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Tip: Block Windows Messenger popups (Windows XP)

  • Windows XP has a messenger system that allows system administrators to communicate with users over the network. To make sure the user sees the message, the popup appears at the very top window. Unfortunately, the Messenger Service can be abused by outside companies to display unwanted advertisements.
  • If Windows Messenger popups are not used for a legitimate purpose in your company, you may choose to block them. Go to Start | Control Panel | Administrative Tools. Double-click on Services and then double-click on Messenger. In the Messenger Properties dialog box, click the Stop button. Select Disabled from the Startup Type dropdown list and click OK. This will block ALL Windows Messenger popups, including messages from your network administrator as well as the outside advertisers.

Tip: Is your hard drive about to fail? (All)

  • Most hard drives do not fail all at once, but degrade over time until finally they can't access any data. Your challenge is to identify when the degrading starts to happen, and to preserve the data and replace the drive before a crisis occurs. Many new Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics (EIDE) drives are S.M.A.R.T. enabled and can help you protect your data. You can monitor Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.) enabled drives with several different programs, including a free DiskCheck Utility from http://www.passmark.com.
  • CheckDisk reports all the physical characteristics of S.M.A.R.T. enabled drives, including serial number, firmware revision, and model number. You can check the disk for many factors, including spin speed, need for recalibration, spin-up time, and the temperature of the drive. You can see reports on error rates and error counts so you can determine when part of the device starts to fail. Compared to the hassle of replacing gigabytes of lost data, monitoring drive performance is well worth the effort.

Tip: Manipulate AutoComplete options in Internet Explorer (All Systems)

  • AutoComplete is an Internet Explorer feature that suggests information you might be intending to enter into a web page form based on the first few letters you type into the text box. Ideally, this feature speeds up the entry of user names, passwords, and other common data. Unfortunately, it can also pose a security risk if you share your computer with other users. To control AutoComplete in Internet Explorer, go to Tools | Internet Options | Content | AutoComplete. There you can choose if you want AutoComplete to work on web addresses, forms, and/or user names and passwords on forms. You can also clear all AutoComplete entries for forms and for passwords on this screen.
  • Sometimes you want to keep most of your AutoComplete entries, but may have a few obsolete entries or misspellings that clutter up the screen. To delete just one entry, highlight the entry when it appears below the text box and press the [DELETE] key. AutoComplete does not work in every situation. AutoComplete is not an option in a text box control where the HTML designer sets the AUTOCOMPLETE attribute to OFF.

Tip: Sarbanes-Oxley and computer security (All Systems)

  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 forces companies to create accurate financial reports and to activate processes that prevent and detect fraud. Among other requirements, the IT department must ensure that the servers that contain sensitive corporate financial data are secure.
  • To avoid problems with auditors, many IT people are documenting that they isolate financial servers, apply the latest security updates and patches, install and update antivirus software, make nightly backups, set up minimum required permissions for all users, maintain user logs of all activities, and follow other standard security procedures. Even though the Sarbanes-Oxley Act does not specifically require it, many IT departments force users to create different 8 character or longer passwords containing upper and lower case letters, numbers, and punctuation every 60 to 90 days. Because these new passwords are much harder to remember, many users write them down on post-it notes that they attach to their monitors or "hide" under their keyboards, defeating the entire security process. However, the password requirements repeatedly remind every user that security is a priority.
  • Many sites provide excellent summaries of the act, and all the details of Sarbanes-Oxley are available at http://www.sec.gov/rules/final/33-8238.htm. Any IT staff working for a company subject to this act should be familiar with its requirements and guidelines.

Tip: Analyze before defragmenting your hard disk (Windows XP)

  • Data becomes fragmented, or spread out across the disk surface, each time a file is erased, modified, or added. It is faster and easier to read files if all the information is in contiguous (continuous) locations on the hard drive.
  • The Defragment program arranges files to reduce access time and wear and tear on the hard drive. Double-click My Computer, right-click on the drive to be checked, and select Properties from the shortcut menu. Switch to the Tools tab and click on Defragment Now in the Defragmentation section. Microsoft recommends you Error Check your disk for bad files first and then just analyze the disk. Defragment the disk only if the program recommends it. You need at least 15 percent free disk space to defragment effectively, and must have administration privileges. Disk analysis is fast, and may save you an hour or an evening defragmenting a disk that will not show any improvement in the end.
  • After defragmentation, you can read a report stating the volume details, file pagefile, folder, and Master File Table fragmentation. If your disk was highly fragmented, the end result may be a notably faster computer.

Tip: Repair your icons and more with Tweak UI from Microsoft (Windows XP)

  • Tweak UI is a power tool you can download at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/
  • xppowertoys.mspx
  •  After a quick and easy download and installation, select Tweak UI from your Program menu and choose Repair at the bottom of the list of options. You will be able to rebuild icons, repair your font folder, repair the My Music icon, repair the My Pictures icon, repair the My Videos icon, repair Regedit, and repair your unread mail account.
  • Repairs are limited to the fixes described on the screen. For example, repair Regedit resets its view state information to the defaults. This fixes the problem of Regedit not showing all the columns in its view. Rebuild Icons rebuilds all Explorer icons and removes unused Explorer icons from memory. This option is helpful if Explorer is displaying the wrong icon for a program or shortcut. Tweak UI is a powerful program that performs many other useful functions and is definitely worth downloading and exploring.

Tip: Shortcuts to speed up web browsing functions (All Windows)

  • For active Internet users, saving a few seconds each time you perform an operation can quickly add up to rescued minutes and hours. The following tips work for both Internet Explorer and Firefox. To quickly scan previous sites you have visited, press and hold the [SHIFT] key and rotate the scroll wheel on your mouse. To change the font size on many (not all) web pages, press and hold the [CTRL] key and rotate the scroll wheel. [ALT]-[HOME] takes you to your home page. Enter just the domain name in the address bar. Press [CTRL]-[ENTER] and your browser will add both "www." in front of the name, and ".com" and the end of the name, and attempt to take you to that site. Use [F11] to toggle between Full screen and regular views of the browser page. For additional tips, open Help | Contents and Index in Internet Explorer, switch to the Index tab, and look at both Accessibility and Keys, Shortcut. Firefox Help offers similar information.

Tip: More Mouse Adaptations for users with special needs (Microsoft Windows XP)

  • Windows XP makes the mouse adaptable to users with special needs. The Mouse Control Panel lets you set the required double-click speed, the rate the pointer moves, the size of the pointer, and much more. The Accessibility Options Control Panel lets you eliminate the need for the mouse by turning the numeric key pad into a cursor controller. However, all these options may not be exactly what you need to make Windows XP user friendly for some clients.
  • Tweak UI is a power tool you can download at www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/xppowertoys.mspx. After a quick and easy download and installation, select Tweak UI from your Program menu and choose the Mouse options. Here you can control the speed at which pop-up menus appear, and the distance you have to move the mouse before an item starts being dragged. If you increase the distance a mouse must move before an item starts being dragged across the screen, a user with poor hand control is less likely to unintentionally drag an icon to an undesired location. Similarly, you can help a user with poor mouse control reach the Hover state. You can increase the number of pixels the pointer can move while over an object and still invoke the Hover code. Accessibility is not just good customer service, it's the law.

Tip: Determine your true internet connection speed (All Systems)

  • You can cut through all the hype and determine your actual connection speed to the internet. AOL users can discover the connection speed by opening About America On Line in the Help menu, and then typing CTRL-Y. A search on "detect internet speed" displays hundreds of sites, such as www.2wire.com, that report your connection speed. Because the sites report speeds in different units, you may need to convert between the units to compare results.
  • If the speed is reported in "bps" (bits per second), you can convert to "kbps" (kilobits per second) by dividing the "bps" value by 1024. You may convert "kbps" to "kBps" (kilobytes per second) by dividing the "kbps" value by 8. To convert units in the opposite direction, multiply rather than divide. For example, a speed of 200 kBps, multiplied by 8, yields 1600 kbps. Next multiply by 1024 to determine the equivalent speed of 1,638,400 bps. Because speed can change from second to second, averaging multiple measurements from several sources gives you the best value for connection speed.

Tip: Determine your true internet connection speed (All Systems)

  • You can cut through all the hype and determine your actual connection speed to the internet. AOL users can discover the connection speed by opening About America On Line in the Help menu, and then typing CTRL-Y. A search on "detect internet speed" displays hundreds of sites, such as www.2wire.com, that report your connection speed. Because the sites report speeds in different units, you may need to convert between the units to compare results.

Tip: Disk Error Checking is not a "quick" fix (Microsoft Windows XP)

  • Disk errors include logical errors, where data is corrupted or misplaced, and physical errors, where the disk surface itself has a defect. To check for these errors, double-click on My Computer, right-click on the drive to be checked, and select Properties from the shortcut menu. Switch to the Tools tab and click on Check Now in the Error Checking section. You'll be able to choose to automatically fix files system errors and/or scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors. You'll have to restart Windows so the check utility has exclusive access to some Windows files.
  • Upon restart, the program will verify files, indexes, security descriptors, file data, and free disk space. In one test run, the entire process tied up the computer for more than one hour while checking a 100 GB drive that was about 1/3 full. Larger drives with more data will take longer. No other programs can be run during the process, so plan ahead for extended down time. A lunch hour may not be long enough.

Tip: Avoid SPAM lawsuits by obeying the CAN-SPAM Act

  • Most emailers believe that only other people send out spam, and that the email they send out contains vital information desired by everyone who receives it. Unfortunately, if a recipient of your email disagrees with you, you may be subject to a lawsuit if you aren't following the rules set up in the CAN-SPAM Act. If your client has deep pockets, a recipient may file a lawsuit hoping for a quick profit.
  • The following steps summarize the basic requirements of the CAN-SPAM Act: Ensure the header information on the email is accurate. Keep the subject line descriptive and honest. Give the recipients an opt-out method that's easy to complete. Identify commercial email as an advertisement. Include your physical postal address.
  • Visit www.ftc.gov/spam for the official information you need to avoid frivolous lawsuits.

Tip: Public-Key Cryptography and Windows PKI: How it works (Microsoft Windows 2000/2003/XP)

  • Most of your customers have concerns about the security of the data they send and receive. Recent Microsoft Windows operating systems include a native public-key infrastructure (PKI) that allows for both encryption and signing. Public-Key Cryptography guarantees that encrypted outgoing data can be understood only by the intended recipient, and ensures that signed incoming data actually came from the indicated source.
  • When Public-Key Cryptography is used, each person has two keys, a public key he/she shares with the world, and a private key that only he/she knows. Keys are mathematical values used to both encrypt and decrypt data. To send protected data to Jane, Joe must know Jane's public key and use it to encrypt the data. Once encrypted, only Jane, using her private key, can decrypt the data. Jane can safely send her public key out to the world, but must protect the private key. Anyone can encode data using her public key, but only Jane can decrypt it accurately.
  • Suppose Joe needs data from Jane, and wants to make sure it is coming from only Jane. Jane can use her private key to encrypt the data. The data is not secure now because anyone with her public key can decrypt the data. However, only Jane's public key can decrypt the data from her. If Joe uses Jane's public key and decrypts the data successfully, he knows the data came from Jane. Jane's use of her private key to encode the data is a way of signing her name to the data.
  • The public-key infrastructure of Windows permits high levels of security for email, internet exchanges, and local network traffic. Use the above examples to cut through your customer's anxiety.

Tip: Disk Cleanup has unexpected benefits (Microsoft Windows)

  • Disk Cleanup is something each user should do, and every support tech should insist on. Even giant drives with hundreds of free gigabytes will function more effectively if unnecessary files are removed. Most users know to empty the Recycle Bin, but Windows XP and earlier Windows versions offer a direct way to delete temporary files from a variety of locations.
  • Double-click on My Computer, right-click on the drive to be cleaned, and select Properties from the pop-up menu. Click Disk Cleanup on the General tab and check off the items you want to remove. In Windows XP, you can choose to remove Downloaded Program Files, Temporary Internet Files, Offline Web Pages, Microsoft Error Reporting Temporary Files, Office Setup Files, Recycle Bin, Temporary Files, Web Client/Publisher Temporary Files, and Catalog Files For The Content Indexer. You can also compress files you rarely use.
  • Click on each option to display a brief explanation of the files affected. You can decide whether to delete each type of file. Obscure problems can often be cured by cleaning up old files. For example, users may have trouble displaying the source code for web pages in Notepad. Cleaning out the Temporary Internet Files is often the only way to fix this problem. You can add Disk Cleanup to Scheduled Tasks to prevent problems before they appear.

Tip: Is Microsoft Software Update Services (SUS) right for your customer? (Microsoft Windows 2000, XP)

  • If your customer is a medium-sized enterprise that needs a way of managing security updates for Windows 2000 or Windows XP, you should look at Microsoft Software Update Services (SUS). Software Update Services, part of the Strategic Technology Protection Program (STPP) will dynamically notify you of critical updates to Windows computers. SUS will automatically distribute those updates to your corporate Windows desktops and servers.
  • Advantages of SUS, according to Microsoft, include:
    • 1. An administrator-controlled content synchronization service within the intranet.
    • 2. An intranet-hosted Windows Update server.
    • 3. Administrator control over updates.
    • 4. Automatic updates on computers (desktops or servers).
  • If SUS sounds like a viable option, visit www.microsoft.com/windowsserversystem/sus/susdeployment.mspx for more details.

Tip: Use the entire screen to edit any Quattro Pro chart (9/10/11/12)

  • To edit a chart placed on the current sheet, you need to click on it to place it in Edit mode. Depending on the size of the chart, it's sometimes hard to select just the chart element you want to modify. It would be easier if the chart filled the entire window. What you might not realize is that every chart you create in a notebook has an icon on the Objects sheet. You can use that icon to open it in a chart window. The Objects sheet is also handy as a central location to access any chart in the notebook. To display the Objects sheet, click the Quickly Move To/From Objects Sheet navigation button to the left of the sheet tabs. Double-clicking on a chart's icon to open the window and display the chart across the entire screen. To close the chart window, click on its Close button. To return to the sheet you were working on before moving to the Objects sheet, click on the Quickly Move To/From Objects Sheet navigation button again.

Tip: Saving the output from running the chkdsk command (Windows NT4/2000/XP)

  • If you run Chkdsk with no options, Windows displays the returned information in the command line window only. This makes it difficult to work with the results of the command. However, if you run Chkdsk using the /f (fix) or /r (recover bad sectors) switch, the utility also writes the information to the event log under the Application section.  

Tip: Determining your NTFS version (Windows NT/2000/XP)

  • Each version of 32-bit Windows comes with its own version of the NTFS file system. For example, Windows NT 4 comes with NTFS version 1.2, Windows 2000 comes with version 3.0, and Windows XP comes with version 3.1. To find out which version a particular volume is using, enter fsutil fsinfo ntfsinfo <volume>: at the command prompt. This is important to know because some NTFS volumes need to be upgraded to prevent data loss when used with other NTFS volumes.

Tip: Using Gigabit Ethernet

  • Even though standard CAT 5 Ethernet cables have connections for 8 wires, only 4 are needed for 10 Mbps and 100 Mbps Ethernet. However, if you have a 1000 Mbps network, you'll need to make sure that your cables have all 8 wires connected; otherwise, they'll operate at lower speeds. To be absolutely sure you're using the correct cable, choose one with a CAT 5E or higher designation.

Tip: Troubleshooting communication with USB and FireWire hard drives (Windows 2000/XP)

  • If you've ever encountered the error message, Delayed Write Failure, or if you've experienced other communication problems with USB or FireWire hard drives, you should edit your power management settings to prevent the drive from sleeping. This error frequently occurs because some chipsets in USB or FireWire bridgeboards don't respond to the operating system's call to wake up the drive. If this doesn't work, try keeping the entire computer awake.

Tip: Interpreting power supply specifications

  • Power supplies are usually advertised as providing a specific number of watts.  But, that isn't enough information to how the power is distributed over its voltage lines.  To get that information, you need to examine the power supply's complete specifications.  If you use the formula watts = volts x amps to calculate the individual wattages, you'll see that they're often greater that the Max Combined Wattage.  For example, a Max Combined Voltage for the +3.3 V and +5 V lines may be 22 W, not 299W (99 W + 200 W), as you might expect.  Similarly, the Max Combined Wattage for the +3.3 V, the +5 V, and the +12 V lines may be 400 W, not 515 W (99 W + 200 W + 216 W).  By observing the Max Combined Wattage values, you can ensure that you don't overload specific voltage lines, thinking you've reserved power on the other lines.

Tip: Mixing legacy and Plug and Play devices

  • If you're using legacy devices with a Plug and Play BIOS or Plug and Play operating system, the BIOS first assigns static resources to the legacy devices based on the jumper or DIP switch settings you use to configure the device.  It then assigns the remaining available resources to the Plug and Play devices.  For example, let's assume you have a legacy network card that you want to use with a new Windows 2000 Professional installation.  According to the card's documentation, you need to set jumpers on the card so that it uses IRQ 10.  Before you install the operating system, boot the computer and run the BIOS setup utility.  Navigate the BIOS program's onscreen menus, looking for an item referring to reserving resources.  Once you've located the appropriate menu item, press [Enter] and then use the submenu to reserve IRQ 10.  Finally, exit the BIOS setup utility, saving your changes.  Now, when Windows 2000 Professional performs its hardware detection, it won't attempt to assign IRQ 10 to any other device on your system, thereby preventing a resource conflict.

Tip: Changing an IP address with the set command (Windows XP)

  • When you use the set command in the NetShell tool (Netsh.exe) to modify the properties of an Internet Protocol (IP) address, you may receive the following error message: "A device attached to the system is not functioning."  This problem may occur when you use the set command to make changes to an IP address that's created automatically by the system.  You can't use the set command to make changes to IP addresses that are identified as Link, Public, and Temporary.  However, you can use the set command to make changes to IP addresses that are identified as Manual.

Tip: Ensuring the validity of your subnet mask

  • As you probably already know, an IP address actually consists of two parts:  a network address and a host address.  For a router to deliver IP data to its intended destination, it must be able to distinguish the network address from the host address.  And that's where the subnet mask comes into play.  In a nutshell, a subnet mask's sole purpose is to tell a router which part of an IP address represents the destination network and which part represents the destination host.  You can determine the validity of a subnet mask by converting each octet to a binary number.  If the result is all binary 0's, all binary 1s, or a sequence of binary 1s followed by a sequence of binary 0s, it's a valid subnet mask.  For example, 11110000 in octet is valid, but 10101010 is not.

Tip: Understanding Ethernet addresses

  • Every Ethernet interface has a unique hardware address, which is commonly know as its physical address or Media Access Control (MAC) address.  This address is expressed as 12 hexadecimal digits.  Because each hexadecimal digit is four bits long, the complete MAC address is 48 bits long.  The leftmost six digits specify the interface's  original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and the rightmost six digits specify a unique number that distinguishes this interface from all others in the same OEM group.  Sometimes you'll see the address written unhyphenated (0020AFF9AC65), sometimes you'll see it with a hyphen separating the OEM from the serial number (0020AF-F9AC65), and sometimes you'll see a hyphen separating each byte (00-2--AF-F(-AC-65).

Tip: Choosing the right case

  • If you're building your own systems, it's important that you choose the right chassis.  Here are some guidelines for doing so:
    • --Select a case that matches the form factor requirements for both your motherboard and power supply.
    • --Select a case that supports multiple form factors to allow for future upgrades.
    • --Select a case with an adequate number of drive bays.
    • --Select a case well-built case.
    • --Select your case and power supply separately whenever ossible.
    • --Select a case that can support multiple cooling fans.
    • --Select a case that's easy to work inside.

Tip: Information at your fingertips

  • While each version of windows has its own set of tools for gathering technical information about the hardware and software on a system, wouldn't it be great if you had a single tool that not only does the same thing, but does it better?  One such tool is PC Wizard 2004, which you can download from www.cpuid.com.  This tool is free, updated on a regular basis, and give you technical information that many of the windows-specific tools don't.

Tip: Setting up direct cable connections

  • If you've been working in the PC industry for awhile, you've probably set up direct cable connections between two PCs using serial or parallel connections.  While this works, file transfers are painfully slow compared to the high-speed serial communications offered by USB or FireWire.  However, you can't use just any USB cable to connect two PCs together.  If you do, you'll most likely damage the system board on both PCs.  To set up this type of connection, you need a USB cable designed specifically for this purpose.  This cable actually has a built-in bridge containing the necessary circuitry to serve its purpose and protect your equipment at the same time.
  • In contrast to USB, FireWire allows direct connections between machines using a standard FireWire peripheral cable.  In fact, on Mac OS X systems, you can specify that one machine boot into target disk mode, which allows the hard drive on one machine to appear as an external drive on the other machine.

Tip: Inside a subnet mask

  • As you probably already know, an IP address actually consists of two parts:  a network address and a host address.  For a router to deliver IP data to its intended destination, it must be able to distinguish the network address from the host address.  And, that's where the subnet mask comes into play.  In a nutshell, a subnet mask's sole purpose is to tell a router which part of an IP address represents the destination network and which part represents the destination host.
  • If you take any subnet mask and then convert each octet to a binary number, you'll see that the result is all 0s, all 1s, or a sequence of 1s followed by a sequence of 0s.

Tip: Building your own hard disk subsystems

  • In spite of the increased storage capacities of today's hard disks, it seems like you always need another.  But, given ATA's limit of two drives per channel, how can you interface them?  With the advent of new external serial bus technologies, such as USB and FireWire, that's no longer a problem.  And to add to their flexibility, you can create virtually any type of hard disk subsystem you need, including multi-bay rack systems.  For examples of just what you can do with all your hard disks, check out http://www.cooldrives.com, which offers several compelling solutions.

Tip: Intranets require special IP addresses

  • When you create private networks, you must use blocks of private IP addresses, which are defined in Request For Comments (RFC) 1918.  These addresses are non-routable and therefore won't conflict with the IP address space on the public Internet.  The address ranges you should use are as follows:
    • 10.0.0.0 thru 10.255.255.255
    • 172.16.0.0 thru 172.31.255.255
    • 192.168.0.0 thru 192.168.255.255

Tip: Choosing an external USB or FireWire drive enclosure

  • Most of the USB or FireWire external enclosures are designed to support standard ATA hard drives.  They include onboard circuitry, which bridges the ATA interface to the corresponding USB or FireWire interface.  When you select an external enclosure, make sure that it supports the same ATA standard that your hard drive supports.  In general, it's best to select an enclosure that supports the ATA/100 standard, because it's completely backward compatible with both the ATA/66 and ATA/33 standards.  Next, make sure the enclosure supports your system's onboard interface.  For example, you can purchase external enclosures with USB (versions 1.1 or 2.0) or FireWire (versions 1394a or 1394b) ports or both.  It makes sense to select an enclosure that supports the most recent releases of USB or FireWire because, as with the ATA interfaces, they're fully backward compatible with earlier versions.  Finally, make sure the enclosure comes with the appropriate cables (type A?B or mini-A/B for USB, 4-pin or 6-pin for FireWire 400, and 9-pin for FireWire 800).

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