How Shadow Explorer can save your ass

Shadow Explorer is a neat little tool I found while cruising around the web. In a nutshell, it is a frontend built for Vista’s Shadow Copy tool. Vista Home versions allegedly do not have a frontend at ALL for this service, while higher end Vista copies do, but it’s not that great.

To use Shadow Explorer you can simply download it from the linked site above. It’s very simple to use – just download, run, and run the resulting .exe as an administrator.

Once open, it looks pretty bare, like you’re missing something or something broke. It probably didn’t. There’s a long thin dropdown at the top that will list out all the dates that there are restore points on your machine for. Select a date, and then you should see a copy of your filesystem (or at least the “protected drives”).

From there you can find files and restore them by right-clicking and then exporting them back to your filesystem. Works like a charm. I just had a situation where I saw a neat little popup saying “Files deleted permanently” and sure enough, some files were gone. Not in the trash, not in any temp directories, nowhere. No explanation. Restored them easily with this tool.

Thanks to Microsoft for Shadow Copy and thanks to these guys for making a way to access it! Shadow Explorer is kind of like backing up your whole harddrive (obviously it’s not a replacement for doing so… but it’s like making a LOCAL backup of all your files).

Make sure before you use this that Shadow Copy is enabled, though. Usually it is but I’ve seen at least 3 people who didn’t due to some errors in their configuration. To check, go to Control Panel, System (in classic view), System Protection, and then in the middle of the screen you should eventually see all your protected drives and unprotected drive. Simply check the drives you want to copy and hit apply or ok. You can also manually create a restore point if you want.

 

Apple Macbook – from a Windows point of view

I recently found myself with an extra thousand dollars, the money just fell into my lap. I wanted a new laptop, as the Acer I had, to put it as frankly as possible, sucked. The battery lasted 45 minutes, it was scratch-prone, it was humongous and underpowered.

I would never have considered buying an Apple Macbook if not for the fact that I had this money unexpectedly. And as it turns out, the “entry-level” Macbook cost almost exactly $1000 after rebates!

Going into this, let me explain that I am an avid Windows user. I have experimented a lot with Linux and found it wholly distasteful to use. I appreciate that it’s an alternative, but it wasn’t for me. I had also experimented a little bit with Apple OSX 10.3 and found that to be terrible. At the time, it was running on a Novell network at school, and Novell screwed around with the way the Mac ran. It was upsetting to see it crash so often, and random powerups/poweroffs, and hardware crashes.  Macbook

But I decided to take the plunge. I don’t know if it was to truly be open-minded, or just to convince myself that I am. Either way, I bought a Macbook.

Unpacking the box

My initial experience was excellent. Booted right up, no initial charging necessary. Took me through a cheesy video, similar to Windows tours and PDA experiences. Once the video was over I got to set up my profile.

Really, it’s the little things that pleased me most. Seeing the i-Sight webcam work in the profile setup page to allow me to use my own picture as my profile pic was nice. The phrase “everything just works” suddenly made sense to me. The laptop was small, light, and the form factor was excellent.

Little hardware touches, like the powerbrick being modular, and the magnetic plugs, made me happy as well. The screen was nice, although I disliked the glossy screen. My Acer was also glossy, though, and this seemed somehow less glossy. They keys I am not too fond of, however. The keyboard looks damned nice. I will give it that. The keys, though, do not always work when typing fast. I find myself constantly having to fix typos where letters were not typed, even when I hit the key. I have not yet gotten used to this.

The battery

Battery life is one of the most important factors to me. My Acer sucked because it used the entire battery in 45 minutes with the screen on medium and wifi on. The Macbook, though, lasts an insanely long time. I found that with the screen on maximum brightness, wifi and bluetooth on, and average CPU use, I could easily get 4 hours of battery. 6 hours or more if the screen was turned down and the wifi/bluetooth turned off.  3 hours or so if the DVD drive was constantly being read (movies, etc).

The battery life serves this laptop really really well.

Operating System – OSX 10.4

OSX looks really nice. Nice effects, nice layout, simple to use. Almost too simple, in fact. I found learning to use a Mac to be the hardest part, simply because everything was so elementary. Installing a program means clicking and dragging one icon from the containing folder to the folder you want to install to. Sometimes the Applications folder is even shortcutted right there in the folder of the program you want to install, so all you have to do is drag an icon literally 2 inches or less.

I would not call OSX highly customizable. Definitely not compared to any Linux distribution I have used in the past. Even compared to Windows, it’s not that customizable. Background, sure. Dock position too, and size of the dock. Some small graphic effects changes and shortcut changes. Overall, though, the system preferences tool seems very limited. Lots of options, but each one has very few choices.

The Finder tool I find somewhat annoying. I am used to folder hierarchies laid out like Windows/Linux does. Instead, Finder presents you with a dumbed down version of this. Each panel on finder acts as its own level in the hierarchy. Click on the Application folder, and the next panel to the right houses all the files and folders in Applications, and then clicking on a subfolder would populate a third panel, and so on.

It’s useful to be able to change directories quickly, but I strongly prefer Vista’s method of directory changing (the contextual dropdowns in the location bar) to this.

One thing irked me right off the bat about OSX. Most things work very well, and most things work (or appear to work) very quickly and snappy. However, this is not the true for everything. Clicking on the top-right menu items can sometimes take a long long time to open the appropriate window. Clicking on the wifi icon, for example, can take up to 10 seconds to open sometimes. I would assume, based on absolutely nothing but common sense, that this is because the wifi app is researching for wireless signals every time I hit that button. If this is not the case, I can absolutely not even fathom why it would take 10 seconds to open up a little panel with a few options on it.

Spotlight is neat. It is like Vista’s new search feature, only more organized, and integrated into the desktop. It is located in the top right menu bar, as a littel magnifying glass. When you click on it, a little panel drops down with a search box in it. It works almost exactly the same, no joking. The only significant difference I found in actual use (behind the scenes it is most likely much different) is that it sorts the results on the fly into categories, and displays the first x number of results right there in the panel. If you want to see more it’s a simple matter of clicking on a “see more” option and everything opens in a new window.

Conclusion

Obviously a platform jump is a big deal, but I think with the solid hardware and a lot more public attention thanks to the iPod, the iPhone, etc., will show strong sales for Apple this quarter. My parents just bought a new Mac, even though they are solidly Windows people and are not that technically inclined. A year ago, owning a Mac would have been a joke to them, whereas now it’s a viable option.The Mac’s come a long way, and has pioneered some interesting desktop techniques, as well as borrowing good ideas from other platforms. It’s a strong machine with a lot of promise.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact me, James Martin.
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