All the tips/hints/fixes/other information posted here are at your own risk. Some of the steps here could result in damage to your computer. For example, using a Windows registry editor like RegEdit could result in unintended serious changes that may be difficult or impossible to reverse. Backups are always encouraged.

07 November 2007

More Outlook 2003 Adjustments for Speed

  1. Disable Person Names Smart Tag
  2. Remove the many sites in Restricted Sites (IE settings) put there by SpywareBlaster or a similar utility, and adjust that zone to disable the new-in-IE7 phishing and pop-up filters. Outlook 2003 and IE7 don't have security controls that work well together. If everything else in Restricted Sites is disabled, the pop-up and phishing filters are irrelevant, and while browsing with IE7, the Internet Zone will be applied always because no sites are specified in Restricted Sites. Make sure Firefox is your default browser, anyway.
  3. Disable add-ins and extensions you don't use
  4. Quit Outlook and rename frmcache.dat in C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\FORMS to frmcache.old

03 November 2007

Problems Transferring Files to MP3 Player Solved

Yahoo! Music Jukebox would freeze when synchronizing a playlist to my Sansa Connect (Amazon) player. I reinstalled YMJ and even tried other programs, such as MediaMonkey, Windows Media Player, and Winamp. However, I think that the special features and tie-ins with Yahoo! Music make YMJ the most reliable option (sad as that may be). I found, however, that the problems were with the MTP protocol that was part of the installation of WMP 11. Reinstalling WMP 11 fixed the problems transferring music with YMJ to the Sansa.

Some Free Utilities I Have Found Useful Lately

Instead of overloading the list in the sidebar of this page, I'd like to highlight some free utilities that I have found to be very useful lately:

Some other free software that I've come to greatly appreciate lately are Audacity 1.3 Beta (the chains are really helpful for cleaning up podcasts), and AbiWord for simpler word processing without the UI weirdness of Word (but still including grammar checking!). Even though I have Microsoft Word 2003 installed, I use AbiWord as the default program for .doc files, and I find it faster and easier.

In an upcoming post, I'll highlight my favorite Firefox extensions.

14 October 2007

Getting Rid of iTunesHelper.exe and ipodservice.exe

It seems a little difficult to disable these, because iTunes just brings them right back. If you have an iPod, you probably should keep them, but if not, they're just (slightly) slowing you down.

How to get rid of them:
  1. Make sure iTunes isn't running
  2. In services, disable and stop the ipodservice
  3. Delete the following: %programfiles%\ipod, %programfiles%\itunes\ituneshelper.exe, %programfiles\itunes\ituneshelper.resources
  4. Make sure your shortcuts point directly to itunes.exe; shortcuts that launch iTunes through its install ID may try to restore these missing parts.
Thanks SeeMoreDigital.

Also, I recommend Quicktime Alternative for quicktime ability without the bloat. It works great with iTunes too.

12 October 2007

Working Around a Slow Laptop Hard Drive

As the owner of a Lenovo x41 tablet with a frustratingly slow 4200 rpm hard drive, the computing experience can be disappointing. Here are some tips, including maybe one or two that aren't obvious, to effectively workaround a slow laptop hard drive like mine. [Note: the links below are to how-to's for each step.]

  1. Max out your RAM-- this makes the biggest difference, and if you do so it is safer to...
  2. Disable the paging file-- this is a big disk operation that may not even be necessary for you
  3. Store frequently created files on a separate partition of your hard drive: Temp files [Control Panel-System-Advanced-Environment Variables], Mozilla Cache, Temporary Internet Files, Java Cache [Java Control Panel], Downloads folder, print spool folder-- this helps to keep your main partition defragmented, which is even better for...
  4. Smart Defragging by Layout.ini
  5. Remove software that does background I/O activity or monitoring (resident antivirus, antispyware, network scanning), if you can get away with it. (See this post for a security solution.)
  6. Disable the Indexing Service (this could probably go first!) [in services.msc]
  7. Disable Last Access timestamping of files
  8. Take advantage of your PC Card slot by getting the Delkin Cardbus UDMA CompactFlash adapter (Manufacturer Page / Amazon Product Page) and a UDMA CF card. My laptop's hard drive has a transfer rate of about 14 MB/sec, but a CF card in UDMA mode can sustain 40-45 MB/sec and far shorter access times.

More on using a UDMA CF card:

The 40 MB/sec transfer rate is impressive, but some aspects of the technology make it seem slow for frequent read/write operations. Storing a paging file or cache on it, for two examples, might not work very well. However, I have found the following do work well when put on a UDMA CF card:
  • Microsoft Outlook .OST file
  • Desktop Search Index (e.g. Copernic)
  • Firefox (not the profile(s), though)
  • Adobe Reader
    [You need a direct download so that you can specify the installation directory.]
  • Pidgin with GTK runtime (again, profile should probably be kept on your hard drive)
  • Other frequently used applications would probably also work well
This is just my casual observation, but indexes seem to perform well from a fast flash drive, but caches do not necessarily. Applications will start quickly from flash, since the reading is fast.

07 October 2007

How I Fixed My Wireless

I have a Lenovo laptop with a Intel 2915abg wireless adapter, and I started getting several dropped connections. Troubleshooting a situation like this is difficult, because there are many places things can go awry. I tried several things before it started working well, but here's a full checklist if you want to go whole-hog to fix your wireless:

First of all, if you use a wireless utility like Intel PRO/Set or ThinkVantage Access Connections, make sure Wireless Zero Configuration is disabled in Run-services.msc -- it conflicts.

1) If multiple devices on your network drop their connections, there might be interference. Change the wireless channel and enable interference robustness (an Apple Airport feature, but it might be on other routers).

Ok, here's the intense regimen in case you suspect it's your PC that's whack:

2) Reset Winsock (Instructions) including restarts
3) Fully uninstall your wireless software (utility & driver) as well as antivirus, 3rd party firewall, other programs that may monitor your network and do the necessary restarts
4) Reinstall your stuff from step 3 (updated versions, if available)
5) Turn off power management (more info for Intel wireless) for your wireless adapter and instead decrease the transmit power (in advanced settings in Access Connections or hit the Configure button in Wireless properties if you use Windows XP to manage your networks) for power savings. I find a 25% (5 mW) transmission power to work very well (this is set in individual wireless network profiles in my setup, but you may have to just specify instead a global setting in the device properties. Your wireless utility might override device properties, so check out that area first).
6) If you have problems and you are using a particular encryption method, look for an update; e.g.: WPA2

Unless you have a special need for it, I recommend avoiding Microsoft TCP/IP Version 6. I can't prove it, but I don't think networking drivers for XP are quite ready for it. Maybe if you use Windows XP to handle all networking, it'll be ok, but stay away if you're still using XP-only 3rd party networking software or drivers.

27 September 2007

PNRP 2.0 Upgrade for XP is Bad News

After installing KB 920342, wireless networking completely stopped working for me. Between Bonjour, ThinkVantage Access Connections, Intel PRO/Set Wireless, and all the other networking items, I have no idea what completely choked after installing this upgrade to a feature that I don't even understand. I recommend avoiding it.

In fact, perhaps the optional updates in Microsoft Update aren't really worth it:
  • A Root Certificates Update led to redundant friendly names
  • A new driver for Lenovo locked my keyboard and trackpoint, even in safe mode
  • And now, PNRP 2.0

26 September 2007

XP Run Commands, Also Great for Configuration Shortcuts

Some examples:
  • services.msc = Services
  • devmgmt.msc = Device Management
  • ipconfig /flushdns = Clear DNS Cache

See it at Erik's Wiki

25 September 2007

Adobe Reader 8.1 and Scroll Wheels

Items like this make me all the more amused that the abbreviation for this site is WTF. If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel which is set to scroll by a certain number of lines, Adobe Reader interprets that weirdly. The only workaround I have found is to set the global preference for scrolling to go page-by-page rather than N lines. In Firefox, you can override the settings by going into about:config from the address bar and setting sysnumlines to false and other settings as appropriate (more)-- if, you know, you use Firefox primarily.

I haven't found a mouse utility that successfully overrides for Adobe Reader only. Post something if you have.

15 September 2007

Take Advantage of the Cheap Dual Scroll Mouse at Target

Target sells a very nice $12.99 GE mouse with two scroll wheels, one for horizontal scrolling. You might find, however, that the horizontal scroll wheel does not work in Firefox. The mouse is manufactured by Jasco under GE licensing, but it is actually a ripoff of this A4Tech mouse: WOP-35. Even though Jasco has not released updated drivers for the GE-branded mouse (their drivers are also ripoffs of A4Tech), the much newer A4Tech drivers work great (see link above).

Safe to Remove Hardware Dialog Missing

Frustratingly, I could not find a solution to the problem outlined in KB 883517, even after installing the hotfix (for me, it was available from the computer manufacturer in a file called "Windows XP Update Modules").

The problem was that Balloon Tips were disabled. To enable Balloon Tips, go to the Taskbar and Start Menu section of Tweak UI. The option took effect right away, and the "It is now safe to remove your hardware" dialog reappeared.

10 September 2007

General Fix for Outlook Involves Toolbars

Apparently, the file %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Outlook\outcmd.dat, where customized toolbar settings are stored, can become corrupted. I think a source of such problems are add-ins such as Google Desktop, MSN Toolbar, Spambayes, antivirus with Outlook support (Avast!, AVG, among others), and so on that may have been installed and uninstalled. If you are experiencing general slow-down or weirdness with Outlook, rename outcmd.dat when Outlook isn't running and restart Outlook. Outcmd.dat will rebuild. My corrupted outcmd.dat was 12K, and my new file after reapplying my customizations was 6K.

PS I don't recommend Spambayes (anymore). Even though Outlook's built-in Junk Email protection could use some interface improvements, Spambayes really slows Outlook down.

09 September 2007

"Restore" the Windows Media Player (or iTunes) Toolbar in the Taskbar

I was searching online for a solution to a problem where the Windows Media Player toolbar (a.k.a. mini mode) would not show up in the Taskbar, even though I selected the toolbar by right-clicking the taskbar and selecting it from the Toolbars submenu. I found out that I just didn't understand how the toolbar works. When the Windows Medial Player toolbar is active, Windows Media Player will minimize to mini mode. I didn't realize, although it sounds obvious, that Windows Media Player has to be open first and then minimized before the toolbar will appear.

UPDATE: For iTunes, Minimize to Tray has to be unchecked in Preferences-Advanced-General for iTunes to minimize to a Taskbar toolbar.

Disable Tablet Functionality

To disable the tablet functionality on Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005, do the following:

1) Go to Regional and Language Options in the Control Panel
2) Click the Languages tab
3) Click the Details button
4) Click the Advanced tab
5) Check Turn off advanced text services in the System Configuration section
6) Click OK as necessary

Furthermore, to disable the tablet input panel button in the taskbar, run regsvr32 /u "C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Ink\tipband.dll" and reboot. To regain the taskbar button, run regsvr32 "C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Ink\tipband.dll"

Update: To remove the login keyboard

08 September 2007

Fine-Tune Windows Defender Scanning for Power Management

Within the Windows Defender options page, there are no choices to prevent scheduled scans while running on battery power or to restrict scans to running while the computer is at idle. However, Windows Defender uses simply the built-in Windows XP (or Vista, I assume) Task Scheduler. The Windows Defender scheduled task is hidden, so you might not realize at first that it is adjustable.

Go to Scheduled Tasks in Control Panel, and select Show Hidden Tasks from the Advanced menu. The Windows Defender item is "MP Scheduled Scan" with the run command:
"C:\Program Files\Windows Defender\MpCmdRun.exe" Scan -RestrictPrivileges

You can adjust settings for the scan to run only during idle or AC power as you like. Using the command above, you could also make a shortcut to run a quick scan whenever you like.

04 September 2007

Access Google Calendar from within Microsoft Outlook

I found a solution that effectively replaces Outlook's Calendar module with GCal:

1) Right-click on your calendar in Outlook and select Properties
2) On the home page tab, enter
3) Check "Show Home Page by Default"
4) In Offline Web Page Settings, de-select the downloading web page option.

You can add a Calendar button to the toolbar within Outlook or press ctrl-2, and Google Calendar will pop up! This works for me in Outlook 2003.

Alternatively, you can assign a hyperlink to any toolbar button in Outlook so a URL will open in a new browser window.

Smart Defragging by Layout.ini for Free

By default, Windows XP tracks what files load during boot and application launches, and it uses that information to prefetch files into RAM. Additionally, the prefetch data are parsed into a file, %WINDIR%\Prefetch\layout.ini, which is used by XP's built-in Disk Defragmenter to optimize the layout of those files on the hard drive for faster access. Also, by default, a limited defrag operation takes place in the background during idle every three days just for the files specified in layout.ini. You might get a bigger performance benefit, however, but running by defragging by layout.ini more often. The command to do this layout.ini defrag is defrag c: -b. The "-b" switch is almost undocumented, and might have originally meant "boot", but it relocates boot and application launch files contiguously and nearer to the beginning of the hard drive for faster access. Since it moves only hundreds of files instead of tens of thousands, it's much faster than a normal disk defragmentation. If you want, you can make a Scheduled Task to run defrag c: -b however often you like (I have Scheduled Task to run this quick defrag every day during idle). If you want to additionally disable the 3-day operation, uncheck "Optimize hard drive when idle" in Tweak UI (or set EnableAutoLayout to 0 in the registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\OptimalLayout ).

You will still need to defragment the hard drive from time to time. It is most effective to do so before the desktop loads. The utility ScanDefrag is very useful in that regard. A normal defragmentation with Disk Defragmenter includes optimizations guided by layout.ini.

Some otherwise really excellent defrag utilities will actually undo the defrag by layout.ini. (Windows XP Disk Defragmenter respects layout.ini.) For normal desktop/workstation use, the Windows defragmenter is best IMHO.

NB: For this tip to work, you need the default registry entries below:

Key Name: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Dfrg\BootOptimizeFunction
Name: Enable
Type: REG_SZ
Value: Y
I believe this enables Disk Defragmenter to respect layout.ini.

Key Name: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters
Name: EnablePrefetcher
Value: 3
0 = Prefetching Disabled; 1 = Application Prefetching Only; 2 = Boot Prefetching Only; 3 = Both Boot & Application Prefetching Enabled

PS Running Rundll32.exe advapi32.dll,ProcessIdleTasks will rebuild Layout.ini from the prefetch data and then (if EnableAutoLayout is set to 1) optimize layout on the disk from the refreshed layout.ini. The command also launches other tasks that happen during idle, such as System Restore.

02 September 2007

Certificate Issuers Might Have Weird 'Friendly Names'

I had to specify a wireless network logon using certificate validation by Equifax Secure Certificate Authority. The certificate issuer, however, was not in the drop-down list in my wireless network utility (ThinkVantage Access Connections). I found out that the so-called Friendly Name for the certificate became "GeoTrust", who acquired certificates from Equifax, when Windows Update updated the root certificates on the computer. To make matters more confusing, there was another certificate with the friendly name "GeoTrust": GeoTrust Primary Certification Authority, yet this proper name distinction did not appear in the list, because only the Friendly Names were listed in my wireless utility. (Not so friendly, if you ask me!) Compounding the confusion are other certificates with similar names to the one I needed: Equifax Secure eBusiness CA-1 and Equifax Secure eBusiness CA-2.

To be sure that I wasn't selecting the wrong "GeoTrust" certificate in the drop-down list, I edited the Friendly Name back to its proper name, "Equifax Secure Certificate Authority." You can view and manage the root certificates on your computer by going to Internet Options in Internet Explorer or the Control Panel. Click the Content tab and then Certificates. Find your desired certificate under the Trusted Root Certification Authorities tab and click View and then the Details tab. Select the Friendly Name field and click Edit Properties. There you can change the Friendly Name.

Windows Vista on Compaq R3000 Laptop

Please see this page for how I figured out how to run Windows Vista on a Compaq R3000 laptop, including support for its graphics card, Ati Mobility Radeon 9000 IGP. HP/Compaq no longer supports this system and ATI/AMD does not support the Mobility Radeon 9000 IGP graphics chipset, but I was able to scrap enough info together to get it to work well.

A Warmer Display: Adjusting the White Point in Windows

Mac OS X has a very good display configuration utility that allows you to set the white point or gamma for a warmer, yellow-y white on your screen. The effect is a screen that is easier on the eyes (although graphics specialists might have special requirements).

Setting the white point or gamma on a Windows PC seems nearly impossible. The ICM color management is really no help whatsoever. There is no good utility to simply make ICM profiles. Even if there were, they're awkward to apply.

However, your graphics card or chipset might have a utility included for adjusting certain display settings. The Intel GMA Driver for Mobile, for example, has a color correction feature. For a warmer screen, downward adjust the contrast for blue only. Blue is the enemy of yellow. By decreasing the contrast for blue (as opposed to saturation, etc.), there will still be plenty of blue on your screen, but at higher intensities blue will be less emphasized. Check your Control Panel for a special graphics card adjustment utility that you might not have even realized you had. Color settings might also/instead be available within the Display control panel.

01 September 2007

Fixing Standby on Newer Computers

If you have problems or delays entering or resuming from Standby mode, it may be because your computer doesn't have a parallel port. The parallel port was the printer port commonly used before USB became popular. Many newer computers, especially laptops and tablet PCs, don't have them. Windows XP has a hard time with this when it comes to power management.

To resolve this issue, use Device Manager to disable the Direct Parallel device. To do this, follow these steps:
1. Click Start, right-click My Computer, and then click Manage.
2. In the console pane, click Device Manager.
3. On the View menu, click Show hidden devices.
4. In the details pane, expand Network adapters.
5. Right-click Direct Parallel, and then click Disable.

Autoload the Desktop After Startup While Still Requiring a Password to Use

I really like this tip. It makes it so that you have instant access to everything after sign-in, rather than waiting for the computer to boot-up, signing-in, and then waiting again until the desktop loads. It's nice if you'd like to just turn on the computer, do a thing perhaps somewhere else, and then be able to start using it when you get back by entering your password as usual, only with your desktop already loaded. I thought I totally ripped off the idea from somewhere else, but I think I might have just combined a couple ideas i saw elsewhere:
1.Click Start, and then click Run.
2.In the Open box, type control userpasswords2, and then click OK.
3.Clear the "Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer" check box, and then click Apply.
4.In the Automatically Log On window, type the password in the Password box, and then retype the password in the Confirm Password box.
5.Click OK to close the Automatically Log On window, and then click OK to close the User Accounts window.
6. Go to Run again
7. In the Open box type or copy and paste the following: schtasks /create /tn LockPC /tr "rundll32.exe user32.dll,LockWorkStation" /sc onlogon
8. Click OK and enter your password in the upcoming window as prompted

What's going on here: You're setting up Windows to automatically log you into your user account, so your desktop will start to load automatically after startup. However, as soon as you're automatically logged in, your computer is locked so your computer cannot be used until your password is entered. Your desktop continues to load in the background after the PC is locked. The LockPC task you made in step 7 is available for you to modify it if you like in Scheduled Tasks in the Control Panel.
Resources for this last tip:

Restore the Startup Folder

I had a problem with a program shortcut in my Startup folder that would launch with an error that the program was already loaded. I figured out that not only was the shortcut in the Startup folder for "All Users" but that my user account Startup folder was also considered to be that same "All Users" folder (%ALLUSERSPROFILE%\Start Menu\Programs\Startup) [I'm using the universal direction here. You can type %ALLUSERSPROFILE% and %USERPROFILE% into the Run box in the Start Menu to find the specific absolute paths for your system]. In effect, everything in the Startup folder would launch twice: once for "All Users" and again just for my account, even though it was the same folder.

To fix this, I created new folders: %USERPROFILE%\Start Menu\Programs and %USERPROFILE%\Start Menu\Programs\Startup which were missing. I then used RegEdit to go to the registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders and made sure the values Start Menu, Programs, and Startup pointed to the folders in my user account folder and not the All Users folder. Now, my Common Startup and user Startup folders were different.

Related: in Regedit, use String values [REG_SZ] for absolute paths (e.g.: C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator) and Expandable String values [REG_EXPAND_SZ] for the %-style paths (e.g. %USERPROFILE%).


UPDATE: You can also use Tweak UI to adjust user shell folders. This is useful in the case above, or if you want to make an adjustment such as keeping "My Documents" and the Desktop folder on the same drive. Within Tweak UI, the user shell folders setting is in My Computer-Special Folders.

29 August 2007

Disappearing Quick Launch Toolbar

The Quick Launch toolbar on the Windows XP taskbar stopped appearing after restart. Icons for the toolbar were still available in the normal location: %USERPROFILE%\Application Data\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch. However, the toolbar would be gone and the icon order was reset.

Apparently, this can come up with certain malware. However, in my case, the "Group Policy" profile became corrupted. I followed the fix here (even though I don't understand the symptoms described in the page): ESENT event IDs 1000, 1202, 412, and 454 are logged repeatedly in the Application log to rebuild the profile. You may not have this problem if you can successfully open the Group Policy Editor in Administrative Tools.

I also adjusted the registry value NoSaveSettings, as explained here: Microsoft TechNet: NoSaveSettings
Restarting after adjusting this value makes it so that your desktop settings are saved. You then have to restart again after re-introducing the Quick Launch toolbar to see if it was fixed. It is possible that this latter adjustment is all that is required.