Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Windows Vista: Built-in Calendar Program

One of Windows Vista's new features is the built-in calendaring program, called Windows Calendar. It provides functionality similar to Microsoft's Outlook calendaring feature, but unlike Outlook there is a separate application called Windows Mail for managing your email.

Some of the Windows Calendar features include: sharing your calendar with others, creating multiple calendars for different events, and publish the calendars for others to subscribe to. You can also color code calendar items, search for specific appointments and tasks, and set up recurring events or add reminders to appointments.

To access Windows Calendar, open the Start menu, in the Search field type Calendar then press the Enter key.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Software: Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2008 (Free)

Microsoft has made available an updated version of its Office Accounting. There is a free version called Express and a paid version that has several more features.

If you manage your home-based business and are just looking for a way to manage your accounts, track your invoices and bill payment, the free version might be what you're looking for. Otherwise you will have to buy the full version to use all the features.

Some of the features include:

  • Create quotes, invoices, and receipts.
  • Write checks, track expenses, and reconcile online bank accounts.
  • Convert a quote into an invoice without having to transfer information from one program to another.
  • Track employee time.

Resource links:
Product information
Download the program

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Software: Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer v2.1

The Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA) is a free standalone vulnerability assessment tool that can scan your Windows systems to identify common security mis-configurations and missing security updates. The MBSA also includes a graphical and command line interface that can perform local or remote scans of Microsoft Windows systems.

MBSA 2.1 added support for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. MBSA 2.1 also provides full 64-bit installation, scan tool and vulnerability assessment (VA) checks, improved SQL Server 2005 checks, and support for the latest Windows Update Agent (WUA) and Microsoft Update technologies.

More information on the capabilities of MBSA 2.1 is available on the MBSA Web site.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Windows Vista: Setting a Default Access Point

By default, Windows Vista will automatically switch your computer from one Wireless Access Point (WAP) to another if you move out of range, to try to keep you connected. Sometimes it can switch even if you're not moving around, and this can make you lose your connection temporarily.

If the automatic switching funuctionality is causing problems for you, you can turn this feature off:

  • Open the 'Manage Wireless Networks' applet.
  • Right-click the network profile on which you want to turn off automatic switching, and select Properties.
  • Click the Connection tab, then uncheck the 'Connect to a more preferred network if available.' checkbox.
  • Press the OK button

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Windows Vista: System Diagnostics Report

One of the really cool diagnostic tools that comes with Windows Vista is the Reliability and Performance Monitor. The tool comes with a report option that can collect 60 seconds worth of system data, and then analyzes it and displays a report.

To see the System Diagnostics Report, from the Start menu in the Search field is "perfmon.exe /report"

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Microsoft Hopes Office Subscription Plan Will Counter Free Software -- Microsoft -- InformationWeek

InformationWeek reports: "Microsoft said Wednesday that it will give consumers the option of buying an annual license for Office and its Windows Live OneCare security package for $69.99 per year under a program called Equipt. The license covers use of the software on up to three computers and includes access to all future product upgrades."

Seems like a pretty good deal, especially when you consider its for 3 computers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Software: Windows SteadyState 2.5

Windows SteadyState makes it easier to manage shared computers, which are commonly used in schools, Internet cafes, libraries, and community centers. These shared computers are generally managed by the business owners, teachers, or other non-technical personnel.

Managing this type of computers can be difficult, and time-consuming. Also without system restrictions and protections, users can inadvertently damage the computer's operating (such as: modifying system settings, installing malware, etc.).

SteadyState provides an effective way to help defend your public computers from changes by untrusted users and unwanted software installations. This software also protects user privacy by not saving, Internet history, saved documents, or cached Web pages available of subsequent users.

Windows SteadyState includes the following features:
  • Windows Disk Protection – Protects the Windows system partition, which contains the operating system and other programs from being modified without administrator approval. This feature allows you to remove all changes upon restart, or remove changes at a certain date and time.
  • User Restrictions and Settings – Allows you to enhance and simplify the user experience by restrict user access to programs, settings, Start menu items, and other options in Windows.
  • User Account Manager – Create and delete user accounts. You can use SteadyState to create user accounts on alternate drives that will retain user data and settings even when Windows Disk Protection is turned on.
  • Computer Restrictions – Control security settings, privacy settings, and more, such as preventing users from creating and storing folders in drive C:\ and from opening Microsoft Office documents from Internet Explorer.
  • Schedule Software Updates – Schedule updates of your shared computer with the latest security updates when it is convenient for you.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Software: Microsoft Pro Photo Tools

Microsoft recently released a new application called 'Pro Photo Tools' that allows you to edit the metadata (such as: location, description, date/time, etc.) in digital photographs. Some of this data is automatically added by the camera, the rest you need to add yourself.

Excerpt from the Microsoft site: "The Pro Photo Tools allow you to add, change, and delete common metadata properties for digital photographs. You can place photos on the Live Earth map and then drag them to the right location. The GPS information will be stored back into the photos. If you have a GPS device, can load track route files from the most popular formats (NMEA, GPX, and KML) and see them on the map. Then you can place your photos on the track route. Again, the GPS info will be stored into your file. When you have the right GPS location for your photos, you can automatically generate location info like country, state, city and even street names. Or if you know the location where a picture was taken, you can type it in and get the GPS location information automatically.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Windows Vista: Encrypting Offline Files

Windows Vista has an offline files feature that can store local copies of files from a network share on your computer when you're disconnected from it. Then when you re-connect to the network, all the files will be re-synchronized. So the ones that you edited while you were away will be updated on the network file share.

To make sure that these file stay secure when you're offline, you can encrypt the file stored on your local computer. So just in case your computer is lost or stolen the data won't be compromised.

To enable offline file encryption:
  • From the Start menu select Control Panel (in the Classic View).
  • Double-click the 'Offline Files' applet.
  • Click the Encryption tab.
  • Press the Encrypt button.
  • Press the OK button.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Windows Vista: Simple Tips to Help Improve System Reliability

For years people have complained about Windows being buggy. Although most people never really think about all the variables that can really cause your system to become unstable and crash. Don't get me wrong I am not in anyway implying that Windows doesn't have its bugs, but that can also be said about Apple, or Linux.

Although, most problems can be traced to a few different factors, the OS, drivers, hardware, or applications. The trick is figuring out which one is causing the problems, and correcting it.

For example, video drivers are notorious for causing system failures because they have to run at a very low level of the OS. When your system does crash its hard to tell what really caused it, was the problem with the OS or was it a driver. You should also not discount failing hardware, or even a bug in the system BIOS.

I hope that you can see that the OS is not to blame for all system failures. To help you identify these problems, Microsoft has incorporated a few technologies to assist with diagnosing a failure if one does happen.

Some of these tools include the Reliability Monitor, Event Logs, and dump files. The Reliability Monitor is one of easiest tools to help you understand what happened when your system crashes. The Event Logs and dump files contain a lot of useful information, but they can be hard to understand if you don't know what you're looking for.

I have really only touched on a few of the diagnostic tools available in Windows Vista, there are several more that I will talk about in later articles. But if you do have a systems failure, here are few things that you can do:
  • Use Windows Update under All Programs in the Start menu, and make sure that your OS and other Microsoft applications are up-to-date. Note: you should make sure the Microsoft Update feature is enabled, this will update all Microsoft Applications as well .
  • Go to your computer or motherboard manufacture's web site and download the latest BIOS firmware updates for your system. You should also do this for other hardware, such as your video card.
  • Make sure that your 3rd party applications and games have the latest updates.
  • Run Vista's RAM diagnostic program to make sure that your computer's memory is working correctly.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Windows Vista: Setting a Process's Affinity

Almost all modern PCs are sold with processors that support multiple CPU cores. Basically what this means is that the processor has multiple CPUs that can do more work then a single CPU by itself (there are advantages and disadvantages to this technology that I need to discuss at a later time).

If your computer's processor supports multiple cores, then Windows Vista allows you assign a process to a specific CPU or set of CPUs. This is known as setting the processors 'Affinity'. Normally this is handled by the OS, but this feature allows you to override this function.

Open the Task Manager (press Shift+Ctrl+Esc at the same time), select process from the Processes tab then right-click it, and then select 'Set Affinity'. From here you can select or deselect one or more of the cores.

Ideally what you're trying to achieve is isolating the process to a specific CPU and boosting its efficiency. I have to note that your 'mileage will vary' from process to process so you will need to test it and see if you get better performance.