Thursday, August 31, 2006

Windows XP: Disabling Devices

There are times that you may need to disable a device driver for diagnostic or performance reasons. For example, if you think a device driver is preventing your computer from working properly, you can disable it to see if it fixes the problem. Also, by disabling unused drivers you may help decrease boot time of your computer because it doesn't have to load them.

To disable a device driver, follow the instructions below:
  • From the Start menu, right-click My Computer and select Properties.
  • Click the Hardware tab and press the 'Device Manager' button.
  • Expand the category that contains the device that you want to disable.
  • Right-click on the device and select Disable.
The device should now be disabled and should remain that way until you re-enable it. To re-enable it use the same instructions above, except select Enable instead of Disable.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Windows XP: Professional x64 Edition

x64 Computing History in brief: First Intel created a 64-bit processor called Itanium. The processor's cost and slow adoption led AMD to create a x86-64 hybrid CPU. This was popular solution among end users, and was adopted by Microsoft in Windows XP and Vista x64 editions. Intel soon follow suit; first reluctantly, then full-bore. The newer Core 2 CPUs, including the mobile versions, are true 64-bit processors, as are AMD's Athlon 64 and Turion 64 lines.
When the first x64 processors were initially released Windows could not take advantage of the extended 64-bit instructions. Then several months later Microsoft released the Windows XP Professional x64 Edition. (Note: there's very little functionality difference between Windows XP Professional 32-bit and 64-bit editions.)

The two biggest problems with transitioning to the x64 platform are two things, 32-bit application compatibility, and 64-bit driver support. When the Windows x64 edition first showed up, there was little software that could run natively in 64-bit mode, and since then more and more software has been making the transition.

Advantages of 64-Bit Processors
There are two advantages of using a 64-bit processor. One, it can handle twice as much information in the same clock cycle as a 32-bit processor. This is useful for data intensive applications (such as scientific applications, databases, etc.).

Two, these processors can also handle a lot more memory then their predecessors. For example, Windows XP x64 is currently limited to 128GB of physical memory and 16TB of virtual memory. This is an artificial limit that could be increased if Microsoft wants.

Application Compatibility
The Windows XP x64 edition was the first major processor platform transition since Windows 95. Windows 95 was the first version of Windows to fully support 32-bit applications, but it also remained backwards compatible with the older 16-bit applications. The Windows XP x64 edition is Microsoft pushing the Windows platform to the next level again.

Most 32-bit applications should be able to work with the Windows x64 edition, but there are some exceptions. Windows x64 has to use a 32-bit emulation layer to run older 32-bit applications (AKA Windows on Windows 64 or WOW64). This is because the newer 64-bit processor can only run in one of two modes 32 or 64-bit. When its in 64-bit mode, it needs to use the 32-bit emulation layer to run 32-bit software. This also means that 32-bit applications will run slower in 64-bit mode.

There are two types of applications that won't run in Windows x64, they're 16-bit and 32-bit apps running in kernel mode. There are not a lot of 16-bit applications that are still around, so this should not be an issue. Although, there is still a chance that some modern applications can still contain older 16-bit code, so you will need to test them.

Drivers Support
When Windows XP x64 edition first hit the market, there was limited hardware driver support from manufactures. Although over time that has changed, but you still need to validate that there are 64-bit versions of drivers available for the hardware that you want to use. The main thing holding back the development of these drivers is the device manufactures have been slow to update or create these drivers for their hardware.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Firefox: Secure Password Manager

Do you rely on Firefox's integrated password manager to remember the passwords for all the different web sites that you visit? This is a great feature, although by default its not password protected, which means that anyone using your account on your computer can then access all your secure online accounts.

To prevent this from happening, you can set a master password so that anyone using your account in Firefox can't just use your web site passwords without knowing it. Follow the instructions below to set a master password:
  • Launch the Firefox browser.
  • From the Tools menu, select Options...
  • Click on the Privacy tab, and click on the Passwords sub-tab
  • Press the 'Change Master Password' button.
  • Enter a strong password (see the following article for creating a strong password)
  • Press the OK button
Restart Firefox, then go to a web site that requires you to enter a password. A dialog will pop-up asking you to enter your master password, enter it then press the OK button. From then on until you close Firefox all your passwords will be available to you.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Windows XP: Security Center Control Panel

In Windows XP Service Pack 2, Microsoft introduced a great utility called the Security Center. Its a control panel that you can go to check the status of your computer's defenses. This control panel displays the status of your Firewall, automatic updates, and anti-virus protection.

If you want to quickly assess the level of your computer's protection this is the place to start. Next to each of the security services, there should be a green light icon. This indicates that the security service is operational and recognized by the Security Center. If a service has been turned off for some reason, or it can't detect the status of this service then you will be notified.

Note: Most third party firewalls and anti-virus applications have been updated to take advantage of this feature. If you're running an older version of these security services, contact the company that makes this software and check if they have any updates available to rectify this problem.

If these notifications are bothering you because one of your services is not being recognized by the Security Center, there is a way to disable this feature. In the Resources pane click the 'Change the way Security Center alerts me' link. From here you can disable or enable any of these notifications.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Windows XP: Tool To Help Fix Network Connection Problems

Microsoft has created a network diagnostic tool that can help you fix network connection problems with your cable or DSL broadband connection. After you install the tool, it can be run from within Internet Explorer.

When it runs its tests, it uses the MICROSOFT.COM sites, and will report back what it finds. This tool can perform the following tests:
  • IP configuration
  • Default gateway
  • Winsock
  • DNS
  • Firewall
  • Internet connectivity validation
To use the tool, open Internet Explorer and select 'Diagnose Connection Problems' from the Tools menu. You can also run it from the Run... command, type "%WINDIR%\NETWORK DIAGNOSTIC\XPNETDIAG.EXE", and then press the OK button.

This tool is not designed to be sophisticated and return detailed results that might be expected by someone who knows something about TCP/IP. If you want more detailed results use some of the MS-DOS command line tools.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Diagnostics: Get Back Your Lost Files: File Recovery Software (article)

ExtremeTech reports: "Of course, prevention (in this case read "backup") is the best medicine when it comes to lost files, whether as a result of disk malfunctions or your mistakenly deleting them. But for those of us with less foresight, there's utility software that can save our skins when it comes disappeared files. Today, we investigate three leading software products that claim to be able to find and recover files you've deleted or lost to a bad disk drive or media: iolo technologies' Search and Recover 4, Executive Software's Undelete 5, and Digital Photo Recovery 2.0.3 from Galaxy."

Every now and then you or someone you know may lose a file or a whole drive and want to recover the lost data. ExtremeTech wrote a very good article on three different file recovery software packages that are currently available. If you have never used this type of software before, this article provides some background on the current generation of these utilities.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Security: Using a Rootkit Detection Tool

Rootkits are becoming an increasingly dangerous problem for networked computers, they're constantly becoming more sophisticated, and getting better at evading detection software. This means that your detection methods and tools have to become more effective in order to find and remove this software.

Sysinternals is offering a freeware tool called RootkitRevealer, that can detect some rootkits. Used in conjunction with good anti-virus and malware detection tool you should be able to detect most rootkits if they have invaded your system.

If you don't know what a rootkit is, here is a definition: A rootkit is a collection of tools used by a hacker or a malicious program to try to gain administrator access to your computer. If a hacker is using a rootkit to take advantage of your system, he will generally do this to steal data or cause damage. If a malicious program is trying to break into your system, it will generally open a backdoor for a hacker to take over your system or monitor your keystrokes so it can steal your passwords. Rootkits will also generally modify your computer system files to avoid detection.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Windows XP: Font Properties Extension

If you right-click on any font in Windows you will get some basic information about that font. Although if you want more detailed information Microsoft offers the Font Properties Extension that displays information such as the font origination and copyright, the type sizes to which hinting and smoothing are applied, and the code pages supported by extended character sets.

To install the program download it from the web page, then run it, and follow the prompts.

All you have to do is open the Fonts folder (in the Control Panel folder), then right-click on the font (TrueType or OpenType) you want to get information about, and select Properties. A font dialog will display with a lot of extra tabs.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Windows XP: Change the Print Spooler Folder Location

The print spool folder on your hard drive is used to queue print jobs until they are ready to be printed. Without this feature you'd have to wait until a print job was finished before you use other programs on your computer.

The spool folder is generally located on the same partition where the Windows system files are installed. If that partition starts getting low on free space, you can move this folder to a different location.

Follow the instruction below to move this folder:
  • Open the Windows Explorer (from the Start menu, select 'My Computer').
  • Create a new folder on a different drive that you want to use for your new print spool folder. Click the 'Make a new folder' link under 'File and Folder Tasks' in the left pane, then give the folder a name.
  • From the Start menu, select 'Printers and Faxes'.
  • From the File menu, click 'Server Properties'.
  • Click the Advanced tab.
  • In the 'Spool folder' field, enter the path for the new folder you created earlier.
  • Press the OK button
  • When the 'Printer Server Properties' dialog displays, press the Yes button.

Friday, August 18, 2006 The Windows Portal (Updated)

In November of last year Microsoft released their site, with a few basic services. Since then they really expanded their offering with several new web applications and services (for example: domain name and web site hosting). The site also offers really nice downloadable applications as well (see the list below).

I really like the consistent interface across most of the applications, and how some of them are integrated together. I hope to continue to see more of this in the future as they release new services.

If you're curious about the difference between and From my understanding, will host all the web applications and services, and MSN will continue to be the content, news and information provider.

Below is a brief summary of all the applications and services:
Downloadable Applications

The software listed below are applications that you download and install on your local computer.
  • Windows Live Writer: This program was just released today, its WYSIWYG blog authoring tool that allows you to compose blog entries for Windows Live Spaces, Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad, WordPress (and many others).
  • Windows Live Messenger: Microsoft's next generation instant messaging client. Now includes VoIP and video conferencing.
  • Windows Live Toolbar: Search the web, protect yourself against fraud, find files on your local computer.
  • Windows Live OneCare: Microsoft's new anti-malware (virus, spyware, and more.), firewall, tune-up, and more.

Coming Soon to

Below is a list of applications that Microsoft is getting ready to release.
For the latest information, on new or updated applications and services check out the Windows Live Ideas page. This is where they post all the latest updates to the site.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Software: CDBurnerXP Pro

Recently one of my readers requested a free program for burning CDs for Windows. I turned him on to a program called CDBurnerXP Pro. This is one of the better free CD/DVD burning applications out there.

With this software you can burn CD-R, CD-RW DVD+R/RW DVD-R/RW discs. Below is a list of some of the features of this program:
  • Burns audio-CDs with and without gaps between tracks.
  • Supports most IDE, USB, Firewire and SCSI drives.
  • Burn and create ISO-files.
  • Creates bootable discs.
  • BIN/NRG to ISO converter, simple cover printing.
  • Supports: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP/2003 Server.
  • And more.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Software: Zapr (Simple File Sharing)

Zapr is an application that you download and install, that allows you share specific files (only the ones you select) on your computer with other people across the Internet. All you have to do is make the URL available to the people whom you want to have access to the files.

You can post the URL in a blog, or send it via e-mail or IM. Here is an example of what the URL looks like:

The advantage to using Zapr, is that theres no file size restrictions, no need to upload the file somewhere, no sending an attachments, and finally its free. There is also no need for recipients to download and install the Zapr application or register themselves with the service to access the files.

Note: Zapr requires Windows XP with .Net Framework 2.0

Windows XP: Removing Unused Device Drivers

When you install a new piece of hardware on your computer, you generally install a device driver that tells the OS how to access the new device. Later, if you remove the hardware from your system, the device drivers will still remain installed. These drivers will continue to be loaded even though they're not being used, and consume system resources.

To find and remove these unnecessary drivers follow the instructions below:
  • From the Start Menu, open the Control Panel folder.
  • Double-click the System control panel.
  • Click the Hardware tab, and press the 'Device Manager' button.
  • In the 'Device Manager' window, from the View menu, select 'Show Hidden Devices'.
  • Expand the various nodes of the device tree and search for the grayed out icons, which indicate unused device drivers.
  • To remove an unused device driver, right-click the icon and select Uninstall.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Internet: Test Your VoIP Connection

Do you use a Voice over IP (VoIP) provider such as Skype or Vonage to make long-distance phone calls to your friends, family, or colleagues? If you do, you might want to test your Internet connection's ability to handle this type of traffic. will load a Java VoIP client and make a call from your computer to one of their Brix's U.S. or international test location and report the results back to you. This is a free service.

Note: This site requires that Java be installed on your local computer to perform the test.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Software: Save time with click-free browsing (video)

CNET reports: "CNET's Rafe Needleman talks to executives from Browster and Cooliris about their respective products and what the future holds for click-free browsing."

Downloads (Note: Both of these downloads work with Internet Explorer and Firefox):

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Windows XP: Updating Device Drivers

Peripheral manufactures regularly update the device drivers for their hardware (such as: video cards, printers, etc.) . They generally will do this to fix known problems or add new features. Device drivers are programs that tell the OS how to use a device that is attached to it.

These updated drivers are generally available on the manufacturer or Microsoft's web site for download (Note: it's always best to start at the manufacturer's web site first). After you download the updated drivers, you will generally have to extract the file from a compressed archive to install them. It is always a good idea to read the drivers installation instructions before installing it.

Another way to update the device driver is to use the 'Update Driver' button for the peripheral in the 'Device Manager' console.
  • From the Start menu, right-click on 'My Computer' and select Manage.
  • From the 'Computer Management' console select the 'Device Manager'
  • Find the of the device you want to update, and , double-click on it.
  • Click the Driver tab.
  • Press the 'Update Driver' button to open the Hardware Update Wizard
  • Select if the system can connect to Windows Update to search for the driver, and then press the Next button. (Select Yes if you want to check Windows Update, select No if you already have the driver)
  • Select 'Install the software automatically' if you want the system to make its best guess on how to update the driver or choose 'Install from a list or specific location' if you already have the updated driver. Then press the Next button.
  • Windows will then search for an updated driver and notify you if the updated driver has been found.
  • Press the Finish button when done.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Create a Virtual Office (on the Cheap)

Do you need setup a home office to run a small business or work from home, and don't want to spend a lot of money? Using your computer, and a high speed Internet connection you can replace a lot of older technologies.

Making/Receiving Phone Calls & Voicemails
Did you know that you can use Skype as a low-cost way of making and receiving calls from your computer. You can also receive voicemail when you're busy or off-line. All you need to get started is a headset with a microphone. There are no setup fees, monthly fees, or the need to purchase additional hardware to use it. You only pay for the phone calls you make or receive.

Below is a list of services that Skype offers:
  • SkypeIn: Receive calls via your computer from a personal phone number
  • SkypeOut: Make calls from your computer to other phones and mobiles, all over the world.
  • Voicemail Skype: Receive voicemail messages when you're busy or offline.
If you don't want to use your computer to make phone calls, consider using a VoIP service like Vonage. It allows you to use your regular phones that are already in your house. Although you will have a setup fee, monthly fees, and new hardware costs for going this route. Contact the VoIP provide that you want to use for more information about their service.

There are several VoIP service providers, I only touched the surface of this subject with the most popular ones. I encourage you to shop around for the best deal and services that you want. If you just need a public phone number to receive voicemail, there's a service called PrivatePhone that offers a free voice mailbox.

Web and E-mail Services
There are several free e-mail and web hosting providers, but it doesn't look professional to have your business email address look like: If you want a web site, I would also not recommend using free web hosting services. You don't want your web site URL looking like: No one will believe that you're a legitimate business.

Domain registers like GoDaddy offers low cost web hosting and domain registration, you can also get a personalized e-mail address. For example, if your business name was Sam's Widgets, and you purchased a domain like you could create an e-mail address like You can also use the domain for your web site, like

For a list of available services and fees, check out the following page.

Sending and Receiving Faxes
Being able to send faxes these days has become less important when e-mail is so readily available. Although it's still a popular technology option for sending certain types of business documents especially if they have a signature on it.

My computer has a Fax modem, but I still need access to an analog phone to use it. Then if I need to capture image of a document, I will need a scanner. Scanners are cheap these days, but if you don't have a need for one too often then they're not really worth it. There are also several good multi-function printers available, you might want to consider getting one of these if you want to save space and are only going to use it once in a while.

If you don't have an analog phone line, but have a need to send and receive faxes there is a service called eFax. They allow you to send and receive faxes for a fee. They also offer a free service which allows you to receive faxes for free via email, from a personal non-local number.

There is another service called faxZERO that allows you to send a fax for free to anywhere in the U.S. and Canada.

Postal Services
If you need to send packages, all the major package carriers offer free home and business pickup services, including the US Postal service (USPS). The USPS offers a service called Click-N-Ship for printing postage and labels, then you can request a pickup for the following day. You also might want to consider purchasing a scale to avoid overpaying postage.

If you want a special address to have all your business mail sent, you have one of two choices. You can purchase a P.O. Box from the local USPS office, or you can use a private mailbox from one of the many businesses that offer this service (such as: Mailboxes Etc.).

There are a few advantages to having a private mailbox vs. P.O. Box. One, you can get packages delivered to a P.O. Box. Two, the address looks like an actual street address rather then some postal box number.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Best Free Online Storage Sites (1GB and More)

There are literally hundreds of storage sites out on the Internet that offer capacities that range from a few megabytes to a few gigabytes. I have visited a lot of them, and created a list of the best sites.

Only sites that offered 1GB or more of storage were listed, anything less was too small. If you need more storage (and fewer restrictions) many of these sites offer premium plans for a fee.

The sites are placed into two categories based on the type of storage they offer:

Temporary Hosting Sites
Are you looking for a place to temporarily hold a large file so that you can email it, or to host content (such as media) for your web site or blog. Then check out the list of sites below, they allow you to quickly upload just about any file where it can be access by people whom you make its link available to. The file you upload will generally automatically be deleted after a specific amount of time has passed.
Note: The amount of storage, and how long the file can be stored will vary, check the site's storage policy for specific details.
Online File Storage
Are you looking for a site that specializes in online file storage, and won't automatically delete your files if you have not used them in a while. These sites are great for holding backups of your files, or acting as a transfer point for moving data from one computer to another computer (such as from home to work and back).
Note: Most of these sites have some type of transfer limits (i.e.: how much you can upload or download) which vary from site to site.

Software: Mounting ISO Images Using a Virtual CD-ROM Drive

Have you ever had the need to burn an ISO image to a CD disk? If you don't know what an ISO image is, its an exact copy of a CD-ROM that is stored in a file so that it can be put on a hard drive, or transmitted across a network to another computer.

To turn an ISO image back into a CD, you need a blank CD-ROM disk, a CD-Writer drive, and a program that can read the ISO image and burn it to the drive. This process is not complex, but I will save it for another article.

Well if you're like me I generally won't burn a CD-ROM unless I have to, and if I do I use CD-RW so I don't have a million half used CDs sitting around the house. Although, if you have an ISO file that you need to get a file off, or a program to install check out Microsoft's Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel.

This control panel allow you to mount the ISO image by creating a virtual CD-ROM Drive. As far as the operating system is concerned this will look like a real CD-ROM drive. Although in reality its just the ISO image that is being treated like a real disk.

  • This program only runs under Windows XP
  • This software is unsupported by Microsoft, and contains no setup file.
  • The interface is very basic, so don't expect a polished tool.
  • Make sure to read the README.TXT

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Windows XP: Enabling Remote Desktop (Advanced)

Note: This tip will only work on Windows XP Professional and not the Home edition.

Using Remote Desktop, you can take control over your local Windows system from a remote computer. To get this to work for you need the following things:
  • The computer you're going to take over has to have Windows XP Professional installed on it with Remote Desktop enabled, and must be attached to a network. You will also need the local computer's IP address (i.e.: or its network computer name (i.e.: \\computer01). You can use the 'IPCONFIG /ALL' to get this information.
  • You need a local account with a password on the computer you're going to take over.
  • On the remote computer you need the Remote Desktop Connection software installed (check: Start menu | All Programs | Accessories | Communications), and to be able to make a network connection to the computer you want to take over.
Follow the instructions below to enable Remote Desktop:
  • Under the Start menu, right-click 'My Computer' and select Properties.
  • Click the Remote tab, then check the 'Allow users to connect remotely to this computer' check box.
  • Press the 'Select Remote Users' button, and then press the Add button.
  • In the 'Select Users' dialog box, enter the name of the user you want to be able to connect to this computer and then press the OK button.
  • Press the OK buttons to close the rest of the dialogs.
Note: If you're having problem connecting to the computer with the remote desktop enabled, your firewall is probably preventing the connection. If you're using the Windows Firewall, check to see if you have the 'Remote Desktop' exception under the Exception tab in the Windows Firewall control panel. Otherwise follow the instructions on in this article.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Windows XP: Scheduling Disk Defragmentation

You should consider running the Disk Defragmenter utility on a regular basis to keep your system running efficiently. If you don't know what disk fragmentation is, it's when parts of a file get scattered over the hard drive over time, which in theory will take longer for them to be retrieved when they're requested by the file system.

The Disk Defragmenter utility re-organizes the files on the drive in a more linear order so that they can be accessed more quickly. Although running this utility can take a long time to complete. There should also be no other programs executing while this process is happening.

To have this utility run automatically, you can use the Windows Task Scheduler to run this program at a time when the computer is not going to be in use.

To schedule this program to run as a task follow the instructions below:
  • Under the Start menu, open the 'Control Panel' folder (or select 'All Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Scheduled Tasks')
  • Double-click the 'Scheduled Tasks' applet.
  • Double-click the 'Add Scheduled Task' icon.
  • Right-click the folder, and select 'New > Scheduled Task'
  • Click on the icon that says 'New Task', and press F2, then give the icon a name like "Defragment Disk" and press Enter.
  • Double-click the icon, it will open up the task dialog window.
  • In the Run field, type "defrag.exe c: -v".
  • In the 'Start in' field, type "C:\".
  • In the 'Run as' field, enter a user account (i.e. ComputerName\UserName) with administrator access. Press the 'Set password' button, and enter a password for the account.
  • Click the Schedule tab to select the time and date(s) to want to run the task.
  • Press the OK button when done.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Security: Testing Your Browser Pop-Up Blocker

If you ever run your browser without its pop-up blocker enabled, you could get inundated with a lot of pop-up window SPAM. Most browsers do a reasonable job of blocking this garbage, but you may still get a few that will show up every once in a while.

To test how go your browsers pop-up blocker is working, go to this site and put your browser through its paces. You may be surprised (or not) how many different techniques people have developed to display pop-up windows on your screen.