Tech questions

posted by on 31st March 2007, at 9:24pm

This month was somewhat of a challenging one for the questions! Quite a lot of research was required to get some of the answers, although everything has generally gone well. Again, some of the questions are rephrased for clarity.

How do you defragment Ubuntu Linux? Windows turns to crap without a defrag every once in a while, is this the case with Ubuntu? – Andy

The formatting of a hard drive splits it into thousands, possibly millions of small chunks. On an NTFS hard drive each of these chunks holds 4KB of data, and only one file can be held within each sector, although one file can be held in more than one sector. Fragmentation occurs when a larger file is held within sectors that are not next to each other, which can severely slow down the reading times of these larger files.

On Windows, when there is free space on a drive, it will use it. Windows doesn’t care whether free space is all in one block or in loads of little blocks that are not next to each other – it will write the file into free space whatever. Linux will write to the first complete piece of free space it can find, and if it cant find a larger chunk of free space, it will write like windows, but then do a little defrag for you just like that.

The simple answer to your question is no, you don’t need to defrag Ubuntu. There isn’t actually a tool to do it, so it isn’t really possible.

(And I’m off to defrag my C: drive now.)

Is it possible to write to Windows NTFS-formatted drives with Ubuntu? – Andy

Yes. You’ll need the NTFS-3G package to do this, which allows Linux to be able to write to NTFS-formatted drives. Ubuntu has built-in reading support for NTFS, although not writing.

Just follow this guide to be able to do it.

How can you make a program start when Ubuntu starts? – Andy

Just go System -> Preferences -> Sessions. Click the Startup Programs tab, and then you can add commands to there. You’ll need the exact command of the program or script you want to start. For a lot of programs the commands are obvious – skype starts Skype, firefox starts FireFox, opera starts Opera, but some programs are a little more cryptic. To check if you’ve got a command right, press Alt+F2 and type the command. If an icon appears in the run dialog and the program you want runs when you click Run, you’ve got it right.

How long is a dvd good for? I’ve heard that every 5 years you have to reburn it because the disk deteriorates. Is this true? – Andy

I have not ever heard of this happening. I have a few CDs I burnt a fair time ago and they still work fine. After a little research, though, it seems it is rumoured that this can happen.

Most blank DVDs and CDs use a certain type of metal inside of them which makes the surface burnable. This metal is usually of silver colour with a touch of green, or a bluish-turquoise. There are special “archival” discs available which use gold (yes, real gold) for the surface. Gold is an incredibly stable metal, and it is possible that these could last longer than normal DVDs or CDs. It is also possible, however, that the people making these CDs are just con artists out there to steal your money.

I would personally not bother getting these special ‘archival’ CDs or DVDs, unless you can get them for the same price as any other set of blank CDs or DVDs.

Will a regular VGA display work with Vista premium content protection? – Andy

Windows Vista Premium Content Protection is a mechanism within Windows Vista to protect ‘premium content’, or media that is protected with some kind of mechanism and is actually worth an amount of money. The mechanism protects this premium content from being played with ‘insecure’ output devices. For example, protected HD-DVD cannot be played at full resolution or quality because the output device is deemed ‘insecure’.

At the moment, Vista will not display any premium content at its full resolution or quality; in fact, it will only be at the equivalent of 960×540, half of the full 1960×1080 of full 1080i or 1080p HD. This is not just on VGA monitors – its also on DVI monitors.

To sum up the answer, I’m going to say No. But it isnt just VGA, its everything else too. Seriously, Microsoft, let us watch our HD content properly.

Are there any graphics cards that work with this content protection? – Andy

If you mean “Are there any graphics card that display premium content at full quality?” then, no.

Basically speaking, Vista Premium Content protection is the worst thing that has ever come out of Microsoft HQ. I don’t know whether it will ever be possible to play HD-DVDs or Blu-ray discs at full resolution within Windows Vista. This is one of many reasons I would seriously discourage upgrading to Vista.

What are your thoughts on Office 2007 and OpenOffice? Do you think Office 2007 is worth buying? I’ve heard great things about that ribbon. – Andy

In one word: no. In three words: not right now.

OpenOffice (also called “OOo”) and MS Office both have their advantages and disadvantages. OOo is free, which is an obvious advantage for those with little money to spare. It is also cross-platform, and so works on Linux, Mac or Windows, as well as other platforms, I’m sure. MS Office is not, however. There is also the advantage that OOo is open source.

Microsoft Office is considered the industry standard on both Windows and Mac (although Office 2007 isn’t out yet for the Mac), so there are advantages of knowing exactly how to use it. Doing this will allow you to help others learn, and there’s always the benefit of having this knowledge when you get a job in the future.
The ribbon is actually quite a nice interface element. Although being larger than the previous toolbars of Office 2003 and before (112 pixels tall vs 77 pixels of two toolbars in Office 2003), it does offer some nice quick-access to many elements, although can take a while to get used to. In previous versions of office, if you didn’t know where something was, you could always take the long way round (for example, if you want to change the font size, you could change the value in the little drop-down menu, or go through format -> font. In Office 2007, there isn’t a long way around, not from what I could see when I used it for a few hours.

If you really have money to throw away right now, go ahead and buy Office 2007. If you don’t, wait for a while before getting it. In the meantime, Office 2003 or OOo are perfectly good alternatives for normal day-to-day use.

How much power is needed to run my pc for about 15min: 1 CRT ( 1.5 Amps @ 100volts) + 600w tower power supply. Can you additionally find what power is needed if i was running an old CRT in addition: 1 CRT ( 2 Amps @ 100 volts)? – Andy

Well, this is quite a simple question, actually.

CRT: 1.5Amps x 100Volts = 150Watts.
Computer: 600Watts
600 + 150 = 750Watts.

750 Watts, then, is the amount of power the supply draws.

Typically, however, power used it measured in Watts with respect to time. This is usually the kWh, or Kilowatt Hour, which is actually what the ‘units’ you’ll see on an electricity bill are. 1 unit = 1kWh.

750W = 0.75kW

Running your computer, then, for 1 hour, will draw 0.75kWh. You want 15 minutes, so we’ll divide this figure by four: 0.75 / 0.1875 kWh.

If you’re running that old CRT in addition (as well as the other monitor), just add (2 x 100) / 1000 = 0.2 kWh to each hour, or 0.05kWh to every fifteen minutes.

How do I stop programs from starting up at boot, and how can I speed up boot times? – Kyle

There are two ways a program can be started at boot – through the startup folder, or through registry keys. Fortunately, you wont have to do any manual registry hacking or file, as Microsoft have included a little program to allow some easy access to all of them – both in startup and registry.

Click Start -> Run, and type:


Then click “Ok”. A window will appear under the name of the System Configuration Utility. Click on the “Startup” tab.

You will see a complete list of all the programs that are set to startup upon boot. There are many which will probably be useless to you, and many which you should not touch. Some examples of processes you wont need are things like iTunesHelper, if you don’t have an iPod; or MsnMsgr if you dont use MSN. There are other processes, too. If you don’t know what a process is, just Google the executable name (which you can see under the Command column) and do some research.

If you’re not sure about a particular process, just pm me on the forums, and I’ll be happy to help.

There are various other ways to speed up boot times and the general performance of XP. There’s a nice guide I found here which details a few of them. You don’t have to do all of them, and some of them wont be a very good idea for some of us, but just choose which you want to do. Here are a couple of extra ones:

Go start -> Run, and type


And click ok. Navigate to My Computer/HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SYSTEM/CurrentControlSet/Control/Session Manager/Memory Management/Prefetch Parameters and look for ‘EnablePrefetcher’. Right click on it, and select modify. If it isnt already, set it to 3.

And the second key to modify is HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SYSTEM/CurrentControlSet/Control/Session Manager/Memory Management and look for ‘DisablePagingExecutive’. Right click on it, select Modify and change the value to 1. Only do this one if you have 256MB of RAM or more.

Finally, the last thing you could do to improve bootup times is just to simply not shut down. If you are on a single-user computer, then every time you go to shut down, instead of shutting down, hibernate. To hibernate a computer, Go Start -> Turn off computer, then when the box appears, hold the shift button down. When you do, the Standby option will change to Hibernate. Still holding down shift, select Hibernate.

If you are on a multi-user computer, do the same as on a single-user computer, but log off first. Restarting from hibernation is a lot faster than booting up cold.

I hope my answers have helped you all. Get your questions coming in to me for next month – just two people sent me them this month.

Questions can be emailed to or posted in the topic on the forums, which is in the Informer Content Generation forum, a sub-forum of the main Informer forum.

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