X-Window System

X-Window System is what makes everything appear so friendly on the screen in LINUX.

The X-window system is a system-level application, or rather, a process that handles the display in Linux. Basically, what you see on your screen is coming from X. X-“talks” to the graphics display device (the graphics processor) and tells it what to display. As X interacts with the hardware at basic level, programmers need not be bothered about giving instructions to the video card for any display (mind you, the GUI taxes a system heavily). With the difficult job being taken care of, programmers only need to give instructions to X saying “move window 1 to position x” or “minimize window 2” or “refresh window 3 every 5 seconds”. The X concept came about when a GUI for UNIX was being worked out. It was released in 1984 by the “Athena Project”, an academic project undertaken at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was taken over in 1998 by a the X Consortium, which has been maintaining the standards for X ever since. The X specifications are freely available for further development, and Linux developers adopt these specifications and called it the Xfree86. Xfree86, like its base-the X-is very versatile, with various options that developers can use to make different windows (or apps) display differently. X follows a client-server architecture.

PicLens Review

Among the plethora of add-ons available for the Firefox browser, Piclens is one of the most impressive – mainly because it appears to offer much of the ‘wow’ of Vista or Leopard’s smooth graphical wizardry, but through a browser, and with none of the high RAM requirements of the operating systems. If you haven’t tried it, it’s a must to visit http://www.piclens.com and install.

Even more unusual, Piclens is also supported in Internet Explorer and Safari add-ons for Windows and Mac. Only Linux users are left in out in the cold. What Piclens does is more difficult to explain. At its most simple, it offers a view of the internet as a 3D, smoothly scrolling wall. The wall entirely replaces the usual browser interface, so it appears much more like a separate piece of software than a browser plugin. Try it with Flikr and you can immediately see the attraction, as an endless wall of beautifully rendered images sweeps by, which you can zoom into and manipulate at will. But it also integrates with Google, Amazon, YouTube (it shows videos too) and other search engines, so that you can search the internet in a new and visual way. Put simply, it’s about as far from your grandad’s HTML home page as you could imagine. One question remains: is it useful? While for graphical work it might be useful to view thousands of images at once, navigating them is quite difficult, and the ‘metadata’ that goes along with the images hard to view. Time will tell, but for now Piclens is the most impressive add-on you’ll never use.

Swiff Charts

Swiff Charts is a instinctive, simple Chart making program which is great for crafting great looking charts.

There are ample options when it comes to formatting, and the end results looks very professional. Styles can be customized, and there are many pre-programmed styles which should fit the bill for most users. There are some limitations, specifically when it comes to showing multiple data series. With that being said, when it comes to a simple, clean, and professional charts and graphs, there is no better product out there. Stop using those ugly Excel graph’s for presentations. As they say, God is in the details.

Password Protect Folders

Folder Lock is a nice little tool for password protecting folders on your PC.

Folder Lock goes beyond just hiding your folders and can encorporate 256 bit Blowfish encryption if needed. The files are not accessible or deletable by either DOS or Windows Explorer. Instead, you use the simple user interface to manage your most valuable files. If you have files that you need to lock, hide or encrypt I recommend Folder Lock.

KeePass Password Management

A solution to the password nightmare. The most common means of controlling access to IT is a username and password.

This works well for many applications as is flexible and simple to implement. There is however one major problem with passwords – You have to remember them!!! If you only have one or two passwords this is not a problem, but many IT users have many systems they need to log into. If you work in IT, like I do, it is not unusual to have to remember 20 or more different passwords. Usually you are forced to change these on a regular basis and they have to contain numbers and/or strange characters. For the normal mortal (well for me anyway) this is impossible to do without “cheating”. One way is to write them down, another is to make all the passwords the same, or slightly different versions of the same thing. This fundamentally undermines the security of using passwords. Enforcing policies like changing passwords regularly just seems to make things worse instead of better, as more people adopt more coping strategies.

KeePass is a free, opensource program that I have found to be the perfect solution. It provides a secure password manager that will essentially remember all your passwords for you, and type them in when you need them. The result is you only need to remember ONE password. Password managers are nothing new, but any I have came across in the past have been unsuitable (in terms of either security or usability). This little program simply does everything right to provide a very secure way of storing your passwords, while making it easy to access the various systems. I have found it works well over terminal server with the ‘autotype’ facility and I keep the software and database on a usb key so I can access it from various PCs. With a little configuration, it is extremely flexible. I highly recommend using KeePass for all your passwords. For many users and IT professionals it is a very necessary quality application.

Minitab Statistical Software

Minitab is a statistical analysis software that is great for learning and teaching statistics.

It is extensively used by Six Sigma practitioners. The help feature that comes with the software is excellent. It has the capability to generate several statistical distributions, perform a variety of statistical analysis and plot results. Plots can be easily copied to other Windows applications such as Excel and Powerpoint. Data can be easily transferred back and forth between Excel and Minitab making data analysis and visualization very easy. One feature that Minitab lacks is the ability to perform analysis of long-tail distributions. Also, bootstrapping procedures are lacking.