Archive for the 'Windows' Category

Repair Windows MBR with Ubuntu LiveCD

If something happens to your Windows Master Boot Record (MBR), here is a very quick and easy way to restore it with nothing but an Ubuntu LiveCD

WARNING: You are working with your disks in a very direct manner throughout this process. As always, having thorough and recent backups is essential.

  1. Boot into your Ubuntu LiveCD on the offending machine.
  2. Once Ubuntu has started up, go to System > Administration > Software Sources and enable the Universal Repository.
  3. Open a terminal session (Applications > Accessories > Terminal) and type sudo apt-get install ms-sys
  4. Now you need to figure out which partition is the one hosting your Windows operating system. Start by typing sudo fdisk -l in to Terminal window.
  5. From the resultant list of available partitions, you are looking for a partition that says something like:

    /dev/sda1 1 8619 94723115 81 NTFS

    The two important bits are the /dev/sda1 which is the partition label and the NTFS which tells us it is a Windows formatted partition. So, in this example, your Windows partition exists on the drive sda and it is at partition 1.

  6. We nned to fix the MBR on /dev/sda so type sudo ms-sys -m /dev/sda. You will need to change the sda text if your results from step 4 are different.
  7. Remove the LiveCD from the CD drive and reboot the machine. Windows should come back to you.

Of course, you could do this by inserting the correct Windows CD and booting into repair mode but the Ubuntu way doesn’t care about versions and is actually a bit faster.

Removing the Links folder from Internet Explorer Favourites

Does it irritate you that Internet Explorer insists on showing you its Links folder in your Favorites (I know, American spelling but that’s just how Microsoft make it)? Sure, you can remove the Links toolbar by simply right-clicking an area of the Internet Explorer toolbar and de-selecting it from the popup menu.

However, the Links folder will still appear in your Favorites menu. You should NOT just delete this folder as it can cause problems. Instead:

  1. Open your Favorites menu and right-click the Links folder
  2. Select Properties from the popup menu
  3. Click the check box to make the folder hidden
  4. Click on OK and close Internet Explorer

Next time you look in your Favorites menu there will be no Links folder!

MacGuard + WiniGuard: Totally Bogus

There is a new trend emerging in the field of credit card scamming and it preys upon our efforts to protect our computers.

Macguard is bogusMacGuard, an entirely bogus piece of software, claims to clean up your system and remove adware, spyware, and trojans. It doesn’t. Not only does the software make no effort to protect your computer, but the companies that sell it are merely scamming your credit card details. MacGuard claims the following:

“Macguard’s high-tech system scanner will search your hard drive for malicious objects such as Adware, Spyware and Trojans, cleaning your files, eliminating the threats, and securing your privacy in just a matter of minutes. Its real rime smart protection will also ensure new threats will not even reach your desktop.”

It is interesting to note that Winiguard claims exactly the same thing … word for word. These are both totally bogus products. Do not visit their sites. Do not click the download links. Do not enter any credit or debit card information.

On the MacGuard site, nothing actually downloads when you click the product’s download link which is a big clue that something is wrong. Fortunately, like most virus vandals out there, they have not figured out how to break in to the unix-based kernel of Mac OSX. On the Winiguard site, a nasty virus does, indeed, download. WiniGuard hijacks your desktop and typically displays exaggerated or false spyware claims to frighten the user into paying for the program. This is digital terrorism, nothing else.

Aside from this, the real scam here is undoubtedly your credit card information. By purchasing this software you are happily giving your credit card numbers and billing information to a bunch of crooks. It is very likely that you will subsequently find additional charges on your credit card. Sadly, ArsTechnica report that more than 30 million people have already been scammed in this way.

Our advice is to avoid purchasing software from a company you have never heard of, or who has no references, or whose web site is vague and imprecise.

We all know that security and viruses are a serious risk when using a computer and especially the internet, but one should not blindly trust a web site just because it is out there. Putting up a website is pretty straight-forward if you know what you are doing. Before buying any software online, check it out with someone trustworthy: Mister Geek, a tech blog or magazine for example. You’ll find out more than you think with a good internet search. As the Roman’s apparently said: caveat emptor, meaning buyer beware. This goes for absolutely everything you purchase online, but even more so for anything claiming to protect you.

If you have found trouble in your computing environment and need advice or action, whether it be XP, Vista, OSX or Linux, please contact Mister Geek and we will be glad to help.

Improve Windows start up performance

One of the more frustrating problems with Microsoft Windows is its start up performance. It has been a problem since day one really and remains so even with Vista, in fact Vista could well be the worse offender thus far. There are, however, a few things you can do to improve the situation.

Device Drivers
Your computer could be loading device drivers for hardware you no longer use. To save on system resources, uninstall these drivers. Be careful though because a careless choice can cause significant problems. Create a restore point in System Restore Point before proceeding. By default, Device Manager does not show devices that are not currently connected to your system so we start by making them visible and then work in the Device Manager:

  1. Open a Command Prompt window (normally found in the Accessories folder on the Start Menu)
  2. Type set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1 and press Enter
  3. Hold down the Windows key and press r
  4. Type devmgmt.msc and press Enter to open Device Manager
  5. Choose View and then Show Hidden Devices
  6. Click the plus sign (+) next to each of the branches to examine all of the drivers on your system

Devices that are not currently connected appear with a pale version of the icon. If you come across a device that you are sure you no longer use, right-click on it and choose Uninstall. Then follow the prompts shown on screen to complete the process. When you have finished, close the command-prompt window you opened in step 1 above to re-hide your unconnected devices.

Network Mappings
Once you have mapped a network drive to a letter on your computer, Windows will automatically try to restore that connection every time you log on. Since restoring network connections takes time, you can speed your start up process by dropping the connections you are not using:

  1. Open Windows Explorer
  2. Type Alt-T then D to open the Disconnect Network Drives dialog box
  3. Select the drives you want to disconnect and click OK

In the future, if you want to connect a drive only for the current session, make sure Reconnect at logon is unchecked when using the Map Network Drive command.

Start Up Programs
You can free up system memory and recover processor cycles by clearing out some of the programs that start each time you log in. Download Autoruns, a free application from Microsoft-owned Sysinternals to find out which programs are loading on your PC at start up. Autoruns includes a line of description for each entry in plain English and lets you hide signed Microsoft entries, allowing you to quickly narrow your focus to third-party programs. Disabling or deleting entries takes just one click so be careful. You can also consult the Startup Applications List by Paul Collins, which is a searchable reference of common startup items providing a description and classification for each one.

Reset Outlook nicknames

Microsoft Outlook maintains a nickname list that is used by the automatic name checking and completion features. The nickname list is automatically generated as you use Outlook. If the nickname cache becomes corrupted, Outlook may not be able to identify recipients, may offer incorrect recipients when automatically completing the e-mail address, or may send the message to the wrong person. Additionally, if one of your contacts changes their email address, Outlook will continue to remember their old address indefinitely. Use this procedure to reset the Outlook nickname cache in MS Windows XP:

  1. Quit Outlook
  2. Click Start and then Search
  3. In the left-side panel of the Search Results window, click All files and folders
  4. In the All or part of the file name text box, type *.nk2
  5. In the Look in selection box, select Local Hard Drives
  6. Click More advanced options and click the Search hidden files and folders check box
  7. Click Search
  8. Once found, right-click the appropriate NK2 file (most probably “Outlook.NK2”) and select Rename
  9. Rename the file to Outlook.bak and then press Enter
  10. Close Windows Explorer
  11. Launch MS Outlook

Outlook will now generate a brand new nickname cache.

 

Cycling between windows

To quickly cycle through open applications in MS Windows, hold down Alt and repeatedly press Tab. Just let go of all keys once the desired application is highlighted. Similarly, in Apple OS X, hold down Command and repeatedly press Tab. Another option in OS X is to use Expose. Press F9 to invoke it and then just select the desired window with your mouse. However, if you have Spaces enabled in OS 10.5 (aka Leopard), Expose will only show you open windows in your current Space whereas the Command-Tab method will cycle through all applications across all Spaces.

MS Office XP menus

One of the most irritating things I find about Microsoft Office XP is its insistence on automatically customising all the menus based upon how often you use each command, leaving all the other menu options hidden under those infernal double-arrows. To turn this off and have your MS Office XP applications show their full menus all the time, open any Office application (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.), and select Tools then Customize. Now select the Options, check the box marked Always show full menus and hit the Close button. Those hideous double-arrows will never be seen again.