Category Archives: Windows

Microsoft Windows, of course.

How to Simply Rip DVDs in 64-bit Windows

Handbrake iconIn the past, we’ve looked at how to easily rip DVDs on the Windows platform. That method still works great, unless you’re on a 64-bit version of Windows. For those of us now running Windows 7 64-bit, we have a problem: DVD43 – a required decrypter used in the previous tutorial, does not get along well with 64-bit versions of Windows.

The Solution – Handbrake with libdvdcss

There’s an easy solution to this problem, and it only requires the installation of one software program. I’ve migrated to the mighty Handbrake for all my DVD rips. First, install the 64-bit version of Handbrake. As of this writing, the latest version is 0.9.6. Continue reading How to Simply Rip DVDs in 64-bit Windows

Microsoft takes another hit: NGINX tops IIS

Some bloggers have suggested that ripping on Microsoft is going out of style… but this week Microsoft’s beleaguered IIS web server got bested by the open source NGINX web server.

Web Server Statistics
Microsoft IIS goes down

My beefs with Microsoft are many, however, I will tip my hat to Bill Gate’s many generous donations to charity. That’s really the most remarkable thing about Microsoft: it gave birth to one of the most magnanimous philanthropists of an entire generation, and no words can express thanks for that.

Continue reading Microsoft takes another hit: NGINX tops IIS

Networx – Free Bandwidth Monitoring Software (Getting the Most Out of It)

Systems: Windows Only (2000, XP, Vista, 2008 / Both 32 and 64 bit)

Donationware: Technically it’s free, but when you see the level of craftsmanship in this program, you will want to donate.

Website: Softperfect.com

networx-prevI recently changed ISPs to one with much more consistent service, but the trade off is that I now have a rather small bandwidth cap. As much as we hate them, bandwidth caps are probably in all of our futures. The important thing is to have control over and be informed of your usage (before the bill arrives). I needed a reliable way to keep track of my bandwidth, so I tested out several free bandwidth monitoring softwares. My ISP has its own online bandwidth usage calculated, but I wanted a redundant system (one which I could use to make sure they were honest in their tracking).  In my experiments, I found Networx to be the best. Its primary virtue is its ability to be as advanced as you need it to be. For my multiple computer home network, it has every feature I could ask for. Let’s take a closer look.

The software is so unobtrusive; it even lacks a full control window.  Instead, you can access all aspects of the software from the taskbar icon.

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A left click will give you a quick bandwidth summary/ a right click will show you the menu.

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Before we get to ridiculous number of features available in the menu, let’s check out my favorite feature.A right click anywhere on the task bar brings up a windows menu that has a “toolbars” option, if you go there you will find a new entry: Networx Desk Band. Activating this toolbar gives you a quick real time read out.

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I know what you’re thinking: But I don’t like red and white graphs! Well, you can fully customize that little read out; I’ll get to that a little later on.First, lets go back to that right click menu from the Networx taskbar icon.

Your first 3 options all work together:

Show Graph

– This displays a full size visual read out that you can place on your desktop wherever you want.

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Reset Graph (Only present if “Show Graph” is clicked first) – This option will clear the current data displayed on the graph, not unlike the trip counter reset in your car.

Enable Click Through (Only present if “Show Graph” is clicked first) – Will make the graph act as if it is not really there.You can literally click through the graph to select things. Be careful though, this means you can’t resize or move the graph window without turning off “Click Through” the same way your turned it on.

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Speed Meter

– This works sort of like a heart monitor for you bandwidth.You hit “Play” and for the duration you allow it to run, it records average, maximum and total transfer.You can then export it directly to a txt file.

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Usage Statistics

– You can access this menu from a double click on the icon.This will probably be your most visited window in the battle to keep informed about transfer totals. The first thing you will see is the “General” Tab:

Not much to do here, except see a quick summary of your total usage all in one place.

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The Daily Report – Here is where you can really begin to see detail present in this program.If you have this set up on the family computer, you can directly see what day of the month the highest transfer happened.If you are not a fan of the spread sheet, they also provide you a visual readout of the past week.

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Weekly/Monthly Report – The same data as the daily, but handily calculated for you either size increment.

Custom – The most powerful data aggregator in this entire software. You can give it the date-through-date specifics and it will automatically set up the graph in the most appropriate way.

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Dial-up Sessions – If you have a minute/transfer based dial-up connection, this tab is vital.It records every time you connect to your dial up provider, the date, amount of time spent, transfers, etc.You might think this is outdated, but you would be surprised how many areas still do not have broadband.

Hourly Rates – for you true statistics hounds out there, you can follow your transfer rates on an hourly basis.

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Export – Oh yeah, you can also export all of these charts to Excel for easy archiving.

Users – If everyone who uses the computer has separate logons, you can track the data per user.You know, easily figure out which roommate is the bandwidth hog.

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Quota

This is a handy system for letting you set the maximum transfer/duration.For me that is 50 gigs per month.I set it at 45 gigs, however, because it notifies you with a little pop-up window when you have met your quota.

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Settings

All of the settings for the program.Let’s go one tab at a time.

General – This tab has the settings for “Load on Windows Startup, Check for Updates”, And most importantly: Which internet connection is monitored. This is essential if you have multiple connections, or utilize a different connection for intra-network traffic.

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Graph – Settings to tweak how the graph output functions.This is really for power users who want control over aspect of their graph.

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Graph Colors – This may seem trivial or nit-picky, but on some monitors you may want to adjust the colors of the graph for optimal resolution.High contrast is an option in every aspect of most operating systems for those who need it for accessibility.Or, you may just want to make it look pretty.

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Notifications – This tab’s settings tell the software when you notify you of certain things.It can tell you if your connection falls below it’s usual transfer rate, or if it exceeds a predetermined speed.You can also customize how exactly it notifies you, a tone or a pop up, ect.

Advanced – There is one truly important feature in here.In this tab you can set what day your billing cycle begins on. I’m lucky, my bandwidth resets at midnight on the first.For some of you, it might be on the 14th or 21st, etc. DO NOT FORGET TO SET THIS, OR YOUR TOTAL BANDWIDTH USED FOR THE MONTH WILL NOT BE ACCURATE!

If you have multiple computers using the same network, you will need to install Networx on all of them, and tick the box under “Synchronization” or else YOU WILL ONLY BE TRACKING THE DATA TRANSFERRED FROM THIS COMPUTER.That will not be an accurate measure of the total usage.

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Trace Route

– This is a power user feature.Your average user will never have a need to track a packet from your computer to a source IP.

Ping

– This works the same way as the command line ping.You enter a location to ping, and it will tell you the millisecond duration of the test transfer.

NetStat

– This is pretty useful, it lists every program or service that is accessing the internet, or has rights to do so, and where it’s sending from and to.

Conclusion

So that’s about all you need to know to keep up with your bandwidth use by utilizing Networx. If you have a different favorite Bandwidth tracker, let us know in the comments below.I am on month 2 of using Networx, and have had no problems, if you have, also let us know.At the end of my first month of use, there was a 458 megabyte discrepancy between my Networx report and my ISPs total report.I attribute this to the Xbox360 updates and purchases along with my iPhone app downloads.

WinCDEmu Integrates Disk Image Mounting in Windows Explorer

WinCDEmu - Right-click We’ve written before about Virtual CloneDrive, software that can mount and run disk images as if they are physical disks. A similar free program is WinCDEmu.

WinCDEmu – Main site

WinCDEmu – SourceForge page

WinCDEmu is free and open-source, and makes mounting a disk image (*.ISO, *.CUE, *.BIN, *.RAW, and *.IMG) as easy as double-clicking.

In case you are not familiar with disk images, here’s what you need to know: an image is the re-creation of the contents of a CD or DVD saved into a single file. That file will have an extension such as *.ISO, the most-common type.

These disk images are typically burned back onto a CD or DVD using disk-burning software such as InfraRecorder (free). For instance, if you want to download and use a Linux distro, you typically download the ISO and then burn it to a CD, thus allowing you to boot and run from that physical disk.

Software such as WinCDEmu allows you to skip the actual burn and instead use the ISO as a virtual disk. When you mount an ISO (or other image) as a virtual disk, your computer treats it just like a physical one with the benefit that virtual drives operate much faster than physical drives.

Installation and Usage

WinCDEmu - Verify Installing WinCDEmu seems almost too easy. There’s no notification that the install was successful, nor will you find anything new in the Start Menu. The only hurdle at all is telling Windows that yes, you want to install an unverified driver.

It will show up as part of Add/Remove Programs, so you can uninstall it from there if necessary.

Using WinCDEmu is brain-dead simple. For any disk image on your system, just double-click it to mount, and it will show up in Windows Explorer just as if you popped a CD/DVD in the drive. Yes, it works just like Mac OS X, which is a good thing.

To un-mount (or eject) the virtual disk, simply double-click that same disk image (such as the original ISO file, not the mounted image in Explorer).

You can also right-click the virtual drive and Eject. Piece of cake.

WinCDEmu supports an unlimited number of simultaneously mounted virtual drives. It also supports SMB network shares, but be sure to look up the workaround for a Windows cache bug.

Disable the “Install Updates and Shut Down” Option in Windows

install-updates-and-shutdownHave you ever been annoyed at the Install Updates and Shut Down message that displays after Windows Update runs in the background?

It’s easy to avoid this message entirely and force any pending updates to stay associated with the yellow shield in the system tray. This is one setting that I always configure for any machine under my control, mainly to inspect any pending updates before I choose to install them. It’s also handy for avoiding the dreaded WGA notification tool.

On to business: this tip works on XP, Vista, and Windows 7.

First, launch the Group Policy editor by going to Start – Run, and typing:

gpedit.msc

Note: if you don’t see the Start → Run button, just press the Windows key + R.

Once the Group Policy editor opens, expand Computer Configuration, then Administrative Templates, then Windows Components.

group-policy-editor-windows-components

Select the Windows Update component to view a list of settings. Double-click the setting for Do not display ‘Install Updates and Shut Down’ option in Shut Down Windows dialog box.

group-policy-editor-windows-update

In the window that spawns, set it to Enabled and click OK. I agree that this is somewhat unintuitive to enable it, but remember that you are affirming a negative, if that makes sense.

group-policy-editor-windows-update-enable

That’s it! You should no longer see the Install Updates and Shut Down message.

Resize and Create Disk Partitions with EASEUS Partition Manager (Windows)

Easeus Partition Manager - Main Disk partitioning is a volatile task, but it doesn’t need to be scary. Resizing a disk or partition in Windows is generally safe and easy, but you should still back up your critical files before messing with partitions. You never know what might happen.

EASEUS Partition Manager is a free alternative to popular hard disk management tools such as Partition Magic. EASEUS can easily shrink, enlarge, and move partitions without losing any data. It can also copy disks and partitions, change disk labels, format, explore, convert FAT to NTFS, and hide partitions. The Home edition is completely free for personal use, but it has a few limitations.

Limitations of the free edition:

  • Does not work with server operating systems, such as Windows Server 2008.
  • Only works with 32-bit operating systems. The Professional version supports 64-bit OSes.
  • Bootable CD/DVD not available.

EASEUS Partition Manager is painlessly simple to use. I like that you can preview all tasks before applying any changes. The main interface is simple and uncluttered (and surprisingly similar to Partition Magic!). One of the most common questions users new to partitioning ask is how to shrink an existing single-partition layout and create a new disk partition with the remaining space. The demonstration below will do just that.

Shrink An Existing Partition

Easeus Partition Manager - Resize Before we can create a second partition on our disk, we must first shrink the existing one. EASEUS Partition Manager is designed to resize partitions without causing any data loss, but I suggest first backing up any critical data just to be safe.

Launch the program and select the disk or partition that you wish to resize. Clicking the Resize/Move button at the top will launch a new window that lets you visually drag the edges to resize the partition. You can also click anywhere in the middle of the existing partition and drag it left or right to determine its placement on the disk.

Click OK when you are done. Notice that the visual reference of the partition layout has changes but nothing has actually happened yet. You can see the pending operations on the left side of the program. Clicking Undo will dismiss the operation, and clicking Apply will commit the changes to disk.

Create a New Partition

Easeus Partition Manager - Create Before we apply the changes, let’s create a new partition with the free space that we just allocated by shrinking the existing partition. First, select the Unallocated space and then click the Create button at the top. Just like before, a new window will spawn that allows you to set any additional parameters that you like for the new partition.

The default file system is NTFS, but you can also choose FAT32, plain old FAT, or you can opt to leave it unformatted.

Once you’ve reviewed the Operations Pending on the left, take a deep breath and click the Apply button to start the process.

Easeus Partition Manager - Partitioning EASEUS Partition Manager needs exclusive access to the drive for most operations, so don’t be alarmed when the program asks if it can automatically reboot your computer. Once the computer restarts, the partitioning process will begin.

Your computer will boot into a limited startup state called the EASEUS Partition Master Boot Mode. In this limited state, all the scheduled operations will process. Depending on the size of your hard disk and the number of operations, this process may take a long time, so go grab a cup of coffee and let it work.

When it finishes, your computer will automatically reboot again, and hopefully come back to life with its new partition scheme in place.

For a free program, EASEUS Partition Manager packs quite a punch. Perhaps its greatest strength is its simplicity – even a person completely new to disk partitioning should be up and running in a matter of minutes.

EASEUS Partition Manager works with Windows 2000 SP4 through Vista 32-bit and supports hard disks up to 1.5 terabytes. For an open-source alternative, take a look at GParted.

Ghost Windows for Free with Paragon Drive Backup Express (A Visual Guide)

Paragon - Disk icon Sometimes the healthiest thing you can do with your Windows installation is to just nuke it and start over from scratch. If you’ve ever done that before, you know just how long it takes to get all your files transferred, drivers and programs reloaded, and updates patched. The process can take hours, even days. While a true geek might actually enjoy the process a tiny bit, it’s much more satisfying to create a disk image of your pristine Windows install that you can revert to if it gets screwed up later.

I’ve written about this process a few times before, but today I would like to introduce Paragon Drive Backup Express. Essentially, Drive Backup Express (DBE) is the free version of Paragon’s commercial software. As expected, it lacks features compared to its commercial siblings, but is still quite usable. Hey, it’s hard to complain about free software.

Features

Let’s look at some features of Express (free) versus Personal Edition (commercial) as of 31 March 2009:

Paragon Drive Backup Express Features

Don’t expect too much here – you won’t find any fancy features like scheduling, encryption, incremental backups, or image browsing. The Express version basically gives you the ability to make a backup of your disk/partition, plus the ability to restore it later. No more, no less.

Compared to the free version of Macrium, Reflect, the most glaring omission of DBE is the inability to back up straight to CD/DVD. If you can live with these restrictions (and most people can), DBE is a capable tool. Perhaps because it lacks all the fancy features, it’s also VERY easy to use.

Requirements

Drive Backup Express officially supports all versions of Windows from 2000 SP4 to Vista (32/64-bit). Sorry, no server operating systems are supported by the free edition. Supported file systems include:

  • NTFS
  • FAT16 and FAT32
  • Linux EXT2, EXT3, and swap
  • HPFS

Because DBE supports some Linux file systems, you should be able to back up and restore Linux partitions. I have not tested this capability… yet.

Other requirements are minimal. At the least, you will need:

  • A place to store the image after it is created – yes, DBE can store the disk image directly onto the C:\ drive as it is created, but you need another place to host the image if you plan to erase and restore the C:\ drive. Make sense? A few options include:
    • a large USB flash drive might work (4 or 8+ GB)
    • a blank DVD
    • an external hard drive
    • a spare internal disk or partition

Before we begin, PLEASE BACK UP YOUR CRITICAL DATA! It should be common sense that whenever you are working with disk imaging, you need to have backups of important data. Get a spare hard drive, burn everything to DVD, or look at some online storage (I highly recommend Dropbox).

The Process

Here’s an outline of the entire process:

  1. Install Drive Backup Express
  2. Configure Your System
  3. Create the Disk Image
  4. Verify the Disk Image
  5. Create the Rescue CD
  6. Restore the Disk Image
  7. Final Thoughts

1. Install Drive Backup Express

Here’s the DBE download page. There are separate downloads available for 32-bit versus 64-bit operating systems. Not sure whether your system is 32-bit or 64-bit? If it’s Windows 2000, it’s 32-bit. If it’s XP or Vista, hold down the Windows key and press Pause/Break. Look for the System information.

System - 32-bit

2. Configure Your System

This one is up to you – configure your system in a way that you would like to preserve. A freshly installed state is perfect, but if don’t feel like doing a complete re-install, here are a few suggestions:

  • Get the latest security patches from Windows Update.
  • Defragment your disk.
  • Scan your system for malware.
  • Clean out any unused or unnecessary applications.

I tend to create two disk images:

  1. A freshly installed system with only the latest drivers and security updates.
  2. A full image that also contains all my typical applications.

3. Create the Disk Image

Now it’s time to create our image. When you launch DBE, you will see a Welcome screen featuring a happy guy with an unbranded Macbook. Are we to assume that he just restored his BootCamp partition? Or maybe he’s happy that the Dow Jones Industrial Average actually went UP for a change? Anyway, I digress.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Main

Click the Back up Disk or Partition option. The Simple Backup Wizard will appear.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Simple Backup Wizard

Follow the prompts to begin creating the image. First things first, select which disk or partition you would like to image. You may choose either a single partition or the entire hard disk, complete with the Master Boot Record (MBR). Unless you absolutely know what you are doing, go ahead and back up the partition table (called the Hard Disk Track) as well as the MBR. You will need them if you have to do a restore from bare metal.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Simple Backup Wizard 2

Next, choose a place to store the image. As mentioned before, you cannot burn the disk image directly to a CD or DVD, but you can store it directly on the currently running partition. In other words, if you are running from drive C:\, you can choose to store the image directly on the same drive. Drive Backup Express is smart enough to exclude the chosen storage directory and not create an infinite loop. However, you must move the image to a different location (DVD, flash drive, etc) BEFORE you can restore it since it is not possible to restore a disk from itself.

Store the image wherever you like, such as on the C:\ drive, a spare partition, or on an external disk. Note: you CAN also map a network drive and store the image directly on a networked computer. To do so, click the Network Drive button on the Backup Destination page.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Backup Destination

Browse to find your networked computer and map a network drive to a shared folder. Enter the login information for the remote user. Note: that user must have read AND write privileges for the shared folder or DBE will not be able to store the image there. Also, though DBE can create your image over the network, I have not yet found an easy way to restore it over the network. Before you can restore it, you must transfer it to a DVD or some other external media.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Map Network Drive

Once you’ve chosen your destination, hit Next. DBE will immediately begin creating and storing your image. This process may take a while, so go have a coffee break.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Backup in Progress

And it’s done! Hooray!

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Backup Complete

Now that your backup is complete, let’s talk about how to verify and restore it.

4. Verify the Disk Image

This step is optional, but I encourage you to do it anyway. You don’t want to find out the hard way that something is wrong with the image that you created.

Back on the DBE Welcome screen, click the Check Archive Integrity button to launch a new wizard.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Archive Integrity Wizard

Browse to find the disk image that you created. DBE also keeps a list of archives that you have made, so you can just select it from the list.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Archive Integrity Wizard 2

Depending on the size of the archive, it may take several minutes to verify its integrity. Go refill that coffee or maybe play an online flash game.

If all goes well, the verification should complete without errors.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Archive Integrity Wizard Complete

5. Create the Rescue CD

Before we can restore the image, we must create the Rescue environment. After all, if we’re going to erase and restore the current operating system, we can’t have that system running, can we?

Back on the DBE Welcome screen, click the Build Recovery Media option. The Recovery Media Builder will launch.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Recovery Media Builder

You have a choice: you can build the Rescue environment on either a CD/DVD or Flash Memory. If you know that your computer supports booting from a USB flash drive, this is a great choice. Otherwise, stick to the standard CD approach, which I will use for this tutorial.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Recovery Media Type

Before you can build the recovery ISO, you have another choice: Typical settings, Advanced, or User-specified ISO.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - DVD Creation Options

Typical – use this option if you just want to accept the default recovery package and start burning the disk. It will build a Linux-based boot disk with a minimal set of tools for restoring your image(s). If you’re unsure, go with this option.

Advanced – similar to the typical settings, but also gives you an option to add your own files or folders to the standard recovery image. For instance, if you have room on your DVD, you could add the folder where you stored the image itself. That way your recovery media also conveniently contains the disk image. Nice.

User-specified ISO – only choose this option if you already have another recovery ISO in mind to burn. Most users won’t have this.

Once you’ve made your choice, create your media. DBE can burn the disc for you directly, or you can choose the Emulator device option to build an ISO that you can burn later with a tool like InfraRecorder.

Now that your recovery media is ready, let’s move on to the restoration process. Please continue to the next page.