Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Internet Explorer: Sorting Your Favorites

Do you have a long list of links under the Favorites menu in the Internet Explorer? Are you having problem finding your favorite web site because your links are not organized logically. The following trick will alphabetize your favorite links so their easier to find.

First, make sure you have the Internet Explorer open. From the Favorites menu, right-click one of the link icons in the menu and select 'Sort by Name' from the drop-down menu. Your links should now be in alphabetical order.

Bonus tip, you can also rearrange the order of the links by moving them higher or lower in the menu. To do this, click-and-hold on one of link icons that you want to move under the Favorites menu, then drag it to its new location.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Internet Explorer: Free Spelling Checker

When filling out web forms (such as: e-mail, blogs, etc.) in the Internet Explorer browser, how many times have you needed a spelling checker to check the information you inputted. Well your desires have been answered, there is a free I.E. plug-in called 'ieSpell' that will check what you typed and make sure its spelled correctly.

Below is a brief list of ieSpell features:
  • Supports a wide range of web applications.
  • Spell check in any of the 3 variants of the English language (US, UK and Canadian).
  • Intelligent suggesting for misspelled words using typographic “looks like” matching.
  • And more.
Now all we need is a really good grammar checker...

Monday, May 29, 2006

Must Have Free System Administrator Tools

Here is my list of free must have system administrator tools for performing system tasks and troubleshooting. These tools can perform different functions, for example: checking your hard drive's S.M.A.R.T. counters to see if its healthy, backup your Windows registry, manage the system processes that are running, etc.

All of these tools can be stored and run from a USB flash drive. So that you can always have them with you when you need them most.
  • Autoruns: Allows you to view and manage which programs are configured to startup automatically when your system boots and you login.
  • Process Explorer: Allows you to view and manage system process. Here is a brief excerpt from the Sysinternals site, explaining what this program can do: "shows a list of the currently active processes, including the names of their owning accounts, ... you'll see the DLLs and memory-mapped files that the process has loaded."
  • EURNT: Backs up the Windows Registry on your local computer.
    • If you don't want to use EURNT, check out MSKB 322756: How to back up, edit, and restore the registry in Windows XP and Windows Server 2003
  • Ethereal: Great for network diagnostics and troubleshooting.
  • HDTune: View the S.M.A.R.T. information on your hard disk. S.M.A.R.T. is a technology that tracks the current condition of your drive (such as temperature, hours used, etc.).
  • PsTools suite: Contains great tools like: PsExec, PsUptime, PsShutdown, PsLoggedOn, and more.

Friday, May 26, 2006

System Requirements to Run Windows Vista

When a new operating system is released, it always comes with a 'minimum' set of hardware system requirements. For example you have a CPU that is ...GHz, and you have ...GB of RAM, etc.

Minimum system requirements generally only enough to basically allow the OS to boot. If you want the system to be usable, then you will need more hardware. For example, minimum system hardware requirements to run the basic version of Windows Vista are:
  • 800MHz or faster CPU
  • 512MB of RAM or more
  • Your graphics card needs to support DirectX v9.
If you want to run Aero, which is part of the Windows Vista's Premium version. Then the minimum system requirements are different:
  • 1GHz or faster CPU [32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64)]
  • 1GB of RAM or more
  • DirectX v9 capable 3D graphics card, with 128MB of graphics memory.
  • 15GB free space on your hard drive.
  • DVD-ROM Drive
If you don't know what Aero is, it's the new Windows Vista subsystem that offers an extra graphic rich environment, such as transparent menus and 3D looking graphical elements.

Personally I would recommend the following hardware requirements to get the best experience from Windows Vista:
  • 3GHz or faster 64-bit CPU
  • 2GB of RAM or more
  • DirectX v9 capable 3D graphics card, with 256MB or more of graphics memory.
  • 30GB free space on your hard drive.
  • DVD-ROM Drive
  • Broadband Internet access.
  • Sound card w/speakers

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor (BETA)

The Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor is a small application that checks your current computer to see if it can be upgraded to Windows Vista. The program is designed to run under Windows XP, so if you have an older Windows OS (i.e.: Windows 95/98/ME/2000) it may not run.

When you run the Upgrade Advisor, it will scan your system and generate a report of all devices that are attached to your computer that it can recognize. The report will list compatibility issues, along with recommendations on how to get your computer and its hardware ready to run Vista.

The current version of the program only checks the compatibility of your hardware. In later versions of this program, it will be able to check the Vista compatibility of the applications on your hard drive.

Note: Before you run this program, make sure all your USB peripheral devices (such as: external hard drives, scanners, printers, etc.) are attached to your computer and turned on.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Vista Gets Support for IEEE 1394b (AKA FireWire 800).

I thought this was interesting, Microsoft announced Windows Vista support for the IEEE 1394b (AKA FireWire 800) standard. If you do any digital video editing then you're probably familiar with the IEEE1394 connection.

If you don't know what the IEEE1394, then let me briefly explain. This is a popular connection used by several digital video cameras, to transfer video from the camera to the computer. The use of this port is not limited to digital video cameras, but those are the devices that primarily use it. Just to be fair, I need to note some hard drives support this connection.

The older standard IEEE1394 (AKA FireWire or FireWire 400) was able to support data transfers rates as fast as 400Mbps. The newer IEEE1384b is designed to support data transfer rates as fast as 800Mbps. In comparison, USB v1.0 supports a data transfer rate up 12Mbps, while USB v2.0 supports data transfer rate as fast as 480Mbps.

The 1394 Trade Association has estimated that by the end of 2006, there will be more than five million 1394b equipped Windows and Macintosh computers. For more information read the following press release.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Microsoft unveils new betas for Office, Vista

Cnet reports, "The software maker announced Tuesday that it is ready with broader test versions of both Windows Vista and Office 2007. The company also has an updated test version of Longhorn Server, the next version of its server operating system."

This article contains the latest news about Microsoft's upcoming versions of Office and Windows. If you want to see a lot of screen shots of Windows Vista, check out this article from ExtremeTech.

Monday, May 22, 2006

What is Microsoft Max?

Do you like trying out the latest technologies, well here is a new one from Microsoft codenamed: Microsoft Max. If you're curious what it is, here is excerpt from the web site: "Max lets you make beautiful photo slideshows to share with your family and friends. And it recently began showing you the latest news updates from around the world."

With Max you can get the latest news on technology, health, sports, and etc. You can manage your photos, share and annotate them.

Here are some screen shots of the application. You can download the program from here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Pioneer Ships First Blu-ray Computer Drive (Article)

Pioneer Electronics recently announced that it is shipping the industry's first Blu-ray computer drive (BDR-101A). This drive can burn up to 25GB of data onto a single-layer Blu-ray disc. The drive will ships with Roxio Blu-ray Disc software and a blank TDK Blu-ray discs. You can have all this for only $1,000.

For informational purposes, I have included a brief breakdown of all the types of media (CD, DVD, BD) that are available.

Compact Disks
  • CD-R (650MB, write once)
  • CD-RW (650MB, rewriteable)
DVD Disks
  • DVD+R SL (4.7GB, write once, single-layer)
  • DVD+RW SL (4.7GB, rewriteable, single-layer)
  • DVD-R SL (4.7GB, write once, single-layer)
  • DVD-RW SL (4.7GB, rewriteable, single-layer)
  • DVD+R DL (9GB, write once, double-layer)
  • DVD+RW DL (9GB, rewriteable, double-layer)
  • DVD-R DL (9GB, write once, double-layer)
  • DVD-RW DL (9GB, rewriteable, double-layer)
Blu-Ray Disks
  • BD-R (25GB, write once)
  • BD-RE (25GB, rewriteable)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Troubleshooting Your Network Connection

Did you know that the Windows XP Help and Support Center has built-in tools for performing system and network troubleshooting. Today I am going to cover the Network Diagnostics tool, and how you can use it diagnose a problematic network connection.

When you first launch the tool, you will be given two options, one to 'Scan your system', and two to 'Set scanning options'. If you choose the first item, the program will start scanning your system right away. If you select the second option, you can configure which tests and network components get scanned (such as: mail, Internet Proxy, etc.)

When the scan completes, a list of different network components and connections will be displayed and whether they passed or failed the diagnostics. If a component fails you can drill down into it to see what is wrong. This tool returns a lot of good technical information, and may not be too understandable to for someone doesn't understand what they're reading.

Below is the quickest way to access Network Diagnostics tool:
  • From the Start menu, select Help and Support.
  • In the search box, type "Network Diagnostics" and press Enter.
  • In the search results, double-click 'Network Diagnostics'
  • From here you can select: 'Scan your system' or 'Set scanning options'. If you select 'Scan your system', the program will start checking your computer's network components.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Make Free calls to any phone within US and Canada

Skype has a promotion going on right now. If you download and install their software on your computer, you can make free phone calls to any where in the US or Canada.

I use Skype, and I have been pretty happy with it. I don't own a regular phone, and I use Skype to talk to my friends in different places. All I use is my computer, my broadband connection, and a headset (speaker and mike).

Their International rates are pretty good to most countries, see: SkypeOut international rates. SkypeOut is their phone service from your computer to any phone. Calling from computer with Skype to computer is always free.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The simplest, cheapest Wi-Fi amplifier in the world. (Article)

Are you looking for a cheap way to extend your Wi-Fi connection, well I think this guy found it. The idea leaves a lot of room to be improved, but I think he's on the right track. All this for the cost of a metal pale and a USB network adaptor.

For those who want more information about antennas here is an article with some great resources.

Monday, May 15, 2006

802.11 Wi-Fi Standards

Are you confused by all the 802.11 standards, such as 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, etc. Here is a brief breakdown of the different 802.11 standards; including: speed, frequency, and the date it was ratified as a standard:
  • 802.11: up to 2Mbps, uses the 2.4GHz frequency (1997)
  • 802.11b: up to 11Mbps, uses the 2.4GHz frequency (7/1999)
  • 802.11a: up to 54Mbps, uses the 5GHz frequency (7/1999)
  • 802.11g: up to 54Mbps, uses the 2.4GHz frequency (6/2003) [802.11b compatible]
  • 802.11n: up to 600Mbps+, uses the 2.4Ghz and 5GHz frequency (This standard has not been finalized) [has MIMO (Multiple-Input Multiple-Output), uses multiple transmitter and receiver antennas to allow for increased data throughput.]
  • 2.4GHz equipment can incur interference from microwave ovens, cordless phones, and other appliances using the same radio signaling frequency range.
  • The higher frequency 5GHz equipment signals has more difficulty penetrating walls and other obstructions.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Delete Files Without Going to the Recycle Bin

If you delete file from the Windows Explorer, they will be automatically be sent to the recycle bin, which will later allow you to undelete. Although, if you want to delete files without sending them to the recycle bin first, then all you have to do is hold down the shift key while selecting the files that you want to remove.

Note: This operation can not be undone, so use it carefully.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Optimize Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer v6.0 has a few settings and features that are enabled by default that you should consider changing. Some of these features are not needed, set too high, or could be a security issue.

To make these changes the first thing you need to do is launch Internet Explorer, then from the Tools menu select 'Internet Options...'.

Reduce the Size of Your Web page History:
By default IE keeps track of all the web pages you visited over the last few days. For some people this is a very handy feature to see the sites you have visited, but for other people this is a privacy issue.

To reduce the number of days that IE tracks your browsing history:
  • In the Internet Options dialog box, in the History section.
  • Find the 'Days to keep pages in history' box and type "1".
  • Press the Apply button.
Reduce the Size of IE's Disk Cache
By default IE will try to consume about 10% of your hard drive for its temporary Internet cache. Personally I have never seen any advantage to having a large temporary file cache like this. I recommend you set it to about 10MB or more.
  • In the 'Temporary Internet Files' section, press the Setting... button.
  • A new dialog will appear, in the 'Temporary Internet files folder' section change the slider so that it reads about 10MB.
  • Press the OK button, then press the Apply button.
Prevent the Caching of Encrypted Web Pages
By default IE will cache encrypted Web pages. This can be a privacy issue if someone gets access to your local computers Internet temporary files.

To disable this feature:
  • While still in the Internet Options dialog box, click the Advanced tab.
  • In the Settings section, scroll down to the Security section.
  • Check the "Do not save encrypted pages to disk" checkbox.
    • As a bonus tip, check the 'Check for server certificate revocation (requires restart)' checkbox while you're in this section. This makes sure that the server certificate has not been revoked by the Certifying Authority (CA)
  • Press the Apply button.
After you finish making all your changes, press the OK button when done.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Resetting Windows Media Player File Associations

If you have Windows Media Player, Quicktime, and the Real Media Player all installed on your computer, you may notice that they will compete to be the primary player for specific file types (such as: .mpg, mp3, etc.). I personally like using the Windows Media Player as my default media player, but if I am not careful when I update these applications they will sometimes try to re-associate specific media file types with themselves.

fortunately the Windows Media Player comes with the ability to reset these file associations back to itself. All you have to do is follow the instructions below:
  • Launch Windows Media Player
  • From the Tools menu, select Options...
  • Click the 'File Types' tab.
  • Press the 'Select All' button, and then press the Apply button.
  • Press the OK button.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Must Have Firefox Extensions

A while back I wrote an articled called 'Really Useful Firefox Extensions', where I discussed some of my favorite extensions for this browser at that time. Well since I wrote that I article, I have stopped using some of those extensions and discovered news (note: the article is still worth checking out because it contains links to some really useful extensions that you might find worthwhile).

I have to admit I keep a lot of extensions installed in my browser, but most of them are disabled because I don't need them too often. If I need them, I just enable that extension an restart the browser. I also discovered that the more extensions you have enabled the longer it takes Firefox to load and the more memory it uses.

So here is my list of favorite Firefox extensions:
  • All-In-One Sidebar: View dialog such as downloads, extensions, and more; view source of web page, or whole websites in the sidebar.
  • Image Zoom: Gives you complete control of the size of most images displayed inside the browser.
  • DeskCut: Adds the ability to create desktop shortcuts from the right-context menu.
  • CopyURL+: Quickly copies the web site title, and/or selected text, plus the URL to the clipboard.
  • Google Toolbar for Firefox: If you use any of Google services (such as: search, Blogger, Gmail, and more), this toolbar makes them quickly available to you. The toolbar even offers a spelling checker feature. (Here is a list of free Google Firefox extensions, some of which have already been incorporated into the new toolbar).
  • Crash Recovery: Recovers all opened tabs and windows after a crash.
  • IE Tab: Embedding Internet Explorer in tabs of Mozilla/Firefox.
  • Tab Mix Plus: Enhances Firefox's tab browsing capabilities. It includes such features as duplicating tabs, controlling tab focus, tab clicking options, undo closed tabs and windows, plus much more. It also includes a full-featured session manager with crash recovery that can save and restore combinations of opened tabs and windows.
Bonus Tip:

Monday, May 08, 2006

SpamBayes: Bayesian Anti-Spam Filter

A few months ago, I wrote an article about creating a whitelist in Outlook Express to help reduce spam. The biggest problem with whitelists, is that they require a lot of maintenance and they filter out the good with the bad messages. So I am not a big fan of this technology.

The good news is that there is a much better alternative to whitelists, and its called Bayesian filtering. Bayesian filters are one of the best anti-spam technologies I ever used. They work by statistically ranking the contents of e-mail messages.

Generally spam messages will use words and/or word patterns that don't typically appear in most e-mail messages. This makes it easy for the spam filter to detect and remove these e-mails.

SpamBayes is a free open-source Bayesian filter that can be run as an Outlook plug-in under Windows. There also is a POP3 or IMAP proxy version available for Windows, Linux/Unix, and the Mac OS.

When you first install a Bayesian filter, you will need to train it. You need to let it analyze good messages, and bad messages (i.e.: spam). After you train it will constantly be learning what is and what's not spam. While its first learning, it may make some mistakes, but its accuracy should improve.

Bayesian filters are also known for having a low 'false positive' rate. A false positive is a message that is classified as spam when its really not.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Paint.NET - Image and Photo Manipulation (Free)

Paint.NET is one of the better free paint programs that is available for doing basic image and photo manipulation. Let me be clear, Paint.NET is not a Adobe Photoshop replacement. Although, if you have some basic image editing needs that Microsoft Paint doesn't meet, then check out this program.

Some of the Paint.NET's features include: layer support, unlimited undo, special effects, simple tools for drawing shapes, and more. For a more complete list of features, or to see some screen shots.

Additional resources:

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Creating a PPPoE Connection

Do you have a DSL or Cable broadband connection that requires you to install special software in order to access the Internet? There's a good chance that you don't need this software. Windows XP comes with the ability to create PPPoE (Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet) connections.

PPPoE is technology used by ISPs to manage customer's accounts and access from your computer to the Internet.

To create a PPPoE connection:
  • Open the Control Panel folder from the Start menu.
  • Double click the 'Network Connections' folder.
  • Click the link in the Network Tasks pane that says 'Create a new connection'.
  • In the first page of the 'Network Connection Wizard', press the Next button.
  • Click 'Connect to the Internet', and then press the Next button.
  • Click 'Set up my connection manually', and then press the Next button.
  • Click 'Connect using a broadband connection that requires a user name and password' (if your ISP provided you a user name and password select this option) or 'Connect using a broadband connection that is always on'. You selection depends on your connection type, contact your ISP if you have questions.
  • Enter your ISP name into the field, and then press the Next button.
  • If required, enter your user name and password provided to you by your ISP, and then press the Next button.
  • Optionally you can click 'Add a shortcut to this connection to my desktop'. Press the Finish button when done.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Google SketchUp (Free)

Google recently acquired a company (@Last Software) that creates a 3D modeling software called SketchUp. The software comes in two versions available, free and professional (it sells for $495).

Google SketchUp (Free) is for personal use, and no registration is required. While the professional version is for designers with more powerful features, such as the ability to create interactive presentations, or print to high-resolution devices.

Google SketchUp (Free) is a very powerful and easy-to-learn 3D drawing program. You can draw buildings you may want to build, plan wood making projects, design models, and more... After you create your image, you can upload it to a special site for storing it or you can post it into Google Earth.

Update: If you want to see a video of the software in action, check out this from CNet.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Windows XP, SATA, and eSATA Drives (What you need to know)

Most modern motherboards and hard drives now support the SATA (Serial ATA) standard. SATA is the next generation of the ATA standard that was created back in 1994 for consumer based hard drives.

In 2003 the SATA standard was finalized, and in many ways it is superior to its predecessor. It is faster and has more features, such as hot-swapping and native command queuing.

Recently the SATA standard was expanded to support external SATA (known as eSATA) hard drives. You might be wondering what the benefits of the eSATA vs. other external drive connection standards like USB or Firewire.

Here is a brief list of some of the benefits of eSATA are:
  • Up to three times faster then USB or Firewire connections.
  • Supports cable lengths up to 2 meters away from the connector
Window XP and SATA
I should note that Windows XP doesn't have native support for SATA hard drives. If you're setting up a new computer with XP and a SATA hard drive, and that drive is your primary boot device. You are going to need to have a floppy with an XP version of the SATA drivers for your motherboard or hard drive controller.

If you don't have these drivers, visit your motherboard or drive controller manufacturer web site and download the latest drivers. Make sure that you download the version that can be used by the Windows setup process.

During the initial text-based part of the Windows XP setup process you will need to press the F6 key when instructed to install additional drivers for the SATA controller (watch the bottom line of the screen for this message). If you can't provide these drivers, the Windows XP install will stop, and give an error that it can not locate a hard drive.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Diagnosing the WMI Services

The Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) is a Windows subsystem that allows you to programatically make calls to the operating system to get information about the hardware, OS, and application. Although, sometimes this subsystem can experience problems and it can be difficult to determine if its running correctly.

To help diagnose if the system is experiencing a problem, Microsoft has created the WMI Diagnosis Utility. It consists of a VB script and some Excel spreadsheets, which is used to check the WMI namespaces from the system being scanned. If some namespaces is found to be missing, then this is an indication that there could be a problem. Also, if a problem is found, an error will be created in the log file and suggested fixes for the problems will be noted if there available.

If you do have a problem with the WMI, check out the following article on repairing it.

  • The WMI Diagnosis Utility runs on Windows 2000, XP, Server 2003, and Vista.
  • The WMI Diagnosis Utility must be run on the local computer, and you must have local administrator rights on the computer on which you run the script.