How To: Figure Out What svchost.exe Is Actually Doing

svchostthumWindows XP/Vista:  If you’ve ever dug around in your Windows Task Manager (available by pressing CTRL + SHIFT + ESC and clicking the Processes tab), you no doubt have noticed multiple instances of a process called svchost.exe.  Not only is the title of this process ambiguous, it typically exists as System, Network Service, and Local Service resources.

So what exactly are these processes doing, and are they safe to kill?  Svchost Process Analyzer is a free (and portable – no installation required) application that will analyze and identify all of the services that are currently running under the guise of svchost.exe.

How is this useful, then?  Although it isn’t typically safe to kill any svchost processes, many viruses and trojans (such as the Conficker worm) embed themselves into this process to avoid detection.  Even if you don’t find any malware in your svchost process, it still is interesting seeing what exactly your system is doing behind the scenes.

svchost4details

Svchost Process Analyzer is a tiny (400 kb), free download for all flavors of Windows.  [Download]

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.

Gather Hardware Information With CPU-Z

cpuzicoCPU-Z is a lightweight freeware program that very useful when it comes to finding out your computer’s detailed hardware information.  CPU-Z focuses on gathering motherboard, processor, and memory information and displays it in an organized and easy to read format.

Information Gathered

CPU

  • Name and number
  • Core stepping and process
  • Package
  • Core voltage
  • Internal and external clocks and clock multiplier
  • Supported instructions sets
  • Cache information

Mainboard (Motherboard)

  • Vendor, model and revision number
  • BIOS model and date
  • Chipset (northbridge and southbridge) and sensor
  • Graphic interface

Memory

  • Frequency and timings
  • Vendor, serial number, and timings table

CPU-Z has support for many of the top hardware brands and is adding new hardware support every couple months.  A complete list of the hardware supported can be found on the CPU-Z webpage.

Using the Program

Simple download the latest version of CPU-Z from http://www.cpuid.com/cpuz.php.  Once the file has been downloaded, unzip it and run cpuz.exe.  You will see a window like the one below:

CPU-Z
CPU-Z

What do you think of CPU-Z?  Is there another program that you recommend?  Let us know by commenting below.

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.

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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):

Keep Your Desktop Organized with Fences

TraditionalHow many times have you had projects, temporary Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, or other “junk-yet-necessary” items on your computer’s desktop combined with shortcuts for Firefox, Messenger, Windows Media, or iTunes?  Why is it so hard to keep organized each one of these items? Many people search through their desktops covered with this smorgasbord of different files and applications every day and wish there was an easier way to keep their stuff neatly tucked away.

Fences by Stardock provides a solution for your messy desktop. Right now it’s an open Community-Preview Beta that will expire on August 31st, 2009. It will likely have a price tag after the Beta, but I would probably be willing to dish out a few bucks for the final product. It’s an extremely simple solution to de-cluttering your desktop and showing off the wallpaper that is typically buried beneath your desktop icons.

Fences runs quietly in the background using virtually no resources, and setting it up is easy. After installing and running the program, find a clear space on your desktop and draw a rectangle while holding down your right mouse button. A dialog box will appear which says “Create new Fence here”. Click it and give it a name. Then just drag your appropriate icons into the fence, and resize or reshape the fence to your liking.

I have two Fences on my desktop right now, with one containing strictly game shortcuts and the other containing application shortcuts. To display the name of your Fence, simply hover your mouse over it. You can choose to show the names of the fences constantly or not at all via the simple Customization tab in the program’s editor. You can also choose things such as color of the fence, show or hide a fence outline, and fade in/out scrollbars if you have them as part of your fence. Basic customization can even be done just by right-clicking within a fence, without needing to open up the editor.

The editor can be opened by right clicking within a fence.
The editor can be opened by right clicking within a fence.

You can lock, delete, and exclude fences from the quick-hide feature.  The quick-hide feature is what I mentioned before about showing off your wallpaper.

You can have your fences set to disappear just by double clicking an open area of the desktop when they’re not in use, which makes the organization potential even better.

This shows the fences with the title set to always show and rearranged on the deskotp.
This shows the fences with the title set to always be displayed.

Fences provides you with a way to separate work from play (and everything in between) on your cluttered desktop.  Have any other desktop organization tips? Leave a comment below and share it.

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.

How To: Filter the Noise From Your Facebook News Feed

Update: We’ve published a new edition of this article for the updated version of Facebook.  Check that out instead.

Facebook has made some interface changes lately which have caused some frustration with its core users.  Most recently, they’ve removed the ability to exclusively view status updates on the Friends tab, which leaves you with only the “full firehose” of the homepage’s News Feed.  Since the News Feed displays all recent activity, my homepage has become completely inundated with quiz results and “Top 5” lists which completely obfuscate my friend’s status updates.

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Since the only thing I really care about on Facebook is what my friends are up to, I found a simple way to display only status updates on the homepage by default.  To do this, navigate to your Facebook homepage and look for the Status Updates widget in the top left corner.  If the widget isn’t visible, click the “More” button and look for it in the expanded list.

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Click and drag the Status Updates widget above the News Feed widget, which will cause it to be enabled by default.  From now on, your Facebook homepage will only display your friends status updates.

Have any tips that have improved your Facebook experience?  Share them in the comments!

YouMail – Voicemail Done Right

ymlogoloveI miss answering machines. Allow me to clarify: let’s go back approximately ten years when there were still answering machines around. I call you, you’re not home. The answering machine picks up, plays your little message, beeps, and I say what I need to say. Done.

Today’s voicemail service could learn a thing or two from the simplicity of the answering machine. That’s where YouMail comes in. Read on to see how this new service is changing the voicemail game.

Continue reading “YouMail — Voicemail Done Right”

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.

Stream Your Music Library With Vibe Streamer

Vibe Streamer (via vibestreamer.com)

Vibe Streamer is a free program that allows you to stream your music library to any device with a Flash enabled web browser.  Vibe Streamer also offers a set of security settings, user controls, and customization features.

Download and Install

Vibe Streamer is very lightweight.  The system requirements for Vibe Streamer 2.06 are detailed below:

  • 200 Mhz CPU
  • 16 MB RAM
  • Windows NT/2K/XP/2K3
  • Linux (with Wine)
  • Large amounts of available bandwidth, depending on the number of users and quality of audio files.

Vibe Streamer is available from http://www.vibestreamer.com.  Once you have downloaded the installation file, install Vibe Streamer.

Configuration

Before you can begin to stream your music library, there are some configuration steps that must first be taken.

  1. Setup a Group under the ‘Users and Groups’ tab.
  2. Setup a User with a Password.  Note: Passwords are VISIBLE and not hidden behind * ‘s.
  3. Select a folder to share.  Select the Users and Groups that are permitted to stream music from the Share.
  4. Select the ‘Settings’ tab and enter the necessary information.  Change the port to a high number, such as 15000.
  5. Under the ‘Security’ tab you can specify which IP addresses are allowed and blocked from the server.
  6. Once the above configuration steps have been completed, you can select Start on the ‘Stream Server’ tab.
  7. Make sure that your selected port has been properly opened on your computer, or properly forwarded on your router.

Listen

Now that you have your streaming server setup, you can access it from any Flash enabled web browser.

Enter ‘your IP address:your port’ into your web browser and enter your username and password when prompted.

If everything is setup correctly, you should now see any folders and music files in your shared folder.  If you cannot access your server, or cannot see your music, be sure to verify the above steps were completed.  If you do have any problems, they are most likely related to your port, router, or firewall configuration.

Additional Features

Vibe Streamer also has its own scripting language.  This scripting language allows the community to develop new skins and other features not included with the Vibe Streamer installer.  The Vibe Streamer forums contain many community made skins and other features.

Have your used Vibe Streamer to stream your music library?  What other program would you recommend for streaming music?  Let us know by commenting below.