I set up my main desktop computer to enable remote access to my desktop (System -> Preferences -> Remote Desktop). Then, when I access it from my laptop (Applications -> Internet -> Remote Desktop Viewer), I run into problems. I am able to make a connection, and see the initial screen state when I first connect. Any actions I take through remote desktop are visible on the desktop monitor, but my laptop’s Remote Desktop Viewer doesn’t get screen updates… it always looks as it did when I first connected.

This is apparently a known issue with a workaround. You just have to disable visual effects on the computer you’re accessing (via System -> Preferences -> Appearance -> Visual Effects -> None). This is definitely not ideal as it does clunkify and de-prettify Ubuntu a bit on the target system, but I can live with it for now as I’ll be using the laptop far more often.

I’ve set up a Windows XP virtual machine in VirtualBox to do .NET development. I want my work to be backed up by my host machine’s backup software, but the 10GB virtual hard drives wreck havoc as the whole thing needs to be uploaded every time a single file on the virtual machine changes. To avoid this, I’ve set up a shared folder in the VirtualBox VM configuration, and in the VM I’ve mapped the share to a network drive. this way all the files on that mapped drive are stored on the file system of the host machine and can be backed up separately from the large virtual hard drive.

The steps were as follows:

  1. Create a folder on the host machine to serve as the VM’s network share (all mine are under ~/VirtualBox/Shares)
  2. With the WinXP VM powered off, open up it’s settings form the VirtualBox main console (right-click -> Settings)
  3. Under ‘Shared Folders’, click the ‘Add Shared Folder’ button
  4. Set the Folder Path to the folder you created above, note the Folder Name if you don’t change it, and make sure the share is not marked as read-only. Click OK.
  5. Power on the VM.
  6. In Windows Explorer, open the ‘Folders’ side panel.
  7. Navigate to ‘My Network Places -> Entire Network -> VirtualBox Shared Folders’ and open the shared folder you configured above.
  8. Note (or copy to clipboard) the UNC path to the network share (probably something like “\VBOXSVR[folderName]”)
  9. In Windows Explorer, choose “Tools -> Map Network Drive”
  10. Pick a Drive letter, and paste the UNC path from above into the ‘Folder’ text box. Ensure ‘Reconnect at logon’ is checked, and click ‘Finish’.

Now you can open ‘My Computer’ and navigate to the drive letter you selected. The mapped drive will be there every time you start the VM.

Update 2/3/2011: Originally I removed the optical drive from the VirtualBox VM configuration so I could add the shared network drive as D: and move the optical to E:. But when I re-added the optical drive, the VM did not add the optical drive and had trouble mounting the network share to D:. After some tinkering, I ended up with the optical drive back on D: and mapped the network drive to E:. No trouble so far.

I have a partition on a second internal hard drive that I use for media storage. Ubuntu is smart enough to detect it’s existence and add a link in the Places menu to mount and open this partition, however I’d like to have it mounted automatically on boot so it can be accessible to my online backup software. I also want to make sure it maintains it’s entry in the Places menu, so I can access it as easily as I currently do.

There are two administration utilities I used to accomplish this:

  1. NTFS Configuration Tool (ntfs-config)
  2. Storage Device Manager (pysdm)

Both utilities are GUI tools for modifying the ‘/etc/fstab’ file, which defines the file-system table configuration. Both can be found in the Ubuntu Software Center, or can be installed from the command-line with apt-get (package names are in parenthesis). Once installed, both can be launched from the System -> Administration menu, as of Ubuntu 10.10.

The NTFS Configuration Tool is obviously focused on NTFS partitions, so it’s not a general-purpose ‘fstab’ configuration tool. Before launching, make sure you don’t have any partitions mounted or it may be unable to detect them properly. When launched, it will detect any new NTFS partitions (meaning ones that don’t have entries in ‘fstab’) and ask if you want to configure them. When this happens, make sure that only the partitions you want to be auto-mounted are checked! Then click OK to add an entry for the checked drive to ‘fstab’, or you can click Cancel if you don’t want any to add any new entries to ‘fstab’. This leaves you at the main NTFS Configuration Tool window. If you open up Advanced Configuration, you’ll see an entry for any of the partitions you just selected. You may need to check the ‘Writable’ box next to your new entries. From here you can Close the utility. Your selected partitions will be mounted automatically on boot, and they will still be listed in the Places menu! If you accidentally configured a partition, or want to remove a previous entry, you’ll have to fix that with the Storage Device Manager.

The Storage Device Manager is a GUI front-end to modifying any ‘fstab’ entry, not just for NTFS partitions. When launched, you can select a partition to configure from the Partition List on the left side. If a partition does not have an entry in the ‘fstab’ file, you’ll get a message box saying it hasn’t been configured and asking if you want to configure it now. If you load this before running the NTFS Configuration Tool, then it should prompt you when you choose any of the unconfigured drives. If you need to remove an entry that you added with the NTFS Configuration Tool, you can do that here (be sure to Unmount first if applicable).

The only other thing I’d like to tweak would be to not have the mounted partitions display a desktop icon (I like my desktop as clean as possible), but I can live with it for now. And it’s probably possible to use the Storage Device Manager to do all this (and of course I could just learn to edit the ‘fstab’ manually), but I haven’t figured that out yet.

When you send a VirtualBox client into fullscreen mode Host + F, there’s a small ‘Mini Menu’ bar pinned to the bottom of the screen that has Devices and Machine menus on it. This gets in the way, and although you can ‘un-pin’ it so it auto-hides, I keep bumping it in WinXP VMs when I’m mousing around the XP taskbar. Fortunately, the interwebs is our friend, and a kind blogger pointed out that you can move the Mini Menu bar to the top of the screen:

  1. Make sure your VM is not running
  2. Open the Settings for that VM by right-clicking on it in the main VirtualBox GUI
  3. Go to General -> Advanced tab
  4. Check the Mini Menu entry for ‘Show at top of screen’

You can also turn the thing off entirely, if so desired.

I’ve just finished created a new WinXP VM in which I plan to do some .NET development. Since I was getting the system to a customized/workable state from essentially a clean installation, I thought I’d capture the typical tweaks I make when I start work on a new machine.

Typically, I prefer the cleaner (and more compact) “Windows Classic Style” over the “Windows XP Style”, though on occasion I’ve used a tool to enable skinning of the WinXP UI. The windowing style can be set in the Display Properties dialog (right-click on the desktop -> Preferences), on the Appearance tab, via the ‘Windows and buttons’ pick-list.

I prefer to darken the standard light-grey window coloring. On the Appearance tab, click the Advanced button in the bottom-right. Then click on the OK button in the example window to set the Item picklist to “3D Objects”. Pull down the “Color 1” color selector and choose ‘Other’ so you can set the RGB values to Red: 155, Green: 147, Blue: 128.

For the desktop background, I can usually find something on DeviantArt, or I might just go for a clean, solid color. Either way, it’s set on the ‘Desktop’ tab of the Display Properties dialog. Some decent solid colors are:

  • Green (R:25 G:70 B:25)
  • Blue (R:0 G:67 B:128)
  • Grey (R:73 G:73 B:73)
  • VS2010 Blue-Grey (R:41 G:57 B:85)

Also, ClearType font smoothing is a must! Microsoft has an online setup wizard to turn this on (you’ll have to install the ActiveX component).

While we’re on fonts, I’m a huge fan of the Consolas font for any monospaced text editing (programming, notepad, the command prompt). You can download the Consolas Font Pack here. Though it says it’s only for uses of Visual Studio 2005 or 2008, I was able to install it without a hitch.

In the QuickLaunch bar, I typically keep three icons visible, with the ‘>>’ popup list for any others I may want. The three are:

  1. A shortcut to ‘My Documents’ (more on this later)
  2. Chrome (or Firefox, or IE if I’m in a locked-down ecosystem)
  3. The “Show Desktop” link

For the ‘My Documents’ shortcut, I actually use a modified shortcut to Windows Explorer, as I prefer to have the Explorer ‘Fodlers’ sidebar open by default. The modifications are probably overkill, but I like it “just right”. ;-) To create the shortcut, I copy the Windows Explorer shortcut from the Start menu (Start -> All Programs -> Accessories) and edit it (right-click -> Properties) to the desktop. On the ‘General’ tab, I change the name to ‘My Documents’. On the ‘Shortcut’ tab, I change the “Run” picklist to ‘Maximized’ and change the Icon to match the normal My Documents icon (in ‘C:\WINDOWS\system32\mydocs.dll’). Then just drag this shortcut from the desktop to the Quick Launch bar.

I also tweak the layout and options in Windows Explorer a bit. The navigation buttons toolbar gets changed to use small icons (right-click on it -> Customize -> change ‘Icon options’ to ‘Small icons’). The menu, address, and navigation button toolbars are all dragged to all be on the same line across (navigation on far left, menu on far right, address filling the space in the middle). The Views drop-down is changed to Details. I also turn on the Status Bar (View -> Status Bar). Next, I go to Tools -> Folder Options, to the ‘View’ tab and click “Apply to All Folders” so these settings stick as I navigate around. In the View tab Advanced Settings list, I do the following:

  • Select “Show hidden files and folders”
  • Uncheck “Hide extensions for known file types”

As far as programs to install, here’s a breakdown:

Launchy gets a little extra setup. In Launchy’s Options (right-click on the system tray icon), on the General tab, check “Hide Launchy when it loses focus” and “Always on top”, and change the hotkey combination to Control + Space. On the Skins tab, change the skin to “Spotlight Wide”. On the Catalog tab, I’ll add a custom folder (like “MyDocs\util\Shortcuts") set to index “*.lnk” files, where I can throw any shortcut I want to be launchable.

Alright, that’s all I can think of for now. I’ll try to keep this updated as I think of further customizations.