Computer tips and Recommended Software

Last updated: April 8, 2008

The personal computer is a great tool if you know how to use it properly. This page and related pages are a compilation of tips and recommended software that I am currently using at the time of this post.

This page mainly applies to Microsoft Windows XP and Windows 2000. I don't recommend upgrading to Vista. Please see The 5 Sins of Vista. And I don't recommend Windows 98 or ME unless you have a really old machine and never use it to connect to the Internet.

Contents

Feb. 2005 note: I totally chucked Microsoft Windows from my desktop PC in favor of Fedora Core Linux! If you don't yet know the glories of the Linux operating system, I highly suggest you check out my Linux Tips and Tweaks for Absolute Beginners web site!

Don't forget to check out the computer jokes section!

If you have difficulty understanding basic computer terminology, please click here for a visually easy to understand diagram!

Some good habits

Setting up and working in a limited user account

By default Windows 2000 and Windows XP sets you up as an "Administrator". You should change the account settings to a limited user and only log in as an Administrator when you need to make changes to Windows such as installing new programs. This is for your own protection, and especially so when surfing the Internet! In the Linux operating system, the Administrator account is known as "Root" or "Super User" and no Linux User in his right mind would surf the Internet as Root. That would be like walking through a battlefield naked and defenseless!

To change your account to a limited user, go to Start, Settings, Control Panel, Users and Passwords, and click on your account name and then click on Properties. Change the account type to User and then click OK. For this to work there must be at least one account that has Administrator privileges so you should not attempt to change the account to User if the name of the account is Administrator. If it is, create a new account with your user name and password. Make sure that the Administrator password is set. It should not be the same as the Limited User account password.

If you always do your email and browse the Internet from a limited user account, you will have much less danger of being infected by a virus or a trojan. On July 19, 2005 I did a little experiment along those lines. I turned off real time monitoring of Norton Anti virus, changed my working account from a Administrator to a User, and purposely opened an attachment that I knew to be a virus. Norton AV later identified the virus as W32.Mytob.FA@mm which is a a mass-mailing worm that opens a back door and lowers security settings on the compromised computer. (See http://securityresponse.symantec.com/avcenter/venc/data/w32.mytob.fa@mm.html) Immediately my Windows 2000 laptop started to experience viral activity. The Norton AV icon in the System tray suddenly disappeared and Zone Alarm reported that some process was trying to access the Internet! Of course I denied it.

The point I want to make here is that the Worm was only active until I rebooted my PC. After that it was gone. Why? It could only run when I first opened the attachment but it could not modify any of the system settings in the registry to continue to live! This means that I didn't have to do any work to clean out the Worm from my system. It died and left no trace as soon as I rebooted the laptop.


More useful references about the subject of working in a limited user account:

Uninstall applications you do not use

Install only the software you know you actually will use frequently. The more applications you install, the more your Windows system will slow down. It is not a good idea to install anything and everything you come across unless you know you really need it and is recommended by a source you have come to trust.

Un-install any applications that you know you don't use anymore.

Keep your antivirus software updated

If you use an anti-virus program it is important to keep it updated regularly. New viruses and e-mail worms are coming out constantly. You can download a good free anti-virus program called AVG from: http://www.grisoft.com

Seek help when you don't know what you're doing

If you don't know what you're doing, it's probably good to wait until you do. I learned the hard way that it is usually a waste of time to play guessing games with the computer. It saves time in the long run to get out the particular manual of the software you need to learn and read it. Or you can check out the help file. If you make time to learn what you need to know, you will be investing in the future and save time over the long run. Some folks never have time to study what they need to know, but they always seem to have plenty of time to have problems and agonize over them. It's also good to call your friendly computer geek for advice if he's around. In my case the Geek is always somewhere half way around the world but always as close as my keyboard. Moreover the Internet and the Google search engine is probably my greatest resource for new information.

Make a backup copy of any important documents.

A "document" is a file that either you or somebody created using the keyboard, be it a letter you want to hang on to, a database, a report, finance records, translation work, composition, etc. Or it may even be a music file, video file, or graphic file. You should keep duplicate copies of files that are important to you and would be a loss to you personally if your hard disk fails. "Valuable things come in small packages" applies to computer files too. Your most important files may even be small enough to easily fit on a floppy disk -- the least expensive backup media you can buy! I guarantee that if you make 2 or more backups of the same thing, the chance of a total loss of that data is negligible, and especially so if you store those floppies / CD or other media in different places. If you do so, you won't be freaked out by virus scares. You will rest content knowing that your hard work typing a long document will not be lost! And for goodness sake, don't leave them lying around the desk for your kids to play with! If they do, don't blame them! It's your fault for not keeping them out of sight and unreachable by little hands!

Note the location of where a file will be saved or downloaded

When you save a file on your hard disk, be sure to note the name of the folder where you are saving it! By default this is "My Documents" but this is not necessarily so for non-Microsoft applications. Beginners are often not aware of this. You can see the location in the "Save in" section. If you have a clear file organization method, you won't wonder where that file is next time you need it. Moreover, it is best give the file a name that will help you to remember what the contents is. You wouldn't want to toss a gold or diamond ring in a hay loft, would you? That is what you are doing by not looking carefully where you save a file or not naming it in a clear and easy to remember manner.

Don't hold down a key too long unless...

There are only 3 keys you should hold down on the keyboard: The Ctrl key, the Shift Key, and the Alt key. The rest you are supposed to tap quickly or they will repeat themselves. When you need to use either the Ctrl, Shift or Alt key in combination with another key, hold down the key first and then tap the other. For example, a hotkey combination to close an application is Alt + F4. You would hold down the Alt key while taping F4 to make this work.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

It's probably not a good idea to experiment with tweaking your Windows system unless you know what you're doing or know how to undo what you did that brought undesirable results! This is probably the only rule I never keep; I'm a geek who can usually fix what I broke.

Some advanced pointers

Use the NTFS file system. It is more stable than FAT and has better security. It is possible to convert from FAT32 to a NTFS file system after you setup your system using the CONVERT command. However, using the CONVERT command to convert a FAT32 file system to NTFS will result in a 512 byte cluster size. I read that a 512 byte cluster is considered too small and degrades overall performance. Whereas if you do a clean install and format your drive with the NTFS format in the beginning, you will get an optimum 4K cluster size. A larger cluster size means faster overall hard disk access.

If you used the Convert program and wound up with a 512 byte cluster size, there is a way to change it to 4K, but you will need 3rd. party software to do so. There are only 2 applications in the world presently that I know of that can do this trick: Paragon's Partition Manager and Powerquest's Partition Magic Version 8. Previous versions of Partition Magic do not have the the option to change NTFS cluster size.

I highly recommend dividing your hard disk into at least 2 partitions. The first partition should be only for your operating system and installed software. The second extended partition (D drive) should be for your data only, for example, documents, photos, mail boxes address books, etc. By partitioning your hard disk, you won't have all your eggs in one basket so to speak. If your system crashes and you need to reformat C drive, D drive will be untouched and you therefore lose none of your precious work. It is possible to tweak the default system folders like My Documents, Desktop, and Favorites so that the default is a folder on D drive, not C drive. To partition a hard disk you need to either do it from the beginning with FDISK or get a partition manager like Partition Magic. Using FDISK on a hard disk with data on it results in data loss.

Adding to the above idea, it is also cool to install a second physical hard disk on your system and save data there. Having 2 hard disks will extend the life of either of them as they don't have to work as hard.

I hear that if you do have 2 hard disks, it is cool to tweak the paging file to the second hard disk to improve performance. I have not actually tried this yet because I do not have a machine with 2 hard disks.

Tips how to maintain your computer

Over a period of time it seems that every Windows system I've ever seen (other than my own :-)) runs slower, and slower and slower. Why? The hardware probably didn't stop running faster than the time you bought it, so it must be that your Windows system got gummed up with junk!

Here is what I do to maintain my PC and keep it running in optimum shape. I recommend you follow the order given below.

Software I use on my PC

All of the software listed below, both shareware and freeware is what is presently installed on my computer. They are tried and proven. I would not recommend it to you if I didn't use it myself! I update this section from time to time and add software that is free or better than what I had previously used, and remove what I have stopped using. A good example is that I am now using Thunderbird (open source freeware) in place of Becky! email which is shareware. Becky! is excellent software but Thunderbird has met my overall needs better and helped me to finally get on top of my email.

Freeware

I've found some really great free software from the Open Source movement. I figure why spend money for fancy commercial software when there are great programs you can download for free from the Internet which do the job just as good, and sometimes even better than commercial applications!

Favorite Shareware Applications

Dealing with SPAM

I learned how to effectively deal with spam on email boxes whose address is supposed to be known only to a certain number of people. It has been tested with "Becky!" and Thunderbird email. Becky email has a KILL filter that deletes mail directly on the server without having to download it. Just use the filtering manager to set the kill filter to automatically delete any email whose sender is not included in your address book. This method is 100% effective for dedicated email boxes! Of course I can't use it for the email address listed on this web site or I wouldn't hear from new viewers of these pages anymore.

Thunderbird has a filter setting to delete mail whose sender is not included in your address book. Unfortunately Thunderbird will download the SPAM mail first and then send them to your trash. Unlike Becky email, the "Delete from POP server" option in Thunderbird doesn't seem to mean that it will delete them from the server before downloading.

A great DOS application I loved

Rapidfile was perhaps my favorite. It was a flat database that was 10 times easier to learn than MS Access. I used it to keep track of all my contacts when I lived in Russia. Besides that it could be used as a spreadsheet and a word processor with mail merge! I still have a copy of version 1.2 which was the very last version before it was killed by Windows. I am really hoping that the database program in Open Office version 2 will be easier to use than MS Access.


Recommended Resources

www.mrtech.com I probably visit this PC site the most. I check it looking for updates of my favorite freeware applications. The author really knows his stuff!
www.tweakxp.com The worlds first site and best site dedicated to improving and customizing Microsoft® Windows® XP.
www.theeldergeek.com This site is chock full of all kinds of information of how to install, fix and maintain Windows systems! If you want to learn more and become a power user, this is the site to visit!
www.driverguide.com A place to search for drivers. I found audio, video, modem and printer drivers here of old equipment whose owners did not have the setup software of their machine.
freeware.intrastar.net Only freeware! This is the biggest site I know of has links to download freeware programs, no shareware.
www.tr1be.com/powertools Power Tools -- A cool site to find software, both freeware and shareware. But I wonder how much they update it seeing they have yet to post Thunderbird :(
grc.com A great site on Internet security.

How I fixed my IE6 problem

Note: This is especially for technically minded people who already have some experience at working at the DOS command prompt.

I had a problem with IE6 with SP1 in Windows XP. For some reason it would not open up new pages when I clicked on certain links within a page. So I tried to find the problem on the Internet and here is the solution that worked for me:

1. Click on Run and type CMD

2. You should now be in the command prompt window. If you are not in C drive change the drive by typing C: and enter

Change the default folder to that of System32 under your windows folder. The commands to do this would be either:

cd \winnt\system32
or:
cd \windows\system32
depending on the windows folder name.

After that type the following commands one at a time.

regsvr32 Shdocvw.dll
regsvr32 Shell32.dll
regsvr32 Oleaut32.dll
regsvr32 Actxprxy.dll
regsvr32 Mshtml.dll
regsvr32 Urlmon.dll

If you get any error messages typing commands at the command prompt, it could be that you made a typo and missed a letter some where.

Typing the commands above fixed the problem! It re-registered the DLLs that Internet Explorer apparently needs. I don't know exactly how they got un-registered, but it could be my playing around with registry cleaners that attributed to the problem. But since other people had this problem and posted it on the Internet, I would say it is a bug in IE6.

DISCLAIMER: Please don't hold me responsible if any procedure or software that is recommended on this page gave you negative results. If you don't know what you are doing, it's better not to do it.
Valid HTML 4.01! w3ccss (1K) handcode (2K)Standard of excellence