27 February, 2007

Add a new Download Action in Firefox

Recently I was asked how to add a new Download Action to Firefox. In other words, how can I get Firefox to always use the same program and open a file from the web without having to save it first each time. I scratched my head for a minute and then thought, "this is easy, just click Tools | Options, and then the Content tab." I found out I could only manage them here, not add.

After being perplex for a while, I realized it is actually very easy. Download the file type (e.g. PowerPoint), select the Open with radio button, select the application you want to open it with, and (here's the hard part) check the box next to Do this automatically for files like this from now on.
Now you can go back to the Content tab in the Options menu if you want to remove or change the file association.
Ahh, such an easy solution to any easy problem.

22 February, 2007

DVD Doesn't Play on Your PC

Recently I took a class where the instructor could not get one of his DVDs to play for the class. This particular DVD was a custom compilation made by his organization. The error I saw when trying it on my laptop was that it was blocky and played fast. Another person tried it and got a black screen.

I search Google on "free DVD codecs" and found a codec to that worked.
Once installed, it still did not play with my default player, but it did play with the player installed with the codec -- the Media Player Classic.
Because this first codec worked, I did not try the other downloads. I tried this one first because the file size was the smallest. So if you find that you still have trouble, try one of the other links within the first result (Codec Pack All in 1 or K-Lite Mega Codec).

08 February, 2007

View My Computer as a Menu

Have you ever thought it would be easier to find a particular drive if My Computer would display a menu of all drives? Well actually it can do that, with a little configuration change.

  • Right-click on the Start menu, and select properties
  • Make sure the Start menu radio button is selected, and click the Customize button next to it
  • Click the Advance tab
  • Scroll through the list of Start menu items until you find My Computer
  • Select the radio button next to Display as a menu
  • Click OK twice

That's all there is to it.

07 February, 2007

Is Your Windows XP Computer Internet Safe?

It is extremely easy to have your computer compromised if it is not setup to protect you before going on the Internet. Here are the steps to validate against your own Windows XP computer to make sure it is secured.
  1. Install a router. Even if you only have one machine connected to your Internet Service Provider (ISP), the router provides incoming firewall protection.
  2. Install a software firewall. Use this to protect your machine from having applications access the Internet without your permission. It can be a bit of a pain at first, because you will be prompted to approve applications that you do want to access the Internet, but it is worth it in the long run. I recommend ZoneAlarm (get the pro version if you want more information on messages, otherwise the free version is fine). The firewall that came with Windows XP does not protect you for outgoing traffic, so it doesn't give you any more benefit than your router. The software firewall will also protect you from incoming requests if you connect to a shared network.
  3. Install a virus scanner and have it update daily. New viruses are released, as well as new fixes are published daily, so having an up-to-date virus definition file is as important as having the virus scanning software to begin with. the household brand names, Norton and McAfee are rather bloated, so I recommend Nod32 ($39) or Avast (free).
  4. Install anti-spyware software. If you have an outgoing software firewall (see #2), then even if you get spyware, you should be protected from the spyware calling home. But you can get anti-spyware software for free, and you can run it manually every week or month just to be safe. Try Microsoft's Defender (which has other good features, such as managing startup applications), Lavasoft's Ad-Aware, or Spybot Search & Destroy.
  5. Install and use Firefox (or even Netscape or Opera). Firefox will protect you from security holes and related annoyances (as Microsoft has tried to patch them) in Internet Explorer.
  6. Use Firefox Extensions. Once you have Firefox, you can install an Extension called NoScript which by default will disable JavaScript on all web pages you access. It is then very easy to enable JavaScript just from the sites you trust. It is a great way to get content from sites you like while blocking their outsourced ads. You can also install McAfee SiteAdvisor, which will warn you of potentially unsafe websites.
  7. Replace Outlook Express with Thunderbird (or Eudora). By using Thunderbird, you can avoid the same security risks in Internet Explorer, as Outlook Express uses Internet Explorers rendering engine for all HTML formatted email. You can also use Thunderbird to retrieve webmail.
  8. Use a User Account. With Windows XP it is easy to be running as Administrator and not realize it. Be sure that your Administrator account has a password (default is blank) and that you have created a separate user account that you use for your everyday computing.
  9. Avoid P2P, Porn, and other questionable site. In most cases you should be protected, but if you enable JavaScript on a questionable site, or open a file from retrieved through a P2P transfer or other unverified sources, you are opening yourself up to problems.
  10. Use strong passwords and don't share them. We all get frustrated because passwords are so hard to manage, and strong passwords are even worse. One solution is to use a program such as RoboForm to help you manage your passwords. RoboForm lets you use one global password to protect all your other passwords. It also makes it easy to have different passwords for different sites. This way if one of your passwords is compromised, it doesn't let someone into all your sites.
  11. Protect yourself on public networks. If you find yourself using public networks such as Internet hotspots and hotel networks, read my post on Safe Computing While Traveling.
  12. And of course, keep you machine patched to the latest level -- this of all items, should be a no brainer.
I hope this helps. Let me know if you have other techniques you use. Just being careful and not protecting yourself isn't a technique, it's luck -- most users are not able to do this successfully, so if you have then you are not the average user. Related to that, I have a friend who takes that approach and recently had his machine compromised by a key logger. Fortunately for him, he only had one account compromised and only lost $1400.

Fixing Boot Problems in Windows XP

It can be quite frustrating if you cannot get Windows XP to boot. Here are several things to try, which can solve boot problems:
  1. Look for clues where it hangs. First, if your computer is cycling through reboots, press F8 after the first beep of the reboot and select Disable the Automatic Restart on System Failure. Next time you boot, when the computer hangs, it may give you some clues to the problem.
  2. Use a Windows XP Boot Disk. This assumes you have made one prior to your problem. To create a boot disk, begin by formatting a floppy disk. Then copy the following files onto the disk: boot.ini, NTLDR, and ntdetect.com. Alternatively, you should be able to create this with a CD.
  3. Use System Restore. Assuming you can boot in Safe Mode (press F8 on reboot immediately after hearing a single beep, then select Safe Mode from the list of choices), from the Start menu, go to Accessories | System Tools and select System Restore. Follow the wizard interface to restore your machine to a previous point. Note that you will not lose any data, but you may have to reinstall some applications.
  4. Use Last Known Good Configuration. The Last Know Good Configuration is another option in the menu where you find Safe Mode when rebooting your computer. For more information on Last Known Good Configuration view Microsoft article #307852.
  5. Use the Recovery Console on your XP Disk. Reboot your computer with your Windows XP installation disk, and select the Recovery Console. From the Recovery Console, you can select which OS to log into (if this is your only OS on the machine, only one will be listed). When prompted, enter the administrator password (the default is blank -- just hit Enter). For more information on the Recovery Console view Microsoft article #307654.
  6. Use your backup. Many folks don't backup, while others just backup their data, but if you have a complete system backup, you can use that.
  7. Fix corrupted partition boot sector and/or master boot record. To fix a corrupt partition boot sector, go back to the Recovery Console and type fixboot c:. To fix the master boot record, you also use the Recovery Console. From there, enter fixmbr \Device\HardDisk0. This assumes that you are booting from c: and c: is on harddisk 0.
  8. Try reinstalling Windows XP. Boot from your Windows XP disk, and select Repair. Repair will overwrite your existing Windows installation but not destroy your data. After the repair completes, go to Windows Update (requires IE 5 or higher) to re-install all patches. Note that you may also need to reinstall some applications.
Of course having difficulty booting is no fun, and the fix can be time consuming. But now you have a way to fix this yourself instead of paying someone to do the same thing. Happy computing!