Friday, December 18, 2009

WINXP - Report on Firefox Browser

I have just started to use Mozilla Firefox Browser at home and work. So here's my impressions when run on WinXP.

(Note that I use Firefox on my Linux Ubuntu Notebook PC)

Off the bat, it is faster than IE8 (which I run at home/work).

Has some very nice Add-ons you can install via Firefox's Tools menu.

I am using Firefox to post this article as we "speak." It is very nice in appearance and ease of use.

I highly suggest you try it, and it's FREE.

Here is a list of recommended Add-ons:
  • Add Bookmark Here (adds this to the top of each Bookmark list)
  • CheckPlaces (verifies URL & can update Favcons)
  • FireFTP
  • ABC SpellBound (spelling checker)
  • CookieSafe (tracks cookies & includes Blacklist option)
  • View Cookies (easy way to view cookies on a page via Tools, Page Info)
  • Print Preview 0.7.1.4 (you can add a [Print Preview] button to Toolbar)
  • Default FullZoom Level 4.3 (easy way to set zoom factor)

I did find one fault which I've reported to Mozilla. The Firefox Print-to-Fit does not work properly.

Example you go to the Star Wars article in Wikipedia, there are tables. The print-out from Firefox, the tables are chopped-off on the right, in IE8 the full table is shown. Small annoyance as far as I'm concerned.

(12/22/2009 update)

Just discovered something due to a problem another Firefox user had.

Some sites may have music that plays in the background. The problem is the HTML code used is an outdated Microsoft Frontpage standard called "bgsound" that is IE only code.

It is not supported by Firefox. The new HTML standard is to use what is called an embedded object, like the code use by YouTube which you can add to your WEB page (like this blog).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

HARDWARE - Have a Legacy System?

Is your PC a Legacy System?

In this case I am talking about the hardware in your system being "old." The problem is getting hardware replacements because they are no longer manufactured.

But don't give up. There are many suppliers who specialize on stocking legacy hardware or even entire systems.

For example, my Desktop System at home is legacy because:

  • I use IDE drives (2 ports)

  • AGP8X video port

  • Floppy

I just have too much on my drives, etc., to do a complete reinstall if I wanted to upgrade (for example) an Intel Core 2 processor motherboard. Or at least I thought so at the time.

When I first looked at Intel Core 2 motherboards, they came with only one IDE port, some had no Floppy port, and none had an AGP port.

I did upgrade, but to a legacy motherboard that could use a Pentium 4, LGA775 socket, 3GHz, Hyper Threading. So I get very good speeds even with high-resource games like Bioshock, Assassin's Creed, Far Cry 2, or Fallout 3.

The other day, because my video card started to go, I was searching around via Google, and lo-and-behold I found a motherboard WITH all the legacy support I needed AND could use Intel Core 2 LGA775 socket! Also, I could use my existing Processor if I wanted to.

It is the P4M800PRO-M (V2.0) motherboard from ECS Elitegroup. AND I could (and did) order it from Amazon (for a very good price), in addition to a Intel Core 2, 3GHz, LGA775 socket. Even better, it supports 2gb max memory, but two different types Memory Sticks (4 memory slots, 2 of each type), including the memory I already have.

This means, when my present motherboard goes out, I'll have an upgrade motherboard ready.

This is just to show my readers not to give up on upgrading or repairing your system at low cost.

Why did I order a replacement motherboard when I don't need one now? It is still a legacy motherboard and ECS does not manufacture it any more. So I got it while I could.

By the way, the Google search string I used (including the quotes):
motherboard "lga775 socket" agp8x

There were other variations, but that was the basic search line.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

WINXP - Backup Your System's Drivers

Ever had a hard time with drivers, especially on Laptops? Well I found a nice tool for backing up drivers. DriverBackup (donationware).

It is so good we use it at work to backup drivers on systems we send to customers. We keep a copy if needed for warranty repairs.

This is a screenshot for my DELL Desktop at work.


DriveBackup Main Window
(click for larger view)


DriverBackup can be run directly from a CD, install not required.

Features:
  • Driver Backup & Restore (uses the .bki file it creates)

  • Makes a tree (as shown in screenshot) for each driver with a copy of the driver files

  • You can have the option to have a copy of DriverBackup program files included

I have DriverBackup make the backup to a temporary folder C:\Temp, then write the contents to a CD.

Note that with the tree-copy of drivers, and you have SATA hard drives, you can copy the contents of the SATA driver folder to a USB Flash Drive and load these when you need to boot to your WinXP Setup CD (which does not have SATA drivers) so the CD can see your hard drive without problems. Note that loading extra drivers is done when the CD first loads, there is a message on the bottom Statusbar about loading extra drivers.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

WINXP - WinXP to Win7 Migration

This is intended for those considering going from WinXP to Windows 7 (Win7).

First and foremost. Microsoft operator system release history should be taken into consideration. The initial release of their OS has always been buggy, and I'm talking about the official release not Beta or RC. Please consider NOT installing Win7 until AFTER Win7 SP1 appears in stores.

Here are some pages you should look at BEFORE buying or installing Win7:

  1. Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Step-by-Step Guide)
  2. Clean install with Windows 7 Upgrade media
  3. Windows 7 Forum

The introduction video in #1 is very informative. Ending with, WinXP to Win7 migration is NOT simple. For one thing, it requires reinstalling all your applications from scratch, so you need all the install CDs or downloads before you start. SEE UPDATE BELOW!

In my personal case, I will never be going to Win7 because of massive application and game reinstalls that would be required. AND I already know that many of my games are not Win7 compatible. Also, my WinXP system is very, very stable. I am one who does not just get the latest-and-"greatest" of anything, and from what I see in Win7 there is nothing there that I need (especially all that useless eye-candy).

UPDATE 4/8/2010

"Migration Kit for Windows 7" from O&O Software

Whether you're installing Windows 7 on your old computer, or are planning to buy a new one that already comes with Windows 7, you’ll quickly notice that something very important is missing: your personal data, settings, and programs that were available on your computer’s former operating system. You could, of course, transfer each of them one by one, and then reinstall them in a tedious process, but there is a much easier way: Migration Kit for Windows 7.

With just a few clicks, you’ll be able to transfer all your data and programs onto a new operating system or computer. This is not only easier and less time-consuming, it's also much more secure because as part of the Migration Kit for Windows 7, you’ll also be getting the multiple award-winning O&O DiskImage 4 Professional Edition. O&O DiskImage will create a complete image of your system prior to migration, so that your familiar IT environment will be available to you whenever you need it. Windows 7 is not included in the price.

I have not use this kit, but the ability to move programs as well as user settings is a VERY big deal. Note I use O&O DiskImage at home, It's outstanding software.

I have use the Win7 Easy Transfer in setting up a new Win7 DELL for a friend and found it works very well, with exceptions of course (like Win7 not having Outlook Express). The O&O Software's Migration Kit for Windows 7 would be practical in this case because the Win7 DELL included a software upgrade to Office 2007.

Friday, October 16, 2009

WINXP - Microsoft Office Outlook

As I've said before, I do not normally deal with non-utility applications in this Blog, but here's another exception.

Users of Microsoft Office Outlook, especially for business, have a concern in keeping emails when they are addressing official business. Even home users may have an interest in keeping emails from family, banks, doctors, etc.

The first step is consideration of using a good sub-folder system.



(click image for larger view)


The above example shows several added features as well as the defaults used when creating a new email account.


  • Under Personal Folders (Outlook.pst file) the folder FEDEX was added

  • A Rule was created to check all incoming email, if it is From fedex.com, route to FEDEX folder

The Archive folder (Archive.pst file) is normally created by default, note the qualifier "normally."

You do have a Default Archive Settings under Tools menu, Options, Other tab, [AutoArchive] where you set the generic (aka default) rule.

The Default Archive Settings can be changed/overridden by right-clicking a folder, selecting Properties, AutoArchive tab (example; set Inbox to Do not archive items in this folder).

You should use Custom Archive Settings for most folders, and have the emails archived/moved to a matching folder inside the Archive folder. Or to permanently delete contents after n-days (example; delete contents of the Sent Items folder every 10days).

Remember to ensure that ALL folders under the Archive folder are never archived.

Note the special archive folder Proj (Proj.pst file), this was created to save emails that apply to a project I work on. These emails are official business documents and must be kept for tracking purposes. I manually move project emails after reading them (using "Move to folder" icon on Outlook Toolbar).

If you are running a business, a suggestion (using Property Management as an example):
Property Management deals with Clients (their property) and likely Vendors (landscapers, painters, repair, etc.) .

In this case, consider having sub-folders under Inbox


  • Clients

    • And sub-folder (Inbox\Clients\client-name) for each client by name and/or property

  • Vendors

    • And sub-folder (Inbox\Vendors\vendor-name) for each vendor

Then create Rules to, check all incoming email, if it is From client or vendor email-address, route to the applicable Inbox sub-folder.

This way you can easily see which client or vendor you receive email from. In the above example, FEDEX is a vendor.


OUTLOOK MAILBOX BACKUP

If your email is important, you should be backing-up your mailboxes, which are .pst files. Fortunately Microsoft has provided a (PSTBackup) add-in you can download and install, see the download-link in Using the Microsoft Outlook Personal Folders Backup tool.

CAUTION: You need to setup EACH .pst file you have via Backup [Options], see Using-article.

AFTER installing the Outlook PST Backup Tool (add-in) sometimes disappears from the File menu (listed as Backup).

Here's what to do:


  1. Open Add/Remove Programs and ensure that Microsoft Outlook Personal Folders Backup is listed

  2. IF NOT listed, close Outlook and download & install

  3. Open Outlook, select Tools menu, Options

  4. Other tab, [Advanced Options], [COM Add-Ins] to open dialog

  5. [Add], [Browse] to C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\OFFICE11\ADDINS, select outbak.dll

  6. [OK] out of all dialogs, close Outlook & reopen

  7. In File menu, Backup should be listed

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

PC SECURITY - Free Antivirus From Microsoft

Microsoft is offering a absolutely free (no subscription, no buy) Antivirus Tool.


Microsoft Security Essentials
(download link on this home page)

(click for larger view)



Microsoft Security Essentials is a free antivirus software created by Microsoft that provides protection against viruses, spyware, rootkits, and trojans for Windows XP, Vista, and 7.

MSE replaces Windows Live OneCare — a subscription antivirus service — and Windows Defender, which only protects users from adware and spyware. It is geared for home use.

Microsoft is specifically targeting computer users without credit cards, new hardware, and broadband Internet connections.


Note MSE is not intended as a full replacement for other commercial Antivirus products. But for those who cannot afford to buy, and pay subscriptions, to the higher-end tools.

Also, MSE Antivirus Definitions are updated through Microsoft Update, NOT Windows Update. So you will have to upgrade to Microsoft Update via offer on Windows Update dialog.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

WINXP - "Microsoft is NOT the best at..." Example

Ran into this utility when a Tech Service site requested I use it to give them info to troubleshoot a problem I was having.

Just look at the enlarged view of the screenshot of just the Operator System. Now compare this to WinXP System Info in your System Tools folder. Enough said.



SIW - System Information for Windows

(click for larger view)

WINXP - Interesting Factoid

While Usenet cruising I ran into an interesting post.

The poster runs a WEB site for children to get help with math and has 4000+ hits/day.

He uses Google Analytics and came up with the following Market-Share figures:

OS
LAST_YEAR
THIS_YEAR
CHANGE
Windows
93.00%
86.37%
-7.5%
Mac
5.97%
10.43%
+74%
Linux
0.59%
1.82%
+208%

The only question I have is the figures for Linux, especially last years. HOW did Google Analytics measure market share for something that is free? Windows and Mac OS are sold, therefore easy to get market share figures.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

PC SECURITY - The Danger of Phishing

One of the most dangerous Internet related security issues is Phishing:



In the field of computer security, phishing is the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Communications purporting to be from popular social web sites, auction sites, online payment processors or IT administrators are commonly used to lure the unsuspecting public. Phishing is typically carried out by e-mail or instant messaging, and it often directs users to enter details at a fake website whose look and feel are almost identical to the legitimate one. Even when using server authentication, it may require tremendous skill to detect that the website is fake. Phishing is an example of social engineering techniques used to fool users, and exploits the poor usability of current web security technologies. Attempts to deal with the growing number of reported phishing incidents include legislation, user training, public awareness, and technical security measures.


Recent phishing attempts



Phishers are targeting the customers of banks and online payment services. E-mails, supposedly from the Internal Revenue Service, have been used to glean sensitive data from U.S. taxpayers. While the first such examples were sent indiscriminately in the expectation that some would be received by customers of a given bank or service, recent research has shown that phishers may in principle be able to determine which banks potential victims use, and target bogus e-mails accordingly. Targeted versions of phishing have been termed spear phishing. Several recent phishing attacks have been directed specifically at senior executives and other high profile targets within businesses, and the term whaling has been coined for these kinds of attacks.

Social networking sites are now a prime target of phishing, since the personal details in such sites can be used in identity theft; in late 2006 a computer worm took over pages on MySpace and altered links to direct surfers to websites designed to steal login details. Experiments show a success rate of over 70% for phishing attacks on social networks.

The RapidShare file sharing site has been targeted by phishing to obtain a premium account, which removes speed caps on downloads, auto-removal of uploads, waits on downloads, and cooldown times between downloads.

Attackers who broke into TD Ameritrade's database (containing all 6.3 million customers' social security numbers, account numbers and email addresses as well as their names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers and trading activity) also wanted the account usernames and passwords, so they launched a follow-up spear phishing attack.

Almost half of phishing thefts in 2006 were committed by groups operating through the Russian Business Network based in St. Petersburg.

1) As I've said before, the thing to remember is that legitimate financial intuitions will NOT ask for personal information, certifications, etc., via email with a direct link. They will tell you to logon to their site when necessary using your normal method (not email) using your Browser.

2) If you suspect something is "fishy" with a web-page reference to a site you use, again use your normal method to contact the site NOT the email link.

3) Verify a email link before using it. This can be done easily using something as simple as the ping command from the Command Prompt......


Ping a Domain
(click for larger view)

....and verify it is the same location as you would normally use via your Browser, the IP 209.85.171.100 in the above example for google.com.

Even better, use a WHOIS site, examples:

Just copy/paste the full email link into a WHOIS and see who actually owns it.

Note that many WHOIS sites are intended for those who wish to register their own private Domain. Example, you have a small business "Toreno Real Estate" and wish to have your own WEB site "torenorealestate.com" you would us a WHOIS to verify that it is NOT being used, then register your site with a Domain Name Registrar for a fee of course. You then can use a WEB Page Host to put up your page, in fact such hosts also provide Domain Name Registration as part of their service.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

HARDWARE - What a Difference a Case Makes

This post is about my latest hardware upgrade to my home Desktop PC, a new and improved case (aka enclosure), see image below.

My old case was 6yrs old and got very hot with the other high-performance hardware I have installed. See the graphs captured by HWMonitor Pro (shareware version) during game-play and you can see the improvement.

Antec 300 Enclosure
(click image to go to WEB page)


The Antec 300 comes with 2 120mm fans, one on top (seen in image) and the other in the top-rear. But you can add 3 optional 120mm fans. One on the side (seen in image) and 2 behind the front grill below the blank-out plates. I added the side fan and one front fan.

The design is a big improvement over my old case:
  • Power Supply (PSU) is mounted in the bottom, my old case had the PSU mounted at the top just over the CPU and Memory Sticks; all that heat in one area and no top ventilation

  • The provided stowage with reusable ties for all the cables you do not use

  • You can see that the how large the front grill is, AND they have a removable/washable filter on the inside

  • They use Knurl Screws where possible, you can open the case with no tools

  • They provide plenty of extra screws, stand-offs, and Knurl Screws

And the improvement? Just see the following graphs (see closeups for the numbers):

  1. CPU Fan Before/After



  2. (click for images for larger view)

  3. CPU Temp Before/After



  4. (click for images for larger view)

  5. SYSTEM Temp Before/After



  6. (click for images for larger view)


Also, PCTech Video Review

(need I say, the Antec 300 is not their latest)

Monday, August 31, 2009

WINXP - Applications to Look At

Normally I do not intend this blog to suggest specific Applications. I do make suggestions on Utilities to use to maintain your WinXP system.

There are 2 classes of Applications where I'm making an exception:

Finance Applications

I suggest that my readers look at Intuit, specifically:

  • Quicken

  • This is the personal and home-business bookkeeping software (I use this at home for years)

    Tracks your accounts (checking, savings, credit cards, investments, mortgages, etc) and Categories for transactions (utilities, interest income, pay income, mortgage interest, and whatever category you want, and budgeting).

  • TurboTax

  • This is what I use for making out my tax returns, Federal & State. Take a look.
    (By the way, looked at your H&R Block tax return, at the bottom? They use Turbo Tax, at least the last time I used them.)

  • QuickBooks

  • This is the small-to-large business professional version of Quicken. Includes several pre-configured Account Setups like Property Management, but you can make your own.


Database Application

This recommendation is because of a problem with database software I use at home.

Some personal background on this. Way in the past I actually wrote database programs in Ashton Tate's dBASE 3 & 4. This included a program for the Navy (NAVAIR) that was popular when the PC was new to the Navy.

A specific example of a database I use: I have a database for tracking the servicing of my car.

Includes:
  • Title of the service (like 10k Oil Change)

  • Date of last service

  • Last Service at (mileage)

  • Interval (mileage interval, like every 10000 miles)

  • Description of service (a text block aka Memo Field)

  • Next Service (aka mileage_due = Last Service + Interval)

The Next Service is where the problem occurred with newer database applications, especially those base on SQL.

This is called a Calculated Field, in this case the sum of Last Service & Interval.

There are some database software that have a problem with this when it comes to sorting or reports. Also, SQL database does not normally include Memo Fields (text entry with carriage returns like a Notepad document).

The old dBASE 3 & 4 standard was a Calculated Field was just another type of Numerical Field but it's value was calculated. You setup this field just like any Numerical Field so it was part of the Database Record. Therefore you could sort on this field and easily include it in a report.

I want to stress that there are database applications that have these features, but many are not "user-friendly" IMHO. And I have tried several. One of the best, that I used in the past (and is my benchmark), was the database module included in IBM's Lotus Suite. Unfortunately IBM has discontinued support of Lotus Suite, so I've been hunting for a replacement.

What I've found is MyDatabase Home and Business (aka Database Pro)

This is a very user-friendly database Application that has all the features found in Lotus Suite AND more, at a very reasonable price. Suggest you take a look if you use database Applications of course.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

WINXP - Harmony Universal Control



This may not seem to be a WinXP subject except you setup this Universal Control using your PC via a USB cable.

The Harmony Universal Control is from Logitech, and comes in several models. I have the 520 at home. It is for those who have a multi-component Home Theater system.

As you can see from the pic of the display to the right, you can setup Activities that can be executed by using any of the buttons next to the display-text. Want to watch TV, including starting with everything off, just push the button next to "Watch TV." Your Home Theater's AVAmp will turn on, your Cable/Satellite Box will turn on, and your TV will turn on.

During initial setup, you start by telling the Harmony software what components you have by type (TV, AVAmp, Cable Box, DVD Player, etc.), brand (Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, etc.) and exact model number (like TX-4560MX, which you type in).

Then the software will even ask questions like; what device to you want to control channel selection (TV or Cable Box), or which device you want to control your audio (TV or AVAmp), even asks if you want your Cable Box on all the time or off when not in use.

When the setup is done, you [Update Controller] to write your current setup to the Harmony.

AND you will actually have almost every device-control's options available, either from the Harmony control buttons OR via options presented on the display (when [Devices] button is used OR if Help-text is hidden IF you set that during the setup).

If you can operate your PC, the Harmony setup is very user friendly AND easy.

I found one operational problem. When you use Activity, Watch DVD (assuming you have it setup), the DVD will ALWAYS start from the beginning. This is NOT how DVDs normally operate. IF you stopped viewing BEFORE the DVD was finished, when you return it will start where you left-off on the DVD. I have posted this problem to Harmony Support to see if there is a way to fix this.

Update

Operator Error, Operator Error! Turns out I missed 2 Watch DVD custom options. You have to set both Do not send Start and Do not send Stop in the Custom settings for this Activity to have DVD play to restart where you left-off.

Harmony is a dream when compared to using several remotes, or the complex setup required by other Universal Remotes (and you don't get all the control options with just a code entry). It is available at BestBuy, CircuitCity.com (yes, they exist as a WEB site only), and Radio Shack, just to name 3 that I know of.

Take a look at the Harmony site via link near top.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

WINXP - Neat Desktop Calendar

I found a very neat Desktop Calendar while looking for one to put on my Linux Ubuntu Notebook. There is a Windows version.

I like the default transparent skin shown in screenshot.

Also see the screenshot on their Home page showing Alarm features (which I do not use).

The Rainlendar Lite (freeware version) is all most users should need.


Rainlendar

WINXP - How-To Make Your Own WinXP SP3 Setup Boot CD

I ran into this via the WinXP Help & Support Newsgroup.

"Slipstreaming Windows XP Service Pack 3 and Create Bootable CD"

Excerpt, first paragraphs

Slipstreaming a Service Pack, is the process to integrate the Service Pack into the installation so that with every new installation the Operating System and Service Pack are installed at the same time.

Slipstreaming is usually done on network shares on corporate systems, but it also makes sense for the home user or small business user to do.

Microsoft added the ability to Slipstream a Service Pack to Windows 2000 and Windows XP. It not only has the advantage that when you (re)install your OS, you don't have to apply the Service Pack later, also if you update any Windows component later, you'll be sure that you get the correct installation files if Windows needs any.

The rest of the article details the procedure.

Monday, August 17, 2009

WINXP - Cleaning Up Your System, New Utility

As I stated in a previous post, for your WinXP to be efficient and run smoothly you should run Disk Cleanup, which is found in the System Tools folder of the [Start] menu.

Step in an "improved" version, CCleaner and it's freeware and Win7 compatible.

See the screenshot. It even will clean Applications that keep references/links applicable to the app (suggest you be very careful about using this option since you WANT apps to keep pertinent info use by the app).


(click for larger view)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

PC GAMES - ATC Simulator

Uh, well may not exactly be a game. This is about a real ATC (Air Traffic Control) Simulator that is used for professional training, but it does make a nice simulation game.

Way back in my Win95/98 days I had a game titled TRACON which was much like the one I just found, but TRACON would not run in WinXP.

I accidentally ran into ATCSimulator 2

This game runs almost exactly like TRACON.

What these games do is allow you to choose a TRACON area, like the Chicago O'Hare (ORD) TRACON area. (see URL link, game screenshot below)


(click for larger view)


(Did you notice how similar the game screenshot is to the pictures in the URL page?)

Then you act as an ATC Controller and guide aircraft on takeoffs, landings, flying through the area, etc. This includes sending voice commands (via a voice simulator after typing in text commands) to change speed/altitude/heading and hearing the pilots reply.

Of course you have to observe all the rules on aircraft separation, airport landing speeds & runway headings, and specified routs.

I spend hours with the old game and I'll likely spend hours with this updated version.

Monday, July 13, 2009

OT - My Forays Into the Linux World

(OT = Off Topic)

On 7/9/2009 I received my brand spanking new Linux Notebook Computer. I chose Ubuntu 9.04 desktop OS. (screenshot)

Personal Note: As I edit this post of 7/13/2009, I am using my Linux Notebook and Firefox

(click for larger view)


My first impression, just using it (out-of-the-box) Linux IS a better Operator System than Windows.

Also, Ubuntu has all the features that WinXP has and just as good, or better, GUI. Note that Ubuntu is a GNOME based desktop (see Linux link above).

Included:

  • OpenOffice Suite

  • Evolution email (I installed Thunderbird)

  • Firefox WEB Browser

  • and much more


What you should know about Linux. Linux has its root in the Unix OS, but Unix was cumbersome to use.

Personal Note: I have a fleeting experience with Unix at 2 former employers.

What Linux attempts to do, and does so very well, is to provide a Windows-like friendly GUI.

Understanding what is different about Unix/Linux:

This is a quick-and-dirty overview of how these OS function, and makes them different from Windows. Note that I have gleaned this from several sources, including Ubuntu Repositories (suggested reading for techies).

Unix is linked to folders at all levels, including logon. Example "root" = Windows Administrator logon, but is linked to the \root of the system. Reminder, Administrator logon is NOT the same as Administrator Rights. Any logon can be given Administrator Rights and this is true for Unix/Linux.

Unix/Linux installs work like a plug-ins in Windows (something I was not aware of until recently), like the plug-ins you can have for Windows IE. This means that ALL installed software (apps, utilities, system tools, etc.) are part of (integrated into) the OS. This is unlike Windows where most apps, utilities, etc., run on-top-of the Windows OS. This results in a smother running and more secure OS.

I am not saying that Unix/Linux are error-free. No OS is.

Also, since most of the Linux world is Open Source (aka freeware) the majority of installs cost you nothing. The software loads are provided by organizations like GNOME or Ubuntu.

Installs are done via the Synapic Package Manager (SPM) after selecting sources via Software Sources manager. There is an option for manual install if you download a DEB file (filename.deb) which is the Linux version of a filename.msi in Windows. Note in Linux, "package" = "install files" in Windows. In Linux you install packages.

Example, on my Linux Notebook, I've installed: Thunderbird, Adobe Reader 9 & Adobe Flash Player, a WMP emulator, a NewsGroup reader, and much more. Thunderbird has its own plug-in downloads.

Ubuntu:

Example of Windows-like GUI (refer to screenshot):

At the top of the Ubuntu Desktop is a "Panel Bar" which has the functions of the WinXP [Start] menu and Quick Launch Bar.


  • The start-menu functions = tabs [Applications] [Places] [System]

  • The quick-launch-bar = the icons to the right of [System] tab

  • On the far-right of the top bar are your Network connection icon, Desktop configuration, date-time, and your logon name and shut-down switch (includes log-off, etc.)

At the bottom Ubuntu Desktop is the equivalent of the WinXP Taskbar. It shows open windows just like WinXP with the addition of Workspace/Desktop/Trashbin (on the far right).

Now, as an example of "no OS is fault-free;" after installing Thunderbird I thought, well, I didn't need Evolution email any more.

You "remove" packages the via SPM, so I removed all references to Evolution. BIG mistake. When I rebooted, logon went as expected BUT I got no desktop! PANIC! Turns out that Ubuntu uses some core files from Evolution to create the desktop.

Contacted my system's Tech Support via email, and they gave me the command (via Linux Terminal = Window Repair Console) to reinstall the Ubuntu Desktop. Answer in under 2hrs. THAT'S what I call Tech Support!

Well, that's it for this "pass." I will update this post as I gain more experience with Linux.

7/15/2009 UPDATE

Sorry, couldn't resist

(click for larger image)

This is my present Ubuntu Background (aka Wallpaper).

7/27/2009 UPDATE

Well I ran into an issue having to do with Open Source software, which I was aware of.

First, and expansion on just what Ubuntu is. In the Linux world Ubuntu is called a "desktop," but it can be considered a GUI for Linux. The colliery in Windows is WinXP vs Vista, they are both Windows OS but have have very different GUI (among other things).

So Ubuntu is a GUI that runs on Linux, and there are others.

That leads to the issue of Open Source software, Ubuntu operates slightly differently than the other "desktops" available for Linux. Sometimes the differences can be confusing. This also applies to apps and utilities you may add.

Open Source does lead to an inconsistency that a proprietary OS (like Windows) does not have. The publishers of Open Source software may not follow the methods/specs that other publishers do. Their software will work, but (for example) data may be kept in files not consistent with general Linux locations. This is the many-chiefs-in-the-soup syndrome.

I ran into this trying to setup a wireless connection. Advice from Linux user groups said look in one location (file folder), Ubuntu users had a different location, and there were other variations.

In my case, none of the Linux locations were used, the files I needed were in folders for the specific wireless/network management software I was using.

8/4/2009 UPDATE

  • Virus Threats to Unix/Linux


  • Yes there are. As I've said on a previous post on viruses, Windows has a high attack rate because it's the Big Muther on the block (most popular OS), but as Linux becomes more popular it is coming under increasing attack.

    There is a Linux Antivirus tool, ClamAV. It is included in Ubuntu's Package Manager (aka Install Manager) but requires a separate install of the GUI for ClamAV, ClamTK.

  • Linux Games (my favorite subject), see link for a list.


8/7/2009 UPDATE

"Microsoft acknowledges Linux threat to Windows client"

Microsoft for the first time has named Linux distributors Red Hat and Canonical as competitors to its Windows client business in its annual filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The move is an acknowledgment of the first viable competition from Linux to Microsoft's Windows client business, due mainly to the use of Linux on netbooks, which are rising in prominence as alternatives to full-sized notebooks.

"Netbooks opened Microsoft to the possibility that some other OS could get its grip on the desktop, however briefly," said Rob Helm, director of research for Directions on Microsoft. "Now it's alert to that possibility going forward."

In its annual Form 10-K report for the fiscal year ended June 30, Microsoft cited Red Hat and Canonical -- the latter of which maintains the Ubuntu Linux distribution -- as competitors to its client business, which includes the desktop version of its Windows OS.

Previously, Microsoft had only noted competition from Red Hat to its Server and Tools business, which includes the Windows Server version of the OS for server hardware, in its 10-K reports.

"Client faces strong competition from well-established companies with differing approaches to the PC market," Microsoft said in the filing. "Competing commercial software products, including variants of Unix, are supplied by competitors such as Apple, Canonical, and Red Hat."

The filing goes on to note, in a thinly veiled reference to netbooks, that Linux has gained what Microsoft characterizes as "some acceptance" as an alternative client OS to Windows, in particular in "emerging markets" where "competitive pressures lead OEMs to reduce costs and new, lower-price PC form-factors gain adoption."

It also mentions the work of Microsoft's own OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners Hewlett-Packard and Intel to support Linux on PCs.

Seattle-based blogger Todd Bishop called attention to Microsoft's acknowledged change to the competitive landscape in a blog post on the TechFlash Microsoft Blog. He also posted a link to Microsoft's 10-K filing.

While Linux on servers is a well-established market among business customers, Linux as a viable alternative to Windows on PCs has never taken off. However, the emergence of the netbook as a low-cost, smaller form factor to the traditional notebook PC has certainly changed that, so much so that Microsoft lately has been pushing a lightweight notebook as an alternative to netbooks, Helm said.

"Microsoft would like the netbook to go away and be replaced by lightweight laptops -- ones with long battery life that cost enough to justify running full Windows on them," he said.

Helm added that Microsoft is trying to discourage the production of inexpensive computers where Windows becomes the most expensive component because it can't make as much money on Windows on these devices, and they could drive down the price of Windows.

Microsoft's current Windows client OS, Windows Vista, had too large a hardware footprint and was too expensive for netbooks, giving Linux an opening in that market when it emerged late last year. However, Microsoft's eight-year-old Windows XP OS is still the dominant system for netbooks, and the release of Windows 7 in October will feature a Starter Edition that is especially geared toward that market as well.


11/19/2009 UPDATE

Here's my latest experience.

They came out with an update, Ubuntu 9.10 (was running 9.04) so I decided to do a full install. Full reformat of hard drive and install of Ubuntu 9.10 (like a full install of Windows).

I quickly found out I HAD to be online to install, why? Linux does not have every hardware driver that may be necessary on the boot install (Live!) CD, so it may have to go to the Repositories (Linux software resources) and download the drivers for your hardware.

Now if the Windows Setup had this feature, going online during install and downloading necessary drivers, there would never be hardware issues with installing Windows. Like WinXP not having SATA drivers on the CD.

Talk about smooth! The full install went without a hitch (more later). Until.....

Post install, while reinstalling apps, etc. I ran into a problem that killed sound on my Notebook PC. This is to show that ALL Operator Systems have some problems, including Ubuntu.

Turned out the cause was a hardware problem. On Ubuntu 9.04 I had an additional (optional) hardware driver installed, for the in-built Modem on my Notebook even though I did not use the Modem. Had no problems on v9.04. I stress that this hardware was optional.

After installing Ubuntu 9.10, the Modem driver was NOT installed. At this time I had good sound. I installed the driver for this Modem and lost ALL sound. Also the tool-tip for my Volume Control icon said Dummy Output. It should have said Internal Audio Analog Stereo.

Removed the Modem driver and sound came back and the Volume Control icon had the normal tool-tip text. Why the problem, this Modem was voice-capable so you could use the Notebook's mic & speakers like a phone. With Ubuntu 9.10 this caused the links to sound functions to be disabled (Dummy Output). I quickly found out that others had the exact same problem after installing Ubuntu 9.10 so it's a common problem.

As for the remainder of the installation:

There were some glitches in applications/utilities. The simplest example just happened (which prompted me to post this update). In v9.04 there was a utility Font Viewer, automatically enabled, and it worked. In v9.10 the Font Viewer is not enabled BUT can be using the Main Menu editor under Preferences (aka User Preferences). I enabled it, but Font Viewer did NOT work. Why? Simple, this utility has been removed in v9.10 but they did not remove it from the menu listing. There is a replacement that can be installed using the new Ubuntu Software Center (aka Package Installer), Font Manager.

There were several utilities that I could not install on v9.10, but most had replacements.

Now is Ubuntu 9.10 an improvement? In general, YES.

For one thing, it boots noticeably faster. A game I installed, that under v9.04 would not close the game-window properly, under v9.10 closes without a problem. All apps/utilities also seem to run smoother.

1/19/2010 UPDATE

An example on why I think Ubuntu Linux IS the better Operating System.

This morning when I got to work (we had a 3-day weekend) I turned on my WinXP DELL Desktop system and logged in.

Just after that, I took my Ubuntu Notebook PC out of the case along with the AC Adapter and USB Mouse, connected everything including our Network, finally turned on my Notebook.

Ubuntu booted to the desktop AND I manually ran the Updater. All this while my WinXP was STILL booting to the desktop. I mean the fully booted WinXP with all services & drivers loaded. I am NOT including the boot-run of Symantec Antivirus.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

WINXP - DirectX Overview

This is an overview of DirectX and how it works. This is a quick-and-dirty summary, not exact.

First see the Wikipedia article at link above.

Under normal scenario, this is how software communicates with your video card:

Software <--> CPU <--> Video_Card_Drivers <--> Video_Card_hardware


Now, DirectX is essentially a set of drivers that supplement your Video_Card_Drivers, and work like this:

Software <--> Video_Card_Drivers_+_DirectX <--> Video_Card_hardware


The first thing you should notice is the use of the CPU (resources) is skipped. This is equivalent to what DMA (aka Direct Memory Access) does for memory.

Since drivers are memory resident, execution of any code/command is faster.

In addition, NOT using the CPU for video frees-up CPU resources for other tasks. Example, in games, the CPU can devote more resources to running the game-AI. Therefore software runs better, faster and smoother. This applies to ALL software that can use DirectX.

Note the qualifier. The software must be capable of using DirectX, otherwise the "normal scenario" is used.

Some software (especially games) MAY require DirectX. This is because the game's writers do not have to include the bulky code required to run in the "normal scenario" thereby having a lean-and-mean game.

IN ADDITION: Whatever video card you use MUST be able to support DirectX. Not all do.

Because of this, if you have "DirectX required" software, you MUST have a DirectX video card.

Friday, June 12, 2009

WINXP - Gathering Information on Your System

This article is about how to gather information about your system for your records and troubleshooting.

There are many individual ways built into WinXP to get this info, but you have to use many different utilities/functions to do this. Even then, some info is well hidden.

A better way is to use a tool/utility to gather, and summarize, all the info for you, then provide a way to save/print that summary.

There are 3 utilities that I have used at home and work:

  • Belarc Advisor
  • (free version)

    After installation, this utility gathers information including (motherboard, memory, CPU, Product Keys, Updates, etc.) and produces a HTML Audit document. It also runs a Security Benchmark with it's own HTML document.

    The Audit HTML will automatically open at the end of a run of Belarc Advisor.


  • WinAudit
  • (freeware)

    Gathers much the same info as Belarc, but includes the feature to [Save] the info to a PDF file. It is also a very small program that does NOT require install. What you download IS the entire program EXE, just one file that is small enough to fit on a floppy if you wish.

    We use this at work to produce a PDF Audit for our records before we ship to a customer, which means we have the hardware & software configuration of the shipped product.

  • SIW - System Information for Windows
  • (free version & $techsupport version)

    SIW is an advanced System Information for Windows tool that gathers detailed information about your system properties and settings and displays it in an extremely comprehensible manner.

    SIW can create a report file (CSV, HTML, TXT or XML), and is able to run in batch mode (for Computer Software and Hardware Inventory, Asset Inventory Tracking, Audit Software Licenses, Software License Compliance).

    Gives much more extensive information than Windows System Information tool or WinAudit and can be run from a USB Flash Drive.

Monday, June 8, 2009

WINXP - Boot Problems

I am posting this because of the many, many times that I have to repeat this advice in the WEB sites I monitor (sidebar).

WinXP boot problems fall into 2 broad categories:
  • When you try to boot to the hard drive you get an error of some type

  • When you try to install WinXP, Setup cannot find your hard drive

Possible solutions to these problems involve booting to your *original* WinXP Setup CD.

CAUTION: If your WinXP Setup CD is for WinXP SP2, but you have upgraded to SP3, the CD is useless for repair. AFTER upgrading to SP3 any repair option will insist you use a WinXP SP3 CD, which you usually do not have. Notice the qualifier "usually," this is because there are WinXP SP3 OEM Setup CDs available in limited quantities, for a short while. I bought one of these for repair purposes, for my home system.

BOOT PROBLEMS:

This is the category where you get an error when you try to boot to your WinXP hard drive. This includes the infamous BSoD (Blue Screen of Death).

The mistake some people that have this problem do, is to reinstall WinXP from scratch. This wipes the entire hard drive AND all applications, My Documents, etc., that were installed. This "fix" should be a very last resort, AND should never be used to just "fix" a virus problem.

What should be tried FIRST:

  1. Boot to your WinXP Setup CD


  2. After loading, at the first dialog, there will be a Repair option on the bottom Statusbar, use this option to open the Repair Console


  3. When you get to the Repair Console Command Prompt, enter CHKDSK C: /R


  4. Let CHKDSK do its thing, then reboot


If the above does NOT work, try:

  1. Boot to your WinXP Setup CD again


  2. This time, at the first dialog, select the option to install WinXP


  3. A second dialog should show C:\Windows as existing (you have WinXP already installed), and there will be another Repair option on the bottom Statusbar, use this option to start a Repair Reinstall


  4. A Repair Reinstall will leave your current configuration, applications, documents, etc., as is.

    CAUTION: You must rerun ALL Win Updates. I highly suggest you install only 3 to 5 at a time, reboot asked to or not, repeat. Keep all SPs (Service Packs) for last and install one-at-a-time (they're big).


INSTALL/SETUP PROBLEM:

The WinXP Setup CD does NOT include SATA drivers. Therefore if your system uses SATA hard dives, WinXP Setup will not see your hard drives.

The fix is to go into your system's BIOS Setup and look at the SATA Setup/Configuration.

See if there is a Compatibility Mode or IDE Mode setting. Setting this will make your SATA Controller act like an EIDE Controller, which will allow WinXP Setup to see your hard drives.

After installing WinXP, if you want to use SATA (which has faster transfer rate), you must install SATA drivers. You should be able to get these from the original Driver CD that came with your system, or download from your motherboard manufacturer's site.

After installing the SATA drivers, go back into your BIOS Setup, SATA Setup/Configuration, and change setting back to original.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

PC SECURITY - Lesson to be Learned

Just last weekend, I finally fixed a friend's desktop PC (actually his daughter's).

The primary cause of problems was being online, family using 3 different IM (Internet Messaging) services, WITHOUT an antivirus installed.

This result in massive malware infection. The most dangerous was a fake antivirus ruining silently.

In addition, someone installed LimeWire music sharing. ALL sharing programs make your system MORE susceptible to malware. Uninstalled this.

Note that IF they used iTunes (also installed) to sync an iPod, it is likely that music files on their iPod are infected.

One thing that was obviously put in by a virus, was an entry in the Registry that ran the Kernel Crash module each boot. This caused a false crash & reboot of the system.

Someone using the system had removed/uninstalled McAfee. Get the picture?

I had to install SpyBot Search & Destroy (sidebar) to remove the malware. Now all the owner has to do is install an antivirus, which we will do (download & install) when she picks up the PC.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

WINXP - Two More MS System Internals

In a prior article I pointed you to Microsoft's System Internals utility Process Explorer. Well, here are 2 more I like.

Desktop System Info (BgInfo)

This utility (or toy) displays System Information on your Desktop.
(click screenshots for bigger view)




Below shows you the dialog. Note the formatting toolbar.



By the way, you may want to use File, Save As, to save your configuration to My Documents. Then you can open the saved file and edit, then save.

Also, you need to place a copy of the shortcut your Startup folder so the Desktop Info updates each boot, you should run this shortcut in the Minimized Mode. And if you have customized the display, you need to add the path\filename to the end of the shortcut's Command Line so your customized display loads.



PageDefrag

This utility defrags Systems Files as shown in the dialog. The utility runs the next time you boot, just like when you use the CHKDSK command.

System Files cannot be defragmented when you are at the desktop because they are in use, so this is the only way to defrag them.

In the screenshot example, note the highly fragmented C:\pagefile.sys, which is bad.



For both these utilities, the downloaded ZIP file contents is the entire utility (not an installer). You copy the UNZIPed files to a folder of your choice (usually you create a new folder in C:\Program Files). Then create a shortcut to the EXE to run the utility.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

WINXP - IE8, My Evaluation

I've been running IE8 at home and work since the final (non-beta, non-RC) release appeared in Windows Update. So here is my evaluation at this point.

First, the system specs (home & work): WinXP SP3, 2gb RAM, running IE6

Installed IE8 on both systems.

At first blush, it looks like Microsoft got this upgrade 95% correct.

What I like.....


  • It does have higher security features, but there a small conflict problem (discussed later)

  • It has a Compatibility View (feature), something IE7 sorely needed, that supposedly makes IE8 compatible with older WEB sites, note that you should load Compatibility Updates found in Optional section of Win Updates

  • In includes using WEB Accelerators, many listed in defaults

  • Shrink-to-fit printing, FINALLY!


Problems:

1) Many have noticed that IE8 takes a long time to load (this is after initial load and configuration, normal run). Microsoft is aware of the problem because there is a KB (Knowledge Base) article on it. It mentions that people running SpyBot Search and Destroy should disable the plug-in.

Of course, SpyBot S&D users (including me) disagree. I'll trust SpyBot S&D over Microsoft any day. The publishers of SpyBot S&D have been specializing in this for as long as Microsoft has been around.

The slowdown is cause by IE8's SmartScreen Filter function. It does the same thing as the Immunize feature in SpyBot S&D. If you want to use SpyBot S&D, then disable SmartScreen Filter in IE8.

2) After installing IE8, Internet Options settings are returned to Default, with the exceptions of your Home Page and any Safe Sites you had before.

In the Security Zones tab, the Microsoft default settings for Security level for this zone has settings that I disagree with. I suggest the following [Custom level] settings for Internet, Local Internet, and Trusted Sites:

In the Miscellaneous section, set the following to Enable


  • Access data sources across domains
    (there are many sites that have links to other domains, example separate billing site for completing orders)


  • Display mixed content
    (the ability to display both secure & unsecured data or links)


  • Navigate windows and frames across different domains
    (again, a feature many sites use now-days)


  • WEB sites in less privileged WEB content zone can navigate into this zone


A special problem/issue:

We use a Fileserver to keep documents shared by others, including pictures. With IE6 I could use a shortcut to the folder on Fileserver2 that contains JPG files, and open them in my Paint Shop Pro 8 with no problem.

After installing IE8, whenever I opened a JPG on Fileserver2, I would get the following dialog:


It took 2 days, but Microsoft Tech Support found the answer.

Internet Options, Security, Trusted sites, [Custom level], under Miscellaneous section
  1. ENABLE Launching applications and unsafe files

  2. Then I had to add Fileserver2 to the Trusted sites list

After that, I could open the JPG files without getting the dialog. Although this was annoying, this is a demonstration of IE8's increased security features.

IE8 Compatibility List

Note that updating of the Compatibility List is done via Windows Update but is Optional. You have to manually select this update from the Optional list (Sidebar).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

OPINION - Windows Operator Systems

I will state up front that this article is my personal opinion and I make no effort to be objective.

I have used Microsoft Windows since Win98SE and have been very satisfied even with (to be expected) problems.

I have some experience with Vista at work, but none with Windows 7 which is still under development. But I have monitored various sites on both Vista and Windows 7 for problems and other's opinions.

My general preferences for any version of Windows is, "I do NOT like Eye Candy." What I mean by Eye Candy is something that looks pretty but has no real function (especially if all the feature does is take up space).

Example: The Sidebar in Explorer; not needed and just takes up space in the window display. Everything is the Sidebar is available in the Menu Bar, or via a right-click Context Menu, or can be added to the Tool Bar.


  1. WinXP SP2/SP3

  2. I am very, very happy with WinXP especially after release of SP2.

    For those who are unaware of Microsoft's release history, as an example, the original WinXP was very buggy, SP1 was an improvement, and with the release of SP2 it was very stable. This does NOT mean that there no problems, but the problems after SP2 were mostly due to new threats or venerabilities.

    WinXP became the standard for Microsoft's Windows world wide.

    There was one feature that I never liked that started with WinXP, the integration of the Browser (IE) functions with the GUI (Graphical User Interface). In Win98SE, the WEB browser was just another application. In fact I use Netscape which is now owned by AOL.

    The release of SP3 was a roll-up of all previous updates/changes from SP2 and a few added features that were of interest to advanced users.

  3. Vista

  4. Then came Vista (aka Windows Vista).

    As expected from the release history above, the original Vista was very buggy. With the release of Vista SP1 it was greatly improved.

    But, in my opinion (very frankly), Vista sucks. Why? The driving force behind Vista SEEMS to be security, but to the point of making things very difficult. Most especially with Vista Home.

    Vista is very dumbed-down, with nags and confirmations for things that were easy to change in WinXP. What makes this a big fault with Vista, is that they did NOT make it EASY (have USER OPTIONS) to make Vista behave like WinXP. Vista acts like EVERY user is a novice (aka dumb).

    Then they took away some features that every user of WinXP was familiar with, like the Menu Bar. So far, I have found only IE7 can have the Menu Bar as an option. I have YET to find a way to have Explorer (aka My Computer) have a Menu Bar.

    Another that gives us a problem at work with Vista, in User Accounts they took away the option Change the way users log on or off. We do work for the government, and they expect to have the WinXP style Logon Dialog, which is what you get when you UNCHECK Use the Welcome Screen in the Change the way users log on or off dialog in WinXP. We are still researching a workaround.

    Also, the Vista default interface (Taskbar and Start Menu Properties & Explorer Properties) make it even MORE difficult to find what you want than the default WinXP interface. Vista's saving grace in this instance it the ability to change these options to Classic View.

    An example of what I mean, I never understood WHY WinXP use the Categorized View of Control Panel, especially for casual/novice users. Just HOW do users decide what category what they want to do falls under? The Classic View of Control Panel shows everything you can set/change, no guessing.

    Also, here an excerpt from ComputerWorld:

    "Visual Tour: 20 Things You Won't Like About Windows Vista" by Scot Finnie 6/1/2006

    NOTE: This evaluation is from the Vista Beta 2 release

    20 Things You Won't Like

    So, why is the year-old Mac OS X Tiger so much better than Windows Vista, which Microsoft won't even ship before January 2007? It isn't that Apple has put more effort into its operating system; Microsoft has mounted a gargantuan effort on Windows Vista. It's that the two companies have very different goals. I've come to believe that Microsoft has lost touch with its user base.

    Instead, Microsoft is focused on casting off its yoke as the industry's security whipping boy. It's also intent on raising the bar to 64-bit architecture, driving the need for advanced video hardware and dual-core motherboards, and pushing the RAM standard to 2GB -- all to help spur hardware and software sales over the next several years. Even though there are many great aspects of Windows Vista, taken as a whole, this next one could be Microsoft's first significant operating system failure in quite some time -- at least, as it's configured in Beta 2.

    Here are the 20 Vista behaviors and functionalities that could turn off Windows users. Windows newbies may not mind some of these things, but they will definitely try the patience of the millions of Windows users who've got real experience and muscle memory invested in Microsoft's desktop operating system.

    (just the paragraph headers)

    • 20. Minimum video system requirements are more like maximum

    • 19. Aero stratification will cause businesses woe

    • 18. User Account Controls $#^%!~\!!!

    • 17. Two words: Secure Desktop

    • 16. (skip, applies to Vista Beta 2 only)

    • 15. Some first-blush networking peeves

    • 14. Windows peer networking is still balky

    • 13. Network settings user experience went backwards

    • 12. Too many Network Control Panel applets, wizards and dialogs

    • 11. Display settings have changed for no apparently good reason

    • 10. Where are the file menus?

    • 9. (skip, applies Windows Defender Beta 2)

    • 8. Problems without solutions

    • 7. Lack of Windows Sidebar Gadgets (vs Live)

    • 6. Media Center isn't all there and falls flat

    • 5. Faulty assumption on the Start Menu

    • 4. Installation takes forever

    • 3. Version control

    • 2. Price

    • 1. Little originality, sometimes with a loss of elegance



  5. Windows 7


  6. Windows 7 is still under development, but both Microsoft and Wikipedia have pages with info.

    Note the Removed features section in Wikipedia article.

    The biggest killer for me, is removal of Classic Start Menu. NO WAY JOSE!

Again, in my opinion, if Microsoft was GENUINELY interested in users, the would NEVER take away user options. It is OK to set defaults to what Microsoft envisions, but you keep the free choice of users to change back to what they are already comfortable with. What users of WinXP have come to expect.

You do not want a large learning-curve for a OS upgrade. You want the upgrade to be transparent and easy to use. A truly user-friendly upgrade would be to offer the OPTION for the user to tell Setup to use ALL old settings. In the case of a WinXP to Vista upgrade, Vista's Setup should have offered to use ALL WinXP settings.

OK, I think I've ranted enough.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

WINXP - Keeping Hardware Drivers Up-to-Date

This post is about ways to keep your PC's hardware drivers updated. Sometimes it is not easy. First, some definitions.
  • FIRMWARE:


  • Firmware are NOT Drivers. They are code on ICs on your hardware.

    The over-riding rule in Firmware, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." This is especially true of the BIOS Firmware on your motherboard.

    There is NO "rollback" when updating Firmware.

    You update Firmware ONLY is something does not work, and you get the update from the manufacturer of the hardware, NOT a 3rd party.

  • DRIVERS:


  • Drivers are files that are part of your OS (WinXP) and allow you OS to "talk to" the hardware.

    WinXP has a rollback feature for drivers.

    It is relatively easy to upgrade or downgrade drivers.

There exists easy driver updates, especially if the manufacturer provides an WEB base utility like nVidia does.

But not all manufacturers have easy driver updates. You have to go to their Support and see if they have a driver-download page. Even then, there is a very, very confusing issue with knowing if you need an updated driver.

It has to do with the version stated for the driver files. Here's an example that happened to me recently, there was a driver update VIA Rhine Ethernet v1.14, no problem, my DRIVER was v2.25, no need to update. WRONG!

The v1.14 is the version of the driver update FILE, not the version of the driver. The driver inside the FILE was VIA Rhine Fast Ethernet v3.35

What you can do is use a driver WEB site. Here are 2 that I use.
  • DriverAgent


  • This site has a tool that will scan your system and show you what drivers you have AND if there are updated versions. Note, it will show ALL drivers in WinXP, therefore you should only consider updating the ones you actually use.

  • DriverGuide


  • This is a good site for finding older drivers for hardware no longer supported. You have to know what version of the hardware is AND what version of the driver you have (if you have it).

    They also have their own Driver Scan tool.

  • Uniblue DriverScanner (update 7/20/2009)


  • Just discovered this one. Has a very good GUI, free to download and run a Scan, but you have to Register (aka pay $29.95 to download driver updates).
    Also includes a Driver Backup which you should do BEFORE updating your drivers.

    Found 2 outdated drivers on my home system, one of witch improved my gaming after installing. Less, much less, lockups that required manual Restart.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

PC SECURITY - Virus Threats and Reality

I am posting this because of the 4/2009 issue of the Conficker Worm as a "Doomsday" threat. (suggest you read the article at link)

While we all need to be diligent in protecting our PCs from all threats that come over the Network or World Wide WEB, we also need to NOT panic.

Also, there are numerous emails circulating (SPAM emails), with dire warnings about viruses, that have been out there for years. They are about old threats that, usually, have been already dealt with by all current AntiVirus/Anti-Spyware utilities.

As I posted in a previous articles (1)(2)(3), you should be running a good AntiVirus utility AND an additional Anti-Spyware utility. In both case, you MUST keep the Threat Definitions up-to-date, regardless of the cost.

There are very good sites you can use to see what the REAL current threats are:



I use all three.

Monday, March 23, 2009

COMPUTERS - Video, Sound, and PCI Latency

There is an on-going problem with video and sound, especially with games.

The issue is bad/choppy sound or even lockups when playing games. This MAY be very apparent when you have a Creative Labs sound card (even the FX model).

The cause is usually a clash between your system accessing the video and sound cards, which tend to be fast and furious during game play. Both devices use much resources when sending/receiving data, especially at today's high speeds.

The problem resides in what is known as PCI Latency (see applicable paragraph Auto Configuration in article).

PCI Latency is a function of how long any PCI device holds open access to the bus before passing on to the next device, and is handled by the BIOS. Some, but not all, devices have a means to program the latency timing (in multiples of 8).

Problems are caused by the PCI Latency timings for video and sound cars being too close together. This is, the video card still needs to process data but the bus gets released to the sound card, or visa versa.

The fix is to set the PCI Latency timings at LEAST 8 apart. That is the PCI Latency for the sound card at least -8 of the video card. On my home PC, all PCI Latency = 56 as set by the BIOS. This resulted in very choppy sound including pops & clicks.

I found one way to fix this, the PCI Latency Tool.

You install this tool, change the sound card latency, then apply and SAVE. Saving the setting will reload your settings on bootup. Make SURE you read the instructions for this tool.

CAUTION: DO NOT move or rename the [Start], Programs, folder the PCI Latency Tool is installed in.

On my home PC, I used this tool to set the latency for my sound card to 48:
  • Video = 56 (BIOS default)

  • Sound = (56 - 8) = 48

As a result, I get very, very little chopping/popping. And IF I do, it is very low volume.

PC GAMES - Steam or Not to Steam

There is a controversy on Steam DLC (Download Content) service (Valve Corporation).

I personally ran into Steam when it first came out with the release, on 11/16/2004, of Half-Life 2. The game required installation of the Steam service.

This is still true today for all games linked with Steam. This service not only provides downloads of games, and game updates, but is used for game activation.

Now, the following is very subjective, but I hate Steam! So do others.

Why?:
  1. First, and foremost, I do NOT play online games. I play single-player games exclusively

  2. I am NOT online 95% of the time, and defiantly not while playing games

  3. I never update ANYTHING AUTOMATICALLY (with the exception of AntiVirus Updates), especially games

The problem with Steam games is that you MUST install the service AND be online. In the case of Half-Life 2, even after activation via Steam, if I uninstalled Steam, Half-Life 2 was also uninstalled! I admit, I went berserk.

This is just plain WRONG! No one should be forced to install a service just to play off-line, single-player games. Note that there are other games that require activation, but do NOT require nor install a service to do so. Activation takes you to a WEB site, and a Activation Key is installed on your system.

The people who do like Steam, of course, tend to be online players, which is understandable.

For those who want to avoid Steam Games, use the link to see a list.