Friday, August 31, 2007

Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware - Free Solutions

I've had the pleasure of cleaning out some heavily infected computers recently. I did some experimenting with some new programs and have found a set that I particularly like. For a free anti-virus, it doesn't get much better than AVG Anti-Virus. Now keep in mind that if you're looking for a new anti-virus solution, uninstall your old one completely first. Anti-virus programs don't work well together. Anti-Spyware programs, on the other hand, do work well together. In fact, using more than one is recommended, as each has their own advantages and disadvantages. One of the programs that I found to work well was SuperAntiSpyware. This is a recent find for me. If your computer is heavily infected, though, running a series of programs such as Spybot Search and Destroy and the free version of Ad-Aware. AVG also has a pretty good anti-spyware, but it's a separate download, so if you're still feeling unprotected, that would be another choice.

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Pocket PC - Live Search - GPS

I have an Ipaq hw6515a with Windows Mobile 2003 SE. This unit has GPS capability and has been very useful for navigation using Pocket Streets. This has been a bit cumbersome because I have to run Streets on my desktop to crop a small enough area to copy onto my Ipaq without running out of memory. Another problem has been finding up-to-date information for Streets. Last week I installed Windows Live Search. This is a great solution so long as you can get an Internet connection with your cell providers data plan (or wireless on some Ipaqs). All the information is live from the Internet. The map quality is excellent and you can choose between a road map and aerial view. You can search based on any location including current GPS position and then plot a course to get to a hotel, gas station, Starbucks or whatever. I would strongly recommend that you try this before buying a navigation system. It's very well done.

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Windows XP - Hard Drive Space - Performance

All PC's will run a bit faster if there is plenty of room on the main ''C'' hard drive. Fifty percent free space would be nice but you really need to keep at least 20% free to avoid noticeable performance degradation. Here are a few ideas to help clear up space for you; First reduce the space allocated for ''System Restore''. This is nice tool but it tends to use up too much drive space if left on default settings. Right click ''My Computer'' > ''Properties'' > ''System Restore'' > ''C'' drive > ''Settings'' > set the slider to about 5% but no more than 2000 MB. Next, if you have a drive or partition other than ''C'' we'll move your Virtual Memory to a secondary drive. This must be an internal drive or partition, not a USB or Firewire drive. Click the ''Advanced'' tab then under ''Performance'' > ''Settings'' > ''Advanced'' tab > under ''Virtual Memory'' > ''Change'' > select a drive other than ''C'' > click ''Custom size'' > enter ''1024'' in the...

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DVD - Slideshow - Nero - iTunes

Thinking of making a DVD slide show of your pictures? This should be fairly easy but here are a few suggestions and warnings. I had a chance to compare Roxio and Nero side-by-side and found NeroVision to be better. The most significant difference was the ability to add music that plays throughout the show. Roxio ties the music to one image. If you want to add music purchased from the iTunes store with the extension ‘.M4P’ you'll need to convert it to ‘.MP3’ or another format supported by Nero. Once you've added pictures and audio to your timeline you can change timing and transitions. From there Nero guides you thru the steps to make DVD menus and finally burn your disk.

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QuickBooks - Enterprise 7 - Backups

Quickbooks Enterprise Edition keeps a transaction log (.TLG) separate from the main company file (.QBW). A client with a comany file of about 490Mb had his transaction log grow to 1450Mb. This caused his automated nightly backup to take over 8 hours to finish and generated a backup file of about 1700Mb. After discussing the situation with a QB support guy, we decided to rename his log file to .OLD and try that. The company opened just fine and the next backup took only minutes with a file size of about 400Mb. One of my SQL customers has software that keeps only a daily transaction log so that you can rebuild the data if needed from the previous nights backup. There is no reason to keep transactions any longer than that. Until, I can find a better way to limit this file, I'll work on a script to delete or rename it every few days.

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RAID 0 or 1 - Data Recovery

Once in a while I come across a PC with RAID0. This is a 2 disk array with striping - the data is interleaved between 2 hard drives and neither drive has all the data. There must have been a reason for this in the past but in my experience it can cause a lot of problems without any benefits. If the PC won't boot and defies all efforts to be revived, it is very difficult to recover data. With RAID1 (mirrored) or without RAID, I can usually recover data by connecting the drive to another PC with an external enclosure and then either drag and drop files as needed or run a relatively inexpensive data recovery software. With RAID0 only a data recovery specialist with a bench full of equipment can get at the data. The cost goes from the $100-200 range to the $500-$1,000 range.

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ASP - Image Manipulation - Chestysoft - csImageFile

Google Gadgets attracted my interest a few days ago and I started working on a gadget for myself and for a couple of clients. I needed to create a dynamic image by looking it up in a database and adding text to it on the fly. For this, I use a product that I bought a couple of years ago from Chestysoft. They call it csImageFile and it has many tools for manipulating images on the server before displaying them on a web page. You can scale, rotate, brighten, sharpen, draw on them, merge them, add text (any font on the server) and much more. Even though their documentation is quite good, I've asked for help a couple of times via e-mails with Simon Chester the owner. He's been very helpful and I've always gotten the desired results.

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MS Word Delays - Freeze-up - slow response

''My computer stops responding while I'm typing a Word document.'' Any background task could cause this behavior but I found an interesting one today; his Word Autorecover was looking for a network location that no longer existed. The quick way to check your Word settings is ''Tools > Options > File Locations''. I found the problem by searching the registry for ''\\''. This alerted me to several outdated network locations in paths. Cleaning up old networked printers and other non-existent network paths can avoid delays and slow response.Update: I've noticed this entry getting a lot of hits so here's some more info. Some of my other customers have had a slow Word response and the cause was their anti-virus software slowly checking for viruses in Word. I fixed the problem on several occasions by disabling the 'Microsoft Office Plugin' in Norton Antivirus. There are several versions out there and it may not be limited to Norton's products, so you'll need to dig into the configuration/settings...

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Photoshop - Web

One of my web site customers has hundreds of images that need to be sized and optimized for his site from time to time. Here's how I use Photoshop for to accomplish this efficiently: Isolate and save all the images into a ''Source'' folder - use ''Window > Actions'' to record and save all the ''Actions'' needed to modify one image - use ''File > Automate > Batch'' to apply the recorded ''Action'' to all the images in the ''Source'' folder and put the final images into the ''Destination'' folder. After that I FTP the files from the Destination folder to the web site.

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DSL - Cable

I had two help calls today regarding lost Internet connectivity. There are lots of troubleshooting steps that can be taken but I've found that if the loss is sudden and there haven't been any changes on the user side that it can usually be solved by ''refreshing'' the IP with the provider. If rebooting the PC doesn't solve the problem, another quick fix is to disconnect power to the modem, wait for 60 seconds and then re-connect. If you have a router between your modem and PC(s) you may need to log into the web management of the router to ''release and renew'' your IP address.

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Remote Desktop - Remote Printing - Terminal Services

Remote printing has come a long way in the past couple of years and works great using Microsoft Remote Desktop. When you log into the server from home, Terminal Services looks at your local printers and ''auto-creates'' them as session printers as long at it has matching drivers on the server. One notable exception is when your local printer is on your local network (not plugged into your PC) - TS won't see it without a registry patch - here's the link: RemotePrintPatch.reg

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Seagate - SeaTools - Hard Drive - SATA

If you're having problems with your hard drive; noisy, read/write errors etc. then you should download SeaTools for Windows. It can test USB, 1394, ATA (PATA/IDE), SATA and SCSI drives - Seagate, Maxtor and others (use DOS version for RAID drives). You may want to run Windows Chkdsk first to resolve any file system problems.

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Java - Overlib - Erik Bosrup

I've been using this java package for a couple of years now and it's a great solution for customized pop-up help boxes, images and links. Hover here to see it in action. You can change many parameters that control the size, color, position, fonts etc. I needed to make some changes to an existing web site and was reminded of how useful and well documented this utility is. Check out Erik Bosrup's website for more information.

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Outlook - Exchange Server

I made a document with screenshots for my client to use as a guide for connecting to the hosted Exchange Server. Here's the link: Connecting to Exchange Server

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IE7 - FTP - Internet Explorer

One of my web clients was helping a user with an FTP problem. The user had Internet Explorer 7 and was trying to access a corporate FTP site. This has been up and running for a couple of years and the only problem we've seen is forgotten passwords. This time it seems IE7 was not making the site browseable. She found the solution in the advanced setting of the Internet Options for Windows. See Microsoft's solution for details: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/323446/en-us

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Motherboard Battery

Since the life of the 3 volt motherboard battery is so much better than it was a few years ago, I don't often need to replace them. However, a client called today and said her PC had been starting with the wrong year after a cold reboot for a few weeks and now it wouldn't boot at all. The boot process froze showing a checksum error and offering an F2 option to load defaults - this didn't actually work. I replaced the battery and now it's working fine.

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Hosted Exchange Update

I've been testing my Private Label Exchange Hosting and started setting up my first client and a test account for myself to work with. This has gone pretty smoothly but I found that Intermedia's user guide and knowledge base was geared to Exchange 2003 not 2007. I called them and got them to fix the domain connection problem I was having. The Outlook Web Access Interface looks great and I'm anxious to get familiar with it and offer this to my other clients. Contact me if you're interested.

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Google Ad Sense

I signed up for a Google AdSense account a few weeks ago and was testing it on several web sites (this is the program that pays you when users click links fed to your site by Google AdWords). Last week they sent me an e-mail saying my account had been closed due to illegal clicks. Since their tracking methods are a closely guarded secret, they wouldn't say what was wrong or how they made their determination. I used their appeal process and asked them to reconsider. They re-opened my account and I did notice that one of my end users had a couple of days with an extraordinarily high percentage of click-throughs. I think that he may have been using the displayed ads to check out the competition not realizing that this was costing the advertisers money and putting his participation in the program in jeopardy. I contacted my client and explained the rules so this won't happen again. So far the return on this program for my clients is averaging pennies a day but I'm going to keep it running...

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XP - Raid - SATA

Helped a friend this afternoon that was trying to install a new SATA hard drive in his son's PC. The PC is about 4 years old and one of the earlier models with onboard SATA and RAID. XP did not recognize the hard drive. I tried to walk him thru the BIOS setting to enable the drive and disable RAID (he didn't want it) but there were no settings for the SATA connectors. We tried a BIOS update and that failed. At last I sent him the RAID drivers for his motherboard and asked that he use the F6 option to install these on his next attempt - this worked and now he's finishing the install.

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Verizon Fiber Optic Broadband

I have a customer who is connected to the Internet using Verizon's Fiber service. His connection speeds are very good - about 15 Megabit download and 2 Megabit upload. If you want to check your connection speed go to Speedtest.net. I checked for availablity at my address and got a negative response. It looks like the pricing is reasonable (about the same as Comcast) and the speed is great so I would recommend it to anyone that does a lot of Internet work or play.

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Remote Desktop - QuickBooks Enterprise 7.0

I made an initial service call to a new client today that wants to host QuickBooks Enterprise Edition 7.0 on a local XP Professional PC and have the ability to have several associates access the data file remotely. This will require networked ''clone'' PC's in his office with XP Pro and QB installed. I set up a similar arrangement for another client a few years ago using Webex remote desktop. That client had me change his configuration to a hosted server with Windows Server 2003 when his need started approaching 10 users - about 4 in the home office and 6 across the country. This client doesn't expect more than three remote users in the near future so this means he'll only need the ''server'' PC and two clones. He had two used PC's for the clones and one new one for the ''server'' on hand. Since we plan to use Microsoft Remote Desktop, he needed to upgrade his ISP account to 5 fixed IP addresses. I set up one connection using his current IP by pointing the router to the ''server'' box...

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Exchange 2003, 2007 - Sharepoint - hosted Exchange

A client e-mailed me today asking about hosted Exchange server. He wants to be able to share Calendars and Contacts with his associates. I've been looking into that and suggested that we try using my provider, Intermedia. Sounded good to him so I signed up for their private label Exchange hosting. This gives me a control panel to sign up customers and also a small break on the price. I'm hoping it fits in with my other web and hosting services. I have a few other customers that might benefit by using Exchange for sharing and filtering their e-mail.

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Office 2007 - Excel - Compatibility

Had my first run-in with .xlsx this morning. One of my customers sent me a file saved with Excel 2007 and my Excel 2003 couldn't open it. I found a Microsoft download that solves the problem. Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats.Knowledge Base article 924074 ''By installing the Compatibility Pack in addition to Microsoft Office 2000, Office XP, or Office 2003, you will be able open, edit, and save files using the file formats new to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007''

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Web - Video - capture - ASP

I'm working on uploading a DVD to a client's web site. I want to use the same menus as the original DVD. Using Windows Media player and 'alt/print screen' worked ok but WMP was freezing every few seconds. I decided to try CyberLink PowerDVD - it played the DVD smoothly and has a nice screen capture tool. I chose capture at original size to clipboard and then pasted the clipboard in PhotoShop - uploaded the entire 'frame' to the web - used transparent gif layered over the image to make the links to submenus and from there to the actual video clips (code sample: demo_video_nav.asp.  I'm using embedded WMP (code sample: play_video.asp) to start the player after the user clicks the link.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

FTP Backup - Software - SyncBackSE - 2BrightSparks

After several hours of research and several demo installations, I finally found a good - inexpensive backup software. SyncBackSE from 2BrightSparks has been working well for me on my web server for the past couple of months and I've just installed it for a client to make backup to their network hard drive. The software handles FTP and Network drives without any problem and is relatively easy to set up and schedule. I'm using it to make a daily backup from my web server (Intermedia) to an application server that I rent (Aplus) at another server farm. I also do a nightly backup from the application server back to my web server. This gives me off-site copies of critical files on both systems.

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