Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Windows Vista: Create a Custom Toolbar

Did you know that you can create a custom toolbar from a folder that contains files in Windows Vista? If you have a folder of related documents, application shortcuts, Internet links, etc. Then you can turn it into a toolbar very easily.
  • Right-click an empty area on your computer's desktop, then select New>Folder.
  • Name the folder whatever you want to call the toolbar (i.e. 'Audio Tools').
  • Place application shortcuts, Internet links, etc. that you want in the toolbar in the new folder you just created.
  • Drag the folder to one of the monitor's 'hard' edges (i.e. an edge where you can't move from one monitor to another if you have multiple monitors) where there isn't a toolbar already. This will create the new toolbar there with the contents of the folder.
  • You can right-click an empty area on the toolbar to configure it.
  • if you have multiple monitors you can't place the toolbar on the 'soft' edge between the monitors.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Windows Vista: How to use CHKDSK Command

Anyone who has used Windows for a long time, should have heard of the CHKDSK utility. I think this utility dates back to the Windows 95 days (but I could be wrong).

If you have never heard of the CHKDSK let me give you a brief explanation of what it does. This is a command-line tool that checks the drives attached to your computer for problems and attempts to repair any issues that it finds. This program can repair disk problems ranging from bad sectors, to directory errors, and more.

Disk problems can be a source of difficulty and should be one of the areas that you can check when trying to troubleshoot issues with your computer. Although there are a few caveats to using this program :
  • CHKDSK can require exclusive access to the drive, so you might get a notification that the disk scan will start the next time you reboot your computer.
  • CHKDSK can take a long time to scan your drive. Generally the larger the drive, the longer the scanning and repairing will take.
As I said earlier CHKDSK is a command-line tool, and will require administrator access to run it. To scan your disk for errors and fix any found problems, follow the instructions below:
  • From the Start menu, in the search field type "CMD" and then press the Ctrl+Shift+Enter. You will get a User Access Control dialog, then press OK button.
  • Then type one of the following command: "CHKDSK C: /F /R" (note: you can replace C: with any drive letter that you want to check).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Windows Vista: File Path Shortcuts (DOS Prompt)

If you like using the command line, you may or may not know the following shortcuts that can help you to be more efficient.

Instead of manually typing a file or directory name you can use the Tab key to complete the name of a file or path. For example, if there are three files in a directory name FileA, FileB, and FileC. If you typed "Fi" and press the Tab key, the file name 'FileA' will automatically be completed. If you press the Tab key again, 'FileA' will become 'FileB', then 'FileC' if the key is pressed again.

This same trick can be applied to directory names. For example, if there are three sub-directories called 'DirectoryA', 'DirectoryB', and 'DirectoryC' in a directory. All you would have to do is type the first few characters of the sub-directory's name and then press the Tab key to complete it or cycle through the other names.

A similar trick is that you can use the '*' (astrick) to act like a wildcard in a directory or file's name. For example, If you typed "cd \pro*\mic*", you would be taken to 'C:\Program Files\Microsoft'.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Software: Stellarium (a Virtual Planetarium)

Want to turn your PC into a virtual Planetarium? Then try Stellarium, a free open source virtual planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D.

This program can also go beyond the standard set of constellation, stars and planets, it can also give you a unique dome shaped look at the heavens above.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Windows Vista: Disabling the Recent Items Menu

Yesterday, I talked about how to clear the 'Recent Items' sub-menu under the Start menu. Today, I am going to show you how to shut off this feature altogether (or how to enable it if it was already turned off).
  • Right-click the Start menu, select Properties.
  • In the 'Start Menu' tab, uncheck 'Store and display a list of recently opened files' check box.
    • To enable this feature check it, instead of unchecking it.
  • Press the OK button when done.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Windows Vista: Clearing Recent Items Menu

Under the Start Menu there is a sub-menu called 'Recent Items' that contains a list of documents that you recently opened. This is a useful feature to quickly access documents that you may often use.

Although some people view this feature as a privacy risk, because they may not want others to know about documents that they may be working on. To clear the 'Recent Items' menu on your computer, follow the steps below:
  • Open the Start menu, right-click 'Recent Items'.
  • Then select 'Clear Recent Items List'.
Anything listed under the 'Recent Items' should now be removed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Web Site: System Requirements Lab

Modern video games are system resource hogs (they can max out your CPU, RAM, hard drive, etc.) because they have to render realistic environments. It seems that the faster and more powerful newer computers become, the more resource hungry video games are.

Do you want to find out if your current computer is capable of running game before you buy it? System Requirements Lab has a browser based utility that can analyze your computer, and tell you how well that game might perform on your system.

To use the site:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Windows Vista: Finding Your MAC Address

Every Ethernet network adapter has a unique MAC address associated with it. The MAC address is a long series of numbers (i.e.: XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX) that is used to identify your adapter on a network. The first half of the MAC address identifies the hardware vendor that created it the adapter, the second part is a unique address.

Sometimes you might need to know what the MAC address of your network adapter. To get this information follow the instructions below:
  • From the Start menu, select Control Panels.
  • Find the 'Network and Sharing Center', and open it.
  • Click the 'Manage network connections' on the left.
  • Find your 'Local Area Connection' (wired) or 'Wireless Network Connection'. Double-click it, and press the Details... button.
  • In the dialog that opens, look for a field called 'Physical Address'. This is the MAC address (i.e.: XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX).
It is worth noting that there is a lot of great information in this dialog not just the MAC address (i.e.: IP address, DNS, subnet mask, etc.) .

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Games: Orange Box

Very, very rarely do I see a video game that inspires me to want to play it, but I recently came across the Orange Box from Valve. If you enjoy video games you want to check out this box set. It contains five games in one package for $39.00 (if you buy it from Amazon plus you get free shipping), normally it retails for $49.00.

Here excerpt of the description from Amazon: "The Orange Box delivers five innovative games from Valve, creators of the Half-Life franchise, in one box. The Orange Box includes Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal, and Team Fortress 2 in addition to full versions of the award-winning Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One for an engrossing first-person action experience."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Software: JConvert (Unit Converter)

JConvert is a free open-source program written in Java that converts various units of measurements from one type to another. This program doesn't require that you install it to get it to work. All you have to do is download and execute it. To uninstall it, just delete the file.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Security: Microsoft Patch Tuesday (October)

The second Tuesday of the month has 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 six new patches altogether. Four are marked as critical (for the OS, Office, and Internet Explorer), two are marked as important (for the OS, and SharePoint).

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 will be rebooted if necessary.

Warning: If you leave your computer on 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 on your computer, 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.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Windows Vista: Change Your Computers Name

When you setup your computer you need to give it a name (such as: deathstar, homecomputer, etc.). If at a later time you want to change the name of your computer, follow the instructions below:

  • Log in to Vista with an account that has administrator privileges.
  • From the Start menu and right-click Computer and select Properties.
  • Under 'Computer Name, Domain, and Workgroup' section, click the 'Change settings' link.
  • On the Computer Name tab, press the Change... button.
  • Enter the new computer name in the field.
  • If necessary, press the More... button and enter the domain name provided by your company or ISP.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Windows Vista: Disabling ClearType

ClearType is a Windows technology that is designed to improve the image quality of the fonts by smoothing them out, which improves readability on LCD monitors. Windows Vista has this feature enabled by default.

In Windows XP, ClearType was disabled by default, so if you wanted to use it you had to turn it on. Some people might not like how this technology make their fonts look on their screen, and may want to disable it. Follow the instructions below to find out how.
  • Right-click an empty area on your desktop and select Personalize.
  • Click 'Windows Color and Appearance'.
  • Click the link "Open classic appearance properties for more color options'.
  • Press the Effects... button.
  • From the dropdown menu under 'Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts' select Standard.
  • Press the two OK buttons, and close the Personalization window.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Windows Vista: Change Windows Sidebar Behavior

Want to change the behavior of the Windows Sidebar? You can do things like, preventing it from starting automatically when you log into Windows, or even turn it off entirely.

Follow the instructions below:

  • Right-click an empty area Windows Sidebar and select Properties.
    • To prevent the sidebar from starting automatically, uncheck the 'Start Sidebar when Windows starts' box.
    • To force the sidebar to stay on top of other windows, check 'Sidebar is alway on top of other windows' checkbox.
    • To control which side of the screen the sidebar is displayed, or which monitor it's displayed on, select the appropriate option.
  • Press the OK button when done.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Windows Vista: Installing a New Font

Windows Vista comes with several different types fonts installed by default. Some of these fonts you may like, and others you may hate.

Sometimes when you install programs like Microsoft Office, they can install even more new fonts into your system.

If you can't find a font that you like, there are numerous sites on Web that provide several different types of fonts (from fancy to regular, to just plain weird). Some sites offer the fonts for free, while others charge for them.

To install a new font you need to add it into the operating system to use it. The instructions below tell you how to accomplish this:
  • From the Start click Control Panel.
  • Click Appearance and Personalization, and then click Fonts.
  • From the File menu, click 'Install New Font...'.
    • Note: If you don't see the File menu tap the ALT key once
  • Select the drive that contains the fonts.
  • Select the folder where the fonts are located.
  • Click the font you want to add and press Install button.
  • Press the Close button when done.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Window Vista: Microsoft Releases DreamScene (Ultimate Extra)

Note: This tip will only work on Windows Vista Ultimate edition.

Last Tuesday Microsoft officially released DreamScene, the first of two remaining Windows Ultimate extras. DreamScene allows you to display videos as an animated desktop background on your computer.

To install the Extras, open 'Windows Update' located under the 'Start menu' > 'All Programs'. You will see it listed under 'Widows Ultimate Extras' in the middle of the window.

For your convenience a few hundred 3D animated DreamScene desktops are available for download at Also For more information on the Windows Ultimate Extras.