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.

Enable the Safari Debug menu

Why would you want to? Well, one of the most useful facilities in the Debug menu is one that lets you change the User Agent. This enables you to tell the website you are using different browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Netscape and Mobile Safari. This is useful for website development testing. In addition, as a result of lazy and inadequate development, some sites are blocking visitors who are not using Internet Explorer. By changing your User Agent you can bypass these stupid restrictions. Anyway, here’s what to do:

  1. Quit Safari
  2. Launch Terminal
  3. Type defaults write IncludeDebugMenu 1
  4. Re-start Safari and the debug menu will be enabled

To disable the debug menu, repeat the process but replace the 1 at the end of the terminal command with a zero.

Deleting files from Time Machine backups

If you are working with confidential files and you may want to make sure they are erased from your Time Machines backups when you delete them as well as your live file system. It is, fortunately, very easy to do so. Launch Time Machine, then navigate to and select the file you want to erase. Now select the Action menu and choose Delete All Backups of XYZ (where XYZ is the name of the file you are erasing).

Make your favourite MP3 your ringtone

So you want to use your favourite MP3, or a part of it, as your ringtone? Why pay Vodafone, O2 or anyone else for a second-rate offering? All you need is an Apple computer, iLife (06 or 08) and a mobile phone that supports MP3 ringtones (that rules out the Reliant Robin disguised as a Ferrari, aka iPhone!) to which your computer can send files using bluetooth or USB.

  1. Open iTunes and find the song you want to use, it can be any song and it does not matter if it is an MP3 or AAC file
  2. Launch GarageBand
  3. At the welcome screen select Create New Music Project
  4. Give it a name (e.g. ringtone)
  5. Click create, you will see the default virtual keyboard and a track that is called Grand Piano marked in green
  6. Close the virtual keyboard by clicking on the red X in its top left corner
  7. Select Track from the menu bar and Delete Track to delete the default track
  8. Switch focus to iTunes and simply drag the track from the iTunes window to the GarageBand window
  9. Your tune is shown in an orange bar in the track automatically named the same as the song
  10. If the track is not placed at point zero on the GarageBand ruler, simply drag it to the left until it is
  11. Double-check you have the right song by clicking GarageBand’s play button
  12. Take this opportunity to decide where you want to “cut” the track for your ringtone remembering that most phones divert to voicemail after 10-20 seconds
  13. Click on GarageBand’s ruler on the point at which you want to start your ringtone
  14. Select Edit from the menu bar and Split
  15. Click anywhere in the grey area underneath your track, then click on the orange track to the left of the vertical red line
  16. Select Edit from the menu bar and Delete, this will delete the portion of the song to the left of where you have just split it
  17. Click and drag the remainder of the track all the way back to point zero on the GarageBand ruler
  18. Press the GarageBand play button to decide where you want your ringtone to end and make a note of where that point is on the ruler
  19. Press the GarageBand play button again to stop playback and click in the ruler at the point you made note of above
  20. Select Edit from the menu bar and Split
  21. Click anywhere in the grey area underneath your track, then click on the orange track to the right of the vertical red line
  22. Select Edit from the menu bar and Delete, this will delete the portion of the song to the right of where you have just split it
  23. Select Share from the menu bar and Send Song to iTunes
  24. In the resulting pop-up window ensure that Compress Using is set to MP3 Encoder and click Share

iTunes will automatically take focus and start playing your ringtone. All you need to do now is send or copy your newly made MP3 file to your mobile phone and set it as your ringtone. Please note, you are not legally entitled to distribute your new ringtone to anyone else.

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.


Run Linux from a USB flash drive

Linux is a relatively lightweight operating system and can be run quite effectively from a USB flash drive. This can be very useful when trying to retrieve files from a PC with a corrupt OS or boot sector. Most PCs manufactured in the last couple of years will allow you to boot from a USB device but you may have to enter the computer’s BIOS to enable this functionality. This tutorial enables you to install, boot and run Ubuntu Linux 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon from a USB flash drive. In addition to installing Ubuntu to the USB device and then booting from it, this also enables you to automatically save your changes and settings back to the flash drive and restore them on each boot using a second persistent partition.

You will need:

  1. Ubuntu 7.10 ISO image
  2. DVD Burner
  3. Blank writeable DVD
  4. 2GB USB flash drive
  5. The computer on which you are working must have internet access

Throughout the following instructions, replace X with your drive letter:

  1. Grab the Ubuntu 7.10 ISO image and burn it to a DVD
  2. Insert the CD and your USB flash drive
  3. Reboot your computer into Ubuntu from the CD
  4. Open a terminal window and type sudo su
  5. Type fdisk -l to list available partitions. Note which device is your flash drive (example: /dev/sda). Throughout these instructions, replace x with your flash drive letter. For example, if your flash drive is sdb, replace x with b.
  6. Type umount /dev/sdx1
  7. Type fdisk /dev/sdx
  8. Type p to show the existing partition and d to delete it
  9. Type p again to show any remaining partitions (if partitions exist, repeat the previous step)
  10. Type n to make a new partition
  11. type p for primary partition
  12. type 1 to make this the first partition
  13. Hit enter to use the default 1st cylinder
  14. Type +750M to set the partition size
  15. Type a to make this partition active
  16. Type 1 to select partition 1
  17. Type t to change the partition filesystem
  18. Type 6 to select the fat16 file
  19. Type n to make another new partition
  20. Type p for primary partition
  21. Type 2 to make this the second partition
  22. Hit enter to use the default cylinder
  23. Hit enter again to use the default last cylinder
  24. Type w to write the new partition table
  25. Type umount /dev/sdx1 to ensure the 1st partition is unmounted
  26. Type mkfs.vfat -F 16 -n ubuntu710 /dev/sdx1 to format the first partition
  27. Type umount /dev/sdx2 just to ensure the 2nd partition is unmounted
  28. Type mkfs.ext2 -b 4096 -L casper-rw /dev/sdx2 to format the second partition
  29. Remove and re-insert your USB flash drive
  30. Type apt-get update
  31. Type apt-get install syslinux mtools
  32. Type syslinux -sf /dev/sdx1
  33. Type cd /cdrom
  34. Type cp -rf casper disctree dists install pics pool preseed .disk isolinux/* md5sum.txt README.diskdefines ubuntu.ico casper/vmlinuz casper/initrd.gz /media/ubuntu710/ (ignore any cannot create symbolic link errors)
  35. Type cd /home/ubuntu
  36. Type wget
  37. Type unzip -o -d /media/ubuntu710/
  38. Restart your computer, set your BIOS or Boot Menu to boot from the USB device and reboot again.

You will now have a USB flash drive running Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon that will automatically save your changes, restoring them on boot. If you have trouble getting Ubuntu to boot, your memory stick may have a corrupted Master Boot Record (MBR). To repair the MBR of your USB device, at the terminal type sudo apt-get install lilo followed by lilo -M /dev/sdx (again replacing x with the letter of your flash device).




Screen capture

To capture a screen image in Apple OS X, you have two options. Firstly, to capture an image of your entire screen, select Command-Shift-3. You will hear a camera click sound and a PNG file will be created on your desktop containing the image. To capture a particular section of your screen, select Command-Shift-4. Your cursor turns in to a crosshair, now just click and drag your mouse to select the part of the screen you want to capture. When you let go of the mouse button, you will hear the same camera click sound and, as above, a PNG file will be created on your desktop containing the captured image.

Show ungrouped Address Book contacts

When using groups in the Address Book, you may want to see which contacts are not assigned to any of your groups. This is a pretty convoluted method but until Apple provide a smart group option in Address Book to accommodate this requirement, you can do the following:


  1. Backup your Address Book by selecting File then Backup Address Book
  2. Create a new group and call it anything you like (I suggest “Z”)
  3. Select all of your contacts and drag them in to this new group
  4. Click on your first existing group (let’s pretend it is called Group1) and select all of its contacts (Command-a)
  5. Click on the Z group and you will notice that only the contacts you have just selected are highlighted
  6. Press Tab once to switch focus to the Name column
  7. Hit the Delete key and then click the Remove From Group button

At this point, you have a group called Z which contains all your contacts except those listed in Group1. Repeat steps 4 thru 7 for all your remaining groups and you will end up with group Z containing only those contacts not assigned to any other groups.

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.