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.


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.

  • 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")