Category Archives: Windows

Microsoft Windows, of course.

Turn Windows Server 2008 into an Excellent Workstation – Part II – Third Party Software

Welcome to the second part of our series on turning Windows Server 2008 into an excellent workstation. If you missed it, please see Part I – The Basics as well as how to get Server 2008 for free (students only).

In this post we will take a look at some third-party software and its compatibility with Server 2008. In no way is this post comprehensive, but it should get you started in figuring out if your software is compatible. When possible, I tried to stick with free software.

This article is from an x86 (32-bit) perspective, though I doubt the x86-64 version differs much. I welcome any and all additions in the the comments below.

Free Security Software

Unless you like living dangerously, you should run antivirus software on your Windows machine. As I’ve written before, I prefer free antivirus software. Unfortunately, not all free antivirus programs will install on a server operating system. While there may be some registry tweaks or other hacks that will allow them to install, I’m not comfortable living with that. Who knows when an update may break compatibility or functionality?

Below are free antivirus and security programs that I have personally verified.

  • AVG Free Editiondoes not work
  • Avast Home Editiondoes not work
  • ClamWinWORKS
  • Comodo Internet Securitydoes not work
  • Malwarebytes’ Anti-MalwareWORKS
  • PC Tools Free AntiVirusWORKS
  • Returnil Virtual System 2008 Personal EditionWORKS
  • Rising AntivirusWORKS

Google Software

All Google software that I have tried installs and works as expected.

  • Google DesktopWORKS
  • Google Earth 4.3WORKS
  • Google Picasa 3WORKS
  • Google SketchUp 7WORKS
  • Google TalkWORKS

Browsers

Good news! All common web browsers that I have tried work without flaw.

  • Firefox 3WORKS
  • Google ChromeWORKS
  • Opera 9.6WORKS
  • Safari 3.2WORKS

Free Media Players

Continuing our good luck streak, every media player that I have tried (so far) works without known issues.

  • Foobar 2000 v0.9.6WORKS
  • iTunesWORKS
  • J. River Media Jukebox 12WORKS
  • MediaMonkey 3.0.6WORKS
  • Quicktime 7WORKS
  • Songbird 1.0WORKS
  • VLC 0.9.8WORKS
  • Winamp 5.5WORKS

Office Applications

Almost every office-type application that I tried works without flaw. Fortunately, both MS Office 2003 and 2007 work fine, since that would be a deal-breaker for most people.

  • AbiwordWORKS
  • Adobe Reader 9WORKS
  • Lotus Symphony 1.2does not work – (It installed correctly on my machine, but would not launch a new document, spreadsheet, or presentation. It it works for you, please let me know.)
  • Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007WORKS
  • OpenOffice 3 WORKS

Other Utilities

Major victories in this area include recent updates to Skype and the Windows Live Applications that make them compatible with Server 2008.

  • 7-zipWORKS
  • CCleanerWORKS
  • FilezillaWORKS
  • Jing ProjectWORKS (only after you enable .NET 3.0 – see Part I)
  • Microsoft Virtual PCWORKS
  • SkypeWORKS – (Version 4 BETA works fine. Version 3 was troublesome, though version 3.8.0.139 and later may also work fine.)
  • Sun xVM VirtualBoxWORKS
  • Windows Live ApplicationsWORKS (Yes! Previous versions would not install on Server 2008, but the new updates install and work well.)
  • μTorrentWORKS

Video Games

Admittedly, I am not much of a gamer, but here are a few games that I can personally verify. I especially welcome additional contributions in this area.

  • Diablo II LODWORKS (with 1.12 patch or above)
  • Elder Scrolls IV: OblivionWORKS (with latest patch)
  • Guild WarsWORKS
  • Starcraft: Brood WarWORKS (with 1.16 patch or above)
  • Titan Quest (plus Immortal Throne) – WORKS
  • Warcraft III: The Frozen ThroneWORKS (with latest patch)

As you can see, there is far more green than red, meaning that the overwhelming majority of applications should work with Server 2008. In fact, I’d say that Server 2008 is hardly limited at all. As a general rule, if it works with Vista SP1, it should work with Server 2008. I did not mention it above, but even two professional music applications that I use all the time – Finale 2008 and Reason 4 – work without problems.

Security applications are the main exception. Unless you want to pay for a server-compatible antivirus program, I suggest sticking to PC Tools or Rising antivirus.

Games are the other category that I could not test well, but again, if it works with Vista SP1, it should work with Server 2008. If you find exceptions, or have any other comments or questions, please let me know in the comments below.

Mount Multiple Disc Images for Free with Virtual CloneDrive

Please insert disc! I mean it! Insert the disc now!

If you grow tired of programs that demand the presence of a physical disc, you can bypass that requirement by running the disc virtually.

Virtual CloneDrive, by SlySoft, is a free program that allows you to mount and run disc images so that your computer will think they are physical discs. This is handy when an application checks for an inserted disc, such as installing/running software or playing a video game.

Virtual CloneDrive supports most popular image formats, including ISO, IMG, BIN, UDF, and CCD files. You can choose which file types to associate by default upon install.

You may have to reboot after installation (or after adding additional virtual drives). As of the most recent version (5.4.1.1), Virtual CloneDrive supports up to 15 virtual drives. Wow!

To mount an image, just right-click on one of your virtual drives and browse to the Mount option. You may then choose your desired image.

If you need some help determining which of your drives are the virtual ones, you can enable the Virtual Sheep option to give your drive(s) a nice sheep icon.

Virtual CloneDrive works with every version of Windows from 98 through Vista 64. I haven’t tried it yet on Server 2008, but I suspect it will work fine.

I really like this free tool, but if you want to try an alternative, I suggest MagicDisc. Daemon Tools used to rule this roost, but they upset a lot of people with the bundled inclusion of spyware in version 4. I’ll stick to Virtual CloneDrive.

Oh, and if you need to convert Nero NRG images to ISO, see my tip on using IZArc2Go.

I Hate ID3 tags (Part 2)

I think I finally found a good solution to my dilemma.  The best part is, it’s open source and available for windows, linux, and mac.

Songbird

I had tried it in its early beta, and decided to try it again.  It can easily do everything iTunes does (except for all the stuff you don’t want iTunes to do).  Any feature it’s missing is typically available as a plugin.  It has some flaws, but they are already set for later releases (such as CD burning, but heck why not just use infra recorder for everything).  Just take a look at the features and “coming soon” section of the page.

Here is the important part:

The Single Most Amazing Plugin Ever. You can set multiple folders for it display in the folder tree, and it is simple to add content to.

When combined with Songbird, it solves all the problems the ID3-tag-hater has.  I also managed to install and uninstall enough plugins that it feels like it was made just for me.

Oh, did I mention it has a web browser built in and is fully skinnable?  I might do a full review in the future, but for now, I’m going to go listen to well organized music that I didn’t have to import into a sloppy music library.

Switcher 2.0 РA Free Expos̩ Clone for Vista/Server 2008

There are number of utilities available that mimic the functionality of Apple Exposé, but my favorite that I’ve tried so far is Switcher.

Switcher 2.0www.insentient.net

Though Switcher has been out for a while, version 2.0 was just released a couple months ago. It adds a number of cool features and is even available in both an executable and a non-installer format.

Here’s the main screen:

Once Switcher is running, call it into action by pressing Win (left) + Tab. If you don’t like that key combo, you can easily create your own.

By default, Switcher is set to Tile view:

Hovering over a tile with your mouse highlights it, and clicking it brings the window to the foreground.

You can also switch to Dock view, which lines up all the windows at the top with the current tile enlarged below:

Pressing Tab will cycle through the available windows.

The third view type is Grid view:

Pretty simple, really. All available windows are lined up straight across your desktop in an orderly fashion.

Switcher works well as an Exposé clone, but it also has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. Here are a few:

  1. Call up a window by number. Just hit a number (1-9) to bring that window number to the front. This works especially well with Grid view.
  2. Quickly close a window by middle-clicking it (mouse wheel button).
  3. Too many windows? Hit Ctrl-F and start typing to quickly search for a particular window.
  4. Hide any window with Ctrl-H.
  5. Only show windows of a particular program by pressing Ctrl-W. This is similar to the F10 button in Apple Exposé.
  6. Want to minimize all windows except a certain one? Just right-click on it. Neat.

If you have Exposé envy on your Windows machine, Switcher is best free tool that I’ve found. Plus, I love that it does not even require installation.

Get Switcher 2.0 – Requires Vista/Server 2008 plus Aero.

Turn Windows Server 2008 into an Excellent Workstation – Part I – Basics

In a previous post, I mentioned how to get Windows Server 2008 for free (students only). For those of you who take advantage of that offer, rest assured that you can turn Server 2008 into an excellent workstation operation system. With a tiny bit of work, Server 2008 can look and act similar to Windows Vista.

Undoubtedly, someone is bound to ask, why on earth would you waste time turning Server 2008 into Vista when you can just use Vista?

It’s a good question, and I doubt I will answer it satisfactorily. Yes, Vista and Server 2008 share the same code base. If you already own Vista, you have no real need to switch to Server 2008. In my case, I do not own Vista, so this guide is geared more toward people like myself.

Another consideration is that Server 2008 installs with far fewer features and services enabled by default. Compared to default Vista, there is far less bloat. Sure, you can essentially turn it into Vista by enabling all the features, but you only have to enable what you need. I’ve been using Server 2008 as my main workstation for several month now, and I think it’s a surprisingly good OS, one that can suit most anyone’s need as a workstation.

Let’s get started. I assume you have already installed the OS. In my case, I’m using Server 2008 Standard 32-bit.

Disable Server Manager at Login

First things first, let’s disable the two windows that spawn at login. Check the box to disable the Initial Configuration Tasks at login.

And then check the box to disable the Server Manager at login. You can always access it again from the Start menu.

Disable IE Enhanced Security Configuration

As with any Windows Server OS, Internet Explorer is locked down pretty tightly. Before you can download other software (such as drivers and Firefox), you will need to disable IE ESC. Go to Start → Server Manager and then click Configure IE ESC.

Turn it OFF, at least for Administrators.

Grab the Latest Drivers

As with any new Windows installation, be sure to get the latest drivers for your hardware. Just visit the vendor’s website and download them. If the vendor does not offer a driver specific to Server 2008, try installing the latest Vista driver. Chances are very high that it will work.

For my Nvidia graphics card, the Vista drivers worked just fine. Same for my M-Audio sound card.

You can also see if Windows Update has drivers for your hardware.

Disable Ctrl-Alt-Del Requirement at Login

This one is entirely optional. If you prefer having to hit Ctrl-Alt-Del before you log in, then please ignore this step. For those of you who do not want to be bothered with it, follow these steps:

Go to Start → Administrative Tools → Local Security Policy.

In the window that spawns, expand Local Policies (on the left), click Security Options, and then double-click Interactive Login: Do not require CTRL+ALT+DEL.

Switch it to Enabled.

Disable the Shutdown Event Tracker

Along the same lines, let’s remove another little annoyance when you shut down the computer. Since we’re using Server 2008 as a workstation, we have no need to track the purpose of every system reboot or shutdown.

Go to Start → Run, and type gpedit.msc.

This will open the Group Policy Editor. On the left, expand Administrative Templates and click System. On the right, double-click Display Shutdown Event Tracker.

Switch it to Disabled.

Enable Wireless Networking Support

If you use wireless networking equipment, you will need to turn on support for it. If you don’t have any wireless equipment, you can safely skip this step.

Fire up the Server Manager again (Start → Server Manager), In the Features Summary section (near the bottom), click Add Features.

The Add Features Wizard will launch. Scroll to the bottom and turn on Wireless LAN Service.

Performance Options

By default, Windows Server 2008 prioritizes performance to best suit background services. Since this is now a workstation, let’s change it to focus priority on the programs you run.

Go to Start, right-click on Computer, and click Properties. Or, just press the Windows key plus Pause/Break.

The System window will open. Click Advanced System Settings.

The System Properties window will open. Switch to the Advanced tab, and under the Performance section, click Settings.

Switch to the Advanced tab, and adjust for best performance of Programs.

Enable Audio Support

What good is a workstation if you can’t play tunes, right? Let’s turn on the Windows Audio service. Go to Start → Run, and type services.msc.

Scroll down until you find Windows Audio. Switch the startup type to Automatic.

While you’re there, go ahead and Start the service.

Please note that you must have a proper audio driver installed for sound to work.

Turn On the Desktop Experience

Now we’re getting to the fun part. If you want Server 2008 to look and feel like Vista, you must enable the Desktop Experience feature, which adds a number of amenities, including Aero, Windows Media Player, Themes, and photo management tools.

Launch Server Manager, go to Add Features, and select Desktop Experience.

You will have to reboot after the Desktop Experience feature finishes installing.

Enable Themes and Aero

Now that Desktop Experience is installed, let’s get Themes and Aero working. Go to Start → Run, and type services.msc. Scroll down to the Themes service, and set the startup type to Automatic.

Also, go ahead and Start the service while you are there.

To enable Aero, you must first have a proper video driver installed. Then, just right-click anywhere on the Desktop and choose Personalize.

Click Theme, and from the drop-down list, choose the Windows Vista theme.

Voila! Your Server 2008 desktop should now look a little something like this:

Finally, if your hardware supports Aero, make sure it’s enabled by going back to Personalize → Window Color and Appearance. Under Color Scheme, choose Windows Aero if it’s available.

Get .NET 3.0

Some software requires the .NET 3.0 framework. To install it, fire up the Server Manager again and go to Add Features. Select .NET Framework 3.0 Features.

It will prompt you to install a couple of required role services as dependencies. Just follow the prompts to finish installing.

Turn on Windows Search

If you want to enable Windows Search (for searching through the content of your documents and Outlook e-mails), just follow these steps.

Open Server Manager. In the Roles Summary section, click Add Roles.

Click Next to move beyond the Before You Begin page. On the next page, choose File Services.

Continue following the prompts, then select the Windows Search Service. If you want, you may disable the File Server service at the top.

Select any volume that you wish to index, and finish installing.

Turn On SuperFetch

SuperFetch is disabled by default on Server 2008. Turning it on is supposed to make the OS more responsive as it learns your typical usage patterns and behavior. Before you can simply enable it, you must make a couple of registry changes. Go to Start → Run, and type regedit.

Dig down in the hierarchy to the following path:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters

Make these two changes:

Create a new DWORD Value named EnablePrefetcher and assign it a value of 3

Create a new DWORD Value named EnableSuperfetch and assign it a value of 3

Hexadecimal values:

Now we just need to turn on the Superfetch service. Go to Start → Run and type services.msc. Scroll down to Superfetch and set the startup type to Automatic.

Also, go ahead and Start the service.

This concludes Part I – Basics. Stay tuned for further articles on configuring Windows Server 2008.

Quick Tip – Force Off-Screen Windows to Return to Your Desktop

We’ve all encountered this problem at one time or another. Perhaps a change of screen resolution caused it, or maybe you disconnected a second monitor without paying attention to window placement. Either way, the problem is that you have one or more windows that are off the screen, with no easy way to click-and-drag them back into place. Frustrating!

Of course, you could just reboot, but what self-respecting nerd would do that? Surely there must be a better way!

There is. The next time you find yourself in that situation, just try this:

1. Make sure the misbehaving window has focus. Use Alt-Tab to select it, or just click anywhere on the visible part of that window.

2. Right-click on that item in the taskbar and select Move.

Keyboard alternative: you could also just press Alt-Space and then hit M.

3. Notice that your cursor now changed and looks like this:

Now, simply press any of the arrow keys on your keyboard (Up, Down, Left, Right). Voila! The misbehaving window should automatically snap back into place on your desktop.

All you have to do is drag the mouse to wherever you want the window and left-click to release it.

Done. This is one quick tip that’s handy to remember, but I admit: it’s too bad that that there’s a need for it at all.

Ghost Windows for Free with Macrium Reflect (A Visual Guide)

Macrium icon
Macrium icon

A few years ago I wrote an article on Ghosting Windows XP for Free with DriveImage XML. It’s proven to be one of the most popular articles on TipsFor.us. Back in 2007 I also wrote a complementary article on Ghosting Windows for Free using Open-Source Tools. I suppose you could say that finding free ways to “ghost” Windows is an obsession of mine.

One bit of criticism levied at these aforementioned methods is that they both require a fair amount of upfront work. A restoration using DriveImage XML requires the creation of a boot disc such as BartPE. Using open-source tools like ntfsclone requires mucking around with the command line – an intimidating process for a newbie. Yes, I said “mucking.”

Isn’t there an easier way? One that requires far less prep time with an easy learning curve? The answer is a resounding YES!

Enter Macrium Reflect FREE Edition. While the free version is the little brother to the commercial version, it still packs a mighty punch. Feast your eyes on a feature comparison as of 17 October 2008.

Macrium - Feature List

Requirements

To successfully image and restore your system using Macrium Reflect, you will need the following:

  • Windows XP or Vista (32 or 64-bit) – required to install the free version of Macrium Reflect, of course.
  • CD or DVD burner – You need a place to store your backup image. Macrium allows you to burn it directly to CDs or DVDs.
  • Spare Hard Disk or Partition (Optional) – Instead of storing the backup image on optical media, you may choose to simply store it on a spare partition or hard disk.

Before we begin, allow me to remind you to BACK UP YOUR DATA! Working with disk imaging is a volatile process, and you should always have backups of your critical files. Burn everything to CDs or DVDs. Buy a spare hard disk, or maybe take a look at available online storage. Do whatever it takes to keep your data safe.

Ready? Let’s get started!

The Process

Here’s an outline of the entire process:

  1. Install Macrium Reflect FREE Edition
  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 Macrium Reflect FREE Edition

This is the easiest step. Download and install the executable (Download.com link). The installer will automatically detect whether you are running a 32-bit or a 64-bit operating system. Curiously, the installation process requires Internet access to validate the automatically generated serial number. After the installation is complete, launch Macrium Reflect.

2. Configure Your System

At this point you should configure your operating system to the way you like it. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make sure Windows has the latest security patches and drivers.
  • Scan for viruses and other malware.
  • Run a Defrag.
  • Remove any unnecessary applications.

Ideally, I like to create a couple different disk images. I prefer to have one image of a freshly installed state, and another image that includes all my main applications.

3. Create the Disk Image

Now we’re getting to the fun part. One quick note here: I used VMware for the purpose of convenient screenshots, but the process is no different than if it were a real machine. I also tested the process on a spare computer, and it worked flawlessly for me.

To get started, launch Macrium Reflect, select the disk that you wish to image, and from the Backup menu, choose Create Image.

Macrium - Choose your partition

(Alternative – you could also open My Computer, right-click on the chosen disk, and select Create an Image of this partition…)

Right-click the drive

The Create Backup Wizard will spawn:

Macrium - Create Backup Wizard

At this point you need to choose where you would like to store the disk image. Options include:

  • On a spare partition or hard disk
  • On a network share – Note: make sure your network share is using WORKGROUP as the Workgroup name.
  • On blank CDs or DVDs
Macrium - Choose where to store image

I suggest you also take a look at the Advanced Settings. Here you can choose the amount of compression and also set a maximum file size (for splitting purposes).

Macrium - Advanced Compression

When you are done with the Backup Wizard, take a last glance over your settings….

Macrium - End of Backup Wizard

Enter a name for the backup definition, and away we go!

Macrium - Backup started

It took me only 3 minutes to image my tiny VMware disk, so your mileage will vary. Go make a cup of coffee.

Macrium - Backup finished

Now that your backup is complete, let’s talk about how to restore it. Please continue to the next page.