Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Windows XP: New Daylight Saving Time (DST) Rules

Did you know that Daylight Saving Time (DST) is being extended this year by approximately three weeks. This extension is part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and effects the United States and Canada. DST will start at 2:00 A.M. on the second Sunday in March, and will end at 2:00 A.M. on the first Sunday in November.

Computer operating systems, applications, and electronics that are DST aware need to be updated to compensate for this new change. Although, older computer operating systems, applications, and electronics that are no longer being updated by the manufacture are going to be negatively effected by this change.

Microsoft is producing updates for its current generation OSes and applications that are effected by the change. For the most complete and update details, check out the following web site. Microsoft should being make this patch available as part of the next release cycle for the current OSes (Windows 2000, XP and 2003). Windows Vista is not effected by this change.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Windows Vista is Now Offically Available...

Microsoft has now made Windows Vista available for the General public to purchase. This is their most secure, stable, and best looking operating system that they have ever created. It includes several new and improved features, which seem too numerous to mention them all. Although, I will be writing several articles on them in the future.

Several of the enhancements are very visible like the Aero interface with Glass effects. Others are under the hood that are not visible like the new security features, such as the new firewall. For example, the first enhancements that you will notice right away after you log in to it for the first time is are the new Start menu, and the greatly improved Windows Explorer.

Demystifying The Versions of Vista
There are five editions of Windows Vista to choose from. Each edition is designed to meet the needs of specific markets.

Two of the editions are for home users (i.e.: Premium and Basic), two of them are for business users (i.e.: Business and Enterprise), and then there is Ultimate edition contains all the features of every edition.

There are also two versions of each edition of Windows Vista, the full and upgrade versions. The full version is intended for new computers that don't have an operating system. The upgrade version requires that you have an older version of Windows that qualifies for an upgrade.
Note: The Full version of Vista is more expensive then the Upgrade version because your computer didn't have a previous version of Windows that qualified for an upgrade installed.
  • Windows Vista Home Editions
    • Home Premium: Contains more features then the Basic edition. (Check the latest prices: Full and Upgrade [Qualifying versions of Windows that can be upgraded are: Windows 2000, Vista Home Basic, and XP])
    • Home Basic: Designed for homes users with basic computing needs such as: e-mail, browsing the Internet, and viewing photos. (Check the latest prices: Full and Upgrade [Qualifying versions of Windows that can be upgraded are: Windows 2000, and XP])
  • Windows Vista Business Editions
    • Business: Designed to meet the needs of a small businesses. (Check the latest prices: Full and Upgrade [Qualifying versions of Windows that can be upgraded are: Windows 2000, Vista Home Basic, Vista Home Premium, and XP])
    • Enterprise: Designed enterprise business customers, has several features for managing and deploying this OS to large, global organizations. (This version of Windows is not available in the retail channel, you must have special enterprise licensing contract from Microsoft to acquire it.)
  • Windows Vista Ultimate: Provides the best features of the editions. (Check the latest prices: Full and Upgrade [Qualifying versions of Windows that can be upgrade are: Windows 2000, Vista Business, Vista Home Basic, Vista Home Premium, and XP])
For a comparison chart of all the different versions of Vista and features they include check out the following web page.

If you have multiple PCs in your home or office that that you want to upgrade, there are also Additional License Packs that you can purchase for a discount. These packs include additional OS licenses that you can used for installing Vista on other computers.

Microsoft is also making it easier for you to upgrade from one version of Vista to another using the Anytime Upgrade licenses. For example, you can upgrade from the Home Basic edition to either the Premium or Ultimate edition. Or if you have the Business edition, you can upgrade it to the Ultimate edition.

Check out the Windows Vista web site for the latest information.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Software: Tax Time Cometh - Electronic Tax Filing

Once you're over the age of 18 and you have an income no matter how big or small, we all face the fact that April 15th is on its way here. This is generally a time for dread or cheer depending on whether you get a refund or owe the tax man.

About 15 to 20 years ago, the only option for filing your taxes was filling out the paper forms, or having an accountant or tax preparer do it for you. Then came the first tax software, which was little more then an electronic version of the paper tax forms. It wasn't too much help, but at least you didn't have to fill-out the forms by hand.

Today, you can still have someone do your taxes, but the tax software is superior then it use to be. The software now has an 'interview' feature that steps you through the whole process, and makes sure that you get the maximum deductions. We also have e-File which is a godsend for the IRS because they don't have to manually input all that data from the paper forms, and it also reduces human error.

Below is a list of the most popular tax preparation software available:
The latest generation of this software is also available online as a web application The advantage of this is that you don't have download or install any software, everything is done from within your browser.

Selecting the Right Software
If you don't know which one of these packages that you want to use, below are my suggestions for selecting the best one that will meet your needs.
  • Read software reviews from sites such as CNET, or PC Magazine.
  • If you use Quicken for managing your finances, then you might want to consider using TurboTax because the programs will work well together.
  • If you did your taxes last year with one of these programs, then you should consider using the same brand again if you want to import your old data so you don't have to re-enter it.
If you have questions about your taxes both of these programs offer help for an additional fee. If you're willing to look the information up yourself, you can use the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) web site for free. This site has all the official information and forms that you will need.

The Free File Program
If your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) was $52,000 or less in 2006, then you can file your federal tax returns for free (note: this doesn't include your state taxes). See the following web page for more information.

Below is an excerpt from the IRS site about the program, "The Free File program is a free federal tax preparation and electronic filing program for eligible taxpayers developed through a partnership between the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Free File Alliance LLC, a group of private sector tax software companies."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Software: Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor

Do you want to find out if your current computer is able to run Microsoft's next generation version of Windows known as Windows Vista? The 'Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor' scans your computer, then helps you determine which version of Vista you should run on your it.

This program requires Windows XP Service Pack 2, with the .NET Framework 1.1 and MSXML 4.0.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Software: Image Resizing Program

Do you need to resize several photographs from your multi-megapixel camera, so that they're smaller and more manageable for posting on the web or emailing? PIXresizer is a free easy to use batch image resizing program, that can process a group of photos and reduce their size.

The program supports the following image formats, JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG and TIFF. The program also leaves the original images unaltered, so you don't have to worry about losing them.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Performance: Make Windows XP Faster (Advanced)

Warning: This is an advance tip, this article covers how to change critical system configurations areas of your computer and its OS that can prevent it from booting properly if modified incorrectly. Follow this advice in this article at your own risk, all liability for any problems that occur are the responsibility of the reader performing the actions. As always its recommended that you have a complete backup of all your data before proceeding.

When you do a fresh install of Windows XP it starts relatively fast (in 30-50 seconds) compared to how long it might take to boot today (maybe over a minute). Generally, there are three main causes of slow booting, bad configuration, useless software, and hardware issues.

To fix these problems there are two things that you can do. One, optimize your existing Windows configuration. Two, add new and faster hardware.

Before I ever recommend adding hardware to your computer, the first thing I would suggest you do is try to optimize your systems configuration. Then if the current performance levels don't satisfy you, then you should add new hardware.

One thing that you will notice in the instructions below, is that in order to reduce your boot time you will have to make certain compromises with features you may or may not need. I try to document as many of the issues that you might encounter by enabling or disabling these features that I am aware of.
Note: Its next to impossible for me to provide the exact steps for all the possible configurations that are available for all systems. The steps below are only general guidelines you can follow to help optimize your system.
Optimizing Your Windows Configuration:
  • Optimizing your BIOS: There are features in your computer's BIOS that can make the boot-up process take longer. By enabling or disabling certain features you can shave a few seconds off the boot time. To enter your systems BIOS you will need to press a key like the Delete or F1 when you see the computer's boot screen when its first starting (consult your computer's manual to find the proper key to press):
    • Enable the quick POST (Power on Self-Test) if your BIOS supports this feature. If not you can disable the POST feature all together.
      • Note: By disabling this feature you prevent your computer from running its hardware diagnostics at boot time, which will prevent you from being notified about problems that could have been detected.
    • Make sure your hard drive is selected as your first boot device. Most of the time the floppy or CD-ROM drive are selected as the first boot device.
      • Note: By making your hard drive the first boot device, you will not be able to directly boot from a floppy or CD. If you need this functionality at a later date, you will need to change the boot order in the BIOS again.
    • Most modern system don't include a floppy drive, so if your BIOS has an option to search the floppy drive you might want to disable it.
  • Modifying the BOOT.INI: Set the TIMEOUT feature in your BOOT.INI file to (zero). This feature causes the Windows boot manager to wait a certain number of seconds before its starts. Generally you only need this feature if you have multiple copies of Windows installed on your system or you need to access the recovery options (if isntalled). Note: If you do have multiple options in the Boot Manager, by changing the TIMEOUT to zero option you you will only be able to boot to your default selection.
    • To modify the BOOT.INI file you can use the MSCONFIG tool.
      • From the Run... command type "MSCONFIG.EXE"
      • Click the BOOT.INI tab
      • Set the Timeout field to '0' (zero) seconds
      • Press the OK button
        • Note: You can also prevent the Windows XP bootscreen from loading by selecting the default boot path, and checking the NOGUIBOOT checkbox option.
  • Use a static IP address: By assigning a static IP address to your computer for your local network, you prevent the delay it takes to get a new IP address from the DHCP server every time your computer boots. Note: If this is a notebook computer by disabling this feature you prevent it from automatically picking up a new IP address when you visit a foreign network.
    • Open the Control Panel folder, and then open the 'Network Connections' folder.
    • Right-click the network adapter card and click Properties.
    • On the General tab, select 'Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)' in the list of services
    • Press the Properties button. From here you can assign a static IP address.
    • Press the OK button when done.
  • Disable Remote Assistance/Desktop: If you're not using the Remote Desktop or Remote Assistance feature, you should disable them. Note: By disabling this feature you will be unable to remotely administrate your system over the network from another computer.
    • From the Start menu, right-click 'My Computer' and select Properties.
    • Click the Remote Tab.
    • Uncheck the Remote Assistance and/or Remote Desktop checkboxes.
    • Press the OK button
  • Disable Unused System Resources: Services, device drivers, and startup applications all stay in memory when your computer is running, and all of them are consuming CPU resources whether you're using them or not.
Warning: You have to be extremely careful when removing drivers, stopping/disabling services, and disabling startup applications. By disabling the wrong resources you can prevent Windows from booting. If you don't know what you're doing, skip this step.
    • Device Drivers: Open the Device Manager, from the View menu select 'Show Hidden Devices' and uninstall any drivers that you're no longer using.
    • System Services: From the 'Administrative Tools' folder, open the Services console. Review the services and stop and disable any services that you may not be using. Disable things like the 'Index Service' or 'Fast User Switching' if you're not using them.
    • Startup Applications: Download Sysinternals Autoruns, and disable any startup applications that don't need to be loaded. Check the WinTasks Process Library to find out what these applications are for. This site also contains references to malware executables and what they do.
  • Update Your Device Drivers: Microsoft and other device manufactures update their device drivers from time to time. By making sure you have the latest driver, you might fix a problem that could be making your computer take a long time to load.
    • To upgrade your device driver visit WindowsUpdate or the device manufacturer's web site and download the latest software for your hardware.
  • Remove Unneeded Fonts: If you have more then 500 fonts installed on your system, this can increase your computer's boot time. The reason for this is that the more fonts you have, the longer it takes for the system to process them.
    • See the following article for instructions on how to remove system fonts.
  • Remove Unused Applications: Some applications can install services that are constantly running in the background whether you're using them or not. By uninstalling unused applications that you're not using, you can prevent these services from being loaded and run.
    • From the Control Panel folder, open the 'Add/Remove Programs' applet. From here you can remove most programs that you installed on your computer.
    • From this control panel, you can also press the 'Add/Remove Windows Components' button, to remove such applications as MSN Messenger, Indexing service, and more.
  • Checking the Hard Drive: Running a scan disk on your system on a regular basis can help keep Windows running at its peak performance. If you're having problems (such as bad disk sectors) with your hard drives media, then files can get corrupted.
    • Open My Computer under the Start menu
    • Right-click on the C: (or whatever hard drive you want to check) drive icon, select Properties.
    • Select the Tools tab
    • Press the 'Check Now...' button, in the 'Error-checking' section.
    • Check the 'Automatically fix file system errors' and/or 'Scan for and attempt to recovery of bad sectors' checkboxes.
      • Note: The bad sector checking process can take several hours to complete depending on the size of your hard drive. Don't plan on using your computer during this time.
    • Press the Start button when you're ready to begin.
  • Make sure your hard drive is using the NTFS file system, its faster and more robust then the older FAT16 and FAT32 file systems.
    • To check the status of your drive's file system, open up the Windows Explorer and right-click the drive and select Properties. If you discover that your hard drive is not using NTFS, and want to convert the file system to it, read the following article.
      • Note: The NTFS conversion process can take several hours to complete depending on the size of your hard drive. Don't plan on using your computer during this time. Also, this process can't be undone once it has been started.
  • Running Drive Cleanup: Use the Disk Cleanup utility to remove excess files off your computer that you don't need anymore. This helps make sure that your hard drive will have enough space for they OS and its applications to be able write its files to the disk.
    • Read the following article on how to use this utility.
  • Scanning For Malware: Any type of Malware (i.e.: viruses, spyware, etc.) can and will consume system resources that will slow down your computer. It's a good idea to run regular scans of your hard drive.
    • Make sure that your system is running an anti-virus and anti-malware scanner, and make sure you keep these applications updated. Read the following article to find a list of free anti-virus/anti-spyware utilities.
  • Update Your OS and Applications: Its important to make sure that your running all the latest patches for your OS and applications.
    • Use WindowsUpdate to make sure your OS and Microsoft applications have the latest updates installed into them. Press the Custom button on the WindowsUpdate site to access all the non-critical updates.
    • For non-Microsoft applications, some program's include built-in version checking features to let you know if you're running the latest version of their software.
  • Enable/Disable System Animation: For the best system performance, turn off any or all unnecessary Windows XP animations, and disable Active Desktop. Windows XP also comes with several different predefined settings options that you can choose from
    • Open the Control Panel from under the Start menu.
    • Double-click the System icon.
    • Click on the Advanced tab
    • Press the Settings... button located under Performance section.
    • From here you can tell Windows to manage the animation, you can adjust it for best performance or appearance, and you can also customize which animations you want to enable or disable.
    • Press the OK buttons when done.
  • Optimize Your Swap File: Almost every version of Windows uses Virtual Memory, which means that you have a swap file on your computer. The swap file is used to holds the contents of your RAM to give your system more usable memory. There are a few simple tricks that you can do to optimize your swap file to allow your system to work more efficiently. Below are some articles that I have written on this subject.
  • Defragment Your Hard Drive: To help keep your hard drive in top shape, you should periodically defragment it to help provide the quickest possible access to your files. When you run a hard disk defragmenter, it rearranges the files on it so that their in a linear pattern so that they can be loaded quicker.
    • Here is an article on how to defragment your hard drive.
  • Enabling IDE DMA Access: There is a small chance the DMA (Direct Memory Access) option for your IDE ATA/ATAPI controller could be disabled in Windows. The DMA mode transfers provide the quickest possible method of moving data to and from your ATA device (such as your hard drive and CD/DVD drives). For more information about option, check out the following article from Microsoft.
    • Open the Device Manager on your computer.
    • Double-click the IDE ATA/ATAPI Controllers to display the available ATA devices.
    • Right-click on the Primary or Secondary IDE Channel and select Properties.
    • Click the 'Advanced Settings' tab.
    • Then in the Device 0 or Device 1 sections, in the 'Transfer Mode' drop-down menu, select 'DMA if available' only if the current setting is 'PIO Only.'
    • Press the OK buttons when done.
  • Checking Your Hardware: It's a good idea ever six months or so to perform some basic checks of your computer's hardware to make sure it running properly and to perform some basic maintenance.
    • It doesn't happen too often, but your computer's RAM can fail occasionally. If your computer randomly displays BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) while you're using it, or failing to start at all. This is a good indication your computer's RAM is bad.
      • There are two free popular utilities that you can use for checking your computer's RAM. There is Microsoft's 'Windows Memory Diagnostic' utility, or MemTest86. Both of these programs create a boot CD or Floppy that you can use to check your computer's RAM.
    • To make sure your hard drive is running in its peak condition, check the S.M.A.R.T. counters of your hard drive. If you don't know what S.M.A.R.T. is, they are performance and diagnostic counter that track the status of your drive. These counters track, temperature, errors, etc. To access the S.M.A.R.T. data on your hard drive, you can use a utility like HDTune.
    • Its a good idea to open your computer's case and blow out all the dust and debris that builds up. If you work in a dirty or dusty environment you should do it more often. You should also check all the fans they're working properly. Too much heat will kill a computer, or cause it to become unstable.
      • Sometimes it's possible that there are loose connectors in your system, it doesn't hurt to make sure that all the connectors are firmly seated in all your devices (such as the hard drive, optical drives, motherboard, etc.) Also make sure that expansion cards are firmly seated in their slots.
      • If your computer gets moved around a lot, your external connectors to the different devices attached to your computer can become loose. Make sure they're properly seated in the port that they're connected to.
      • Be aware of cheap capacitors that leak. All types of computer peripherals (including the motherboard and power supply) can fail prematurely do to capacitors that are leaking. If you can find evidence of this problem contact the manufacture and see if they will replace product even if its out of warranty. For more information on this subject, see the following article.
    • Check the manufacturer's web site to find out if there are any firmware update for your motherboard or other computer peripherals (such as your video card, sound card, etc.). These updates generally contain fix known bugs, and add new features and functionality.
    • Here is a series of articles that I wrote on 'General Windows Maintenance Tips' (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4)
  • Buying Faster Hardware: Tweaking your system will give you small boasts in your system's performance. Although for greater increases in your system's speed you're going to need to upgrade your hardware. Here is an article to get you started.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Windows XP: Basic Networking Utilities

Below is a list of some command line network utilities that come with Windows that you can use for troubleshooting some basic network problems. The problem with these utilities is that they're not very intuitive until you learn to understand what you're looking at.

The primary use of them is to find out if different parts of your computer's network subsystems are working properly. For example if you're able to PING a remote computer, then you know that your computer is able to talk to it and that it's able to talk back to you. The IPCONFIG command is handy for finding out information about your computer's TCP/IP information, such as your IP address.

In order to access these utilities you must use the MS-DOS command prompt. To access the command prompt, from the Run... command under the Start menu, type CMD and press Enter. To exit the command prompt, close the window or type EXIT and press enter.

PING [hostname]
Example : ping
Preforms a basic network test to see if you can communicate with a remote computer. This is generally the first utility that you should run if you're having a network problems. Type "PING /?" for more information on this command.
TRACERT [hostname]
Example: traceroute
Shows the path and the number of routers (aka hops) that the data pass through to arrive to the destination, if a connection is broken, you can see where its happening at. Type "TRACERT /?" for more information on this command.
Example : ifconfig
Shows the basic TCP/IP network information for your computer, such as the IP address, subnet mask, and default gateway. Type "IPCONFIG /?" for more information on this command.
NSLOOKUP [hostname]
Example: nslookup
Displays the remote IP address of a domain name based on the DNS information. This is a good test to make sure that your DNS connection is working properly. Type "NSLOOKUP /?" for more information on this command.

Below is an example of the output:
Non-authoritative answer:
NETSTAT [options]
Example: netstat -nt
Displays the current TCP/IP based connections established on your computer. This is handy to see the remote TCP/IP connections your system is using. Type "NETSTAT /?" for more information on this command.
TELNET [hostname] [port]
Example: telnet 80
Allows you to set up a simple terminal session with a another computer to perform different tasks, such as remote computer administration or running text based applications. This utility can also be used for doing basic troubleshooting on HTTP, SMTP, and other text based computer services.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Web Site: Zamzar - Free Online File Conversion

Do you have a file that you can't read (such as a postscript file) because you don't have an application that knows how read it? Sometimes your only solution is to convert it to another file format (such as a Adobe Acrobat document).

Zamzar is a free web site that supports conversion of files between a wide variety of different formats (i.e.: document, image, music, and video). The site is adding support for new formats whenever they can.

Monday, January 08, 2007

How to Sync Google Calendar with Outlook and Smartphones Automatically

I use several of Google's services, and one thing that has prevented me from using Google Calendar services was not having the ability to sync it with my Outlook calendar. I went looking for a solution to this problem, and I found a great article that discusses how to do it.

There is a free program called RemoteCalendars that allows you to perform the syncing operation between Google Calendar and Outlook. Read the article for the complete instructions on how to do this.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Article: Security Flaws Haunt PDF, OpenOffice Users

eWeek reports: "Serious security vulnerabilities in two desktop applications could allow malicious hackers to plant malicious code on millions of computers, according to warnings from the U.S. government's computer emergency response team. ... The more serious of the two is a cross-site scripting bug in Adobe's ever-present Acrobat Plug-In, which fails to properly validate user-supplied data. "

The flaw as been patched in Adobe Reader 8, and Open Office v2.1. If you are not running these versions of this software, you should upgrade soon. For more information about the vulnerabilities read the article.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Windows XP: Installing .NET v3.0

Sometime in the near future you may need to install the Microsoft .NET v3.0 Framework in order to run a particular program. The Microsoft .NET Framework is a set of predefined functions that applications can call that are able to preform advanced operations. If you're a programmer the .NET Framework can help you produce your applications quicker, and even help make them more robust.

If you download a program that requires you to install the Microsoft .NET v3.0 Framework, then it will not run until you install this software on your computer.

Here is the latest version of the .NET Framework that you can download. If you want more information on this software then check out this site.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Windows XP: Remote Desktop Connection Client (v6.0)

Microsoft recently release an updated version of their Remote Desktop Connection Client for Windows XP that supports the new Windows Vista features. The Remote Desktop Connection Client is used for connecting to a remote Windows computer running Remote Desktop or Windows Terminal Services. It is also used for remotely administering a Windows server that has this feature enabled.

The software includes new security features, such as it now prompts you to enter your username and password before logging on to a remote system. It then passes the credentials to the remote computer when it connects.

To download this software, check out Microsoft's KB article: 925876. This page includes links to download all versions of this application (including Windows 2003 Server, and the x86 and x64 versions).

Starting the Remote Desktop Connection Client
To launch this application from the Start menu, click 'All Programs', click Accessories, and then click 'Remote Desktop Connection'.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Interet Explorer 7: Deleting Remember Passwords

Internet Explorer has a very useful feature that allows the application to remember your usernames and passwords to all the different sites that you use. This feature prevents you from having remember or enter this information when you visit a web site that requires you to authenticate yourself.

If you're worried about your privacy you may not like this information being stored in your browser. I only recommend using this feature on sites that don't contain personal, private or financial information. All the sites that contain this private data should have the login information stored into an application that will encrypt it just in case your computer becomes compromised. (I will address this subject in a future article)

To delete the remembered passwords, follow the instructions below:
  • Launch Internet Explorer.
  • From the Tools menu, and select 'Internet Options...'
  • In the 'Internet Options' dialog box, on the General tab press the Delete... button in the 'Browsing History' section.
  • Press the 'Delete Passwords...' button, then press the Yes button to confirm this action.
  • When done, press the Close button, then the OK button.