Tech – for Everyone

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

Reader Asks, What Is “Thumbs.db”?

Reader Question Answered

Q:Hi Paul. I have a quick question. Sometimes when I am copying my files from one place to another I get stopped by a message about a file called thumbs.db. I have seen this file sometimes and often wondered what it is because I did not put it there. Is it safe to delete it? Thank you

A: Sir or Ms,
The Thumbs is short for “thumbnails”, and the .db is short for “database”. In Windows XP and older, the operating system will create a Thumbs.db file in any folder containing images – basically a way for the machine to “remember” how to render the ‘thumbnail view’ of that folder, so that the next time you open it the small image previews can load much, much faster (called a “cache”).
In short – it is a performance enhancing “system file”.

If you delete it, the machine will just create a new one. And, it will have to re-figure out how to render the thumbnails the next time you open that folder.. not a “big deal” but it will slow things down for a bit. (So, no, even though it is ‘safe’, deleting Thumbs.db is not recommended.)

When you are copying a folder to another place (say.. you are making a backup), and get a Thumbs.db “what should I do?” message, place a check in the “Do this for all” checkbox and click the “Skip” button. That will allow the copy command ‘batch job’ to complete, and you will get your files copied over.. minus the thumbnail cache (which you don’t need a copy of).

Today’s Tech News Tidbit: Netflix scraps Qwikster.com
In a move that can only be described as a Let’s Remove Our Head From Our Derriere: due to “negative feedback”, Netflix announced yesterday that it’s dropping its plan to split its DVD and streaming services into two separate websites. (aka “no Qwikster”)
Yay!

Today’s free download: Freemake Video Downloader

Download YouTube, Facebook, Megavideo, MTV, Vimeo, Tubeplus and 50+ sites, extract audio from YouTube, convert online videos to AVI, MKV, MP3, iPhone, iPod, PSP, Android with YouTube video downloader from Freemake!

Today’s quotable quote:A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs – jolted by every pebble in the road.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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October 11, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, free software | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

What is a “Virtual Machine”?*

Yesterday’s article brought up the topic of VM’s (virtual machines). The following article was one of my early Tech – for Everyone efforts, and while it references XP frequently (the main OS of the day), required only slight updating. I hope you will enjoy it.

One of the hot topics in the IT industry is virtualization ¹. Basically what this is, is software that creates an environment — on an existing PC — into which you can install (and run) another operating system [OS]; in short, running a PC on top of your PC.. which gives you two PCs. This “on top of” machine is called a “virtual machine“.

Tip of the day: Get more out of your PC by using a virtual environment.
(I must take a moment to state that it is the power of the newer generations of PCs that allow us to take advantage of machine virtualization. VM “shares” resources (CPU, RAM) with the existing install… so if you’re barely clunking along as it is, forget about VMs and click here to read my article(s) on when it’s time for a new machine.)

How can this benefit you? One of the main advantages is when you are thinking about a dual-boot install, or would like to do away with an existing dual-boot set up — say, for security reasons. Instead of partitioning your hard drive, and using FAT32 to run (boot to) either Windows 98 or XP, format your drive in NTFS, install XP/Vista/Win7, and run 98 inside the virtual environment. (I am using Windows 98 as an example. You may want to run a Linux distro, and learn about Open Source. The fact is you can run any OS that you have a license for [I believe. I have not tried to load every OS personally…])
If you do this, and create a shared folder for the VM on your ‘base OS’, you will be able to switch back and forth between the two and share files with both OS’s.

Another advantage of using a VM is, it loads much like “mounting” a disk image. You can make multiple ’snapshots’ of your VM, and load the one of your choosing. This is an absolutely fantastic method for dealing with security issues. I know several geeks who run an XP VM on their XP machine– they use the VM version for their daily surfing and usage, and as a “sandbox” for testing downloaded programs and patches/Updates. At the end of the day, they just close the VM, and when they open it again (unless they take a ’snapshot’ and Save those changes to the VM) their pristine VM loads: no browsing history, no spyware, no trace of yesterday’s activity… just a brand-new XP machine.
By keeping a copy of the VM snapshot in another location, they always have a full system backup on hand. (And all my readers know about the importance of recovery backups!)

These are just two uses and applications for virtual machines (VMs). You may be able to think of others. You are not just limited to one VM, either — but each VM (unless it is an Open Source OS, like Linux) does require a valid Product Key/license. This is not a way to cheat.

Today’s free download(s): The most popular virtual machine software is put out by VMware. The free offerings are VMware Server (don’t worry about the use of the word “server”) and VMware Player (which is a web browsing sandbox). Not only is this a flexible (highly compatible with your particular hardware) program, but VMware offers several pre-configured Open Source ’snapshots’, called “appliances”, that you can download and run without going through an OS install process.

Microsoft also offers free virtual machine software, that some people argue works better with Microsoft OS’s. From website: “Virtual PC 2007 is a powerful software virtualization solution that allows you to run multiple PC-based operating systems simultaneously on one workstation.”

Reader recommended VirtualBox is also free, and a possible alternative to Virtual PC and VMWare. Their homepage is here, http://www.virtualbox.org/.

Either way you decide, you are not making fundamental changes to your hard drive or currently installed operating system. This is just a program, like Excel or Word is a program. Simply uninstall it if you find you don’t like or need it.. but I doubt very much that you ever will– it’s just too useful and safe.

¹ (For IT types) Virtualization in the Data Center has (under the banner of the “green movement” – and because it saves money) been for several years now, an area of study and certification not to be overlooked.

* Orig post: 9/8/07

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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January 27, 2011 Posted by | computers | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

About the Recovery (D:) Drive

A Reader Asks a Very Good Question About the “Recovery Partition”..

Q: Paul,
When I open up the My Computer icon on my desktop to check my hard drive, the recovery disk is usually close to 2/3’s full and it is in GB. Is this a drive I want to do anything with? I have plenty of drive space on my C drive but this takes 3-4GB of space.
What is the recovery drive for and should I try to recover the the disk space it uses?

A: When you click on “Computer” (or, “My Computer” in XP) an explorer window will open showing the storage devices (aka “drives”) attached to your computer (storage “memory”). These storage areas will be assigned a “drive letter”, and usually start with the area which contains the Windows operating system and is responsible for “booting” your computer — labeled drive “C:
drivesWhy doesn’t it start with “A:“? Well, back in the day, it did. Long ago, computers came with A and B drives – which were 5.25” ‘floppy’ drives (which contained the operating system. Windows didn’t exist yet). When the first “hard” drive came along, it had to go next in line.. thus C:\ (c: equated to “hard disk” [with a “k”]). Eventually, operating systems were designed to run from “hard” disks, and – eventually – “floppies” went the way of the T-rex. (But “hard disk” still equates with “c””)

I digress, but! I need to keep talking about computer history/evolution for just a bit longer. Long ago, computers used to come with CD’s. Either a Windows CD or a Windows CD relabeled by the manufacturer to something like “Dell Recovery Disc”. These were used in the sad case of really bad errors crashing the computer, and tech support told you you had to “reinstall Windows”.
(Sometimes called “disaster recovery”)

At some point in time, some brick-headed, idjit barnacle of a CEO made the absolutely dumbest decision ever made by Man — in the hopes that they could save 3¢ per computer sold. (Can you guess what I would say to this *person* if I met them?) They decided to do away with the Recovery CD and instead put those files on a special section (called a “partition“) of the hard disk — which came to be Drive D:\ (aka “the ‘recovery partition’)… the topic today. Ahem, sorry.

Back to the topic: When you first start up your computer (aka “boot up”) you will see a drab screen that says something to the effect of “Press F11 to recover your computer” (or some F key.. maybe F10, maybe F2..) This function is used in the sad case of really bad errors crashing the computer, and tech support tells you you have to “reinstall Windows”. (Sometimes called “disaster recovery”)

This “recovery process” will wipe (aka “erase”, aka “delete”) your C:\ drive, and copy the “image” stored on D:\ over to there — thus returning your PC to “factory condition”.. complete with crapware, such as Connect to AOL and Polar Penguins, and minus all your installed programs, updates, and … files.

You do have a backup copy of all those.. right?

This disaster of a disaster recovery method was not necessarily the case if you had/have a disc. Which is why the CEO mentioned above is a jackass. And why you want to read, Windows 7 Owners, You Want To Do This…

Answer the question, Paul: Okay okay okay
The drive D: aka “Recovery” is a special, protected area, which contains the files necessary to restore your computer to factory defaults. You cannot modify it. Short version: Pretend it isn’t there, and … hope you never need it.

(If you are eyeballing that ‘open space’ because you have filled up your C:\ drive.. well, no. What you need to do is install additional storage [ aka “upgrade” ] and/or go in and remove stuff from C:\)

* Okay.. maybe not the dumbest…

Today’s reco’d reading: Warning: Surprise spam trojan on Facebook

“Ever received messages from your Facebook friends containing a notice or invitation, such as an invitation to visit a particular site, added with an interesting message, like “Hey watch this, so cool!”? In most cases, the recipient of the message will be happy to follow it, especially if the message was sent by one of your best friends, which you trust. However, did you ever think that it could be sent by an intruder, spam, or even viruses?

Like yesterday, one of my friends received a “surprise” from Facebook, but then soon realized that his computer was now infected with the trojan, as well as making it a “spam machine.””

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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January 20, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, Microsoft, PC, storage, tech, troubleshooting, Vista, Windows, Windows 7, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Download Danger – the “Trojan”

That’s a very important concept to grasp: an antivirus does not protect you from yourself, it helps protect you from the Internet..

The Trojan Horse was a tale from the Trojan War. It was the stratagem that allowed the Greeks finally to enter the city of Troy. But the term “Trojan Horse” has come to mean any trick that causes a target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or place, and is now often associated  with “malware” computer programs presented as useful or harmless in order to induce the user¹ to install and run them ².

¹ “the user” = you

662px-Theprocessionofthetrojanhorseintroybygiovannidomenicotiepolo

The best part about the Trojan method (from the cyber-criminal’s perspective) is that the user¹ willingly clicks the “Install” (or “Run”) which bypasses any protections they may have — firewall, antivirus, “security suite”.
(That’s a very important concept to grasp: antivirus does not protect you from yourself, it helps protect you from the Internet.)

So where do you run into software downloads that are actually Trojans?
A: Sadly, in the current state of our un-policed Internet, just about anywhere.. but some places to download are safer than others (and some even strive to be 100% safe).
* If you use a peer-to-peer (“torrents”) file-sharing approach to getting free programs, movies, and music – such as LimeWire or BitTorrent – it is not a question of “if”, it is a question of “when”. That Lady Gaga Song you downloaded may very well have had a virus attached. (Please don’t write and tell me how you’ve stolen property with file sharing for years and never been infected..)

* Reputable download sites (aka “trustworthy”): there are several, but when I need to download something, I generally go to download.com, majorgeeks, or filehippo.

² update: That description is from Wikipedia. A man I admire very much wrote and provided me with this clarification on what is a Trojan: “Historically, a Trojan horse attack is accomplished by the perpetrator providing the victim directly or indirectly with a useful computer program (the Horse) that may perform its intended purpose or not but also contains instructions (the soldiers hidden inside) to perform harmful actions for the benefit of the perpetrator. A variation is a program (the horse) that inserts (patches) computer instructions (the soldiers) into some other existing program to perform the harmful acts.

*     *     *

Also – I never click “Run” on a download, but instead select “Save”, and save the file to my desktop. Then I scan it with my antivirus. And, if ‘clean’, then I double-click it to launch the setup/install.


** A Chance To Win A Valuable Prize! **


The folks at Genie-soft have generously donated five licenses for Genie Timeline Professional 2.0 to me, to award to my readers. So I am going to do a random drawing contest from folks who “enter”.Genie Timeline is a program that creates “backup copies” of the files and settings on your computer. With Timeline, you do not have to be “computer savvy”, and you can set-it-and-forget-it. Timeline constantly monitors your file system, automatically, for you.To enter the drawing, please see: Software License Giveaway: Genie Timeline Professional

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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June 8, 2010 Posted by | advice, antivirus, computers, cyber crime, PC, security, tech | , , , , , | 9 Comments

Windows 7 and the Era of 64-bit

I have stated in my previous Windows 7 articles that I believe that the new operating system will usher in the era of 64-bit computing (aka “x64”) for us regular folk — who have been primarily using 32-bit. Soon, everything will be 64-bit, even for us “consumers”.

Very briefly, 64-bit architecture is twice as powerful as 32, so everything will run twice as fast, and you can put twice as many programs on your machines. Ha! I made myself LOL with that one… But, wouldn’t that be nice? Too bad that’s simply not so.

So why go 64? One of the main benefits of 64-bit architecture is the amount of RAM memory the system can support and RAM is a primary factor in computer performance. 64-bit will allow systems to address up to 17.2 billion GB’s of memory (theoretically). In today’s 32-bit desktop systems, you can have up to 4GB of RAM, and Windows really only utilizes 3.
That’s just a wee bit more RAM in a 64..!

(Of course there are other benefits to 64-bit over 32-bit, and for those of you who are curious, Wikipedia spells it out nicely here.)

To see any benefit to 64-bit, the moon and planets and stars all have to align — you have to have a 64-bit operating system, a 64-bit processor, 64-bit software and device drivers, and — most importantly for us — a 64-bit motherboard that has lots of ‘slots’ to hold all those RAM memory modules.

I believe now is the time of that ‘alignment’ for us consumer-level (aka “home”) computer users. There are now fully 64-bit systems available at your local electronic gizmo superstore, equipped with 6 to 8 GB’s of RAM.
And, Microsoft has made Vista 64 x64/Server 2008 x64 quite smooth-running (I wouldn’t touch 64-bit XP, though). 64-bit drivers are no longer so hard to find.

So.. today (or, as soon as time allows), as part of my endless and ongoing efforts to be simply the best Tech Blogger in the Universe (ahem), I am going to delete my Windows 7 RC partition and install the 64-bit Windows 7 RC and put it through its paces. I will then report to you, Dear Reader, in upcoming articles my “first impressions” on how that goes.

Today’s free link: Watch an ID thief’s ‘commercial’

Today’s free download: (I have not actually tested this app) Flexcrypt Free.
Flexcrypt is an encryption toolbox that offers encryption of Text, E-mail, Files, MSN and ICQ. The editors at C/Net say “Flexcrypt offers people the opportunity to encode e-mails and IM chats, so unauthorized users cannot read the information. There are many situations where this capability may prove useful in home and business, however, users are advised to read the Help file before using Flexcyrpt Free to get the best results.

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

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May 26, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, Microsoft, PC, performance, tech, Windows, Windows 7 | , , , , , , | 2 Comments