Friday, July 31, 2009

The Command Prompt.

Us old school types still call this the DOS prompt or DOS shell but everyone has probably seen the infamous black box with that malignant flashing cursor, waiting for you to enter some obscure command to work your sorcery.

In reality the command prompt isn’t that bad if you just read instructions carefully and know some of the secrets. To open a command prompt click Start and Run and type “cmd” and click OK or hit Enter. As usual, the quotes are for separation only and should not be typed. For a listing of the commands you can simply type “help” at the prompt and hit Enter. As usual, the quotes are for separation only and should not be typed. To get the standard commands available just type the utility name followed by a /?, for example “chkdsk /?” (note the space between chkdsk and /).

Speaking of chkdsk, this is likely the command you’ll use most. It’s the command prompt version of the old Windows utility Scandisk. It will check drives for damaged or missing files and replace them if possible, mark bad sectors and attempt to move data to good sectors as well as testing the drive for physical damage.

Using the utility requires you to indicate the drive letter as well as any actions you would like to carry out. For instance, “chkdsk e: /f” will scan drive E: and attempt to fix any errors. The / before a letter indicates a switch, or parameter for the utility to adhere to.

A very handy combo of commands if you find yourself locked off the Internet is:

Ipconfig /flushdns
Netsh winsock reset

Using these back-to-back requires a restart and will likely get you back online. The first flushes the DNS routing tables, which direct you to the appropriate servers and web pages during surfing. The second resets the files required to connect the PC to a network.

You’ll notice that the second command doesn’t use a switch. Netshell (netsh) is one of the few command line tools that don’t require them.

Diskcopy is very handy if you still use floppy disks and want to make some duplicates before valuable diskettes fail. The usage for this one is:

Diskcopy a: a:

This will read and image a floppy disk, then ask you to remove the disk and insert a blank one. It works much like a CD copy through a program like Nero or NTI in Windows and I would strongly suggest its usage to make copies if you use floppies.

PCs running older versions of Windows can often be repaired from a bootable diskette but those little plastic disks have alarming failure rates.

I could go on and on with stuff to use from the C: prompt but many of you would never need many of the things I do. Commands like CD and IF/THEN statements make batch files (a series of commands to carry out multiple tasks) possible and obscure commands like SUBST, NET USE and ATTRIB can make an untenable situation workable.

Just remember the option is there in case of trouble and make use of it if needed. Next week we’ll get back to the Windows tools, so you can reassure your mouse that we haven’t forgotten it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Autoruns does a better job than MSCONFIG

To find out what programs are loading on your PC at startup, you can run Windows MSCONFIG, however Autoruns does the job better. MSCONFIG entries tend to be vague and less than descriptive, for example, but Autoruns includes a line of description for each entry in plain English. Autoruns also lets you Hide Signed Microsoft Entries, which allows you to quickly narrow your focus to third-party programs.

By the way, Microsoft bought SysInternals (the company that produced Autoruns) last year and touts these utilities from its own website.

Get Autoruns here:

Windows XP self-help tools

Even though support for XP will continue into 2014 and it remains the dominant OS for now, many people are starting to worry that they’re going to be cast adrift. I assure you this isn’t going to happen but this week I’ll cover some hidden onboard tools that will help you do your own support.

One of the easiest to use is the Event Log. Windows logs every error and you can actually view those to get an idea where to start troubleshooting a problem. While true these entries are in geek speak they can give you something to start a Google search for to track down the source of the issue.

You can view the Event Logs by opening the Control Panel and double clicking Administrative Tools. Double click Event Viewer and you’ll see a list of different logs on the left. Application and System are the important ones; they contain the logs of the programs running on your PC and of the Windows OS itself.

You’ll see mostly Information entries in those logs but you can also find Error and Warning messages. The Error messages are the ones to look at for problems. They will tell you which .exe file triggered the error and, if you’re lucky, which related system file actually crashed. Then entry might also contain an error code, usually nXnnnnnnnn, where the Ns may be numerical or alphabetical. The X is always X.

Googling the error code along with the .exe file name and hopefully the system file name will usually give you some ideas for a fix.

Another handy tool, which is totally hidden and applies to MS Office users, is one to repair Outlook .pst files. Outlook is the email component of Microsoft Office and gives you much more flexibility than Outlook Express. It will handle your email and address book and adds calendar/scheduling, a task list and a journal for your personal thoughts.

All of that data is contained in a single file, called a Personal Folders file and saved in .pst format. As you can imagine, storing all that data can result in some rather large files and, as a rule, the larger the file the more likely it will get corrupted.

This rule doesn’t apply to things like video files or large photos that never change. This applies to files that change frequently like huge databases, which is a good description of .pst files that change frequently.

If you use Outlook and suddenly can’t open the program, can’t get email or save tasks you might panic, but the Scanpst tool might fix the problem.

To use the tool navigate to C:\Program Files\Common Files\System\Mapi\1033\NT and double click on Scanpst.exe. When it opens you’ll be asked for a .pst to check. Click the Browse button and navigate to C:\Documents and Settings\profile name\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook and click once on Outlook.pst. Click Start and let it go. It might take a while but if the file is damaged this will probably repair it.

As usual when I start one of these things I discover that the topic is much too large to cover in one week and also may run a little geeky. I’ll try to tone down the geekiness but this time there are so many of these tools it may run for several weeks, so I’ll stop this one now. We’ll pick up next week with more cool and handy stuff you never knew you had ;)

Kevin Mefford, Editor

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Google Plans to Launch Operating System for PCs


Google Inc. is preparing to launch an operating system for personal computers, a direct assault on the turf of software giant Microsoft Corp., which has long dominated the market for software that runs PC applications.

The Silicon Valley Internet giant announced the new move in a blog post late Tuesday night. It said the software, which will initially target low-end portable PCs called netbooks, would be based on its Chrome Web browser and available to consumers in the second-half of 2010.

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The post--by Google's Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management, and Linus Upson, its engineering director -- said the operating system would be "lightweight" and optimized for running Web-based applications. Google's goal, they said, is to address shortcomings of PCs -- including security problems and lengthy delays while computers boot up, the Google executives wrote.

"We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear — computers need to get better," they wrote.

Eventually, Google hopes to scale the software to full-scale PC's as well, they wrote.

The effort marks the latest attack by Google on Microsoft, which dominates the market for operating system software that powers computer applications. The Mountain View, Calif., company, which makes 97% of its revenue from online advertising, has been trying to compete with Microsoft and other software makers by offering more software that runs in a Web browser and isn't downloaded directly to computers. Now it appears to be broadening its approach, in a move that could give it greater distribution of its own online software services, including word-processing and email software.

But whether it can chip away at Microsoft's dominance in the market remains unclear. In the months since its launch, Chrome has done little to challenge Microsoft's lead in the browser software. And some hardware companies have been slow to adopt Google software -- like its Android operating system, which is targeted at running applications on mobile phones -- arguing it isn't robust enough to handle many tasks.

The Google blog post stresses that the Chrome operating system is a separate effort from Android -- though, like Android, it will be "open source," meaning other developers can have access to and modify the code.

The software is designed to work on PCs running x86 chips -- the design used by Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. used in most conventional PCs -- as well as chips based on designs from ARM Holdings PLC that are the standard in cellphones and are expected to be used in netbooks later this year, the executives said.

Though the software will be based on the core of Linux, its "kernel" in programming parlance, the Chrome OS, as it is called, will add a new layer of windowing software to manage what a user sees on a display screen. Instead of requiring programmers to write programs specifically for the operating system -- an uphill battle, at a time developers have many choices about where to focus their efforts -- the Google engineers said that the Chrome operating system will simply run programs written for the Web.

"And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform," the Google executives wrote.

Google's incursion into operating systems could galvanize its critics, including privacy groups and competitors, who argued that the online search company already collects vast amounts of information about consumers' Internet use. While Google is still a tiny player in many of the new markets it is exploring, like mobile phone software and online applications, some worry it could leverage its massive online search market share to quickly grow its share of new industries as well, gathering even more data about its users.

The move comes as the rise of netbooks poses a series of competitive challenges for Microsoft. Several variants of Linux are being offered for the new systems, though the company's aging Windows XP operating system remains prevalent. Besides Android, for example, Intel is backing a Linux-based operating system known as Moblin.