Thursday, December 29, 2005

Just one more item to deal with-stay up to date

Just released, the latest bug to drop in to the computer that I am sure will be something I will have to fight off and remove.

Best thing you can do at this point is stay current with your definintion files.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Is my system optimized? What can I do to make sure? What do I do to optimize? I am thinking of upgrading, what do I need to do?

Probably the most asked question and also probably the most important when it comes to simply using your computer and getting the most out of what you have invested in.

As a computer consultant it is my job to see that the computer functions to its optimum ability in every way the computer is used. Depending on the business that I visit, or the home/business in many cases, the computer has been configured for all kinds of use. But regardless of what the computer is used for, it must operate effectively as possible in order for you, the end-user to be happy with what you are doing. Believe me, I see enough frustration simply by attempting to keep my own computers up to what I consider "OK" with ongoing maintenance a key. Here is pretty much what I do.

First and foremost you have to have the hardware. A simple fix in many cases is just adding more memory to your system. Prices for this are constantly going down. That is, so long as your mainboard/motherboard is up to date using the latest type of memory. One good example is: If your mainboard requires SDRAM (pc133mhz), this would be considered "yesterdays news". If it uses SDRAM (pc100mhz) then this is even older. Either way, your only choice is with SDRAM which is currently almost twice the price of the more recent memory, the DDR Memory. In fact the latest uses DDR2 memory, but I consider this "bleading edge technology" and not the every day, run-of-the-mill hardware you will see in todays computer (December 2005 that is). With hardware, it all boiled down to "how much $ do you want to spend?" When you are looking to upgrade memory and you find you have the SDRAM, then sure, another 256mb SDRAM may be all you need, considering the next step would be to upgrade the mainboard/motherboard which usually means a new CPU (processor) which would then allow you to purchase the DDR memory. This may sound like "oh yeah, here we go.. Spending a tonne of money", but that doesn't necessarily have to be the case. A pretty typical mainboard/motherboard will now contain a pretty good 3d video card, 7.1 digital sound and 10/100 or gigabit ethernet LAN therefore eliminating the need for these items on your pci card slots. This also means you can usually go to an mATX mainboard which, if you so desired, could allow you to change up your computer case to a miniATX case. Since we are dealing with cases, this brings up the PowerSupply issues. The newer CPU's require more power as well as all these other devices, such as DVD burners and additional USB 2.0 devices including non-powered hubs. When buying a new case, they usually come with a power supply therefore you have a good chance of moving up to at least a 350watt and I suggest 400watt or more, depending on what you feel will suite your needs for a while. Note however, that most miniATX cases will come with 300 or 350watt which is usually pretty good since they also come with some sort of warranty (usually). The basic box should have a DVD burner which now-a-days should be the standard device for backing up data. Note that if you have an older cd burner, no problem as you are capable of at least saving data to a format that is removable. If you are using your computer for viewing those digital camera pictures, then this most certainly is something you will want to have. Consider the fact that if you were go through a disaster such as a house fire and you lost everything. The one thing you would have wished you could have saved would have been your photo albums. So now that you are using a digital camera and as you take those pictures, you are transferring them to your hard drive, and yet you think nothing of the fact that your hard drive could fail at any time, therefore you should be saving them to a backup source immediately after you have transferred them to the drive. Personally, I immediately signed up to a membership with WEBSHOTS as it allows me to immediately upload my pictures to my personal website where I can have the choice of making my photos 'public' or 'private'. Now, I no longer require the need to make my photos smaller when emailing them as I can simply send a link to the picture(s) I want the person to view and they can then visit the website directly, where they can then choose to simply view, or download to their computer for the purposes of printing. Note when you have a high quality camera such as 5 megapixel or more, one picture in its highest resolution will be over 4mb in size--too large to send in an email! For the small subscription fee that I pay on a yearly basis, it is well worth the piece of mind, knowing that all of my pictures are safe! This is something even home insurance will not cover!

First I will take a look at the programs that run on windows start up. You can view many of these by simply looking at the icons in the system tray (next to the clock). Next, you can view the 'quicklaunch' tray and note anything that is NOT a Microsoft product. This quicklaunch tray was initially created for the use of the Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, the Windows Media player and "show desktop" icons, whereas any time you install a new program these days, if you choose TYPICAL install, the odds are you will also get a new icon in the quick launch tray (and it will probably be hidden behind a little arrow since the quick launch tray size is too small to view). You can adjust this by RIGHT CLICKING on the taskbar and UNLOCKING it, then moving the small vertical line on the right hand side further to the right. Personally I will only show the internet browser, the email icon, media player, and the show desktop icon. Anything else will be placed either on the desktop or in the start menu. Note that my desktop will also be quite clean since the only programs I will have on the desktop will be programs that I want to run as I first sit down to use my computer. Any other programs I will run by clicking on the START menu.

Since the START menu has been adjusted to allow for 'small icons' and then 30 (the maximum amount) of recent programs which will automatically move the icon further up the list the more I use it, therefore I do not even require to 'PIN' the icon to the start menu (something you can do by RIGHT CLICKING on it and choosing this option). **ADDED TIP:You will also note many other options when you RIGHT CLICK your way through windows.

From this point, I will go through and make sure the latest spyware software is installed. For this, you should visit the SOFTWARE/SUPPORT page and install all the programs I have listed in the pink shaded section as these are what I will use for all spyware/malware/adware removing and optimizing of the computer.

If certain items are stubborn and will not remove the normal means, then I will utilize REGCLEANER or HIJACKTHIS to manually edit the registry ("NOTE: you can do serious damage to your computer editing the registry incorrectly so at this point, if you are finding a lot of things are not being removed via normal spyware scans I suggest taking your computer to a professional at this point). Although certain software out there now, such as Norton's GOBACK will certainly return your computer to the status it was before you started messing with it, that is, so long as you can start your computer again or know how to restart it using the GOBACK disk (NOTE: again this is territory where I suggest a professional fixes things since you do not want to lose important data).

Now, for backing up the data, I utilize Symantec's Partition Magic first, to create a backup image. Some ask how large the partitions should be. On my own system I will create a 'system partition' whereas the windows operating system is installed, and then create a second partition for other such items like internet downloads, storage of MP3's or things of this nature. NOTE: all installed programs will also go to the system partition, therefore I will make this partition no smaller than 5GB and highly recommend 10GB, that way you are not having to resize it as you start installing your software. This is key especially if you are a gamer and have many games that will be installed on your drive. Since some of these games can take over 1GB of disk space with full install. If I did create this second partition, this is NOT my backup partition. This is something that I will make last, once most of my programs have been installed. I do this because when using Partition Magic, and you select "make backup partition" it does a good job of sizing the drive(s) you already have and suggesting the size of the backup to be made. Typically it is around 40% of the drive size minus the amount being used. This can quickly make your useable drive space appear a lot smaller. Not to worry, since you can always resize if necessary, however I feel that when you get to this point, you should be looking at buying a larger drive. If for no other reason, the drive you currently have can then become the second drive and can be used for nothing but the backup image (NOTE: the two drive option is highly recommended if you are totally serious about having a true backup of your system since the second drive is physically different, if the main drive failed completely, you would still have a backup image of your data.) Also NOTE: the use of a DVD RW drive is highly suggested for backing up your account since this will backup not only 'my documents' but also your email and desktop items as well as your favorites and address book. You may end up using more then one DVD (RW) depending on the amount of data you are creating (to an image). When I say "image" I am referring to Symantec's GHOST which comes as a nice compliment to the Systemworks Pro (Premier edition). If you are serious about your computer and want a few tools that should go with your computer, Symantec's Systemworks (Premier) is what I would recommend.

Now, I realize there will be some techies out there that cringe over Symantec products, this is normal (as is the case with McAfee products in my case--another topic to blog about some day, but for now lets just say I find their products not as user-friendly as the Symantec products), since quite often right out of the box, if you install the 'typical' or 'recommended' installation you will end up with 'too much protection'. Basically it protects and monitors your system, using up system resources that really do not need to be used up. This WAS the way, however so far, the Norton Systemworks 2006 edition seems pretty flawless from a power pig point of view. The typical installation so far appears to work well as it will automatically adjust according to its built in diagnostics and monitoring. The one thing I did is remove or 'move' the norton protection center task to the systemtray as this is something I don't need on the tasktray all the time.

Back to dealing with the image. I will, on a fresh installation of windows, after I have completed all available windows updates that are available at the time, as well as any other software updates, I'll create a 'clean image backup'. This I will usually password protect, just so that I don't accidentally delete it, since this is the image you can ALWAYS fall back on if you reformat the system drive, knowing that you will have all the basics installed and you will not be worrying about potential spyware or viruses from this one. I would then proceed to create a 'drive image' of the system drive which would then be overwritten each time I created a new one. Now, with the latest Ghost software, or by using the Norton GOBACK, you can create restore points similar to the built in windows system restore (only this actually works!). I won't even go there with regards to the Windows System Restore, other then to say I still keep it running, but I do believe Norton utilizes it for the GOBACK therefore I just leave well enough alone. This goes for the windows security center. Yes, I still use it and leave it turned on, however if you are using Systemworks 2006, it will use the norton internet worm protection. Something that was introduced in the 2005 version however it has been somewhat refined and works without errors when the security center windows firewall is adjusted from outside the norton options, this sometimes leads to an error.

I will be incorporating a few system scans that you can do. If you get errors, in the case of the Stop Sign Threat Scanner, without signing up for their service, which is always up to you. Personally however, since I personally optimize computers that I work on, the use of this service would be redundant, this is why as a client of mine you have this remote service built in once I have serviced your computer once. Should you choose to use it is entirely up to you, however considering what you could be paying for repairs, it would seem rather foolish not to have some sort of safety net. This is why more and more security sources and resources will be found at a local server point, whether it be through the net services offered through your ISP or Antivirus Provider, there will always be the need for security and optimizing scanners. Should you choose to utilize my services do not hesitate to contact me directly. With routine scanning of your system using the spyware scanners "Spybot Search and Destroy" as well as "Ad-Aware", this should eliminate well over half and probably more like 75% of the bugs, at least the ones that will cause the most problems due to system resources and overall speed of your computer. In some cases with registry bugs, HIJACKTHIS will be required and/or REGCLEANER. I have also incorporated many other spyware programs only a few of which end up on my SOFTWARE/SUPPORT page however, since the others are usually only used in the case of one specific bug that is being tricky, I will do as anyone would and that is to SEARCH GOOGLE for the spyware bug and use whatever is advertised as a bug remover. Since this antispyware program hasn't proven itself to me at this point in time, I don't usually recommend it as a utility to use all the time. This is pretty much how I feel about CCLEANER, although if you only use the CLEANER part and omit the DIAGNOSIS/REPAIR utility, you shouldn't have any troubles with potential registry issues, although if you do elect to use this, you should always create a registry backup file save, which it does prompt you on. For this, I save it to a 'registry backups' folder in MY DOCUMENTS. As with other such backups like the Address book, the Favorites as well as any other essential files I may deem necessary for regular backups, this will be saved to MY DOCUMENTS, in a folder usually called BACKUP. Simple enough but very important.

This brings me to the FILE MANAGEMENT issues. This is very important, to know where your precious files are. I use the built in Windows System Folder of MY DOCUMENTS for just that.. My documents. This will include My Pictures as well as My Music, however in the case of MY MUSIC, if you want to keep this separate a good place would be to save your music to "all users/my music" that way it is available to all accounts. Sometimes using the built in software just seems right, such as the windows media player. Sure there are others, but for my needs it works great, has many user friendly features and can quite easily be manipulated with your choice of MP3 players. This is something I have found with most Microsoft installed software, it is best to use, however this is not the case with the Internet Explorer. Until they prove that IE 7.x is going to be worthy of going back since I have been a strong advocate of the AVANT BROWSER and have really found no reason to go back to IE, especially at this point when version 6.x has so many security problems. But then this security issues will not go away, at least not with the world #1 browser or internet mail program. If another browser does take over the lead role, it will become the one that gets hacked the most, therefore more security problems will be found then any other browser simply because there are more people using it. This only makes sense, considering the total amount of users using MAC computers for example. This is why you do not hear of as many problems with a MAC. There is no doubt that if the MAC computer, and I'm not saying that one day it couldn't rule the world, but if whatever computer becomes the #1 provider for the world market, it will also show to have the most problems. Open Source programming is wonderful whereas a user can implement changes based on the problems found which is a nice feature, but to implement it vastly on a world market may not be quite the same since the control on what is new and what is very new and untested would definitely create problems.

Constant change is inevitable and that is why you must take advantage of people like myself. When you read TIPS like these and can find a conduit such as what I am providing- a world wide customer service point where a lot of the research and trouble shooting has already been done for you. If nothing else, when you do take your computer to a consultant such as myself, they will be very impressed with your file management and cleanliness of your system from an overall maintenance point of view, and will without a doubt, help the techie fix your problem a lot more efficiently. Unfortunately however, I find more and more computers that I first get my hands on, to be backed up and reformatted in all sorts of fashion and this sometimes from another service center. It is unfortunate that not all can see the software for what it is and use it for all its worth.

I conclude by reminding you of the first issues I mentioned and that is being up to date, within a reasonable amount of time by comparing your hardware with what is available today. Typically if you are spending under $100 to get your system to work within the hardware parameters of the day, then it is well worth it. This could mean the installation of a DVD Burner, the additional Memory stick of RAM, a new hard drive, or even a new mainboard with CPU. Maybe the latter you would pay more then the $100 but if that means virtually getting an entirely new 'engine' to work from, it might be worth it! If you are within my service area, and yes, that could mean anywhere in the world with the use of remote technology, feel free to contact me directly.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Windows XP Clean Install

As you will see from these techies, two different methods of installing and maintaining their own computers.

I pretty much have to say I do a little bit of both of these methods. The typical installation for me would be as follows:

If I am dealing with a new installation of windows xp, I will then install all software that I consider "typical". I then create a back up image partition (using partition magic) and then create an image of the system drive using Norton Ghost. I then label this as a "clean install". The next time I create a backup image I will not overwrite this image but will create a new image, one in which can be overwritten in the future. That way, I always have the ability to go back to the 'clean install' image. Given the fact that this may be as much as two years old, it would still require a number of windows updates as well as other software version updates but that takes a lot less time then a complete reinstall, especially when I know that this image was clean to begin with.

Now on the matter of partitions. Personally I have at any one time, two hard drives in my main computer. This will always have one drive specifically for the recording of TV which I use the wonderful program Beyond TV which I highly suggest anyone that is planning on using their computer as a 'tivo', this is the solution. I am using this to record off of a satellite feed and view it using High Definition (HD) and it works great. Currently I am using a 300gb SATA drive which gives me 91 hours of HD quality recording! The other drive I will have partitioned in two with my system drive starting at 50gb with the remainder (of a 200gb drive) as the data backups. I will also have my internet downloads on this drive.

Since I also utilize the Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) I have it holding the fort with MY DOCUMENTS and all the major installation files and system backup images that I supply as a typical part of my services for my clients, that is, in the case where their drive is not large enough to house a backup partition that is. In some cases, where the client has a DVD burner, I can,on request, also burn a backup image to the DVD. This is something that I highly suggest anyone do that has a DVD Burner, that is, to at least backup your ACCOUNT.

Backing up your ACCOUNT is as easy as going to c:\documents and settings (drive c would be whatever your system drive is) and then choosing the account. You will have to use a dvd burner software program such as NERO which should come with your burner as some of these files will currently be used by windows, be prepared for a few prompts which you can skip in that case. These are system files and would only be restored in the case of a complete backup image. What you are after is more the data from your own input, such as your email, address book, my documents folders which houses My Pictures as well as My Music, that is, if you use these system folders. I highly suggest you do. Now, if you are using such programs as Limewire, then you are on your own as I do not condone the use of this type of file sharing program.

Bottom line is, when it comes to repairing a computer that already has a clean image partition, you know that at least you are going to have a very solid foundation in which you can go back to and probably save you at least 5 hours of reinstall time.

You can always learn more about OPTIMIZING your computer as well as download many system maintenance and optimzing programs from my SOFTWARE/SUPPORT pages from my website.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Just how bad is spyware?

If you have been reading my blogs and/or have visited my website and the TIPS and SOFTWARE/SUPPORT that I have created, then you are probably quite aware of this ongoing problem. It doesn't seem to be going away and in many cases could be argued that it is only getting worse. As of Dec 20, 2005 ZDNet has come out with a list of the top 10 tricks causing spyware.

I believe it is in the education where we are going to beat this battle. You may be doing everything you have been told to do in the way of prevention, but what about those that you talk to and do business with online? Quite often the problem can be from your next door neighbor (so-to-speak) who has never even used a spyware scanner program therefore it is up to YOU to direct these people to such sites as my SOFTWARE/SUPPORT and TIPS so that they too can pass the word. This is also the case where more then one person in the home is using the computer and only one of the users is doing their part. If you have more then one user account set up on your computer, it is also important to get that person to run these scans.

You know things are getting bad when even your antivirus is at risk!

It appears that even the antivirus you use to prevent those bugs has a bug of its own. This just proves how important it is to run the 'live update' on a daily basis. If you do, then odds are whenever something like this happens, the patch to correct it will be not too far off, typically within a few days of the risk these issues are dealt with. This certainly doesn't make me feel like changing my antivirus provider as I have been and will remain a firm believer in the Symantec products as still being the best money can buy! If you haven't visited the SOFTWARE/SUPPORT page for a while, it too may be time to upgrade some of the spyware programs you have installed on your computer.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Obsessive Compulsive, A.D.D whatever you want to call it, it sounds like we have it in common

A fellow consultant, and staff writer for Lockergnome writes about his 'issues' much to the same tune as myself I am afraid. I too find myself surrounded by technology in a retirement town where everything works at one pace. This however is something that I don't mind in the least, in fact it allows me the ability to slow down when I am out and about. Using shopping for an example, I too made a stop in to Walmart this evening to pick up a few things, but completely forgot that the place would be swarming with Christmas shoppers. I guess I got my share of that during my last visit to Houston where I happened to take advantage of the sweet Thanksgiving day specials. Mind you, I did have to get up at 3am to drive to Houston to be in line for the 5am opening at Fry's electronics, but when they are practically giving away stuff, you just have to see it for yourself. I did, for about 30 minutes. We arrived at about 5:10am and by that time there were only two parking spots left, fortunately I was driving a small car and squeaked in before two larger Suburban SUV's tried for the spot and failed. The place was packed like you expect but people were waiting in lines for things they had no idea they were waiting in line for.. And my friend fell for it as well! I walked past all the people, carefully watching them watch me, thinking that I was going to jump in to line ahead of them when in fact all I was doing was asking at a low tone of voice to each of them as I walked past them, in question as to what they were waiting in line for.. I couldn't help but laugh after I had passed by the third or forth person,all of whom were waiting in line for different things. When I got to the front of the line, there was a Fry's employee getting the box-o-computer that they were selling. Apparently they were getting rid of a bunch of HP desktop machines at "blowout prices" of about $399! Umm sorry folks, to me that is NOT a blowout deal.. Especially when you examine just what you are getting.. Compared to what you can buy, this was certainly not worth waiting in line for. By the looks of the pallet, which had about half of the computers taken from it, you might as well cut the line in to 3rds as only the first 1/3 would be getting what they were waiting for.

I think for me the act of shopping, not necessarily buying anything but just browsing, does work for me, because of my definite short attention span. That is, unless I am intrigued with whatever it is I am doing, then I may not stop for hours at end. Anyone that knows me well enough, understands just how I will not stop a project until I get the job done. But then I also know how difficult it can be when dealing with lineups. My travels back and forth from the southern states on a pretty regular basis allows me to immerse myself in to the fast paced city atmosphere for a while and then return to what I consider one of the nicest places to live. Very laid back town the size of a big city community. When you can pretty much be anywhere within the city limits of this city in about 6 to 8 minutes.. That pretty much tells you what I deal with on a daily basis.

So where I usually find myself is back in front of my big screen (computer monitor that is), working on what else, but computers... Not one but many.. My current workspace allows for 8 computers to be worked on at one time, as well as the ongoing remote work that I will be doing for clients with small issues, it does keep me hopping, I guess that is a good thing if you are dealing with A.D.D. Not that I have ever been diagnosed with something like this... But I think you pretty much have an idea when you can't remember what you are doing next without the PDA telling you its time for your next appointment. When there isn't another appointment, there is always that I volunteer for which keeps my email hopping, not to mention my TIPS and SOFTWARE/SUPPORT sections of my website rather busy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Want me to look at your computer problem?

I am asking that any and all of my existing clients begin to send along the page or 'copy' and 'paste' the IP address that your computer is currently using on the interne. You can do this the easiest by visiting my homepage and then clicking on the link that is displayed "Get your current IP Address Here
" If you click on the link from here, you will also see that it takes you to a specific web page with your current IP address. There are number of things you can do from this point. The easiest would be to click on the email icon from your browser and 'send page' to me. The other way would be to drag your mouse across the numbers so that they are all highlighted, then RIGHT click on this and choose COPY (or use CTRL-C) then open the new email message you are going to compose to me and PASTE (ctrl-v) this in to the body of the message, along with whatever it is you were having questions about.

Why do I ask for this? Because I am finding more and more, that the number I am receiving is either wrong, or I simply can't figure it out from 123456789 or 12/345/67/89. When it arrives with dashes or any other symbol instead of the period, it requires me to re-translate, just as I am sure you had to do by writing it from whatever you found on the website. In the translation, that is where things get lost.. By cutting out that translation, there should be no need for me to respond by asking for the IP address again.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The ongoing debate with Intel versus AMD

As Christmas approaches, many are in the market for upgrades to their current computer, or are looking to purchase an entirely new one. It is very easy to look at what you had and then figure you need something like what you had, just faster, as is the case with many clients I see that are currently using an Intel product (celeron or pentium). Most recently I was sent this information from someone who just decided to go with the AMD product even when they were initially planning on going with what they had before--the Intel Pentium.

I always love receiving mail like this, whereas someone has sent information to them, creating a great buzz within their own circle of friends that might be talking about the latest in computer technology.

From the test performed, the answer is quite clear and if you decide to further your research, it also becomes only logical, the results that are presented. As a consultant, it has always been my job to present this sort of fact to my clients so that they can make their own minds up on the choice of computer/processor. Now you can make your own mind up after reading this!

As always, my TIPS and SOFTWARE SUPPORT pages are intended to help those who are not quite sure what way to turn.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Tech Tip-Logging to Domain using Windows Media Center

One problem I recently had was logging in to my domain after installing WME. This was a reinstallation so I didn't go through the partitioning, etc...., so what happened was the inability to log in to a Domain because no network card was detected. This was because the network card was part of the mainboard, as is the sound and video in some cases and because they have not yet been installed, Windows, upon setup, did not detect the hardware. Therefore I was caught in a catch 22.. I couldn't install the mainboard drivers because the Cd requires a windows installation, but I couldn't install windows because it didn't detect the network card and after I install windows is too late with Windows XP Media Center edition. If it detects the network initially on install, it would then allow you the opportunity to log in. In any case, to quickly get around this, I threw in a 3com NIC in an available PCI slot and started the windows installation..all works fine now! Don't forget about my TIPS page if you haven't checked it out already, as well as the SOFTWARE/SUPPORT page where you can get the latest versions of programs I highly suggest you have installed on your computer.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Blogging Borders and Security

Just how far has blogging gone since the first few blogs hit the internet? Now it appears Google and it's search capabilities, along with the posting of blogs can incriminate you by your own submissions as it appears from this blogger in a recent EWEEK article.