April 17th, 2006

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Dell De-Crapifier

OK, so I'm the kind of guy who formats a machine bare and reinstalls it within minutes of receiving it. Probably a big part of why even my Windows computers are relatively stable for a relatively long term.

Not everybody does that, though.

That's a big deal with "consumer" series computers. Consumer series computers are loaded with crap. Literally.

Vendors like Dell and HP get paid by companies to bundle software on their machines. You end up with dozens of programs you would have never bought in the first place installed on your computer. I don't mean the helpful little things like Dell QuickSet power management or the CD burning software that your CD burner wouldn't work without.

I mean things like MusicMatch Jukebox (does anybody use MusicMatch these days?), MyWay Search Assistant and three different online-service trial offers.

Who needs that crap?

This guy named Jason York decided enough was enough, and created a little script called The Dell De-Crapifier. It's a simple script that un-installs a lot of the junk that came pre-installed on your Dell (if you're not like me and you just start using your computer when you get it). It's not flawless, it doesn't have training wheels, but it's something to help the folks who don't spend all their time installing operating systems.
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I hate Costco...

...but that's mostly because of the crowds of morons (who don't understand traffic while driving in the parking lot or while pushing a cart around the store) and the lackadaisical "organization" of the store (and those center aisles too narrow to fit two carts down doesn't help either).

It's still a good source for tech bargains (if you're not fussy about specific brands or models).

Case in point. I needed a DVD burner and an external drive for the machine at home (no, 160gb of disk isn't really enough once it's been sliced up to make for a more stable and long-lived installation, thank you very much).

A 300gb Maxtor OneTouch III Firewire 400/USB 2.0 priced out better than other 300gb drives without Firewire or the bundled Maxtor OneTouch Manager (EMC Retrospect Express HD Edition back-up software, actually) at the discount houses I checked.

A HP dvd740e drive priced out lower than most 8x double-layer DVD burners without Lightscribe Labeling. I'll probably never use the LightScribe functionality (LightScribe media sells for about 3x the price of regular DVD media) but you never know.

They also had 100-packs of TDK DVD-R and DVD+R media for $40. I'm set for a while.

All in all, not a bad tech shopping day.
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DVD Burning Software

So I couldn't possibly buy a DVD burner without trying to use it right away. I've got some video files, so I figured I could throw together a test DVD pretty quickly.

There was only one problem.

I had 3 different authoring packages.

The machine came with Sonic Solutions Digital Media Studio V7 to support the built-in CD burner. When I upgraded the video, the card came with Cyberlink DVD Solution. The new burner came with Nero Vision Express 6.

So I had the Cyberlink, I like the Cyberlink, I decided to try the Cyberlink PowerDirector. It's got a great interface. It's easy to shuttle through a video file, drop in chapter marks, set chapter thumbnails, and prep your DVD. Unfortunatly, there are major disconnects in their transcoding system, so it couldn't actually convert the DivX video file to MPEG-2 for the DVD. That's what "There is no common media type between these pins" (the stupid error message it gave) means. Scrap that.

I had the Nero. I don't really like Nero, and I hadn't installed it, but I figured it was worth a chance. The authoring interface is funky (as in "stinks like soggy swamp feet," not as in "has a good beat"). Chapter marking is twitchy; there isn't a lot of fine control. Setting chapter thumbnails happens during menu editing, not during chapter marking, and the level of control is even less friendly there. The DVD menu templates included with the software are pretty bizarre and can be difficult to read. The transcoding works like a champ, though, and can be configured (if you're willing to burn the processor time) to make the most of your image quality. I also found the free patch to Nero 6 Ultra Edition; it has a few features that improve on the interface.

I forgot about the Sonic. I had never used it (I haven't used that machine to burn a data disc, and I burn my audio discs with iTunes). It had Sonic myDVD, though, so it was worth a try. The interface was even funkier than Nero. I never did figure out how to set chapter thumbnails. The menu templates were much prettier than the Nero layouts, but were even less flexible. I couldn't figure out how to create a DVD with a single video file that only showed the chapter menu, and whenever I changed the first chapter title, the chapter menu title or the file title the whole thing changed. I didn't even bother attempting to burn a disc.

For the moment I've scrapped all the Cyberlink software except PowerDVD (I still need a DVD codec, and it's a good one). I scrapped all the Sonic software; I couldn't find anything good in there to keep.

I installed all of the Nero software and patched up to Nero 6.6 Ultra Edition (a bit surprising, most of the other packages don't offer free upgrades for OEM versions). I'll download the free template packages when I get home; perhaps they'll include some less-ugly menu templates. The Nero 7 Ultra Edition is also tempting, but that costs, and I don't see any reason right now to pay for more.