Monday, March 7, 2011

Gain ultimate control over Win7 & WinVista

Here’s a neat (and useful) Windows 7-and-Vista trick. It enables GodMode, which provides a single place to access all Windows settings without needing to browse options and folders in the Control Panel.

To use it:
  1. Create a new folder.
  2. Rename the folder to
GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

(note that you can change the “GodMode” text, but the following period and code number are essential).
The folder icon will change — double click it to show the GodMode window.

Alternate method (the first method sometimes crashes WinVista 64-bit):

Create a shortcut with the following path and set desired name and icon.

explorer.exe shell:::{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two free Windows malware tools updated

As I have pointed out on more than one occasion, Microsoft Windows is under continuous and concerted attack, often successful--over half of all PCs running Windows are infected with malware. We need tools that help keep us safe as we use Windows; it's even better when these tools are both excellent and free. Two good tools have been updated to be even better (and the Windows Secrets Newsletter is an excellent resource):
Two great security tools get free updates

While I don't use Microsoft Security Essentials myself, it IS a very functional anti-malware package (better than most commercial packages), and useful--but I make sure to install Secunia PSI on every Windows PC I touch; the new version has useful added functions.

I also have a Links page with more security-related software listed.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dealing with Internet Explorer issues

(This item was originally written as a response to a request for help from a friend whose Internet Explorer was intermittently locking up.)

You can kill an unresponsive Internet Explorer (or any program) without having to reboot or shut down the PC. Press and hold the [Ctrl]+[Shift] key combination, then press the [Esc] key. This brings up the Task Manager window. If the Process tab is not open by default, click on it. This will bring up a list of running processes. Go down the list and find iexplore--click on it to highlight it, then click on the End process button at the bottom of the window to kill it. You may have to do this more than once sometimes if there's more than one IE tab or window open.

Someone once said, "The best use for Internet Explorer is to use it to download a better browser." This is true--I recommend either Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome as an alternative--but there are also things you should do to fix the problem with IE, as well. Once you install Firefox, you should install the NoScript add-on. There's a lot of malicious scripts out there--it allows you to run scripts on a site-by-site basis, a very good idea.
Bold
Make sure that you have the latest version of IE supported by your version of Windows--for WinXP, WinVista, or Win7 this is Internet Explorer 8. You might also install Maxthon for better security and other features--but please avoid IE in general.

You probably need to update your Java and Flash, too. Download links for everything I have mentioned here are on my Internet related Links page.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Open Disc--A Compilation of Free Software for Windows

I'm pretty used to being able to find the free software I'm looking for, as well as new software to play with. I am quite familiar with using Google and other search engines for this purpose--and I know how to find general sources for free software (and I will cover the best of those sources in a future article). Because I am so familiar with the software and my research techniques, I sometimes lose sight of the fact that the average user may not know where to start, let alone where to go, to find useful free software.

It turns out that there is a partial solution to this problem that's a very good place to start. There is a downloadable disk image available that contains a great deal of up-to-date free software in a single file, an image file that can be used to create a DVD: The Open Disc. As long as you have a broadband connection and a DVD "burner" you can create a DVD from the downloaded ISO image that will contain dozens of useful free programs, each of them installable from a menu. The software categories comprise:
Design | Educational | Games | Internet | Multimedia | Productivity | Utilities
Some of the programs on the disc include an office suite, a desktop publishing program, an Internet browser, a mail reader, and much more.

But what if you don't have a DVD writer? You can still download the file and copy the software within the image to your hard drive (or a 2GB+ flash drive) using the free 7-Zip in dual-pane mode and run the menu from that drive instead of a DVD (ironically, 7-Zip is one of the programs included on the DVD). In fact, I initially did this on my own drive instead of burning a disc.

I do have my own disc of free software that I have compiled to use or give away, but The Open Disc is better organized and menu-driven, so it's much more appropriate for the average user. It's quite a resource! I am permanently placing the download link in the right-hand column of this blog sometime before I post the next entry here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

OpenOffice.org for Windows & MS Office users

Note: I now recommend the LibreOffice (LO) suite over OpenOffice.org (OO.o) due to improved performance and licensing issues. LO is a fork of OO.o and is on a faster development track.

Microsoft Office, LibreOffice, and OpenOffice.org are roughly equivalent-- like MS Office, OpenOffice.org is a suite of applications. The main parts of each suite are similar: a word processor (MS Word vs. OpenOffice.org Writer), a spreadsheet (MS Excel vs. OpenOffice.org Calc), and presentation software (MS PowerPoint vs. OpenOffice.org Impress). The difference? OpenOffice.org is free of cost and open source software-- MS Office is neither free nor open.
OpenOffice.org is also cross-platform--versions are available for Windows, Linux, Mac OSX, and others.

One has to wonder why school systems (especially in low-income areas) continue to teach Microsoft Word or Microsoft Office. Many students' families may have problems being able to afford MS Office packages costing between $100 and $350 (and more). For these users (and most others) a free equivalent like OpenOffice.org begins to look pretty good.

To a considerable extent, once you have learned any word processor, that knowledge is useful for any similar program. In fact, most Windows-using beginners would be well-served by starting with the WordPad application included with Windows and working up from there-- especially when differences between the different versions of MS Office are taken into account.

Read the full article here (My Articles page).
Go to my relevant download links page.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Cleanup on Drive C, Track 56"

(Revised 23-April-2013)
One of the main problems with
Microsoft Windows (besides the issue of malware in general) is the accumulation of detritus of several types. This leads to a typical Windows installation slowing down over time, as well as potential security threats. Microsoft supplies a Disk Cleanup utility as part of Windows—but that doesn't solve the entire problem.


The Windows Registry is a well-known single-point-of-failure issue for all versions of Windows. Not only is this group of files an index to the entire Windows installation; it also stores settings, serial numbers, program keys, and individual program installation information. A cluttered, fragmented, and disorganized Registry can lead to slowdowns and weird errors. For several years, a number of companies have provided "free" Registry cleaners, but until now most of them would report, say, 800 errors--then only fix a dozen or so unless you pay for the software.


This has changed in recent times. There are now a number of free software suites that will do the job of the Disk Cleanup utility, do it better and also provide a useful Registry clean-and-repair and (in some cases) a basic malware scan. This article will briefly discuss three of these suites, along with an easy-to-use Registry-backup tool. The three suites discussed here use somewhat different techniques for checking and cleaning the Windows Registry—so running each of them sequentially works well. For safety's sake, we'll start with the Registry-backup tool.


There are those that say that Registry clean-up makes no difference in performance. I know otherwise—here's an example: I had a Windows XP PC that took ten minutes to boot up, fifteen minutes to shut down, and nearly half an hour to load the "installed programs" list. After performing the following procedure, all was well.I want to stress this important tip: before you make any changes to the Windows Registry, be it by manually editing it with RegEdit or by cleaning it with any tool, a bit of preparation is in order. I back up the Registry with a free tool called ERUNT (The Emergency Recovery Utility NT), which makes backing up and restoring the Windows Registry files extremely easy. The ERUNT package also includes NTRegOpt (The NT Registry Optimizer) a Registry optimizer which I will discuss last.


Note: ERUNT works just fine under Windows Vista and Windows 7. Just
right-click the program icon and select Run as Administrator. You can make this change permanent by right-clicking on the program icon and selecting the Compatibility tab, then checking the Run as Administrator box.


I now usually start with the Comodo PC TuneUp. I use it primarily for its Registry-cleaner mode, though the other included tools are useful too.


Next is the Glary Utilities. This suite seems (to me) to be the safest for the average end user, especially in the default 1-Click Maintenance mode—it's quick, effective, and seems to not remove stuff that the user actually wants to keep.


Last on this short list is CCleaner. If you are using more than one package, I would skip the Cleaner function and go straight for the Registry Integrity part. If you do use the Cleaner, carefully look over the Windows and Applications tabs to ensure that you save (for example) your cookies, history, or anything else that you don't want to delete by checking or unchecking the appropriate boxes as needed.


Note: Users of any of these utilities will benefit from running their Registry cleaners multiple times. This is because certain Registry errors can be masked by other errors.


In summary, all users will benefit from using all three to clean the Registry, since each will find issues that the others miss.


To wrap things up after cleanup, I reboot the affected system. I then run ERUNT again to get a snapshot of the newly-cleaned-up Windows Registry. I recommend adding the letter "a" to the end of the directory name to prevent overwriting the earlier backup and to distinguish the first version from the newer version. Now it's time to run the second utility in the ERUNT package, NTRegOpt. After optimization, reboot again then use ERUNT to create a third backup of the Registry with the letter "b" at the end of the dir-name (you can delete the first two backups later, if you wish).


The overall process takes longer to describe than it does to implement, it sure beats repeated reinstallation of Windows—and it's just as effective.

Links:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Optical Drives, explained

Here is one of those hardware posts I warned you about -- but there's method to my madness (or is it madness to my method?). I bring up this subject because most commercial software comes on CD-ROM or DVD-ROM discs -- and I often distribute free-software compilations on CDs that I write myself (I write the discs, not the software). Live-Linux CDs and DVDs are another related item.

In June of 1985 I was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. Atari introduced its new Atari ST series -- but the item that most interested me was the CD-ROM drive add-on that was being shown with it. The only demonstration CD they had at that time was the first edition of Grolier's Encyclopedia. When I discovered that a CD-ROM disc could hold 640 megabytes (MB) of data, I was amazed (then-current small business/consumer-grade hard drives at the time maxed out at about 40 MB). I knew that big changes were coming at last (I had discussed the possibilities of CD and LaserDisc data storage with an engineer about 6 years earlier).

All the drives and discs I will be talking about share the same form factors (standardized size and shape) and are backward-compatible with earlier types; this means that a Blu-Ray burner will read (and write) CDs and DVDs as well. With the right software, media discs (audio and movies) can be played on the attached PC. There are different drive form factors for desktop and laptop PCs; within each class the drives are usually interchangeable. Due to physical (size) limitations, laptop drives read and write discs at a somewhat slower rate than desktop drives. For this reason, and to reduce wear-and-tear on the internal drive, I often use an external USB-connected drive with a laptop.

Each generation of discs and drives has held more data than the previous generation. CD capacity is 640 MB to 700 MB (depending on discs). DVD capacity is 4.7 gigabytes (GB) for a single-layer disc, 8.5 GB for a dual-layer disc. Blu-ray discs hold 25 GB on a single-layer disc, 50 GB on a dual-layer disc. There are indications that a next-generation Blu-ray disc may hold as much as 200 GB on a single CD-sized platter.

Typical 50-100 quantity prices for writable media range from about 15 cents for a blank CD-R, to 25-50 cents for a single-layer blank DVD, $1.50-$2 for a dual-layer blank DVD, up to $8-$15 for a single-layer Blu-Ray BD-R disc, and $25-$30 for a dual-layer BD-R disc (1-25 quantity). I expect the BD-R media prices will come down over time when the volume ramps up -- when I first got my CD burner, 4x blanks were about $1.50 each. There may be more about the optical media itself in a future installment.

The first iteration was the CD-ROM drive. Starting out at a read-rate of 1x (the same speed as an audio CD, about 150 kilobits-per-second), speeds soon ramped up. Microsoft's MS-DOS soon had an add-on that allowed DOS to read the CD file system, as did most other computer operating systems at the time. Current desktop optical ROM drives read (transfer data from) CDs at a 48x-52x rate -- but very few (if any) CD-ROM-only drives are currently being manufactured.
Compatibility
: CDs (older drives -- those manufactured prior to 1998 -- will probably not be able to read CD-R or CD-RW discs).


Next was the DVD-ROM drive, introduced in 1997. Starting out at a read-rate of 1x (the same speed as a DVD movie, which is about 4x faster than a 1x audio CD) it, too, quickly ramped up in speed. Current optical ROM drives read DVDs at a 16x-20x rate.
Compatibility: CDs & DVDs (older drives manufactured prior to 1998 may not be able to read writable media: CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R/RW, or DVD+R/RW discs). A new DVD-ROM drive will set you back about $20-25.


At about the same time as the DVD-ROM was introduced came the CD "burner" (writer) drive. As CD write speeds ramped up above about 8X, a problem became evident -- the computer could not always transfer data to the drive consistently and the data interruption (known as buffer underrun) led to write failures. Sanyo developed what is now referred to as buffer underrun protection (sometimes called BURN-proof) -- all current writable drives (and the software for them) keep track of where they are on the disc during the write process and can pick up where they left off if the buffer (internal temporary storage memory) empties during a write cycle. Current optical ROM drives write (transfer data to) CDs at up to a 48x-52x rate.
Compatibility: read/write all CDs. A new CD-writer drive will cost about $20 -- I paid nearly $300 for my first 4x CD writer in 1999. Note: all older drives will require a
firmware update to write some current discs.

It was not long before a DVD-ROM drive was combined with a CD writer to make what is now called a combo drive, with all the features of both. These have mostly been superseded by full-featured DVD writers.
Compatibility
: read/write all CDs and read all DVDs. Note: all older drives will require a firmware update to write some current discs.


Next came the DVD burner. First-generation drives wrote DVD+R/RW and CD-R/RW only; DVD-R/RW drives and discs soon followed from a different industry consortium and could burn CDs as well. In general, the + and - drives could read (but not write) each others' discs. Current DVD writers are +/- write-compatible, but check the front-panel markings on a particular drive to ensure it will write the discs you feed it. Current desktop DVD-writer drives write single-layer discs at 16x-20x; Current laptop DVD-writer drives write single-layer discs at 6x-8x. Dual-layer discs are written at 4-8x depending on the type of drive and the media used.
Compatibility: read/write all CDs and read all DVDs. DVD write-compatibility varies with the drive; newer drives (since about 2004) write all types. Note: all older drives will require a firmware update to write some current discs.


The newest optical-disc formats are HD-DVD and Blu-ray, though the HD-DVD format has already fallen by the wayside (much to the chagrin of Microsoft). There are Blu-ray combo drives that add Blu-ray ROM and movie-reading capabilities to a DVD-burner drive.

The pinnacle of the optical-drive heap is the Blu-ray writer drive. Current Blu-ray writers can write BD-R media at up to 8x, which is a whopping 288 megabits (Mb) per second -- a nearly 2000 times faster data-transfer rate than a 1x CD at 150 kilobits (kb) per second.Compatibility: read/write all CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray media.