Friday, November 28, 2008

Traditional Technology Media changing

Last week I learned that 2 of my favorite tech magazines, PC Magazine, and PC World have made immense changes, either in their staffing, or in their formats. PC Magazine has announced it will be ending its print edition altogether. The January 2009 edition of PC Mag. will be their last. I have to admit I’m bummed. PC Magazine has been one of favorite magazines for years, from their reviews on hardware, to their “Ask Lloyd” and Ask Neil” advise pages, the magazine has been a great source of technology news for more than 2 decades. The good news is, that they aren’t cutting any staff. According to the PC MAgcast podcast, they’ve been transitioning for the last few years to a digital only model, which will still be available for subscription. I’m looking forward to seeing how this works out, I wish them good luck.

I wish I was as enthusiastic about the changes going on at PC World. Apparently in an attempt to remain solvent, they’ve cut several of their highest paid, and in my opinion, best writers. Steve Bass has been writing a fantastic tech advise column for over 14 years and was the first place I’d turn to when a new issue arrived. Steve was let go without much ceremony, last month, without even an opportunity to say goodbye to his loyal readers.  Apparently he will be writing an occasional piece, but his old column is gone. Fortunately for his fans, Steve has started his own newsletter  which is available for email delivery. I encourage everyone to visit his new site at and sign up and support this great tech writer.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Windows 7 is coming

For the last two weeks Microsoft has been unveiling their next operating system, Windows 7. Windows 7 will be built on the framework of Windows Vista and will strive to remain compatible with Vista drivers. That said people who avoided Vista for performance reasons may have reason to try Windows 7. One fact that gives hesitant XP users hope is that Steven Sinosky the Vice President running the Windows 7 team uses a Asus eeePC netbook computer as his daily machine running Windows 7. These netbooks are a relatively new class of computer with 7-10 inch screens and running either Intel Atom, or Via, mobile processors, at around 1.5 GHZ. The netbooks are usually shipped with either some form of Linux or Windows XP Home, operating systems largely because of their modest hardware requirements. If Window 7 will run well on a netbook than it should fly on more modern hardware commonly found on most new hardware.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

More Security Applications

I recently blogged about my favorite security applications, I neglected to mention one of the best antispyware apps available at any cost. Malwarebytes is available in free or paid versions from here

Malwarebytes is fast, lightweight, and very effective. I use it along with Superantispyware on all my machines as well as a antivirus application to keep me safe online.

Another new recommendation I can make is for Norton Antivirus 2009. Symantec started to greatly improve the performance of their antivirus product with their 2008 version. I was happy after using it for around 8 months of trouble free use, I felt it was vastly superior to the 2004 version I had last used. That said, Norton 2008 still slowed my computer down significantly when it would run a scan. Recently Symantec offered users of Antivirus 2008 a free upgrade to their Norton Antivirus 2009. After the download I was immediately impressed with the improved performance. The scans can either run at full speed or in the background using far fewer system resources, (and taking a lot longer). Either way there seems to be far less of a performance hit, a CPU meter displayed on the side of the display window shows how few resources the new Norton 2009 Antivirus uses.

While I do recommend Norton Antivirus, I still don't recommend the Norton Security suites. I recently tried a version of Norton Internet Security that came preinstalled on a new laptop I bought for my son. It suffered from all the bloat and connectivity issues security suites always do. So I commend Symantec for the new antivirus, but I'll pass on the bloated, all in one suites.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Acronis True Image on Sale

You can get a great deal on Acronis True Image 11 Home by using the coupon code ATIH20 and save 80%. The deal is good until September 30th 2008.
Acronis is a great hard drive imaging and backup program for Windows (Vista compatible).
I use Acronis to image all my installs, I think its the easiest solution out there for baking up or upgrading to a larger/faster hard drive.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Online Security Tools Revisited

Online security is getting more difficult, as the bad guys trying to infect you change their tactics. Some of the older tools that we could rely on to do the job just don't cut it anymore.

Older Programs that haven't kept up:

Spybot Search and destoy


Norton 360

McAfee Antivirus/ Security Suite

Trend Micro Antivirus

Any, all in one security suite.

There are many reasons I don't like these various applications anymore. In general security suites, like Norton 360 are bloated, slow down your computer, and aren't that effective. Adaware and Spybot, just don't seem to be able to get rid of anything they find, if they do detect a infection.

Newer Programs that do work:


Smitfraud Fix

PC Tools Threatfire

PC Doctor Antispyware

Nod 32 Antivirus

Sunbelt Software's Vipre Antivirus

AVG Antivirus (Free)

Avast Antivirus (Free)

Returnil (Virtualizes your sessions) 

WOT (Web of Trust) browser filter

Sysinternals Process Explorer,Autoruns, Rootkit Revealer

Hijack This

This list of programs I feel are, in general, lighter on your computers resources, and more effective at dealing with threats. Returnil isn't really an anti-malware program, but a program that virtualizes your sessions. Any changes to your system are removed when you reboot. Now this can be a pain, when you forgot you were running Returnil and downloaded a song off of Amazon or installed a new program, but its great if your just going to be surfing or if you want to keep a teenager from hosing a computer while they use it. Smit Fraud Fix is a specialized program designed to eliminate the new epidemic of phoney Anti-spyware programs out there today. The Sysinternal applications aren't new at all, but have been updated. They are incredibly useful tools to find out what's going on on your computer. They're fairly complicated looking at first glance, but after a while a user will be able to detect a process that isn't right, or not supposed to be loading on your computer at startup. Hijack This is a great tool to find out what's going on with your computer, its fairly complex to use effectively and should only be attempted by an experienced user.

I still believe that the best defense against malware is to have an ongoing backup program, preferable an automated backup to an external drive as well as periodic data backups to CDs or DVDs. Even better, a third backup to an online provider such as Carbonite or Amazon's S3 service truly keeps you ready for the the really bad infection, that you can't remove or a hardware failure, which can happen at any time.

One last thing their are many other programs out there that are effective a great site I read daily is Bill Mullins blog over on wordpress Bill is a blogging machine! He comes up with an enormous number of useful free and shareware apps, I highly recommend his site.

Stay Safe.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dual Booting Vista and XP

Booting more than one operating system has been possible for a long time with Windows. It's also possible to load several different types of operating systems at once on your computer including Linux, OSX and different versions of Windows. With Windows Vista now being installed on virtually all new Windows PCs these days many people still might have a few legacy programs, or hardware that will only work with XP. This post will show you how to install XP on a computer that came with Vista preinstalled.

There are two solutions available to run XP on a machine with Vista pre-installed. You could run XP inside Vista running some kind of virtualization software, such Virtual Box or using VMware. Virtualization is a good solution for those who would be using the "other" OS infrequently or for non resource intensive applications. But if you want to run the other OS for an extensive period of time or have application that needs the entire resources of the computer for than dual booting is the way to go.

When you are setting up a new machine with nothing on the hard drive dual booting XP and Vista is fairly simple, always load the older OS first, and newer one after. The reason, the older OS XP, doesn't know what Vista is, so if you have XP on a computer, its a simple matter to create a new partition on the hard drive and install Vista. The Vista boot manager will recognize XP as "Older Version Of Windows" and list it along with Vista in a DOS screen at boot up and allow you to choose which OS to load.

When you have the newer OS on first, in this case Vista, it takes a bit more work to get XP to play with Vista in a dual boot environment. First off, you do have to determine if your machine can run XP. I previously blogged about issues some people were having when downgrading Vista machines that were manufactured recently and there were no XP drivers written for them. For this post I assume the computer can run XP, the machine I used to implement the installation was 9 month old Dell Inspiron 1420. Dell had all of the XP drivers on a very well laid out Drivers and Downloads section in their support site.

So starting with a stock Inspiron 1420 running Vista, the first procedure is to create an additional partition on the hard drive. To do this I used the built in Vista Disk Management tool, found by right clicking on Computer>Manage>Disk Management. Right click on you primary C drive and select shrink volume. As long as you have a large amount of free space on your C drive Vista will be able to shrink the volume and the create a new volume. If your hard drive is more than half full, you will need to use a third party tool to create a new partition, or you can boot into your Vista Dvd and shrink the volume using a Diskpart. I prefer to use Acronis Disk Director or the Partition utility found in most Linux Live CDs.

Assuming you have created a new volume on which to install XP, at this point you reboot your computer, hit F12 on Dells to go into the one time boot menu, select boot from Cd/Dvd RW and boot into your XP install disk. One problem you may have is that Windows XP will not recognize your hard drive if its a sata drive so you can do 1 of two things. Before loading XP you can boot into your Bios and find the setting for your hard drive setting. You can select to set your sata drive as ide and XP will recognize an Ide drive and install fine, once the bios has been changed. The other option is to load the sata driver using an internal floppy drive or on to a custom install disk using a program called nlite, but that won't be covered here.

XP will see both partitions and can then be loaded on the new, empty partition. Once you go thought he XP install process XP will be on the E drive. This will be no problem for XP but keep in mind many programs, starting with the XP drivers will want to install on the C drive. Simply change the drive letter on the install path and it should work fine. Now I recommend you install the drivers in generally this order, chipset, audio, graphics, Ethernet,then wireless and the rest.

Now when you restart your machine, you will automatically boot into XP, you need to repair your Vista boot manager so you can use Vista. To do this, you again will need your Vista install Dvd any will do fine, so borrow one if you didn't get one with your machine. So when the "Install Now" prompt comes up, select "Repair Your Computer". The next screen will show you a "System Recovery Options" box, it will only see the Vista install, select Vista you will get another "System Recovery Options" box, "Choose a recovery tool" the first choice is "Startup Repair" click this option it will discover and repair the Vista Boot Manager. Restart your machine, now you will boot into Vista.
Now you will need to get a third party app to amend your boot manager to include XP. There are several out there the 2 I recommend are, Vista Boot Pro from Pronetworks, and Easy BCD from Neosmart Technologies,

Either of these will be able to modify your Vista Boot Manager to include XP. I used easy BCD and the operation took all of two minutes. Open the application, go to "Add Remove Entries" under "Add an Entry" under Widows use the drop down menu "Windows NT/2k/XP/2k3" change the drive to E (or D or F in some cases) to "Windows XP" click "Add Entry" and click save. Reboot your machine, you will be presented with a screen allowing you to boot into either OS.

Your done! Yes it's much easier to start with XP but that's not always an option. Of course back up an image of your Vista install using Vista's backup and Restore if you have Ultimate or Business, if you have any other version of Vista you need a third party application, my own favorite is Acronis True Image. But definitely make sure your backed up before undertaking anything this intrusive. But you're already backed up right?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Latest tech Faves

Active Virtual Desktop

One feature of Linux and Leopard that Vista doesn't have that is very useful is multiple virtual desktops. I tried several 3rd party apps. available on the Windows platform. Of these the best I found is a little shareware app appropriately named Active Virtual Desktop. A small 1.25 MB download,  the app works basically the same as virtual desktops on Linux. Numbered tabs in the lower right hand side of your task bar allow you to quickly change between desktops and applications without cluttering up one desktop. Its especially nice for keeping your email, calendar, and Word documents accessible and convenient. Active Virtual Desktop is 20 bucks and can be found here  a free 15 day trial is available and worth a try.

Acronis True Image

The plethora of backup programs available can muddy the waters a little, sometime its best to go back to an old reliable program you know just works. When you want to create an exact image of your hard drive, including operating system and all installed applications and data Acronis True image will do the trick. I recently used it to move my data on my Lenovo Thinkpad to a larger hard drive. The process took a little over an hour including changing the hard drives into the notebook. Booting into the new hard drive confirmed success, all three operating systems worked fine, all the data was intact. Acronis True Image 11 can be had on Amazon now for 29.99

Windows Live Calendar

The Windows Live Suite of free applications continues to get better with several recent updates. The Live Calendar while still in beta is every bit as good as Google calendar. What's to say about a calendar, it works great, email reminders, color coded event categories, it's all seamless and works great with your Windows Live mail accounts. I wish it had a built in desktop client similar to the mail client, hopefully that will be coming soon.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Is Security Software a Scam

While researching reports of the various vulnerabilities facing computer users, and the monetary incentive of criminal hackers to keep malware on your machine, I came to the realization that we are wasting our money with the current crop of anti-virus software products. One security expert, Greg Hoglund of HBgary called anti-virus programs snake oil because of their expense and inability to detect and remove the modern forms of malware.

Indeed many programs are totally ineffectual in finding the worst threats out there, especially those containing root-kits. Malware payloads are frequently written by several different teams of highly paid, professional software developers. This new form of business, often originates in the eastern European Countries were development and sales of these products is totally legal. Furthermore these "companies" often net profits in the hundreds of millions of dollars so the incentive to keep your machines and networks vulnerable is very high. Although the home user is at risk and is frequently assisting the malware purveyors unknowingly the ultimate target of many of these enterprises is big business. The theft of intellectual property and proprietary information is the real target. The losses from these attacks are staggering, and are measured in the tens of billions of dollars every year.

So what can the home computer user do if antivirus software is ineffectual and the threats are so serious? Several basic fundamentals are necessary these days for safe computing, regardless of whether you are running Windows XP or Vista, Mac or PC. The first and foremost is never operate online as administrator, this is far more important than running antivirus software. This is much easier to do when using a Mac or running Vista, it can be done with XP although it's much more of a hassle. The second thing is to make sure your operating system is up to date, both Windows and Macs have built in software updating built into their operating systems. Safe online behavior is a must, never clicking links or opening attachments in email or downloading pirated music is absolutely necessary, and if you visit porn sites and are running as an administrator you're infected, no doubt about it.

So should you dump your antivirus? Only if you are extremely careful online, and with your computing habits in general? Even then, running an online scan from one of the many security vendors out there will make you feel a little more protected. In reality most people should run some form of antivirus to protect them from the less serious threats out there. All users should also keep an up-to-date, complete backup of all their important data and programs. If a computer gets infected these days it's virtually impossible to trust your computer again until you do a clean reformat, reinstall of your operating system, programs, and data.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Living with Firefox 3

The much ballyhooed final release of The Mozilla Foundation’s browser, Firefox has finally  happened. Mozilla generated a fair amount of buzz with a highly publicized Firefox Download day, where they wanted to break all records for downloads in a 24 hour period. The publicity worked, and over 8 million people downloaded Firefox on June 17th.  For many people including myself Firefox has been our primary browser now for several years. The last version of Firefox had managed  to gain significant market share on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Firefox 3 has been touted as a vast improvement to Firefox 2’s few shortcomings. The memory leak, a very real issue with Firefox 2 has been fixed. In addition Firefox 3 has been touted as significantly faster than any other browser on the market.

I’ve been running Firefox 3 since beta 3 and have been generally very impressed. The new version still doesn’t run all the extensions and add-ons that the previous versions could, but that seems to be changing quickly.

Since downloading the final release, I have a few issues with version 3. First and foremost, it’s been crashing. Not every time and not on every machine, but it seems to hang when first started on several of my computers, it almost seems to want to “warm up” before it will respond quickly. When it works, it works great, it loads pages fast, and is everything its been purported to be. Oddly the most stable version seems to be the 3rd release candidate version downloaded prior to “Download Day” although it must have been the final code, as no updates are available when I check. The issue with crashing, has made me decide to hold off on upgrading my primary desktop which runs Firefox 2 just fine.

To make things interesting I also tried the portable app version of the browser from, the portable version is even more buggy. I tried the portable app on both XP and Vista machines and the  browser hangs for several minutes before responding. For portable app fans I recommend the new Opera Browser 9.5 which works great. It was very fast as well as stable and can be found here,

So if you are using Firefox 2 and are happy with it, you may want to wait or download 3 and try it, but don’t delete 2 yet, I think in the near future it will be fine. The Mozilla people do great work and deserve your support, Firefox 3 can be found here,

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Can You Downgrade to XP?

A lot of people who recently bought new computers are asking this question. I tend to ask why would you want to do that, as I generally think Vista is a big improvement. But many people still want or need to downgrade to XP for some specific hardware or software application that won't play well with Vista.  Or perhaps they are just more comfortable with XP, and anyway it's their buck, so whatever they want, right?

Well maybe, maybe not.  It seems that a number of the new computers, especially notebooks were designed and built after Vista had released. Device drivers for XP were never written for these computers, especially for the video cards. Many people have tried using generic drivers, but you won't get a great result with these generally. So if you might want Windows  XP buy a computer with it pre-installed on it .  Any new computer today, with the exception of these new ultra portable laptops, will run Vista fine if you want to upgrade or dual boot.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The 31 Days of the Dragon continues

I was remiss in not posting about the incredible contest sponsored by HP, and Buzzcorp before but they are in the process of giving away 31 HP Pavilion Dragon HDX Entertainment Notebook PC's. This is an extremely powerful 20 inch notebook PC with a list of specs that would make most hard core gamers smile. A sample of the system specs include Intel Core 2 Extreme Processor, 4 GBs of Ram, 512mb GeForce 8800GTS Video card and an 20.1 inch display. The giveaway also include a boatload of software in addition.
The catch, time is running out the end is June 8th so jump on over to the following sites to enter and maybe win this incredible rig.
Site Contest Starts Winner Announced On 2-May 9-May
Ars Technica 3-May 10-May 4-May 11-May 5-May 12-May
Barbs Connected World 6-May 13-May 7-May 14-May 8-May 15-May 9-May 16-May 10-May 17-May 11-May 18-May 12-May 19-May 13-May 20-May 14-May 21-May 15-May 22-May 16-May 23-May
Digital Inspiration 17-May 24-May 18-May 25-May 19-May 26-May 20-May 27-May 21-May 28-May 22-May 29-May
Planet 23-May 30-May 24-May 31-May 25-May 1-June 26-May 2-June 27-May 3-June 28-May 4-June 29-May 5-June 30-May 6-June 31-May 7-June 1-June 8-June

Please note many of these sites have already ended their contest, I included the whole list because there are some great sites here and you should check them out.
Good luck.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The New Ultra Portable Class of Laptops

Once again the marketplace has reared its head and the things which were assumed a year ago are no longer. The Asus EeePC is the driving force behind the change. Although the one laptop per child project and its creation the XO may have pre-dated the Asus laptop, it's the EeePC that is the vehicle of change. I don't think any of the big name players had any idea that the tiny 7 inch screen, with a Celeron processor, running Linux would have the impact it did. It comes in bright colors with a well finished plastic shell. Best of all it was only $299.00, for a reasonable fast and very useable little computer. With the Linux installation that includes a number of useful applications such as Skype, the Open Office suite and Firefox, for browsing. It's a fine tool for business travelers or students on a very tight budget. With a tiny keyboard and 800x480 screen, no CD/DVD drive and very limited storage (starts at 2GBs, goes up to 12GBs) it's not for full time use, at least not for big hands and adults with bad eyesight. But for kids or occasional use it works fine.

Now that the EeePC has become such a success, a number of competitors have launched similar machines, most notably the HP 2133 mini-note. The mini-note is slightly larger than the EeePC with a slightly faster processor made by the low power specialists Via, and comes in standard configuration with a 120GB hard drive. The HP has a Linux version as well as a couple that run Windows Vista Basic and Business. Prices on Amazon range from $520.00 -850.00 for the 2133 and has upgrades available for the hard drive and processor. The nicest feature of the 2133 is the keypad which is close to ¾ of a normal full sized keyboard. It has a beautiful brushed aluminum finish that gives it a very professional look to it.

As the popularity of the new mini-notebooks as spread, Microsoft has decided to offer and support Windows XP Home edition for this new class of notebook. While the end of line for XP availability is fast approaching for mainstream OEM's, the people in Redmond have seen the popularity of all these devices and seen them coming equipped with Linux, and not wanting to see this free and open sourced operating system get a toehold they've wisely (in my opinion) decided to offer XP. Since Vista is much larger and demands more powerful hardware than most of these new mini-notebooks carry, XP is a perfect fit. The EeePC is already being shipped with a larger screen, flash drive, and can be had with XP. Of course the price for the higher end EeePC is up to $549.00. The venerable XO of One Laptop Per Child fame is also switching to an dual boot option with XP and its original Sugar OS, albeit not without some controversy. It seems a core group of open source advocates got their panties in a bunch over the move to XP, there was some resignations or firings depending on who's blogging about it. I'v never used an XO although I did hear a number of reports from various sources that the Linux OS it originally shipped with was difficult to navigate. Hopefully the move to XP will accelerate the purchases of the XO and get it into the hands of the educators and children that can be helped by it.

The advent of a new form factor is here. The new ultra-portables showed that the market place will respond to a reasonably priced small computer, WITH A KEYBOARD! Unlike some of the earlier UMPC's that were pushed out a few years ago I believe this trend has legs, time will tell.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Using Vista Backup and Restore Utility

I recently blogged about my daughters laptop getting infected with one of the many phoney anti-spyware programs out there today PC-Antispyware. In the end we ended up having to reformat reinstall Windows Vista to finally free the machine once and for all of this malady. I would also like to point out an excellent blog I found when trying to research the PC-Antispyware, Bill Mullins blog post on rogue Antispyware programs was very informative about rogue programs out there now and can be found here Bills blog is quite informative and very well done. I recommend you check it out for a number of helpful hints, tools and software programs his homepage is here,

Now back to the system restore,that went better than I had originally hoped. In some ways it turned out to be a bit of a Godsend. First let me explain, this computer is not the highest powered machine out there. It was basically a bargain buy at Christmas time from Best Buy, for $599.00 we got a 14.1 inch Gateway 1616 running the AMD mobile Turion at 1.9x2 Ghz, it came with integrated graphics which will use up to 256 MBs of system ram for video use. I upgraded the ram from a pathetic 1 GB to 4Gbs. Ram is cheap and even if the 32 bit system won't see all 4 Gigs so what, its far better than a stock 1 GB. So performance wasn't great, although it wasn't horrible on this machine.

Now however the machine was infected and I doubted it could be fixed by traditional methods. To fix it, I believe I used the term "nuke the bastards" a frustrated comment from one exhausted father, dealing with child's computer. Fortunately the machine came with a system restore disk, but no disks for drivers or pre-installed software, strange but no big deal. Note I choose to install from the OEM Vista OS disk provided rather than use the restore partition, I wanted a clean install, you see I didn't want the pre-installed trialware or more accurately crapware that comes with new computer these days. So the re-install went fine, Vista installs fast compared to XP, and in half hour it was done. Next the drivers, I was surprised that more drivers weren't included with Vista install, as was the case when I installed Vista for the first time on my desktop. So I plugged in the Ethernet from my router and went to the Gateway site were I found a fairly intuitive, and easy to use driver download section. Within an hour or so I had the machine loaded with the latest drivers so then time for service pack 1, which went without a hitch. So now it was time to reinstall the data. Fortunately we had been making incremental backups using Vista's native backup and restore utility, as would turn out, very fortunate indeed.

I wish I could say this went perfect, but it really didn't, even though I have 2 excellent books on Vista, I did manage to screw things up the first few tries. First I wanted to restore her precious itunes library. I download the latest version of itunes as I had a data backup on a DVD of her songs , play lists and ratings. Doing this had always worked fine before, when moving to a new computer. So with the fresh install of itunes I tried the DVD and it only installed about one third of the songs, even though I could see all of them. Not good, no not at all. I tried to install the backup on another PC with itunes, same result.

So now my last chance, the backup on an external hard drive, I had made using Vista's Backup and Restore Center. At first my main problem was trying to be too specific in giving instructions to the program. I tried to restore only specific data, by searching the program and installing all things with the keyword itunes. I got another small amount of songs and metadata but not nearly all of it. I tried the same for pictures with similar results. Frustrated, I was beginning to think this was headed for a total disaster. I tried again, this time selecting to restore the entire contents to the desired drive(c) and let it go. I immediately was queried by the program on how to handle a duplicate file, I told it to just keep the original and not save the second version. This kept happening, I finally noticed the little box to check,"do this with all duplicates" . Now, we were finally getting somewhere!

I took a while, maybe an hour, but in the end after a re-boot, Vista's Backup and Restore Center had done it. Even her desktop icons were back in place. All photos were restored as well as her entire itunes library, with play list and ratings intact, very cool indeed! A program actually performed as it was supposed to.

As for the Godsend, well that's a bit of an exaggeration, but with the latest drivers, combined with no crapware, makes for a far better performing machine. It boots quicker than when it was brand new, and is much snappier opening and running programs even after the ram upgrade. It also illustrates one of the older axioms of computing. Unless you have multiple backups, you aren't backed up. It also highlights a new rule for my daughter and her computer, no passwords for you! I'll control the administrator account on her machine from now on, I'll let UAC handle the rest.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ed Bott Fixing Vista one PC at a Time.

Ed Bott Windows expert and Vista blogger extraordinaire, recently took on a friends Sony Vaio laptop computer. It seems his friend bought this machine shortly after Vista released. The laptop was a replacement for a older Sony laptop, that had been stolen. Apparently when the friend used the machine a few times it quickly became a nightmare. Boot times for the $2500 Sony were in the 3 minute time frame, that is insane, I bought a $599 Gateway with a relatively modestly powered AMD machine for one of my kids that boots in around a minute. The report continued on to indicate that performance once booted was equally disappointing. The friend eventually became disgusted, put the Sony in a closet and bought a MacBook.

Enter Ed Bott, former editor of PC World, Windows Blogger for ZDnet, and Microsoft MVP. Ed has written detailed guides to Microsofts operating systems for some time and is well respected in his field. Few people are as knowledgeable about the various incarnations of Windows as Ed is. Ed took the gentleman's PC with the hope of salvaging the PC, into something use able.

The story is a bit more complicated though. Seems his friend had contacted tech support and was told his experience was typical of the computers running the new operating system Windows Vista.

The story is fairly involved, to make a very long story short. A clean install of Vista and a new set of up to date drivers turned the machine around completely. Ed's post on the story can be found here, and here,

I think there is a very important point to the story. Many of the problems of the guys computer can be traced to a couple of things. One, a miserable load of crapware, that many new machines ship with these days significantly slow down and wreck the computing experience of new computer users. Two, poor driver support from the hardware manufacturers has made the Vista experience worse than any new operating system rollout that I can recall. My first Vista computer was a home built desktop, obviously no crapware there! The drivers on my machine worked fine and improved gradually over the months. The second Vista machine was a Dell Inspiron 1420 I bought from the Dell Outlet store, it had a fast processor, 2 Gb's of ram and a 7200 RPM hard drive. Dell also installed little or no crapware as well, the machine works great, always has.

This story should (but probably won't ) be a wake up call to the major PC manufacturers. I understand the thin margins they operate on these days. The crapware aka trialware, provides a small subsidy to the computer makers to boost their profit a little. Folks, it's not worth it, if you continue to push this junk on the consumers we will vote with our feet. Dell seems to get it, Lenovo's seem pretty good, even Sony is offering some models crapware free. HP and Gateway seem pretty infested with this stuff, the only way to get rid of this stuff is to not purchase machines that have it installed.

Now not all trialware is crap. Some things like a trial of Office 2007 may be useful for people and can be uninstalled easily. If you read Ed's account of the process of making the computer usable, you learn some of this junk like an AOL trial was difficult to uninstall from the control panel. Another problem he had was navigating the driver support site from Sony. This is just crazy, you should just type in your machine model number, or even serial number and all drivers should be arranged by release date so you can get the most recent one.

I've heard Sony support wasn't the best but in this case they managed to chase a customer right into the lap of a competitor.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Removing PC Antispyware

I really thought I'd beaten malware, and so far on my own PC's I have. Running Vista in limited user mode is very safe, if, the end user is careful. Enter one teenager running Vista, as a limited user as I set up their machine. No problem, if something tries to install just don't let it. The screen will darken and ask you for a password, just stop what your doing, and log off. Well what works for some people won't work for others, especially teenagers, who love adding pictures and screen savers and watching youtube ect.

So she sheepishly calls for me and tells me that she thinks she "let something install onto her computer". I take a look, and sure enough, a large window in the middle of her screen that looks similar to the McAffe antivirus. This program is called PC-Antispyware, and it's telling me that I'm infected with some bogus virus, and for 14.95 it will fix it for me. Sure thing I thought, infected yes I am, by you!

So I start the routine, running antivirus, antispyware, making registry changes. Rebooting doing it all in safe mode. After a few hours I thought I had it.

Of course I didn't have it, it still had me. These things are almost always impossible to rid of these days. After a half hour or so the PC-Antispyware window popped up again. After that some other bogus virus scan window appeared, not only do they infect you, then they have to invite their friends to the party. At this point there really is only one option: Nuke the Bastards!

I knew it would come to this, the malware these days is just way to dangerous. A clean install is good for the soul, a nice clean machine runs great, and it will get rid of all the crapware that comes with PC's these days.

Save it, this will be a pain in the ass, but it has to be done!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's the Best Upgrade for Notebook computers

People frequently wonder what would be the best way to upgrade their notebook computer. The answer would largely depend on what sort of machine they already have.  If the computer is a fairly recent model chances are it will probably have a fairly powerful processor. Often OEM's cut corners on a new machine to lower cost by skimping on other parts of the hardware. I recently bought my daughter a very nice Gateway laptop for a great price, problem was it only had 1 gigs of ram installed. Now, when Windows XP was the current operating system 1 gigs was fine, unfortunately Windows Vista really likes at least 2GBs. This wasn't much of problem however as ram is very cheap right now, so buying extra ram was relatively pain free. I opted to put 4 gigs of ram from the online vendor Crucial. It was very reasonable and was at front door in a few days. Even though Vista 32 bit will only recognize 3.25GBs I wanted the additional ram as she had a integrated Video card that would use up to 128 megabytes of her available ram. The machine runs far better with the ram upgrade and it was well worth it. Installing additional ram almost always improves your performance and in most machines, even laptops is not very difficult. It must be, as my kids remind me if I was able to do it,  it couldn't be very hard!

A little more difficult, but frequently even more beneficial is to upgrade your hard drive. In notebooks upgrading to a larger and faster hard drive is a great way to extend the life of your machine and increase performance. Most notebooks come from the factory with 5400 or even worse 4400 rpm hard drives. A slow hard drive in a modern laptop running a dual core processor of some type will often bottleneck the performance of the machine.

Recently Fujitsu announced that they have a 320GB @ 7200 rpm laptop hard drive, ready to ship. A 200GB 7200 rpm hard drive, can be had for around $170.00 right now from Now you certainly pay a premium for the 2.5 inch laptop drives over their desktop counterparts, but the performance increase and additional space can be worth it.  Upgrading your hard drive can be a bit daunting as it will require you to backup all your data and reinstall your operating system. Several commercial applications that allow you to clone your hard drive to another make this much easier. Acronis True image, Norton Ghosts and Drive Snapshot all work very well for full disk imaging. People who have shelled out the extra money for Windows Vista Ultimate or Vista Business  can use the built in back up and restore feature to image their hard drive, it work for day to day incremental backup as well as the other programs mentioned. There are a number of USB to Sata adapters on the market to connect your new hard drive to your computer. You will need to format the new drive first

Accessing a hard drive on many Windows based notebooks is often easier than removing a hard drive from a desktop. Several manufacturers on including HP, Dell, Gateway and Lenovo  all required no more than 4 screws to remove the hard drive from their notebooks. Some Dells and Lenovo's only have one screw to get the hard drive out, then 4 screws to remove from a bracket surrounding the hard drive. Unfortunately some notebooks, such as the old PowerBooks and the new MacBook Pro's require almost complete disassembly of the laptop to get at the hard drive. Several manufacturers including Dell, Lenovo and Apple allow you to spec the machine with a faster hard drive when you buy it. The MacBook Pro uses top of the line processors and some of the best video cards on the market, the 7200 rpm hard drive should be standard although right now it's only a  $50 upgrade for the 200GB 7200 rpm hard drive.

If you do ever decide to upgrade a hard drive or ram yourself make sure you unplug and remove the battery first. Also make sure you are very careful with static electricity as that can destroy computer components of any kind. Wear a wrist strap and discharge any static electricity before working on the internals of any computer.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Why all the Vista Hate?

Just do a search on Windows Vista and my guess is you will get a number of sites that are dedicated to bashing Windows Vista. Countless articles litter the net about how bad Vista is, and all the resources it consumes, and what a hassle UAC is. Blah blah it!

My guess is, that many of these people never used Vista. They certainly haven't tried it for any great period of time. Many of the problems that were present when Vista first shipped had to do with a lack of decent video drivers, especially from Nvidia. Many other people blamed Vista because their all in one printers didn't work, but the blame should have been laid at the feet of the hardware makers. Many of them didn't write drivers for Vista because they wanted people to upgrade to "Vista Compatible" hardware,rather than enable the older stuff to work.

My own experience with Vista I believe is far more typical of what you would hear from everyday users of Vista, if the pundits bothered to ask. My experience has been quite good,in fact, better than I expected, being am early adopter of an OS that had so many changes from its predecessor. I've been using Vista for 11 months on my primary desktop computer. It's a modestly powered by today's standards,but it does have dual core processor 2 gigs of ram and a outdated Ati Raddeon 1950 Video card. When I first put it together I ran it on integrated graphics with only 64mbs of video ram and aero glass worked fine. The machine has been very stable and the only real crash I experienced was when I tried to install service pack 1. I detailed that in  previous posts, but in general it works great, and whenever I go back to XP I always miss many of the features in Vista that make going back to XP not an option. I like the UAC, I know it gets a lot of complaints from some people, but it saved me at least once when I was half asleep and checking email not paying attention, and accidentally clicked on a nasty attachment. The start search is awesome, the ability to find a specific email, document or program before you get half way through typing it is great. There's no 3rd party  search that work nearly as well, neither Google's desk top search or Copernic come close. I have even come to really enjoy the sidebar. I have to admit I just turned it off for the first month or two but now I keep track of the weather, a few stocks and my calendar with the sidebar, I find it quite handy, when I'm using XP I'm always looking over for the sidebar or trying to do a start search, and I just think oh, yea it's not there,crap!

As for performance and hardware needs I recently installed Vista Ultimate on a 2 year old Lenovo Thinkpad that shipped with XP Pro and had the dreaded "Vista Capable" logo on it. Now I'm aware Microsoft is getting sued by some people that claim their Vista Capable machines were inadequate to run anything above Vista Home Basic, but the machine I have works fine. It runs an early 1.83 ghz core duo processor and a ati 1400x graphics card with 128 mbs of video ram. I installed 2 gigs of ram, which is a minimum for running Vista. I also upgraded the hard drive since the original only had 60 gbs and I wanted a multi-boot system, I put in a 7200 rpm 200 gb Hitachi hard drive. This machine boots Vista 2 seconds faster to the login screen than XP. Now I'm not saying Vista runs faster than XP, the XP partition has the Lenovo suite of applications they include with new machines and runs Symantec Corporate Antivirus and Firewall. The Vista side has no manufacturer installed "crapware" and runs AVG free version 7.5 . I used MSCONFIG to turn off all but the security software at start up so it a reasonably fair contest.

Now I still think XP is less resource consuming and is slightly faster in running applications once running, its just not that noticeable.(with identical hardware) With Service Pack 1 for Vista installed, it runs even better, file copy is much better and Vista is now compatible with hundreds of programs that originally it broke. There's no doubt XP has evolved into a very solid OS from the buggy and very insecure system it was, when it shipped originally. So if your older hardware still work fine, stick with it, but if your hardware's getting old and its time for an upgrade, don't fear the Vista, don't listen to the so called experts, bashing a Microsoft product takes about as much guts as bashing President Bush right now.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Vista SP1 day 3

I recently blogged about my trials and tribulations with installing Vista Service Pack 1 on my desktop computer. To put it mildly it did not start out well. I blue screened,for the first time with any Vista machine I've worked on and was only able to salvage the computer by starting in safe mode and reverting to a restore point. This is the point when I start looking for help from Microsoft.

Fortunately it came,and it was quite good. I emailed tech support and they got back to me the next morning. The suggestion was to do a upgrade install (Repair) of my system. The "Problems and Solutions"log had informed me I was using a beta version of Vista when I needed a retail version, even though I had bought one when I built the PC last year. This indicated to the tech support person that it was most likely corrupted system files. She also suggested I install SP1 in a clean boot mode, which is done by turning off all startup items using MSCONFIG. In short it worked great, and I actually notice a faster machine with SP1.

File copy after SP1 is also considerably faster and the machine does have a certain pop to it that it didn't have after doing the repair install, and had turned off the startup items in the System Configuration.

So Vista SP1, it was worth the initial headache, if you have Vista and it's available when you check for available updates, do it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ubuntu 8.04 new Install Options

Linux a Unix based open source operating system has long been clawing its way up in a attempt to gain a small market share for a long time. One of the most popular versions of Linux is Ubuntu, they have just released the beta of version 8.04 and it has some great new features. For years many of the Linux distributions (distro) have had the ability to run the operating system off a "live CD" which allows you to try out the operating system running off a CD drive so you to check the compatibility of the drivers and give you a taste of the OS, while never touching your hard drive.

One of the new features of Ubuntu 8.04 is a new install option called the Wubi installer. The Wubi installer allows you to install Ubuntu directly into Windows. The experience is very similar to installing a normal Windows application. While it does install the system on to your hard drive, it doesn't change your Windows boot loader, and has a simple uninstall feature. The Wubi install option is far less intrusive than the old and still available install which replaces your window boot loader making an uninstall a true hassle. Dual booting now is far easier and has less of a pucker factor when hitting that install icon. This is a great way to get your feet wet with an excellent version of the Linux operating system. I tried the new installer today on a Thinkpad with XP and Vista already installed. I've been playing with it all night and the new OS works great, even got my wireless to work for the first time with Linux. (don't forget to back up first your results may vary)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Vista SP1 day 2

Well computers can be a challenge. My attempt at installing Vista service pack 1 crashed and burned. To make a long story short, the best I can do for now was to get the machine to boot into safe mode and pick a restore point just before I started the install. When I checked Vistas "Problem Reports and Solutions" one of the issues it claimed was that I needed to install a retail version of Vista, and that I was using a beta! WTF, I bought my copy of Vista at Fry's so I guess you never know, funny it never caught it before today though, considering I had updated the OS ever since I bought it with no problem. Well that was a helpful.

At least it's up and running fine again, it might be a while before I try SP1 on this machine again though.

Next on the pain train install Linux Ubuntu 8.04on a Thinkpad already running XP and Vista. Should be a piece of cake. The only question is should I install it into Windows with the new Wubi installer, or on its own partition.?

Vista SP1 2 outa 3 ain't bad

Well so far I've installed Vista or rather attempted to install Windows Vista Service Pack 1 on 3 computers. Service Pack 1 which became available for general download some time last week, was widely lauded in the tech community for adding some solid performance and compatibility improvements to Microsoft's latest operating system. I decided that I'd grab an image of the service pack, burn it on a CD, and just install it that way. In the past, with Windows Xp service pack 1 and 2, I had always paid 5$ for shipping, and had gotten a CD directly from Microsoft. This time I wanted the CD as I am using a satellite Internet service that limits my bandwidth usage. With a total of 4 machines now running Vista in the household, it seemed to make sense to download the entire 450mb image at an alternate location and proceed with the installation without any bandwidth penalty.

The first two installs went great, it only took about a half hour, (which is slower than the original install). But when I put it in my main production desktop disaster seems to be striking as I sit here, typing. First, it was taking forever, then after it's second reboot, blue screen! Oh #&%* ok it restarted again, this time I restarted in safe mode, it seemed to pick up the install at 33% it slowly, very slowly advanced to 100% on step 3 out of 3 on the install process. Next reboot, black error screen with boot up options, tried normal boot, Blue Screen! it restarted, this time I tried safe mode again, as I sit here now its in a "Service Pack did not Install.Reverting changes. Do Not Turn Off Computer" message staring at me. It's been an hour, guess I'll let it run all night and see what I get.

Wish me luck.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Using Vista’s Disk Management tool to re-partition your hard drive:

Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system has a hidden feature that users of Microsoft's older operating system had to get from outside vendors in the past. In Windows Vista Microsoft has added the ability to re-size and partition the primary hard drive without destroying the data on it. Although not as full featured as Norton Ghost or similar programs, the tool in Vista allows adequate modification of the primary partition to perform several useful functions. For Example, if you wanted to add another operating system to your computer and duel boot Vista with Windows XP or one of the popular Linux Distro's out there, the tools that ship with Vista work just fine.

To re-size and partition your hard drive in Vista click the start button and then right click on the start menu item Computer. Choose Manage off of the drop down menu, you will be prompted by UAC (user access control) to allow the user to access this procedure. The Computer Management window will now appear on the screen. On the left side of the screen the second to last item just under storage is Disk Management, double click Disk Management, and a diagram of the active hard drives, their size and space available will appear on the lower half of the window. Right click on the partition that you wish to resize, when the dialog box appears select Shrink Volume. Another dialog box appears after the computer queries itself to determine how much you can shrink the volume. The most the Disk Management tool will allow you to shrink the volume is 50% of the total available size. You can make the second partition smaller than 50% but no larger. On the Shrink C dialog box that has now appeared drop down to the line that says, Enter the amount of space to shrink in MB: and manually select the size of the new partition using the up/down arrows. Once you've selected the size click the shrink button, and Vista will resize your new partition. Next you will need to decide if you want to reformat your new volume.

If you want to use your new volume as an additional partition within your Vista system for storing data such as media files, or you want to install a copy of Windows XP on it, then you can use Disk Management to reformat and create another partition. using the NTSF file system. However, if you are going to install a Linux operating system on the volume, there is no need, as Linux operating systems uses a file system not available in the Disk Management tool in Vista. To format the volume just right click your new volume and select Format and your new volume will be formatted, it's all quite simple, and surprisingly fast.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Cool Apps: Launchy

One of my favorite new applications I found recently is a little open source project called Launchy. Launchy is a great way to search your computer and then open documents, applications or even music. The nicest part of this app is you launch, Launchy by hitting  Alt then space bar and it's there on your desk top. You begin typing an application you want to launch and two or three letters into the name the application appears in Launchy, usually at the top, of a list, hitting enter launches the application.

Windows Vista users will find Launchy similar to but not as powerful as the start search included in the OS, so considering you just hit the Win key and begin typing to do a start search, it may be of little use. In XP though it's way faster and more convenient than the built in search and is a must have. The developer is planning to make Launchy cross platform so soon it may be available on Linux or Mac OSX.

Check it out at and if you do decide to use it, and enjoy it, please consider making a small donation to the developer.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Saving Money on a Computer

I'll admit it, I'm a bit on the frugal side, well actually I'm cheap. I seldom buy brand new cars, if I do they're always with the base features and few options. When it comes to buying computers I never like to pay full retail. So, how can you buy a decent computer without spending a ton? Well you could try EBay, I've bought several computers on EBay and it's worked out fine. I think the key to EBay in general is only buy from sellers with lots of feedback. Usually you never have to buy from anyone with less than 99% positive feedback. When you buy from someone on EBay, ask lots of questions, make sure the deal includes the operating system disks. Also don't buy a computer that's running a operating system that's more than 1 generation older than the current OS. In other words don't buy a PC running anything older than Windows XP, unless it's going to be a Linux box or won't be used online. I also wouldn't buy any computer if it didn't have some kind of return policy. At least 30 days or more, if possible. At least if it's DOA you can return it. All of that said, EBay is still a bit risky, people still get burned, usually for not following common sense rules. is another great place to find great deals. An advantage Craigslist has is you get to check the item out before you buy it. Never...never buy from Craigslist unless it's cash and carry. Don't send money to someone on Craigslist as there's no recourse if you're burned. Going to some strangers can be a little creepy, so use common sense when you buy from someone you've never met before. That leaves one last category for getting a great deal on a computer.

Buying from a manufacturers outlet store, is my favorite way to save money on a computer these days. Most large computer makers have online stores. Somewhere on the home page you can usually find a link to their outlet store. The great thing about the outlets of major manufacturers is you get the same warranty as a regular, full price product. Also the computers sold from outlet stores have all been checked out by a technician prior to being shipped, unlike a new factory built computer that ships directly from the factory. People shouldn't worry about buying a so called refurbished computer from the original manufacturer. If a computer is merely opened and then returned the manufacturer cannot call it new anymore, by law it has to be listed as used or refurbished.

A quick check of the online stores from Apple, Dell, HP, Gateway and Sony all find outlet stores with substantial savings. My own experience was with Dell and I was totally impressed. I was looking for a current model the Inspiron 1420. I found at least 150 different machines available. I specifically wanted a dedicated graphics card, a 2.2 core 2 duo processor and a 160GB, 7200 rpm hard drive. I found several and quickly had one in my cart and was checked out. I was very happy with the Dell, it was on my front porch in 3 days with standard shipping and was equipped with no extra "crapware", exactly as I wanted. The machine came with the install disc for the operating system and all the necessary drivers ect.

About the Dell Outlet in particular, I am amazed at the sheer volume of product on the Dell site, and how fast it changes. For people needing XP you can find plenty of machines with XP installed. This is important, if you need XP on a new computer for some reason, either an application or piece of hardware you need, that wont run with Vista you don't necessarily want to downgrade a machine that shipped originally with Vista. Not only will you waste money by buying a copy of XP, negating most of your savings you just scored. You might find XP won't run that well on a computer that shipped with Vista. Some recent models of computers that shipped with hardware developed after Vista was released, don't have an XP compatible driver available. This is especially true with some of the newer video cards. So try to find a deal on a machine built with the operating system you intend to stay with.

Just browsing a few of the major PC makers online stores you find a great selection of refurbished computers selling at a considerable discount from their retail list price. Dell and Sony appear to have the most models in sheer volume. HP Lenovo, and Apple have many models but no where near their full selection of what's available new.

So if you want to save money on a new computer certainly check the outlet of the brand you are interested in before you shell out full price on a new computer.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Vista Tip, Add Run to Start Menu

Windows Vista has a lot of great features. It also has a few annoyances that hide or change features previously available in earlier versions of Windows. By default the Windows Vista start menu does not contain the Run command. To get to the Run command with the standard configuration, click the start "orb" type run in the search box, and Run should be at or near the top item on the list. To add the Run command to the start menu, right-click the start menu, select properties this brings up the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties page. The "Start Menu" tab will be highlighted, click on the Customize" button. This will bring up the Customize Start Menu, scroll down to the near the bottom, you will see Run next to an unchecked box. Check the box, and click Ok to exit and save the setting. Now you have the Run command available, with one click at the start menu.

Friday, February 29, 2008

On Antivirus Applications, Malware, and Safety on the Net

Over the years I've tried numerous antivirus apps. I've used several versions of Norton, used McAfee, Kaspersky, Avast, AVG, Panda, and Nod 32 from Eset. For years Norton was the standard with McAfee a close second. Around 2003 or so Symantec the maker of Norton piled on the features and became ridiculously bloated and unmanageable. Around this time I tried Panda which sounded better and in fact slowed my computers down far less, and seemed very effective. I've tried AVG and Avast both excellent for free software. AVG in particular is a lightweight application that seems effective.

Lately after reading a recommendation in PC Magazine I decided to give Norton 2008 a try. The new version of Norton is less hassle than the old versions and seemed to slow down my PC less. I was happy with it until it did its daily scan, at that point everything slows way down. I frequently have 3-5 applications open at once and often have Firefox and or IE 7 open with multiple tabs. But when AVG or Nod 32 are running scans I saw little or no performance hit. Another point of annoyance is that I also have an IBM ThinkPad which has Symantec's corporate edition of Antivirus and Firewall. This application runs extremely fast both in the background and when doing scans. Why can't Symantec use this antivirus engine in their consumer grade product? Why does their consumer grade product suck so badly compared to the corporate version? I've noticed pretty much the same thing with McAfee which I use at work.

Of course do antivirus suites work anymore? With today's virus and spyware writers having the huge monetary incentive to keep crap from being removed from your machine probably the best antivirus/malware is the end user.

Some general rules to live by in today's computing world are:

  1. Keep Windows updated, keep your Automatic Updates on and set for a time your machine is usually running.
  2. Keep your Virus and antispyware definitions up to date.
  3. Scan your machine daily, with antivirus and antispyware. Run only one antivirus but use multiple antispyware tools. Generally it's best to run only one antivirus at a time. However you can run as many antispyware tools as you like. The 3 best known free spyware programs are Ad-aware, Spybot Search and Destroy, and Microsoft Defender. It also makes sense to run a commercial antispyware program such as Spyware Doctor. All of these programs can be had at
  4. Do most of your computing especially online work as a limited user. Not operating as an administrator is always safer even if you are using a Mac or Linux system.
  5. Don't click on links in an email. Never log on to EBay, PayPal, or any online financial site from a link in an email. Always type in the website manually to go to your bank or EBay account.
  6. If you have teenagers using a family computer always have them log into the computer on a non-administrator account. Consider using Microsoft Windows Steady State program which will undo any changes done to the hard drive by limited users at the next re-boot. This program works great but may be a little on the geeky side. It does take some time to set up properly, but I've been playing with it and find it quite remarkable. Its designed to be used on public computers, such as in libraries so at the end of the day the administrator just re-boots the machine and it returns to its pre-configured condition.
  7. Use Internet Explorer 7, Firefox, or Opera. Internet Explorer 6 is notoriously insecure and should be upgraded to 7 ASAP. Even IE 7 should only used for windows update on Windows XP. Firefox or Opera are generally less targeted by hackers and mal-ware writers. Firefox is getting more popular and is now becoming a target for exploits more and more. Use the add on, "No Scripts" which allows users to opt in for sites running scripts. "No Script" disables all scripts on a site until the user allows scripts to run hopefully preventing dangerous java script exploits from unknown or miss typed URLs. Vista users are safer in IE 7 than XP as Vista runs IE 7 in "protected Mode" which attempts to sandbox the browser from the hard drive. IE 7amp; also has a fairly effective phishing filter, which notifies the user if the link you clicked on in an email isn't taking you to the banking site you thought you were going to.
  8. Use Windows Vista, if you can. Windows Vista was built with a priority of safe computing being one of Microsoft's primary goals. Unlike Windows XP which claimed to be safe when first released Vista truly does have a number of features that make you safer. The UAC or User Account Control is a feature similar to account permissions contained in most UNIX based OS's, that asks for an administrator's password whenever the user install software, hardware, or changes the system in a major way. This has saved me, it can save you from, "drive by malware attacks" where just browsing to a website with malicious code and infect you without clicking on anything.
  9. Use virtual machine software such as Microsoft Virtual PC or similar software from VMware. Or a simpler solution is to use Sandbox IE. Sandbox IE allows you to use your browser in a "virtual sandbox" that protects your computer from malware as long as you don't save anything to your hard drive.
  10. Last but certainly not least, use a nat router. A cheap but effective router either wired or wireless is a must have, in today's online environment. A router will reject traffic from the Internet that was unsolicited thus effectively acting as a hard ware firewall. Even if you only use 1 PC and it's connected to your modem, you should put a router between you and the internet. This applies to high speed connections of course, I'm not sure they make routers for dial up. Dial up users should probably use a third party software firewall such as Zone Alarm or Comodo both are free and work quite well.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sayonara Powerbook

Today I finally unloaded my old G4 PowerBook. It was a great little computer but it's age finally caught up with it. For a long time I've gradually become distant from the old girl, my last fling with her occurred after I installed Leopard. It wasn't pleasant, it took seven tries at a clean install, finally I reinstalled Tiger and then tried an upgrade install and finally, it worked. But, in the end it was to little to late. Leopard is not really at its best on a G4, I never really got used to it and I never bothered to go back to 10.4.

I think the 12 inch Powerbook had the combination of elegance and utility that the new MacBook Air can't even come close to. In fact the "Air" is well, kind of like a beautiful woman with no substance or depth. Sure it looks incredible, but without well, everything, a decent ultra potable needs it's pretty much useless. Instead we get an under powered over priced, style is everything, substance can't be found, piece of crap. I think it's proof you can be to thin. A 12-13.3 inch MacBook Pro with dedicated graphics, a Superdrive, and high end core two duo processor with a 250 gig hard drive would have been a world class, kick ass, road warrior machine. The MacBook Air is a fine lapdog for some spoiled, whinny, air head, who mindlessly stairs at her Myspace page, pouting cause daddy won't buy her a bimmer.

Enough already on the "Air". The PowerBook was hard to part with. I almost backed down on the sale at the last minute. Now it has a nice home with a young college student who will hopefully get some more quality time with her. I gave it a clean install of Tiger so the thing is actually useful. Fact is, I just didn't need it anymore.

My new production laptop is a beautiful 4 month old Dell Inspiron 1420. It's not as pretty as the PowerBook but with 2.2 ghz core two duo, and a 7200 rpm 160 gig hard drive it it pretty much smokes any other computer I've used.

One of the better jokes going around right now is that the 15.4 MacBook Pro is the fastest notebook for running Windows Vista out there. The hardware spec on the high end Mac's is impressive, but I doubt it will match the high end XPS Dells or Alienware machine's out right now.

Another compelling reason for not buying a Mac notebook is the difficulty of doing an upgrade. I recently upgraded the hard drive on a 4 year old Dell. It took exactly 1 screw to get the hard drive out of the computer, 4 more screws for the enclosure, and that was it. Try that on a new MacBook or MacBook Pro. Just forget about it unless you have a weekend to kill.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Windows Live Writer

Tonight I thought that I would try out Windows Live Writer. This is part of the new Windows Live suite available from Microsoft, as a free download for either Windows Vista or Windows XP. The suite includes several very nice applications. I've  already tried Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Live Mail, and Windows Live Spaces. I've found the photo gallery and the mail application to be excellent. The photo gallery is similar to the Windows Photo Gallery that ships with Windows Vista. It allows basic editing functions and the ability to add tags and or captions. It also allows you to upload to your photos to your Windows Live Spaces account. The Windows Live Mail application is meant to enhance the standard Windows Mail in Vista or Outlook Express in Windows XP. You can add multiple email accounts from either web mail accounts or specific domain based email. The Windows Live Mail supports IMAP or POP mail.

Another interesting component to the new Live Suite is Skydrive. Skydrive gives you 1 Gigabyte of online storage, similar to how you might use a portable USB drive. You can password protect the files or encrypt them for security, and then retrieve them later when needed. You could store a Power Point presentation or a spreadsheet online in Skydrive then retrieve them any where at an remote location with an Internet connection.

Overall Windows Live improves the standard computing experience with Windows XP or Vista. The new mail application allows you to increase you Hotmail account to 5 gigabytes, and you can convert your old Hotmail address to a if you prefer. The mail application is an improvement over the standard mail applications Vista and XP ship with, without having to go to Outlook, which is just to much for some of us, who aren't tied to it at work. Download it for free and give it a try at

Technorati Tags: ,

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Vista is a disaster?

I was reading an article in the latest issue of Cpu. Magazine. The authors point was basically that Vista has been a disaster. No one wants it or needs it. Okay it seems that many people with-older hardware, peripherals, or older software applications have had problems with Vista. He also points out Vista is an resource hog.
So the question is, is it worth it?
I run Vista on several machines, all run dual core processors, and each has at least 2 gigs of ram. The new dual and quad core processors available today easily run Vista with a great user experience. DDR2 ram is very inexpensive now, running 2 gigs or more of ram is very cheap. A home built system with the lower end core 2 Intel processor with 2 gigs of ram and a reasonably priced video card can be put together for under $600. Unless you need a computer for extremely high end graphics rendering or high end gaming, a modest computer will give the end user a very nice computing experience with Vista.
One thing can't be argued, Vista is far more secure than XP ever was. Drivers and other software are no longer written to the kernel, this fundamental change makes crashes much less unlikely. The User Account Control or UAC has taken a large amount of the criticism. Having used Mac OSX and several Linux distros, Vista didn't seem to be much more intrusive than these Unix based systems which asks you for a administrative password whenever you install a new program or modify the system in a major way.
One of the major complaints heard about Vista is the lack of compatibility with older hardware. My 3 year old printer works great 1st time, every time, as do all my peripherals.
Unlike XP you can and should operate as a limited user with Vista. Programs can be run or installed with administrative rights safely without having to log out of the regular users account, unlike XP.
Seems some of the high tech mavens have forgotten the nightmare pre-service pack 2 XP was. The firewall was off by default, and difficult to find. You had to buy a 3rd party firewall at the store and install it before you could safely go online. Without the firewall you had the blaster worm before there was time to download the patch. Not to mention many of the gamers were complaining about what an resource hog XP was compared to 98, many didn't switch to XP for a year or two.
So, in short, for me Vista has been stable, and reliable. The new photo gallery and media center work great. I use the sidebar to track my stocks and keep a short term to-do list where I can see it.
Vista certainly has some warts though. Having 5 different versions, not counting all the different combinations of OEM or upgrade licenses is absurd. Just give us 1 version, or maybe a home (Ultimate) and Enterprise for businesses and be done with it. Paying $200.00 for the full Ultimate version would be fine, but $399.00 is ridiculous. And just get rid of Windows Genuine Advantage. Apple has it right with their OS upgrades, $129.00 is reasonable and well worth the price for most versions they deliver. If the price was reasonable less people would pirate and you wouldn't put your users through the activation nonsense.