Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Software: WinRAR (the new compression standard?)

The ZIP file format has been the unchallenged defacto standard for what seems like more then a decade. It was so popular that Microsoft put support for it in to Windows XP operating system.

Now there is a relatively new format called RAR, that is challenging the old guard. What makes RAR more popular is that it has 8 to 15% better compression then the older ZIP format. It also has multi-platform support (i.e.: Windows, Linux, Mac OS, BSD, and DOS).

WinRAR is a Windows program used for managing your RAR and other archive file types. WinRAR is a commercial program that cost $29 for a single license. Although unRAR is a free program that can be use to decompress RAR files.

Below is a list of some of WinRAR features:
  • Beside the RAR archives file, it can unpack: CAB, ARJ, LZH, TAR, GZ, ACE, UUE, BZ2, JAR, ISO, 7Z, Z.
  • Offers a graphical and command line interface.
  • Supports 128-bits AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption.
  • Support files and archives up to 8,589 billion gigabytes in size.
  • Supports self-extracting and multi-volume archives.
  • Plus more.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Article: New Firefox Updates Eliminate Major Security Flaw

eEeek reports: "Mozilla on Feb. 23 released updated versions of the Firefox browser, v1.5.0.10 and v2.0.0.2, for Windows, Mac and Linux, which include the fix for a major security flaw. ... The 'location.hostname' vulnerability potentially allowed hackers to tamper with authentication cookies for third-party sites, manipulating how Web sites are displayed and how they operate, Mozilla said."

If you have not upgraded your version of the Firefox browser, I would strongly suggest that you do it now.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Windows Vista: Small Icons in the Start Menu

Depending on the size of your monitor and the your own personal preference, you may want to change the size of the icons displayed in Windows Vista's Start menu. If the icons in this menu are too large for you, you can switch to the smaller icons by following the steps listed below:
  • Right click the Taskbar and click Properties.
  • Click the Start Menu tab.
  • Press the Customize button.
  • Uncheck the 'Use large icons' checkbox.
  • Press OK.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Software: Microsoft Virtual PC 2007

Do you need a test environment to try out new (or older) operating systems, and applications. Maybe you need to run an older version of the Windows OS to support a legacy application.

Microsoft is giving away Virtual PC 2007, that allows you to run multiple PC-based operating systems simultaneously on one workstation. This software runs on: Windows XP Professional or Tablet PC editions, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Vista Business/Enterprise/Ultimate editions.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Software: Microsoft Home Server (Beta)

Microsoft first announced its Home Server product at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this January. This software is based on Windows 2003 server, and is scheduled to ship this July.

So far, Hewlett-Packard will be the first hardware vendor to ship a computer with the software pre-installed on the. The new HP MediaSmart Server will be powered by a 1.8GHz AMD Sempron 64-bit CPU, and will include four hard drive bays and four USB ports.

To participate in this beta you must fill out a survey on the site, and then wait to be invited to be able to download the software.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Windows XP: Enabling Print Job Notifications

If you have a shared printer on your home or office network, and that device is in another location. You can enable Windows print job notification to alert you when your print job completes. To enable this feature follow the steps below:
  • From the Start menu and click 'Printers and Faxes'.
  • From the File menu, and select 'Server Properties'.
  • Click the Advanced tab.
  • Check the 'Show informational notifications for network printers' checkbox.
  • Press the OK button when done.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Article: Secure Digital (SD) and SDHC Memory Card Performance Roundup and Review

ExtremeTech reports: "When shooting digital photographs, memory card performance can be critical, particularly if you're using the continuous shooting mode many cameras support. That's the mode where the camera keeps shooting frames as long as you have the button pressed down. Typical speeds for continuous mode range from 2 frames per second in some point-and-shoot cameras to 5 fps for higher-end digital SLRs. These are settings representing high quality or raw modes. After the internal memory buffer in the camera fills up, the camera then writes out the photos to the flash memory card."

There are several different types of removable media cards (i.e.: SD, Memory Stick, MMC, etc.) that are now available that you can use in cameras, cellphones, PDAs, and other devices. The most popular of these formats is SD.

Modern SD cards are going through a technology transformation that could make the newer higher speed higher capacity cards incompatible with your older devices. If you have a high speed digital camera that can take advantage of these new advances then you might want to learn about the technology. Read the article for more information.

Article: New Vista firewall fails on outbound security

ComputerWorld reports: "Microsoft Corp. has touted Windows Vista as providing significant security improvements over Windows XP, and it offers the Windows Firewall, with its new two-way filtering feature, as one example of that better security. ... But as shipped, the Windows Firewall offers little outbound protection, and it's not clear how outbound protection can be configured to protect against spyware, Trojan horses and bots."

The Windows Vista firewall is improved over Windows XP firewall, but comes up short when compared to other commercial firewalls. Although, the firewall that comes as part of OneCare is actually better then the one that comes with Vista.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Windows XP: Vista Transformation Pack

Want to make Windows XP look like Windows Vista, then you should check out the 'Vista Transformation Pack'. Below is a list of some of the Vista Transformation Pack includes:
  • Boot screen
  • Welcome Screen
  • Logon Screen
  • New visual styles
  • New desktop and file icons
  • And more...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Windows Vista: Memory Diagnostic Utility

Windows Vista includes several new and updated diagnostic utilities. Vista now includes a built-in a memory diagnostic utility, in previous versions of the OS you had to download this utility separately and create a boot disk or CD.

If Vista detects a problem with your computer's RAM, it will automatically display a notification asking if you want Vista to try to detect if there is a problem. You can also manually run this utility anytime by running "MDSCHED.EXE" (which is located in the %SystemRoot%\System32\ directory) from the command prompt, or from the Search bar under the Start menu.

Note: You will have to reboot your computer to utilize this utility.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Windows Vista: Problem Reports and Solutions Control Panel

When a problem is found with your hardware or software, Windows Vista automatically collects information about it. This information can then be sent to Microsoft anonymously to be analyzed to find out if there's an available solution that can fix the problem.

The 'Problem Reports and Solutions' control panel displays details about the problems that your computer had and possible solutions to correct the problem. To access this utility, open the 'Control Panel' from the Start menu, select 'System and Maintenance', and click 'Problem Reports and Solutions'.

From the Task pane on the right you can:
  • Check for new solutions
  • See problems you had
  • View your problem history
  • Change applications setting
  • Clean the solutions and problem history.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Security: Microsoft Patch Tuesday (Feburary)

It's the second Tuesday of the month again, which means that Microsoft just published another round of security fixes for Windows and it's applications. This date is meant to be a predictable date so that companies only have to patch their computers and servers once a month. This month there are three patches that are marked critical, and four patches that are marked important.

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

Warning: Before you leave your computer at night make sure you save all your work or it will be lost if your system has to be rebooted.

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

To enable Automatic Updates:
  • From the Start menu, select the Control Panel folder.
  • Double-click the System applet in the control panel folder.
  • Click the 'Automatic Updates' tab.
  • Check the 'Automatic (recommended)' option. (optional: if you don't like this feature, you can set it to: 'download but not install the update', 'just notify you', or 'disable this feature altogether' [not recommended])
  • Press the OK button when done.

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

Monday, February 12, 2007

Article: The Best Free Software

PC Magazine reports: "Most software is expensive and bloated. Yet free software typically does one task and does it with precision and elegance. Among the thousands of free apps available on the Web, how do you find the best, most reliable ones for your needs? ...
To produce this story, we asked PC Magazine staffers to share their best-loved free software and were inundated with responses. Our recommendations are the apps that real people use everyday, at work and at home, for all kinds of tasks—photo editing and DVD burning, database work and intrusion detection, VoIP calling and stargazing. They're tried and tested, the best tools you can get—and they're all free."

Are you looking for free software for your computer? This article has a lot of good suggestions, although some of them are better then others. Check it out and see if you find anything you like.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Software: Foxit Reader (an Acrobat Alternative)

The Adobe Acrobat PDF reader seems to be growing a few megabytes in size in each version that is released. If you don't use most of Acrobat's features, then you might want to look to one of the most popular alternatives. This program is called Foxit Reader, and its more then 10x smaller then the Acrobat reader.

Version 2.0 of Foxit was just released with several new features:
  • Interactive form filler
  • Multi-language UI support
  • On-demand download of add-on
  • Self upgrade
  • Javascript support
  • Improved printing speed
  • Streamlined UI and much more.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Software: VideoLAN Media Player

Looking for an free alternative multimedia player, to play your audio and video collection? The VideoLAN client (VLC) supports several audio formats (such as: MP3, Vorbis, FLAC, MACE, etc.), video formats (such as: MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX), and various streaming network protocols. VLC can even play DVDs and VCDs.

If you want to know more, here is a complete list of all the features. If you want to see what the program looks like before you download it here are some screenshots.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Software: Best Free Personal Computer Firewall

Windows XP SP2 comes with a free firewall that will protect you against most attacks from the Internet. Although, most fee-based commercial personal firewalls, generally offer more advanced security features that can protect your data from being leaked out of your computer by malicious software.

So for the security conscious person, they will want to install something better then what comes with the OS. In the past, I have recommended the free version of ZoneAlarm. Although, now I have found something better. It's called the 'Comodo Firewall', and best of all its free.

Below is a list of some of the features of this firewall:
  • Application Component Authentication: validates all the components of an application before allowing it internet access.
  • Application Behavior Analysis: analyzes each application's behavior and detects any suspicious activity before allowing internet access.
  • Defense against Trojan Protocols: advanced protocol driver level protection
  • Smart Alerts: Every alert includes a Security Consideration section with advice to users.
  • And several more. Check out the web site for the complete list of features.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Windows Vista: Business Test Drive

Want to learn more about Windows Vista without having to install it? Microsoft is offering a Vista 'test-drive' program that allows you to use the new features of the OS before loading it on to your system. The site includes videos on how to perform certain tasks in the new OS, and it also has a terminal server version of Vista that you can actually play with.

The test-drive program runs in the Internet Explorer browser, and does require that you install an ActiveX control to use the site. If you're really interested in seeing and playing with Vista before you install it on your computer this is not a bad place to start.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Windows Vista: Windows PowerShell 1.0 (Released)

Microsoft has release a more powerful command line for its operating systems called Windows PowerShell. This feature is now available for Windows XP, Server 2003, and Vista.

The Windows XP version was released before the Vista version, so the released Vista version is harder to find. Here are the download locations for the Vista versions of Windows PowerShell 1.0.
For more details on PowerShell, check out the web sites below:

Friday, February 02, 2007

Software: Microsoft Photo Info

Microsoft recently released a new add-on to the Windows Vista and XP Explorer that allows you to edit the picture's metadata. Metadata is embedded text data that is included with every picture to you take with a digital camera, it stores information about the camera, lens settings, etc.

Below is a excerpt from the site: "Microsoft Photo Info is a new software add-in for Microsoft Windows that allows photographers to add, change and delete common 'metadata' properties for digital photographs from inside Windows Explorer. It also provides enhanced 'hover tips' and additional sort properties for digital photographs in Explorer (in Details view)."

To use the utility after you install it, from the Windows Explorer right-click a picture and select 'Photo Info'.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Windows Vista: Upgrading to Vista

If you decided its time to upgrade your old computer to Windows Vista, then I am going to tell you the best way to complete this install. Although, I have to warn you that is not the easiest method to accomplish this upgrade, but in the long run you should have fewer problems and your system should even run faster (initially).

Pre-Installation Checklist:
  • Make sure your system can handle the hardware requirements of Windows Vista.
  • Download and run the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor, this might identify known problems with your hardware or software.
  • Make sure that you have Vista compatible versions of your applications and their associated license keys (if required). You also want to make sure that you have a Vista compatible version of your anti-virus software.
  • Windows Vista comes pack full of drivers for older peripherals. If you have system with newer hardware visit the manufacturer's web site and download the latest drivers for your hardware that is Vista compatible.
  • Visit your motherboard and graphics card manufacturer's web site and search for firmware update for this hardware.
  • Backup all your data, and anything else that you know you will need. Also be aware applications like Firefox and Outlook don't store their data files in the 'My Document' subdirectory.
    • Microsoft has created the 'Windows Easy Transfer' wizard that can all your files and settings to an extra hard drive (or other storage device). Then after you finish installing Windows Vista, you run the 'Windows Easy Transfer' wizard again to reload your files and settings on the upgraded PC. Go here to download versions of this software for Windows XP and 2000.
Installing Windows Vista
  • Before you start you make sure that you have the Windows Vista installation media and product key for the version of Vista that you're going to install.
  • The best type of installation you can do of any operating system is to perform what is called a 'clean install'. This type of install requires you to format your computer's hard drive, and then put a fresh copy of the OS on it.
    • Warning: Formating your computer hard drive will destroy all your data to make sure that you have a good backup of your data before performing this operation.
  • After you finish the install make sure that you run the 'Window Update' application and download all the latest updates and drivers for your computer.
  • Open the System control panel from the Control Panel folder, then click the link for the Device Manager in the upper left corner. Check if the Device Manager is having problems identifying any of your hardware.
  • Install your applications, and copy your data back to the computer and organize it as appropriate. There are certain advantages to putting your pictures in the Picture folder, video into the Video folder, etc.
    • The first thing that you will notice is that these folders have new locations under your User directory, and not under the 'My Documents' folder like they were in Windows XP.