Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Windows Live online suite grows

The Seattle Times reports: "Microsoft is renewing its online-services push with products for storing and sharing photos and files. ... The company planned to announce today the release of test versions of Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Folders, adding to a suite of more than 20 services in various stages of development."

Microsoft released test versions of Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Folders today. Adding to the more than 20 services that are already available.

The Windows Live Folders offers up to 500MB of free storage. While Windows Live Photo Gallery is an upgraded version of of the Photo Gallery software that ships with Windows Vista. The good news is that its also backwards compatible with Windows XP.

Here is a slide show from eWeek to see the services in action.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Windows Vista: Performance Information And Tools

The 'Performance Information And Tools' control panel allows you to adjust Windows features to get the best performance and user experience from your system. This is also where you can view the Windows Experience Index (WEI), which rates your system on a scale 1 to 5.9.

The higher the WEI rating the faster your system. If you get a WEI rating of 1 that could mean that you might not want to run Vista on your computer. If you get a 5.9 rating, that means your system is very fast.

Below is a list of the tools in the Tasks pane on the left side of the window in the Performance Information And Tools control panel:
  • Managing startup programs (Help OS to load more quickly by preventing useless programs from loading).
  • Adjusting visual effects (Turn on or off features that you like or don't use to get the best experience and performance).
  • Adjusting indexing options (control how much of your system resources can be for indexing data on your computer).
  • Adjusting power settings (Balance your power consumption vs. performance needs) .
  • Open Disk Cleanup (Clean up your hard drive by removing useless file from it).
  • Advanced tools (Contains: Event Log, Reliability And Performance Monitor, Task Manager, System Information, Disk Defragmenter, and more).

Monday, June 25, 2007

Windows Vista: Enhancing Performance

Windows Vista includes a new stylish graphical user interface with transparencies, animations, and more. This new interface is called Aero, and is system resource intensive (meaning it requires a fast: CPU, RAM, and a graphics card) to create all the 'eye candy' that you see.
Note: I know I am going to get emails about the term 'eye candy'. This term refers to extra effects on screen (such as the transparencies and animations) to make it look pretty, but are not critical to the operation of the computer.
Below are some suggestions that help increase the speed of your system by reducing the fancy graphics in Areo to free up system resources:
  • Turn off transparency - Right-click the desktop, click Personalize, and click 'Windows Color and Appearance' link then uncheck 'Enable Transparency'. Press the OK button when done.
  • Turn off the visual effects - Open Control Panel, click 'Performance Information and Tools', and then click 'Adjust Visual Effects' in the left task pane. In the 'Performance Options' dialog uncheck the line items for the effects that you want to disable (such as: animations, fades, etc.) or click select one of the options below:
    • Let Windows choose what's best for my computer
    • Adjust for best appearance
    • Adjust for best performance
  • Turn off the Sidebar - Right-click the Sidebar, click Properties, and uncheck 'Start Sidebar when Windows starts'. Press the OK button when done. Then, right-click the Sidebar and select 'Close Sidebar' from the menu.
  • Turn off the Aero theme - Right-click the desktop, click Personalize, and click 'Windows Color and Appearance'. Towards the bottom of the dialog click the link 'Open classic appearance properties for more options' and choose a theme in the 'Color Scheme' list box (such as: Windows Classic, Windows Vista Basic, or Windows Standard theme). Press the OK button when done.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Windows Vista: Dump Files

When your computer crashes it creates what is called a 'dump file', which is a file that contains the contents of your computer's RAM. This file can be used to diagnose and troubleshoot a system failure by a trained professional who understands the contents of it.

To most people these files are a nuisance because of the amount of disk space they can consume. These files can also be a security risk because they can potentially contain sensitive information, such as passwords stored in the computer's memory.

If you want to disable the dump file option, follow the instructions below:
  • Open the Start menu, and select Control Panel folder.
  • Double-click the System control panel.
  • Click the 'Advanced system settings' link in the left pane.
  • Press the Settings... button in the 'Startup and Recovery' section.
  • In the 'System failure' section, in the 'Write debugging information' drop-down menu select '(none)'
  • Press the OK buttons when done.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Article: Buy Samsung's Hybrid Hard Drive Next Week; Preorders Taken Now

PC Magazine reports: "Samsung's first hybrid hard drives will be available for end-user purchase in a week's time, although only a limited subset of customers with the latest hardware may be able to take advantage of them. ... The new drive contains 256 Mbytes of flash memory, which is used as a "write cache" as part of Microsoft's "ReadyDrive" initiative. The drives store data to be written on the flash cache, writing it all in one fell swoop when the cache is full. Writing the data all at once allows the laptop's drive to only spin up when it needs to, instead of operating at full speed to write a few bits of data here and there."

Anyone waiting for the new 'ReadyDrive' hybrid hard drives your wait is almost over. The technology promises greater speed and improved battery life. Now we have to wait and see if it can deliver on both of these promises.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Article: AT&T quietly offers $10 DSL plan

Boston Globe reports: "AT&T Inc. has started offering a broadband Internet service for $10 a month, cheaper than any advertised plan. ... The DSL, or digital subscriber line, plan introduced Saturday is part of the concessions made by AT&T to the Federal Communications Commission to get its $86 billion acquisition of BellSouth Corp. approved last December."

Are you looking for a cheap DSL connection? AT&T will makes you jump through a few hoops to find this plan, but if you look hard enough you may be able to take advantage of it.

Make sure to read the article to find out more information. Also check out this article from Gearlog to get even more information.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Video: What is LightScribe?

Have you been seeing more and more CD/DVD drives with LightScribe technology built into it. Before you buy into this technology, I would suggest watching the following video from Chris Pirillo (of Lockergnome fame). I thought he did a decent job of explaining the technology in a recent video. Its very non-professional, maybe a little humorous (and annoying) at times but it has decent content.

Here is an excerpt from the page: "LightScribe is a technology that lets you inscribe the non-data side of your LightScribe capable media (you can’t use a regular CD-R or DVD-R). Once you burn the data to disk you flip the disk over in the drive and the LightScribe drive etches an image on the top of the disk."

Remember: In order to use this technology, you have to have a CD/DVD drive, software, and media that supports the LightScribe functionality before you can use it. Also this technology doesn't work with non-LightScribe drives or media.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Windows Vista: 32-Bit or 64-Bit Editions

Windows XP x64 was the first 64-bit edition of the consumer version of the Windows OS. Windows Vista like XP comes in two versions, the x86 (32-bit) and the x64 (64-bit) versions.

Some people might ask what's the difference between x86 and the x64 versions of Windows? I will over simplify the answer by telling you the biggest difference between the two OSes:
  • x64 version of Vista can address up to 128GB of RAM (the x86 version can only address up to 4GB of RAM)
  • x64 version of Vista supports Data Execution Prevention (DEP). DEP can helps protect your computer against software-based attacks by preventing code executing in memory that's marked for data only.
The two biggest problems with the x64 version of Windows, is that it requires 64-bit versions of all your hardware drivers (i.e.: printers, video, sound, etc.). There are also some application compatibility problems with older programs.

In Vista's defense it's worth noting newer hardware is shipping with the 32 and 64-bit versions of the drivers. Some hardware manufactures are also updating their drivers to work with the 32 and 64-bit versions of Vista. Check your hardware manufacturer's web site for more information.
  • You can't use the 32-bit drivers in the x64 version of Windows.
  • All x64 drivers have to be digitally signed by the manufacture in order to be installed in the x64 version of Windows.
  • The 64-bit version of Vista lacks support for older 16-bit DOS and Windows applications altogether.
So you might ask at this point should I upgrade to the x64 version of Windows Vista, and my answer is that all depends. If you need to run the x64 versions of applications, then you should upgrade. If you don't need to run these application and you don't need to access more then 4GB of RAM then you should run the x86 version of the OS.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Article: FBI tries to fight zombie hordes

BBC reports: "The FBI is contacting more than one million PC owners who have had their computers hijacked by cyber criminals. ... The initiative is part of an ongoing project to thwart the use of hijacked home computers, or zombies, as launch platforms for hi-tech crimes. "

I applaud the FBI for taking this action, and having the foresight to realize that it can also be exploited by fraudsters to steal your personal information. Here is a excerpt from the FBI press release on how they will handle the situation: "The FBI will not contact you online and request your personal information so be wary of fraud schemes that request this type of information, especially via unsolicited emails. To report fraudulent activity or financial scams, contact the nearest FBI office or police department, and file a complaint online with the Internet Crime Complaint Center,

If you want more information about Botnets here is article from Wikipedia about it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Software: Apple's New Safari Beta Works on Windows PCs

PC Magazine reports: "Apple today jumped into the Windows Web-browser fray by introducing Safari 3 for both the Mac and Windows platforms—and have touted significant speed advantages for the new browser. The announcement was one of many made during the WWDC conference and show."

The free beta is now available at Apple's web site. Also make sure to check out PC Magazine slideshow.

Note: There are security flaws that have already been detected within this software, so be very careful when evaluating it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Software: Microsoft Windows Mobile Device Center 6.1 for Windows Vista

Microsoft made an update available for the Windows Mobile Device Center in Windows Vista. This update primarily contains Windows Mobile 6 support, but other features have been added.

Below is a brief list of the the enhancement made to Device Center:
  • Windows Mobile 6 feature support
    • Information Rights Management activation
    • HTML mail support
    • Certificate Enrollment
    • Allow data connections when connected to the PC
    • File synchronization for smartphones
  • Automatic device authentication.
This update is fully compatible with Windows Mobile 2003 devices and later. Download the 32-bit or the 64-bit version of the Windows Mobile Device Center 6.1 for Windows Vista.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Security: Microsoft Patch Tuesday (June)

The second Tuesday of the month is about to passed again, which means that Microsoft just published a new round of security fixes for Windows and it's applications. This date is meant to be a predictable date so that individuals or companies only have to patch their desktop computers and servers once a month. This month there are new for patches that are marked as critical (for the OS, I.E., Outlook Express, and Windows Mail), one marked important (for Office), and marked as moderate (for the OS).

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 your system 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 you run the risk of losing it if your system has to be rebooted.

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

To enable Automatic Updates (Windows XP):
  • 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.
To enable Automatic Updates (Windows Vista):
  • From the Start menu, select 'All Programs' then 'Windows Update'
  • In the left pane, click the 'Change settings' link.
  • Check the 'Install updates automatically (recommended)' option. (optional: if you don't like this feature, you can set it to: 'Download updates but let me choose whether to install them', 'Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them', or 'Never check for updates' [not recommended])
  • Press the OK button when done.

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

Monday, June 11, 2007

Storage: Online File Backups

Computers today are the center pieces for information in our lives. They hold personal documents, photographs, videos, music, recipes, and other types of miscellaneous information. We are constantly adding more and more information to these devices, and we are having to buy larger and larger hard drives to store it all.

What happens when your hard drive fails? Do you have recent backups of your data that are good? If not and you have a system or hardware failure that takes out your data you will have no way to replace it?

There are four rules that you should follow to ensure the safety of your data:
  1. Find a good backup program that you trust
  2. Backup the data on a regular basis (daily or weekly).
  3. Test your backup to make sure they're good (monthly or quarterly).
  4. Store your backup in a alternate location, rather then leaving them next your computer. Its also good idea to have multiple sets of backup that you store off-site.
To protect your data you have a few options to back it up:
  • CD/DVDs. Store it on a CD (700MB) or DVD (4.7GB or 9GB, for single or double layer disks). If you use this method I would recommend buying read/writable disks. Also make sure your DVD burner can burn double-layer disks before buying this media. Note: Older drives can't fully utilize these disks.
  • External hard drive. You can get a lot of storage for not a lot of money these days, and its very fast compared to using CDs/DVDs to store the data. You can also use USB flash card or other type of removable media (i.e.: SD cards, CF cards, etc.).
  • Online storage. The best thing about online storage is that your data is stored off-site. That way if there is a major disaster, and your data is destroyed your data will survive.
Below is a list of online storage providers that you might want to check out:
  • Xdrive: 5GB for free. (requires AOL account), or $9.95 for 50GB per month.
  • JungleDisk: Uses Amazon's S3 service, and cost 15 cents per gigabyte.
  • Mozy: 2GB of free storage, or unlimited for $4.95 a month.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Article: 6 Free Multi-Service IM Clients

ExtremeTech reports: "Tired of all the ads on AIM? Want access to more services than just Yahoo!? There are lots of IM client choices besides the big three—AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, and Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger). The software we examine here lets you hook into any of these three services, and usually more besides, like Jabber. Not all of these applications will offer all of the features you'll find on the big guys—video and voice chat come to mind—but most of them do a good job of unobtrusively keeping you in contact with your comrades."

Many people have a problem of keeping up with all their friends and family on multiple IM networks (such as: AOL, Yahoo, MSN, etc.). This article gives you a review of several multi-network IM clients (such as: Adium, eBuddy, meebo, Meetro, Pidgin (formerly GAIM), and Trillian).

Some of these IM clients are web based so it doesn't require you to install any additional software.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Windows XP: Reseting The IP Protocol Stack

Sometimes the Windows XP TCP/IP protocol stack gets corrupted an you need to reset it back to its original configuration. Back in the old days you use to be able to uninstall and reinstall it. That option is not available anymore.

Now you have to use the NetShell utility to reset the protocol stack. By following the instructions in the Knowledge Base Article you will return the TCP/IP protocol stack back to it's default configuration when it was first installed.

Microsoft even includes their 'Guided Help' feature to help you along the process.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Shopping: Finding Bargins Technology Online

Are you looking for ways to find a good deal online on your electronics? Several years ago when you used the Internet it was easier to find good bargains, but those days seem to be gone. Now you have to hunt for these deals, and use a few tricks to save money.

For example, there was a PDA that I wanted to buy from Dell, but before I bought it I spent a few minutes looking for a coupon code. I was able to find one, and saved a nice chunk of change on the purchase. I have to admit this is the exception to the rule, and not the rule itself.

Below are some suggestions and tips for finding the best deals and to avoid getting ripped off.
  1. Rule #1, burn it into your mind: "If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is..."
  2. Shop from sites that you trust, or ones that you know friends or family use. There are a lot of fraudulent retailers out there. If in doubt Google the site's web address to see what others might have said about it. Other things to look for:
    • Make sure you can find the company's contact information (physical street address, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses) just in case you have problems with your purchase.
    • Read the web site's return policy and make a sure that you understand it. There are generally time limits, required documentation, and other restrictions. Some sites charge a restocking fee for returned items.
  3. Generally the safest way to purchase items online is using a credit card, it offers the best protections against fraudulent retailers. Avoid using debit (or ATM) cards they don't offer the same protections.
  4. When looking for the best deals, make sure to compare the cost + taxes + shipping, and not just the price of the item to find the best bargains. Some stores have really good prices but ridiculously high shipping and handling fees.
  5. Print your receipts, and keep copies of them. Personally I store electronic copies of them using Microsoft XPS format (similar to a PDF document). This feature is built into Vista, all you have to do is select the 'Microsoft XPS Document Writer' from the printer dialog.
Product Reviews
Use these sites to find product reviews of equipment you want before you buy it.
Online Retailer
The sites below are ones that I have used or ones that I know that others have used to get good deals in the past.
Overstock/Refurbished Computers
You have to shop carefully at these sites, my suggestion is only buy brands that you trust.
Product Auction
eBay is the only auction site that I use. Although you have to be extremely careful of what you're buying and who you're buying it from. Make sure that you carefully read the description of the item you're bidding. Read the sellers rating and other feedback, if there is a lot of complaints then buy stuff an your own risk. Also watch for exorbitant shipping costs.
Price Comparison Sites
These sites can help you find good deals on computer equipment. Make sure to check the reseller ratings before purchasing from retailers that you don't know about.
  • (If you have some price comparison sites that you would like me to add, please put them in the comments area.)
Rebate/Coupon Site
If you buy things on major sites like Dell, Circuit City, Best Buy, etc. check out these sites to find bargains and coupon codes.
Government Auctions
The site below offers government surplus, seized and forfeited property.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Windows XP: Disable Automatic Desktop Cleanup

Windows XP includes the 'Automatic Desktop Cleanup' feature that can remove infrequently used icons from the Windows desktop every 60 days. If you really don't care for this feature and want to disable it follow the steps below:
  • Right-click an empty space on the desktop and select Properties.
  • In the Display Properties dialog box, click the Desktop tab.
  • Press the Customize Desktop button.
  • Uncheck the 'Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard Every 60 Days' checkbox.
  • Press the OK buttons to close the dialog boxes.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Software: IZArc (Archive Utility)

IZArc is one of the best free archive utilities available. It provides some of broadest support for multiple compressed and encoded file types.

IZArc supports features like drag and drop files to and from Windows Explorer to create and extract archives. Other features include creating archives that can span multiple disks, creating self-extracting archives, and the ability to repair damaged zip archives. For people who don't speak English, there is also multi-language support.

IZArc supports the following archive formats: 7-ZIP, A, ACE, ARC, ARJ, B64, BH, BIN, BZ2, BZA, C2D, CAB, CDI, CPIO, DEB, ENC, GCA, GZ, GZA, HA, IMG, ISO, JAR, LHA, LIB, LZH, MDF, MBF, MIM, NRG, PAK, PDI, PK3, RAR, RPM, TAR, TAZ, TBZ, TGZ, TZ, UUE, WAR, XXE, YZ1, Z, ZIP, ZOO.