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Feature Article – Repurposing that ex-business laptop computer for home use

Originally published at my previous Windows Live Spaces blog in May 2007
First published on this blog in November 2008. Updated 31 July 2009
 
If you are repurposing an ex-business laptop computer for home use, you need to make sure that it is safe as far as the computer’s former life is concerned and able to perform well in the home. Here, you would need to “detach” the computer from its former business life by removing line-of-business applications and data; and business-specific configurations like network, VPN and terminal-emulation setups used in the business. In some situations like ex-kiosk computers where the computer was heavily locked down, you may have to research the Internet to find out how to reset the BIOS settings so you can boot from the optical drive for example.
 
1. Make sure that you have the original media and licence information for the operating system and any other software to be used in the home context.
2. Visit the computer manufacturer’s Website and obtain the complete driver set for the computer’s current configuration. Copy this driver set to a CD-R or USB memory key. You might find it better to work the computer directly with the operating system’s abilities like Windows Zero Configuration rather than use the software supplied by the system manufacturer.
3 Do any necessary repairs to the computer like replacing damaged keyboards. This could be a good time to track down replacement batteries, AC adaptors or AC cords for the computer. If the computer doesn’t have built-in wireless or isn’t able to have wireless networking retrofitted at a later date, track down a wireless-network PCMCIA card or ExpressCard to suit your home network.
4. Format the primary hard disk and install the operating system and other software from the original media. Activate XP / Vista / Windows 7 and Office as applicable and deploy the driver set from the CD-R or USB memory key that you prepared in Step 2.
5. Register the computer with network services that are part of the home network like the network printer. If the printer is hosted by a Windows box, you may be able to set it up using “Point and Print” where you load the printer drivers from the Windows box.
 
As far as software is concerned, you can use a basic “office” package like Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition as well as Screen Paver (the shareware photo screen-saver that I use) and the latest version of AVG AntiVirus Free Edition or Avast AntiVirus Home Edition for your additional software. Most functionality is catered for by the software that is part of the operating system.
 
If you are working with a Windows-based computer, it may be worth downloading Windws Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Photo Gallery from http://download.live.com . These programs provide the essentials for instant mesaging, desktop POP3 or IMAP mail, RSS-feed management and digital-image management.

31 July 2009 Posted by | Computer setups, Feature Article, Mobile Computing | , , , , | 2 Comments

Feature Article – DLNA Media Network Series: Getting Started with DLNA Media Sharing

Most of us will end up with a large collection of picture, music or video files on our computers, especially if we use our computers as a large media library. It would be nice to have access to this content without having to copy it out to thumbdrives, SD cards or iPods before we can enjoy it.

Why share your music the DLNA way?

An increasing number of dedicated network media client devices are on the market and nearly all of these devices work according to the UPnP AV / DLNA media-client standards. The ubiquitous Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 games consoles that every teenage boy dreams of having both work according to these standards. Most manufacturers who are selling premium table radios are supplying at least one which can pick up Internet radio broadcasts through a home network and these sets are also capable of picking up media made available to them from a UPnP AV media server. This same function is increasing becoming a product differentiation feature for most consumer electronics equipment like home-theatre receivers and plasma televisions.
 

004 - Denon S-52 network audio receiver playing Pink Floyd over the network

 
Denon S-52 Wireless Network CD Music Systm (DLNA enabled)
 
005 - Tivoli Networks Radio
Tivoli NetWorks Internet Radio (DLNA enabled)
 
By using a DLNA-based setup, you don’t need to install different media-server programs for each network-media client that you happen to buy. In some situations, you may only need to run whatever is supplied with the computer’s operating system.

Setting up your network for DLNA media

Most home, small-business and some branch-office networks don’t require any revision because they typically are one logical network that spans the premises with the router that exists at the network-Internet “edge” being the device that handles basic network housekeeping. This doesn’t matter whether the network has one or more media segments like WiFi wireless, Cat5 Ethernet or HomePlug powerline cabling.
 
You will need to know the ESSID and the WEP or WPA security key for your wireless network. This may be obtained through the router’s Web administration page or through your client PC’s wireless-network-setup parameters such as in Windows Connect Now. If you are connecting your DLNA media client to the network via wireless, you will need to make sure that the wireless access point or router is broadcasting the ESSID so you can pick it from a list using the device’s user interface and be sure you are “in reach” of the network. This practice would be important when you run a multi-access-point wireless network or simply to help with making sure that neighbouring wireless networks are set up properly. As well, you will need to be ready to enter the WEP or WPA security passphrase by “picking out” characters from a list using buttons on the device or its remote control.
Home Network with DLNA equipment
 

Network layout

 

Setting up your PC jukebox software for DLNA

If you are running Windows XP or Vista, you can use Windows Media Player 11 as your media server. Before you start “ripping” CDs to the hard disk, make sure the program is set to rip without DRM (Copy Protect Music checkbox in the Rip Music options tab is cleared) and that it is set to rip CDs at 192kbps WMA or 320kbps MP3. The reason I would rip at these settings is to be assured of sound reproduction that is as close to the CD album as possible. You may use the MP3 codec for maximum compatibility or WMA for efficient storage if your DLNA media clients can handle WMA.
.Windows Media - CD ripping settings
 
As well, you will have to set Windows Media Player 11 to automatically permit devices to benefit from its media library. This is done by going to “Library”, then selecting “Media Sharing” and clicking on “Settings”. The “Media Sharing – Default Settings” dialog box will open whereupon you make sure that the “Allow new devices and computers automatically” checkbox is selected.
If you don’t use any sort of ratings in your media as far as sharing is concerned, you may have to select “All ratings” in both the “Star Ratings” and “Parental Ratings” options. This will make sure all media is available for all of the devices.
Windows Media - Media Sharing settings
For your pictuers, you will have to add the folder that contains your photos to Windows Media Player’s media library. Similarly, you will have to do this for your video folders.
Linux users have access to a large plethora of media-server software such as TwonkyVision and TVersity as well as a large collection of open-source media-server software. You will still have to use a CD jukebox program set up to rip CDs at 320kbps MP3.
 
Apple and Windows users who use iTunes as their CD jukebox but will need to use either TwonkyVision, Elgato EyeConnect or Allegro Media Server. They will need to make sure that the iTunes directory is the one to be provided by the media server. Again, iTunes will need to be set up to rip at 320kbps MP3 for best compatibility and quality. The program may support transcoding to lower bandwidth settings for use whenever music is being transferred out to an iPod.
 
The media server would need to be set up to work with the folders that are being used as the primary folders for music, photo and video storage.  I have explained how to go about this for your music, especially if you use iTunes or Windows Media Player. For your photos and videos, you simply add the folders used by your photo management and video management software to store your images.
The DLNA media-server programs typically index music files according to artist, album, track, genre, and some may support separate identification of composers, contributing artists (important for soundtracks and compilation albums) and other metadata for pictures and videos. Some, like TwonkyVision, allow for alphabetical clustering and other efficient sorting arrangements. This is typically because UPnP AV / DLNA allows for the server to determine how it presents the library to the client devices.
 
As far as playlists are concerned, they will typically be listed in a “Playlists” collection with each playlist being its own collection in that tree. By having a playlist as a collection of tracks rather than a reference to a playlist file, it means that the media clients don’t have to be compatible with the playlist file format that the jukebox program works with.
 
Some of the media servers like Windows Media Player 11 or TwonkyVision support transcoding to common file formats for situations where a DLNA media client cannot handle a particular media type. This can come in handy for file types like WMA which aren’t handled by all UPnP AV media players.
 

Setting up the DLNA clients

Enrolling the DLNA clients in to your network

You will need to make your DLNA media client become part of the network. This can be a simple task of plugging it in to your Ethernet network segment or into your HomePlug powerline network segment using a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge.

Integrating wireless-enabled DLNA clients to the wireless network

If you are connecting your wireless-enabled DLNA media client to the WiFi network, you will need to configure it for this network. This will require you to enter the device’s setup menu and select the option pertaining to wireless network setup. Then you get the device to search for your network’s ESSID which is commonly referred to as the SSID, Network Name or something similar. Once your device has detected your wireless network, you will be prompted to enter the WEP or WPA security passphrase. At this point, enter the passphrase in to the device. These procedures will have to be done as mentioned in the “Setting up your network for DLNA media” section.
 
Some DLNA network media clients may use a “quick set-up” method like Windows Connect Now or WPS. This will typically involve either transferring a USB memory key between a Windows XP or Vista wireless-equipped notebook computer and the device; or registering the device with the wireless router. This procedure may be as simple as pressing a “register” button on the router and the device or copying the device’s PIN number (which would be on the device itself or in a WPS setup option in the device’s setup menu) in to the wireless router’s setup menu.
 
If you use MAC-address filtering on your wireless router, you will need to register the DLNA media device as an “accepted” network device. This will require you to copy the device’s wireless MAC address, which will be on a sticker attached to the device itself, in to the router’s trusted MAC-address list.

Making sure the DLNA clients detect the media server

You will need to make sure that the media server program is running on the PC that has the media that you are sharing. Most such programs may run a media server component as a background task while the computer is fully on but some may require the jukebox program to be running all the time.
Another thing to check is the desktop firewall software. This should be set to allow the media server software outbound and inbound access to the network as a server. The Windows Firewall software that is part of all Microsoft desktop operating systems since Windows XP Service Pack 2 makes this easy by allowing immediate access to Windows Media Player or asking you if you want to allow the application to have network access. Other third-party firewalls may require the server application to be allowed Internet access by you adding the software to their application “white lists”.
You may have to select “Network Music”, “PC Music” or something similar on most network-enabled music devices like Internet radios in order to gain access to the music library that you have made available.  Then you select the “hostname” of the PC, which may be commensurate to its standard computer name or its primary owner’s name. The DLNA client will then show the media type that it can work with. You then select that type and use the controls to select the media you are interested in.

Summary

Once you have your network and media-server computer set up properly, you can work with providing music and other media to network media receiver devices without much hassle.

28 November 2008 Posted by | Feature Article, UPnP AV / DLNA | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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