VLC media player on Windows 8

VLC media player
VLC media player

When I upgraded to Windows 8 Pro I wanted to make sure that I could still play DVDs. Now that I have upgraded I’ve moved from using Windows Media Player to VLC media player. Here’s why.

Having read up a little about Windows 8’s support of various media I was fairly confident that if I installed the Windows Media Center then I would be able to continue to play DVDs in Windows Media Player, as I did in Windows 7. I was wrong.

Having bought the upgrade early (back in October 2012) I was offered a free upgrade to Windows Media Centre — woop! — which saved me a whole £6.99. However, as I discovered, it only enables DVD playback in Windows Media Centre, not Windows Media Player.

On my old Windows XP machine I used Cyberlink PowerDVD, which costs between £30-£70 depending; I got it free, bundled with my graphics card, if I remember correctly. It was fairly easy to use, and the controls were pretty intuitive. When I moved to Windows 7 I discovered that this version of the software wasn’t compatible with that version of Windows and I was reluctant to pay for an upgrade and so I started to use Windows Media Player, which had a really terrible, confusing interface but was free.

And so once again another Windows upgrade requires me to find another application that will enable me to watch DVDs on my PC. A quick Google search suggested that I try VLC media player.

VLC media player ticked both boxes: it’s free and it’s really easy to use. The interface is incredibly clear, much simpler than Windows Media Player 10 and 11, and it’s incredibly fast.

I also really like that the software is created by the VideoLAN organisation, “a project and a non-profit organization, composed of volunteers, developing and promoting free, open-source multimedia solutions.”

I definitely recommend VLC media player, if you are looking for a free, user-friendly replacement for Windows Media Player on Windows 8 (or, indeed, any version of Windows from XP SP2 onwards).

Restoring the Up button in Windows 7

explorer-upbutton

One of the things that puzzled me about Windows Vista and Windows 7 is why Microsoft removed the ‘up’ arrow icon in Windows Explorer. I’m now delighted to be able to restore it using Classic Shell by Ivo Beltchev.

Now, I do appreciate that Vista introduced the breadcrumbs in the address bar which allows you to move quickly between directories, and there is a keyboard shortcut (Alt+Up arrow) to move back up the tree. But sometimes it’s just quicker to use a button, rather than moving back and forth between the mouse/trackpad and keyboard.

Mavis Up Button

I have tried Mavis Up Button in the past. While it’s not free, its cost of US $4.95 (approx. GBP £3.10) isn’t exactly prohibitive. But it does have a few shortcomings.

The first is one of user-experience. While it looks beautiful (a shiny green colour) it doesn’t disable when you reach the top of the path tree, which makes things a little disorienting (“can I go up any further or not?!”).

The second relates to reinstalling Windows. Because the registration requires you to match a software-generated hardware ID, username and registration key, if you’ve made any significant changes to your computer these will not match and you’ll either need to ask Mavis technical support to generate another registration key or you’ll need to purchase the application again.

Which brings me to the Mavis technical and customer support, which in my experience is dreadful. I waited over a month for a reply to an email and am still waiting. And the last time I tried to purchase the button I was sent an email of the HTML of their Error 404 Page Not Found page when they were meant to send me the registration code!

Classic Shell

Classic Shell is free, hosted at SourceForge and doesn’t require any registration key to make it work. I now have it installed on my laptop.

As the name might suggest, it does more than add an Up button within Windows Explorer, but the options are nicely organised (with two views: basic and advanced) and you are not forced to use the features that you don’t want to use.

See the features page to find out what else it offers.

classic-shell

So far I’ve been impressed with Classic Shell, even though all I want is the Up button in Explorer, and it works on both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7.

Audio playing too fast

Here’s a weird thing. Ever since installing my new webcam (Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 with QuickCam v11.7 software) and after using it for a while, mostly with Seesmic my MP3s play at about 3x or 4x normal speed.  They should like a chipmunk band!

I’m still trying to work out what the issue is.  Could it be to do with the way that Adobe Flash Player is interacting with the webcam and audio input/output?

Strangely, normal service resumed as soon as I’d closed the Seesmic tab in Firefox and closed down Twhirl (Twitter client).

I’m also not sure what software/drivers I should have installed.  It came with QuickCam v11.7 but the download version (for XP) from the Logitech website is QuickCam v11.5.  Hmmm…

Update, pt.1

Saturday 21 June

I’ve just uninstalled Adobe Flash Player and reinstalled it.  Everything appears to be working as expected now, which is promising.  That may have been the issue … I’ll keep an eye on it.

Update, pt.2

Friday 27 June

The problem is still continuing, although not as much as previously.  It happened again this morning when I fired up WinAmp.  However, I’ve discoverd that if I exit from Last.fm that fixes the problem.  Not sure what’s going on.  Seems to have happened around the time when I upgraded to Firefox 3 and installed the Logitech webcam.

Investigations continue …

Update, pt.3

Wednesday 02 July

Having lived with this issue over the last couple of weeks, it certainly looks as though the main culprits are Flash player in Firefox 3.0 and Last.fm.  The audio in WinAmp just went ‘chipmunk’ again this morning and wasn’t resolved until I did the following:

  1. Stop WinAmp playing (not exit, just stop)
  2. Exit Last.fm for Windows 1.5.1.29527
  3. Start WinAmp playing again

Music returned to its normal tempo.  Very odd, rather annoying.

Update, pt.4

Monday 28 July

I’ve now not experienced the chipmunk audio effect for nearly two weeks now.  I found somewhere on the Adobe website that in order to run the Flash uninstaller fully it required a /clean switch:

  1. Download the Uninstaller
  2. Open the Windows Command Prompt ( Run > cmd ).
  3. Navigate to the directory where the uninstaller was downloaded.
  4. Run “Uninstall Adobe Flash Player.exe /clean.”

After that I reinstalled Adobe Flash Player 9.0.124.0 and all has been well again ever since.

PC absolution

Windows XP Professional

Yesterday, just about lunchtime, I finished writing my sermon for this morning on the theme of “letting go (and letting God)”. About an hour later I found myself letting go of my old, increasingly corrupted installation of Windows XP Professional on my desktop PC.

My PC has now been forgiven, is absolved of all its dodgy registry settings and bloated system files and I feel quite relieved — like a burden has been lifted.

I’d been aware that I was needing to do this for some time, but just didn’t have the time. But yesterday morning my applications were revolting. Outlook crashed about every 5 minutes, Firefox crashed every second page I browsed to. It was time.

Device drivers must be getting better: this was the smoothest, most hassle-free reinstallation of Windows XP that I’ve ever had. I had a bit of bother with my onboard NVidia soundcard, but once I installed the correct drivers it’s been plain sailing ever since.

Ghost

I even managed to create a Norton Ghost 2003 disk image of the Windows XP partition with just Windows, device drivers and Windows Updates installed. Something to roll-back to just in case.

I’ve used Ghost before — it basically takes a snapshot of your hard drive (or partition) so that you can quickly restore it as and when you need to. That way you can return your PC to a predefined state of health. I used it quite a bit when I had Windows 98se. I could restore my PC in a little over 30 minutes, which was much better than taking 2 days out to wrestle with installation CDs and device drivers.

What I’ve learned…

What I’ve learned so far is

  1. It is a good thing to reinstall Windows XP every couple of years to get rid of Windows-bloat and return my PC to its speedy-goodness
  2. I have no idea where my Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo XI installation CD-ROMs are
  3. Adobe Acrobat 7 requires a reboot after each and every update

Off to watch Scotland v Argentina now, while videoing the new series of Top Gear on BBC 2.

The website that nearly was

Coming soon?

Yesterday I was going to blog about an exciting, fresh new website I’ve been working on. I was going to share with you something of my process of taking a website from an initial idea, through the various stages of design to launch. The site was going to be launched yesterday morning.

But then something happened.

The background

During the last few months I’ve been working quietly and diligently on two Web projects for a couple of friends. I offered to work on them for free, in my own time, which — along with travelling back and forth between Fife and the Scottish Borders helping Mum out in preparing for her house move — has been the main reason that I’ve not been blogging quite as much as I’d like to.

Meanwhile my blog drafts have been piling up behind the scenes; here’s an insight into what is to come in the following weeks/months:

  • Post # 1251
  • Misheard
  • O2 Xda Orbit desktop cradle
  • Customizing SMS tone on Windows Mobile 5 (Phone edition)
  • One year on …
  • Get away
  • O2 Xda Orbit
  • Misery
  • Credit card rip-off!
  • Buying a domain name
  • Job satisfaction
  • Blog content warning
  • Windows Start menu organization
  • Structured Content

Ready …

This week I was ready to go live with one of the projects, having more than put in the hours trying to fix bugs (mostly IE5.5 and IE6) this week.

On my snag list were a few IE fixes, a couple of print-related CSS files to write and a last-minute check to make sure that the Google AJAX Feed API was working properly. I finished the fixes around midnight on Tuesday.

The client has only static webspace, so I decided to use the Google AJAX Feed API to ‘pull in’ a newsfeed from a WordPress.com blog into their news page. It was a cheap and simple solution to add a bit of RSS loveliness and to enable the client to add content quickly and easily, without having to learn HTML.

Steady …

So having been working closely with this client (a charity) and probably having racked up more than 40 hours working on the architecture, wireframes, design, coding and debugging, I was ready to go live.

I sent what I thought would be a quick, courteous email to the charity committee chairman to say that I was ready to go live, and unless there were any obvious reasons not to, I would go live yesterday morning at 08:00.

I was quite excited, to be honest. I was looking forward to it going live; proud of what I’d put together: the most Web 2.0 web design I’ve ever done, contemporary, fresh, fun and accessible, with a tip-of-the-hat to a couple of retro elements. How wonderfully postmodern. And the use of the Google AJAX Feed API, I felt, was quite an elegant solution.

And then the phone rang … and a couple of emails popped into my inbox. All saying the same thing:

Stop!

It would appear that the committee were not happy. My understanding was that I should be working closely with the charity’s store manager; theirs was that I should be working closely with the charity’s committee.

Yeah … because website design by committee is always so much easier (irony!).

I’m disappointed, partly because I’m usually so good and making absolutely sure at the start of a project that I’m dealing with the right parties, that I’m not caught up in the the politics of the organization and from the word ‘go’ I know with whom I’m supposed to be liaising.

I thought I’d done that. I was obviously very wrong, I’ve now clearly stepped on some toes for which I’m very sorry, and so I spent most of yesterday evening composing an email to the committee chair explaining where I think things went wrong and how we might move forward with this. But, at the end of the day, I can only really go on what I’m told.

Coming soon?

The upshot of it all is that my new, shiny, rounded-corners and Web-2.0-gradients website may not be going live any time soon. Which, while understandable, is disappointing.

Not least because I could have been spending those 40+ hours doing something more profitable. Like writing a free website for client #2. Or reading another Douglas Coupland novel. Or playing Battlefield 2. Or reading up on the ethics of IVF. Or building a Linux box. Or … you get the picture.