Sunday, December 20, 2009

Upgrade to Windows 7? Not the HP Way!

Want to upgrade your HP computer to Windows 7? Read on; all others only if you want a chuckle and need to shake your head.

During the install of Windows 7 the installer programs asks if we want to do an “Upgrade” or a “Custom” install. “Upgrade” in this context is an in-place replacement of Windows Vista; “Custom” is a completely new install that wipes everything from the disk drive. On XP computers we have to do a Custom install!

This week I attempted an upgrade on a brand new, de-gunked and clean, malware free HP notebook. HP gave the customer an extra CD with HP software urging to run this CD first. I did that but to my big surprise after ca. 17.5 hours, yes, seventeen hours, the machine rebooted – back into Vista!

I can not say what the precise reason for that was; my suspicion goes towards the HP software. I have done several upgrades on other manufacturer’s computers and have never seen anything like that.

The actual Windows 7 DVD that HP sent looks totally different than any Win 7 DVD I have ever seen but it finally did the job; custom install in 45 minutes and the notebook is running great.

The lesson from all this? With Windows 7 Microsoft finally got something right but HP easily scraps it!

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Scared Again

And again I received a well meaning “warning”. It went like this:

New  Virus (NO JOKE)
This is  legitimate. Please pass this along to your  friends.
The newest virus circulating is the UPS/FedEx/DHL Delivery Failure.
You will receive an email from UPS/Fed Ex Service along with a packet number.
It will say that they were unable to deliver a package sent to you on such-and-such a date.
It then asks you to print out the invoice copy attached.  
DON'T TRY TO PRINT THIS… IT LAUNCHES THE VIRUS!
Pass  this warning on to all your PC operators at work and home.  
Snopes  confirms that it is real.
http://www.snopes.com/computer/virus/ups.asp

True, that IS a known scam to distribute a virus program. BUT:

  1. If nobody in the household ordered anything that we expect through UPS/FedEx/DHL it can only be a scam, right?
  2. And again, if we are observant of what we are doing we will see that the link in the email does NOT go to a legitimate UPS/FedEx/DHL web site.
  3. AND: Even children should know that these three carriers will NEVER notify any recipient via email. If they can not deliver a package they always leave a paper notification.
  4. And NO, but absolutely no recipient of a package can ever print an invoice through the freight carrier’s service. Only the buyer of the merchandise can do that on the merchant’s web site, right?

So really, only when we are un-observant we would fall for a dumb social engineering trick like this in the first place. I don't think anybody I know is in that category.

Everybody out there, PLEASE do not forward such tracts to me.

And still, there is a lesson to be learned here:

This curiosity impulse that makes a person click “to see what is in the package” (?) is all the hacker wants from us. This one click will lead to a maliciously programmed web site that may attempt to coax us into revealing personal information, that may immediately download malicious programs into our computer and so on – unless we actually use our common sense before we click – or forward a message like this.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

What To Do After A BSOD

The dreaded Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) can have way too many reasons for specific advice. But there are some reasons that are more prevalent than others like these three examples:

  1. A BSOD can be an indication of a corrupted or incorrect device driver (software that controls some piece of hardware like a printer).
  2. A BSOD can be caused by a faulty memory chip.
    Yes, they worked yesterday; but sometimes they get weak over time and then, all of a sudden, they throw a BSOD.
  3. Some other hardware failure on the motherboard; mostly very bad...

The remedy for number 1 can be time consuming but generally it is possible to correct these errors.

Number 2 can be tested for in relatively little time, usually less than half an hour. Whether I happen to have a suitable replacement memory chip along is dictated by the luck of the draw.

Number 3 can be very tricky to trace, especially if it occurs randomly. I am neither qualified nor equipped to do that and would in such a case refer to a local hardware repair store; luckily I know a good technician who has a store in the area – and on top of being good he is honest; that is a rare combination in this field. As always with computers you should carefully consider all options. If the computer in question is more than three years old I usually advise to at least consider a new machine versus the vagaries of a motherboard repair or replacement.

You can help a great deal if you please would collect some information from the BSOD before you send me an email asking for advice. Here is an example of a BSOD.

BSOD

Please look for the marked portions of this example and write down what appears in these locations when you see it. If you call me please have this information available when we talk. Or please send an email with this info once you have three or four occurrences documented. Caution: Some of this info may or may not be present; please note if it is not present; it may be in different places and/or sequence as well. In above example we have in this sequence:

  1. The name of the file that caused the problem,
  2. a textual error code,
  3. a so-called stop-error code and
  4. again the file name of the driver that caused the error.

The stop error code and if available the file name are most important to trace errors in a BSOD and to get at the root cause! The stop error code always begins with “0x” and should be in every BSOD.

I know, recording these details is tedious but I hardly can stay at your house and wait for the next BSOD to happen.

Let's cooperate to get at the root of this and "Thank You" in advance!

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Windows 7 First Impressions - Updated

Tonight I installed Windows 7 Home Premium on my notebook, previously running XP. This machine is slightly over two years old and the graphics chip does not support the Aero Glass feature – which I would have turned off anyway. The installation was pain free and clearly faster than XP and Vista installations were.

And believe it or not: Subjectively the little notebook with Windows 7 feels faster than with Windows XP! That indeed is a welcome surprise.

For the transfer of my data files and settings from the XP environment into Win7 I used Microsoft’s program Windows Easy Transfer. I had to transfer three user accounts with all their files and settings. The worst part was that writing the migration file took 1.5 hours, certainly because I had about 11.5 GB of data in my account alone. The migration file had a total size of over 14 GB. Restoring all this took a little less than one hour.

My opinion about Widows 7? I love it!

I know Microsoft products since long before the first PC was released – and that was in fall 1981! This is the first time I see a major Microsoft product being released that is useable from the day of the release on. Congratulations, Microsoft. 

I will report back after I have done the first in place update from Vista to Win 7.

October 30 2009: That has happened in the meantime. Here is a brief summary.

If you have to transfer any of the following

  • many files
  • Firefox settings, bookmarks, extensions and so on
  • Thunderbird email settings, mail and address book
  • and/or more than 1 user account

plan for several hours and use Microsoft’s utility Windows Easy Transfer. This little gem of a program is still quite minimal but it does the job AND it allows you to select additionally to it’s standard selections any folders of your choice, for example Thunderbird, Mozilla (Firefox settings) and others according to your needs. Be aware that programs can NOT be transferred to Windows 7, they always need to be re-installed. And naturally you need a sufficiently large external storage device; I recommend to finally buy that external disk drive you always wanted. You get good Seagate FreeAgent drives for well under $100 and finally have no more excuse not to have a usable backup as well.

If you have to transfer only one user account AND if your system is well maintained, that is temporary files deleted, virus free, completely up-to-date AND if it is a relatively recent Vista system, maybe less than 6 months old, you can try an in-place upgrade. Caution: The very last phase of the process takes quite some time; go have a Starbucks or jog around the park. I have done already two of those and they were pain free.

Personally I prefer a clean complete new install (Microsoft calls it Custom) for any system that has had some use already; for XP systems it is a must anyway. Beware, this install completely wipes all old content from your hard disk. Do you have a recent or current backup of your files OUTside of your computer? If not you got to do some homework before you can install Windows 7.

And another experience: If your computer is more than 6 months old download and run Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. Heed it’s warnings and do your homework BEFORE you attempt the upgrade to Windows 7.

You may ask “My XP system runs ok, why all that trouble”? If your computer meets the requirements for Windows 7 you will love the result. IMHO Windows 7 is faster and MUCH safer than XP; it is MUCH faster, somewhat safer and MUCH less annoying than Vista! Again, applause to Microsoft.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

32-bit or 64-bit System?

For home users with Windows XP there is no question, they have a 32-bit operating system. With Windows Vista or Windows 7 you need to know what version your computer is running. How do you find out what it is? Right click on Computer and click on Properties. Under the heading “System” you find the answer. Here is an example from my computer: 
Recent hands-on experience shows that on identical hardware 64-bit systems are often faster than 32-bit systems. 
If you found yourself thinking “Will this 32-bit software run on my 64-bit operating system?” or “Will this 64-bit software run on my computer?” or "Should I buy that 64-bit system?" or if you just would like to know more about the difference then read on.
I will try to answer these questions and help you understand the 64-bit and 32-bit concepts of hardware, operating system and applications.
32-bit systems have been part of consumer computing for more than a decade since the time of the Intel Pentium, also known as 80386 architecture or sometimes x86 for short. Most software and operating system code written during this time is 32-bit compatible.
32-bit systems can address up to 4 GB of memory. Some modern applications require more memory to complete their tasks. Progress in chip fabrication technology and demands of high power applications led to the development of 64-bit processors for mainstream computing.
Here is the problem: Most of the software available today is still 32-bit code, but processors have migrated to 64-bit and operating systems are catching up quickly. Eventually even the applications will catch up. Thus we have to cope with many possible combinations of 32 and 64-bits hardware, operating system and applications.
Consider these three factors to be three layers with the processor as the lowest layer and the application as the highest layer.

To run a 64-bit application, you need support from all lower levels (64-bit OS and 64-bit processor).
  • To run a 64-bit OS, you need support from its lower level 64-bit processor; it will NOT run on a 32-bit processor.
  • A 32-bit OS will run on a 32 or 64-bit processor without any problems because 64-bit processors can emulate a 32-bit processor.
  • 32-bit applications will run on any supported combination of OS and processor. In a 64-bit OS this is possible due to software emulation, a feature of 64-bit operating systems.
  • Device drivers run parallel to the operating system. Emulation happens only at the operating system level; it is available to the higher layer only, that is the applications. Thus it is not possible to install 32-bit device drivers on a 64-bit machine.
Answers to common questions:
Will a 64-bit CPU run a standard 32-bit program on a 64-bit version of an OS?
Yes it will. 64-bit systems are backward compatible with the 32-bit counterparts (see the warning below).
Will a 64-bit OS run a standard 32-bit application on a 64-bit processor?
Yes it will because of backward compatibility. Please see the warning below.
Can I run Win2K and WinXP on an 64-bit CPU and use old software? Yes, a 32-bit OS like Win-2K and Win-XP will run on 64-bit processors. You can run "old software" on these 32-bit OS and 64-bit processors (see the warning below).
Will my devices (printer, scanner and so on) work when I buy this fancy new 64-bit machine with 64-bit OS?
Here you have to do your homework! Before you buy the fancy new 64-bit computer with 64-bit OS you have to verify that 64-bit drivers are available for all devices you plan on to keep using!
A warning: Many times 64-bit programs may contain bits of 32-bit code; old 32-bit programs can contain 16-bit code. Be aware that 16-bit code will NOT run on a 64-bit OS.
This is one reason why some old 32-bit programs will not work on a 64-bit OS.
Update 2-22-2010:
Personal recommendation when buying a new computer:
For quite a few peripherals that you may have like printers, scanners and so on you may NOT find 64-bit drivers. Do your home work before you buy the fancy-shmanzy new 64-bit system!
Should you not quite know how to do this sort of home work then send me an email to ejheinze_at_gmail_dot_com (or my “normal” email address) with a detailed list of exactly what peripherals you have and a request to find out for you if there are 64-bit drivers available. There will be a small charge for this service because it may be time consuming. 
As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.
Thank you in advance.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Microsoft Security Essentials Officially Released

Without any fanfare Microsoft released their new security offering Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) earlier last week.

I read about the release in an informational third-party newsletter I receive, not a single word about it in Microsoft's own publication about new downloads. Hardly believing I went to microsoft.com, searched for "microsoft security essentials" and got to this MSE home page with a working download link. What a change to former MS tactics of having a lot of fanfare and sometimes flaky or questionable stuff in the end.

First time I wrote about MSE July 22nd 2009. A follow-up was published August 22nd 2009. In the meantime I have taken to install MSE on my customers computers; it replaces 4 (FOUR!) other security related programs that the customer had to run manually about once very week.

On one machine MSE found and removed a clear leftover from some malicious stuff that the other programs had overlooked and on yet another machine MSE removed a Trojan horse virus that had so far escaped any detection. I know this is not representative and only anecdotal but nevertheless it again points in a very positive direction.

If you use MSE all you have to do is have any eye on it's little icon in the system tray.ScreenShot006As long as this tray icon is green all is well.

If it ever turns yellow or orange double click it and the program window will tell you clearly what to do and have a big fat yellow button right there for you to click.

If the icon ever turns red you better give it immediate attention; double click it and the program window will tell you clearly what to do and have a big fat red button right there for you to click.

I am expecting "official" comparisons between MSE and other security suites to be available in a few weeks time. Here is a first example from The Washington Post.

If future results are anything only close to that good I will definitely keep using MSE and recommend to my previous customers to switch over. The ease of use IMHO is unsurpassed. 

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How Do Viruses And Other "Crap" Get On My Computer?


One of the most asked questions I get when I work at a customer's computer is "I am very careful when I am on the Internet. How do these viruses then get on my computer?".

Today I found a pretty good article that answers this question in quite some depth. Before I give you the link to this article let me mention that no matter how careful you are your computer will eventually get "nailed" by some malicious software; it's unavoidable.

Last year a significant number of web servers have been cracked by hackers and infected with very tricky software that will attempt to infect EVERY visitor of any of the web sites stored on the web server. This infection is really deeply rooted; "disinfecting" the computer would disable the server and thus all web sites stored on this computer for several days. So it gets done only very slowly - if at all.

With this background in mind you may want to read this article if you want an answer to the title question.

Update Oct.27th, 2013:
The newest epidemic in malicious software are PuPs, potentially unwanted programs. The "poyenyially" is nothing but a law suit safe euphemism; you don't want any of this stuff on your computer. Please read this post for more details. 

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.


Friday, September 25, 2009

On Incomplete Emails the 2nd

Once more I got an email that kind of “pushed my button”. Here is the full text minus the individual’s name of course.
Subject: Re: McAfee Sight Adviser
Eike,
The McAfee sight adviser shows up grey in the lower tool bar. The sight adviser also does not work when using the search engine.
Is there an easy fix?
Signed with name
"It is nice that he spelled my name correctly but what do I do with an email like this” I thought for the longest time.
Finally I chose this reply:
Xyz,
With the information you provide there is no fix because
- you don't give any detailed info on what program you are using,
- what version this program is, 
- what you are doing and
- why you draw the conclusions that you draw.
You stir up questions hat I need answered before I even can address the matter at hand.
- How do you tell that it does not work?
- What search engine are you using?
- Have you checked if you have the latest version?
- Have you turned on "Highlight search results" in it's General Settings?
And by the way, it's called McAfee Siteadvisor.
Regards
Eike
Now, what are the lessons to be learned here?
  1. Simply give as much detail as humanly possible if you want useful answers.
  2. Send me a screen shot instead of re-typing lengthy messages.
  3. Spell names correctly (not only mine).
  4. And let me know that you appreciate the free email advice that I offer.
Am I asking too much? Frankly, I don’t think so.
I get many request every week. If I were to remember all technical and environmental details of all the many installations I see every week there wouldn’t be space left for anything else in my scatterbrain. And if I had to hunt down contact information every time I get a request from a customer there wouldn't be any time left to do actual customer visits.
As a reminder: If you read down to here you may want to read my newest rant about incomplete emails as well; thank you.
Please comment with your thoughts right here in the blog.
Thank you in advance.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

MUCH More Important Than Computers

If you have grandchildren, small children, any children, if you care about another person's or maybe only your own health, you NEED to take 45 minutes out of your busy schedules and listen to these four videos, each about ten minutes long.

If the link does not work for you go to Dr. Mercola's web site at http://www.mercola.com/. There you search for "swine flu shot"; you get this or a similar result. Search for and click the link that I marked in this picture red

ScreenShot004

We are being lied to in the most primitive way and with one of the most primitive motivations, corporate greed.

I wonder if President Obama's daughters will have to take this so called "flu shot".

And here is a nice poster with top 10 swine flu facts:

swine-flu-poster-colored_01 
As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Please note that for this post comments with inappropriate language and personal attacks will be deleted.

Thank you in advance.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How to Make a Link in Thunderbird

You are reading a very interesting web page and think "Aunt Mary would certainly like to read this too" or something along this line. As a faithful customer of mine you are using Thunderbird as your email program and you have no idea how to do that. Here is the recipe:

First you highlight the URL (the web page address) in the address bar of the web browser and Copy (Ctrl+C) the URL. For example:
image

Then you switch to Thunderbird and begin to write your email to Aunt Mary. You highlight the word(s) that you want to become a link in the text of your message. Open the drop-down of the little Insert… button and select Link. 
image
What comes up is the actual link window (below partially shown) into which you'd have to paste (Ctrl+V) the URL of the web page you want to link to:

image

Then you click OK and presto, you created a professional looking link in your email. Just send it off...

That is how you create a link in Thunderbird.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

First steps with Microsoft Security Essentials

Here are my first impressions of MSE.

Currently I have MSE installed on

  • my XP notebook, an important computer for me; I use it at customer service calls;
  • one Win7 RC test system that I currently use to write this blog entry;
  • one Vista notebook destined to be a birthday gift and
  • three brand new Vista notebooks owned by customers who had agreed to “guinea pig” status.
    Thanks Toby, Fred and Todd.

“My” current individual take on MSE:

  1. It really seems to be install and forget, on Vista and Win7 at least.
  2. On my “production” XP notebook I manually ran Microsoft Update today and I was offered two definition updates for MSE.
    That indicates that MSE’s own update feature seems not to be fully automatic yet, on XP at least. For a limited time I could live with having to check for MSE updates manually.
  3. I am still waiting for first reports from independent test institutes on MSE’s effectiveness.

All of the following is an update August 24th, 2009:

Today I installed MSE on another customer's really old computer (ca. year 2000) on Win XP and it runs like a charm; it immediately updated automatically the program and the definitions. It is getting better.

I found a comparison from July of this year where someone had compared MSE's detection results against 25 other established anti virus programs.
MSE finished second best! This certainly is only a hint of where it's heading and not a thorough test; but only Sophos AV was better and Sophos is one of the most expensive anti virus solutions out there; it is something like the Rolls Royce of AV programs.

If Microsoft's MSE keeps its quality promise and manages to slowly either push Norton, McAfee, Trend Micro and others out of business or force them to substantially improve and get cheaper at the same time than Microsoft would have done the public a huge favor. I never believed I would say that!

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

News: Microsoft and Anti Virus

Okay, I am dating myself now but then, my age is no secret at all. I "know" MS Windows since versions 3.1 and 3.11; before 3.1 I much preferred DOS for my purposes.

For all that Windows past as I remember it we needed a third party anti virus program like a fish needs water; before August 2004 when XP Service Pack 2 was released we needed additionally a dependable firewall program. Working without a firewall was playing Russian Roulette with a revolver that had 5 chambers loaded.

Recently Microsoft has released a public beta test of a new free security product "Microsoft Security Essentials" or MSE for short. You can read a fairly comprehensive article about it on ED Bott's ZDNet blog.

What makes me write about it here are two things:
  • Comment number 68 by Diane Wilson to Ed Bott's blog because it reflects my philosophy to computer security; quote follows.
  • Implications on future decisions about security software especially on Windows 7 systems.
Here is the quote from Diane Wilson's comment with some commenting by me in italics:

1. Stay behind a router. NAS is a great filter for many attacks.
NAS seems to be a typo. I am sure she means NAT, the major security feature of any decent router.

2. Use a firewall. Windows firewall works well enough.
YEAH, YEAH, YEAH; that's what I have been preaching since early 2005!

3. Keep your OS up to date, not just in updates, but in versions. I'm already running Win 7 RC as my primary system at home, and I'll be on Win 7 for good as soon as it goes RTM. Remember (or learn) that security must be pro-active, and that Vista and Win7 took huge steps in this direction. Address space randomization. Array and string range-checking to limit buffer overruns. And more.
I totally agree.


4. UAC. Live with it. It's your friend.
In Vista it's a drag, in Win7 it is okay! What do they say? Win7 is Vista done right.

5. 64-bit. Required driver signing is your friend.
But beware the potential pitfalls if you have "older" printers, scanners and so on.
And be aware that the vast majority of applications still is 32-bit software; you get some serious translations permanently going on just for the communication from 32-bit application to the 64-bit OS and vice versa. On some systems that will cause a performance hit!

6. IE protected mode.
Or use Firefox in the first place. MUCH less worry.

7. Data Execution Protection, turned on for everything. No exceptions.

8. Windows Defender.
Likely as of release of MSE a non-issue; MSE seems to be really good.

9. Oh, one more thing. Anti-virus software.
Only time can tell if Microsoft gets it right with MSE. The early signs are promising though and then adios Norton and the likes of it. 

Already now I am running a Windows 7 RC machine; on this machine I will install MSE to replace "my" mix of security programs.

Let's see how I fare.

Added August 30th 2009:

Here are two more links if you are interested:
PCWorld's article First Look: Microsoft Security Essentials and from
PCWorld's BizFeed OPINION: Pigs Fly! Microsoft Leads in Security.

The latter is an article with a more general view on Microsoft and security that I found especially interesting. I see the results clearly in MSE and Windows 7.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Renewing the avast! license key

Every time they turn on the computer many of my customers are getting now a small alarmingly red window from avast! anti virus in the right bottom corner of the screen. It looks like this:


avast! Home Edition Free has a license key that is valid for one year; 'your' year will be over soon. The problem that some people have is with the screen they get after clicking on "Click here to remedy that situation.

I call the resulting screen The Big Scare; it is nothing but unabashed marketing, sort of understandable that Alwil (the manufacturer of avast!) wants to make another buck. This is the scare screen:


Some people got so scared that they overlooked the tiny link in the bottom right corner that reads "No thanks, just register the free product".

When you click on this link your web browser comes up with the registration page for avast! which has recently changed. You will find the text "My registration key has expired, I need a new one".


Click on "My registration key has expired, I need a new one." You will get to the Registration form. Please fill in all fields correctly and click "Register for free license".

You will receive an email with a new license key; sometimes it takes quite some time until this mail arrives.

Open the registration email, highlight the new license key (ONLY the key please!) and copy it to the clipboard (Ctrl+C).

Double click the avast! AntiVirus icon on your desktop. You will see the avast! splash screen:


Click on "Registration" and you should see:


Place your cursor in the field labeled "Enter your license key" and paste (Ctrl+V) the license key into the field. It should look something like this:


Click OK and avast! will tell you that all is well again (for another 12 months).


As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My "old" Screen Setup

The upper right hand corner of your desktop looks like this after I have cleaned up your computer. Naturally the lines and numbering are not on your desktop, they help in explaining what the icons are meant for. See the explanations below.
1a The PDF file named "Preventive PC Hygiene"; it describes step by step and click by click what needs to be done to keep your PC "clean and mean".

1b A folder with various background information in PDF files and a link to my blog.

1c Firefox is the web browser you should be using for all things Internet. Read here about why.

2 If you use web mail (Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail) please skip to #3.
Thunderbird is the program you should be using to read and write emails unless you prefer web based email. The only drawback in Thunderbird is its Help system; that's why you have the next three icons.

2a Thunderbird help page explaining the basic elements of the main Thunderbird screen.

2b Thunderbird help page explaining attachments and the address book.

2c Thunderbird help page explaining the mechanism to filter Junk mail; this is a MUST READ! Don't look for the windows in Thunderbird itself; you only need to understand the simple and effective mechanisms used.

3 CopilotHost is a program you would use to establish a connection to me for remote support. This is only possible on connections that are faster than dial-up.

4 The seven (for Vista six) steps that comprise the weekly clean-up chores. The icons correspond positionally to the numbered paragraphs in my paper Preventive PC Hygiene; see there for detailed instructions. The top-down sequence of these icons denotes decreasing importance.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Preventive PC Hygiene

Attention: On Windows 2000, XP and Vista systems all of the following has to be done by a user with administrator privilege. This is mandatory!

Remember: Use Firefox and Thunderbird instead of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express; this is HUGE insurance against most malicious software!

With a working Internet connection do steps 1 trough 6 of this “computer hygiene” routine once every week; do step 7 once every month.

Please keep in mind that despite “Automatic Updates” in Windows the computer will miss an update. My experience shows again and again that especially on dial-up connections this happens way too often.

It is absolutely necessary to download and install all these updates, even if you only have a slow dial-up connection!

1   Run Microsoft Update. Click the Microsoft Update icon. In XP select the Express button, in Vista only install “important updates”; follow the prompts. Important: Do this repeatedly until it says “no more updates available” or “Windows is up to date”.

2   avast! Antivirus does not need to be manually updated, If you want to do it anyway: Right click on the small “a” in a blue circle in the tray area (right bottom), then click on “Program Update” to update the program and the virus definitions (iAVS).

3   Scan your computer for advertisement software with Ad-Aware.
Ad-Aware may run 5 to 30 minutes depending on the speed of your computer and the number of files. Long run times are common, especially on computers with several user accounts and thousands of pictures or other files.

    a First click on Web Update; allow all updates to download and install.

    b Click on Scan System, check Smart Scan and click on Scan Now.

    c If after the scan there are any objects listed click Perform Actions
       Now. The program knows what to delete and what to quarantine.

    d Close the program.

4   Scan your computer for spyware with SpyBot Search & Destroy. SpyBot S&D may run quite some time depending on the speed of your computer and number of files.

    a First click on “Search for Updates”. If you are asked for a download
      place choose any location in the USA. Place checkmarks in all empty
       check boxes and click Download. When downloading is done click Exit.
       In rare cases you may have to restart the program manually.

    b After updating it is good practice to “Immunize”. In the menu column
       on the left click on Immunize. If “Unprotected Items” is greater zero
      (counter in top right of the Immunize screen) click on button
       "+ Immunize". 

    c Click on “Search & Destroy” and “Check for problems” to start scan.

    d If after the scan there are any items listed click on “Fix selected
      problems” and confirm the removal of the listed malicious items.

    e Close the program.

5   Run Spyware Blaster from the shortcut on your desktop.

    a First click on “Download latest protection updates” (bottom-most line
      in the screen), then click on Check for Updates. If there are updates
      they will download and install automatically.

    b Click on “Protection Status” (left, top menu entry in the window).

    c Click on “Enable All Protection” (third line from bottom of the screen).

    d When the progress bar is turned off close the program.

6   Run ATF-Cleaner. Click Select All and Empty Selected. When ATF-Cleaner is done confirm OK and click Exit.

7   For Windows XP: If you have lots of time and a stable 110V power supply run AusLogics Disk Defrag. Click Next and let the program finish! Ignore the sales pitch on the right side of the “… finished” screen.

     For Windows Vista/7: Schedule Disk Defragmenter for your C: drive to run at a time your computer is most likely turned on.

Re. “stable power supply”: For computers which store critical data I highly recommend an Uninterruptible Power Supply [UPS] and an external disk drive for backups.
For all other home computers a good surge suppressor is a MUST HAVE. “Normal” power strips are NOT sufficient!

Please remember: Loss of power while the computer is running is almost always disastrous!

With “good surge suppressor” I mean a unit with a connected equipment warranty of at least $30,000.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Screen Shots


Please click this link if you are looking for information on Windows 10.

Update 7/10/2015:
All instructions and mentions of Gadwin Print Screen in this article refer to version 4.7 of this program, by now (July 2015) an "old" version. I still install this old version 4.7 on my customer's computers because it is easier to handle than the new version(s). Newer versions have more functionality and behave differently. These instructions are invalid for newer versions.


I admit it, I do read manuals; well, "read" maybe is too strong indeed but at least I glance them over as to get a good idea what the underlying gadget is about. Often I find an overview chapter or the like and THAT I usually really read.

Why am I telling this here? Because it puzzles me to see that computer users of many years all too often don't even know about such a basic thing as how to take a screen shot which is a total or partial image of what you see on the computer's monitor.

There is an actually fairly complicated MS Windows method but it falls quite a bit short of being comfortable and easy to remember.

There are quite a few decent free programs out there to help avoid the quirky Windows method. Some years ago I favored a small program called MWSnap. By now it has been superseded by Gadwin Print Screen.

If I set up your computer fairly recently you should already have this program running and set up as described below. Check your system tray for this little icon: 

Rest your mouse cursor on this icon and it will tell you “To capture Image …”. From a right click on this little icon you can directly select Help and the Help system for this program will come up where you find all other information about it.Once installed Gadwin Print Screen sits quietly in the background and waits for you to push the PrintScreen key on your keyboard. Depending on easy to accomplish settings in the program it will do what you told it to. It either captures the
  • Current Window
  • Client Window
  • Full Screen or a
  • Rectangular area.
I strongly favor the last option. With a simple click, drag and right click I can capture any part of the screen, overlapping windows, just anything.
The output file format should be set to PNG; this is my favorite format for this purpose because files are relatively small, decent to good quality and any image processor can handle PNG. Output files get by default consecutively numbered and stored in My Documents\PrintScreenFiles.

The program is easy to use, unobtrusive, has good documentation and it's FREE. Beat that combination. It works on XP, Vista and 7. You find it’s Help after you double click (open) the little tray icon; in the program window click Help and voila, there you are.

Updated Jan 20th 2017:
You could download it from here but the version I am talking about is no longer available for downloading, likely since quite a while already. Ignore the immediately following!   Please scroll down until you find the entry for the free version; it looks like this: As usual what you download is an installer program; run the installer and GadwinPrintScreen will be installed. Once it runs okay please don't forget to delete the installer.

Start the program by double clicking the icon and set
  • Preferences to Preview the captured image,
    no notification messages,
    no splash (screen) on startup and
    Run at Windows startup
  • Source to Rectangular Area
  • Image to Image file type PNG
This is exactly the way I usually set it up on my customer's computers.

After these settings I delete the program icon and the downloaded installer program from the desktop and the Downloads folder respectively..

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

Stay safe!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

PDF Files on the Web

Imagine you are on the Internet, browsing away and enjoying yourself. You come to a place where the web page offers you a PDF file. BTW, PDF stands for Portable Document Format, an invention of a company with the name Adobe. Years ago there was only one program around to show the contents of PDF files, the Adobe Reader. That situation has changed massively; we have various good PDF readers available. Most of them are smaller than Adobe Reader, much faster and many good ones are free. On top of that eventual errors or shortcomings usually get corrected MUCH faster than Adobe does it. You can read more about that here.

If you want to read that piece of documentation you either get to see the document and all is hunky dory. But on some web sites you get an idiotic error message to the effect that the system can not find Adobe Reader and you should install it. Bummer!

You happen to be on a very dumb programmed web site. Even HP does that if you want a manual from their support site.

What a web site should do is send the PDF file to the browser who then shows it to you in whatever PDF Reader you have installed on your computer. You should have a good one installed! See the article I linked to above and below.

What your web site actually tries to do is to directly load Acrobat Reader with the PDF file. That is nonsense and only understandable in a historic context; way back when there were no alternatives. There are plenty of reasons to shun Adobe Acrobat Reader. I wrote here about recent ones.

Here is what you can do to circumvent this problem:
  1. Right click on the link to the PDF file.
  2. Click on Save Link As...
  3. Navigate to a location you know and can find again.
  4. Check the file name and amend it if required.
  5. Click on OK (or Save?).
  6. Navigate to the file and double click it.

This sounds more difficult than it is but it is the secure way - and you have the document on your computer.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

On Internet Explorer 8

A general remark up front:
I am highly suspicious of big business knowing everything about me. Microsoft is the last company I would want to know my interests, the last company I would trust with so much detail about myself. I could tell why but it would be far beyond the scope of this blog.

Microsoft has begun to deliver IE8 via their Microsoft Update service. Since your computer needs it to receive future updates from Microsoft there will be no way around it. But installing IE8 confronts you with a couple of questions when the new version is first started.

After agreeing to the installation you are presented with a screen where a whole bunch of "recommended" settings is offered. Please select Custom settings; only then you can influence these settings.

Here is my admittedly personal take on how to answer these questions.

  1. Custom Settings: Since I do not use IE there is no need whatsoever for this. And it is none of Microsoft's business to know what my settings in the browser of my choice are.
    A clear NO for me; here this means "Choose custom settings" and read on.

  2. Suggested Sites: I want Google's search results or the results of whatever search engine I am using for a special purpose. I do NOT want Microsoft's "suggestions".
    A clear NO for me.

  3. My default search provider is Google. If it is suggested don't change, if something else is suggested tell it you want to select it and later you will be presented with a web page to do just that.
    Up to your personal preference but for me Google rules.

  4. Updates for search providers: I don't want any "updates" to be downloaded without complete up-front information on what and why and without a choice of yes/no.
    A clear NO for me.

  5. Accelerators: Accelerating search? How? By Microsoft knowing everything I search for and then modifying the search results to what they think they know about me?
    In my book that is clear spy-ware behavior!
    A loud and resounding NO, that is "Turn OFF...".

  6. SmartScreen Filter: Transfers URLs (web site addresses) to MS. See above.
    For me a clear NO, that is "Turn off".

  7. Change default browser ? NO! I determine on my computer what web browser is my default browser. And don't import any settings from nowhere, snoopers.

  8. Web Slices: Can anybody please explain to me what this feature really does? I just can not get myself to believe MS' marketing speech arguments.
    I rather err on the side of caution and say NO.

  9. Internet Explorer 8 keeps your current settings: I do not use IE except for MS Update so this feature is worthless to me. Your mileage may vary.
    Up to your personal preference.

  10. Compatibility Settings: This seems to be something where MS gets caught in its past attempts to lure web site developers into using non-standard, MS specific functionality. If I stumble on a web site that requires IE then I want it to work like it would have in an older version of IE; so I want these kind of updates that will perpetuate MS specific behavior.
    This looks like I really want it.
Above list may neither be complete nor in the correct sequence; additionally MS seems to vary these questions; please be vigilant and read what is described in the explanations. If you have suggestions or questions please let me know via an email or a comment here in the blog. Thank you.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Anti - WHAT? A real life rant

I just received an email from a customer that is so typical that I post the text and my reply here literally with no further comment.

YOUR comments right here in the blog are welcome as always.

Thank you.

------------------------------------
The text of the email:
"With ATT automatically providing antispyware I don't need to renew avasti, right?".

My response:
xyz,
It is up to you to decide if you want to trust 27 years of PC
experience and 45 years of computer experience or if you prefer to overlook the obvious self-interest of big companies and trust their promises.

Don't we all just now see where it's getting the country and the world if we trust in what "the big guys" are telling us?

And then, as a fact, you talk about "antispyware".
avast! is an anti-virus program.
Don't update it and/or remove it at your own risk!

Additionally I would appreciate if you would please read this entry on my blog.

------------------------------------

Sunday, April 26, 2009

On incomplete Emails - the original post



An updated version of this article is here

All too often I receive emails from customers with questions about technical issues. Now, please remember that from my side I think about this as a business communication, not a personal one. What I would expect is at least proper identification and contact info, i.e. the sender's full name, address info and phone number. Please do that in every email you send to me or I have to go on a wild goose chase for that info.
And frankly spoken, I don't have the time to chase this sort of wild geese. If this info is missing most likely you will get a standard reply, text see below following the ---------
Please consider as well:
  • That my email advice is a free service!
  • And pollidoll@isp.com signed with Polli is NOT correct identification.
  • This thoughtless incivility is pretty rude – in my book at least.
And no, I am not going to apologize for this remark. You can not expect a civil and matter-of-fact response if the most basic information, politeness and formality are missing, sorry.
Please remember, I do not retain any personal info about my customers!
Please include technical info on what you are asking about; that includes all technical details, like what operating system you use, what program you are asking about, the version number and so on.
In this context it may be adequate to point to one of the IMHO better web sites about Netiquette (etiquette on the Internet), especially the pages about email etiquette.
And another thing in this context: It has happened that after receiving above mentioned reminder email I got a reply with just the name, phone number and address. That is outright rude, sorry. PLEASE use the Reply button and leave all original text in the mail; this way I have the context of the original question in the email and do not need to go on a trip with the divining rod to find the original mail. Thank you for your cooperation.
Subsequently added: You may want to read this post as well; it gives more information concerning the same basic issue. 
Another BIG issue is the amount of advice about trivial basic things that is being asked. When you're asking a professional for free information and advice then please always remember what Abraham Lincoln said:
"A lawyer's time and advice are his stock in trade."
"Stock in trade" means what he or she sells in order to earn a living. Just as a lawyer's knowledge of the law is her/his "stock in trade" my knowledge and experience with computers is my "stock in trade".
Please be reasonable about how much free work and advice you are asking for. And let me know that you tried to find an answer yourself and where you looked for it. Trust me, there are way too many people out there that just ask without ever having made the slightest attempt at finding an answer themselves.
When I get an e-mail like, "how can I turn the greyed-out save as back on" I have to ask for more specifics or just refer the sender to my blog. A carefully targeted question, such as "How can I activate Save As... in Firefox's File Menu when it is greyed out" will get a specific answer and not just a link to my blog.
And, by the way, with enough interest in your computer and security on the Internet you could have read my blog in the first place, right?
And in this context something different: Currently it is happening that possibly a child of a customer is emailing me; he did not tell me whose child he is, he does not give me his address, only his cell number. He seems not to understand that I can get in trouble with the law if I communicate with him without parental consent. So please, I need to be able to identify what customer you are related with if you are a minor son or daughter of a customer! Your personal cell phone number is NOT sufficient, I need parental consent. And please consider that I did not “make” this society and it’s laws.
As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.
Thank you in advance.
----------------------
I am very sorry but I can't help with a quick phone call that might solve your immediate problem. Why? Because sadly you did not give me your phone number in your email. This way I can not help directly with a quick phone call to eventually resolve your problem via remote support.
Please read this entry on my blog and amend this and all future emails accordingly.
This is obligatory for all support questions by email, always and every time!
Please use Reply, do not just write a new email. Reply keeps the context in the email and thus saves a lot of time consuming and frustrating search.
Thank you for your cooperation.
Regards
Eike
----------------------

Download Locations

Here are the links for download locations of the software I recommend for home use.

Please do NOT download "Beta" versions, Release Candidates ("RC") or the like , they could be "buggy". They are there for techies and geeks like me. Download the last full release version before the beta or RC version. In alphabetical order:
I hope this helps.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Re-install Spybot Search & Destroy

Here is how to re-install Spybot Search & Destroy:
  1. Download the installer for the latest version of Spybot S&D from here.
  2. Remove the Internet connection (unplug it, turn the modem off or the like).
  3. Remove Spybot S&D
    (Windows XP: Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs)
    (Windows Vista: Control Panel, Programs and Features).
  4. Restart the computer.
  5. Run the installer program you downloaded in step 1
    (Windows Vista only: Start the installer as Administrator and set the new Spybot desktop icon to start as Administrator).
  6. Re-establish the Internet connection.
  7. Let Spybot S&D update.
  8. Immunize.
  9. Scan for problems.
  10. If all works fine delete the downloaded installer file.
If you still see a problem after that please call me; I would like to see that via remote assistance. You can read here how that would work.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Licensing avast! 4Home

If avast! Home edition lost it's license key here is a description on how to repair that.

Click on the avast! icon on your desktop.
Click on Registration (second line from the bottom) and you should see this:



Click on Program Registration.
Your browser will come up with the avast registration web page.

Register either as a new user (if you never had a license key; check your My Documents folder!) or as a registered user who lost the license key.

When you get the email with the license key copy/paste the key into the highlighted field under "Enter your License Key" and click on OK.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Updating Spywareblaster


Javacool Software are the owners/authors of Spywareblaster and their instructions for downloading and updating can be confusing. At least one of the web sites they link to for the download has confused many of my customers as well.

Here is what I recommend to do; I hope this is simpler:
  1. Remove all SpywareBlaster icons from your desktop.
  2. Download the new version from here. This is only an installer, NOT the actual program!
  3. Run the installer after the download.
  4. It should create a new icon SpywareBlaster on your desktop; move it in the location of the old one.
  5. Run the newly installed program.
  6. If it works okay delete the downloaded installer program.
That's it.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Updating to Ad-Aware Anniversary Edition free (2009)

Currently Ad-Aware offers an update to Ad-Aware Anniversary Edition. You always want to keep all security programs as up-to-date as possible. To update do the following in this sequence:
  1. Download the installer for the latest version of Ad-Aware from here.
  2. Remove the old version.
    (XP: Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs)
    (Vista: Control Panel, Programs and Features)
  3. Restart your computer.
  4. Run the installer program you downloaded in step 1.
  5. Do not run anything else at the same time.
    The installer will restart your computer without a warning!
  6. Start Ad-Aware.
  7. Close the first screen.
  8. Do a Web-Update.
  9. Scan your computer.
  10. If all works as expected delete the downloaded installer file.
As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.