Category Archives: Software

Getting Ripped DVDs to Your iPhone or iPod

You’ve got movies, and you want to watch them… you just want to watch them on your iPhone or on your iPod. Well, that shouldn’t be a problem… you simply go to Google, search for some kind of tutorial for ripping the DVDs, and then you’ll be on your way… but you didn’t anticipate the stench-filled sewers you would have to crawl through to attain your goal. You didn’t think you’d have to stoop this low to complete your journey. No, I’m not talking about digital rights management… I’m talking about the fact that someone made a tutorial that showed how to rip a DVD… using the putrid footage of Quentin Tarentino’s Kill Bill.

Comment by Brian: Yes, that is our very own TipsFor.us author Everett playing the role of Quentin Tarentino just for this post. Wow.

Some friends of mine have tried to convince me that Kill Bill wasn’t that bad, but *obviously* their minds have been corroded by Hollywood mediocrity. You can watch the original South Park episode I spoofed above, but I’m warning you: Matt and Trey made a horrible omission when they only took down M. Night Shyamalan and Michael Bay and neglected to reign in the sadistic wanker Tarentino. (Thanks to Nick Broomfield and JG Ballard for including Kill Bill in their lists of the worst movies of all time.)

Required Software (and Hardware)

Okay, on to the main event. There are several ways to skin this cat, and there are a lot of how-tos out there, but I wanted to at least mention some of the pitfalls you might encounter for our take on this topic. The instructions here are valid for Mac and Windows computers, but I’ve got more details about the Mac side of things.

You need to 1) crack the copy protection (i.e. rip the DVD), then you need to 2) transcode it into a format that your iPhone or iPod can read. The latter task is the one that is more problematic — the success rate of the transcoding software varies greatly in my experience, so you may have to try out a few methods to get this to work.

  • Handbrake — this is a multi-threaded video transcoder that you can use to encode (not rip) DVDs on your Mac, Windows, or Linux machine. Just keep in mind that it does not strip copy protection, so you’ll have to use some other software for that task when necessary (e.g. Fairmount or Mac the Ripper).
  • iPhone or iPod — uh, you’re clear on the concept of this article, right? You can stop reading the serious stuff and go watch that South Park episode if you don’t actually have a device to transfer the file to.

Ripping DVDs to iTunes: The Simple Process using Handbrake

Handbrake essentially converts the format of the DVD into something that iTunes (and your iPhone) can read. Handbrake doesn’t circumvent any copy protection though! It’s not a ripper!

  1. Put a DVD into your computer. If the DVD player launches, quit it.
  2. Launch the Handbrake application. Be sure that you’ve installed it in the Applications directory… Handbrake can get squirrely if you install it elsewhere.
  3. Open the DVD. From within Handbrake, select the entire DVD (not just the VIDEO_TS or the AUDIO_TS folders… select the entire volume).
  4. Select a File Destination. Where do you want to save the resulting file? It can be large, so choose a drive that has adequate space.
  5. Choose the correct output Preset. If you don’t see the presets drawer, you can hide/show it from the “Window” menu (or press Apple-T). Notice that there are only 3 relevant presets: iPhone / iPod Touch, iPod High-Rez, iPod Low-Rez. Consider your hardware, and choose.
  6. Click Start. Encoding can take a while… if it doesn’t, you may have a problem. If Handbrake says it’s finished after about 2 seconds, then you have to move onto a more complicated solution. Skip ahead to the next section.
  7. Add the File to iTunes. After you’ve got a playable file, add it to iTunes in your normal way… double-click it or drag the file onto the iTunes icon.
  8. Sync your iPhone or iPod. Depending on your settings, your device may sync everything in your library, or you may have to manually sync the playlist containing the movie. As long as you’ve encoded the DVD on your hard disk in an encoding iTunes can read, then you should be able to transfer it to your iPhone or iPod.

Ripping DVDs to iTunes: Circumventing Copy Protection

* My reading of US Copyright law is that you are permitted to make a backup copy of your DVDs… but I’m not a lawyer.
Sometimes Handbrake gets sassy and you get a flippant message saying Put down that cocktail… Your Handbrake encode is done! It should take a few minutes to encode a DVD… something didn’t work if it’s magically “done” in about 2 seconds. Another possibility is that Handbrake just crashes repeatedly. Either way, it’s not fun. (I only had this problem while attempting the encode on OS 10.4). Check out this related article:

FAQ: My DVD won’t Rip

Well… the problem may be that many DVDs have copy protection that Handbrake does not circumvent. It’s not a ripper, remember? It’s an encoder only.

Before you give up on Handbrake, try the process on a Mac running OS 10.5. My strong suspicion is that something in the PPC/older version of Handbrake was causing problems.

If Handbrake is having trouble because of the copy protection, you need to first strip the DVD (or the disk image) of its copy protection. You can do this using several programs such as Mac the Ripper — there are some instructions here, but the solution described there is no longer free. Below is a brief description of how to use Fairmount on OS X — this will strip the copy protection, but you’ll still need something like Handbrake to handle the transcoding. Windows has lots of ways to strip the copy protection as well, such as DVD43.

  1. Use Fairmount (or similar) to decrypt the DVD. This can happen pretty fast… it doesn’t actually import anything, it just decodes it. You’ll see that the DVD icon changes to a standard disk image icon.
  2. Copy the VIDEO_TS files to your hard drive. Now you only need to encode the video files into a format that iTunes (and your iPhone) can read — Handbrake is designed for this transcoding operation (I hope it’s not giving you grief). Instead of transcoding the DVD, you’ll transcode the VIDEO_TS folder that’s now on your hard drive.

The REALLY Simple Process: Buying and Renting DVDs from iTunes

This probably wasn’t why you came to this article, but consider this option: Go to the iTunes Store and just buy the stupid DVD. I know it sucks to pay for it twice, but you can spend a lot of time trying to make this work and at some point, it’s just not worth your time. Downloading is perfectly Ok. You’re not accepting defeat, you’re merely choosing your battles wisely. You can even rent movies on iTunes now. Nice.

Commercial Alternatives

If you are interested, there are other software packages that are perhaps less prone to error than Handbrake, you just have to pay for them. Here’s a list of some commercial alternatives.

Windows users, be sure to also see Brian’s guide to ripping DVDs using FormatFactory for Free.

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.

Share and Sync Your Music Library With MediaMonkey

MediaMonkey logo Here’s the situation: my wife owns an iPod Nano. I own a Sandisk Fuze. We BOTH would like to access and share the SAME music library. Furthermore, we use different computers but don’t want to waste storage space by duplicating all the songs. In other words, I want to be able to rip a CD on MY computer and have it show up in HER music library (and vice versa). Is this possible?

YES.

Before we get started, here are a few issues to consider:

  • This article focuses on MediaMonkey installed on Microsoft Windows. An iTunes-based article is forthcoming.
  • In this setup, one PC acts as a server and one PC (or more) acts as a client. All the music files are stored on the host, naturally.
  • Following this tutorial works best if you are setting up a new music library from scratch. Yes, you can share an existing music library, but I strongly suggest backing up your music files and database before you begin. I am not responsible for lost data.
  • If you’re planning to share the same library with differing brands of portable music players, I suggest sticking to the MP3 format. Then again, you probably already knew that.

Why MediaMonkey?

It’s free. It’s easy to use. It plays most any file type. Best of all, it supports multiple types of MP3 players, including my wife’s iPod and my Sandisk Fuze.

Set Up The Host PC (Server)

Shared Music folderAs mentioned above, one computer should serve as the host for the music library files. The first thing we need to do is choose a place to store all the files. In my case, I’m using D:\Shared Music on the host computer. Adjust your path accordingly.

Network Shares

No matter what folder you choose, you need to set it as a network share with READ and WRITE privileges. Instructions will vary slightly depending on the specific operating system, but start by right-clicking the folder and looking for a Share option.

A quick note about User Accounts: unless you want to open up read/write permissions for everyone on the network (a bad idea), you should have a User Account for each client that will log into the shared folder over the network. For instance, I’m setting up my wife’s computer as the host, so I need to make sure that I’ve set up a username and password for myself on her computer. Make sense?

On XP Pro, click Share this folder, then hit the Permissions button. If you don’t feel like giving Everyone full control, click Add –> Advanced –> Find Now to bring up a list of potential Users. Find the User Account for the desired client and click OK twice. For that selected User, click the Full Control option.

Vista - Share Folder On Vista/Server 2008, when the File Sharing window pops up, simply choose the desired client user from the drop-down list. Set the permissions to Co-owner to make sure they have full read/write privileges.

After you’ve set permissions accordingly, make sure you can connect to that network share from the client computer! Try adding and deleting a test file. If everything works, continue to the next section.

Hidden Folders and MediaMonkey Configuration

You can download the free version of MediaMonkey here. Once it’s installed, we need to make a few configuration changes. The files that we need to edit are hidden from the default operating system view, so before you continue, you must enable hidden files and folders.

XP - Folder Options On Windows XP, open any Explorer folder (such as My Documents), go to the Tools menu –> Folder Options. Switch to the View tab, and click the button next to Show hidden files and folders.

On Vista/Server 2008, open any Explorer folder. Go to Organize –> Folder and Search Options. Switch to the View tab, and turn on Show hidden files and folders.

Here comes the fun part. In this next section, we’re going to move the MediaMonkey database and edit the main configuration file. Let’s go.

The MediaMonkey library database is contained in a file called MM.DB. That database, along with the *ini file containing the configuration settings, is in a hidden folder.

Depending on your OS, you can find the required files here:

  • Windows XP – C:\Documents and Settings\USERNAME\Local Settings\Application Data\MediaMonkey
  • Vista/Server 2008 – C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\MediaMonkey

Here’s what we need to do: we need to move the database to the shared folder that you created earlier. Then, we need to edit the configuration file to point MediaMonkey to the new database location.

BE SURE MEDIAMONKEY IS CLOSED BEFORE CONTINUING. Once MediaMonkey is fully shut down, move the database file (MM.DB) to the shared folder. Be sure to MOVE it, not just copy it. MediaMonkey will look in the default location first, so you do not want an existing database in the default location.

Next, open the MediaMonkey.ini configuration file in Notepad or another text editor. Find the section that starts with [System].

Somewhere in the section below [System], add a line with a parameter for the database name like this:

  • DBName=\\host-computer-name\shared-folder-path\MM.DB

In the above example, host-computer-name stands for the computer name of the host PC. If you are unsure what your computer name is, just right-click on My Computer and look for Computer Name. Provided your shared folder is shared properly, you should be able to access it by entering \\host-computer-name in the Address Bar of any Explorer window.

For example, my host computer’s name is sparkasse. and my shared folder is called Shared Music. My DBName line would look like this:

  • DBName=\\sparkasse\Shared Music\MM.DB

Make sense? For the record, I placed the DBName line just above the PlayerType parameter.

Note: I strongly suggest sticking to the UNC network name (\\computer-name or \\ip-address) instead of a drive letter since it avoids problems down the road and helps with unification of the path display within MediaMonkey. This is especially important when setting up the client PCs.

Dealing With Multiple Local Users

If several people have user accounts on the local computer, you can grant them all access to the shared music library by moving the location of the MediaMonkey.ini configuration file to the C:\Program Files\MediaMonkey\ folder. All local users will then share the same settings within MediaMonkey.

Otherwise, you should log into each user’s account and edit the configuration file in the default location as described above if you want them to share the same library.

Once you’ve added the DBName line, save the configuration file and re-launch MediaMonkey. If everything works normally, let’s move on to setting up a client.

Set Up The Client PC

Configuring a client to connect to the host PC is simpler. Here’s the process:

  • Enable hidden folders
  • Remove the local database
  • Edit the MediaMonkey configuration file to point to the shared database

UNC Network Name - sparkasse First things first, make sure you can access the host PC by typing its UNC network path into any Explorer window.

My Host PC name is sparkasse, so entering \\sparkasse works for me. Definitely check any Remember Password option that’s available.

Install MediaMoney on the client PC. Run it once to generate the hidden folder, but you don’t need to choose any folders to Add/Scan. Once it’s installed, enable hidden folders (as described above in Setting Up The Host PC). BE SURE TO SHUT DOWN MEDIAMONKEY.

Browse to the location of the hidden MediaMonkey folder:

  • Windows XP – C:\Documents and Settings\USERNAME\Local Settings\Application Data\MediaMonkey
  • Vista/Server 2008 – C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\MediaMonkey

Since this is a new install, you have no need for the MM.DB file (it’s empty anyway). Feel free to delete it. At the least, rename it. We don’t want MediaMonkey defaulting to the empty database.

Configuration File

Next, open up the MediaMonkey.ini configuration file. As with the host PC, add a line somewhere in the [System] section that reads:

  • DBName=\\host-computer-name\shared-folder-path\MM.DB

Once again, host-computer-name is the UNC path to the host PC. My example looks like this:

  • DBName=\\sparkasse\Shared Music\MM.DB

Save the configuration file and re-launch MediaMonkey. If you configured everything correctly, you should be able to browse and play songs stored on the host PC.

Other Issues

If everything went well up to this point, congratulations! You now have a shared music library that people can access simultaneously. This process worked fine for me. If it didn’t work for you, re-read the instructions and check for typos in your path and configuration file. The biggest potential problem that I’ve found is that the tracks in the shared library could be grayed out. If that’s the case, see here.

If you have an existing library with a mapped drive that you want to convert to UNC, see this thread.

CD Ripping

MediaMonkey - Set Destination Wizard When ripping a CD (either on the Host or the Client), make sure that the Main Directory destination is set to the shared library via the UNC path (\\host-computer-name\shared-folder-path\).

See the screenshot for an example.

Yes, you can rip a CD while both computers are accessing the library. If the new files don’t show up immediately in the other user’s library, try collapsing and expanding the desired part of the Library tree, such as the Album or Location view.

At worst, close and re-launch MediaMonkey.

Access and Sharing

In the method that I’ve described, one computer (the host) stores all the music files, whereas the client(s) connect to the host over the network. Naturally, the host computer must be ON for this to work. If you have some kind of Network Attached Storage that you can access via a UNC name, this is not a problem.

Another issue is mobility. What if your host PC is an always-on desktop at home, but your client is a laptop or netbook? If that’s the case, accessing the host PC from outside your home network becomes a problem. However, this problem is solved by creating a VPN, or a way to access your LAN over the Internet. Look into LogMeIn Hamachi (free).

One caveat here is that I have not tried running more than three users simultaneously accessing the shared MediaMonkey library (one host, two clients). Everything that I’ve tried works without flaw, including ripping CDs on the host and client simultaneously. I’ve been running this setup for over a month now without a single problem, but I still suggest occasionally backing up your MM.DB file for safekeeping. Here’s a screenshot of MediaMonkey running (as a client) on Virtual PC on top of Server 2008. Notice the file path:

Overall, my wife and I are very happy with our new music setup. From different computers, we can both rip CDs, rate songs, and load our MP3 players from the same library.

If you have any suggestions to make or questions to ask, please comment below. I will do my best to answer them. Another great resource is the official MediaMonkey forum.

Good luck!

One last thing: this article took a long time to research and write. If you found it helpful, please help share it by giving it a Digg, a Stumble, Mixx, or whatever. 🙂

Avira AntiVir Updates to Version 9 – Make It More Usable

In a previous article, I mentioned how to block the annoying popup ad that spawns whenever the free edition of AntiVir updates. This is an update to the previous article to make it more relevant to AntiVir Version 9.

Avira AntiVir is one of my favorite free antivirus programs, and the new Version 9 makes it even better by adding anti-spyware features. However, two aspects that have NOT changed from previous versions are:

  1. AntiVir (free) still does not include POP3/SMTP mail scanning support.
  2. AntiVir still launches an annoying popup ad whenever it checks for updates.

The lack of POP3/SMTP support is not a big deal if you tend to stick to webmail, but the popup ad is annoying and intrusive. Let’s get rid of it.

Disable the Annoying Popup Ad

Let me make one thing clear: I fundamentally disagree with bombarding the user every day with a popup ad about a premium version. Yes, I understand that Avira needs to make money, but purposefully annoying the user in an attempt to make him pay to remove the annoyance is a poor business model indeed.

I think the free version of AntiVir is terrific, and I applaud the company for releasing a free version. However, if a user wishes to upgrade, they should do so because they think the additional features are worth buying (such as e-mail protection, a Rescue CD, etc), NOT because they are harassed into doing so. If anyone from Avira is reading this, I implore you to reconsider your business model and stop (or at least reduce) the annoyance to your users.

For the rest of us, let’s just disable it. The file that spawns the popups is avnotify.exe. You cannot simply rename the file to stop the popup because it will be replaced at the next update. We need to stop it from executing.

Windows Vista

  1. Browse to the Avira program directory (C:\Program Files\Avira\AntiVir Destop).
  2. Right-click on avnotify.exe. Go to Properties.
  3. In the window that appears, click the Security tab. Then hit Edit.
  4. In the Permissions window, browse through all the Users. Next to Read & Execute, click Deny for each User. Click OK as many times as necessary.
  5. Open a cold one. Since avnotify.exe can no longer execute, no more ads will spawn.

Windows XP Professional

1. Go to Start → Run, and type secpol.msc
2. Click on Software Restriction Policy → go to Action (at the top) → Create New Restriction Policies
3. Right-click on Additional Rules (on the right) → Choose New Path Rule


4. Click Browse and find the avnotify.exe file (C:\Program Files\Avira\AntiVir Destop\avnotify.exe)
5. Make sure the security level is set to Disallowed and click OK

Finished! All you have done is implemented a security policy that prevents the avnotify.exe file from executing. In no way have you tampered with or disassembled any part of the program.

Windows XP Home (and Media Center)

  1. Boot into Safe Mode (repeatedly press F8 after boot)
  2. Login under the Administrator account
  3. Navigate to C:\Program Files\Avira\AntiVir Desktop\avnotify.exe
  4. Right-click avnotify – Go to PropertiesSecurityAdvanced
  5. Look under the Permissions folder for a listing of all the system users. Do the following for all the users:
  6. Edit – Traverse Folder / Execute File – Deny – Click OK
  7. Reboot (into Normal mode) when finished

Make Updates Invisible

One final change that I like to make is to prevent AntiVir from interrupting any fullscreen applications (such as Movies or Games) when it decides to update itself. By default, AntiVir launches a minimized window during an update, but I prefer to make it completely invisible.

To do so:

  1. Launch AntiVir. Go to Administration → Scheduler.
  2. Right-click on Daily Update and choose Edit job
  3. Click Next until you reach the Display Mode screen
  4. Choose Invisible from the drop-down list

All done. Now AntiVir won’t interrupt fullscreen applications anymore.

Avira AntiVir Personal is a good program – one of the best among free antivirus applications. These little tweaks make it even better. If you have any additional hacks tweaks that you wish to share, please comment below.

Capture Screenshots and Edit Images with PicPick (Windows)

picpick_logo One of my favorite screen capturing and image editing tools is PicPick. Available for Windows only, PicPick is a free tool that does a lot of things well. Here are some features:

  • Multiple screen capture methods (full screen, active window, window control, regions, and freehand)
  • Competent image editor
  • Color picker and Palette
  • A pixel ruler
  • Screen whiteboard (lets you draw on the screen)

Screen Captures

While PicPick has a lot of features, it suits my needs primarily for creating screenshots. It captures images by default in PNG format, though you can easily change it to BMP, JPG, or GIF.

PicPick Tools Menu When PicPick is running, you can bring up a Tray Menu by clicking the icon in the system tray. Navigate to Screen Capture to see available options for taking a screenshot.

I tend to use Capture Region most of the time to capture some kind of square or rectangular area of the screen, but there are other flexible options as well.

For instance, you can use the Capture Window Control option to easily take a screenshot of a scrolling window, such as in a web browser or a document. To do so, just select Capture Window Control, make sure you’re at the top of your desired scrolling window, and hit PRINT SCRN. It only took a few seconds to capture this scrolling image:

Picpick - Window Control Scroll Capture

With PicPick, you can also capture freehand areas, though my freehand drawings tend to suck pretty badly.

No matter which type of screen capture you’re after, I strongly suggest learning or configuring the available hotkeys to speed up the process (PicPick menu –> Capture Settings –> Change Hot Keys). You can configure hotkeys for most any task.

PicPick - Change Hot Keys

If you’re accustomed to using a similar screen capture program such as FastStone or HyperSnap, PicPick also has built-in hotkey profiles for some competing programs.

Other Features

PicPick sports some other handy features, including a built-in color picker, an on-screen pixel ruler, and a protractor. One of my favorite features, however, is the WhiteBoard.

PicPick - WhiteBoard The WhiteBoard is handy if you ever want to draw on the screen BEFORE you take a screenshot, such as to highlight an area, give the user some kind of instruction, or just say “Hi!”

Of course, you can also make edits, adjustments, or create markings on your image AFTER you take a screenshot. The built-in PicPick editor is pretty good actually. I find that it easily handles most common editing tasks that I would typically reserve for something like Paint.NET.

The built-in editor is definitely leagues beyond MS Paint.

Summary

There’s a lot to like about PicPick. It’s free, easy to use, and even comes in a portable ZIP archive. I’ve been using it lately for all screenshots on TipsFor.us.

PicPick is Windows-only donationware. There used to be a bug that caused PicPick to run slowly on Vista if Aero was enabled, but the bug is now fixed.

PicPick – Download

Skin Your Mac OS X Leopard with Magnifique

Tired of the way Mac OS X Leopard looks? No, me neither. Still, if you want a change of scenery, it’s easy to try some new Leopard themes with the Magnifique theme manager.

Magnifique – Main site

To get started, install the Magnifique app (drag and drop). Here’s the main program window:

Magnifique - Main
Magnifique - Main

Themes available for download are shown in the bottom-left corner. There are only about 16 themes available as of this typing, but I expect that number to grow soon. You can get a preview (and download) of the theme just by selecting it.

Once you apply a new theme, you can see its new effects by hitting the Restart Finder and Restart Dock buttons at the top of the app. It’s the same as issuing the killall Finder and killall Dock commands in the Terminal.

One quick note: when applying a new theme, notice that you have a few choices available. Certain themes will allow more choices than others.

Be wary when applying a new theme and choosing the Apply custom mods option (if available). Whether malicious or not, it leaves the most room for the developer to harm your system. Read any and all documentation about that theme before you enable this option!

Some Sample Skins

Here are a few themes that I have tried:

Veritas

A beautiful, streamlined theme that includes skins for Quicktime, VLC, and Adium.

Nothing drastic, but this is my favorite theme that I have tried so far. What can I say? I appreciate elegance.

Veritas comes with a dock mod, custom mods, and a selection of wallpapers.

Black Mac OS X

As the name implies, this is a dark theme for Leopard. I tend to like dark themes in general, but this one is not as satisfying as I thought it would be.

The blue and black clash pretty hard. If you have some custom icon packs, that would definitely help.

I’d love to see a dark skin that fully enshrouds the Finder, erasing all blue elements.

Milk (Leopard Port)

This is a lighter-colored theme modeled after a popular Linux skin.

Like most of the available themes, the changes are subtle, but noticeable. Actually, if I were to offer any complaint about Magnifique, it’s that most of the available themes don’t offer much striking contrast. Hopefully that will change with the addition of more themes.

To remove a theme and get back to normal, just hit the Uninstall theme button. Your original Leopard theme will be quickly restored.

Do you have a favorite Magnifique skin for Leopard? Do you use a different skinning program? Let us know in the comments.

A Very Important Program You Never Knew You Needed (RadarSync)

**–Edit:  Your personal Mileage may vary. My experience was great on an XP Pro Netbook, XP Home Compaq Laptop, and Server2008 Workstation.  Please read the comments of our community after this post before deciding if you are adventurous.  –**

Hardware driver management is not a pleasant task.  It’s painful enough finding the drivers for a system when first setting it up, especially if you have old hardware or hardware of mysterious origins.  Once this initial trial is over, it’s rare to think about updating your drivers (especially if they aren’t malfunctioning).  This, however is no excuse not to.

If you hit up any 3rd party driver download site, you will see countless ads for programs that claim to handle all of this for you, half the adds are spyware (SCAN YOUR SYSTEM NOW!!1) and the other half are very expensive and often times subscription based (Great solutions for multi-seat licenses in which you have to maintain entire networks of computers for a company, etc.).

What I’m talking about here, though, is a free program (Free version of a paid program, in which the pay version is considerably more powerful and useful, but typically more powerful than a home user needs, like most anti-virus softwares):

http://www.radarsync.com/
http://www.radarsync.com/

Now, I consider myself to be someone who takes pretty good care of their workstation, and, having just installed server 2008 on it, figured my drivers were up to date.  After the first scan, I found that about 30 of my drivers were out of date.  These weren’t basic drivers, like sound card, etc.  They were everything from my chipset to my PCI controllers on my intel board.  I did not run any pre-install benchmarks or anything fancy like that, but, after installation, I can definitely see a subtle improvement in the overall functionality of my box.

After you download the software and run the executable, you meet the usual screen:

Click Accept and you get:

Now, here is where it gets hairy.  Nothing corporate is ever free.  They will now give you a series of advertisements for various software you can install (Pretty much all benign).  The presence of these ads is what makes it possible for them to provide this software to home users for free.  Feel free (I strongly encourage it) to decline every offer.

Don’t get caught in the muscle memory of installation where you click Agree, then Install, the Next, Next, and Finish.  You will end up with 8 programs you never wanted.

The next screen to pay attention to:

Un-check Both Boxes.  They try and dupe you with the usual “Add icon to my desktop” check box you find in all installations, but this is icons for “other offers.”

On the next screen you can hit “Finish.”

Now it’s installed.  Run the program and you are greeted by:

Because it’s the free version, pretty much all you can do is click Start Now, or if you have already scanned, click My Downloads to view not yet installed but downloaded drivers.

After the scan you get this. Small pop-ups will appear from the task bar when a download finishes.  Click these to begin auto install, or wait until its all done and install through the “My Downloads” button on the first screen of the program. (Manual installs are good if you want to pick and choose what gets updated, if you know ahead of time of a potential conflict.)

I had luck with most components, but found it especially likes “Big Name” company hardware, your Intels and Nvidias. It may also offer you program upgrades, like the new version of PowerIso it offered me. Install these at your own risk (especially if you have software that makes you re-pay/re-register for large updates.)

You may occasionally see a window resembling this:

Any time you mess with drivers, creating a Restore Point is a great idea.  If you have a conflict (like the myriad of driver conflicts with XP and Service Pack 3) and your hardware becomes non-responsive you can just restore to previous configuration. This is essential, just in case something like what happened to me the other day happens to you – a driver conflict that resulted in my RAID card not functioning anymore, cutting access to my CD-Rom drives.

Now that your drivers are all updated, you can sleep better at night knowing you are getting the most out of your expensive hardware. Enjoy.