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Posts Tagged ‘Windows’

Stop That Annoying “Unused Icons on Your Desktop” Popup in Windows XP

September 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Yes, I know that Windows 7 is around and there are a million tutorials on this very topic. But lets face it, Windows XP isn’t going anywhere for a while yet, and I don’t know of a single person who likes this “feature.” In fact, as a tech this has to be one of the most common question people ask me. So I’m adding yet another guide on how to permanently pop that annoying message balloon!


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Formating a Drive Using the Windows Command Line

September 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Nowadays it seems like Windows has a GUI for everything. Whether its modifying GPOs using a MMC Snap-in or performing registry hacks with the regedit tool, its rare for even a Windows Technician to spend much time in the command line any more. On rare occasions however, even the most adept mouse-wielding users may find a task that is easier (or even necessary) to do in the command line. One such task I find myself doing is formatting a system disk using Microsoft’s format command…


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Sending Mass Email in Thunderbird Using MailTweak

September 16, 2011 Leave a comment

While Outlook has some great features for a corporate environment, Mozilla Thunderbird is probably one of my all-time favorite email clients. Its cross-platform compatible (runs on Linux, Windows, and Mac), fast, highly customizable, open source, and free to download and use (take that Microsoft!). Just like its cousin, the Mozilla Firefox browser, extra functionality and features can be added to Thunderbird by installing plugins. One of my all-time favorite plugins for Thunderbird (along with Enigmail), is MailTweak. This plugin adds a great deal of extra features and functionality to an already great program. One of these features that I find myself using fairly often, is sending personalized mass emails…


 

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Tutorial: Using WinSCP to Connect to a FTP, SFTP/SCP, or AFP File Share

January 22, 2011 8 comments

Both Mac and Linux have built-in support for connecting securely to SFTP and SCP file shares. This is because both are closely connected to the Unix platform, where the ssh protocol was originally developed. Windows, however doesn’t have any such connection to these protocols. Luckily, there is a free program that will add the necessary functionality to easily work with these file shares. Its called WinSCP (http://winscp.net).

WinSCP (Which stands for Windows Secure Copy) is a lightweight program that allows Windows computers to connect to other servers running FTP or SSH (and thus securely to SFTP/SCP file shares) on them, and I’ve even had success connecting to AFP (Apple Filing Protocol) shares (edit: since I wrote this article, I have done some additional research, and found out that the Mac servers that were using AFP also had SSH enabled for remote management, which is what WinSCP was probably connecting to — my recommendation is if you need to access files on a Mac from Windows, you probably need to also enable SSH on the server to make it work). In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to install this software and use it to connect to a server.

Installing WinSCP

First thing to do is download WinSCP from its download page (http://winscp.net/eng/download.php). You’ll note that there are two different install packages available: the standard Installation package and the Portable Executable package. Use the Portable Executable package if you don’t have administrative permissions or if you want to install the program on a portable device like a USB drive. Otherwise use the Installation package to install the software onto a specific computer. After downloading the program, go ahead and run it.

WinSCP Install: Select LanguageThe first screen you’ll see is the Select Setup Language window. For the sake of this tutorial, we’ll leave it as English, but you can choose whatever you want. Click OK to continue.

Click Next on the Welcome window, and next again to accept the install license (WinSCP is distributed under the open source GPL license). The next window is the Setup Type window where you can choose to use the Typical Install option or do a Custom Install. For the sake of this tutorial, we’ll stick with the Typical Install option. Click Next to move to the next screen, select the Do Not Install radial button on the extra software window, and click next again.

Typical vs Custom Install

TCommander vs Explorer Interfacehe next screen lets you select the type of interface you want to use. The two options are the Commander and Explorer interfaces. The commander interface has a more traditional FTP program look with one frame on the left of the window showing your local files and another frame on the right showing the files on the server. You transfer files back and forth by dragging from one frame to the other. The explorer interface looks more like a typical Windows Explorer window of just the server’s files, and you transfer files back and forth by dragging them from one window to the other. Either interface will work, and you can switch back and forth after installation, so it really doesn’t matter which you choose (I happen to prefer the Commander interface myself). After selecting which interface you want, Click Next and then Install to complete the installation.

After its complete, click finish to close the install program. If you leave the Launch WinSCP  box checked it will open the program automatically when you click finish. Otherwise you can use the desktop icon or Start Menu to run the program.Finished Installation

Setting Up a Connection in WinSCP

WhWinSCP Starting Imageen you open WinSCP, you’ll see the main program screen. On the right hand side is a series of buttons that allow you to edit, delete, and create new connections. Left of that is a list of the connections that you’ve created and saved in the past. Click on the New button to open up the Login screen.

There are several fields on the Login screen that you should be aware of:

  • Host Name: This is where you’ll put the name of the server that you want to connect to (for example: fs.finearts.utah.edu).
  • Port Number: This is the port that the server will be connecting on. Unless otherwise instructed, just leave it set to its default number (port 22).
  • Username: This is the username that you would use to log into the computer normally (for example: u0123456). If you are not sure what to use, ask the server’s administrator.
  • Password: This is the password you would use to log into the computer normally (for example: password1234). Again, ask the server’s administrator if you don’t know what to use for this field.
  • Private Key File: If your connection is set up to use Public/Private key authentication, you would tell WinSCP where your private key file is. If you don’t know what a private key is, or if you don’t have one, just leave the field blank.
  • File Protocol: This is the type of protocol you’ll be using to connect with the server. Generally, you can leave this set to SFTP with the Allow SCP Fallback box checked.

WinSCP Login Screen

Once you’ve filled in the appropriate fields, you can click the save button and choose a name for the connection (this can be whatever you want). If you want WinSCP to remember your password, go ahead and check the box that says Save Password (otherwise WinSCP will ask you for your password every time you try to connect). Finally click the OK button to save the connection to your Connections List.Walks through

Transferring Files Using WinSCP

Once you’ve created and saved a connection, you can access your file share by clicking on the entry in the list and clicking the Login button at the bottom of the window. This will open a box saying it’s attempting to connect to the server. If the information you entered is correct, it will open up a window showing the files on the server, and (if you selected the Commander Interface) the files on your local computer as well. Commander Interface for WinSCP

To enter a folder on either the server or local computer side, simply double-click on that folder. To move back out of the folder, you can double-click on the folder at the top of the list with an arrow and two dots (the two dots mean move up one directory). Finally, to copy a file from one computer to the other, simply click and drag from one side to the other. This will cause WinSCP to verify that you want to copy that file. Click Copy, and when the transfer is complete, you should see a copy of the file on both the server and local computer in the place you dragged and dropped it to. You can also copy folders and multiple files the same way (to copy multiple files or folders, simply highlight them all using the shift or ctrl key, then drag and drop). It’s important to remember that this action only makes a copy from one computer to the other. The original file will still be in the same place it was before the transfer. When you are done, you can simply close the window like you would any other, and it will close the connection for you and exit the program.

You should now be able to use WinSCP to upload and download files from other servers. There are several features available in WinSCP that we haven’t covered in this tutorial however. If you are interested in learning what these features are and how to use them, simply check out the WinSCP Documentation page at http://winscp.net/eng/docs/start. I’ve also created a video tutorial demonstrating these steps that can be seen on Vimeo, or by playing the the embedded video below:

Fixing XP’s Registry from the Recovery Console Using System Restore Points

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

I recently had a client’s Windows XP machine suffer a crash that corrupted its registry and prevented it from even booting into safe mode. After trying several different tricks to try to get it to boot, I came across an article at http://bit.ly/ccKMOe that really did the trick. I thought I’d summarize the steps I took to perform the fix:

  1. Boot into the Recovery Console using a Windows XP CD. If you prefer, you can use a Live CD like Knoppix or Ubuntu to access the computer’s hard drive.
  2. Backup the current SOFTWARE and SYSTEM registry hives. While this step isn’t technically required to restore the registry from an old system restore point, it is always a good idea to make a backup of system files that you are going to replace (just in case you have one of those “uh-oh” moments later and need to undo what you just did). To do this from the Recovery Console, type:
    cd \Windows\System32\Config
    ren software software.bak
    ren system system.bak
  3. Navigate to the directory where the system restore files are being kept. You can do this by typing: cd "\System Volume Information\_resto~1". The _resto~1 part of the line is a shortened name for a directory called _restore followed by a long GUID number. If this command doesn’t work, you will need to replace the _resto~1 with the full name of the directory (you can find out what the whole name is by using the dir command).
  4. In the _restore directory, there are a bunch of directories starting with RP. These are the different restore points saved on your system. Use the dir command to see the dates associated with these various restore points and cd into one with a date before the problem started occurring (ex. cd RP743).
  5. Inside the restore point directory, there is a folder titled snapshot. Type cd snapshot to change into that directory as well. In the snapshot directory, there are backup copies of the SOFTWARE and SYSTEM registry files that we need. Copy them into the Windows\System32\Config directory by typing:
    copy _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SOFTWARE \Windows\System32\Config\software
    copy _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SYSTEM \Windows\System32\Config\system
  6. Type exit to close the Recovery Console and restart your computer. If everything went right, you should be able to boot into Windows XP without any problems.

Beginner's Guide to Removing Viruses

December 29, 2009 2 comments

We’ve all been there. Surfing online, minding our own business (or maybe not…), when you realize all too late that you clicked on the wrong link or popup. Bam! You’ve got a virus.*
If you’re lucky, your antivirus software (you are running up-to-date antivirus software on your computer, right?) will catch the mistake and eliminate the infection before it manages to take root on your system. All to often, however, the virus will manage to get in under the radar and wreak havoc before you’ve even realized its there. At this point, a simple scan of your antivirus software is often not enough to completely remove the infection. In this article, I’ve outlined several basic steps that can be taken to remove an infection.**

1. Prepare the Infected System

Before trying to remove a virus from your system, there are a few important things to do. First, avoid using your computer for any task where sensitive or private information will be used. It is not uncommon for some infections to steal passwords, financial information, or anything typed on your keyboard. If possible, you should disconnect your system from the Internet and not use it until you are certain that the infection is removed.
Second, it is important to know that the process of removing viruses from your system can be a very involved and time-consuming task, ranging from hours to a couple of days depending on how bad the infection is. Once you start the process of removing a virus, you should see it through to the end. Otherwise you run the risk of having the virus come back again.
Third, turn off System Restore (some viruses will use System Restore as a way to reinstall themselves after being removed) and clean out all temporary files (I recommend using CCleaner to do this, although Windows Cleanup can be used instead). In addition to helping with the removal of the virus infection, this will help speed up your virus scans.
Fourth, it is always a good idea to back up any important data before attempting to remove a virus. While these steps are fairly straight forward and shouldn’t result in any data loss or harm to your system, the only way to ensure your data is protected is by backing it up! Its tedious, I know, you should still do it. Also, don’t copy, run, or open any files from your backup without first scanning it with a working and up-to-date virus/adware/spyware scanner. After all, you don’t want to reinfect yourself or another clean system with the same virus.

2. Download Virus Removal Tools

The first rule of dealing with an infected system is to not trust any of the programs that are on that system. Therefore, you are going to need to download a few standard tools in order to deal with your virus problem. The first tool I would recommend is a good antivirus rescue live CD.*** The benefit of using a live CD is you can guarantee that your tools will be completely unaffected by the virus infection. There are several free live CD’s available for this purpose (a list with reviews can be found here). I would recommend using one or more of the following: Avira AntiVir Rescue System, BitDefender Rescue CD, and/or Dr. Web Live CD (it doesn’t hurt to use several different live CDs in succession to be thorough since different antivirus tools will sometimes detect and remove different viruses more efficiently). You will also want some other tools that are specifically designed for removing adware/spyware. I recommend using Malwarebytes, Spybot, and/or Ad-Aware (each has a free version available for home use). Be sure to run the update tool on each of the programs you’ve installed before using them.

3. Run the Live CD(s)

This seems fairly obvious, but at this point, go ahead and boot into a live CD and run the antivirus tools. Some live CDs allow you to update the virus definitions before running them (you will likely need a network connection via an Ethernet cable to perform the updates). Other live CDs will automatically have a set of fairly recent virus definitions already built in. After you’ve updated the virus definitions (if the option is available), start the virus scan and then go watch TV or read a book for a while because it will take some time (I’ve found that most virus scans take between 1 to 3 hours to run depending on the number of files on your system). Once its done, make sure to tell the CD to remove any infections it found and restart the computer with a different live CD if you are planning on running multiple scans. Rinse, lather, repeat! If there are any viruses found that the live CD is unable to remove, write down its name and do some research online (from another computer if possible). Sometimes antivirus companies, such as McAfee or Symantec, often have special tools and detailed instructions on removing some of the more difficult infections.

4. Start Windows in Safe Mode

Once you’ve finished running the live CDs that you’ve chosen to run, you’ll want to boot into Safe Mode in Windows to finish cleaning up the system. To do this, press the F8 key repeatedly while the computer is starting up. For detailed instructions on how to do this, click here. Once you’ve booted into Safe Mode log into an account (make sure the account has administrative privileges) and run a scan with each of your antivirus/antispyware programs (ie. Malwarebytes, Spybot, Ad-Aware, etc.) in turn. Again, these scans will take some time, but its the only way to make sure that your system is free of viruses. Have these tools clean/repair or quarantine any infections they find, and be sure to write down any infections that cannot be treated so you can do some specific research on how to remove those particularly stubborn infections. It also doesn’t hurt to run each scan again after you’ve cleaned off all the infections, just to ensure that none of them have re-spawned themselves after removing them.

5. Final Cleanup

After you’ve finished running your various scans and have achieved a clean bill of health, restart your computer and let it start up normally. Hopefully, your system should now be free of infections and as good as new. If everything seems fine and you don’t see any signs of the previous infection, go ahead and turn System Restore back on and (if you suspect that your current antivirus was compromised by the virus and no longer working properly), uninstall and then reinstall your antivirus software. Be sure that you update the antivirus and make sure that its working correctly. Finally, you can verify that all is well by running a free online scan of your computer from Panda or BitDefender.**** If everything checks out, your system is clean as a whistle and ready to go. If not, then you likely have a virus that will require some additional (and more invasive) steps to get it off of your system. If this is the case, you’ll probably need to seek additional help from someone with experience dealing with these kinds of infections.


* Since this article is meant to be a beginner’s guide, I will be using the term “virus” interchangeably with the term “malware.” While such a generalization is not technically accurate, I have done so in order to avoid confusing some of our less technical readers. Technically, a virus is defined as a malicious program capable of self replication (often without the permission of the user), while malware (which is short for “malicious software”) is a general term that includes a wide variety of infections (viruses, worms, trojans, rootkits, adware/spyware, etc.).

** While following these steps should not cause you to loose any of your data or cause problems with your system, you should know that attempting a virus removal is not completely without risk. You should always take precautions to back up your data in order to ensure that it isn’t lost. I am not responsible to any harm caused to your system or data by using this information. This article is for instructional purposes only and is not to be seen as a definitive guide to malware removal.

*** A live CD is a CD that you can boot into instead of your usual operating system (such as Windows). You can usually download an ISO file and burn it to a physical CD (the Avira CD actually has a program that you download and run to burn the CD for you). I would recommend downloading the file and burning the disk as close to when you plan on doing the virus removal so that it is the most recent version. Also, you may have to change your BIOS settings to allow you to boot into a live CD. If you don’t know how to do this, you can get more information here.

**** There are a lot of websites out there that claim to offer free malware removal tools but will actually further infect your system with viruses. Only trust tools from reputable sources, such as well-known antivirus companies (Norton, McAfee, Panda, BitDefender, etc.). If you don’t know whether a tool is legitimate or not, do some research before you act. Remember, the first rule of online security is to never trust anyone.

Top Free Apps for Your Computer

August 20, 2009 1 comment

There’s an old saying that “the best things in life are free.” Few people know that some of the best applications written for the PC (and the Mac) are available free of charge. I’ve put together a “short list” of programs that may be of interest to the average Windows user. If you use a different OS (such as Mac or Linux) these programs may or may not be available, but with a little research (i.e. “Googling”), you should be able to find some plausible alternatives. Also, if you intend to use any of these programs in an enterprise/work environment, be sure to first read the license information as some programs (mainly antivirus/malware applications) are only free for personal use.


Antivirus

I’ve put this at the top of the list because no Windows based PC should be without some form of updating virus protection. I say updating because those “free” trials of Norton, Symantec, or McAfee that came pre-installed on your computer usually expire after a month or two and then are next to useless until you purchase a license for about $40 a year. This is not to say that these programs aren’t effective at protecting your computer when they are receiving updates. What most people don’t know, however, is there are some free antiviruses available that are just as good, and they never expire. Below are the two antivirus apps I recommend for the average user. Just be sure to only have one antivirus on your computer at a time, since having multiple antivirus apps will cause all sorts of weird errors.

  • Avira: This antivirus is one of my favorites and is what I run on my Windows computers at home. It is fast, easy to use and has a very good detection rate with very few false positives. Its also very light weight, so it runs well on both old hardware and high-performance gaming rigs alike. The only downside I’ve found is the free version displays a popup ad every time it updates (about once a day). Simple Instructions to turn off the ads can be found at the wikiHow website, but be aware that doing so is probably a violation of Avira’s End-user license agreement. Does this mean that disabling the ads will cause men in dark suits to visit your house in black helicopters? Probably not, but if you want to play it safe, check out AVG as a good alternative. You can get Avira Antivirus free at http://www.free-av.com/.
  • AVG: As mentioned above, AVG is a great alternative to Avira. It uses a little more resources than Avira, but is also very dependable and easy to use. I often recommend it to people who don’t want to be bothered by ads, but also want dependable, free virus protection. In fact, up until I discovered Avira, this was my antivirus of choice. You can get AVG for free at http://free.avg.com/.

There are some additional antivirus apps out there (such as Avast! and ClamWin) that will also give you some free protection, but due to Avast!’s registration issues and ClamWin’s lack of features, they don’t quite make the cut.


Chat/Instant Messaging

I used to be a huge fan of Pidgin Instant Messenger because of its support for a wide variety of chat clients in one easy-to-use package. I found it to be perfect for people who used multiple chat clients, because they could just use one program rather than three or four to stay in touch with people…

Then along came Digsby. Digsby not only does what pidgin did by supporting multiple chat clients at the same time, but it also lets you receive email alerts and keep tabs on your social networks (such as Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook). And if that wasn’t enough, it does it while packaging it all into a stylish, customisable side-bar that can be minimised to a small set of icons in your right-hand part of the task bar. Simply put, Digsby is awesome! The only complaint I have is that it isn’t available yet for Mac and Linux (but they are working on it). You can download Digsby from http://www.digsby.com.


Web Browsers

Internet Explorer sucks. That’s all there is to it. It’s insecure, slow, and doesn’t always display websites correctly (mainly because Microsoft tends to make up a new set of standards for every version of IE it releases). To be fair, a lot of improvements have been made since it was first packaged with Windows. Changes have been made to fix it up, speed it up, and give it a new coat of paint. When you get right down to it though, these changes are like dressing up a turd; underneath that fancy top hat and coat tails, it still stinks. If you are currently using Internet Explorer to read this blog post, stop and download one of the following recommended web browsers right now.

  • Firefox: Most of you are probably not surprised this web browser is at the top of my list. Its secure, fast, reliable, and full of features. It also completely follows XHTML standards that have been created by the World Wide Web Consortium (of course, almost everyone except Microsoft does this). Simply put, this means that it will always display valid web pages correctly. If all this wasn’t enough, there is a plethora of free plugins available that will let you customise and add additional functionality to your web browser. You can get firefox at http://www.firefox.com.
  • Chrome: While this browser isn’t nearly as feature-rich as Firefox, it is by far one of the fasted web browsers around. This browser made by Google has an amazing startup time and can load web pages at a rate that will blow almost any competitor out of the water. Finally, its completely open source software, so anyone can contribute code to make Google Chrome better. You can download this cool, new browser from http://www.google.com/chrome.


Office Suite

What if I were to tell you that you could have the same functionality as Microsoft Office without the hefty price tag? Why pay over $100 for a decent word processor or spread sheet editor (or around $400 for the Microsoft Office Standard version) when you can use OpenOffice for free! OpenOffice has a word processor, spreadsheet program, database, slideshow, a math formula editor, and even a simple desktop publishing program. Finally, it can both save and open Microsoft Office file formats (including the new .docx format), and even create PDF documents with a push of a button. Get OpenOffice by going to http://www.openoffice.org.


Like I said before, this is just a “short list” of free and useful programs available for the PC (there’s a lot more than what I’ve just mentioned). Please feel free to comment on which free applications you enjoy, or even ask questions about other free alternatives to your favorite programs (The Gimp being a great alternative to Adobe Photoshop for example). Since the main way people find out about these free applications is usually by “word of mouth,” the more commentary, the better.