Archive for December, 2007

Friday Fun: The Infamous BSOD

BsodThe Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) sends shivers down the neck of anyone who sees it. Even the best computer technicians know that a BSOD error will not be quick or easy to fix. That is why it makes such a great screen grab to use in a practical joke.

There are a number of things that we can do with the BSOD, including one of the few practical jokes you can play on yourself, but have the effect of it seen by others in the room.

The BSOD Screensaver:

I was surprised that the BSOD screensaver was hosted at Microsoft. It isn’t really a great thing to be promoting, but it does show they have a sense of humour. Head over to Technet to get it.

The BSOD screensaver works the same as any other screensaver. Once downloaded and installed, you can select it in your screensaver settings. It will load up after the default 10 minutes your computer is idle. This screen saver also shows the machine reboot in an endless loop. It looks very realistic.

I used this on my work computer in a previous job. It was a fairly laid back atmosphere so I could get away with it. The screensaver would show up during meetings and presentations. People were quite concerned about the stability of my computer. They would tell me that I needed to have my computer looked at. They were also amazed at how quickly I brought the machine back from this crashed state.

You may have known about this already and you may be thinking I have nothing more to offer you. I assure you, that there is some value after the link.

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How-to: Use batch files to create a working environment

Difficulty: 3

Batch

Have you ever noticed that when you get started on a particular task on your computer, you always open up the same bundle of programs to do it? Why not make it easier for yourself and get all of these programs loading up when you want them, with a single click. The answer is batch files.

Batch files have been around longer than Windows has, but sadly they have been forgotten over the years. Generally, DOS is not a nice environment to work in compared to the graphical operating systems we have these days. I feel batch files still have their place. They are very simple to create and they can be edited easily.

You may have already set up your computer to automatically launch particular programs as part of your computers start up sequence. While this will work, it is not really the ideal situation, because you may not be ready to use the programs straight away. This can slightly slow you down or clutter your workspace, for no good reason. Instead, if you use batch files, your specified programs will launch simultaneously with one click, only when you’re ready to use them.

In this article we will look at how to create some basic batch files which you can alter to suit your own needs. For this How-to article, I am going to use batch files to launch environments, e.g. turning your computer into a multimedia heaven. 

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Outlook Add-in: Outlook Duplicate Items Remover 1.2

OdirPOP email servers are not as smart as IMAP, Exchange or online email services. They are unable to keep track of what mail you have already downloaded, when you are moving between computers or when you have just reinstalled Outlook (if you have imported a backup). This is not normally a problem in day to day use, but when you do make changes to your email account settings, you can end up with duplicate items, and a lot of them.

It is a real hassle to remove each of these duplicate items individually, and in the past I have manually removed them. Today after a fresh install of Outlook, I had around 150 duplicate items! I needed to find a better way to automate the removal of these. I came across a number of utilities that would do the job. Some of them are free and others are commercial or shareware releases. After a bit of testing Outlook Duplicate Items Remover (ODIR) came out on top.

ODIR scans your Outlook mail, contacts, tasks and calendar for duplicate items. If an item is found to be a duplicate it moves the item into a folder called ODIR Duplicate Items. You can then look through this folder and then delete it’s contents once you are comfortable that you don’t need any of them.

There are a number of reasons I preferred ODIR over the other utilities I tested out. First of all, it is free which is always a big selling point for me. ODIR had fewer options than many of the others, but in the end I felt most comfortable using it as it did not automatically delete duplicate items (as most of the others did). Instead, ODIR moved them into a separate directory which I could quickly sift through to confirm that no legitimate mail was removed.

If you find yourself in the same situation, do yourself a favour and download ODIR. It is so quick and easy to use, making this huge hassle a piece of cake.

ODIR is available for free from Vaita. Tested on Outlook 2007 in Vista.


Windows XP Software: BootVis, the solution for slow startups

BootvisWhen you start up a Windows computer, there are a number of processes, programs and drivers that load up automatically. The more things that load up, the slower your startup will be. If your machine takes 5 minutes to boot, there is something wrong and the boot up needs to be looked at. You should aim to be completely up and running within 2 minutes.

There are sometimes utilities that take an extremely long time to open up. This may be due to them being faulty or configured incorrectly. There is no way to tell what is holding up the startup process unless you can get your hands on some detailed data which will show you how long each component of your startup is taking. That is where BootVis comes in.

BootVis shows you a time line of your startup sequence, showing you when each process starts and finishes during boot up, all presented visually in easy to read graphs. This can be used to find out where your startup is being slowed down or pausing. This can help you identify the problem and then take steps to work out a solution.

BootVis was originally released by Microsoft so that driver programmers could test their software. It is no longer supported by Microsoft (hence no version for Vista), nor is it available through them. I have been unable to find any freeware programs that do this crucial fault finding job visually, though there are some programs that log some of this data to text files.

Some sites report that BootVis can be used to speed up your startup time. There are optimisation options in BootVis, but to get worthwhile results, you will need to manually tweak your system and use some wisdom to make the most out of it.

BootVis is a must for anyone suffering a slow startup. Get your copy for free from MajorGeeks.com.


Windows Software: WindowsPager Revisited

WindowsPagerIt’s not very often I post about a single piece of software twice. In fact, this is the first time. A recent update now makes WindowsPager much more stable and functional than previous versions.

In Linux there is (and has been for as long as I can remember), a feature in which you can have multiple desktops/workspaces that you can switch between. This is ideal for organising your running programs. I like using workspaces so that I can have one workspace for work, and another few for play. It also makes for a great boss key.

WindowsPager is an evolving project hosted at SourceForge which has come a long way in a short time. It looks the same as the Linux switcher sitting snuggly in your taskbar, and it is just as easy to use. To switch workspaces, click on the workspace you want to go to. To move an application from one workspace to another, hold down ctrl and drag the icon of it to the desired workspace. A new additional feature in this version lets you click in the titlebar of any window and “move to” any other desktop.

WindowsPager has been working well for me since version 0.8. WindowsPager 0.21 has just been released and is a big improvement. We can look forward to added functionality and stability in future releases. I am finding that in its current state, WindowsPager looks and works much better than any other workspace switchers I could find for Windows.

There are a couple of limitations. You cannot drag a window from one workspace to another using the title bar. Saying that, I have not come across a Windows workspace switcher that can do this. There is also no dual screen support. It does work with dual screens, but only the preferred screen will be shown. All the releases are currently alpha releases, so bugs are to be expected though I have not come across any bugs in the current version after a week of use.

To have WindowsPager load at startup, create a shortcut to it in the startup folder of your start menu.

I am very excited about this project and I am going to continue tracking it as it is developed. Get your copy for free from SourceForge