Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Windows Task Manager

The Windows Task Manager is a great diagnostic utility for diagnosing performance problems with your computer. This is one of the first tools I use to begin to troubleshooting these type of problems.

The Windows XP Task Manager, has five tabs (Applications, Processes, Performance, Networking, and Users). Below is a breakdown of what each tab does:
  • Applications: Displays a list of all of the active applications and their status.
    • From here you can stop applications that are not responding or that are consuming too much of the CPU resources.
  • Processes: Displays a list of active processes (foreground and background), plus the amount of memory and CPU time each process is using.
    • From here you can stop processes that are not working properly.
  • Performance: Displays how much free/used memory, and processing load on each CPU.
  • Networking: Displays the utilization of your network connection.
  • Users: Shows the users connected to your computer.
    • From here you can log off users that are no longer logged on your system.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Using the XP Recovery Console (Advanced)

In a previous article I talked about how to install the Recovery Console on to your local computer. In this article I will talk about how to access this feature in more depth.

You can access the Recovery Console using one of two different methods:
  • Insert the Windows XP installation CD into your CD-ROM drive, after it starts up, press "R" when prompted to perform a repair or recovery.
  • If you already install the Recovery Console on your computer, when your computer is first booting if you press F8 quick enough while it is starting, you can select the 'Recovery Console' from the startup options menu.
Note: Windows XP Professional users, you will need the administrator password you created the computer with to access the Recovery Console.

After you have started the Recovery Console you will see the following message:

Microsoft Windows Recovery Console

The Recovery Console provides system repair and recovery functionality.
Type Exit to quit the Recovery Console and restart the computer.


Which Windows installation would you like to log on to (To cancel, press ENTER)?

If you have multiple operating systems installed on your computer (i.e.: Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, etc.), you must select one at this time. When you select the OS, you may be prompted to enter the Administrator password for the OS you select. To exit the Recovery Console, type "exit" at the command prompt and then press the Enter key, this will restart the computer.

For more information on the Recovery Console, see the following Microsoft Knowledge Base Article (314058).

Friday, January 27, 2006

Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool (Advanced)

This is an advanced tip, before you continue you will need the knowledge and software required to burn an ISO file to a CD. You will also need a blank CD or Floppy to use this tip.

Not all system failure (such as the Blue Screen of Death [BSoD]) are related software problems. These failure can also be caused by problems with your hardware, such as RAM going bad. This failure doesn't happen often, but one of the signs its happening is your system becomes unstable. For example, if your system randomly shuts down for no reason on a fairly frequent basis. This could be an indication of your RAM failing.

Microsoft provides a free tool (called 'Windows Memory Diagnostic') that can test your RAM to see if its failing. I had a problem with a computer recently where I was having problems stabilizing the computer so it wouldn't shutdown randomly. So I decided to test out this tool, and sure enough there was a problem with the system's RAM.

To run the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool, follow the instructions below:
  • Download the application.
  • Run the application, then read and accept the licensing agreement.
  • If you have a floppy drive, press the 'Create Startup Disk...' and follow the directions. If you have a CD-Burner drive, press the 'Save CD Image to Disk...' and follow the directions. From here you will have to burn the ISO to a blank CD.
  • Leave the boot CD or Floppy you just created in the drive, and restart your computer. (Note: you may have to push a key to boot from the CD, or you may need to enable this feature in your BIOS)
After your computer reboots, Windows Memory Diagnostic will load and begin testing your RAM by reading and writing test patterns to it. I would recommend that you leave this running over night, if you return in the morning and no problems were found there is a good chance that there is no problem with your system's RAM.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Using the System File Checker (SFC)

Sometimes when installing third party software, it may overwrite important operating system files. This can cause Windows or its applications to become unstable or fail altogether.

Windows includes a utility that can scan for problems, and replace the operating system files that may have been overwritten. This tool is called the 'System File Checker' (SFC), to access this tool follow the instructions below:
  • From the Start menu, select the Run... command
  • In the Run dialog box, type: "sfc /scannow" and press the Enter key.
The SFC will start scanning all protected Windows files and verify that they're the correct version. If they're not, the incorrect or missing files will be replaced. You may be prompted to insert your Windows XP installation CD if a problem is detected.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Putting Your Computer into Hibernation Mode Easily

As you may know there are three states that you can place your computer into when you're not using it: sleep, hibernation, and shutdown. Each of these states has its advantages:
  • Sleep: puts the computer into a low power state to conserve power or battery life. Use this state if you're only going to be away from your computer for a short time.
  • Hibernation: saves the computer's memory to the hard drive then turns the computer off. This mode allows you to resume work where you left off when you turn the computer back on. No power is required to keep the computer in this state.
  • Shutdown: closes all the applications, dumps the memory then turns the computer off. Use this state if you're done using your computer, and are going to shut it down for an extended amount of time.
To put your computer into any of these states you can do this from the Shutdown command in the Start menu. although, if you want to quickly put your computer into a sleep state, you can create a shortcut to perform this action for you.
  • First make sure the hibernation feature is enabled on your computer.
    • Open the Control Panel folder
    • Double-click the 'Power Options' applet.
    • Click the Hibernate tab
    • Make sure the 'Enable hibernation' checkbox is checked.
    • Press the OK button
  • Right-click on an empty area of the desktop, and 'New > Shortcut'.
  • When the wizard displays, in the empty field type: "%windir%\System32\rundll32.exe powrprof.dll,SetSuspendState", and then press the Next button.
  • Give the new shortcut a name like "Hibernate", and then press the Finish button.
Now all you have to do is double-click the new shortcut, and your computer will go into a hibernation mode.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Free Online Anti-Virus Scanners

Generally there are two types of computer users, those that run up-to-date anti-virus software on their computer, and those that don't. For those that don't run anti-virus software, and want to check if their system is infected (or for someone who wants a second opinion if your computer is really free of viruses). Below is a list of free online anti-virus scanners that can detect and remove viruses on your system.

Note: All the sites listed below require Internet Explorer v6.0 or higher in order to use them:
File Virus Scanning
If you receive a file that you think may contain malicious code, you can upload or send it to one of the sites below to have it scanned. Some of these sites will scan the file with multiple anti-virus scanning engines.
Other Resources:

Monday, January 23, 2006

Re-register the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer

The Microsoft Windows Picture and Fax Viewer allows you to preview digital photos, images, and faxes in the Windows Explorer or on the desktop. Sometimes, the file associations (for .JPG, .GIF, .TIF, etc.) that is required to support this application becomes damage or another application re-points it to itself.

If you want to restore the original functionality of the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer then follow the steps below:
  • From the Start menu select Run...
  • In the Run box, type: "regsvr32 shimgvw.dll" (If that doesn't work, try typing: "regsvr32 /i shimgvw.dll"

Friday, January 20, 2006

Free Personal E-mail Certificates

Did you know the protocols that e-mail clients use to communicate with e-mail servers, and e-mail servers use to communicate with other servers are very insecure. This is why it has been so easy for e-mail viruses, and spam to spread. Plus its very easy to forge a message, to make it look like it came from anyone you want it to. To overcome these limitations more people are securing their e-mail communications, or be able to prove that an email was really sent from them?

In order to do this, it requires a digital certificate from a trusted Certificate Authority (CA) that can authenticate who you are. Let me elaborate on the CA part, CAs are a trusted third party (such as: Verisign, and Thwate to name a few) that authenticate your identity. When a CA issues you a digital certificate, they require that you prove who you are (this process varies from CA to CA).

More and more e-mail clients are now supporting digital certificates that allow you to encrypt the contents of your, authenticate the identity of the person who sent the email, and even tell you if the data in the email has been tamper with. These certificates are generally not free, but Thawte has been giving them away for a while for personal use.

When you receive a message that has been digitally signed, it will have an icon that looks like a ribbon on it. If you double-click the ribbon , you can find out information about the sender of the message. Also if the message has been modified, the digital signature will be invalidated.

If you receive a message that is encrypted, it has a lock icon on it. You will be required to authenticate to decrypt the mail. If someone wants to send you an encrypted e-mail they have to have you're public key so that the message can be encrypted before its sent. If you're going to send someone else encrypted e-mail you're going to have to have their public key.

The biggest problem with this technology is Interoperability between e-mail clients. If you're using Outlook Express to communicate with another Outlook or Outlook Express client, you should not experience any problems. But if you're going from an Outlook Express client to another e-mail client that doesn't support SMIME, then you will have issues.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Installing the XP Recovery Console (Advanced)

What do you do if Windows fails to boot after you just installed the latest video driver for your graphics card or some cool new application. These are just a few examples of what can happen when Windows fails to boot. There are other events that can cause this type of failure as well, such as a corrupt boot record, a critical file was deleted, the file system got corrupted, etc.

There is no one solution that can solve all your problems booting your computer except to reinstall the whole operating system. One of your first lines of defense is Windows Recovery Console. The Recovery Console is a text based command line repair tool that allows you to perform some basic diagnostics and repairs of the Windows OS.

There are two ways to access the Recovery Console, the first way is booting off the Windows installation CD, and the second way it to boot to it from your hard drive if you had the forethought to install it before you have problems. If its already installed you access it from the Advanced Boot options screen (press F8 while Windows boots up), or in the OS boot menu.

To install the Recovery Console on your local system follow the instructions below (This will require almost 8MB of free disk space to install this service):
  • Insert the Windows installation CD.
  • From the Start menu select Run...
  • Type the following command "{x:}\i386\winnt32.exe /cmdcons" (note: replace {x:} with the drive letter assigned to your CD-ROM drive).
  • Press the OK button.
  • Follow the instructions on the screen to install the Recovery Console.
  • When the installation is complete, you will need to reboot your computer.
The Recovery Console will now show up in the list of available operating systems you can select from in the boot menu.

Note: To use the Recovery Console you need administrator privileges on the local computer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Low-Cost Computer Ergonomics

When using your computer, it should never be painful or uncomfortable to use. Your workstation needs to be a comfortable place for you to work because you may have sit there for several hours everyday. Below are some suggestions to help make your work area more comfortable.
  • Adjust the height of the chair to make sure your feet can touch the floor or a footrest (use a large book if necessary).
  • Adjust the height of the keyboard tray and chair to make sure your forearms are parallel to the floor with your wrists and elbows angled slightly down or in a neutral position. Your elbows should also be at the same level as the workstation.
  • The chair's armrests should not interfere with your typing or using the mouse, and you should not have to rest your arms on them to type.
  • Your face should be about 18 to 24 inches from the monitor. Also consider changing the resolution (higher or lower) of the monitor to make it comfortable for you to view. The topmost line of the displayed should be eye level.
  • When using the mouse make sure your hand is relaxed and in a neutral position.
  • You should take frequent breaks from the computer, such as getting up and stretching, getting coffee or water, etc.
  • All regularly used items around the workstation should be within a 16-inch radius of your reach.
  • It's a good idea to avoid using wrist pads to support your wrist when typing, this promotes bad habits. It's better to float your hands above the keyboard while typing.
If your hands, arms, or neck continues to hurt you should consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Layered Service Provider (Advanced)

The most recent version of Internet Explorer includes an upgraded component called Winsock 2 (Winsock stands for Windows Sockets). Winsock is a standard interface between a network aware Windows client application and the underlying TCP/IP protocol stack. Part of this updated component is a feature called Layered Service Provider (LSP). The LSP allows 3rd party vendors to insert code for monitoring or filtering content in the Winsock data stream.

The LSP feature was designed for software developers to create special filter applications that can be used for parental controls, monitoring the TCP/IP traffic , etc. Some malware programs take advantage of the LSP to monitor your network activity without you knowing about it.

Then when you discover these malicious aapplications, and remove it they can leave the LSP without the ability to communicate with the Internet. Thus preventing your applications from communicating with the Internet.

One way to fix the broken chain is by using a freeware utility called LSP-Fix. LSP-Fix works by fixing the Winsock LSP chain by removing orphan entries left behind when LSP software is removed, or by repairing gaps in the chain.

Monday, January 16, 2006

TCP/IP Filtering (Advanced)

When Microsoft created Windows XP, they gave it a built-in software firewall to protect your computer against different types of network attacks. Although the versions of Windows before XP had a featured called 'TCP/IP filtering'. This feature allowed you to filter out different parts of the TCP/IP protocol from entering the computer, such as TCP/UDP ports and IP protocols.

Note: The following is an advanced tip that should only be used by those who have a good understanding of the TCP/IP protocol. This feature has very limited applications since the inclusion of the built-in firewall, but for those who might have a use for it below is the information you will need to get started.

To access the TCP/IP filtering option:
  • Open the Control Panel
  • Double-click the Network Connections folder
  • Right-click your active network connection, and select Properties.
  • In the General tab, in the list box scroll down until you find 'Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)' and select it.
  • Press the Properties button.
  • Press the Advanced... button.
  • Select the Options tab.
  • Select 'TCP/IP filtering' then press the Properties button
From here you can configure TCP/IP filtering, by limiting the incoming TCP/UDP ports, and incoming IP protocols (you must specify the IP protocol number, for example the IP protocol 'General Routing Encapsulation' [GRE] is number 47).

  • This feature applies to all network interfaces on your computer.
  • This feature does not allow you to block ICMP traffic.
  • This feature does not affect outbound traffic or response ports that are created to accept responses from outbound requests.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Google Pack Software

Google made an interesting announcement at CES, they unveiled a new package of software called the 'Google Pack'. This software bundles together several popular applications that you might use everyday into one package, and then helps you keep it up-to-date. Most of these applications are available free by themselves, but what is great about this package of software is that it all comes bundled together.

Below is a a complete list of the applications that are included in the Google Pack:
  • Google Earth
  • Google Toolbar for IE
  • Ad-Aware SE Personal
  • Google Desktop
  • Google Pack Screensaver
  • Norton AntiVirus 2005 SE
  • Picasa
  • Mozilla Firefox with Google Toolbar
  • Adobe Reader 7
  • RealPlayer
  • Trillian
To download the the 'Google Pack' software, go to the following site.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Testing Broadband Connection Speed

If you already have a broadband connection (such as Cable, DSL, etc.), or just signed up for one, your service provider will make all kinds of promises about how fast the connection will be. Then after you have it installed there is no way to truely tell if you're really getting the bandwidth you're paying for.

If you want to validate the speed of your Internet connection, you will need to use a web site that can measure its bandwidth. There are several of these sites available on the Internet that can measure how fast your Internet connection is, but some seem better then others.

One of these sites that I like is from a company called Speakeasy, they have an easy to use and easy to understand connection speed test. All you have to do is select a server that is close to where you live, and watch your computer's display.

Note: The results of these tests can be affected by several factors, such as other people sharing your connection or processing loads on the Speakeasy servers.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Removing Windows Components (Advanced)

There are some Windows components (such as the Windows Media Player, multimedia components, Hyperterminal and more) that are intentionally hidden so that they can't be easily uninstall by using the 'Add or Remove Programs' applet from the Control Panel. The reason for this is that you can disable certain Windows system functionality by uninstalling some of this software.

I don't recommend removing any of these components, by doing so you can disable your Windows OS. In fact the only reason why I am sharing this tip is for those individuals that might have a real reason to uninstall these components for troubleshooting reasons.

To uninstall these components, you have to modify a text file called 'Sysoc.inf'. You have to remove the word 'Hide' (make sure you leave the commas) from the line of text.

For example:

To unhide these components:
  • Open the Notepad, then open the following file: C:\Windows\Inf\Sysoc.inf
  • Press Ctrl+H, and replace the string ,hide, with ,,
  • Save the file.
  • Open the 'Add or Remove Programs' control panel.
  • The hidden components will appear in 'Add/Remove Windows Components'.
Below is a list of the hidden options, and what they are:
  • AccessOpt: Accessibility Wizard
  • com: COM+
  • CommApps: Communications components (including: Chat, Hyperterminal, and Phone Dialer)
  • dtc: Distributed Transaction Coordinator
  • iis: Internet Information Server
  • msmsgs: Windows Messenger
  • MSWordPad: WordPad
  • MultiM: Multimedia components (including: Media Player, Sound Recorder, and Volume Control)
  • Pinball: Pinball game
  • Starter: Starter Edition Optional Component
  • TerminalServer: Terminal Server
  • WBEM: Windows Management Instrumentation

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Shared Computer Toolkit

Do you have shared computers in a public place (such as in a library, school, or other organization)? Since these computers are so accessible to the general public, they will need to handle the day-to-day abuse that they will receive. From the computer phobic who can crash any application without trying to Johnny 'want-to-be' hacker who thinks he crack into any computer.

Microsoft is now offering a free tool that can lock down these public computers, its called the 'Shared Computer Toolkit' (SCT). This application allows you to lock down the computer's configuration, including Internet and application access. The SCT works by locking down the system through group policy settings, then replaces the boot partition every time the computer is rebooted.

System Requirements:
  • Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005.
  • Disk partition about 10% of size of the boot partition.