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 Training Videos

NewsForge is offering free (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
  • 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.