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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Google Toolbar on Firefox 11

I should have titled this post Google Toolbar on Firefox 11 and Beyond.  This trick works on Firefox 12 too and hopefully future versions.  This has been a popular post so I wanted to make it clear this isn't just for Firefox 11.

I have been an avid fan of the Google Toolbar ever since it was created.  It has always frustrated and befuddled me that Google never created one for Google Chrome.  And now I'm confused and aggravated (this is putting it as nicely as I can) that Google has decided to discontinue support for it in Firefox.

On my Desktop PC I have had Firefox and the Google Toolbar working happily together and Firefox has been continually updating to new versions and all is still good.  But when I got a new laptop I installed Firefox 11 and that's when I found that Google no longer offers the Toolbar for Firefox. Argh!

But wait, why does it still work on my desktop?  After a lot of trial and error I have figured out how to get the Google Toolbar working with Firefox 11 on my new laptop and I wanted to share how to do this.

Uninstall Firefox

From Control Panel, uninstall Firefox.  I suggest you DO NOT remove personal data

Install Firefox 4
Download and install Firefox version 4 from FileHippo

Install Google Toolbar
Then install the Google Toolbar for Firefox from FileHippo

Edit the install.rdf File
Now before you upgrade to Firefox 11 we have to do a little surgery.  In Windows Explorer go to this directory:

C:\Users\[User Name]\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\jtn2a7fp.default\extensions\{3112ca9c-de6d-4884-a869-9855de68056c}\

NOTE: The above is on Windows 7, and the exact directory names may be different on your PC

In the above directory look for a file called: install.rdf

Using Notepad (or Notepad++) edit the install.rdf file.  Look for the line that looks like this:

and change it to this:

(Note:  As you will see in the comments below, change it to a higher value like 20.0.* so that you can make it work in Firefox 12 and beyond.)

Save the file.

Upgrade Firefox
From within Firefox click on Help and About Firefox

You should see the button to apply an Update.  This will take you to the latest version, which as of this writing is version 11.0.

I also wanted to mention this:  Those that used to get around it by using the Add-on Compatibility Reporter (, this apparently stopped working as of Firefox version 10.


Update 6/21/2012
The saga continues.  Read how I was able to make it work with Firefox 13: 

Update 9/27/2013 - Please see my post More Issues with Google Toolbar on Firefox 24.0

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Manually Remove Toolbar

I'm sure many of my fellow IT Admins are getting extremely annoyed with the search toolbar showing up on user's browsers.  This thing is being bundled with installers for other products, such as Java updates.  We IT people know what to watch for, but when user's take the updates, they just click Next without paying attention.

In many cases, you can go to Add-Remove Programs and quickly find listed and do an uninstall.  In other cases you have to study the list of programs very closely and you'll see a reference to in one of the Titles, and you can just uninstall that.

But in other cases, some unscrupulous vendors hide it so well that they don't even list an Uninstall for it.

Here is how I was able to completely get rid of it in one case.

I first did a registry search for and ultimately found an entry this reference:

C:\Program Files\\

I then tried to delete the folder C:\Program Files\\ but it wouldn't let me.

After looking around inside the folder I found Updater.exe

Then I looked in Task Manager and found this Updater.exe process was running, so I killed it.

Then I could delete the contents of the C:\Program Files\\ folder.

This gets rid of the Toolbar, but I suggest you use your favorite Registry Cleanup tool, such as CCleaner, to get rid of all of the references to it in the Windows Registry.

I know this is all about money.  Vendors looking to make a quick buck take money from to bundle their toolbar, but this kind of thing just makes me loose respect for all of the vendors involved.  This is akin to malware in my opinion.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ripping DVDs to iPad

A friend of mine recently asked me, "How do I copy my DVDs to my iPad?".  She is about to take a long trip with her young child and thought perhaps taking some movies on the iPad would help during the long flight.

This seemed like a reasonable request and to be honest I've also been curious how to do this as well.  Apple's iTunes and Windows Media Player make it a breeze to copy your audio CD's that you own to the computer but as I quickly learned, DVDs are a whole other animal.

There are probably hundreds of ways to do this, and this isn't meant to be a definitive guide, but rather to step you through a process that worked for me.  I'm not an expert on this topic.  Heck I can barely spell CODEC.  So please don't ask me how to rip your particular DVD to your particular device.  Odds are I won't know.

You will need the following items:

VLC, in my opinion, is the best Media Player on the planet.  I like it because it's lightweight and seems to play any audio or video format I've ever thrown at it.

At present I am running VLC version 1.1.11 and they recently released 2.0.  HandBrake (I'm running version 0.9.6), is the software that helps you convert your media from one format to another and seems to rely on VLC to help decode the copy-protection on most DVDs.  But I'm reading in the forums that VLC 2.0 breaks HandBrake.  This seems to primarily affect Apple Mac computers; not sure about Windows PCs.  But for our purposes, we'll just be using VLC to playback our media, and use HandBrake to convert from one file format to another as well as from one screen size to another.

MakeMKV is where the magic really happens.  It is able to decode many of the copy-protection schemes used on many DVDS and convert it to a format called MKV.  Ever heard of it?  Me neither.  MKV is the Matroska Multimedia Container.  I could direct you to the Wikipedia article (which is a good read), but instead let me suggest this explanation from the people who make MakeMKV:

One thing that excites me about the MKV format is that it seems to be becoming adopted by more and more software and hardware media players, and it is an open standard and not proprietary.  From what I've read, even the pay version of the Tivo Desktop supports MKV.  So I may finally have a reason to buy Tivo Desktop.  I don't have a DVD player anymore (except for the computer) and being able to watch my DVD collection on the Tivo is very appealing to me.

Problems using just VLC and HandBrake
Before we get started I wanted to mention this.  I did first try using just VLC and HandBrake, as that combination seemed to work for so many in the past.  It was because it didn't work that lead me down the path I did and forced me to learn more than I cared to know about this subject.  I wanted to mention it here because it might help someone else.

First off, HandBrake would not even detect some of my DVDs until I first played a little bit of it using the VLC Media Player.  This seems to have something to do with VLC setting some Regional Settings that HandBrake on its own cannot detect from my computer's DVD drive.

My other issue is that after I tried to rip the content from the DVD using HandBrake, below is the kind of result I ended up with:

Try Googling the symptom above.  How do you begin to describe it?  As it turns out this is because of the DRM (Digital Rights Management) copy-protection in use on the DVD.  In other words, HandBrake could not decode it.  I thought I was either doing something wrong or had the settings wrong.  I wasted a lot of time before I figured out it was DRM.

Overview of the Process

  • Insert DVD
  • Use MakeMKV and let it decode your DVD and learn the Titles and Chapters it contains and then convert the contents to MKV files on your hard drive.
  • Play a few of the MKV files to verify they work and decide what you want to keep or discard.
  • Use HandBrake to convert the MKV file(s) to an MP4 format with a size suitable for your iPad.
  • Add the movie to your iTunes Library
  • Add cover art in iTunes
  • Sync to your iPad

Using MakeMKV

Insert your DVD and open MakeMKV.  Click on the graphic as pictured below.

This step usually just takes a couple of minutes but I had one DVD that took 30 minutes.  This step is identifying the Titles and Chapters and appears to also be trying to figure out the encryption scheme.

When it is complete you are offered a screen like the one below.  You could take the time and just select the Titles, Chapters, or Audio tracks that you want, but since there is no preview, I suggest converting it all to the MKV format.  You can delete what you do not want later.

As you can see in the picture above, choose the Drive and Folder where you want to store the MKV files.  These will be quite large so choose a drive with plenty of space.  Then click the MakeMKV button to begin the process.  So far, every DVD I've done, this step takes about 15 minutes or less.  And this step isn't very CPU intensive.

Let's talk a bit about Titles and Chapters for those that may not know.  Some DVDs contain additional content besides the main movie.  This could be trailers for other movies, for example.  Typically each trailer as well as the main movie is considered a Title.  Then within a Title it is broken up into Chapters.

So after your MakeMKV conversion, open the folder you chose to see the results.  You will see an MKV file for each Title that was on your DVD.  The largest file size is likely the main movie, and the one you'll want to convert in the next step with HandBrake.

In my case, I don't want the Movie Trailers, so I just deleted the two smaller files.

Although it is not a required step, I highly recommend you play at least a portion of your movie file with VLC just to confirm it converted correctly.

Also, you can now remove your DVD disc from the drive.

Using HandBrake
Open HandBrake and from the Source pull-down button choose Folder, then point to the folder that contains your MKV file.

You will see HandBrake parse the folder and show you your Title and Chapters.

Now you will want to choose the Destination; what folder and file name you want this new file to be placed.  On the right-side of the screen choose iPad and HandBrake will select options for you that are appropriate to scale to fit the iPad screen.  By default HandBrake chooses the file extension of .M4V but I usually change it to .MP4 (my personal preference).  Either is fine.

I highly recommend you use the Preview button at the top.  The conversion process takes awhile and I'd hate to see you waste time by ending up with an unusable file.  

When you are ready, press the Start button at the top and go get some coffee.  This conversion process is very CPU intensive and will take some time.  This is where I'm so thankful to have such a fast machine. For example, on my Intel Core I7 machine with 16GB of memory it took 50 minutes to convert a movie that is 1 Hour and 52 minutes long.  And this is with all 8 CPU cores running full blast.

After your movie has been converted to MP4 format, I recommend you play a little of it using VLC.  Again, just to make sure it converted correctly.

Add the movie to iTunes Library
Open iTunes and then drag-and-drop your MP4 file (.mp4 or .m4v file extension).

If you've never done this before you can drag to the Movies folder, but your entire Library will be highlighted as you do it.  Don't worry, iTunes knows it is a movie file and will put in the Movies folder.

Add Covert Art
If you will Google the Title of your movie, I'm confident you will find a picture of the original cover artwork of your DVD.  Just save that picture file to your computer.  Then click on the Movies folder in iTunes and find you're movie.  Right-click on your movie and select Get Info. Choose the Artwork tab and choose Add.  Select the picture you desire.

Syncing to your iPad
Depending upon how you configured sync settings, your movies may not automatically transfer over to your iPad.  So connect your iPad via USB to your computer.  Then under devices, select your iPad on the left (1), then select Movies at the top (2), and place a check mark beside your movie Title (3).

Then click the Apply button at the bottom and it will sync to your iPad.  Enjoy.

What to do with the files?
Now that you're done, what do you do with the MKV and MP4 (or M4V) files?  That's up to you.  When you did the drag-and-drop to iTunes, it copied the file to your Library, so there isn't a need to keep the MP4 or M4V file.

I would recommend keeping the MKV file.  This way you'll have it in case you want to convert it for use on another device, like your phone.  In my case, I'll copy the MKV files to my laptop so I can enjoy them there.  And if/when I get Tivo Desktop, I'll play the MKV versions.

Final Thoughts
I am so grateful to all of the smart people out there that create and contribute to products like VLC, HandBrake, and MakeMKV.  And offer it for use at little or no cost.  MakeMKV is free to try, you just have to re-install every 30-60 days.  But it costs $50 (US) to register, and I plan on doing so just to show my support.

There are other commercial products that claim to do this but I'm finding they are more expensive and are basically doing the same steps above.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

Windows 7 Screen Magnifier

A user just called me and reports they keep accidentally turning on the Windows 7 Screen Magnifier and they don't know how to turn it off.  They also don't know how they are invoking it in the first place.

Since I don't use this feature I didn't know either.  I wanted to share what I've now learned.

If you use the Windows Key + "The Plus Sign on the Keyboard" this will turn on the magnifier.  As you keep pressing the Windows Key + "The Plus Sign on the Keyboard" it will keep increasing the magnification to wherever you have your cursor.

In order to turn it off you have to press Windows Key + Escape

This seems counter-intuitive to me.  Seems like the Escape key by itself would have been the correct choice.  The user still doesn't know how they are invoking it, but at least we know how to turn it off.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I want the old TweetDeck back

I am so frustrated with the new TweetDeck .  It is so lacking in features compared to the old one. I have tried to adapt to the new one but I've had enough!  I want the old one back.

Thanks so much to David Amador for posting the old beloved version:

I can't believe that Twitter paid so much money to buy TweetDeck only to ruin it.  They paid $40 million dollars.  Can you believe that?

Heck for half that amount I would have wrote one for them, and I don't even know how, but for that kind of cash, I could hire a team of programmers and we'd all retire.