A Few Windows Tips and Tricks

By Tim Condon, Tampa PC Users Group

I had the happy opportunity recently to go to a continuing legal education course where the subject was…technology in the office! Computers! Scanners! Software! Great stuff!

But first, I need everyone to know how enthralled I was to be meeting at the Pepin Distributing facility: I wanted to write an entire article singing paens just to that! You see, I hadn't been to a TPCUG meeting for quite a while (I admit it, I admit it), but I really did want to see Kevan Sheridan's presentation regarding Trillion and the various instant messaging products. Okay, okay, I figured to myself, I'll go and sit in a bare concrete room on an uncomfortable folding steel chair (I mean, what else would you expect at a beer distributing headquarters?). And man was I delighted with what I found! That place is nice. It's comfortable, open, convenient, easy to give presentations (although some might complain that the walls are somewhat horny—see the page 1 photo)…but who is the guy who nabbed that facility for our meetings? My hat is off to you, good buddy, whoever you are!

Now. Ahem (cough, cough). You wanted to hear about computer and technology stuff. Well…yes, let's talk.

How about a "pen drive," which is a little thingie that looks like a fat pen (it even has a little top with a pocket-clip to put in your shirt pocket) and plugs into one of your USB ports? These things come in various storage sizes from 32 meg to 1 Gig (!), ranging in price from about $60 for the itsy bitsy teeny weeny one to about $1,200 for the Gigabyte boomer (plus about $25 for the little docking station to transfer the data from the fat pen to your own machine). Fascinating! You can move your data around in your shirt pocket now.

Here's another cute little innovation, called "Activewords" (go check it out at http://www.activewords.com). What this service does is make it possible for you to type in a word or click on a word anywhere you may be on your computer screen, and the word you write or click will start a program for you. It's like a "universal macro." In fact, the company calls this little ditty a "universal hypertext link" (UHL), and says, "To use a UHL you simply select or type a word or phrase and trigger its UHL by pressing the ActiveWords key (any Function-Key you designate). You can activate a UHL anywhere...anytime...in any application, document or view." Sounds strange, doesn't it? But the concept is really pretty simple: The service replaces icons with words (and most us of know one or two hundred thousand words, as opposed to…how many icons, a few dozen?), and makes it easy and "universal" to invoke the macro. You want to check your stocks, and you happen to be doing a word document? You type in "stocks," hit your chosen F-key, and bang, you're there. You want to check out the weather, and you happen to be working on a spreadsheet? Just type in "weather" and hit that F-key, and you're at the weather site. Sounds intriguing. Costs $30 per year, or $2.50 per month. I don't know about the rest of you, but I might try it.

We all love spam, right? Not! You may like spam, but I hate spam…or should I say Ihatespam? Because that's the name of a nifty new product that is said to be a very good spam-buster. It filters those irritating unsolicited commercial emails out of your inbox! It's on the web now for sale at http://www.sunbelt-software.com/product.cfm?id=930, courtesy of Sunbelt Software, for $20. Sunbelt Software says, "No configuration or setup needed, install it once and it works! Works with Outlook and Outlook Express. AOL version coming soon. Does not lose emails you really need to see." Sounds great. And I heard a guy talk about it that said it was the "ultimate spam-buster." The price is certainly right. Will someone in the TPCUG buy a copy and see if it works as well as advertised?

Then there's the good old Ad-Aware program that sniffs out secret advertising programs running surreptitiously on your computer. If you don't have it, you may be surprised to see how much junk and running programs advertisers have slipped into your machine while you weren't looking. Here's how the progenitors of Ad-Aware describe it: "Ad-Aware is a multi-spyware removal utility that scans your memory, registry, and hard drives for known spyware and scumware components and lets you remove them safely." I like that: "Scumware." Notice how it rolls off your tongue? And get this: This little baby is available from Lavasoft for FREE download. The. Price. Is. Right! Go find out all about it at http://www.lavasoftusa.com/.

Ahhh…is not the computer industry and scientific community just wonderful? Things happening every day, and every day gets better, better, better, in every way! (I think I feel a song coming on….)

Lessee (rummaging around in giant toy bag), what else have we got here. Aha! Here's another little free gem, by a software guru named Mike Lin. It's a tiny little program that lets you, and only you, control what's starting up in your main launch pad when you turn on your computer. Here's what Mike says about it: "Startup Control Panel is a nifty control panel applet that allows you to easily configure which programs run when your computer starts. It's simple to use and, like all my programs, is very small and won't burden your system. A valuable tool for system administrators!" "Small?" Hell, I downloaded the thing in about 4 seconds flat. Go get it at http://www.mlin.net/StartupCPL.shtml.

Running out of space on your hard drive? Remember when a 5 meg drive cost about $2,000? Remember when there weren’t any external hard drives? Fast forward to today: If you need some extra disk space, how about the radically cool Maxtor 3000LE. For as low as $135 you get 120 GIGAbytes (yeah, you read that right) on an external drive that connects via USB port and runs at 5400 rpm (low noise level). The thing looks way cool: Red around the outside, white in the center part, a cross between a giant ladybug and some kind of dangerous poisonous frog. Great for backing up and taking the hard drive home with you.

PCPitstop is an online diagnostic service run by PC Magazine. Here’s the gen on it from the site: “At PC Pitstop we can help you get your PC in top form -- running fast, stable and secure. PC Pitstop runs diagnostics on your PC to identify things that might help improve performance. The process is fully automated, private and safe. The test will not change any settings on your PC. After the diagnostics run, we'll give you tips for improving all kinds of things. Best of all, the service is free!” Try it out at http://www.pcpitstop.com/.

We all know about the magazine Consumer Reports, right? It’s one of the greatest resources in the world if you’re contemplating buying, building, getting, renting, finding, or using…something…anything! Well, it’s online now. Big deal, right? Wrong. For an annual subscription charge of $20, here’s what you get (in the words of the Consumer Reports people): “Subscribing to ConsumerReports.org gives you instant, unlimited access to our exclusive unbiased Ratings and recommendations of products and services! Anytime you need it, you can get detailed buying information on ALL the products we’ve tested over the past four years. That’s thousands of products in hundreds of categories! What makes us different? Unlike other web sites, we give you completely objective product information. We buy all the products we test right off the shelf, and we accept no advertising or sponsorship of any kind. So the information you get is completely unbiased and accurate.” Good stuff. In addition, they’ve got a new and used car price guide; a Travel Letter; a Health Newsletter; and a Consumer Reports Book Store. Check it out at http://www.consumerreports.org.

Finally, I wish to tell you all about this incredible little service that I’ve glommed onto called “Go to My PC.” (no kidding). It’s an online service that lets you get into and run your remote computer from no matter where you are…over the Internet. The service costs $20 a month or $180 a year, and has a free trial period. You’ll get hooked if you try it, just like I did. I only live five minutes from my office, but this thing is so handy and convenient that I immediately signed up with them for a year. You’re in New York and need to get into your office computer? No problem. You’re in Russia or Bora Bora, and need some file from your home office machine? No problem. It’s really pretty cool, and I’ve gotten into the habit of leaving my office computer turned on at night so I can go home and just continue doing my office work after dinner. It’s quite amazing. Once you’re signed on (with multiple passwords), your remote computer screen pops up, and it’s like you’re sitting right there at your remote computer itself. Do whatever you want. Very handy. (Caveat: You need some kind of broadband connection to get the most out of this little baby…but it’s well worth it.) Check it out at https://www.gotomypc.com/.

Enough! Enough babbling! As we all know, there are countless little tricks and gadgets and services that we all run across now and again. Well take the time to jot’em down and send a little description to Fred so he can include them in the newsletter! Great stuff! Share the wealth! Let’s help each other out! TPCUG! u