Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Windows XP: Stop Security Center From Nagging You

Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) added the Security Center, which centralize most security-related functions to one control panel. By default, if it finds a problem it will start nagging you to fix it. For example, if you turned off automatic updates or it doesn't recognize your anti-virus application. Here is how to turn off this feature:
  • Open the Control Panel folder
  • Open the Security Center control panel
  • In the left pane, click the link labeled "Change the way Security Center alerts me"
  • Uncheck the item(s) that it's complaining about (i.e.: firewall, automatic updates, or virus protection)
  • Press the OK button.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Microsoft Security Bulletin MS08-078 - Critical: Security Update for Internet Explorer (960714)

Microsoft just released an Out-of-Band security bulletin MS08-078. Generally any Out-of-Band security patches are important, because they fix a problem that needs to be addressed now. MS08-078 (960714) is a critical security update for Internet Explorer.

Here is an excerpt from the Microsoft site about this patch: "This security update resolves a publicly disclosed vulnerability. The vulnerability could allow remote code execution if a user views a specially crafted Web page using Internet Explorer. Users whose accounts are configured to have fewer user rights on the system could be less impacted than users who operate with administrative user rights.

This security update is rated Critical for Internet Explorer 5.01, Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 6 Service Pack 1, and Internet Explorer 7.

If you can't or don't want to install the patch right now for some reason, here are some instructions on how to set the security level of IE's Internet zone to High. This can protect you by blocking any scripting technology (i.e: Javascript, Flash, Silverlight, etc.) from running on any web site. Although by using this feature you will disable most web sites functionality, such as dropdown menus and animation.
  • Open an Internet Explorer
  • From the Tools menu select Internet Options..., and click the Security tab
  • Click the Internet zone icon in the top part of the dialog box and move the slider control below it to High.
Note: To get around issue this you must add the sites to the Trusted Sites zone, its in the same dialog as the Internet zone outline in the instructions above.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Windows Vista: Starting Programs with Elevated Privileges

Do you need to automatically start applications that require elevated privileges when you log into Windows Vista? To accomplish this we are going to have to use the Vista Task Scheduler.

Follow the instructions below to learn how to do this:
Note: You need an account with administrative privileges to the computer for this tip to work.
  • Remove the programs from the Startup group if they are already there
  • From the Search field in the Start menu type "Task Scheduler".
  • In the Task Scheduler, press the "Create Task..." link in the Action panel on the right.
  • Type a name for the new task, for example "Start Notepad"
  • Check the "Run with highest privileges" checkbox
  • Click the Triggers tab.
  • Press the New button.
  • From the "Begin the task" dropdown menu, select "At log on."
  • In the setting section, choose the "Specific user or group" radio button (change if necessary).
  • Press the OK button
  • Click Actions tab, and press the New... button.
  • Enter the path for the program that you want to be launched, the press the OK button
  • Press the OK button

Monday, December 01, 2008

Windows Vista: Re-Activating the Built-in Administrator Account

In previous versions of Windows the built-in Administrator account was enabled default (this was before Vista). This was a major security risk because hackers knew which they account they needed to attack to get complete access to the computer.

In Vista if you do a clean install (not an upgrade), this account has been disabled by default. If for some reason you need to reactivate this account (which I recommend against unless there is a good reason) the instructions are below:
  • Log on to the machine with a local administrator account (if you don't have one already then these instructions will not work for you).
  • In the Search field under the Start menu type MMC.EXE and press the Enter key. Press Continue button in the UAC prompt to open the console.
  • From the File menu, select "Add/Remove Snap-in".
  • In the "Available Snap-ins" list on the left, scroll down and select "Local Users and Groups", then press the Add button.
  • In the "Choose Target Machine" dialog box, select "Local Computer" press the Finish button, then press the OK button.
  • Expand the "Local Users and Groups" icon in the left pane and click the Users folder.
  • In the right pane, right-click Administrator account and select Properties
  • In the General tab, uncheck "Account is disabled" box, then press the OK button.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Software: Picasa 3 (Free Photo Editing/Management Application)

I have used Picasa for managing my photos for years. Its one of the best free photo editing and media management applications available (in my opinion).

The application has gotten better with several new enhancement that Google has added in this release. Below is a brief summary of changes in the new version of Picasa 3:
  • Improved automatic sync between your PC and the Picasa Web Albums site.
  • Improved photo collage tool
  • New editing tools include a : retouching, text, and smart cropping tool.
  • A new movie making tool that allows you to create video slide shows from your photos, videos, and music. The tool also allows direct upload of your videos to Picasa Web Albums or YouTube.
  • One of my favorite features is the new photo viewer for browsing photo on your hard drive.
For more information about the new features, check out this article.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Security: What is Clickjacking?

If malware, spam, phishing, and other threats were not bad enough, the latest Internet security threat is called Clickjacking. Basically its a way of tricking you to click on disguised Web links, so that an action is performed on your local computer without your knowledge.

For example, using this exploit you can be tricked into turning on your web cam, or installing malware. All browsers are vulnerable to this type of threat, so this is not just isolated to I.E., Firefox, etc.

The way the attack works is you go to a site that has been modified by a malicious attacker, then the content (i.e.: web pages, flash animation, etc.) of the site tries to trick you into clicking links and buttons that you might not realize you're clicking. They do this by disguising the content to look like something else.

If you're really worried about this type of attack, then you need to disable scripting technologies like Javascript, and Flash for all sites in your browser. Then you need to enable it for approved sites only. The drawback is that many sites rely on this technology to make them more interactive. Thus disabling this technology can cripple a web site's experience.

To help protect you, here are some resources:
  • For Firefox there is a free open-source plug-in called NoScript that can block the execution of JavaScript except for sites that you approve.
  • For Internet Explorer, under Internet Options... in the Security tab you can set the Internet security slider to high. This should block all scripting technologies from running on any web pages you visit. If you want grant permissions to specific web site, you need to add them to your Trusted Site list.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Software: FREE EASEUS Partition Manager Home Edition

Are you looking for a free alternative to the commercial version of Partition Magic? Then you might want to check out EASEUS Partition Manager Home Edition, its a free hard disk partition management application. It allows you to: create, format, re-size, delete, move hard disk partitions, and more.

It runs on Windows 2000/XP/Vista (32-bit) Operating Systems. This version of the software is only free for personal use, if you're a business you will have to buy a licensed version.

Windows Vista already has built-in functionality to create, shrink, extend and delete a partition. So I would suggest trying this built-in functionality first. If you're running Windows XP or below, then you might want to try this software.
Note: I need to note that I have not personally tested this program, so use it at your own risk.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Software: ShellRunas v1.01

Note: This tip is more technical then the way I generally write. Although, the people who would use this feature should understand what I am talking about.
Sometimes when they upgrade software they change or remove things. Most of the improvements in Windows Vista I really like, but one small feature that was removed that I really used was the "Run as..." context menu command.

This Windows XP feature allowed you run a program under a different set of user credentials then the one you logged in with. You won't often need this functionality, unless you do systems administration. There is also a command line version of this utility that is still available, but its just not as easy to use.

Mark Russinovich and Jon Schwartz created ShellRunas v1.01 to add this functionality back into Windows Vista. To get this program to install, use the Run... command (press WinKey+R) and type "[path]\shellrunas.exe /reg" (you need to include the [path] where the executable is located.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Security: New Critical Security Patch

A few days ago Microsoft released a critical patch known as MS08-067 (958644). If you have Automatic Updates turned on, and have it setup to install the patches for you automatically then you should have received this patch already. If you don't, I would suggest that you manually install it (download information).

This patch fixes a new security vulnerability in the Server Service that could allow remote code execution. For those of you who don't know what that mean, it basically means that someone can run a program on your computer without your knowledge.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Windows Vista: Creating Shutdown/Restart Shortcuts

Want to create a quick and easy to way restart or shutdown Vista from an icon in your desktop, quick launch bar or your Start menu? Follow the instructions below.
  • Right-click an empty area on your desktop and select New > Shortcut.
  • In the field labeled 'Type the location of the item,' type: shutdown.exe /s /t 00 (note: those are zeros, and not 'O's). You can also use the command shutdown.exe /r /t 00 to restart your computer instead of shutting it down.
  • Press the Next button, then give your shortcut a name (i.e.: Shut Down), then Press the Finish button
  • Optional: if want a different icon image. Right-click the new item you just created, then click the Shortcut tab and press the Change Icon button to select a different image to display.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Software: Virtual Desktops

Microsoft's Sysinternals group has release a new utility called 'Desktops', which is a virtual desktop manager. Basically, it allows you to have several applications open, and assign them to different virtual desktops.

So for example, let say that you have eight different programs open, but they can be grouped into 4 different categories. You can assign related application windows to different virtual desktops. So when you switch to that desktop, those application windows will be visible to you.

The advantage to using a program like this is that it allows you to organize your application windows. You can also assign hot-keys, or you can use the icon in the Notification area to switch between desktops.

Solid State Drive (SSD) vs. Hard Disk Drive (HDD) Performance Test

I don't post a lot of these videos, but I thought this was a very good comparison of a Samsung Solid State Drive (SSD) vs a standard Hard Disk Drive (HDD). SSD uses the same type of memory as portable flash drives. The SSD wins in weight, reliability, speed, and power consumption.

The problems with SSD, is that its more expensive and the available capacities are limited right now when compared to HDD.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cool Tip: Reducing the USB Power Charger Clutter

Here is a very cool tip to help reduce the power cord clutter that can be created when you're charging your USB gadgets.

Remember: You want to find a USB hub that has a power adapter.
You can see some examples of what I am talking about here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Software: Microsoft Pro Photo Tools v2

Microsoft recently released a new version of their Pro Photo Tools. Here is excerpt from the site explains the software, "The Pro Photo Tools allow you to add, change, and delete common metadata properties for digital photographs. You can place photos on the Live Earth map and then drag them to the right location. The GPS information will be stored back into the photos. If you have a GPS device, you can load track route files from the most popular formats (NMEA, GPX, and KML) and see them on the map. " For more information, see the following web page.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Windows security rendered useless? Uh, not exactly | Ed Bott’s Microsoft Report | ZDNet.com

ZDNet.com reports: "Oh dear. The Chicken Little contingent is out in full force. Break out your Kevlar helmets, everyone, because the sky is falling on Windows! At last week’s Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, researchers Alexander Sotirov and Mark Dowd presented a paper that outlined some new attack vectors they had discovered targeting some security features introduced in different versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista. It’s a fascinating paper, rich in technical detail and hewing to the Black Hat tradition of providing clues that others can follow to discover, exploit, and ultimately fix vulnerabilities in widely used computer code."

This is a technical article, but it's very interesting. If you want to understand what is really going on with state of Windows Vista security then read this.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Keeping up with all the latest malware that is being created is an overwhelming job for any anti-virus company. Some have stated its even a losing battle. This is a very interesting video where Mikko Hyppönen discusses the various motives of Crimeware in a follow up to Re:solution. After watching it, you can begin to see why its getting its such a tough job.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Google Chrome Could Nuke Microsoft From the Internet Market

eWeek reports: "Google launches Chrome as an alternative to Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Opera. Analysts from IDC and Forrester believe Chrome can be Google's definitive Web operating system, making it quite an achievement for application development. If Google can make Chrome consumers' gateway of choice for Web services such as search and SAAS applications, it will extend Google's search advertising empire."

I am in the process of checking this out for myself before I make any comments. Although I just wanted to post this just in case someone didn't know about it. Read the article for more information.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Internet Explorer: Microsoft Releases Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2

For those of you that like to run the latest and greatest browser, here is information on IE8 Beta 2. Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine Online reports: "Microsoft released its Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 test product today, and the company spilled a lot of pixels explaining the beta's new features, with some details for Web developers. The public release of the new beta can be accessed here."

Here is the download site IE8.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Video: Remove all remnants of the Windows Vista SP1 installation files

TechRepublic did a great job of documenting the removal of Windows Vista SP1 installation files. Here is an except from the site: "When you install Microsoft Windows Vista Service Pack 1, the installation process leaves behind about 800 MBs of original Windows Vista files–in case you later want to remove SP1. Relative to current hard drives, 800 MBs isn’t that much space. But, it’s still enough space to store a couple hundred MP3 files or a few video clips. Personally, I just don’t like useless files taking up space on my drives. In this IT Dojo video, I show you how to remove all those old files using the SP1 Files Removal Tool."

If you want more information, check out my article on this subject.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Security: Personal Firewalls Review Site

Want to know how well your personal firewall might protect you from personal identity from being stolen. Check out this great comparison from matousec.com.

Here is except from their site describing the project: "This project examines personal firewalls, Internet security suites and other similar products for Windows OS that implement process-based security. We call all such products personal firewalls. In our opinion, personal firewalls should prevent spying and data and identity theft. So, we require personal firewalls to include host protection features too. The list of personal firewalls we are aware of is available on the product list page. We know that our terminology may be in conflict with the common understanding of what the firewalls are. To distinguish between personal firewalls and firewalls in the common sense, we call the later packet filters. A typical example of a packet filter is WIPFW. Most of the personal firewalls include a packet filter component. Simple packet filters are not worse than personal firewalls, they are just different kind of software – for different kind of users. This project does not examine stand-alone packet filters."

Last update: 2008-08-01

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Don't get burned by driver-update scams | WindowsSecrets.com

Windows Secrets reports: "Although you can find free tools to help keep Windows and your other software up-to-date, you'll have to pay to get the best tool for scanning your system's drivers and downloading the updates you need."

I have never been a big fan of these driver version update tools, because they never really helped me but some people like them. Although, here is a article that talks about some of the issues with this class of tools and recommends some of the better products that you might want to check out.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Microsoft Office: Liven up your Office Microsoft Documents (w/Templates)

Are you looking for different templates to spice up your Microsoft Office documents (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Access, and more.). Check out Microsoft Office's template web site. Below is a brief list of categories available on the site:
  • Agendas
  • Award certificates
  • Brochures
  • Budgets
  • Business cards
  • Calendars
  • Content slides
  • Contracts
  • Databases
  • Design slides
  • Diagrams
  • Envelopes
  • Expense reports
  • and lots more...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Windows Vista: How to enable the DVD Library in Windows Media Center

Microsoft has posted a knowledge base article on how to enable the DVD Library feature on a Windows Vista based Media Center. This feature is enabled by default in Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. The DVD content is stored on the hard disk, and appears in the My Videos folder.

On Windows Vista-based Media Centers content is displayed in a DVD gallery. However, the DVD Library is not automatically enabled in Windows Media Center on a Windows Vista-based computer. This feature should allow you to play your commercial DVDs from the hard drive.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Windows Vista: Built-in Calendar Program

One of Windows Vista's new features is the built-in calendaring program, called Windows Calendar. It provides functionality similar to Microsoft's Outlook calendaring feature, but unlike Outlook there is a separate application called Windows Mail for managing your email.

Some of the Windows Calendar features include: sharing your calendar with others, creating multiple calendars for different events, and publish the calendars for others to subscribe to. You can also color code calendar items, search for specific appointments and tasks, and set up recurring events or add reminders to appointments.

To access Windows Calendar, open the Start menu, in the Search field type Calendar then press the Enter key.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Software: Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2008 (Free)

Microsoft has made available an updated version of its Office Accounting. There is a free version called Express and a paid version that has several more features.

If you manage your home-based business and are just looking for a way to manage your accounts, track your invoices and bill payment, the free version might be what you're looking for. Otherwise you will have to buy the full version to use all the features.

Some of the features include:

  • Create quotes, invoices, and receipts.
  • Write checks, track expenses, and reconcile online bank accounts.
  • Convert a quote into an invoice without having to transfer information from one program to another.
  • Track employee time.

Resource links:
Product information
Download the program

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Software: Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer v2.1

The Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA) is a free standalone vulnerability assessment tool that can scan your Windows systems to identify common security mis-configurations and missing security updates. The MBSA also includes a graphical and command line interface that can perform local or remote scans of Microsoft Windows systems.

MBSA 2.1 added support for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. MBSA 2.1 also provides full 64-bit installation, scan tool and vulnerability assessment (VA) checks, improved SQL Server 2005 checks, and support for the latest Windows Update Agent (WUA) and Microsoft Update technologies.

More information on the capabilities of MBSA 2.1 is available on the MBSA Web site.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Windows Vista: Setting a Default Access Point

By default, Windows Vista will automatically switch your computer from one Wireless Access Point (WAP) to another if you move out of range, to try to keep you connected. Sometimes it can switch even if you're not moving around, and this can make you lose your connection temporarily.

If the automatic switching funuctionality is causing problems for you, you can turn this feature off:

  • Open the 'Manage Wireless Networks' applet.
  • Right-click the network profile on which you want to turn off automatic switching, and select Properties.
  • Click the Connection tab, then uncheck the 'Connect to a more preferred network if available.' checkbox.
  • Press the OK button

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Windows Vista: System Diagnostics Report

One of the really cool diagnostic tools that comes with Windows Vista is the Reliability and Performance Monitor. The tool comes with a report option that can collect 60 seconds worth of system data, and then analyzes it and displays a report.

To see the System Diagnostics Report, from the Start menu in the Search field is "perfmon.exe /report"

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Microsoft Hopes Office Subscription Plan Will Counter Free Software -- Microsoft -- InformationWeek

InformationWeek reports: "Microsoft said Wednesday that it will give consumers the option of buying an annual license for Office and its Windows Live OneCare security package for $69.99 per year under a program called Equipt. The license covers use of the software on up to three computers and includes access to all future product upgrades."

Seems like a pretty good deal, especially when you consider its for 3 computers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Software: Windows SteadyState 2.5

Windows SteadyState makes it easier to manage shared computers, which are commonly used in schools, Internet cafes, libraries, and community centers. These shared computers are generally managed by the business owners, teachers, or other non-technical personnel.

Managing this type of computers can be difficult, and time-consuming. Also without system restrictions and protections, users can inadvertently damage the computer's operating (such as: modifying system settings, installing malware, etc.).

SteadyState provides an effective way to help defend your public computers from changes by untrusted users and unwanted software installations. This software also protects user privacy by not saving, Internet history, saved documents, or cached Web pages available of subsequent users.

Windows SteadyState includes the following features:
  • Windows Disk Protection – Protects the Windows system partition, which contains the operating system and other programs from being modified without administrator approval. This feature allows you to remove all changes upon restart, or remove changes at a certain date and time.
  • User Restrictions and Settings – Allows you to enhance and simplify the user experience by restrict user access to programs, settings, Start menu items, and other options in Windows.
  • User Account Manager – Create and delete user accounts. You can use SteadyState to create user accounts on alternate drives that will retain user data and settings even when Windows Disk Protection is turned on.
  • Computer Restrictions – Control security settings, privacy settings, and more, such as preventing users from creating and storing folders in drive C:\ and from opening Microsoft Office documents from Internet Explorer.
  • Schedule Software Updates – Schedule updates of your shared computer with the latest security updates when it is convenient for you.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Software: Microsoft Pro Photo Tools

Microsoft recently released a new application called 'Pro Photo Tools' that allows you to edit the metadata (such as: location, description, date/time, etc.) in digital photographs. Some of this data is automatically added by the camera, the rest you need to add yourself.

Excerpt from the Microsoft site: "The Pro Photo Tools allow you to add, change, and delete common metadata properties for digital photographs. You can place photos on the Live Earth map and then drag them to the right location. The GPS information will be stored back into the photos. If you have a GPS device, can load track route files from the most popular formats (NMEA, GPX, and KML) and see them on the map. Then you can place your photos on the track route. Again, the GPS info will be stored into your file. When you have the right GPS location for your photos, you can automatically generate location info like country, state, city and even street names. Or if you know the location where a picture was taken, you can type it in and get the GPS location information automatically.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Windows Vista: Encrypting Offline Files

Windows Vista has an offline files feature that can store local copies of files from a network share on your computer when you're disconnected from it. Then when you re-connect to the network, all the files will be re-synchronized. So the ones that you edited while you were away will be updated on the network file share.

To make sure that these file stay secure when you're offline, you can encrypt the file stored on your local computer. So just in case your computer is lost or stolen the data won't be compromised.

To enable offline file encryption:
  • From the Start menu select Control Panel (in the Classic View).
  • Double-click the 'Offline Files' applet.
  • Click the Encryption tab.
  • Press the Encrypt button.
  • Press the OK button.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Windows Vista: Simple Tips to Help Improve System Reliability

For years people have complained about Windows being buggy. Although most people never really think about all the variables that can really cause your system to become unstable and crash. Don't get me wrong I am not in anyway implying that Windows doesn't have its bugs, but that can also be said about Apple, or Linux.

Although, most problems can be traced to a few different factors, the OS, drivers, hardware, or applications. The trick is figuring out which one is causing the problems, and correcting it.

For example, video drivers are notorious for causing system failures because they have to run at a very low level of the OS. When your system does crash its hard to tell what really caused it, was the problem with the OS or was it a driver. You should also not discount failing hardware, or even a bug in the system BIOS.

I hope that you can see that the OS is not to blame for all system failures. To help you identify these problems, Microsoft has incorporated a few technologies to assist with diagnosing a failure if one does happen.

Some of these tools include the Reliability Monitor, Event Logs, and dump files. The Reliability Monitor is one of easiest tools to help you understand what happened when your system crashes. The Event Logs and dump files contain a lot of useful information, but they can be hard to understand if you don't know what you're looking for.

I have really only touched on a few of the diagnostic tools available in Windows Vista, there are several more that I will talk about in later articles. But if you do have a systems failure, here are few things that you can do:
  • Use Windows Update under All Programs in the Start menu, and make sure that your OS and other Microsoft applications are up-to-date. Note: you should make sure the Microsoft Update feature is enabled, this will update all Microsoft Applications as well .
  • Go to your computer or motherboard manufacture's web site and download the latest BIOS firmware updates for your system. You should also do this for other hardware, such as your video card.
  • Make sure that your 3rd party applications and games have the latest updates.
  • Run Vista's RAM diagnostic program to make sure that your computer's memory is working correctly.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Windows Vista: Setting a Process's Affinity

Almost all modern PCs are sold with processors that support multiple CPU cores. Basically what this means is that the processor has multiple CPUs that can do more work then a single CPU by itself (there are advantages and disadvantages to this technology that I need to discuss at a later time).

If your computer's processor supports multiple cores, then Windows Vista allows you assign a process to a specific CPU or set of CPUs. This is known as setting the processors 'Affinity'. Normally this is handled by the OS, but this feature allows you to override this function.

Open the Task Manager (press Shift+Ctrl+Esc at the same time), select process from the Processes tab then right-click it, and then select 'Set Affinity'. From here you can select or deselect one or more of the cores.

Ideally what you're trying to achieve is isolating the process to a specific CPU and boosting its efficiency. I have to note that your 'mileage will vary' from process to process so you will need to test it and see if you get better performance.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Email: Making Gmail Your Default Email Client

I was asked today how to make GMail the default email client so that when you send email it will be automatically opened up. You use to be able to do this with the GMail notifier, but it looks like Google stopped developing it (no updates since 3/2006).

You can now do this with Google Talk (Google's IM chat client). Open the Setting dialog under General, check the "Open GMail when I click on email links", press the OK button.

This will make Gmail as your default mailto: handler. Which means when you click a hyperlink email address, a Gmail compose window will be pre-populated with you email address in your default web browser.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Firefox 3 Has Been Released (Is it the Next-Generation Web Browser?)

I have been waiting for Firefox 3 for sometime now. Well last Tuesday (June 17) Mozilla finally released its next generation version of the browser. Version 3 of the Firefox browser contains many usability and feature enhancements.

Rather then trying to 'rewrite the wheel', I am going to post a link and excerpt from an eWeek article that reviews the browser: "At first glance, it doesn't look that different from previous versions of the browser. And while there are nice improvements from a usability standpoint, there's nothing radically different for Web users." Read the rest of the article here.

You can also download the browser and try it for yourself.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Internet Explorer: New Search Providers

In Internet Explorer you can change or add search engines that your browser can use to find information. To change the search engine used by the search field click the drop-down menu next to search field, then select any of the providers: MSN, Amazon, eBay, etc.

To add more providers, in the search drop-down (in the upper-right corner of the browser window) menu select 'Find More Providers...' Then select the search engine you want to use. After you make your selection, press the 'Add Provider' button.

To select a default provider, in the search drop-down menu select 'Change Search Defaults...'. Select the search provider you want to be your default, then press the 'Set Default' button.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Firefox: New Search Providers

In Firefox you can change or add search engines that your browser uses to search for the information. To change the search engine click the drop-down menu next to search field, then select any of the providers: Google, Yahoo, etc.

To add more providers, in the drop-down menu select 'Manage Search Engine..." Then click the link 'Get More Search Engines...' in the dialog. Press the Add to Firefox button next the search engine provider that you want to ask, then press the Add button in the dialog that displays.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Windows Vista: Removing Personal Data From Your Files

In Windows Vista you can add information to music and photo files such as titles, ratings, comments, and more. Although, if you don't want to share this personal data if you share these files with other people you can remove it.

Right-click a file, choose Properties, then click the Details tab. At the bottom of the window there is a link called 'Remove Properties and Personal Information.' From there you can remove the information from the file, or create a copy of the file with that data removed.

Window Vista: Using the On-Screen Keyboard

Windows Vista includes a virtual keyboard, this can come in handy in different situations. For example, if a critical key stops functioning on your real keyboard, you can use the virtual keyboard. To access this feature, from the Start menu in the Search field type OSK and then press the enter key.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Software: Great Silverlight Demo

I have talked about Microsoft's Silverlight in the past, but I have not seen many good demonstrations of the technology until now. Check out the Hard Rock Cafe's memorabilia section of their site. Using a feature called 'deep zoom' you can do perform some close examination the different objects in the collection.

To access the site you will need to install SilverLight Beta 2 (you will be prompted when you visit the page), but in my opinion its work the install. I was very impress with the controls and the detail of the objects that you can see. It's important to note that the scroll wheel allows you to increase or decrease the magnification of what you're looking at.
Note: If the site doesn't work after you install the plug-in close your browser, and open it back up again.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Software: Windows Search 4.0 is Now Available

Windows Search 4.0 is now available for download. Some of the features are: better indexing performance, support for the remote query of shared index locations, and more.

Windows Search 4.0 is available for following operating environments:

Friday, June 13, 2008

Windows Vista Complete PC Backup and Restore

TechNet Edge reports: "t’s been a while since I brought up a great feature in Windows Vista (not present in Windows XP) called Complete PC (CPC). Available in Windows Vista Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions, Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore is a image-based backup tool that will help you out of a tight spot if you need to recover your entire system." Read the rest of the article.

(Requires Microsoft Silverlight)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Software: Sysinternals Live (Updated)

Sysinternals is testing out a new feature that gives you quick access to all their free tools. These are some of best diagnostic and troubleshooting utilities available for Windows. Also, Mark Russinovich and his team are continuously updating the existing tools and creating new ones.

You can download any of the utilities without having to unzip them. All you have to do is remember the following URL to download them live.sysinternals.com.

You can also attach live.sysinternals.com like any other network mounted drive, and run the utilities directly from the Internet.
  • Open a command prompt (type CMD in the search field under the Start menu)
  • Type: net use * \\live.sysinternals.com\tools\
  • You will see a message like "Drive Z: is now connected to \\live.sysinternals.com\tools\"
  • All you have to do is enter the drive letter it returns (i.e.: type Z: then press the Enter key)
  • Now type DIR and you will see all the utilities, or open the Windows Explorer and goto the Z: drive (or whatever drive letter the NET USE command gives you).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Microsoft demonstrates Multi-touch

Windows Vista Team Blog reports: "Touch is quickly becoming a common way of directly interacting with software and devices. Touch-enabled surfaces are popping up everywhere including laptop touch pads, cell phones, remote controls, GPS devices, and more. What becomes even more compelling is when this experience is delivered to the PC -on a wide variety of Windows notebooks, in all-in-one PC's, as well as in external monitors. In working with our broad ecosystem of hardware and software manufactures, we're excited to be showing some of the great work and investments we are working on in Windows 7."

Goto the article to view a demo of this Windows 7 technology.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Windows XP: SP3 Compatibility Issues

Last month Microsoft released Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3). Since then, some people have experience certian issues with 3rd party software and some AMD CPUs. So, before installing SP3 for Windows XP there are some compatibility issues that you should be aware of:
  • On May 23, 2008 Computerworld reports on a problem with Symantec Norton security products: "Symantec Corp. on Thursday said it was Microsoft Corp.'s code that crippled some PCs after upgrades to Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) emptied Device Manager, deleted network connections and packed the registry with thousands of bogus entries." More information is available in Symantec's Norton forums.
  • HP is also working with Microsoft on a new patch to fix problems for customers with certain AMD-based PCs. To download the patch that corrects the problem, you will need to visit www.hp.com and enter the patch name SP37394 in the search box (or just click this link). From there you will get download and installation instructions.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Firefox 3: Quick Demo What's New

You might have been hearing about Firefox 3 for the past several months. You may have even tried out some of the beta and release candidates this application. For those who have not done this but may be fans of Firefox, check out this 4 minutes overview of some of the new features in the soon-to-be-released browser.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Windows Vista: SP1 UAC improvements

The following is a video from TechNet Edge in reference to Vista SP1 UAC improvements. Here is a description for this video from the site: "UAC is often maligned as over prompting for a single task. In this short and sharp clip I show a basic difference of Windows Vista RTM and Windows Vista SP1 and the reduction in UAC prompting to create a folder in a protected system location from four to one."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Internet: Live Search Cashback

This is going to be a quick tip today. Microsoft Live Search introduced a new feature recently called Cashback that offers cashback savings when using Live Search to find deals on products.

For example here is an of a search using the keyword Laptop. If you use this site, please post feedback to let others know what you think of it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

TransUnion offers free credit monitoring to 150 million

Computerworld reports: "In a class-action settlement that may be unprecedented in its size, Chicago-based credit-reporting bureau TransUnion LLC is offering up to nine months' worth of free credit-monitoring service to anyone in the U.S. who has ever held a credit card or a line of credit over the last 20 years."
Note: This is not a typical article that I would post in this blog, but I thought it would be worthwhile posting it here. I originally posted this article in my other blog.
Looking for a free credit report monitoring service. Well at least it will be free for six months. Check out the article to learn more.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Windows Vista: Setting Different Volumes Levels for Each Application

Did you know that you can set different volume levels for each running application in Windows Vista? Vista includes lots of cool new features, and one of them is the ability to set different volume levels for each program that you have open. For example if you have a music player, you can reduce that volume while increasing the volume of another application.

To change the volume levels:
  • Click the Volume icon in the Notification Area (looks like a speaker with sound waves coming out of it).
  • Click the Mixer link at the bottom of the little window that pops-up.
  • You can scroll through the different applications that are running on your computer. Then you can set different sound for each by adjusting the slider controls for each one individually or you can press the mute button to quiet that application.
Note: The master volume control which is labeled Device (the first slider) controls the total amount sound that can be outputted from the whole computer. Even if you have all the application sliders maxed out, they can't output more sound then is allowed by the master control slider.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Software: PC Decrapifier

Are you looking for an easy way to remove all that pre-installed blotware/crapware (i.e.: programs that you don't want, or trialware that you won't use) that comes on new PC. Check out a program called the PC Decrapifier it helps remove all that those useless programs. Here is a list of product that the applications can find and remove.

The PC Decrapifier is free for personal use, however If you have find the tool useful the author would like you to show your appreciation by making a $5 donation. This is not required to use the program, but you will receive releases before the general public as well as access to special forums (coming soon).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Windows Vista: Reducing the Size of Pictures

A few months back my brother sent me a mega-pixel picture, and when I opened it I was not ready for how large it really was. It was opened in my browser, and for some reason it didn't automatically scaled it to the screen size. Personally I wish he would have sent me a much lower resolution version of the image, it would have been easier for me to deal with.

There are several different software application that can do this for you, such as Paint.Net. Although, if you want to learn how an easy way to shrink the image, follow the instructions below:
  • Open the folder that contains the picture(s) you want to email to someone
  • Right-click it and select 'Send To > Mail Recipient'
  • In the Attach Files dialog, select the size (1024x768, 800x600, 640x480, etc.) of the picture that you want to send.
  • Then press the Attach button.
As long as the OS can find a default mail program (such as Microsoft Outlook, Windows Mail, etc.), it will attach the picture to the e-mail automatically for you.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Software: Audacity (Open Source Sound Editor)

Audacity is a free, open source multi-track audio editor and recorder, for recording and editing sounds. Features include envelope editing, mixing, built-in effects and plug-ins, all with unlimited undo.

Below is a brief list of features:
  • Record live audio.
  • Convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs.
  • Edit Ogg Vorbis, MP3, WAV or AIFF sound files.
  • Cut, copy, splice or mix sounds together.
  • Change the speed or pitch of a recording.
  • And more (see the complete list of features).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Google Sites now open to everyone

Here is an excerpt from Google Blog's about the new Google Sites, "A few months ago we launched Google Sites exclusively as part of Google Apps for companies and organizations that wanted to use the service on their own domains. Now we've made it easy for anyone to set up a website to share all types of information -- team projects, company intranets, community groups, classrooms, clubs, family updates, you name it -- in one place, for a few people, a group or the world. You can securely host your own website at http://sites.google.com/[your-website] and add as many pages as you like for free."

Watch the video below for more information:

Friday, May 23, 2008

Software: Notepad++ (Notepad Replacement)

Notepad++ is a free Windows Notepad replacement (and source code editor), which supports several programming languages. This program maybe overkill for some people, but if you want something that is powerful this is a great tool, especially if you do any scripting.

Below is a list of just a few of the features:
  • Syntax Highlighting and Syntax Folding
  • User Defined Syntax Highlighting
  • Auto-completion
  • Regular Expression Search/Replace supported
  • and a lot more.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Software: Free Calculator (w/Tape Option)

Moffsoft FreeCalc is a great replacement for Windows calculator. The main reason why I use it is the tape option. The free version is pretty basic, so if you want more functionality check out the paid version.

Some of the other features of the free version include:
  • Make the calculator as big or as small as you like.
  • Save, print, or clear the simulated paper history tape.
  • Select a color combination.
  • Visible memory value
  • Digit groupings
  • Tray icon

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Software: Google Calendar Sync

If you have Microsoft Outlook (for business), and Google Calendar (for personal) and you wish you can keep them both in sync with each other. Well your wish has been answered. Google now offers Google Calendar Sync, which allows you to sync events between Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook.

This product is not without its limitations, but it may be worth checking out. For example, it's not possible to sync events on secondary calendars at this time. Google Calendar Sync can only sync events between your primary Google Calendar and your default Microsoft Outlook calendar.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Security: Laptop Hardware Recovery Services

Laptops are prized targets of thieves because of their high resale value, or their potential of containing private information that can be used for identity thief. The data on these computers can be far more valuable then the hardware all by itself.

To help assist in the recovery of these lost devices, the following laptop tracking and recovery services may be able to help you:
When this software is installed, it will periodically connect to a central server to check in. If a device is stolen, this check in information can be used to track the stolen laptop and have the police recover it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Windows Vista: Not reporting more then 3 GB of RAM

As computers memory capacity grows and grows, modern OSs have to be updated to address it. The 32-bit (x86) version of Windows Vista pre-SP1 (Service Pack 1) would not properly report memory over 3GB. With the new SP1 update, it corrects this problem.

Here is an excerpt from a Microsoft KB (929605) article: "If a computer has 4 gigabytes (GB) of random-access memory (RAM) installed, the system memory that is reported in the System Information dialog box in Windows Vista is less than you expect.

For example, the System Information dialog box may report 3,120 megabytes (MB) of system memory on a computer that has 4 GB of memory installed (4,096 MB)."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Windows Vista: Creating a Recovery Disc (SP1 only)

One of the new features of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 is the ability to create a recovery disc. This is not like your computer manufacturer's recovery disk that restores your system back to its original state when you bought it. This is more of a system repair disk that you can use to boot and fix certain problems on a failing system.

Basically this is a Windows PE disk (a CD bootable version of Windows) that contains some system repair utilities. Creating a Windows PE is generally a pain in the rear, I think most people would give up trying to create one. Although this utility simplifies the process down to just two clicks.

To find this utility, from the "Start menu > All programs > Maintenance > Create a Recovery Disc". You will need a blank CD or DVD, and your original Windows Installation DVD. It takes about 5 minutes to complete the process.

Now all you have to do is boot a computer with the disc you created. Once you enter into the Windows Recovery Environment, click the "Repair your computer" link at the bottom of the Welcome screen and then select the Windows partition you would like to repair. After this, it will present you with a list of available system recovery options:
  • Startup Repair
  • System Restore
  • Windows Complete PC Restore
  • Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool
  • Command Prompt

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Software: Laptop Alarm (Laptop Security)

Laptop Alarm is a free program that can help protect your laptop from being stolen in a public area such as a coffee shop or library when you're away from it. If someone tries to still your computer it will sound an alarm.

Its a fairly simple program to install and use. All you need to do is download and run it. Select the events to respond to, and press the Options button to set a password. Then press the Lock Computer button to protect your laptop.
Note: This program is only a deterrent, and can't protect against all types of theft. The program can only respond to a few types of events (such as AC power loss, mouse movement, etc.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Microsoft Revamps Download Center Using Silverlight

PC World reports: "Microsoft continues to eat its own dog food to promote the adoption of its Silverlight technology.

The company is beta-testing a new version of its Microsoft Download Center Web site using the technology, a browser plug-in and development runtime for adding multimedia and high-definition video to Web-based applications."

Silverlight is Microsoft's answer to Adobe's Flash technology. I also checked out the new Microsoft Download Center site and it looks really nice.

Personally, I would like to see more sites leverage the Silverlight technology so I can decide which one I like more based on how people are implementing it.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Windows Vista: Searching for .DMP files

Are you running low on disk storage on your computer? The .DMP (crash dump) files consume a great deal of space.

These files are created when your operating system or application crash. Programmers use these files to find what cause your OS or program to fail.

The problem with these files is that they will sit around for a long time sucking up space. The file size can vary from a few kilobyte to a few gigabytes.

If you run the following command from the Command Prompt it will find these files and show you where and how big they are.
for /r c:\ %i in (*.dmp) do @echo %i ^(%~zi^)
Note: This command needs to be entered exactly as shown. You can change the .DMP extension to something else if you want to (i.e.: .TMP). You can also change the drive letter (i.e.: C:\) as appropriate.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Software: MediaCoder (Audio/Video Transcoder)

The MediaCoder describes itself as the 'swiss army knife for media transcoding'. MediaCoder is a free universal batch media transcoder utility, which integrates the most popular audio/video codecs and tools into an all-in-one solution.

MediaCoder uses various open source audio and video codecs and tools to transcode different audio/video files into different formats. Common uses for the program include compression, file type conversion and extraction of audio from video files.

Below is a brief list of the many formats that are supported by the application:
  • MP3
  • Vorbis
  • AAC
  • Windows Media Audio
  • RealAudio
  • WAV
  • Xvid
  • DivX 4/5
  • MPEG-2
  • AVI
  • CD
  • DVD

Monday, May 05, 2008

Windows Vista: Windows Server 2008 Remote Server Administration Tools

For those systems administrators that support Windows 2008 servers, this post is dedicated to you.

Microsoft has finally release the Windows Server 2008 Remote Server Administration Tools for Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1). This software allows you to remotely manage roles and features in Windows Server 2008 from a Windows Vista SP1 workstation.

This software provides similar functionality to the Windows Server 2003 Administration Tools Pack. It also includes support for remote management of Windows 2008 servers running either the server core or a full installation option.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Security: Darik's Boot and Nuke (Hard Drive Disk Wipe)

Darik's Boot and Nuke ('DBAN') is one of those tools that has become a standard in its class (i.e. data destruction), and best of all its free. DBAN is a self-contained boot disk that can securely wipe your hard disks.

DBAN can use several different data destruction techniques (such as: 'American DoD 5220-22.M Standard Wipe') that can prevent or thoroughly hinders all known hard disk recovery methods.
Note: This software is not perfect, and can't promise to make it impossible for any of the data to be recovered. To do this, you would need to physically destroy the drive.
To use DBAN, all you have to do is download the ISO from the site, burn it to a CD, and boot your computer with it. All the instructions are on the CD.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Article: Removing hard drive data -- the YouTube way

ComputerWorld reports: "With stories surfacing on news channels regularly about lost or stolen data or the ability to recover data from discarded or resold computers and their hard drives, Computerworld decided to look at some cheap methods of removing that sensitive data from your hard drive permanently. And, what better place to look than YouTube?"

I would never recommend any of the methods shown in these videos for destroying your old hard drive. Although, these videos do emphasize the need to destroy the data on your old hard drives (or USB drives) before discarding them. If you don't someone could easily extract this information and use it against you.

You could format the drive using the tools that come with your OS, and that might stop someone who doesn't know what they're doing. Although with a quick query on any search engine, and a few free tools they could recover your data with some effort.

If you're looking for a way to more permanently destroy the data on some type of media, such as a hard drive or flash drive. There's another way to accomplish this task without physically destroying the drive. Read the following article on 'Darik's Boot and Nuke (DBAN)'

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Windows Vista: Sleep Mode

I have really only briefly described Windows Vista's new Sleep mode in the past. Sleep is a hybrid low-power state, it combines the benefits of Standby and the Hibernation low-power modes.

In Windows XP, Standby mode turns off the monitor and hard drive and then your computer goes into a low power state. The advantage of this mode is that computer can resume quickly to its previous state by moving the mouse or touching the keyboard. The disadvantage to this low power state is if your computer loses power or the battery dies you loose the contents of RAM.

In Hibernation mode, the current state of RAM is saved to the hard drive, and then the computer is completely shutdown. The advantage to this mode is the current state of your computer is saved, so when you turn it back on you can resume from where you left off. Since the computer is turned off, there is no power being used. The downside is your computer will take a minute or two to return to an operational state.

In new Sleep mode, the content of RAM is saved to disk, and your computer then goes into a lower power state where on RAM and the CPU stay alive. When you press a key or move the mouse, the computer will be restored to its previous state.

If you have a notebook and the battery gets low, the machine will shut itself down automatically, to prevent loosing your data. To get it to restore itself, all you need to do is press the power button.
Note: For information on configuring this feature, please see the following article about Windows Vista Power Options.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Windows Vista: Power Options

Windows by default can go into hibernate or sleep when they have been inactive for a period of time. To control when your computer hibernates or goes in to sleep mode follow the instructions below:
  • From the Start menu, in the search field type power options, then click on it in the results.
From here you can select which power plan you want your computer to use (such as balanced [balances power and performance], power saver [computer runs slower, but gives you more battery life], or high performance [damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead]), customize the power plan preferences (such as how long to wait before going into that a low power mode), require a password on wake up, and a lot more.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Windows Vista: Putting Your Computer into a Low Power Mode

When you're done using your computer for the day you should turn it off, but if you need to continue where you left off you can put it into a low-power state. There are two low power modes, the first is called sleep (a new feature in Vista) and second is called hibernation.

In sleep mode the hard drive is turned off, then the the monitor and motherboard are put in a low power state. In hibernation mode, a copy of RAM is saved to the hard drive, then it and the motherboard are turned off, then the monitor is put in a low power state.

When you press the power button on your computer or notebook, this will put your computer into a sleep or hibernation state (depending on which its setup to perform).

Another way to put your computer in a sleep or hibernation state is to create a shortcut that can do the same thing as pressing the power button. Follow the instructions below to learn how to do this:
  • Right-click an empty area on your computer's desktop, and select New > Shortcut.
  • In the field type: rundll32.exe PowrProf.dll,SetSuspendState
  • Give the shortcut a descriptive name, then press the Finish button.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Article: 529 Computing Tips

PC Magazine reports: "For this very special feature, we'll boil down that manual's hundreds of pages into hundreds of tips—529, to be precise—carefully organized into nearly three dozen categories. This should take the hard work out of being an expert!

Crafted by our analysts and editors and tested in PC Labs, our tips compendium starts with the fundamentals of computing: the operating system and basic productivity applications such as Word and Excel. Then we touch on multimedia, mobility, and business, with hundreds of tips in each section."

Here is a cornucopia of tips from PC Magazine. The tips cover Windows, Office, Google, Browsers, and more.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Windows Vista: Managing Services (Part 2)

In the first part of this article I explained how to access the services installed on your system. Now I am going to discuss how to manage them.

From the Services management console you can start, stop, restart, or disable the different services on your system. When you start or stop a service, that is very obvious what it does. Although when you stop a service, it's only stopped until you reboot your computer.

When you restart a service, it stops and starts it again. When you disable a service, that prevents the service from restarting next time you reboot your computer.

You also need to be aware that some services can have dependencies, and if you stop one it can have a cascade effect and stop other related services. For example, if you opened the 'DHCP Client' service, and clicked on the Dependencies tab you would see the other services that rely on it.

Below is a brief explanation of the different tabs in the Service dialog box:
  • General: Displays the state of the service, and where the related executables are located.
  • Log On: Allows you to manage the which account the service uses to run.
  • Recovery: Allows you manage how a service will try to recover itself if it fails.
  • Dependencies: Shows you which other services dependencies on that service.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Windows Vista: Managing Services (Part 1)

All modern operating systems have several programs that run in the background. These programs are known as Services. Some of these services perform mundane tasks, while others perform critical system operations.

Unless you're performing some type of system maintenance or diagnostics, you will almost never need to worry about them. Most of the time they run quietly in the background and you won't even know that they're there.

Although, if you need to know how to access them, follow the instructions below:
Warning: If you disable any critical system services you can prevent Windows from working correctly. So make sure that you understand exactly what function a service does before you disable it. As always proceed at your own risk.
  • From the Start menu select 'Control Panels', then open the 'Administrative Tools' folder.
  • Double-click the Services icon. If you have the UAC enable it will ask you to confirm this action.
  • When the Services management console opens, you will see a list of services installed on your computer.
In the next part of this article, I discuss how to manage the different services.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Windows Vista: Turning Off Features

If you installed Windows Vista on your computer yourself, you may have noticed that you were not asked a lot of questions during the installation of the OS. Vista makes several assumptions about what it will and will not install for your computer.

It tries to install the applications and features that people will most often use. Although like anything that makes automatic assumptions for you it will never be 100% correct. If you find there is an application or functionality that you need or don't need you can add or remove it by using the 'Programs and Features' control panel.

Follow the instructions below to add or remove features from Vista:
  • Under the Start menu open the Control Panel folder, then select the 'Programs and Features'.
  • In the tasks pane on the left, click the 'Turn Windows features on or off' link.
  • Check or uncheck the features you want to install or remove. Each feature has a checkbox next to it to indicate whether its installed or not. If you want to install a feature, just check it. If you want to uninstall an existing feature uncheck it. Some items have a '+' next to it, this indicates that there are sub-features that you can enable or disable.
When you uncheck a feature, this doesn't remove that feature from your computer, it only disables it so its not consuming system resources. You can also re-enable any feature you disabled by re-checking its checkbox.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Software: Google Earth 4.3 (Awesome Update)

Google Earth is an amazing application, but Google Earth 4.3 is awesome. Check out the following video which contains demonstrations of the new features in the program.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Windows Vista: Enabling/Disabling the Hibernation Feature

To turn on or off the hibernation feature in Windows Vista, you have to do it from the command line. Follow the instructions below:
  • Open the Start Menu, in the Search field type cmd then press Ctrl-Shift-Enter (this opens the administrative level command prompt).
  • In the command prompt type powercfg /hibernate on then press Enter.
  • Reboot your computer and the hibernate feature will be enabled.
Note: To turn off the hibernation feature follow the instructions above, although type powercfg /hibernate off (instead of on).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Review: avast! antivirus 4.8 Home Edition

PC Magazine reports: "When the version number of a new software release is just 0.1 higher than the old one, I expect a ho-hum incremental update. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that avast! antivirus 4.8 Home Edition adds significant functionality: It now protects against spyware, rootkits, and other forms of nonvirus malicious software. Best of all, it's free for personal use."

I was happy to read this review from PC Mag. about the latest version of avast, because its a free for personal use anti-malware program.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Windows XP: System Recovery (Continued)

I received a great question via email, about the last article I wrote (Windows XP: System Recovery). I was reminded that not all home computers (to be honest a good majority of them), will not ship with Windows Installation media from the factory.

These machines generally include some type of system recovery media (such as: CD or DVD), or a recovery partition on your computer's hard drive. These system recovery options (media or partition) will restore your computer to the original state when you first bought it.
Warning: Be careful when using any of the system recovery options, its designed as an option of last resort. Make sure that you have backup of all your data, and original media for your applications that didn't come with the computer. Also make sure that you have product keys or serial numbers for installing these applications.
Generally what happens when you use the system recovery option, your hard drive will be formated and the original system image from the factory will be installed. This image includes all the crapware that was originally installed when you bought your computer, and none of the latest patches or service packs

The first thing that you need to do after re-installing your operating system, is make sure your firewall is turned on. Install the latest system and application updates, then install your anti-virus and malware software. Then and only then should you install your applications, hardware drivers, other updates, or even attach your computer on the Internet.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Windows XP: System Recovery

There are times when Windows XP will not start properly because you have a corrupted system file, configuration, or possibly some type of driver conflict. You can easily identify this type of failure because Windows will partially start then stop during the boot-up process.

Generally at this point you have two choices, do a clean install of the OS or do a system recovery install. A system recovery install involves copying the system files back to your computer from the installation media. This type of install can replace damaged files or corrupt settings that can prevent your system from booting, while leaving your programs, configuration, and data intact.

There are two problems with this type of system repair vs. using a clean install. One, there is no guarantee it will work. Two, it doesn't remove the clutter that built up in your old system.
Warning: Whatever method you use to recover your system, there is always a danger of losing your data. You should always make sure that you have a good backup of your data before continuing. And as always proceed at your own risk.
To perform a system recovery follow the steps below:
  • Boot your computer using the Windows XP Installation CD.
  • When prompted press the Enter key to start the install of Windows XP.
  • By pressing F8 you accept the End-User License Agreement
  • The installation program will then detect your existing Windows XP installation.
  • Press R to begin the recovery process.
  • The installation program will copy all the system files to your hard drive.
  • When the installation is done copying all the files, and the setup program reboots your computer. Do not press any key when your system tries booting from the CD-ROM, let the setup process continue.

After you finish the repair process you will need to reinstall the latest service packs and any other system updates since they will have been removed by the recovery process.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Windows Vista: Freeing Up Disk Space After Installing SP1

Now that Windows Vista SP1 has finally been released, the following tip may come in handy if you need to free up a few hundred megabytes of disk space on your system.

SP1 includes an uninstall feature that allows you to remove the the update if you decide you don't want it. This feature works by moving all the pre-SP1 files to a temporary location on the hard drive during the install of the update. These files can consume about 800MB of storage on your drive.

If you need the disk space, and you're sure you want to keep SP1 installed on your computer. Then there is a command that you can use that will remove these files, and free up space on your hard drive. Although by removing these files, you lose the ability to uninstall SP1.

There is a special tool called the 'Windows Vista SP1 Files Removal Tool' that is automatically installed when you run the update on your system. To access this tool follow the instructions below:
  • Open a command prompt by typing "CMD" then press Ctrl-Shift-Enter in the search field under the Start menu. This will open the command prompt in an administrator mode (note: if you have the UAC enabled, you will receive a UAC prompt).
  • In the command prompt type "vsp1cln.exe"

Monday, April 07, 2008

Best FREE Windows Malicious Software Removal Tools (Updated)

These are the best free utilities for fighting malicious software (aka Malware). Malware can be defined as any software that installs itself on your computer without your permission, generally these types of programs will try to: monitor your computer activity, destroy data, steal information or steal resources (such as processor, memory, and network bandwidth) for malicious activities.

The programs listed below will help you fight against these types of malicious software by helping you to detect, remove, and prevent your system from getting infected in the first place.

Anti-Virus Scanners (Real-time)
Protects your system in real-time, which can prevent or limit the effects of an virus infection.

Anti-Virus Scanners (Standalone)
These tools can test if a system is infected, or for disinfecting it after it has been contaminated. Anti-Virus Scanners (Online)
These tools can test if a system is infected, or for disinfecting it after it has been contaminated.
Malware Scanners
Checks your system for different types of malware (spyware, keyboard loggers, trojans, etc.).
Online File 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.
Security Tools
These programs can help protect your computer from getting infected or help you detect the existence of malicious software.
  • HijackThis (Finds malware by displaying changes to your system)
  • WinPatrol (Displays the contents of the critical areas in the registry and your hard drive)
  • ProcessExplorer (Displays processes running on your system)
  • AutoRuns (Lists programs that startup automatically)
I have tried to make this list as complete as possible, so if you feel that I am missing a great site or program that should be included in this list please feel free to e-mail me (use the 'Send Comments' link on the side to this page to e-mail me). I will include all the updates in this post as soon as I am made aware of them and verified the site.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Intenret: Adobe Photoshop Express

I decided to check out Adobe's free Photoshop Express site (currently in beta), which is an online photo editor with two free gigabytes of storage. Personally I was not expecting too much from the site, but I came away pretty impressed. I found it to be a very simple to use photo editor, with some cool effects that will meet 80-90% of the average person's needs.

I would suggest that you take advantage of the site's Test Drive feature to see if you like the service before signing up. Photoshop Express requires a broadband connection and Adobe's Flash plug-in, and runs in most if not all modern browsers on a variety of operating systems (Windows, Mac, and Linux).

Have fun...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Internet: Google Docs now wtih Google Gears

Google Gears is a technology that allows you to view and edit your online documents offline, without an active internet connection. As of March 31, Google Docs (an online word processor) is rolling out with Google Gears functionality.

Initially offline access to your documents will be limited to: 1) viewing and searching your document list; 2) viewing and editing word processing documents. Currently presentations and spreadsheets can't be accessed offline as of yet. Also for now, offline access will only available in English.

For more information watch the video below.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Windows Vista: Creating XPS Documents

Have you ever needed to keep a copy of a certain document that you created, but didn't want to print it out. For example, if you make online purchases, you may want to make an electronic copy of the receipt of the transaction for your records.

One way to do this is use Microsoft's built-in XPS printer driver. When you print a document using this printer driver, the output will go to a local file on your computer instead of a printer. This document will look exactly like the document would if it was printed, and can be viewed or file away for future reference on your local hard drive. Another advantage to XPS is that it is an application neutral format that doesn't require the original application to be installed to use it.

To create an XPS document:
  • Open any document in just about any application and select Print.
  • In the Print dialog, choose 'Microsoft XPS Document Writer' driver then press the OK button.
  • A file dialog will display, and allow you to name the file and choose where to save it.
To view an XPS document:
  • Double-click the XPS file, and it will open in Internet Explorer.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Internet Explorer: IE Add-Ons

Are you looking for browser add-ons for Internet Explorer (IE)? Browser add-ons enhance IE by giving it functionality that it didn't come with my default (such as spell checking, security enhancements, and more).

Windows Marketplace hosts a section on their site dedicated to these add-ons. Each add-on is screened by Microsoft and rated by users. Check out the site to find the best ones for you.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Windows Vista: Add A Second Time Zone

Windows Vista allows you to track multiple time zones (up to two), which comes in handy when you're traveling or talking to friends or family in another country.

To add an additional time zone, follow the steps below:
  • Right click on the time in the notification area (in the bottom right hand corner).
  • Select the 'Adjust Date/Time' option.
  • In the dialog, select the 'Additional Clocks' tab.
  • Check the 'Show this clock ' checkbox, then use the drop down menu to select the time zone you want to display.
  • Press the OK button.
Click on the clock and you will see the additional time zone(s) you added.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Internet: Adobe opens shop on Web-based Photoshop Express

CNET News.com reports: "Adobe Systems opened up Photoshop Express on Thursday, its long-anticipated Web-based image editor aimed at the millions of consumers that want a simple way to touch up, share, and store photos.

Photoshop Express, available for free with 2 gigabytes of storage at www.photoshop.com/express, is a significant departure from Adobe's desktop software business and a big bet that it can make money offering Web services directly to consumers."

Read the following article for more information.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Internet Explorer: IE7 Pro

Personally I like the Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) browser, but there are features (such as: spell checking, and inline page search) that I wish it had. I have checked out several of the available IE7 add-ons, but I have found most of them useless. Then I came across one called 'IE7 Pro', that adds several new features to the browser that I wish came with it by default.

Below is a brief list of features the available features:
  • Tabbed Browsing Management
  • Spell Check
  • Inline Search
  • Crash Recovery
  • Proxy Switcher
  • Mouse Gesture
  • Webpage Capturer
  • AD Blocker (w/Flash Block)
  • Greasemonkey like User Scripts platform
  • And more.
Note: When you install the browser it will redirect your web searches to its site (its states this in the install procedure). The IE7Pro search uses Google results. The developer of the IE7Pro add-on makes its money to support itself through your web searches.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Security: February 2008 Security ISO Image

This DVD ISO image (2.2 Gigabytes) contains security updates for all Window OSs released via Windows Update since February 12th, 2008. This image does not contain security updates for any other Microsoft products.

This image is intended for administrators that need to download multiple language versions of each security update. This ISO is also useful for Windows home users who don't have an Internet connection.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hardware: Notebook SSDs disappoint

ZDNet.com reports: "The high rate of failure is surprising, since millions of flash chips get wave-soldered on PCBs every day. Likely problem: the flash translation layer chip isn’t fully compatible with notoriously finicky disk drivers.

The lackluster performance problem is well known to regular Storage Bits readers - search on Solid State Disk if you aren’t. I’m still working on unraveling the issues in detail, but the basic problem is that flash was never intended for frequent small random writes."

It looks like the first generation Solid State Disks (SSD) are having some problems. They're also not delivering any real performance advantages over the traditional mechanical hard drives that we use today.

One thing that is not addressed in this article is that you can only write to a flash memory so many times before it fails. Currently, its generally about 100,000 write cycles per cell on the device. Although most devices don't write to the same cell over and over again, instead they spreads out the writes over many different cells.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Windows Vista: SP1 Resources

Windows Vista Service Pack 1 was designed to addresses specific reliability and performance issues, add support for new types of hardware, and some emerging standards. If you want to install the update immediately, it is available now in five languages (English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish) via Window Update or by going directly to the Windows Download Center for standalone updates of both the X86 and X64 versions.

Here are some resources to assist your Windows Vista SP1 upgrade (note: Most of these documents below are targeted at IT professionals who are going to deploy this update across a corporation. So the documents might be very technical, but there's a ton of great information for the person to wants to know more about SP1.):

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

First Look: Internet Explorer 8

See a developer preview of the new Internet Explorer 8. Some of the features that you will see include: 'Activities' and 'Webslices'. IE8 Activities allows you to do contextual search of text you highlighted on a website (for example if you highlight and address you can look it up on a map). IE8 Webslices gives you the ability to track a specific section of a site, similar to custom RSS feed.

IE8 has a few other features that are under the hood (such as greater compliance with web standards). Although they're not as visible the 'Activities' and 'Webslices'. Watch the video below more information.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Windows Vista: Service Pack 1 is now available

Microsoft has released the standalone version of the Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) for 32-bit (434MB) and 64-bit (726MB) systems. Both versions of SP1 contain five languages which are English, German, French, Spanish and Japanese. SP1 is designed to fix a lot of issues, and bugs that were discovered after the release of the OS, no major new features were added.

This version of SP1 is intended for system administrators of companies, organizations, or government IT departments to make available to their users. Microsoft prefers that people download this service pack through the Microsoft Update service. The download is also smaller if you use the online service.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hardware: Beware Laptop Function Keys

Here is a problem that I had to deal with today. I was given a laptop (Toshiba Tecra M5) to repair where the trackpad was not working. If you plugged in a USB mouse the laptop worked fine. Other people tried to diagnose the problem, but they were unable to figure out what was wrong. They tried all the obvious things, like checking the driver.

Just to be absolutely sure, I un-installed and reinstalled the trackpad driver from the manufacturer's site. In most cases this would have corrected the problem if it was not a hardware failure, or some type of resource conflict.

I always try to ask for a history of the problem before I start working on something. Generally you might find the answer by listening. The person who gave me the laptop said they were doing a presentation and people were fiddling with her computer before the problem happened.

Then the answer hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that some laptops have the ability to disable certain hardware functionality through the function keys (this varies from laptop to laptop). Sure enough that was the problem, all I had to do was hit the right function key.

I am documenting this, because I am hoping it will one-day help someone who is working on a laptop and can't figure out why something is not functioning.


  • Listen before you do anything.
  • Sometimes the unobvious solution is the answer.
And a bonus lesson
  • Always double-check someone else's work, they may not have done it correctly.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Windows Vista: Hiding the Notification Area (aka System Tray)

Are you a desktop minimalist, and want to know if it is possible to hide the Notification Area (aka the System Tray)? The answer is yes, but I don't recommend it because the operating system and applications uses this area to communicate information to you.

Although, if you want to know how to do it, I have included the instructions below.
Warnings: This tip does require modifying your Windows registry, and if you're not comfortable performing this operation then I don't recommend that you do it. Also As always, you should backup your registry before editing it. Finally use this tip at your own risk.
  • Open up the Windows Registry Editor and then navigate to the following key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer
  • Right-click in an empty area in the right pane and select New>DWORD value.
  • Give the new value the name NoTrayItemsDisplay
  • Double-click it, then assign it a data value of 1 and press the OK button.
  • Close the registry editor
  • Log off your system and then log back in, and your change will take effect.
To revert the changes, follow the instructions above, and change the NoTrayItemsDisplay value back to 0 (zero).