Quick Tip: How to save a little Vista RAM
November 23, 2009 – 13:10 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Quick Tip: How to save a little Vista RAM

activityWindows Vista is a resource hog, but turning off unnecessary features can help make a difference.  Do you really need the network icon in your system tray to flash whenever you send or receive information, for instance?  Enabling this uses some CPU time and loads an extra Vista component, swallowing up a little memory.  If you can do without it for a while then right-click the icon, select “Turn off activity animation” and you’ll recover the RAM immediately.

If you don’t use ReadyBoost then that’s an even better candidate for removal. Click Start, type services.msc and press [Enter], then scroll down the list and double-click the ReadyBoost service. Click the Stop button to free up any RAM it’s using right now, set its Startup Type to Disabled and the service won’t be started when you next reboot, leaving more memory for the applications and services that you actually use.

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Is PeaZip the best portable file archiver?
November 23, 2009 – 12:37 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Is PeaZip the best portable file archiver?

peazipThere are plenty of free file archiving tools around – you can even use Explorer, if you’re really desperate – but we think the latest release of PeaZip shows it’s still the one to beat.

There’s read support for all the archiving formats you’d expect, for instance: ZIP, TAR, CAB, GZIP and BZIP, old formats like LHA and LZH, some Mac files (DMG/ HFS, though not SIT or SITX), Linux archives (DEB, PET/PUP, RPM, SLP), and more. And the program can also extract the contents of many other file types, including MSI installers, Microsoft Office documents (DOC, XLS, PPT), Windows Help files (CHM), disc images (ISO) and others.

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Combine all the most useful Control Panel applets into one simple tool
November 20, 2009 – 12:44 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Combine all the most useful Control Panel applets into one simple tool

mmcFinding the Control Panel applet you need can be difficult, even in Windows 7. First you’ll browse through the categories, then you’ll display the individual applets. Then you’ll try the search, and discover it only works in Category view, so you have to switch back. It’s a real mess.

There is a way to avoid all these navigation hassles, though – just build your own custom Control Panel applet that contains all the features you need. Device Manager, the Event Viewer, Disk Services, Printers, whatever you use most often can easily be assembled into a single tool that means you’ll never have to go browsing for applets again.

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Speed up Firefox in seconds
November 19, 2009 – 10:46 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Speed up Firefox in seconds

speedyfoxFirefox stores bookmarks and various other sets of data in small self-contained databases. This works well for performance at first, but over time, as you add new bookmarks, delete and rearrange others, so the database becomes bloated and starts to slow you down.  You don’t have to put up with this, though – it’s easy to compact your database, optimising its layout and improving performance.

If you’re happy at the command line and would like complete control over what’s going on, then the best option is to download SQLite. Close Firefox if it’s running, then open a command line and change to a folder containing one of the large .sqlite files in your Firefox profile: \Users\[UserName]\AppData\Local\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\[ProfileName]\ in Vista, say.

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Monitor your PCs open internet connections with TCPView
November 18, 2009 – 11:24 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Monitor your PCs open internet connections with TCPView

tcpviewAt any one time a typical PC will have a host of applications trying to get online. There might be a browser, perhaps; an email client checking your Inbox; an antivirus program downloading the latest signatures, or one of your other programs calling home to see if there’s an updated version available.

Of course if your PC has been infected by something nasty then the list may also detail more dubious activities, like spyware trying to transmit your personal information to its owner, or bots downloading new ways to compromise your system. That’s why it pays to check your open connections, just occasionally, to make sure you know exactly how your internet connection is being used.

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Automatically set your wallpaper to the daily Bing image
November 17, 2009 – 21:57 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Automatically set your wallpaper to the daily Bing image

bingpaperMicrosoft have finally launched Bing in the UK, clearly hoping that goodies like visual search,web page previews and Ciao-powered price comparisons will win your search business. But the most immediately obvious feature remains the spectacular background images, well worth a daily look.

Of course if Google is still your research favourite then you probably won’t be heading Bingwards that often, but there’s no need to miss the images. Run BingPaper and it’ll download and display today’s picture: if you like the shot, click Go and it’ll automatically be set as your wallpaper.

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Instantly locate and launch your favourite apps with MouseExtender
November 16, 2009 – 14:38 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Instantly locate and launch your favourite apps with MouseExtender

meWindows provides many ways to launch your favourite applications, but they all have their problems. The Start menu is a little slow, and cluttered; searching for the program name forces you to start typing, and doesn’t always work; adding too many icons to your desktop leaves it messy; and pinning icons to the Windows 7 taskbar reduces the screen real estate available to other running apps.

MouseExtender is a simple application launcher that manages to avoid all these hassles. The attractive dark grey toolbar comes with some built-in system shortcuts (Control Panel, restart, shut down), and you can extend this with shortcuts to whichever files or folders you need. Then, just click the right mouse button, MouseExtender will reappear under the mouse cursor, and one more click will launch your chosen document or program. Easy.

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Speed up your home server in seconds
November 13, 2009 – 16:00 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Speed up your home server in seconds

schedulingThe standard (client, not server) versions of Windows are designed to deliver fast, responsive user interfaces, and generally they do a very good job. But this very much depends on what you’re doing with the PC. If you take something a system with something like the Home Premium version of Windows Vista or 7 and try to run it as a home network server, for instance, then it won’t work as efficiently – unless you know which change to make.

And what is that? The necessary tweak is really simple, but to understand why it works we’ll need to cover a little Windows theory, first.

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Panda Cloud Antivirus finally out of beta
November 12, 2009 – 11:51 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Panda Cloud Antivirus finally out of beta

cloudAfter seven months of upgrades, tests and tweaks, Panda Cloud Antivirus can now at last drop the beta tag: it’s finally made it to version 1.0.  The program is still free, though, and that’s just one of the reasons you might want to give it a try.

There are no regular updates here, for instance.  No large signature files to be downloaded every hour or so.  Instead Panda maintains its database on a network of servers, which the program will query whenever it finds something suspicious.  The end result is a very lightweight tool that consumes just 5 or 6 MB RAM when it’s running in the background, and a little under 50MB when scanning.

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Four simple ways to stop Windows Update restarting your PC
November 11, 2009 – 12:02 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Four simple ways to stop Windows Update restarting your PC

wuaIt’s one of the most frustrating Windows problems. You set up your PC to do something really important overnight, maybe download a huge file: but wake up in the morning and you find Windows has rebooted the system before you’d finished, so you need to start again. You’ll naturally want to throw things and shout at Microsoft, but once you’ve calmed down it’s worth thinking about some of the ways you can avoid this happening in future.

One option is to change the time when Windows installs updates (in Windows Vista, click Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Windows Update > Change Settings). By default this is normally set early in the morning, 2 or 3AM. If you change it to some time when you’re more likely to be around then there’s a chance that you’ll spot the reboot prompts and be able to postpone them.

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Save valuable hard drive space with this quick System Restore tweak
November 10, 2009 – 13:37 by Mike Williams in News | Comments Off on Save valuable hard drive space with this quick System Restore tweak

restoreWindows can be, well, a little fragile at times (you may have noticed). Just one Registry error, or a single corrupt system file could be enough to stop your system booting. So it’s good to know that System Restore is working in the background, keeping snapshots of your system state, and enabling you to fix most of these problems in a couple of minutes via Windows Startup Repair.

But there’s a price to pay for this feature. Keeping all these backups requires plenty of disk space, and by default System Restore will consume 15% of whatever’s available (12% on XP), or for instance more than 112GB of a 750GB drive. If you’ve plenty of hard drive space free then you can safely ignore this, as it does have some advantages (you’ll be able to store and recover many more restore points). But when drive space is running short then cutting System Restore’s share can make a real difference, and it only takes a moment.

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