice, and I even forked over US$80 to purchase a copy of the professional version that adds support for distilling PDF and various annotation, editing, and formatting options (the list price for the program is US$100, but if you look around or wait for discounts you can usually find 15-20% off deals here and there). To me the things that make Nitro PDF Reader preferable to the Adobe or Foxit Readers are: a small executable, blazing fast performance, and value-add features out the ying-yang (other readers charge for most, if not all, of these).
I’ve just jumped into the latest release of the program, called Nitro PDF Reader 2, which hit the streets last Tuesday, July 21. It maintains the small code size (under 70 MB for the x86 version as installed, under 100 MB for the x64 version as installed), still runs like blazes, and adds a bunch of new value-adds to its latest incarnation, including:
- Integrates with IE, Firefox, and Chrome so you can open PDFs right inside a browser tab or window.
- Reworked PDF Creator engine runs up to 4 times faster than the previous version, and creates output PDF files half the size of those built by its predecessor.
- Nitro PDF Reader has always done quality rendering, but on my 27 inch monitor (Dell 2707 WFP) the type is crisper and cleaner than ever with Nitro PDF Reader 2, invariably more readable than Adobe Reader.
- Free support for incorporating a scanned handwritten signature right into fill-in form type documents (used to be available only in Nitro PDF Pro, now built right into the free Nitro PDF 2).
- Support for content grouping layers (OCG, or Optional Content Group stuff) as well as XML Form Architecture (XFA) forms.
The latest user interface also adopts the Windows 7/Office 2007&2010 ribbon model. It looks and runs very nicely. Nitro PDF Reader 2 looks like it’s more than earned a spot on my “must-have Windows applications” roster. I’m going to spend a month or so with the program, after which I’ll report back on my experiences and continuing impressions.
I’m also pleased to report that Chris Dahl, Nitro PDF’s CTO, informed me yesterday by phone that Nitro PDF Reader is now using a single code base for both x86 and x64 versions of their programs. In the past, there had been some delays in obtaining x64 versions of the program, and it was more difficult to lay hands on the x64 version of the code. No longer. The base code for the application (the PDF renderer and UI portion) is actually the same 32-bit component, and runs as a 32 bit image on the x64 WOW (Windows-on-Windows) environment. The PDF Creator portion however (which requires a device driver, and thus can’t use 32-bit code) is implemented in native 64-bit code. Both portions installed seamlessly on my x64 test machine, and this version appeared to run just as fast (if not faster) than its 32-bit counterpart. This should be a real boon for the increasing number of users who are now running 64-bit Windows versions.
Get this! Microsoft not only offers 3 free clinics on Windows 7 (more info to follow), they also offer over 20 courses that ranage in price from $14.99 to $319.99. It’s all listed on the Windows 7 Online Training page at Microsoft Learning, where you’ll find these free clinics at the head of that list (it’s sorted in ascending order by price so naturally the free stuff shows up first):
- Clinic 10125: What’s New in Windows 7 for Consumers
Type : Course Published : 8/31/2009
This one-hour clinic provides you with an overview of key enhancements in Windows 7 that help you work more efficiently and easily with your computers. It describes the new features and tools that you
- Clinic 10088: What’s New in Windows 7 for Information Workers
Type : Course Published : 8/31/2009
This two-hour clinic provides you with an overview of key enhancements in Windows 7, which help information workers to improve their productivity as well as work in a more secure environment.
- Clinic 10077: What’s New in Windows 7 for IT Professionals
Type : Course Published : 8/28/2009
This two-hour online clinic provides an overview of the new and enhanced deployment, security, manageability, and performance features in Windows 7.
In addition, you’ll find courses on everything from basics (Essentials I and II, $14.99 each) all the way up to collections On Installing and Configuring Windows 7 Client (preps for 70-680; $287.99) and Planning and Managing Windows 7 Desktop Deployments and Environments ($319.99).
There is some great information, and some good deals, here for those seeking to boost Windows 7 skills and knowledge. Check it out!!
Take a look at this frequency graph from Secunia PSI: it charts the number of security updates that have been released in the past 6 months. When Microsoft dropped 18 items on my Windows 7 PCs on Tuesday, I figured this would be a big month for security updates, and the graph clearly shows my figuring was on the spot:
And sure enough, the latest Microsoft Security Bulletin (June 2011) lists 16 security updates plus other recurring entries: 9 critical (remote code execution) plus 7 important (information disclosure, remote code execution, elevation of privilege, and denial of service all appear) items make an appearance therein. At least 8 of the 9 critical items affect all modern versions of Windows desktop and server operating systems, so you’re going to want to dig into this latest security bulletin and fire up the test lab to start scheduling patch deployment sooner rather than later (for more info, see also Susan Bradley’s nice recent article on this latest Patch Tuesday, with some special emphasis on IE 9, in the Windows Secrets newsletter).
One thing’s for sure: the number of updates just spiked, and there’s some work to do in their wake. Roll up your sleeves, and get to it!
As I fired up one of my test machines yesterday after replacing a defective motherboard and Windows started to boot, I thought I might actually have gotten away with something grand and glorious. Not!! Although I was able to replace an Asus P5 Pro that had gone wonky on me with a Gigabyte GA-P43-ES3G and get Windows to start seemingly OK, further analysis revealed that I’d been bitten by an interesting pair of BIOS defaults involving:
- USB Keyboard disabled
- IDE disk controller (not AHCI)
Both the source and target systems use a built-in Intel AHCI ICH10 SATA RAID controllers, and I’d hoped to transfer the 64-bit Windows Professional AHCI installation unaltered as well. But because the BIOS refused to recognize the USB keyboard the first time the system booted (so I couldn’t enter the BIOS set-up program by hitting the DEL key), it automatically defaulted to IDE controller status and trashed all the carefully constructed AHCI setup I’d gone through on the previous incarnation.
Is it my fault that I forgot to plug in the PS/2 keyboard for that first boot-up? Technically, yes it is. But dang, nobody uses PS/2 keyboards any more and it ticks me off to no end (especially since I’m now going to have to rebuild this whole installation from the ground up) that the BIOS makers still don’t turn support for USB keyboards on as a BIOS default. C’mon guys: this was OK in the mid-90s when USB keyboards were the exception rather than the norm. But they’ve been the norm for at least 15 years now, so it’s time to change the basic set of assumptions that BIOS builders encode into their platforms to reflect a more current reality now on the ground.
I’d been so happy that Windows 7 didn’t puke on my motherboard swap and make me re-assert my license (though it did ask me to (re-)activate my license, at least I didn’t have to get on the phone to get a 25 digit activation key from somebody, which is usually a 20-minute process or so) that it took me a while to recognize that I’d munged the re-animation of this machine anyway by neglecting to hook up a PS/2 keyboard for its initial reboot. Now that I’ve been forcibly and painfully reminded of this situation once again, I won’t make this mistake for another two years or so. But again I really wish the BIOS builders would catch up with the first decade of the 21st century, rather than maintaining the status quo that prevailed at the close of the last millenium.
I’m waiting for some more memory, a new SSD, and a newer graphics card to replace the fanless 9600GT in this test machine before I re-do the current installation, but it’s already on my to-do list for later this month. In conclusion, all I can say is “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! My bad…”
Interesting announcement at Cloudexpo in NYC yesterday (6/7/2011) entitled “Futurestate IT introduces AppRX and announces an agreement with App-DNA to provide Application Compatibility in the Cloud.” Seems that Canadian-based FutureState has created an environment that permits companies to assess, plan, and migrate applications to newer operating systems and platforms. App-DNA already helps to automate this process, but it is still most commonly performed on local test or laboratory platforms during an extended analysis, planning, and migration process. AppRx moves this effort into the cloud and supports Windows 7, Windows Server 2008, Microsoft App-V, and Citrix XenApp.
Over time, AppRx performs what FutureState calls “application currency management” to help organizations maintain ongoing currency, and forward planning and conversion for newer operating systems and platforms as they work through pre- and commercial release phases. The company promises reduce time for migration, lower costs for development, QA, and test efforts, improved reliability, and automation for Service Pack (SP) releases. Check it all out at FutureStateIT.com.
For organizations seeking to plan and automate Windows 7 deployments, there are few Web pages better equipped to help with that process than the TechNet Windows 7 Deployment FAQ. Not only will you find links to the various Microsoft planning, assessment, and deployment toolskits there, but you will also find issues related to Windows Server 2008 R2, recent Service Packs, and other important concerns addressed there as well. Think of it as a general clearinghouse for Windows 7 Deployment topics and you won’t be too far off the mark.
And while you’re in that part of TechNet, you’ll already be in the Windows 7 Desktop Deployment guide section as well. Be sure to check out the neighboring TechNet documents before you leave this area, including the various guides and toolkit overviews in that immediate vicinity (here’s a partial screenshot of the surrounding and relevant contents):
Although TechNet is not the be-all and end-all for Windows 7 deployment tools or information, it’s a terrific resource for learning and planning in this arena, particularly where the many and marvelous Microsoft related tools and information are concerned.
When I got back from a recent trip to the DFW area to meet with Jeff Carrell, my esteemed co-author for the upcoming revision to Guide to TCP/IP for Cengage Learning/Course Technology, I found a ginormous box waiting for me in the doorway to my office. Apparently, that’s as far as the UPS guy was willing to carry it when he dropped it off at the house while I was away.
“What the heck is that?” I thought upon seeing the 24x31x17″ container. “Oh yeah,” I remembered, “it’s the refurbished Dell 2707 WFP monitor I ordered on Monday.” I already have a 2707 that I purchased in 2007 or 2008, and had been using a Dell 2309 1080p monitor as my secondary screen for the past couple of years. With a much smaller screen and the same 1920×1080 resolution, my aging eyes had been struggling to make out the details on the smaller screen to my left for some time, with increasingly worse results over the past six months or so.
In the wake of some recent consulting work (and ensuing earnings) I decided to spring just over $550 (including shipping, handling, and sales tax) for an identical if refurbished mate to my primary 2707. I could have bought a newer 27″ monitor for about $1,000, but I decided against upping the resolution to 2560×1440, figuring that the higher resolution would cause the same squinting and muttering on the bigger screen that I was already suffering from on the smaller one I wanted to replace.
I’m very happy to report that the refurb monitor is apparently defect free, despite the black magic marker on the outside of the box that says “6 or more dead pixels.” And I’m happy to observe that I can see everything on screen number 2 as well as I can see everything on screen number 1. Having now worked with dual monitors since 1999, I’ve observed that more screen real estate translates directly into increased productivity. I can now also attest that improved visibility/legibility appears to do likewise, since the number of pixels on the smaller previous screen matches the number of pixels on its much larger replacement. Take heed, baby boomers!
As an added bonus, now that both screens use the same driver, I’m not observing the occasional and unwarranted (if only momentary) lapses that have occurred with the original 2707 as it went to sleep even though I was using the monitor and it shouldn’t have timed itself out into a lower power state. Windows 7 seems happier and less inclined to time out the driver than it was before, when I was using different drivers with each of the two monitors.
In perusing the “Born to Learn” blogs this morning, I came across an item from Julie Lary entitled “Free Microsoft Office Resource” (dated 5/30/2011). It provides a brief capsule summary of Katherine Murray’s MS Press book First Look Microsoft Office 2010, which provides an overview of the features and functions of the latest MS Office version, and includes coverage of Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010, and Outlook 2010, along with a trio of chapters devoted to SharePoint WorkSpace 2010, Publisher 2010, and Access 2010. There’s even a chapter on the new security features in Office 2010 as well.
Oh yeah: you can also download this entire volume as an e-book for free! You can grab the book in XPS (27.9 MB) or PDF (10.5 MB) format, as you see fit, and read it on your PC or mobile device at your leisure. For somebody like me who’s been using Word since version 3.0 came out waaaaaaay back when (we’re up to version 14 now) it’s a perfect introduction to what’s new, what’s different, and how to find your way around changes to the UI and the various programs’ organization. Check it out!
I’m always curious when Microsoft lets another OOB update loose (OOB = out-of-band–that is, a non-Patch Tuesday update release, this time on 5/25/2011, when the company let slip KB2541014). This time, the affected software item is for the Diskdump.sys file that manages data capture whenever a kernel mode error occurs on a Windows machine. It apparently occurs on PCs that use the SCSI miniport device–a Microsoft-supplied driver that defines the interface between a SCSI miniport driver and the OS–that have trouble hibernating (their machines restart instead of going into the deepest sleep mode defined for Windows) or that fail to write a memory dump file (either to the minidump or a full-blown memory dump file) when Windows 7 experiences a kernel mode error.
Should you be concerned about this? Surprisingly the answer is “Yes,” even if your systems aren’t experiencing the problems this update is supposed to address. As it happens, many storage devices–including SSDs, USB flash drives, network storage devices, and even conventional SATA or IDE hard disks–actually include Plug and Play SCSI Miniport drivers among their Host Bus Adapter capabilities. This could be one of those surprising updates that might (or might not) cause heartburn on end-user machines. A little time with this puppy in the test lab on standard configurations is probably in order. So far, all of my test machines appear to be working OK in the wake of the update, but you can’t know about yours until you try it out in the lab.
OK, so midnight last night was the culmination of a huge project I’ve been devoting nearly every waking hour to for the past 15 days (yes, you read right: 10-plus hours a day for over two weeks). And indeed, midnight last night was also when we finally put the document that resulted from those mighty labors to bed, and called it a very late night. I hit my desk at 6 AM yesterday, so when midnight rolled around I was more than ready to crash.
And, as Murphy would have it no other way, yesterday was the day that gremlins of nearly every possible description came calling, just to make the final rough slog to completion all the more “interesting.” Here’s a list of the things that I had to deal with while already overly occupied with getting things done:
- The report that represented the fruits of my labor was in MS Word, and a draft was being passed around among a half-dozen reviewers for comments, changes, word-smithing, and so forth. It was also around 100 pages long. Man, do big Word docs with lots of revisions and “Track Changes” turned on get flaky in a hurry! Reformatting and messing with formatting weirdness consumed too much of the day yesterday.
- Members of the team were working from San Diego, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Houston, Salt Lake City, and Round Rock (me and Kim, my invaluable project manager and yesterday’s document coordinator). E-mail was our preferred means of communication. Wouldn’t you know it? My e-mail service provider was up and down like a yo-yo yesterday. Not only that, but I started my day with the realization that Yahoo had changed its e-mail service substantially enough that my forward from them to my spam filtering service (my primary e-mail address is at Yahoo, and I filter all of my half-dozen or so e-mail addresses through the spam filtering service for delivery to my Outlook inbox) quit working. What with all this e-mail hoopla I found myself behind the 8-ball on at least four occasions yesterday.
- Just to make things more maddening I also learned the symptoms of a loose DVI video connection on my secondary monitor yesterday. I’d been messing with my production desktop and hadn’t tightened down the screws on the DVI connector all the way into the graphics card. Sure enough, my monitor starting blinking on and off rapidly and repeatedly on several occasions. I’ve long since learned that color weirdness is the symptom of a loose VGA connector, but Murphy made sure I learned the equivalent DVI lesson yesterday — the hard way, too, of course.
Sigh. It’s enough to make you hate big hairy deadlines even more than your natural inclination might cause you to do. But now, at least, that big hairy deadline has come and gone, and things can get back to what passes for “normal” around here. Thank goodness!