Twelve essential free Microsoft downloads
October 28, 2009 – 12:12 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Twelve essential free Microsoft downloads

zuneMicrosoft don’t exactly have a reputation for generous product pricing, as anyone who’s just upgraded to Windows 7 will testify. But there’s a kinder side to the company. No, really. Explore the download centre and their various sites and you’ll find many excellent programs, from small utilities to full-scale applications, that Microsoft make available entirely for free. And we’ve uncovered twelve of the very best.

Zune 4.0
Tired of your current media player? Give Zune 4.0 a try. It’s an attractive program that makes it easy to find and play all your latest music, has a Smart DJ function to intelligently create playlists of related music, and is just as capable at managing images, videos and podcasts. (And you don’t need a Zune media player to use it.)

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How to customise an iTunes installation
October 26, 2009 – 09:35 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on How to customise an iTunes installation

itunesYou might have installed Apple’s iTunes simply to get a new manager for your music collection, and perhaps easy access to the iTunes store. But the program installer assumes you’ll also want QuickTime, iPod and iPhone helpers like Apple’s Mobile Device and Bonjour services, a software update manager and more, all of which are installed without asking. And as a result you’ll lose another chunk of hard drive space, see your boot time lengthen and your free RAM fall, all to install components that you may not even even need.

There’s a simple way to gain more control over the setup process, though. Just download iTunesSetup.exe from Apple, then use your archive handling tool to extract its contents. (Doesn’t work? Install 7-Zip, right-click iTunesSetup.exe, select 7-Zip and choose one of the Extract options.)

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Keep a close eye on your hard drive health with CrystalDiskInfo 3.0.3
October 23, 2009 – 10:02 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Keep a close eye on your hard drive health with CrystalDiskInfo 3.0.3

cdiWhen Windows or your applications keep crashing unexpectedly then it’s easy to assume this must be another software problem: bugs, dodgy drivers, a virus maybe. But an unreliable system could also be showing the first signs of hard drive failure, and if that’s the case then it’s important to realise the truth immediately, before the drive crashes completely and you lose everything.

Fortunately most hard drives support a system called S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology), which allows them to record internal details like their temperature, performance figures, drive read errors and more, and so warn you of an upcoming crash. Installing the free CrystalDiskInfo allows you to view this data whenever you like, giving an instant snapshot of your hard drive health.

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How to handle REGEDIT "Access Denied" messages
October 22, 2009 – 13:45 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on How to handle REGEDIT "Access Denied" messages

permissionsRegistry tweaks are an important way to customise your system, resolve problems and make Windows Vista work the way you’d like. But sometimes, when you try to change a Registry value, you’ll find REGEDIT displays an error message telling you “access denied”, or that you don’t have “permission”. So what’s going on?

The problem may be that you’re running REGEDIT from a standard, rather than Administrator account. Click Start, type REGEDIT, right-click the link to “regedit.exe” and select Run As Administrator to ensure you have the security rights you need. If that doesn’t help then you can try to take ownership of the key, assuming you know where to look – it’s not an easy option to find.

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How to get Windows 7's taskbar working just the way you'd like
October 21, 2009 – 10:21 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on How to get Windows 7's taskbar working just the way you'd like

taskbarbigWindows 7 features useful improvements in many areas, but its taskbar tweaks don’t appeal to everyone. In particular, it’s no longer immediately obvious whether an icon on the taskbar is a shortcut, or one or more instances of the same active program. As a result it’s both more difficult to tell at a glance which tasks are running, and then to switch to the one that you need.

Fortunately there’s a quick solution for anyone who prefers a Windows XP or Vista-style approach to taskbar management. Just right-click the taskbar, select Properties, set Taskbar Buttons to “Combine when taskbar is full” and the application buttons will look much as they always have. Until the taskbar fills up, anyway, but you can delay that with another tweak.

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How to improve your Adobe Reader security
October 20, 2009 – 10:58 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on How to improve your Adobe Reader security

adobeMalicious PDF files are increasingly used by hackers as a means of infecting your PC with malware, and they don’t have to look far to find security holes in Adobe Reader. Every few months a new batch of problems are discovered, and just last week Adobe released a patch to cover 29 vulnerabilities with Reader and Acrobat.

Is it finally safe to view PDF files, then? Almost certainly not, as the format is packed with powerful and largely unnecessary features that have the potential for abuse. The only way to improve your Adobe Reader security is to turn them off: here’s what you need to do.

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Find files instantly with Everything
October 19, 2009 – 13:43 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Find files instantly with Everything

everythingMicrosoft like to boast that the latest Windows search tools locate files right away, but, well, it’s not exactly true, is it? Even limited Vista searches for programs can take a few moments, or occasionally don’t work at all, and searching unindexed areas takes just as long as it always did.

Fortunately there’s a simple solution, though, in the oddly named Everything. This clever tool doesn’t waste time crawling all over your hard drive, and instead works directly from the central list of files maintained by your drive’s NTFS file system. So if you type “presentation”, say, then Everything will instantly display all files on your hard drive containing that word, no delays at all. And no inaccuracies or missing entries due to database corruption, either.

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Are you ready for Windows 7? Ask the Upgrade Advisor
October 18, 2009 – 12:00 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Are you ready for Windows 7? Ask the Upgrade Advisor

w7uaWindows 7 hits the streets on Thursday, and the Microsoft publicity machine will soon be trying to persuade you that upgrading is a very good thing. We would generally agree – it’s a real improvement on Vista – but don’t part with any cash until you’ve confirmed your system’s Windows 7-readiness with this helpful new tool.

The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor scans your PC hardware, peripherals, drivers and installed applications, checking to see that you’ll be able to install Windows 7 and not break anything.

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SUPER quickly converts video and audio files to the format you need
October 17, 2009 – 10:15 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on SUPER quickly converts video and audio files to the format you need

superIf you really need a particular video file then the web is packed with tools to help. Install something like Orbit Downloader, say, and it’s easy to capture that movie trailer, streaming video, or whatever else has caught your attention. Of course if you want to play it on your phone or iPod, edit the video or burn it to DVD then you’ll often need to convert it to a more useful format. And there’s no more capable tool for this kind of media encoding than SUPER.

Launch the program (right-click its shortcut and select Run As Administrator if you’re using Vista) and the sheer volume of options on offer can seem intimidating, but relax, it’s easier than it looks. Browse the Output Container list and you’ll find a list of presets that will set up the program for common tasks. If you have a video that you want to convert to 3GP for a mobile, MP4 for an iPhone, iPod or PS3, or just a VOB file to burn to DVD, then choose the relevant option here and everything else will be set up for you.

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PC Tools release their 2010 range of security software
October 16, 2009 – 22:31 by Chris Wiles in News | Comments Off on PC Tools release their 2010 range of security software

PC Tools security software, Spyware Doctor, Registry Mechanic

You may not be aware that PC Tools are a relatively new company, who have achieved a huge amount of market share during a short period of time. Moving in to the security software market in 2004, they now command a lot of respect from many PC users and were recently purchased by Symantec. How did they achieve such market share in such a short period of time? Unlike many other commercial security developers, they decided to give a lot of their products away for free, on the basis that 10 million users on their marketing database is a lot healthier than 1 million.

Clearly it’s worked and they’ve not released their latest 2010 range of security software. These products include Spyware Doctor 2010 (v7), Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus 2010 (v7), Internet Security 2010 and Registry Mechanic 2010 (v9).

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Synchronise your Firefox preferences, bookmarks & passwords using Mozilla Weave
October 16, 2009 – 17:28 by Chris Wiles in News | Comments Off on Synchronise your Firefox preferences, bookmarks & passwords using Mozilla Weave

Synchronise your Mozilla Firefox bookmarks using WeaveMost of us own more than one computer, but tend to use the same browser across every machine. This is one of the reasons Firefox grew in popularity. If you own a Mac laptop, but use Windows at work, you can use the same browser across the two machines. Problem is, when we work at home, we might add a web link to our bookmarks, go to access the link at work and realise it’s not available on your work machine. Not a particularly ideal situation if you were adding bookmarks for reference purposes, perhaps to show a colleague at work.

There’s an easy way around this and that is to use a bookmark synchronisation tool that enables you to keep your bookmarks in sync, irrespective of the operating system. There are two Firefox based bookmark synchronisation add-ons, Mozilla Weave and the other Xmarks, which is also available for other browsers. We’ll get back to Xmarks, later.

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