Thursday, December 22, 2005

Remote Desktop vs Remote Assistance

When you first learn about 'Remote Desktop' and 'Remote Assistance', you might wonder the difference between the two services. Both applications allow you to remotely control a PC from any where on your local or corporate network, and even over the Internet. Although there are some important differences between these two services.

The Remote Desktop service is only available as part of Windows XP Professional Edition. This service allows you to take control of the remote computer without first requesting access. To do this you have to have administrator rights on the local machine. Once logged in you will have complete control of the local computer.

The Remote Assistance is part of Windows XP Professional and Home Editions. To use this service the PC user has to make a request to you to be able to connect to the remote computer. Once you respond to the request, you will see the remote users desktop. This service requires you have Windows Messenger or MSN Messenger installed on your computer to receive the remote assistance request.

To enable the Remote Desktop or Remote Assistance services:
  • Open the Control Panel.
  • Double-click the System control panel.
  • Click on the Remote tab.
  • Check the Remote Desktop and/or Remote Assistance checkboxes.
  • Press the OK button when done.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Windows Messenger vs. MSN Messenger

Both Windows Messenger and MSN Messenger are Instant Messaging (IM) client applications. Although there are some distinct differences between the two applications:
  • Windows Messenger is an IM client designed for use in a business environment. This client is designed to communicate with Microsoft's Office Live Communications Server 2005 server, as well as communicating with MSN Messenger. Windows Messenger communications is also encrypted. (For more information)
  • MSN Messenger is designed for use as a consumer IM client application, that can only communicate with the MSN Messenger Service. Communications with this client is not encrypted, as they are with Windows Messenger. (For more information)
Download:

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Windows Update vs. Microsoft Update

Do you know the differences between the Windows Update and Microsoft Update web sites? I am not sure if most people even realize there is a difference between these two services. For the most part they look very similar, but there are some key differences between them.

The older Windows Update service only allowed you to update the Windows OS with hot fixes. If you had Microsoft Office installed on your computer, then you would need to go to the Office Update site to update these applications.

Fairly recently Microsoft merged the two sites (Windows Update and Office Update) to create the new Microsoft Update web site. Now you can go to one site and keep your Microsoft Windows and Office applications up-to-date with the latest hot fixes.

As I said earlier, the two sites look very similar, but the way you tell the difference between the sites is by looking in the upper left-hand corner of the browser after you have gone to the Windows Update web site. If it says 'Windows Update', then you're on the 'Windows Update' site. If it says 'Microsoft Update', then you're on the 'Microsoft Update' site.

If you're using the Windows Update site and want to start using the Microsoft Update site instead, go to the following page and press the 'Start Now' button.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Windows XP Home vs. Windows XP Professional

Have you ever wondered what the differences are between Windows XP Home Edition vs. Windows XP Professional Edition? There are some key technical differences between these two software packages. I will provide a quick explanation and description of these differences so that you can make a better decision on which one you need.

For the most part Windows XP Home Edition and Windows XP Professional Edition are similar, but there are key features that the Professional edition has that the Home edition doesn't. The Windows XP Professional Edition is meant for business users and programmers. This version of Windows has some key technologies that will be needed by business users, such as the ability to use Windows-based network resources (such as: file share, and network printers) in a corporate environment.

The Windows XP Home Edition is meant for home users. This version of Windows costs less then the Professional edition (generally $99 [for Home] vs. $150 [for Professional]), and doesn't have the ability to be used on a corporate network. It also lacks some key technologies such as the ability to control file permissions, support IIS (HTTP web server), and use EFS (Encrypted File System). Most home users will never miss these technologies.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Upgrade Your BIOS

Every now and then computer/motherboard manufactures will release an upgrade to the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System). The BIOS is a program that is loaded into your computer's memory when it is turned on so that it can load the OS from your hard drive. Motherboard manufactures upgrade the BIOS to fix problems and/or add new features.

To upgrade your motherboards BIOS (this process is know as 'Flashing'), you generally will have to download boot image for a floppy or CD which is use to flash the new software into your computer's BIOS. As a general rule of thumb, I would not recommend performing this upgrade unless you have to.

This operation does come with some risk, if you lose power or the upgrade program fails to complete the install properly you can disable your motherboard. Performing this operation should not be taken lightly because of the risks involved.

Since this operation will vary from motherboard manufacture to motherboard manufacture, below is a brief outline of what you should expect:
  • It is very important to follow the manufacturer's installation instructions and warnings. This information is generally contained in a file called 'README.TXT'.
  • Download the latest version of the BIOS from the manufacturer's web site. Note: it is recommended that if the BIOS flash utilities supports backing up the current BIOS that you utilize this feature.
  • It is also recommended that you download the current version of the BIOS that you have installed in your computer. This will give you an alternate method of recover if you need it.
  • Create the boot floppy or CD per the instructions, and reboot your computer with the new media that you just created. Remember to follow the installation instructions.
  • Once the upgrade is complete, remove the media and reboot your computer.
During the initial boot up of your computer, you should see the new version of the BIOS you just installed quickly display across your screen so look quick.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Tweaking your Sound Scheme

Are you tired of the sounds you hear when different events happen on your computer (such as an error, getting mail, starting up, shutting down, etc.). You can change the sounds that are played when events happen by modifying your 'Sound Scheme'. You do this by assigning a different .WAV files to each event.
  • Open the Control Panel folder (under the Start menu), and then double-click the 'Sounds And Audio Devices' applet.
  • Click the Sounds tab
  • Choose the 'Program Event' that you add, change, or remove the associated sound.
  • Press the Browse button, and then navigate to the new sound (i.e.: C:\Windows\Media) to associate with the program event and select it. You can press the Play button in the bottom left corner of the dialog to hear the sound.
  • Press the OK button to save your new sound scheme

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Reinstalling Windows XP on Your System

If your system is having problems running Windows XP, you can perform a re-install of the OS. In other words, you can install Windows over itself. When you perform this type of installation, Windows XP is reinstalled to the same folder. Typically you would perform this type of installation if you were unable to repair your existing installation of Windows.

To reinstall Windows XP, follow these steps:
  • Start your computer and log on.
  • Insert the Windows XP Installation CD into your CD/DVD-ROM drive.
  • On the 'Welcome to Microsoft Windows XP' page, press the 'Install Windows XP' button.
  • On the 'Welcome to Windows Setup page', select the 'Upgrade (Recommended)' in the Installation Type box, and then press the Next button.
  • On the 'License Agreement page', accept this agreement and then press the Next button.
  • On the 'Your Product Key page', enter your 25-character product key in the boxes, and then press the Next button.
  • On the 'Get Updated Setup Files page', select the option that you want and then press the Next button.
  • Follow the instructions that appear on the screen to reinstall Windows XP.
Once the re-install is complete you will need to install the latest service pack and other hot fixes that your system requires.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Photo Story 3

Microsoft has released the 'Photo Story 3' for Windows XP, the newest version of the digital photo slide show application that was previously part of the Plus! Digital Media Edition add-on pack for Windows XP. The software is available free for download to anyone with a 'genuine copy' of Windows XP.

The application has an easy interface for turning your photos into animated videos, which can include music, voice-over narration, text, and visual effects. Some of the new new functionality includes: fundamental photo editing tools for color correction, red-eye retouching, and image rotating and cropping. You can also create more nuanced effects such as rendering a photograph as a watercolor, as a negative, or in sepia tone. Templates that can be sent by e-mail to compatible devices that support these formats, such as Microsoft Portable Media Centers, Pocket PCs, and much more. Check out the Photo Story 3 web site for examples, details, and tips.

Note: This software requires Windows XP, DirectX 9.0c, and Windows Media Player 10 to be able to use it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Microsoft Virus Detection/Removal Utility

Microsoft now has a malicious software removal tool that is able to remove the most virulent worms and viruses. The tool is updated once a month and is part of Microsoft's scheduled software patch cycle.

The initial version of the tool was able to detect and remove Blaster, Sasser, MyDoom, DoomJuice, Zindos, Berweb/Download.Ject, Gailbot and Nachi viruses. The tool will be downloaded and run automatically if your computer has 'Automatic Updates' enabled. It can also be executed manually from Microsoft's site as an ActiveX control in the Internet Explorer browser. You can also download the tool from Microsoft's Download Center.

For more information, see the following MSKB 890830 ("The Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool helps remove specific, prevalent malicious software from computers that are running Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, or Windows 2000")

Friday, December 09, 2005

Free Visual Studio Express

Microsoft is making available free versions of its popular development environment called Visual Studio Express. The Express editions of Visual Studio are designed for beginner and hobbyist programmers, with documentation and tutorials that are designed to be simpler to understand for beginning programmers.

Visual Studio Express is available in several language editions, such as Visual Basic, C#, C++, and J#. Thats not all, theres even Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition (home page, download), and SQL Server 2005 Express Edition (home page, download)

Express Language Editions:
System Requirements:
  • Windows 2000, XP, and later versions.
  • 35 to 70 MB of disk space depending on the language edition

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Updating Critical Microsoft Software

In my previous article 'Updating Critical Non-Microsoft Software' I talked about the importance of updating certain 3rd party software packages that are used almost everyday. Now I am going to talk about updating critical Microsoft components that are used by the OS and other applications.

These software components are mostly used by Microsoft developers and gamers. Although, even if you don't fall into one these categories some of your applications (such as: Microsoft Office) still rely on these components.

This software generally receives minor updates from the WindowsUpdate web site. Although the latest major upgrades are generally only made available if you download them directly from their associated web sites.

Data services components:
Application services components:Graphics services component:

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Disabling the Local Administrator Account

To help protect your computer you might want to consider disabling the local Administrator account in Windows XP. Since most systems have a local account named Administrator which has administrative privileges on your computer, which means it can do just about anything. This makes its really easy target for an attacker, because they know which account to go after to take over your system.

By disabling this account, you can increase the security of your computer, and make it more difficult for an attacker to guess which account has administrative privileges. Although, you have to make sure that you have another account which has administrative privileges on your system before disabling the original Administrator account, or you will lock yourself out of your computer.

To disable the administrator account:
  • Log on to your system with an account that has administrator privileges (such as the Administrator account).
  • In the Start menu, right-click 'My Computer' and select Manage.
  • In the Computer Management console, in the left console pane, expand the 'Local Users and Groups' node.
  • Click on Users, in the right details pane, double-click Administrator.
  • In the open properties Dialog, in the General tab, select 'Account is Disabled'.
  • Press the OK button, then close the Computer Management console.

Note: This change will take effect after you log off, then log on again.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Internet Explorer: Turning Off Active Scripting

Some people disable Internet Explorer's Active Scripting feature to prevent scripts from running on a web page. By doing this its possible to prevent known and yet to be discovered exploits in this application. Although, if you disable this feature you will be disabling the functionality of any web page that you visit that leverages these technologies.
  • From within Internet Explorer, from the Tools menu, select 'Internet Options...'.
  • Click on the Security tab.
  • Select the Internet zone, then press the Custom Level button.
  • Scroll down to the Scripting section.
  • Select 'Disable' (or select 'Prompt' if you want to choose to allow active scripting on some web pages that you trust).
  • Press the OK button, then press it again.
Note: If you selected the Prompt option instead of disabling these features altogether, when you go to a site that uses the active scripting technologies you will see a dialog stating 'Scripts are usually safe. Do you want to allow scripts to run?'

Monday, December 05, 2005

Better color management for Windows XP

Professional designers and photographers know the importance of having accurate and consistent colors from their devices (such as: scanners, displays, printers). Microsoft has released a new Image Color Management (ICM) v2.0 control panel applet for Windows XP that allows you to manage your color settings in one place.

ICM 2.0 is an International Color Consortium (ICC)-compliant color management system that is available to any application, device driver, device calibration tool, or Color Management Module (CMM). Many Windows-based applications already use ICM 2.0 to help improve the appearance of pictures and other types of graphics.

Friday, December 02, 2005

MCE Tweak PowerToy

Microsoft has release a new PowerToy for the Media Center Edition (MCE) of Windows XP (which is also a system requirement). This PowerToy allows you tweak the MCE's user interface, including changes to the remote control settings, skip and replay time customizations, and more. It also helps you to optimize Media Center Extender for plasma and non-CRT displays.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Installing or Upgrading Windows XP (Part 4)

Files and Settings Transfer Wizard

Important:
This tool will only transfer certain file types and settings (most of them are for Microsoft products) from the old computer to the new computer. It is always a good idea to double-check to make sure that you have all your files before getting rid of your old computer.

If you need to transfer your files and settings from your old computer to your new computer, Windows XP comes with a utility called 'Files and Settings Transfer Wizard' (FAST). FAST captures most personalized settings (such as: Internet Explorer, display, and other setting) and documents (from the 'My Documents' folder), then allows you to copy them to another computer.

In order to use FAST, the old computer and the new must be connected to run the wizard. You can either use your network (including a crossover cable) or a direct cable connection to transfer the settings.

To setup the old computer, follow the instructions below:
  • Insert the Windows XP installation CD.
  • Open the Windows Explorer, and then open the Support\Tools folder.
  • Double-click FASTWIZ.EXE.
  • Press the Next button.
  • Select the 'Old computer' option, and then press the Next button.
  • Select the 'transfer method' you want to use to transfer the files and settings from the old computer to the new computer. Press the Next button.
  • Select the items you want to transfer, and press the Next button.
  • Press the Finish button.
After you have selected the files and settings you want to transfer , its now time to setup the new computer. Follow the instructions below:
  • Log into the new Windows XP computer.
  • From the Start menu, select All Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. Press the Next button.
  • Select the 'New computer' option, and then press the Next button.
  • Select the 'I don't need the Wizard Disk. I have already collected my files and settings from my old computer' option. Press the Next button.
  • Select the transfer method you used to collect the files and settings from the old computer. Press the Next button.
  • Press the Finish button, then press the Yes button to log off.
After you log back on to the computer, you will have access to all the files and settings that the FAST wizard was able to transfer from your old computer to the new one. You should double-check all your files and make sure that none of them are missing.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Installing or Upgrading Windows XP (Part 3)

Installing the OS
After you have done all your leg work of checking your hardware and software compatibility, its now time to begin the Windows installation. This can be done one of two ways, either by inserting the Installation CD into your drive and letting the installation program start automatically (if your computer's AUTORUN is enabled). You can also start the installation from the command line, using the WINNT32.EXE program.
  • Before you start the installation program, make sure you close all applications.
  • Insert the Windows installation CD into your CD-ROM drive.
  • Choose the installation type, and press the Next button to continue.
  • Read and accept the licensing agreement, and press the Next button.
  • Enter the Product Identification Key, and press the Next button.
  • Follow the prompts to finalize the configuration, press the Next button continue though the different screens.
  • After all the files are finish copying to your computer, it will be rebooted.
  • After the installation finishes, you will be requested to activate your copy of Windows.
After you logon to your computer for the first time, the first thing you should do is go to Windows Update, and download and install the latest hotfixes and Service Packs. Then you should also install an anti-virus and anti-malware program, and make sure you update these applications with the latest signatures.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Installing or Upgrading Windows XP (Part 2)

Making Older Programs Run Under Windows XP
If your applications are generally older then 2001, it might be time to consider updating them before upgrading to a new OS. Most of the newer applications will not be affected by this upgrade.

To help prevent problem application incompatibility issues, you might want to consider running the '‘Windows XP Upgrade Advisor' before performing the upgrade. To run this program follow the steps below:
  • If the Windows XP installation CD is not in your CD-ROM, put it into the drive.
  • From the Welcome to Microsoft Windows XP screen, select 'Check system compatibility'.’
If you have problems running programs after you install Windows XP, try running the '‘Program Compatibility Wizard.'’ This program can identify compatibility fixes written specifically for Windows XP.

To run the '‘Program Compatibility Wizard'’, follow the steps below:
  • From the Start | All Programs | Accessories, click the '‘Program Compatibility Wizard'’
  • Follow the instructions in the wizard, and then from the list select the program that youĂ‚’re having problems with.
  • Choose compatibility mode (i.e.: Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000) and set the visual options (i.e.: screen resolution 640x480, 256 colors, etc.).
  • Use the wizard to launch the program, and then test the new setting to see if the program will work.
  • The final page of the wizard, you will be allowed to permanently apply these setting to the program, or abandon them all together.
An alternative to using the 'Program Compatibility Wizard' is to manually set these compatibility settings yourself.
  • Right-click the program or it's shortcut you want to change the compatibility on, and select Properties.
  • Click the Compatibility tab, and select the compatibility settings that are appropriate for your program.
  • Press the OK button when done, then double-click the program and see if it runs.
One more tool to help you with program compatibility issues is the QFIXAPP.EXE utility, which is part of the '‘Application Compatibility Toolkit'’. This utility allows you to apply various fixes (known as "shims") to programs to correct known issues.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Installing or Upgrading Windows XP (Part 1)

Do you have an older computer that you have wanted to upgrade for a long time but have just been putting it off, and today is the day that you have decided to make the time to perform the upgrade. Well I am going to tell you up front Installing any OS, is not an easy operation. Depending on how you choose to upgrade the OS, will determine how long it will take and how much work it will be.

There are generally two routes to upgrading your computer, the first is to install the OS over an existing OS, and the second is to format the hard drive and start from a clean slate. IMHO, I believe formatting the hard drive, and installing the OS is the best way to go, generally you will have fewer problems. The only issue with this route is that you have to reinstall all your applications and data.

You can also choose to upgrade the OS, which allows you to keep all your existing applications and settings. This upgrade path is generally easier to complete. Although, in the long run you could encounter more problems with your operating system, because of the newer software conflicting with older software.

Whichever approach you use there are advantages and disadvantages with each route. You need to decide for yourself which upgrade path you want to take. Also no matter which route you take, make sure that you have a good backup of your data, and applications.

Route 1: Upgrading the OS
Before you start your upgrade and have finished backing up all your data, you need to know if you computer's hardware matches the OS system requirements.

Below is a list of Windows XP's minimum hardware requirements:
  • CPU: 300MHz CPU (I would recommend 2GHz or faster CPU)
  • RAM: 128MB (I would recommend 512MB of RAM or more)
  • Disk: 1.5GB of space (You will need more space to install your applications and data)
  • Video: Super VGA (800x600)
  • CD-ROM Drive
  • Microsoft mouse and keyboard.
If your system hardware passes the requirements above, now you need to figure out if Windows XP supports upgrading your existing OS. The most recent versions of Windows are supported by this upgrade process.

Below is a list of all the OSs that Windows XP can upgrade:
  • Windows 98 or 98SE
  • Windows ME
  • *Windows NT 4.0 Workstation (SP5 or higher)
  • *Windows 2000 Professional
  • *Windows XP Home
* = These OS can only be upgrades to Windows XP Professional

Note: Older OSes (such as: Windows 3.x, and 95), you will require you to perform a clean install.

Hardware and Application Compatibility
Now we are too the point of where we start talking about your system's hardware and software compatibility. If you have older computer, if even it meets the system requirements, doesn't mean that it's compatible with Windows XP. This is where the Hardware Compatibility List (aka HCL) is helpful, it displays a list of all the current hardware that is compatible with Windows XP.

Note: If your hardware is not listed in this document, it does not necessarily mean that you can't proceed with the upgrade. What you should do is call or visit your hardware manufacturer's web site to see if your hardware is compatible with Windows XP. Sometimes all that is needed is a software driver or firmware upgrade.

An alternative to checking the HCL is to run the Windows XP hardware and software compatibility check. To run this check:
  • Insert the Windows XP installation CD in your CD-ROM drive.
  • From the Run... command under the Start menu, type, "d:\i386\winnt32 /checkupgradeonly" (change 'D: ' to the appropriate drive letter for your CD-ROM drive)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Microsoft Calculator Plus

The calculator that comes with Windows can perform some basic mathematic functions. If you want to perform more complex calculations, all you have to do is select Scientific from the View menu.

Although if you want something more powerful, Microsoft recently updated this program, its now called 'Calculator Plus'. This calculator includes an updated look, and conversion functions, which includes measurement, and currency conversions.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Using the Encrypting File System (Part II)

In the previous article, I talked about encrypting a file with the Windows Explorer (AKA 'My Computer'). An alternative method is to use the CIPHER.EXE command line utility. This utility allows you to encrypt, decrypt and view the status of the files or folders.

You can use the following switches listed below to control the features of the CIPHER.EXE command:
  • /E: Encrypts specific folders.
  • /D: Removes encryption from a folder.
  • /A: Performs the operation on all sub-folders
For example:
Encrypts a folder:
cipher.exe /e /s:"C:\Secure Files"
Decrypts a folder:
cipher.exe /d /s:"C:\Secure Files"

Bonus Tip: Erasing Free Space
By using the /W: switch with the command, you can wipe all data from the unused portions of your hard drive. This feature prevents sensitive data that was deleted from being recovered.

Note: CIPHER.EXE cannot encrypt files that are marked as read-only, system, or compressed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Using the Encrypting File System (Part I)

Windows XP Professional Only.

The Encrypted File System (EFS) is part of the Windows XP Professional OS, it allows users to easily encrypt/decrypt their data files. The way EFS works is Windows automatically creates the keys needed to encrypt and decrypt the files. Then when a file is requested by an application Windows uses the keys to decrypt the file, and when the file is saved it automatically re-encrypts it.

Use the steps below to enable file encryption:
  • Open My Computer, and find the file or folder you want to encrypt.
  • Right-click the file or folder, and select Properties.
  • In General tab, press the Advanced button.
  • Check the 'Encrypt contents to secure data' checkbox.
  • Press OK buttons to dialog boxes.
Once you have selected the option, the contents of the file or folder will be encrypted. When encryption is setup at the folder level, all files are automatically encrypted when they're copied into the folder. To remove EFS encryption from a file or folder, all you have to do is follow the steps above and remove the check from the 'Encrypt contents to secure data' checkbox.

Note: You can not use both NTFS compression and encryption on the same file. If compression is enabled, it will automatically disable the encryption feature.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Windows Genuine Advantage

Microsoft recently created the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program, which validates your copy of Windows XP to make sure its legitimate. If your copy of Windows is genuine (non-pirated) you will be able to download security updates and software from Windows Update and the Download Center.

The way the WGA program works, is when you try to download software from Microsoft using Windows Update or the Download Center, you will be prompted to install an ActiveX control (for Internet Explorer v6.0 or higher). This software validates your copy of Windows to make sure its genuine. If you don't install the ActiveX control, you will not be allowed to download the software.

The Firefox plug-in is a recent addition to the WGA program, it works just like the I.E. ActiveX control. To install Firefox plug-in, you need to download the WGAPluginInstall.exe installer, then run it.

If you have any problems, using the WGA helper applications (i.e.: the ActiveX control, or Firefox plug-in) use this Diagnostic Site to make sure the plug-in and connection is working properly.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Windows File Association

If you double-click on a file (such as: .doc, .mp3, etc.) in the Windows Explorer, generally the application that created that file will be launched, and the file you selected will be opened in it. This feature is called 'file association'.

The Windows file association feature is not perfect, and sometimes requires some fine tuning depending on how many applications you install on your computer. What I mean is that if you have multiple applications that you use to play your audio and video files, you can occasionally run into problems when you want a specific application to play them.

For example, I have Windows Media Player, Quicktime, and the Real Media Player all installed on my computer. Although, they all compete to play specific file types (such as: .mpg, mp3, etc.). Personally I like the Windows Media Player, but if I am not careful when I install updates to these applications, they will try to associate these media file types with themselves.

Changing the file association:
  • Double-click 'My Computer' in the Start menu.
  • In the Tools menu, select 'Folder Options...'
  • Select the 'File Types' tab, then wait for Windows to build a list file types.
  • Find the file extension (such as: .mp3, jpg, gif, etc.) you want to change and select it.
  • Press the Change button, in the dialog that displays select an application that you want to use to open the document and press the OK button.
Another alternative to changing the file association:
  • Right-clicking any file, and select Properties.
  • Press the Change button, in the dialog that displays select an application that you want to use to open the document and press the OK button.
Note: If you can't find the application that you want to use to open the document, press the Browse button and select the program that you want to use open the file.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Windows Explorer Views

In the Windows Explorer you can display your files in one of several different views to help manage them more easily. Most people use the default 'icons' view, but there are several other views available for you to choose from (such as: Thumbnails, Tiles, List and Detail).

Below is a brief explanation of the different types of views that are available:
  • Filmstrip: Displays thumbnail previews of your images, documents and folders with a special viewer which enlarges selected images for easier previewing. (This option is only available with folders that contain viewable images.)
  • Thumbnails: Displays thumbnail previews of your images, documents and folders. (Generally documents and folders will display be displayed as large icons.)
  • Tiles: Puts the icons into columns. The number of columns of icons will increase, depending on the size of the window.
  • Icons: Displays one icon next to the other icon.
  • List: Displays all the icons in a top-down list.
  • Detail: Displays relevant file information (such as: name, size, date created/modified, etc.) for each file is a list format. (IMHO: My personal favorite.)
To change the view for your icons:
  • Open 'My Computer' under the Start menu.
  • From the View menu, select the view that you want to use (such as: Thumbnails, Tiles, Icons, List and Detail).
After you select the type of view that you want to use, if you want to further refine how the files are displayed you can use the 'Arranged By' option. From here you can arrange icons by Name, Size, Type, Modified, etc. This will sort the files in the view by which ever selection you choose.

Another great option is the 'Show in Groups', this will group items that are similar based on the 'Arrange By' option you selected. For example, if you selected to arrange icons by Type (such as: executables, text files, configuration files, etc...), then selected the option 'Show in Groups'. All the files of a specific type will all be grouped together.

Note: The 'Arrange By' and 'Show in Groups' options are available under the View menu in the Windows Explorer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Rolling Back a Device Driver

Windows XP has a built-in feature to 'roll back' to a previous version of a device driver. This feature comes in handy after you install a new version of a device driver and it starts making your system unstable.

To roll back a device driver:
  • Right-click on 'My Computer' and select Manage.
  • In the Computer Management console, open the 'Device Manager'.
  • Double-click the device that is giving you problems.
  • Click the Driver tab.
  • Press the 'Roll Back Driver' button.
Your system will revert to the previous version of the driver after you restart it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Avoid Re-Activate Windows XP After a Reinstallation

Whenever you first install Windows XP, you have to activate it over the Internet or by calling Microsoft customer support on the phone. So if you ever need to re-install Windows XP because of some type of system failure, then at a later time you would have to re-activate it again.

To avoid having to do this, all you have to do is backup a single file before destroying your old copy of Windows off your hard drive. Then after you finish installing a new copy of Windows XP, all you have to do is restore the file that you had backed up.
  • Copy the following file (c:\windows\system32\wpa.dbl) to some type of removable media (i.e.: floppy, USB drive, CD , or DVD).
Note: If you change any of your hardware before copying this file back to your new installation of Windows XP, you may have to reactivate your copy of Windows.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Scheduling Data Backups

We should have all been told how important it is to backup our computer's data to make sure that we won't lose it in some type of system failure. Although most of us don't backup our data on a regular basis, maybe because its time consuming or we just forget about it all together.

Whatever your reason for not backing up your computer, we are going to remove it by showing you how to schedule your backups. If you have a second drive attached to your computer, or an external USB drive this is the most idea configuration.

If you have a second hard drive all you will have to do is setup the process and forget it. Otherwise you will be forced to manage the media (CDs, DVDs, etc.) in which you will be storing the backups on.

This tip leverages the built-in Windows backup software, and task scheduler. Follow the directions below to set this up:
  • Launch the Backup program (Start menu | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Backup)
  • Click on the 'Schedule Jobs' tab.
  • Select the date to start backing up your computer, then press the 'Add Job' button.
  • This will launch the backup wizard, which will ask you to select: the data to backup (i.e. all files, or select file locations), location, backup type (i.e.: normal, copy, incremental, etc.), and other options. Press the Next buttons to move to the next part of the Wizard.
  • When you get to the backup job scheduling part of the Wizard, enter a name for the job, and press the 'Set Schedule' button to set the time to start running the job.
  • When you press the Next button to move to the next part of the Wizard, you will be prompted for an account to run the backup job under. This allows the job to run when you're not logged into your computer. Note: This account needs the access to backup all your files, generally the account will need to have administrator access.
  • From this point you will see a screen describing the option that you selected, then press the Finish button when done.
To edit, or delete any of the schedule backup jobs you created, you will need to manage them in the Schedule Tasks window (Start Menu | Control Panels | Scheduled Tasks).

Note: If your using Windows XP Home edition, and don't have the backup program installed on your computer see the following article.

Free OpenOffice.org Training Videos

NewsForge is offering free OpenOffice.org (OO) v2.0 training videos. If you have never used OO, and would like to get some basic training on how to use it.

These videos are being released under the Creative Commons license, which means that you can download them and share them with your friends freely. To play these videos you will need the Flash plug-in (v6.0 or higher) installed on your computer.

Available videos:
  • The video that are available are:
  • Installing OpenOffice.org
  • Creating and formatting text documents
  • Adding graphics to a text document
  • Saving in various file formats
  • Previewing and printing
  • Making a spreadsheet
  • Calculating values in a spreadsheet
  • Basic drawing functions
  • Manipulating images
  • Make a slide presentation in a hurry
  • Adding pictures to slide presentations

Friday, November 11, 2005

Updating Critical Non-Microsoft Software

Everyone tells you to update your OS, but what about the applications installed on your computer that you use everyday. Security exploits are being discovered in different programs all the time.

Some of the security holes can allow an attacker to take over your computer. So how do you protect yourself? Every 3-6 months, its a good idea to check the following web sites for updates to the applications listed below:
These applications are very popular and are used by millions web sites for displaying some type of content. For this reason, attacks will create or use exploits to infect or steal data from your system.

You really might be amazed at how out of date some of these application might be on your system. Although, what should really amaze you, is when you find out how vulnerable your system could be.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit

Are you having trouble getting an older application to run correctly under Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). There might be a solution for you, Microsoft has created a free tool called the 'Application Compatibility Toolkit'.

After you download and run this program the first thing it will do is scan your computer. Then it can automatically edit the settings of literally hundreds of applications that don't appear to be compatible with Windows XP SP2 and allows them to run properly.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

New Windows XP Install

Have you just installed a fresh copy of Windows XP on your computer or just purchased a new system? If so, there a few things that you will need to do and some software applications that you want to download and install.

These applications will help protect your computer, and fulfill the software requirements of different web sites.

1. Protect Thy Self (online)
There are a few things that you need to do to protect yourself while your online.
2. Enable Thy Self
After you have your system protected, its a good idea to install some of the following applications. Web sites use these applications to enhance the browsing experience.
Other optional components:
  • Windows XP PowerToys (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)
  • Real Player (This application used to be on my required list of software. Although, 99% of the time I don't use it anymore. If you do install it, watch the options it gives you very carefully or you could end of getting some additional software you won't expect.)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Welcome to Microsoft Live

Microsoft recently unveiled a new service called 'Windows Live', that incorporates a personalized home page, email, RSS feed, instant-messaging tools, and more. This service is part of new Internet initiatives being introduced by Microsoft.

The new site also includes links to an online virus-scanning service called 'Windows Live Safety Center'. Plus, you can enhance the site by adding 'Microsoft Gadgets', which allow you to extend the functionality of your personalized site.

Note: This site requires Internet Explorer

Monday, November 07, 2005

Administrative and Hidden Shares

By default, if your computer is configured for file sharing, hidden share points known as 'Administrative Shares' are automatically created for each drive volume (C:\, D:\, etc.) on your computer. These share points are hidden because they have a dollar sign ($) appended at end of the share name. When another computer tries browsing the available shared resources on your computer any of the hidden share points will not be displayed.

To access these hidden share points from another computer you need to know the path of the hidden share on the remote computer. This path is known as the UNC (Universal Naming Convention), and it looks like this: '\\[computer_name]\[share_name]'.

For example, lets say there is a computer on your network called 'Computer-A', and lets say that 'Computer-B' was trying to get files from it. One of the ways to accessing a share point is by entering the UNC into the Run... command. So as long as the user on Computer-B has administrative rights to Computer-A, all that person would have to type is "\\computer-a\c$" in the Run... command and press the OK button. Then the explorer would open and display all the files on the C:\ drive of Computer-A.

If you want to hide any share points on your computer, all you have to do is append a dollar sign ($) to the end of the share name.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Showing Hidden Devices

Warning: This is an advanced Windows tip, and should only be used by those who individuals who understand what they're doing. If you're not careful when preforming this tip, you can disable your system.

By default the Device Manager will hide the following devices: Non-Plug and Play (non-PnP) printers and drivers, and Devices that were attached to your computer at one-time, but have been disconnected (AKA 'non-present devices').
To view the non-PnP devices:
  • From the Start Menu, select the Run... command.
  • Type "devmgmt.msc" and press the Enter key.
  • In the Device Manager, from the View menu select 'Show hidden devices'.
You should now be able to see all the non-PnP devices.

To view the previously attached devices:
  • Add the following user or system environment variable to your system (see the following tip for instructions on how to do this):
    • In the New User or System Variable dialog box, in the 'Variable name' field, type "DEVMGR_SHOW_NONPRESENT_DEVICES", and in the 'Variable value' box, type "1".
  • Open the Device Manager, from the View menu select 'Show hidden devices'.
You should now be able to see all the non-PnP devices and previously attached devices.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Creating Environment Variables

The use of environment variables dates back to MS-DOS days. These variables hold information that they system and applications needed to perform different functions or to find information on the hard drive.

These variables are still used under Windows to perform different actions. For example, the PATH environment variable contains all the directories that Windows will search when its looking for an executable file. Other environment variables like TEMP contain the path for the system or applications to place temporary files.

To view or change any of the environment variables in Windows:
  • Open the control panel folder
  • Double-click the System control panel
  • Click the Advanced tab.
  • Press 'Environment Variables' button.
Note: Changes in the 'User Variables' box, only applies to the current logged on user. Changes in the 'System Variables' box applies to all users.

To create a new environment variable:
  • Press the New button (under the User or System variable box).
  • In the New User or System Variable dialog box, in the 'Variable name' field, type the name of the variable that you want to create (ex: "Test_Variable"), and in the 'Variable value' box enter the value of the variable (ex: "C:\Test").
  • Press the OK buttons to apply the changes and close the dialog boxes.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Easily Share a Folders

Normally, If you want to share your folders on your hard drive with other computers on your network. You would right-click each folder that you want to share, and setup the individual share properties.

An alternate way to perform this action is to use the 'Shared Folder Wizard'. This wizard will walk you through setting up a shared folder.

Note: If you're using Windows XP Home, it can give you access to file/share permissions that would normally not be available to you.
  • From the Start menu, select the Run... command.
  • Type 'shrpubw.exe', and then press the Enter key.
  • Press the 'Next >' button.
  • In the Wizard, enter the path of the folder you want to share on your hard drive
  • Enter a name for the share, and then press the 'Next >' button.
  • Select the permissions you want to assign to the share, and then press the 'Next >' button.
  • Press the Finished button when done.

Enable Disk Quotas In Windows XP

Do you have a shared computer, and one of the users is hogging the hard drive space by filling it up with large files (such as video and music). If you're the computer's administrator, then you can make sure that everyone gets their fair share of disk space by setting up 'Disk Quotas'. With Disk Quotas, you can limit the amount of disk space a user can consume.

Disk Quotas are based on file ownership. So if User 1 creates a file that is 1MB in size, their quoted is decreased by that amount. Although, if User 2 takes ownership of the file, User 2's disk space is decreased and User 1 space is increased.

Note: The hard drive has to be formatted with NTFS to use this option.

To enable this feature, follow the steps below:

  • From the Start menu, Click on 'My Computer'.
  • Right-click the hard drive that you want to enable the Disk Quota feature on, and select Properties.
  • Click the Quota tab.
  • Check the 'Enable quota management' checkbox.
  • Check the 'Deny disk space to users exceeding their quota limit'. By checking this option the user will receive an "insufficient disk space" error if they exceed their space limit.
  • Click the 'Limit disk space to' radio button.
  • Set the amount of disk space a user is allocated, and then enter value for the 'Set warning level to' option.
  • Press the OK button.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Display Your IP Address Information

If you need to display your computer's IP address information, the easiest ways to do this is to use the Network Connections dialog:
  • Open the Control Panel folder.
  • Double-click the Network Connections folder.
  • Double-click the network icon that you want to display the IP address for. If the network connection icon is in the notification area all you have to is double-click it.
  • Click on the Support tab.
  • Press the Details button.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

New SyncToy

Do you have multiple computers (such as a: desktop and laptops), with multiple copies of the same files that you need to keep synchronized. Microsoft has released a new free PowerToy called SyncToy, which allows you to keep the files in folders in sync with each other.

Permanently Delete Files

Most people delete their files by selecting them and pressing the Delete key, or by dragging them into the Recycle Bin. These files will be stored in the Recycle Bin until you right-click it and select 'Empty Recycle Bin' command.

To force these files to be deleted immediately, hold down the Shift key while deleting the files. This will cause the files that your currently deleting to be purged without first moving them to the Recycle Bin.

Note: Any files that are currently stored in the Recycle Bin will not be deleted when using this method.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Managing Startup Programs

Some programs when installed will configure themselves as a service or startup application that sits in your notification area. These programs will then load themselves into your computer's memory every time your it is booted. If you don't use the functionality of these programs on a regular basis, all they will do for you is waste system resources (like CPU cycles and consume available RAM).

Microsoft includes a diagnostic tool called the 'System Configuration Utility', which is meant as a semi-safe method of temporarily disabling these start-up programs and services. To run the System Configuration Utility:
  • From the Start menu, select the Run... command.
  • In the Run dialog box, type "MSCONFIG" and press the Enter key.
  • Click the Startup tab to display a list of applications that are launched when you boot the computer. To disable any of these programs, uncheck the checkbox next to the item. You need to be careful what you disable, you might turn off the functionality of some of your applications.
  • Click the Services tab to display a list of services that are launched when you boot your system. To disable any of these programs, uncheck the checkbox next to the item. You need to be careful which services that you disable, because you can prevent the Windows OS from being able to start-up.
The reason why I call this a temporary method of disabling these start-up applications and services. Every time you log into your computer, you will be reminded that you disabled these programs.

Note: Check out the following article to get the latest update for MSCONFIG.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Setting .JAR File Association

Normally, the installation program for the Java 2 Runtime Environment will register a default file association so that .JAR files will execute with 'JAVAW -JAR' by double-clicking any .JAR file. If this does not happen, or it somehow gets changed, then manually setting the association for *.JAR files may be needed.
  • Open the Windows Explorer, from the Tools select 'Folder Options...'
  • Click the File Types tab, scroll down and select JAR File type.
  • Press the Advanced button.
  • In the Edit File Type dialog box, select open in Actions box and click Edit...
  • Press the Browse button and navigate to the location the Java interpreter javaw.exe.
  • In the Application used to perform action field, needs to display something similar to "C:\Program Files\Java\j2re1.4.2_04\bin\javaw.exe" -jar "%1" %* (Note: the part highlighted in blue is the important part execution string, the other part of the path name can vary depending on which version of Java you're using) then press the OK buttons until all the dialogs are closed.
Now you should be able to launch any *.JAR program by double-clicking it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Managing System Restore Disk Usage

The Windows System Restore feature is designed to help you recover after a software installation failure or configuration changed that prevents your computer from booting. By default, new restore points are created after a system change, or every 24 hours. Also by default, the system restore points can consume up to 12% of the space on your hard drive.

To change the amount of disk space that is reserved for system restore points, follow the instructions below:
  • Right-click on My Computer under the Start menu, and select Properties.
  • Click the System Restore tab.
  • Move the slider to change the amount of disk space used by the System Restore feature, or check the 'Turn off System Restore' check box to disable this feature
  • Press the OK button.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Adding Custom User Login Pictures

You can assign different pictures to individual user accounts to help identify them. The system comes with several default pictures, but if you want you can add custom pictures to the following directory "C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Microsoft\User Account Pictures\Default Pictures".

Note: the pictures need to be 48x48 pixels, and can be in any of the following image file formats: .BMP, .JPG, or .GIF.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Set What Hours User Can Login

You can use the 'Net User' command to configure the day and the time when a user can log on to a computer. For example, you could permit a user named Fred to only log on to a computer between the hours of 10am and 3pm Monday-Wednesday.
  • From the Run... command, type "CMD" and press enter,
  • At the MS-DOS console, type "net user fred /time:M-W, 10:00-15:00"
For more information NET USER command see this MSKB (Microsoft Knowledge Base Article).

Note: If the user is already logged into the computer during the restricted time, they're not prevented from using the computer.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Extra Windows XP Support and Troubleshooting Utilities

There are some additional support and troubleshooting utilities available on the Windows XP installation CD in the \Support\Tools directory.
  • Put your 'Windows XP installation CD' into your CD or DVD drive.
  • From the Start menu, open 'My Computer'.
  • Find the CD or DVD drive in the Windows Explorer.
  • Open the \Support\Tools directory.
  • Run the SETUP.EXE to install programs.
Here is a short list of the ones available:
  • DIRUSE: Shows disk usage.
  • DUPFINDER: Finds duplicate files.
  • GETMAC: Displays the network card MAC address.
  • HOSTNAME: Shows the computer host name.
  • NETDIAG: Diagnoses a network components
  • PVIEWER: Displays processes running on your computer.
  • WINDIFF: Compares files and directories.
Note: some of these tools are very rudimentary, so don't expect a polished interface.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Installing New Fonts

Have you ever wondered how to install new fonts on your computer. Its not that hard, just follow the instructions below:
  • Download the font you want to install to your loacal computer. If these fonts are stored in an compressed file (like a .ZIP file), unzip them first before proceeding.
  • Open the Control Panel from the Start menu, and double-click the Fonts icon.
  • This will display a window showing the current fonts installed in your system.
  • From the File menu, select 'Install New Font...'.
  • In the 'Add Font' dialog, navigate to where you placed the fonts to your computer.
  • In the 'List of Fonts', select the font(s) that you want to add, and then press the OK button.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Classic Windows Logon Screen

Do you yearn for the classic Windows logon screen of yore (i.e. Windows NT and 2000). There are two ways to access this classic logon screen. Press the Ctrl-Alt-Delete keys twice, or if you want to permanently disable the Welcome screen:
  • Open the Control Panel folder under the Start menu.
  • Double-click 'User Accounts' icon.
  • Click the 'Change the way users log on and off' link.
  • Uncheck the 'Use the Welcome screen' checkbox.
  • Press the Apply Options button.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Create a Shortcut to Suspend Your Computer

Most modern computers support a low power state called 'Suspend'. In this state your computer will turn off all unnecessary components (i.e.: monitor, hard drive, etc.) that are not require to keep the computer turned on. When you're ready to use the computer again, all you have to do is move the mouse or press a key on the keyboard and the computer will come back to life.

To create a shortcut to put your computer into a suspend mode:
  • Right-click on the Desktop, and select 'New>Shortcut'
  • Type, "rundll32.exe PowrProf.dll, SetSuspendState"
  • Give your shortcut a name, and press the Enter key
To suspend your computer all you have to do is double-click the new shortcut you created.

General Windows Maintenance (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my 'General Windows Maintenance' article. If you have not read first part go there first before reading this part of the article.
  • Delete unused computer accounts on your computer, these accounts can sometimes be consuming several hundred megabytes or more (in extreme cases). To remove these account from the Start menu open the Control Panels folder, and then double-click the System applet. Click the Advanced tab, under the 'User Profiles' section press the Settings button. From here you can delete unused profiles.
  • Go to WindowsUpdates and make sure that your computer has all the latest patches installed on it. This operation could require a reboot of your computer when it is finished.
  • Remove unused fonts from your computer. From the Start menu open the Control Panels folder, and then double-click the Fonts folder. Delete fonts that you know you may never use. Be careful not to delete certain system fonts (such as: Courier New (TrueType, including Bold, Italic, and Bold Italic variations), Arial (TrueType, including Bold, Italic, and Bold Italic variations), Times New Roman (TrueType, including Bold, Italic, and Bold Italic variations), Symbol (TrueType), Wingdings (TrueType), MS Serif, MS Sans Serif).
  • Right-click your computer's Recycle Bin, and select 'Empty Recycle Bin'.
  • Scan your computer for viruses and other malicious programs. Download Avast Home to check your computer for viruses. Download the Microsoft AntiSpyware to check your computer for adware, spyware, and other malicious software. Its also very important to make sure your applications signature files are up-to-date.
  • Defragmenting your hard drive, should always be done last. Some people claim that you will see a performance improvement by doing this, but personally I have never really seen much of one myself. I just like to know that the files are organized properly on my hard drive. The one good thing about defragmenting your drive is that its a good health check of your media, this because it has to move the file around on the hard drive to defragment them.
Cleaning Your Computer's Hardware
Now that you have cleaned up your hard drive, its a good idea to clean the physical hardware. To clean the inside of your computer does require some existing experience with opening it up. If you're not comfortable doing this, or don't know what you're doing then I have to advise you against proceeding.

Caution: Make sure to unplug your computer from any power source. Ground yourself, and follow any anti-static protocols that you may have been taught. Also depending on your computer's warranty, you can void it by opening it up.
  • Using canned air, remove all the dust from the inside of your computer. Also, make sure to clean out all your fans. Dust will kill your computer, because it prevents airflow which will cause your computer to overheat.
  • Make sure all the external cables are securely connected to your computer (i.e.: monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc.). Make sure all the internal cables are securely connected to your devices inside your computer (i.e.: hard drive, optical drive, expansion cards, fans, etc.). Sometimes these cables can come loose over time.
  • Make sure the CPU and RAM are seated properly in their sockets. Sometimes due to thermal expansion, its possible for these devices to move small amounts and unseat themselves.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

General Windows Maintenance (Part 1)

Its always a good idea to perform some basic system maintenance on your computer to keep it running in tip-top condition. If your computer is a few years old, it even becomes more important to perform these tasks on a semi-annual basis.

In most cases the techniques I am going to explain are safe. Although, you never know when you're going to do something that can accidentally break your computer. If something happens while performing these operations, then there was something wrong with your computer to begin with.

As always, I would highly recommend that you back up your computer's data before proceeding with any of the suggestions listed below. Also, proceed with these actions at your own risk.

Freeing Up Disk Space
Below is a list of suggestions to free up disk space on your computer. In order to perform these tasks, you need to have administrator rights to your your local system.
  • From the Start menu open the Control Panels folder, and then double-click the 'Add/Remove Programs' applet. From here you can remove all those programs that you downloaded a long time ago and have never used. There is a statistic that states that only a few of the programs installed on a computer are actually used. All you have to do is select the program you want to uninstall, and press the remove button.
  • Before you close this control panel, press the 'Add/Remove Windows Components' button to uninstall Windows application and services that you're not using.
  • From the Start menu open 'All Programs > Accessories > System Tools and select the 'Disk Clean' program. This program will remove unimportant application files from your computer. These files are created by different applications for different purposes, this program will only let you delete the ones that will not cause your computer to crash. For example, the Temporary Internet files are web pages, graphics, and other files stored on your local computer for use by the browser to load web pages more quickly.
  • From the Start menu open the 'Printers and Faxes' folder, and delete any printers installed on your computer that you're not using anymore. Some people especially with laptops in a corporate environment can literally have a dozen or more printers installed on their computer.
  • If you're desperate for disk space, you can recover a few hundred megabytes by turning off the hibernation feature on your computer. This feature allows you to save the current state of your computer and shut it down, then allows you to return to where you left off when you reboot it. From the Start menu open the Control Panels folder, and then double-click the 'Power Options' applet. Click on the Hibernate tab, and uncheck the 'Enable Hibernate' checkbox. Only disable this feature if you're not going to use it. Note: the amount of disk space you will recover is equal to the amount to RAM installed in your computer.

Monday, October 10, 2005

System Configuration Utility Updated (Download)

Microsoft recently updated the System Configuration Utility (msconfig.exe). They added a Tools tab to allow other diagnostic tools to be launched from within the utility.

Note: After you install the application, you may need to restart your computer.

Controlling Environment Variables

Back in the DOS days you created environment variables to maintain certain settings on your system. These variables were used by applications to find files, and store information about you and your preferences.

These environment variables are still used by all versions of Windows for different reasons. To manage your these variables:
  • Right-click on My Computer
  • Select Properties from the drop down menu.
  • Click on the Advanced tab.
  • Press the 'Environment Variables' button.
From here you can create, change, or delete user (only effects the current logged in user) and system (effects every user who logs into the computer) environmental variables.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Backing up the Recovery Agent Key

This tip is for Windows XP Professional only.

The Encrypting File System (EFS) is part of the Windows XP Professional OS, it allows users to easily encrypt/decrypt their data files. The way EFS works is Windows automatically creates the keys needed to encrypt and decrypt the files. Then when a file is requested by an application Windows uses the keys to decrypt the file, and when the file is saved it automatically re-encrypts it.

To prevent these keys from being stolen, they're encrypted and stored as part of the user's account. A problem will happen if the user account is deleted, all the keys for encrypting and decrypting the files will be lost. This means the user's encrypted files, will not be able to be opened.

Although, Windows does include a recovery agent key that can decrypt the data, just in case the user's keys are lost. When Windows encrypts a file it uses the recovery agent's public EFS key, as well as the user's EFS key. What this means is that the recovery agent's key can be used to decrypt the files if the user's key is lost.

By default, the local administrator account is the default recovery agent for computers in a workgroup. The domain administrator is the default recovery agent for computers in a domain.

To protect the integrity of the recovery agent's keys, they should be backed up on any system that uses EFS. To export the user keys from a system that is part of a workgroup:
  • On the local computer, log on using the local administrator account.
  • From the Run... command type, "SECPOL.MSC".
  • Expand the 'Public Key Policies', and then the 'Encrypted Data Recovery Agents' branches.
  • In the right pane, right-click the certificate, and select 'All Tasks Export'.
  • Choose Next when the wizard starts.
  • Choose Yes (Export The Private Key), and press the Next button.
  • Follow the remainder of the wizard using the default values, and specify a file to contain the key.
  • When the wizard finishes, copy the newly created file to a safe network share, or to a disk. If you copied the keys to a disk, make sure to store it in a safe location.
In the wizard, if you choose the option to remove the private key from the computer after the export is complete, you must restart the workstation or domain controller for the removal to be complete.

If you need to back up the recovery agent key for a domain, run DOMPOL.MSC on the first domain controller in the domain. Use the same procedure as above to export the key to a file.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Choosing a strong password

Password security is going the way of the dodo. As computers become more and more faster, a programmer’s ability to write programs to guess your password is becoming easier. The great thing about passwords is the only software/hardware requirement is a keyboard, which is a requirement for using a computer. Although, the main problem with passwords is that they can be cracked.

There are lots of technologies promising to replace the password, but the only one that has made it somewhat mainstream is fingerprint scanners. These devices are not perfect and there is no universal set of hardware/software standards that all computers can use to access these devices. I believe this is the greatest obstacle preventing adoption of this technology.

Choosing a Strong Password
Although there is some good news, if you create a strong password and change it on regular intervals you can thwart most people’s ability to crack your password. Remember that passwords are your primary front line defense for protecting most of your personal and financial data.

You might have heard the term ‘strong password’ but might not be sure what it means. Basically a strong password is one that is difficult to guess. The attributes that characterize a strong password are:
  • Words not found in the dictionary.
  • Never use names of people, places, animals or things. Also avoid using words formed from personal information about yourself (such as your name, address, pet's name, spouse's name, etc.)
  • Composed of 8 or more characters (Note: the longer the password, the tougher it is to crack).
  • Composed of numbers (0-9), upper and lowercase letters (a-z, A-Z), and punctuation marks (!#$%!$%^&*). Try to substitute punctuation and numbers for letters.
For example a hard to guess password might look like: A1467!bnc@. To make a password easy to remember, pick a common word then change characters in that word with numbers and symbols: P@ssW0rd or M1cr0S0f+.

Password Handling
The biggest problems with passwords are that they can be tough to remember, the more complex the password (or the number them you have to remember). If you know that you can’t remember all them, it might be a good time to find a password manager that you trust to help you manage them.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Internet Explorer: AutoComplete Feature

By default, Internet Explorer's AutoComplete feature is enabled. AutoComplete remembers previous entries that you typed into the Address, and form fields. AutoComplete can also be used to remember your user names and passwords when you're prompted for them.

If you want to configure this feature, or turn it off completely then do the following:
  • Open Internet Explorer
  • From the Tools menu, select 'Internet Options...'
  • Click the Content tab.
  • Press the AutoComplete... button
From here you can enable or disable any of the features, by checking or unchecking any of the options. You can also purged the saved form or password data by pressing the 'Clear Forms' or 'Clear Password' buttons.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Managing Hardware Profiles

A little known feature of Windows is the 'Hardware Profile'. This feature allows you to enable or disable certian devices and networking settings when your laptop is docked in its docking station, or when its removed.

For example, if you have different network settings for your home and office, you can create multiple hardware profiles and select the one you want to use when your computer starts up.

To create a hardware profile, follow the instructions below:
  • Open the Control Panel folder, and double-click the System applet.
  • Click on the Hardware tab, then press the 'Hardware Profiles' button.
  • In the list of available hardware profiles, select the 'Docked Profile' or the 'Undocked Profile' and press the Copy button.
  • Enter a new name for the profile and press OK button.
  • Press the OK button.
When you reboot your computer, Windows will prompt you to select a hardware profile you want to use. You can customize the profile by enabling or disabling devices. Use the Device Manager to specify the devices that should be enabled or disabled for this profile.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Create an Autorun CD

Most commercial applications CDs that you buy will automatically start when you put it into the CD/DVD drive and close the door. This feature is called 'Autorun', it allows an application to be executed when the CD is first read.

If you want to add this feature to your custom CDs or DVDs, all you have to do is create a simple three line text file with Notepad. Then when you're done, save the as AUTORUN.INF in the root of the CD/DVD's directory.

[autorun]
open=setup.exe
icon=icon.ico

Where is says OPEN=, put the name of the program or web page that you want launched when the CD is put into the drive. Where is says ICON=, put the name of the icon file that you want to use for the CD when its displayed in the Windows Explorer. For more information on this subject see the results from the following Google search.

Notes:
  • Make sure not to include any drive letters when calling these files. All the calls to a file have to be relative to the files on the media.
  • If you're calling a non-executable files, such as an HTML web page. Put the command START.EXE in front the web page's name (i.e.: "open=start.exe example.html")

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Before Calling Technical Support

Sometimes calling technical support is a bigger hassle then its worth these days. Although, not all technical support people are one step above computer illiterate. I have talked to some really sharp ones over the years, but they're few and far between.

There are some basic troubleshooting steps that you can perform, before or while you waste 30-60 minutes on hold for someone to help you. These techniques can help eliminate the call in the first place.
  • If all else fails, save all your work, close all your applications and reboot your computer. If your computer will not let you reboot it, try pressing the Ctrl-Alt-Del keys. If that still doesn't work, try holding in the power button until the computer turns off. Although, if your computer is still not rebooting unplug it, wait 10 seconds and plug it back in (this is a step of last resort, and it is not recommended).
  • While your computer is turned off, if you have any external hardware devices (i.e.: scanners, hard drives, etc...) that you don't need turn them off and unplug from the computer. If you can't unplug a device or you just don't want too, make sure all the cords are properly connected. Check the Device Manager for unrecognized devices:
    • Check the device manufacturer's web site for updated device drivers and firmware. Also check if the site has a knowledge base of known issues that can help your problem. If you recently updated a device driver and you think its giving you problems try rolling it back.
    • Go to Windows Update and download the latest update for your system and hardware. Check the non-critical updates to see if they can fix your problem.
    • Check to see if you can find a solution to your problem in Google. Also make sure to check out Google Groups.
    Related Articles

    Wednesday, September 28, 2005

    Windows Performance Tips (Hardware)

    Since I just completed a four part article on 'General Windows Maintenance Tips' (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4), now I am going to cover some tips for increasing your systems performance. The maintenance tips that were provided in the previous articles can help speed up your computer, but if you want to see a real boost in your system's speed then you have to invest in some hardware.
    • RAM vs. Virtual Memory: When RAM was very expensive, a technology was created called 'Virtual Memory'. The way it works, is that the Operating System (OS) sets a side a chuck of hard drive space, then as the physical RAM gets full it swaps out chunks of memory to the hard drive that are currently not being used. The great thing about this technology is that if you need the extra memory it can be a life saver, but it comes at a cost. It can really slow down your computer, because the OS has to move data in and out of RAM to the hard drive. By purchasing more RAM for your computer you can see an increase in your computer's performance. I would recommend at least a 1GB of RAM for Windows and your applications.
    • Fast Hard Drives: One of the slowest components in your computer is your hard drive. The main reason why its slow is that its mechanical. Newer high-performance hard drives on the market, have faster interfaces (i.e.: SATA and SCSI3), large memory caches (i.e.: 8MB or larger), high RPM spindle speeds (i.e.: 10,000 RPM and faster) and access times. If you get a fast hard drive, you should also invest in a fast hard drive controller. If you have at least two hard drives, and the right controller you can create a RAID 0 array which can give you an extra performance boost.
    • Faster CPU: Another way to increase your system performance is to install a faster CPU with a large L2 cache on your computer. You need to check if your computer's motherboard can support a faster CPU then the one that is currently installed on it. A faster CPU will let you process more information quickly. Note: If you buy a faster CPU, you might want to also consider buying faster RAM if your motherboard and CPU support it.
    • Fast Video Card: If you're a gamer, engineer, or run any application that's used for creating realistic graphics then you might want to consider investing in a fast video card. New video cards are coming out all the time, that are faster and have more features then the previous generation. What you want to consider when buying a new video card is, make sure that it has a fast GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), 128MB or more of fast video RAM, and can use a fast APG or PCI-X slot.
    This article only briefly covers at a high level the hardware that is available to make your system run faster. You need to research carefully each type of hardware change you want to make to your system.

    Sometimes, when you change one component in your system, you can have a domino effect where you need to change other components as well. For example, some of the changes listed above could require a new motherboard, or power supply.

    If price is a consideration, try buying the previous generation of a technology to get more bang for your buck.

    Monday, September 26, 2005

    Windows Security Tips (Part 2)

    In the previous tip, we talked about running your computer with a 'restrictive user account' that doesn't have administrator privileges. The only problem with running your computer this way, you will soon discover that there will be times that you need these rights to perform certain operations.

    To do this, you can use the 'Run As' command, to perform administrator tasks even if you're logged in with a restrictive user account. To access this feature, right-click any program icon and select 'Run as...". A security dialog will display, click 'The following user' radio button, then enter the administrator usrename and password.

    For more information see the following Microsoft Knowledge base article: 'How to enable and use the "Run As" command when running programs in Windows' (294676).

    Sunday, September 25, 2005

    Windows Security Tips (Part 1)

    For your protection, its not a good idea to always run your computer using an account that is privileged (i.e: with administrator rights). By doing this, you can prevent malicious programs from being able to easily infect the OS because it doesn't have the rights.

    When you have to perform an operation that requires privileged access, such as installing or configuring an application or OS. That is when you login with the administrator account.

    To add or remove users, or change user account privileges open the User Accounts control panel. To use this control panel does require administrator access.
    • Open the Control Panels folder
    • Double-click the User Accounts control panel

    Friday, September 23, 2005

    Lock Your Windows Quickly

    Computer security has been a hot topic for a few years, and a good security practice is to lock your computer when you walk away from it. One of the quickest ways to lock your computer's screen is press the WinKey+L key (if your computer keyboard doesn't have the WinKey, then you can press the Ctrl-Alt-Del keys, then Enter). When you lock your computer's screen, you will be required to enter your log-on password to access your computer again (or have an administrator password).

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    Powering Down or Standby, Which One?

    Normally when you're done using your computer, you shut it down. Then when you need it again, you turn it on, and load all your applications to start working on it. There is nothing wrong with this scenario, but there is a different way to shutdown your computer.

    This feature is called hibernate, this is where the OS writes the contents of RAM to the hard disk and turns off the computer. Then when you turn on the computer again, you are able to continue where you left off.

    The advantage of this using hibernation over the standard shut down procedure should be clear. Although, I would recommend that you reboot every few days just to allow Windows to perform some house keeping.

    To put your computer into a hybernation state, under the Start menu select 'Turn Off Computer'. When you see the dialog with the 'Stand By', 'Turn Off', and Restart buttons, hold down the Shift key. The 'Stand By' button will change to Hybernate.

    This doesn't happen you have to turn on this feature:
    • Open the 'Power Options' control panel.
    • Click on the Hibernate tab.
    • Check the 'Enable hibernation' checkbox.
    • Press the OK button when done.

    Running programs from your USB flash drive (Part 2)

    One technique that I have used successfully to run utilities that come with their own installer from my USB flash drive. I run the installer application and install it on my local hard drive. I then copy the program's folder out of the C:\PROGRAM FILES folder to the USB drive. I then uninstall the original program from the computer.

    To test the program, I try to run it from the USB flash drive. The uninstall technique will let you know if the program has any dependencies (such as DLLs, or registry entries) that will prevent it from running properly on another computer.

    Finding Programs for your USB Drive
    There are sites on the Internet that host programs that can be run from these devices, for example there is TinyApps.org and Roadkil.net. These sites contain several different types of useful utilities and other miscellaneous programs.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2005

    Running programs from your USB flash drive (Part 1)

    Installing and running programs from your USB flash drive, can be a hit and miss proposition. You need to find programs that don't have dependencies on being fully installed on to a computer's hard drive in order to run.

    For example, Microsoft Office can not run from a USB flash drive. When the application is installed, it installs its support files all over the computer's hard drive for various reasons (which I don't plan to discuss). Microsoft Office is not the only program that has this requirement, several other applications from several different vendors can't be run from a USB flash drive.

    The real trick is finding programs that don't have installation dependencies in order to run. These programs are primarily written by small software vendors and can come in all shapes and sizes. I generally classify these programs in to two groups, ones that don't require a folder structure to run and ones that do.

    There are some programs that all you have to do is copy one or two files to the USB drive and its ready to go. There are other programs that require their own folder structure to run. A lot of the time the only thing you can do is copy the program files to your USB drive, and try to run it.

    Sunday, September 18, 2005

    Deleting Entries out of IE's Autocomplete Feature

    If you have the Internet Explorer with the Autocomplete feature enabled in your browser, you will discover it comes in handy when trying to complete web forms where you have to enter data that you have already entered. Although if you mistype an entry in to the web form, that mistake will display everytime you use a web page with a particular fields on it.

    For example, I use Google to find the proper spelling of words. Although I hate seeing those mistyped entries everytime I do a search.

    There are two ways to delete items from the Autocomplete feature. One, delete all the entries in Autocomplete (sometimes this is good to do anyway for privacy reasons). Two, delete a single entry from a particular field. For example, go to favorite web site that has a field on it (i.e.: Google) then type any letter. If IE's autocomplete feature is enabled, you will see all the words/phrases that you have searched for that start with that letter.

    To delete an item it the Autocomplete list:
    • Goto the web site, that has the field that contains the entry you want to delete
    • Use the up or down arrow keys to select the entry, then press the Delete key (Note: I don't mean the Backspace key).
    If you type that letter again, you should not find the entry listed anymore.

    Friday, September 16, 2005

    PhotoFiltre (Free Image Editing Program)

    There are only a few free good image editing programs available on the Internet in my opinion. Some of these programs are easy to use but have limited functionality, and others are more powerful but the complexity of using the program increases.

    One you might want to check out is PhotoFiltre, it’s powerful and easy to use. Here is an excerpt from their web site: "PhotoFiltre is a complete image retouching program. It allows you to do simple or advanced adjustments to an image and apply a vast range of filters on it. It is simple and intuitive to use, and has an easy learning curve. The toolbar, giving you access to the standard filters with just a few clicks, gives PhotoFiltre a robust look."

    Registration
    PhotoFiltre is free for a private, non-commercial or educational use (including non-profit organizations). Commercial or professional use requires registration.

    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    General Windows Maintenance Tips (Part 4)

    This is part 4 of the 'General Windows Maintenance Tips' article.
    • Removing Startup Programs: Some applications you installed can come with components that are designed to load in the Notification Area, or in the background as a service when Windows starts up. If you use these services a great deal, then it might be to your advantage to have this software run this way. Although, if you use these services once in a great while, then all these programs are doing is wasting system resources (like: memory and CPU cycles), making your computer run slower, and taking longer to fully boot up. On my personal systems, I really try to prevent these programs from loading if I don't need them. To help manage these startup applications Microsoft includes a utility called MSCONFIG which is designed to allow you to temporarily prevent these programs from loading for diagnostic reasons. Note: to permanently prevent these programs from loading requires removing their entries from the Windows registry. Warning: Disabling certain system services and startup applications, can disable Windows functionality. Use this tip at your own risk. Although, the good news is that MSCONFIG doesn't allow you to delete permanently these startup items. A good resource for managing system services is Black Viper Service Configuration page. To manage Startup application, check out PacMan's-Portal or AnswersThatWork.
      • From the Start menu, select Run...
      • Type "MSCONFIG" and press the Enter key
      • To disable startup services, select the Services tab. To disable startup applications, select the Startup tab.
      • Select the items that you want to prevent from loading, then press the OK button
    • Cleaning The Registry: When you install applications on your computer it places new files on the hard drive, and new entries in the Windows registry. Later when you uninstall an application, it may not remove all of its files from the hard drive, or its registry entries. To help find and remove these orphaned registry entries, there is a free utility called RegSeeker. It can scan your computer for these left over registry entries and remove them. Warning: Deleting registry entries even with specialized utilities can disable Windows or your applications. Use this tip at your own risk. It is also highly recommended that you backup your computer before using these utilities.