Monday, November 24, 2008

How to Defrag Your Computer

Defrag is another computer maintenance task that should be performed regularly. At the very least, it should be ran quarterly. The process is simple and normally takes about an hour to run.

But before sharing the steps on how to run Defrag, I wanted to answer some of the common questions surrounding it. First ...

Why Defrag?

Think of your hard drive as a checkerboard. Every time you create a file (F), it takes a place on the checker board. When you delete a file, it leaves and empty space on the checker board where the file was. The next time you create a file, it doesn't go back and fill the empty space ... instead, it continues filling the spaces after the last one was created. So in time, you have "holes" or empty spaces left on the checker board in between files.

These empty spaces mean that your hard drive has to work harder to access your files and it slows down the computer. When you run Defrag, it picks up all the files and puts them in contiguous order again so all the empty spaces are filled ... which in turn allows the computer to access your data more quickly.


How to Run Defrag

The steps are simple. But first, note that it can take an hour or so to run it, and it's best to run it when you're not working on your computer. I like to run Defrag when I leave the house or am watching TV so as to ensure I leave the computer alone while it's running.

To run Defrag, follow these steps:
  1. Click the START button and then MY COMPUTER
  2. RIGHT click on the Local Disk "C" Drive and select PROPERTIES
  3. Click the TOOLS tab
  4. Click the DEFRAGMENT button
  5. Click the DEFRAGMENT again on the next window and then wait til the process completes (about an hour).



By the way, if your computer is running Windows Vista, you don't have to run defrag (unless you want to). One of the nice features of Windows Vista is that Defrag automatically runs in the background while you're working on the computer.

Click here to learn how to run Disk Cleanup.

How to Run Disk Cleanup

Over time, your hard disk gets cluttered up with unnecessary files, which then take up disk space. Removing these files should be part of your regular computer maintenance. The process is simple and is the same for WinXP and Vista.
  1. Click the START button
  2. Open MY COMPUTER
  3. RIGHT Click on the Local Disk"C" drive and select PROPERTIES (a new window comes up)
  4. Click the DISK CLEANUP button.
  5. If asked if you want to remove the files for all users or just your own, click the option to remove all files.
After clicking the DISK CLEANUP button, the computer will search for files that can be cleaned up (this process takes a couple of minutes). When the computer is done searching, a window will pop up that shows you which files can be safely removed.

Place a check mark next to the files you wish to remove. For the most part, you want to make sure the following boxes are checked:
  • Temporary Internet Files
  • Recycle Bin
  • Temporary Files
  • Web/Client Publisher Files
I tend to leave the SETUP files unchecked to minimize uninstallation problems down the road. And although I like to remove downloaded programs, others don't. So this is a personal preference. But make sure the items above are checked at least.

When all the boxes are checked, click the OK button to remove the files.


I recommend running Disk Cleanup at least quarterly. It's also a good idea to run it before you Defrag your hard drive so that process is more efficient.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Windows Defender Explained

Windows Defender is a new program that comes with Windows Vista. This program is Microsoft's answer to helping you stop spyware, adware, and pop-up windows from web sites. By fixing these problems, Microsoft hopes to fix some of the problems that cause computers to slow down.

There is a Windows Defender icon in the control panel (it looks like a little brick wall). Once the Windows Defender is up, you can run a scan or configure different options.

By default, the program is configured to update and run automatically, but you change how the program does this. To make changes, click the TOOLS link at the top of the window and then the OPTIONS link.

Windows Defender is designed to do the same job that other programs like Webroot, Spy Doctor, and Adaware are doing. So you may not need to purchase one of those other programs unless you are having problems that Windows Defender is not fixing or removing.

If you use Windows XP, you can download and isntall Windows Defender for free. Microsoft even allows free updates for XP users. To get Windows Defender, click here. Keep in mind that if you're already using another spyware removal program, that you don't necessarily need to install Windows Defender. However, once the subscription is up on the other program, you might consider switching to Windows Defender - since it's free!

To learn more about Windows Defender, visit the Windows Defender home page.

Failed Windows Updates

Folks running Windows Vista will sometimes notice that some of the Windows Updates failed when reviewing the update history.

First, if you've never looked at your update history, you can do so now by following these steps:
  1. Click the START button and then open the CONTROL PANEL
  2. Open the WINDOWS UPDATE icon
  3. On the left pane, click the link that reads, "view update history"

If you see a failed update in the list, note the update number (e.g., KB954366). After noting the number, check the updates above the failed one. If you see the same update installed successfully above the failed one, then you don't need to worry. Some updates need to be installed before others, so it may fail during one set, but install successfully later. That's okay.

If you see repeated failures on a specific update, then you may need to investigate further. You can search the update number in Google to see what comes up. Often times, the first link that comes up will take you the Microsoft page that tells you more about that update.

For example, on my computer the update history shows repeated failures for update KB954366.
When I search "KB954366" in Google, the second site in the list of results is to the Microsoft page explaining that update. Reading the page, I can see that this updates pertains to computers running the 64-bit edition of Vista. My computer is running 32-bit version, so it can't install that update (it's not compatible with my computer). So I can ignore KB954366 and references to its failure to install.

How do I know my computer is running is running the 32-bit version of Vista? I followed these steps to check:
  1. Click the START button
  2. RIGHT CLICK on Computer and select PROPERTIES
  3. Under the SYSTEM heading, you can check the SYSTEM TYPE (it will say 32-bit or 64-bit)
Anytime you see a failed update, check the update history to see if that update later installed successfully. If it did, everything is okay. If it didn't, search Google for the specific update to see if you can learn more about it and whether or not you really need it. Often times, these two steps will clear confusion and solve the problem of failed windows updates.

Running Windows Update in Vista

Running Windows Updates is an important part of regular computer maintenance. These free updates are software patches designed to fix problems and vulnerabilities in Windows. By making sure your computer is up to date, you're helping to protect your computer from viruses, hackers, and other malicious programs.

Microsoft has different categories of updates, but "critical" updates are the most important ones and should always be installed. You can configure your computer to download and install these updates automatically.

Microsoft also releases "recommended" updates. Some are worth installing, some aren't. In WinXP and earlier versions, recommended updates were not installed automatically. You had to review each update and make the choice to install. However, in Vista, you can configure Windows Update to automatically install recommended updates.

Running Windows Updates works a little differently differently in Vista than it did in WinXP and earlier versions. In Vista, there is an icon in the control panel now called, "Windows Updates". This is the tool used for running windows updates in Vista (as opposed to using Internet Explorer to go to the Windows Updates web site).

To turn on automatic updates in Vista, follow these steps:
  1. Click the START button and open the CONTROL PANEL
  2. Open the WINDOWS UPDATE icon (a new window opens)
  3. On the left pane, click the link that reads, CHANGE SETTINGS
  4. Make sure the option to "install updates automatically" is checked
  5. You can change the default time of 3 am if you like (updates will not be downloaded if the computer is off)
  6. Make sure the last two options (recommended updates and use Windows Update service) are checked.
  7. Click OK when finished.

To run Windows Updates manually in Vista, follow these steps:
  1. Click the START button and open the CONTROL PANEL
  2. Click the INSTALL UPDATES button in the main window (on right side)

Even if you have automatic updates turned on, it's a good idea to run Windows Updates manually once in a while to make sure all updates are installed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Norton System Works Really Works

One of my favorite programs is Norton System Works. I've been using for years on my own computer as well as my client's computers.

In addition to fixing problems found in Windows, it also has some other useful utilities. One of these utilities is called, Speed Disk - which is similar to Defrag, only it works a little more efficiently. Disk Cleanup is another nice utility. There are more utilities that come with the Norton System works that make it worth it's money.

The only complaint some people have about the software is that it slows down their computers some because it runs in the background. I've never noticed these problems on my computer. But the nice thing is that even if you install it, you can disable the program from running in the background - and only use it when you want to. This will solve the problem of it slowing down the computer.

I've been using Norton System Works for years and highly recommend it to others.

Norton SystemWorks Standard Edition 12.0

FinallyFast.com Explained

You may have seen the commercial on TV about a website called FinallyFast.com. The commercial shows people unhappy and frustrated about how slow their computers are running, and how a website magically fixed their computer problems.

The question on many people's minds is, whether or not the site is legit or if it's a scam. Before answering this question, it's important to understand what the site is claiming it can do.

It's true that problems creep into computers over time as you use them. Some of the problems are caused by us, some aren't. Left unchecked, these problems can add up and cause your computer to slow down or crash.

You can buy programs that have been designed to look for these problems and fix them. One of these programs is called, WinDr (made by Norton). I've been using WinDr (part of Norton System Works) for years and love it. WinDr only takes a few minutes to run and is designed to look for problems in Windows and fix them. By running this program regularly, I can find and fix small problems before they become bigger ones.

There are other programs out there that are similar to WinDr which pretty much do the same thing.

What makes FinallyFast.com different is that it works over the internet so you don't have to buy and install a separate software program. But it's doing the same thing as WinDr and similar programs ... and you still have to pay for the service. FinallyFast.com charges an annual fee to fix the problems (although you can scan your computer for free).

So is FinallyFast.com worth your money?

When you buy a computer nobody ever tells you they need to be maintained, but they do. I think it's important to have a program like WinDr or FinallyFast.com to find and fix small problems in Windows before they cause bigger problems. I've been running WinDr on my client's computers for years as part of an extra service.

So, if you don't own WinDr and don't want to buy it, consider trying FinallyFast.com. You can try it for a year and see if it's worth another year.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

AntiVirus Software vs. Internet Security Software

In the old days when you bought Antivirus software, that's pretty much all you got - a software program that help protected you from known computer viruses.

But with the advent of adware, spyware, and phishing scams, you now need a program that can handle these threats as well as protect you from computer viruses. This where "internet security" software comes in.

Unlike Antivirus software, internet security software is designed to help protect you from all threats (including computer viruses). Most of the top Antivirus companies offer you the choice of buying Antivirus or Internet Security software ... and given the choice, you're better off buying internet security software.

While Norton Internet Security is still my preferred choice, there are others available for those aren't fond of Norton. Below are links to some of the other alternatives that folks are using.

Trend Micro's PC-cillin Internet Security 2009

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Best AntiVirus Program

One of the benefits of my job is that I get first hand experience with all the different antivirus programs out there. That's because my clients use different programs and so I get to see how well they perform when the latest threat is making the rounds on the internet.

And I still personally think Norton Internet Security is the best program on the market today. Sadly, folks either love Norton or hate it - there isn't much middle of the road on this subject.

Norton's biggest competitors are McAfee, Trend Micro, Panda, Kaspersky, and AVG, AVast, and Zone Alarm, to name just a few.

I don't like these other programs because they tend to be a lot more buggy than Norton (let's face it, Norton probably has the highest number of folks on staff next to Microsoft). This means they have a lot more money and personnel than most of the competitors to work on problems and perfect their software.

I've seen many viruses slip through the cracks with many of Norton's competitors, and in all the years I've been Norton, I haven't seen one virus slip through (knock on wood).

Ask folks what they hate about Norton, and you'll hear two primary complaints .... "they slow down my computer" and "they're tech support stinks".

A few years ago, the tech support argument was valid. But since Norton started using the online chat support, this argument has been eliminated. I've used this chat support system a lot and love it. You may still be talking to folks in India, but at least you can understand them when chatting online.

And as for slowing down the computer, it's true that Norton can slow things down a little. But much of that depends on which Norton product you're using and how old your computer is. If you have an older computer that has 512 MB of RAM or less, you will notice some slow down. But if your computer is newer and you have at least 1 GB of RAM, chances are you won't notice much slowing if any.

Norton has several different products, and the big one they are pushing these days is called Norton 360 ... but I'm not crazy about this product. It doesn't appear to be as stable as Norton Internet Security, and I don't think it's as user friendly. Another thing that annoys me about Norton 360 is that although you can disable the automatic backup feature, you are still plagued by messages telling you to set it up (which defeats the purpose of disabling it).

By the way, it is worth noting that there is a difference between "antivirus" software and "internet security software". Given the choice today, the preferred software is an "internet security" program.

When asked by clients what product I recommend, I still say, Norton Internet Security (not Norton 360).

Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2009

Monday, November 17, 2008

How to Subscribe to this Blog

This blog uses RSS feeds to help keep you informed of the latest posts. If you're not familiar with RSS, it stands for "Really Simple Syndication", and it was invented by Netscape. In short, it's the web technology that allows sites to tell others new information has been added to it.

The big benefit of this technology, is that you get notified when new information is posted to the site (so you don't have to remember to check back on your own).

When you open Internet Explorer, you often see MSN, Yahoo, or some other web page that has several news links on it. Those links are put there by RSS technology. They change daily and are intended to help you stay informed of latest news developments.

In the past, you were limited to seeing the links that others wanted to feed you. But now, thanks to advancements in RSS technology, you can "choose" what links (or information) you'd like to see. There's only two requirements - first the site must have an RSS feed for you to subscribe to, and second, you must have an "RSS reader" (also called an aggregator) in order to read the information published by RSS feeds. This blog has an RSS feed, thereby satisfying the first requirement.

Look in the address bar and find the little orange icon with white lines on it (circled below).


This icon lets you know that a site uses RSS technology. The next step is to find the "subscribe" links somewhere on the page. To do this, you first need to choose an RSS reader (like Google, Yahoo, AOL, Bloglines, etc.).

On this blog, you'll see various feed links on the right sidebar. If you already have a google or yahoo homepage, you can just click the appropriate feed icon on the right sidebar to subscribe to the blog. The advantage of doing this is that each time you open Internet Explorer (or other browser), you can see links to the latest posts on this blog.

There are many other readers out there besides the ones listed here. Google and Yahoo are two of the easiest ones to work with and their homepages can easily be customized.

I personally use Google for my home page. You can sign up for free and the page is very easy to customize to meet your needs. And best all, with RSS technology, it's easy to stay informed of the news and information you're interested in - not what somebody wants to feed you!

If you'd like to learn more about RSS, click here.

How to Search This Blog

I post information on various computer related topics on this blog. The main page only shows the most current posts. Older information gets archived into folder named by month and year. This means that posts I write in November 2008, will be found put in the November 2008 folder. Over time, this can make it difficult to find the information you're looking for.

To make it easier for you to find specific information, I've included the blue search toolbar at the top of the page.


You can type in a search term, and click the "search blog" button next to it. The entire site will be searched for posts related to your searches.

For example, let's say you're looking for information on an internet scam. In the search block, you could type, "internet scams" or the name of the specific scam you're interested in, and then click the search blog button. If any posts related to your search are found on the site, they will be displayed in a list. Then you can click on the links to see the full post.

Keep in mind that you might have to try a few different search terms to find the information you're looking for (just as you do in Google).

Using the search blog toolbar will make it much easier to find specific information you're looking for, so don't hesitate to use it.

Don't Get Scammed by Wu-Yi Tea!

It's recently come to my attention that folks signing up for a free trial of Wu-Yi tea are getting scammed! They are finding charges on their credit cards for products they've never purchased and the phone numbers listed on their credit card statements are being directed to innocent folks not affiliated with the site (like myself).

Wu-Yi tea markets itself as the answer to "diet / weight loss" problems. You can sign up for free trials and they even boast a 60 day refund policy - but the problem is that nobody can reach them after their credit card has been charged ($4.95 and $9.95).

One of their web sites is http://insidersecretsguide.com/
There is nothing there except a live person to chat with - and only after more digging do you discover that they are affiliated with Wu-Yi tea. This web site appears to be fraudulent, along with the web site http://insidersecretstips.com.

This site also uses affiliate marketing to promote their tea, so there are hundreds of sites out there selling this Wu-Yi tea.

The bottom line is that the sites selling the tea are scamming you and will take your money and you should avoid them. If you do happen to see charges on your credit card statement for Wu-Yi tea, ignore the phone number listed on the statement and try this one: 1-866-449-5567. This number does seem to work in getting hold of somebody affiliated with Wu-Yi tea.

Visit the Wu-Yi Tea Source web site for more information on their fees on cancellation policies.
All of the relevant information is listed on their Terms & Conditions page, which you can see by clicking here. They list an email address (support@wu-yisource.com) on the page also that you use to request cancellations.

For more information about these scams, visit the link below:
http://www.complaintsboard.com/complaints/insiders-secrets-guide-c120953.html


Update 24-Nov-08: Further research has revealed that there appears to be many sites out there selling Wu-Yi tea and one of the more important ones to avoid is called Wu-Yi Tea Source (which is definitely fraudulent). The phone number listed above is the official phone number on record for the fraudulent Wu-Yi Tea Source.

The official Wu-Yi Tea website is http://www.wu-yi.com/
They appear to be based in Austin, Texas and their phone number is: 512 328-2400.

The fraudulent Wu-Yi Tea Source web site is: http://www.wu-yisource.com/
They're in Iowa and their phone number is: 1-866-449-5567

No doubt there are other fraudulent websites out there that are selling Wu-Yi tea. The prudent thing to do would be to avoid them all together.

If you notice charges on your credit card statement for Wu-Yi tea, try calling the two phone numbers above to complain.

If you're unsuccessful, try calling your credit card company and explain to them that you didn't authorize the charges and ask them to remove them. They will have more resources to track down the culprit behind the charges than you do. By reporting the scam to the credit card company it may help others who are noticing the same charges.

Update 28-Nov-08: I recently learned folks are finding a couple of 800 numbers on their credit card statements next to the charges and when they call these numbers, one of my other websites is being to them as the place to go to request refunds. Unfortunately, this is fraudulent information they're being told.

The 800 numbers folks are calling are: 800-281-9006 and 800-989-5907. Folks at these numbers are directing complaints to my web site: www.AffiliateToolsOnline.com (apparently because I do make references to an "Insider Secret's Guide" on that site. However, the Insider Secrets Guide listed on that web site has to deal with Internet Marketing (not weight loss secrets). They're two different products.

I'm still trying to figure out why these 800 numbers are giving out my website as the place to go to request refunds/cancellations - since I have nothing to do with the charges or Wu-Yi tea. But now, please know that you're being told fraudulent information and that none of my websites have anything to do with the charges on your credit card statements.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sharing Photos Online

As many of you know, I'm a bit of a photo nut. I love photography and especially enjoy taking photos of my nephews. My sister jokes that I'm her private paparazzi. But she neglects to mention is that thanks to my photo efforts, distant relatives and friends are able to see the boys doing various activities throughout the year.

One of the downsides to emailing photos is file size. With today's digital cameras, photos often range from 1-3 mb in size. With file sizes like these, you don't want to email more than 4 or 5 photos per email. So if you have more photos than this to share, you'll want to send multiple emails to make it easier for the receiver to download them.

Another downside is when you email photos one day, and then decide to email more to somebody else the next. Needless to say, this can be time consuming and a bit of a hassle creating the messages and attaching the photos every time you decide to email photos.

Photo sharing sites are an excellent alternative to emailing photos. Common photo sharing sites include Kodak Gallery, Webshots, Snap Fish, SmugMug, etc. There are too many sites to name.

While some of my friends use Snap Fish and others, I've been using Webshots the last couple of years. Webshots has both free and paid subscriptions and is very easy to use. The free account limits you to a 1,000 photos whereas the paid subscription lets you upload unlimited photos and until recently, was free of advertising. However, webshots recently changed hands and since then, even the paid accounts hit you with advertising - which is one of the reasons I've since closed my account (there are others).

My new favorite photo sharing site is SmugMug. They're a little more expensive, but they are totally free of advertising and extremely easy to use. They offer three levels of subscriptions (ranging from $40/yr to $150/yr) to meet various needs. I could go on and on about how great smugmug is, but here are some benefits worth considering:
  • You get unlimited photo storage
  • Because your photos are stored online, you don't have to worry about losing them if your computer crashes!
  • Friends and family can easily view the photos from all over the world (which means you don't have to deal with the headaches of emailing photos anymore!
  • Friends and family can easily order prints if they like and other cool photo gifts (mugs, calendars, etc.).
I've been using SmugMug now for a few months and really like them. I have a LOT more control over my account and photos now than I ever did at Webshots. If you like, you can check out my smugmug account by clicking here.

SmugMug offers a 14 day free trial too so you can easily test drive the site before you buy.
And if you use the coupon code (mlw5t8QahAChE), you'll get $5 off if you decide to buy.

The safe and secure photo sharing alone is reason enough to get a SmugMug account, not to mention the easiest way to share photos with family and friends.

Need Unlimited photo storage- FREE Trial of Smugmug

How to Remove Windows Antivirus

Is your computer infected with Windows Antivirus? I recently removed this annoying malware program from many of my client's computers and wanted to share the secret with you.

First let's talk about this program. This malicious program has been around a few years, and as such changes name every year. This year, it's called, "Windows Antivirus 2009". Last year it was "Windows Antivirus 2008", and so on.

If the name wasn't bad enough, another problem is that this program disguises itself to look like a legitimate Microsoft program (which it isn't). The icon even looks like a windows icon.

You've heard of "adware" and "spyware" ... well this program can be termed, "malware", "rogue-ware", or "ransomware". In short, it's a malicious program that infects your computer and holds it hostage for money (Perfect Defender is another rogue program)

Folks tend to get it by surfing the web stumbling across a web site that is infected or responding to a scary popup message. Once this program is on your computer, it will bombard you with scary messages about many infections are on your computer and convince you need to buy the program to remove them. But sadly, even after paying your $50 for the program, the messages never go away - and you're still left with the annoying problem and out $50!

By the way, there's no hope of recovering your money from the folks behind Windows Antivirus .... but you can call your credit card company and tell them you're a victim of an internet scam and have them cancel the payment.

Good news is that there is hope! There is a program that remove Windows Antivirus 2009 (and other versions of it) from your computer. This program is called, Anti-Malware by Malwarebytes. I've used this program on some of my clients computers and it worked like a charm .... which is why I highly recommend others use this program!

Updated 28 September 2009:   In addition to Windows Antivirus, this program also goes by the names, Alpha Antivirus,  Perfect Defender, and a dozen or so other names.  But all warning messages look and act pretty much the same way.

How to Email Photos in Yahoo

Emailing photos in Yahoo is pretty much like emailing photos in other programs. The steps are pretty simple - although it's worth noting that in Yahoo, you can only attached 5 photos in a single email. So if you have more than 5 photos to email, you'll have to send more than one email.

Just follow the steps below to email your photos in Yahoo:
  1. Login to your Yahoo email account and create a new blank message. You can go ahead and address the email, fill in the subject line and write your message now or wait til you're done attaching photos.

  2. Under the "subject" line, you'll see a gray button that reads, "Attach Files" (there's a paperclip on it). Click this button.

  3. On the next screen, click the "Browse" button (this is where it gets a bit tricky)

  4. When you clicked the "Browse" button in step 3, a new window popped up. This window allows you to find your photos so that you can attach them to the email. Everybody stores their photos in a different place, but in most cases, you can start your search in the "MY PICTURE or "PICTURE" folder. From there, you might have to look in subfolders to find the images you'd like to email.

  5. Once you find the image you want to email, single click it once (to highlight it) and then click the OPEN button the browse window. Repeat the process attach more photos (remember that you can only attach 5 photos to an email).

  6. When you're done attaching photos, click the ATTACH FILES button (found below all the Browse buttons).

  7. Complete the message and send.
Looking for an alternative way to share photos with friends and family? Consider using a photo sharing site instead. Click here to discover the benefits of sharing photos online.

Stay Tuned for More ...

In order to help maximize the amount of information I have to share with my new and existing clients, I've decided to start this blog. My goal will be to share valuable information regarding common computer problems, changes in technology, etc.

I get loads of questions every day and will do my best to post the answers here too - so that everybody can benefit.

So stay tuned for more ....