Medication can change your life – Both good and bad!

I ended my last post with something along the lines, medication can do wonders.  And that it can, well, until your body begins to act up.  How your body may react to a new medication is always an interesting battle to choose when going on medication.  Even the simplest of drugs to treat Chrohn’s can have some pretty nasty side effects. What is the line between benefit and risk?

A sample of my current medication regime.

Look at Prednisone as an example.   Prednisone is a drug that is commonly prescribed as a treatment for a flare-up of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), as well as for many other conditions.   I would truly consider it the first line of defence, as it is very effective at calming inflammation in many people with IBD.    Some of the common side effects include increased appetite (my favourite); indigestion; and nervousness or restlessness (does that remind you of any recreation drugs people consume?), and with prolonged use: filling or rounding out of the face, muscle weakness, thin, shiny skin, bone density loss and osteoporosis.

No matter how well a medication is doing at treating our disease, we always have to weight the long term effects.  For me, I can honestly say that I have felt my best on Prednisone.  But is prednisone a viable long term solution? Absolutely not.

As an alternative to my Prednisone use. I spent a few years on Azathioprine (Imuran) and Infliximab (Remicade).  However, over time body began to reject both the drugs.  Initially, my routine blood work began to show increase liver readings, eventually, my dosage was reduced to the point that it was not a viable option.  Fortunately for me and my liver, we both rebounded after a few months being Imuran free.  Similarly, I began to experience weird facial infections — so off of the Remicade I want.  Even to today, it is not clear if it was the Remicade or simply emphysema but it is always good to be a precaution.  Heck, if you look at Remicade in particular, a recent Health Canada advisory sums up the battle between having a normal life and the what-if of drug reactions and interactions nicely:

Currently the labels for all TNF blockers include warnings and precautions on the risk of lymphomas and other cancers. The labels will be updated to highlight the risk of specific cancers, particularly in the younger patient groups. As well, the label updates will include other new safety information based on reviews conducted by Health Canada , including the risk of new-onset psoriasis in patients treated with TNF blockers. Health Canada will inform health care professionals and Canadians again once these updates are complete.  (August 20, 2009 – 2009-137)

The reality of the situation is that normal life in most cases will surpass the what it, or the 1 in a 1000 chance that you may experience complication X.  If we didn’t, leaving the house, if not the hospital will be a challenge.  Truthfully, if need be I would jump back onto the Remicade bandwagon as quickly as I could get it approved.  For myself, Remicade, Imuran, and Prednisone did wonders.  I would argue that 90% of my days were normal, I was back at work, I was enjoying being a new dad, and the bathroom was not my most frequented room in the house.  That certainly seems like a great trade-off to a “what if”, and I think most would agree.

Life after Rejection

Some doctors refer to my rejection of Imuran and Remicade as an allergy, but I usually refer to it as a “drug sensitivity after prolonged use”.  The larger question at hand, could be simply, “that my body was telling me that it was ready to battle the Crohn’s beast on it own?”  And honestly, that it did.  For about two years now, I have been living without drugs or medications.  Although, I have to be honest — I do not feel 100%, and now that I can put a label on the Crohn’s I can assure you that it is still lurking there in the shadows — but I am drug-free, and rarely if ever do I miss work due to my illness.  I am coping and very well in the grand scheme of things.  I may have the occasional day that blessed me with 6 – 10 trips to the washroom but generally, I am coping with one leg on each side of the fence.   I suppose only time will tell as to how long I can survive medication free.  I am hoping for years to come!

What triggered your Crohn’s Disease?

What is considered normal?  I suppose that is to be flushed out – but from those, I have discussed the question of “What triggered your Crohn’s or Colitis?”  There always seems to be some type of physical injury or stress that puts our bodies over the edge. In my case, it was a car accident that triggered my Crohn’s, nothing as serious as having to be hospitalized, but at the same time, grade 3 whiplash was nothing to shrug a shoulder about.

A History of Bowel Troubles

Looking back, I can say that the car accident did not cause my Crohn’s but rather, that the increased stress that the accident put on my body limited its natural ability to keep my Crohn’s at bay.  As early as 1998 I started to work with my family doctor to diagnose a few annoying stomach related issues, most notably sever gas and bought of uncontrollable diarrhoea or evacuation.  I remember having life down to a science, after the third trip to the toilet I was “usually” safe to wander away from home or jump on the bus to head to/from University.  Even as far back as high school, I recall questioning my doctor about the amount of “gas” that seeped out of my body. The diagnosis at that time, “I probably swallow air while sleeping, try to sleep with my head elevated”. Similarly, following a “Barium Enema” and a heap of blood work during my University days – I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

For those that are curious, Wkipedia defines IBS as:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS or spastic colon) is a diagnosis of exclusion. It is a functional bowel disorder characterized by chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, and alteration of bowel habits in the absence of any detectable organic cause. In some cases, the symptoms are relieved by bowel movements. Diarrhea or constipation may predominate, or they may alternate (classified as IBS-D, IBS-C or IBS-A, respectively). IBS may begin after an infection (post-infectious, IBS-PI), a stressful life event, or onset of maturity without any other medical indicators.

It is interesting that many of the symptoms of IBS are identical to Crohn’s and Colitis.  Was this a missed diagnosis or simply, my body was generally capable of keeping my Crohn’s in check – however, many of the “typical” symptoms persisted.  At the same time, I have never been prescribed a colonoscopy to truly see what was going on within my colon or upper GI tract.

Shortly after University, I went through a second round of tests following an occurrence of pancreatitis. I was out of town at the time at time of the infection and was referred to my local hospital for follow up. The gastroenteritis that performed scopes on both my upper (stomach) and lower (colon and small intestine aka colonoscopy) gastrointestinal tract had an even more cryptic diagnosis — literally suggesting that it was all in my head and even mimed circular movements on the side of my head. Honestly, a great vote of confidence in how I was feeling. Maybe these nausea and loose stool feelings are my normal, or everyone’s normal? That was until the car accident.

Diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease

As I mentioned in the opening, although not physically injured when it comes to bones or stitches, I did suffer from severe whiplash and was being treated by a physiotherapist several times a week. Within two months of the car accident, blood became a normal occurrence with each visit to to the bathroom; within six months – my episodes of diaherria progressed from an episode or two a day to an ongoing basis.

What was even more concerning was the variety of other symptoms that progressed:

  • mouth ulcers (canker spurs), at times up to a dozen – try kissing someone in that state
  • persistent low-grade fever
  • a cough (the ulcers progressed from my mouth and down my throat)
  • skin rash and mucous lesions on my body
  • weight loss
  • blurred vision (almost like a was looking through a milky film)
  • instant intestinal gas that could be triggered with pressure / compression of the abdomen, and
  • stiff joints – to the point where the “arthritis” was so severe that I could not bend my legs

When these symptoms hit, I was still seeming my physiotherapist 3 times a week. The sudden onset of severe arthritis without any new injury that I could recall sustaining had her baffled.  My family doctor prescribed antibiotics to try to keep the cough and diaherria under control however within a few days his professional recommendation was to visit the emergency department.  The truth of the matter was that even the emergency department was at a loss.  I wish I had the inclination to write down each possible diagnosis they threw at me – the truth is that most of then I could hardly pronounce, not to mention write down.  Although my Rheumatologist did have a frank conversation with me asking what was the chance I could have an STD, as the symptoms matched identically to Syphilis.  Approaching were considering transfusions.

About the same time, I was scheduled for a gastroscopy which probably saved me from some more serious complications.  The scope revealed severe ulceration and inflammation of the large intestine with signs of progression to the small intestine.  Many of the ulcers were nearing the stage of perforation of the intestines – I had Crohn’s Disease.

I always joke – the proper medication does wonders – and within a week of being on intravenous prednisone, I was on my way home.  All in all, it took a week to figure out what was wrong, and a week to get better.  In total, I lost about 30 lbs – and went home barely able to walk without assistance, but I was home.  And more importantly, I was home without surgery and a label to my disease.

What is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the digestive tract. Symptoms include abdominal pain and diarrhea, sometimes bloody, and weight loss. Crohn’s disease (CD) is named after the doctor who first described it in 1932. (Since he did not have the disease itself, it is sometimes more accurately called Crohn disease).Unlike Ulcerative Colitis which is predominantly located in or around the large bowel, The inflammation from Crohn’s disease can strike anywhere in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from mouth to anus, but is usually located in the lower part of the small bowel and the upper end of the colon. Patches of inflammation are interspersed between healthy portions of the gut and can penetrate the intestinal layers from inner to outer lining.CD can also affect the mesentery, which is the network of tissue that holds the small bowel to the abdomen and contains the main intestinal blood vessels and lymph glands.
Location effected by Crohn's

What are the Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease?

Since CD can be located anywhere in the GI tract, symptoms can vary. On the whole, however, they often include abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and not surprisingly, weight loss and lack of energy.Crohn’s disease is a chronic (lifelong) illness. People who have CD will experience periods of acute flare-ups, when their symptoms are active and other times when their symptoms go into remission. The average risk of a flare-up in any one year is approximately 30%.In 25% of those with CD, perianal disease may also develop. “Peri” means “around” – therefore perianal disease is located “around the anus”.Specifically, this means that a person could develop:
  • painful, swollen skin tags (that appear to be haemhorrhoids but are not)
  • abscesses (bags of pus created inside the body as a result of infection)
  • fistulas (infections that have tunnelled from the abscess to a hollow organ such as the rectum or vagina)
Many of the Crohn’s sufferers also experience “extra-intestinal manifestations” or conditions that affect areas outside of the intestines. For more information on the extra-intestinal manifestations of Crohn’s disease continue reading here.

Can Crohn’s Disease be cured?

There is no cure for Crohn’s disease – yet.Please Note This educational content was originally published by The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada (CCFC) is a national not-for-profit voluntary medical research Foundation. Its mission is to find the cure for inflammatory bowel disease.  Please join with us in our mission to “Find the Cure” by clicking on our online donations and giving what you can.

Review: PortableApps.Com – Applications on the GO!

As a professional, you probably find yourself moving from office to meetings, to a colleagues desk a lot. The same could be said for a home user, moving from your laptop to the kid’s computer, and your desktop.  When you do, you also probably find yourself wishing you had your standard set of apps, tools, and documents at your fingertips.

One cool way to meet those needs is to start with a launcher platform like the one provided by PortableApps.  On its site, you will find the free and open-source Portable­Apps.com Platform as well as a number of portable apps that can run solely off of a USB flash drive, memory card, portable hard drive, or digital music player.

Applications On the GO

There is also a PortableApps.com Suite. This handy download includes a bundle of the available portable applications along with the base platform, all in one installer. There are two versions of the suite. Suite Light includes Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird, and Sunbird along with ClamWin antivirus, Pidgin for instant messaging, the Sumatra PDF reader, the KeePass password manager, the AbiWord word processor, an audio player, and some simple games. Suite Standard includes all those applications, as well as the OpenOffice.org office suite, which contains Writer, Calc, Impress, Base, and DrawIn addition, there are a number of other open-source applications that have been made “portable” on the site, including FileZilla for FTP, PuTTY for telnet and SSH, WinSCP for SFTP and SCP, PNotes and Task Coach for quick lists, 7-Zip for archiving, a command prompt, Eraser for wiping files, InfraRecorder for CD/DVD burning, WinDirStat for visualizing a disk’s content, winMd5Sum for verifying files, and WinMerge for file and directory diffs. (Frequent readers of my Toolbox column might notice that I have covered a number of these apps in previous instalments.)

Where to get support?

There is also a very active user community, which is working on portable versions of such network utilities as WinPCap and Wireshark. (These two tools can really help with your administrative and troubleshooting tasks.) The forums even provide a place specifically for suggesting applications to make portable.

These applications are self-contained on the storage device you use. If they write tothe registry or require any “off-disk” access, they should return everything to its pre-run state on exit. And you can run the apps without the PortableApps.com Platform—they are available wrapped in their own installers for doing just that. But, that aside, you will most likely want the features of the Platform anyway, and the Suite is a great place to start a customized environment that you can carry with you.

Ease of use

The PortableApps.com Platform is set up for autorun. Thus, when you insert your USB flash or portable drive into the Windows host machine, you will get the option to run the platform application. Once you launch the platform, a system tray icon appears. Clicking this icon pops up a menu that resembles the Windows Start menu. This application launcher provides quick links to all your portable applications along with links to document folders on your portable drive, an indicator of how much space is left on your drive, a backup utility for the documents on the drive, a search tool, and a link for installing new portable applications. You can customize this interface and choose one of more than 30 interface languages.

How much does it cost?

The PortableApps.com Suite and Platform is free. It contains no spyware. There are no advertisements. It isn’t a limited or trial version. There is no additional hardware or software to buy. You don’t even have to give out your email address. It’s 100% free to use, free to copy and free to share.

License: Free / Open Source (Mozilla apps: MPL, Others: GPL)

Tip: Top 5 Backup Solutions for Home and Business Computer Users

What would you do if you lost everything?

Backing up your computer‘s data simply makes common sense.  Your family photos, important Word documents and Excel files, online tax files, your MP3 music archives, and copies of best essays and book reports that you slaved over through College and University days are all stored on your computer.   How to best protect these memories is to constantly back up your files and documents, but what method is best?   There are thousands of products available to back up your computer’s data, some of them are better than the others.  Here’s are our top five methods to back your data, but there can only be one winner.

5. CD, DVD-ROMs and Blue-ray Disks

Every computer has a CD-ROM, DVD-ROM drive or Blue-Ray Play that can write large amounts of information relatively quickly to either a DVD-R or CD-R disc. The discs themselves are relatively inexpensive, and are an excellent form of data backup, as long as they’re kept properly labelled and checked for consistency. There is nothing more frustrating than having a spindle of 100 discs with the mystery of information stored on them; try finding a copy of your wedding photos then?

Beware of underrun errors (there is not a consistent flow of information, similar to a vinyl record skipping), and check your data occasionally to make sure everything’s ready if your hard drive does begin to have errors. Generally speaking, it’s preferable to use CD/DVD-ROM backup as a secondary method of data backup, but it can do quite nicely in a pinch if you have a few files or folders you need a backup of quickly or send off-site.  In addition, they provide a relatively durable and simple method to send information through the post.

4. Remote data storage via the Internet.

Companies such as IDrive (idrive.com) and Mozy (mozy.com) offer Online or Remote data storage services for a small monthly fee. With storage solutions starting around $5 a month, remote data storage providers offer a secure redundant and convenient backup solution that is accessible from anywhere you have an internet connection. Most remote data providers offer a limited or basic storage account for free.

Regardless of the storage provider you choose, for your safety and privacy please ensure that your files are protected by 128-bit SSL during transfer and 256-bit AES in storage. In addition look for a provider that offers your data backup in a mirrored (makes a redundant duplicate), secure fire- and earthquake-proof datacenter (extreme I know, but what you will always hear me say, nothing is too good for your family photos).

In addition to providing professionally managed and safe backups of your data, a few of the key components you will find through online or remote data storage providers is versioning, which automatically keeps track of editions or changes to a file, multiple user access and control.  And, as I mentioned briefly in the opening on this section the greatest benefit you will find in using a Remote data storage provides the ability to remotely access any of your files (backed-up to the site) via the internet in a safe, simple and secure manner.

3. Flash drives/ USB thumb drives

If you don’t have a massive amount of data to back up, a portable flash drive or USB thumb drive is a great backup method. Because there are no moving parts like a Flash media is extremely hard to break, very reliable, and can hold upwards of 16 gigabytes (GB) of information. In addition, the portability of a portable flash drive means that you’re never without your crucial files. USB Flash drives are also generally inexpensive compared to other storage methods and are available in a variety of colours and styles to match your taste or colour co-ordinate with your laptop.

I have to admit; there is nothing more convenient then 16GB of data that can fit in your pocket; however, the convenience has one critical downfall.  Think how often you have misplaced your car keys; now imagine having 16GB of private and confidential information stored on a USB thumb drive that can mistakenly disappear behind a cushion of the couch, or left on a college’s desk.  One recent, yet, critical improvement to enterprise quality portable flash drives is the introduction of hardware-encrypted, biometric or mandatory password-protected thumb drives. In short, before you copy a mission-critical file to a Flash Drive remind yourself of the consequences of it falling into the wrong hands.

2. External hard drives

External hard drives provide users with a portable storage solution with sizes crushing one tyra-byte (1000 GB’s).  External hard drives arguably provide the simplest and most affordable method of backup for home users and vary from do-it-yourself hard drive kits where you simply add a spare drive to an external case or manufactured drives from popular companies such as HP, Western Digital, and Maxtor. Many of the manufactured solutions are shipped with software solutions that will automatically back up your computer or selected files on a daily basis, or however you set the schedule, make a shadow copy of your computer’s main (primary) hard drive, and simplify the process of restoring your files or folders.  In addition, you can simply use the external hard drive seamlessly as you do with your primary (C:) hard drive or any other drive on your computer.

Boundless storage is fantastic and external hard drives provide such for pennies a GB. However, like all things made by man, hard drives are far from infallible.  Faulty drives, power supplies, or simply, where did I put the AC adaptor, can leave you lost and without your files.  I would argue, that you should never use an external hard drive upon its own, i.e. copy all of your MP3 music or family photos to the drive, but rather use it for our true intention as a back up to help protect you and your files from the day that your desktop or laptop begins to act up.

1. RAID NAS (Network Attached Storage) and Media Servers

The newest contender in computer and file backup solutions are Network Attached Drives and Media Servers.  In their simplest form, imagine an external hard drive that is connected to your wired or wireless network.  Where these solutions benefit over External Hard Drives is that they are designed as a common or shared storage area for all of the computers connected in your home or office network.  No more duplication of music or photo galleries, no burning a few files to a CD or copying them onto a Flash Drive, what could be simpler then going to a common drive (Z: for example) that everyone has access to.  Similar to external hard drives, many RAID NAS devices are shipped with software solutions that will automatically back up your computer and selected files on a daily basis.

Where the Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks or more commonly known as RAID technology comes into play, is that most of these solutions are designed to have more than one hard drive.  In other words, not only are you backing up your files and applications from your desktop, but more importantly the RAID or Media Server can be setup to continuously backup its own data onto the second drive. Not only are your own files backed up, but there is also a backup of the backup. Now how cool is that?  The primary downfall of most of these systems is that they are designed, for the most part, using proprietary operating systems and leaves little or no room for upgrades, add-ons or improvements.

D-Link (DNS-323) and HP Media Vault are two great examples of top notch Network Attached Storage solutions that enable you to store and access your documents, music, photos, and videos across the network and on the Internet so family members, friends, or employees can access them. You can use these devices to stream music, photos, and videos to UPnP compatible network media players, all of which provide extensive benefits over traditional external hard drives.

WINNER:  Windows Home Server

I had to give this one a little thought on how to present it in the list.  By definition, Microsoft Windows Home Server (WHS) is a robust Network Attached Storage System that includes the Windows Media Server platform for streaming digital movies, music and pictures.  Branded as the world’s first “Stay-at-home” server, WHS is simply just that a “server”.  This is where WHS stands out in the crowd, and why it has been convened with the “winners” branding.  Windows Home Server shares the same robust, stable, and mission-critical Windows 2003 Operating System that is used by multi-national organizations around the globe to run their office, design and internet applications and systems.  Yes, the same software that runs many of the computers that are traditionally locked away with the IT folks.

Now do not let this opening scare you away, as where WHS really shines is in its simplicity.  Designed with the home user in mind, you do not have to be a computer professional to benefit from a Windows Home Server.  Simple navigation menus, fool proof setup instructions and automated configuration of many of the basic tasks such a backing up each of your desktops and laptops nightly.  WHS is designed to run without a keyboard, a mouse or a monitor, but rather yet a system that works diligently from the corner of your desk or under a table.  Now how more simple can it be?

There are countless articles and blogs around the internet that have reviewed all the functions and capabilities of WHS, and as such, I do not want to echo these comments.   But what I do want to stress, is that as WHS is built upon an industry-standard Windows Server Operating System that provides a simple and easy to use a daily backup of all of your computers.  More importantly, it provides a single storage location for all of your files so no matter what computer you are working from in your home, you can quickly get to your data.  As an added bonus, in addition to the daily backups, you have the ability to roll back a day, week, or month (depending on your settings), and retrieve a previous version of a file.  If you accidentally deleted a photo or saved over a file, no problem at a touch of a button it is back.  Couple this power with the ability to view your files, photo’s and music from anywhere there is an internet connection, with the ease of use, makes Windows Home Server a choice for any household.

Epilogue

I admit, I find myself using all of the backup and storage methods listed on this page, which goes to show that although I have ranked the six methods, each does serve its unique purpose. No matter what your budget or the amount of data you want to store, the most important piece of information you should pull from this post is that backing up your data is critical.  But more importantly, it does not have to be a huge task.

JustCloud Online Remote Backup of your files

May 2012 | Very little has changed since I wrote this article a few years ago, with the exception of the growth in online computer backup services relying on your internet connection to transfer your files securely to an offsite location.  A great example (and what we use) of on-line Cloud-based storage is JustCloud.  JustCloud is powered by Amazon S3 to utilize its world-renowned internet storage. S3 has never lost a file and have a 99.99999999% guarantee they are so confident it will stay this way. To put that into perspective it means if you were to upload 10,000 files only 1 file would be lost every 10 million years.

To complement this advanced storage system, Just Cloud has engineered our own grid infrastructure which talks to Amazon s3 to offer super fast re-calling of your files and gives us the ability to offer advanced services like file versioning and file sharing. These servers are housed in our state of the art data centres around the globe which feature ‘no single point of failure’ to ensure no data is lost. Just Cloud data centres are watched around the clock, 365 days a year. Other features include ultra-redundant power, HVAC and networking systems.

Check out JustCloud for your backup needs; it is as simple as:

  • Installing the Application
  • Set the Folders to Back up, and
  • Never worry again.

If you are looking for a simple and straightforward backup solution, check out JustCloud today.

How To: Where can I find the Windows 7 Screen Capturing Tool?

Question: Where can I find a free Screen capturing tool for Windows 7 or Windows 10?

Answer: Windows has always had the Print Screen button (PRT SCR) to make a screen capture of your entire desktop. The sole function of this key is to take a snapshot or picture of your computer screen and copy it to the clipboard which can pasted (CTRL+V) later into a program of choice.

In addition the ALT-PRT SCR key can be used to capture the currently selected window, not the entire screen like the normal screenshot function. This allows you to target that specific window that you have open and nothing else.

For those that are using Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 10 – Microsoft has included a little utility titled “Snipping Tool”.

The Windows Sniipping Tool makes it simple screen captures as PNG, GIF, JPG files.

To access the Snipping Tool for the first time copy the following command “C:WindowsSystem32SnippingTool.exe” (without the quotes) and paste it in “Start Search” area under the Windows Start Menu. You can use the keyboard shortcut CTRL+C to copy and CTRL+V to paste.

Windows 10

Loading the Snipping Tool in Windows 10 is a snap.  Simply start writing “Snipping Tool” in the search tool bar.

Use Snipping Tool to capture screen shots

You can use Snipping Tool to capture a screen shot, or snip, of any object on your screen, and then annotate, save, or share the image. Simply use a mouse or tablet pen to capture any of the following types of snips:

  • Free-form Snip. Draw an irregular line, such as a circle or a triangle, around an object.
  • Rectangular Snip. Draw a precise line by dragging the cursor around an object to form a rectangle.
  • Window Snip. Select a window, such as a browser window or dialog box, that you want to capture.
  • Full-screen Snip. Capture the entire screen when you select this type of snip.

After you capture a snip, it’s automatically copied to the mark-up window, where you can annotate, save, or share the snip.

Screen capture using Windows Snipping Tool.

Review: Microsoft’s Virtual PC 2007

My review of Microsoft Virtual PC 2007. Virtualization software allows you to run multiple PC-based operating systems simultaneously on one workstation, providing a safety net to maintain compatibility with legacy applications while you migrate to a new operating system. It also saves reconfiguration time, so your support, development, and training staff can work more efficiently.

Evaluation verstions of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2003 running alongside Windows Vista
Evaluation versions of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2003 running alongside Windows Vista using Virtual PC 2007.

Microsoft has released several versions of their virtualization software, catered for both home users (Virtual PC 2004, 2007, 2011) and corporate IT departments (Virtual Server 2005, Hyper-V, and has been incorporated into Windows Server 2008), which allows you create separate virtual machines (installations of operating systems) on your Windows desktop.  In simplest terms, virtualization allows you to run two or more operating systems on the same computer, at the same time; talk about an improvement over duel-booting.

A virtual machine mimics (virtualizes) the hardware of a complete physical computer. It is common for virtual machines to run operating systems such as MS-DOS, Windows, and OS/2, allowing you to run legacy applications with ease, or simply try out a new operating system without sacrificing your existing Windows configuration.

Virtualization allows for:

  • Ease Migration: Run legacy applications in a virtual machine instead of delaying the deployment of a new operating system just because of application incompatibility. Test your migration plans using virtual machines instead of actual physical computers.
  • Do More in Less Time: Support staff can run multiple operating systems on a single physical computer and switch between them easily. They can also restore virtual machines to their previous state almost instantly. Train students on multiple operating systems and virtual networks instead of purchasing and supporting additional computers.
  • Streamline Deployment: Test software on different operating systems more easily. One crashing application or operating system doesn’t affect others.
  • Accelerate Development: Increase quality assurance by testing and documenting your software on multiple operating systems using virtual machines. Decrease time-to-market by reducing reconfiguration time.

Virtual PC 2007

Virtual PC Configeration Screen
Virtual PC Options Screen

While Virtual Server 2005 requires an advanced desktop or Windows Server configuration, which includes an installation of Windows Internet Information Services (IIS), Microsoft’s Virtual PC 2007 is family-friendly version of Microsoft’s powerful virtualization technology designed with the Home User in mind and is offered as a FREE application download from Microsoft.  The software includes an intuitive user interface that allows even the novice “virtualoso” to get moving on their first install.

To simplify this task, Microsoft has also released evaluation versions of several operating systems including Windows Server 2008, and Microsoft Vista s that can be downloaded and quickly added to your virtual PC world.  In addition, Novel has also released a preinstalled VHD (virtual hard drive) version of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES).  To simplify your own search, simply look for  VHD or Virtual Hard Drive in your favourite search engine.  Be warned, most of the applications are large and can span several gigabytes (GB) of data.

I am currently running copies of SUSU Linux version 11.1, and evaluation versions of Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 on Virtual PC 2007 SP1.  I would love to be able to test out Microsofts stand-alone server version of their Hyper-V Server,  however, the minimum requirements include a 64 bit cpu.  If anyone is willing to donate a 64 bit workstation with above-average RAM, I would be more than happy to give it the once over.

How can I get SUSE 11.1 to install on Virtual PC 2007?

Here is a little hint, you need to include the following starup option, otherwise the installation will freeze: noreplace-paravirt i8042.noloop clock=pit

Virtual PC System requirements can be Steep

The Virtual PC application requires a 400 MHz Pentium-compatible processor (1.0 GHz or faster recommended), and requires approximately 35 MB of disk space. It runs on Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise, Windows Vista Ultimate, Windows XP Professional, or Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, Windows Vista SP1 (Enterprise, Business, Ultimate), Windows XP SP3.

The real requirements for running Virtual PC are those necessary to support the guest operating systems that you will run. Add the disk requirements for every guest OS you’ll install and add the memory requirements for every guest OS you will run simultaneously, plus memory for the host OS.  For example, you will need 1 GB of free memory (RAM) to be able to allocate the same amount to the virtual operating system.

Below are the requirements for some of the operating systems that can be run as a guest operating system. Virtual PC can run most x86 operating systems, not just the operating systems listed below, in a virtual machine environment.

Guest Operating System

Minimum Memory

Minimum

Hard-Disk Space

Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition

64 MB

500 MB

Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me)

96 MB

2 GB

Windows 2000 Professional

96 MB

2 GB

Windows XP Home Edition

128 MB

2 GB

Windows XP Professional

128 MB

2 GB

Windows Vista Enterprise

512 MB

15 GB

Windows Vista Business

512 MB

15 GB

Windows Vista Ultimate

512 MB

15 GB

Windows Vista SP1 (Business, Enterprise, Ultimate)

512 MB

15 GB

Windows XP SP3

256 MB

3 GB

Windows Server 2008

512 MB

20 GB

OS/2

64 MB

500 MB

Keep in mind that these are minimum requirements. Installing applications in a guest OS increase requirements. Increasing memory beyond the minimum can result in significant performance increases.

Other Contenders in the Virtualization World

ere are countless debates over who is the leader of the virtualized world.  Here are a few links to some of the competitors, I will let you decide on your favourite:   Virtual Box, VMware Player, QEMU, and Bochs.

Review: SyncToy – Copy and Backup Your Files

SyncToy 2.0 a free utility that makes it easier to copy and back up files from your computer to the network, external drives, or other computers. Using a “folder pair” concept,  SyncToy lets you define one or more folders to keep in sync.

Folder-pair creation in SyncToy 2.0 is done with a three-step wizard, where you specify two folders, type of copy or sync action, and a name for the folder pair. When you’re done, you can preview and run a sync on one or more folder pairs.

SyncToy 2.0 offers three: Synchronize, Echo, and Contribute.  When you select an action in the folder-pair wizard, you get a short description of each action in the UI, so it’s easy to choose the type you need. Here’s how they work:

Synchronize: Copies new and updated files in both directions. If you rename or delete a file in one folder, that action is replicated in the other
Echo: Copies new and updated files and performs deletes and renames only from the left folder to the right
Contribute: Copies new and updated files on the left to the right while ignoring deletions.

Microsoft SyncToy 2.0

Key Features

  • Dynamic Drive Letter Assignment: Drive letter reassignment will now be detected and updated in the folder pair definition.
  • True Folder Sync: Folder creates, renames, and deletes are now synchronized for all SyncToy actions.
  • Exclusion Filtering Based on Name: File exclusion based on name with exact or fuzzy matching.
  • Filtering Based on File Attributes: The ability to exclude files based on one or more file attributes (Read-Only, System, Hidden).
  • Unattended Folder Pair Execution: Addressed issues related to running scheduled folder pairs while logged off.
  • Folder Pairs With Shared Endpoints: Ability for folder pairs associated with the same or different instances of SyncToy to share end-points.
  • Command line enhancements: Added the ability to manage folder pairs via the command line interface.
  • Re-Architect Sync Engine: The SyncToy engine has been rearchitected to provide scalability and the ability to add significant enhancements in future releases.
  • Sync engine is also more robust insomuch that many single, file level errors are skipped without affecting the entire sync operation.
  • Sync Encrypted Files: Sync of Encrypted files works when local folder and files are encrypted, which addresses the common scenario involving sync between local, encrypted laptop PC folder and remote, unencrypted desktop PC folder.
  • 64-Bit Support: SyncToy now has a native 64-bit build (x64 only) for 64-bit versions of Windows.
  • Folder pair rename
  • Sub-folder Exclusion Enhancements: Descendents created under excluded sub-folders are automatically excluded. Usability improvements for the sub-folder exclusion dialog.
  • Folder Pair Metadata Moved: Folder pair metadata removed from MyDocuments to resolve any issues with server-based folder pair re-direction setup.
  • Setup Improvements: Integrated setup with single self-extracting archive file and no extra downloads if you already have .NET Framework 2.0 installed. Enabled silent install for the SyncToy Installer file (see readme.txt file for more information). Removed combine and subscribe actions.
  • Removed combine and subscribe actions.

While SyncToy is well-designed and -tested, it isn’t part of Windows and is not supported by Microsoft. However, there is a very active and responsive group of people on the SyncToy forum where you can ask questions, get help from others. More importantly, it provides me with a quick, easy and simple application to help organize my wife`s digital photos onto our Windows Home Server for backup, and universal viewing.

Sources:

  1. http://www.microsoft.com/prophoto/downloads/synctoybeta.aspx
  2. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/2008.12.synctoy.aspx

Review: Switcher – Switch Between Applications

Switcher is a free utility for Windows Vista and Aero enabled.  As the name suggests, the application gives you a new twist to the standard Windows switching (ALT-TAB).  See all your windows on one screen, quickly search through them, even decorate them with your favourite colours and fonts. Let’s get started!

Switcher allows you easily see and manage all your windows on one screen, and quickly search through them, even decorate them with your favourite colours and fonts.

Switcher App for Windows Visa | Multi-monitor view

Switcher progressed through one year of development from February to October 2007.  Its concept is a staple in any windows based computer today.

To download a copy of Switcher please visit: www.insentient.net – Price: Free

Review: RocketDock – Launch your Applications

RocketDock is a super-cool dock for Windows. Think Mac OS dock for Windows. RocketDock is a fast, eye-pleasing application launchpad for your applications you use most often.

Not having to navigate the start menu to get to your favourite and most-used applications can be a time saver.  The enhanced start menu in Windows Vista helps and is a vast improvement over previous versions of Windows, as do the tried-and-true, quick launch buttons on the taskbar, and handy Send to Desktop (create shortcut).

RocketDock is a fast, eye-pleasing application launchpad for your applications you use most often.

Features

  • Minimize windows to the dock
  • Real-time window previews in Vista
  • Running application indicators
  • Simple drag-n-drop interface
  • Multi-monitor support
  • Supports alpha-blended PNG and ICO icons
  • Icons zoom and transition smoothly
  • Auto-hide and Popup on mouseover
  • Positioning and layering options
  • Fully customizable
  • Completely Portable
  • ObjectDock Docklet support
  • Compatible with MobyDock, ObjectDock, RK Launcher, and Y’z Dock skins
  • Runs great on slower computers
  • Unicode compliant
  • Supports many languages and can easily be translated
  • A friendly user base 🙂

www.rocketdock.com – Price: Free