Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Make XP Look Like Vista or Mac OS X

Free Downloads Transform Your Desktop

In one of my prior articles (see, A Brief Pause/fun with XP Themes) I wrote about using Windows Themes to customize the look and feel of your Desktop, and make it more “you”. I also told you about “wallpaper” and “skins“, which much more radically alter the GUI (“goo-ey”, aka Graphical User Interface), allowing deeper changes.

There is, literally, a whole world of Desktop wallpapers, XP skins, and pre-configured Themes available for you to explore. Do you love kittens? Unicorns? NASCAR? I’m sure there’s a theme/skin for you.
(A couple of quick resources: The official Microsoft XP “Desktop enhancements” webpage, and Witt’sWallpapers.)

It’s a fact — though Microsoft did soften, and modernize the “Windows look” with XP (rounded edges, and a picture background), it looks quite dated to us today.. a bit stodgy and boring. (And to some observers, it kinda says, “we’re too *thrifty* to buy new equipment.”)

Today’s free downloads: By downloading and installing a skin, you can change the face your computer presents to the world, without changing the essential code of the underlying operating system.

So, if you would like the Vista Desktop, Menus, Sidebar widgets and general look and feel, but XP loyalty/Vista hate, program compatibility, etc. means sticking with XP — download the Vista Transformation Pack.

Or, you can really “trip people out” (to use a little California lingo) and put an Apple Mac face on your XP machine with RK Launcher. RK Launcher* gives you a customizable “Dock” to replace the Windows Taskbar.

Kind of hard to believe that both those screenshots are XP machines.. right?

Today’s free link: Gmail users hit by ViddyHo phishing chat attack
The unsolicited instant messages urge Gmail users to “check out this video” by clicking on a link via the TinyURL service. The link, however, directs users to a website called ViddyHo – which asks surfers to enter their Gmail usernames and passwords.

* My thanks to Deb Shindler for mentioning this program.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. post to jaanix

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February 25, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, Microsoft, PC, software, tech, tweaks, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Tech’s First Impression Of Windows 7

Part 3 – Improvements over Vista?

I have now been using Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 7, for a week. I configured it to my taste (aka “preferences”), and installed my primary applications (and a few games) and done lots of things to try to break it.

Yes, you read that last part correctly – I said “try to break it”. You see, there simply is no better way (many people feel) to test a thing than to fill it up with High-Octane, put the petal to the metal, use the gears to keep the RPM’s well into the red, and go! go! go! until a piston sails up and through the hood. Of course.. for this to really mean anything.. you must do this several times in a row.bell_x-1

Not only is this method fun, but this is how “limits” are discovered. Ask Chuck Yeager. (Geeks call this “benchmarking”.)

Some findings: I have found that it is fairly easy to get a fail on IE 8, the newest release of the venerable Internet Explorer web browser (which is still a beta also). Open too many tabs (6+), or a page using Silverlight, and you’ll get a “Not responding” fairly quick. But, I have also found that it is extremely difficult to get Windows 7 itself to fail. Win 7 is fast and it’s stable.

In fact, despite my best efforts and determination, I have yet to have a lockup, or BSOD¹. Improved multi-processor/multi-threading ability is noticeable. No Windows Update fails either, as still befalls Vista SP1 (you know the ones.. you have to reboot 3 times and/or use Startup Repair to get to your Desktop?)

After my admittedly amateur and unscientifical-style testing, I would be willing to quite prematurely guestimate that Windows 7 is one-hundred and thirty two point six times (132.6x ) more stable than Vista was, and at least .. oh, um, let me say, one magnitude more stable than Vista w/SP1.

All jocularity aside, only time will tell how accurate my estimates and impressions are. But I’m impressed. Quite impressed. This is a beta, after all. (I’m willing to wager that this is a historic first — “beta” and “stable” are never used in the same sentence. I’ll come back to some of the reasons for this.)

Plus number 6.

Other differences: While retaining most of what we’ve come to know in Windows, (such as, by default, the Taskbar is on the bottom, Start button on the left, everything “interesting” is found in Control Panel, etc.) there are some changes.. changes that affected me in my daily usage. First up on that list is the Taskbar has changed in appearance and behavior.

The Taskbar (aka “Superbar”) is similar to Vista’s in that it has a “hover” feature, as shown below…

Windows 7 "Superbar"

Windows 7 "Superbar"

though it has been enhanced to show thumbnails of the program’s open windows (or tabs, as in this case) for easier selection, and direct-action “maximize”.

But look closer. Quick Launch and tabs are combined into “pinned” icons, and the System Tray (the icons down by the clock) are now an “up arrow”. To make a program a “Quick Launch”, or visa-versa, you simply drag-and-drop (and select “pin to taskbar”, no more “lock”/”unlock”), and open programs – “tabs” – ‘stack’ to the right.

It’s weird how much I miss the by-the-clock icons.. though they’ve never really served any truly practical purpose (except maybe as a source for context menu shortcuts). I find myself clicking the arrow, to make the System Tray visible, and reassure myself – yes, they’re still there.
I’ve been running (and troubleshooting) Microsoft operating systems since Windows 3.11, and I just expect those things to be there…

Speaking of things that are missing: menus have been consolidated and “pruned”. They seem to me less cluttered, more intuitive, and easier to navigate. This is most noticeable when trying to access system tools and the elements that make up the Control Panel. Long-time Windows users and über geeks may feel that Microsoft has unnecessarily moved a few things (and occasionally get annoyed, at first), but newbies and flexible-types will find things “friendlier”… IMHO.

Plus number 7.

And Defender is nowhere to be found in Programs or the Start menu: it’s in Control Panel.
(Don’t ask. Haven’t even a guess.)

And, when you first get started, “Network” is missing from the Start menu.
But that’s a topic for Part 4..

Link for Part 1 of this series, A Tech’s First Impression of Windows 7 Part 1 of a series
Link to Part 2, A Tech’s First Impression of Windows 7 Part 2 — Transferring Your User Account To Windows 7

¹ Blue Screen Of Death (see Troubleshooting the Blue Screen Of Death)

Today’s free link: What’s really new in Windows 7?

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

January 17, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, PC, performance, software, System Tray, tech, Vista, Windows, Windows 7 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

What Is Going On With Hotmail?

[Attn: This is an older article. There is an Internet problem today (probably hacker-caused), and Hotmail is one of the domains affected. It should clear itself up soon.]

Yes Folks, you weren’t hallucinating; and no, you haven’t been ‘hijacked’– the good folks at Hotmail Command have just revamped the UI and now it looks different… They’ve given Hotmail a makeover.

Supposedly, it is more “streamlined” and will be “faster”.

But — this is a case of fiddling while Rome burns. There was nothing wrong with Hotmail’s look that a good ad blocker didn’t cure AND, for some reason, in the last couple of weeks Hotmail has been allowing patently obvious spam through to my Inbox.

Which my recent reader survey seems to indicate is a prevalent and pervasive trend. (I think some of the “no” responses came from trolls.)

What I am saying is that Hotmail used to know that “earn at home” and “Rolex watches” in the Subject line = Spam/Junk, but now doesn’t. The filter has lost significant IQ points. (A head injury?)

With Google’s Gmail having such an excellent reputation for spam-catching, combined with the fact that Google has Microsoft dead in its sights (and is winning. see Google’s Dominance Is Your Reward) you would think that Hotmail would strive to do better. Instead, they’re putting lipstick on a bleeding patient.

Tip of the day: I offer up this idea for folks who have both Hotmail and Gmail– forward your Hotmail to the Gmail, and access your mail from there. Gmail’s spam catcher not only works, it’s Best of Breed.

Today’s free download: It used to be that you had to get an “invite” to sign up for Google’s webmail service, but not any more. Click here, and find out why Gmail is hard to beat. (Or, click here, and see what’s new in Gmail {it might surprise you}).

oh.. and by the way Hotmail Command, I don’t like people changing my stuff without my permission.
And I prefer the way it was. I doubt I’m alone in these feelings. Provide a “No Thanks” button, or lose me.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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November 4, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, e-mail, how to, Internet | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fun and games with Windows XP– Themes*

A “heads up” to my loyal readers — as you are aware, today starts a long Holiday weekend to celebrate the founding of the first nation governed not by Monarchy, but By the People. In the spirit of long weekends, I will not be writing new Tech for Everyone posts (after this one) for a few days but I will repost some of the older, more popular past articles which you may have missed. I will be available for tech help and support at Aplus Computer Aid, however.

Tip of the day: Give XP a “makeover”. One of the “coolest” things about Windows Vista®, in my opinion, is it does not look like boring old XP. Instead of the blue desktop, which dates back to Windows 95, Vista has a rather nice nature photo. The “edges” around windows are ‘modernized’ in Vista and have a smoother “feel”, and so on and so forth. The Vista GUI looks a lot like what Apple users have been used to seeing in OS X.

If you, too, are bored and tired with XP’s utilitarian ‘look’ and are not ready (for whatever reason) to dive into a brand-new operating system, you can “tweak” the look of XP in a myriad of ways and make it a much more modern and pleasant-to-look-at computer. There are pre-built ‘packages’ — called “skins” — that you can download. Windows X offers a “Vista Transformation” utility that fairly mimics the Vista shell (look to Today’s free link) on XP machines. And there are display settings, and “themes” that you can simply change from their defaults, which is what I’m going to describe today.

Today we’re going to explore the Display Properties options — get started by right-clicking on any vacant area of your desktop and selecting Properties. This is the same place we used to create our custom screensaver slideshow in an earlier post.
By default, Display Properties opens to the Theme tab. Use the drop-down arrow in the Themes window, and you will see that we’re basically faced with two choices: the getting old XP Theme, and the even older Windows Classic theme. Don’t be discouraged by this. This is where you would make the changes if you had downloaded a “skin” from the Internet. We will be using the other tabs.

Kill the hill. XP by default shows us a desktop that is either a solid color (blue) or a rolling hill, but XP comes with other (better) choices. Click on the Desktop tab. Now explore the possibilities, using the up-down scroll arrows, of the names listed in the Background box — the previews are displayed on the little PC when you single-click on a name.
You may already see the pictures in your My Pictures folder listed here as well. This is because you can use just about any digital image as your desktop, and the “stretch” option helps the image fit the screen. If this little bundle of possible backgrounds doesn’t satisfy, and you have a specific image in mind, use a graphics manipulation tool (like Photoshop) to resize the image to your screen resolution (Found on the Settings tab. My laptop’s resolution is 1024 x 768 pixels at {the standard} 96dpi, for example) and Save it. Now use the …Browse button to find and open it, and viola!

More tweaks: Now let’s explore the Appearance tab, which allows us to modify to some degree the look of the windows we interact with. Again, we really have the two choices of old and older, and again, a “skin” is the way to make drastic changes, but by clicking the Advanced button there is quite a bit we can adjust, as shown below.


You can ‘tweak’ colors and sizes, and in some cases, behaviors. For more color options, click on the down-arrow on Color1, and a small palette will open: for even more color options, click Other.

By experimenting with these options and ‘tweaks’, you can customize the look of XP and make your computer much more personal. Also, Microsoft has a free “PowerToy” called “TweakUI” which can further open up options for adjustments to XP; to read more about/get it, click here, and scroll to the “today’s free link:” area.

For those of you who want the Vista “look”…

Today’s free link: Windows X offers a tool that makes changes to XP which makes it look and operate quite a bit like Vista. Before you use this utility I strongly advise that you have a full system backup, as I demonstrated in yesterday’s post, just “in case” it proves incompatible with a device driver or Windows Update. Also, I must reiterate my disclaimer in regards to this particular reco’ — I have not done this, as I have been running Vista since early betas, and so I cannot attest to its reliability. If you’re brave, and have a full back up, download the Vista Transformation Pack.

Enjoy your holiday!

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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July 4, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, software, tech, tweaks, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment