Tools & Utilities



Everything For Nothing

You know its somewhere on your computer but can you find it? Weíve all been there, youíre trying to find a document, photo or some other type of file but you just canít remember where it is stored, or the correct file name. Windows Search might be able to track it down, but it can be slow and a bit blinkered  so hereís something else to try. Itís a freeware search tool for files and folders called Everything and it really doesnít need much more in the way of explanation, except to say that it starts indexing as soon as it is installed and constantly updates its database. This makes it super quick and it returns results as soon as you begin typing in the Search box. It uses minimal resources and typically uses just a few MB of RAM an index of one million files take up only 15MB of hard disc space.



Super Snooper

Do you know how much information your computer, smartphone or tablet gives out over the Internet, and weíre not just talking about your IP address? If you donít like surprises then on no account go to the System Scanner website because with a second or two it will tell you where you are, all about your computer hardware, what operating system you are using, what browser plug-ins you have, details about your network, your display, security status, battery charge level and status and if you have a camera and microphone connected, you can see what it (and maybe someone else) is seeing and hearing. If you have tablet or smartphone it will tell you itís orientation and whether or not it is in motion, your language settings, you can check your broadband speed, and much else besides. Itís useful, and scary at the same time, so you are concerned about security, see what others can seeÖ



Benchmark Your Boot

Ask almost any long-time Windows users what their biggest gripe are and the chances are it the gradual increase in boot up time will be in the top five. Remember when you first got your shiny new PC? It would boot up from cold and be ready to use in under a minutes. Two or three years down the line and the average well used machine is now taking two or three minutes to be useable, but when and how did the decline begin?  Here's a way to find out, it's a freeware utility called the MaaS360 Boot Analyzer Tool. It logs each boot up plotting a graph as it goes and after a while you can clearly see where the rot set in. Maybe, if you are lucky, you'll be able identify the program or application that caused the problem. It is very easy to use, in fact you don't have to do anything, just remember to have a look at the graph every now and again, or use the optional warning feature that alerts you when boot time exceeds a pre-set limit.



Dig Deep With D7

Foolish IT Ė donít say it too quicklyÖ  -- caught our eye recently with CryptoPrevent, a free program that locks down your PC and protects it against Ransomware infections, Well, theyíre keeping busy with a new freebie, called D7 Free. Leave now if you are not reasonably well acquainted with the workings of your computer as this sophisticated diagnostic tool probes deep into its inner workings, seeking out problems, but leaving it up to you to fix them. It includes a virus and malware scanner, registry editing, system information and reporting, quick access to numerous Windows tweaks, access to Windows repair and maintenance tools, CPU and RAM stress testing and much more besides, though some of the more exotic options are only available in the licensed version, but thereís more than enough functionality in the free version for PC savvy users to get to grips with.



Drive Safely

Drivers continue to be an area of frustration and annoyance for many computer users. Some things you canít do much about, like manufacturers not supporting older hardware when new versions of Windows are released, but you can be prepared for the thankfully rare occasions when a driver becomes corrupted or just disappears. This little free utility called simply Free Driver Backup, needs little in the way of explanation. Suffice it to say, if you have it on your PC, the next time you have a driver problem, like as not it will get you out of trouble. When you install and run it, it makes a copy of all of the drivers on your computer, so should one fail, you have known good copy that you can point Device Manager to, to update or replace it. It has other uses too; if you ever have to reinstall Windows, provided you have a backup copy of your Driver Backup, you wonít have to scrabble around for installation discs or seek downloads to get your freshly reinstalled hardware and software up and running again. As always with freeware, pay attention during the installation and click Decline if you donít want to accept any offers to install other software on your PC or take part in surveys.



Running Mate

As you probably know, when you switch on your computer, not only does it launch Windows, it also starts a whole lot of other programs and behind the scenes Ďservicesí that help to keep your computer, and the software that you use ticking along. You may also know that you can disable the stuff that you donít want or need using Windows utilities like msconfig, but what you may not know is that what these and most other startup managers show is just a tiny fraction of what starts with your computer, and ultimately determines how fast it boots up and runs. Here is a way to see just about everything that your computer runs at boot up. Itís a free utility from Microsoft Sysinternals, called Autoruns. The latest version v11.7 is supposed to be for Windows 7 and 8 but we found it also works on XP and Vista as well but if you use it, be warned, what you will see is not a pretty sight. Even on the most carefully maintained PC youíre likely to see hundreds of entries, hidden away from view in the Registry, Run, RunOnce and startup folders. Itís a powerful tool and not something to mess with if you donít know your way around Windows, so if youíre a novice, itís a case of look, but donít touch! If, on the other hand, you know what you are doing itís a good way to perk up your PC and possibly identify the time-wasters and resource hogs that are slowing your computer down; just don't forget to backup your Registry or set a Restore Point!



Key To Free Software

Normally we confine ourselves to just one useful or interesting piece of free software, but this weekís tip is for almost 300 applications and utilities, and they are all Ďportableí which means they are designed to load and run from a USB key drive or memory stick, so you can carry them around with you and use anywhere. Itís called LiberKey and the list of programs is way to long to list here but in includes a lot of top-notch stuff, including many classics like Audacity, ImgBurn, 7-Zip, Photfiltre, FastStone, Filezilla, Rocket Dock, Notepad++, WipeDIsk, TrueCrypt, UltraShredder, CCleaner, Revo Uinstaller, Unlocker, HWMonitor, VirtualDub, and we could go on, but life is too short. Suffice it to say that there is something for everyone here, very neatly packaged and easily updated.



Take Out The Toolbars

You really need to keep your wits about you whenever you install new software these days. This is especially true of freeware programs and simply clicking the OK and Next buttons during an installation, without paying attention to what is going on will, like as not, result in you acquiring all manner of toolbars and utilities that you almost certainly do not want. You can end up spending ages trying to track down and get rid of them all, and thatís the just the ones you know about; itís the stuff that lurks in the background that can be a real pain, so hereís something to clear out the crap hiding inside your browsers. Itís called AdwCleaner, itís freeware and it is really easy to use. Once installed just click the Search button and shortly afterwards it displays a text file, showing all of the rubbish, along with its location on your hard drive. You can zap the lot straight away using the delete button, though it may be wise to read through the list, just to make sure none of it is wanted and if there is anything you want to keep, itís best to delete the files you donít want manually.



Advanced Uninstaller Pro now Freeware

One of the main causes of the dreaded Windows slowdown is all the programs we insist on installing then forgetting. The problem is many of these programs load services and helper utilities that chug away in the background, consuming resources and occasionally gumming up the works. One way to slow this steady decline is to carry out regular spring-cleans, and the best way to do that is with an uninstaller program. These are utilities that, in theory at least, get rid of programs completely, including all of the bits and pieces they came with, including Registry entries, which often get left behind if you use the programís own uninstaller utility. Weíve looked at uninstaller programs in the past and we continue to rate highly the excellent Revo Uninstaller, but hereís some welcome news on another old favourite. Advanced Uninstaller Pro is now available for free. Itís very easy to use, with an impressive list of features, like the installation monitor, which logs all of the files newly installed programs put onto your computer. Thereís also a start up manager, start menu cleaner, file shredder plus a whole bunch of tools that can help to keep your PC running smoothly. Sounds too good to be true? Well, we canít see any catches, apart from the usual offers during the install Ė which you can decline Ė to install toolbars, so check it out, and pay attention to those check boxes.



Fast, Fancy and Free File Viewer

Over the years weíve looked at a lot of hard disc file analysers, and some of them are very good indeed, like the ever reliable SpaceMonger, but hereís a new one to add to the list, that has even more functions, and is compatible with Windows 7 (as well as older versions of Windows). Itís called Saleen FilePro, and it is free to home users. Key features include a detailed, zoomable and very colourful disc tree maps, just spin your mouse wheel or click the zoom control to get up close and personal with folders and files. It also has a powerful search facility; you can take a snapshot of all or part of a volume Ė handy for making comparisons Ė compare directories and search out duplicate files. Thereís more, much more, but as usual the best way to get to know it is to give it spin.



Get To Grips With Gizmo

Most of the software we look at here is aimed at PC users of all abilities but now, for a change, hereís something for inveterate fiddlers and Windows power users. Beginners and novice might like to look away. Itís Gizmo Central, a freeware suite of tools and utilities that let you do things with a couple of clicks that would otherwise involve installing specialised programs. Hereís a few highlights. Gizmo Script allows you to create command sets to automate functions on your PC. Gizmo Drive lets you mount drives and drive images (iso, bin, cue, nrg, ccd, mds and mdf). Gizmo Database features a query and store procedure analyser, Gizmo Hasher calculates hash values for files and folders and Gizmo Editor includes a colourising text and hex/binary editors. As you can see itís fairly specialised stuff though the drive options could come in handy for anyone producing or burning their own CDs and DVDs. As for the rest of the tools, well, if you have to ask, you probably donít need itÖ



From Page to PDF

Hereís a really useful add-on for popular browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome. Itís called Web2PDF Converter and the name says it all. Converting web pages to PDFs is a quick and easy way to save them, and store and send them, and the major plus point is that PDFs are very safe, and virtually immune to viruses and other nasties. Pages are saved in a standard A4 format, which also handy if you want to print it out and as an added bonus, PDFs can be displayed in most browsers. The add on is simple to use and in the case of Firefox it adds an icon to the navigation bar, so all you have to do is visit the page you want to convert, click the icon and download the PDF.



Zip Fix

Repairing damaged archive files, like zips, is just one of IZArcís many talents. This remarkable freeware program is a one-stop shop for just about every type of archive file known to man. It supports all of the following formats: 7-ZIP, A, ACE, ARC, ARJ, B64, BH, BIN, BZ2, BZA, C2D, CAB, CDI, CPIO, DEB, ENC, GCA, GZ, GZA, HA, IMG, ISO, JAR, LHA, LIB, LZH, MDF, MBF, MIM, NRG, PAK, PDI, PK3, RAR, RPM, TAR, TAZ, TBZ, TGZ, TZ, UUE, WAR, XXE, YZ1, Z, ZIP, ZOO. And thereís more, you can use it to create compressed archives, multiple archives spanning discs, archive conversion, view archives and it supports drag and drop from Windows Explorer. It could be the only compression program youíll ever need.



Stubborn Security

Most applications are fairly well behaved and will uninstall when asked to do so but the same cannot be said for some security programs. They can be real swines to get rid off and this can make re-installation difficult if bits of the previous installation are left behind. To be fair these programs are designed to defend themselves against malware and viruses, which often attacks or tries to disable security software but thatís not much consolation when youíre struggling trying to upgrade or change your defences. The next time it happens try this: itís a freeware utility called AppRemover and itís specially designed to uninstall security programs, the files and libraries that they create and their Registry entries, all of which can interfere with new programs. Itís easy to use, once installed it scans your PC and tells you what security programs you have on your machine Ė it recognises all of the popular titles Ė so you can then decide which ones to remove.



Soluto Revisited

Itís been three years since Soluto first came to our attention and at the time it was one of the more impressive make your PC go faster/more reliable freeware tools around. Since then theyíve been back to the drawing board and added some new features, most notably an error reporting system. This looks a lot more promising than the one included with Windows, which simply asks you if you want to send an error report, which then disappears off into the ether. The Soluto system actually comes back with an answer Ė if thereís one on its ever-expanding database.  Thereís also a tool to strip out the add-ons and plug-ins that slow down your browser, and the promise of a faster boot. The jury is still out on how effective the error reporting system is -- our PCs are boringly healthy at the moment -- but it definitely shaved a few seconds off the boot time of a well-used laptop, so itís worth a try.



Top Apps on Tap

In the olden days, five or six years ago, say, most of us had a desktop PC and maybe a laptop, but that was about it and we expected to keep on using them until they fell apart. Now PCs, laptops, notebooks, netbooks and other devices seem to be coming out of the woodwork, and if you have a family, the kids probably have a PC or laptop or two between them, which basically means that you can spend a fair chunk of your life hunting around for and installing the same software, over and again. To save you the effort just pop along to Allmyapps, where they have gathered together all of your and our favourite freeware, all neatly tabbed up and ready for one-click download. Itís a long list but it includes a very decent mixture of essential programs and utilities, including VLC, Firefox, CCleaner, Foxit, KLite, iTunes, Audacity, Picasa, Spybot, Winrar and many, many more besides



More Information Than You Need?

Hereís another of those System Information Tools that tell you everything you ever wanted to know about your computer. This one is called SIW or System Information for Windows and it has to be the best yet. This is the freeware version of a newly updated professional tool and what it canít tell you about your computer isnít worth knowing. There are simply too many tools to list here but highlights include full software and hardware inventories, network information, password revealers, monitor, CPU, file usage and network traffic testers, open ports, active network connections, product keys and much much more. As an added bonus it will compile a report so if anything goes wrong, or it starts playing up, youíll have a benchmark to compare it with.



Big Red Boost Button

If Santa bought you a PC game or two for Krimble thereís a chance that your PC may not be up to the job. Games these days make huge demands on a computerís CPU. Memory and graphics resources and if your machine is more than a year or two old and has been well used, itís possible that all the clutter is gumming up the works, enough to stop that whizzy new game doing its stuff. Of course you could spend a wet weekend cleaning up your PC, weeding out all of the non-essential services and background applications, or you could just try GBoost. Itís not a permanent solution, but if you click the Boost button it automatically shuts down running programs and background services then pares down all of the other things that can slow it down in preparation for you to run your game. Donít worry, itís safe to use and everything is restored to normal the next time Windows boots, just remember to save any open documents before you press the big red button otherwise they may be lost.



Savvy About Space

Itís called DiskSavvy and it tells you whatís on your hard drive and how much space it occupies. So what? Weíve been here before, several times in fact, but Disk Savvy does go beyond what weíve come to expect from disk analysers. To begin with it shows files in a variety of classifications, thereís options to Open, Copy, Move Compress and Delete files, it can display disc space as a pie chart, reports and charts can be saved for future reference and itís highly configurable. Oh yes, itís free, there are no catches that we can see though inevitably there will be the occasional invite to upgrade to the more sophisticated paid-for Pro Version.



Drive for Life

A few years ago who would have thought that one day we would be running around with tiny computers in our pockets and bags and instead of hard disc drives, we would be trusting huge volumes of valuable data to titchy microchips? Okay, so maybe itís not such a big surprise; most of us have grow up with solid-state memory and saw it coming a fair way off, but in the dash to ditch hard drives thereís one thing we may have overlooked. Hard drives and now incredibly reliable and we usually change computers long before the drives give out. Solid State Drives or SSDs, on the other hand do tend to have shorter lives, especially in the early days. There are a number of factors that determine an SSDís life expectancy including how long has been powered up and the number of read-write operations. If you know how busy an SSD has been you can make an educated guess on how much time it has left, which is where SSDLife comes in. This is a lite version of a more sophisticated paid-for application, even so the freebie edition can tell you lots of useful things about your SSD, including how long it has been used, a check on its general health and an estimation of how long it can be expected to last. Itís not clairvoyant and canít tell you exactly when its going to pop its clogs, but if youíve got a well used netbook or notebook that uses an Intel or OCZ SSD this little utility might just save you a lot of trouble one day.



More Than You Need to Know?

Hereís one for Windows obsessives, who like to know everything that their computer is up to and weíre not just talking about how busy the CPU is or how much memory it is using, this is industrial strength system monitoring. Glint is a freeware utility that can give you a real-time view of more than 200 dozen system parameters and processes using a set of easy to understand bargraph displays. Itís very pretty to look at, but it has a serious side too. It can help troubleshoot faults and alert you to future problems if, for example one or more of the bargraphs is behaving abnormally or showing greater than usual activity.



Ten-Bit Tweaker

Itís called 10-Bit Toolbox, itís free and the claim is that it can solve PC problems, anytime, anywhereÖ Bold claims indeed, so letís have a look at what it does. First itís a portable application Ė the anytime, anywhere bit -- so itís off to a good start and the chances of something going wrong are already reduced by not having to install it on your PC. But is it going to solve your PC problems? Well, as regular visitors will know Iím always a bit sceptical about programs that purport to cure PC faults, but this one is more a bit more restrained. Itís a collection of 20 tools that includes a Registry Cleaner, Privacy Sweeper, uninstaller, disc cleaner, file shredder, memory optimiser, startup manager, registry defrag, undelete utility, disc checker, duplicate file finder and empty folder scanner. These are all fairly mainstream and individually reasonably safe to use. And yes, they may make a difference to some cluttered or sluggish machines, just donít expect miracles and you would be well advised to set a Restore Point before letting it tinker with your machineís higher functions.



Master Of Tasks

No, you are not being paranoid and they are out to get you, especially if you own a computer. These days, with so much malware, spyware and Trojans sloshing around the web you really need to know what your computer is up to. I know what you are thinking, you can you call up Task Manager (Ctrl + Alt + Del) and it lists running applications and Services, but it only does half a job. Thereís a lot of things it doesnítí monitor and some malware disguises itself as legitimate software. If you really want to know whatís going behind the scenes try this little freeware utility. Itís called Auslogics Task Manager. It looks a bit like the standard Windows Task Manger and there are real-time graphs showing CPU. memory and disk usage, thereís also one for network activity, but the big difference are in the Applications, Services and Processes logs. In addition to lots of useful technical data, entries are ĎRatedí, either as Trustworthy, Unknown or Suspicious; the functions of those mysterious Services and Processes are briefly explained, and if you want more information just right-click on it and youíll be directed to a comprehensive on-line database. Thereís also a complete list of all of the locked files on your PC, and who or what locked them. You would be surprised how many there are; there may even be some that should not be there, or youíve forgotten all about them. Itís a fascinating insight into the hidden world of your computer, a worthy alternative to the built-in Windows tools and it could help you track down a fault or expose something nasty thatís been lurking unseen on your computer.



X Hits The Spot

Hereís another of those handy little utilities that we feature from time to time that make you wonder how you ever got by without it. Itís called XTweaker and it has twelve preset functions.


They are, from top to bottom, Add Msconfig to My Computer, add Userpasswords2 to Control Panel, clear pagefile on Shutdown, add Command Prompt Here to Folder Context Menu, decrease Delay of Start menu, disable Annoying Messages in IE, disable Indexing Service, disable Remote Registry Service, hide the Run as... option from Context Menu, remove Shared Documents, no rebooting after Windows Updates, disable Low Disk space check.


Thereís bound to be a couple of things in there that caught your eye that you can use, and it wonít take you long to find out if it's any use either as the executable download file (no need to install) is only 236kb and it runs happi;ly under XP, Vista and W7.



Easier Partitions

How often have you wished that you could add a new partition to your main drive, or maybe change the sizes of the ones that you have?  The trouble is that thereís no way to do it from within Windows XP, and the tools supplied with Vista and Windows 7 are a tad rudimentary. Until recently the only solution was to shell out for one of the commercial partition tools, or take a chance on the freeware options, which tended to be either fiendishly complicated, or a bit risky. Well hereís a freeware tool that should give those paid-for programs a run for their money. Itís called Partition Assistant and the designers have gone out of their way to make it easy to use. The feature list is fairly brief, but it does what most users what and that includes extending existing partitions without restarting Windows, resize and move, merge, split, create, delete and format partitions, convert files systems from FAT to NTFS and wipe data making it unrecoverable.



Microsoft Fixes It, MaybeÖ

If your PC is playing up and you donít mind Microsoft poking around inside it then you might like to try the new Microsoft Fixit Center, which is currently in the last stages of Beta testing. Itís an automated troubleshooter that is meant to diagnose and fix common problems in Windows, everything from networking to memory and hardware issues. It may even be able to identify problems before they occur so all in all it sounds like a really good thing. Itís certainly going to be a lot safer than the numerous snake oil remedies being peddled on the web, that promise to cure just about every PC malady. Many of them contain malware or demand money to carry out repairs, few of them do any good and some will actually make things worse. Fixit Centre is still in Beta form so there are some risks but at least you know where this one comes from; itís not in Microsoftís interest to muck up your computer and they are not making any outrageous claims for it, so it should be worth a try, before you call in the experts. By the way, it runs on XP (SP3), Vista and Windows 7.



One Stop File Viewer

Hereís a really useful little tool that youíll definitely want to add to your Quick Launch bar. Itís called Universal Viewer, and thatís about a good a summary of what it does, as itís possible to get. Simply click the file open icon, locate the file you want to look at, double click on it and like as not the Universal Viewer will be able to open it. It can handle a very wide range of standards and formats including (deep breath) text, binary, hex and unicode: (RTF, UTF-8: RTF and UTF-8 encoded text), bmp, jpg, gif, png, tga, tiff, etc. plus all formats supported by IrfanView/XnView and external viewers. All formats supported by MS Windows Media Player including: avi, mpg, wmv, mp3 etc. All common web format: html pdf, xml, mht etc. All formats supported by Total Commander Lister plugins. And not forgetting all MS Office file types (if installed): doc, docx, xls, ppt etc.


In short no more hunting around for the right application, if you want to open a file try Universal Viewer first.



Capture Colour and Calendar

Itís a bit difficult to describe Capture .Net as itís a veritable Swiss Army Knife of PC utilities, so we wonít try; hereís the highlights. From the top thereís a screen capture facility, colour capture, screen ruler, font manager, privacy eraser, converter, backup expert, alarm clock, Post-it note, screen calendar with zodiac sign, system tweak, world clock, and the list goes on. Itís small Ė the download is just 700kb Ė and itís a standalone program so thereís no need to install it. The only thing to be aware of is that it requires Microsoft .NET Framework to run but you probably already have it and if you donít itís just a few clicks away.



Doctor Do It All

Thereís something for everyone with Dr Freeware. Itís a suite of utilities designed to help keep your data safe and get you out of trouble when you or your PC throws a wobbly. The basic Windows program (a 5Mb download) is for straightforward data backup and it will copy the contents of a drive, be it hard or flash, to another drive. The full Dr Freeware package amounts to some 300Mb and this is used to create a live Linux CD. This includes a Data Recovery utility. Drive Dumper (hard drive backup), and a Windows Password Cleaner, which can be used to blank user passwords, allowing access to an account. It could be a lifesaver if you forget your password or it becomes corrupted but itís a powerful tool, so use it with care!



Clone Wars Freebie

How much space on your hard disc drive is wasted by duplicate files? You would be surprised and on most PCs itís possible to reclaim tens if not hundreds of megabytes of wasted space by running a duplicate file finder. There are several to chose from, including this one, NoClone Free Edition. Itís a little more sophisticated than most of the others Iíve tried and in addition to identifying 100 percent clones it can also be set to look for close matches Ė handy for finding duplicate mp3s and picture files Ė as well as other user-definable rules, like file size, date and time, and for good measure it will also hunt down duplicate Outlook messages. There are a few plugs for the paid-for version but once you are past those itís an impressive little utility.



Ubuntu Linux In Windows

You have probably hear about Linux and may even have looked into the possibility of using it, but been put off at the first hurdle once you discover that itís not for absolute novices, and dual booting Linux and Windows requires a fair amount of planning and work. Donít give up, hereís a version of the very popular Ubuntu Linux that you can run inside Windows. Portable Ubuntu Linux runs as a Windows application, so you get the best of both worlds. Itís small enough to fit comfortably on a USB memory stick, from where it can be run, so thereís no need to install it, and you can take it with you wherever you go. Itís a full release, with browser, email, word processing, media player and even a few games programs to play with. There's no desktop as such, just a discrete taskbar, so it's really easy to use. Needless to say itís not quite as sprightly as Linux running under its own steam but if all you want to do is see what all of the fuss is about, itís a very good place to start.



Task Master

Anvir Task Manager Free is another one of those handy little tools that make you wonder how you ever got along without it. Itís a beefed up version of the Windows Task Manager and Msconfig rolled into one, monitoring all of the startup items, services and processing running on your PC. It will even pick up some viruses and malware components that your normal scanner may have missed. Armed with this information you can switch off all the stuff you donít need and hopefully speed up your PCís boot up and give a useful performance boost by freeing up resources. Itís all free but watch out for those checkboxes when you install the program and deselect the extras and trials that come with it, unless of course you want themÖ



Freeware Partition Tool

Normally my advice to novices and newcomers is to stay well away from advanced tools like disc partition managers. In the hands of an inexperienced user the potential for disaster is relatively high, and that applies to the better commercial programs; the freeware stuff is definitely off limits and best left to experts and the very brave... However, Iím prepared to make an exception for Easeus Partition Master Home Edition. It is freeware, but it looks and behaves more like a well-rounded paid-for application. So what can it do? Well, you can use it to create a new partition on a single partition; you can resize existing partitions, delete, copy and format partition. You can hide a partition, change drive letters and explore a partition. In short it does pretty well everything the better known applications can do, but it wonít cost you a bean. Donít forget, though, messing around with partitions is not for the faint hearted and never attempt to do it without first backing up your irreplaceable data.



Process of Fault Elimination

One of the best diagnostic tools in the Windows armoury is Task Manager, a built-in utility that tells you what Windows is up to, and how much of your PCís precious resources are being used. From that itís often possible to tell what program background operation is causing a slowdown, lockup or crash. Task Manager is good, but thereís something even better, called Process Explorer, and it provides you with the same sort of information as Task Manager but in a much more digestible way. See at a glance your PCís memory and CPU usage, which processes are running and all of the files and DLLs your programs have opened. For more advanced users thereís a powerful search facility and options to identify handles and memory-mapped files. A very useful addition to your toolbox.



Growl at Windows

Actually that should be Growl for Windows, and if you havenít heard of it, ask your nearest Mac fan, who have had this handy little program at their disposal for some time. Growl is a whatís known in the trade as a notification manager and itís one of those useful little utilities that you didnít know you needed until you have it. The idea is whenever your PC wants to tell you about something, and it could be anything, from an incoming email to a problem with a program, it tells Growl, and Growl tells you. Basically it replaces all of the odd little boxes, popups noises and ding-dongs that you see and hear combining them into one clear and easy to use interface that you can customise to your way of liking. At the moment it only works with a limited number of applications (Gmail, Facebook, Outlook, Firefox, iTunes, to name just a few), but the list is growing -- or should that be Growling -- all the time. It doesnít sound very inspiring, I agree, but give a try, and see for yourself and I think that you might be pleasantly surprised. By the way it's a beta release, so the usual precautions and warnings apply.



Licensed To Reveal

This will be a familiar annoyance to many of you. How many times have you tried to install a program, only to fall at the first hurdle because youíve lost the licence key?  If it hasnít happed to you yet, it will, so now is the time to do something about it and install this little freeware application called Licence Crawler. Itís sole purpose in life is to search through the Windows Registry for the software licence keys stored on your computer. It covers a lot of ground, from Microsoft products to most major applications. When it has done its business you can take a copy of the info, for the inevitable dayÖ



A Fresh Approach to Diagnosis

Normally I am wary of PC programs that purport to be able to diagnose faults, let alone fix them and to date I haven't seen one that actually works. In fact several I have tried will actually make things worse, but I have been impressed by this freeware utility, called Fresh Diagnose. To begin with there are no repair tools or anything else that could get you into trouble, it simply tells you whatís what, and anything it doesnít like the look of, it flags up with a red cross, so you can investigate further. Thereís also the option to benchmark your system, so you can see, over time, if thereís any significant change in performance, and it keeps a watchful eye on your hardware components, telling you all sorts of potentially useful things that you never knew about your PC. The publishers are also keen to point out that there are no ads, spyware or anything other nasty surprises, so why not have a look?



Hide and Ye Shall Find

You may have heard of, but in case you havenít itís a US site where you can legally watch  tens of thousands of TV shows, movies and videos, all free. The only trouble is it only works inside the US, if you try logging on from the UK youíll be politely told to buzz off. Well, now thereís a way around it, for a while at least, a freeware program called IP Hider. The idea is it tricks Hulu into thinking you are in the US by relaying your connection through an anonymous proxy, located in the US. It certainly worked for me, though I had to change proxies a couple of times but after a bit of fiddling I was able to watch a recent episode of Family Guy with no problems. Now, the downside to all this is that Hulu doesnít like this sort of thing and the last time someone found a loophole it was plugged fairly smartish. Second, this is a beta trial of a paid-for program so it could be pulled at any time, and third, there have been reports of some security programs flagging it up as a carrying malware. As far as I can see it isnít. I suspect the alert is due to the unconventional way it works, but it doesnít hurt to be cautious so if you have any concerns, consider yourself warned and leave it alone!



Wake Up and Do Something Useful

We all know that we can set our PCs to shut down automatically at a preset time, or after a period of inactivity. But would you like your PC to switch on from Standby or Hibernation mode, all by itself, then do something useful, like download your emails or play your favourite tunes? If you like the sound of that then say hello to a little freeware utility called WOSB or Wake On Standby. When itís done what youíve asked, it can be set to switch the PC off again. The download is tiny, itís really easy to use, and you canít get cheaper than free (though the author isnít averse to donations if you find it usefulÖ



USB in View

Itís hard to remember what it was like in the old days before USB. Anyone who has struggled with devices that used serial, parallel and SCSI interfaces will tell you, it was nothing short of a revolution and we now take it pretty much for granted. We tend to get quite blasť, which makes it even more of a shock when a USB port or device goes wrong. They can be swines to fix as well, especially on a well-used PC that has had more than its fair share of USB devices over the years, and thatís one very good reason why you should take a close look at USBDview. This simple little freeware application tells you exactly what USB devices are currently connected to your PC, along with an incredible amount of information about the device and its driver, More importantly, it also tells you what devices have been connected in the past. The program can uninstall old devices that may be causing problems, and disconnect existing devices, making it a very useful addition to your toolbox.



Process Please

Itís called Process Hacker and its job is to provide you with a window on all of the things running on your computer, most of which trundle away in the background, without you knowing a thing about it, until one of them goes wrong. This is a powerful investigative and diagnostic tool that lets you take control of whatís happening behind the scenes, providing you with a detailed list of processes and services, including the ones that like to stay hidden from view. Thereís also a comprehensive list of what you network is up to and this could be very useful for fault finding communications problems, or tracking down any nasties that may have found their way onto your machine. Itís not for novices and nor is it something you are going to use very often but one day, I bet, you will be greatful that you have it!



Benchmark Your Disks

When was the last time you gave any thought to how well your hard drive is performing? Probably never, itís a part of your computer that you tend to forget, until itís full up, or stops working. So how about a free tool that gives you a snapshot of its performance, that you can use to keep track of itís speed, and maybe alert you to a problem, before it gets serious.


Itís called CrystalDiskMark and once installed it runs through a series of read/write operations, producing a set of simple to interpret benchmarks that you can copy and keep for later use. As well as actual data throughput, in Mb/sec it also displays a simple bargraph that shows how well itís doing at a glance. The whole test should only take a couple of minutes, but itís time well spent, and might just save you a lot of grief later on!



Windows 7 Yea or Nay?

Youíve probably heard all about Windows 7 and how wonderful and whizzy it is (actually it is rather good), so the big question now is, can your system take it? Thereís a very good chance it can if itís already running Vista, but what about older slower XP machines? Well, youíre still in with a shout, but to make sure download and run this little freeware utility, called SecurAble. It tells you straight away if your PC is up to the job, with a simple Yes and No answer, and if you want to know why your PC canít cut it, it will tell you the reason why.



Your BIOS Bears All

Youíve probably heard of the BIOS or Basic Input Output System. This is the program that checks your PCís hardware before the operating system is loaded. You may even have seen it, but what do you really know about it? Well, one way to find out is to launch it at startup, but to do that you will need to know the keyboard code, but if you do, you shouldnít really touch anything, unless you know what you are doing. There is another, much safer way to get to know your BIOS and thatís to run a small freeware program called BIOS Wizard. Not only does it tell you the make and version number, it also runs through a series of checks, shows you which features are present and enabled and if there are any problems. If there are, hopefully the program will lead you to a solution through the developerís website.



Time for Action

I have a terrible memory so Iím a big fan of timers and alarms but most of them are fairly basic and just do one or two simple jobs, so prepare yourself for a real treat. Itís called

Marxio Timer and has been dubbed as the Swiss Army Knife of timers. Hereís a quick tour of the highlights, the program can be installed or run from a pen drive, thereís a choice of 13 ĎActions, including Turn Off, Logout, Restart, Suspend, Hibernate, Lock, Display Text, Play Sound, Run Program, End Program, Disable Screensaver, Simulate Keypress, Stopwatch. There are numerous options for when Actions happen, including at a specific time, after elapsed time, CPU Usage (%) and there are facilities to configure the display and hide or minimise the program. If you constantly need reminding to do things then donít forget this handy little utility...



Nippy Unzipper

Have you any idea how many archiving formats there are? Youíve probably heard of zip, tar and rar, but how about ace, gzip, base64, deb and the list goes on. In short there are dozens of them and you may well come across one of the more obscure ones the next time you download a file from the web. When that happens you have two choices, you can search the web for a suitable extraction program, or save yourself the bother and install Simplyzip. It can handle over 20 archive formats, including ZIP, CZIP, ACE, CAB, RAR, TAR, GZIP, LZH, BZ2, SQX, RS, UUE, XXE, BASE64, UCL, ARJ, ZLIB, ALIB, RPM, DEB, 7-ZIP, and it can create archive files in 7z, ZIP, CZIP, Cab, LHA, TAR, TAR GZ TAR BZ2, ACE, Deepfreezer, SQX, UCL, RS, ZIP-SFX/LHA-SFX, RAR-SFX, UUE/XXE, ZLIB and Base64. It also has four encryption options and it should be all you need for extraction and backup.



Crystal Clear Disk Info

How hot is your hard drive? Itís probably not something you think of very often, but drive temperature is a good overall indicator of its health, and the environment inside your PC. Hereís another one, how long has your drive been running? Again, itís unlikely to be very high on your list of priorities but itís worth knowing and a useful reflection how hard youíve been working your computer. These, and many other interesting facts and figures, graphs and statistics about your hard drives are available using a freeware utility called CrystalDiskInfo. What it canít find about your hard drive isnít worth knowing, from the serial number to how many times it has been powered up and automatic acoustic management, itís all there for you to see and marvel at, and if you use it regularly it could even give you a timely warning of something about to go wrong.



Time Your Boots

How long does it take for your XP or Vista PC to boot up and be useable? If itís less than a minute you are either a bit of a computer whizz, or itís only a couple of weeks old. Most of us have to wait between 2 and 3 minutes, which is just about acceptable, if itís any longer you need help, so take a look at Boot Camp for some tuning tips.


If youíre not sure how long you have to wait, and you canít be arsed to time it, (and you need to do it 2 or 3 times to get an average) then try this little free utility. Itís called BootRacer and not only does it precisely time how long your PC takes to boot up, it logs the results and will remind you of your best ever boot time, so you can keep track and dive in and fix it if thereís a sudden or even a gradual slowdown.  



On the Money

If you have to keep an eye on your finances Ė and who isnít these days Ė then you may be in the market for a personal money manager program. Thereís plenty to choose from and the big-guns like Microsoft Money and Quicken (sadly no longer supported in the UK) are many peopleís first port of call, but there are alternatives, like this one, called Money Manager Ex. Itís Open Source freeware, but donít let that put you off. Itís ideal for managing personal finances and it works in multiple currencies (including £££s and Euros of course). It keeps track of multiple savings and cheque accounts, credit cards, loans and investments, tracks bills and deposits and you can use it to update your share prices, manage payments set up budgets and print out all manner of reports. You can even import data files from some versions of Quicken and Money. Itís not going to make you rich but it can help you to plan your finances, and at least youíll know where it all wentÖ



Fast Free DVD Burner

What supports over 45 file formats, 60 video codecs and 40 audio codecs and can turn a video file into a playable DVD with just a few mouse-clicks? All together now, itís DVD Flick, just about the simplest way to get a movie file from your camcorder, phone or Internet download onto a shiny disc that you can pop in any player. If you want to get creative you can also add a menu, a title and subtitles and your own audio track and as an added bonus it will also burn the disc after it has been compiled and encoded using a freeware utility like ISO Recorder . Itís Open Source software, so itís free for personal use but as usual if you like what you find a donation will be gratefully received.



The Nuclear Option

Fascinated as I am by all things nuclear I couldnít resist this interestingly named freeware utility. Itís called Atomic Cleaner and it clears your computer of the detritus and remnants left behind by your web surfing activities. Sadly it doesnít touch the notorious hidden and protected index.dat files, and CCleaner remains our program of choice for that job, but it does delve into areas other cleanup utilities ignore, such as files left behind by on-line games and P2P services. Thereís also a handy System status window and a small selection of tools that includes shortcuts to the Windows disc cleaner, defragger, msconfig, Regedit, System Performance and DirectX control panel.



Top Tweaker

I normally avoid so-called performance-boosting programs like the plague; they rarely work and occasionally they can actually make things worse. Iím not saying that MZ Ultimate Tweaker is going to turn a sluggish PC into an F1 machine Ė itís not that simple Ė but it does have a number of tools that can help to make a well used PC run a bit smoother. None of the tweaks are particularly contentious Ė hunt through PCTopTips and around the web and youíll find that most of them are well documented. Theyíre relatively harmless too, and the program provides a safety net; the first time you use it, it makes a backup of your Registry, which could come in useful if anything goes wrong. Itís not going to fix serious problems and donít expect miracles but if you think your PC has the potential to run a bit faster or it needs perking up then itís definitely worth trying.



More Information Than You NeedÖ

Weíve mentioned hardware information utilities a couple of times in the past, these are programs that tell you about your computer and its setup, but this freeware tool, called HWiNFO32, leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. If it were technically possible to tell you how many nuts and bolts are holding your PC together, it would do so. As it is youíll just have to be content with every possible scrap of information regarding the hardware connected to your computer that it is possible to extract, from the manufacturerís code name for your CPU chip, to whether or not your monitor supports an obscure feature called Blank to Black Setup. You can also set a benchmark, so you can track performance and monitor changes, thereís a Sensor page, that tells you all about the temperatures and voltages running around inside your machine, and you can save Reports, which might come in handy one day, if you need to track down a tricky fault.



Build Your Own Android

If youíve been following the goings-on in the mobile phone industry you will know that the Next Big Thing is likely to be Google and its Android operating system. Android is Open Source software and Google is gunning hard for the big boys, namely Microsoft, Nokia and Apple, and actively encouraging users to contribute to its development, hence the Android Software Developerís Kit (SDK), which you can now download and try for yourself.


Of course, itís mostly aimed at programmers and developers, but thereís something for everyone and it contains a full Android Emulator, which basically means you can simulate the workings of an Android phone on your Windows Mac or Linux PC. All of the controls features and menu functions really work in fact the emulator does everything a real phone will be able to do, except make and take phone calls. To try it for yourself download and unzip the SDK and when it has installed youíll find the emulator program in the Tools folder.



Ebay Sniping Tool

Speaking as a regular ebay user, I am constantly being outbid in the last seconds of an auction, almost certainly by automated bidding programs, and itís ticking me off! On the very shaky premise that if you canít beat íem, join íem, I am now seriously considering going over to the dark side and using whatís known as a Ďsniping toolí to do my bidding for me and based on my researches, it seems that one of the best is a freeware utility called JbidWatcher. Itís very easy to set up, you feed it your ebay details, tell it what you want to bid on, how much you are prepared to pay, and how late you want to make a bid and it gets on with it. Moments before the auction ends JBid makes it move, and if you are successful, the item is yours, assuming of course that rival bidders are not using sniping tools as well, set to place higher bids even later than youÖ



Registry Wash and Brush Up

Registry cleaners are sometimes touted as a magical panaceas for sick computers but Iím afraid they donít work like that, and I certainly wouldnít recommend anyone spend money on one. Nevertheless, a cluttered Registry can affect performance, and may cause errors, so an occasional clean up can sometimes be beneficial, especially on wellĖused machines that havenít received much attention in the past.


Iím happy to recommend RegSeeker as a good general-purpose cleaner, and hereís another one, that seems to do a pretty good job. Itís called Baku and itís also free. Like RegSeeker it makes a backup of the Registry before it makes any changes, so you can always undo a cleaning operation if problems arise, but it goes further and lets you view and modify Registry keys, and so itís not really suitable for novices. Other useful features include MRU (Most Recently Used) list scanning and deletion and scan and delete empty folders and temporary folders.



Tour Space With Microsoft

Itís okay, Bill Gates hasnít bought NASA, at least not just yet, but Microsoft is giving away a free virtual tour of space with a new web-based application called Worldwide Telescope. Be warned, youíll need a reasonably quick PC, preferably with a dual-core CPU, and ideally running Vista, though it will still plod along under XP. The images are stunning and based on actual ground and spaced based telescopes, you can zoom in on astronomical features, explore the solar system and warp across the Milky Way. Okay, so itís a bit like Google Sky, but thereís a bit more depth to it, better controls and it looks like it could become a very useful educational tool.



CD Lifesaver

If you have a CD or DVD writer drive then sooner or later (probably sooner) you will end up with a disc that contains files that you just canít read on your PC. CD Recovery Toolbox Free could get you out of that hole. Once installed simply pop in the errant disc and it will see what it can find, and if the file you are looking for is there, and recoverable, just tick the box and it will be saved to a folder on your hard drive. No fuss, no mess, and no cost.



3D Home Arranger

I work in a complete mess, which is okay because I really do know where everything is, but I understand there are those amongst you who take things like house layout and design very seriously, in which case a free Open Source program called Sweet Home 3D might be just what the house doctor ordered.


Itís a simplified CAD/CAM program, configured for home interior design, that lets you plan your rooms, shifting your furniture around on a scale plan with your mouse and you can see how it all looks in a 3D preview window. And because itís Open Source users are encouraged to contribute, which means thereís a growing library of 3D modelled furniture and fittings, everything from spiral staircases to an upright piano.



Can Loonies Speed Up Your PC?

I tend to be wary of programs that purport to make computers go faster, fix problems and so on. The vast majority of them are worthless snake oil. Iím also a bit suspicious of Russian software Ė theyíve still got a reputation for dodgy programs and scams Ė and anything that comes from a company called Loonies is bound to set the alarm bells ringing so Actual Booster doesnít get off to a very promising start.


Nevertheless, after giving it a fairly thorough road test I can tell you that Actual Booster really does liven things up a bit. Itís also free, and as far as I can see thereís no iffy content and it doesnít try to phone home. So how does it work?  In fact thereís no real magic, all it does is allocate more resources to the program thatís running on top of the desktop, everything else gets put on a low priority. That means if you are using Word or Excel, it gets the lionís share of your PCís CPU and memory, and it runs a bit quicker. If you then switch to another program then it gets a boost. Nothing else is affected; background programs and services retain their original priorities. The program is tiny Ė just 64k and it installs in a couple of seconds, and if thereís no improvement just remove it; what have you got to lose?



Explore Your Fonts

Windows seems to have an insatiable appetite for fonts. A new installation starts out with the standard Ďcoreí fonts, and there are around 20 of them, but within a very short time you could find your fonts folder has somehow acquired scores and sometimes hundreds of new ones. The Windows Font viewer in Control Panel doesnít really tell you much, unless you open each file, so hereís a better way to see what youíve got. Itís called Windows Fonts Explorer and thereís really no need to elaborate. Just type some words into the Viewer window, select the font from the list and choose the size or attribute (bold, italic etc) and you can see straight away what it looks like. Donít like the look of it? No problem, just make another selection. The program even helps you install new ones, should you feel you donít have enough of themÖ



Burning Ambition

Weíve mentioned a few freeware CD/DVD burning applications in the past but theyíve tended to a bit specialist, or a bit too teccy for absolute beginners but thatís not something you could ever accuse BurnAware of. Itís very easy to use and copes with just about any optical disc format, up to and including BluRay. To use it just click on the icon for the task you want (create data disc, burn ISO image, create audio CD or DVD video and follow the prompts. Thatís all there is to it, itís as near as dammit foolproof, itís free and it just works. So what more do you need to know?



Patrol Your PC

I have been meaning to tell you about this useful little utility for some time but for one reason or another it kept slipping back down the pile. Now itís reached the top and itís called WinPatrol, and as the name suggests it keeps a watch on what you PC is getting up to. The main window has 11 tabs that cover such diverse areas Startup programs, Cookies, File Types, IE Helpers, Hidden Files, Scheduled Tasks, Active Tasks and Services. Each one leads you to window that shows you exactly what is going on behind the scenes, with options and helpful advice to control or remove these background functions, some of which may be slowing your PC down, or worseÖ Even if your PC is running smoothly it doesnít hurt to have a poke around and see whatís going on, and if it starts playing up, WinPatrol could help you track down the problem.



Delayed Startups Speeds Up Windows

If you have set up your PC to load one or more programs after Windows boots up then it can take several minutes before the machine is useable. Itís far better to load programs when Windows isnít so busy, and when things have quietened down youíll find they load a lot quicker too. Thatís exactly what Startup Delayer can do for you, just enter a list of the programs you want to load, set a short post-boot delay time, to allow Windows to do its stuff, and your chosen programs will leap into action and be ready to use in no time flat. Itís free/donationware, the download is small (less than 400kb), and itíll work with all versions of Windows, from 98 onwards.



Quick Qlipboard Presenter

Hereís a really neat little freeware program called Qlipboard, for producing quick and simple audiovisual presentations. It could be anything, a slideshow of your favourite photos, for example, with an audio commentary and on-screen annotation, highlighting the points of interest. You could use it for something more serious, like a sales pitch, or maybe put together a demonstration showing auntie Maud how to send emails. Itís really easy to use, just line up the images you want to use, click the record button and start talking (or singing maybe), brining up the images you want to use. When youíve finished you can save it to disc, send it by email it or upload it to the web.



Explore those Processes

Windows Task Manager (Ctrl + Alt + Del) gives you a fair idea of what your computer is up to but itís only a cursory snapshot, it tells you what programs are running, but not much about what they are doing, and this could be worth knowing if your PC is running slowly or crashing. What you need is a freeware utility, called Process Explorer, developed by Sysinternals and now available for download from Microsoft TechNet. It runs on just about any version of Windows, from 95 onwards, and it is highly configurable, and shows scores of different things going on behind the scenes. If your PC is playing up give it a try, youíll be surprised what it is getting up toÖ



Driver Backup

Re-installing Windows can be a traumatic business, itís bad enough having to backup all of your data and re-install your programs but the worst bit is tracking down all of the drivers for your hardware and peripherals. Hereís a simple way to avoid the hassle, a freeware program called DriverMax. It finds and exports all of the drivers on your PC to a nominated folder or compressed Zip file, so thereís no need to waste time hunting down discs and downloads. When you have reinstalled Windows simply run DriverMax, import your saved drivers and youíll be up and running again in no time flat. The program comes as a 30-day trial but you can apply for a free registration code and itís your to keep.



Well, Iíll Be

Sooner or later your PC is going to throw a wobbly and youíll be faced with an indecipherable error message. Now you could Google it, and youíll probably get a few thousand hits; maybe after half an hourís trawling the web you might strike lucky and come up with an answer, but hereís something else to try.


Itís a website, called, and the idea is you type or copy and paste the error message into the box and click Search. Thereís a very fair chance that someone else has suffered the same mishap and youíll immediately see a selection of possible solutions, otherwise helpful visitors to the site will come up with suggestions. 48 hours after you posted the problem the website will email you back, to see how you got on, and whether or not you fixed it. Itís all free and the community seems like a very lively and knowledgeable bunch, so what have you got to lose? It might even put me out of a jobÖ



Whatís In A Name?

You know how it is, youíve just invented a brilliant new gizmo, or had an idea for what is bound to be a hugely successful website, but you are stuck for a catchy name. Your future business empire could stand or fall on the title, but youíre stuck, so what do you do? Well, you could do worse than pop along to the Name.Noemata website, where you will find a Random Name Generator, and very good it is too. The trouble is now I have some great names, but no productsÖ No worries , now how many Auroberths do you want, and could I interest you in a couple of Extimacs?



What Have You Been Up To Today?

Those of us in jobs that need to keep a close track of the tasks we do throughout the day Ė for preparing invoices or keeping the boss off our backs Ė have a bit of a problem. You can keep notes, or fill out a timesheet, but they all waste time, or you can use time tracking software, which does it automatically. The only trouble with that is many of the commercial programs cost rather a lot of money, or are way too sophisticated, and the free ones are usually much too basic. Well, hereís an alternative, itís QuickLogger, itís free, and highly customisable. Thereís an option to make it appear anywhere on the screen, logs can be saved in Excel, Text, HTML or CSV format, you decide where the logs are kept and you can easily change the number of tasks it keeps track of.



Decrapifier Ė where have you been all my lifeÖ

I cannot begin to count how many hours I have wasted uninstalling demo, trial and just plain unwanted programs from new PCs, and it seems the cheaper they are the more of this rubbish you have to get rid of. Yes, I know itís one of the reasons why PCs and laptops are so affordable these days but I still donít want it and I only wish Iíd had something like the PC Decrapifier to save me from this onerous chore. The name says it all, just download and install this on your shiny new PC and it will identify the junk and then offer to get rid of it for you. Itís easy to use and nothing disappears without your permission. Best of all itís free, but as always the authors are not averse to a small donation, to show your appreciation!



A Big Free Turn-Off

How many times have you accidentally left your computer switched on? Or maybe you want to leave it on while you are away from home or the office for the day, but want to be able to switch it off at night?  If this sounds like you then a freeware program called WinOFF could be just what you are looking for.


Basically it does what it says, and it will shut down your PC at a preset time or date, after a preset period, or when CPU activity falls below a preset level. You can also select the shut down mode, form complete power down to sleep, hibernate, log-off or lock. Itís incredibly easy to use and highly configurable, with good security features, so stop wasting electricity and help save the planet Ė every little helps!



Speed Up and Clean Out Windows

I am naturally wary of any program that claims to be able to speed up Windows and solve performance problems. They rarely do any good and in some cases can make things even worse. Iím not about to change my mind since no single program can hope to cover the near infinite range of problems on a well-used PC and until now I have used a variety of tools and utilities to address specific issues, but now many of them Ė plus some new ones Ė have been gathered together in one place, in an excellent free application called Glary Utilities.


It covers five different aspects of your PCís operation: Clean Up and Repair, Optimise and Improve, Privacy and Security, Files and Folders and System Tools, and each one leads to a collection of individual tools.


I have tried it on a range of Windows 98, XP and Vista PCs and I have been very impressed, the Startup Manager tool is very effective for example. It clearly shows the programs and components that are slowing down your PCís boot up, with the option to selectively delete them one at a time. Itís not for absolute beginners and I suggest setting a System Restore Point before using it, but the results so far are very encouraging indeed.



Heavenís Above, Itís Google SkyÖ

Thereís a new version of Google Earth (v4.2) for you to download, and this time thereís a really great new feature, called Google Sky. Click the button and you are transported into space, using high resolution imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope and various observatories around the world, covering around 100 million stars and 200 hundred million galaxies - -so that should keep you amused for a whileÖ Itís a real-time Ďplanetarium view of the sky and you can track the planets and zoom into deep space, past stars and galaxies to the very edges of the known universe Ė watch out for alien craft Ė or if you know what you want to look at, just tap in the coordinates. Give it a try, itís really addictive!



Let Libra Liberate your Collection

Do you collect stuff? Of course you do, whether itís books, CDs, DVDs, games or even Beanie Babies, but how do you keep track of your collection? Well try this, itís called Libra, a freeware application for organising things, it looks great and it is really easy to use, especially on items, like books, audio CDs and DVDs etc. that have product barcodes. Just hook up a webcam and Libra turns it into a barcode scanner, able to read the code and automatically retrieve information from the web. Libra is based on a SQL database, which means you can search and retrieve information in the blink of an eye, and import information from other databases. It has a catalogue printing utility and thereís even a facility to let you track items that you have lent out.



Preaching for the Converter, Universal Transcoder

How often have your multimedia ambitions been thwarted by a file incompatibility? By that I mean being unable to play or watch a downloaded tune or movie clip, because your player or viewer software of device cannot handle the particular file format. It happens all the time and those who donít give up normally waste hours trawling the web for a file converter program.


Well, maybe you wonít have to anymore; MediaCoder is a free Open Source universal transcoder that can convert files to and from a very wide range of multimedia formats. Itís really easy to use, just open the file you want to convert then select the format you want to convert it to, youíll get a set of options for changing compression ratio etc, or just leave it on the default and let it get on with the job.


The list of files formats it can handle is a long one but hereís the highlights: MP3, Vorbis, AAC, AAC+, AAC+v2, MusePack, Speex, AMR, WMA, RealAudio, mp3PRO, FLAC, WavPack, Monkey's Audio, OptimFrog, AAC Lossless, WMA Lossless, WAV/PCM, H.264, Xvid, MPEG 1/2/4, Theora, Flash Video, Dirac, 3ivx, RealVideo, Windows Media Video, AVI, MPEG/VOB, Matroska, MP4, RealMedia, ASF, Quicktime, OGM, CD, VCD, DVD, CUE Sheet.



Some Wise Advice

As you know at the heart of Windows there is a collection of System files, called the Registry. Over time it becomes cluttered with bits of old programs, left behind when they are uninstalled, corrupt entries and all sorts of detritus that could be slowing your PC down, or making it unstable.


There are plenty of Registry Ďcleanersí available, most of them I wouldnít touch with a bargepole as they can sometimes create more problems than they solve, but every so often one comes along that seems to do a very good job. Until recently my favourite freebie registry cleaner was RegSeeker but now thereís a new kid on the block, called Wise Cleaner. Itís really easy to use and thereís a brief description of every doubtful entry it finds, and they are clearly identified as ĎSafeí to fix, or something thatís best left alone, unless you know what you are doing. Even if you do make a mistake thereís a built-in safety net in the shape of an automatic backup facility, so it should be okay, even for novices., but as with anything that makes changes to the Registry, you use it entirely at your own risk.



Free Top Name Disc Cloning Tools

My thanks to the Inquirer for a pointer to one of the yearís best freebies, and I advise you to get in quick before they whip it away. Hard drive maker Seagate has put an OEM version of Acronis True Image, just about the best disc cloning, formatting, erasing and partitioning tool there is, on its website. Itís called DiscWizard (and thereís another version under the Maxtor brand called ĎMax Blast) and both are available in 14 languages


Thereís one small catch, you will need a Seagate or Maxtor drive on your PC (or in an external housing) in order to use it, and be warned itís a bit of a whopper, with the download topping out at 102Mb I wouldnít advise downloading it on a dial-up connection...



Free Online Video Editor

If youíre into uploading videos onto websites like YouTube, Google Video, blogs and so on, or you just want to share your holiday clips with friends and relatives then you might like to know about a new free online video timeline based editor, with true video rendering and real-time previewing, called JayCut. Itís a one-stop-shop from where you can upload and edit your videos and photos; and being all online thereís no software to download JayCut is about to launch in Sweden the UK version is still beta testing so you can get in on the ground floor, ahead of the public launch next month, so why not give it a try, and let us know what you think?



USB Troubleshooter

Looking back through the various agony uncle columns Iíve written over the years itís clear that the USB devices and connectivity ranks close to the top of the list of (un)popular PC maladies. To be fair itís not that surprising since there are more types of USB device than any other, but thatís no comfort when your latest widgety gizmo fails to be recognised by Windows or stubbornly refuses to work on one PC, but happily chunters away on another. A little freeware program called USBDeview could be what you need.


The program is tiny and doesnít need to be installed, just fire it up it and you will see a detailed list of all the USB devices connected to your PC, not just now, but going way back when and old redundant drivers could well be the cause of your present problems. USBDeview tells you everything you could possibly want to know about your PCís USB inventory and allows to safely disconnect devices and point you in the direction of the programs you need to uninstall to permanently get rid of the detritus



Natural Text to Speech

As you may know Windows XP has a simple speech synthesiser utility built in, called Narrator (Start > Programs > Accessories > Accessibility) but it is fairly limited and not really designed to read text. NaturalReader, on the other hand, can read anything you like in Word documents, emails, web pages and pdf files, simply by highlighting the text and pressing the Play button. And thereís more. You can save the speech file to MP3 format with a single click. You can also vary the speed and tell it to ignore punctuation marks The only downside of the free version is that it uses Windows default ĎSamí voice but thereís an option to upgrade to a paid-for version with more natural-sounding voices. 



Safer Surfing and Testing

Whenever you install a new piece of software, or visit a web site you are not sure about thereís often a nagging doubt at the back of your mind; what if something goes wrong? Of course most of the time nothing untoward happens but if you really want to protect your PC form nasties or dodgy software take a look at Sandibox. Itís a clever freeware utility that creates software Ďsandboxí, basically a safe place for you to install and test new software, run existing programs, or surf the web and if something bad occurs it cannot affect your system, or damage files on your PC.


Sandibox is really simple to use, once installed open the Control window and use it to run any program installed or loaded on your PC, your browser for example. As far as you are concerned it operates normally but the sandbox prevents it from making any changes or downloading files onto your hard drive, so if you accidentally stray onto a site spiked with malware, you are protected. The same thing happens if you want to try out a new program, Sandibox allows it to install and run, but will not let it mess around with anything on your hard drive. The only point to watch out for is that if any programs running inside Sandibox create any data files Ė lets say you were using it to try out a word processor, or download files from the net  Ė when you close it any documents youíve written or downloaded will be lost, but itís a small price to pay to protect your computer.   



Adobe Reader Alternative

As you know in order to read portable document files (pdfs) Ė mostly downloaded from the web -- you need Adobeís Reader program. It used to be okay, early versions, up to V4 were quick and stable but over the past few years itís got out of control and the latest incarnations are bloated, resource sapping and somewhat intrusive. Alternatives to Adobe Reader have often been a bit flaky, but hereís one thatís worth trying. Itís called Foxit Reader for Windows. Itís free and the download is small, only around 1.7Mb (Adobe Reader 8 is 20 MbÖ). Once installed it does pretty well everything Adobe Reader does, including launching automatically from your browser, it opens really quickly, thereís no annoying splash screen, you can type and annotate pdfs and convert PDFs to a text display. Thereís no need to remove Adobe either, simply set Foxit to the default reader and itíll appear when you open a PDF, and if you want to go back to Adobe Reader, just set it to the default, or uninstall Foxit. What have you got to lose?



Donít Click it, StrokeIt

Hereís a nifty little freeware program that could save you several seconds every day. Itís called StrokeIt, and it interprets mouse Ďgesturesí. In case you are still wondering, a gesture is simply a movement, so, for example, with StrokeIt you can close a program just by holding down the left mouse key and  drawing the shape of a ĎCí on the screen Ė the gesture appears in blue. Itís really easy to use and can be set to start with Windows. It comes with scores of pre-programmed gestures covering the main functions in Windows and most popular applications or you can create your own. The program is free, (though the authors wouldnít say no to a small donation, if you find it useful); the installation file is tiny small and takes only a second or two to download.



Organise your Tree

Normally I donít have much use for databases, at least, not of my own making, but Iím beginning to come around after playing around with a little freeware utility called Treepad Lite. Itís an excellent way of organising chunks of information scatter red around your PC, that for one reason or another, you want to pull together. For example, you could be compiling a family history using folders containing pictures, scanned documents, web page bookmarks, written text and so on. Treepad Lite lets you group the files together, in a familiar Windows Explorer type desktop, making it easier to find things using a powerful search facility, and keep track of where everything is. Treepad doesnít care what the data is, it can be emails, text, web links, notes pictures, in fact anything thatís on your PC, and it is very intuitive and easy to use.  



Free CD/DVD Burner

As Windows XP users know there is a built-in CD burning utility, but it is very basic and not especially easy to use. My usual advice is to forget it at install something that does the job properly, like Nero Burning or Roxio Media Creator, but hereís a freeware burner that can handle both CDs and DVDs. Itís called Infrarecorder and whilst it not as well-featured as its commercial counterparts itís not far behind, and itís a whole lot better than the XP utility. For the record it can create custom and mixed mode discs and disc images. It support dual-layer DVD, it has four erasure modes for recordable discs, it has ISO and BIN burning options, it can create copies on the fly, displays disc info and can hand all popular audio formats, including wav, wma, ogg and mp3 (an mp3 plugin has to be downloaded due to patent issues)



How Much Longer?

It has to be one of the most frequently asked questions and now, armed with a little freeware utility called Time Left, youíll always know the answer. Time Left is a countdown timer, but quite unlike any youíve ever seen before.  Itís a long list so here are the highlights. Thereís an on-screen reminder, alarm clock, System Tray clock, auction watch timer, stopwatch and time synchronisation utility. You can schedule any event, from an appointment in a couple of hourís time, to your mumís birthday next year. With the Countdown timer you can track how long it is to, or since any event, and if youíre into ebay, the Auction Timer will warn you in good time to place a bid. Itís highly customisable and easy very to use, so if youíre a habitual clock-watcher, itís time you tried it out.



Putting the Boot In with Super Grub

Hereís a handy tool for more advanced PC users, faced with a troublesome PC that just wonít boot. Itís called Super Grub, and if youíve had any dealings with Linux you may recognize the name as that of a popular bootloader (GRUB stands for Grand Unified Bootloader). In case you are wondering a bootloader is a program that configures a PC prior to loading an operating system whether it be Linux or Windows (in Windows booting is controlled by a file called the Master Boot Record or MBR). Super Grub can fix booting problems with both OSís, and is a dab hand at sorting out MBR problems. All you have to do is download the files and use them to create a bootable floppy (or CD or USB drive). Itís not the sort of thing youíll need to use very often, hopefully not at all, but youíll be glad you downloaded come the day your PC stubbornly refuses to boot!



USB Device Viewer

How many USB widgets have you got plugged into your PC? Are they working properly, who makes then, what;s the serial number, when did you last use it? All these questions and more can be answered by a little freeware utility called USBDview. Itís also handy for getting rid of devices that you no longer use and troubleshooting faulty connections.  Please note that it only works with Windows 2000 and XP



Family Tree For Free

How many times have you thought it would be a good idea to create your family tree? The trouble is most of us never get around to it. Now thereís no excuse, just pop along to the Geni website, click the Start Here button and enter some details, beginning with your own first and last name and email address and you are on your way. Itís all free and compiling your tree online is fast and easy Ė the Internet is a rich source of genealogical data; you can add family members, include pictures and as much or as little information as you like, and go back to it as often as you want to add or update details. Your tree remains private and only you or members of your family you have allowed or invited to participate will be able to see it.



Leet Speak Translator

If j00 c4n r34d 7hiz 7h3n j00 w0n'7 n33d 70 kn0w 4b0u7 the 1337 7r4n51470r, 4 phr33w4r3 pr0gr4m 7h47 7r4n51473z 0rdin4ry 73x7 in70 1337


If the above looks like gobbledegook donít worry, it actually says: ĎIf you can read this then you wonít need to know about the Leet Translator, a freeware program that translates ordinary text into Leetí.


If you are still wondering what on earth this is all about then you should know that Leet is a shorthand language, a bit like mobile phone texting, and very popular in web chatrooms and so on, where it is sometimes known as Elite Speak. The idea is numbers replace letters, and if you stare at it long enough you might even get the gist of it. Anyway, Leet Translator is really easy to use, just copy and paste a chunk of text into the top box and the translation appears below, and you can copy and paste this into a web window or document.   



Slick Trick Launcher

You may have come across ĎHotkeyí programs that launch an application or web page just by pressing a combination of keys on your keyboard, and very good most of them are too. The only trouble is you have to remember the keyboard combinations. Itís not too difficult when thereís only one or two of them, but how would you get on with half a dozen, or a dozen keyboard shortcuts? If your memory is anything like mine then pretty badly, so hereís an even easier quick launcher. Itís called SlickRun, and all you have to do is type in a ĎMagic Wordí into a little box that sits discreetly at the bottom of the screen.


You can nominate web pages Ė PCTopTips, for example could just be Ďpcttí and typing that in will launch your browser and navigate to the PCTopTips home page. It can do a zillion other things as well, and it is preconfigured with 20 Magic words; Ďmailí opens an email message box, Ďpaint' opens Windows Paint, Ďsleepí, Ďshutdowní, Ďhibernateí and so on all do exactly what they say, but you can create Magic words to do just about anything, so why not give it a whirl?



CDBurnerXP Pro Free CD/DVD Burner

If you havenít yet got around to buying a commercial CD and DVD burning package then before you whip out the plastic have a look at this freeware offering, Itís called CDBurnerXP Pro and it does most of the routine disc-burning things its paid-for cousins can do. These include writing to virtually all types of optical disc, except dual-layer DVDs. It burns audio CDs, supports most types of drives, burns ISO files and bootable discs and it checks data after the burn. If all you need is basic disc burning functions then give this one a try first, what have you got to lose?



Give Your RAM a Boost

Hereís an interesting little freeware utility that can help to pep up you PC. RamBooster scurries around in the background managing your PCís memory resources. As you may know some programs grab huge chunks of your computerís RAM, slowing down other programs and even when they are closed the memory they were using may not be released. RamBooster constantly monitors RAM activity, making sure each application has enough for its needs, and freeing up unused memory for other programs that might want it in a hurry. Itís simple to use but read the Help files if you want to get the most out of it.



Hundreds of Fresh Tweaks

I donít know where to begin with this little freeware utilityÖ OK, letís start with the name, itís called Fresh UI, the UI standing for User Interface, and the only way to describe it is a collection of hundreds of tweaks to the way Windows and many MS applications look and work. There simply isnít enough room to list them all but here are a few random examples. Thereís a switchable Ďcheatí for the Hearts games that lets you see hidden cards, disable customizations in Internet Explorer, change the font defaults in Notepad, restrict access to specific drives, move the mouse pointer to a default button, hide folders in Control Panel, change desktop icon size, repair a damaged Taskbar, clear IE history etc., etc., but donít take my word for it, itís small and free and definitely something you will want to try for yourself.



Google Patent Search

Have you got a brilliant idea, an invention or the long-awaited better mousetrap? Fine, but before you blow your life-savings on putting it into production you should check that someone hasnít got there before you. You need to do a Patent Search, or pay someone to do it for you, and this is where it gets complicated, and expensive, but hereís a quick way to check that someone in the US isnít about to sue you for infringement and thatís the all new shiny Google Patent Search.


Itís another one of Googleís Beta tools and at the moment it only covers the US and contains a mere 7 million entries -- this one (above) is for a Flying Saucer, filed in 2004 -- but there are more to come and, it is to be hoped, eventually a database of UK patents. Even so it makes fascinating reading and you find everything from the Wright Brotherís flying machine to the Segway human transporter, and a lot more weird and wacky stuff besides.   



Hard Drive Monitor

No doubt you know the winking light of the front of your PC represents hard disc activity, but have you ever wondered exactly what is going on? Wonder no more, a small and free utility from Microsoft, called DiskMon shows you precisely thatís going on under the bonnet, itemizing each read/write action, and when, where and how much data was being fed in or out of your drive. Admittedly for most users its only of academic interest and youíll quickly tire of watching the numbers scroll by, but it could prove useful in the event of a freeze or lockup, and when you get bored with it you can minimize it to the System Tray where youíll see a blinking icon, just like the one on the front of your computer



Scanner Pie Chart Reveals Drive Secrets

The regulars amongst you will probably be familiar with Spacemonger and Windirstat, These are graphical hard disc management tools which show you, with a clear and easy to understand image whatís on your hard drive and how much space it is taking up. Well, hereís another one, called simply Scanner, and this one displays the contents of your drive using a concentric pie-chart. Scanner is freeware and itís really easy to use, you donít even have to install it, it will run from a floppy or pen drive. Just select the drive you want to scan and a short while later the chart appears, hover the mouse over any part of it to see whatís on your drive, or right-click to zoom, open or delete.



Barcode Your Contact Details

Hereís a neat idea from Microsoft, Windows Live Barcodes. The snazzy pattern on the right is a 2D barcode that can contain up to 450 characters. Typically it will be your contact details, name, address, phone, email and so on, which you can print on your business cards and stationery or attach to emails. The idea is instead of messing around keying in details into your Windows Mobile phone or organizer; you just take a picture of the barcode with your camera phone and itís translated back into text and filed away for future use. In future barcodes may be printed in magazines and published on billboards; itís still in beta form but you can try it out for yourself and get ahead of the game by creating your own 3D barcode.



Startup Monitor

How many programs do you have running on your PC? Probably a lot more than you think and many of them will be installed without your knowledge or permission and run automatically after Windows has finished loading. This little utility called Startup Monitor keeps a watch on new programs and if any of them try to add themselves to the Startup group you will be notified and asked to allow or disable it. The program is tiny, just a few kilobytes and it runs in the background using minimal resources.



Disc Drive Fitness Tester

Has your hard disc drive ever let you down? Could it be about to do so? Thereís no easy way to tell, it could pop its clogs tomorrow or next week, most likely never but it would be helpful to know in advance if there are going to be problems. Thatís something you might be able to find out with a freeware application that comes to you from Hitachi Global Storage, called the Drive Fitness Test. It works with SCSI, IDE and SATA types drives and all you need to use it is a floppy drive or CD Writer. Once you have downloaded the file open it and it will create a bootable floppy disc or CD. Restart the PC and allow it to boot from the disc it runs through a barrage of tests, from a quick and simple ĎExerciserí to a ĎHigh Confidenceí test. It will identify problems with the driveís tracks and sectors, cables and cooling and where necessary repair any serious problems. It probably wonít find anything wrong, but thereís always the chance...



Whatís In a EULA?

The EULA or the End User License Agreement is that fearsome wodge of text that appears whenever you install a new piece of software but what does it all mean? You could be signing your life away when you click the ĎI Agreeí button to signify that you have read it. In fact sometimes EULAs do contain things that you wouldnít agree to if you have read and understood the document, like allowing the program to install spyware or pop-ups. So what can you do, short of taking a legal degree?


Well, you could get a program called EULAlyzer to give it the once over. The next time one appears on your screen just click on the reader icon in EULAlyzer, or copy and paste the text into the window and it will sift through the words, seeking out all the dodgy bits and flagging up the parts you should look at. Try it, itís free and it might just save your bacon one day!



A Better Uninstaller

Weíve looked at uninstallers before, theyíre programs that, in theory at least, do a better job of uninstalling programs than the Windows Add/Remove Utility. In fact all Add/Remove Programs and many uninstallers really do is provide one-stop access to the programs on your PCís own uninstaller utilities.


Z-Soft Uninstaller, on the other hand goes several steps further. When new programs are loaded it monitors where all of the files go, so it can do a more thorough job when the program is removed, and it can also analyse existing programs on your PC, automatically finding detritus from programs that may have already been removed. Thereís one more trick, and it will hide programs from the list that you are never likely to remove, such as Windows Updates. All in all a very useful little program, and best of all, itís free!



Memory Optimiser

Windows and every application running on your PC shares your PCís RAM memory but itís not always used very efficiently. For example, some programs use too much memory others that you have finished with leave clutter behind so over the course of a day your PC will slow down. FreeRAM XP Pro is a freeware memory optimiser, it clears out the junk and forces programs that do not need to use RAM memory to into the swapfile. For some users there can be a noticeable improvement in performance and stability, either way you have nothing to loose itís free, so give it a try.



Stress Out Your PC

Hereís a weird little freeware program. Itís called HeavyLoad and the idea is it deliberately puts a big strain on your PCís resources (operating system, CPU, RAM, hard drives, network etc.) in an effort to expose any weaknesses and check to see if it will perform reliably when stressed. Driving a PC hard, by writing large files to temporary folders, drawing patterns on the screen and gobbling up large chunks of memory will soon show if your PCís cooling system is up to the job, and just how much punishment it can take. It should prove interesting to speed freaks and itís a useful tool for engineers setting up Ďmission criticalí servers that are simply not allowed to go wrong when the going gets tough.



Hidden XP - The Private Character Editor

Hereís another one of those hidden programs inside Windows XP, this one goes under the rather grand name of the Private Character Editor. In fact itís a very useful graphics tool for designing your own fonts special characters and, logos and icons. To start the program go to Run on the Start menu and type Ďeudcedití (without the quotes) and click OK.  Once it opens start by selecting a hexadecimal code for your first character from the grid, click OK and you are ready to begin designing, using the set of drawing tools on the left. When you have finished you can save your character, either in a particular font, or all fonts, and from there you can insert it into documents and emails.



PC Oscilloscope And Spectrum Analyser

Many years ago, when I used to get my hands dirty making bits of televisions for Ferguson, two of the most useful analytical and diagnostic tools at my disposal were an oscilloscope and spectrum analyser. (I also had a wobbulator, but thatís another story for another dayÖ)


Anyway, Ďscopes and speccy analysers are marvellous bits of kit, used to display all kinds of waveforms and signals and back then they cost a small fortune. They still do, but hereís a way of turning your PC into a surprisingly accurate oscilloscope, spectrum analyser, frequency meter and waveform generator, and it wonít cost you a bean.



Visual Analyser is a freeware program that monitors the audio coming into and going out of your PC and displays the results on your monitor screen in a very fair representation of proper stand-alone test instruments. The features and controls should all be familiar to audio engineers and if you know about this sort of thing check the specs on the website, youíll be impressed! Even if youíre not interested in the technical capabilities of this program it is great fun to use and you might even learn a thing or two about your PCís audio capabilities. 


USB Flash Drive Manager Freebie From Microsoft

If like a lot of PC users you are now starting to build up a small collection of flash memory devices, be they USB memory sticks, MP3 players and so on then Uncle Bill has come up with a way for you to keep tabs on them all and use them for backing up important files. Itís called the USB Flash Drive Manager and itís all free. From the simple to use tabbed interface you can copy files, backup or restore files, check and modify your driveís properties, manage file libraries and configure your PCís USB drive settings. Sadly itís XP only but if you have one or more USB drives itís well worth a test run.



Faster and More Powerful Uninstaller

Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel is okay for uninstalling programs that play by the rules but if you download a lot of software from the Internet you might find that a few of them just wonít go away. Some programs also leave behind references in Add/Remove Programs; in short it could be a lot better. There is an alternative, and itís called Easy Uninstaller, and not only is it between 5 and 10 times faster than the Windows utility, itís also more efficient and tells you a lot more about the programs you have on your computer, including useful things like the publisherís website, the version number and where it is located on your hard drive. Easy Uninstaller can also handle multiple deletions and it keeps a log of the programs youíve removed, itís very easy to use and best of all, itís free!



Diagnose Media Player Problems

Who amongst us hasnít had problems playing back media files, whether they be MP3s, DVDs, AVIs and audio CDs? Yes, weíve all been there and resolving faults in media players can be a nightmare. A lot of the time itís down to missing or faulty Codecs. Theyíre the little add-ons and plug-ins that media players rely on to untangle the coded or compressed code in a media file. The thing is you probably have shed-loads of them on your PC, but thereís usually no easy way to see what youíve got, or if theyíre working properly, which is where Sherlock - The Codec Detective comes in. This tiny freeware utility (the download is only 80kb) displays all of the codecs on an Windows XP PC, checks to see if any of them are Ďbrokení then warns you about it and generates a log file, for an experts to peruse if you canít figure it out.



Force Windows to Logoff After Inactivity

If you leave your XP PC unattended for any length of time and you are worried about security then this little tip will force it to automatically Logoff and save any open files or documents youíve been working on. But first you will need a little freeware utility called winexit.scr from the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit, which you can download from Microsoft.


Follow the instructions to install the Resource Kit then after a reboot go to C:\Program Files\Windows Resource Kits\Tools, right-click on winexit.scr and select Install. On the Display Properties Screensaver dialogue box that appears click the Settings button, check Force Application Termination (important otherwise it wonít work if you have open programs with unsaved data). You can leave the Time to Logoff Countdown at 30 seconds and if you like compose your own Logoff Message that will appear on the screen before Windows Logs Off. When you are finished click OK, set the screensaver ĎWaití time and click OK to exit Display Properties.



Dasher, A Flasher Way To Write

Over the years there have been countless attempts to do away with the clunky and antiquated QWERTY keyboard, everything from voice text entry to the single-handed Dvorak keyboard. QWERTY made sense in the days of the typewriter. The layout is designed to slow the typist down and prevent the mechanical type bar hammers from crashing into each other -- but it looks like weíre stuck with it, or are weÖ  The keyboardís days could be numbered, at least thatís the idea behind Dasher, a program designed by David MacKay and David Ward at Cambridge University Department of Physics.


Dasher is a keyboardless text entry system that requires only a small movement of the mouse to select letters and characters as they appear on the screen. It works like a video game, just select the letters as they pass by, but hereís the really clever bit, itís predictive. As soon as Dasher figures out the word you are trying to spell it starts displaying the missing letters as well. With practice Dasher users can achieve a healthy 25 words per minute, almost twice as fast as the best on-screen keyboards. The applications are endless, from helping those with impaired movement in their hands to anyone who hates keyboards; it can even be controlled by eye movements. The really good news is you can try it for free; there are versions for Windows (2k & XP only). Mac, Linux and Pocket PCs. Itís really easy to use and you can copy and paste directly into Word, so give it a try and see if you think itís time to kick out the keyboard.




We have often spoken of the Registry, that vast and mysterious collection of System files that controls almost every aspect Windows and the programs running on your PC. Occasionally we have delved inside to tweak something or other, but have you ever wondered what it looks really like, and what it gets up to?  Wonder no longer, a little freeware utility called Regmon shows you exactly what is going on, in real time. Itís basically a powerful diagnostic tool for engineers and expert users but even if you donít know, or want to know what makes the Registry tick it is still fascinating to watch. Even with no programs running the Registry is buzzing with activity as Windows and various background services access Registry files and it makes you appreciate just how complicated Windows and computers really areÖ,29/06/06



Windows Explorer is generally very reliable but every so often you will see an ominous ĎWindows Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to closeí message, with little or nothing in the way of an explanation of why it happened. One of the most common causes of Windows Explorer maladies is shell extensions. These increase functionality or add an automated action to Windows Explorer, when you double-click or right-click on a file or context menu. Most of them are installed by Windows and are perfectly okay but a few come from third-party programs, and these are the ones that mostly cause problems. Shell Extensions can be difficult to get as they are buried deep in the Windows Registry but a handy little freeware tool called ShellExView lets you see them, and disable any suspicious ones, which might help you pinpoint the cause of your problem. Once youíve downloaded the file -- and it doesnít take long as the Zip file is only 45kb -- run ShellExView then click on the Company column header. This will group all of the non-MS extensions together and you can work your way through the list.. Right-click on the likely candidates (check if the date installed coincides with the start of your problem) and select Disable. Reboot and see if that makes a difference.




The first public Beta test of Windows Vista is now underway and you can be one of the first to try out the new operating system that goes on sale early next year. Vista Beta 2 is essentially the final version, though it almost certainly carries a few last-minute bugs and glitches, which is why Microsoft want your help and are  giving you the chance to sign up to be an unpaid guinea pig. In fact Beta 2 is very stable and most users are unlikely to experience any serious problems, nevertheless it would be very unwise to run it on your main PC, and donít go running to Microsoft if it goes horribly wrong, Beta testing is strictly on an Ďat your own riskí basis. Donít get too attached to it either, the Beta will effectively switch itself off on June 1st 2007. If you have a suitable PC -- and it needs to be a reasonable spec to get the most from Vista -- then give it a shot, and let me know what you think; look out for a Boot Camp on Windows Vista in the next few weeks.




You canít normally take your desktop PC with you when you are away from home or the office, which is why God invented laptops, but there are plenty of occasions when even a portable PC is too much to lug around. Of course you could splash out on one of those dinky pocket portables but why bother, if thereís a handy PC where you are going then you can take everything you are likely to need on a cheap and simple USB memory device. Just plug it in, do what you need to do and when you remove the drive you take all of your programs and data with you.


Apart from the drive all you need is the Portable Apps Suite, itís a complete set of freeware and open source programs, designed to fit onto a pen drive. It includes AbiWord -- a very decent little word processor, Portable Firefox and Thunderbird, Portable office suite, Portable NVU web editor, Portable Sunbird calendar and task list, Portable FileZilla FTP client and Portable Gaim instant messenger. They all fit easily on a 256Mb drive (512Mb is better and leaves more space for your data) , but if you are short of space just leave out the and you can squeeze it into less than 128Mb.




As you can imagine Iíve become a bit of an expert on the subtle art of screen capture and I mostly use the standard Windows Print Screen utility (PrtScn to capture full screen or Alt + PrtScn to capture active window). Iíve also used a number commercial and shareware offerings but rarely stuck with them as their various flaws have come to light. However, now Iím quite smitten with a freeware utility, or rather the free Ďliteí version of a program called Screenhunter. It can be fired up with a simple keyboard shortcut, or the PrtScn key, at which point the mouse pointer turns into a crosshair, and you can define precisely the part of the screen you want to capture. The resultant Bitmap, JPEG or GIF image is then sent to a file location of your choice. There are lots of options and it is very easy to use, and if you like it for a small fee you can upgrade to the even more sophisticated Plus and Pro versions.




Hereís a brilliant little utility for anyone that uses a Windows PC for presentations or display. Zoomit sits quietly in the system tray but when you press the keyboard shortcut (Alt + 1) by default, Zoomit leaps into action, zooming in and out of any part of the screen using the mouse to move the image and the wheel to enlarge or reduce the display.  If thereís something on the screen you want to draw your audienceís attention to just click the mouse and it turns into a drawing tool -- in a range of colours. The program is tiny, the Zip file is only 36kb, and itís completely free.



If you regularly need to change the compression levels on JPEG picture files, so you can send them in emails or use them web pages and so on, it can be difficult to quickly see what effects higher or lower settings have on picture quality. A side-by-side compression preview display that shows before and after file sizes is just one of the many useful features in a little freeware program called CSDN Pic Viewer. It works with all common image file formats, thereís a fast batch conversion facility, picture browser and slideshow, Ďsmartí picture resizer and it only takes up a few megabytes of hard disc space. The only thing to watch out for is that it needs the .NET Framework plug-in to work, you may already have it, otherwise it can be downloaded free from the Microsoft web site. 



BSOD, in case you were wondering is the Blue Screen of Death, which pops up on Windows PC following a crash or serious problem with the operating system. You donít seem them so much with Windows XP but believe me, they still happen, and when they do itís usually when you are right in the middle of something important, or you havenít saved your work recently. The BSOD screensaver is a fiendish rendition of the dreaded blue screen thatís guaranteed to provide you with a few heart-stopping moments, until you remember that itís only a screensaver and if you move the mouse or press a key it goes away. I wonít suggest placing it on a colleagues PC as a prank because that would just be plain mean, and you shouldnít be messing with other peopleís computers, but the reaction it gets from those who arenít expecting it, is very funny. 



If you are into 3D modelling or just enjoy making watching wacky shaped objects dance around your monitor screen then you really must have a play with SketchUp. Itís a simple yet powerful tool for creating 3D designs, and itís free from Google. Use the drawing tools to create simple or complex shapes, or choose from the library of ready made components then push or pull them give the shape form, add colour and texture, twist and turn and watch as shadow and lighting effects bring it to life. Itís brilliant, but hereís the clever part, itís fully integrated with Google Earth so you can add your shapes to the images, see what a restaurant or skyscraper would look like in your back garden or design a new bridge for the English Channel. 




Ever needed to convert acres into hectares, tablespoons into Litres or feet per second into kilometres per hour? Of course you have, but rather than reach for the slide rule or the nearest calculator just click on English2Metric. Itís a super-simple units converter for Windows (all versions) and Linux and although the range of units is fairly limited, (and watch out for those dodgy US gallons...), it covers all of the commonly used ones, it is very easy to use, and whatís more itís completely free!





Windows XP has itís own built-in backup facility, and considering itís a freebie itís not too bad at all. There are also plenty of paid-for backup programs on the market, and most of them are also very good, but hereís a freeware program thatísí well worth investigating, especially if you want to do something tricky, like saving your backups to a drive on another networked PC. Karenís Replicator also happens to be very easy to setup and use, itís flexible too with plenty of configuration options and it can handle just about any backup task, from single folders to entire drives, with all data or incremental backups carried out at scheduled intervals, from minutes to months.




Although normally very reliable PC memory modules can do some very odd things when they go wrong. Windows Memory Diagnostic is one of the best memory checkers around and whatís more itís available free from Microsoft. Itís not especially fast or fancy to look at but it is reliable, and very thorough. Once the program has been downloaded it has to be copied to a floppy disc (remember them?) or a recordable CD, which is used to boot the PC, in order to carry out the tests. Youíll find the download and a full set of instructions on the Windows Memory Diagnostic home page.




To reveal system information, such as your BIOS version, processor, memory and page file info, simply go to Start > Run and type in Ďdxdiagí (without the quotes) and DirectX Diagnostic Tool will open. Then click on the System tab and all will be revealed. You can also test Direct X components using this.




Strange as it may seem there are some people who just donít like Microsoft, and I hasten to add Iím not one of them. MS products and their funny little ways have kept me in gainful employment for many yearsÖ 


Anyway, for those few dissidents out there who are happy to put up with Windows but draw the line at stuffing their PC with any more MS products, have a look at the TheOpenCD.


Itís a collection of high quality free Open Source programs that run under Windows, including a good few BootLog favourites. Thereís MS compatible office suites and word processors (OpenOffice, AbiWord), design and layout (Gimp, Tux Paint), multimedia (Audacity, Celestia), web, email and network (Firefox, Thunderbird, TightVNC) plus a good selection of games and utilities. Theyíre all free and ready to download and burn onto CD, but if donít fancy that you can also buy a ready-made copy.





What would you say is the most important component in your PC? Full marks if you said the hard disc drive. Your processor chip and power supply can pop their clogs and your memory and motherboard can develop mange and it doesnít matter too much, they can be replaced but if your disk drive shuffles off its coils -- mortal and electrical -- you are stuffed! Another question, just how much do you know about your HDD? How healthy is it, how hot is it and how long has it been in use? All these questions and more can be answered by a super little freeware utility called HD Tune. Everything you want to know about your drive(s) will be revealed, and a regular check-up, keeping tabs on its well-being could well save you a whole lot of trouble one day!




Thereís nothing wrong with the Windows XP clock display, itís functional and easy to read but it isnít very interesting. You used to be able to customise the clock in older versions of Windows but with XP what you see is what you get. If you fancy ringing in the changes, with a variety of different clock styles, including some natty analogue designs -- remember when clocks had hands -- then a little freeware utility called Analog Clock 2 is just what youíve been waiting for. Thereís a selection of Ďskinsí, so you can change its appearance and when you Ďhoverí your mouse pointer over the clock a calendar display pops up, great stuff!




I am becoming increasingly dismayed by the complexity and unnecessary bells and whistles that seem to be built into every new media player that somehow manages to find its way on to my PC, so I was very pleasantly surprised with Media Player Classic 6.4, which I have been trialling for the past few months. Itís basically an Open Source rewrite of the old Windows Media Player, but with lots of genuinely useful features, like the ability to play DVDs (providing you already have the codecs installed), as well as RealMedia files (using the RealAudio or RealAlternative codecs), DivX videos, QuickTime, AVI, MP3, CD audio and so on. Best of all it is small, uses hardly any system resources, unbelievably easy to use and it is free! Give it a try, you will be impressed!





If you want to know what's on your hard disc drive, have a look at WinDirStat,





If you have a digital camera youíve got to try AutoStitch. This ingenious little program is a brilliant way to create spectacular panoramic images, and itís almost foolproof. Simply stand in one spot and snap away trying to capture as much of what you can see as possible. You donít have to worry about overlapping, or taking shots in sequence, the program takes care of all that for you, seamlessly matching images and blending them together into one picture. Itís fully automatic, simply launch the program, tell it which images to use and away it goes. This is a fully functional freeware demo and it will open the finished image in your default image editing program, which you can then save and print as normal.




The calculator built into Windows (Start > Programs > Accessories) is handy for quick sums but did you know it also has an alternative Scientific mode for more advanced calculations?  Just click the View menu and select Scientific. Better still, if you want some real mathematical muscle on your PC download and install the Microsoft Power Calculator. Itís part of the PowerToys suite of freeware add-ons for Windows XP and in addition to a range of advanced graphical, trig and  log functions it has a nifty Conversion mode that lets you convert common units of measurement for Length, Mass, Time, Velocity, and Temperature.




You know what itís like setting up a new PC; you spend ages installing your core applications, then hours hunting down all of your favourite utilities and tools. I have created a CD-ROM with all my must-have programs, but if you havenít got around to doing that yet you might like to have a look at Google Pack. It's an eclectic collection of software, obviously with a strong Googlish flavour (Google Earth, Desktop, Toolbar and so on) but with some of our favourites as well, including Mozilla Firefox, Picasa, AdAware and Adobe Reader. You can pick and choose what you want and itís all conveniently packaged together in one download.





The trouble with most PC userís passwords is they are often simple words or names and usually easy to guess, if you know the person, or they can be quickly exposed using readily available Ďbrute forceí cracking programs. For a password to be truly effective it should be a random collection of alphanumeric characters and hereís a super fast way to create one. Just pop along to the Goodpassword web site, tell it how many characters you need, make a few simple choices and click the Create Password button.




One of the most useful PC accessories you can own is a shoebox. Theyíre the right size and shape for storing all of the discs and manuals youíll need to revive a dead PC or configure a new one to your way of working. The shoebox should be where you keep your operating system installation or recovery discs, an emergency start-up disc, your motherboard drivers and utilities plus driver discs for all of your hardware peripherals, such as the printer, scanner, memory card reader, web cam and any networking components. If thereís any room left you can keep your program installation discs in there as well.




Here's a  start-up manager program called Startup Delayer. I use this because when I boot my PC, my broadband modem isn't quite ready before the Internet connection is started. It also helps to stagger some of my other programs, which start automatically, starting such as Outlook. It is easy to use, lists all the programs that start with Windows and you can select which ones to adjust just by dragging a timeline at the bottom of the window. In advanced mode you can even delete programs from starting with Windows.




Itís worth checking the Event Viewer every so often, to keep an eye on your PCís general health and a good way to remind you to do just that it is to use WinAlarm. This handy little freeware program can be set to remind you to do things with a colour-coded on-screen display and sound at a predetermined time or date, or repeatedly at daily, weekly, monthly or yearly intervals. It also has a Ďsnoozeí button if you donít need remindingÖ The program is suitable for all recent versions of Windows  (98, SE, ME, 2K, XP), its multi-lingual, the download is 913kb and it can be found at:




When you buy a hard disc drive thatís usually all you get and youíre left to your own devices to figure out what to do with it. Fortunately most hard disc manufacturers have decent web support sites with a wealth of tutorials, FAQs and downloadable utilities, designed to help both expert and novice users install and use their products. Hereís a selection of addresses for the main players. (Western Digital)




If you are not comfortable about installing a RAM upgrade just yet but would like to keep an eye your PCís memory resources download and install this handy little utility. RAMpage constantly monitors your system memory showing how much is free from a display in the System Tray. If you need to free up more memory, to run an application simply click on the display, or right click to configure. The program works with all versions of Windows, the Zip file is only 170k and it is freeware. Youíll find the download file at:





Temporary (*.tmp) files is only one of a group of files that waste space on your PC but rather than removing them all manually try this freeware utility called HDCleaner. It is programmed to look for the commonest type of junk files and space wasters and you can add your own. As an added bonus it also identifies duplicate files and cleans up your Run, Find, Recent and typed URL History logs, leaving your hard disc squeaky clean. HDCleaner works with all versions of Windows, the download file is just over 800kb and it can be found at:




When disposing of an old PC you should at the very least reformat the hard drive. For a basic format simply boot the PC from a Windows 95/98/SE or ME Emergency Startup disc and at the flashing prompt type Ďformat C:í (without the quotes) then press Enter. However, even after formatting data can still be retrieved using specialised recovery applications. To thoroughly cleanse a disc you will need a utility like Active Killdisk (free from: This erases information on the disc and then overwrites it with random data so that recovery becomes almost impossible.




If you have a Wi-Fi enabled laptop and you want to make use of public Hotspots then a little gadget called a Wi-Fi ĎSnifferí, ĎSeekerí or ĎFinderí could come in very handy. Most Sniffers have a LED bargraph display that shows when you are within range of a wireless network; the more lights that are lit the stronger the signal. More sophisticated models also have an LCD display that shows the Hotspotís ID and whether or not it is encrypted. Basic key ring sized sniffers cost from around £25 and are readily available from on-line retailers and PC suppliers. 




Most of us take our ability to hear for granted and as we get older changes occur quite naturally and generally they go unnoticed. Needless to say if you become aware of any significant changes in your hearing you should consult your doctor immediately but you can carry out a rough and ready check on your ability to perceive sounds of different pitches by going to


This site features a simple hearing test that you can carry out on your PC, using a pair of headphones. There is also a questionnaire, compiled by German medical experts (in English, of course) that will analyse the results and indicate whether or not you may have an impairment.




There are a number of utilities for Windows 9x (95/98/ME/SE), to check and correct your PC clock and date settings every time you log on to the Internet or at scheduled intervals. The freeware offerings are often just as good and in some cases even better than the commercial programs so have a look at: Time Synchronizer (, DS Clock ( and SymmTime (




The beauty of modern film and digital cameras is that they are so easy to use, just point and shoot. Nevertheless, a lot of photographers still like to get their hands dirty, but you can quickly get bogged down in the mathematics of lenses, exposure times, shutter speeds and depth of field calculations. The excellent Calculators On-Line web site contains a whole section devoted to specialist photographic calculators at:,

but do have a look at the top of the page, where youíll find links to more than 16,900 web calculators, covering everything from Aquaculture to X-Ray Interactions.





The image sensor in your digital camera is a fantastically complicated device and if just a couple of the picture elements (pixels) are faulty it can ruin your photographs. This simple little freeware utility checks for dead or Ďhotí (over sensitive) pixels by analysing images taken on your camera. Simply leave the lens cap on, take a few photographs, download the files to your PC and run Deadpixeltest. In just a second or two it displays a detailed report on your cameraís image sensor performance. The zip file is only 191kb and it can be downloaded from:




Itís all very well transferring your pictures and files to a portable memory device, but what happens if you loose it? Thereís only one way to secure your data and thatís to encrypt it. CryptMage is a simple little freeware utility that will scramble your files, making them unreadable to anyone without the utility and the unlock code. The program only occupies 238kb of space so you can put a copy of it on your memory device. The download Ďzipí file is just 130kb and it can be found at: Itís a powerful tool, so make sure you read the instructions first!




PHOTORESCUE, shareware, $29, 820kb, Windows 2K, XP

The memory cards used in digital cameras are generally quite reliable however occasionally the data they contain can become corrupted, resulting in the loss of one or more images. Photorescue is a simple to use tool that recovers images from a wide range of memory cards. It is non-destructive so it doesnít affect the contents of the card. To see if it can help you download the trial version, which will show you what, if anything, can be recovered. The licensed version will allow you to recover and save lost images.




A!K Mouse Off-Road is a fascinating little freeware utility that monitors mouse movement, measuring the distance it travels (metric or imperial) and its speed across your mouse mat. The program sits unobtrusively in the System Tray and you can get an instant readout by hovering the pointer over the icon and you can change the colour and opacity of the optional desktop display window.  The program works in all versions of Windows and the download is only 380kb. For your copy go to:




Autoruns is a tiny freeware utility that lists all of the programs that run automatically from the Registry whilst Windows is loading.  Each item has a check box, which you can untick to stop suspect programs launching when Windows boots up. Autoruns works on all versions of Windows, the download file is just 140kb and the program is small enough to fit onto a floppy disc. To obtain your copy go to:




System Monitor allows you to visually check the data throughput of an external modem, in real time. It can be found by clicking the Start button, then Accessories and System Tools. Open System Monitor and click on the Edit menu then Add Item. Select Dial Up Adapter from the list in the Category Window and Bytes Received/Second and Bytes Transmitted/Second in the Item Window, then OK. (Note, System Monitor is not installed by default so you may have to load it from your Windows CD-ROM using Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel).





How well do you know your Windows 98 PC? Tucked away inside your machine is a complete history of its inner workings, charting system settings and changes to the hardware and software configuration. It's  useful to have a permanent record of this information, made when your PC is working normally. There are some interesting facts and figures in amongst the mass of gobbledegook and if at some stage something goes wrong, it could help you or a PC savvy friend to track down the problem more easily. To produce such a file go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Information. On the File menu select Export, give the file a name Ė something along the lines 'mypc.txt' -- choose a location and click Save. You could print it out but be warned that it can run to more than 100 pages!




If you keep a lot of images on your Windows 95/98 PC it can very useful to see what is stored in folders, without opening a paint program and sifting through the files manually. Windows Explorer has a well-hidden utility for generating thumbnail views of picture files. It is disabled by default, probably because it slows Explorer down, but you can enable it selectively, so it only works on folders containing image files. Hereís what you do; open Windows Explorer and right-click on the folder you wish to view, from the drop-down menu that appears select Properties and the General tab. Check the item ĎEnable thumbnail viewí and click Apply, then OK. Go to the View menu and click Refresh, and a new item ĎThumbnailsí should appear above Large Icons on both the View menu and the drop down menu next to the Views icon on the Toolbar. Select it and the display will change to a screen full of mini preview pictures.




Hardware Info carries out a comprehensive check on driver files and the hardware attached to the machine, flagging up potential problems with colour-coded highlights. Error information is displayed in red, and warnings in blue. To start Hardware Info go to Run on the Start menu and type Ďhwinfo /uií (omitting the inverted commas of course, and then click OK. It only takes a few seconds after which the report appears. Check through the report looking for any red or blue highlights, which may indicate trouble, or potential trouble, and require further investigation. If you know a thing or two about PCs you may want to have a look at the alternative reports on the View menu. If your PC and hardware is behaving normally itís probably a good idea to leave well alone, but take note of any warnings and save your Hwinfo file for future reference or to show to an engineer.





The Version Conflict Manager Utility or VCMUI should be of interest to anyone who routinely updates their software applications. This can cause problems when files from older or newer versions of a program conflict with one another. If you've had difficulty with a recent update VCMUI should track down the offending files, and might even provide a solution, it can also highlight potential conflicts, before they've had a chance to cause problems. To give your PC's software a quick health check go to Run on the Start menu and type 'VCMUI', without the quotes of course. All being well you'll see an empty dialogue box, indicating that your applications are conflict-free, if not just follow the instructions.




System File Checker can help engineers and knowledgeable users to track down and automatically correct common problems. It's worth running the SFC every now and again, especially on well-used machines, and you never know, it may help to resolve a long-running problem; however, unless you know what you are doing it is a good idea to leave the settings on their defaults. To start the program go to Run on the Start menu and type 'sfc.exe' and click Start to begin the checking routine.




CheckLinks can be found on the Windows 98 CD-ROM and its job is to weed out shortcuts and Start menu items that no longer do anything. It's going to save you much disc space but 'broken links' can sometimes cause problems and point to programs that you no longer need or use. The Link Check Wizard can be found by going to the Tools folder then Reskit and Desktop, click on the chklnks.exe icon and follow the instructions. If you like you can copy and paste chklnk.exe to your hard drive, and include it with your regular hard disc maintenance routines.




Sometimes you just want to switch off and go, but Windows won't let you and insists that you go through the tiresome shut down ritual, but there is an easier way. This simple little tip creates a shutdown shortcut; one click is all it takes to exit Windows 9x cleanly and safely. Start by right-clicking on the desktop and select New then Shortcut. In the command line type the following (minus the quotes) 'C:\WINDOWS\RUNDLL32.EXE User,ExitWindows', then click Next, give the shortcut a name, something like 'Wingo', then click Finish and its done.




How many applications are running on your PC right now? It's easy to lose track and if your system's resources fall to dangerously low levels Windows will crash, often without warning. Windows 9x and ME has a built in monitoring utility but it's not enabled by default. There are two ways to get to it, via Start > Programs> Accessories > System Tools, or simply type 'RSRCMTR' into Run on the Start menu. This will put a little bargraph into the System Tray (next to the clock), if it shows two or more green bars you should be okay, double click the icon for more detailed information. It's well worth having this on display all of the time, to do that open the Start Up folder (Start > Programs) then go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools, hold down the Ctrl key and drag the Resource meter icon into the Start Up folder and it will open automatically every time your PC boots up.  If by any chance you can't see Resource Meter in System tools go to Ass/Remove Programs in Control Panel and select the Windows Setup tab, double Ėclick System Tools, check the item System Resource Meter, click OK and follow the on-screen prompts. 




Adding an extra cooling fan is one way to stop your PC overheating in the hot weather, but how can you tell if your computer is suffering? It just so happens that many recent PC motherboards have built in temperature sensors that keep a running check on vital components. Motherboard Monitor is a neat freeware utility that puts that information on the screen, so you can see for yourself what's going on. Not all motherboards are supported, but the program will check your PC for compatibility before it runs. The file is 1.5Mb and it can be downloaded from:




Whether you're going out for lunch or just popping out for a few minutes your PC is vulnerable to intrusion. Of course you could switch it off and there are plenty of programs that will password protect your PC and prevent Windows from loading, of you could invoke password protection on a screensaver but all that takes time or they can be easily hacked. Quick Hide is a useful little freeware program that locks the PC when it is running with a simple keyboard shortcut. It can also be set to hide the current application, the Taskbar and desktop icons, which can only be unlocked with a password. The download zip file is under 500kb in size and it's available from:




Drive Rescue is a powerful file recovery utility that could save your bacon one day! If youíve ever deleted a file by accident Drive Rescue is your best chance of getting some or all of it back, it even works on removable media and memory cards. The zip file is 1.2Mb, it runs on all versions of Windows and it can be downloaded from:




Whilst the Windows Screen Magnifier is a very useful tool for those who need an enlarged display all of the time itís sometimes handy to be able to view just small portion of the screen. A simple freeware utility called Dragnifier changes your mouse cursor into a virtual magnifying glass. Itís highly customisable with variable sized Ďglassí and magnification level and a measuring reticule. The download file is only around 130k and itís free (though the author says all contributions gratefully receivedÖ). For more details and a link to the self-extracting zip file go to:




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