Review: Drobo FS Network Storage Array


Wow, that title’s a mouthful — Network Storage Array — but don’t let that technical-jargony sounding term scare you, this Drobo FS device is really as easy to use as your Fridge. And for me, that’s a Holy Grail — something that you use and basically forget the complexity.

But let me back up a moment and describe what a Network Storage Array (or NAS – Network Attached Storage) device is.

Basically, it’s a box with a bunch of hard drives in it, and some network intelligence. You connect your NAS to your home or office network, and it appears to your computers as if it’s another computer on your network that’s sharing some drives.

You copy stuff to your NAS and share files with any other computer on your network.

Pretty simple, yet difficult to do well

And this is where things get a little squirrely. Some people have a household with mixed computers sharing the same network. In my case, I’ve got Windows (2 varieties), OSX and Linux machines. And some network storage devices don’t play well with different machines on the same network. Sure, the box may say Win/Mac, but invariably issues arise. Not so with the Drobo FS. Continue reading “Review: Drobo FS Network Storage Array”

How to easily install essential applications on a new Windows 7 computer

It doesn’t matter if you’ve upgraded from Vista or XP, or if you’ve bought a new Windows 7 based computer, you’re going to need to install some basic and essential applications on your new baby.

And this awesome website makes it so, SO easy. 4 easy steps:

  • Visit the site
  • Select which applications you want
  • Press the button to start a download
  • Run the downloaded application

Visit the site is a very cool web app with a single function: to make a custom downloader and installer that will save you time and mouseclicks to install commonly used open-source and free applications.

The page looks like this, a long list of applications and utilities, divided into sections by application type.

Ninite includes everything from office suite applications (Open Office, MS Office trial), image and  audio editors, to system maintenance utilities, virus scanners, and media burning tools.

Get your applications
This couldn’t be simpler. Click on the apps or utilities you want. Unfortunately there’s no link to a product overview so if you’re not familiar with the application you will need to Google it.

Press the button
This initiates a bit of back-end magic at the site. A custom download/installer application is built and sent to your computer. It contains all the information necessary to, when run, download and install (in background) the applications you selected in the previous step.

Make it so
When  you run the installer, a window opens showing you the progress of the process. If you’re curious, you can ‘show the details’ and each phase of the install can be viewed.

The big benefit for me is the time saving and the click saving. What would normally take over an hour for a new install, basically takes 2-5 minutes of my time, the rest happens in background while I do something else. To quote from the developers:

Ninite runs on Windows XP/Vista/7 and works
in the background 100% hands-free.

We install apps with default settings and
say “no” to browser toolbars and other junk.

All we do is install the latest versions of the apps
you choose. Not even Ninite is installed.

How can that not be cool?

Essential things to do before upgrading to Windows 7

Windows 7 is on its way so I thought I’d document some steps to take to prepare for a Windows 7 upgrade.

Depending on the state of your current computer and the version of Windows you’re currently running, your Windows 7 upgrade could consist of:

  • in-place upgrade over top of your existing OS (Only supported for Vista, but you can do it with XP through Hardlink Migration)
  • clean upgrade replacing your existing OS (format and overwrite)
  • alongside upgrade booting and running off another partition (two Windows versions on the same computer – I use this until I notice that the majority of my work is done on the new OS, then I nuke the older OS)

Microsoft provides this handy chart on their upgrade page; it’ll help you decide which path is right for you.

And, the upgrade could take a while. But, regardless of the upgrade path you choose to walk, here’s a few things you can do that will make your upgrade smoother, and safer should something go wrong.

To be safe, (and if you’ve got the drive space) you may want to make a full system backup.

If that’s not practical, determine what your most important data is — things like documents, photos, home videos etc. Things that are not replaceable.

Most likely, you’ll find them in ‘C:\Documents and Settings\YOUR USER NAME HERE\My Documents’, but you may find some in ‘C:\Documents and Settings\All Users as well’.

Once you’ve identified all your important and irreplaceable work, copy them to a separate directory on your computer. Don’t worry about copying your application programs (I find that when I upgrade my OS, it’s far better to reinstall them from scratch), but do check the application directories for any custom settings, purchased plugins, modifications etc. You’ll likely want to back them up as well.

Depending on how you roll, you can burn your important files to a CD, copy them to a USB thumb drive, or install an online backup client (like Mozy) and let it backup over the internet. If you’re especially concerned, combine these.

Now that our essential data is safe, we’re going to clean stuff up.

First, launch your control panel and uninstall every application, game or utility you no longer use. If you’re unsure, then just leave it, but I find that I’m always installing things and haven’t used them for months. Best to get rid of it now.

Next, run Disk Cleanup. Depending on your OS, you could find it in a few places, but I find the easiest way to launch it is by:

  • exploring to your C: drive
  • right clicking on the drive
  • selecting Properties from the drop down
  • then clicking on Disk Cleanup in the properties window.

Once Disc cleanup runs, you’ll be presented with a series of checkboxes of ‘stuff’ that windows wants to remove. Review it carefully, unchecking everything you want to keep. Then let it continue.

Finally, empty your trash.

Now, lets make your hard drive the best it can be for a new OS installation by defragmenting it. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here’s Wikipedia’s explanation of defragmentation

defragmentation is a process that reduces the amount of fragmentation in file systems. It does this by physically organizing the contents of the disk to store the pieces of each file close together and contiguously. It also attempts to create larger regions of free space using compaction to impede the return of fragmentation. Some defragmenters also try to keep smaller files within a single directory together, as they are often accessed in sequence.

On my system, here’s how I defrag a drive:

  • explore to C: drive
  • right click on the drive
  • selecting Properties from the drop down
  • select the Tools tab at the top of the window
  • then click on the Defrag Now button.

A defragged drive is a happy drive.

Ok, once you’ve done all this, you’re computer is in much better shape to proceed with your particular flavour of Windows 7 installation.

Good luck! Mine went fine, and I’m now busily reinstalling my applications, as I need them.

Update: Oct 20, 2009 Life Hacker has this much more detailed overview of the update process and preparing for it