How To: Restore Built-In Zip File Integration in Windows XP

restorexpzipHave you ever used a new computer and found, to your dismay, that a 3rd-party shareware program (such as WinZip) was currently set to handle compressed .zip files?  Windows XP already has built-in .zip file integration, so unless you’ve decided to replace it with a program such as 7-zip, it is usually best to let Windows handle those files.

To restore Windows XP’s built-in .zip file handling:

  1. Click your Start Menu and select Run.
  2. In the dialog box that appears, enter REGSVR32 ZIPFLDR.DLL and press enter.  Click OK in the notification that appears.
  3. If this did not work, open the Run dialog again and enter: cmd /c assoc .zip=CompressedFolder and press enter.

When you open a .zip file in the future, it will now open with Windows XP’s built-in software.

Microsoft Adds Netflix Integration to Windows Media Center

netflixthumbMicrosoft recently announced that Windows Media Center – the company’s all-in-one home theater media center – will now support the Netflix Instant Streaming library of over 12,000 movies and TV shows.  Windows Media Center software is included in both Vista Home and Ultimate editions by default and is also included in Windows XP Media Center edition.

To begin streaming movies and TV shows in Windows Media Center, select the new Netflix tile which is available under the “TV + Movies” section and login to your Netflix account.  You will now be able to search Netflix’s entire library and also manage your DVD and Instant Watch queues from within Windows Media Center.

mediacenternetflix1

mediacenternetflix2

Netflix Instant Watch is already available on your PC and Xbox 360, which has been had great reception and has single-handedly repurposed the Xbox 360 from a game console into a complete media center.  Where the Media Center version of Netflix really shines is its ability to manage your queues from right within the application, which is something the Xbox 360 version has yet to offer.

Microsoft has provided a few fancy videos if you’d like to see the new service in action (Silverlight required, of course):

How To: Find Out if Your PC is Windows 7 Ready

windows7advisor1With the final release of Windows 7 approaching, many people are wondering if their current PC will be able to run the new operating system.  As we mentioned in our previous coverage of the Windows 7 RC release, the system requirements for Microsoft’s forthcoming operating system are surprisingly light:

  • 1GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 GB of RAM (32-bit)/2 GB of RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB of available disk space (32-bit)/20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with Windows Display Driver Model 1.0 or higher driver

Even though many recently purchased (or built) computers should be able to handle Windows 7, there is an easy way to check your system’s compatibility.  Microsoft has released a beta version of their Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor which will analyze your PC’s memory, processor, graphics capabilities, and can even identify known compatibility issues with current software and hardware.

To begin, download and install the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor tool.  When you run the program, be sure to plug in any devices you own so the program can check their compatibility as well.

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Once the Advisor tool has scanned your system, you will be given a simple list of results for your system requirements, devices, and programs.  The Advisor tool will even make recommendations to fix any warnings you may have.

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If you’d like to view more detailed results about your system’s compatibility (including hardware specifications), click the “See all system requirements” link.

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One problem I noticed with the Advisor is that it ignores overclocked CPUs (failing to display my overclocked 2.13 GHz processor at its current 3.20 GHz).  While the minimum requirement for Windows 7 is only 1 GHz, this is still something to consider if you are using an overclocked PC.  Another thing to note is that while Windows Vista users can perform an “in-place upgrade” to Windows 7, Windows XP users will be forced to do a clean install of the new operating system.

Are you considering upgrading to Windows 7 when it releases?  Thinking about upgrading your computer before taking the leap?  Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Want To Try Windows 7? Install it on a Virtual Machine

windows7thumbWith the public release of Windows 7 RC, many software developers and tech enthusiasts are flocking to the download site to get their hands on the highly anticipated successor to Windows Vista.

Many individuals downloading the Windows 7 RC have extra systems that are dedicated for software development and application testing.  But what if you don’t have spare computers around and you want to test drive Windows 7?  There is a solution: Install a virtual machine.

Important note: Virtual machines will use large amounts of system resources, especially RAM and hard drive space.  It is important that you have enough memory to run your current operating system, along with the guest operating systems of your virtual machine.  If resources are low, your system will become unstable.

What is a virtual machine?

From Dictionary.com

In computer science, a virtual machine (VM) is a software implementation of a machine (computer) that executes programs like a real machine.

Simply put, a virtual machine allows you to have multiple operating systems installed as guests of the main operating system, which are separated and easily added or removed without making any changes to the host operating system.

Two popular pieces of virtualization software are VMWare Server and Virtual Box, both of which are free.  Each piece of software is pictured below.

VMware Server 1.0.9
VMware Server 1.0.9
VirtualBox 2.2.0
VirtualBox 2.2.0

Setting Up Your Virtual Machine

Once you have installed your virtualization software of choice, point the virtual CD/DVD drive of VMware or VirtualBox to the Windows 7 RC ISO you downloaded.  When you start the virtual machine, it will boot from the ISO file as if it was in a physical CD/DVD drive connected to a computer.

When you have completed the Windows install, you are then free to explore Windows 7 while continuing to run your current operating system.  Any changes that you make to the Windows 7 virtual machine are contained, and will not affect your host computer or current operating system in any way.

Which virtualization software do you prefer, VMWare Server or Virtual Box?  Besides Windows 7, what other guest operating systems do you have installed or have tested in a virtual environment?  What are your initial thoughs on the Windows 7 RC?  Let us know by commenting below.

Windows 7 Release Candidate to Launch Late April/Early May

windows7featured2Microsoft has announced that a release candidate version of Windows 7 (a version with potential to be the final product) will be released to developers via MSDN and TechNet networks on April 30th, and more publicly on May 5th.

Windows 7, which was released as a semi-public beta in January, has initially been well received and appears to have significant performance improvements over Windows Vista.  Along with a shorter boot time, Windows 7 will offer better driver support, improved graphical and productivity features, and a more intelligent version of UAC.

Despite Vista’s shortcomings, the immaturity of 3rd-party hardware drivers at launch was one of the biggest contributing factors to its unpopularity.  If Microsoft can ensure better driver support when Windows 7 is released, they should be able to avoid the negative stereotypes that are still plaguing the company.

Microsoft has not officially announced a release date for Windows 7 yet, but Microsoft’s chief financial officer Chris Liddell says it may be as early as July 2009.

Update 04/30/09:  Microsoft has released Windows 7 RC1 to TechNet and MSDN subscribers. [via Microsoft PressPass]

System Requirements:

  • 1GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 GB of RAM (32-bit)/2 GB of RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB of available disk space (32-bit)/20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with Windows Display Driver Model 1.0 or higher driver

Have any thoughts about Windows 7?  Share them in the comments!

How To Check Your HDD’s S.M.A.R.T. Status

As your hard drive begins to age, the chance for failure and resulting data loss increases.  Today’s hard drives feature a monitoring system called Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology or S.M.A.R.T. for short.  With S.M.A.R.T. and the appropriate software, it is possible to keep updated on the status of your hard drive and the important data that resides on it.

To check the S.M.A.R.T. status of your hard drive, there are many programs that are available.  The two programs that I have found to be most useful and user-friendly are:

Speedfan S.M.A.R.T
Image from almico.com
  • Speedfan
    • Although S.M.A.R.T status is a secondary feature of Speedfan, it offers the date in an easy to understand webpage format.  You can also view and control fan speeds and temperatures of your motherboard.  Attribute stats must be check manually.
  • HDD Health
    • HDD Health provides the same S.M.A.R.T. attribute information as Speedfan, but runs in the system tray and constantly monitors for problems.  If a problem does occur, HDD Health will warn you.

There are several attributes that makeup a S.M.A.R.T. status.  It is important to know what each one means for the health of your hard drive.  A good description of each status is available here.

Knowing the S.M.A.R.T. status of your hard drive is not an alternative to backups.  Having up-to-date backups is the only way to fully protect against hard drive failure.

Do you check the S.M.A.R.T. attributes of your hard drive?  Which attributes do you watch the most?  Are there other programs that you use to check S.M.A.R.T. attributes?  Let us know by commenting below.

Cleanup Your Computer With CCleaner

As a computer begins to age, many problems can arise such as slow startup, slow program execution and increased memory usage.  Many of these problems are caused by improper shutdowns, viruses, excess temporary files, and residual uninstall files.

CCleaner is a free program, available at http://www.ccleaner.com, which will give your computer the thorough cleaning that it deserves.

CCleaner is able to clean Cookies, Temporary Internet Files, History and Search results from all popular web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari.  CCleaner also removes temporary files from Windows and other third-party applications.

Download and Install CCleaner

  1. Download CCleaner from http://www.ccleaner.com.
  2. Install CCleaner.
  3. Select Install Options as shown below
  4. CCleaner
    CCleaner Install Options
  5. Continue through the installation process.
  6. Run CCleaner.

Now that you have CCleaner installed and running, it is time to select what you would like to clean.  As there are many options, it is important to select the correct ones so that you do not lose important information.

Cleaner

CCleaner Cleaner

Once CCleaner is running, the Cleaner button should be selected on the left side of the window.  Once selected, you will see a list of check boxes of the many different cleaning options available to you.  Although all of the options are able to clean your computer, the most important options fall under the System and Advanced categories.

There is also the Applications tab near the top of the window.  Under this tab, you will find that CCleaner has the ability to remove any temporary files associated with the listed applications.  Many of these programs have the ability to remove the files, but CCleaner groups all of these features together.

Once you have selected the Windows features and Applications that you wish to clean, you can click the ‘Analyze’ button on the bottom of the window to preview the number of items that will be removed.  Once the analysis has finished, complete by clicking ‘Run Cleaner’ in the bottom-right corner.  Note: You can skip the analysis step and click ‘Run Cleaner’ first.

The time it takes to analyze and remove the files will depend on the speed of your computer and the number of files CCleaner must scan.

Registry

CCleaner Registry Button

Many computer problems can also be caused by obsolete or improperly removed registry entries.  A cluttered registry can be caused from the following action:

  • Improperly uninstall software.
  • Frequently installing or uninstalling software.
  • Viruses/Spyware
  • Driver problems.

CCleaner has a very powerful Windows Registry cleaner.  This registry cleaner can be used to scan your computer’s registry for problems such as:

Advanced features to remove unused and old entries, including File Extensions, ActiveX Controls, ClassIDs, ProgIDs, Uninstallers, Shared DLLs, Fonts, Help Files, Application Paths, Icons, Invalid Shortcuts and more…

From CCleaner.com

The Registry cleaner will often resolve many problems associated with the Windows Registry by scanning the Registry and removing any unnecessary entries.  CCleaner gives you the option to backup the removed entries, so that you may restore them if you have any problems.

Final Steps

Once you have ran both of the above cleaners, it is important that you restart your computer.  Once the computer has restarted, it may be necessary to run CCleaner another time to removed any residual entries.

What has your experience been with CCleaner?  What is the most number of Registry items CCleaner has removed from a system?  How many MB or GB of files were removed?  Share your experiences in the comments below.

Windows Won’t Boot? Try The Recovery Console

bsodIt is all too easy for the Windows operating system to become damaged and render your computer unusable, stranding you from your critical applications and documents.  Events such as power outages, electrical surges, or even an improper shutdown can damage or corrupt important system files which may cause the operating system to fail when loading.

This guide will show you how to use the Recovery Console feature provided on the Windows installation CD to repair your system files and get your computer working again. Continue reading “Windows Won’t Boot? Try The Recovery Console”

Conficker Worm: How to Check If Your Computer Is Infected

keysToday is April 1st, and with that comes the fear of your computer being infected with the Conficker worm.  Besides following Lifehacker’s tips to protect your PC from Conficker, you can follow a more advanced method of scanning your computer in this guide.

UPDATE: There are new and easier methods to scan your computer for the Conficker worm:

Windows Tip: How To Create a System Standby Shortcut

System Standby Shortcut

This guide will show you how to create a System Standby shortcut for your Windows computer, which will allow you to manually activate Standby mode by simply double-clicking an icon.

What is standby mode, you say?

“Your machine recovers quickly as your data is stored in RAM. The slower part is waking up the peripherals. Although your machine is in “standby” the power has been cut to items such as your hard drive and monitor. You’re running your machine in a very low power mode, but it is still on. This mode can be useful if you’re on a notebook and need to conserve your battery while you step away.” (via Understanding Differences Between Hibernate and Stand By)

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Create a new shortcut (right click, select New -> Shortcut).
  2. For the item location, input C:\WINDOWS\system32\rundll32.exe powrprof.dll,SetSuspendState 0,1,0
  3. Click next and name the shortcut. I chose System Standby.
  4. Click Finish.
  5. (optional) Add an icon to the shortcut.
    1. Right click the Standby shortcut.
    2. In the Shortcut tab, select Change Icon.
    3. A red Power On/Off icon is available in the bottom row.
    4. If you don’t see any icons, make sure “Look for icons in this file:” is set to %SystemRoot%\system32\SHELL32.dll

Have any other power management tips?  Share them in the comments.