Tag Archives: Windows Tips

3 Free Windows Utilities to Reclaim Disk Space and Boost System Performance

Hard disk prices have plummeted over the years, and within a remarkably short span of time we’ve progressed from talking about storage space in gigabytes to terabytes. Recovering every little megabyte of disk space from the operating system is no longer as crucial as it might have been a few years back. Nevertheless, it still makes sense from a performance point of view to give your system a little spring cleaning. Of course, if you have shelled out the big bucks to get a Solid State Disk, disk space might still be a scarce resource for you. SSDs are now more affordable than ever before, but still expensive enough for storage space to be a constraint. Here are three free utilities to help you remove junk from your system.

CCleaner

There are plenty of junk cleaners, but CCleaner is probably the most popular and trusted one. I’m not going to dwell a lot on this tool, because chances are that you already know about it. Piriform CCleaner cleans up temp files, junk files, log files, memory dumps, and other unnecessary system files as well as temporary files left behind by third party apps. It supports over a dozen third party applications including Adobe Acrobat, WinRAR, Nero, Microsoft Office, and all popular browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Flock, Rockmelt, Maxthon, Avant, and more).

CCleaner-Windows

[ Download CCleaner ]

DiskMax

DiskMax is another disk clean-up tool. I reserve this for the times when I’m really short on space. It cleans up stuff that CCleaner leaves behind. They say that with more power comes responsibility, and that’s definitely applicable for DiskMax. The Detailed Scan deletes unused hibernation and page files, Microsoft Office installer cache, logs, .sav files, memory dumps, windows update backups, and more. If you want to reclaim even more space, it even offers a Deep Scan mode which cleans up files based on extension from all folders. However, I would advise against employing Deep Scan unless absolutely necessary. Even without Deep Scan I often end up reclaiming several gigabytes of storage space with DiskMax. You can find an earlier review here.

DiskMax

[ Download DiskMax]

Should I Remove It

If the sheer number of installed apps overwhelm you, then this tool is for you. It identifies and highlights apps that you can and should remove from your system. It lists all installed apps along with an average user rating and the percent of users that have decided to remove it. This can be really handy in identifying crapware, malware, and even apps that are just not very good or necessary. There’s also a “What is it?” button which opens up a webpage with more detailed information about a program, including the features offered by it and the risks presented. Here’s a sample information page. ‘Should I Remove It’ also supports real time monitoring. Once enabled, it will quietly run in the background, and alert you as soon as you try to install an app with a low rating.

Should-I-Remove-It

[ Download Should I Remove It]

Rename a Subst/Virtual Drive In Windows

and previous OSs provide users with a handy tool which allows users to create virtual drives from folders. This is pretty handy when you want to access your favorite folders quickly. If you aren’t aware of this feature yet, you might want to read up about subst on Wikipedia or use a simple tool to mount your folders as virtual drives.

Virtual Drives in My Computer

Subst is definitely a cool tool, however, it does have a problem. If you have named your parent drive (in which the folder resides), you will not be able to give a meaningful name to your new drive. If you have created many virtual drives, your computer drives will end up looking like something in the screenshot above.

renaming_virtual_drives_error

This certainly defeats the purpose of creating the virtual drives since it becomes more confusing as to which drive is which, unless you have a very good memory at remembering which drive names you assigned to which folder. The problem occurs because the Virtual Drives created using Subst will inherit the name from the parent drive. Renaming the virtual drives will give you an error as shown in the screenshot above.

Rename Virtual Subst Drives

So how do you fix it? Well the fix is simple enough to implement and will stick even if you restart the OS. All you need to do is remove the label from the original drive you are creating the subst drive from. Once you have done that, you will be able to rename all the virtual drives you created without getting an error.

Of course you cannot add a label to your original drive anymore, but that is a sacrifice worth it if you add many folders as virtual drives.

Additional Reads:

Zip Up Files to Hide Your Secrets [How to]

zip-icon Zip files are a great way to pack up a collection of files to send them to other people, usually in an email. At least three or four times a year, I run into someone who doesn’t know how to zip up a collection of files in Windows. I ran into three people in the last two weeks at work.

Years ago, you had to have a third party tool such as WinZip to create and open zip files. In 2001, Windows XP was released with built-in zip capabilities. Microsoft decided to call these compressed folders.

Not only is it easy to use the built in zip features in Windows, it’s also possible to password protect zip files so that others can’t open the files inside them. However, even though a zip file is password protected, you can still see a list of files inside it. I have always hated that, but I found a way around it.

Here is how to hide all of your top secret files in a zip file (or compressed folder).

First, let’s create two zip folders. You’ll see why we need two of them shortly.

To create a zip folder, right click into any folder or in an empty place on your desktop, and choose NewCompressed Folder.

image

Let’s choose Stuffand Top Secretas the names of the new zip files.

Now we can add some top secret files to our Stufffolder. I’m going to add a JPG picture to it here. I’ll open up Stuff.zipby double clicking it, then drag the JPG file into it.

add-files-to-zip

Now let’s add the Stuffzip file to the Top Secretzip file.

add-zip-to-zip

Now we need to add a password to the Top Secretcompressed folder.

menu-add-a-password

You’ll have to type your password in twice to confirm it.

enter-password-twice

That’s it. The next time anyone opens that zip folder, all they’ll be able to see is a file named Stuff.zip. If they try to open it or extract it, they’ll have to know the password you’ve set.

trying-to-open-protected-file

As you can see, all of the files inside the Stuff.zip are hidden. That’s why we needed two zip files.

As a final cleanup step, you can delete the older copies of Stuffand the JPG. These are safely and securely inside the Top Secretzip folder now.

delete-older-copies

These techniques will work in all versions of Windows released after XP, as well as XP itself.

Here are some other ways to use zip files:

1. Compress and Zip Files Online Without Any Software
2. How to Fix Default Zip File Behavior
3. Open Zip Files Online
4. Repair Corrupted Zip Files
5. Unzip or Extract Files Online

Here are some other ways to hide files:

1. Lock And Hide Files & Folders
2. Windows Scripts: Show/Hide Hidden Files and Folders In Windows
3. Password Protect and Hide Personal Folders
4. Hide Drives From My Computer

If you have your own special way to hide secret data, let us know in the comments below.

How to Restore Default File Types in Vista and Windows 7

registry iconA few weeks ago, I told you how to repair the default image file types in Windows XP. At the time, I wasn’t aware of any utilities that could help you restore file types in Vista or Windows 7. I should have guessed that Ramesh Srinivasan would make good on his word. I had seen an old post which said he’d be working on something to help out.

Why would you need to restore a default file type?

You probably already know that a file type is controlled by the last letters after the dot in a file name. When you install new applications, sometimes the new app takes over the opening of some file types automatically. If you installed a new music player, you might discover that all .MP3 files now open up in the new player. That’s fine if you like the new player, but what if you don’t? You can re-assign the MP3 file type to another player by using the Open Withmenu when you right click on an MP3.

If you want Windows to use the default player that Microsoft had originally chosen for MP3 files, you might have trouble figuring out how to do that. I have found that it’s also sometimes tricky to get the defaults back on image file types. Fortunately, there are a few scripts and utilities that can help.

Using .REG Scripts

Ramesh has a page on his site that helps you restore a few Windows 7 file types to their defaults. He also has a page that lets you restore Vista file types to their defaults. Read the instructions on those pages to use REG (registry) scripts to make the changes.

Here’s a list of the file types that can be changed there:

AUDIOCD, AVI, BAT, BMP, CHM, CMD, COM, DVR-MS, EXE, GIF, HTM, HTML, ICO, INF, IMG, JPE, JPEG, JPG, JS, LNK, MP3, MPE, MPG, MSC, MPEG, REG, SCR, TIF, TIFF, TXT, VBS, WMA, WMV, WSF, XML, XPS, ZIP, FOLDER, DIRECTORY, DRIVE

Using the Unassoc Utility

Tweak XP Security Settings with XP-Antispy

A few hours ago, Pallab told us how to Optimize Windows 7 Services with SMART. That made me wonder if there was a similar utility for XP. However, I found out that the SMART utility mentioned in Pallab’s article now supports Vista and XP. After a bit more research, I found a utility I’ve heard about for a long time and hadn’t tried until now.

XP-Antispy is a small application that lets you control some of the XP system services and registry settings. Disabling these services and settings can make your PC safer from outside threats and also keep it from contacting Microsoft when it doesn’t need to. These settings could be changed manually by a Windows user, however, tracking all of them down and changing them could take hours and hours of hard work. XP-Antispy makes it simple.

Here’s what XP-Antispy looks like:

xp-antispy-interface

As you can see, the interface is simple enough, and the operation is as simple as adding check-marks or removing them. Each setting is briefly explained so that you have an idea what each does. Antispy also allows you to keep a copy of your old settings so that you can always return to them if you need to.

There is a built in help file that is fairly detailed if you need it. I was also pleased to find that a portable version (in a zip file) is available for download as well as the typical installer based version.

Important Note: This program is not recommended for a new or casual Windows user. Many of these settings should only be changed by experienced users. As an additional precaution, you could also make a full back up the XP registry with ERUNT before making changes with this tool.

Home Page of XP-Antispy

http://www.xp-antispy.org/index.php/en/ueber

Alternate download at Download.com

Techie Buzz Verdict:

I like XP-Antispy’s simplicity and the help file that is provided. I’m also happy that the author updates this program quite often to keep it current with today’s changing security needs. However, I wish that there was more explanation for each setting. I was also disappointed by a re-directed to eBay on my first attempt to download the zip file. That’s why I included the alternate download location above.

Techie Buzz Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Is the Windows XP Search Doggie a Spy?

The other day, while I was reading my friend Terry’s Newsletter, I was surprised to see this question from him.

Did you know that every time you search, Windows Explorer talks to Microsoft?

search_phone_home_trust_doggies

I did some research, he was right. I found several forum posts concerning this. Most of them had titles like: Windows Explorer Search tries to contact Microsoft.

Proof of Espionage

I won’t go into too many boring details, but I found out that when you open up a search window to find files, Windows Explorer does contact Microsoft’s 65.55.11.179 IP address. This is caused by the default use of the Search Assistant, which you normally see as a little dog. Here’s a screenshot from my copy of Currports showing that connection.

search_phone_home_currports

If you are curious about Currports, read my article telling you how to find out who is spying on you.

According to one post I found, Microsoft promises that no personal information is taken or kept. They claim that it’s an update feature. This leaves me to ask, Do you trust the little doggie?

The solution to this sneaky little dog is to turn off the Search Assistant, which changes the search to Classic Search. However, MS does not provide a simple way to do that. If you click the preferences in Search, you can make the Search Assistant hide, but it really is still working. An article at MS TechNet tells you how to hack the Windows Registry to completely kill the Search Assistant. May he rest in peace.

Hack Your Registry

I’ve tried their solution and it works. For those who know how to use a .REG file, here’s the text of a REG file which works. Copy and paste it into a text file, then save it with a .REG extension. Double-click it to install the fix.

REGEDIT4

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\CabinetState]
“Settings”=hex:0c,00,02,00,0b,01,f8,75,60,00,00,00
“FullPath”=dword:00000001
“FullPathAddress”=dword:00000001
“Use Search Asst”=”no”

For those who don’t want to muck around in the Windows Registry, there is a better solution. You can download a copy of Tweak UI from Microsoft.

Use a PowerToy

Go to the Windows XP PowerToys page. Once there, locate the Tweak UI download on the right side bar as shown here.

search_phone_home_tweakui_download

Once downloaded and installed, you’ll find the entry for Tweak UI in your Start / Program Files menu under Windows XP PowerToys. Open the program and navigate to the Explorer section. You’ll see the tweak for the Classic Search as I show here below.

search_phone_home_tweakui_setting

Search Assistant Post Mortem

Once that’s done, you’ll never see your furry little friend again. I realize that some of you may miss seeing him do tricks, but I don’t think you’ll miss the silly questions that he asks you every time you do a file search.

Here’s a side by side of   the Windows Search panel with and without the Search Assistant.

search_phone_home_little_dog search_phone_home_no_doggie

If you’ve succeeded in burying the doggie in the back yard, you may want to go one step further and add a faster file search to Windows XP.

More Tweaks to See

Be sure to check out all of the other tweaks that Tweak UI can give you on your Windows XP system. My favorite is removing the Shortcut Toprefix which gets added every time you create a shortcut.

The Other PowerToys

Also check out the other PowerToys at the Microsoft page that I linked to above. Here’s a quick list of some of them.

  • Color Control Panel Applet
  • SyncToy < see our article about this app
  • RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer
  • ClearType Tuner < see our article about this app
  • HTML Slide Show Wizard
  • Open Command Window Here
  • Alt-Tab Replacement
  • Tweak UI
  • Power Calculator
  • Image Resizer < see our article about Vista and Win7
  • CD Slide Show Generator
  • Virtual Desktop Manager
  • Taskbar Magnifier

Techie-Buzz Verdict: Guilty

Yes, the little dog is a spy, but you can muzzle him with a registry hack or the TweakUI PowerToy from Microsoft. No animals were harmed in the making of this article.

Windows 32-bit and 64-bit FAQ

Many users who read our blog might have seen us using text like, works on 32bit Windowsor works on 64bit Windows. However not many people might actually know what 32bit or 64bit Windows means, or how they differ.

The Windows 32-bit and 64-bit FAQ tries to answer several common questions which can clear your doubts about it. For example, here is a sample question:

What is the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows?

The terms 32-bit and 64-bit refer to the way a computer’s processor (also called a CPU), handles information. The 64-bit version of Windows handles large amounts of random access memory (RAM) more effectively than a 32-bit system.

There are several other questions which relate to . For more questions visit the 32-bit and 64-bit Windows FAQ  by Microsoft.

[via Windows 7 Blog]

ServicesEditor Makes Tweaking and Restoring Windows Services Easy

It is common knowledge that Windows has many built-in services that a common user doesn’t require. Disabling these services can reduce boot times and enhance system performance. In the past, we have covered utilities like Vista Services Optimizer which optimize Windows services for better performance.

Services-EditorMost users tweak services using the Windows Services Editor (services.msc). The trouble with this approach is that every time you reinstall Windows, you will have to edit the properties of every service one by one. ServicesEditor is an online Service Manager which supports Windows XP, Vista and 7. Once you have selected an operating system you will be presented with the list of services for that system including their default startup type. You can change the startup type for any services. Once you are done, ServicesEditor.com will generate a registry file which can be merged with the registry to apply the changes.

Techie Buzz Verdict

ServicesEditor is a robust service which is excellent for tweaking as well as restoring the original configuration of Windows services. The best thing about ServicesEditor is that it saves your configuration as a compact registry file. Not only does this allow you to save your configuration for future use, it also enables you to share your tweaked configuration with friends and family. My only complaint with ServicesEditor is that it doesn’t provide any information what so ever about individual services. Hence, you would need to refer to Black Viper’s services list (or other similar resources).

Techie Buzz Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

[ Visit ServicesEditor.com ]

How to Use Check Boxes to Select Items in Windows Vista and Windows 7

When Windows Vista arrived, Microsoft made a few changes to Windows Explorer and added some new features. If you’re still using Windows XP, I can recommend QTtabbar or ViSplore to get some of these new features. If you are using Vista or Windows 7, keep on reading.

One of the most useful features that I’ve found for the new Explorer is the ability to select files using a check box.

win7-file-selection-with-checkboxes-demo

You may not immediately find the Folder and View options that you were used to seeing in previous versions of Windows Explorer. I’ll show you how to find them once again and enable the check box feature.

First, start Windows Explorer by double clicking Computeron your desktop or typing Windows Explorerin the Start Menu search box and launching it.

Once Explorer opens, click on the Organizemenu and choose Folder and search options.

win7-folder-and-search-options

When the Folder Options dialog opens, select the Viewtab and place a check-mark in front of Use check boxes to select items.

folder-options-view-tab

Click the OKbutton to finish up and you will now have this feature enabled.

Be sure to comment below if you have any questions or comments about this or any other Windows 7 feature.

How to Disable User Account Control in Windows 7

Why do you want to turn off a feature that Microsoft believes will keep you safer? Are you insane, are you ignorant, do you hate Microsoft, or are you simply aggravated by constant pop-ups?

uac-pop-up

Whenever an action is performed that Windows feels can put the system at risk, the User Account Control feature (UAC) will respond with a nice little pop-up window that the user must respond to. This occurs even if the user is logged into an administrator account.

The account controls in Windows XP were already good if they were used properly. By properly, I mean that you should never use your PC while logged into an administrator account unless you are truly performing administrative tasks. I feel that there is no need for the new UAC in Vista and Win7 since standard user accounts are already restricted from making system changes.

Just remember, an administrative account isn’t there for you to surf the net, chat with your friends and answer email. Log into a standard user account to do that. If you haven’t created a standard account for yourself, do it soon. Now that I’m done preaching, I’ll tell you how to easily disable UAC in Windows 7.

To disable UAC in an account:

• Click your Start button
• Type “UAC” (without quotes) into the search box
• Click on “Change User Account Control settings”

security-policy-uac-search

• Slide the bar all the way to the bottom and click “OK”

security-policy-uac-off

That’s it. Now you’ll stop getting those UAC pop-ups.

Be sure to comment below if you have any questions or comments on User Account Controls.