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)

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

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.