Monday, December 31, 2007

5 Things You'll Love About Firefox 3

Computerworld reports: "New versions of favorite applications are always a little tricky; you want to keep up with the times without fixing what ain't broke. With that in mind, I took a look at the newly released Firefox 3 Beta 2 to see what we can look forward to when the final version ships in 2008.

Although the basic look of the browser hasn't changed, there are actually quite a few new features coming. (For a complete list, you can check out Mozilla's release notes.)"

Personally I can't wait to play with the released version of this software, and see what the final product looks like. With Alpha and Beta versions of software, features can be changed, added or removed between releases, which can be annoying.

If you want to download the Beta version, it's available for you to download and play with it. Although you need to realize that itis a Beta, and its not meant to be stable as the released version, so use it at your own risk.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Roll your own Adobe CS3 for free (Part 2)

CNet Download.com reports: "Okay, so you can get the basic functionalities of Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, and Dreamweaver without the gut-punch to your wallet. What's that you say? How about Flash?"

Here are links to the sites that support these products, so that you can download the latest version of the software:

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Roll your own Adobe CS3 for free (Part 1)

CNet's Download.com reports: "So, you need to finish up a design project that requires the image-editing capabilities of Photoshop along with the vectorized lines of Illustrator, and it needs to be animated in Flash with documentation in a PDF. However, you blew your budget on bling and a sweet alpaca-skin bongo set."

Here are links to the sites that support these products, so that you can download the latest version of the software:
Make sure to read the second part of this article.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Hardware: How to Upgrade a Graphics Card

PC Magazine reports: "Windows Vista is the most graphically intensive operating system ever, and DirectX 10, its multimedia and gaming component, has computer users all over the world considering upgrading their PCs. With its 3D-driven Aero graphical user interface (GUI), Vista requires more graphics-card muscle than XP does. And because DirectX 10 isn't backward-compatible, gamers who are captivated by its powerful specs are being forced to upgrade their hardware in order to enjoy it."

This article explains how to buy a graphic card for your Windows Vista computer to take full advantage of the Areo interface.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Windows Vista: Managing Services

Windows Vista comes with several services that can be installed on your system to add additional functionality. A number of these services are very specialize, and will only benefit people in certain types of computer environments (such as those in large organizations like a corporation or government office).

Some of these services are installed by default, while others are optional and need to be add into the system and enabled. Before you enable any service, you need to understand that you're committing resources from your computer (such as CPU time, RAM, and hard drive storage) in order for it to run.

If you enable too many of these services you can slow down your computer and get no tangable benefit. So you need to use discretion when deciding which services you want to enable.

The steps below describe how to add a new service to your system.
Note: The features and services that are available to be installed will vary based on the Windows Vista edition that you're running (i.e.: Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate, etc.).
  • From the Start menu click the Control Panel folder , double-click 'Programs and Features'
  • Click 'Turn Windows features on or off' link in the left hand pane.
  • Select the check box beside the feature you want to enable.
  • Press the OK button.
Once a service is installed it can be managed using the Services console (open the 'Control Panels' folder, then open the 'Administrative Tools' folder). From there it can started, stopped, paused, resumed, and disabled.

If you need to disable a specific service you can also use the Services console to perform this action.
Warning: Don't indiscriminately stop services unless you know what they do and what effect they will have on your system. By stopping some of services, you can disable Windows.
To disable a specific service follow the steps below.
  • From the Start menu, open the 'Control Panels' folder, then open the 'Administrative Tools' and double-click Services console.
  • Scroll through the list of services and locate the service you want to disable.
  • Right-click the service and click Properties.
  • From the General tab, use the arrow by the 'Startup Type' drop down box and select Disabled.
  • Press the OK button.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Windows Vista Help: Burn a DVD-Video disc

Looking for help on how to burn a DVD using Windows Vista, check out this article from Microsoft. Here is excerpt: "You can create DVDs quickly and easily using Windows DVD Maker. You can add video, pictures, and audio, make slide shows for your DVD, or add your Windows Movie Maker projects. Once you add files, you can burn your DVD with one click, or, if you prefer, you can choose from several menu styles and slide show options to make your DVD special before you burn it, or customize your DVD menus and write the DVD menu text yourself."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Windows Vista: Prevent Automatic Rebooting From Windows Update

Its very annoying if you leave your computer on at night with unsaved work on it, and come to it in the morning and find that it was rebooted. When new patches are downloaded and installed on your computer by Windows Update (if you have it enabled) this feature will automatically reboot your system. So if you have any unsaved work, you will lose it.

If you want to know how to prevent Windows Update from performing this automatic reboot, follow the instructions below.
Note: This tip requires modifying the Windows Registry so proceed with ]caution, use it at your own risk.
  • Open the Windows Registry Editor, from the Search field under the Start menu, type "REGEDIT" and press the Enter key.
  • Navigate to the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate\AU (note: you might need to manually create some of these keys.)
  • Right-click an empty space in the right pane and select New > DWORD value.
  • Name the new value NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers
  • Set the value in the field to 1, press the OK button.
  • Close the registry editor when you're done.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Software: Microsoft Security Tools

Here is a great page, a kind of one stop shop for all of Microsoft's free and fee-based security tools in one location. Some of these tools are more up-to-date then others, you will need to read the tool description page to fully understand what OS and applications are supported.

This page will probably be more interesting to those who are I.T. professionals. Although there are still some great tools for those who have home networks with Windows computers on them.

Some of the tools listed on this page are:
  • Microsoft Update: provide by Windows and Office updates.
  • Windows Server Update Services (WSUS): Simplifies keeping Windows-based systems current with the latest updates.
  • Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA): Scans your systems for missing security updates and common security misconfigurations.
  • See the page for a complete list.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Software: CloneDrive (Mounting a CD/ISO Image)

An .ISO file contains an exact digital image of a CD or DVD that you can send electronically to somebody else and then they re-created it on blank media. Several OSes (i.e.: Linux boot CDs) and applications are made available on the Internet using this file format.

If you don't want to burn these files to a disk, some applications such as CloneDrive allows you to mount the ISO file as a virtual CD. You won't be able to boot your system from a virtual CD, but you can access it and copy or execute files on the virtual media.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Windows Vista's security features: One year later

TechTarget reports: "When Vista was released to manufacturing, Microsoft co-president Jim Allchin told the press that the number one reason for upgrading to Vista is that it's far more secure than previous versions of Windows operating systems. In the year since Microsoft released Windows Vista to corporations, and just under a year since the OS was released to consumers, Vista's new security features have drawn both praise and criticism. In this article, I take an objective look at security features that seem to be drawing the most attention."

This a good article that talks about some of Windows Vista security features (User Account Control [UAC], Windows Security Center, and Windows Defender). I like this article because it seems balanced in the opinions that are expressed.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Software: InfraRecorder (Free)

InfraRecorder is a free open source CD/DVD burning software for Windows. It offers a wide range of powerful features; all through an easy to use application interface and Windows Explorer integration.

Some of the the software features:
  • Create custom data, audio and mixed-mode projects and record them to physical discs as well as disc images.
  • Supports recording to dual-layer DVDs.
  • Blank (erase) rewritable discs using four different methods.
  • Record disc images (ISO and BIN/CUE).
  • Fixate discs (write lead-out information to prevent further data from being added to the disc).
  • Scan the SCSI/IDE bus for devices and collect information about their capabilities. Create disc copies, on the fly and using a temporary disc image.
  • Import session data from multi-session discs and add more sessions to them. * Display disc information.
  • Save audio and data tracks to files (.wav, .wma, .ogg, .mp3 and .iso).

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Cut-Rate Laptops

PC Magazine reports: "Chances are, you've seen one. You've picked up the Sunday paper, and somewhere between the front page and the funnies, there's a flyer advertising a $499 laptop. Nowadays, it's not usual to see ads touting laptops for as little as $399—or even less. But every time I see one, I can't help but wonder whether these cut-rate notebooks are actually worth buying. Do they include all the nifty hardware devices you expect from a modern machine? Are they fast enough to run some decent software? How long will they last on battery power?"

Are you looking for a cheap laptop? Then you might want to read this article before you buy so you know what you're going to get.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Software Flight Simulator X Trial Version

To be honest, I try never to post trial versions of software. I would prefer to point you to something that is free. Although, there are times that I will break my own unwritten rules.

I have used Microsoft Flight Simulator since v1.0 back in the day on an Apple II computer. So if you're a flight simulator fan, you can Download a free trial version of the software and take it for a test flight.

There is also a free hidden flight simulator in the latest version of Google Earth. Then there is other free open source educational programs, games and simulators available too.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Why your registry doesn’t need cleaning

TechRepublic.com: "A long time ago, in a land forgotten by time (before Microsoft Windows 95), Windows computers and their programs had .ini (configuration) files that stored information. These files determined how a program ran, its environment, and a host of other things. Then the Windows Registry came onto the scene, with each key in the registry being similar to a bracketed heading in the old .ini file and values similar to entries under the .ini headings. However, registry keys can have nested subkeys with string or binary data that .ini files don’t support. Does the registry periodically need cleaning? Let’s take a look."

This is a good article on why you should not worry about cleaning your registry with those tools that promise to optimize it. I have used a few of those 'registry cleaning tools', and they have done nothing to improve performance of my computer or save disk space.

These program have disabled my applications and computer. So I really don't recommend any application that promises to make my computer run faster by optimizing the registry.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Software: De-junking your New PC (tip 1)

If you buy a new computer from Dell, HP, eMachines, etc., its probably going to come full of useless trial programs that try to entice you to spend money to get the full version of it. These demo programs have become lovingly nicknamed 'crapware'. I hate the nickname of the software, but I think its appropriate.

I recently bought a new consumer PC, and I could not believe all useless software that came pre-installed. When you see all this stuff on your new system you have two choices, one leave it alone, or two remove the useless programs from your computer.

For me, the first thing I want to do is purge it from my system once and for all. To begin this 'decrapifying' process, follow the instructions below:
  • Open the Control Panel from under the Start menu and select 'Programs and Features' (in Windows Vista) or 'Add/Remove Programs' (in Windows XP).
  • Search through the names of the installed programs, and uninstall the ones you know for sure that your want to remove.
    • Note: Use caution, and don't indiscriminately remove everything that you see. For example, there might be a DVD player, CD/DVD burning software that you may need to use later. Also if you don't know what it is, you might want to investigate it first before removing.
  • After you finish the first round of uninstalling programs, go under the Start menu and see if there are any others that you want to remove.
  • You should also open Internet Explorer, and see if they have any toolbars or add-ons that you want to remove as well. Some of these can only be removed from the uninstall control panel.
Some programs may not be listed in the uninstall control panel, and to remove them you might have go to that program's folder under the Start menu to see if there is an uninstall utility there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Software: e-Sword (Free Bible Study Program)

Are you looking for a bible program for your computer? Check out e-Sword, it's a great way to study the Bible, you can download several different translations of the bible including several different languages.

The program is free (but donations are requested), and most of the bible translations are free. Although some translation and research text do cost money, generally because they're still copyrighted material.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Software: Mozilla Firefox 3 Beta 1 Released

Firefox 3 Beta 1 has been released as a developer preview. This is Mozilla's next generation Firefox browser and is being made available for testing purposes only.

Some of the new features are:
  • Supports the new Gecko 1.9 Web rendering engine
  • Several new/updated security features including: SSL, malware and phishing protection.
  • Several new/updated usability features including: password and file management, and a few user interface enhancements.
  • See the release notes for more information

Friday, November 23, 2007

What is the big deal about 802.11n?

TechRepublic.com reports: "802.11n is being touted as the networking standard that will unwire the network world. Most people are not convinced, yet curious to see how one defends such a claim. The 802.11n standard has two top-level mandates (unwiring the world not being one of them): Achieve higher data rates and retain backward compatibility with legacy 802.11a/b/g devices. The significance of requiring backward compatibility shouldn’t be taken lightly since it complicates the development process exponentially. Yet the 802.11n group has come up with a soon-to-be-ratified standard that meets both objectives."

This is probably the best article that I have read to date on the 802.11n standard. It appears to be most complex and featured pack of all the 802.11 specifications released so far.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

DIY Project: Caffeine Boost Your WIFI


Caffeine Boost Your WIFI - The most amazing bloopers are here

This seems like a good idea, but I have to admit I have not tried it. It doesn't seem like it could hurt your equipment if you want to try it. Although, watch out for any sharp edges that you might create cutting the can.

Watch the video to learn more.

For more information, here is a article that I wrote a while back on Wi-Fi Antenna resources.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Software: Pidgin (Multiservice Chat Client)

Are you tired of all those proprietary chat instant message clients, like Yahoo, AOL, ICQ, etc. Check out a program called Pidgin (formerly known as GAIM), its a free open source multi-platform multiservice instant message chat client. It allows you to communicate across all the major chat networks to stay in contact with all your friends and family.

One of the cool feature of Pidgin is that you can add plug-ins to do what you want. And since its multi-platform it runs on Windows, Linux, Mac, etc.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Windows Vista: Improving Wireless Connectivity

Are you having problems connecting to a wireless network with your Windows Vista computer? This may be caused by the fact that your Wireless Access Point (WAP) doesn't supports Vista's wireless auto-tuning feature. To fix the problem you have two options:
  • If you own the WAP, you can try to upgrade its firmware to the latest version. You can generally find these updates on the device manufacture support site.
  • If upgrading the firmware on the WAP is not an option, then you can try to disable Vista's wireless auto-tuning feature. To turn off this feature follow the steps below:
    • Open the 'Command Prompt' in the Accessories menu with administrative privileges (generally this can be accomplished by right-clicking the icon and selecting 'Run As Administrator'. This can also be done by typing "CMD" in the Search field under the Start menu and press Ctrl+Shift+Enter. Then select Continue in the User Account Control dialog box.)
    • In the Command Prompt type: "netsh int tcp set global autotuninglevel=disable" then press the Enter key. You should see a response that says 'Ok.'
You will have to restart your computer to apply the change.

Note: To reverse this change, in the Command Prompt type: "netsh int tcp set global autotuninglevel=normal" then press the Enter key. You should see a response that says 'Ok.'

Monday, November 19, 2007

Microsoft's OneCare 2.0 Adds Security, Convenience

PC Magazine reports: "Microsoft on Thursday released version 2.0 of their Windows Live OneCare security and PC performance suite, enhancing a number of current features and adding a few brand-new twists. Current OneCare subscribers will receive the update effortlessly through the product's normal automatic updates feature, Microsoft said. Microsoft's OneCare is priced at $49.95/year for three licenses; a 90-day trial is available at the OneCare Web site."

Read the article for the complete review.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

10 Things You Should Know About Quad-Core Processors

eWeek reports: "In November 2006, Intel introduced the first quad-core microprocessors for the volume x86 market. The quad-core chips were designed to offer better performance compared with the previous generation of single- and dual-core processors. A little less than a year later, Advanced Micro Devices brought its quad-core Opteron to the market, showing that all four cores could be placed on a single piece of silicon. While chipmakers figure out their next chip moves, here are 10 things you should know about quad-core processors."

You might have heard about Quad-Core Processors, but how much do you really know about them? There are some surprising facts about these processors in this slide show from eWeek.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Security: Microsoft Patch Tuesday (November)

The second Tuesday of the month has passed again, which means that Microsoft just published a new round of security fixes for Windows and it's applications. This date is meant to be a predictable date so that individuals or companies only have to patch their desktop computers and servers once a month.

This month there are two new patches altogether. One marked as critical (for the OS), one marked as important (for the OS).

If you have 'Automatic Updates' enabled your computer will download these updates for you in the background. Then when you shutdown your system these patches will be applied to your system. If you leave your computer on overnight they will automatically be installed and your system will be rebooted if necessary.

Warning: If you leave your computer on at night make sure you save all your work or you run the risk of losing it if your system has to be rebooted.

Enabling Automatic Updates
If you don't have 'Automatic Updates' enabled on your computer, I would suggest that you turn it on as soon as possible. If you don't want to enable this feature, you can always update your computer by visiting the Windows Update site and downloading and installing the patches manually.

To enable Automatic Updates (Windows XP):
  • From the Start menu, select the Control Panel folder.
  • Double-click the System applet in the control panel folder.
  • Click the 'Automatic Updates' tab.
  • Check the 'Automatic (recommended)' option. (optional: if you don't like this feature, you can set it to: 'download but not install the update', 'just notify you', or 'disable this feature altogether' [not recommended])
  • Press the OK button when done.
To enable Automatic Updates (Windows Vista):
  • From the Start menu, select 'All Programs' then 'Windows Update'
  • In the left pane, click the 'Change settings' link.
  • Check the 'Install updates automatically (recommended)' option. (optional: if you don't like this feature, you can set it to: 'Download updates but let me choose whether to install them', 'Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them', or 'Never check for updates' [not recommended])
  • Press the OK button when done.

Note: For the latest Microsoft Security Bulletins, check out this site.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Software: Miro goes 1.0

Miro (formerly called 'Democracy Player') is a free application that turns your computer into an internet video player. The player is available for Windows, Mac, or Linux.

Miro lets you subscribe and download audio and video podcasts that are available on the net. It also supports full-screen mode, plays several popular video formats, and downloads files via BitTorrent.

The Windows system requirements for running the software are: Windows XP, 128MB of RAM.

If you want to learn more about Miro, watch the following screencast.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Article: Narrow Vista’s Search results with the grouping, filtering, and stacking features

Windows Vista contains three special features that can help you to quickly narrow down your Search results to find what your looking for. In this article from Windows Vista Report, the author Greg Shultz shows you how to use Vista's grouping, filtering, and stacking features when searching for files.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Software: Microsoft Unleashes Windows Live Software

PC Magazine reports: "Microsoft has unleashed a bundled download of its installed desktop Live software: Mail, Photo Gallery, Writer, and OneCare Family Safety. Also included is a slightly redesigned version 8.5 of Messenger, which intimately ties in with the rest of the suite; for example, starting up when you run Mail. ... The new software all requires at least Windows XP SP2, and you'll need a Windows Live ID—formerly called .NET Passport—if you want access to all their functionality."

Check out the latest free software from Microsoft for Windows (which includes: Mail, Messenger, Photo Gallery, Writer, Toolbar, and Family Safety from OneCare). To download the software, go to http://get.live.com/.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Windows Vista: Disaabling Sidebar

The Windows Vista Sidebar is set to startup automatically by default. Personally I think that most people like this feature, but I also know people who don't like it. So for those of you who want to disable it, follow the instructions below to turn it off.
  • Right-click the Windows Sidebar icon in the Notification Area (in the lower right corner), then select Properties
  • Uncheck the 'Start Sidebar when Windows starts' checkbox, press the OK button.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Windows Vista: New Daylight Saving Time Standard

As you probably know the move from Daylight Saving Time (DST) back to Standard Time generally happens on the last Sunday in October. Although, from now on it will be the first Sunday in November.

Your computer and older electronics that are designed to automatically handle DST using the older standard might have already set themselves back and an hour last Sunday morning. This means you will have to reset them twice.

This is all part of the Energy Conservation Act of 2005, which is designed to save energy (there is an estimated savings of about 1% because of the change). Its also worth noting that the 'spring forward' part of the DST also gets changed next year to March 9th.

To find out how your Microsoft operating system or applications might be effected by the new DST, go to the following web site. There is a web based questionnaire, that will direct you right updates for your software.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Windows Vista: Create a Custom Toolbar

Did you know that you can create a custom toolbar from a folder that contains files in Windows Vista? If you have a folder of related documents, application shortcuts, Internet links, etc. Then you can turn it into a toolbar very easily.
  • Right-click an empty area on your computer's desktop, then select New>Folder.
  • Name the folder whatever you want to call the toolbar (i.e. 'Audio Tools').
  • Place application shortcuts, Internet links, etc. that you want in the toolbar in the new folder you just created.
  • Drag the folder to one of the monitor's 'hard' edges (i.e. an edge where you can't move from one monitor to another if you have multiple monitors) where there isn't a toolbar already. This will create the new toolbar there with the contents of the folder.
Notes:
  • You can right-click an empty area on the toolbar to configure it.
  • if you have multiple monitors you can't place the toolbar on the 'soft' edge between the monitors.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Windows Vista: How to use CHKDSK Command

Anyone who has used Windows for a long time, should have heard of the CHKDSK utility. I think this utility dates back to the Windows 95 days (but I could be wrong).

If you have never heard of the CHKDSK let me give you a brief explanation of what it does. This is a command-line tool that checks the drives attached to your computer for problems and attempts to repair any issues that it finds. This program can repair disk problems ranging from bad sectors, to directory errors, and more.

Disk problems can be a source of difficulty and should be one of the areas that you can check when trying to troubleshoot issues with your computer. Although there are a few caveats to using this program :
  • CHKDSK can require exclusive access to the drive, so you might get a notification that the disk scan will start the next time you reboot your computer.
  • CHKDSK can take a long time to scan your drive. Generally the larger the drive, the longer the scanning and repairing will take.
As I said earlier CHKDSK is a command-line tool, and will require administrator access to run it. To scan your disk for errors and fix any found problems, follow the instructions below:
  • From the Start menu, in the search field type "CMD" and then press the Ctrl+Shift+Enter. You will get a User Access Control dialog, then press OK button.
  • Then type one of the following command: "CHKDSK C: /F /R" (note: you can replace C: with any drive letter that you want to check).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Windows Vista: File Path Shortcuts (DOS Prompt)

If you like using the command line, you may or may not know the following shortcuts that can help you to be more efficient.

Instead of manually typing a file or directory name you can use the Tab key to complete the name of a file or path. For example, if there are three files in a directory name FileA, FileB, and FileC. If you typed "Fi" and press the Tab key, the file name 'FileA' will automatically be completed. If you press the Tab key again, 'FileA' will become 'FileB', then 'FileC' if the key is pressed again.

This same trick can be applied to directory names. For example, if there are three sub-directories called 'DirectoryA', 'DirectoryB', and 'DirectoryC' in a directory. All you would have to do is type the first few characters of the sub-directory's name and then press the Tab key to complete it or cycle through the other names.

A similar trick is that you can use the '*' (astrick) to act like a wildcard in a directory or file's name. For example, If you typed "cd \pro*\mic*", you would be taken to 'C:\Program Files\Microsoft'.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Software: Stellarium (a Virtual Planetarium)

Want to turn your PC into a virtual Planetarium? Then try Stellarium, a free open source virtual planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D.

This program can also go beyond the standard set of constellation, stars and planets, it can also give you a unique dome shaped look at the heavens above.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Windows Vista: Disabling the Recent Items Menu

Yesterday, I talked about how to clear the 'Recent Items' sub-menu under the Start menu. Today, I am going to show you how to shut off this feature altogether (or how to enable it if it was already turned off).
  • Right-click the Start menu, select Properties.
  • In the 'Start Menu' tab, uncheck 'Store and display a list of recently opened files' check box.
    • To enable this feature check it, instead of unchecking it.
  • Press the OK button when done.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Windows Vista: Clearing Recent Items Menu

Under the Start Menu there is a sub-menu called 'Recent Items' that contains a list of documents that you recently opened. This is a useful feature to quickly access documents that you may often use.

Although some people view this feature as a privacy risk, because they may not want others to know about documents that they may be working on. To clear the 'Recent Items' menu on your computer, follow the steps below:
  • Open the Start menu, right-click 'Recent Items'.
  • Then select 'Clear Recent Items List'.
Anything listed under the 'Recent Items' should now be removed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Web Site: System Requirements Lab

Modern video games are system resource hogs (they can max out your CPU, RAM, hard drive, etc.) because they have to render realistic environments. It seems that the faster and more powerful newer computers become, the more resource hungry video games are.

Do you want to find out if your current computer is capable of running game before you buy it? System Requirements Lab has a browser based utility that can analyze your computer, and tell you how well that game might perform on your system.

To use the site:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Windows Vista: Finding Your MAC Address

Every Ethernet network adapter has a unique MAC address associated with it. The MAC address is a long series of numbers (i.e.: XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX) that is used to identify your adapter on a network. The first half of the MAC address identifies the hardware vendor that created it the adapter, the second part is a unique address.

Sometimes you might need to know what the MAC address of your network adapter. To get this information follow the instructions below:
  • From the Start menu, select Control Panels.
  • Find the 'Network and Sharing Center', and open it.
  • Click the 'Manage network connections' on the left.
  • Find your 'Local Area Connection' (wired) or 'Wireless Network Connection'. Double-click it, and press the Details... button.
  • In the dialog that opens, look for a field called 'Physical Address'. This is the MAC address (i.e.: XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX).
It is worth noting that there is a lot of great information in this dialog not just the MAC address (i.e.: IP address, DNS, subnet mask, etc.) .

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Games: Orange Box

Very, very rarely do I see a video game that inspires me to want to play it, but I recently came across the Orange Box from Valve. If you enjoy video games you want to check out this box set. It contains five games in one package for $39.00 (if you buy it from Amazon plus you get free shipping), normally it retails for $49.00.

Here excerpt of the description from Amazon: "The Orange Box delivers five innovative games from Valve, creators of the Half-Life franchise, in one box. The Orange Box includes Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal, and Team Fortress 2 in addition to full versions of the award-winning Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One for an engrossing first-person action experience."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Software: JConvert (Unit Converter)

JConvert is a free open-source program written in Java that converts various units of measurements from one type to another. This program doesn't require that you install it to get it to work. All you have to do is download and execute it. To uninstall it, just delete the file.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Security: Microsoft Patch Tuesday (October)

The second Tuesday of the month has passed again, which means that Microsoft just published a new round of security fixes for Windows and it's applications. This date is meant to be a predictable date so that individuals or companies only have to patch their desktop computers and servers once a month.

This month there are six new patches altogether. Four are marked as critical (for the OS, Office, and Internet Explorer), two are marked as important (for the OS, and SharePoint).

If you have 'Automatic Updates' enabled your computer will download these updates for you in the background. Then when you shutdown your system these patches will be applied to your system. If you leave your computer on overnight they will automatically be installed and your system will be rebooted if necessary.

Warning: If you leave your computer on at night make sure you save all your work or you run the risk of losing it if your system has to be rebooted.

Enabling Automatic Updates
If you don't have 'Automatic Updates' enabled on your computer, I would suggest that you turn it on as soon as possible. If you don't want to enable this feature, you can always update your computer by visiting the Windows Update site and downloading and installing the patches manually.

To enable Automatic Updates (Windows XP):
  • From the Start menu, select the Control Panel folder.
  • Double-click the System applet in the control panel folder.
  • Click the 'Automatic Updates' tab.
  • Check the 'Automatic (recommended)' option. (optional: if you don't like this feature, you can set it to: 'download but not install the update', 'just notify you', or 'disable this feature altogether' [not recommended])
  • Press the OK button when done.
To enable Automatic Updates (Windows Vista):
  • From the Start menu, select 'All Programs' then 'Windows Update'
  • In the left pane, click the 'Change settings' link.
  • Check the 'Install updates automatically (recommended)' option. (optional: if you don't like this feature, you can set it to: 'Download updates but let me choose whether to install them', 'Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them', or 'Never check for updates' [not recommended])
  • Press the OK button when done.

Note: For the latest Microsoft Security Bulletins, check out this site.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Windows Vista: Change Your Computers Name

When you setup your computer you need to give it a name (such as: deathstar, homecomputer, etc.). If at a later time you want to change the name of your computer, follow the instructions below:

  • Log in to Vista with an account that has administrator privileges.
  • From the Start menu and right-click Computer and select Properties.
  • Under 'Computer Name, Domain, and Workgroup' section, click the 'Change settings' link.
  • On the Computer Name tab, press the Change... button.
  • Enter the new computer name in the field.
  • If necessary, press the More... button and enter the domain name provided by your company or ISP.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Windows Vista: Disabling ClearType

ClearType is a Windows technology that is designed to improve the image quality of the fonts by smoothing them out, which improves readability on LCD monitors. Windows Vista has this feature enabled by default.

In Windows XP, ClearType was disabled by default, so if you wanted to use it you had to turn it on. Some people might not like how this technology make their fonts look on their screen, and may want to disable it. Follow the instructions below to find out how.
  • Right-click an empty area on your desktop and select Personalize.
  • Click 'Windows Color and Appearance'.
  • Click the link "Open classic appearance properties for more color options'.
  • Press the Effects... button.
  • From the dropdown menu under 'Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts' select Standard.
  • Press the two OK buttons, and close the Personalization window.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Windows Vista: Change Windows Sidebar Behavior

Want to change the behavior of the Windows Sidebar? You can do things like, preventing it from starting automatically when you log into Windows, or even turn it off entirely.


Follow the instructions below:

  • Right-click an empty area Windows Sidebar and select Properties.
    • To prevent the sidebar from starting automatically, uncheck the 'Start Sidebar when Windows starts' box.
    • To force the sidebar to stay on top of other windows, check 'Sidebar is alway on top of other windows' checkbox.
    • To control which side of the screen the sidebar is displayed, or which monitor it's displayed on, select the appropriate option.
  • Press the OK button when done.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Windows Vista: Installing a New Font

Windows Vista comes with several different types fonts installed by default. Some of these fonts you may like, and others you may hate.

Sometimes when you install programs like Microsoft Office, they can install even more new fonts into your system.

If you can't find a font that you like, there are numerous sites on Web that provide several different types of fonts (from fancy to regular, to just plain weird). Some sites offer the fonts for free, while others charge for them.

To install a new font you need to add it into the operating system to use it. The instructions below tell you how to accomplish this:
  • From the Start click Control Panel.
  • Click Appearance and Personalization, and then click Fonts.
  • From the File menu, click 'Install New Font...'.
    • Note: If you don't see the File menu tap the ALT key once
  • Select the drive that contains the fonts.
  • Select the folder where the fonts are located.
  • Click the font you want to add and press Install button.
  • Press the Close button when done.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Window Vista: Microsoft Releases DreamScene (Ultimate Extra)

Note: This tip will only work on Windows Vista Ultimate edition.

Last Tuesday Microsoft officially released DreamScene, the first of two remaining Windows Ultimate extras. DreamScene allows you to display videos as an animated desktop background on your computer.

To install the Extras, open 'Windows Update' located under the 'Start menu' > 'All Programs'. You will see it listed under 'Widows Ultimate Extras' in the middle of the window.

For your convenience a few hundred 3D animated DreamScene desktops are available for download at dream.wincustomize.com. Also For more information on the Windows Ultimate Extras.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Software: Spybot-Search & Destroy v1.5

Spybot-Search & Destroy (SB-S&D) was once one of the best main free spyware tools available, but in recent years has fallen behind its commercial competition like WebRoot's Spy Sweeper, and others. For the last year or more SB-S&D v1.4 was the latest revision of the product.

Well, I am glad to announce they have finally released v1.5. Some of the new features of the software include:
  • Improved detection mechanisms
  • Improved operating system support (Windows 95 through Vista)
  • Improved browser immunization support.
  • And more, see the site for all the information.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Review: Security Suite Smackdown 2008

PC Magazine reports: "You can tell it's autumn. The leaves are turning colors, the sun is lower in the sky, there's a chill in the air…and the brand new security suites are out. Every year brings a flood of new versions looking to occupy those new Christmas PCs. And since they're all on a yearly subscription model, every year they have a chance to convince you to jump ship from your current suite and try theirs instead."

I consider myself a big promoter of computer security, and I have posted several articles on how to protect yourself and your data when you're online. System security suites from companies like: Symantec, Kaspersky, Panda, and others are some of the best available options for protecting your computer and its data.

Having a simple firewall and anti-virus software is not good enough these days. You need a good two-way firewall, with anti-virus/spyware protection.

These suites also now come with a lot of additional features like: SPAM and phishing filters, parental controls, system tune-up modules and more.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

IBM Lotus Symphony Beta (Reviewed)

PC Magazine reports: "If you've been considering OpenOffice.org as a free alternative to Microsoft Office, consider IBM Lotus Symphony instead. Lotus Symphony, downloadable in a free beta version, consists of the OpenOffice.org engines for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations, but comes dressed in a sleek, professional interface that looks far better than the ugly and amateurish one of the original OpenOffice. Compared with Microsoft's high-priced spread in Office 2007, IBM's freeware feels slightly bug-rich and feature-thin, but the price is right at zero dollars"

PC Magazine reviewed the latest edition of IBM's Lotus Symphony (Beta), and about the only positive thing they said about it was its free. Read the article for the whole review.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Windows Vista: More then 3GB of RAM

If you have 3GB of RAM or less installed on your computer and you're running the x86 (i.e. 32-bit) version of Windows Vista or XP, then you will be able to utilize all of your computer's memory. Although if your system has 4GB or more of RAM, then you might only be able to access the first 3.2-3.5 GB of your computer's memory.

This is primarily due to a limitation of the x86 32-bit architecture. 4GB of RAM is the maximum size of addressable memory that the x86 version of Windows XP or Vista can utilize. Only a little over 3GB is available for use by the operating system or applications. The remaining part of the 4GB of memory is used by your hardware (such as your graphics card) and software for doing memory-mapped I/O (MMIO) access.

In 32-bit operating systems such as the x86 version of Vista the MMIO space must reside within the first 4GB of memory address space. To overcome this limitation you need to have a x64 (64-bit) Intel or AMD CPU and motherboard. Then you need to install the x64 version of Vista (or XP).

If you want to learn more about this subject, read the following article called "Memory Limits for Windows Releases". It discusses the current memory limits for the different operating systems that Microsoft has created (such as: Windows XP, Vista, 2003 Server, 2008 Server, etc.).

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ezine 130 Windows Vista SP1 Beta Detailed account

Computer Performance reports: "If you fast-forward to 2015, and then look-back; I bet that Vista's SP1 will be hailed as a classic example of waiting until the first service pack before deploying an operating system. Thus if you have not deployed Vista, then wait until next spring and expect a smooth migration from XP."

This is probably the best article that I have read about Windows Vista SP1. The article includes information on some of the new features, bug fixes, and other enhancements that will be included in this service pack.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The True Cost of Printer Ink

PC Magazine reports: "The price tag on any given printer really tells only half the story. Many times the cheapest printer for sale isn't necessarily the cheapest printer to own. And what's the most affordable printer for you in particular? Depending on how many pages you print and how much it costs to print each page, a high-priced printer with expensive cartridges could be a lot cheaper to own in the long run than a less-expensive printer with low-cost cartridges. Coming up with that long-run cost for comparison isn't always easy, but that is exactly what we did recently in PC Magazine Labs with some of the leading printers on the market. And the results were surprising."

The one thing I hate about printers is the cost of the consumables (such as the ink). I remember a few years ago buying an inexpensive Ink Jet printer for around $70. Then once the ink cartridges ran out I found why the printer was so cheap. The new ink cartridges were $70.

This article provides good background on the true cost of printer consumables.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Internet: Google Presentations gets the green light

CNET News.com reports: "Google announced the launch on Monday night of its long-awaited, Web-based competitor to PowerPoint. Google Presentations, which is free, is part of the company's online office suite, Google Docs."

Presentations has some similar but limited functionality when compared to Microsoft's PowerPoint to create basic presentations. Although it lacks more sophisticated features that people have come to expect from a program like this.

If you need to create a simple presentation and want to post it on the web this might be a great way to go for you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

KDE 4: The Shiny New Linux (and Windows) Desktop

ExtremeTech reports: "Linux users are as evangelical about desktop environments, the all-encompassing graphical user interface software responsible for providing everything from taskbars to office suites, as they are about operating systems. It shouldn't come as any surprise, then, that the first major release in over five years of the most popular desktop environment available is causing quite a stir. Due to be released on December 11th, KDE 4.0 is bringing exhilarating graphical, usability, and functionality improvements to the Unix-like systems it is designed for—and Windows users will get a taste, too."

If you love the KDE desktop, but use Windows this is great news for you. Or, you could be someone who's wanted to try KDE for years but not willing to make the time investment to setup a Linux system. Personally I think this is great news for Linux and Windows users.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Software: Extras for Windows Media Player

Want to enhance the look, feel and functionality of Windows Media Player. Check out this site from Microsoft that allows you to download skins (customizes the look), visualizations (visual effects), and plug-ins (adds new features) for this program.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Why Pirate? Microsoft Offers $60 Office to Students

PC Magazine reports: "Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled a $60 Web-based version of its new Microsoft Office Ultimate suite of applications that will be exclusively available to college students. ... Students with a valid e-mail address from their university will be able to download Microsoft Office Ultimate 2007 for $60 via the Web. The offering includes Word, Excel, Power Point, Outlook, Access, Publisher, OneNote, Groove and InfoPath."

This is an awesome deal if you're a student. Although this offer is not available forever it expires April 30, 2008.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Software: Google Earth (Hidden Flight Simulator)

Did you know that the latest version of Google Earth (free satellite mapping software) has a built-in flight simulator. Here is a short tutorial on how to use this new feature.

To use the new flight simulator, follow the instructions below:
  • Download the latest version of Google Earth
  • Launch the program and press CTRL+ALT+A
  • In the option dialog box select your plane (F16 or SR22) and the airport.
  • Use can use the arrow keys steer the aircraft, or use the mouse by clicking the screen.
Note: The controls are very sensitive.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Microsoft Streets & Trips 2008 ('Connected Services' Version)

Microsoft 'Streets & Trips 2008 with Connected Services' combines a GPS Locator and an MSN Direct Receiver. The MSN Direct Receiver provides updated traffic and gas updates without an Internet connection.

The software package also includes a one year subscription to MSN Direct which is required for the traffic updates and gas prices.

The retail price for the software/hardware is $180.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Windows Vista: Hardware Compatibility List

One of the biggest issues that a user can face when upgrading to Windows Vista is finding a driver for an existing piece of hardware (i.e.: printers, NICs, camera, etc.) that they own. When Vista was first released in January, hardware manufactures were slow to make driver updates available. Now that Vista has been around for a while, more and more drivers are becoming available.

To find out if your computer or peripherals is compatible with Windows Vista Microsoft has released the 'Hardware Compatibility List' (HCL). The HCL shows all the hardware that has been tested and reviewed by Microsoft for Windows Vista.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Buying Guide: Desktops and Laptops

PC Magazine reports: "Every year brings us something new and innovative in the desktop and laptop market, and this year is no different. New components, new technology, and even a new OS from Microsoft have hit the store shelves. But when it comes to choosing a system from such a dazzling array, many people find it daunting, if not overwhelming. That's where we come in. We have sifted through, tested, and reviewed the hottest systems out there. Whether you're a travel-weary road warrior, cramped-apartment dweller, ultimate bargain hunter, business pro, or something else entirely, we tell you what to look for in your ideal system and give you our best picks. So sit back, relax, and find your perfect fit."

Looking for some buying advice on buy a new desktop or laptop, then check out this PC Magazine article.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Networking: IP subnetting made easy

If you work on a medium to a large size network, then you need to understand IP subnetting? IP subnetting lets you breakup a large network into smaller sub-networks. Personally I find this subject one of the more difficult parts of networking to understand, mostly because you don't use this knowledge very often.

If you want to understand this topic here is an an excerpt from a TechRepublic article on the subject: "IP subnetting is a fundamental subject that's critical for any IP network engineer to understand, yet students have traditionally had a difficult time grasping it. Over the years, I've watched students needlessly struggle through school and in practice when dealing with subnetting because it was never explained to them in an easy-to-understand way. I've helped countless individuals learn what subnetting is all about using my own graphical approach and calculator shortcuts, and I've put all that experience into this article."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Software: CCleaner

CCleaner is a free system optimization and privacy tool. This utility can remove unneeded files from your system thus freeing up hard disk space. It also can remove the URL history, cookies, and other types of privacy data from the top three main Web browsers (IE, Firefox and Opera).

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Software: Glary Utilities (Free)

Glary Utilities offers several easy-to-use system tools and utilities to help fix, maintain and protect your computer.  When you open the application you will be presented with five basic tabs, each tab represents a category of tools:


  • Clean Up & Repair
  • Optimize & Improve
  • Privacy & Security
  • Files & Folders
  • System Tools


The program is free for personal use.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Software: Google Earth 4.2 (Now You Can Explore the Sky)



Want to explore the known universe from your computer. With Google Earth 4.2, you can explore the earth or skies and see planets, stars, nebulas and galaxies. The new 'Sky' feature in Google Earth 4.2 includes images taken by the Hubble space telescope. Watch the video to learn more.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Software: Indentifing Your CPU and RAM

CPU-Z is one of the best utilities for finding out what type of CPU and RAM you have installed on your computer. What is even better is this program is freeware, and can be run on your computer without having to install it. Below is a list of the information that this program displays:

CPU
  • Name and number.
  • Core stepping and process.
  • Package.
  • Core voltage.
  • Internal and external clocks, clock multiplier.
  • Supported instructions sets.
  • Cache information.
Mainboard
  • Vendor, model and revision.
  • BIOS model and date.
  • Chipset (northbridge and southbridge) and sensor.
  • Graphic interface.
Memory
  • Frequency and timings.
  • Module(s) specification using SPD (Serial Presence Detect) : vendor, serial number, timings table.
System
  • Windows and DirectX version.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Essential Guide To PC Memory

PC Magazine reports: "How much memory does Vista really need? What about Windows XP? And what the heck does DDR mean? How much money will a memory upgrade cost, and where do you buy it? We'll answer these questions and more, briefing you on the essentials of PC memory technology and saving you a great deal of money and hassle. Whether you're building a new system from scratch or upgrading, you'll find PC Magazine Labs–tested advice you won't get anywhere else."

If you're the type of person who likes to understand everything, and you don't feel that you understand the different types of RAM that are available. Then I would recommend reading this article.

If you just want to buy RAM and install it in your computer and you don't care to have a technical understanding of it. Then go to a site like Kingston they make it pretty easy to buy it.

To learn how to install the RAM in your computer, watch the following video.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Internet: Testing Your Bandwidth Speed

Not too long ago, the speed of your Internet connection was determined by the speed of your modem and your ISP's modem, plus quality of the line you're using to connect. With today's new high-speed broadband connections (such as: DSL, Cable, Fiber, etc.), the speed of your bandwidth connection is only limited to your budget and the availability of the service.

Although, you may wonder how you can make sure your broadband connection is as fast as your ISP claims it is? There are bandwidth testing site that you can use to test how fast Internet connection really is. These sites work by downloading and uploading a single file to and from your computer and measuring how long it takes.

Below is a brief list of these sites that offer these services.
Just remember there are a lot of real-world factors that determine how fast (or how slow) your connection is to the Internet. For example:
  • The type of connection you're using.
  • How far you are from your ISP
  • How far you are from the web site or host you're trying to reach.
  • How fast the remote host can process your request.
  • And the list of other factor can go on and on.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Windows Vista: Performance Updates

Microsoft has released two updates for Windows Vista that address performance and reliability issues. These updates include several enhancements and other fixes, below is a brief list of some of the updates:
  • System and memory performance enhancements
  • Fixes for video drivers
  • Fixes for wake-from-hibernation problems
  • Improved compatibility with printers
  • Better HD DVD/Blu-ray playback
  • Improvements in file transfers.
For a complete list of all the fixes and how to download the patches, see the Microsoft knowledge base articles: 938194, and 938979.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Microsoft 'Money Plus' Adds Financial Services

PC Magazine reports: "Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled the latest version of its money management software, dubbed Money Plus. The software giant is touting the offering's new 'Insights' function, which provides personal updates about users' bills, spending patterns and cash flow."

If you're a fan of Microsoft Money, you might want to check out this article about Microsoft 'Money Plus'. There are now four versions of Money Plus:
  • Deluxe
  • Premium
  • Home and Business
  • Essentials
Read the article to find out more.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Firefox: NoScript plug-in

Is seems like no browser is safe from security exploits these days, not even Firefox. Although, there's an extension that allows you to make the Firefox browser more secure, it's called 'No Script'.

The No Script extension works by preemptively blocking JavaScript, Java and other potentially dangerous content from untrusted sites that could contain malicious scripts. The biggest problem using this extension is training it, but once you do it works really well.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Hardware: 2-Port USB 2.0 Multi-Function Print/Storage Server

I rarely report on any types hardware in this blog. Although this was the most innovative product that I have read about in a long time.

Its called a USB Print/Storage server. Basically it allows you to share your USB devices (such as multi-function printers, and hard drives) over your LAN with multiple computers.

Read the product page for more information.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Software: Skype Update Adds Viral Videos

PC Magazine review the new version of Skype 3.5: "Online VoIP application Skype crept a bit farther into the social networking space with the release of Skype 3.5 for Windows, which adds videos from popular social-networking sites to the Skype experience. ... Previous versions let users talk via video. Now, Skype users can download videos from Metacafe and DailyMotion and add them to a user's 'mood'. Video can now be integrated into text chats as well."

I will have to try the new version to see if I like this new feature.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Software: Buying Options

Are you looking for great prices on your favorite software? Did you know that some companies offer different types of special discounts on their products depending where and how you buy the products. For example, if you work for a school, you could qualify for a educational discount on some products. Also, some medium to large size companies and governments offices can offer employee special discounts on certain types of software.

There are two rules that you should follow when buying heavily discounted software. Rule one, generally the better the price the more restrictions that govern it, make sure that you understand what you're buying before you buy it, it may not be what you expect. Rule two, there are a lot of businesses selling counterfeit media over the Internet, so be careful where you buy your software.

Below is a list of common types of discounts that are offered by several different software companies. Although not all software companies offer them or they may not apply to all products.
  • Street Price: This is the price most people pay for a product from a retailer. It's generally 10-40% below the suggested retail price, but this all depends on where you buy the software. If you don't know where to start, check out the following companies:
  • Upgrade Price: This is a discount offered by a company if you're upgrading to the latest version of the product from a previous version. (Note: generally evidence of a previous installation is required. Meaning that upgrade process will check your computer or the application media in order take advantage of the discounted product) Also, sometimes a competitive upgrade is offered if you own a competing product.
  • OEM Pricing: Depending on the product, you can buy OEMs (which stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer) versions of software from business that build computers. Generally this software is sold at a substantial discount, but also comes with special restrictions (such as: it doesn't qualify to be upgraded to the next version).
  • Education/Academic Discounts: This is the price that students and educators will pay for a full or stripped down version of a product. Depending on the product, the qualifications can be pretty liberal (make sure to check with the retailer or manufacture for the qualifying details) or restrictive (such as: the application can't be used for commercial purposes or it doesn't qualify to be upgraded to the next version). For example, Adobe offers educational versions of their higher-end products that are greatly discounted.
  • Employee/Employer Discounts: This benefit can vary from employer to employer depending on the relationships that they have with the software developer. For example, Microsoft offers their Home Use Program to customers that have their Volume Licensing Software Assurance. Contact your employer to see if you qualify for this type of discount, and find out the cost and restrictions.
Warning: When buying any software, especially from sites that you never dealt with before or from auction sites (such as eBay) you need to be very careful of counterfeit software.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Security: Free Anti-Virus Scanners

Are you looking for a free anti-malware protection (such as: spyware, viruses, worms, trojan horses, botnets, etc.) for your computer? There are several options available for you to choose from, you need to find the one that works best for you.

There are generally two types of malware scanners available, one is called real-time and the other is called on-demand. You should always be using a real-time scanner that checks your system for malware. You should use on-demand scanners for systems that you need to disinfect that don't have a real-time scanner installed on them, or getting a second opinion to make sure your system is clean.

Free real-time malware scanners
Note: This software is free for non-commercial use. Also some of the programs below require registration to get the latest updates.
Free on-demand malware scannersFree online malware scanners
Note: All the sites listed below require Internet Explorer v6.0 or higher in order to use them:
Free online file malware scanners: If you receive a file that you think may contain malicious code, you can upload or send it to one of the following sites below to have it scanned.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Windows Vista: Editing File Types

Ever since MS-DOS, all files generally have a 3-letter extension that tells the OS and your applications what type of data a file contains. For example, the .TXT extension generally means text, the .DOC extension is a Microsoft Word document, etc.

When you double-click on a file, Windows will launch the associated application for that file type. For example, if you double-click on a .TXT file Windows will open the Notepad application. Sometimes when you install a new application, it can make assumptions and assigns a particular file type to itself whether you wanted it or not.

In Windows Vista, if you want to change the associated application for a particular file type, you have one of two ways of accomplishing this:

Method #1:
  • Right-click on a file type that you want to change (for example: .JPG, .MP3, etc), and then select Properties.
  • In the General tab, press the Change... button.
  • Select the program from the list to open the file, or press the Browse... button to select an application from your hard drive.
  • Press the OK button when done.
Method #2:
  • Open the Control Panel folder in the Classic View, and double-click the 'Default Programs'.
  • Click the 'Associate a file type or protocol with a program' link.
  • Double-click the extension you want to modify, or select the extension and press the 'Change Program...' button.
  • Select the program from the list to open the file, or press the Browse... button to select an application from your hard drive.
  • Press the Close button when done.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Software: Belarc Advisor (PC Audit)

The Belarc Advisor builds a detailed profile of your installed software and hardware, missing Microsoft hotfixes, anti-virus status, CIS (Center for Internet Security) benchmarks, and displays the results in your Web browser.

The Belarc Advisor report displays information about your computer's hardware: RAM, hard-disk, and processor speed and type. It also shows: motherboard and hard-disk manufacturer, multimedia devices, and more.
Notes: The license associated with this product allows for free personal use only. All of your PC profile information is kept private on your PC and is not sent to any web server.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Windows Vista: New Version of Movie Maker

The new version of Windows Movie Maker in Windows Vista has several improvements and enhancements that the previous version didn't have. Movie Maker includes all the basic feature that you would expect from any video editing program, but it also lets you combine still photos and audio (such as: music, narration, etc.). There are also a variety of transitions you can add to you videos (such as: fade in and out to black or white, zoom effects, and more).

Other enhancements are:
  • You're no longer being limited 320x240 preview.
  • Publish your videos directly to DVD using Windows DVD Maker.
  • Movie Maker also supports the DVR-MS format that Media Center uses to record TV shows. You can edit and save the show in WMV format, so they're playable on other devices.
This program is intended for non-professional video editors, and its designed to be easy to use. Also, until you get use to the way the program works, it might seem a little difficult to understand. As you get more sophisticated in your editing, you might soon find yourself wanting a more sophisticated product.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Software: Free Acronis True Image (with a catch)

I just recently found that Seagate is giving away free OEM versions of Acronis True Image ($50 value) software. True Image is a the popular hard-drive cloning and backup utility for Windows

To use the software you need to have a Seagate or Maxtor hard drive attached to your system. To get the software all you need to do is download Seagate DiscWizard or Maxtor MaxBlast software from Seagate’s support site (free of charge). DiscWizard and MaxBlast are OEM versions of True Image application.

DiscWizard and MaxBlast software can clone an entire hard drive, create a backup image, and build boot media that you can use to restore your system in the event it becomes unbootable. The software can also format drives, create partitions, and erase all the data on the drive.
Note: I have not tested if the software will install on a computer that doesn't have a Seagate or Maxtor hard drive.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Democracy Player is now Miro

Did you know that 'Democracy Player' has changed its name and is now known as 'Miro'. Like iTunes, Miro lets you subscribe and download Audio or Video podcasts. It also supports full-screen mode, can play several popular video formats, and downloads files via BitTorrent.

Want to learn more about Miro, watch the following screencast.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Firefox 2.0.0.5 Update - Critical Flaws Fixed

Mozilla released another incremental security update today for the Firefox web browser. The new 2.0.0.5 version of the browser fixes several important security holes and bugs. You can download the new version of the browser from Mozilla's site or use the auto-update function built in the the program.

Some of the fixes in Firefox v2.0.0.5 include:
  • Unauthorized access to wyciwyg:// documents.
  • Privilege escalation using an event handler
  • Frame spoofing while window is loading
  • Problems with memory corruption related crashes.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Games: Frets on Fire (Free)

'Frets on Fire' is a free open source version of the 'Guitar Hero' game that allows you to use your computer's keyboard as a guitar. The main objective of the game is to play your guitar as accurately as possible. The game also emphasizes musical skill and fast fingers.

Main features of the game:
  • Support for your computer's keyboard, guitar controllers and generic joysticks
  • Includes a song editor for making your own tunes
  • Hundreds of songs composed by the community
  • Supports importing Guitar Hero™ I and II songs
  • Runs on Windows™, Linux®, Mac OS X™ and FreeBSD®
Here is a video demo of the game (note: contains some inappropriate language that is included in the tutorial):

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Windows Vista: Creating a Hidden Share

Windows has a great feature for accessing files on another computer, its called shared folders. These are folders on your computer that you have chosen to make available to others to take files from, or add files to.

When you create shared folders they will be visible to anyone who visits your computer on your local network. Although, if you don't want people to see the shared folders you created its very easy to hide the name so it won't be displayed when people visit your computer.
  • Right-click a folder in the Windows Explorer and select Properties.
  • Click the Sharing tab.
  • Press the 'Advanced Sharing...' button.
  • Check the 'Share this folder' checkbox.
  • Type in a name for your shared folder, then add a "$" character to the end of the name. (for example: hiddenshare$)
  • Press the OK button.
Note: You can also use this technique to create a regular share that will be visible to anyone to visits your computer, all you have to do is leave off the "$" at the end of the share name.
To access the share folder you created, you need to create a UNC with the computer and hidden share name followed by the "$". The following is an example of a UNC to a hidden share: \\computername\hiddenshare$. If you forget to include the dollar sign character at the end of the UNC, the shared folder will not be found.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Security: Microsoft Patch Tuesday (July)

The second Tuesday of the month is about to passed again, which means that Microsoft just published a new round of security fixes for Windows and it's applications. This date is meant to be a predictable date so that individuals or companies only have to patch their desktop computers and servers once a month.

This month there are six new patches altogether. Three are marked as critical (for the OS, Office, and .NET framework), two are marked as important (for Office, and Windows XP), and one is marked as moderate (for the Windows Vista).

If you have 'Automatic Updates' enabled your computer will download these updates for you in the background. Then when you shutdown your system these patches will be applied to your system. If you leave your computer on overnight they will automatically be installed and your system will be rebooted if necessary.

Warning: If you leave your computer on at night make sure you save all your work or you run the risk of losing it if your system has to be rebooted.

Enabling Automatic Updates
If you don't have 'Automatic Updates' enabled on your computer, I would suggest that you turn it on as soon as possible. If you don't want to enable this feature, you can always update your computer by visiting the Windows Update site and downloading and installing the patches manually.

To enable Automatic Updates (Windows XP):
  • From the Start menu, select the Control Panel folder.
  • Double-click the System applet in the control panel folder.
  • Click the 'Automatic Updates' tab.
  • Check the 'Automatic (recommended)' option. (optional: if you don't like this feature, you can set it to: 'download but not install the update', 'just notify you', or 'disable this feature altogether' [not recommended])
  • Press the OK button when done.
To enable Automatic Updates (Windows Vista):
  • From the Start menu, select 'All Programs' then 'Windows Update'
  • In the left pane, click the 'Change settings' link.
  • Check the 'Install updates automatically (recommended)' option. (optional: if you don't like this feature, you can set it to: 'Download updates but let me choose whether to install them', 'Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them', or 'Never check for updates' [not recommended])
  • Press the OK button when done.

Note: For the latest Microsoft Security Bulletins, check out this site.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Security: Type of Malware Protection (Signature vs Behavioral)

There are generally two types of technologies used for detecting malware (which is short for malicious software, for example: virus, spyware, worms, etc.) these days. The first method is called 'signature-based protection', the second is called 'behavioral analysis' (sometimes known as 'heuristic' or 'non-signature' based analysis).

Signature-based protection is the most traditional and popular form of malware protection around. It detects malicious programs by matching the code in programs against a known database of malware. This is a very accurate way of detecting malware, but it can only find malicious programs it knows about. Also if a new malicious program comes out it can only be detected when a signature has been created for it. Many anti-malware vendors are struggling to keep up with amount of malicious code that is constantly being released.

Behavioral analysis (or non-signature) based malware protection tries to detect malicious programs by watching the applications on your computer for certain patterns of behavior. For example, if some program tries to infect another file, or perform another type of malicious behavior then it will be flagged. The advantage of behavioral analysis is that it doesn't require signatures to detect malware, so it can detect new malicious programs before traditional signature-based programs can detect it. The problem with this technology is that it can produce a lot of false positives if its tuned wrong, which can be annoying.

Ultimately, the best type of anti-malware protection program is one that combines both types of technologies. Signature based software is only as good as its last update, and behavioral analysis based protection is good but still has a ways to go to over come the problems with false positives.

It seems like most modern anti-malware protection programs are gradually moving in this hybrid direction, but it might take a while to perfect the technology.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Windows Vista: Manually Updating Drivers

Are looking for the latest device driver for software or hardware that you already have installed in your computer? Below are a few places you should check to find the latest drivers.
  • Manufacturer's Web Site: This is probably the best place to get the latest drivers for your system. These web sites are generally where a company will post the latest updates for their products. Microsoft keeps a list of popular Manufacturer's web sites on their site.
  • Windows Update: this is a free service provided by Microsoft that has the latest Microsoft application and OS patches, and device drivers for current and legacy hardware.
  • Device Manager: Allows you to check Microsoft to see if you have the latest driver. To manually update a driver in the Device Manager follow the steps below:
    • From the Start menu open the Control Panel folder.
    • Open the System control panel.
    • Click 'Device Manager' link in the left pane.
    • In the 'Device Manager' find the device you want to update, and then double-click the device name.
    • Click the Driver tab, and then press the 'Update Driver...' button.
  • Manufacturer's Driver Disk: This disk will only have the latest version of the drivers that were available for your hardware when the device was manufactured. I would only use this disk to get you started if you have no other way of getting the latest driver.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Security: Spy Sweeper 5.5 with Antivirus

For those people who are always looking for the best malware protection for their computer. Here is a review of 'Spy Sweeper 5.5 with Antivirus' by PC Magazine, they also gave the product their Editor Choice award.

Here is an excerpt from their review: "This version beefs up antivirus protection. It's more effective at removing spyware than at preventing new installations, but the bottom line is it?ll stop most spies. The competition (Spyware Doctor 5.0) is tough, but for the moment Spy Sweeper 5.5 with AV is the best all-around antispyware app."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Windows Live online suite grows

The Seattle Times reports: "Microsoft is renewing its online-services push with products for storing and sharing photos and files. ... The company planned to announce today the release of test versions of Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Folders, adding to a suite of more than 20 services in various stages of development."

Microsoft released test versions of Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Folders today. Adding to the more than 20 services that are already available.

The Windows Live Folders offers up to 500MB of free storage. While Windows Live Photo Gallery is an upgraded version of of the Photo Gallery software that ships with Windows Vista. The good news is that its also backwards compatible with Windows XP.

Here is a slide show from eWeek to see the services in action.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Windows Vista: Performance Information And Tools

The 'Performance Information And Tools' control panel allows you to adjust Windows features to get the best performance and user experience from your system. This is also where you can view the Windows Experience Index (WEI), which rates your system on a scale 1 to 5.9.

The higher the WEI rating the faster your system. If you get a WEI rating of 1 that could mean that you might not want to run Vista on your computer. If you get a 5.9 rating, that means your system is very fast.

Below is a list of the tools in the Tasks pane on the left side of the window in the Performance Information And Tools control panel:
  • Managing startup programs (Help OS to load more quickly by preventing useless programs from loading).
  • Adjusting visual effects (Turn on or off features that you like or don't use to get the best experience and performance).
  • Adjusting indexing options (control how much of your system resources can be for indexing data on your computer).
  • Adjusting power settings (Balance your power consumption vs. performance needs) .
  • Open Disk Cleanup (Clean up your hard drive by removing useless file from it).
  • Advanced tools (Contains: Event Log, Reliability And Performance Monitor, Task Manager, System Information, Disk Defragmenter, and more).

Monday, June 25, 2007

Windows Vista: Enhancing Performance

Windows Vista includes a new stylish graphical user interface with transparencies, animations, and more. This new interface is called Aero, and is system resource intensive (meaning it requires a fast: CPU, RAM, and a graphics card) to create all the 'eye candy' that you see.
Note: I know I am going to get emails about the term 'eye candy'. This term refers to extra effects on screen (such as the transparencies and animations) to make it look pretty, but are not critical to the operation of the computer.
Below are some suggestions that help increase the speed of your system by reducing the fancy graphics in Areo to free up system resources:
  • Turn off transparency - Right-click the desktop, click Personalize, and click 'Windows Color and Appearance' link then uncheck 'Enable Transparency'. Press the OK button when done.
  • Turn off the visual effects - Open Control Panel, click 'Performance Information and Tools', and then click 'Adjust Visual Effects' in the left task pane. In the 'Performance Options' dialog uncheck the line items for the effects that you want to disable (such as: animations, fades, etc.) or click select one of the options below:
    • Let Windows choose what's best for my computer
    • Adjust for best appearance
    • Adjust for best performance
  • Turn off the Sidebar - Right-click the Sidebar, click Properties, and uncheck 'Start Sidebar when Windows starts'. Press the OK button when done. Then, right-click the Sidebar and select 'Close Sidebar' from the menu.
  • Turn off the Aero theme - Right-click the desktop, click Personalize, and click 'Windows Color and Appearance'. Towards the bottom of the dialog click the link 'Open classic appearance properties for more options' and choose a theme in the 'Color Scheme' list box (such as: Windows Classic, Windows Vista Basic, or Windows Standard theme). Press the OK button when done.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Windows Vista: Dump Files

When your computer crashes it creates what is called a 'dump file', which is a file that contains the contents of your computer's RAM. This file can be used to diagnose and troubleshoot a system failure by a trained professional who understands the contents of it.

To most people these files are a nuisance because of the amount of disk space they can consume. These files can also be a security risk because they can potentially contain sensitive information, such as passwords stored in the computer's memory.

If you want to disable the dump file option, follow the instructions below:
  • Open the Start menu, and select Control Panel folder.
  • Double-click the System control panel.
  • Click the 'Advanced system settings' link in the left pane.
  • Press the Settings... button in the 'Startup and Recovery' section.
  • In the 'System failure' section, in the 'Write debugging information' drop-down menu select '(none)'
  • Press the OK buttons when done.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Article: Buy Samsung's Hybrid Hard Drive Next Week; Preorders Taken Now

PC Magazine reports: "Samsung's first hybrid hard drives will be available for end-user purchase in a week's time, although only a limited subset of customers with the latest hardware may be able to take advantage of them. ... The new drive contains 256 Mbytes of flash memory, which is used as a "write cache" as part of Microsoft's "ReadyDrive" initiative. The drives store data to be written on the flash cache, writing it all in one fell swoop when the cache is full. Writing the data all at once allows the laptop's drive to only spin up when it needs to, instead of operating at full speed to write a few bits of data here and there."

Anyone waiting for the new 'ReadyDrive' hybrid hard drives your wait is almost over. The technology promises greater speed and improved battery life. Now we have to wait and see if it can deliver on both of these promises.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Article: AT&T quietly offers $10 DSL plan

Boston Globe reports: "AT&T Inc. has started offering a broadband Internet service for $10 a month, cheaper than any advertised plan. ... The DSL, or digital subscriber line, plan introduced Saturday is part of the concessions made by AT&T to the Federal Communications Commission to get its $86 billion acquisition of BellSouth Corp. approved last December."

Are you looking for a cheap DSL connection? AT&T will makes you jump through a few hoops to find this plan, but if you look hard enough you may be able to take advantage of it.

Make sure to read the article to find out more information. Also check out this article from Gearlog to get even more information.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Video: What is LightScribe?

Have you been seeing more and more CD/DVD drives with LightScribe technology built into it. Before you buy into this technology, I would suggest watching the following video from Chris Pirillo (of Lockergnome fame). I thought he did a decent job of explaining the technology in a recent video. Its very non-professional, maybe a little humorous (and annoying) at times but it has decent content.

Here is an excerpt from the page: "LightScribe is a technology that lets you inscribe the non-data side of your LightScribe capable media (you can’t use a regular CD-R or DVD-R). Once you burn the data to disk you flip the disk over in the drive and the LightScribe drive etches an image on the top of the disk."

Remember: In order to use this technology, you have to have a CD/DVD drive, software, and media that supports the LightScribe functionality before you can use it. Also this technology doesn't work with non-LightScribe drives or media.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Windows Vista: 32-Bit or 64-Bit Editions

Windows XP x64 was the first 64-bit edition of the consumer version of the Windows OS. Windows Vista like XP comes in two versions, the x86 (32-bit) and the x64 (64-bit) versions.

Some people might ask what's the difference between x86 and the x64 versions of Windows? I will over simplify the answer by telling you the biggest difference between the two OSes:
  • x64 version of Vista can address up to 128GB of RAM (the x86 version can only address up to 4GB of RAM)
  • x64 version of Vista supports Data Execution Prevention (DEP). DEP can helps protect your computer against software-based attacks by preventing code executing in memory that's marked for data only.
The two biggest problems with the x64 version of Windows, is that it requires 64-bit versions of all your hardware drivers (i.e.: printers, video, sound, etc.). There are also some application compatibility problems with older programs.

In Vista's defense it's worth noting newer hardware is shipping with the 32 and 64-bit versions of the drivers. Some hardware manufactures are also updating their drivers to work with the 32 and 64-bit versions of Vista. Check your hardware manufacturer's web site for more information.
Notes:
  • You can't use the 32-bit drivers in the x64 version of Windows.
  • All x64 drivers have to be digitally signed by the manufacture in order to be installed in the x64 version of Windows.
  • The 64-bit version of Vista lacks support for older 16-bit DOS and Windows applications altogether.
So you might ask at this point should I upgrade to the x64 version of Windows Vista, and my answer is that all depends. If you need to run the x64 versions of applications, then you should upgrade. If you don't need to run these application and you don't need to access more then 4GB of RAM then you should run the x86 version of the OS.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Article: FBI tries to fight zombie hordes

BBC reports: "The FBI is contacting more than one million PC owners who have had their computers hijacked by cyber criminals. ... The initiative is part of an ongoing project to thwart the use of hijacked home computers, or zombies, as launch platforms for hi-tech crimes. "

I applaud the FBI for taking this action, and having the foresight to realize that it can also be exploited by fraudsters to steal your personal information. Here is a excerpt from the FBI press release on how they will handle the situation: "The FBI will not contact you online and request your personal information so be wary of fraud schemes that request this type of information, especially via unsolicited emails. To report fraudulent activity or financial scams, contact the nearest FBI office or police department, and file a complaint online with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, www.ic3.gov.

If you want more information about Botnets here is article from Wikipedia about it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Software: Apple's New Safari Beta Works on Windows PCs

PC Magazine reports: "Apple today jumped into the Windows Web-browser fray by introducing Safari 3 for both the Mac and Windows platforms—and have touted significant speed advantages for the new browser. The announcement was one of many made during the WWDC conference and show."

The free beta is now available at Apple's web site. Also make sure to check out PC Magazine slideshow.

Note: There are security flaws that have already been detected within this software, so be very careful when evaluating it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Software: Microsoft Windows Mobile Device Center 6.1 for Windows Vista

Microsoft made an update available for the Windows Mobile Device Center in Windows Vista. This update primarily contains Windows Mobile 6 support, but other features have been added.

Below is a brief list of the the enhancement made to Device Center:
  • Windows Mobile 6 feature support
    • Information Rights Management activation
    • HTML mail support
    • Certificate Enrollment
    • Allow data connections when connected to the PC
    • File synchronization for smartphones
  • Automatic device authentication.
This update is fully compatible with Windows Mobile 2003 devices and later. Download the 32-bit or the 64-bit version of the Windows Mobile Device Center 6.1 for Windows Vista.