(updated 8/26/2009)

Tips, news and views, for 2008-10-22...

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Seeking Windows Search, Vista begs to differ, at your command, replacement Windows, locked files - no more, got a half-baked idea?, more than slightly MFT...


Seeking Windows Search...

Windows Search Version 4.0 came onto most PCs as an optional Microsoft update. You will know if you have it if you see a search field down by your clock, or if you right-click on the Task Bar and you can see it in your list of available toolbars.

Since users generally don't search their PCs for files, folders or text very often, I find that, the way this indexer runs constantly in the background, is just another unnecessary load on the operating system.

As a general rule, all available Microsoft updates should be done. Not installing this one would break that rule. As an alternative, you can accept its installation, then turn the search service off to keep it from automatically running in the background.

After it is installed, right-click on your My Computer icon and choose Manage. Look under the Services and Applications section and click on the Services icon. On the right half of the screen, scroll down to where Windows Search is listed. Right-click on it and "Stop" the process. Right-click again and choose Properties. Change the Startup type to "Disabled". Exit the Computer Management console. The service is likely already indexing, so right-click its magnifying glass icon in the System Tray and choose Exit. Right-click the Task Bar, and uncheck the "Windows Search Deskbar" toolbar. If your PC has been serviced by PCN, then there is a StartUp icon in your Control Panel. Use it to delete the Windows Search startup request in StartUp (common). When you next re-boot, watch to see that no evidence of the service remains.

The function of searching in Windows Explorer is still available for the few times you may actually need to search your PC for a file, folder, or fragment.

Note: to download Mike Lin's startup.cpl, visit here...


Vista begs to differ...

Users of all levels can feel stranded in a new world when operating a Vista PC. Many of the old familiar points of access have new paths or names, some older programs refuse to run in the new environment, many common service tips found on the Internet don't apply or must be modified for use, and there are restricting security hurdles to jump to perform some very common tasks. Hardware requirements are higher, and Vista takes up more space.

On the plus side, Vista installs more easily, it has a more complete driver database, and it handles hardware conflicts better than XP. Vista PCs seem to be less prone to infection and rogue manipulation. Vista PCs offer a new "look", better connectivity, and more control through the new depth added to the menu choices of certain items. Pictures and videos are handled differently, more proficiently, by the estimation of some. And Vista can handle hard drive partitions far better than XP can - including their re-sizing.

A simple negative example... Mike Lin's useful startup.cpl won't install into the Control Panel on a Vista PC, though you can still run it by locating it, right-clicking it, and running it "as administrator".

A simple positive example... Task Manager can be a effective tool to help identify and stop unneeded and undesired programs from running while debugging or removing malware, and it can be used to help assess a PC's overall performance. In Vista, Task Manager has been greatly enhanced and improved. A new Services tab can facilitate debugging, and an "Affinity" option allows users to manage which particular CPU to use for a program in multi-core PCs. An informative resource monitor can be opened from its Performance tab. Access to the running services can be found in the new Services tab. The new PID (process identifier) in the Processes tab can be used to backtrack from a service to its particular svchost.exe instance. And a new option to jump to a selected program's file location will be helpful.

Above is a screen pic from XP's Task Manager, and below is a screen pic from Vista's Task Manager.

Is it time for you to move to Vista? With a few clicks, Vista PCs can be made to look a lot like a "classic" Windows PC - by manipulating the display theme and the file-and-folder viewing preferences in Windows Explorer. This may be a comfortable, intermediate way to move forward.


At your command...

In searching out the viruses and malware affecting a PC, one technique is to examine the tasks running on a PC with Task Manager - but svchost.exe instances can conceal the cleverest.

Svchost.exe is a Microsoft device to contain and enable, or host, the running of a sharable .dll (dynamic-link library) file. Many related .dll files can co-exist within one svchost.exe, or there may be just one. On either an XP PC or a Vista PC, you can use the low-level command prompt to run tasklist.exe with the /svc option to break out a list of .dlls running within a svchost.exe shell.

When attempting to remove a virus you have found, shutting down the culprit service or svchost.exe instance may enable you to work on the issue while Windows is running - perhaps to remove the identified .dll, or edit the Registry, or the StartUp list.

Here is an example from Windows XP. (This display is also available from Vista's command prompt.) With the Tasklist command, in XP and Vista, you may be able to recognize virus elements hidden within the svchost.exe instances, then plan your remedies based on what you find. With Vista, you can further attempt to independently stop a rogue service using Task Manager so steps to remove a virus can be performed during the current session.


Replacement Windows...

Windows version 1.0 was released in 1985. Windows 2.0 came out in 1987. Windows 3.0 appeared in 1990. Windows 3.1x was the last in this GUI series, and competed successfully with IBM's OS/2. Windows For Workgroups may be remembered by some.

Microsoft had always had an association with IBM, but in the early 1990's, Microsoft spun off completely and took a version of OS/2 it was independently making and refined it into Windows NT, primarily found as the operating system on servers.

In (you guessed it) 1995, Windows 95 was released. Windows 98 followed (in 1998). '98, to a consumer, is more like an improvement or update to '95. Windows Millennium appeared in 2000. While still very much like Windows 95, Millennium was an early showcase for some nice features present in XP and Vista today.

Windows NT begat Windows 2000. Windows 2000 was available in server form, and in personal user form. Windows Server 2000 was succeeded by Windows Server 2003. Windows 2000 for personal users still works well, but is limited in what it can do with the Internet and with multimedia, and no longer receives significant updates or support.

Windows XP was released in 2001, seven long years ago. Three service packs and many updates later, XP still performs very well and still receives support from Microsoft. XP Home was somewhat limited in networking ability, so XP Pro became the business norm. XP Media Center Edition, released in 2002, contained home entertainment features of interest to some.

XP Tablet PC Edition, for PCs with touch screens, appeared in 2005. Windows 64-bit Edition caused a stir in the same year, in that drivers and programs for it were, at first, hard to find. In theory, the doubly-wide path through the CPU should have doubled performance, but I don't think it worked out that way exactly.

With many households having more than one PC, a consumer version of Windows Server was released in 2007. And the latest version of Windows Server for businesses, with the comparable security features of Vista, was released in 2008.

Embedded versions of Windows and a "thin client" version of XP have their niches.

Windows Vista was released in a wide variety of versions in the fall of 2006. Basic, Premium, Business, Enterprise and Ultimate are all available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Windows Aero GUI (graphic user interface, i.e. the appearance), Windows Calendar, a "sidebar" and some new games, along with much stricter security are the noticeable improvements.

A footnote... At a lower level of all PCs is a disk operating system (DOS), which has changed little over time. Those users familiar with DOS can still go to a Command prompt in Windows, or get to the DOS level of a PC prior to starting Windows, and feel like they are right back in the earliest 1980's. Commonly used commands from the era, like DIR /W, CD, COPY, FORMAT, RENAME, TIME, DATE, CLS, ATTRIB, and DEL, are all still there, along with some new ones like ROBOCOPY, TASKKILL and SHUTDOWN.


Locked files - no more...

In trying to houseclean and delete unneeded files and folders on your PC, you may come across the residue of programs you have deleted in the Program Files area. Some of these folders can be hard to delete, for no good reason really. Sometimes you can simply make it a multi-step deletion and delete the contained files first, then the empty folder. At other times you may find files or folders, disassociated fragments, that are locked - protected by an unseen force - for no apparent reason.

Try Cedrick Collomb's Unlocker to delete these unmanageable files. See screen pics and download here... Once this program is installed, a new right-click option will be available when you are in Windows Explorer and at other handy times. Unlocker will release the files and folders you want to delete and remove them as safely as possible.

Don't be trigger-happy. It may be wise to backup your Registry prior to deleting unfamiliar things. (Start > Run > Regedit, choose File > Export > All, to a location you'll remember.) And always have your data backed up when working with inexplicable situations.


Got a half-baked idea?

Check out http://www.halfbakery.com. Here is an example...

Panic Pin. "In addition to the regular PIN number, each bank card would have a second PIN number that would indicate the user was in some sort of distress (such as being forced to withdraw money at gunpoint). Use of this alternate PIN would summon the police and perhaps put the ATM's camera in a higher resolution and/or frame rate mode. The panic PIN would otherwise function just like the regular PIN in that money could be gotten from the machine, so that the hostile party would not be able to tell that authorities had been called. Perhaps the ATM could distribute marked bills as well. I think that the general knowledge that any coerced PIN or transaction could actually be used to summon the police would dramatically lower the incidence of crimes against ATM users."

See what others thought of John's idea here. http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Panic_20PIN#1209122202

More than slightly MFT...

Every PC has a Master File Table, or MFT, that can take up to 1/8 of the size of its hard drive. In it, Windows keeps information about all the files on you drive in the MFT. If you have ever defragged your hard drive, you can often see it as one large reserved "system file". (See the MFT file, depicted in yellow, in the example below.)

This area is generally off limits to any program except those comprising Windows itself. If the MFT becomes corrupt or otherwise damaged, you can lose the ability to boot, and to otherwise access anything on the hard drive. A sloppy MFT can account for much slowness. Defragging with Windows Defragmenting tool may help, but a third-party program from O&O may do more. (It is also therapeutic to watch :-)

Download O&O 2000, the free version, here... http://www.filehippo.com/download_oo_defrag/. During its installation, you can answer two of the questions the installer asks about Windows defragmenter with "Do nothing" and "No.".

Learn about O&O's latest products here... http://www.oo-software.com/home/en/

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