Tech – for Everyone

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

The "Live" Line*

Microsoft’s *New* Product Family

In my ongoing, relentless effort to be simply the Best Tech Writer on the Web, big changes are happening. HUGE changes. Gi-normous changes. (I mean.. really big.) These changes will alter the way I do everything. I am undergoing a metamorphosis of epic proportions. I am going to have to unlearn the ways I have been doing things for.. well, forever. Which isn’t easy. I’m too old to be learning new tricks without a grumble.

One change is that Tech–for Everyone is now being co-hosted on *another* blogging site. This is due to my research into the GigantiCorp known as Google, and my exploration of their ever-expanding array of services, some of which I have reported here.

(What this means for you, Dear Reader, is.. well.. not much– except, if you have grown tired of the “look” and layout of this site, you can read my articles at the other site, which uses a different “template”.)
When you acquire a ‘G-identity’, you gain access to much more than just a Gmail account (which, IMHO, is the best free Webmail service going right now), and one of those things is access to Blogger. Google is continuing to grow even as we speak… who knows what service they’ll be offering next.
I want to have a good relationship with Google, as it is my primary way of advertising my online Help & Support business.

[Addenda: for those of you whose favorite feature of this series is the daily download, you will definitely want to be aware of the “Google Pack” of free downloads — Spyware Doctor being of special note — and you can find out more here https://techpaul.wordpress.com/2007/11/21/googles-pack-is-a-winner/, in case you missed it]

What this means for me is, I now have to publish twice (six times a week!) each day– once here, and once there. Yuk. Fortunately for me, I have been doing intensive, in-depth explorations of the other GigantiCorp known as Microsoft.. specifically their competing array of services offered under the title “Live”.
(Have you noticed? Everything is “Live” now. It’s not “Hotmail”, it’s “Live Hotmail”; “Messenger” is now “Live Messenger”, and the security tools are “Live One Care”..)

I am now writing this article in a completely different way.. one that makes it easy to write-once, post-twice. I have downloaded and Installed a MS program called “Live Writer“, which is a tool for bloggers. The way I had been doing things (all this time) was through my web browser. I would navigate to here, login, access the writing tool, and when finished, hit the “Publish” button.

The other Big Change to my routine is caused by “Live Mail“, which is also freshly downloaded and installed. This is a program very much like Outlook Express and Vista’s Mail, only it allows you to access webmail accounts.. such as ‘Live Hotmail’. (Why don’t the other Microsoft mail clients??? Hmmm?)

It’s about time they did this. My usual routine was to open my web browser and open a tab for each webmail account. It is the way I’ve been doing it for.. well, forever. I have several webmail accounts (as you may have as well) and so this made for several open tabs and much clicking back-and-forth. Live Mail allows me to combine them (sorta) into one collection of folders.
A big plus– it handles encryption certificates well (see, Simple E-mail Encryption).

If you use, or have ever used, an e-mail client (Thunderbird, Outlook, Outlook Express, etc.), then you will have a zero learning-curve with Live Mail, as it’s basically the same.. with one vital exception: it allows you to access all your mailboxes.

As you can imagine, my web browser had reached the point where I simply had too many tabs open (three Inboxes, WordPress, and now Blogger, plus a few of my favorite blogs..) and so I have “gone Live”. I am breaking my browser habit. I am trying New Things. No longer will I launch Avant and start Ctrl+T-ing. No! From here on out, I’ll launch a “Live” something-or-other.
Wish me luck. I think I feel the withdrawal symptoms beginning…

Today’s free download(s) and link(s): Well, gee, Folks… I count five of them sprinkled throughout this one little article.. ain’t that enough for one day? But, if you’d like to see the *other* version of this website, click here.
And if you write a blog (or, for a blog, or.. are thinking about starting your own blog) see what a new comer to the blogging game has to say about the free Windows Live Writer (or, “WLW”) as well as the new Live services here.

* Originally published 3/18/08

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

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November 20, 2008 Posted by | advice, blogging, computers, e-mail, encrypting files, how to, PC, software, tech, Web 2.0, Windows | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Online storage for data backup

Backup your data. Backup your files. Backup your pictures. Backup your ‘system state’. Backup, backup, backup!

Backup your files. Please. (with sugar on top.)

Dear Reader, if your hard drive died.. would you lose valuable tax records? Irreplaceable photographs? How about your address book? Or.. have you followed my advice, so oft repeated here, and made two separate backups and stored them in two different locations/media types? If you have, you just may have saved yourself some tears of sorrow and frustration. (And if you run a business, maybe your livelihood.)
A good backup will mean the difference between a couple hours’ of inconvenience –in case of a failure– and total loss. Just recently, I wrote an article on how having the second backup saved my bacon on an XP machine (see Back in the saddle) when its hard drive decided enough was enough.
I cannot say it often enough: computers are complex devices and their parts DO fail (and usually provide little or no warning before they do). Make some copies of your stuff.

Tip of the day: consider storing one of your system backups online. Online backups are convenient, (most are) secure, and most important, offsite. “Off-site” means, literally, “not here”, but “over there”. This is a key element in enterprise “Disaster Continuity” and you can implement it as well by taking advantage of an online storage service.
Think of it as being like your safety deposit box. If your house (God forbid) were to burn down, get hit by a meteor, or swallowed by an earthquake.. and everything inside destroyed, you still have copies of your vital documents in your safety deposit box (right?).
With an online storage service, you “upload” your files, via the Internet, to somebody’s server.. where they sit until you need them. When you need them, (and, I understand, hopefully you never will.. but.) you simply “download” them back onto your repaired machine.

A reader has written to ask me which of the many online storage services I recommend (thanks, Bryan W.) and inspired today’s article. Sorry to say, I don’t have a “favorite”. What I can do is tell you what to look for, and point you to a comparison list. Fair enough?

* Security: the storage service you want will have security in place so that some hacker can’t come rifling through the server, and read all your vital docs. (you wouldn’t want your bank to leave the vault wide open, and all the safety deposit boxes unlocked.. would you?) This is usually accomplished through encryption. Look to see if the data transfer occurs using SSL, that the account is fully password protected and your stored data is encrypted by some method.
* Price: some of these “storage solutions” are quite pricey, charging 10 times as much as others. Why? Shrug. Because they can? While price alone shouldn’t be a deciding factor, be aware that some places gouge.
* Size: These storage services charge you by how many Gigabytes you are going to take up on their server. There are MANY free online storage providers for very small allotments (typically 5GB’s, but some go all the way to 35GB’s), but these really won’t hold a full system state backup.. you need a “plan” that will allow you to store backup copies of each of your hard drives– with a little room to spare. But unless you’re a big corporation, you won’t need Terabytes.
To quickly see how much data is currently on your hard-drive, Open My Computer (just “Computer” in Vista) and right-click on the icon representing your hard-drive(s), and choose “Properties” from the context menu. You will see a pie chart showing the total size of your files and folders.

Today’s free link: PC World magazine has two comparison charts of online storage providers: read this first, (reviews 17 providers) then click here, (for 6 more) which will give you their number one pick(s). Then take a look at Tom’s Hardware discussion/article (click here) and, may I suggest, skipping ahead to the Conclusion will give you their results.
* My friend Mike, over on My Tech Talk, has also written about his experiences with online storage.
* And Bill Mullins discusses Mozy here.

[update 5/1/08: PCMag has just published a new article with updated reviews. They say say a new service, SOS, has ursurped the throne from Mozy. To read this updated review, click here. (I still suggest reading the others, as well, though.)]

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

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April 26, 2008 Posted by | advice, Backups, computers, how to, PC, security, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Speed up your Startup, a repost

Business obligations require a quick re-posting today. This is a popular article on managing what programs load at Startup and contains a link to an article on what items should be in your Startup folder. Originally posted with the title My Startup folder is a clown car, it appeared 06/20/07–

I must assume that you are familiar with clown cars. It’s that tiny little car that drives into the center ring at the circus, stops, opens its door, and an arm comes out, then a leg, and then a whole, seven and-a-half foot tall clown comes out…and you wonder what inhuman contortionist’s feat allowed that BIG clown to fit into that little car. No sooner has that tall clown unfolded himself, then he reaches into the car and pulls out a fat clown. You think, no way! Now a lady clown comes out of that car…and then a short clown…and then another fat clown emerges…and you’re thinking, there’s gotta be a tunnel under there…but you had just seen elephants parading all over that center ring…and another clown’s out and another clown and another clown. What you’re seeing just isn’t possible. You lose count of all the clowns that come out of that car. Yes…I just knew you’d remember. Clown car.

I have one machine that I use for pretty much everything — gaming, digital photography, building/maintaining my website, reading and sending email, instant messaging, video conferencing, doing my taxes, etc — and I have, literally, scores of programs installed on it. (I have other machines as well, but this one is my Swiss Army knife: it does it all.) This machine’s Startup folder has become like that clown car before it expels its load. Because of that fact it takes so long to get going at boot up that I never turn it off — I leave it running 24/7. That’s far from an ideal ‘solution’, however.

The fact is, and this dates back to the days of DOS and TSR (terminate and stay resident) programs, just about every program and service you install wants to get itself loaded when Windows starts — so that it will be “immediately available” should you want it — and so it puts a shortcut to itself in the Startup folder. For some programs and services this is a very good thing; like your 3rd party firewall and antivirus program and updater. You definitely want those things running all the time, and just as soon as Windows boots.

But most of the others are unnecessary and merely slow down the boot process and waste valuable RAM memory space. Apple Quicktime, Adobe Acrobat (and Adobe Updater) and Real Player are notorious examples of programs that have no business inserting themselves into your Startup folder, but there are others: do you really need your webcam to start itself at boot? How about your instant messenger? Isn’t it sufficient to simply launch them when you’re ready to use them? Some of these simply launch themselves so that they can show you banner ads and make the owners money (like AIM and MSN Messenger), which is pretty darned-close to being adware…wouldn’t you say? (It is, in fact, the definition of adware.) Windows itself is often guilty of bogging itself down by loading programs (called “services”) that you probably don’t need.

Tip of the day: Speed up your boot process (and get rid of some of those icons down by the clock at the same time) by trimming shortcuts from your Startup folder and shutting down unnecessary services. Let’s start with the first one. In XP, right-click the Start button, and then click Properties. On the Start Menu tab, click Classic Start menu and then click Customize. Now click Remove. Open the Programs folder and open the Startup folder. Highlight the items in the Startup folder that you want to remove and click the Remove button. Close, and hit OK. That’s it. Restore your Start menu’s view if you prefer the “XP look”. (Remember, you are only removing shortcuts to the executable, and not removing the program itself: it is still there for when you want it.)

Now my advice on what to remove and what to leave alone: remove anything Adobe, remove anything that says “quick launch”, remove anything Apple, remove your webcam, and leave in place your Internet Security and anti-malware programs. It is up to you whether or not you want your instant messenger to be loaded at boot or not — I prefer it.

This next part, Services, is a little more advanced, and you should be real comfortable with Windows before you make too many adjustments — you will be doing more than just removing shortcuts here. Click Start >Programs >Administrative Tools (or, Start >All Programs >Accessories >Administrative Tools) and then Services. In the right-hand pane you will see a long list of services available to Windows, and columns labelled “Description”, Status, Start up type, and “Log on as”. The status shows you which ones are currently running, and as you will see, most of them are not (which is good).

Now since we’re in a province not meant for mere mortals, I’m going to suggest only a few “tweaks”, and strongly urge you not to do more.

Locate the service Messenger and check its status (This is not your instant messenger): it should be blank and the Start up type should read “disabled”. If not, double-click on it. On the window that opens, click the Stop button. Now use the drop-down menu to change the Start up type to Disabled. If you are not hosting your own website (and if you don’t know what that means, you aren’t) look for a service called IIS: use the above method to stop and disable this one also. If Telnet is running and you’re not a sysadmin, disable this one too.

If you are the only user of the machine, locate (and stop) the Fast User Switching service and set the Start up type to Manual. If it has been a long while since you’ve used Windows Help and Support Center, do the same to the service named Help and Support. And that, I believe, is enough for now.

Today’s free link(s): I have been talking recently about malware and I’ve mentioned the threats it poses. If you are concerned about, and have questions regarding, malware and ID theft, there’s a couple of great resources where you can get answers — Safer Computing.com and the US Government’s “one stop” National ID Theft Information Center.

[update 8/2/2007: for more on the Startup folder, see my new post.]

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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October 26, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , | 1 Comment