March 5th, 2008
For over a year now, I have watched Microsoft’s Vista get banged around by being called a tech disappointment (and much worse!). Even though Microsoft has sold a great deal of Vista licenses, the OS is continually getting a raw review. Some are due to OS partiality, some to pure ignorance, and others come from an inability to recognize that Windows is going through a metamorphosis. The paradigm for the OS is, and should be, always changing, always striving to be better.
I feel that Windows Vista is a marketing disappointment, not a failure as an operating system. Microsoft has done little to market the evolution of the operating system, to really educate consumers on what the new features are and where they are headed. You hear a great deal of noise about the security functions in Vista. While security is quite important, it makes for poor marketing to only rave about this one feature. Would you go buy a new car just because the locks on it are better than the one in your garage? The answer to that is “No!” (and it should be). Chances are, you’d just do something to improve the security of the car you already own. It’s the additional features that will get you to go buy a new one.
Much is also said about the steep hardware requirements needed to truly run Vista. However, the OS itself is not the only reason that better hardware is necessary. Quite a few new applications and definitely most new games require that you have something decent under the hood. As more and more people get into viewing and editing video, the hardware requirements will increase for them as well. Microsoft has done little to educate the masses about this reality.
Microsoft should have done more to press upon the consumer why they should consider moving to Windows Vista. Features such as the Aero interface and the Flip 3D task switcher are vast improvements to the visual experience. Let’s face it, people want something that is pleasing to the eye. Another feature that should have had more said about it is the Instant Search functionality. Most users have a hard time locating files on their PC and this feature is a great assistance to them. The Parental Controls in Vista are stellar, allowing parents to keep better track of what their kids are doing on the PC and keeping young children from experiencing things they shouldn’t (like playing mature games or going to inappropriate sites). The Side Bar and it’s growing collection of Gadgets is another piece of eye candy that can be quite useful. Being able to view news, sports, and weather right on the desktop without opening the browser is not a bad thing at all. Other features like the Photo Gallery, built in Tablet functionality and Media Center are also worth noting.
While it is doubtful that Vista is able to convert any Leopard users, it definitely has what it takes to get XP users to upgrade to next step. But if Microsoft never lets them know what they’re missing, why would they ever change?
January 15th, 2008
If you own a Dell computer or laptop, it is safe to say that at some point in time, you will need to get drivers for the hardware. Maybe you’ve had to perform a fresh load of the operating system and you’ve misplaced your driver disc or maybe your hardware is running poorly and you’re hoping the latest drivers will fix your problem. A friend of mine ran into this a few days ago, but he got a little lost in how to accomplish this. Dell didn’t really help things by not giving direct access to the downloads from the homepage. Here’s what you do:
- Go to Dell’s homepage.
- From the menu at the top, select My Account (don’t worry that you don’t have one).
- Select the Support tab from the top of the page.
- Under Choose a Support Option, click the Drivers and Downloads link (or icon).
- From the Select Your Product Model section, you have two way of specifying your system, Select Model and Enter a Tag.
Select Model will take you through a series of options to specify your computer. You have to designate whether its a desktop or a notebook, then the product line, and finally the model.
Enter a Tag makes things much simpler. Just input your service tag into the textbox and click Go. Your service tag is located on the bottom of your notebook or on the side or back of your desktop.
- Once you specified the model, it’s time to narrow down the search criteria. You need to specify the Operating System of the computer and the Driver Language. You can also use the Category and Importance dropdowns to narrow your result list.
- Below the criteria selection, you will find a list of items with a count of how many files each one contains.
Click the + next to the desired item to expand it and reveal the desired drivers.
- You can download the desired driver at this time, or, if you are looking for more than one driver, you can select Add To My Downloads.
Using Add To My Downloads allows you to build a single page of links to the desired drivers. When you have finished selecting your drivers, click the View and Edit Your List link on the right side of the page.
It will take you to your Downloads List, where you can download each selected driver.
- Once you have downloaded the desired executable(s) from the Dell site, run it. Follow the prompts and the drivers will be installed on your computer.
October 25th, 2007
IE7Pro is a free add-on for Internet Explorer 7 that gives the browser a lot of great features and tweaks. Some of these features are Webpage Capturer, User Scripts, Mouse Gesture, Spell Check, and Proxy Switcher.
Go to http://ie7pro.com/ to grab the executable. Install the add-on. During installation, you will need to select which additional tasks you want IE7Pro to perform. I selected all but the change in homepage to get the most out of the add-on.
Once it is finished, fire up Internet Explorer 7. You will have two new additions to the interface.
- The IE7Pro button on the toolbar. Clicking this will take you straight to the add-on’s Preferences.
- The IE7Pro button on the status bar.
Right-clicking it will bring up the following menu:
Once you open the preferences via either pathway (or using Ctrl+F7 on your keyboard), you will be presented with a slew of options you can set (or not).
One of the features I was glad to see was the Greasemonkey-like User Scripts platform. This allows for greater customization of your web browsing experience. The add-on comes with some of these user scripts, but you can get even more from iescripts.org.
You can also take snapshots of a web page by right-clicking on the status bar icon and selecting Save Current Tab As Image To and choosing either File or Clipboard.
This add-on gives you a vast amount of flexibility in customizing your IE7 browser to better fit your browsing needs. Definitely worth checking out.
October 14th, 2007
Tabbed browsing is a great feature, but it can get out of hand. You can easily have a dozen tabs populated in no time. You could take the time to close all of those tabs individually, which could end up taking a while. Better yet, you can close all of the tabs, except for the current one, in just a few clicks of your mouse. Here’s how:
- Select the tab you wish to keep open so that it becomes the current tab.
- Right-click the current tab.
- Select Close Other Tabs from the context menu.
All other tabs will close and you will be left with only the current tab.
September 14th, 2007
If you have become bored with U3 or if the U3 Launchpad doesn’t work on your system, you can easily remove it. The first step you will want to take is to copy all of your files from your flash drive and put them in a safe place. When we remove the U3 Launchpad, we will also end up erasing the data on the drive itself.
After you have copied (and verified) the data from the flash drive, you will need to download the U3 Uninstall executable from the U3 site. Make sure to note the location that you are saving the file.
1. Connect your flash drive to your computer. Make sure that it is the only flash drive that is connected.
2. Run u3 uninstall.exe .
3. When the U3 LLC License Agreement appears, select the Accept radio button and click Next.
4. Check the I want to remove the U3 Launchpad and erase ALL data on the device checkbox and click Next.
5. The process for uninstalling the U3 Launchpad will begin.
6. Once the U3 Launchpad has been uninstalled, remove your flash drive and then reconnect it to your system.
Now copy the data you saved off of the drive originally back onto your drive. Now your drive is U3 free and ready to use.
September 12th, 2007
If you are running a dual monitor setup and want to display a wallpaper so that it stretches across both displays follow these steps:
First, you will need a wallpaper that is wide enough to cover both displays. If both of your monitors are the same size, then you need a wallpaper that is twice the width of your primary monitor. It would resemble something like this:
Now you are ready to set the display.
1. Right-click the Desktop and select Personalize.
2. Select Desktop Background.
3. Browse to the directory that contains your wallpaper image and then select it by clicking on the thumbnail.
4. Your wallpaper will instantly change to the selected image, the problem is that the same image is on both monitors:
5. To properly display the image across both monitors, you need to select the Tile radio button from the bottom where it says How should the picture be positioned?.
6. Your wallpaper will now display across both monitors:
7. Click OK.
By the way, the image I used for this can be found here.
When I was running Windows XP, I would use various applications for dealing with image files. I never really became too attached to any of the ones I found. When I moved to Vista, I decided to do some hunting to see what other applications were available. I came across a free piece of software that makes the mounting and unmounting of CD and DVD images (iso, ccd, dvd, img, udf, and bin) a piece of cake.
Download Virtual CloneDrive from Elaborate Bytes and install it on your Vista system. Once installed, start up the application to select the number of virtual drives that you want to have at your disposal. Under the Settings tab, use the Number of Drives dropdown and select the desired number of virtual drives you want to have.
Click OK and then go to computer to see the newly created drive(s):
Right-click the new virtual drive, go to Virtual CloneDrive, and select Mount.
Browse to the location of the CD or DVD image file and click OK. The image file will then can be accessed as if it were an actual CD or DVD.
August 13th, 2007
You often hear about backing up your data, but did you ever think about backing up your drivers? Making a backup of your drivers and burning them to a CD can save you tons of time and frustration the next time you need to reload your computer. After burning them to disc, label the CD and store it with the installation disc for your operating system. Then the next time you need to reload your system, everything you need to get up and running is easily at your fingertips.
To backup your drivers, you will first need to install an application suited for this purpose. While there are quite a few out there, I use a utility called DriverMax. It’s an easy to use piece of freeware that does everything I need it to. Download DriverMax and install it onto your system.
Once installed, follow these steps to get a backup copy of your device drivers:
- Open DriverMax. When you first start it, it will show that that you have 30 days to evaluate the program. You can claim your free registration code or skip this step and click the Continue evaluation button.
- Click the Export drivers button at the top of the list.
- Click Next. DriverMax will build a list of installed drivers.
- Once the list has been built, click the Select all button to select all drivers listed.
- Click Next.
- Select the radio button to Export all selected drivers to a folder. Click the button to the right of the textbox and browse to the desired directory. After selecting the directory, click OK.
- Click Next.
- DriverMax will then begin processing the selected drivers.
- Once completed, verify that the drivers are in the desired directory by click the Open extraction folder button.
- Click the Close button.
- Click the Exit program button to close DriverMax.
Now burn the contents of the extraction folder onto a CD. Once the CD has been burned, label it with the system that the drivers are for and the date. Store the disc with your copy of Windows. When the time comes to reload the system, install Windows as usual and then insert the driver disc when it’s time to fix those unknown devices.
August 9th, 2007
Almost every computer game out there requires that the CD or DVD be in the computer to play. This is one of the many steps that game developers use to prevent the pirating of the game. Unfortunately, this becomes quite inconvenient for the honest customer that has purchased the game. No-CD and No-DVD cracks are a workaround to this. While it is illegal to use the cracks for pirated games, it is perfectly legal to use them if you own the game.
Wikipedia defines a No-CD crack as a “a modified executable file or a special “byte patcher” program that removes built-in CD check mechanisms allowing the user to run computer software without having to insert their required CD-ROM.” It further states that “in addition to cracked executable files or byte patchers, CD protection can be thwarted by producing a mini image containing only enough of the software’s CD-ROM contents needed to bypass protection. This image can then be mounted with a disk image emulator such as Daemon Tools to trick the user’s computer into believing the disk image is the software’s physical CD-ROM and it is in the drive.” In simple terms, this means that once you install the game and load the No-CD crack, the CD or DVD is no longer required to be present to play the game.
I use these cracks for two simple reasons:
- I play games on my computer once in a great while. I use my drives for other functions and don’t want to go hunting for my game software every time I want to play a game.
- I have children. Instead of risking damage to the $50 game that I bought for one of them. By using the crack, I can keep the software safe from mishandling or being lost.
There are a couple of things to remember about No-CD and No-DVD cracks. The first is that it is extremely important to keep the original game executable on your computer. Never replace it with the crack, rename the original executable instead. I usually add the prefix orig_ to the executable so that I know which one it is. The second thing to remember is that these cracks are written for a specific version of the game. This means that if you want to apply an update to the game, you will need an updated crack (and the original game executable).
While you can Google for these cracks, one of the best places to start is GameCopyWorld. This site contains a large collection of No-CD and No-DVD cracks for a buttload of games. When you have downloaded the necessary crack, you will need to decompress it. Do not decompress it to your game installation file since this will overwrite the original files. Instead, decompress it to a new directory so that you can examine the contents. Open the game’s installation directory and rename any files that have the same name as those in the crack’s directory. Once you are sure that you have done this, copy the files from the crack directory to the game directory. After this is completed, you should be able to play the game without the CD or DVD. Now you can put the software away in a safe place.
When it comes time to update the game, you will need to go back to the game directory to do some file renaming. Using the renamed original files as a guide, rename all cracked files (I use a prefix of crack_) and then return the original files to their original filenames. Make sure that there is a new crack available for the update. If there is, download both the crack and the update. Install the update and then apply the new crack in the same manner as described above.
This is a great way to keep your gaming software safe while allowing you to play a game whenever you want without having to hunt down the necessary disc.
March 13th, 2007
I have run into some Vista users who are constantly competing to see who has the higher Windows Experience Index base score.Â They are going out and purchasing processors, memory and video cards just to get a higher number (and I would hope, better performance).Â However, if a higher score is all they are interested in, they are wasting their money.Â You can increase your base score easily, without purchasing a piece of hardware or downloading a driver.Â
Your base score is calculated by the WinSAT (Windows System Assessment Tool) and stores the results in a XML file.Â By altering this file, you can beef up your score and fake out your friends.Â You’ll feel like you have a better machine, although it will still function the same as it did before.Â At least you can dream!
Open the Control Panel, select System and Maintenance.Â Click Performance Information and Tools.Â This will display your current base score plus the subscores for your system.Â Here’s what mine looked like:
Close the window.Â Time to create an extra XML file.Â You need to Update your score, to do so use the steps outlined here.Â Once it has completed you are ready to start the process:
To access the XML file,Â follow these steps:
- Â Open the Windows Explorer and navigate to the Windows directory.
- Open the Performance directory, followed by the WinSAT directory.
- Open the DataStore folder.
- You will seeÂ two or more XML files, we want to work with the most recent one (the one you just created).
- Right-click the file and select Properties.
- Click the Security tab.
- Click the Edit button.
- When the UAC prompt appears, click Continue.
- Click the Add button.
- Input your username and click OK.
- Select the username and then click the Full Control checkbox in the Allow column.
- Click OK.
- When the Security prompt appears, click Yes.
- We can now modify the file.Â Right-click the XML file, click Open With and select WordPad.
- Look for the information within the WinSPR tags.
- Modify the scores.Â Remember, your base score will be the lowest value of the 5 subscores.Â Make it realistic, nobody is going to be fooled with a massive increase in your score.
- Save the file.
Now go back to the Performance Information and Tools window and check your modified score.Â Here’s my modification:
To bring your system back to the real world, simply delete the XML file.