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Boot To Safe Mode With No Hassles
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 26 Mei 2008 | 09:18:22
ronald martens
If you find yourself needing to boot into safe mode and you have a problem with either timing of pressing the F8 key, or perhaps the more common problem of having a USB/wireless keyboard whose keystroke do not “register” in the boot phase, a simple solution is BootSafe.

What BootSafe does is, just like it’s usage, simple. From their web page:

  1. Download BootSafe and save it to your Desktop (or any location of your choice)
  2. Double click the BootSafe icon to start the program
  3. Select which Safe Mode you wish to boot - Minimal, Networking (typical), or Repair
  4. Click the Reboot button
  5. Once you have booted into Safe Mode, you can perform any actions needed, such as scanning for viruses, spyware, adware, malware or repairing a system component
  6. When you have completed your tasks, simply run BootSafe again and select the Normal Restart option and click the Reboot button and your computer will reboot in Normal Mode

Again, if you have ever had to dig up a PS2 keyboard for a machine using a wireless keyboard which only works in Windows, this program can really come in handy.

 
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ISO Recorder For Windows
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 18:27:43
ronald martens  
As you probably  know, Windows XP comes with CD burning capability built in. Windows Vista adds DVD burning capability built in. While these functions work great, they are lacking an important and very useful feature: the ability to create and burn ISO (disc image) files.

This is why ISO Recorder is a great utility. Simply install the appropriate version and you will be able to easily create and burn ISO files. Once installed, you can right click on a CD or DVD in Windows Explorer and an option to create an ISO file will be available. Conversely, when you right click on an ISO file, you will have the option to burn the file to a CD or DVD. A very simple how to is posted on the site.

No additional software is needed as this “piggy-backs” on the native Windows burning software. ISO Recorder is definitely a  must have utility. Best of all, it is completely free.

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Better Gmail (For Firefox)
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 18:21:56
ronald martens  
Ambitious users of Gmail and Firefox should take a look the Better Gmail Firefox extension  (Note: If your Gmail account has been upgraded and you are using Gmail 2.0, you need this version of the extension).

Better Gmail further leverages functions of Gmail not available through the standard interface, including (but not limited to):

  • Moving the new message count in front of “Gmail - Inbox” in the title.
  • Removal of the annoying spam message counter.
  • More descriptive icons for attachments, instead of just the paperclip.
  • More macro key shortcuts.

If you are a heavy user of Gmail in the web interface along with the Firefox browser, this extension is definitely worth having.

 
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Take Advanced Control Of Windows XP
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 18:17:57
ronald martens
One tool system administrators take advantage of when fine tuning how how servers work is by utilizing the Local   and Group Policy Editors. These tools allow you to control virtually every aspect of security and behavior of your Windows machine.

One great thing about Windows XP Pro is it includes the policy editor, but it can be intimidating for normal users to use. Additionally, XP Home doesn’t have this, leaving users to have to modify the registry. The better alternative to both of these is the free Windows XP Security Console program by Doug Knox.

The program puts all the modifiable features into convenient check boxes so you can get all the control without any of the confusion. I definitely see this tool being useful for both normal and power users.

 
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Recovering A Deleted File
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 18:16:47
ronald martens
In general the Windows Recycle Bin works well as a simple safeguard from accidentally deleting files. A problem comes if you empty or don’t use the Recycle Bin and your file is long gone. All hope may not be lost though if you need to recover a file which has been permanently deleted, just give Recuva a shot at it.

In a nutshell, when you “permanently” delete a file, the actual 1’s and 0’s are not removed, only the operating system’s reference to it. The file actually remains fully intact until the OS writes data over the “unreferenced file”. Like any deleted file recovery, Recuva works by looking for unreferenced data and allows you to recover it. Because of this, there is no guarantee that you will be able to recover the file, especially one which was deleted a long time ago.

Recuva is completely free and can really help you in a bind. It can even work to help you recover files deleted from camera’s and MP3 players.

 
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Manage Multiple Remote Connections From A Single Program
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 18:12:31
ronald martens
 

Personally, I live and die by Windows RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol)/Terminal Services. It is an absolutely fabulous way to connect to and manage Windows Servers and (Professional) desktops. The only drawback to this, ironically, is the default Windows RDP connection program. While it works great, there are absolutely zero “usability” features with regards to handling multiple connections. This is no longer a problem with Terminals.

Terminals is a free program which allows you to have multiple connections simultaneously and easily switch between them via a tabbed interface (no more minimize one and restore the other). Additionally you can connect to a variety of additional protocols, such as VNC and Citrix ICA, which makes this a virtual one-stop application for remote connection. Even better, you can access all the network tools you need such as DNS, TraceRT and Ping all from the application.

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Extended Copy Functions For Firefox And Internet Explorer
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 18:10:11
ronald martens  
One of the most annoying things about copy-pasting text from the web is, unless you paste the text into a text editor first, the formatting typically comes across into your destination. This is no longer a problem with the Extended Copy Menu extension.

Once installed (there is a version for both Firefox and IE), when you highlight text you can copy like normal or you can just copy the plain text or the HTML behind what you selected. Easy and extremely useful. There are very few extensions I would label a must have, but this definitely one.

 
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Convert Your DVDs To MPEG Files
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 18:07:19
ronald martens  
Have you ever wanted to convert your DVD library to files you can play on your computer, but don’t want to worry about having to find the right program? If so, make sure to give HandBrake a download.

HandBrake is an open source program which converts DVD videos to MPEG-4 files (among other formats such as AVI). HandBrake works on Windows, Linux and Mac so no matter what your OS of choice is, you can run it. You can view screenshots of HandBrake here. The only issue you may have is with some copy protection on DVDs which might require external programs to decode.

 
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Virtual Machine Software For Any OS
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 18:05:40
ronald martens  
If you want to run one OS from inside of another OS (a guest in a host), then a virtual machine (VM) is the way to go. The great thing about VM’s is anything you do in the guest has no effect on the host so it is ideal for testing. While there are many choices available for any OS you use, one choice to consider is VirtualBox. Vi

VirtualBox is an open source virtual machine software package which works on all major OS’s. There are many features which make VirtualBox attractive, such as mouse pointer integration in Windows and Linux (this is huge) and portable configuration files. VirtualBox is owned by Sun Microsystems, so this is a pretty good sign future development is in the works.

 
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SeaTools For Windows
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 18:04:25
ronald martens
 

As you probably know, your hard drive is the most important and fragile component of your computer. Since it houses all your data, your system basically “lives and dies” by the health of your hard drive.

Perhaps the most important indicator in a hard drive is the S.M.A.R.T. check which is built in to virtually all models. This check is a way for your hard drive to warn you that something is wrong. The problem is a lot of systems only show S.M.A.R.T. checks at bootup, which really doesn’t do too much good. This is where Seagate’s SeaTools for Windows come into play.

SeaTools, obviously, checks Seagate drives, but also any hard drive which has S.M.A.R.T. monitoring. This makes SeaTools ideal for systems with multiple hard drives as you can check the health of each device from a single location. Additionally, you can perform non-destructive tests on drives in order to full test their health.

While there are other programs out there which do the same thing, I have found SeaTools to be just right for basic hard disk diagnostics from the convenience of Windows.

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A Great Example Of How To Troubleshoot
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 18:03:27
ronald martens
I ran across a very interesting read today, an article titled “The Case of the System Process CPU Spikes“. What made this an interesting read was not so much the article content (although I thought it was very informative), rather the methodology used by the author.

In a nutshell, the article walks through the problem (a continuous CPU spike) as well as how the author proceeded to troubleshoot the issue. He used several freely available Microsoft tools to diagnose the problem which turned out to be a network driver.

Regardless of whether or not the subject matter is applicable to you, I think the process used is something we can all take from this. Virtually any problem can be solved by thinking logically and using the right tools.

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Repairing Or Uninstalling Corrupt Programs
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 18:01:43

I recently ran into a problem on my machine where my installation of Office 2007 became corrupted. As a result, I was not able to repair or uninstall it from the Add/Remove programs menu. Instead of giving up and going through the major hassle of reinstalling everything, I came across a more elegant (and much faster) solution: The Windows Installer Cleanup Utility.

This utility simply “tricks” your computer into thinking a program is no longer installed on your computer, so you can then go back and reinstall it. In my case, it worked perfectly as after the “reinstall” I didn’t have to activate my copy of Office 2007 again.

Usage is simple enough, just install the program and then run it. You are presented with a list of all programs which were installed using the Windows Installer Service and you just select which ones to delete the installation information for. Once you have done this, you should be able to reinstall the program with no problems.

 
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The Ultimate Startup Process Monitor
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 18:00:15
ronald martens
As part of normal Windows system maintenance, one thing you should do is check your programs set to automatically start to make sure everything running is legit. Typically, most people just use the “msconfig” utility to accomplish this, but a much more comprehensive utility is Sysinternal’s AutoRuns tool.

Rather than re-inventing an explanation, AutoRuns has a great “elevator pitch” on their website:

This utility, which has the most comprehensive knowledge of auto-starting locations of any startup monitor, shows you what programs are configured to run during system bootup or login, and shows you the entries in the order Windows processes them. These programs include ones in your startup folder, Run, RunOnce, and other Registry keys. You can configure Autoruns to show other locations, including Explorer shell extensions, toolbars, browser helper objects, Winlogon notifications, auto-start services, and much more. Autoruns goes way beyond the MSConfig utility bundled with Windows Me and XP.

Typically Sysinternal tools are awesome, and this program is no exception. Even better, there is a command line version which allows you to easily output your system information to a text files. For hard core tweakers and power users, this is a must have utility.

 
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Windows XP Shortcuts In A Single Location
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 17:58:05
ronald martens  
If you are a Windows XP system tweaker, you probably know there are dozens of places you can go to configure or customize your computer. Rather than actually navigate to each one manually, download Windows In A Box to access virtually all common locations appear in a single place.

Windows In A Box conveniently places most configuration options and applications into 4 organized drop down menus. You can access everything from Control Panel settings to common folder locations.

There is no installation required, just download and go.

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Computer Information As Your Wallpaper
Computer/Pc | helpdesk | 25 Mei 2008 | 17:55:03
ronald ro martens
Another great, yet oh so simple, tool from Sysinternals is the ability to plaster local computer information on your desktop background using BgInfo.

BgInfo allows you to select from a couple of dozen system information fields and have them displayed on your desktop background. Additionally, you can capture this information and have it written to a text file or database. Obviously, this tool is not going to be of too much use for desktop users, but if you are the administrator of several machines or servers, this is an extremely handy tool.

There is a great article on TechNet which focuses on BgInfo in which the author offers a great idea:

Though you can run BGInfo on one PC at a time, you might want to trigger it on multiple network clients. You can insert the bginfo.exe file into a login script; the program provides several command-line options to control its behavior. The data collected by BGInfo can also be exported to an external file—a text file, Excel spreadsheet, Access database, or a SQL database, so that you have a handy resource of all your network PC stats.

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