Tag Archives: windows

KeePassX – secure password storage across devices

Passwords are like backup – of course you know you should do something about it, but usually it takes disaster to actually see some action. The recent OpenSSL / Heartbleed disaster (or to be more specific, the 20 plus “please change your password” emails coming in as a result) was the final push for me to come up with a password management strategy.

For me the solution is KeePassX. KeepassX is available on Windows, Linux and Mac as installer or portable version. For Android, there is a compatible app called KeePassDroid. The (strongly encrypted) password file is synchronized between different devices using Dropbox, so it can be accessed offline if necessary.

For each online account I use a different, random generated 160 Bit password, the password store itself is secured by a similarly strong password created according to the following guidelines:

Password Strength, by XKCD.com

The advantages are obvious, only ONE password to remember, which is not reused anywhere else, so if that old Yahoo account is hacked I don’t have to change a gazillion of other accounts where I used the same password. And through the Android app I have access to my passwords and data  on my phone, no matter where I am, which makes the solution really quite comfortable.

In fact, if I had known before how little effort this is, I would have done it much earlier.


Chrome / Firefox Benchmarks on Android, Linux and Windows

Now that I’m finally able to run Chrome and Firefox on my Android phone, it’s time for another round in the cross platform browser test – will Android make a difference in the eternal battle of the browsers ? To find out, I ran a couple of benchmarks on all 3 platforms.

Hardware Setup

I ran my tests, quite naturally, on the hardware that is available to me – for Android I’m using my new HTC Desire X Smartphone, for Linux, it’s my trusty Asus 1215N Netbook running 64Bit Mint 13 XFCE, and the Windows checks are done on my work PC, a 2012 IBM ThinkCentre (Intel i5, 8GB RAM) running 64 Bit Windows 7. Due to the very different hardware capabilities this comparison offers no insight about Windows vs. Linux performance, this has been examined in detail by Tom’s Hardware Guide.

Benchmarks Setup

My focus was, as always, on benchmarks that picture REAL usage scenarios, so I picked Peacekeeper,  BrowserMark and Robohornet Pro over Sunspider and V8.

Special emphasis was put on Flash, to track down performance issues I experienced on the Linux Netbook using Firefox, so I included Flash Benchmark 08 and the Flash (and HTML5) tests from Guimark2.


You can find the detailed results here, but to sum it up, Chrome won all benchmarks, except Microsoft’s Robohornet Pro. When doing real work the difference is not as big as the  almost 80% difference in Peacekeeper suggests, but still notable, at least on the netbook. You can ease the pain a bit by using Fasterfox but Chrome always feels more snappy.

The real dealbreaker for Firefox is Flash performance on Linux, NPAPI Flash 11.2 on my netbook is 10% to 400% slower than Chrome’s PPAPI Flash 11.5, which means fluent HD video replay is only possible in Chrome. I tried all known tweaks (including FlashAid with “Override GPU Validation” and turn off hardware rendering) but wasn’t able to get better results out of Flash 11.2, neither with Firefox nor any other browser (including Chromium and Opera).

HTML 5 performance is better in Chrome, too, even though the difference is not as drastic as for Flash.


Feature- wise both, Chrome and Firefox are viable alternatives for the desktop (see my comparison from September) and on Android there are very few differences, either. So which browser do you pick, the faster one, of course, which is Google Chrome.

It remains to be seen if Mozilla can achieve a turnaround in 2013 with interesting new projects like PDFjs, Firefox OS or Shumway, or if their steady decline in user numbers and importance will go on.

Firefox vs. Chrome on Linux and Windows

Another round in the eternal battle of the browsers – this time Mozilla Firefox 15 competes vs. Google Chrome 21 in a mixed Linux / Windows cross location setup (Linux at home, Windows at work).

This naturally rules out all contenders who are not available in both environments (like MS Internet Explorer, Safari, or Chromium stable). Opera does not qualify because it fails with too many websites I’m using and has problems with the proxy settings at work.

Now to the different categories for Firefox and Chrome:

  1. Near 100% Website compatibility – both, Firefox and Chrome are supported by all major websites
    Score Firefox 1 : Chrome 1
  2. Corporate IT quirks (automatic proxy configurations, homegrown SSL certificates, some particularly stubborn intranet pages requiring IEtab access, and of course a portable USB version to install in “MyDocuments”) – Chrome can reuse IE settings / certificates and has a nicer extension to switch user agents. But Firefox can permanently suppress certificate warnings and has a better IE Tab integration. Overall both, Chrome and Firefox play, well with (or against) corporate IT.
    Score Firefox 2 : Chrome 2
  3. Browser Sync (Bookmarks, keywords / search engines, passwords, addons) – Firefox scores by syncing Addon settings but Chrome can sync Addons without restart
    Score Firefox 3 : Chrome 3
  4. Privacy – Google has improved, browser sync can be completely encrypted and privacy critical services can be turned off, so there are no objective privacy concerns anymore
    Score Firefox 4 : Chrome 4
  5. Adblock, WOT – Available for both browsers in good quality
    Score Firefox 5 : Chrome 5
  6. Screen estate – Firefox is much more customizable, the Classic Compact Theme and the option of customizing the UI with the Stylish Addon make it the most compact browser currently available
    Score Firefox 6 : Chrome 5
  7. Performance – Chrome offers faster startup (especially under Linux) and is better in all benchmarks, the “Fasterfox” addon can ease the pain but not close the gap
    Score Firefox 6 : Chrome 6
  8. PDF support – Firefox is catching up but PDFJS is still disabled by default and feels less mature than the integrated PDF viewer in Chrome
    Score Firefox 6 : Chrome 7
  9. RSS support – still no native RSS support or even a decent extension for Chrome
    Score Firefox 7 : Chrome 7
  10. Cross platform consistency – Different keyboard shortcuts, menu entries and not being able to hide the title bar under Linux is pretty annoying. The shortcuts can be fixed with an Addon, but Chrome just looks and works the same on both platforms
    Score Firefox 7 : Chrome 8
  11. Linux Flash Support – Google was smart enough to make a deal with Adobe, the rest of the Linux world will be stuck with Flash 11.2 forever, Point for Chrome
    Score Firefox 7 : Chrome 9

Chrome wins with a close 9:7, made even closer by the fact that the Flash issue is not really urgent (Chrome is only at Flash 11.3 right now, just one minor version ahead). Still, especially in a cross location / cross platform environment Chrome has become the most valuable browser by catching up with all important Firefox features while retaining its superior performance.

DesktopInfo – Conky for Windows

There is a big downside in using Linux on a daily basis – you get totally spoiled. Suddenly you start missing things at your Win7 work PC … like central software repositories, real user rights management, a decent terminal, configurable keyboard shortcuts or some simple system information on the desktop, which under Linux is usually provided by conky.

As a conky replacement, Windows “experts” (once they got the hang of what conky is actually doing) tend to recommend Rainmeter, which it is far too bloated and hard to configure for my taste. Then there is BGInfo of course, which is quite tricky to handle (if you want it to update sometimes) and limited to static information like hostname and OS version.

Like so often I stumbled over the solution by accident – DesktopInfo (3rd entry on the page) is as close as you’ll get to Conky in Windows. There is no installer, just extract to your home (or USB), run it and it will show up on your desktop, providing system information and some simple performance meters.

DesktopInfo is multicolored by default, but you can change colors and the whole configuration by modifying the desktopinfo.ini file, which contains a lot of aditional entries that can be activated by setting active=1. The rest of the file is pretty intuitive, just play with it, like conky it updates the configuration while running (if it does not give it a sec or check your modifications). If you mess it up, you can always go back to the DEFAULT.ini, that contains the factory settings. If you like DesktopInfo, just create a shortcut and drag to the ‘Startup’ folder in your start menu, so if will come up automatically at boot time.

If you want to know how to address some of the other shortcomings of the Microsoft “OS”, read this earlier post, where I explained how to make Windows look and behave like #! Linux (to a certain extent).

More bbLean Tricks

After playing with bbLean for a while, I found out some interesting stuff, mainly about the skinning (i.e. box- style window borders and controls):

  • You can disable skinning for special apps (FF4, Chrome, Office 2007 +, SAP Logon, …) by just entering the executable names in c:\bbLean\plugins\bbLeanSkin\exclusions.rc (replace c:\bbLean with you bbLean installation folder). There’s a readme.txt covering advanced questions in the same folder.
  • If you experience some apps not being skinned at all, this might be related to running them “elevated” (with Admin privileges), at least that was what was constantly breaking skinning for me …
  • Tired of “Windows Classic” theme ? Disable skinning completely and go with the default Aero theme (or a custom theme) by just unchecking “bbLeanSkin” in the menu ( BlackBox / Configuration / Plugins / Load Unload). Real no- brainer, you’d think, but obviously not for me 😛
  • If you consider the other points, both, 32bit and 64bit bbLean get along famously with Win7 x64, you can even reuse all the config files when switching over (provided you copy them away or install x64 to a different folder)

Although bbLean seems not to be actively developed anymore, there’s a lively forum at lostinthebox.com, dealing with this and other blackbox implementations for Windows.

bbLean + cygwin: Windows 7, #! Style

As I’m currently stuck with Windows on my Asus 1215N (at least until I get the chance to try out Bumblebee), I spent a couple of evenings to make my preinstalled Windows 7 act more like a decent OS (i.e. #! Linux or CTK). Here’s what the result looks like:

The most important component for a #! Style desktop is bblean, a Blackbox implementation for Windows. Although the project seems to be more or less dead since 2009, I still find it very useful on 32Bit (there’s a 64 Bit version, too, but with a lot of problem reports). Before installing, make sure to switch to “Windows Classic” theme, otherwise window borders will be totally messed up. You should also enable the “classic” menu in Firefox 4 or install the Movable FF. Button extension – the new integrated menu button will not work (same as the integrated tabs of Google Chrome). After this you can just install and configure bblean as described in the Readme (refer to the “Hotkeys” section to assign #! keyboard shortcuts). The style is used in the screenshot is called simplicity v3, btw.

The other thing I’m missing on Windows is a decent command line environment – Cygwin is taking care of that, including a decent terminal (mintty) and a full blown bash enviromnent with almost every Linux command line tool you could think of. Only real drawback is the missing compatibility between cygwin Links and Windows shortcuts, a usable workaround for me is using the mklink command (cmd only), which can be read by both, Cygwin and Exlorer.

The basic bblean / cygwin setup is completed by a couple of other tools, namely Launchy as program starter (instead of gmrun / Win7 start menu search), Rainmeter as conky replacement and TotalCommander file manager (bought a license once, otherwise FreeCommander is the best alternative).

For “getting things done” almost all the classic Open Source applications offer a Windows version, I’m using e.g. Firefox, LibreOffice, Gimp, Pidgin, SMplayer, VLC, … and I’m glad I can use some of my Windows only favourites again (like IrfanView, 1by1 MP3 player, Notepad++ or AutoIt).

Unfortunately there are some shortcomings that cannot be addressed by tools – the missing software repository for example (at least the update checking part can be addressed by installing Sumo), a decent user / rights management the frequent security issues (can be partly addressed by installing Avastfree antivirus) and the comparatively long boot time keep me convinced that, once my hardware is supported, Linux is still the better alternative. But until then, this configuration gives me at least something I can live with.